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 61, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 62 to 70, inclusive, answered orally.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

71 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the welfare traps that are associated to the one parent family payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6089/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

73 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he proposes to introduce new measures to replace the allowance for lone parents. [5910/05]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

85 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to change the lone parents allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6088/05]

Dan Boyle

Question:

108 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to change the one parent family allowance. [6069/05]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

109 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the measures he intends to introduce to reverse the situation by which certain welfare payments prevent the parents of children from living together; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6042/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 71, 73, 85, 108 and 109 together.

The one parent family payment is designed to provide income support to parents with insufficient means who have to parent alone. This can arise as a result of being widowed, or following separation or divorce, or being unmarried.

The scheme in its present form largely reflects the reality that applied up to relatively recently, whereby mothers were mainly the full time carers, with the father being the sole breadwinner. The main aim of the scheme, therefore, has been to provide income support for mothers parenting alone to replace that which would otherwise be provided by the father in a two parent family. The scheme thus provides lone parents with the same option parents have in two parent families, that of rearing their children themselves.

This reality, however, has been substantially changing in recent years. It is now more common in two parent families for both parents to work outside the home either on a full time basis or with one parent working full time and the other working part-time. Two income families are increasingly becoming the norm and international research shows that the risk of poverty for such families is on average less than 4%.

One parent family households are, accordingly, at greater risk of poverty and, if these households are jobless, the risk of poverty is greater again.

Reflecting current realities, therefore, now requires giving parents the option of working outside the home and enabling them reconcile the demands of this work and their responsibilities to care for their children.

The OECD, in a recent report on an international comparative study on reconciling work and family life, in which Ireland participated, found that employment participation among lone parents in this country is among the lowest in the OECD. This is despite the huge employment growth and increasing female participation in the workforce in recent years and the income disregards afforded to lone parents who take up employment.

In addition, of those in employment, a high proportion are in relatively low paying part-time employment. This may be due, in part at least, to the fact that availing of the income disregard under the one parent family payment scheme enables a recipient top up their benefit from part-time employment without foregoing the security of having a regular weekly benefit. The report points out that this may be achieved at the price of foregoing better paid full time employment, greater self-sufficiency and a higher standard of living.

Entitlement to payments under the schemes is also contingent on not cohabiting with another adult either in marriage or outside marriage. This is essential in ensuring that recipients under the schemes do not gain an advantage over those living together, either married or otherwise, and parenting the children on a joint basis. Reluctance to forgo the income security provided by the one parent family payment may also act as a disincentive to a partnership and ultimately marriage for recipients.

Much research has been undertaken in recent years into the operation of the one parent family scheme, including a review of the scheme by my own Department published in 2001 and participation in the OECD project on reconciling work and family life, mentioned above. A nationwide consultation took place in 2003, on which a report entitled Families and Family Life in Ireland: Challenges for the Future has been published, which includes consideration of the position of lone parents and their children. There are currently a number of processes under way in which the findings of this analysis and research are being drawn together.

The issue is being examined in the context of a wider examination of supports for families in a changing society being co-ordinated by the family affairs unit of my Department through an interdepartmental committee. The outcome of this examination is scheduled to be completed by mid-year.

Second, the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion last November requested the Senior Officials Group, which reports to it, to undertake a specific study on the obstacles to employment for lone parents, including those which may exist in the current income support arrangements. A small working group has been set up to examine the matter intensively over the coming months with a view to reporting by mid year. The working group also includes representatives of the Departments of the Taoiseach and Finance, and my Department is directly involved with other relevant Departments participating during consideration of policy issues relevant to them. My Department will be reviewing the existing income support arrangements and provisions as an input to the work of the group.

One of the aims of these processes will be to propose changes to the schemes that will remove obstacles to claimants achieving, more easily than at present, greater self-sufficiency through employment and/or, if desirable, through a reconstituted family. This will in many cases also offer greater prospects of an improved standard of living and quality of life than continued reliance on the one parent family payment.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

72 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the consideration he has given to the introduction of a special waste allowance for social welfare recipients. [6078/05]

Simon Coveney

Question:

95 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has had discussions with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the introduction of a special bin charge allowance for elderly persons; the progress which has been made to date; his proposals in regard to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6032/05]

Willie Penrose

Question:

120 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is engaged in discussions with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding a possible waiver scheme for social welfare recipients; if so, the nature and content of such discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5887/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

179 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress which has been made on the promised introduction of a common nationwide waste charges waiver system for qualifying applicants. [6255/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 72, 95, 120 and 179 together.

My Department has held discussions with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding aspects of the arrangements governing the collection and disposal of domestic waste.

Those discussions have focused on establishing the facts and exchanging information about the level of charges for domestic waste management, the increasing role played by commercial operators and the reduced role played by some local authorities in this area.

It is clear from those discussions that this is a complex and evolving issue. The range of charges imposed varies quite considerably from area to area, and from operator to operator. In addition, even where the total charges imposed by operators may be similar, the charging regimes vary quite considerably.

For example, some operators impose a single annual charge, others impose smaller but more frequent charges while some operators impose a mix of standard standing charges coupled with "pay by use" charges that respond to either the volume or the weight of waste.

The setting of waste management charges is a matter for the relevant local authority in cases where it acts as the service provider. It is also a matter for the local authority to determine the nature and extent of the waiver schemes that they operate in such cases. There is no reason any local authority that collects domestic waste cannot design and implement a waiver system that protects the position of people on social welfare and others on low incomes.

Where a private operator is providing the domestic waste collection service, the operator sets the charges and no waiver is available. This can lead to difficulties for people on social welfare payments and others on low incomes, for example, if they are required to make a single annual payment.

To address this, I understand the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is proposing to work with the waste industry to ensure that all private domestic waste operators include accessible "pay by use" options for customers in their areas who would face difficulty in paying annually. One approach that will be explored is that every operator would be required to offer a "bag" or "tag" option that a household could purchase each week or at whatever interval suited their circumstances.

The introduction of a national social welfare scheme at this stage to address the issue is not considered feasible given the wide range of charging regimes and cost levels that exist in respect of waste management throughout the State. Any system put in place to assist people who rely on private domestic waste collection would have to be sensitive to the different local arrangements.

I will continue to closely monitor this situation to ensure that suitable arrangements are in place to avoid hardship for people on social welfare payments and others on low incomes.

Question No. 73 answered with QuestionNo. 71.

Family Support Services.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

74 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has read and considered a policy position paper from an organisation (details supplied) on recognising the realities of the diversity of family life in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5904/05]

Families and family life have been undergoing profound changes in Ireland and in many other developed countries in recent decades. These changes include the increasing participation of women in the workforce, decreasing fertility, a significantly higher incidence of separation and divorce, cohabitation outside marriage, lone parenthood and reconstituted families. These changes have major implications for families and their core functions, especially care of children, older people and family members with disabilities.

Many of these realities have been addressed in the policy position paper referred to by the Deputy. They have also been addressed in the Report of the Commission on the Family, in many of the research projects undertaken under the families research programme, a second phase of which will be undertaken this year by the Family Support Agency, at international level, for example, in an OECD project on reconciling work and family life, in which Ireland has been directly participating, and in the conference on Families, Change and European Social Policy, which Ireland, with the support of the EU Commission, hosted in May 2004 during the EU Presidency, the first such conference on families at EU level for over a decade.

The impact of change on families was a major theme of the 10th Anniversary of the UN International Year of the Family commemorated last year. This was preceded in Ireland by a nationwide consultation during 2003 on the implications of these changes for policy on supports for families. A report on the public consultation fora entitled Families and Family Life in Ireland — Challenges for the Future was published at the outset of the year and became a basis for discussions on the changes and their implications.

New policies have been introduced and existing policies and programmes have been adapted to address the changes. These have included schemes such as the one parent family payment in my own Department, developments in family law, the provision being made to meet the increasing demand for child care for parents who work outside the home and the adaptation of policies in employment, education, care of the elderly and housing and accommodation to meet new family needs.

The Family Support Agency was established in May 2003 to draw together family related programmes and services developed by the Government since 1997. These are designed to promote continuity and stability in family life, help prevent family breakdown and support, support ongoing parenting relationships for children and local community supports for families.

Specifically, the Family Support Agency's main functions include the provision of grant aid for voluntary and community organisations providing marriage and relationship counselling services, child counselling services and bereavement support for families; and the provision of a family mediation service throughout the country for couples who have decided to separate. The service is designed to help couples to reach agreement on issues such as the family home, financial arrangements. This can greatly assist children in retaining close bonds with both parents where possible and avoiding costly litigation. The support, promotion and development of the family and community services resource centre programme. There are currently 75 centres throughout the country being core funded under the scheme, with an overall target of 100 centres by the end of 2006.

As mentioned earlier, the agency also has responsibility for the second phase of the families research programme.

An effective response to the changes taking place requires an integrated, strategic approach. Preparations for such an approach are being co-ordinated by my Department through an interdepartmental committee. I expect that the outcome of this work will be a strategy statement to be completed later this year.

A key feature of this strategic process to date has been consultation with all stakeholders and interested parties.

Written submissions have been invited and received from virtually all the key interests, including the organisation referred to by the Deputy. They are all being fully taken into account in drawing up the strategy.

Child Support.

David Stanton

Question:

75 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of children awaiting assessment for the crèche supplement by a social worker or health sector personal social services professional in each county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6057/05]

Crèche supplements were introduced in some of the former health boards to provide individual assistance where necessary to parents in need of short-term support. This arose, for example, where a parent would not be able to avail of necessary supports such as counselling services or addiction treatment programmes without assistance towards the cost of child-minding. The fact that these supplements were in payment for long durations in many cases indicated that they had become a long-term child care support rather than the short-term social welfare intervention which was originally intended. In effect, long-term child care needs were being provided through a short-term income support scheme.

It is more appropriate that community operated or "not-for-profit" child care facilities in disadvantaged areas would be supported in a more direct and sustainable manner than indirectly through the short-term supplementary welfare allowance scheme. This approach has been successfully adopted in certain Health Service Executive regions where former health boards provided significant grant-aid directly to community child care crèche facilities.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has a significant financial support mechanism in place through its equal opportunities childcare programme, particularly aimed at supporting parents who want to take up educational, training or employment opportunities. The Department of Education and Science also operates an early start pre-school programme aimed at children in the three to four age range.

The facilities supported directly through these mechanisms are able to provide child care facilities at low or no cost to disadvantaged families who do not then have to rely on supplementary welfare allowance on an ongoing basis.

Officials from my Department engaged in discussions during 2004 with the Departments of Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Education and Science, the then Eastern Regional Health Authority and other health boards to identify and put in place suitable funding arrangements for crèches for 2004 and subsequent years. Some local funding difficulties in relation to 2004 were resolved in light of these discussions.

In this regard, I have allocated an additional €2.3 million within the social welfare Estimates for 2005 for crèche supports. These funds can be drawn on, as appropriate, to supplement provisions of the relevant Departments which have an existing funding relationship with crèches. The funds are particularly appropriate to agencies supplying services which might otherwise have relied on supplementary welfare allowance crèche supplements for a part of their funding in previous years. Discussions are ongoing with relevant Departments to finalise arrangements for allocating this additional funding for the support of community crèches in the most appropriate way.

As an interim measure, I have also arranged that existing crèche supplements already in payment may continue to be paid by community welfare services in 2005 to the families concerned while they continue to remain eligible.

In addition, new supplements may be made available in specific instances where a public health nurse or health service social worker recommends that a child in difficult circumstances would benefit by attending a community crèche, or that the parent/s of a child needs to avail of counselling services, addiction treatments or similar and that crèche services are required to facilitate this.

In each such instance the Health Service Executive must be satisfied that all the relevant circumstances are taken into account, for example, the person's ability to pay for or provide the service from an alternative source, in determining if a supplement is warranted in each recommended case.

I am satisfied that the community welfare service is in a position to deal with any referrals from public health nurses or social workers as the cases arise.

My Department has no direct responsibility for the health service professionals who refer people to the community welfare officers for consideration of a crèche supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. Accordingly, I do not have information on how many families or children are awaiting a professional assessment by public health nurses or health service social workers.

However, my Department's computer system show that there are currently 273 crèche supplements in payment. Thirty-five of these were awarded by community welfare officers in the past few weeks following the issue of the guidelines by my Department to the Health Service Executive at the end of January last setting out the new provisions. According to computer records only five crèche supplement applicants are awaiting a decision at present.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jack Wall

Question:

76 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on claims by the Migrant Rights Centre that restrictions on welfare benefits for non-Irish citizens are placing migrant workers at risk of poverty and homelessness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5897/05]

John Gormley

Question:

93 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the opinion of the Migrant Rights Centre that migrant workers run a large risk of poverty due to social welfare restrictions. [6075/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 76 and 93 together.

Migrant workers qualify for social insurance benefits in respect of the unexpired part of their work permits if they satisfy the normal qualifying contribution conditions. Migrant workers may also satisfy the habitual residence condition for receipt of social assistance payments and child benefit.

The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1 May 2004.

The basis for the restriction contained in the new rules is the applicant's habitual residence. The restriction is not based on citizenship, nationality, immigration status or any other factor.

The effect of the restriction is that a person whose habitual residence is elsewhere is not paid certain social welfare payments on arrival in Ireland. The question of what is a person's "habitual residence" is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims.

Each case received for a determination on the habitual residence condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision of a deciding officer has the right to appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

People whose claims are rejected on ground of habitual residency are offered repatriation by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and may have their basic needs met by that Department while awaiting return to their country of origin.

The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland has recently made a submission to my Department setting out its views on how the operation of the habitual residence condition impacts on migrant workers and their families. While the submission claims that the habitual residence condition is causing undue hardship and in effect placing vulnerable people's lives and safety at risk, it does not provide any examples of such cases. However, I have asked my officials to consider the general issues raised and respond to the centre.

My officials are also carrying out a review of the operation of the condition, taking account of the issues which have come to light since its introduction. Any specific matters raised by the Migrant Rights Centre will be taken on board in that context.

Family Support Services.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

77 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will respond to criticism voiced by the One Family group that the delay in reversing changes in the operation of the back to education allowance scheme requires lone parents to remain in poverty until such changes take effect. [6072/05]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

113 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has reconsidered reversing the qualifying period for the back to education allowance to nine months; when he expects this change to be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6091/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 113 together.

The back to education allowance is a second chance education opportunities programme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active workforce.

The conditions for entitlement to the third level option of the back to education allowance were revised with effect from 1 September 2004. From that date, the qualifying period was increased from six months to 15 months for new applicants intending to commence third level courses of study.

The number of lone parents accessing the scheme has risen from 1,282 in the 2003-04 academic year to 1,514 in the current year, an increase of 18%. This indicates that the increase in the qualifying period to 15 months had no adverse effect on the number of lone parents accessing the BTEA scheme. In fact, the number of lone parents pursuing third level study with the assistance of the BTEA scheme shows an overall increase of almost 90% over the last three years.

The BTEA scheme was always intended to benefit people who had difficulty finding employment because of a lack of education qualifications. In many cases, people who have not completed second level education are held back in their efforts to obtain employment because of this. The qualification period for people who wish to pursue second level education has remained at six months and the numbers taking second level education with the support of the BTEA are increasing.

As Deputies will be aware, I reduced the qualifying period for access to the third level option of the scheme to 12 months in the recent budget. I also increased the annual cost of education allowance, paid to people on BTEA, from €254 to €400. These changes will take effect from 1 September 2005.

I am satisfied that, overall, the current arrangements ensure that the scheme supports those people who are most distant from the labour market and whose need is greatest.

As I have undertaken to the Dáil and the social affairs committee, I will continue to keep the qualifying period for this scheme under regular review.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

78 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has satisfied himself that the definition of fraud in his Department is adequate. [6074/05]

Overpayments of social welfare payments are categorised as fraud or non-fraud. Non-fraud cases are those which arise primarily due to customer or third party error, and some are due to departmental error. Fraud cases arise mainly on foot of false declarations by customers concerning their employment, income or family status.

