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 14, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 15 to 54, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 55 to 65, inclusive, answered orally.

Defence Forces Strength.

David Stanton

Question:

66 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Defence if there is adequate human resources in place in the Naval Service to meet the requirement of fishing protection; and the details of this requirement. [28754/04]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

68 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Defence if the strength of the Permanent Defence Force will be altered over the coming 12 month period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28770/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

81 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he has satisfied himself regarding the strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps, having particular regard to current or likely commitments overseas; if the Defence Forces are adequately equipped to deal with all such arising situations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29132/04]

Liam Twomey

Question:

100 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Defence the authorised number of personnel for the Defence Forces; the current strength of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28759/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

608 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if the current strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps is adequate to meet all contingencies in view of the likelihood of extra overseas deployment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29266/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 66, 68, 81, 100 and 608 together.

The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force comprising 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army. The strengths of the Permanent Defence Force as at 31 October 2004 are as shown in the table below.

It is my intention to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. Recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force will continue to maintain the strength at a level required to meet military needs and as set out in the White Paper, that is, 10,500 Permanent Defence Force, all ranks. The Government remains fully committed to the policy of ongoing recruitment to ensure that an overall PDF strength of 10,500 is achieved and maintained. The ongoing recruitment campaign for enlistment in the Defence Forces, approved by my predecessor, is designed to address any shortfall in personnel in the Defence Forces.

The White Paper provides an overall strength figure of 10,500 for the Permanent Defence Force, all ranks. This figure comprehends provision for the allocation of up to 850 members of the Permanent Defence Force to overseas peacekeeping missions at any given time. The military authorities advise that on 31 October 2004 there were 750 members of the Permanent Defence Force serving overseas on such missions. This represents 7.2% of the strength of the Defence Forces. I am satisfied that the current strength is adequate to meet all needs arising at home and overseas.

In 2004 the cadet intake was ten cadets to the Naval Service, 51 cadets to the Army and six cadets to the Air Corps. It is proposed to recruit 15 apprentices to the Air Corps in 2004. From January 2004 to 30 September 2004, there has been an intake of 278 general service recruits. The requirements for any further intakes will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.

The Naval Service supported by the Air Corps maritime patrol aircraft provides Ireland with a very effective fishery protection service in accordance with our EU obligations and the requirements of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, which has primary policy responsibility in this area. I am glad to inform the House that a memorandum of understanding incorporating a service level agreement is now in place between the two Departments setting out agreed commitments in relation to fisheries protection and providing for the effective discharge of the Departments' respective obligations.

I am satisfied that the Naval Service has the required assets to meet its obligations under the memorandum of understanding. As such, there is no basis, nor do I have any plans to expand the current fishery protection capability of either the Naval Service or the Air Corps.

Strength of PDF 31 October 2004.

Service

Officers

NCOs

Privates

Cadets

Recruits

Total

Army

1,050

3,060

4,141

52

188

8,491

Air Corps

140

398

317

12

0

867

Naval Service

150

495

396

21

0

1,062

Total PDF

1,340

3,953

4,854

85

188

10,420

Question No. 67 answered with QuestionNo. 65.
Question No. 68 answered with QuestionNo. 66.

Defence Forces Regulations.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

69 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the recent remark by a person (details supplied) that the case of 13 soldiers serving in Donegal who face dismissal should be decided within the existing industrial relations framework and not left to the discretion of the men’s superior officers; if he has held discussions with PDFORRA regarding this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28820/04]

The discharge of enlisted personnel is governed by the Defence Act 1954, as amended and by the relevant Defence Forces regulations and Defence Forces administrative instructions. Under the relevant regulations, unit commanders or sub-unit commanders are not the authorised officers or the prescribed military authorities for the purpose of the discharge of enlisted members of the Defence Forces.

In the matter referred to by the Deputy, the military authorities advise that they are not aware of the identity of the particular individuals to whom the question relates. However they advise that no member of the Defence Forces was threatened with discharge nor is any member facing discharge at this time. A number of enlisted personnel were, however, informed verbally and in writing, by their sub-unit commander, that there was a possibility that they may not meet the criteria, as laid down in regulations and administrative instructions, to continue to extend service in the Defence Forces and they were advised of the possible consequences. The action of the sub-unit commander does not contravene regulations and is viewed as good management practice. Indeed, if the sub-unit commander had not so informed these personnel he might have left himself open to an accusation of failing to give timely advice and warning to those concerned.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Liam Twomey

Question:

70 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Defence the number of applicants for the Defence Forces who failed the medical entry test in the years 2002 and 2003; the reasons for failure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28758/04]

The number of applicants for the Permanent Defence Force, other than applicants for general service enlistment, who were found unsuitable on medical grounds in 2002 was 62. In addition, 325 applicants for general service enlistment were found unsuitable on medical-fitness grounds. A breakdown of this figure for medical reasons alone is not available. The number of applicants for the Permanent Defence Force who were found unsuitable, due to failing the medical examination, in 2003 was 123.

The reasons for failure of medical examinations which would disqualify a candidate from entry to the Permanent Defence Force are numerous and varied. Candidates are required to undergo a detailed medical examination to ensure that they are in good mental and bodily health and free from any condition, abnormality or past history of serious illness likely to interfere with the efficient performance of military duties.

Naval Service Vessels.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

71 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence his views on whether money accrued from the Government’s SSIA scheme should be used to fund a ship replacement programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28831/04]

The acquisition of new equipment for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service will be a key focus for me as Minister for Defence. I am aware that significant investment has taken place in recent years and I want to continue the good work in that regard.

The unprecedented level of expenditure on equipment for the Defence Forces was made possible by the Government's decision that pay savings arising from the reorganisation of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper of 2000, along with proceeds from the sale of surplus properties, would be reallocated for investment in modern facilities and equipment.

In continuing with the investment programme, I am of the view that moneys required for this purpose will be raised through Exchequer allocations or from asset sales and not from money accrued from the SSIA scheme.

At every available opportunity, I will champion the cause of ongoing investment and development of our Defence Forces. We will continue to make substantial investment in new equipment and infrastructure in 2005 and beyond. While expenditure programmes will now have to be more prioritised due to the changed financial situation, I will ensure that a substantial re-equipment programme will continue to enhance the efficiency, professionalism and safety of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service.

Overseas Missions.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

72 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Defence the overseas missions it is envisaged that the Defence Forces will contribute to for the remainder of 2004 and for 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28772/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

73 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which he has received requests for participation in peacekeeping or peace enforcement under the aegis of the UN or EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29131/04]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

74 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Defence the number of members of the Defence Forces that are available to the United Nations; if this number will be increased; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28763/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

616 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the proposed Irish troop deployment, new or replacement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29276/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 72 to 74, inclusive, and 616 together.

Ireland is currently contributing approximately 745 Defence Forces personnel to 21 different missions throughout the world. The main commitments are to the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, with 435 personnel and to the NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo, with 213 personnel. Other personnel are serving as monitors and observers with the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, and the European Union. Staff are also deployed at the organisational headquarters of the OSCE, the UN, NATO and the EU.

Ireland's current major contribution to peacekeeping is in Liberia, where a contingent of the Permanent Defence Forces has been serving since December 2003 with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL. Ireland, together with an infantry company group from Sweden, provides the quick reaction force to the UNMIL force commander. Ireland was specifically requested by the UN to participate in a substantive manner in this mission, which is a tribute to the high regard in which the UN holds the Irish Defence Forces. It is intended that Defence Forces involvement in UNMIL will probably conclude in 2005-06, once the Liberian elections planned for mid-2005 are completed.

In KFOR, the Defence Forces are serving as part of a Finnish battalion with a Swedish-led multinational brigade. A reorganisation and downsizing of the NATO-led forces in KFOR, including the Irish contingent, was planned and had partly commenced when civil disturbances broke out in March this year in Kosovo. That downsizing has now been deferred to allow the situation to settle. Having regard to the fragility of the peace in Kosovo and subject to ongoing assessments of the situation on the ground, Ireland will continue to maintain a presence in KFOR for some time yet.

Next month, the EU is due to take-over the current NATO-led UN authorised operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as SFOR. Ireland currently has 12 personnel deployed at SFOR Headquarters. On 9 November 2004, the Government decided, subject to final approval by the UN Security Council of an appropriate resolution authorising the establishment of EUFOR and the approval of the Dáil, to despatch a contingent of the Permanent Defence Forces for service with EUFOR, the EU-led mission-operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, code named Operation Althea, to be established under the authority of the UN, as the legal successor to SFOR.

Subject to these conditions, planning for participation by the Defence Forces in EUFOR, which is due to commence operations on 2 December 2004, is currently ongoing. Members of the Permanent Defence Forces currently serving in SFOR headquarters will transfer to EUFOR upon the take-over of the mission by the EU. It is also proposed to deploy an additional 42 personnel to EUFOR as part of a Finnish-led multinational task force, bringing Ireland's total deployment in EUFOR to 54. An advance party of 11 personnel has recently been deployed to the mission to put in place the requisite arrangements for the later deployment of the contingent.

Once this planned deployment is completed, the total number of Defence Forces personnel then serving overseas will be 776, which is within Ireland's maximum sustainable commitment of 850 personnel under the United Nations stand-by arrangements system, UNSAS. At 850, the UNSAS commitment represents 10% of the total Army strength and this is the figure set in the White Paper on Defence. This is the maximum sustainable commitment that Ireland can make to overseas peacekeeping operations. It should be appreciated that at any one time one group of personnel will have just returned from service, one will be on overseas duty and a further group will be in training. There are no plans at this time to increase the level of our commitment to UNSAS.

Ireland receives requests from time to time in relation to participation in various missions and these are considered on a case by case basis. However, we are currently fairly close to the limit of our sustainable commitments. It is appropriate that we keep some level of resources in reserve, should we need to reinforce existing missions or to take on additional missions at short notice. Looking to 2005, no other deployments are planned or envisaged at this time.

Army Barracks.

Joe Costello

Question:

75 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Defence if there are any further plans to close Army barracks in the State; if the future of the three Army barracks in Donegal is secure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28823/04]

Willie Penrose

Question:

86 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Defence the property which he is considering to be sold in order to raise money for new equipment for the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28832/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

613 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which all military installations decommissioned in 1998 have been disposed of; the total accruing to the Exchequer; the total costs associated with maintenance, security and so on, in the interim; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29271/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 75, 86 and 613together.

On 15 July 1998, the Government approved a programme of evacuation and sale of six barracks considered surplus to military requirements. The barracks in question were located at Ballincollig, Fermoy, Castleblayney, Naas, Kildare and Clancy barracks, Dublin.

The sale of approximately 91 acres comprising lot 1, Murphy barracks, Ballincollig, to O'Flynn Construction for €41 million and the sale of lot 2 to the sitting tenant for €1.05 million — my Department's reversionary interest in approximately 6.2 acres of the barrack lands — was completed in 2003. A further area comprising more than 27 acres at Murphy barracks is being handed over to Cork County Council for community use. Agreements have also been reached for the sale of a site comprising approximately 2.7 acres to the Southern Heath Board and a further plot of approximately 1.7 acres to the Department of Education and Science. Receipts in excess of €2.8 million will accrue to my Department in respect of those disposals. An area comprising approximately 0.545 of an acre has been set aside on foot of a request from the Office of Public Works for a plot of ground to facilitate extension of the existing Garda station located on Main Street, Ballincollig. My Department is in correspondence with the OPW on arrangements for transfer of the lands concerned, including the matter of a consideration therefor. Some 19.218 acres at the former Fitzgerald camp, Fermoy, were sold to Cork County Council in 2001 for €973,889 for development in conjunction with the IDA.

Castleblayney military post, County Monaghan, comprising approximately ten acres, was sold to the North Eastern Health Board for €761,843 in 2002. Seven acres at Devoy barracks, Naas, County Kildare, were ceded free of charge to Naas Urban District Council, while a further 14 acres were sold to that authority for €8,888,167. The balance of the barracks lands — one acre — was sold to Kildare County Council for €380,921 in 2002.

The Government decided in July 2003 that Magee barracks, Kildare, and Gormanston Camp, County Meath, would be among the State lands released for inclusion in the sustaining progress affordable housing initiative. The modalities of the transfer of these properties, as well as sites at St. Bricin's Hospital, Dublin, and at Collins barracks, Cork, to the relevant local authorities are under active consideration in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Chief State Solicitor's Office. The sale of Clancy barracks, Dublin, comprising 13.65 acres approximately, to Florence Properties Limited for €25.4 million was completed earlier this year. The disposal of a number of other minor surplus properties owned by my Department has also been completed during this period. The value of sales-disposals completed since 1998 has totalled in excess of €88 million.

There are currently no plans to close any further barracks or to alter the status of military posts at Finner camp, Lifford and Rockhill House, Letterkenny. The Department's property portfolio is, however, kept under continual review and any properties surplus to military requirements will be disposed of to fund much needed investment to meet the equipment and infrastructure needs of the Defence Forces.

The security, maintenance, consultancy and other costs in respect of those barracks identified for closure in 1998 are as follows:

Security

Maintenance and Other Costs

Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig #

1,120,604

257,113*

Fitzgerald Camp, Fermoy #

330,813

42,633

Castleblayney Military Post #

131,289

10,548

Devoy Barracks, Naas #

472,654

16,959

Magee Barracks, Kildare #

123,291

15,677

Clancy Barracks, Dublin #

649,441

203,089

# Now sold or no longer in the administration of my Department. No further costs will be incurred by the Department of Defence.
* Includes costs relating to the integrated area action plan.

Overseas Missions.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

76 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if he will elaborate on his recent comments that he is ready to take appropriate and immediate action should the security situation in Liberia deteriorate with regard to ensuring the safety of Irish UN peace-keepers; if he has assessed the level of security threat facing Irish troops serving in Liberia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28834/04]

The Defence Forces contingent, which was deployed for service with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, in December 2003 comprises a motorised infantry battalion, of some 435 personnel. A small number of additional personnel have been also deployed at force headquarters and as military observers.

The main Irish contingent, together with a mechanised company from Sweden, representing a battalion level force, operates as the force commander's quick reaction force. The role of the quick reaction force is the provision of an immediate response capability, deployable in sufficient strength and with the required level of force to provide a swift and decisive military reaction to any crisis situation.

Subject to renewal of the UN mandate, it is my intention is that the Defence Forces involvement in this mission will continue for two to three years. Elections, which are due in 2005, under the comprehensive peace agreement, should be completed at that stage. The 91st infantry battalion is due to return home shortly, after completing a six month tour of duty and will be replaced by the 92nd infantry battalion.

As the Deputy will be aware, there was significant unrest in Monrovia in recent weeks. In addition, there are continuing problems in Cote d'Ivoire. Overall it is vitally important to the region as a whole that Liberia remains calm. Indeed, during my recent meeting with the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, he indicated the importance of Liberia as a beacon for peace and security in the region.

During the recent unrest in Monrovia, the Irish Defence Forces contingent was deployed at Mamba Point to protect the main governmental, administrative and foreign delegation areas. It also conducted ongoing patrols across the city in order to restore order. While the civil disturbances were widespread, I am glad to say that there were no injuries to Irish personnel.

The situation in Monrovia has now calmed and civil order has been restored. However, the speed with which these situations can get out of hand is indicative of the difficult circumstances in which our troops operate and one can never lose sight of this. Against this background it is important that our troops have the appropriate skills, training and equipment to discharge their mandate.

A wide range of equipment and force protection assets have been deployed with the contingent including Mowag APCs armoured vehicles and support weapons, heavy machine guns and mortars. Due to the equipment modernisation programmes that have taken place in the Defence Forces over the past few years, our UNMIL contingent is the best equipped ever to serve overseas. However, it is important that we keep the security situation under review. In the event that there is a requirement for the deployment of additional equipment or more extensive resources to support our forces in UNMIL, then this shall be done.

Cash Escorts.

Damien English

Question:

77 Mr. English asked the Minister for Defence the number of members of the Defence Forces who are involved on a day to day basis in providing security for cash in transit vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28774/04]

Dan Boyle

Question:

94 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on his plans to alter the practice of providing Army security escorts to the banks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28809/04]

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

111 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Defence when his review into the cost of the Army providing security escorts for bank cash transits will be complete; the reason he recoups only just over 40% of its costs on providing these security services, whereas the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform recoups 90% from the gardaí for providing similar services to banks here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28827/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 77, 94 and 111 together.

To aid the civil power, meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána which has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State, is among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces. In this regard, the Defence Forces assist the gardaí as required in duties, which include escorting cash deliveries to banks, post offices and other institutions.

Earlier this year my Department conducted a review of the costs of cash escorts and the relative contribution of the banks to these costs. An annual contribution of €2.86 million is paid by the banks in respect of cash escorts. This figure was set by the Department of Finance in the 1995 budget and has not altered since. This contribution from the banks was designed to part-cover the total costs to the State of providing cash escorts. At that time, the contribution from the banks covered approximately 72% of the total cost arising to the Defence Forces, which includes pay and allowances. Based on annual costings by my Department, the relative level of the contribution has fallen in real terms over the years to the situation where it now only covers 43% of the total costs. The review also found that over 79% of all cash escorts are in respect of deliveries to banks.

The total cost in respect of the provision by the Defence Forces of assistance to the Garda Síochána in protecting movements of cash for the years 2000 to 2003 — the 2004 costs have not yet been finalised in my Department — including pay, allowances, transport and aerial surveillance, was as follows:

2000

2001

2002

2003

€5.70m

€6.58m

€6.87m

€6.64m

These costs related to the following numbers of requested escorts:

2000

2001

2002

2003

2,285

2,488

2,516

2,335

For the first nine months of 2004, approximately 1,825 escorts took place. In any given month approximately 1,592 army man days are expended in relation to these escorts.

My Department is currently in communication with the Irish Bankers' Federation with a view to increasing the contribution and I will meet the chief executive of the Irish Bankers' Federation soon to progress the issue. Pending the outcome of those discussions, I do not believe it would be helpful to elaborate on any proposals to alter current cash escort practices. However, it may be the case that modern satellite tracking technologies and the use of more robust security vehicles could provide options in relation to the level of demand for armed cash escorts provided by the Defence Forces, where large cash consignments are being transported. At the end of the day, cash escorts are provided at the request of the Garda Síochána on the basis of their risk assessment and the Defence Forces will continue to respond to such requests as they arise.

Coroner’s Inquest.

Liz McManus

Question:

78 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to recent comments from the coroner for Donegal north west who investigated the death of an Irish soldier who was killed during a dispute with fellow officers while serving on UN duty in the Lebanon in 1989, that the Department of Defence gave very little co-operation when preliminary information was sought into the soldier’s death; if his Department will co-operate fully with the new inquest into the soldier’s death; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28828/04]

I am advised that my Department co-operated fully with the coroner for north-west Donegal in relation to the inquest into the death of an Irish soldier while on service with the United Nations in Lebanon in 1989.

In response to a request from the coroner, all the information requested was supplied with the exception of the United Nations board of inquiry report. The UN board of inquiry report is a confidential document, which belongs to the UN and is only provided to the Government on the basis that it is not made public in any form, either in whole or part.

My Department provided a copy of the Irish contingent board of inquiry report to the coroner. In addition, a member of the 28th infantry battalion represented the Defence Forces at the preliminary hearing of the inquest on 21 October 2004. I can confirm that my Department will continue to co-operate fully with the inquest into the soldier's death.

Naval Service Patrols.

Simon Coveney

Question:

79 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Defence the role of the Naval Service with respect to assisting the civil power in the fight against the illegal importation of drugs. [28753/04]

Richard Bruton

Question:

102 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Defence the number of vessels within the Naval Service; the number that are on permanent duty at any given time in policing the coastline and protecting against drug smuggling operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28769/04]

Simon Coveney

Question:

107 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Defence the number of fishing patrol vessels possessed by the Naval Service; the estimated remaining life of each; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28752/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 79, 102 and 107 together.

The Naval Service is equipped with a total of eight vessels comprising one helicopter-carrying vessel, five offshore patrol vessels and two coastal patrol vessels. The nominal life of a naval vessel is approximately 30 years, although this can be extended or reduced depending on circumstances and usage. The type and age of each of the vessels is set out in the attached schedule.

The main day to day role of the Naval Service is to provide a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the European Union. The Naval Service is committed to having at least three vessels on patrol within the Irish exclusive economic zone at any one time. The service is tasked with patrolling all Irish waters from the shoreline to the outer limits of the exclusive economic zone, the 200 mile limit.

Fishery protection activity accounts for over 90% of all Naval Service patrol time. However, as the need arises, Naval Service vessels may be deployed to other duties such as aid to the civil power, search and rescue, drug interdiction operations and assistance with pollution control.

Responsibility for the prevention of drug trafficking and other such illegal activities rests primarily with the Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners. However, the White Paper on Defence provides for a security role for the Naval Service to assist and support the civil authorities in this important work. Government measures to improve law enforcement in relation to drugs, including the establishment in 1993 of a joint task force involving the Garda, the Customs Service and the Naval Service, have helped to maximise the effective use of Naval Service resources in combating drug trafficking, etc. There is close co-operation between the civil authorities and the Naval Service in this important area.

A key target of the Naval Service has been to increase annual patrol days in line with the recommendations of the PriceWaterhouse report in 1998. I am happy to report that in the last four years to end 2003, the number of annual patrol days has increased by approximately 35%. The target for 2004 is 1,600 patrol days, which will represent a further improvement on the 2003 output of 1,496. The increase in Naval Service output has enabled it to deliver increased levels of service across all areas of its operations.

Type and age of Naval Service vessels.

Vessel

Type

Age

Estimated Remaining Life*

LE Emer

Offshore Patrol Vessel

26 years

4 years

LE Aoife

Offshore Patrol Vessel

25 years

5 years

LE Aisling

Offshore Patrol Vessel

24 years

6 years

LE Eithne

Helicopter Patrol Vessel

20 years

10 years

LE Ciara

Coastal Patrol Vessel

20 years

10 years

LE Orla

Coastal Patrol Vessel

19 years

11 years

LE Róisín

Offshore Patrol Vessel

4 years

26 years

LE Niamh

Offshore Patrol Vessel

3 years

27 years

* Based on a notional life of 30 years.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Jack Wall

Question:

80 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Defence the position regarding the tendering process for the acquisition of six new helicopters for the Air Corps; when he expects the process to be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28839/04]

The procurement process for the acquisition of new helicopters for the Air Corps is progressing well. This major investment programme involves the acquisition of six helicopters — two light utility helicopters primarily for Air Corps crew training purposes and four larger utility helicopters, with the option of two further such helicopters — for use in support of the Army and for other ancillary uses such as air ambulance. The new aircraft will replace the current fleet of Dauphin, Alouette and Gazelle helicopters.

The tender competition was advertised in the Official Journal of the European Communities on 29 May 2004. The closing date for the receipt of tenders was Tuesday, 3 August 2004. Valid tenders were received from three companies. The companies involved are Eurocopter, Sikorsky and AgustaWestland.

A comprehensive tender evaluation process is ongoing at present. A project team comprising officials from my Department and Air Corps and Army personnel is undertaking the evaluation. This will, of necessity, take some time to complete. It is expected, however, that the Department will be in a position to place a contract before the end of the year. The Deputy will appreciate that I am not in a position to give any details of the costs of the helicopters at this stage given that the evaluation process is ongoing.

The two light utility helicopters will be operated by the Air Corps primarily in the military pilot and aircrew training role. Primary taskings for the helicopters will include pilot training, instructor training and instrument flight training.

The four utility helicopters will be operated by the Air Corps in a general purpose military operational and training role. They will not be dedicated for use by any particular element of the Defence Forces. Primary taskings for the utility helicopter will include training and operations with special forces, security and aid to the civil power, military exercises, infantry interoperability training and limited troop transport. The helicopters will have the capability of lifting some Defence Forces equipment such as artillery pieces but will not have the capability to lift heavy equipment. They will also be used to perform air ambulance, inland search and rescue, aid to the civil community and VIP transport tasks.

The contract for the supply of the helicopters will be awarded on the basis of the most economically advantageous tender applying the following award criteria, which are listed in order of priority: functional characteristics, operational suitability and technical merit; maintenance, technical support and after sales service; tender prices; life cycle costs over 20 years; training packages offered; warranties offered; and delivery period.

The procurement of modern light utility and utility helicopters will provide a significant boost to the Air Corps. In that regard, every effort will be made to ensure that the process moves along as quickly as possible to ensure that the new helicopters are available to the Air Corps at the earliest possible date.

Question No. 81 answered with QuestionNo. 66.

Defence Forces Conduct.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

82 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Defence the progress that has been made on tackling bullying and harassment within the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28766/04]

Joan Burton

Question:

91 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Defence the progress made to date in implementing the recommendations of the Doyle report concerning fundamentally tackling the issue of bullying in the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28822/04]

Joe Sherlock

Question:

103 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the comments of a person (details supplied) that they were gobsmacked at the manner in which details of bullying cases within the Defence Forces emerged in the media during the recent PDFORRA conference; his views on whether there is an ignorance at senior level of the Defence Forces of the depth and extent of bullying throughout the forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28819/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 82, 91 and 103 together.

In March 2002, Dr. Eileen Doyle and the external advisory committee group presented their report, The Challenge of a Workplace, commonly referred to as the Doyle report, to my predecessor. The contents and recommendations of the Doyle report were accepted in full.

Action to implement the recommendations of the report has been one of the highest priorities for the Defence Forces since its publication. In this context, the comments made by the chief of staff at the recent PDFORRA conference reflected his puzzlement at an apparent lack of recognition of the unprecedented level of time and commitment which both he and senior civil and military management have given to addressing the issues raised in the Doyle report. One of the most notable features of the work undertaken to implement the recommendations of the Doyle report was that the representative bodies played such a full, equal and active part at all levels of the process. The chief of staff has strongly supported a partnership approach to addressing these issues. He has repeatedly emphasised his acceptance of the problems and has recognised the necessity to tackle this matter in a fundamental way at all levels of the Defence Forces. The chief of staff has demonstrated a very active and genuine commitment to change and has emphasised that it is incumbent on all commanders to ensure that best practice in management of personnel is fostered at all levels to eliminate the problems identified in the Doyle report.

I emphasise that bullying is not training for anything. I fully realise that the project of bringing about necessary fundamental changes in attitudes and culture will not be quick or easy. However, with substantial and vigorous leadership, I have every confidence that the proper environment will be firmly established and maintained throughout the Defence Forces.

The follow up action to the Doyle report was driven by the independent monitoring group established in May 2002 to oversee the implementation of recommendations arising from the report. This group met regularly to oversee the implementation of the report's recommendations. Membership of this group included the general secretaries of the representative associations PDFORRA and RACO.

The independent monitoring group's progress report entitled Response to the Challenge of a Workplace, commonly referred to as the Doyle report 2, was launched by my predecessor on Friday, 24 September 2004. This report describes the progress achieved since the publication of the original Doyle report in 2002.

The monitoring group has overseen the conduct of a major educational awareness programme throughout the Defence Forces. Considerable progress has been made in the past two years. Firm guiding principles had already been set out in the Defence Forces dignity in the workplace charter. A new administrative instruction on interpersonal relationships was introduced in March 2003 and a users guide was distributed to every member of the Defence Forces. This new instruction describes the six key relevant domains of interpersonal relationship within the Defence Forces. It sets out contemporary best practice for policy and procedures in dealing with negative workplace behaviours. It lists the full set of formal and informal complaint procedures that may be utilised by any party wishing to institute a complaint.

Some 200 trained designated contact persons are being put in place throughout the organisation to facilitate the operation of these procedures. Approximately 170 of these designated contact persons have already been trained and a strategic plan is in place to develop the numbers up to 200.

An independent 24 hour confidential telephone helpline and counselling service provided by staff care services was introduced in March 2003. Information leaflets on this service were sent to each member of the Permanent Defence Force when the service was introduced. Despite the small numbers availing of the service — 55 up to the end of February 2004 — this service will continue to be available.

A pilot project to record the experiences and views of outgoing members of the Defence Forces was conducted by the Dublin Institute of Technology research centre. This project, which involved confidential interviews and questionnaires, proved very valuable.

The particular challenges of the military training environment were identified in the Doyle report. This area has been given particular attention in the course of the last two years, especially as regards the key pivotal roles of NCOs in leadership and training within brigade formations. Focus groups of NCOs have proven useful here and external experts were sourced for training of these crucial NCO cadres. There has been a sustained emphasis on training the trainers.

The monitoring group has made a series of important recommendations concerning the ranking, selection, training and reward systems for officer and NCO instructors in the cadet school. An immediate change in the training regime for cadets will have a vital demonstration effect. It has been decided, therefore, that the process of introducing these changes will begin with the 2004 cadet intake. Some of the changes will take longer to implement and will be addressed through the conciliation and arbitration process or the overall review of Defence Forces organisation.

The equality steering group was established in autumn 2002 and conducted an independent study under a Labour Court chairperson of Defence Force regulations and administrative instructions, policy and procedures. Its comprehensive audit examined policy and procedures in the light of existing civil statutory requirements such as employment equality and equal status legislation and best civil employment practice. PDFORRA and RACO representatives were also members of this group.

The Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Bill has now passed all Stages. The provision of a statutory Ombudsman for the Defence Forces will provide a further significant impetus in support of the major transformation in culture and practice which has been initiated and which is now well underway.

The Defence Forces are in the process of developing an active and strategic human resource management model of personnel management, development and leadership under the new integrated personnel management system. This is a most important step that will facilitate and hasten the achievement and consolidation of our shared objectives. The tangible result will be a modern and contemporary Defence Force — an organisation that can serve as an international role model.

Every member of the Defence Forces has a right to be treated with respect and dignity and to work within the Defence Forces free from harassment, sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination. The monitoring group has explicitly recommended that a further independent review and audit of progress within the Defence Forces be carried out no later than 2007 and that the results should be made public.

Since the publication of Response to the Challenge of a Workplace, Doyle report 2, this September the following action has been taken by military management: a steering group has been established to oversee the implementation of the proposals that were contained in Response to the Challenge of a Workplace. The steering group is chaired by the assistant chief of staff — support — and executive director human resources and consists of the director administration section, director human resources management section and the director defence forces training. Working groups are being convened by each of the three directors to undertake various tasks in line with the main subject areas covered by the report; a programme of briefings commenced on 16 November 2004 to ensure that each and every member of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, receives a comprehensive briefing on Response to the Challenge of a Workplace from awareness teams in each brigade and formation. Both representative associations, PDFORRA and RACO, will have members on the awareness teams. Members of the PDF in all barracks and posts will be briefed before the end of the year with briefings of the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, to follow.