The question as to whether an overpayment which has arisen involves fraud is a matter for decision by the statutorily appointed deciding officer dealing with any case.

Fraud arises where social welfare payments are made on the basis of any statement or representation which was, to the knowledge of the person making it, false or misleading in a material respect or by reason of the wilful concealment of any material fact.

This applies in situations such as a person claiming unemployment payments when they are in fact working, or failing to disclose their full means or increases in their means. Other situations would include failing to disclose the true employment or residential status of their spouse, partner or dependants, absenting themselves or their dependants from the State, or working while claiming to be incapable of work.

The figures for fraud overpayments for 2004 are not yet available. During 2003, the value of all fraud overpayments was €13.73 million which consisted of a total of 16,681 cases. The number of fraud overpayments increased by 21%, while the value increased by 16% in comparison with 2002. The major element of this consisted of concurrent working and claiming, with an overpayment value of €7.29 million on 13,562 cases. Other main elements consisted of €1.53 million in 238 cases of means, income or earnings not disclosed, €0.85 million in 83 cases where marital status changed and €0.80 million in 691 cases of being absent from the State.

Cases involving fraud or abuse are examined with a view to initiating legal proceedings. Prosecutions are taken against employers who fail to carry out their statutory obligations, and persons who defraud the social welfare payments system. The decision to prosecute in a given case is based on the nature of the alleged offence, the evidence available and the particular circumstances of the individual employer or claimant.

My Department aims to protect the schemes from fraud or abuse while at the same time ensuring that the customers receive a quality and timely service.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Pat Breen

Question:

79 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on a report by the Central Statistics Office of January 2005, which revealed that nearly 15% of children here under the age of 15 were living in consistent poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6052/05]

Gerard Murphy

Question:

84 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress to date on the eradication of consistent poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6059/05]

Liz McManus

Question:

104 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action he plans to take on foot of the recent EU-SILC survey which found that 23% of the population is at risk of poverty and that 9% of the population is classed as consistently poor; if this is not a damning indictment of Government anti-poverty policies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5898/05]

John Gormley

Question:

119 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the opinion of the charity Barnardos that 66,000 children here currently live in consistent poverty. [6076/05]

Dan Boyle

Question:

121 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way in which he intends to respond to the findings of the recent EU-SILC survey, which shows that children, women and older persons have a greater risk of poverty than their counterparts in other European Union countries. [6070/05]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

125 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress on the implementation of the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion; if he will elaborate on his recent remarks that the gap between rich and poor is unacceptably wide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5890/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 79, 84, 104, 119, 121 and 125 together.

The results from the 2003 EU Survey of Income and Living Conditions, EU-SILC, released last month by the Central Statistics Office, CSO, are a valuable addition to the research already undertaken into income, living standards and the extent of poverty in Ireland. The new survey identifies groups at risk of poverty including families with children, especially lone parents and large families on low incomes, those with disabilities, the long-term unemployed and the elderly, especially those living alone.

Considerable progress has been and is being made in alleviating poverty. This progress, however, is masked by the fact that incomes generally have been increasing substantially as a result of the high levels of both economic and employment growth achieved in recent years.

Despite major increases in social welfare payments and improvements in public services generally, those who are not in employment, such as the elderly, or only in a position to secure low paid or part-time employment, such as many lone parents, have not been able to share fully in the fruits of the increasing prosperity.

A key target of Government policy under the national anti-poverty strategy has been to reduce to below 2%, or eliminate fully, consistent poverty, which measures deprivation of goods and services considered essential in today's Ireland. Significant progress has been made with levels of consistent poverty being reduced from 15.1% in 1994 to 5.2% in 2001, and in the case of children from 15.3% in 1997 to 6.5% in 2001.

A somewhat different methodology and approach was adopted for the EU-SILC survey which resulted in higher percentages for those experiencing consistent poverty, reversing the trend of recent years. Both the CSO, and the Economic and Social Research Institute, which conducted the earlier surveys, have assured me that the outcomes of both surveys are not comparable. It is, therefore, not possible to conclude from them whether the rates for consistent poverty went up or down or remained unchanged.

There is certainly no reason to believe that there has been a worsening in poverty levels in recent years. Between 2001 and 2005, spending on social welfare has increased from €7.8 billion to €12.2 billion. During the same period the lowest social welfare rates have increased by 40% while the consumer price index has increased by just over 13%. As a result of Budget 2005, welfare payments have increased by three times the expected rate of inflation. The real improvement resulting from these developments is commented on in the EU- SILC report.

The EU-SILC survey shows, as in previous surveys, the groups who are most vulnerable to poverty. The main route out of this vulnerability for those in the working age groups, especially in households with children, is employment.

A major ongoing priority will be to remove the obstacles to employment for those groups and work to provide the incentives and supports they need to obtain employment such as education, training, help with job search, and child care.

In relation to income support, serious consideration is now being given to the introduction of a second tier of supports — in addition to the child benefit and other support entitlements — aimed specifically at addressing those children most at risk. Linked to this particularly are the vulnerable circumstances of many lone parents, who are mostly women. The existing support systems will be scrutinised over the coming months and changes considered that more adequately reflect the needs of this group in a 21st century Ireland. My Department is also involved in efforts to develop a strategy to eliminate obstacles to employment for lone parents.

Among those no longer able to work, especially the elderly, we need to give priority to identifying and providing support for those who are most vulnerable, especially those living alone.

The National Action Plan against Poverty and Social Exclusion, NAP-inclusion, provides a clear strategic basis for making progress in all these areas in a coherent, planned way.

Progress on the implementation of the plan was reported in the First Annual Report of the Office for Social Inclusion, OSI, which I launched last December. A report to the European Commission evaluating the implementation of the plan will be prepared by OSI for submission in June 2005 and publication shortly afterwards. These reviews and evaluations, together with the ongoing annual survey results from EU-SILC, will help to inform the development of the next NAP-inclusion, which is due to commence in 2006 and will apply up to 2009.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Joe Costello

Question:

80 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he intends to address the gross inequality of treatment of asylum seekers in the context of direct provision; if he will increase the rate of direct provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5902/05]

The objective of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, is to make up the difference between a person's means and his or her basic needs. Where a person has access to some resources in kind or in cash, through the social welfare system or otherwise, the relevant legislation requires that this be taken into account in determining the amount of assistance payable.

Asylum seekers who are catered for under the direct provision system operated by the Reception and Integration Agency of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are provided with full board accommodation and other facilities such as laundry services and access to leisure areas. In addition, a direct provision allowance of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child is payable to an asylum seeker each week in respect of personal requisites.

In some cases, asylum seekers are accommodated by the Reception and Integration Agency in ‘step down' facilities under the direct provision system. The criteria for assessment of such cases are the same as those applying to any other recipients including people who have been supplied with hostel type accommodation. If accommodation only is supplied, full rate supplementary welfare allowance is payable, less a standard deduction of €13 per week as the person's contribution in respect of the accommodation. If additional services are supplied free, for example, breakfast or other meals, the amount of allowance payable is reduced to take account of the level of additional service supplied in each individual case.

With effect from May 2004 basic supplementary welfare allowance is subject to a statutory habitual residence condition. Asylum seekers who arrived in Ireland after that date are unlikely to satisfy this condition and are not eligible for supplementary welfare allowance as a result. Pending systems being put in place by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to pay the direct provision allowance to those in direct provision and in ‘step down' facilities, this allowance is currently being paid weekly by community welfare officers on an administrative basis as an interim measure.

In addition to the services and allowance available to them through direct provision, it is open to any asylum seeker to seek assistance for a particular once-off need by way of an exceptional needs payment through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.

The question of changing the rate of direct provision allowance would be a matter for consideration by my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in the context of the value of the overall package of facilities available to asylum seekers in the direct provision system.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

81 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on a EU publication, the Report on Gender Equality between Men and Women, of February 2005, which revealed that Irish women are at greater risk of poverty than their counterparts in any other EU member state; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6017/05]

The Deputy is referring to the recently published EU second annual report on equality between men and women, which was requested, by the EU Heads of State at the Spring European Council, in March 2003.

This report covers a range of issues including gender gaps in employment, part-time employment and unemployment rates, educational attainment, lifelong learning, working hours and elected representation in national parliaments, in addition to risk of poverty rates. In general, Ireland is reported at average, or above average, against its EU counterparts in most of these areas. Our success in recent years in reducing unemployment levels for both men and women places us second overall on this measure, and we also fare strongly in relation to reported levels of educational attainment for both men and women.

However, I share the Deputy's concern about the reported level of women identified as being at risk of poverty in Ireland. The ‘at risk of poverty' measure is based on the percentage of persons below the income threshold of 60% of median income. The recent EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions, EU-SILC, reported that the rate for women was 23.4% in 2003 with lone parent households and older women living alone being the highest risk groups.

There are a number of factors which contribute to the relatively high ‘at risk of poverty' rate. There have been very significant increases in average incomes in recent years, and in particular, a growth in two income households. International research has shown that on average the risk of poverty in two income households is less than 4%.

However, despite significant increases in social welfare rates, the incomes of those not in employment have lagged those in employment, especially in households with two incomes. Lone parents and older women living alone would be particularly dependent on social welfare income support.

The current National Action Plan against Poverty and Social Exclusion specifically targets women as one of a number of groups who are particularly vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion, with a view to reducing or eliminating their risk and incidence of poverty and improving their access to services such as health care, education and employment.

This plan includes specific targets in relation to women which include: income supports for lone parents; pensioners and their spouses; significant improvements in child benefit rates; improved participation by women in employment; and actions to address obstacles to employment and the gender pay gap. Access to services and gender mainstreaming are also covered by targets and objectives in the national action plan.

In addition to the above, a number of specific initiatives are under way under Sustaining Progress which will impact positively on women and families. A study is being carried out by the NESC on amalgamating social welfare child dependant allowances with family income supplement payments, in an effort to channel extra resources to low income families without creating disincentives to employment. A sub-group of the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion has commenced examining all obstacles to employment for lone parent families, the majority of whom are women.

My Department is also participating in an Interdepartmental Working Group on Early Child Care and Education, chaired by the National Children's Office. The work of this committee is at an advanced stage and the outcome will make an important contribution to finding the right mix of services and income support to facilitate employment take up and care for children.

This Government is committed to continuing efforts to alleviate poverty, especially for those who cannot work and have not been in a position to benefit from the employment opportunities afforded by the high economic growth. During the period 2001 to 2005, the lowest social welfare rates increased by 40% and child benefit rates increased by 65%, while the consumer price index has increased by just over 13%.

Assisting and supporting vulnerable families and their children and older people is one of our main challenges as a society in overcoming poverty and in ensuring that they have a fair share of the life chances and quality of life which our prosperity as a nation is already conferring on a majority. Meeting this challenge will be one of my main priorities in the coming years in the further development of the strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion.

Pension Provisions.

Phil Hogan

Question:

82 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress to date on the introduction of a personal pension entitlement for pensioner spouses currently in receipt of the qualified adult allowance to be set at the level of a full non-contributory pension, as promised in the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6016/05]

In the programme for Government and in Sustaining Progress, the Government has committed itself to increasing the payment for qualified adults, age 66 or over, to the same level as the personal rate of the old age non-contributory pension. The estimated cost of this commitment is €44 million.

Considerable progress has already been made in this regard with the qualified adult allowance on the contributory payment now standing at €138.50 or 83% of the maximum rate of old age non-contributory pension, currently €166.00 per week. Overall increases in the qualified adult allowance on the old age contributory pension amount to €56.47 per week since April 2000.

Further progress towards Government targets in relation to the qualified adult allowance rate will be made in a budgetary context.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

83 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way in which increasing the child dependant allowance would result in a welfare trap; the welfare traps which would emerge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6036/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

94 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he intends to introduce a second tier support payment for children in unemployed or low-wage households; if so, the progress made to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6035/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 94 together.

Child dependant allowance is an additional payment made to social welfare recipients in respect of eligible child dependants under 18 years of age. This age limit can be extended to 22 years in specified circumstances where the child remains in full-time education.

While the loss of this additional allowance on gaining full-time employment can constitute a disincentive to work, the extent of the disincentive would vary according to the number of children in the family and the potential income from employment.

Social welfare recipients with larger families would therefore be most vulnerable in this regard.

In recognition of this fact, every Government since 1995 has held the rate of child dependant allowance at the same level while increasing child benefit, which is paid regardless of parental means or employment status. As such, it represents a substantial improvement in the State's contribution towards the costs of rearing children, a contribution which cannot be lost as a result of either parent taking up employment.

In line with this policy, monthly rates of child benefit will have increased by €103.51 at the lower rate and €127.78 at the higher rate since 1997 when Budget 2005 rate increases are taken into account, increases of 272% and 258% respectively. This level of increase is unprecedented and delivers on the Government's objective of providing support for children generally while offering real choice to all parents.

Since 1994, the combined income support of child benefit and child dependant allowance for those on social welfare payments has increased by more than double the rate of inflation.

As I stated in my budget speech, I was urged by many groups, both at and following the annual pre-budget forum, to reverse current policy on child income support by increasing the level of child dependant allowances on the grounds that these payments are made only to recipients of social welfare and, consequently, are targeted directly at those most at risk of poverty. I considered these arguments carefully but concluded that child benefit remains the most appropriate vehicle for tackling child poverty at the present time.

With regard to the introduction of a second tier payment in respect of children in low-wage or unemployed households and following its identification as an issue in the Sustaining Progress national agreement, the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, has undertaken a review of child income support and in particular the possible merging of family income supplement and child dependant allowances into a "second-tier" child income support payment. This review, which NESC expects to complete during 2005, will inform the development of future policy in this area.

Question No. 84 answered with QuestionNo. 79.
Question No. 85 answered with QuestionNo. 71.

Pension Provisions.

Seán Ryan

Question:

86 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he intends to take to increase the number of workers in the private sector who have pensions; his response to recent data from the Irish Pensions Board which show that only a quarter of the workforce have adequate pensions savings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5893/05]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

97 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the failure of many employers to provide matching contributions to their employees’ PRSAs is undermining that scheme. [6077/05]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

126 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the level of uptake of PRSAs; if he has plans to review the scheme given the low level of interest in the accounts. [5894/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 86, 97 and 126 together.

It is Government policy to encourage people to participate in occupational and private pension arrangements so that they can, when they retire, maintain their pre-retirement standard of living at a reasonable level.

To this end a range of measures have been introduced over the last few years including personal retirement savings accounts, PRSAs, mandatory PRSA access where occupational schemes are not available, and an ongoing national pensions awareness campaign.

At the end of December 2004, some 46,237 PRSA accounts were open with a total asset value of €178 million. The comparable figures for 2003 are 19,022 accounts with an asset value of €19 million. In terms of overall occupational and private pensions coverage, CSO figures for the first quarter of 2004 show that 52.4% of persons in employment have a supplementary pension. This is a small increase on the 2002 figures which showed coverage at 51.2%.

The key target group for Government action in the supplementary pensions area is those who are 30 years of age and over. The national pensions policy initiative suggested that up to 70% of this group will need to supplement their social welfare pension to maintain living standards in retirement. The most recent CSO figures suggest that 59.1% of people in this group have the necessary pensions cover and, again, this is a small increase on the 2002 figure of 57.4%.

Over the last few years there has been a steady increase in the number of people taking out PRSAs and in those participating in standard occupational schemes. However, at this stage it has to be accepted that at the present rate of progress we will not achieve our targets within any kind of reasonable timescale.

Pensions Board research has shown a high level of awareness among the public in relation to pensions issues resulting from the awareness campaign conducted by the board. However, we are having only limited success in translating this high level of awareness into improved coverage. The reasons for this are multi-faceted. While, as suggested, the attitude of employers may well be a factor, Pensions Board research has highlighted other issues such as perceptions of affordability and a lack of urgency in relation to pensions among certain age groups in the population.

As the Deputies may be aware, a statutory review of pensions coverage and related issues is required to be completed by September 2006. However, I consider that the coverage situation is unlikely to improve dramatically over the next year and, in the circumstances, there is little point in delaying the review until 2006. Accordingly, as already announced, I have recently asked the Pensions Board to commence work on a comprehensive review of our overall pensions strategy, including possible alternatives to our present approach.