Defence Forces Promotions.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

83 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Defence if he has plans to relax the rule whereby soldiers failing to win promotion above the rank of private after service of 12 years are let go by the Army; if his attention has been drawn to calls from PDFORRA for this rule to be relaxed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28826/04]

The unsatisfactory age and fitness profile of the Permanent Defence Force was commented upon by the Gleeson commission in its report in 1990. The matter had also been of serious concern to the military authorities for a number of years. The age profile was also the subject of severe criticism by PriceWaterhouse Consultants which had been engaged by the efficiency audit group, EAG, to conduct an in-depth study of the Defence Forces. One of the key areas identified for urgent action by the EAG was the development of a manpower policy with an emphasis on lowering the age profile of Permanent Defence Force personnel. The EAG's report was accepted by Government in 1995.

In an effort to alleviate the situation, the Government had already decided in 1993 to enlist personnel on a five year contract basis with a Reserve Force commitment of seven years. The recruitment of personnel on five year contracts was introduced following consultation with the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA.

In 1997 agreement was reached with PDFORRA on a new manpower policy for the Defence Forces. This policy, applying to personnel enlisted after 1 January 1994, provided that service for private soldiers would initially be for five years with the option to be extended to a maximum of 12 years. Any extension was subject to the individual soldier meeting certain criteria to include standards of medical and physical fitness and conduct. Longer periods of service were envisaged for junior and senior non-commissioned officers. The new policy represented a substantial improvement for personnel who would otherwise have had to leave after five years service while continuing to address the issues of age profile and fitness levels in the Defence Forces. I am satisfied with these existing arrangements.

PDFORRA has submitted a claim under the conciliation and arbitration scheme for a further review of the terms of service applying to personnel enlisting in the Permanent Defence Force after 1 January 1994. As discussions on issues raised under the scheme are confidential to the parties concerned, the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this time.

Decentralisation Programme.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

84 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Defence the position with regard to decentralisation plans for his Department; if further staff have agreed to relocate as part of this plan; the number of staff who have agrees to relocate; when the Civil Defence branch of his Department will be moved to Roscrea; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28837/04]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

98 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Defence the authorised number of personnel for the Civil Defence headquarters; the current strength of the headquarters; the location of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28756/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 84 and 98 together.

The Government decision on decentralisation provides for the transfer of my Department's Dublin based Civil Service staff to Newbridge, County Kildare. The number of staff to be relocated to Newbridge is 200. The Government decision also provides for the transfer of 300 Defence Forces headquarters staff to the Curragh, County Kildare.

A total of 385 personnel, of whom 78 are currently serving in the Department, have declared an interest in relocating to Newbridge. The Office of Public Works is currently in discussions with Kildare County Council regarding the possible acquisition of a site in Newbridge for the Department's new headquarters. A site for the Defence Force's Headquarters at the Curragh has been selected.

The Civil Defence Board which was given responsibility for the management of Civil Defence at a national level under the Civil Defence Act 2002, is being relocated to Roscrea, County Tipperary. There are approximately 30 posts in the Civil Defence headquarters. Part of the staff of the Civil Defence Board has moved to temporary accommodation in Roscrea with effect from 10 September 2004. The Office of Public Works, which has responsibility for the provision of official accommodation for Departments, is currently preparing tenders for the fit out of a leased building in Roscrea which will be the permanent accommodation for the Civil Defence Board. It is expected that this will be available for occupation in the first part of 2005.

Terrorist Attacks.

John Deasy

Question:

85 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Defence the steps being taken to protect the State from terrorist attack in view of the heightened international risk of terrorism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28776/04]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

108 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Defence the most recent precautions he has taken to upgrade security measures to protect the State against international terrorist attacks; his views on whether the terrorist threat against Europe is generally high and Ireland must therefore improve its security capabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28836/04]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

115 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Defence the Defence Force’s current capability to deal with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents either at home or abroad; his views on the opinion of the Army’s chief of staff that the development of such a capability should be foremost on the Defence Force’s agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28824/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 85, 108 and 115 together.

The most important defence against any terrorist attacks is detection and prevention by the security forces. The Garda Síochána has primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. The potential threats to the State arising from international terrorism are continuously monitored by them in co-operation with the Defence Forces. The advice available to me at this time is, that, while the Garda authorities recognise that the terrorist threat to Europe may currently be high, in relation to Ireland it is low. Notwithstanding this, it is important that all prudent precautions are taken and that matters are kept under continuous review.

The Defence Forces make contingency plans for a range of scenarios where the security of the State may be at risk. In addition, the Defence Forces have contingency plans in place in relation to the provision of aid to the civil power, meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána, and the provision of assistance to the civil authorities for a range of emergency situations.

A detailed review of capacities and procedures to deal with a range of emergency situations was undertaken by the military authorities following on from the events of 11 September 2001. It included, inter alia, an update of the threat assessment; intensive contacts with other State agencies; a reassessment of operations orders relating to vital installations, alert systems, the Army ranger wing, ordnance and engineer assets in terms of explosive ordnance disposal and specialist search and a review of equipment including the need for air defence. Guidance documents pertaining to aid to the civil power and aid to the civil authorities were also reassessed. All matters arising were addressed and all procedures updated as required.

The capacity of the Defence Forces to deal with major emergencies is kept under constant review. Plans and procedures are updated as necessary and such additional equipment as is required to address any perceived deficiencies is acquired on the basis of identified priorities. Training and preparation for such events is also provided for in the Defence Forces annual training plan. The Defence Forces have available to them equipment for monitoring and protecting its members in dealing with nuclear, biological or chemical, NBC, threats identified from time to time.

The most important defence against any attack is of course external vigilance, detection and prevention by the security forces. All the necessary resources of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces are deployed to this end.

Question No. 86 answered with QuestionNo. 75.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

87 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Defence his position on the European Commission Green Paper on Defence Procurement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28829/04]

The Green Paper on Defence Procurement is one of the measures announced by the European Commission in its Communication — Towards a European Union defence equipment policy, adopted on 11 March 2003, COM(2003)113 final. Through these measures, the Commission hopes to contribute to the gradual creation of a European defence equipment market which is more transparent and open between member states and which would increase economic efficiency.

The purpose of the Green Paper on Defence Procurement is to develop debate on the establishment of an appropriate regulatory framework for the procurement of defence equipment. To date the procurement of defensive equipment in member states has been outside the scope of the normal procurement directives as provided in Article 296 — ex Article 223 — of the treaty. In so far as my Department is concerned, we welcome any developments which might lead to greater economies in the purchase of equipment for the Defence Forces.

Damien English

Question:

88 Mr. English asked the Minister for Defence the number of NBC protective clothing suits available to the Defence Forces; if new suits have been acquired in the past three months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28765/04]

The Defence Forces have available to them equipment for monitoring and protecting their members in dealing with nuclear, biological or chemical, NBC, threats identified from time to time. They hold an extensive range of modern NBC equipment that meets their current requirements. This range includes approximately 7,000 NBC suits, 1,500 of which were delivered in the early part of this year. It is planned to purchase a further 1,000 NBC suits next year. The requirement for additional NBC equipment is kept under continuous review by the Defence Forces. A programme for the purchase of NBC equipment is ongoing and whatever equipment deemed necessary is purchased expeditiously to meet the changing requirements.

Defence Forces Training.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

89 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Defence the provisions in place for the new entrants to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29024/04]

The position is that entry to the Permanent Defence Force is either through general service enlistment, the cadetship competition, the apprenticeship competition or direct entry competitions which are held from time to time to fill vacancies in specialist appointments.

There are provisions in place to ensure that each new entrant to the Permanent Defence Force is given the appropriate training required to carry out the duties she-he will be required to undertake as a member of the Permanent Defence Force. Some of the provisions in place include accommodation, military training, physical training, arms and foot drill, technical trade training and weapons handling tactics. There are also appropriate provisions in place in relation to those who join the Reserve Defence Force.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

90 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Defence the number of aircraft within the service of the Air Corps; the age of the aircraft within the service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28768/04]

There are a total of 40 aircraft in service with the Air Corps at present, comprising 14 helicopters and 26 fixed wing aircraft. The type and age of these aircraft is set out below.

The eight recently purchased Pilatus PC-9M turbo propeller aircraft will replace the Marchetti aircraft in the pilot training role. These aircraft will allow for the continued training of young cadets to the highest standards. These aircraft will also be capable of being armed and, as such, will have a limited defensive capability.

A comprehensive tender evaluation process is ongoing at present for the acquisition of new helicopters for the Air Corps. A project team comprising officials from my Department and Air Corps and Army personnel is undertaking the evaluation. This major investment programme involves the acquisition of six helicopters — two light utility helicopters, primarily for Air Corps crew training purposes and four larger utility helicopters, with the option of two further such helicopters — for use in support of the Army and for other ancillary uses, including Air Ambulance and emergency community support. The new aircraft will replace the current fleet of Dauphin, Alouette and Gazelle helicopters.

Type and age of Air Corps aircraft.

Aircraft Type

Number in service

Age

Helicopters

Alouettes

7

30 to 41 years

Gazelle

1

24 years

Dauphins

4

18 years

Ecureuill

1

7 years

EC 135

1

2 years

Fixed Wing

Cessna

5

32 years old

Marchetti

7

27 years old

Beechcraft

1

24 years old

GIV

1

13 years old

CASA

2

10 years old

Defender

1

7 years old

Learjet

1

11 months old

Pilatus

8

Up to 8 months old

Question No. 91 answered with QuestionNo. 82.

Army Barracks.

Bernard Allen

Question:

92 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Defence the amount of funding obtained for the sale of barracks to date; the areas in which it has been spent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28760/04]

The sale-disposal of departmental properties considered surplus to military requirements has, since 1998, realised in excess of €88 million.

There has been an unprecedented level of expenditure on infrastructure and equipment for the Defence Forces in recent years. This was made possible by the Government's decision that pay savings arising from the reorganisation of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper of 2000, along with proceeds from the sale of surplus properties, would be reallocated for investment in modern facilities and equipment. Over €174 million was spent on the capital investment programme for the upgrade of barracks, accommodation and other facilities between 1997 and the end of 2003. This year's Estimate for the Department of Defence includes a further €19 million for such capital works.

Significant progress has also been made in recent years with the acquisition of modern equipment for the Army, Air Corps and the Naval Service. Last month saw the final delivery in the contract for the additional 25 additional armoured personnel carriers from Mowag of Switzerland, which gives the Defence Forces 65 Mowag APCs in total. Mowag APCs are on operational duties with our troops in Kosovo and Liberia. The initial contract for 40 APCs saw deliveries completed by March 2002 and was valued at €51 million inclusive of VAT. The value of the additional contract is some €33 million inclusive of VAT with payments spread over the period 2002 to 2005.

Another significant contract relates to the acquisition of the Javelin missile system from Raytheon-Lockheed Martin in the USA at a cost of some €13 million inclusive of VAT. The purpose of this acquisition is to give Defence Forces personnel an effective, anti-armour capability while on peace support operations. The system will replace the Milan system. Some items under the contract have been delivered to allow for the training of personnel. The main delivery is scheduled for 2005.

There have been ongoing programmes of acquisitions of both nuclear, biological and chemical equipment and night vision equipment, NVE, in recent years and these programmes will continue to meet the ongoing requirements of the Defence Forces. The acquisition of light tactical vehicles, LTVs, for the Defence Forces will also be considered in the light of the ongoing budgetary situation.

The main priority for the Air Corps has been the purchase of eight fixed wing training aircraft all of which have been delivered. The new aircraft is the Pilatus PC-9M, manufactured by Pilatus Aircraft Limited, Switzerland. The cost of the eight aircraft is approximately €60 million. While these aircraft are primarily for pilot training, they are capable of being armed and as such will have a limited defensive capability.

The procurement process for the acquisition of new helicopters for the Air Corps is progressing well. This major investment programme involves the acquisition of six helicopters — two light utility helicopters primarily for Air Corps crew training purposes and four larger utility helicopters, with the option of two further such helicopters — for use in support of the Army and for other ancillary uses such as air ambulance. It is expected that a contract for the acquisition of the helicopters will be signed before the end of the year. The Naval Service has also benefited from the investment programme in recent years with the acquisition of two new modern ships, LE Róisín and LE Niamh, at a cost of some €25 million each.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

93 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Defence the height requirement for men and women seeking to enter the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28757/04]

The minimum height requirement for entry to the Permanent Defence Force is 162.5 cm., 5 ft. 4 in., for both men and women. I have no plans to amend this eligibility requirement. The professional advice of the medical corps and the actual experience of training units is that persons of shorter stature encounter difficulties in carrying the bulk and weight of combat order equipment. Therefore, any lowering of the existing height requirements for enlistment in the Permanent Defence Force is not envisaged.

Question No. 94 answered with QuestionNo. 77.

Overseas Missions.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

95 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the situation of Irish troops in Liberia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28815/04]

The Defence Forces contingent, which was deployed for service with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, in December, 2003, comprises a motorised infantry battalion, of some 435 personnel. A small number of additional personnel have been also deployed at force headquarters and as military observers.

The 91st infantry battalion is due to return home shortly after completing a six month tour of duty and will be replaced by the 92nd infantry battalion.

The main Irish contingent operates as the force commander's rapid reaction reserve. The role of the Irish personnel is the provision of an immediate response capability, deployable in sufficient strength and with the required level of force to provide a swift and decisive military reaction to any crisis situation.

The Irish battalion in UNMIL has operated in a pathfinding and reconnaissance role supporting the deployment of other UN contingents. It has also conducted long-range patrols beyond Monrovia and well into the interior of Liberia showing a UN presence, deterring lawlessness and protecting local populations. The contingent also undertakes regular daily patrols within the Monrovia area. The Irish battalion is available to the force commander to provide support and a rapid response capability in the event of a breakdown in law and order or further conflict.

During the recent unrest in Monrovia, the Irish Defence Forces contingent was deployed at Mamba Point and also conducted ongoing patrols across the city in order to restore order. While the civil disturbances were widespread and the Defence Forces were deployed extensively, I am glad to say that there were no injuries to Irish personnel. The situation in Monrovia has now calmed and civil order has been restored. However, the speed with which these situations can get out of hand is indicative of the difficult circumstances in which our troops operate and one can never lose sight of this. We will continue to keep this situation under review to ensure that our troops have the necessary equipment and resources to discharge their mandate.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Phil Hogan

Question:

96 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Defence the surface to air weaponry capabilities that are available to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28762/04]

The Defence Forces possess a range of Air Defence assets, including radars for detection and weapons systems. With regard to radars, the Defence Forces have one Giraffe mobile air defence radar with a range of up to 40 km and eight Flycatcher mobile air defence fire control radars with a range of 20 km. On Air Defence weapons, the Defence Forces have 24 Bofors L70 air defence guns. These weapons are controlled directly by the Flycatcher radars. They also have six Bofors RBS missile launchers for use with the Giraffe radar.

Question No. 97 answered with QuestionNo. 60.
Question No. 98 answered with QuestionNo. 84.

Defence Forces Deployment.

Michael Noonan

Question:

99 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Defence the number of Border operations undertaken by the Defence Forces; if there are plans to reduce the number of troops stationed close to the Border with Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28777/04]

The primary responsibility for the internal security of the State rests with the Garda Síochána. The Defence Forces, pursuant to their role of rendering aid to the civil power, assist the gardaí as required. Defence Forces Border operations are undertaken as aid to civil power, ATCP, requests. The Defence Forces also assist the gardaí in relation to prisoner escorts, cash escorts and explosives escorts.

The demands on the Defence Forces in relation to Border duty depend on the nature of the requests for assistance received from gardaí at any particular time. Since the Good Friday Agreement, the level of demand for Defence Forces assistance to the gardaí in the Border area has reduced significantly. During 2003, there were 12 explosive ordnance device, EOD, callouts and four further occasions where the gardaí requested Defence Forces assistance. The question of the level of demand on the Defence Forces in aid of the gardaí in the Border area will be kept under review in my Department in consultation with the relevant Departments as well as with the Garda authorities. There are no plans at present to reduce the number of Defence Forces personnel stationed in posts in the Border area.

Question No. 100 answered with QuestionNo. 66.

Drug Testing Programme.

Mary Upton

Question:

101 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Defence the number of Defence Forces personnel tested to date for the new drug testing programme; the number who have tested positive; the action taken when a member tests positive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28838/04]

Drug abuse has long been recognised as a serious and escalating problem in our society and while there have been relatively few instances of drug related problems within the Defence Forces, it is recognised that the Defence Forces, as a component of the wider community, mirror the community at large. The implications of drug abuse in an organisation where personnel have access to fire-arms are too obvious to require elaboration.

A compulsory substance testing programme was introduced on 1 February 2002, as part of a Defence Forces substance abuse programme, following a long consultative process involving the Office of the Attorney General, the Deputy Judge Advocate General and the Defence Forces' representative associations.

Prior to the launch of the programme, an education programme and awareness briefings were conducted throughout the Defence Forces. All personnel were issued with a booklet devised to inform them of the purpose of the new compulsory random drug testing programme, the administrative procedures involved and the sanctions for those who test positive. All necessary measures, including pre-enlistment screening, education, compulsory random drug testing, monitoring and sanctions, will be taken to maintain a drug free environment within the Defence Forces.

The primary objective of compulsory random drugs testing is deterrence. In order to provide a credible level of deterrent, the testing programme has been devised to maximise the possibility of random selection for testing. A trained drugs testing team is responsible for taking urine samples for compulsory random testing throughout the Defence Forces. Testing commenced on 14 November 2002 and the programme is now in its second year of operation. The target of testing 10% of the Permanent Defence Force has been achieved. A member of the Permanent Defence Force, randomly selected, may be required, at any time, to provide a urine sample which will be tested for evidence of use of controlled drugs, or the abuse or misuse of other substances, or for the detection of the metabolites thereof. A member of the PDF who refuses to provide a urine sample, or who provides a urine sample which tests positive, shall be liable to retirement, discharge or relinquishment of commission or withdrawal of cadetship as appropriate under the provisions of Defence Force regulations.

I have been advised by the military authorities that a total of 2,196 personnel, all ranks, have been tested to date. There have been eight positive tests. Where personnel have confirmed positive test results, they are discharged or retired in accordance with the relevant regulations.

Question No. 102 answered with QuestionNo. 79.
Question No. 103 answered with QuestionNo. 82.

Common Defence Arrangements.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

104 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Defence if he has had consultations with his counterparts at European Union level with regard to the involvement of Ireland in a common defence arrangement across the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28773/04]

I have had no discussions with my counterparts at European Union level with regard to the involvement of Ireland in a common defence arrangement across the EU.

Ireland's position with regard to the issue of common defence is as set out in our national declaration to the European Council held in Seville in June 2002. It states:

4. In line with its traditional policy of military neutrality, Ireland is not bound by any mutual defence commitment. Nor is Ireland party to any plans to develop a European army. Indeed, the Nice European Council recognised that the development of the Union's capacity to conduct humanitarian and crisis management tasks does not involve the establishment of a European army.

5. The Treaty on European Union specifies that any decision by the Union to move to a common defence would have to be taken by unanimous decision of the Member States and adopted in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements. The Government of Ireland have made a firm commitment to the people of Ireland, solemnized in this Declaration, that a referendum will be held in Ireland on the adoption of any such decision and on any future treaty which would involve Ireland departing from its traditional policy of military neutrality.

6. Ireland reiterates that the participation of contingents of the Irish Defence Forces in overseas operations, including those carried out under the European security and defence policy, requires (a) the authorisation of the operation by the Security Council or the General Assembly of the United Nations, (b) the agreement of the Irish Government and (c) the approval of Dáil Éireann, in accordance with Irish law.

The 26th amendment of the Constitution was approved by referendum and the following Article 29.4.9 was inserted into the Constitution: "The State shall not adopt a decision taken by the European Council to establish a common defence pursuant to Article 1.2 of the Treaty referred to in subsection 7° of this section where that common defence would include the State." I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Question No. 105 answered with QuestionNo. 60.

Foreign Conflicts.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

106 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Defence if he will elaborate on his statement of 24 October 2004 that the situation in Iraq would have to be much more stabilised than it is now before he would commit troops to that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28812/04]

In the course of my discussions with the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, during his visit to Ireland last month, we discussed the security situation in Iraq and the difficulties this was creating for the UN assistance mission in Iraq. We both recognised the need for a much expanded UN operation to support the rebuilding of Iraq. The Secretary General expressed the view that it would be difficult to mount any expansion of the current UN mission in the absence of greater security and stability in the region. It was against this background that I stated that the situation in Iraq would have to be more stable before the Government committed troops to that country. I should also state that no formal request has been received from the United Nations for the provision of Irish Defence Forces personnel for the UN mission in Iraq and, as such, the matter does not fall to be considered at this time.

Question No. 107 answered with QuestionNo. 79.
Question No. 108 answered with QuestionNo. 85.
Question No. 109 answered with QuestionNo. 60.

Defence Forces Strength.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

110 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Defence the strength of the Army ranger unit; the future plans for the development of the unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28767/04]

There is an existing policy of ongoing recruitment to the Army ranger wing. Selection courses are held periodically and successful candidates are then taken into the Army ranger wing. There is a planned selection course in progress at present. It is not known at this time how many personnel are likely to be successful on this course. The military authorities advise that the number of personnel serving in the Army ranger wing is less than 75. For security reasons it is not the policy to disclose the type of equipment available to the ranger wing.

Question No. 111 answered with QuestionNo. 77.

European Defence Agency.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

112 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Defence the role Ireland can play in the European armaments, research and military capabilities agency; if Ireland will have a permanent staff at the agency; if it will contribute money to this agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28817/04]

A decision to establish an inter-governmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments, known as the European Defence Agency, EDA, was formally adopted at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 12 July 2004.

The overall aim of the agency is to support member states in their efforts to improve European defence capabilities in support of European security and defence policy. To achieve this, the agency has been ascribed four functions, relating to: defence capabilities development; armaments co-operation; the European defence technological and industrial base and defence equipment market; and research and technology.

At its meeting on 6 July 2004, the Government agreed that Ireland would participate in the framework of the agency. Participation in individual projects of the agency will be a matter for national decision on a case by case basis. The agency will be an important forum by which the EU can seek to improve competitiveness and efficiency in the defence equipment sector which has been notable for fragmentation and duplication. While Ireland is not a major consumer of defence equipment, I believe that we should encourage developments which improve market efficiencies or which may yield some economies of scale for equipment procurement for the Defence Forces.

The agency is still in the early stage of development and is currently in the process of recruiting staff. The recruitment process is open to citizens of all the EU member states. None of the staff appointed by the agency to date has been nominated by Ireland. Ireland has paid a contribution of €21,733.07 towards the agency's initial general budget for 2004. The budget for 2005 will be discussed at a second meeting of the agency's steering board which I will attend in Brussels on 22 November 2004.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

113 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Defence if the Defence Forces have been issued with, or will be issued with, less than lethal weapons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28813/04]

The introduction of less lethal weapons for use by the Defence Forces in the course of aid to the civil power duties is the subject of ongoing consideration in my Department. The consideration of the use of a limited less lethal capacity by the Defence Forces follows the proposal of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, noted by Government in November 2002, to authorise the introduction of a limited range of less-lethal weapons for use by the Garda emergency response unit, ERU, where this is necessary to avoid the use of firearms. The less lethal weapons for use by the Garda ERU are the bean bag shot, a pepper spray device and a ferret pepper spray shot.

Any decision to introduce less-lethal weapons for use by the Defence Forces acting in aid to the civil power in Ireland will be on the basis that the capabilities of the Defence Forces in this area will not exceed the capabilities of the Garda ERU.

If a decision is taken to provide the Defence Forces with less lethal weapons, the lead will be taken from the Garda Síochána. We will provide the Defence Forces with the same weapons and the weapons will only be deployed by the Defence Forces acting in aid to the civil power in the same limited situations that the gardaí intend to use them.

The Defence Forces have recently conducted evaluation tests on 40 mm bean bag ammunition. I am awaiting receipt of the evaluation report at which stage a decision will be made as to whether to proceed with the purchase of a small amount of such ammunition with which the Defence Forces can provide a graduated response acting in aid to the civil power adhering to the principle of absolute minimum force at all times.

Question No. 114 answered with QuestionNo. 63.
Question No. 115 answered with QuestionNo. 85.

Beef Imports.

Denis Naughten

Question:

116 Mr. Naughten asked the Taoiseach the amount of imported beef from outside the EU in each of the past five years; the countries of origin and the tonnage involved in each case; the tonnage of each category subsequently exported from the State in each year concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28858/04]

The table below shows the tonnage of beef imported from non-EU countries for the period 1999 to 2003 — 2003 is the latest year for which complete data is available. This data is broken down by beef category and country of origin. By using "country of origin", Ireland, therefore, appears to import from itself because of beef which was exported being subsequently re-imported. Data is not available to answer the latter part of the Deputy's question as the concept of "country of origin" does not apply to exports and consequently external trade statistics does not identify exports of goods previously imported.

Beef imports from Non-EU Countries.

Country of Origin

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

Tonnes

Overall total

1,611

2,600

9,559

5.123

5.648

of which main categories are:

Frozen beef

Brazil

924

1,541

2,133

2,168

3,122

boneless

Egypt

*3,722

Uruguay

237

138

115

631

13

Ireland

25

45

238

Saudi Arabia

287

Namibia

188

Argentina

14

126

27

Indonesia

163

New Zealand

121

United States

50

Philippines

26

9

Thailand

24

Iceland

11

Australia

10

Bangladesh

1

Nicaragua

1

Total

1,321

1,724

6,697

3,122

3,246

Fresh or chilled beef

Brazil

158

233

369

1,047

1,589

boneless

Egypt

*164

Ireland

3

101

20

5

Uruguay

98

Argentina

41

11

Saudi Arabia

45

Bahrain

24

United States

3

7

Syria

10

Australia

5

Total

166

331

706

1,108

1,622

Fresh or chilled beef

United States

15

carcasses and half carcasses

Kenya

6

Ireland

2

Total

6

2

15

Other bovine meat

Brazil

31

393

819

702

557

prepared or preserved

Ireland

62

80

832

96

107

Argentina

22

58

56

56

Japan

102

United States

17

Bosnia & Herzegovina

2

Romania

1

Total

115

473

1,811

856

738

Edible offal of bovine animals, frozen

Japan

273

Ireland

69

3

Brazil

13

26

Uruguay

34

South Africa

24

Saudi Arabia

8

Egypt

*5

Total

69

326

34

26

Edible offal of bovine animals, fresh or chilled

Ireland

16

Norway

3

New Zealand

1

Total

1

3

16

Other bovine meat

Syria

3

salted, in brine,

dried or smoked

Total

3

Frozen beef

Ireland

2

other cuts with bone in, frozen

Total

2

*CSO has reason to believe that these figures are attributable to consignments of beef exported to Egypt during 2000 and later reimported into Ireland as a result of the existing embargo on all beef imports from EU countries into Egypt.

Ministerial Appointments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

117 Mr. Durkan asked the Taoiseach if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29116/04]

I have appointed two new advisers since the reshuffle of September 2004. Mr. John Lahart, special adviser to the Government Chief Whip, Deputy Kitt, replaces Carl Gibney, special advisor to the former Chief Whip. Mr. Padraig Slyne has been appointed special adviser with responsibility for co-ordination between all Ministers of State and fills a vacancy which existed prior to the recent re-shuffle. There has been no increase in the number of special advisers who assist me in dealing with the complexities and volume of Government business. The salaries of these individuals are: John Lahart €70,578 and Padraig Slyne €53,977. Department of Finance sanction and approval of contracts has been received in both cases and the normal terms and conditions of appointment of special advisers apply.

Departmental Funding.

Pat Carey

Question:

118 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the issue of core funding for a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 7 has been brought to his attention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29217/04]

Pat Carey

Question:

174 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the stage the joint review of the work of a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 7 is at within her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29254/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 174 together.

My Department understands that the issue of core funding for the Carmichael Centre, Dublin 7, will be addressed as part of the review of the work of the centre. Agreement has been reached between the Northern Area Health Board and the Eastern Regional Health Authority to contract an independent researcher to commission the review and I understand that the review should be complete by the end of the year.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

119 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress that has been made on the recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 that a national ASD screening programme be established targeting public health nurses and general practitioners; if such a recommendation has been carried out; if so, the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29387/04]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

120 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress that has been made on the recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 that health boards establish procedures for the assessment of possible ASD in the siblings of identified children; if such a recommendation has been carried out and the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29389/04]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

121 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress that has been made on the recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 that relevant professionals and diagnostic services come together to establish agreed AS-HFA and autism assessment procedures and that they ensure continuity by using up to date and agreed diagnostic criteria for the accurate and early identification of classic autism, Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS; if such a recommendation has been carried out and the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29392/04]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

122 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress that has been made on the recommendation in the report of the task force on autism of October 2001 that speech and language therapy training programmes include a module on differential diagnosis — language disorder-AS — so that speech and language therapists may more effectively refer for comprehensive assessment where indicated; if such a recommendation has been carried out and the extent to which; if not completed, when it will be completed; and if she will make statement on the matter. [29397/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 119 to 122, inclusive, together.

In line with the recommendations of the report of the task force on autism my Department has liaised with the Department of Education and Science in relation to the provision of the relevant health related support services.

Since 1998 €16 million has been invested in the early intervention, pre-school and multi-disciplinary support services to enhance access to those services by children with autism and those with intellectual disability. My Department is continuing to work with the health boards and the Department of Education and Science to further develop the necessary support services for people with autism.

Questions Nos. 123 and 124 withdrawn.

Charitable Organisations.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

125 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will take steps to ensure that the clinical and financial audits of a facility managed by a charitable organisation (details supplied), which were undertaken by the South Western Area Health Board and completed in February 2004, and which have already been supplied to the charitable organisation, will be published and supplied to the parents and guardians of the residents of the audited facility; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a discrete financial audit of the charitable organisation itself, commissioned by the South Western Area Health Board in 2003, was apparently abandoned; and the reason it was abandoned. [28647/04]

The publication of the report referred to by the Deputy is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate this matter and the other issues raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

Health Board Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

126 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress that has been made on a project (details supplied) in County Mayo. [28648/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in County Mayo, is in the first instance, the responsibility of the Western Health Board. I understand from the board that a site has been identified and it is in the process of purchasing same.

My Department is at present examining the health capital programme to ascertain what new projects can be progressed through either planning or construction stages, taking account of existing commitments and overall funding resources available. It is in this context that my Department will continue to liaise with the Western Health Board regarding the proposed development at Ballinrobe in the light of the board's overall capital funding priorities.