I am anxious to ensure that this is completed in the shortest possible timescale so that I can review the situation and decide what further action is required in this area. At the end of the day we must ensure that we can deliver on our commitment to provide an adequate retirement income for all.

Question No. 87 answered with QuestionNo. 69.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

88 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has progressed his plan for part of the rent supplement budget to be used for the purchase of housing. [6080/05]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent or mortgage interest. This is available to assist eligible people who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The scheme is administered, on behalf of my Department, by the community welfare division of the Health Services Executive.

The plan to which the Deputy refers arose from a Government decision in July 2004 to introduce new rental assistance arrangements. These arrangements are being implemented by local authorities on a phased basis over three years under the direction of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The Government believes that the new arrangements will provide the best solution for disadvantaged people with ongoing housing needs, rather than extended reliance on rent supplements. In this regard an initial sum of €19 million has been transferred from my Department's Vote to that of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2005 to cover the first year costs of developing and administering the new arrangements. Additional funding will be transferred to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government over the next three years.

Under the plan, local authorities will develop a range of accommodation solutions for people with long term housing needs who would otherwise rely on rent supplement. This includes people who have been receiving rent supplement for 18 months or longer. The measures involved include the existing range of social housing options, further encouragement of voluntary housing schemes and procurement of a range of suitable rental accommodation units in conjunction with private landlords.

The objective of the new arrangements is to minimise the need for longer-term dependence on social welfare rent supplement by providing an appropriate range of housing options for rent supplement clients in each local authority area. Arrangements are in place to facilitate local authorities to provide these additional options within three years from commencement of the new arrangements in each local authority and in any event no later than September 2008. The rent supplement scheme will continue to provide support for people who have accommodation needs in the short term.

The new arrangements are currently being implemented in seven local authority areas throughout the country. My Department and the Health Service Executive are actively assisting the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in this process. The new arrangements will have started in all local authority areas by the end of 2005.

This new role for housing authorities enhances their involvement in meeting long-term housing needs generally. It also integrates rent supplement services more closely with overall social housing policy.

I want to emphasise that the rent supplement scheme will continue to be available through the community welfare service for all eligible people who have an immediate accommodation need and who are unable to provide for that themselves.

Denis Naughten

Question:

89 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action he is taking to increase the uptake of the FIS scheme; if he will report on the uptake and estimated eligibility under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5859/05]

Dan Neville

Question:

106 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has ever calculated the number of persons who would be eligible for the family income supplement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6093/05]

Michael Noonan

Question:

110 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who are eligible for the family income supplement but are not availing of the scheme; the number of persons who avail of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6040/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

114 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who have applied for family income supplement in the past 12 months; if this represents an increase or decrease on previous years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6001/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

189 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications for family income supplement received in the past 12 months; the number refused, approved or pending; the way in which this figure compares with the previous year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6268/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

199 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the current number of claimants for family income supplement; his estimate of the number of households which might be entitled to claim this payment; and the steps he will take to improve take-up of this supplement. [6336/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 89, 106, 110, 114, 189 and 199 together.

Family income supplement is designed to provide cash support for people with families on low earnings. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if he or she were claiming other social welfare payments. The number of persons who applied for family income supplement in the year to December 2004 was 21,020, which represents a substantial increase on 2003 when the numbers of applications received was 18,164. Similarly, the current level of applications represents a significant increase over previous years.

In 2004, there were 17,979 applications approved compared with 13,868 in 2003 while the number of applications refused was 3,507 in 2004 compared with 3,230 in 2003.

The number of claims pending at end of 2004 was 1,175, which was substantially less than at end 2003 when there were 2,582 claims pending.

The number of persons in receipt of family income supplement, FIS, at 31 December 2004 was 14,727, which shows an increase on previous years. The average value of FIS payments that week was €69.68. The numbers of persons who were in receipt of FIS in recent years were as follows: 2000, 13,181; 2001, 11,840; 2002, 12,043; and 2003, 12,317.

Improvements to the family income supplement scheme, including the assessment of FIS on the basis of net rather than gross income and the progressive increases in the income limits, have made it easier for lower income households to qualify under the scheme.

In addition, the increase in the minimum FIS payment to €20 has made it more attractive to those with only a marginal entitlement.

In this year's budget, I provided for further increases in the FIS income limits with effect from January 2005.

These unprecedented increases raised the weekly income limits by €39 at each point, adding an extra €23.40 to the payments of most existing FIS recipients. As a result, an estimated 2,600 additional families should qualify for payment.

It is difficult to ascertain with any precision the rate of FIS take up. Research undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute in 1997, which was based on the Living In Ireland Survey 1994, suggested that fewer than one in three eligible claimants were actually in receipt of the payment. However, since then labour market conditions and wages have changed significantly. Rising levels of remuneration, including the impact of the national minimum wage, will mean some applicants are above the income thresholds for their family size. Changes in taxation and PRSI have improved take-home pay for the lower paid. Also, the numbers of families where both parties are in employment have increased.

On this question of take-up a working group, chaired by the Department of Finance, was established to examine the role which refundable tax credits could play in the tax and welfare system, with a specific brief to examine the possible payment of FIS through the tax system.

While the group's final report is awaited, I understand that the principal recommendation regarding FIS is likely to be to continue payment through the social welfare system while maximising effects to increase take-up.

My Department undertakes a number of pro-active measures to ensure that people are aware of possible entitlement to FIS, which include advising all newly awarded one parent family payment recipients, advising all employers annually in PRSI mailshots and examining entitlement in all awarded back to work allowance cases. Information on FIS is contained in all child benefit books and can be accessed on the Department's website. In addition, the scheme has been extensively advertised through local and national media outlets, including newspapers and radio, as well as through poster campaigns and targeted mailshots.

Every effort will continue to be made to publicise family income supplement and to increase people's awareness of their social welfare entitlements generally.

Nursing Home Charges.

Paul McGrath

Question:

90 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the practice of health authorities holding the pension books of older persons in public nursing homes following the Supreme Court judgement of 16 February 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6103/05]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

105 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will consider introducing controls to ensure that social welfare payments given to those in institutional care cannot be abused. [6071/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 90 and 105 together.

In relation to payments to people in institutional care, the practice generally has always been that, when social welfare pensioners took up residence in long-stay residential care centres operated by the health boards, the board was appointed as an agent for the purpose of cashing the person's weekly pension or allowance and any charges towards the maintenance of people in these institutions were normally deducted from those payments.

Following instructions in December to the Health Service Executive, no maintenance charges for long-stay care are now being levied. Until such time as alternative arrangements can be made, the Health Service Executive has continued, in a temporary capacity, to act as an agent for the purpose of cashing pension or allowance books. These pension payments are being lodged in all cases to a patient's private property account that is being maintained by the HSE for each individual resident; pensioners have full access to this account whenever they wish.

I understand that the HSE is in the process of writing to all social welfare pensioners in their care to advise them that maintenance charges no longer apply and that pension payments belong in full to the pensioners themselves. Where a pensioner is unable, for whatever reason, to manage their own financial affairs, the HSE is making arrangements to inform the next of kin of the position.

The HSE is also advising pensioners of the various options open to them for receiving their pension payments. These comprise continuation of the existing arrangement whereby the HSE cashes the pension book on the pensioner's behalf and lodges the payment to the patient's private property account; payment of the pension into a bank or building society account or An Post pensions savings account; cashing of the pension at a post office by the pensioner; or appointment of another person, such as a relative, to act as an agent to cash the pension book on the pensioner's behalf.

A national implementation group of the HSE is responsible for ensuring that pensioners are fully advised of these new arrangements, and my Department is represented on this group.

My Department has primary responsibility for issuing payments to pensioners and for ensuring that pensioners are satisfied with the method of payment and the security of their payments. I have asked my officials to liaise with the Department of Health and Children and the HSE to ensure that all appropriate arrangements are made in this regard.

Social Welfare Code.

Joe Costello

Question:

91 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has reviewed the habitual residence condition; if he has considered the hardship this condition has caused in many cases in recent times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5901/05]

The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1 May 2004.

The basis for the restriction contained in the new rules is the applicant's habitual residence. The restriction is not based on citizenship, nationality, immigration status or any other factor.

The effect of the restriction is that a person whose habitual residence is elsewhere is not paid certain social welfare payments on arrival in Ireland. The question of what is a person's "habitual residence" is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims.

Each case received for determination is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the guidelines to the particular circumstances of each case. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision of a deciding officer has the right to appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

The condition is being operated in a very careful manner to ensure that Ireland's social welfare system is not open to everyone who is newly arrived in Ireland, while at the same time ensuring that people whose cases are appropriate to the Irish social welfare system have access to the system when they need it.

My officials are completing a review of the operation of the habitual residence condition. This review is taking account of the issues that have come to light since the condition came in to effect in May 2004 and representations received from various groups and organisations who have an interest in this area.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Seán Crowe

Question:

92 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to extend the Christmas bonus scheme to clients that are on long term disability benefit in view of the unfairness of the present system. [5906/05]

A special Christmas bonus payment was first introduced in December 1980 for social welfare pensioners and people who depend solely on their social welfare payments for income support.

There have been a number of developments in this scheme since its inception, including changes in the level of the bonus payment, the introduction of a minimum payment and the extension of the categories of eligible claimants.

The focus of the bonus has always been on persons who rely on the social welfare system for financial support over the long term. These include recipients of retirement, old age contributory and non-contributory, widow's, widower's and invalidity pensions, one-parent family payment, carer's allowance, disability allowance, long-term unemployment assistance, farm assist and people on employment support payments.

The bonus is also payable to participants in the rural social scheme, which was introduced in 2004 and operates under the aegis of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

There are no plans at present to amend or extend entitlement to the bonus payment to short-term schemes and any such extension could only be considered in a budgetary context having regard to the resources available and the significant cost which would be involved.

In relation to disability benefit, it is open to persons who have been in receipt of disability benefit for at least a year to apply for invalidity pension and, if they qualify for the pension, they would also qualify for the Christmas bonus payment.

Question No. 93 answered with QuestionNo. 76.
Question No. 94 answered with QuestionNo. 83.
Question No. 95 answered with QuestionNo. 72.

Family Support Services.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

96 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his response to recent comments from a person (details supplied) that family policy in Ireland adds to child poverty and to family poverty in very real ways; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5889/05]

The comments to which the Deputy refers were made at a conference entitled, Being a Father at Christmas, which I opened and which was funded by my Department as an event marking the 10th Anniversary of the UN International Year of the Family.

The comments particularly referred to the way in which the State intervenes in families where separation occurs and the approach of statutory agencies to children and fathers in that situation.

When families separate, members of the resulting two households will be poorer as a result. Disputes can often arise over access to and custody of children, which can also have a negative impact, sometimes severe, on all concerned.

One important response to this has been the establishment of the Family Support Agency in May 2003 which draws together the main family related programmes and services developed by the Government since 1997. These are designed to promote continuity and stability in family life, help prevent family breakdown and support ongoing parenting relationships for children and local community support for families. The agency's functions include: the provision of grant aid for voluntary and community organisations providing marriage and relationship counselling services, child counselling services and bereavement support for families; and the provision of a family mediation service throughout the country for couples who have decided to separate. The service is designed to help couples to reach agreement on issues such as the family home, financial arrangements. This can greatly assist children in retaining close bonds with both parents where possible and avoiding costly litigation.

The major social, demographic and economic changes taking place requires, however, the ongoing modernisation of all policies and programmes across Government that impact on families. It is possible that many current policies may no longer be achieving the desired outcomes, or achieving them to a sufficient degree, because of the change circumstances of families.

It may also be the case, as the expert cited by the Deputy states, that some policies may be adding to the problems rather than resolving them.

It is for that reason that a strategic approach to the provision and further development of supports for families is being developed by my Department through an interdepartmental committee. This will include ongoing analysis and monitoring of the changes taking place, which impact of families, evaluation of the effectiveness of the supports in place for families to meet their care responsibilities and discharge their other functions, a coherent, integrated and comprehensive strategy approach containing clear objectives and targets for improving and further developing supports for families in a changing society.

One aim of the strategic approach will be to identify and remedy policies which are not achieving the desired outcome. It will also facilitate dialogue with stakeholders, other interested parties and experts in the ongoing evaluation and further development of policy. I hope to bring forward appropriate proposals arising from the current examination later this year.

Question No. 97 answered with QuestionNo. 86.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Damien English

Question:

98 Mr. English asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the safety nets that exist for persons who do not have a history of tenancy but who need an emergency social welfare payment, such as the rent supplement, as a result of fleeing domestic violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6099/05]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to an eligible person whose means are insufficient to meet his or her accommodation needs and who does not have accommodation available to him or her from any other source.

Subject to satisfying the usual conditions regarding habitual residency, employment status, rent level conditions and a means test, all applicants for rent supplement who have been assessed by a local authority as being in need of housing can receive rent supplement. This applies regardless of how long they have been renting in the private sector, or even if they never rented before.

If an applicant for rent supplement has not been assessed by a local authority as being in need of housing, they are not necessarily excluded from receiving rent supplement on that account.

A number of categories of people are exempted from the requirement to be assessed by the local authority in this way, including elderly people, people with disabilities, people regarded as homeless by a local authority and people leaving institutions such as prisons.

There are no circumstances in which people fleeing domestic violence situations should have to remain in such situations because of the conditions for receipt of rent supplement. The regulations provide the executive with discretion to deal with exceptional or emergency cases of this sort. In this regard the executive may award a rent supplement to a person who is not an existing private sector tenant and who does not fall into one of the exempted categories, if in the opinion of the executive the circumstances so warrant.

The principal criteria upon which such a determination might be made include the safety and well-being of the person or a situation where a person is being made homeless or forced to use homeless facilities unless rent supplement is paid. Such cases could include people who find themselves caught up in violent domestic situations who have to move accommodation because of fears for their safety or well being.

I am satisfied that the current conditions for receipt of rent supplement, including the discretion available to the executive to deal with exceptional situations, ensure that anybody with a genuine housing need, and who cannot provide for his or her accommodation costs from within his or her own resources, can have access to rent supplement.

Question No. 99 answered with QuestionNo. 69.

Pension Provisions.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

100 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the consideration he has given to having the homemaker disregard made retrospective from 1973. [6073/05]

The homemaker's scheme was introduced in 1994 and is intended to protect the pension entitlements of those who take time out of the paid workforce for caring duties. The scheme allows up to 20 years to be disregarded when a person's insurance record is being averaged to assess entitlement for contributory pension purposes. The scheme will not of itself qualify a person for a pension as the standard qualifying conditions relating to the type and number of contributions paid or credited must also be satisfied.

In August 2000, my Department published a review of the qualifying conditions for old age contributory and retirement pensions. This review also included a general examination of the homemaker's scheme and the report suggested a number of reforms for further consideration. These included the possibility of changing the operative date of the scheme and replacing the disregard system with one based on actual credited contributions. These suggestions are being examined in more detail in the second part of the review. This phase of the review is also looking at changes to the qualifying conditions for contributory and retirement pensions suggested in the phase 1 report together with a range of other issues.

I expect 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.

Question No. 101 answered with QuestionNo. 69.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

102 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to calls from a lone parents organisation (details supplied) for recognition for lone parent families under the Constitution; his views in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5903/05]

Families and family life in Ireland have been undergoing profound change in recent decades, which includes the significant growth in the proportion of families headed by lone parents. The Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, in inviting submissions, has specifically stated that account will be taken of these developments in their consideration of the possible need for changes to the provisions on families in the Constitution. I do not consider that it would be appropriate for me at this stage, as Minister, to pre-empt the conclusions and recommendations to be arrived at by the Oireachtas committee by commenting on any submission made to it by any organisation or individual, including the organisation referred to by the Deputy.

Question No. 103 answered with QuestionNo. 67.
Question No. 104 answered with QuestionNo. 79.
Question No. 105 answered with QuestionNo. 90.
Question No. 106 answered with QuestionNo. 89.

Denis Naughten

Question:

107 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to introduce photo identification in conjunction with the free travel pass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5860/05]

Free travel passes issued by my Department do not display a photograph of the passholders. However, it is a CIE requirement that passholders resident in the major cities — Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Galway — must obtain an ancillary photopass from CIE in order to use the CIE Group services in those cities. This photopass is obtained free of charge by eligible passholders, with the cost being met by my Department.

The primary reason for photo identification is to prevent fraud of the system through free travel passes being transferred.

While the Department has no immediate plans to introduce a photo-type free travel pass, it has been working closely with a number of other bodies in efforts to develop a more secure type of free travel pass which may include photo identification. The issues which must be considered in carrying out this work include those of standards for public service cards generally and also, issues around data protection.

My Department is currently chairing an interdepartmental steering group to develop a set of standards for a public service card. These will provide a framework within which existing plastic cards issued by Departments can converge.

The Department is also a key stakeholder for the purposes of the integrated ticketing project in the greater Dublin area, GDA, which is being carried out by the Rail Procurement Agency, RPA, for the Department of Transport. This system will be implemented by way of a smartcard and initial roll-out of the card is planned for later this year. This card is expected to comply with the standard referred to earlier and may contain a photograph.

I will ensure that my Department continues to work closely with all of the bodies concerned to progress the introduction of a more secure free travel pass.

Questions Nos. 108 and 109 answered with Question No. 71.
Question No. 110 answered with QuestionNo. 89.

Social Welfare Code.

Enda Kenny

Question:

111 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he has taken or proposals he has considered to make the social welfare system father friendly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6044/05]

People are only identifiable in the social welfare system as parents when they have child dependants. Traditionally, the father was the main and often the sole breadwinner, with the mother, as the main caregiver, being regarded as dependent on the father. Implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women in recent decades has involved making the social welfare system both more mother and father friendly.

The mother, as normally the primary care giver, now generally receives child benefit payments, which before had been payable to the father as main breadwinner. There are no longer differences in payments or in eligibility conditions for men and women under the social welfare system and the concept of dependancy has largely been removed. Both men and women are equally eligible for benefits or pensions, if they become a lone parent, but the majority of lone parents, some 86.4%, are women.

Recognition of the mother as primary caregiver has meant that where the parents are separated, the mother usually retains custody of the children and, if there is eligibility, full entitlement to the one parent family payment. The scheme as it currently operates, therefore, may not sufficiently facilitate or promote joint parenting, and to that extent may not be sufficiently father friendly. This is one of the issues being examined both in a review of obstacles to employment under the one parents' family scheme being carried out by the senior officials group reporting to the Cabinet committee, and in the context of an examination of strategies for families which is being co-ordinated by my Department. The outcome of these projects will receive priority attention.

Greater involvement of both parents in the rearing of their children is in the interests of all concerned, and any changes to the social welfare system and, in particular, the one parent family payments, that may be needed to achieve that will be fully considered.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Martin Ferris

Question:

112 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of one parent families which are in receipt of the one parent family payment; and the percentage of one parent families which are in receipt of the payment. [5908/05]

According to the most recent census there were 154,000 lone parent families in 2002, comprising one in six of all families, with 85% headed by women. In terms of marital status, 40% were headed by a widowed person, 32% headed by a separated or divorced person and 24% headed by a single person.

The number in receipt of the one parent family payment at end of December 2004 was 80,103 — up from 58,960 in 1997 when the scheme was introduced. There were, in addition, 12,225 lone parents with children in receipt of payments under social insurance schemes, comprising 10,769 widowed persons and 1,456 deserted wives. In total, therefore, 92,328 or approximately 60% of lone parents are receiving weekly payments under the social welfare system.

Question No. 113 answered with QuestionNo. 77.
Question No. 114 answered with QuestionNo. 89.
Question No. 115 answered with QuestionNo. 69.

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

116 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent to which cuts imposed in the budget of a year ago have impacted on social welfare recipients; the full extent of the savings affected by those cuts; the number of persons or families refused rent or other support on foot of same; the instructions issued by his Department then or subsequently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6002/05]

The measures introduced in the context of the 2004 Estimates included changes to the back to education allowance, one parent family payment, certain child dependant allowances, changes in the conditions of entitlement to short term social insurance payments and changes in the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.

It is not possible to quantify precisely the numbers affected by the measures in question in that, where disallowances or reduced entitlements occur, the specific reasons for such are not recorded on payment systems in a way which facilitates production of the information requested. While data is regularly available on the numbers in receipt of all payments, simple comparisons of such numbers would not reliably indicate the number of persons affected by the measures.

The number in receipt of any particular scheme can and does fluctuate for a wide variety of reasons, such as, for example, seasonal factors in the case of unemployment. Furthermore, in many instances, the individuals who may have been affected by a particular measure could have availed of alternative support. Again, it is not possible to distinguish those particular cases from those who, for other reasons, avail of these alternative supports over the same period.

The total overall projected expenditure in 2004 on the schemes affected by the measures was, however, broadly in line with expectations. I have conducted a review of the measures announced in November 2003 to assess their impact on people. During the course of that review I listened carefully to the views expressed by members of this House, by the social partners and by voluntary groups and others I have met since becoming Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

On budget day, I was pleased to announce the following new arrangements: the qualifying period for the back to education allowance is being reduced from 15 months to 12 months and in addition, the cost of education allowance is being increased by €254 to €400; the transitional payment for recipients of one parent family payment is being restored and will now be available for a period of six months where a recipient's income exceeds €293 per week; the income limit for entitlement to half-rate child dependant allowances for unemployment, disability and related schemes will be increased by €50 per week to €350.

The saving of €700,000 arising from last year's MABS supplement measure is being redirected to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service to enable it to further develop its services. The sum of €2.3 million, an amount equivalent to the savings achieved by the discontinuation of crèche supplements, is now being made available to ensure that vulnerable families can continue to have access to crèche supports, for example in cases where a social worker or public health nurse deems this necessary as part of their work with the family. I am consulting my colleagues, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, about the most appropriate way to channel this funding.

An additional €2 million is being made available to improve the diet supplement arrangements. The sum of €19 million in funding from the rent supplement scheme is being transferred to the local authorities as an initial measure to enable them to put long-term housing solutions in place. The six months rule for entitlement to rent supplement is being amended in order to ensure that bona fide tenants who experience a change of circumstances are not disadvantaged, if for example they become ill or unemployed within six months of renting.

Rent supplement will now remain in payment unless a third offer of local authority accommodation has been refused. I am not raising the minimum contribution for rent supplement this year. In addition, the measure relating to half rate payments for widows and widowers and allied payments was amended earlier last year.

The full year cost of all of the measures I have detailed above is €36 million in a full year. The operation of the remaining measures will be kept under review. With regard to the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, circulars were issued by my Department to the community welfare staff who administer the scheme on my behalf, in December 2003 and in January 2005, advising them of the changes to the scheme and reminding them of the discretion available to them to deal with exceptional or emergency cases which may arise from time to time.

Social Welfare Benefits.

John Perry

Question:

117 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has plans to change the dual eligibility rule for persons in receipt of the carer’s allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6100/05]

The carer's allowance is a social assistance payment which provides income support to people who are providing certain elderly or incapacitated persons with full time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit.

The primary objective of the social welfare system is to provide income support and, as a general rule, only one weekly social welfare payment is payable to an individual. This ensures that resources are not used to make two income support payments to any one person. Of course, persons qualifying for two social welfare payments always receive the higher payment to which they are entitled.

As part of the improvements introduced in the last budget, all persons providing full time care and attention will be entitled to a respite care grant of €1,000 in June, regardless of their means. The persons in receipt of other social welfare payments, excluding unemployment assistance and benefit, will be entitled to this payment subject to meeting the full time care condition. This arrangement is being introduced to acknowledge the needs of carers especially in relation to respite.

Government policy is strongly in favour of supporting care in the community and enabling people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. The types of services which recognise the value of the caring ethos and which provide real support and practical assistance to the people involved will continue to be developed and all allowances and systems of support will be kept under regular review.

Martin Ferris

Question:

118 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of recipients of the fuel allowance; if he has satisfied himself that the allowance is keeping up with fuel costs in this sector; if he plans to extend the scheme during particularly long cold weather; and his proposals to extend the allowance. [5907/05]

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 meeting their additional heating needs during the winter season. The season was extended from 26 weeks to 29 weeks in 2001 and now covers the period October to April each year.

Under the scheme a fuel allowance of €9.00 per week is paid to eligible households during this 29 week winter heating period, with an additional €3.90 per week being paid in the designated smokeless fuel zones, bringing the total amount in those areas to €12.90 per week. I expect some 274,000 households to benefit under the fuel allowance scheme in 2005 at a cost of some €85 million. In addition over 300,000 pensioner and other households qualify for electricity or gas allowances through the household benefits package, payable towards their heating, light and cooking costs throughout the year.

There is also a facility available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to assist people in certain circumstances who have special heating needs. An application for a heating supplement may be made by contacting a community welfare officer at any local health centre.

An important objective of this Government is to provide real increases in payment rates each year for people who depend on social welfare income support, to ensure that they can experience some real improvement in their quality of life, including provision of adequate heating. Pensioners and other groups have received significant increases in their primary social welfare payment rates this year and in recent years. This has improved their income situation considerably in real terms relative to fuel cost increases and to price inflation generally. It is also more beneficial to the individual as primary payments are payable for a full 52 weeks of the year.

It should be pointed out that both increasing the rate of fuel allowance and providing modified allowance rates for an extended period each year would have significant cost implications. However, I intend to keep the adequacy of the fuel allowance and the question of extending it under regular review.

Question No. 119 answered with QuestionNo. 79.
Question No. 120 answered with QuestionNo. 72.
Question No. 121 answered with QuestionNo. 79.

Seán Ryan

Question:

122 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to address the issue of fuel poverty, particularly among the elderly; if he has considered recent research which showed that up to 2,000 pensioners are at risk of premature death annually because of inability to heat their homes adequately; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5891/05]

The term "fuel poverty" has been described as the inability to afford adequate warmth in a home, or the inability to achieve adequate warmth because of energy inefficiency in the home.

My Department provides a range of income assistance to householders who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide fully for their own heating needs. A fuel allowance of €9.00 per week is payable to eligible households with an additional €3.90 per week being paid in designated urban smokeless fuel zones, bringing the total amount in those areas to €12.90 per week. These payments are made for the duration of the fuel season which lasts for 29 weeks from the end of September to mid-April each year.

The fuel allowances represent a contribution towards a person's additional heating expenses during the winter season. In addition many households also qualify for electricity and gas allowances through the household benefits package. Expenditure by my Department on fuel, electricity and gas allowances for social welfare and other elderly clients is expected to be nearly €195 million this year.

An important objective of this Government is to provide real increases in payment rates each year for people who depend on social welfare income support, to ensure that they can experience real improvement in their quality of life, including provision of adequate heating. In this regard, the significant increases in primary social welfare payment rates for pensioners and other groups this year and in recent years have improved their income situation considerably in real terms relative to fuel cost increases and to price inflation generally.

I am aware of the research report, Fuel Poverty and Policy in Ireland and the European Union, published in 2003 by the policy institute at Trinity College, Dublin in conjunction with the Combat Poverty Agency. This report indicated that the estimated incidence of fuel poverty in Ireland, while not the highest overall of the countries assessed, was higher than in other northern European countries and that the problem is concentrated in certain social groups, particularly the elderly or those with children and who were living in social housing where insulation and energy efficiency standards were lower than average.

As acknowledged in the report, the primary solution lies in improving the energy efficiency of housing, along with improving the income situation of people who might otherwise experience fuel poverty. Local authorities throughout the country are responsible for undertaking programmes of improvement to the existing social housing stock which help conditions generally for tenants, including draught insulation and energy efficiency. All new social housing is being built to modern energy efficiency standards.

I am aware also that Sustainable Energy Ireland and the Combat Poverty Agency are well advanced with plans to carry out an action research project in designated geographical areas this year, where eligible persons will have an energy audit carried out in their homes.

The energy audit will include energy advice to the household as well as remedial work such as the installation of roof space insulation, draft proofing, fitting of hot water cylinder lagging jackets and energy efficient light bulbs. The project will evaluate the effects of the measures undertaken from the point of view of improved comfort levels, health effects as well as changes in fuel costs and carbon dioxide emissions. The project is due to commence shortly and will involve monitoring the effect of individual remedial works carried out. My Department will keep the results of this project under careful review to assist with the development of future income support policy in this area.

Social Welfare Code.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

123 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will report on the criteria which guide the denial of benefit of unemployment assistance to persons particularly the phrase not actively seeking work; and if he will report on the guidelines concerning the proofs needed by his Department from clients. [5909/05]

Social welfare legislation provides that, in order to be entitled to unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance, a person must prove, inter alia, that he or she is available for and genuinely seeking work.

Unemployment benefit and assistance claimants are expected to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to secure suitable full-time employment and to provide examples of such steps. A person who fails to satisfy the deciding officer that he or she is available for full-time employment and genuinely seeking work is not entitled to an unemployment payment. In applying the legislation, deciding officers have regard to local conditions including job vacancies in the locality and the extent to which a claimant has sought to take advantage of available labour market opportunities.

The steps which people might be expected to take to seek employment will vary with the circumstances but could include, for example making oral or written applications for work to employers or persons who have advertised job offers on behalf of an employer; seeking information on the availability of employment from employers, advertisements, employment agencies and people who have placed advertisements indicating that employment is available; availing of reasonable training opportunities suitable in their case; acting on the advice given by a departmental facilitator, a FÁS adviser or other placement agency such as the local employment service, LES.

The system is based on the exercise of judgement by the deciding officer or, as appropriate, the appeals officer, as to whether a claimant meets the conditions of entitlement. The Department has a programme of training for deciding officers on the carrying out of their responsibilities and on the application of the legislation. Each case is decided on its own merits within the framework of the relevant social welfare legislation.

The onus is on the claimant to show that he or she satisfies the conditions of being available for and genuinely seeking work on an ongoing basis. I am satisfied that the requirement to be available for full-time employment and to be genuinely seeking work is operated in a reasonable manner so as to ensure that only those who are genuinely seeking employment qualify for payment.

Under social welfare legislation decisions in relation to individual cases are made by statutorily appointed deciding officers and appeals officers. Where a person is dissatisfied with a decision made by a deciding officer to refuse him or her an unemployment payment, the decision may be appealed to the social welfare appeals office.

Pension Provisions.

Liz McManus

Question:

124 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications received to date for the pre 1953 pension; the number of applications rejected by his Department; the number of applicants who claim to have been employed by local authorities who were refused the pre 1953 pension; the number of applicants who claim to have been employed by semi-State bodies who were refused the pre 1953 pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5899/05]

The special old age contributory pension for people who commenced insurable employment before 1953 was introduced with effect from 5 May 2000. To qualify for the pension a person must have commenced insurable employment under the National Health Insurance Acts and have a total of at least 260 full-rate social insurance contributions paid since then. The 260 contributions can be made up solely of contributions paid prior to 1953 under the National Health Insurance Acts or of a combination of contributions paid before 1953 and after 1953 under the Social Welfare Acts. Every two contributions paid prior to 1953 are counted as three for this purpose with any odd contribution counted as two.

The pension is payable at half the maximum weekly personal rate, that is €89.70. Increases for qualified adults and child dependants, where applicable, are also payable at half-rate.

Since its introduction in May 2000, some 29,740 people have been awarded the pre 1953 pension and a further 3,900 awarded a pro rata rate of pre 1953 pension under EU regulations on social security, giving a total of 33,640 pensions awarded to date. There are currently some 28,600 people in receipt of payments under the pre 1953 provisions.

Applications for a pre 1953 pension involve checking employment records going back over 50 years. Cases arise where no trace of employment contributions can be readily found on the Department's record system. In such instances a more extensive check is initiated including, where appropriate, referral to a social welfare investigator who will be asked to investigate the existence of the employment with the pensioner and the alleged employer, and to make a determination in relation to the contributions due.