Medical Cards.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

127 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress to date in meeting the target in the health strategy to clarify and simplify eligibility arrangements in respect of medical card holders in nursing home care; the steps taken to date in respect of providing a clear statutory framework in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28656/04]

Eligibility for health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means. Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board other than for persons aged seventy years and over, who are automatically eligible for a medical card. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

However, central to our system of publicly funded long-term care is the principle that it is fair and reasonable that those who can afford to contribute to the cost of their long stay care should do so. The health strategy reinforces this point and states that

It is recognised that quality care is expensive and that the bulk of the cost of providing a high standard of quality care should be borne by the exchequer. Nonetheless, it is fair that all those in receipt of publicly provided residential long-term care should make some payment towards accommodation and daily living costs, if they can afford to do so, just as they would if they were living in the community. This principle supports the aim to provide as high quality a service as possible and to make the most equitable use of resources and thus to help maximise the availability of these services.

The current position reflects this approach.

Under the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990, health boards may pay a subvention to assist a person in meeting the cost of private nursing home care. The Department of Health and Children has established a working group to review the operation and administration of the nursing home subvention scheme.

The health strategy, Quality and Fairness A Health System for You, acknowledges the need to clarify and simplify eligibility arrangements and sets down a commitment to introduce new legislation to provide for the introduction of clear statutory provisions on entitlement and eligibility. A review of all existing legislation in this area has been carried out in my Department which will inform the approach to the drafting of new legislation in this area. As part of this exercise, my Department will attempt to resolve the current differences in approach in the consideration of individuals' ability to pay under the various regulations in this area.

Arising from concerns in relation to the current practice of charging for long-stay care in health board institutions, this matter is being examined having regard to advice from the Office of the Attorney General with a view to clarification of the situation at an early date.

Hospital Staff.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

128 Mr. McCormack asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has proposals for establishing here a convertible course similar to the course being run in Liverpool for state enrolled nurses to qualify as state registered nurses (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28668/04]

The state enrolled nurse, SEN, qualification is a United Kingdom qualification which is not recognised in this country. Persons who have obtained this qualification must undertake a nursing conversion programme in the United Kingdom in order to qualify for registration as a nurse. Unfortunately, it is not possible to provide such a programme here because the rules of the United Kingdom regulatory authority for nursing only allow a maximum of 10% of the clinical component of the programme to take place outside the United Kingdom.

There is a grant available from the Department to assist state enrolled nurses, SENs, undertaking nursing conversion programmes in the United Kingdom. Under this initiative any SEN working in the Irish health service who wishes to undertake such a programme will be entitled to receive a non-means-tested grant of €7,618 towards the overall costs, including college fees, textbooks, travel and accommodation, involved in attending the programme in the United Kingdom. Payment of the grants will be subject to the SEN giving a written undertaking that she-he will work as a nurse in the Irish health service following registration with An Bord Altranais.

Property Disposal.

Sean Fleming

Question:

129 Mr. Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the land at the grounds of a hospital (details supplied) in County Laois will not be sold off in view of the strategic importance of these lands in the centre of Portlaoise and the valuable use that these grounds can be put to for the general health and well being of the community. [28669/04]

I wish to advise the Deputy that following the enactment of the Health (Amendment) Act 2004, the change in legislation now requires health boards to obtain the consent of the Minister for Health and Children before they may sell or otherwise dispose of lands. The Midland Health Board, in accordance with section 15 of the Act, have advised me of some proposals to dispose of land at St. Fintan's Hospital, Portlaoise, which would require my consent. The responsibility for the management and utilisation of the health board estate however still rests with the chief executive officer of the health board.

In that context, the proposals to dispose of lands have been developed by the Midland Health Board in line with the policy and guiding principles set down for the future utilisation of the landbank at St. Fintan's Hospital, and these proposals are currently under consideration within my Department. The Deputy will also be aware that I am concerned that the sale of land or properties in the health area will be applied and used for health purposes, with the exception of contributions to the social and affordable housing initiatives.

Hospital Services.

Sean Fleming

Question:

130 Mr. Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an application from the Midland Health Board has been received by her for the provision of a CAT scan at Portlaoise General Hospital; and her views on whether the funding can be provided for such an essential facility. [28670/04]

My Department has recently received an application from the Midland Health Board for the provision of a CAT scanner at Portlaoise General Hospital. This is at present being considered by my Department in the light of various capital priorities in line with funding resources available. I expect to be in a position to make a decision on this shortly and my Department will then be in touch with the board on the matter.

Care of the Elderly.

John McGuinness

Question:

131 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress being made with the provision of long stay beds for the elderly at St. Canice’s Hospital, Kilkenny; the cost of the first phase of the development; the expected completion date; the estimated cost of the final phase; the projected time-frame; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28671/04]

As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in the Kilkenny area rests with the South Eastern Health Board in the first instance. The board submitted to my Department a proposal to develop a 30 bed residential unit and day facility for psychiatry of later life and a 22 bed residential facility for the elderly at St. Canice's Hospital, Kilkenny.

Approval was given to the board to proceed with the project on a phased basis, commencing with the development of the 30 bed unit and day facility at an estimated capital cost of €1.4million. The board has advised that this project has gone to tender and a contractor has been selected. Approval was also given to the board to proceed with the design stages of the development of the long stay unit for older people. The capital costs for this refurbishment are currently estimated at €1.1million. Any decision in relation to progressing this project will be considered by my Department in the context of the significant additional revenue funding and staff which will be required by the board to operate the new unit and having regard to the board's employment ceiling and funding available to my Department.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

John McGuinness

Question:

132 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an assessment will be urgently arranged in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if the matter can be expedited as requested in writing by this person’s general practitioner on two occasions; if this person can be treated under the treatment purchase fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28672/04]

Responsibility for the provision of services for residents of County Kilkenny is, in the first instance, a matter for the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate the matter and reply to the Deputy directly.

Departmental Funding.

John McGuinness

Question:

133 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will fund directly a proposal submitted from the centre for the care of survivors of torture in Dublin; if each health board will consider funding the proposal should she refuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28673/04]

No request for funding has been received by my Department from the centre for the care of survivors of torture. However, I understand that such a request is being prepared by the organisation.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

134 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the approximate number of persons thought to suffer from Asperger’s syndrome; and the support services that are available for those who have this condition. [28674/04]

Responsibility for the provision of services, including support services for persons suffering from Asperger's syndrome nationwide, is a matter, in the first instance, for either the Eastern Regional Health Authority or one of the seven health boards depending on the individual's address. The information requested by the Deputy is not routinely collected by my Department, the regional chief executive of the authority and the chief executive officers of the health board have therefore been requested to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

Question No. 135 withdrawn.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

136 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of cases of breast cancer detected in women in 2003; the percentage of women likely to develop or experience breast cancer during the course of their lives; if the capital funding announced for the roll-out of BreastCheck in the south west will be followed through with current funding; the estimated annual current expenditure for running costs and staffing that will be required to make the service in the south west operational; if this funding will be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28725/04]

Statistics in relation to cancer incidence, including incidence of breast cancer, are collated by the national cancer registry. There were 1,890 cases of malignant breast cancer in 2000, the latest year for which complete data are available. Preliminary data for 2001, 2002 and 2003 indicate that there were 2,018, 2,232 and 2,088 cases respectively.

The roll-out of the national breast screening programme to the remaining counties is a major priority in the development of cancer services. This will ensure that all women in the 50 to 64 age group throughout the country have access to breast screening and follow up treatment where required. A capital investment of approximately €20 million has been approved to construct and equip two static clinical units, one in Cork and the other in Galway. This investment will also ensure that mobile units are available to screen women in the relevant age group throughout the country. BreastCheck and my Department are fully committed to an expeditious approach to the national roll-out of the programme and representatives have met recently to progress the design process. A design brief will be completed shortly and a selection process for the appointment of a design team will follow.

BreastCheck estimates that the full year revenue costs of the roll-out to the remaining counties will be approximately €15 million. Discussions will take place between BreastCheck and my Department to ensure a timely roll out aligned to the capital investment programme. Any woman, irrespective of her age or residence, who has immediate concerns or symptoms should contact her GP who, where appropriate, will refer her to the symptomatic services in her region.

Post Mortem Examinations.

Pat Breen

Question:

137 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when post mortem results will be released to the family of a deceased person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28726/04]

I can inform the Deputy that in accordance with the provisions of the Coroners Act 1962, a coroner is a statutory officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions, in relation to which he or she is independent. However, my Department has been informed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that a report has recently been received from the State Laboratory by the pathologist who performed the post mortem in the case referred to and it is understood that this will enable the pathologist to complete the post mortem report and forward it to the coroner.

Nursing Home Charges.

Seán Haughey

Question:

138 Mr. Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, according to recent reports, health boards in some cases have charged for the cost of long-term nursing home care when they should not have done so; if persons with medical cards should not have been charged; if refunds will be paid in these cases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28788/04]

Eligibility for health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means. Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board other than for persons aged 70 years and over, who are automatically eligible for a medical card. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

However, central to our system of publicly funded long-term care is the principle that it is fair and reasonable that those who can afford to contribute to the cost of their long stay care should do so. The health strategy reinforces this point and states:

It is recognised that quality care is expensive and that the bulk of the cost of providing a high standard of quality care should be borne by the exchequer. Nonetheless, it is fair that all those in receipt of publicly provided residential long-term care should make some payment towards accommodation and daily living costs, if they can afford to do so, just as they would if they were living in the community. This principle supports the aim to provide as high quality a service as possible and to make the most equitable use of resources and thus to help maximise the availability of these services.

The current position reflects this approach.

Under the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990, health boards may pay a subvention to assist a person in meeting the cost of private nursing home care. The Department of Health and Children has established a working group to review the operation and administration of the nursing home subvention scheme.

The health strategy, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You, acknowledges the need to clarify and simplify eligibility arrangements and sets down a commitment to introduce new legislation to provide for the introduction of clear statutory provisions on entitlement and eligibility. A review of all existing legislation in this area has been carried out in my Department which will inform the approach to the drafting of new legislation in this area. As part of this exercise, my Department will be attempting to resolve the current differences in approach in the consideration of individuals' ability to pay under the various regulations in this area.

Arising from concerns in relation to the current practice of charging for long-stay care in health board institutions, this matter is being examined having regard to advice from the Office of the Attorney General with a view to clarification of the situation at an early date.

Departmental Programmes.

Liz McManus

Question:

139 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the increase of inflammatory bowel disease in children, she will consider listing it as a notifiable illness; if information leaflets on IBD awareness in children, symptoms and so on, will be supplied to general practitioners and health centres as well as information on Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28790/04]

Under the 1970 Health Act, a health board may arrange for the supply, without charge, of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition, for the treatment of that condition under the long-term illness scheme. The conditions are: mental handicap, mental illness — for people under 16 only, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia. There are currently no plans to amend the list of eligible conditions.

Other schemes provide assistance towards the cost of approved drugs and medicines for people with significant ongoing medical expenses. People who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. Eligibility for a medical card is solely a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board. In determining eligibility, the CEO has regard to the applicant's financial circumstances. Health boards use income guidelines to assist in determining eligibility. However, where a person's income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may be awarded if the CEO considers that the person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be issued to individual family members on this basis.

Non-medical card holders, and people with conditions not covered under the LTI, can use 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.

Notifiable illnesses under the regulations in place only refer to communicable diseases such as TB, hepatitis, meningitis, etc., and this is done for reasons of public health protection from transmission of those diseases. No such consideration would be relevant in the case of irritable bowel disease. My Department has no plans with regard to the preparation or distribution of information leaflets on irritable bowel disease to general practitioners. It is a matter for the GP in consultation with the patient to decide on the most appropriate course of treatment.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Bernard Allen

Question:

140 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork is only receiving €80.71 per week subvention from 30 July 2004; and if the law will be applied in their case and the full fee for the nursing home paid. [28792/04]

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

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Michael Ring

Question:

141 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the State will pay for a person (details supplied) with a serious illness to obtain treatment outside this country; and if there is a scheme within the health boards or her Department by which persons can make applications for funding. [28793/04]

The position is that it is a matter for the health board to determine if the treatment is to be authorised in such circumstances as described by the Deputy. EU Regulations 1408/71 and 574/72 set out the general position for EU-EEA citizens with regard to their health care entitlements in another member state or Switzerland. The regulations outline that persons covered — in Ireland, persons ordinarily resident — are entitled to health care through the public system of another EU-EEA country or Switzerland as though he or she were a resident or insured person of that country where such care becomes necessary during a temporary stay in that country, taking into account the nature of the care and the expected length of stay.

In instances where a person not travelling requires specific necessary treatment, which is not available in the country in which he or she resides, the local health authority may make arrangements to send him or her to another EU member state for treatment under the E112 liaison agreement. Public health care systems vary from country to country such that co-payments may be required in some countries, which are not reimbursable, while health service provision is subject to the same restraints of capacity etc. as for ordinary residents.

In Ireland, the form E112 as issued by a health board, may cover such cases requiring necessary treatment. It is essential for the health board to establish that the patient's requirements cannot be met locally or in any other centre within the State prior to issuing the form. Where an individual requires specific treatment which is necessary and which is not available in Ireland, a health board may authorise the provision of treatment in another member state.

Before any patient is referred abroad for treatment a health board ensures that the following procedures are adhered to: the application to refer a patient abroad must be assessed before the patient goes abroad except in cases of extreme urgency; medical evidence must be provided by a hospital consultant giving details of the condition from which the patient suffers and of the type of treatment envisaged; it must be certified by the consultant that the treatment is not available in this country, there is an urgent medical necessity for the treatment, there is a reasonable medical prognosis, the treatment is regarded as a proven form of medical treatment and the treatment abroad is in a recognised hospital or other institution and is under the control of a registered medical practitioner.

In normal circumstances, it is a matter for the local health board to determine if such treatment is to be authorised. The issue of the E112 form involves a commitment by the health board to pay the cost of treatment. In issuing the form the health board should specify the nature and extent of treatment to be covered. In the case where a person's E112 application has been approved a health board may provide assistance towards the cost of travel and subsistence expenses. The decision in relation to the provision of such assistance is a matter for the relevant health board.

Arrangements which are made privately for the treatment of a patient in any country abroad, must be regarded as outside the terms of the EU regulations and health boards have no obligation to meet any part of the cost involved. In the first instance the individual concerned should be advised to contact their local health board for further advice and guidance on this matter, and in order not to delay a decision on their optimum treatment.

Hospital Accommodation.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

142 Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding additional beds for the elderly at a hospital (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28794/04]

As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in the Cork area rests with the Southern Health Board in the first instance. A design team comprising representatives of the board and my Department has been appointed for this project and it is proceeding with the detailed design of phase 2 of the development. The development will consist of a new 30 bed unit to replace existing patient accommodation at the hospital and ensure that the environment for both patients and staff is improved.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

143 Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding additional beds for the elderly at a hospital (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28795/04]

I assume that the Deputy is referring to the proposed 50 bed community nursing unit, CNU, at Mount Alvernia Hospital, Mallow, which is one of the locations identified by the Southern Health Board, SHB, for the pilot public private partnership, PPP, project. The CNU will provide respite, convalescence, long stay and rehabilitation services, to elderly patients in the north Cork area.

It is a priority to increase the availability of community nursing and other units that would meet the needs of people who need care that could not be adequately provided at home. There have been discussions between my Department and the Department of Finance in the development of this PPP scheme, as is normal and entirely appropriate with a PPP project. As PPPs are complex schemes it is important to have a clear view of the benefits that will accrue given the complexity of the PPP contracting structure. The work that has been done so far has helped to clarify a number of issues. I intend to examine this project in detail very soon. The proposed facility will greatly help people make the transition from an acute hospital setting to care matched to their needs.

Birth Rates.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

144 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of births at Kerry General Hospital each year between 1994 and 2003. [28798/04]

The information requested by the Deputy is provided in the table below:

Kerry General Hospital: Number of Live Births 1994 to 2003.

Year

Number

1994

1,010

1995

964

1996

1,080

1997

1,153

1998

1,132

1999

1,152

2000

1,174

2001

1,248

2002

1,449

2003

1,446

Disabled Drivers.

Bernard Allen

Question:

145 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a decision will be made on an application made by a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [28800/04]

The medical assessment for the purpose of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme is carried out by the senior area medical officer in the relevant health board. This function is to assist the Department of Finance who have statutory responsibility for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. Accordingly, my Department has asked the chief executive officer, Southern Health Board, to investigate this case and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Question No. 146 withdrawn.

Hospital Procedures.

Michael Ring

Question:

147 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has been called to Merlin Park Hospital in Galway for a hip operation; if not, the reason therefore. [28863/04]

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.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Willie Penrose

Question:

148 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the various charges that persons who are not medical card holders have to pay in the event of their having to attend an accident and emergency unit of a hospital; the amount they would have to pay if they were admitted into the hospital ward; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28864/04]

Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means rather than income. Any person who is accepted by the health boards as being ordinarily resident in Ireland is entitled to either full eligibility — category 1, that is, medical card holders — or limited eligibility — category 2 — for health services. Persons in category 1 are medical card holders and are entitled to a full range of services including all outpatient public hospital services without charge. Persons in category 2 are those who do not hold medical cards, and they are entitled, subject to certain charges, to outpatient public hospital services including consultants services.

With regard to an attendance at accident and emergency departments, the Health (Out-Patient Charges) (Amendment) Regulations 2002, provide for a statutory charge of €45 per visit. This charge is levied only on persons who attend at accident and emergency departments without a referral note from their doctor and applies only for the first visit of any episode of care. Other than this charge which refers only to visits to an accident and emergency department, there are no other charges for public patients attending outpatient public hospital clinics.

There are a number of people who are exempt from this charge, including medical card holders, women receiving services in respect of motherhood, children up to the age of six weeks, children referred for treatment from child health clinics and school health examinations and persons whose attendance results in admission as an inpatient. Also exempt from these charges, in respect of treatment for the particular condition, are children suffering from prescribed diseases, i.e. mental handicap, mental illness, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, haemophilia and cerebral palsy.

On admission, a person is designated an in-patient and charges are applicable subject to eligibility status. The Health (In-Patient Charges) Regulations 1987, specify categories of persons exempted from public hospital statutory in-patient charges, which currently stand at €45 per night up to a maximum of €450 in any 12 consecutive months for those with category 2 eligibility status — that is, non-medical card holders. Persons with category 1 eligibility status, i.e. those covered by the medical card scheme, are amongst the categories exempted.

As with the accident and emergency charge, the 1987 regulations provide that, pursuant to section 45 (7) of the Health Act 1970, a person may also be exempted from public hospital charges on hardship grounds if deemed so by the chief executive officer of a health board. Alternatively, one can opt to be the private patient of both the consultant and the hospital. Any patient, whether a medical card holder or not, who opts for treatment in a private hospital or as a private patient in a public hospital is liable for the costs relating to such treatment. Charges set by my Department in respect of private and semi-private rooms in public hospitals are additional to the statutory inpatient charge and are a contribution towards overall hospital running costs. These charges, effective from 1 January 2004, are outlined in the table below.

Hospital Category

Private Accommodation

Semi-Private Accommodation

Day-care

Health Board Regional Hospitals Voluntary and Joint Board Teaching Hospitals

401

314

289

Health Board County Hospitals Voluntary Non-Teaching Hospitals

334

269

239

Health Board District Hospitals

179

153

133

Where exemptions do not apply, the public charge may be waived if, in the opinion of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board, payment would cause undue hardship. Under the Health Act, 1970, the determination of eligibility for health services is primarily the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board.

Health Board Allowances.

Pat Breen

Question:

149 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding a mobility allowance for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28865/04]

The assessment of entitlement to and payment of the mobility allowance in any individual case is a matter for the relevant health board. My Department has therefore asked the chief executive officer, Mid-Western Health Board, to investigate the issues raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of extreme urgency.

Health Board Building Projects.

Richard Bruton

Question:

150 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to relocate the 230 residents of a service (details supplied) in County Dublin; if the proposals which involve separate developments on the grounds of sites (details supplied) are still actively being developed; and when she expects each of these proposals to commence. [28866/04]

The location and construction of the developments referred to by the Deputy is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

Health Board Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

151 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 will be given the maximum support and assistance when leaving hospital; and the position regarding the case of this person. [28867/04]

Responsibility for the provision of care and treatment of the named individual rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

Health Board Staff.

John Perry

Question:

152 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons that are on panels in the NWHB; the length of time they are on these panels without being appointed to their substantive posts in view of the fact that the NWHB will no longer exist at the end of 2004 with some employees very anxious that they are being used to do the work of a higher grade but may not get appointed to that grade; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28944/04]

Responsibility for recruitment of personnel rests in this instance with the North Western Health Board. My Department has therefore asked the chief executive officer to investigate the matters raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Paul McGrath

Question:

153 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress of the working group who are reviewing the operation and administration of the nursing home subvention scheme; the progress made to date in relation to this report; and when it is expected that the final report will be published. [29013/04]

The review is taking into account issues arising from the interpretation of certain aspects of the 1990 Act and the subvention regulations which have arisen over the years, the Ombudsman's comments on the operation of the nursing home subvention scheme, the recommendations in the O'Shea and Mercer reports, and the views of clients and service providers on the operation of the nursing home subvention scheme.

The aims and objectives of the review are to recommend any changes necessary in the light of Professor O'Shea's recommendations; to make recommendations on an equitable means assessment test for subvention; to make recommendations on the development of a standardised dependency test; to examine alternative care settings such as home care and to make recommendations for the funding of such care settings as an alternative to long-term residential care; to make recommendations on the development and implementation of quality care standards in institutional settings; to make recommendations on such other matters as the group considers appropriate within the broad parameters of its mandate; and the ultimate aim of the review will be the development of a system which will be transparent, provide equity, be less discretionary and financially sustainable.

The review group has been working for a number of months and is comprised of a wide variety of stakeholders representing the many and varied interests associated with long-term care. These include Departments, health agencies, voluntary and professional groups and the private nursing home sector. The group has been hearing submissions from interested parties and has also benefited from hearing presentations from the authors of the above mentioned reports. Most recently, the group has been considering issues such as the broad principles which should underpin any revisions to the nursing home subvention scheme as well as the themes on which it might be possible to make progress in the short or longer term. One of the key matters to be discussed and considered will be the need to maintain synergy between the group's work and deliberations elsewhere in relation to the Mercer report. For these reasons it is not possible at this stage to be precise about the date on which the group will report.

Child Care Services.

Seán Crowe

Question:

154 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she intends to provide funding to a centre (details supplied) in order that the Realtin scheme, which provides care and support to school going children of troubled families in the area, can be maintained; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29014/04]

Funding for services of the type referred to by the Deputy is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the relevant health board — in this case the South Western Area Health Board. I understand from the area board that a grant is currently in place for the centre. The centre should liaise with the Area Board in relation to the continuation of this funding.

Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

Bernard Allen

Question:

155 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the way in which she will implement the promise given recently that no hospital consultant will be without insurance cover and no patient without redress. [29015/04]

The precise means whereby claims alleging medical malpractice on the part of consultants who may be left without assistance by the Medical Defence Union will be managed is currently the subject of discussions between my Department, the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Chief State Solicitor.

During my recent attendance at the Irish Hospital Consultants Association annual conference I assured members that arising out of the situation with the Medical Defence Union and cover for historic liabilities of consultants, in particular obstetric claims, no Irish person who has suffered from a medical mishap would be left without compensation and no consultant would be left without cover in all reasonable circumstances and in accordance with law. This is the principle guiding the Governments' approach to the MDU's entirely unjustified withdrawal of cover for obstetricians for liabilities before 1 February 2004.

Suicide Incidence.

Bernard Allen

Question:

156 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she proposes to increase funding for localised research on suicide in order to improve the effectiveness of suicide prevention strategies. [29016/04]

Since the publication of the report of the national task force on suicide in 1998, my Department has given special attention to the resourcing of suicide prevention initiatives. A cumulative total of more than €17.5 million has now been provided towards suicide prevention programmes and for research activity at local and national level involving various agencies including the health boards, the national suicide review group, the Irish Association of Suicidology and the National Suicide Research Foundation. Further resourcing of suicide prevention initiatives will be considered in the context of the Estimates process for 2005.

As the Deputy may be aware, work is now well underway on the preparation of a strategic action plan for suicide reduction which involves the Health Boards Executive in partnership with the national suicide review group and supported by the Department of Health and Children. This strategy, which will be based on extensive national and international consultation and evidence based research, will build on existing policy and on the recommendations contained in the report of the national task force. All measures aimed at reducing the number of deaths by suicide will be considered in the preparation of this strategy, which will be completed in 2005.

Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

Bernard Allen

Question:

157 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of claims presently before the State Claims Agency; and the number that relate to allegations that a patient fatality was the result of a medical error. [29017/04]

The State Claims Agency which operates the clinical indemnity scheme on behalf of my Department is currently managing 763 claims under the scheme. While it is feasible to identify claims initiated by the relatives of patients who have died, it is not possible to determine the contribution, if any, of alleged negligence to the death until the claim is disposed of by way of settlement or court judgement.

Medicinal Products.

Bernard Allen

Question:

158 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make a statement on the matter of concerns in relation to a drug (details supplied) that were identified at a meeting in Tunisia in 2002; if her attention has been drawn to these concerns; and the actions that were taken. [29018/04]

The safety of this product has been closely monitored, both nationally and at European level, since its first authorisation in the EU in 1999. The potential for the development of cardiovascular adverse effects has been known for some time and these effects were highlighted in the patient information leaflet that accompanied the product. On 1 October 2004, the manufacturer voluntarily withdrew the product from the market worldwide: this withdrawal was undertaken on the basis of data from one new clinical trial which indicated that refecoxib, the active ingredient in the product, was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular side effects. The Irish Medicines Board, in conjunction with the company concerned, notified health care professionals in this country and co-ordinated the recall of stocks.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Bernard Allen

Question:

159 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of primary care buildings funded by her to date under the primary care strategy. [29019/04]

The primary care strategy, Primary Care, A New Direction, recognises that the provision of modern, well-equipped, accessible premises will be central to the effective functioning of the integrated multidisciplinary primary care team and network model as envisaged in the strategy. A range of different approaches to the financing and provision of these facilities will be explored in the course of implementing the new model of service provision.

Capital funding has been provided under the strategy to facilitate the provision of appropriate facilities for the initial ten primary care teams approved in October 2002. In 2004 capital funding of €450,000 has been provided to the Southern Health Board to enable the construction of a new primary care centre in Annascaul, County Kerry. Along with existing centres in Dingle and Castlegregory, this centre will be one of three premises delivering services as part of the west Kerry primary care team. The provision of a primary care centre in this instance is being financed jointly by the State and the general practitioner who will operate from the centre. The provision of the new centre will enable additional services to be delivered in a single centre and will assist in the delivery of integrated services to the population in this area.

Capital funding of €275,000 has been provided to the East Coast Area Health Board in 2004 for the provision of a new high specification modular unit adjacent to the health centre in Castle Park for the Arklow primary care team. The provision of this new unit will enable health board-employed members of the team to be based in a single centre. This will assist in the delivery of integrated services to the population in this area.

Further capital funding has been provided for premises renovation, refurbishment and equipping for the initial primary care teams. In 2002, minor capital funding totalling €2 million was provided across the ten locations for this purpose. This included renovation by the South Western Area Health Board of an existing building on the site of the Meath Hospital which now accommodates the Liberties 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 can be delivered 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.

Legislative Programme.

Bernard Allen

Question:

160 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has received a communication from the Medical Council expressing concerns over the resources needed to implement the proposed changes to the Medical Practitioners Act and the holding of fitness to practice hearings in public; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29020/04]

Officials from my Department have met the Medical Council on many occasions to discuss a broad range of issues relating to the preparation of the general scheme of the new Medical Practitioners Bill. In recent weeks, a further meeting took place in order to update the council on progress in relation to the drafting of the Bill and on future consultations with the council on the development of the Bill's provisions. Contact between my Department and the council will continue on a regular basis during the drafting process.

The president of the council has recently written to me regarding the current work of the council and the future system of regulation of the medical profession in Ireland. I have arranged to meet with a delegation from the council on Thursday, 25 November and I expect that the issues raised in the Deputy's question will be among the topics for discussion.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Michael Lowry

Question:

161 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the average cost of patient treatment under the national treatment purchase fund; the way in which this compares with patient care administered in the normal manner; the average cost of treatment and the total cost of treatment received to date by residents of north Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29079/04]

Michael Lowry

Question:

162 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the current state of waiting lists and the uptake of the national treatment purchase fund including detailed levels of usage; the number of persons that have been treated in north Tipperary; the number in north Tipperary that are still on waiting lists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29080/04]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 161 and 162 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. My Department has, therefore, asked the acting chief executive of the NTPF to reply to the Deputy directly with the information requested.

Health Board Services.

Liz McManus

Question:

163 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether a patient who has been referred by their dentist to the dental hospital in a case in which the dentist deems it necessary for the person to receive specialist intervention, sometimes urgently, should have the facility to be treated in an accident and emergency clinic at the dental hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29081/04]

Responsibility for the provision of dental services to eligible persons is a matter for the health boards or authority in the first instance. The Eastern Regional Health Authority has raised the matter with the Dublin Dental Hospital and is advised that the accident and emergency department in the Dublin Dental Hospital operates on a triage basis. This year to the end of September 2004, 15,409 patients have been seen by accident and emergency staff, of which 11,626 have received treatment. The remaining patients were referred to their own general dental practitioner. The dental hospital has emphasised that its accident and emergency service is for the treatment of pain relief, serious infection, visible swelling in and around the mouth, injuries — as a result of trauma or accident — bleeding or haemorrhage.

The authority is further advised that where a dentist feels a specialist referral is necessary and urgent, he or she is best advised to both telephone the appropriate specialist or consultant in the dental hospital, discuss the case and forward a letter outlining the particulars with the patient to the hospital. Such cases will be addressed by the appropriate consultant on the basis of need and urgency. The Dublin Dental Hospital points out that it cannot accept specialist referrals to its accident and emergency service as that department can only accommodate pain relief, serious infection, visible swelling in and around the mouth, injuries — as a result of trauma or accident — bleeding or haemorrhage.

The authority understands that urgent specialist referrals in oral and maxillofacial surgery, oral surgery, oral medicine, paediatric dentistry, etc., will be addressed by consultants in these areas separately to the accident and emergency service within the dental hospital. The Deputy should be aware that the authority regularly meets with the Dublin Dental Hospital to discuss issues such as the operation of its accident and emergency service and other services.

Health Board Staff.