It can be difficult to collate records in respect of people who have been engaged in casual employment, and many people who worked with local authorities and some semi-state agencies did so on a casual basis prior to 1953. These difficulties are addressed through the activities of my social welfare inspectors. A breakdown of the number of applicants who failed to qualify for a pre 1953 pension categorised by the nature of their employment is not maintained.

Consequently I am not in a position to provide the information sought as to the number of applicants refused the pension and who claimed to have been employed by local authorities or semi-state bodies.

Question No. 125 answered with QuestionNo. 79.
Question No. 126 answered with QuestionNo. 86.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Jack Wall

Question:

127 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the ratio of patients to doctors, general practitioners, medical card holders, private patients as determined by her Department; the mechanism determined by her Department in allocating areas for general practitioners services; the mechanism determined by the Department in accepting doctor’s applications for dealing with medical card-holders; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6133/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the assessment of service requirements for its area and ensuring that arrangements are in place to guarantee appropriate service delivery for its general medical services scheme, or medical card, patients.

In the case of general practitioners who hold contracts with the local area of the Health Service Executive to provide general practitioner services to medical card holders under the general medical services, GMS, scheme, the total number of patients which might be assigned to a doctor may be up to 2,000. In exceptional cases this limit may be exceeded or indeed a lower limit may be determined, but the decisions will be matters for the local area of the Health Service Executive to make, having regard to all of the aspects of the particular case.

Arrangements in respect of the provision of services by general practitioners who wish to solely provide services for private patients are matters for the doctor concerned and the local area of the health service is not involved in any way in this decision.

Where full GMS GP contracts are advertised, applications from suitably qualified general practitioners are invited. The procedure regarding the interview, selection and recruitment forms part of the GMS contract which participating doctors hold with their local Health Service Executive's area, and which is as agreed between the Department of Health and Children and the Irish Medical Organisation, the doctors' representative body. As part of industrial relations agreements between the Department of Health and Children and the Irish Medical Organisation, made in 1999 and again in 2001, limited entry to the GMS scheme was possible for suitably qualified GPs. These agreements allowed for those GPs who were interested and qualified to hold limited GMS contracts. These limited GMS contracts allowed GPs to treat their over-70s patients who qualified for a medical card for the first time, following the phased increase in the income level for eligibility assessment in 1999, and again following the introduction of the statutory entitlement to a medical card for all persons aged 70 years and over from 1 July 2001. After specified periods GPs holding these limited contracts would become eligible for full GMS contracts and be able to provide services to any medical card patient who might choose to be included on their patient panel list.

The 2003 annual report of the GMS Payments Board, now the HSE's primary care reimbursement service, is the latest for which published figures are available. The report indicated that at the end of 2003, there were 1.158 million eligible persons and 1,971 doctors participating in the GMS scheme, giving a ratio of 587.5 patients per doctor.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

128 Mr. McGinley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the national mammogram service has not yet been extended to Letterkenny General Hospital which discriminates against women in County Donegal; when it is expected that this service be available in the hospital. [6134/05]

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 relevant age group in every county have access to breast screening and follow up treatment where appropriate.

A capital investment of approximately €21 million has been approved to construct and equip two static clinical units, one in Cork and the other in Galway and to provide mobile units to screen women in adjoining counties, including Donegal. In advance of the roll-out of BreastCheck to Donegal, women in Donegal currently avail of mammography services at Letterkenny General Hospital.

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 the region.

Health Services.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

129 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount deducted from the pensions or allowances of patients in public or publicly funded psychiatric facilities in each year for the past six years. [6238/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

130 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount deducted from the Disability Allowances for patients accommodated in State or State funded facilities in each year for the past six years. [6239/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

131 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount of pension deductions for nursing home patients accommodated in privately operated publicly contracted beds each year for the past six years. [6241/05]

I propose to take QuestionsNos. 129 to 131, inclusive, together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Services Executive, HSE, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the HSE to provide data for the amounts deducted from eligible patients regarding long stay charges in publicly funded long stay residential units. Fully comprehensive information is not yet available covering the wide range of programmes concerned. However, the HSE has begun the process of collating this information and in this context my Department has asked the HSE to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Seán Crowe

Question:

132 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties being experienced by a person (details supplied). [6242/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As the person in question resides in Dublin, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

133 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Question No. 214 of 15 February 2005, the person who will have the final decision within the Health Service Executive in regard to the national service plan to be presented to her; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6243/05]

With effect from 1 January 2005, under the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive has responsibility for the delivery of health services. Under section 31(1) of the Act, the executive is obliged to prepare, adopt and then submit to me for approval a service plan for the financial year or other period as may be determined by me. No one person within the executive makes the final decision on the service plan: it is a matter for the board of the executive. Sub-section (8) provides that not later than 21 days after receiving the service plan, I shall either approve it or issue a direction under sub-section (9) that it be amended. If I approve it, under sub-section (13), I am obliged to ensure that a copy of the approved plan is laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas within 21 days after it has been approved by me. The national service plan will be informed by the guiding principles underpinning the health strategy, namely equity, people-centredness, quality and accountability. The plan will cover all the major programmes of care.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

134 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans and timetable for the rollout of BreastCheck in the west of Ireland; when she intends to have the screening service up and running; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6244/05]

The rollout 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 relevant age group in every county have access to breast screening and follow up treatment where appropriate. A capital investment of approximately €21 million has been approved to construct and equip two static clinical units, one in Cork and the other in Galway. Design briefs in respect of the capital projects have been completed. It is anticipated that the advertisement for the appointment of a design team will be placed in the EU Journal in the coming weeks. Additional capital funding of €3 million has also been approved for the relocation and development of the symptomatic breast disease unit, in tandem with the BreastCheck development, at University College Hospital, Galway.

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 the region.

Nursing Home Subventions.

John Perry

Question:

135 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a 35-bed unit requires 760 hours of nurse and carer attention per week; her plans to have a uniform policy on contract beds treating all nursing homes in an equal fashion; if her attention has further been drawn to the serious crisis encountered by many small nursing homes in the west with capital allowances, subvention amounts, falling bed numbers and wages costs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6245/05]

A working group was established to look at all aspects of the subvention scheme and the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990. Among the aims of this working group is the development of a system, which will be transparent, provide equity, be less discretionary, be financially sustainable and ensure a high standard of care is on offer to clients.

The capital allowances referred to were introduced as an incentive to the private sector to invest in new nursing homes and to extend or renovate existing homes. Since their introduction the number of nursing homes throughout the country has increased significantly, thereby offering greater choice and newer facilities to the public. The issue of subvention rates will be addressed in the context of the working group's remit and it is not anticipated that rates will increase before the recommendations of that group are brought to Government.

Mental Health Services.

Dan Neville

Question:

136 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if psychiatric patients who are in public institutions will have all moneys deducted from their benefits or pensions refunded. [6246/05]

My Department is studying the Supreme Court judgment in detail and will take on board all the consequences for policy and law arising from the judgment. A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, the Attorney General and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgment.

Health Service Executive.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

137 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the total cost of the changeover for stationery in each health board area when changing to the HSE; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6282/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. The cost of stationery arising from the changeover from the health boards is a matter for the executive. Accordingly, my Department has requested the acting director of the executive's corporate affairs directorate to ascertain the position and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

138 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Wexford is entitled to a refund following the Supreme Court decision of 16 February 2005 regarding the overcharging of patients in public and private nursing homes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6283/05]

My Department is studying the Supreme Court judgment in detail and will take on board all the consequences for policy and law arising from the judgment. A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, the Attorney General and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgment.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

139 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Wexford is entitled to a refund or moneys following the Supreme Court decision of 16 February 2005 regarding overcharging of patients in public and private nursing homes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6284/05]

My Department is studying the Supreme Court judgment in detail and will take on board all the consequences for policy and law arising from the judgment. A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, the Attorney General and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgment.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

140 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the category of nursing home patient that will qualify for a refund as a result of the Supreme Court decision of 16 February 2005; and if the legal representatives and heirs of a deceased person who would have been entitled to a refund will be allowed to claim the overpayment. [6285/05]

My Department is studying the Supreme Court judgment in detail and will take on board all the consequences for policy and law arising from the judgment. A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance, the Attorney General and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgment.

Health Service Allowances.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

141 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the review of the domiciliary allowance of a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6286/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for payment of and entitlement to domiciliary care allowance. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

142 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Health Services Executive will keep in contact with persons (details supplied) in Dublin 8 concerning a proposed development; if this Deputy will be fully briefed on the issue and kept informed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6310/05]

The Health Service Executive was established under the Health Act 2004 on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is responsible for managing and delivering, or arranging to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Therefore, it is responsible for the provision of health services in the Dublin 8 area. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

143 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the health agency will review the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6W; and if a medical card will issue for this person. [6311/05]

The Health Service Executive was established under the Health Act 2004 on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is responsible for managing and delivering, or arranging to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Therefore, it is responsible for the assessment of applications for medical cards. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the chief officer for the executive's eastern coast area to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Mary Upton

Question:

144 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive intends to demolish a day care centre at a facility (details supplied) in Dublin 8. [6333/05]

The Health Service Executive was established under the Health Act 2004 on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is responsible for managing and delivering, or arranging to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Therefore, it is responsible for the provision of health services in the Dublin 8 area. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Mary Upton

Question:

145 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of a special needs place for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8. [6335/05]

The Health Service Executive was established under the Health Act 2004 on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is responsible for managing and delivering, or arranging to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

General Register Office.

John Perry

Question:

146 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the level of controls or supervision her Department has in the appointment of key medical professionals in medical, surgical and gynaecological areas in cross-checking their suitability for these appointments, with regard to the new state of the art private hospital in Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6337/05]

The Medical Council has statutory responsibility under the Medical Practitioners Act 1978 for the registration and control of persons engaged in the practice of medicine. As a matter of good recruitment practice in the public and private health sectors, I expect the prospective employer of a member of any health care profession whose activities are regulated by law to check the status of that person's registration with the relevant regulatory authority.

Hospital Services.

Willie Penrose

Question:

147 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps she will take to have a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath admitted to St. James’s Hospital or St. Vincent’s for a surgical bed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6368/05]

The Health Service Executive was established under the Health Act 2004 on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is responsible for managing and delivering, or arranging to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As the person in question resides in County Westmeath, the Department of Health and Children has asked the chief officer for the executive's midland regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Willie Penrose

Question:

148 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason ENT services were discontinued at Longford County Clinic, Longford; if her attention has been drawn to the significant imposition that this will be upon persons who wish to avail of the service; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that there are over 100 patients at the present time awaiting these services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6369/05]

The Health Service Executive was established under the Health Act 2004 on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is responsible for managing and delivering, or arranging to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Therefore, it is responsible for the provision of hospital services. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the chief officer for the executive's midland regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Decentralisation Programme.

Billy Timmins

Question:

149 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the number of members of staff of the Revenue Commissioners who were due to decentralise to Athy, County Kildare; if it is still intended to send this number; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6277/05]

As part of the Government's decentralisation programme, it was decided that 250 Revenue posts will be decentralised to Athy, County Kildare. The report of the decentralisation implementation group of 19 November 2004 did not include Athy as a location in the first phase of moves. A further report is expected from the group in the spring of 2005 dealing with all remaining locations, including Athy. The data from the central applications facility published in September showed that a total of 134 persons have applied for decentralisation with the Revenue Commissioners, with Athy as their first choice.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

150 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Finance the position in relation to decentralisation to Tullamore; if a site has been agreed; when the contract documents will be signed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6278/05]

The report of the decentralisation implementation group of 19 November 2004 included Tullamore as a location in the first phase of moves. I understand that the Commissioners of Public Works are at an advanced stage in negotiations for the acquisition of property for the Department of Finance in Tullamore. If the negotiations are successful, the Commissioners expect that the contract stage will be reached in the near future.

Disabled Drivers.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

151 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Finance when an appeal under the disabled drivers tax concessions scheme by a person (details supplied) in County Galway will be heard; if an appeals board is in operation at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6279/05]

I have no direct responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the medical board of appeal for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. However, the Department of Finance and the Department of Health and Children are reconstituting the medical board of appeal for the scheme. Progress has been made and it is hoped that the new arrangements will be put in place shortly. I will arrange for the new secretary to the board, when in place, to contact the individual concerned about his appeal.

Tax Collection.

Joe Higgins

Question:

152 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Finance the terms of any concessions made by his predecessor or Department to any of a number of companies (details supplied) with regard to taxation; and his estimate of the cost of these concessions up to December 2004. [6280/05]

It is not the practice to comment on an individual taxpayer's affairs unless it is clear that the Deputy is asking on behalf of or with the consent of the taxpayer concerned. Moreover, I am not aware of any concessions of the nature referred to by the Deputy.

Tax Code.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

153 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Finance if he will arrange with the Revenue Commissioners to adjust the tax being deducted from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 to reflect the person’s current level of income; and the steps this person needs to take to apply for a refund of overpaid tax. [6281/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that on the basis of the details now provided to the person, a revised certificate of tax credits for 2005, which will reflect the correct marital status and level of income of the taxpayer, will issue shortly. The taxpayer is entitled to a refund of tax for the years 2001 to 2004 inclusive and a cheque for this will also issue shortly. Any tax overpaid for 2005 will be automatically refunded through the taxpayer's pension.

Flood Relief.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

154 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance if the river banks of two rivers in County Cork (details supplied) will be built up or bridged; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the banks of these rivers collapsed in October or November 2004 following high winds and very heavy rainfall; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that both are tidal rivers and the collapse of the banks has caused serious flooding of lands in the area; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that it has been the responsibility of the Board of Works over the years to rebuild these river banks when damaged by high tides and heavy rainfall and that the residents and farmers of these areas claim that the Board of Works is obliged to carry out the work now required. [6330/05]

The Commissioners of Public Works currently have no responsibility for the embankments in question. An engineer from the Office of Public Works met on site a number of the affected landowners last week. He carried out a preliminary inspection of the area but survey work will need to be done as well as the checking of levels to form a preliminary view of the full nature and extent of the problem and of the implications, especially financial and environmental, of undertaking remedial works. This further survey will be undertaken as soon as resources permit and when it is completed a report will be prepared in the matter, which will inform consideration of whether flood protection works would be viable, whether they should be undertaken by the State and, if so, what priority should be accorded to them among the long list of schemes the Office of Public Works has been requested to undertake.

Coastal Protection.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

155 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he proposes to make funding available to Waterford County Council for remedial works in regard to coastal erosion at Tramore, Helvick, Cunnigar, Ballyvoile and Bunmahon, County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6275/05]

Responsibility for coastal protection rests with the property owner, whether it be a local authority or a private individual. In July 2002 the Department requested all coastal local authorities to submit proposals, in order of priority, for consideration in the context of the national coastal protection programmes for the years from 2003 to 2006. Waterford County Council submitted proposals for coastal protection works at Cunnigar, phase 2, estimated at €1 million, and this was its number-one priority. Ballyvoile, phase 1, was the county council's number-two priority, with an estimated cost of €1.1 million. The county council's third priority was Helvick, estimated at €500,000, and Bunmahon was its fourth priority, estimated at €500,000. Ballyvoile, phase 2, was the council's seventh priority, with an estimated cost of €930,000. There was no funding available during 2003 and 2004 for these projects. However, in the years 2000 to 2002 Exchequer funding of €270,824.32 had been provided towards design and rock revetment at Cunnigar.

Waterford County Council did not submit a proposal in respect of Tramore. However, the Department provided funding of €1,171,927.51 to Waterford County Council in the years 2000 to 2003 towards promenade refurbishment at Tramore.

The coastal protection programme for 2005 is under consideration at present.

Housing Grants.

Mary Upton

Question:

156 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will consider introducing a renewable energy grant, such as the clear skies grant offered in the UK, to encourage householders to avail of renewable energy, such as domestic solar heating panels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6334/05]

Housing grants schemes are generally the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I have neither plans nor funds to introduce a grant scheme of the type suggested in the question.

Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, which was established as a statutory agency in May 2002, implements initiatives on renewable energy and energy efficiency on behalf of my Department. Under SEI's house of tomorrow research, development & demonstration programme, solar heating panels are one of a number of energy technologies eligible for support in the context of an integrated set of measures comprising a whole-house energy efficiency solution. This programme is open to demonstration projects involving clusters of five or more homes. Funding is available on a limited scale for whole-house measures at a rate of up to €5,000 per house in such developments.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joe Walsh

Question:

157 Mr. Walsh asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the provisions being put in place to facilitate the 180 staff who have volunteered through the central applications facility to decentralise to Clonakilty, County Cork; the timescale for this development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6338/05]

The Government's decentralisation programme provides for the relocation of my Department's seafood and coastal zone functions, involving 91 posts, to Clonakilty. An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, accounting for 93 posts, is also to be relocated to Clonakilty.

The latest information from the Public Appointments Service, formerly the Civil Service Commission, indicates that 140 expressions of interest had been received for the 91 posts in the Department's seafood and coastal zone functions and 36 for the 93 Bord Iascaigh Mhara posts in Clonakilty. The Public Appointments Service has, in recent weeks, provided details to the Department of applicants expressing an interest in decentralising to Clonakilty. The Department is examining these data in the context of the transfer protocol agreed recently between the Department of Finance and staff representative organisations.

The Department is in ongoing liaison with the Office of Public Works regarding the acquisition, by OPW, of a suitable site for both the Department and Bord Iascaigh Mhara, and on detailed specification of our requirements to assist with the building design element.

The decentralisation implementation group has indicated, in its latest report, that the anticipated time for the completion of facilities in Clonakilty is early 2007.

Electricity Generation.

John Perry

Question:

158 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed (details supplied); if he will respond to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6115/05]

I am aware of the statement in question. Liberalisation of the electricity market has proceeded on a phased basis since February 2000 under the regulatory oversight of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, the independent regulator for gas and electricity, in accordance with the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. On 19 February this year the market opened fully to competition. This is over two years in advance of the July 2007 deadline set down in Directive 2003/54/EC on electricity.

All customers are now eligible to source their electricity from any licensed supplier and the entire market becomes contestable. Scope now exists for all customers, household and non-household alike, to seek out keener prices in the competitive market. Up to 19 February last, the partial opening of the market successfully broadened customer choice. The latest information available to me indicates that at the end of 2004, some 2,342 customers out of 13,500 eligible customers had switched supplier, not only from licensed suppliers other than the ESB but between new suppliers.

The "green" market has been fully liberalised since February 2000 and over 40,500 customers out of the whole electricity customer base have so far chosen "green" suppliers. The Department has itself changed to a "green" supplier, moving away from the ESB following a competitive process.

The switching between independent suppliers shows that customers are price-sensitive and quality-sensitive, and their having a choice of supplier is allowing them to make the decision on what best meets their needs. Over time, as suppliers target the domestic market, we expect to see those benefits extended to the domestic customer. As with any newly opening market, suppliers have initially concentrated on serving larger customers, not least because the market for larger customers was opened earlier.

There are currently six active independent suppliers in the retail market and the CER expects that they will initially have a greater interest in capturing large to medium sized customers. Activity in that segment of the market is strong, with 33% of total energy now being supplied by independents.

The quotation cited is no more than an observation on what has taken place in other member states. As with other electricity markets, and indeed utility markets, it is expected that the benefits of a fully liberalised market will flow through to the domestic customer over time.

Market opening, which involves the removal of barriers and putting in place the enabling systems and processes, is a major step towards making that happen because it facilitates and makes it easy and simple for customers to switch and for suppliers to enter the domestic market.

Postal Services.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

159 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in view of the introduction of a national pay by weight charge if there are plans to introduce measures which would allow homeowners to block unsolicited postal mail. [6125/05]

An Post is statutorily obliged under section 12 of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983 to satisfy all reasonable demands for postal services throughout the State.

The public receives a wide variety of mail from a number of sources, much of which could be regarded as unsolicited mail, including unaddressed mail material, which may be delivered by operators besides An Post. An Post itself provides two services called Postaim and Publicity Post which allow businesses to address correspondence about their products and services directly to individuals or, alternatively, to have unaddressed publicity brochures, etc., delivered to houses in a particular area.

Under section 2(7) of the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003, individuals have the right to request that they be removed from any direct mailing lists used by businesses. Householders also have the option of limiting the amount of unsolicited mail they receive by completing a mailing preference service form requesting that their names be removed from mailing lists controlled by members of the Irish Direct Marketing Association. The form, available from post offices, goes directly to the Irish Direct Marketing Association and only applies to addressed mail sent by their members. It has no bearing on mail from any other source or unaddressed mail.

Coastal Protection.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

160 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether €2.882 million is a totally adequate amount to deal with coastal erosion by way of coastal protection works; the proposals he has to seek significant additional moneys for coastal protection; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6233/05]

A value for money report in March 2002 highlighted the need for a more strategic focus in addressing the problem of coastal erosion in Ireland. In this respect the coastal protection strategy study commenced in 2003. The study will address the nature and extent of erosion at various locations and different types of coastline in Ireland and seek to identify the most effective means, technically, financially and environmentally, to respond to particular instances and types of erosion. The question of providing funding for coastal protection works in the future will depend on the outcome of the coastal protection strategy study, the amount of Exchequer funding available for such works and overall national priorities.

Under the coastal protection measure of the National Development Plan 2000-2006, €52.01 million is identified for expenditure. Expenditure under this measure up to the end of 2004 was €32.2 million.

Harbours and Piers.

Joe Walsh

Question:

161 Mr. Walsh asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will approve the commencement of work on a pier (details supplied) in County Cork. [6250/05]

Garnish Pier is owned by Cork County Council and responsibility for its maintenance and development is a matter for the local authority in the first instance. Cork County Council submitted a proposal to the Department in 2003 for works to Garnish Pier at an estimated cost of €750,000. There was no Exchequer funding available in 2004 for this project. The question of providing funding in the post-2004 period will depend on the amount of Exchequer funding available for works at fishery harbours generally and overall national priorities.

Official Engagements.

Jack Wall

Question:

162 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his proposed itinerary for St. Patrick’s week celebrations and if he will make a statement in the matter [6116/05]

Full details of my itinerary for the celebrations surrounding St. Patrick's Day have yet to be finalised. However, the itinerary will include a visit to London to participate at the St. Patrick's Day Festival which commences on 13 March. This festival, which includes a major parade, has become a highlight in the London calendar over recent years. The festival is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the enormous contribution Irish people have made over many years to London and Britain in general. I will also attend the Mayor's St. Patrick's Day dinner on 12 March.

Jack Wall

Question:

163 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of departmental staff that travelled to China with the Taoiseach on his recent visit; the result of the visit; the delegations he met or contacted during the visit and the proposals he intends to implement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6119/05]

No staff from my Department accompanied the Taoiseach on his recent visit to China.

Tourism Ireland organised two very successful workshops for the tourism trade in Beijing and Shanghai, which were attended by the Taoiseach. In addition, Tourism Ireland has now appointed its first representative in China, based in Shanghai. This representative will be working with both the Chinese and the Irish tourism industries to exploit the opportunities presented by this growing outbound tourism market.

Sports Capital Programme.

John Perry

Question:

164 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the lotto funding application submitted by Institute of Technology, Sligo for the new multipurpose sports centre will provide a quality sports hall for sports and recreational facilities for all sectors of the community; the negotiations that have taken place to allocate the €1.75 million; when a decision will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6231/05]

The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting, voluntary and community organisations and, in some instances to schools and colleges throughout the country. The programme is advertised annually.

Sligo IT has been allocated €1.33 million in three separate allocations under the programme since 2001. I and officials from my Department met with representatives of the institute to discuss its latest project and, following these discussions, the institute submitted an application for funding under the 2005 sports capital programme, for which the closing date for receipt of applications was 4 February 2005.

All applications received before that closing date are being evaluated against the programme's assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

165 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if consideration will be given to an application by a club (details supplied) in County Galway for funding under the sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6309/05]

The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised annually.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December last. The closing date for receipt of applications was 4 February 2005. All applications, including one from the club in question, are being evaluated against the programme's assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Martin Ferris

Question:

166 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the amount of grant aid that has been provided since 1995 to assist the provision of privately owned leisure facilities that include swimming pools; and the corresponding figure for the same period for County Laois. [6318/05]

Under the terms of the local authority swimming pool programme, any privately owned swimming pool project seeking funding must have the full support of the relevant local authority and is expected to provide a high level of public access at reasonable hours and prices. Responsibility for the programme rested with the then Department of the Environment until 1998 when it was transferred to my Department. Since 1998 an amount of some €11.115 million has been paid to six pool projects which were not owned by local authorities, that is, they were owned by private, voluntary or educational sectors, none of which were in County Laois.

The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting organisations and to voluntary and community organisations throughout the country. No funding has been allocated under the programme since 1995 to assist in the provision of privately owned leisure facilities that include swimming pools.

Under the operational programme for tourism 1994-1999, European regional development fund grants were available to support specialist accommodation-related developments, including the provision of leisure facilities. Details of such grants are available from Fáilte Ireland which administered the grant programme.

Sports Capital Programme.

Willie Penrose

Question:

167 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will approve funding for a sports capital application for a club (details supplied) in County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6363/05]

Willie Penrose

Question:

168 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if approval will be given to an application by a sports club (details supplied) in County Westmeath for capital funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6364/05]

Willie Penrose

Question:

169 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if approval will be given to a sports club (details supplied) in County Westmeath for capital funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6365/05]

I propose to take QuestionsNos. 167 to 169, inclusive, together.

The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised annually.

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December last. The closing date for receipt of applications was 4 February 2005. All applications, including those from each of the clubs in question, are being evaluated against the programme's assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Jack Wall

Question:

170 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the attached submission will be addressed in regard to the provision of accommodation for the participants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6131/05]

I do not have a role in the matters raised by the Deputy which are a day to day operational matter for FÁS as part of their responsibility under the Labour Services Act 1987.

Construction Industry.

Willie Penrose

Question:

171 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the labour inspectorate of his Department has received correspondence from persons (details supplied) in County Galway about the necessity for compliance with the registered agreement pertaining to the construction industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6128/05]

The labour inspectorate has received correspondence from the person referred to in the question and arrangements have been made for an early inspection to be carried out in this case.

The wages and employment conditions of workers employed in the construction industry are governed by the Registered Employment Agreement (Construction Industry Wages and Conditions of Employment) Variation Order, which is enforced by the labour inspectorate of my Department. In this regard the rate of pay which can be enforced in respect of construction operatives under the terms of the registered employment agreement is €7.36 per hour.

Job Losses.

Richard Bruton

Question:

172 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of those currently at work in the Tallaght area, Dublin 24 in view of recent job losses in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6129/05]

Employment is broken down by region only and not into specific areas such as the area in question. According to the latest quarterly national household survey published by the Central Statistics Office, employment in the Dublin region for June to August 2004 was 560,200. The corresponding figure for June to August 2003 was 553,900. The unemployment figures for the corresponding quarters were 28,100 in 2003, or 4.8%, and 24,700 in 2004, or 4.2%. The industrial development agencies are continuing to market the Tallaght area for new jobs and investment. Tallaght benefits from having a third level institute — the Tallaght Institute of Technology — and excellent infrastructural facilities at City West and Grange Castle in Clondalkin. Wyeth Biopharma has approximately 700 people employed in Clondalkin and this figure is expected to rise to 1,300 by the end of the year. The Japanese pharmaceuticals company, Takeda Chemical Industries, which will employ 60 people, has begun construction in Clondalkin. At City West, project developments by SAP Support Services, 460 jobs, AOL Technologies Ireland Limited, 204 jobs, and Colgate-Palmolive Support Services, 80 jobs, are providing locally accessible employment opportunities. Following an agreement last year, Enterprise Ireland is supporting the development of business incubation space at the Institute of Technology. This facility is expected to generate quality start up enterprises. The development agencies continue to work with existing companies to assist them to move up the value chain and increase employment potential. Companies who have availed of this process, with financial assistance from IDA Ireland, include Sage and Xilinx in City West. Job losses and job gains have always been, and will continue to be, part of the economic landscape, but our overall unemployment rate is among the lowest in Europe. In the case of job losses, the full services of FÁS, particularly in relation to re-training and up-skilling, are made available to any workers who wish to avail of those services. In addition, FÁS provides a vocational guidance and referral service to all job seekers in the Tallaght area. I am satisfied that the strong infrastructural support already in place, including the opening of the Luas, will continue to attract jobs to Tallaght and the surrounding area.

Grocery Industry.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

173 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will address the concerns of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry regarding the Groceries Order; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6269/05]

I have noted the concerns raised in regard to the order. The consumer strategy group was established to deliberate on a wide range of consumer matters. I am currently awaiting the report of group and I expect that it will contain recommendations in relation to the groceries order.

On receipt of the report, I will consider the group's findings in consultation with my Government colleagues and interested parties before deciding what action is appropriate.

National Minimum Wage.

Finian McGrath

Question:

174 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a company (details supplied) at the Dublin Port Tunnel which is paying its staff €1,935 per month is in breach of employment legislation, particularly in regard to the minimum wage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6320/05]

The wages and employment conditions of workers employed in the construction industry are governed by the Registered Employment Agreement (Construction Industry Wages and Conditions of Employment) Variation Order, which is enforced by the labour inspectorate of my Department. The rate of pay which can be enforced in respect of construction operatives under the terms of the registered employment agreement is €7.36 per hour.

In the absence of any details of the number of hours worked in the month, it is not possible to confirm if the rate of €1,935 per month is in breach of employment legislation. However, as the maximum average working week under the Organisation of Working Time Act is 48 hours, this could mean that the monthly rate of pay is in excess of the statutory minimum required under the registered employment agreement.

If the Deputy is aware of evidence that the employer is in breach of the registered employment agreement, these should be brought to the attention of the labour inspectorate.

Live Register.

David Stanton

Question:

175 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on the unemployment level in Cobh, Mitchelstown and Youghal respectively; his further views on job losses and projected job losses in these towns; the action he intends to take to address these job losses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6328/05]

The live register figures for Cobh show 436 in January 2005, as against 452 in January 2004, a decrease of 3.5%. Figures for Mitchelstown are included with Fermoy and these show 865 on the live register in January 2005, as against 890 in January 2004 a decrease of 2.8%. In Youghal, there were 690 on the live register in January 2005, as against 756 in January 2004, a decrease of 8.7%. Unemployment has dropped in all these areas in January 2005, compared to January 2004. Overall, for Cork city and county, there were 16,134 on the live register in January 2005, and 17,474 in January 2004, a decrease of 7.7%.

The most recent quarterly household survey published by the Central Statistics Office in December, 2004, showed that the unemployment rate for the country as a whole was 4.7% while, for the south west, it was below the national average at 4.5%. Job losses and job gains have always been, and will continue to be, part of the economic landscape, but our overall unemployment rate is among the lowest in Europe. Initially, in the case of job losses, the full services of FÁS, particularly in regard to re-training and up-skilling, are made available to any workers who wish to avail of those services.

Direct employment in IDA Ireland supported companies in Cork city and county continues to grow. The sectors contributing to this growth are information and communications technologies, medical technologies and international services. Over the last four years, IDA Ireland has approved new projects for the Cork area, which will create up to 5,000 jobs at full production. Last year, Enterprise Ireland approved support of over €9 million and paid over €5.6 million to its client companies in Cork city and county. Enterprise Ireland also approved support of over €2.7 million for third level-industry innovation partnership in Cork, covering 45 projects, during 2004. These partnerships encourage the adoption of new technologies by industry.

There are a number of other developments taking place in Cork, which will contribute to providing significant employment opportunities for the area. These include an Aer Rianta investment at Cork Airport and the construction of the Kinsale roundabout flyover. As regards Mitchelstown in particular, a socio-economic strategy is currently being drawn up. The strategy is expected to be completed by the end of March 2005, and this will help to inform future actions and policies for the area.