Jack Wall

Question:

164 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the SWAHB has met all of its obligations in regard to outstanding or other payments to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in relation to the change of job description, subsequent rates of pay and pension rights; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29082/04]

Responsibility for the implementation of pay scales and related personnel issues rests in this instance with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matters raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

Medical Assessment Review.

John McGuinness

Question:

165 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the status of the Comhairle report on medical assessment units; if the report will be published and debated by Dáil Éireann; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29097/04]

The Comhairle na nOspidéal report on acute medical units has been completed. The report has been published by Comhairle na nOspidéal and is available to the public from today.

Cancer Incidence.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

166 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she intends to take to reduce the unacceptably high risk of contracting cancer in County Louth as revealed in a recent NEHB health report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29098/04]

The report, Cancer in County Louth, prepared by the national cancer registry, concludes that the excess risk of cancer in County Louth appears to be due to a small number of risk factors such as smoking, diet and sun-exposure. There is no evidence according to the report that residence in County Louth is in itself an independent risk factor for cancer.

The information in the report covers periods between 1994 to 2001. Significant developments in cancer services have taken place in recent years. In the north eastern region, additional cumulative funding of approximately €28 million has been made available since 1997 for the development of treatment and care services for patients suffering from cancer. This funding has enabled the appointment of an additional ten consultants, together with support staff in key areas such as medical oncology, haematology, breast surgery and palliative care. The funding has also enabled the appointment of an additional 20 cancer care nurse specialists across the region.

Smoking is a causative factor in the majority of lung cancer deaths and my Department continues to tackle this problem through legislative, environmental and health promotion measures. Smoking tends to be most prevalent in urban and particularly deprived urban areas. The prohibition of smoking in all places of work, which was introduced earlier this year, will help protect the health and safety of workers and the public from the toxic affect of tobacco smoke and is expected to have a significant impact on the incidences of lung cancer in the coming years.

There is strong evidence that diet and obesity increase the risk of developing chronic health conditions including some forms of cancer. In response to this the national task force on obesity was established by my Department. The task force is charged with addressing this serious issue as a matter of priority and will develop a strategy which aims to impact positively on the health of people throughout the country.

Medical Negligence.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

167 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the details of the guidelines for making a complaint of negligence to the Medical Council; the number of cases dealt with each year for the past ten years; the number which resulted in favour of the petitioner; and if there are other complaint mechanisms available to persons who have suffered medical neglect. [29099/04]

Under the Medical Practitioners Act 1978, the Medical Council was established as the body with the statutory responsibility for the registration of medical practitioners in Ireland and the regulation of their professional activities. Pursuant to Part V of the Act, the Medical Council, through its fitness to practise committee, considers complaints against registered medical practitioners on the grounds of alleged professional misconduct or fitness to engage in the practice of medicine by reason of physical or mental disability.

I am informed by the Medical Council, that if any individual chooses to make a complaint, he or she should write to the professional standards section of the council stating the name and address of the doctor concerned and giving full details of the complaint. Information on how complaints are handled and the procedures followed by the Medical Council on receipt of a complaint are sent out in leaflet form with all acknowledgements to complaints. The details are also available on the council's website, www.medicalcouncil.ie.

The fitness to practise committee considers any complaints received. If the committee considers that a prima facie case exists, an inquiry is held pursuant to section 45(3) of the Medical Practitioners Act. On completion of the inquiry, if the committee makes a finding of professional misconduct and-or unfitness to practise medicine by reason of physical or mental disability, the sanctions available to the Council are: erasure of the practitioner’s name from the register; suspension of registration for a specified period; attachment of conditions to registration; and the issue of advice, admonishment or censure to the medical practitioner.

The Medical Council has informed me that since 1994, 175 inquiries have been held. Of this number, 106 findings of professional misconduct and-or unfitness to engage in the practice of medicine by reason of mental or physical disability were made. This resulted in 35 erasures from the register, 38 cases where conditions were attached to registration and 33 cases where the medical practitioner was advised, admonished or censured by the council. More detailed statistics on the number of cases which have been considered from 1994 to date are contained in the table attached.

It should be noted, however, that in no case is the fitness to practise committee empowered to make a finding in favour of the complainant. The committee may only consider the professional conduct or fitness to practise by reason of physical or mental disability of the particular medical practitioner, and, if such person is found guilty, the council may apply a sanction as detailed above. The Medical Council is not responsible for the consideration of complaints concerning professional or medical negligence. It is, however, open to any individual patient to pursue such a complaint of negligence through the courts, if he or she so wishes.

A significant amendment to the Medical Practitioners Act is currently being drafted in my Department with the assistance of parliamentary counsel. Among the changes proposed in the new Medical Practitioners Bill are measures to improve the efficiency of the fitness to practise process. In addition, provisions to ensure that the complainant is kept fully informed at all stages are planned, along with other changes which should assist the council in performing its functions in the most effective way.

Ministerial Appointments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

168 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by her since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29117/04]

I have appointed one additional adviser with effect from 29 September 2004. The rate of pay for this adviser is €107,102 per annum. The appointment is to a temporary unestablished position in the Department and will terminate not later than the date on which I will cease to hold office as Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children.

Medical Cards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

169 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will be reinstated to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29142/04]

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board or authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the Eastern Regional Health Authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Health Board Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

170 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has plans to allow additional funds to be allocated through the North Eastern Health Board for a hospital (details supplied) in County Meath in order that increased supervision of the patients can take place to ensure additional care and to alleviate the night-time care of same; if this will include funding for closed circuit television within the hospital and additional night-time nursing care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29173/04]

The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot at this stage give specific commitments in relation to level of expenditure in 2005 for any particular service as these matters will be decided as part of the discussions on the Estimates and budget for that year between my Department and the Department of Finance.

Michael Ring

Question:

171 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason information was not given by the Western Health Board in response to Parliamentary Question No. 144 of 9 November 2004. [29238/04]

In relation to Parliamentary Question No. 144 of 9 November 2004, the Western Health Board has advised my Department that it wrote to the Deputy on 8 November 2004 in relation to the particular case raised by him. The board has further advised my Department that as client files are confidential it can only notify clients or their next of kin of the outcome of meetings pertaining to the client's case for confidentiality reasons.

Damien English

Question:

172 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Meath will receive speech and language therapy; the reason they have been waiting for two years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29239/04]

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

Fireworks Injuries.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

173 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who have been treated for injuries as a result of fireworks during the eight years since 1996; the breakdown of the figures in terms of age profile and the county origins of the persons injured; and the type of injuries sustained. [29253/04]

The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the tables below. Data are derived from the hospital inpatient enquiry, HIPE, system which records information on each episode of hospitalisation in publicly funded acute hospitals. The primary aim of HIPE is to provide measures of hospital activity for specific diagnostic and procedure categories. There is provision in HIPE for coding of underlying external causes of types of injuries, such as fireworks, but this information may not always be available to the coder and significant under-reporting is therefore possible. National statistics are not available on injuries from fireworks which do not result in hospitalisation.

Table 1 provides figures for each year from 1996 to 2003 and separately for Dublin residents and the rest of the country. Numbers of cases are too small to provide a breakdown by individual county of residence. Table 2 shows an age and gender breakdown for all years combined. Over 70% of injuries are to males under the age of 20. Table 3, again for all years combined, indicates the principal types of injuries sustained. Over 40% of all principal diagnoses are burn injuries.

Table 1: Hospitalisations due to accidents involving fireworks — 1996 to 2003.

Area of Residence

Year

Dublin

Rest of Ireland

Total

1996

16

11

27

1997

1

5

6

1998

4

6

10

1999

1

2

3

2000

4

7

11

2001

13

9

22

2002

6

3

9

2003

14

12

26

Total

59

55

114

Table 2: All hospitalisations due to accidents involving fireworks 1996 to 2003 by age group and gender.

Age Group

Male

Female

Total

0 — 9 Years

19

3

22

10 — 19 Years

63

8

71

20 — 29 Years

8

2

10

30+ Years

9

2

11

All Ages

99

15

114

Table 3: Types of injuries from fireworks 1996 to 2003.

Injury

Number

Burns of Face/Neck/Head

19

Burns of Wrist/Hand

18

Burns of Eye & Adnexa

7

All Other Burns

6

Open Wound of Upper Limb

20

Open Wound of Head, Neck & Trunk

8

Fractures

8

Contusion with Intact Skin Surface

9

Other Injuries

19

Total

114

Source: Hospital in-patient inquiry, HIPE, 1996-2003.

Notes: Data refer to patients with an external cause code of ICD-9-CM E923.0 — accidents caused by fireworks. Types of injuries refer to the principal diagnosis only.

Question No. 174 answered with QuestionNo. 118.

Community Care.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

175 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the full complement of beds are in use at the Maynooth community care unit; if not, the number in use; the reason for the delay in bringing the unit to full capacity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29303/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Kildare area is a matter for the South Western Area Health Board acting under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority in the first instance. The authority has advised my Department that following recruitment of staff, an additional six beds have been opened at the Maynooth community nursing unit giving a current total bed complement of 36 beds currently in use. The authority has further advised that the process for recruiting additional nurses is still underway, that additional beds will be opened at the unit as soon as sufficient staff are in place and that there will be a total bed complement of 44 beds when all the additional staff have been recruited.

Hospital Staff.

Mary Upton

Question:

176 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the application to register with the nursing board by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [29404/04]

The registration and regulation of the nursing profession in Ireland is the statutory responsibility of An Bord Altranais. However, I have made inquiries with An Bord Altranais and have been informed that a letter issued to the individual concerned on 13 August advising that documentation was outstanding on the application. An Bord Altranais will assess the application on receipt of all documents listed in their correspondence of 13 August 2004.

Health Board Services.

David Stanton

Question:

177 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she intends to introduce the national standards for disability services; if she will commit funding for the application of these standards (details supplied) in 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29410/04]

The draft national standards for disability services were recently received from the National Disability Authority and are currently under consideration by the Department, within the framework of the health services reform programme.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

178 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she will sell lands adjoining hospitals across the country; the areas the proceeds will go towards; and if the proceeds will remain in each county. [29411/04]

The Deputy will be aware that following the enactment of the Health (Amendment) Act 2004, my consent is now required before health boards can sell or otherwise dispose of lands. The responsibility for the management and utilisation of the health board estate, including lands adjoining State hospitals, is however still vested in the chief executive officer of the health board.

Earlier this year, following requests from my Department, health boards provided some information regarding plans or proposals they have to dispose of lands between now and the coming into force of the new Health Service Executive. The information received from the health boards in relation to these proposed disposals are currently being examined by my Department.

The Deputy will be aware that I am concerned that the proceeds from the sale of any particular land or properties in the health area will be applied and used for health purposes, with the exception of contributions of land to the social and affordable housing initiatives. In addition I am concerned that we now establish the extent of the total surplus land and properties available in the health service and this will require a professional assessment and evaluation of the entire health estate to be performed. In the context of future decisions regarding the locations where sales proceeds may be re-invested or applied, it would be inappropriate to make predictions on such matters in advance of that evaluation exercise.

Freedom of Information.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

179 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the Medical Council will be included under the Freedom of Information Act; the reason for the delay in including the Medical Council under the Act; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29413/04]

It is planned that the Medical Council will be included under the Freedom of Information Act on the occasion of the next substantial extension of the Act within the health sector. Preparations are in hand with a view to extending the Act to a number of additional health bodies early in 2005, including the Medical Council.

Health Board Services.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

180 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the SWAHB will provide dental treatment urgently for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; if the SWAHB cannot provide this service, if the hospital payment fund will be made available in this case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29414/04]

Responsibility for the provision of dental treatment to eligible persons in Dublin 12 rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has asked the regional chief executive to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Michael Ring

Question:

181 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason information promised in reply to Parliamentary Question No. 861 of 29 September 2004 has not yet been supplied by the Western Health Board; and when this information will be provided. [29415/04]

Due to problems experienced by the Western Health Board with their computer system, all of the information requested by the Deputy was not easily accessible. The board has advised my Department that it is in the process of securing the information and it will be forwarded to the Deputy upon receipt.

Health Board Staff.

John Deasy

Question:

182 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if she will investigate the matter. [29416/04]

The Deputy may wish to note that under the EU directive on the mutual recognition of qualifications, the qualifications of certain grades of health service staff, including radiographers, holding non-national qualifications must be validated in order that they may be employed in the public health service. The directive states that the procedure for examining an application shall be completed as soon as possible and the outcome communicated not later than four months after presentation of all the documents.

The person referred to by the Deputy submitted a completed application to the Northern Area Health Board, NAHB, which administers the system of validation on behalf of my Department. The documents were received by the NAHB on 26 October last and were forwarded on the same day to the relevant professional body which acts as advisers in this regard. My Department has been advised that this application will be processed within the next few weeks.

Budget Submissions.

Michael Lowry

Question:

183 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the work done by the SIMI in regard to the overall net effect of a VRT reduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29051/04]

A pre-budget submission from SIMI has been received which like all other pre-budget submissions will be considered in the context of preparations for the forthcoming budget and Finance Bill. It has been the practice of successive Ministers for Finance not to comment at this time on what may, or may not, be contained in a forthcoming budget and I do not intend to depart from this approach.

Garda Stations.

Denis O'Donovan

Question:

184 Mr. O’Donovan asked the Minister for Finance the delay in the progress for the planned refurbishment of a Garda station (details supplied) in County Cork; the reasons for the delay; when it is proposed that the work will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29155/04]

There are no plans to refurbish the Garda station at Schull, County Cork. It is proposed to demolish the existing station and build a new Garda area headquarters on the existing site. Planning consultation in relation to the new development is completed. The project will be scheduled for commencement in 2005 subject to available funding.

National Monuments.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

185 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the average number of persons visiting Maynooth Castle, Maynooth, County Kildare, which works out at 14 per day is extremely disappointing; his further views on whether the development of phase two of the restoration works to the castle would enable the castle to achieve a better potential in respect of tourist numbers visiting the castle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29287/04]

The obligation of the Office of Public Works, OPW, with regard to the national monuments in its care is to ensure their preservation and protection. The OPW's role also extends to ensuring that sites are accessible to the public and are presented in an appropriate manner. In the case of Maynooth Castle I am satisfied that the OPW fully meets all the obligations with regard to the preservation, protection and presentation of the monument. I fully accept, given the level of investment in the conservation of the site, that the visitor numbers at Maynooth Castle are somewhat low. This office is currently looking at a number of options for increasing the number of visitors to this site for 2005.

It is not possible for me to estimate if visitor numbers would increase if further development of the castle were undertaken. I should point out that the final decision on any future development at Maynooth Castle is a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Budget Submissions.

Finian McGrath

Question:

186 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will give consideration to the pre-budget 2005 submission of organisations (details supplied) and give them his maximum support. [28654/04]

I have received pre-budget submissions from the organisations concerned and the contents will be considered in the context of the forthcoming budget and Finance Bill. As Deputies are aware it would not be appropriate for me to comment in advance of the budget on possible budget decisions.

Communications Masts.

Tony Gregory

Question:

187 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 258 of 2 November 2004, if the agreement with the company (details supplied) took account of the recommended guidelines which state that only as a last resort should free standing masts be located in a residential area or beside schools; and if this means that the company is precluded from using Garda masts in such locations for its antennae. [28660/04]

Under the terms of the 1997 agreement between the State and the company referred to, the company is required to comply with all relevant planning and development legislation and all other legal requirements pertaining to the use of mobile telephony antennae and ancillary equipment in the State, and in particular to any requirements imposed by or pursuant to the provisions of the Wireless Telegraphy Acts, the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act and the Radiological Protection Act. In addition, the company is required to conform with all relevant guidelines which may be set down from time to time by the International Radiation Protection Association. The company is not precluded from using Garda masts, provided the use is in accordance with the terms and conditions of the agreement currently in place.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

188 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the cost of tax relief on pension contributions; the aggregate value of contributions on which relief is provided; the value granted at the 20% rate; the value granted at the 42% rate; and the average value of pension relief given to tax-payers in different income ranges. [28680/04]

The cost of tax relief for private pension funding for the short tax year 2001 has been estimated by the Revenue Commissioners at €1.8 billion. This was a short transitional tax year running from 6 April to 31 December 2001. This cost covers tax relief on contributions by employers, employees and self employed and the exemption from income and gains in the pension fund. It should be noted that these costs are very tentative and that efforts are being made to improve information on the cost of tax relief for pensions.

Information on the aggregate value of contributions on which relief is provided and on the value granted at different rates of tax is not available in relation to occupational pension schemes. Information is available from the Revenue Commissioners in respect to income tax relief allowed for contributions to retirement annuity contracts for the short income tax year 2001, which are available to the self-employed and to employees not in occupational pension schemes. Income tax relief at an estimated cost of €170 million was allowed in the short income tax year 2001 on such pension contributions amounting to €450 million. The value of contributions allowed at the 20% and 42% tax rates is estimated at €78 million and €368 million respectively, amounting to €446 million. A further €4 million in contributions had the effect of reducing the total income of claimants below the exemption thresholds.

A distribution by income ranges of the claim amounts, amounts of tax relief and average deductions for tax relief for retirement annuity contracts is contained in the table below:

INCOME TAX 2001 (short "year").

Retirement Annuity — by range of Gross Income.

Range of Gross Income

Totals

From

To

Number of cases

Amount of deduction

Reduction in tax

Average deduction

6,000

1,258

1,301,889

76,588

1,035

6,000

8,000

1,217

1,131,858

159,747

930

8,000

10,000

1,976

2,066,245

318,130

1,046

10,000

12,000

2,779

3,131,978

538,747

1,127

12,000

15,000

5,489

6,725,589

1,228,558

1,225

15,000

17,000

4,446

5,613,493

1,067,199

1,263

17,000

20,000

7,513

10,476,115

2,039,761

1,394

20,000

25,000

12,222

19,723,266

4,505,791

1,614

25,000

27,000

4,567

8,276,351

2,214,991

1,812

27,000

30,000

6,350

12,331,704

3,457,396

1,942

30,000

35,000

9,441

20,838,925

6,506,746

2,207

35,000

40,000

7,942

20,490,572

7,354,258

2,580

40,000

50,000

11,247

37,038,299

14,847,501

3,241

50,000

60,000

6,807

29,985,541

12,417,840

4,405

60,000

75,000

5,741

35,653,618

14,883,125

6,210

75,000

100,000

4,543

41,479,867

17,310,850

9,131

100,000

150,000

3,951

56,115,725

23,514,956

14,203

150,000

200,000

1,753

38,561,305

16,149,432

21,997

Over

200,000

2,635

98,693,919

41,399,977

37,455

Totals

102,057

449,636,259

169,991,594

4,406

Decentralisation Programme.

Phil Hogan

Question:

189 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Finance if he will indicate the number of jobs that will be earmarked for County Monaghan in the context of the decentralisation programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28877/04]

There are 85 staff from the Department of Social and Family Affairs to be located in Carrickmacross and 25 from the Combat Poverty Agency to be located in Monaghan town under the decentralisation programme.

Exchequer Provisions.

Peter Power

Question:

190 Mr. P. Power asked the Minister for Finance his intentions regarding the planned level of Exchequer and PPP funded investment in 2005 included in the multi-annual capital investment framework published in the 2004 budget. [28936/04]

The rolling five year multi-annual capital envelopes announced in budget 2004 set out a total capital provision for 2005 of Exchequer funded investment, €5,715 million, and an estimate for PPP, €585 million, capital to be funded by annual payments from the Exchequer.

The 2005 AEV which I will be publishing tomorrow presents a breakdown of the 2005 Exchequer provisions included in the multi-annual investment framework published in the 2004 budget as well as the original estimates for PPP investment in 2005 included in that framework. The Deputy might wish to note that based on the latest information available from Departments there will be a major shortfall on the PPP estimate in 2005. I will be reviewing the position between now and the budget and I will be announcing a new capital envelope for the period 2005-09 on budget day. The new capital envelope will take account of the PPP shortfall, overall investment priorities and the wider expenditure and budgetary position.

Tax Code.

Willie Penrose

Question:

191 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Finance the tax concessions for persons who have mobility difficulties; the exact concession available under the motorised transport scheme; the persons that might qualify; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28937/04]

The disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme is open to people with disabilities who meet the specified criteria and have obtained a primary medical certificate to that effect. The senior area medical officer attached to the relevant local health board is responsible for both the medical assessment and the issue of the medical certificate. The medical criteria for the purposes of the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) regulations 1994. Six different types of disablement are listed under the regulations and a qualifying person must satisfy one or more of them.

An individual who obtains a primary medical certificate qualifies for remission or repayment of vehicle registration tax, VRT, repayment of value added tax, VAT, on the purchase of the vehicle and a repayment of VAT on the cost of adaptation of the vehicle. Repayment of the excise duty on fuel used in the motor vehicle and exemption from annual road tax to local authorities are also allowed. The motorised transport grant referred to in the question is a means tested grant administered by the health boards and does not fall within the remit of my Department.

Budget Submissions.

Finian McGrath

Question:

192 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will support the request from the Irish Deaf Society for a capital investment of €10 million; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28938/04]

At this time of the year I receive a large number of pre-budget submissions requesting funding for a wide range of issues. Each one will be considered in the context of the forthcoming budget.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

193 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the threshold for registration for VAT in manufacturing and in the service sector; when these thresholds were set; the amount they would need to be increased in order to keep pace with the index of consumer prices in the intervening period; his estimate of the cost to the Exchequer of doubling these thresholds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28939/04]

Traders making supplies in the State are obliged to register for VAT where certain turnover thresholds are exceeded or are likely to be exceeded in any continuous period of 12 months. The current threshold, which was enacted by the Finance Act 1994 with effect from 1 July 1994, is €25,500 in the case of a person supplying services. This threshold also applies to persons supplying a combination of goods and services or goods chargeable at the 13.5% or 21% VAT rates which are produced from zero-rated materials; the threshold is €51,000 for persons supplying goods. Businesses with turnover below these thresholds can of course register for VAT and those in the service sector in particular frequently choose to do so for business reasons.

If thresholds were increased in line with the consumer price index since 1994, the €25,500 threshold would need to be increased by €15,515 to €41,015 and the €51,000 threshold would need to be increased by €31,030 to €82,030.

With regard to the estimated cost of doubling the current thresholds, the position is that under the EU sixth VAT directive, with which Irish VAT law must comply, member states may only increase thresholds in line with inflation.

It is not customary for me to comment on any possible changes to thresholds which may, or may not, arise in the context of the forthcoming budget.

Tax Collection.

Paul McGrath

Question:

194 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount of VRT collected in each of the past seven years. [28949/04]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the amount of VRT collected in each of the past seven years is set out in the table below:

Year

€ million

1997

502.6

1998

615.1

1999

771.1

2000

1001.3

2001

788.0

2002

792.6

2003

819.4

Paul McGrath

Question:

195 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount of VAT collected in each of the past seven years on the purchase of new motor vehicles. [28950/04]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the amount of VAT collected in each of the past seven years on the purchase of new motor vehicles is as follows:

Year

€ million

1997

278

1998

354

1999

402

2000

548

2001

416

2002

425

2003

425

It should be noted that these figures are estimates as VAT returns do not identify the yields from particular goods and services.

Motor Fuels.

Paul McGrath

Question:

196 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount of tax collected in each of the past seven years on motor fuels. [28951/04]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the period for which data is available is 1997-2003 inclusive. The relevant figures are shown in the table below.

Estimated Excise and VAT collected on Motor Fuels 1997-2003.

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

Petrol: Excise

601.7

676.8

720.4

754.8

725.3

854.2

853.8

Estimated VAT

195.5

207.0

223.5

288.2

264.1

286.1

289.8

Total

797.3

883.7

943.9

1,043.1

989.4

1,140.3

1,143.6

Auto Diesel: Excise

428.7

509.2

583.3

624.0

519.5

660.2

731.5

Estimated VAT

16.5

19.0

21.6

29.2

26.7

30.2

32.4

Total

445.2

528.3

604.9

653.2

546.2

690.4

763.8

Auto LPG: Excise

1.0

0.7

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.3

0.2

Estimated VAT

0.5

0.4

0.4

0.3

0.3

0.2

0.1

Total

1.5

1.1

1.0

0.9

0.7

0.6

0.3

Total

1,244.0

1,413.1

1,549.8

1,697.1

1,536.2

1,831.3

1,907.7

The figures for VAT collected are estimates. VAT returns are not required to be completed in a manner that identifies the yield from particular goods and services.

Tax Code.

Paul McGrath

Question:

197 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the various taxes that are collected on the sale of a new car and to compare these to the corresponding taxes in the UK. [28952/04]

In Ireland a new vehicle is liable to vehicle registration tax, VRT, value added tax, VAT, and in the case of a vehicle imported from outside the European Union, common customs tariff duty, CCT.

VRT is calculated on the open market selling price, OMSP, of a vehicle, which is the retail price, inclusive of all taxes and duties, that a vehicle may reasonably be expected to fetch on a first arm's length sale on the open market in the State. The rates of VRT chargeable on an individual vehicle are determined by its engine size. The following table shows the engine size bands and the corresponding VRT rate.

Private Cars — Category A.

Category

Cars up to 1,400 ccs

(A1)

22.5% of OMSP

Cars 1,401 to 1,900 ccs

(A2)

25% of OMSP

Cars 1,901 +

(A3)

30% of OMSP

VAT is chargeable at 21% of the retail price exclusive of VRT and VAT. CCT is charged at10% of the cost of the vehicle inclusive of charges for freight and insurance. I understand that in the UK all new cars are liable to VAT at 17.5%, and if imported from outside the EU, CCT duty at 10%. VRT or an equivalent is not payable on cars in the UK.

Paul McGrath

Question:

198 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount of tax levied on a new car below 1.9 L retailing at €12,000, €15,000, €18,000, €21,000 and €25,000; and the tax levied on a new vehicle over 1.9 L retailing at €30,000, €40,000 and €50,000. [28953/04]

VRT is applied on the open market selling price, OMSP, of the vehicle which is the price, inclusive of all taxes and duties, which the vehicle would be reasonably expected to fetch on a first arm's length retail sale in the State. The information requested is as follows:

Category A1 — Engine cc less than or equal to 1400 cc

OMSP

12,000.00

15,000.00

18,000.00

21,000.00

25,000.00

VRT Rate

22.5%

22.5%

22.5%

22.5%

22.5%

VRT Amount

2,700.00

3,375.00

4,050.00

4,725.00

5,625.00

VAT Amount

1,614.05

2,017.56

2,421.07

2,824.59

3,362.60

Total Tax

4,314.05

5,392.56

6,471.07

7,549.59

8,987.60

Category A2 — Engine cc exceeding 1400 cc and not exceeding 1900 cc

OMSP

12,000.00

15,000.00

18,000.00

21,000.00

25,000.00

VRT Rate

25.0%

25.0%

25.0%

25.0%

25.0%

VRT Amount

3,000.00

3,750.00

4,500.00

5,250.00

6,250.00

VAT Amount

1,561.98

1,952.48

2,342.98

2,733.48

3,254.13

Total Tax

4,561.98

5,702.48

6,842.98

7,983.47

9,504.13

Category A3 — Engine cc exceeding 1900 cc

OMSP

30,000.00

40,000.00

50,000.00

VRT Rate

30.0%

30.0%

30.0%

VRT Amount

9,000.00

12,000.00

15,000.00

VAT Amount

3,644.63

4,859.50

6,074.38

Total Tax

12,644.63

16,859.50

21,074.38

Paul McGrath

Question:

199 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his views on the 57% increase in the importation of second hand vehicle with engine size over 1.9 litre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28954/04]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that over 170,000 cars have been registered in the State up to the end of October 2004, including cars which are exempt from VRT. Of these, 7,242, or some 48% more than the same period last year, were second hand imports, with engine sizes over 1.9 litres. While it is impossible to determine with any certainty, it is reasonable to speculate that personal choice as to make and model and normal market forces have contributed to the increase. Data are not captured by the Revenue Commissioners in relation to the engine size of commercial vehicles.

Social Insurance Fund.

Paul McGrath

Question:

200 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the surplus that has been put into the social welfare fund in each of the past seven years; the cumulative fund for each of those years; and the details of the withdrawals from the fund in the same periods for items that werenot covered within the terms of the fund. [29009/04]

As Minister for Finance, I have overall responsibility for the control and management of the social insurance fund investment account while my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, has responsibility for the social insurance fund current account. The extent to which the annual income of the social insurance fund is not required to meet benefit payments and administration costs in that year represents the annual surplus of the fund. The only payment from the social insurance fund other than that to meet benefit payments or administration costs was the amount of €635 million paid out of the fund into the Exchequer in 2002 as provided for by the Social Welfare (No. 2) Act 2001.

The annual and cumulative surplus on the social insurance fund in the period in question is as follows:

Annual Surplus (€M)

Cumulative Surplus (€M)

1997

10

10

1998

69

79

1999

341

420

2000

435

855

2001

631

1,486

2002

422

1,273*

2003

255

1,528

Paul McGrath

Question:

201 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the profits achieved from the investment of the social welfare fund in each of the past five years. [29010/04]

As Minister for Finance, I have overall responsibility for the control and management of the social insurance fund investment account while my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, has responsibility for the social insurance fund current account. The receipts from investment of the accumulated surplus of the social insurance fund for each of the last five years are as follows:

Year

€M

1999

3.447

2000

26.590

2001

45.754

2002

51.015

2003

40.718

These figures do not of course reflect the carrying cost of the significant deficits in the fund subsidised by the Exchequer until the mid-1990s.

Flood Relief.

Paul McGrath

Question:

202 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if plans exist for alleviation measures in respect of serious flooding of the River Pil at Piltown, County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29060/04]

My officials are currently undertaking a pre-feasibility study to investigate the relevant issues with regard to reducing the risk of flooding in Piltown. It is expected that this report will be completed early in the new year and until such a time as the recommendations of this study are available, it is not possible to say what, if any, flood alleviation works might be identified for Piltown. Any decision will also be contingent on existing commitments to advancing flood relief projects currently on the OPW work programme.

Public Private Partnerships.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

203 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance the advantages and disadvantages of public-private partnerships in relation to public work contracts; his views on whether the approach is cost effective; and his policy in relation to public-private partnerships in the future. [29061/04]

Public private partnerships have a continuing role to play in helping to address the infrastructure needs of this country. The advantages and disadvantages of using the PPP route are dependent, in particular, on achieving optimal risk transfer to the private sector over the lifetime of a project and the efficiencies gained from integrating design and construction of public infrastructure with operation and maintenance and, where appropriate, private finance.