Social Welfare Benefits.

David Stanton

Question:

176 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the process and procedures taken by his Department in the event of reclaiming welfare overpayments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6229/05]

The repayment of social welfare overpayments is regulated by a code of practice, SI No. 227 of 1996. The regulations specify that in applying the code due regard is to be taken of the interests of taxpayers and social welfare contributors who finance the various social welfare payments as well as the ability of the debtor concerned to repay.

These regulations specify that every effort must be made to recover all overpayments, but specifies that repayment may be deferred, suspended, reduced or cancelled in accordance with the terms of the code of practice. The application of the terms of the code of practice is a function of deciding officers. Overpayments may be recovered in the following ways: a single payment to repay the overpayment; regular periodic payments; by deduction(s) from the customer's social welfare payment and by taking civil proceedings. When determining the method and rate of repayment, the code requires that consideration should be given to any facts or circumstances relevant to the rate of recovery, as well as the amount of the overpayment and the circumstances in which it arose.

David Stanton

Question:

177 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the procedures and process for the recovery of child maintenance payments within his Department; the way in which the payments are calculated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6230/05]

Applicants for one-parent family payment are required to make ongoing efforts to seek adequate maintenance from the other parent of their child. Normally, such maintenance is obtained by way of negotiation or by court order. Increasingly, separated couples are using my Department's family mediation service, which is being progressively extended country-wide, to reach agreement.

Where social welfare support is being provided to a one-parent family, the other parent is legally liable to contribute to the cost of this payment. In every case where a one-parent family payment is awarded, the maintenance recovery unit of my Department seeks to trace the liable relative involved in order to ascertain whether she or he is in a financial position to contribute towards the cost of one-parent family payment. This follow-up activity takes place within 2-3 weeks of award of payment.

All liable relatives assessed with maintenance liability are notified by the Department and issued with a determination order setting out the amount of contribution assessed. The amount assessed can be reviewed where there is new information about, or changes in, the financial or household circumstances of a liable relative. The Department requires regular, normally weekly, payment of the contributions assessed in this way. There are currently 1,868 liable relatives contributing directly to my Department. Since 2001, one-parent family payment claimants are allowed to retain 50% of any maintenance received without reduction in their social welfare entitlements, as a further incentive to seek support themselves.

The maintenance recovery unit of my Department, through its follow up activity with the liable relative, achieved savings of €8.5 million in 2002 and €14.2 million in 2003. Savings of €16.6 million were achieved in 2004. These savings are composed both of direct cash payments by the liable relative to the Department, and of savings on scheme expenditure. Savings on scheme expenditure arise where maintenance recovery activity leads to the liable relative paying maintenance in respect of a spouse and-or children and the consequent reduction or termination of a one-parent family payment. In 2004, a total of 722 one-parent family payments were cancelled while a further 512 payments were reduced as a result of maintenance recovery activity.

In implementing maintenance recovery provisions to date the Department has concentrated on those cases where the liable relatives concerned, being in employment or self-employment, would be in a better financial position to make a contribution towards the support of their families. Legislation allows the Department to seek recovery from liable relatives through the courts in appropriate cases. A total of 182 cases have been submitted for court action from 2001 to date. The majority of these cases have resulted in orders being written against the liable relative in court or, alternatively, in the liable relative agreeing to pay a contribution to either the Department or the lone parent. Further cases are in the course of preparation by the Department for court action.

Health Service Allowances.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

178 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the amount deducted from the disability allowances for patients accommodated in State or State funded facilities in each year for the past six years. [6252/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

192 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the full amount deducted from the disability allowances for patients accommodated in State or State funded facilities in each year for the past six years. [6299/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 178 and 192 together.

The information requested is not held by my Department. Deductions made from a person's disability allowance while in State funded facilities are a matter for the Health Service Executive, the relevant health board or service providers involved. Social welfare payments are primarily paid to the claimant. However, in accordance with social welfare legislation, payment may be made to a person other than the claimant where the claimant requests this. Such persons are appointed to act as agents to, inter alia, collect payments on behalf of a claimant. Generally agents are appointed where a person is unable to cash their payment due to serious illness or loss of mobility. They may also be appointed in cases where a person is permanently unable to act for themselves or to discharge responsibility. In many cases parents, guardians or other family members are appointed as agents. All such applications are made on foot of a written application from the social welfare claimant where possible. The agent is appointed by my Department on the understanding that the social welfare payment due will be spent for the benefit of the person concerned.

Question No. 179 answered with QuestionNo. 72.

Local Authority Housing.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

180 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who have been refused rent allowance on the basis of having to meet such payments for the first six months from their own resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6259/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

181 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has had any discussions with the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government with a view to improving the supply of local authority or affordable houses in the event of restriction of eligibility for rent allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6260/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

182 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has given instructions to reduce availability or entitlement to rent support; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6261/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

186 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications for rent support received in the past 12 months; the number refused, approved or pending; the way in which this figure compares with the previous year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6265/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 180 to 182, inclusive, and 186 together.

Rent supplements are provided through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. The changes, which were introduced in the rent supplement scheme in January 2004, were designed to refocus the scheme on its original objective of providing short-term income support to individual tenants in need. Longer term housing needs require a housing solution rather than ongoing cash supports. Some of the changes were first considered in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as part of the work of an interdepartmental planning group established by Government to examine the future of rental assistance.

The work of this group gave rise to the new initiative which was announced by Government in July 2004 whereby local authorities will progressively assume responsibility for meeting long-term housing needs, including those of people dependent on rent supplement for 18 months or longer. These new rental assistance arrangements will see local authorities put solutions in place for people with long-term housing needs. These solutions will include additional social and affordable housing. The existing rent supplement scheme will continue to provide income support for up to 18 months where necessary.

According to the records of my Department, 57,874 people were receiving rent supplement at the end of 2004, a reduction of just 3.5% on the 59,976 receiving supplement the end of 2003. Some 41,838 rent supplements were awarded in 2004, compared to 53,750 in 2003. These totals include cases where a person on rent supplement moves to a new address. There are currently 388 applications pending, compared to 320 at this time last year.

Specific details of applications refused on grounds of failure to meet the conditions for receipt of rent supplement are not maintained on my Department's computer system. However, my Department undertook a survey of rent supplement refusal cases in the second half of 2004. All cases refused over a six month period in four health board regions which together account for one third of the rent supplement scheme were examined. The total number of cases involved was 438, indicating that the total number of refusals nationally is of the order of 1,300 per annum. This survey indicated that 4% of cases were refused on the grounds that the applicant was renting for less than six months and another 5% were refused on the grounds that they had a spouse-partner in full-time employment. A further 8% were refused on the grounds that they were not assessed by the housing authority as having a housing need and fewer than 1% were refused on the grounds that they had failed to accept a second offer of local authority accommodation. These numbers are negligible in the context of the level of rent supplement awards in the same period, which was of the order of 20,000. The balance of refusal decisions in this sample period were made for a wide range of reasons, including means, habitual residency or for issues relating to the accommodation involved.

After extensive consultation, I recently made changes to the regulations specifying the conditions for receipt of rent supplement, with effect from 31 January 2005, to address specific concerns. These changes removed the six month rule, extended the scheme to provide coverage for bona fide existing tenants who become unable to meet their rent or mortgage interest payments through illness, unemployment etc, and extends from two to three the number of refusals of local authority offers of accommodation a person may make before becoming ineligible for rent supplement.

Following enactment of the new regulations, a circular was issued by my Department to the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive setting out details of the amended qualification criteria. In addition to specifying the new grounds for eligibility, the circular also reiterated the discretionary scope available to community welfare officers to award rent supplement in any case of exceptional or special need. There is no question of any direction to officers to restrict the availability of, or entitlement to, rent supplement. The scheme remains available to all eligible people who are unable to meet their immediate accommodation needs from their own resources.

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

183 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals in respect of one parent family allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6262/05]

The number of persons in receipt of the one parent family payment at the end of 2003 was 79,181, up from 58,960 in 1997, when the scheme in its present form was introduced.

There are, in addition, 13,125 lone parents with children in receipt of payments under social insurance — 8,687 widowed persons and 4,528 deserted wives. In total, therefore, 92,306, lone parents are receiving weekly payments under the social welfare system, who between them have 150,122 qualified children.

The reality on which these schemes were originally based, however, has been substantially changing in recent years. It is now more common in two parent families for both parents to work outside the home either on a full-time basis, or with one parent working full-time and the other working part-time.

Reflecting current realities, therefore, now requires giving parents the option of working outside the home and enabling them reconcile the demands of this work and their responsibilities to care for their children.

Entitlement to payments under the schemes is also contingent on not cohabiting with another adult either in marriage or outside marriage. This is essential in ensuring that recipients under the schemes do not gain an advantage over those living together, either married or otherwise.

Much research has been undertaken in recent years into the operation of the one parent family scheme, including a review of the scheme by my Department published in 2001 and participation in the OECD project on reconciling work and family life. A nationwide consultation took place in 2003, on which a report entitled, Families and Family Life in Ireland: Challenges for the Future, has been published, which includes consideration of the position of lone parents and their children. There are currently two main processes under way in which the findings of this analysis and research are being drawn together.

The issue is being examined in the context of a wider examination of supports for families in a changing society being co-ordinated by the family affairs unit of my Department through an interdepartmental committee. This process is scheduled to be completed by mid-year.

The Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion last November requested the senior officials group, which reports to it, to undertake a specific study on the obstacles to employment for lone parents, including those which may exist in the current income support arrangements. A working group has been set up to examine the matter intensively over the coming months with a view to reporting by mid-year.

It would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt the outcome of this work by going into detail on the possibilities for reform, pending proposals from these committees. However, I can give an assurance that priority will be given to consideration and, where appropriate, implementation of the proposals when they do emerge.

Social Welfare Payments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

184 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications for one parent family allowance that have been refused or reduced in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6263/05]

There is a statutory obligation on all claimants of one parent family payment to satisfy, and to continue to satisfy, the conditions for entitlement to the payment.

In 2004, a total of 16,810 new claims for one parent family payment were received. Of this number, 3,999 were refused as they failed to meet the qualifying conditions of the scheme. Of the 12,811 cases awarded, 2,269 were awarded at a reduced rate. Reduced rate payments arise when a person has earnings from employment, where maintenance is being paid by a spouse or the other parent of a child, and-or where the person has other means, for example, capital.

It is estimated that some 60% of one parent family recipients are currently in full or part-time employment. A number of these recipients are earning gross wages of less than €146.50 per week, €7,618 per annum. As this is below the minimum income disregard threshold, it does not affect their rate of one-parent family payment. Where recipients have gross earnings between €146.50 weekly and the maximum statutory earnings limit of €293.00 per week, 50% of the amount of gross weekly earnings above €146.50 is taken into account as means and the one parent family payment is consequently paid at a reduced rate. At the end of December 2004 there were approximately 18,000 recipients on reduced rates of one-parent family payment.

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

185 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to enhance, improve or extend the free schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6264/05]

The household benefits package, which comprises the electricity-gas allowance, telephone allowance and television licence schemes, is generally available to people living permanently in the State, aged 66 years or over, who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who fulfil a means test.

The package is also available to carers and people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. People aged over 70 years of age can qualify regardless of their income or household composition. Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the household benefit package retain that entitlement to ensure that households do not suffer a loss of entitlements following the death of a spouse.

A range of proposals has been made to extend the free schemes to other groups. These are kept under review in the context of the objectives of the scheme and budgetary resources.

Question No. 186 answered with QuestionNo. 180.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

187 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of non-contributory pension applications received in the past 12 months; the number approved, refused or pending; the way in which this figure compares with the previous year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6266/05]

The figures required by the Deputy are as follows:

Pension Claims

2004

2003

Received

11,263

10,661

Approved

7,171

7,136

Refused

3,002

2,864

Pending at end-year

1,517

1,160

These figures refer to the total of claims for old age non-contributory pension, widow/er's non-contributory pension and blind pension.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

188 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications for the carer’s allowance received in the past 12 months; the number refused, approved or pending; the way in which this figure compares with the previous year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6267/05]

My Department awarded 4,739 and refused 2,728 carer's allowance applications in 2004 compared to 3,984 and 2,335, respectively, in 2003.

There were 7,817 applications for carer's allowance in 2004, compared to 7,233 in 2003. Despite the 8% increase in the number of claims submitted, the number of claims pending decision fell from 1,440 at the end of 2003 to 1,053 at the end of 2004.

The number of persons receiving a carer's allowance has increased from 21,326 at the end of 2003 to 23,049 at week ending 31 December 2004. Expenditure on the scheme, has increased from €183.3 million in 2003 to €210.3 million in 2004.

Support of carers has been a priority of Government since 1997. Payments to carers have been improved over that period and qualifying conditions for carer's allowance have been significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as the respite care payment have been introduced and enhanced. The further development of support for carers continues to be a priority for me and for Government.

Question No. 189 answered with QuestionNo. 89.

Michael Ring

Question:

190 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason his Department claims that a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is not suffering a loss of earnings and will not allow their claim for additional unemployment benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6293/05]

The person concerned applied for unemployment benefit on 12 January 2005.

One of the conditions for receipt of unemployment benefit is that a person must have sustained a substantial loss of employment and a reduction in earnings.

Information provided by the employer, in this case, indicated that although there had been a reduction in the average number of days per week worked by the person concerned, there had been no reduction in earnings. Accordingly, a deciding officer disallowed the unemployment benefit claim of the person concerned from 12 January 2005, on the grounds that he had not suffered a loss of earnings.

This position was outlined in my reply to the Deputy's previous question in relation to this case on 16 February 2005.

On receipt of the Deputy's current question, further inquiries were made in the case. From contact with the employer it now transpires that the person concerned may have suffered neither a loss of earnings nor a loss of employment.

It is open to the person concerned to appeal the deciding officer's decision and a form for this purpose may be obtained from his social welfare local office.

Under social welfare legislation, decisions in relation to 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.

Mary Upton

Question:

191 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will review the way in which his Department awards pensioners the back money they are issued following a budget increase in order to provide a breakdown of the way in which this single, relatively large amount is made up [6298/05]

Increases in pensions are announced in the budget in December each year. This leaves my Department just four weeks to adjust its payments system before the increases are due to be paid in January.

Pensioners who receive their payments by electronic funds transfer, EFT, into their bank accounts or by electronic information transfer, ETT, at their local post office receive their increases on time and no arrears arise.

Pensioners who receive their payments by personalised payable orders, PPO, are treated differently. Because of the nature and the volume of payments involved, books containing 26 orders issue to them. In general these books are issued in bulk each April and October.

It would not be feasible to recall all of these books in December and to replace them with books containing orders with the increases. In order to minimise the delay in issuing the increases to these pensioners my Department issues a lump sum each February which covers the increase due for the period January to April.

Because of the large variety of rates which are paid to different pensioners, it is not possible to provide a detailed breakdown of the components that make up the total amount of back money paid in each individual case.

However, each December my Department issues a press release in which details of the social welfare increases are announced. Information is also included of how the increases will be paid in the case of our customers.

My Department has a policy of reviewing procedures on an ongoing basis to identify potential for improvement. In this regard, the existing arrangements for payment of budget arrears to pensioners using the PPO book payment method are being kept under review.

Question No. 192 answered with QuestionNo. 178.

David Stanton

Question:

193 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number receiving the child dependant allowance at the various rates; the amount it would cost to award the full rate to all recipients; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6321/05]

There are currently three different weekly rates of child dependant increases payable to social welfare recipients, €16.80, €19.30 and €21.60, depending on the type of payment. Half rate child dependant increase may also be paid in respect of a child in certain circumstances, for example where both of the child's parents are receiving a social welfare payment, or where one parent has earnings over a prescribed amount.

To standardise the three main rates of increases at the highest rate of €21.60 would mean that approximately 243,000 full rate payments and 93,000 half rate payments would be increased at a cost of approximately €60 million annually.

Family Support Services.