The Government established the National Development Finance Agency in 2003 to provide advice to those procuring major public capital projects on the optimal means of financing such projects in order to achieve value for money and on all aspects of the financing, refinancing and insurance of public investment projects. With regard to the policy on PPPs in the future, the overall context is set by the multi-annual investment framework first announced in budget 2004, including estimates for PPP investment.

The Deputy may wish to note that, based on the latest information available from Departments in respect of PPPs funded by unitary payments, there will be a shortfall in PPP projects at construction stage in 2005 relative to the estimates announced in 2004. There are a number of reasons for this, including the lead time of 18 months to two years involved in bringing PPP projects to construction. I will be reviewing the position between now and the budget and I will be announcing a new multi-annual capital envelope for the period 2005-09 on budget day. The new capital envelope will take account of the PPP shortfall in 2005, overall investment priorities and the wider expenditure and budgetary position.

Insurance Industry.

Michael Noonan

Question:

204 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Finance the amount of single premium insurance written by the industry in each year from 1988 to 2001 inclusive; the reason for the variation in amounts from year to year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29062/04]

The insurance annual reports — blue books — as published in the years in question by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, show that the net amount of single premium life insurance written in Ireland in the years 1988 to 2001 was as follows:

Euro 000’s

1988

708,544

1989

954,144

1990

707,147

1991

662,157

1992

438,893

1993

686,920

1994

750,906

1995

732,456

1996

1,182,035

1997

1,868,511

1998

3,261,874

1999

5,211,852

2000

7,556,644

2001

8,803,823

The insurance annual reports show that business written by companies based in Ireland into other, mainly EU, countries increased substantially during the period, rising from 2% of the total in 1988 to 53% in 2001. There may be other reasons for the year-to-year variations but these are not deducible from the information in the reports.

Tax Code.

Jack Wall

Question:

205 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance if he will address the concerns of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in budget 2005; the mechanism available to them to address their concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29063/04]

Jack Wall

Question:

206 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance if he will address the concerns of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in budget 2005; the mechanism available to them to address their concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29064/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 and 206 together.

Capital Gains Tax, CGT, is a tax on a capital gain arising on the disposal of assets. A 20% rate of CGT now applies on the gains arising on the disposal of assets, including land which is the subject of a compulsory purchase order, CPO. This is the lowest rate of CGT in recent history. Where compensation is received for land that is compulsorily acquired, any gains arising from the amount paid for the acquisition of land are chargeable to tax. In other words, if there is a sum paid by an authority for the compulsory acquisition of land, then irrespective of its components, for example, disturbance, injurious affection, etc., that total sum will be the amount to be assessed for tax. The CGT due on a disposal of land under a CPO is calculated in the same way as any other disposal of land. The consideration for the disposal will be the sum received for the land.

As the Deputy is aware, it is not the practice to comment in the lead up to the annual budget and Finance Bill on the intention or otherwise to make changes in taxation.

Tony Gregory

Question:

207 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance if he will review the amount of capital gains tax demanded from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7. [29075/04]

A charge to capital gains tax arises in respect of chargeable gains accruing on the disposal of assets. Such gains are computed in accordance with the provisions of the capital gains tax Acts. The charge extends to individuals, companies and unincorporated bodies of persons. CGT has no connection with income, which is the basis for income tax. The CGT liability of an individual is computed, irrespective of age, by reference to the chargeable gain on the disposal.

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that as many shareholders might not ordinarily be expected to be familiar with capital gains tax provisions, they have written to First Active members who received payment from the Royal Bank of Scotland in respect of its acquisition of First Active. Revenue informed them of a potential CGT liability arising from the disposal of the shares and how to make a payment of any CGT liability. This was to ensure that people do not inadvertently incur interest which could arise if payment was not made on time. Any CGT liability on disposal of these shares was due for payment on or before 31 October 2004.

From the information supplied to the Revenue Commissioners, the person referred to by the Deputy received a payment of €3,069 from Royal Bank of Scotland and, provided she had no other gain or loss, her CGT liability is calculated as follows:

Cash Received

€3,069

Allowable Costs

Nil (as the shares were acquired at no cost they have a nil base)

Chargeable Gain

€3,069

Less Personal Exemption

(€1,270)

Net Chargeable Gain

€1,799 @ 20% = €359.80

The chargeable gain above can be reduced by any allowable losses arising in 2004 together with any unused allowable losses from disposals of assets chargeable to capital gains tax in any previous year. This is the standard method and was used in other disbursements of free shares in the past few years.

I have also been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the Revenue documentation that the person received includes a computation sheet and a payslip. The payslip and payment should be sent to the Collector General's office. The documentation issued also includes a special Revenue helpline number for any further assistance required by the person referred to by the Deputy.

Departmental Appointments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

208 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29118/04]

Since my appointment as Minister for Finance, in accordance with the provisions of section 11 (1) of the Public Service Management Act 1997, the Government has appointed at my request, one special adviser to my Department. My predecessor did not have a special adviser. The annual salary is €67,305 and an allowance of 10% of salary is also paid. My adviser is an assistant principal officer on secondment from the Department of Health and Children for the duration of my appointment.

Tax Code.

David Stanton

Question:

209 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Finance the number of refunds in respect of PRSI contributions paid in respect of off payroll payments made to PRSAs and other personal pensions for which claims have been made to Revenue Commissioners; when he expects to be able to repay this money; the amount involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29153/04]

Refund of PRSI in respect of PRSAs and other personal pensions is governed by the Social Welfare (Consolidated Contributions and Insurability) (Amendment No. 1) (Refunds) Regulations 2003, SI No. 698 of 2003. These regulations were made by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs on 17 December 2003.

I understand from the Revenue Commissioners that the matter of devising a mechanism for dealing with these cases has been raised by the Department of Social and Family Affairs with the Revenue Commissioners and discussions are ongoing. In the meantime, persons seeking refunds have been advised to contact the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Tony Gregory

Question:

210 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance if tax relief can be claimed for the parents’ costs of incurring travelling expenses to visit their children in an intensive care unit who are not oncology patients or children with a permanent disability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29255/04]

Section 469 Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for tax relief in respect of health expenses, as defined in the section, incurred in respect of health care which is also defined in the section. The Revenue Commissioners information leaflet IT 6 on health-medical expenses relief which is available on their website www.revenue.ie provides full details of the expenses for which tax relief is available.

Section 469 provides for tax relief in respect of the cost of travelling to and from hospital either by a patient or by the parents of a patient where this is by ambulance only and not by any other means. However, I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they have a long-standing and published administrative practice to grant tax relief on the cost of travelling, other than by ambulance, to and from hospital in the special circumstances which pertain to child oncology patients and children with a permanent disability where such trips are shown to be essential to the treatment of the child. The Revenue Commissioners' practice does not extend to covering the cost of travelling by parents to visit their children in hospital in the normal course, including children in intensive care.

If the Deputy has a specific case to which special circumstances attach, he may wish to contact the Revenue Commissioners outlining full details of the case including the special circumstances, if any.

Grant Aid.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

211 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance if the revised schedule of works for Lucan Demesne has been submitted and agreed; the details of same; the amount of grant aid being applied; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29292/04]

I wish to confirm that the current position remains unchanged from that outlined in my response to the Deputy's most recent question on this issue, Parliamentary Question No. 322.

Disabled Drivers.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

212 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance his proposals to implement the ten recommendations of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme independent review group; in particular the making of legislative change to repeal the current stringent medical based on lack of limbs with a more general mobility-focused medical assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29421/04]

The disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme is open to people with disabilities who meet the specified criteria and have obtained a primary medical certificate to that effect. The senior area medical officer attached to the relevant local health board is responsible for both the medical assessment and the issue of the medical certificate.

The medical criteria for the purposes of the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) regulations 1994. Six different types of disablement are listed under the regulations and a qualifying person must satisfy one or more of them. The six types of disablement are as follows: persons who are wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs; persons who are wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs; persons without both hands or without both arms; persons without one or both legs; persons wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; and persons having the medical condition of dwarfism and who have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

An individual who qualifies under the medical criteria as set out above is issued with a primary medical certificate. Possession of a primary medical certificate qualifies the holder for remission or repayment of vehicle registration tax, VRT, a repayment of value added tax, VAT, on the purchase of the vehicle and a repayment of VAT on the cost of adaptation of the vehicle. Repayment of the excise duty on fuel used in the motor vehicle and exemption from annual road tax to local authorities are also allowed.

An interdepartmental review group was established to review the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' (tax concessions) scheme. The group examined all aspects of the scheme including the qualifying medical criteria. The report was published on my Department's website in early July and copies have been placed in the Oireachtas Library.

As agreed by Government in June, I will consider the report on an ongoing basis in the overall budgetary context having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme.

Tax Code.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

213 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance his proposals to extend tax relief for home carers to widows and widowers or lone parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29422/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, the home carer tax credit, formerly an allowance, was introduced in the Finance Act 2000 and is designed to cover situations where a spouse working in the home has forfeited a second income to care for dependants in the home. It is available only to married couples who are jointly assessed for tax.

While the home carer credit is generally not available to married two earner couples, there is an income disregard whereby the home carer may have some income in their own right without affecting their spouse's eligibility for the tax credit. In addition, there is a taper system, which means the tax credit is not lost at once when income exceeds the amount of the disregard.

Special treatment within the tax system is afforded to widows, widowers and lone parents. In the case of widowed persons, in the year of bereavement a widowed person may receive a personal tax credit of €3,040, which is equivalent in value to the married person's tax credit. Following the year of bereavement, a widowed parent with a qualifying child or children may qualify for the one-parent family tax credit of €1,520 in addition to the personal tax credit of €1,520. A further tax credit, the widowed parent tax credit, is available on a sliding scale for the first five tax years following the year of bereavement as follows:

Year

Year 1

2,600

Year 2

2,100

Year 3

1,600

Year 4

1,100

Year 5

600

Therefore, in the first year following bereavement, a widowed parent is entitled to aggregate tax credits of €5,640, comprising a single personal credit of €1,520, a one-parent family credit of €1,520 and a widowed parent credit of €2,600. For widowed persons with no dependent children, a tax credit of €300, which is additional to the basic personal tax credit, is available after the year of bereavement. Such widowed persons would therefore receive aggregate basic tax credits of €1,820, comprising €300 plus the personal tax credit of €1,520, in addition to the employee credit, if applicable.

In the case of lone parents, as well as the single personal credit of €1,520, a lone parent also receives the one parent family credit of €1,520 giving total personal credits equivalent to the married credit of €3,040. The standard rate band for a lone-widowed parent is extended to €32,000 which is €4,000 more than the standard rate band for a single person. Finally, as the Deputy will be aware, it has been the practice of successive Ministers for Finance not to comment on what may or may not be contained in upcoming budgets. I do not intend to depart from that approach.

Decentralisation Programme.

Billy Timmins

Question:

214 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance if, during discussions on decentralisation, consideration was given to moving the section of the Revenue Commissioners which is due to go to Athy, County Kildare to Wicklow Town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29424/04]

A wide range of factors were taken into account and measured against each other in selecting locations for the new decentralised offices. For example, the need to achieve a fit with the national spatial strategy, in terms of the gateways, hubs and their respective catchments as well as the location of existing decentralised offices was considered. The importance of respecting the scale and character of locations in terms of their capacity to absorb the number of new jobs involved was also a factor. In addition, the desirability of clustering a Department's decentralised units within a region and the existence of good transport links by road, rail and/or air, and the general infrastructural capacity in the areas, were also considered.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

215 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who have applied to be decentralised to Birr; if Birr will be included in the first tranche of decentralisation; the estimated time for completion of the programme to Birr; if a location has been found and approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29462/04]

The number of persons who applied to be decentralised to Birr is 69. I expect to receive a report very shortly from the decentralisation implementation group, the Flynn group, outlining its proposals on the sequencing and timing of the first phase of moves. Until I have received the report and the Government has had an opportunity to consider its contents I am not in a position to say which locations will be included in the first phase of the relocation programme.

The evaluation of property proposals for most locations is currently at an advanced stage and a number of possible property proposal solutions have been identified.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

216 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who have applied to be decentralised to Edenderry; if Edenderry will be included in the first tranche of decentralisation; the estimated time for completion of the programme to Edenderry; if a location has been found and approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29464/04]

The number of persons who applied to be decentralised to Edenderry is 53. I expect to receive a report very shortly from the decentralisation implementation group, the Flynn group, outlining its proposals on the sequencing and timing of the first phase of moves.

Until I have received the report and the Government has had an opportunity to consider its contents I am not in a position to say which locations will be included in the first phase of the relocation programme.

The evaluation of property proposals for most locations is currently at an advanced stage and a number of possible property proposal solutions have been identified.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

217 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Finance if Port Laoise will be included in the first tranche of decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29465/04]

I expect to receive a report very shortly from the decentralisation implementation group, the Flynn group, outlining its proposals on the sequencing and timing of the first phase of moves.

Until I have received the report and the Government has had an opportunity to consider its contents I am not in a position to say which locations will be included in the first phase of the relocation programme.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

218 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who have applied to be decentralised to Tullamore; if Tullamore will be included in the first tranche of decentralisation; the estimated time for completion of the programme to Tullamore; if a location has been found and approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29466/04]

As the Deputy is aware, the data from the central applications facility, CAF, published in September showed that a total of 116 persons have applied for decentralisation to Tullamore as their first choice.

The next stage of the decentralisation process is the selection of organisations for inclusion in the first phase of moves and the sequencing and timing of such moves. An analysis of the figures emerging from the CAF and any relevant property and business aspects is being undertaken by the decentralisation implementation group. Pending completion of this work it is not possible to state if Tullamore will be included in the first tranche of decentralisation or to give an estimated time for completion of the programme to Tullamore.

My Department has provided its accommodation requirements for Tullamore to the Office of Public Works, OPW, which is co-ordinating the procurement of property for all Departments and offices.

Telecommunications Services.

Jack Wall

Question:

219 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding the provision of broadband to the Ballymore Eustace area of Kildare; the timescale in regard to the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29031/04]

The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by ComReg, the Commission for Communications Regulation.

The Government set aside an indicative €200 million under the NDP 2000-2006 for broadband infrastructure investment will enable the provision of broadband services regionally by the private sector.

Metropolitan area networks, MANs, are being built in 26 towns and cities, in association with the local authorities. These are being managed for the State on an open access basis, and offer a wide range of broadband services on a wholesale basis to the service providers. In the second phase of the programme MANs will be built in a further 92 towns with a population of 1,500 and over.

For smaller towns and rural communities, such as Ballymore Eustace, I have introduced the group broadband scheme, under which funding is available to assist the community to come together and, with the service providers, to obtain broadband for their area using the technology that best suits the location, such as wireless, satellite or fibre.

My Department's website www.broadband.gov.ie gives full details of the companies offering broadband in all parts of the country, and lists five companies offering satellite-based broadband services in west Wicklow.

Full details of the regional broadband programme and the group broadband scheme can be found on my Department's websites www.dcmnr.gov.ie and www.gbs.ie.

Foreshore Licences.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

220 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to the proposed coastal barrage for Clonakilty; and his views on whether there is now an urgent case to have the barrage completed in view of further recent flooding in the town. [29056/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

228 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to the application for a foreshore licence for the proposed coastal barrage in Clonakilty; when the application was lodged; the reason it has not been completed; and if his attention has been drawn to the urgency of the situation in view of further recent flooding in the town. [29029/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 220 and 228 together.

The Department received an application from Clonakilty Town Council in October 2003 for a foreshore licence for the construction of a tidal barrage at Clonakilty.

Preliminary examination of the application has been undertaken in the Department. The engineering division has had discussions with the parties to the application and a number of issues which arose are being clarified. A comprehensive report on the development is being finalised by the Department's engineering division and the issue of the foreshore licence will be determined in that context.

In view of the importance of the project, I have directed that consideration of the application is to be progressed as a matter of priority.

Air-Sea Rescue.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

221 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he provides coastal air-sea rescue facilities; if adequate resources and personnel are available from or through his Department for these operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29272/04]

The Irish Coast Guard has responsibility for the provision of Ireland's coastal air-sea search and rescue service. The coastal area lies within the Ireland search and rescue region, SRR.

Search and rescue services in Ireland are provided through a combination of Irish Coast Guard emergency services and services provided by a number of charitable and voluntary organisations dedicated to SAR.

The principal air and sea rescue resources in Ireland are Coast Guard 24-hour all-weather helicopters based at Dublin, Waterford and Shannon Airports and a 12-hour helicopter at Sligo Airport, which will become 24-hour early in 2005, the coast-wide Coast Guard units, RNLI Lifeboats and the Community Inshore Rescue Service.

The Coast Guard co-ordinates search and rescue operations, including those services provided by charitable and voluntary bodies. It also ensures that appropriate personnel, training, equipment and facilities are in place among its many declared resources. Coast Guard rescue co-ordination centres at Dublin, Malin Head and Valentia and a nationwide communications network are positioned and equipped to receive distress calls and co-ordinate response to incidents on land, around the coastline and sea areas within its areas of responsibility for search and rescue and casualty and pollution response.

While the challenges facing the Coast Guard continue to change and recognising the fact that the Coast Guard undertakes ongoing training and re-equipping, I am satisfied that the Coast Guard has adequate resources available to it to deal with its expected challenges.

Natural Gas Grid.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

222 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide him with a copy of the environmental management plan for the upstream pipeline for the proposed Corrib gas terminal in Bellanaboy including agreed programmes, construction methodology and the construction constraints schedule; and if he will provide a copy of the detailed construction method statements as agreed between EEI and Dúchas, copies of all agreed monitoring programmes and the traffic management plan approved by Mayo County Council relating to the development. [28643/04]

While the initial environmental management plan was drawn up in 2002 by the developers of the Corrib Gas pipeline based on its construction plan proposals at the time, this has always been classified as an organic and evolving document. As the development work progresses the plan will be updated in discussion with my Department, other Departments and the Corrib gas field environment monitoring group set up by the then Minister as a condition of the plan of development approval and the consent to construct pipeline. I will have a copy of the original environmental management plan forwarded to the Deputy directly.

The pipeline construction method statements in so far as they relate to issues that fall within the responsibility of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government are matters between Shell E&P Ireland Limited and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, formerly Dúchas, of that Department and my Department is not aware of what has been approved between them.

The condition relating to monitoring programmes states that prior to construction commencing, the developer shall provide to the satisfaction of the Minister, details of monitoring programmes to be undertaken. With the project moving to development stage, officials of my Department are in discussion with the developers, in regard to the various monitoring plans and programmes required.

As regards the traffic management plan, a copy of the construction traffic management plan, as included in the environmental management plan, was provided to Mayo County Council on 9 July 2003. A revised traffic management plan is to issue shortly for 2004-05. This will be subject to review by Mayo County Council before it is submitted to my Department.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

223 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the condition 1 commencement of commercial production operations in January 2004 (details supplied) was amended with regard to the development of the Corrib gas field. [28644/04]

The original date of January 2004 for the commencement of commercial gas production from Corrib gas field as stated in the then Minister's approval for the development of the field has not yet been changed. The matter is under consideration by the developers in the context of ongoing discussion with my Department and the recent planning approval given by An Bord Pleanála for the terminal at Bellanaboy, County Mayo.

Telecommunications Services.

Liam Aylward

Question:

224 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the criteria used to determine the various towns and villages throughout the country selected for broadband access; if this service is likely to be made available to households and companies in Urlingford, County Kilkenny using the satellite link; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28875/04]

The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by ComReg, the Commission for Communications Regulation.

The Government set aside an indicative €200 million under the NDP 2000-06 for broadband infrastructure investment that will, in turn, enable the provision of broadband services regionally by the private sector.

The principal aim of the regional broadband programme is to provide open-access broadband infrastructure in all towns of 1,500 population and over that do not already have broadband on offer from the service providers, or where the medium to long-term broadband infrastructure is deficient from a regional development standpoint.

In the first phase of the programme metropolitan area networks, MANs, are being built in 26 towns and cities, in association with the local authorities. In the second phase, MANs will be built in a further 92 towns. All of the infrastructure will remain in public ownership, and will be managed for the State by the management services company E-Net, which has been awarded the services concession contract following a public tender process.

For smaller towns and rural communities, such as Urlingford, I have introduced the group broadband scheme, under which funding is available to assist the community to come together and, with the service providers, to obtain broadband for their area using the technology that best suits the location, such as wireless, DSL, satellite or fibre.

My Department's website www.broadband.gov.ie gives full details of the companies offering broadband in all parts of the country, and lists five companies offering satellite broadband services in the Urlingford area.

Full details of the regional broadband programme and the group broadband scheme can be found on my Department's websites www.dcmnr.gov.ie and www.gbs.ie.

Inland Fisheries.

Enda Kenny

Question:

225 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals for the continued development of the Moy River and fishery; the expenditure on this work for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28876/04]

Under the Fisheries Acts, primary responsibility for the conservation, protection and development of Inland fisheries rests with the local fisheries board, in this case the North Western Regional Fisheries Board.

I am advised by the chief executive officer of the board that a strategic development plan was published by the board in 2002 setting out the board's proposals for the development of the various fisheries on the Moy system in the period 2002-06. I have asked the chief executive officer to forward a copy of this plan directly to the Deputy.

The chief executive officer also advises me that the board has an ongoing development programme on the River Moy system with a range of development activities taking place throughout the catchment each year. I am further advised by the chief executive officer that it has not been possible however, in the time available, to compile precise details of expenditure on all the development projects carried out over the last five years. In this regard I have asked the chief executive officer to prepare a report and forward this information directly to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Telecommunications Services.

Phil Hogan

Question:

226 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals to open up roads for Northern Ireland broadband companies to establish cross-Border links; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28880/04]

Fishing Fleet Protection.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

227 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to a decommissioning scheme for the Irish fishing fleet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29028/04]

The biggest challenge facing the fishing industry and its ancillary businesses at the present time is the pressure faced by many of the key whitefish species. The industry accepts that measures must be put in place for the conservation and sustainable exploitation of these stocks. The debate at national level centres around the appropriate mechanisms for achieving this objective.

In this regard, I have received requests from industry representatives for the introduction of a decommissioning scheme to provide for the restructuring of the whitefish fleet and I am currently examining these requests taking account of all relevant issues.

Question No. 228 answered with QuestionNo. 220.

Harbour Authorities.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

229 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he agreed to the sale of Sligo Harbour Board land to a company (details supplied) in 1992; if his attention had been drawn to the fact that this land could be required for the development of the MID block road through Sligo within a few years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29034/04]

On 30 July 1992, the then Minister's consent in principle was given under section 159 of the Harbours Act 1946, to the Sligo Harbour Commissioners for the sale of a site at the Ballast Quay, Sligo, to a company. However, the sale did not proceed at that time.

In April 1994, the Department was informed that a director of the same company now wished to take up the title to the site at Ballast Quay. The then Minister gave his consent to that proposal under section 159 of the Harbours Act 1946, on 27 April 1994, and the sale was completed.

The Department has no record indicating that the attention of the Department was drawn to any issues involving the MID block road through Sligo mentioned in the Deputy's question.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Michael Lowry

Question:

230 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether the 1 November start date for Christmas advertising for children is too early, as set out in the children’s advertising code issued by the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland; if, in view of the extreme financial pressures faced by parents at Christmas, he will review the code with a view to asking the BCI to amend the earliest possible advertising start date to 1 December; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29104/04]

Section 19(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act 2001, provides that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, BCI, prepare a code specifying standards to be complied with, and rules and practices to be observed, in respect of advertising which relate to matters likely to be of direct or indirect interest to children.

The BCI has published a children's advertising code, which will come into effect on 1 January 2005. Section 10 of the Act provides that the BCI review the effect of the code after three years and prepare a report in regard to that review and present it to me.

The drafting, monitoring and review of the code, are functions which the Oireachtas has provided the BCI with statutory responsibility for and in respect of which I have no role.

Ministerial Appointments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

231 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29119/04]

The press officer appointed by me during my tenure as Minister for Education and Science has been re-appointed by me in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The special adviser appointed by me during my tenure as Minister for Education and Science has been reassigned to me at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources with effect from 30 September 2004 and the requisite statutory order under the Public Service Management Act is being finalised.

Coastal Zone Management.

John Perry

Question:

232 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will fund the Bantry Bay coastal zone charter; if the reason for withdrawal of funding in 2003 was failure to gain funding from Government agencies due in part to the national economic downturn in 2003, lack of commitment from Government agencies to implement the charter agreement, the highly centralised nature of Government, making it hard to gain recognition and support for small scale local initiatives and his failure to bring forward the Coastal Zone Management Bill; and his plans to re-establish this fund. [29133/04]

The Bantry Bay charter was a demonstration project in the field of integrated coastal zone management that was funded under the EU's life programme. It was one of a number of similar projects across the EU that contributed to the process leading to the adoption in May 2002 of the EU recommendation on the implementation of integrated coastal zone management in Europe.

I understand that EU funding for the charter ended in 2000 and that Cork County Council agreed to meet the cost of continuing the exercise in 2001 and 2002. The local authority advised the charter, however, that it would not be in a position to meet the full costs of the charter office beyond February 2003.

Against this background, the charter put forward a proposal that its costs be met by a number of public bodies. In addition to my Department, I understand that it also sought funding from the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Agriculture and Food, as well as Cork County Council and Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners.

The charter was advised at the time that no funds were available to my Department to support the further continuation of the pilot project. This remains the case, and there are no proposals for the Department to become involved in the funding of individual coastal zone management projects.

Ferry Services.

John Perry

Question:

233 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding the proposed closure of a service (details supplied) to France from Rosslare due to the apparent unfair subsidy given to a company (details supplied) by the French Government; his action to date to safe guard the jobs; the meetings that have taken place dealing with this issue; and the results of same. [29134/04]

Irish Continental Group announced on 20 October 2004, that it is restructuring, not ending, its Ireland-France ferry service.

I understand that the current service will end on 30 November 2004, and that a new service will be introduced in March 2005. I have met both with local public representatives and with union representatives to consider the company's announcement and I have also spoken with the company.

Irish Continental Group alerted the Department in 2002 to their concerns that another shipping company planning to operate an Ireland-France ferry service may have received inappropriate State aid.

My predecessor as Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, raised the matter with the European Commission, which investigated Irish Continental Group's complaint. I understand that its investigation did not lead to any further action being taken by the Commission. I have written to the Commissioner designate for competition, seeking a meeting with her at an appropriate time to discuss ferry operations on the Ireland to France route.

The availability of a year-round ferry service to France is a valuable element in our trade and tourism links with the Continent. It is a means of avoiding the UK land bridge, through affording cost effective alternatives to our importers and exporters, and the Government is supportive of its retention.

Aquaculture Development.

John Perry

Question:

234 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason over a third of all fish sold in retail supermarkets are farmed and the figure is increasing; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that fish farming is replacing the catching sector. [29143/04]

The quantities of fishery products from aquaculture are increasing on a global level. This trend derives from improving aquaculture techniques, a rising demand for fish and fishery products and an appreciation of the health benefits of consuming fish.

There are concerns about the state of some of the wild fish stocks; current policy at EU level involves restrictions on fish catches in order to rebuild stocks so that, in the medium to long term, sustainable fishing will support and grow the economies of coastal communities dependent on fishing. In contrast, aquaculture production continues to provide excellent opportunities for growth in seafood production. Starting from an insignificant amount, global aquaculture production has significantly grown and has increased by some 10% per year since 1990. In the Irish context, during this period there has been substantial growth in farmed salmon production and in the extensive and intensive cultivation of mussels and oysters.

John Perry

Question:

235 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of aquaculture operations here; the value of fish production; the number of persons employed in the sector; the level of support given to small companies in creating jobs; and the incentive which is given to the industry to develop new enterprises. [29144/04]

The number of licensed aquaculture operations at present is 1,159 of whom 10% are for finfish farming, the remainder are for shellfish farming operations. The first sale value of the fish produced in 2003 is estimated at €106,301 million. The number of people directly employed in the farm production element of the sector, on a full and part-time basis in 2003 was 2,637.

The level of support given to the sector is generally set at 40% of qualifying expenditure. The principal source of development funding is the aquaculture measure of the NDP 2000-2006. This FIFG co-funded instrument is complimented by an integrated suite of support programmes in the areas of marketing, quality assurance, environmental compliance, technology transfer, training and business skills provided by BIM. Local Leader groups may also assist new start-up companies with general mentoring and coaching as appropriate.

Fisheries Research.

John Perry

Question:

236 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the salmon research agency roles; the benefit the information is to the salmon industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29145/04]

A number of State agencies are involved in salmon research work under the aegis of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

Under the Fisheries Acts, primary responsibility for the conservation, protection and management of inland fisheries stocks rests with the Central and Regional Fisheries Boards. With regard to salmon research, the remit of the Central Fisheries Board is to carry out such research or experimental work as it considers necessary for the performance of its functions. As part of its remit, the board undertakes applied research and development in response to sectoral demands, the demands of the regional fisheries boards and as it sees fit itself. All the research carried out is of direct benefit to the fish and their ecology and to the stakeholders.

The Marine Institute was established in 1991 to support existing marine research, technology, development and innovation activity and to underpin future innovation and growth in the marine sector. The institute's salmon management services provide an integrated service in relation to sustainable salmon management, aquaculture, sea trout, eels, aspects of inshore fisheries, as well as commercial fishing and angling.

In July 1999, the Salmon Research Agency, SRA, was transferred to the Marine Institute and since then, the institute's salmon research effort has been concentrated at the former SRA research facility in Newport on the Burrishoole system in County Mayo. The Burrishoole system is one of the most important salmon index rivers in the North Atlantic and is one of only two in the island of Ireland. The Marine Institute carries out extensive research on a wide range of aspects of the Burrishoole system including stock dynamics of salmon, salmonid genetics; environmental and hydrological studies; catchment management studies as well as extensive research into the rearing of salmonids for stock enhancement, ranching and fish farming.

The Marine Institute's facilities comprise of a laboratory and administration block, freshwater hatchery and fish-rearing facilities, fish census trapping stations, a salmonid angling fishery and a comprehensively monitored freshwater lake and river catchment. The Newport research facility hosts a wide range of the institute's freshwater and inshore fisheries-based programmes and is also the centre for many national and international co-operative research and development programmes.

The National Salmon Commission, NSC, is a statutory advisory body established under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1999 to assist and advise the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the management of the national salmon resource. The commission includes representatives of the commercial fishing sector, the angling sector and other relevant stake holders and is advised in its work by its standing scientific committee. In recent years, its most important function has been to provide the Minister with the latest scientific advice on the level of wild salmon stocks and to advise him on the setting of a national total allowable catch, TAC, and quotas for the taking of salmon.

The salmon data gathered by all of these agencies is pivotal in the management of the species and in the setting of conservation limits and fishery targets aimed at ensuring the sustainable development of salmon as a commercial and recreational fishing resource. The salmon research work and advice provided by these agencies is extremely important in assisting the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to implement the overriding objective of the Government which is to preserve the salmon resource in its own right and for the coastal and rural communities that it helps to support.

In this regard, it is the Government's belief that the current strategy of developing a sustainable commercial and recreational salmon fishery through aligning catches on the scientific advice holds out the strong prospect of a recovery of stocks and of a long term sustainable fishery for both sectors.

Marine Tourism.

John Perry

Question:

237 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the plans he has to re-introduce the marine and natural resources tourism programme; if the 15 applications out of 60 evaluation which was carried out previously were approved; if he will fast track for redevelopment; if the €25 million fund be reinstated; and if he has brought the project to Government. [29146/04]

John Perry

Question:

248 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans for marine tourism in the west, around the coasts of Clare, Galway, Mayo and Sligo; if he will consider the economic benefits of marine tourism and the potential for developing this industry; and his further plans for involvement of west and north-west key tourism stake holders in a joint venture to develop this huge industry. [29177/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 237 and 248 together.

Tourism development generally is a matter for the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and is supported under the tourism measure of the national development plan, which is administered by Fáilte Ireland. The national development plan also includes separate measures to assist rural development, culture and co-operation with Northern Ireland, all of which include provision for tourism-related development.

Due to this Department's expertise in marine access infrastructure through its responsibility for harbours and ports, it was decided that it would be appropriate for this Department to administer the sub-measure of the overall tourism measure that was aimed specifically at supporting tourism-related marine — estuarine access infrastructure, such as marinas. The scheme was launched in February, 2002 and as a result of the first call, 60 applications for funding were received. Of these, 15 were identified as eligible to go forward for further evaluation which would have been carried out by a project assessment committee with the assistance of consultants. This committee would have scored and ranked the eligible projects which would then have been submitted to the tourism product management board for approval or rejection.

The selection process had reached only the initial stage of assessment of eligibility when it became clear that, due to budgetary constraints, the necessary funding for the scheme would not be available in 2003. This resulted in the suspension of the scheme, and all applicants under the call were notified of the position in December 2002. The assessment of the first set of applications was not completed, and no second call has taken place.

Apart from the balance of the limited funding — €5.7 million in total — that was committed as a budget day adjustment to a small number of marine tourism projects outside the grant scheme, there are currently no plans to make available any direct funding for marine access infrastructure and it is unlikely at this stage that the marine tourism grant scheme will be reactivated within the term of the national development plan.

However, the Department contributes to the development of marine tourism by supporting the activities of the Marine Institute which undertakes a programme of research and development on the marine tourism and leisure sector. The institute, in collaboration with key agencies, has undertaken a number of marine tourism and leisure development initiatives at local and county level in the west and north west of Ireland. For example, development strategies have been prepared for Counties Donegal and Galway and at local level for the west Clare peninsula. These frameworks provide a blueprint for development which can be applied on a national scale.

As a result of framework for the development of tourism and leisure on the marine and inland waters of County Donegal, the institute supported the appointment of a full-time co-ordinator to develop the marine tourism and leisure sector in Donegal over a three year period. Water-based Tourism — A Strategic Vision for Galway, provided a strategic overview of Galway's current resources and identified the potential of a number of pilot water-based tourism and leisure development initiatives and included over 40 recommendations to enhance the potential of marine tourism development in County Galway. Special Interest Marine Tourism in the West Clare Peninsula presents a framework for development of the marine resource on a localised basis.

The Marine Institute is currently in the process of preparing a national strategy for the development of marine tourism and leisure 2005-10. This strategy will be developed following an extensive consultative process with Government, agencies, representative bodies and stake holders.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

John Perry

Question:

238 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on his main responsibilities. [29147/04]

As Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I am responsible for the performance of the functions that have been assigned to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources pursuant to the Ministers and Secretaries Acts 1924 to 1995. In addition to the communications, marine and natural resources functions, I am responsible for the energy and broadcasting portfolios.

Marine functions have been delegated to my colleague, Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, in accordance with the Marine (Delegation of Ministerial Functions) (No. 2) Order 2004. The Minister of State and I are working closely together to deliver on the policy objectives and programme for government commitments set for the Department's sectoral areas. I have arranged for copies of the Department's current statement of strategy 2003-05 and annual report 2003 to be forwarded to the Deputy. Work is underway on the preparation of the new statement of strategy which will set out the strategic challenges and goals up to 2007.

Marine Safety.

John Perry

Question:

239 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the plans he has for improved maritime safety; the most recent marine regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29148/04]

The maritime safety directorate in the Department was established in 2002. Since then a number of important initiatives have been taken, or are being taken to strengthen the maritime safety regime. A maritime safety Bill to provide the necessary powers to assist local authorities in adopting regulations against the improper use of certain fast powered craft such as jet skis in waters within their jurisdiction, is at an advanced stage. Work is currently underway on developing competency standards for skippers of domestic passenger ships and passenger boats with a view to introducing the necessary regulations in 2005.

The maritime safety directorate is also developing a registration system to enhance the safety of recreational craft. This new system will form part of an overhaul of the vessel registration process generally by the directorate, which will put safety at the centre of the process. A new safety code of practice on recreational craft has been recently published for consultation and I expect to introduce this code in 2005. In the fishing sector, the introduction of a safety code of practice for fishing vessels less than 15 m which is tied in to the licensing of fishing vessels by the sea fisheries administration division, is an important development in addressing the safety risks associated with this occupation.

There is ongoing development and monitoring of the maritime security regime to ensure that Irish vessels and port facilities remain fully compliant with the new security measures adopted in the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, thus ensuring the safety of passengers using Irish ports and vessels. Standards for all commercial sea-going vessels are developed and adopted at international level and the enforcement of all regulations governing the safety of vessels is a priority. My focus will be to continue to develop the maritime safety regime through a mixture of regulation and enforcement. A list of the most recent legislation introduced follows.

List of most recent statutory instruments for 2004 by SI number and title: SI 34 of 2004 European Communities (Passenger Ship) (Amendment) Regulations; SI 126 of 2004 European Communities (Merchant Shipping) (Training and Certification) (Amendment) Regulations 2004; SI 81 of 2004 European Communities (Vessel Traffic Monitoring and Information System) Regulations 2004; SI 259 of 2004 Merchant Shipping (Pleasure Craft) (Lifejackets and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2004; SI 422 of 2004 European Communities (Recreational Craft) (Amendment) Regulations 2004; SI 413 of 2004 European Communities (Ship and Port Facilities) Regulations 2004; and SI 709 of 2004 Merchant Shipping (Ro-Ro Passenger Ship Survivability) (Amendment) Rules 2004.

Aquaculture Development.

John Perry

Question:

240 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason for the slow uptake on the aquaculture development funding estimate provided on 31 December 2003 (details supplied); where funds were allocated; the present position of the fund; the plans he has to promote the fund. [29149/04]

The overall allocation of funding in the aquaculture development measures of the two regional operational programmes of the National Development Plan, NDP, 2000-2006 was €30.69 million on planned investment of €72.6 million. In the southern and eastern regional operational programme, 31 aquaculture projects have been approved for grant assistance of €10.4 million since the commencement of the programme on total investment of €23.36 million. These commitments were entered into in September 2001, April 2002, April and September 2003 and July 2004.

In the Border, midland and western regional operational programme, 66 aquaculture projects have been approved for grant assistance of €18.45 million since the commencement of the programme on total investment of €44.3 million. These commitments were entered into in October 2001, April 2002, April and September 2003 and July 2004.

The total commitments of public funding in the aquaculture development measure at national level is, allowing for de-commitments, estimated to be in the region of 83% in the southern and eastern region and 90% in the Border, midland and western region. The next call for aquaculture project applications will be made in early 2005. The total payments of NDP grants to aquaculture projects in 2003 amounted to €3.620 million. Payment of grants in any year depends on actual expenditure incurred by final beneficiaries.

Fishing Industry Development.

John Perry

Question:

241 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans for a public health campaign promoting the benefits of eating fish and of a healthy lifestyle in view of a study by Norwegian scientists which has shown that eating farmed salmon brings immeasurable benefits to persons who have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29163/04]

Specific responsibility for health promotion rests with the Department of Health and Children, specifically the health promotion unit of that Department.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara is the State body with responsibility for fish marketing and promotion of seafood generally. BIM currently promotes the health benefits of fish consumption as part of its ongoing consumer education programme. In order to further the consumption of seafood in Ireland, BIM is undertaking a promotional programme focusing primarily on the health benefits of fish consumption, which will be officially launched by the Minister of State in January 2005.

Inland Fisheries.

John Perry

Question:

242 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to combat the spread of invasive water borne species that are damaging water environments, mainly in lakes and rivers in the west, and which are having a massive negative effect on tourism and angling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29164/04]

I presume the Deputy's question relates to the spread of the invasive exotic species more commonly known as the zebra mussel.

I understand that the zebra mussel is a small shellfish shaped like a marine mussel which grows to about two inches in length, lives in freshwater, is spread primarily by boats and can cause undesirable ecological effects which have potentially serious consequences for native species, fauna and flora.

I am advised that the lead in co-ordinating and introducing measures to deal with the threat posed by this particular species is being taken by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. As part of this approach, I understand that at the request of this Department, the Marine Institute has been carrying out a monitoring survey on the distribution of zebra mussels in Ireland in recent years. I am advised that the results of this survey have been made widely available and I have asked the Marine Institute to forward a copy of these results directly to the Deputy.

I am advised by the chief executive officer of the Western Regional Fisheries Board that the board has recently launched a zebra mussel control initiative in conjunction with Galway County Council. This initiative involves a major education drive to educate anglers of the risk posed by the possible introduction of this pest to western lakes and rivers from the waters already infested such as the Shannon and Erne systems.

While this initiative is welcome, it is clear that there is a greater need for the message to be publicised wider to ensure all water users clearly understand that boats and other equipment used on waters with zebra mussels should not on any account be used in un-infested waters. I can assure the Deputy that the State agencies under the aegis of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources will continue to work with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the relevant local authorities in dealing with the threat posed by this species.

Harbours and Piers.

John Perry

Question:

243 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he will grant funding to the Bantry Harbour Board for much needed development of the pier and harbour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29165/04]

I refer the Deputy to the reply to Question No. 137 on 13 October 2004 and the reply to Question No. 95 on 21 October 2004 giving the up-to-date position in relation to the pier development proposed by Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners, which I will now outline again.

On 6 September 2004 a meeting took place between the commissioners and the former Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Browne. Following the meeting, the Minister of State wrote to the commissioners setting out his understanding of the outcome of the meeting and of how to ensure that the dialogue between the Department and the commissioners can be progressed in the future on a positive basis. The letter reiterated that the interruption in the dialogue between the Department and the commissioners and the referral of the matter to the Attorney General was a direct consequence of the unilateral decision by the commissioners to sign a contract in March 2002 for the construction of the pier. This occurred while discussions with the Department on the viability of the project were ongoing.

The Department has received advice from the Attorney General in regard to the proposed pier development. However, no decisions have been taken by the Department on foot of this advice in relation to the contract entered into by the commissioners. The former Minister of State's letter further indicated that from the discussions which had taken place, it appeared that the commissioners believed that the business environment for the project had shifted from that originally envisaged. The projected costs had escalated since the consideration of Exchequer support of €1.9 million by the former Minister, Deputy Fahey. Furthermore, no progress appeared to have been made on the conditions contained in the former Minister's letter of 15 May 2002 which expressly instructed the commissioners not to enter into any contractual commitments pending a report on progress in relation to two stipulated conditions. These conditions relate to negotiations with the terminal operator.

The former Minister of State proposed in his letter to the commissioners that the project be reviewed in terms of its viability, the financial implications for the commissioners of increased borrowings for the project due to its escalated cost and the risks to the project posed by the dominant position of the terminal operator. To this end, the Department has invited the commissioners to submit for consideration a fully detailed updated proposal for the project, including a business plan with financial tables. I believe that the proposed course set out is a sound basis for progressing the matter and I look forward to the Department receiving for consideration the updated proposal from the commissioners in due course.

Search and Rescue Service.

John Perry

Question:

244 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will reconsider the decision to close the marine rescue co-ordination centre in Dublin; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the British Commons Select Committee on Transport recently blamed continuing high marine casualty death rates on the closure of three UK marine rescue co-ordination centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29166/04]

The decision to transfer the services of the marine rescue co-ordination centre from Dublin was taken on foot of a study of the coast guard undertaken by independent consultants, Deloitte & Touche. Reflecting advances in modern communications technologies, the consultants recommended that the coast guard should operate two control centres as opposed to the three centres that exist at present. This approach will have the effect of achieving significant cost savings, thus enabling other elements of the coast guard service to be developed, which in turn will lead to further improvements in our marine emergency response services nationally.

Coast guard management is continuing to examine all issues relating to the operation of the two centres going forward, including establishing what measures will be necessary to effect a smooth transfer from Dublin to the other two centres while ensuring that full co-ordination capability is maintained at all time. In this regard, the report of the House of Commons Transport Committee on the work of the maritime and coast guard agency, MCA, will inform the Department's consideration of the issues, including the observations of the MCA to the committee, together with relevant experience in this country and best practice elsewhere.

The objective is that the remaining two centres at Valentia and Malin Head will be developed to handle all emergencies around our coast on inland waters and in relation to mountain, cliff and cave rescue. Communications technology today is such that the geographical location of the co-ordination centres is less important now than in the past and, in this context, Government policies on decentralisation from Dublin are also relevant.

It is also a key objective that the capability of the coast guard to co-ordinate and manage incidents will not be diminished as a result of the closure of the Dublin rather than the Valentia or Malin Head centres, nor will the decision affect the very significant emergency response resources on the ground, which will remain available to the coast guard on a year-round 24-hour basis.

Fishing Industry Development.

John Perry

Question:

245 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans for increased funding of the processing fish sector; his further plans to develop, promote and fund processing packaging and preservation which is much needed to increase sales in the home market and to abroad; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that it is not easy to distinguish between fish processed from farmed stock and fish from catches made at sea; and his plans for proper labelling in this regard. [29167/04]

A total of €1.5 million has been provided in the Estimates for 2004 in respect of seafood processing. This funding will assist a range of developments such as increased production, enhanced product quality, optimum use of raw material and improve competitiveness both nationally and abroad. I have ensured that a further significant allocation of funding in respect of this sector will be provided in the 2005 Estimates.

Since July 2003, in accordance with the requirements of Council Regulation No. 104/2000 (EC), a labelling system giving traceability information in respect of a wide range of seafood and aquaculture products has been in operation in Ireland under the terms of SI No. 320 of 2003. I presume the Deputy is referring to further developments in Community legislation in this area. Regulation (EC) 178/2002, which comes into effect on 1 January 2005, provides in broad terms for the introduction of a mandatory traceability system in respect of animal food and feed in general. A further five related regulations and directives, the most relevant of which come into effect on 1 January 2006, set out detailed requirements in this regard.

The precise implications of these new requirements for the various food sectors are currently under examination. My Department is liaising with the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Health and Children so as to ensure that the necessary arrangements in respect of the seafood sector are developed and introduced on a co-ordinated basis within the comprehensive legal and practical framework that will apply to food in general.

Departmental Expenditure.

John Perry

Question:

246 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason for the delay in the seaports measure of the NDP in respect of the seaport infrastructure and capacity development submeasure and the disengagement submeasure; the further reason for under-spending the Estimate provision of €3,140,000 and for the out turn of €473,000 in the year to 31 December 2003; and the position at November 2004. [29175/04]

The delay in the issue of letters of offer of grant aid under the seaport infrastructure and capacity development submeasure arose primarily due to lack of clarity regarding the availability of Exchequer funding over the duration of the regional operational programmes. To date, letters of offer have issued under this submeasure in respect of 12 projects with a total project cost of €81 million and grant aid of some €25 million. All but two of these projects relate to State port companies operating under the aegis of the Department. Exchequer funding in respect of these projects is allocated from the central fund rather than from the Vote of this Department.

To date, no letters of offer of grant aid have issued in respect of the disengagement submeasure which was targeted at harbour authorities operating under the aegis of this Department. The allocation of Exchequer funding to harbour authorities by the Department was reviewed in 2004. The engineering division of this Department prepared a schedule of priority works on the basis of public safety and maintenance of navigation criteria. To date, in 2004, approximately €1.4 million from the Vote of the Department has been allocated for these priority works which are currently underway.

In light of the significant time lapse since the original applications for grant aid under the disengagement submeasure and the need to allocate the scarce Exchequer resources available on the Vote of this Department to the priority works referred to above, it has not proved possible to issue any letters of offer of grant aid under the submeasure.

The saving in 2003, to which the Deputy refers, arose on the relevant subhead of the Vote of the Department due to the lack of progress on two projects approved under the infrastructure and capacity development submeasure and the absence of any projects approved under the disengagement submeasure. However, in 2003, more than €1.3 million was paid from the central fund in respect of infrastructure and capacity development projects related to State port companies.

Fishing Industry Regulations.

John Perry

Question:

247 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason horse mackerel or scad can only be landed at two ports here; the further reason for the statutory instrument which makes it illegal to land at any port other than Rathmullen and Killybegs in Donegal; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 400 tonnes of scad had been landed at Dingle port and that to bring scad by road from Donegal means a loss in quality and condition during transportation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29176/04]

The EU introduced new arrangements for the control of certain pelagic fisheries, namely, horse mackerel, mackerel and north west herring fisheries, in December 2003 which came into effect on 1 January 2004. The rules are set down in annex IV of Council Regulation 2287/03. These arrangements include the weighing in the presence of a controller of all quantities in excess of ten tonnes landed of each of these species.

The annex is implemented in Irish law by means of statutory instrument. During the course of the year, extensive consultations took place with industry representatives. The statutory instrument currently in place — SI No. 530 of 2004 — provides for landings at five designated ports, namely, Killybegs, Rathmullen, Dingle, Rossaveal and Castletownbere. All landings in these ports must be weighed by means of weigh-bridges located in the ports. Weigh-bridges have been installed in Killybegs, Rathmullen and Rossaveal. Work is near completion on the construction of a weigh-bridge in Castletownbere and I understand that work is also advanced on the installation of a weigh-bridge in Dingle. In implementing these new EU regulations, the Department has at all times consulted with the industry and has at all times attempted to deal in a practical manner with the difficulties raised by the annex. Together with the Department's officials, I will continue to work closely with the industry and the Commission in addressing the problems associated with the implementation of EU regulations.

Question No. 248 answered with QuestionNo. 237.

Communications Masts.

Damien English

Question:

249 Mr. English asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the action he is taking to stop mobile phone antennae being built or placed adjacent to primary, secondary and third level education centres; his plans for future guidelines on the regulation of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29263/04]

The Deputy has asked if I am taking specific action to stop certain installations. I am not taking such action, but am endeavouring to ensure that the public is not exposed to any significant risks due to the presence of such installations.

Ireland participates in a number of international bodies which undertake detailed programmes of research into interactions between electromagnetic energy and people. The latest reports from this work were tabled at a meeting in Slovenia earlier this month. These reports conclude that, notwithstanding many years of investigation, no adverse health effects have been demonstrated to be caused by electromagnetic energy emitted by telecommunication masts. I appreciate that some people still maintain that these facilities are responsible for various symptoms and illnesses that they suffer. I sympathise with those people.

The overwhelming weight of evidence is that facilities such as mobile base stations are not responsible for their condition. Focused research is continuing and my Department will monitor this area closely. Ireland also participates in the relevant bodies that monitor and set guidelines for limiting exposure to electromagnetic energy from such installations. These bodies continuously review the relevant research already referred to and periodically meet to decide whether or not the guidelines continue to be appropriate in the light of the most up-to-date reports. I can report that my Department has endorsed these guidelines as continuing to offer protection to the public. These guidelines are utilised as operating limits in the licences issued to the operators of telecommunications facilities and measurements carried out on behalf of ComReg, the telecommunications regulator, have shown total compliance with the limits. I have no plans to alter this approach to the utilisation of guidelines for the purpose of regulation.

Therefore, I am advised that there is no reason due to adverse health effects for me to act in terms of taking action to stop mobile phone antennae being built or placed adjacent to education centres. In general, issues relating to the physical siting of telecommunication masts are not a matter for me but for the relevant local authorities under the aegis of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Telecommunications Services.

Damien English

Question:

250 Mr. English asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the details of the availability of broadband, for both data and voice lines, for each of the exchanges and areas in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29264/04]

The provision of telecommunications services, including voice and broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by ComReg, the Commission for Communications Regulation. The information requested should be sought directly from Eircom. The Deputy should also refer to www.broadband.gov.ie regarding the availability of broadband generally in County Meath.

Offshore Exploration.

Martin Ferris

Question:

251 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if undertakings have at any stage been given to companies involved in petroleum exploration that the terms and conditions and fiscal regime introduced in 1992 will never be altered. [29433/04]

I can categorically state that I am not aware and can find no evidence of any such undertaking given either by my predecessors in this job or by officials of the Department.

I refer the Deputy to a speech given by my predecessor, Deputy Fahey, at the annual dinner of the Institute of Petroleum in November 2000 when he undertook to keep the licensing terms and conditions under continuing review. While I may decide on the payment and level of royalties, the level of taxation to be applied to this sector is a matter for the Minister for Finance. I would point out that the Finance Act 1992, provided for a tax rate for the upstream petroleum sector, after allowances, of 25% when the general rate for corporation tax was at least 40%. Today the general rate for corporation tax is 12.5% while the rate for the upstream petroleum sector remains at 25%.

Execution of Irish Born Soldiers.

Billy Timmins

Question:

252 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions he has had with his British counterpart with a view to obtaining a pardon for Irish persons who were executed in the First World War as members of the British Forces for alleged breach of military law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29425/04]

My officials met with the British Ministry of Defence in London on 6 February 2004 to discuss the 26 Irish born soldiers who were executed by the British Army during the First World War for alleged breaches of military law. At that meeting it was agreed that the British side would forward the courts martial case files for the Irish men in question and that in response we would formally set out our position in writing.

Following a thorough evaluation of the case files, which we received in April, and the consideration of extensive supplementary information provided by a number of sources, the Embassy of Ireland, London, submitted a report on this matter on 27 October 2004 to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on my behalf.

None of the men was charged with what would be viewed as the most serious of military crimes, such as treacherously deserting to the enemy, or mutiny. In fact, public and parliamentary dissatisfaction with the number and manner of military executions during World War I was such that the death penalty was repealed for the military offences under which each execution took place only ten years after the war had ended. In addition, there is evidence to suggest a disparity in the treatment of lower ranks in comparison to officers, statistical evidence that highlights a harsher disciplinary regime faced by men from Ireland in comparison to men from other countries and numerous references to the need for an example to be made when sentencing was being considered. The report concludes that the cumulative effect of the issues raised therein casts serious doubt on the safety of these courts martial convictions and subsequent executions.

We have, therefore, asked the British Government to consider our report with a view to granting these men retrospective pardons. The British response in this regard is awaited.

Overseas Development Aid.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

253 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent meeting with the Minister for Finance of Lesotho; the plans for further aid to the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28746/04]

Lesotho is the longest established of Development Co-operation Ireland's bilateral country programmes. As in other countries where Ireland operates a bilateral programme, the primary focus of our development efforts in Lesotho is on improving services which directly benefit the poor — basic education, primary health care, HIV/AIDS, rural access, rural water and sanitation. We are also engaged in strengthening the quality of governance in Lesotho and in supporting the public sector reform programme. A recent external evaluation of the country programme highlighted the positive impact that support from Development Co-operation Ireland has had in Lesotho.

Development Co-operation Ireland works in close partnership with government ministries and civil society organisations in the implementation of the Lesotho country programme. The Ministry of Finance and Development Planning is a key partner ministry. The Minister for Finance and Development Planning, Dr. Tim Thahane, visited Ireland on 7 to 9 October 2004. My meeting with him on 7 October provided an opportunity for an exchange of views on a range of issues central to our development partnership. In particular, we discussed our future support for Lesotho's reform and modernisation programme and considered how best Ireland can help the government to lead a comprehensive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis which is causing such suffering in Lesotho.

Dr. Thahane used his visit to explore Ireland's recent economic success and examine the possible lessons for a small country like Lesotho seeking to make itself more attractive to international business as a target for foreign direct investment. Meetings were held with the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, IBEC and the International Financial Services Centre. The Minister, Dr. Thahane, also met the Dáil Committee of Public Accounts and discussed the potential for closer contact between it and its counterpart in Lesotho. The visit enhanced the good relations which exist between our two countries and built on the successful visit to Lesotho by a delegation from the Oireachtas at the end of last year.

Foreign Conflicts.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

254 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is monitoring the developing crisis in Palestine; the contacts with interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28747/04]

I am, of course, monitoring the developing situation in the region and, in concert with Ireland's partners in the European Union, maintaining contact with the parties. I expect to meet representatives of both the Palestinian and Israeli Governments at the EuroMed ministerial meeting in the Hague on 29 November. I will continue to press upon both parties our view that the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict can best be pursued through the quartet road map, based on two sovereign states living side by side in peace and security.

Richard Bruton

Question:

255 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s position regarding the settlement of Palestinian areas by Israel and the erection of a dividing wall in the occupied territories; the position that Ireland has taken at the UN in respect of resolutions to restrict the activities of Israel; the status of these resolutions; the Government’s position on proposals by Israel for limited withdrawal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28849/04]

The Government has consistently taken the view that the settlements established in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli authorities are illegal. Any changes to the pre-1967 borders must be agreed by the parties.

As regards the Israeli separation barrier, Ireland acknowledges the right, indeed the responsibility, of the Israeli Government to protect its people, including, if it so wishes, by a security fence. Our objection to the fence is to the line that it takes. The construction of the fence within the occupied Palestinian territories is contrary to international law. In the short term, the current line of the fence divides Palestinian communities and creates severe hardship for them. Equally troubling is the long-term impact, which tends to perpetuate facts on the ground and make it more difficult to reach a final settlement. The Israeli authorities are well aware of the Government's views on this matter.

With regard to the proposed Israeli withdrawal, the EU has identified criteria that are essential to make such a withdrawal acceptable to the international community. It must take place in the context of the road map, it must be a step towards a two state solution, it must not involve a transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank, there must be an organised and negotiated handover of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority and Israel must facilitate the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza.

Ireland and the EU have repeatedly reaffirmed these positions, including in our statements at the United Nations and most recently through my predecessor's address to the UN General Assembly on 22 September 2004, as well as during our time on the Security Council. The UN has adopted a large number of resolutions on these issues over the years and Ireland has consistently supported those resolutions which reflected the positions I have set out. I note, in particular, our support for the UN General Assembly resolution adopted in July this year by an overwhelming majority in response to the International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the separation barrier.

International Agreements.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

256 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland is a signatory to the international covenant on migrants’ rights; the requirement it must meet to fulfil its commitment thereunder; if Ireland is not a signatory, the reason therefor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28850/04]

Ireland is not a signatory to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1990 and it entered into force on 1 July 2003, following ratification by the requisite number of states, that is, 20. The convention on migrant workers has been open for signature and ratification since December 1990 but, to date, only 27 states have ratified it. No European Union member state has as yet signed or ratified the convention, nor has any indicated an intention to do so.

Where Ireland wishes to ratify an international instrument, the Government must first ensure that our domestic law is in conformity with the agreement in question. The Government must, therefore, make any necessary legislative changes, or be satisfied that none is required, before ratification takes place. As signature of an instrument is an indication of an intention to ratify it, the Government would consequently also have to have a firm intention to ratify, and be taking steps to do so, before signing an international instrument.

The convention on the rights of migrant workers has been examined by my Department. It would appear that in order for Ireland to ratify the convention, significant changes would have to be made across a wide range of existing legislation, including legislation addressing employment, social welfare provision, education, taxation and electoral law. These changes would also have implications for our relations with our EU partners, none of whom has signed or ratified the convention, and possibly for the operation of the common travel area between Ireland and the UK. There are no plans at present to introduce the changes in the areas above which would be necessary before Ireland could ratify or consider signing the convention.

Moreover, the convention on the rights of migrant workers has not acquired universal recognition as a standard for the protection of the human rights of migrant workers. It should also be noted that the rights of migrant workers and their families are already comprehensively protected under existing national legislation and under the Irish Constitution. In addition, the rights of migrant workers and their families are addressed by Ireland's commitments under international human rights instruments to which the State is already a party. These international instruments include, for example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Human Rights Issues.

Bernard Allen

Question:

257 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of human rights violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Iran. [28851/04]

Bernard Allen

Question:

258 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of human rights violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Iraq. [28852/04]

Bernard Allen

Question:

259 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of human rights violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Sudan. [28853/04]

Bernard Allen

Question:

260 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of human violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Burma. [28854/04]

Bernard Allen

Question:

261 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of human violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Israel. [28855/04]

Bernard Allen

Question:

262 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of human violations registered to date in 2004 with the human rights desk in his Department in the case of Palestine. [28856/04]

I will take Questions Nos. 257 to 262, inclusive, together.

While my Department continually monitors the overall human rights situation in certain countries we do not maintain national registers of individual violations of human rights. We do, however, pay particular attention to the human rights records of all the countries mentioned by the Deputy.

In common with our EU partners, the Government has tabled resolutions at the third committee of the UN General Assembly and at the UN Commission for Human Rights on several of the countries mentioned and, in the context of EU common foreign and security policy, has strongly promoted the advancement of human rights policies in those countries. In addition, we pursue a vigorous policy in defence of human rights defenders. Through this policy, we seek to create a space in which those best placed to advance human rights on the ground can work to best effect.

My Department, through the Government's overseas development aid programme, also supports human rights and democratisation programmes globally through various funding schemes. The main funding mechanism is our human rights and democratisation scheme, which has the broad objective of assisting the development of democratic processes and institutions and the promotion and protection of human rights in developing countries outside of our priority programme countries. In 2004, our total allocation for this purpose was €3 million.

In the case of the countries mentioned by the Deputy, Ireland has been funding, on a regular basis, human rights and democratisation NGOs in Palestine, Israel, Burma and Sudan.

Foreign Conflicts.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

263 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he has taken to secure the release of a person (details supplied). [29076/04]

The Government has been doing everything possible in response to Annetta Flanigan's abduction on 28 October last. We are in active ongoing contact with the United Nations, both in New York and Kabul, and, of course, with Annetta's family. We have also discussed the situation on a number of occasions with Archbishop Eames, who is a great source of support to the family.

Human Rights Issues.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

264 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on Ireland’s attitude to the treatment of members of the Falun Gong in China; if this attitude has been made clear to the Government of China; and the steps that have been taken through the EU, the UN and otherwise regarding the treatment of members of the Falun Gong by the Government of China. [29078/04]

The Government takes seriously concerns about human rights in China, including those of practitioners of Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa. The issue of the treatment in China of practitioners of Falun Dafa has been raised both bilaterally and through the formal framework of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, which was established in 1996.

This matter is also addressed at the UN level. At the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2004 during Ireland's EU Presidency, the EU made a statement on the question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world. In this statement, while reaffirming its commitment to the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, the EU raised issues of particular concern, including ongoing violations in China of the human rights of Falun Dafa practitioners.

During the EU Presidency and since, we have had several meetings with China at which we also raised the issue of the human rights situation. The Chinese Premier, Mr. Wen Jiabao, accompanied by Foreign Minister, Mr. Li Zhaoxing, visited Ireland on 11-12 May 2004, as part of his first official visit to Europe. On 11 May, official talks led by the Taoiseach took place in Dublin.

At this meeting, both sides expressed their ongoing commitment to the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue. The Human Rights Dialogue is the formal framework through which the EU raises its concerns about individual human rights cases, including those of Falun Gong practitioners, and more general issues, such as the protection of freedom of religion and expression, which have a particular impact on practitioners of Falun Gong. We emphasised that Ireland is willing to share our experience and expertise with China on human rights. The premier also reported on the measures his government is taking in the field of human rights, which included the addition of an express provision on human rights to China's constitution earlier this year.

Since the Presidency, the Government continues to examine this question with our EU partners, considering our overall relationship with China, our ongoing commitment to human rights and the broader regional and international context. This approach was conveyed to the Chinese authorities by the Taoiseach during his bilateral discussions with Premier Wen when they met in the margins of the ASEM summit in Hanoi, on 9 October 2004 and, most recently, to Chinese Vice-Premier, Mr. Huang Ju, during his current visit to Ireland, from 16 to 18 November 2004. During our meeting with the Vice-Premier, we reiterated Ireland's commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms and again emphasised Ireland's willingness to share its experience and expertise with China in the human rights area.

Overall, there has been an improvement in the human rights situation in China since 1989, which is reflected in the increasing frequency of EU-China meetings, the regular EU-China Human Rights Dialogue and by the first joint seminar which took place in Beijing in June 2004 on China's ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR. The early ratification of the ICCPR would be an important development in the legal protection of the civil and political freedoms of Chinese citizens, including followers of Falun Gong. A further seminar on ICCPR ratification took place in The Hague on 8-9 November 2004.

Nevertheless, legitimate concerns persist in Europe and there is ample scope for the Chinese authorities to further demonstrate their stated commitments on improving respect for human rights.

Ireland, together with our EU partners, will continue to encourage the Chinese authorities to respect fully the human rights of all citizens. There will be further discussion of these matters during the EU-China summit, scheduled to take place in The Hague on 8 December 2004.

Ministerial Appointments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

265 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29120/04]

In my capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs I have appointed a special adviser and a press adviser, both of whom were attached to my office in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The terms and conditions of employment of advisers are set by the Minister for Finance. The contracts of my special adviser and press adviser will terminate no later than the date on which I cease to hold the position of Minister for Foreign Affairs. My special adviser is paid an annual salary of €76,544 and my press adviser is paid €84,684. These are, respectively, the third point and the first long service increment point of the principal officer standard salary scale.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

266 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the representations he has made to the British Government regarding the recent abuse of CS gas by the PSNI in Derry and elsewhere. [29139/04]

On each occasion in which CS spray is deployed by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the matter is automatically referred to the Police Ombudsman's Office for investigation under regulation 55(4) of the 1998 Police Act. This practice was voluntarily instigated by the PSNI in an effort to ensure that CS spray, in its initial period of use, is open to independent scrutiny and analysis in terms of the actions of individual officers when deploying the spray.

At present, there are a number of cases of CS spray use by the PSNI under consideration by the Ombudsman's office, at differing stages of investigation. I am confident that the Police Ombudsman is conducting a thorough investigation of the instances of CS spray use in Northern Ireland and I await her conclusions with interest. My officials are closely monitoring the outcome of these investigations, paying particular attention to any recommendations or concerns highlighted by the Police Ombudsman, for follow up with the British Government as and when it is appropriate to do so.

Prevention of Terrorism.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

267 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, further to Parliamentary Question No. 177 of 10 November 2004 and in view of the fact that the incident in question was discussed publicly in the media, if he has received assurances from the UK authorities which adequately clear up the incident; if an indication has been given regarding whether the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000 is likely to similarly affect other Irish persons travelling to the UK; if he has had discussions with the UK authorities with a view to establishing accepted practices and procedures to deal with such cases; if, as is indicated by his reply, such matters will be dealt with on a confidential basis by the Irish and British authorities; if, in such circumstances, he has satisfied himself that the public interest is best served and that the interests and rights of Irish citizens will be observed and borne in mind in the event of any recurrence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29275/04]

As I indicated in my reply to Question No. 177 of 10 November, the case to which the Deputy referred is under discussion with the British authorities. Following a meeting with that individual, my officials have reverted to the British authorities and have sought a meeting to discuss this case and the broader issues of concern to which it gives rise.

With regard to the more general question as to whether the Terrorism Act 2000 is likely to similarly affect other Irish citizens travelling to the UK, the Deputy is aware that the Act does allow for all travellers from any country entering the UK to be stopped, searched and examined. In monitoring the application of these provisions what we are seeking to establish is that the powers are exercised in a way which reflects the fact that the vast majority of travellers have no connection whatsoever with terrorism and as such are entitled to expect that any inconvenience to them and disruption to their travel will be kept to the absolute minimum. Travellers also have a right to expect that all stops and searches are carried out with courtesy, consideration and respect for the person concerned.

From time to time my Department receives correspondence from people who wish to complain at their treatment under the Terrorism Act. It is normal practice that each case is followed up with the British authorities and the official response is conveyed to the person concerned. My officials note and analyse any trends or recurrence of problems. As and when appropriate, these are taken up separately with the British authorities as part of the general overview maintained on the operation of the Act.

European Constitution.

Michael Ring

Question:

268 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether it is fair and in order to produce and make available brochures on the European Constitution when there will be a referendum in this regard; his further views on whether this will create an imbalance in the information given out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29426/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

269 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the total cost of producing and circulating the brochure, The European Constitution, Explanatory Guide in both Irish and English. [29427/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 268 and 269 together.

It is entirely appropriate for the Government to publish information material on the European Constitution and to distribute it widely. Equivalent factual material has been produced about every previous major EU treaty. We have a duty to do all we can to promote public awareness of the European Constitution and of its provisions. This is a quite separate question from the public funding of advocacy campaigns during a referendum, which is of course prohibited.

While final details are not yet available, printing, design and translation costs in regard both to the explanatory guide to the European Constitution and the related pamphlet are estimated at €37,000; advertisements in all national daily and Sunday newspapers advising the public of their availability are estimated at €25,000; and postage costs are estimated at €9,000.

Departmental Correspondence.

Tony Gregory

Question:

270 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will reply to correspondence to his office from a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath. [29256/04]

A comprehensive reply, which set out the position in respect of coursing, including the annual monitoring arrangement in place for coursing, was issued to the person in question on 15 January 2004.

National Aquatic Centre.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

271 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of persons with disabilities regarding the lack of adequate facilities for disabled persons at the newly opened national aquatic centre (details supplied); if he has satisfied himself that the centre conforms with all aspects of the Equal Status Act 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29025/04]

I have been made aware of the concerns regarding facilities for people with disabilities at the National Aquatic Centre. Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited, CSID, the company responsible for overseeing the National Aquatic Centre, has confirmed that all requirements under disability legislation were met in the course of the provision of this facility. I understand consultation took place between the providers and certain representatives of disability groups at the outset of the project. I am anxious to ensure that access to these splendid facilities is available to all. I have recently requested the board of CSID to investigate what further work could be carried out to meet the requirements of the group that have raised concerns regarding accessibility to the National Aquatic Centre.

Sport and Recreational Development.

Jack Wall

Question:

272 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of meetings he has had with the FAI in regard to the implementation of the Genesis report; the results of such meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29026/04]

As I outlined to the Deputy in reply to a previous parliamentary question on 10 November 2004, I met officials of the Football Association of Ireland on 3 November 2004 arising from the recent developments within the organisation which resulted in the departure of its chief executive officer. I have had no further meetings with the FAI since then.

I fully support the delivery of the reform agenda mapped out in the Genesis report and I have indicated to the FAI that the positions of chief executive and director of finance and administration should be publicly advertised by the end of this year and that the terms of reference for both these posts be agreed beforehand by the joint Sports Council-FAI group which oversees the implementation of the Genesis report. The FAI has stated that it now intends to advertise these positions by year end. I have appointed my own representative to the joint Irish Sports Council- FAI liaison group which is overseeing the reform process. I look forward to working closely with the FAI in the many infrastructural projects which are being developed and which will have a major positive impact on Irish soccer.

Ministerial Appointments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

273 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29121/04]

There have been no new advisers or consultants appointed by me since the Government reshuffle in September 2004.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

274 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the approval of contract documents for the replacement of a swimming pool (details supplied) in County Kildare. [29290/04]

In the context of its application for grant aid under the local authority swimming pool programme, Kildare County Council has submitted contract documents for both the replacement swimming pool in Naas and the refurbishment of the swimming pool in Athy. These documents are under consideration in my Department. These projects are two of 33 swimming pool projects yet to be completed under the programme. A total of 22 projects have been completed or are currently under construction.

Under the local authority swimming pool programme, projects are considered on a case-by-case basis and consideration is given to such issues as to the number and geographical spread of projects within and between counties, whether the area is classified as disadvantaged, the viability of the project, particularly in respect of operational and maintenance issues, overall funding package for the project and technical details. The Department's annual estimates provision for the programme also has a significant influence on the flow of projects through the approval process.

Work Permits.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

275 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a decision will be given on a new work permit application for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29240/04]

There is no record in my Department of a valid work permit application in this case. Work permit applications, which are incorrect or incomplete, are not regarded as valid applications and are returned to the employer for completion.

Charitable Organisations.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

276 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to allegations that a charitable organisation (details supplied) filed false and incomplete documentation in the Companies Registration Office for two successive accounting years, 1998 and 1999; the reason it was decided to take no action on the matter; and his views on whether the statutory obligation to seek proper and complete documentation from the charitable organisation and to institute prosecutions when considered necessary appears to have been ignored by agencies under his aegis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28646/04]

I understand that the matters referred to by the Deputy concern compliance with company law. Since 28 November 2001, the Director of Corporate Enforcement has been responsible for enforcing and for securing compliance with the Companies Acts. He is required under the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001 to be independent in performing those functions. He is also obliged, as a general principle, to keep confidential any information obtained by him in that context. I am not in a position to say, therefore, whether or not any investigation has been or is being carried out by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement in regard to this organisation.

Community Employment Schemes.

Joe Costello

Question:

277 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will mainstream the community employment scheme for an association (details supplied); if he will increase the number of community employment posts from the current number of 341 to 417; the number agreed with the association in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28704/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

283 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the plans he has to ring-fence community employment numbers agreed in 2002 in the health sector; and the progress that has been made in this matter to date. [28931/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

284 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when the commitment to mainstream the IWA community employment scheme posts, as included in the programme for Government in June 2002 will be honoured; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28932/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

285 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the plans he has to ensure that all IWA community employment posts are graded and paid similar to other health care workers such as home helps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28933/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

286 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the proposal he has regarding the concerns of a movement (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28934/04]

Jack Wall

Question:

288 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views in respect of a submission (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29049/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 277, 283 to 286, inclusive, and 288 together.

Following consultation with the social partners and key stakeholders, I undertook a review of the current policy on the operation of FÁS employment schemes, which comprise community employment, CE, schemes jobs initiative, JI, and social economy programmes, SEPs. On foot of this review, I announced on 10 November 2004 that: in 2005 there will be 25,000 places on CES, JI and SEPs; that the three-year cap will be removed for CE participants aged over 55 — this category of participants will be eligible to participate on CE for a maximum of six years and in the case of people advancing beyond 55 years during their normal period of service on CE, participation can be extended for up to a maximum of six years; and that the current ring-fencing of essential services particularly health related services will be maintained. These arrangements will be of particular benefit to the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Grow Community Mental Health Movement as regards the provision of carers.

Whereas I have no plans to mainstream health related CE services, the continuance of ring-fencing and the extended participation on CE by older workers will help to secure the continuity of community services generally and will ensure that the existing community service support framework will be maintained.

County Enterprise Boards.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

278 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the grants that are available to a person looking to start a small business in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28711/04]

The 35 city and county enterprise boards which were established nationally in 1993 provide a source of support for small businesses with ten employees or fewer. The function of the boards is to develop indigenous enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity at local level. The boards provide a single point of contact at local level for new and established small businesses. Subject to certain eligibility criteria, enterprises may qualify for support from the CEBs in the form of feasibility, employment and capital grants. In addition, the CEBs deliver a comprehensive range of development and support programmes designed to help new and existing enterprises to operate effectively and efficiently so as to last and grow.

I suggest that the person concerned should, in the first instance, contact Wexford County Enterprise Board, 16-17 Mallin Street, Cornmarket, Wexford — telephone, 053-22965, or fax, 053-24944 — and explore what level of assistance may be available to them.

Work Permits.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

279 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, following consideration of the appeal lodged, a work permit will be granted to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28727/04]

A work permit issued to the employer on 11 November, 2004.

Employment Levels.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

280 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the latest employment figures for Tallaght; the comparison with the same month ten years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28743/04]

Forfás, the enterprise, science and innovation policy advisory agency under my Department, undertakes an annual survey to monitor full and part-term employment in companies assisted by the enterprise development agencies. As this data is published on a county basis, no information is available at sub-county level such as city or town. However data from the 2002 census indicates that in Tallaght, 27,620 citizens were recorded in employment. The corresponding figure from the 1991 census for Tallaght was 17,280.

The Dublin operations of the enterprise support agencies are actively working to promote inward investment to enterprise parks around Tallaght and to encourage indigenous enterprise grow their businesses and expand employment opportunities. The Tallaght area has a large reservoir of talent and human resources. My Department's agencies will maintain their emphasis on supporting companies in the area in order to maximise the enterprise and job opportunities that economic growth can deliver.

To help address some specific social disadvantages experienced around Tallaght, Enterprise Ireland has provided grant assistance to encourage local enterprise through four community enterprise centres, that is, at Main Road, Bolbrook, Brookfield and Killinarden. In addition, the south Dublin county enterprise board has approved €125,300 to seven Tallaght based clients with a potential for 25 additional jobs in these projects. The south Dublin board has a priority in helping and advising enterprise promoters and the unemployed from disadvantaged areas both in Tallaght and Clondalkin.

Increasing the rate of technology adoption in small and medium enterprises is essential to increase productivity and give small firms the edge in competitiveness. To this end, Enterprise Ireland is also working with Tallaght Institute of Technology to develop industry-third level partnerships.

Job Losses.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

281 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding a new IDA Ireland industry for Mitchelstown, County Cork, as an alternative to job losses at a company (details supplied); if he has requested IDA Ireland to become involved in presenting a case for the Mitchelstown region; the progress being made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28796/04]

The importance of Dairygold as an employer in Mitchelstown and the entire north Cork area is recognised by me and IDA Ireland. We are conscious of the implications of the job cuts announced recently by the company in line with the company's restructuring plans. My recent visit to Mitchelstown is testament to my very real interest in the situation in the town.

A new BES building, 2,072 sq. m. in size, has been completed in Mitchelstown and IDA Ireland has been marketing it through its network of overseas offices and project divisions, particularly engineering, ICT and international services. There have been two site visits to date, the most recent being in August 2004. However, no client interest has been expressed in the facility as yet. IDA Ireland will continue to actively market the BES facility in Mitchelstown to potential clients from a complete range of IDA Ireland target sectors in either manufacturing or international services through its project divisions and overseas offices. However, it is always the client company that makes the final decision on where it will locate.

For operational reasons, IDA Ireland markets north Cork as one area which includes Charleville, Newmarket, Kanturk, Mallow, Millstreet, Fermoy and Mitchelstown. In this context, IDA Ireland is developing a new business and technology park in Fermoy, some ten miles from Mitchelstown. IDA Ireland has purchased a 20 acre site on the outskirts of Fermoy where site development works and landscaping have been completed at a cost of approximately €1.5 million. It is IDA Ireland's intention to seek proposals from private developers for the construction of a suitable office building on the park. It is intended that this building will be available mainly for inward investment purposes by qualifying manufacturing and internationally trading services companies. In addition, IDA Ireland is also actively marketing the Fermoy business and technology park as a suitable location for potential greenfield projects. It is anticipated that the future employment opportunities generated at the business and technology park in Fermoy will also benefit the Mitchelstown area and north Cork.

From an inward investment perspective Mitchelstown, due to its proximity to Cork city, also stands to benefit from the continued development in the Cork area where, during the past ten years, direct employment in IDA Ireland supported companies in Cork city and county grew from 10,345 in 1993 to 18,162 in 2003. The sectors contributing to this growth are ICT, pharmaceuticals-health care and international services. This growth is expected to continue into the future, with IDA Ireland announcing in 2003 11 new projects for Cork with the potential to create up to 800 new jobs. To date in 2004, three new projects, Altera, Ecora and Centocor, have been announced with a job creation potential in excess of 400.

I have asked IDA Ireland, as well as the other State agencies such as Enterprise Ireland and FÁS, to work together to finds solutions to the problems being faced in Mitchelstown following the recent announcements there. I am confident that their combined efforts will bear fruit in due course.

Job Creation.

Phil Hogan

Question:

282 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will support the business community and local authorities in County Monaghan in developing industrial opportunities at Knockconny, Monaghan; the proposals he has to encourage IDA Ireland to implement a more RAPID programme of regional development in the context of stated policy for a number of years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28930/04]

Support for job creation in Monaghan is a day-to-day operational matter for the industrial development agencies. IDA Ireland actively markets County Monaghan as a location for foreign direct investment through its network of overseas offices in order to secure new investment and jobs for the area, while Enterprise Ireland is unrelenting in its support for indigenous companies that want to expand and develop their competitiveness, innovation and export potential.

Work is underway to realise the county's potential through development objectives such as those set out in the national spatial strategy. This includes the selection of Monaghan as a hub town. Nationwide, we are accelerating delivery of economic infrastructure for businesses including broadband, roads, etc. One of the infrastructure areas of greatest importance to enterprise development nationally is telecommunications-broadband connectivity. This is an essential component of a knowledge-based economy and is of particular importance to business in locations with lower population density. Under the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, MANs — metropolitan area networks — programme, construction of the Monaghan MAN is due to commence in January 2005, with a completion date of September 2005. In addition, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland are currently working with the Armagh Monaghan digital corridor project committee. The objective of this committee is to develop the Armagh and Monaghan areas into a cluster of ICT related industries.

The M-Tek building, located at Knockaconny, has been developed as a high technology enterprise centre which links, through the digital corridor, to the A-Tek building in Armagh. The county enterprise board, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland assisted the Monaghan county enterprise fund to build the M-Tek building at Knockaconny. Enterprise Ireland contributed €126,974 towards its construction. Furthermore, the Knockaconny enterprise centre has to date attracted seven companies employing over 70 people. Space for further advance office building and technology units has been granted planning permission at the site. In the context of a new bypass for Monaghan town, potential business park sites for IDA Ireland acquisition are being investigated.

The work of IDA Ireland in attracting FDI and encouraging new rounds of investment from within the existing population of overseas firms in Ireland is just one component of an interlocking network of activities being undertaken to expand employment opportunities and the capacity of the county to derive tangible benefits from local and regional development. The national development plan, EU operational programmes for which my Department is managing authority, the national spatial strategy and other strategic policies and investments all have an important role in this process.

I am satisfied that the continuing and intensive efforts of the agencies, the modification of enterprise policies to reflect the reality of the global marketplace and the ongoing commitment of the Government to regional development are positive supports to help stimulate further employment opportunities in the County Monaghan and the wider BMW region.

Questions Nos. 283 to 286, inclusive, answered with Question No. 277.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

287 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, having regard to cuts imposed by the Government in the Estimates 2004 which resulted in the discontinuation of large numbers of FÁS schemes throughout the country, he expects to restore funding in the Estimates 2005 to facilitate the restoration of all such schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter [28935/04]

Details of funding in support of employment and training schemes delivered through agencies under the remit of my Department will be contained in the Abridged Estimates Volume which is to be published later this week.

Question No. 288 answered with QuestionNo. 277.

Unfair Dismissals.

Seán Crowe

Question:

289 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, in regard to the abuse by employers of the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2001 which denies the right of an employee with less than 12 months’ service to take a case for unfair dismissal under the Acts, he intends to remove the time barrier and to make the law more in keeping with the principles of natural justice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29050/04]

The Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977-2001, as they stand, do not apply to a person who has been in the continuous service of the same employer for less than one year, and there are no proposals in place at present to amend this provision. However the requirement of one year's continuous service does not apply where the dismissal results from: an employee's pregnancy, giving birth or breastfeeding or any matters connected therewith; the exercise or proposed exercise by an employee of a right under the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004; the exercise or contemplated exercise by an employee of the right to adoptive leave, or additional adoptive leave under the Adoptive Leave Act 1995; the exercise or proposed exercise by the employee of the right to parental leave or force majeure leave under and in accordance with the Parental Leave Act 1998; an employee’s entitlements, future entitlements, exercise or proposed exercise of rights under the National Minimum Wage Act 2000; an employee’s trade union membership or activities; the exercise or proposed exercise by the employee of the right to carer’s leave under and in accordance with the Carer’s Leave Act 2001.

When determining if an employee has the necessary service to qualify under the Acts, a Rights Commissioner, the Employment Appeals Tribunal or the Circuit Court, as the case may be, may consider whether the employment of a person on a series of two or more contracts of employment, between which there were no more than 26 weeks of a break, was wholly or partly for or connected with the avoidance of liability by the employer under the Acts. Where it is so found, the length of the various contracts may be added together to assess the length of service of an employee for eligibility under the Acts.

Ministerial Appointments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

290 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if any new advisors or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29122/04]

Following my appointment as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment on 29 September 2004, I have appointed Mr. Christopher Mannion as special adviser, Ms Deirdre Gillane as policy adviser and Ms Caitriona Meehan as press adviser. Each transferred from the Department of Health and Children with the Tánaiste's advisers moving to that Department. The terms and conditions of their employment have not yet been finalised and will require the formal approval of the Minister for Finance.

Job Losses.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

291 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the job losses at a company (details supplied) in Rosslare; if he has been contacted by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources regarding same; the action he has taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29138/04]

I understand from the company in question that it intends to cease its Rosslare-France service no later than 30 November, 2004. The company informed its staff on the MV Normandy on 20 October, 2004. I understand that in making the announcement, the company proposed an enhanced voluntary redundancy-early retirement package or the opportunity to redeploy to ships on its three Ireland-UK routes. I further understand that these options were proposed in order to avoid compulsory redundancies. However, these options were subject to co-operation with the company’s full proposals which also include restarting the French route with a lower crew cost and new crew from March 2005.

The company has advised me that in the event of consultations with the unions being unsuccessful, it will be operating a collective redundancy of 125 permanent staff, 25 long-term temporary staff, and upwards of 48 seasonal short term staff, at the end of the month.

The Government has an interest in maintaining in operation Irish Continental Group's Ireland to France service, manned if possible by Irish seafarers. Its endeavours will be directed at encouraging the maintenance of the service. Primary responsibility for this area rests with the Minister and Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, both of whom are keeping in touch with events.

Employment Support Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

292 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, and the basis on which, an organisation (details supplied) in Dublin 2 was encouraged by Enterprise Ireland to invest heavily in targeting students from eastern Europe at a time when the Enterprise Ireland and his Department had no mechanism in place to facilitate the students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29158/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

293 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will examine the circumstances in which an organisation (details supplied) in Dublin 2 was encouraged to invest moneys which subsequently gave rise to a substantial loss; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29159/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 292 and 293 together.

Enterprise Ireland had meetings with the company in question in 2002. The purpose of the meetings was to have initial discussions in relation to the possible provision of support for the company's business plans. The company's last meeting with Enterprise Ireland took place on 20 December 2002, and at that meeting it was agreed that the company would send further information to Enterprise Ireland regarding its business which would be used to support any subsequent application to Enterprise Ireland. On 27 January 2003 the company notified Enterprise Ireland that it was not pursuing an application for support. Enterprise Ireland has not received any additional information or any application for assistance from the company since then. The issuing of visas for study in Ireland is a matter for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Enterprise Ireland is the only agency within the remit of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment which has responsibility for the promotion of the education sector and in the absence of any additional information concerning the company an investigation is not warranted.

Employment Action Plan.

David Stanton

Question:

294 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the date on which the high supports process of the employment action plan began; the number of persons who have availed of the high supports process since its inception; the number who are now in employment following engagement in the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29877/04]

David Stanton

Question:

295 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the high supports process of the employment action plan has been extended to all regions in the country; the regions that are using the high supports process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29878/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 294 and 295 together.

The high support process was developed and introduced in response to a commitment made under Framework IV of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, and follows detailed consultations with the social partners under the aegis of the PPF standing committee on the labour market chaired by my Department is to provide additional supports to meet the needs of those clients who, because of age, health, literacy or other barriers are unlikely to succeed in obtaining and keeping a job in the open labour market.

Having commenced as a pilot in Dublin, Cork, Letterkenny, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Dundalk, Sligo and Waterford in mid-2003, the high supports process was extended nationwide in 2004. Approximately 340 participants availed of the additional supports in 2003 and for the first six months of 2004, approximately 180 participants have engaged with the process.

As the target group comprises persons most distanced from the labour market, it is difficult to confirm the exact numbers placed in employment following engagement under the high supports process. While FÁS makes every effort to track clients under the process, many who subsequently progress to employment do not advise FÁS. Data on clients who engage under this process form part of the overall progress reports made in respect of the national employment action plan, NEAP. The latest figures available for NEAP indicate that of those clients referred during January-June 2004, 41%-51% — this varies depending on the unemployment duration — left the live register. An evaluation of the high support process has been commissioned by FÁS the outcome of which is expected by the end of December 2004. Any future developments of the high supports process or extension to other client groups will be considered in light of the findings of the evaluation.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Bernard Allen

Question:

296 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason the southern health board has terminated the rent allowance for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [29412/04]

The Southern Health Board was contacted regarding this case and advised that during the course of a review of her continued entitlement to rent supplement the person concerned was asked to provide clarification regarding her household circumstances. As she failed to supply the necessary information on her situation, the board withdrew payment of her rent supplement. The board has further advised that the person concerned was unsuccessful in appealing against the decision to the health board appeals officer and that the matter has been referred to the chief appeals officer of the social welfare appeals office. Appeals officers are statutorily appointed and neither I nor my Department have any function in the appeal process.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

297 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will examine the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11; his policy in relation to widowed persons who were in receipt of long-term payments not covered under the six weeks rule and whose spouses died prior to June 2003; his views on whether the change introduced in June 2003 corrected a discriminatory policy against certain long-term welfare recipients; and if on this basis, he will he examine whether such payments can be back-dated. [28636/04]

Provision was made in budget 2003 to extend the scheme of six weeks payment after death to ensure that where a person in receipt of a social welfare payment dies, the social welfare income paid to the surviving spouse-partner is maintained at the same level for the six weeks after the death of the pensioner. This measure was implemented from June 2003. The person concerned and her spouse were both in receipt of an invalidity pension at the time of her spouse's death in May 2003. The person concerned was not covered by the new arrangements and did not receive six weeks payment of her spouse's invalidity pension. There are no plans for backdating this arrangement. To do so would involve additional expenditure and could only be considered in a budgetary context.

Tony Gregory

Question:

298 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the entitlements available to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 whose lone parent payment was withdrawn without notice and is now solely dependent on a part-time income. [28653/04]

There is a statutory obligation on all claimants to satisfy, and continue to satisfy, the conditions for entitlement to the one parent family payment. One of the qualifying conditions of the scheme is that the claimant must have a qualified child dependant. A person can claim for a child as a dependant if: they have the main care and charge of that child; that child is under age 18 or, in the case of a child aged 18 to 22, that child is in full-time education by day at a recognised school or college. In the case of the person concerned her daughter has ceased full-time education and therefore her payment has been stopped as she no longer satisfies the qualifying conditions of the scheme.

It is normal practice to issue a letter informing claimants that their payment will be stopped. In this case, however, there is no record of such a letter being issued. This is regretted. Procedures have been reviewed to ensure that all claimants are notified before their payment is terminated and a record kept of such notifications. The person concerned is currently in receipt of unemployment assistance.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

299 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a decision in relation to an OIB disablement claim, conveyed by letter dated 20 October 2003 by the appeals office to a person (details supplied) in County Wexford has not been implemented; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the accident giving rise to this claim occurred in 1995; when this matter will be finalised; when the claimant will receive the entitlement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28686/04]

The person concerned applied for disablement benefit under the occupational Injuries scheme in respect of three accidents which occurred in 1995. Based on the evidence available at that time his claim was disallowed. He subsequently appealed this decision and following an oral appeal hearing on 17 September 2003 an appeals officer's decision was that the appeal should be allowed. He was notified of this decision by the appeals office on 20 October 2003. In order to determine the correct rate of disablement benefit, he was referred for medical examination so that the degree of loss of faculty could be established. He was examined by one of my Department's medical assessors on 6 May 2004. Due to an error in locating and processing the relevant medical assessment papers the decision was not implemented. This delay is regretted.

The person concerned has now been awarded disablement benefit in respect of each of his three accidents. Aggregated gratuities amounting to €10,365 will be issued in the next week. Any arrears due in respect of compensation for loss of purchasing power will be issued thereafter.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

300 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is considering introducing employment rights legislation in respect of sick pay and sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28761/04]

Responsibility for employment rights issues such as entitlement to sick leave lies primarily with my colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and I understand that the Deputy has put down a question to him in this regard already. As far as my Department is concerned, employees who are insured may be entitled to the social insurance based income support payment disability benefit, DB. This payment is made by the Department to persons who are unable to work due to illness and who satisfy the contribution conditions. Disability benefit is not normally paid for the first three days of illness, known as waiting days, but is payable for up to 52 weeks if the insured person has between 52 and 259 paid contributions and up until the age of 66 if a person has a total of 260 weeks or more paid contributions since entering employment. Disability benefit is currently paid at €134.8 per week with additional payments for dependants.

Some Irish employees also have access to occupational sick pay schemes administered by their employers which may or may not be integrated with the DB payment. This is a matter between employers and employees whether individually or as part of collective agreements. A number of countries operate a system known as statutory sick pay, SSP, which involves transferring the responsibility for administering sick pay for employees to their employers. Under a statutory sick pay scheme, an employer would be obliged by law to provide a certain minimum standard of pay in the event of illness for a certain minimum period. As part of the Government programme of reviewing expenditure programmes, my Department published a review of illness and disability payment schemes. The working group which carried out the review considered that an examination of the possible introduction of SSP would have merit from an efficiency and effectiveness viewpoint.

As a first step, it was considered that current sick pay arrangements by employers should be examined in detail and the potential for change assessed. There are no immediate plans to carry out such an examination but the issue will be kept under review by my Department.

Bernard Allen

Question:

301 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will investigate the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [28781/04]

The Southern Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised the person concerned that was in receipt of basic supplementary welfare allowance pending the outcome of an application for one-parent family payment from my Department.

Following a review of her claim the board was in possession of information which suggested a change in her circumstances had occurred. The board wrote to the person concerned requesting that she provide clarification regarding her means and circumstances. After she failed to comply with this request payment of her allowance was withdrawn.

The board has further advised that clarification sought has now been received and that payment of a basic supplementary welfare allowance, at a rate appropriate to her circumstances, has been restored with retrospective effect.

Pension Provisions.

Willie Penrose

Question:

302 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to correspondence received from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; if this person’s old age contributory pension entitlement will be reviewed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28785/04]

Since reaching 66 years in April 2004, the person concerned has been in receipt of an old age contributory pension at the rate of €83.70 per week based on a yearly average of 14 contributions. As a result of the Deputy's question, the entitlement of the person concerned was re-examined and contributions paid at the modified rate while she was employed as a civil servant were added to her record. She now qualifies for a mixed-insurance pro-rata old age contributory pension at the rate of €91.60 per week from 30 April 2004. As this rate is higher than her current standard old age contributory pension, arrangements are being made to transfer her to the higher rate of pension. The arrears of pension will issue by cheque as soon as possible.

The correspondence supplied with the parliamentary question refers to the homemaker's scheme. This scheme was introduced from 1994 without retrospection to protect the pension entitlements of those who take time out of the paid workforce for caring duties. It allows up to 20 years to be disregarded when a person's insurance record is being averaged to assess entitlement for contributory pension purposes. Phase 2 of the review of the qualifying conditions for old age contributory and retirement pensions will include an examination of the homemaker's scheme. It is expected that the review will be ready for publication in the next few months and developments in relation to the homemaker's scheme will be considered in the light of the conclusions of that report.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard Allen

Question:

303 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason the Southern Health Board has refused to award supplementary welfare allowance to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [28791/04]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for exceptional needs payments to help meet essential, once-off expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her weekly income.

The Southern Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised that an application for an exceptional needs payment was refused on the grounds that the person concerned had been in a position to meet the expenses in question from his own resources and that an exceptional need had not been established.

The board has further advised that the person concerned was unsuccessful in appealing against this decision to the health board's appeals officer. The determination of entitlement to exceptional needs payments is a matter for the health board and neither I nor my Department have any function in deciding entitlement in individual cases.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

304 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is making major changes in the way social welfare benefit is paid to lowly paid part-time workers who through no fault of their own or their employers cannot either find full-time employment locally and where their present employers cannot provide full-time jobs for them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28922/04]

Unemployment benefit or assistance may be paid where a person is employed for three days or less in any six consecutive days (excluding Sunday). For the purposes of unemployment benefit, a person working less than the normal full-time days in a particular employment may be categorised as part-time, casual or systematic short-time. Part-time employment is regarded as employment where the employee is engaged to work for less than the normal full-time number of days or hours in the employment concerned. The volume of work must be of an ongoing nature but not sufficient to sustain full-time employment.

Legislation provides that a person is regarded as being engaged in casual employment for unemployment benefit purposes where s/he is normally employed for periods of less than a week, the number of days and the days of the week on which the person is employed varies with the level of activity in the employer's business, and on the termination of each period of employment, the person has no assurance of being re-employed with the same employer. The requirement to have suffered a substantial loss of employment, where a person must work a reduced numbers of days in the week from that which she or he would normally work, and which applies to all other unemployment benefit claims, does not apply to casual workers, as defined.

A person is regarded as being engaged in systematic short-time working where his or her full-time working week is reduced by the employer and where there is a clear repetitive pattern of employment each week. The number of days of benefit payable each week to a systematic short-time worker is limited to ensure that the total of the number of days paid and the number of days worked does not exceed five.

Where a casual or part-time worker has insufficient contributions to qualify for unemployment benefit, she or he may qualify for unemployment assistance, a means-tested payment. Earnings are assessed at 60% for UA purposes. In addition, persons without children are allowed a €12.70 disregard for each day worked. Casual or part-time workers are subject to the same conditions as any other unemployed person for entitlement to UA. The question of changes in the conditions for receipt of unemployment benefit or assistance will be a matter for consideration in a budgetary context and in the context of priorities generally.

David Stanton

Question:

305 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons that have been refused rent supplement since January 2004; the number of persons that have appealed the refusal for rent supplement and have been successful in their appeal for the rent supplement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28927/04]

David Stanton

Question:

306 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons that were refused rent supplement; the number of persons appealed the refusal for rent supplement and have been successful in their appeal for the rent supplement in the year 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28928/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 305 and 306 together.

Rent supplements are provided for under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on my behalf by the health boards. My Department exercises general direction, co-ordination and expenditure monitoring in relation to the scheme, but has no involvement in individual claim decisions or appeals. Statistics are not available on the number of people refused rent supplement. However, information is available on the number of applications for rent supplement and on the number of claims awarded. In 2003, 56,466 claims for rent supplement were registered of which 53,750 were awarded. To date in 2004 some 39,145 claims have been registered of which 37,035 have been awarded.

Where a person is dissatisfied with the outcome of an application for rent supplement he or she may appeal against the decision to the appeals officer in the relevant health board and if necessary then to the chief appeals officer of the social welfare appeals office.

In 2003, some 288 appeals relating to rent supplement were dealt with by the chief appeals officer of the social welfare appeals office. Of these appeals, rent supplement was awarded in 50 cases, while in the remaining 238 cases the original refusal of rent supplement was upheld. To date in 2004 some 194 cases have been referred to the chief appeals officer. In 59 cases a rent supplement has been awarded while in the remaining 135 cases the original refusal of rent supplement was upheld. Details of the number of appeals to health board appeals officers relating to rent supplement are not available.

Seán Crowe

Question:

307 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who availed of the back to school clothing and footwear allowances in each of the past five years; the details of the take up of this allowance; and if his Department, from its files, can identify the persons who are entitled to the allowance. [29011/04]

The back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards. Under the scheme, an allowance of €80 is payable in respect of qualified children aged two to 11 years while €150 is payable in respect of qualified children aged 12 to 22 years.

A person may qualify for payment of a back to school clothing and footwear allowance if he or she is in receipt of a social welfare or health board payment, participating in an approved employment scheme or attending a recognised education or training course, if a child dependant allowance is being paid in respect of the child and the household income is at or below certain specified levels as set out in tabular statement A.

The information held by my Department does not enable it to identify in advance people who might be entitled to the allowance. The information sought by the Deputy in respect of the years 1999 to 2003 is set out in tabular statement B.

Statement A: The BSCFA standard income limits for 2004 are as follow:

Couple with

Income Limit

Lone Parent with

Income Limit

1 Child

348.10

1 Child

238.90

2 Children

367.40

2 Children

260.50

3 Children

386.70

3 Children

282.10

4 Children

406.00*

4 Children

303.70**

*Limit is increased by €19.30 for each additional child.

**Limit is increased by €21.60 for each additional child.

Statement B: Numbers of children who benefited from BSCFA.

Year

Numbers

1999

183,708

2000

158,766

2001

143,029

2002

155,811

2003

172,123

Social Welfare Appeals.

Pat Breen

Question:

308 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding an appeal for a one parent family payment claim by a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29021/04]

The person's application for one parent family payment was disallowed by a deciding officer on the grounds that the person's means exceeded the statutory limit. The person appealed against this decision and, following an oral hearing, the appeals officer disallowed the appeal on the basis that her income, derived from her employment, was in excess of the statutory limit. The person has been informed of this decision.

In the course of the hearing it emerged that the person had recently reduced her working hours, resulting in a significant reduction in her earnings. In the light of this change of circumstance, the appeals officer has referred the case back to the deciding officer for review. The person has been informed of this development.

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

Social Welfare Benefits.

John McGuinness

Question:

309 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the rent supplement being granted to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be restored to its full level; and if a decision on the case will be expedited. [29095/04]

The regulations governing rent supplement stipulate that, in addition to a minimum contribution, currently €13, each recipient is required to contribute towards his or her rent any additional assessable means he or she has over and above the appropriate basic supplementary welfare allowance rate.

The South Eastern Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has advised that, in the course of a routine review, it came to light that the assessable household income of the person concerned was higher than assessed originally for rent supplement purpose. She was notified of the board's intention to withdraw the supplement. On further detailed review, the board has determined that the person concerned has an entitlement to a reduced rent supplement of €15.70 per week. The board is assessing a possible overpayment of rent supplement and is in contact with the person concerned.

Ministerial Appointments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

310 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if any new advisers or consultants have been appointed by him since the Government reshuffle of September 2004; if such appointments are replacements for or are in addition to previous appointments; the salary and terms of employment in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29123/04]

Since my appointment on 29 September 2004, I have appointed no additional advisers or consultants to those appointed by my predecessor, Deputy Coughlan. I have appointed a special adviser, Mr. Frank Lahiffe, and a press adviser, Mr. Tom Rowley.

Contracts of employment, which set out the salary and other terms of employment in each case, are being finalised at present and will, in accordance with the terms of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001, be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas within the required 60 days of appointment.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

311 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will report on the mechanisms for making an appeal regarding social welfare payments; the number of cases dealt with each year for the past ten years; the number which resulted in favour of the petitioner; and if there are other appeal mechanisms available to persons who are aggrieved by a decision of his Department. [29140/04]

Any person who is dissatisfied with a decision made by a deciding officer of my Department may, by giving notice of appeal to the chief appeals officer within the statutory time limit, have the question referred to an appeals officer for determination. An appeal may be sent either directly to the social welfare appeals office or it may be handed in to any office of my Department for transmission to the appeals office.

When an appeal relates to supplementary welfare appeals, the appeal is made in the first instance to a designated officer of the health board. If the appellant is dissatisfied with this officer's decision he or she can request that the designated officer forward the appeal to the chief appeals officer.

The notice of appeal must contain a statement of the facts and contentions upon which the appellant intends to rely. The appeals office must then pass it to my Department for its comments on these grounds. The deciding officers may change their decisions at this stage in the light of new evidence. If they do not change their decision, an appeals officer will consider the case.

An appeals officer may decide to hold an oral hearing of the appeal, and will invite the appellant to attend. On the other hand, the appeals officer may be able to deal with the appeal on the basis of the written evidence provided. Either way, the appellant will be notified in writing of the outcome of the appeal. If an appeal is unsuccessful the appeals officer must give the reasons for the decision.

It is the policy of my Department, when disallowing a claim because underlying conditions are not satisfied, to offer to review the claim in the light of any further information not already submitted. This does not take from the right of appeal but affords the claimant the opportunity to have the claim fully examined before involving the formal appeals process.

An appeals officer's decision is normally final, but there are circumstances in which it may be changed. These are by an appeals officer if new evidence is furnished subsequently; by the chief appeals officer if the appeals officer has made an error about the law or the facts; by judicial review; or by the High Court on a point of law. It is also open to any person to make a complaint to the Ombudsman where it is considered that the Department has acted without proper authority or contrary to fair or sound administration.

The figures requested are set out in the following table.

Appeals Decided

Favourable Decisions

Withdrawn

1994

14,971

8,063

1,667

1995

12,087

6,213

1,310

1996

11,613

5,834

1,335

1997

12,835

6,268

1,779

1998

13,990

6,441

1,669

1999

14,397

6,898

1,838

2000

17,060

7,348

2,601

2001

16,525

7,493

2,253

2002

15,834

7,096

1,836

2003

16,049

7,034

2,403

Note: Favourable decisions include revised decisions by deciding officers arising from the case made in the grounds of appeal, in addition to favourable determinations by appeals officers.

Family Support Services.

David Stanton

Question:

312 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the findings of a recent study commissioned under his Department’s families research programme (details supplied) which says it may be opportune to re-focus on the role of economic disadvantage in the development and prolongation of behaviour difficulties in the child; the action that he intends to take as a result of this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29162/04]

The study to which the Deputy refers, From Child to Adult, is a longitudinal study of Irish children and their families. The study was co-funded by the Family Support Agency and the Department of Social and Family Affairs under the families research programme.

One of the main objectives of Government policy is to reduce and eliminate child poverty. The strategies to meet this objective are set out in the revised national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, and, more recently, in the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion. The main outcome aimed for is a situation of greater equality for all children in terms of access to appropriate education, health and housing, thereby seeking to break the cycle of disadvantage and exclusion experienced by certain children in society.

A specific target in the NAPS is to reduce the number of children who are consistently poor to below 2% by 2007 and, if possible, to eliminate consistent poverty among children by then. Significant progress has already been made towards achieving this target. For instance, the number of children who are consistently poor has more than halved in the four year period 1997 to 2001, falling from 15.3% in 1997 to 6.5% in 2001.

The most significant child poverty related measure in my Department has been the increase in child benefit, from which all families have gained, but particularly those on low incomes. The rate of child benefit has risen from €38.09 for the first two children and €49.52 for each child thereafter in 1997 to €131.60 per month for each of the first two children and to €165.30 per month for the third and each subsequent child.

Another income support for low income families is the family income supplement. The aim of this scheme is to provide a weekly cash support for employees on low earnings with families, thereby preserving the incentive to remain in employment. Family income supplement payment rates have increased annually in line with unemployment payments, maintaining the incentive for people to avail of suitable employment opportunities. In the 2004 Estimates, €56 million has been allocated for this scheme. My Department also provides the one parent family payment which is a payment for both men and women who, for a variety of reasons, are bringing up a child(ren) without the support of a partner. A total of €707.8 million is provided in the 2004 Estimates for this scheme.

An evaluation of the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion will commence early next year with a view to a report on the evaluation being submitted to the European Union by June. The effectiveness of the measures to combat poverty among children will be evaluated in that context and full account will be taken of the findings of the study referred to by the Deputy.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Question:

313 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason the old age non-contributory pension of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has been reduced; and the breakdown of the calculations in this case. [29236/04]

The person concerned is currently in receipt of widow's non-contributory pension at the rate of €126.50 a week. This is a means tested payment and all income, including income from other pensions, is assessable as means. Where the means of non-contributory pensioners change for any reason, they are obliged to inform my Department so that the rate of pension may be adjusted accordingly.

The person concerned is also in receipt of a British retirement pension. In seeking a review of her entitlement to widow's non-contributory pension, she gave details of an increase in the British pension since her means were last reviewed in 1999. Her current weekly rate of British retirement pension is £31.72 per week. Her current means are calculated as follows:

British Pension

£31.72 Stg X €1.44476 X 52 =

2,383.04

Amount assessable

2,348.23

Holding

Net yearly Value (as before)

126.97

Total Yearly Means

2,475.20

Total Weekly Means

47.60

Her widow's non-contributory pension is now due to be reduced to €114.00 per week and arrangements are being made to implement this. Her new weekly rate of pension is the rate appropriate to a person with means of €47.60 per week. She will also continue to receive fuel allowanceof €9 per week. The person concerned is also in receipt of electricity allowance, telephone allowance under the household benefit scheme and free travel.

In reviewing her claim, her entitlement to a living alone allowance was also examined and an allowance of €7.70 per week has been awarded to her with effect from 16 January 2004, the Friday following her 66th birthday. Arrangements are being made to have arrears due in respect of this issued to her. Notification of the revised decision on means and of her right of appeal will be forwarded to the person concerned shortly.

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

Social Welfare Appeals.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

314 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the length of time it takes to deal with an appeal regarding an application for a widow’s pension from County Galway; if there are still appeals outstanding since 2003; the way in which the appeals are dealt with; the frequency with which oral hearings are held on appeals in County Galway; the size of the current backlog of cases on appeal waiting to be dealt with by the appeals office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29258/04]

Figures are not readily available on the time taken to process appeals in the Galway area. At present there is one widow's pension appeal awaiting an oral hearing in County Galway. There are no widow's pension appeals outstanding at any location which were received prior to 2004. Of the 15,224 new appeals registered during 2003, 253, or 1.7%, remain to be finalised. At present there are 4,933 cases awaiting attention in the appeals office. Of these, 13 are widow's pension appeals. Appeals officers have held hearings in Galway on 48 days since the beginning of 2004. A total of 302 cases were heard at these sessions.

The social welfare appeals system is a quasi-judicial one and the procedures involved are designed to ensure that every appellant's case gets full and satisfactory consideration. There is an inevitable time-lag in such a process which is governed by statutory and fair procedure requirements. Appeals officers deal with the full range of social welfare questions, including unemployment, incapacity, insurability, disability, old age and carers' needs. Some are more complex than others and the number of cases dealt with in any session would depend on the issues arising.

The oral hearing process is designed to ensure that the appellant fully understands the question for determination and that he or she is afforded every opportunity to question the basis of the decision and to present his or her appeal fully.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

315 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will provide assistance and advice to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12 who cannot afford to pay course fees. [29334/04]

My Department administers a wide range of second chance educational opportunities to encourage and facilitate unemployed people, lone parents and people with disabilities to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active workforce through various employment supports. One of these supports is the back to education allowance scheme.

To qualify for participation in the back to education allowance scheme — third level option — an applicant must, inter alia, be in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment for at least 15 months — 390 days — immediately prior to commencing an approved course of study. The person concerned does not meet this requirement and does not, therefore, satisfy the eligibility criteria for participation in the scheme.

The higher education grant scheme and the free fees initiative may be of interest in this case. These matters are dealt with by my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

316 Mr. Ó Fearghail asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will give consideration to the possibility of offering the option of an annual lump sum payment in lieu of a weekly payment to persons in receipt of the free fuel allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29351/04]

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or health board payments towards their regular heating needs during the winter season from October to April. Under the scheme a fuel allowance of €9 per week is paid to eligible households during this 29 week period, with an additional €3.90 per week being paid in smokeless zones, bringing the total amount in those areas to €12.90 per week. In addition, many households also qualify for electricity or gas allowances throughout the year in the form of a direct credit on their bills.

The long established practice of paying fuel allowance on a weekly basis is convenient for social welfare customers and allows them to budget their regular income towards meeting heating and other recurring essential costs. A less frequent payment of the allowance could leave people unable to meet their needs in a particular week. There are no plans at present to provide an optional lump sum payment of this allowance.

School Transport.

Denis Naughten

Question:

317 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport his plans to review the regulations governing school buses; if he will review the 3:2 ratio on school buses; his views on the level of overcrowding on post-primary buses; if he has reviewed this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29102/04]

In 2002 my Department published a discussion paper on school bus safety. A range of possible safety related enhancements covering vehicles, passenger related measures and the road traffic environment in which school buses operate were identified in the paper. The purpose of the paper was to give the public an opportunity to put forward their views and suggestions on enhancing school bus safety.

Recent developments at EU level regarding the wearing of seat belts will remove the three for two concession in the case of school buses fitted with safety belts. In accordance with Directive 91/671, as amended by Directive 2003/20, the three for two concession for school buses fitted with seat belts will not be permissible after May 2008.

In June 2003 the European Commission published proposals to amend a number of directives relating to the type approval requirements for safety belts and restraint systems, anchorages for safety belts, and seats, their anchorages and head restraints. These proposals provide, inter alia, for the mandatory fitment of seat belts in buses and coaches, other than those used on staged-stop urban services, at manufacturing stage for the purposes of obtaining motor vehicle type approval. Under the proposals it would be a requirement for the registration, sale and entry into service of new buses and coaches, from 1 January 2006, that their safety belts and restraint systems, anchorages for safety belts, and seats, their anchorages and head restraints would conform to the technical requirements specified in the proposed amending directives.

The responses to the discussion document are being reviewed by my Department with a view to identifying the most cost effective approach to enhancing road safety for school transport, taking into account the obligations and timing of new EU requirements and proposed requirements.

My Department has been advised by the Department of Education and Science, which has overall responsibility for the administration of the school transport service, that it is satisfied, on the basis of information available from Bus Éireann, which operates school transport services on behalf of that Department, that school buses are being operated in accordance with the requirements of road traffic law.

Driving Tests.

James Breen

Question:

318 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Transport when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be called for a driving test. [29418/04]

The applicant is on my Department's waiting list for a driving test. No documentary evidence has been submitted to my Department indicating that an early driving test is required.

Parking Regulations.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

319 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Transport his proposals to extend the disabled person’s parking card scheme to the families of persons with intellectual disability whose children or adult dependants have mobility problems or whose behaviour is such that it is impossible for them to use public transport or walk for any distances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29423/04]

The Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations, 1997 empower local authorities, the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disabled Drivers Association to grant a disabled person's parking permit where they are satisfied that the applicant is suffering from a disability that prevents him or her from walking or causes undue hardship to the person in walking. The qualifying criterion is, therefore, a question of personal mobility and no specific medical condition is stipulated in the regulations.

It is a matter for each of the issuing organisations to determine whether a disabled person's parking permit should be granted based on each application submitted to it. I have no involvement in respect of the determination of individual applications made by any of those bodies.

Driving Instruction.

John Gormley

Question:

320 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of the driving instructor register of Ireland; the progress to date that has been made on the co-funded register; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28642/04]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

324 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Transport if it is envisaged that the status of registered driving instructors included in the driving instructor register of Ireland, which has been in operation since 1996, will continue to be recognised by the driver testing and standards authority as it was previously by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government; the position regarding persons of RDI status within the proposed Driver Testing and Standards Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28691/04]

Mary Upton

Question:

341 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Transport the status of registered driving instructors under the new provisions of the Driving Testing and Standards Authority; if the instructors will have to sit an additional test; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29432/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 320, 324 and 341 together.

I refer the Deputies to my reply to Question No. 154 on Thursday, 14 October 2004.

Proposals being developed by my Department for the regulation and quality assurance of driving instruction will involve a test of the competence of individual instructors. A working group comprising representatives of my Department and of instruction interests has formulated the design of the standards that a driving instructor must meet. I am considering what arrangements will be put in place to oversee implementation of the standard in the context of the establishment of the Driver Testing and Standards Authority. The Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004, which provides for the establishment of the authority, was published on 6 July 2004 and the Second Stage debate commenced on 14 October 2004.

Regulations will be required to give effect to the proposals for introducing regulation of driving instruction and the position of existing driving instructors will be considered in the context of drafting the regulations.

Parking Regulations.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

321 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport if he will increase parking fines for illegal parking in disabled parking spaces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28650/04]

Where a person is convicted in court of the offence of illegally parking in a disabled person's parking bay, he or she is liable to a fine not exceeding €800 for a first offence, a fine not exceeding €1,500 for a second or subsequent offence and if a third or subsequent such offence is committed within 12 months the person is liable to a fine not exceeding €1,500 or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or both. The determination of the actual fine to be imposed in each particular case is a matter for the courts.

The offence in question currently comes within the scope of the on-the-spot fines system. The amount of the on-the-spot fine applicable to this offence is €19, which is the level that applies to the majority of parking offences. Where an on-the-spot fine notice is issued, it is open to the person to whom the notice is addressed to pay the relevant amount so as to avoid the matter proceeding to court.

The Road Traffic Act 2002 provides for the replacement of the current on-the-spot fines system by a fixed charge system. The new system, which already applies to the offences of exceeding a speed limit and breaching the requirements for the use of seat belts, brings greater certainty to the application of administrative charges in respect of offences. It features, in particular, a provision through which the original amount of the fixed charge will automatically increase by 50% where payment is not made within 28 days of the date of the original notice.

The roll out of the system to the majority of traffic and parking offences, including the offence of parking in a disabled person's parking bay, is being progressed in conjunction with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda authorities. I envisage that this process will feature the updating of the charges associated with parking offences generally including this offence.

Departmental Staff.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

322 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport the number of driving testers who are employed in his Department; the number who are full-time; the number who are on contract; the length of time those on contract have been so; and if it is his intention to recruit further contract testers. [28678/04]

The authorised number of driver testers, including a chief tester and supervisory testers, is 130. Of these, there are 103 permanent driver testers and 19 contract driver testers. Of the 19 contract driver testers, 12 have commenced their fourth year and a further seven are due to commence their fifth year in the coming months.

My Department is in discussions with the Department of Finance with a view to filling posts in this area and this may entail the recruitment of further contract testers.

Driving Tests.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

323 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if he is satisfied that the average pass-failure rate in the driving test is the same for those tested by contract testers as for those tested by the permanent testers. [28679/04]

In 2003, the average pass rate nationally for both permanent and contract driver testers was 54.5%.

Question No. 324 answered with QuestionNo. 320.

Road Signage.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

325 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if the introduction of metrification will take place as planned on 22 January 2005. [28693/04]

Jack Wall

Question:

335 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Transport if the programme for updating of speed limits and road signage will be completed by the set date in regard to all local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29113/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 325 and 335 together.

It is intended that metric speed limits be in place on 20 January 2005. A metrication changeover board is working to that timeframe to co-ordinate the changeover and provision of metric speed limit signs across 34 city and county council areas. The programme envisages that approximately 58,000 speed limit signs will be in place by 20 January next. The changeover to metric values and a new system for speed limits, which will be introduced in association with metrication, will be supported by new road traffic legislation currently being considered by the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Bus and Railway Stations.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

326 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the extent to which he directs policy in regard to the provision of facilities including health and safety provisions at bus or rail stations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28859/04]

The provision of facilities, including health and safety provisions at bus and rail stations, is a matter for the three CIE operating companies. All bus stops are positioned having regard to road traffic safety considerations in agreement with the Garda traffic department and the relevant local authority.

Air Services.

Pat Breen

Question:

327 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Transport if, in relation to Parliamentary Question No. 1018 of 29 September 2004, officials of his Department have clarified the position with regard to the proposed new charter service to Orlando; if this will comply with the current bilateral agreement; if he will investigate the way in which the service is advertised on the Aer Lingus website (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28860/04]

I have examined the Aer Lingus service to Orlando and I can confirm that the service complies with the Shannon stop requirements in the Ireland-US Bilateral Air Transport Agreement. Regarding the manner in which this or any other service is dealt with by Aer Lingus's website, this is a commercial matter for the company and not one in which I have a role. However, the issue raised by the Deputy needs to be drawn to the company's attention and I have asked my officials to do so.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

328 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport when a report (details supplied) on the future options for Aer Lingus will be published, in view of the fact that much of the elements contained in this confidential report have been reported in the national media in recent days; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28862/04]

The Goldman Sachs report on the future of Aer Lingus is being considered by my officials and me. It has also been circulated to the members of the Cabinet sub-committee established to examine all issues relating to the future ownership of the airline and report back to Government. A meeting of this committee will take place in the near future and it will be a matter for it to decide whether or not to publish the report.

Railway Stations.

Paul McGrath

Question:

329 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Transport if he has proposals to re-open the railway station at Killucan on the Mullingar to Dublin railway line. [29023/04]

I refer the Deputy to a similar question asked of me in the House on 2 November last. The position has not changed since then.

I am informed that Irish Rail has been having ongoing discussions with the relevant local bodies and authorities regarding the re-opening of Killucan station. The existing station has no immediate catchment area and the discussion has centred around the possibility of housing developments which could improve the viability of the station.

The national development plan covers the period 2000 to 2006. While the mid-term review of the plan indicated a lower than expected spend in the BMW region, Irish Rail has, since then, commenced or planned a number of projects in the region. The network resignalling project that originally included Sligo has been extended to include Westport and Ballina. As well as the upgrade of a number of stations in the BMW region, Irish Rail also has plans for the automation of a number of road crossings along rail lines in the region. In addition, the rolling stock acquisition programme being undertaken by the company will result in higher quality services on all lines into the midlands and west.

Road Traffic Offences.

Jack Wall

Question:

330 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Transport the number of drivers who have received penalty points in Kildare since the penalty points system commenced; the breakdown of penalty points issued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29090/04]

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which holds and administers the national driver file on which driving licence records are maintained, has provided the following details. The number of drivers who have received penalty points in Kildare in the period to 1 November 2004 is 8,525. Details of the type and number of offences concerned are set out in the following table:

Table: Type and number of offences in respect of which penalty point notices were issued.

Offence Type

Number of Penalty Point Notices Issued

Speeding

9,087

No insurance

1

No Safety Belt — Driver

450

No Safety Belt Front Seat — Child

13

No Safety Belt Rear Seat — Child

21

No Child restraint Rear Seat — Child

1

Total

9,573

Road Traffic Accidents.

Jack Wall

Question:

331 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Transport the number of fatal accidents that has occurred in Ireland for each of the past three years that involved vehicles not registered here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29109/04]

Jack Wall

Question:

332 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Transport the number of motor or vehicular accidents reported in Kildare for each of the past three years; the number of fatalities as a result of the accidents for each of the years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29110/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 331 and 332 together.

Statistics relating to road accidents, based on information provided by the Garda Síochána, are published by the National Roads Authority in its annual road accident facts reports. The most recent report is in respect of 2002. This report and reports relating to previous years are available in the Oireachtas Library. The reports do not contain details of accidents which involved vehicles not registered here. The numbers of accidents in Kildare recorded by the Garda and reported to the National Roads Authority for the period 2000 to 2002 are as follows:

No. of accidents/Fatalities/injuries

Fatal

Injury

Fatalities

Injuries

2002

19

278

19

416

2001

26

207

31

349

2000

16

284

18

518

Provisional figures for the number of persons killed in road traffic collisions in 2003 show there were 336 fatalities for that year. Statistics relating to the number of traffic accidents in Kildare during 2003 are not yet fully analysed and authenticated. They will be set out in Road Accident Facts 2003, which will be published by the National Roads Authority.

Driving Licences.

Jack Wall

Question:

333 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Transport the number of applications for provisional driving licences in Kildare for each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29111/04]

I have asked the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which holds and administers the national driver file on which driving licence records are held, to provide the information the Deputy has requested. I will forward the information to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

Driving Tests.