David Stanton

Question:

194 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the concept of shared parenting; the measures he has put in place to encourage and support shared parenting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6322/05]

Parenting is normally shared by both parents, but the respective shares carried by both parents can vary depending on circumstances. In the past the mother was normally the primary care giver with the father being the main breadwinner. This resulted in mothers carrying a disproportionate share of the parenting, with fathers often missing out on direct involvement in much of their children's upbringing.

The growing participation of women in the workforce means that women are now undertaking a much greater share of the breadwinning role, but this is often not matched by fathers assuming a comparable share of the child caring role. Women, therefore, are often left with the double burden of care and breadwinning. This is not always the man's fault as employers may not be as ready to accommodate men's caring duties and responsibilities as they do those of women.

The promotion of shared parenting, therefore, has to be a key objective for policy in reconciling work and family life given the advantages that accrue for both men and women in their work and family lives and especially for their children.

The issue of shared parenting can become particularly acute when family breakdown occurs and a couple separate and live apart. As mothers have traditionally been the primary caregivers, they are usually awarded custody of the children. It can often be difficult for the non-custodial parent, usually the father, to maintain a satisfactory relationship with his children in these circumstances.

The family mediation service administered nationally by the Family Support Agency for couples who have decided to separate encourages them to co-operate with each other in working out mutually acceptable arrangements on a range of issues, such as parenting and ongoing living and financial arrangements. The mediation process can include the drafting of a shared parenting plan and when couples reach agreement, a family session is offered to parents with their children to discuss the agreed arrangements in a positive, supportive way. This can greatly assist children in retaining close bonds with both parents, where possible, and avoiding litigation. The service shows what can be done, but there is a need to further promote use of the service by separating couples, as well as supports for those who use it in implementing the agreements arrived at.

The desire of fathers for a significant and meaningful share in the parenting of their children must be encouraged and supported, especially in situations of family breakdown. It is my intention that this will be a key objective in the context of developing strategy on supports for families.

Social Inclusion Measures.

David Stanton

Question:

195 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way in which he has taken into account the ethnic origin of families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6323/05]

It is important that in developing supports for our growing immigrant population, we learn from both the positive and negative aspects of the experience of our own emigrants. It was this in part which prompted the Irish EU Presidency, with the support of the EU Commission, to host an international conference entitled Reconciling Mobility and Social Inclusion — the Role of Employment and Social Policies in April of last year, which included participation by representatives of Irish emigrants. A report on the proceedings of this conference is currently being finalised and will be published shortly and made available also on the website of the office for social inclusion in my Department.

The exchanges of experience, information and expertise at the conference is designed to help member states, in the context of preparing their national action plans to promote social inclusion, to further develop policies and programmes to support immigrants and their families, including ethnic minorities.

The European Council has asked that these national action plans should "highlight more clearly the risk of poverty and social exclusion faced by some men and women as a result of immigration". An evaluation of the existing national action plans is due by end June and the next full plan is due for submission to the EU Commission in 2006.

The specific issue of immigrant families of immigrants also arose in the context of another Irish Presidency conference on families, change and European social policy held in Dublin in May 2004, given that growing ethnic diversity in society is a key challenge to be addressed in developing supports for families. The issue also arose in the nationwide consultation on family policy in the run up to the tenth anniversary of the international year of the family in 2004 on which a report, Families and Family Life in Ireland: Challenges for the Future, has been published. Officials of my Department were also active participants in a conference organised in December 2003 by the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism on family and ethnicity, the proceedings of which were published in December 2004 in a special edition of the committee's journal.

These developments illustrate the ways in which the need to address the issue of ethnic diversity has been highlighted at both national and international levels.

There is a particular need, for the families of ethnic minorities to be supported. This requires raising the awareness of cultural diversity among all service providers and policy makers, and of the need for cultural sensitivity in dealing with family members of different ethnic minorities and of the special supports they need. Equally there is a need to educate people generally of these realities in the interests of promoting social cohesion and of combating prejudice, discrimination and racism.

All these considerations are being fully taken into account in the current preparations of strategies to support families in a changing society, and in the context of the next national action plan to promote social inclusion.

More specifically, information on entitlements is a key requirement. My Department allocated funding of €60,000 in 2003 to the Immigrant Council of Ireland towards the publication of an information handbook on immigrant rights and entitlements in Ireland. This handbook has been very well received by all the agencies providing information to immigrants. In 2004, my Department allocated a further €60,000 to the Immigrant Council of Ireland to translate this information handbook into various other languages. A translation service is also provided at my Department's own local offices in areas where there are large immigrant populations.

Social Welfare Benefits.

David Stanton

Question:

196 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the maximum that can be earned per week which will allow persons to receive the full amount of the one parent family payment; when this figure was last adjusted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6324/05]

The one parent family payment is the income support scheme for separated, unmarried and widowed persons and also for prisoners' spouses. It was introduced in 1997 when it replaced a number of schemes for different categories of lone parent. Under the one parent family payment scheme lone parents are encouraged to maximise their income from different sources and the means test for the scheme makes allowance for the exemption of significant levels of earnings.

A person can earn up to €146.50 per week, known as the "earnings disregard", without affecting their entitlement to receive the maximum rate of one parent family payment. Where a person's earnings exceed €146.50 weekly, half of the remainder of earnings up to €293 is assessed as means. Entitlement to one-parent family payment ceases where a claimant's weekly earnings exceed €293.

A claimant who has been in receipt of one parent family payment for 52 consecutive weeks whose earnings subsequently exceed €293 per week will not have the payment stopped immediately. He or she will be entitled to half of his or her one parent family payment for a maximum of 26 weeks, starting immediately subsequent to earnings exceeding €293.00 per week, subject to him or her satisfying all the other qualifying conditions. Payment will cease after 26 weeks.

My Department is committed in 2005 to reviewing the income support arrangements for lone parents. The issue of the earnings disregard will be examined in that context.

David Stanton

Question:

197 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the islands on which the special island allowance is applicable; the criteria used to define islands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6326/05]

The island allowance applies to certain social welfare claimants whose permanent place of residence is on an offshore island which is not connected to the mainland by bridge. A list of qualifying islands follows this reply.

The budget in 2001 provided for the introduction of an islanders' allowance of €12.70 for social welfare recipients aged 66 and over. The budget in 2003 extended the allowance to islanders in receipt of a long-term disability payment. The Social Welfare Bill 2005 provides for a further extension of this allowance to residents on qualifying islands who are in receipt of an equivalent payment from another EU country. Qualifying islands: Arranmore Island, Donegal; Bere Island, Cork; Clare Island, Mayo; Clear Island, Cork; Clyinsh Island, Mayo; Dursey Island, Cork; Foynes Island, Limerick; Gola Island, Donegal; Illaunmore, Galway; Inchaghaun Island, Galway; Inishbarra Island, Galway; Inishbiggle, Mayo; Inishboffin, Donegal; Inishboffin, Galway; Inishcottle, Mayo; Inisheer, Galway; Inishfree, Donegal; Inishgort, Mayo; Inishlyre, Mayo; Inishmaan, Galway; Inishmore, Galway; Inishmulcichy, Sligo; Inishnakillew, Mayo; Inishodriscol, Cork; Iniskturk, Mayo; Lambay Island; Long Island, Cork; Omey Island, Galway; Sherkin Island, Cork; Tory Island, Donegal; Whiddy Island, Cork; and Island Roy, Donegal.

David Stanton

Question:

198 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of lone parents who received transitional half rate payment in 2003 and 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6327/05]

The transitional half rate payment is a payment made to lone parents whose earnings from employment exceed the statutory limit of €293.00 per week and who were in receipt of one parent family payment for 52 consecutive weeks immediately prior to their earnings exceeding the limit.

At 31 December 2003, a total of 759 lone parents were in receipt of the transitional half-rate payment. At the end of 2004, 250 lone parents were in receipt of this payment. This reduction was due to the fact that the arrangement was discontinued with effect from 19 January 2004 but was subsequently re-introduced with effect from 6 January 2005. The payment is now made for a period of 26 weeks commencing from the date the earnings exceed the statutory limit.

Question No. 199 answered with QuestionNo. 89.

Commercial Vehicle Testing.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

200 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Transport if he will consider granting a testing licence for light commercial vehicles without the heavy commercial testing for persons without the facility to deal with heavy vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6317/05]

The appointment of authorised testers for the purposes of compulsory testing of commercial vehicles is a matter for local authorities in accordance with the European Communities (Vehicle Testing) Regulations 2004. Under these regulations, it is a requirement for appointment as an authorised tester that the applicant is in a position to carry out testing on all classes of vehicles liable to testing under the regulations.

Road Traffic Offences.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

201 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport his plans to introduce legislation to ban the use by drivers of hand held mobile telephones in cars. [6247/05]

The Attorney General has advised that the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2002, which prohibit the use of a hand-held mobile telephone while driving a vehicle, are open to challenge in the courts on the grounds that they may be ultra vires. In the light of this advice, a legislative framework to address the overall regulatory questions arising from the development of in-car technologies, which would include mobile telephones, is being developed by my Department.

National Car Test.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

202 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport his response to accusations that the national car testing service is acting outside its remit and raising unwarranted revenue when it issues test certificates for periods of less than two years in circumstances where the test was delayed beyond the test due date due to a backlog at the testing centre itself and in circumstances where car owners may be out of the country for a number of months and the car is out of use and unable to present for a test. [6256/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

205 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport his views on accusations that National Car Testing Service Ltd. is acting outside its remit and raising unwarranted revenue when it issues test certificates for periods of less than two years in circumstances in which the test was delayed beyond the test date due to a backlog at the testing centre and circumstances by which car owners may be out of the country for a number of months and the car is out of use and unable to present for a test. [6303/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 202 and 205 together.

In accordance with Directive 96/96/EC, a passenger car is required to undergo the national car test when it is four years old and every two years thereafter. The age of the vehicle and consequently the first test due date are determined by reference to the date of initial registration with subsequent test due dates falling every two years after the first test due date. Factors such as non-use of a vehicle or failure to have a vehicle tested at the appropriate time would not be compatible with the criteria set out in the directive for determining test due dates. Therefore, in accordance with the test schedule, where a car is tested other than at the specified time, the test certificate is valid from the date of the actual test until the next date on which the test is due.

The car testing contract requires testing to be carried out to specified customer service performance standards. Regarding test arrangements, National Car Testing Service Limited is required to ensure that the maximum lead-time for an appointment for a NCT does not exceed four weeks. In the event of the company being unable to give an appointment within this period, it is obliged to conduct the NCT free of change.

Under road traffic law, the responsibility to ensure that a liable vehicle has a valid test certificate rests with the owner.

Driving Tests.

John Perry

Question:

203 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Transport when a driving test appointment will be made for a person (details supplied). [6258/05]

The person concerned successfully sat his driving test on the 14 February 2005.

Rail Network.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

204 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if EU or other peace process funding is available for North-South rail projects. [6302/05]

The Belfast-Dublin-Cork rail corridor has been designated by the European Commission as a priority trans-European network-transport route or TEN-T and, therefore, qualifies for funding under the TEN-T priority programme.

There has been investment in the past under the North-South INTERREG programme which attracted EU funding for certain infrastructural projects, such as bus stations in Border regions. More recently, as a flagship cross-Border project under the EU INTERREG IIIA Community Initiative, the Dublin-Belfast rail line is receiving €980,253 in funding to relay the rail track at Moira and Portadown in Northern Ireland.

Two projects on the Dublin-Belfast line have been supported by the EU programme for peace and reconciliation, commonly known as PEACE II. Translink, Northern Ireland Railways, received €2,306,237 to improve signalling at Lurgan and €4,894,899 to upgrade the level crossings at Moira and Trummery.

Both the PEACE II and INTERREG IIIA programmes are managed by the special EU programmes body — a North-South implementation body which was set up under the Good Friday Agreement. While there are no current EU funds available for North-South rail projects under the Cohesion Fund or the economic and social infrastructure programme, the cross-Border Dublin-Belfast inter-city rail services, operated jointly by Iarnród Éireann and Translink, benefited from an earlier round of EU funding.

Question No. 205 answered with QuestionNo. 202.

Airport Development Projects.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

206 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the CAT system upgrade required at Knock Airport to ensure the safe landing of all aircraft at the airport; if he intends to provide sufficient funding to the airport to enable it to upgrade its existing approach and landing system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6304/05]

My Department has recently informed Knock Airport of its total grant allocation under the airports measure of the NDP. Within that allocation, my Department is considering an application for funding from Knock airport for the enhancement of the instrument landing system. Further details on the proposals, including cost estimates, are currently awaited from the airport company.

Fostaíocht Gaeltachta.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

207 D’fhiafraigh Mr. McGinley den Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta cad é an bhail atá ar thionscal (sonraí tugtha), cad iad na hiarrachtaí atá ar siúl an mhonarcha a athoscailt, an bhfuil téarmaí iomarcaíochta socraithe agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [6175/05]

Dírím aird an Teachta ar na freagraí a thug mé ar Cheisteanna Uimh. 190, 121 agus 332 ar 5 Deireadh Fómhair, 9 agus 23 Samhain 2004 faoi seach.

Tuigim óÚdarás na Gaeltachta nach bhfuil mórán athraithe tagtha ar chúinsí an tionscail ó shin. Ó thaobh na n-oibrithe de, tuigim go bhfuil thart ar aon trian a bhí leagtha as a gcuid oibre go sealadach tar éis a gcearta iomarcaíochta reachtúla a éileamh ón gcomhlacht. Tuigtear go bhfuil na híocaíochtaí iomarcaíochta sin déanta le dáréag agus go bhfuil iarratas amháin á phróiseáil i láthair na huaire.

Tá 15 ag obair go lán-aimseartha sa chomhlacht san am i láthair agus tá dóchas fós ag an mbainistíocht gur féidir gnó a aimsiú a chuirfidh ar a cumas na daoine eile atá fós mar fhostaithe de chuid an chomhlachta a athfhostú.

School Safety.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

208 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number and location of flashing amber safety lights at schools installed nationally, as part of the funding allocated to non-nationals roads under CLÁR programme since its inception; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6232/05]

Flashing amber safety lights were installed at twenty-two schools in CLÁR areas in 2003. The comparable figure in 2004 was 50. Details of the projects are listed on a county basis in the following statement.

Location of Flashing Amber Safety Lights at Schools

Funded under the CLÁR Programme 2003-2004

School

DED

Cavan

Corran National School

Lissanover

Bawnboy National School

Bawnboy

Cork

Dromleigh/Kilmichael National School

Carrigboy

Eyeries National School

Kilcatherine

Cahermore National School

Kilnamanagh

Schull National School

Schull

Derryclough National School

Carrigbawn

Knockaclarig National School

Clonfert West

Donegal

S. N an Cheididh, Keadew

Rutland

S. N. Eadan Fhionnfhaoich

Graffy

S. N. Druim Na Croise

Ardara

Scoil Mhuire

Pettigo

S.N. Na Hacrai

Rutland

Scoil Naomh Mhuire

Ard Malin

Gairmscoil Chu Uladh

Fintown

Scoil Treasa Naofa

Ard Malin

St Davadogs National School

Rossnakill

S N Crannaighe Buidhe

Glengesh

S N Taodhbhog

Cloghan

S N Umlach

Carrigart

S N Cholmcille

Fintown

S N Chill Charthaigh

Kilcar

S N Arainn Mhór

Arran

Scoil Mhuire (Formerly called Niamh Conall)

Glenties

S N Min an Aoire

Kilgoly

SN Tiernasligo National School

Dunaff

SN Arainn Mhór (2)

Arran

Galway

Derrybrien National School

Derrylaur

Creggs National School

Creggs

Lisheenaheilta National School

Raheen

Clonberne National School

Raheen

Gortaleam National School

Toberadosh

Dunmore National School

Dunmore South

Kerry

Feoghanagh National School

Kilquane

Glenflesk National School

Flesk

Bohesial National School

Curraghbeg

Castlegregory National School

Castlegregory

Caragh Lake National School

Caragh

Muiríoch National School

Kilmalkedar

Tousist National School

Ardea

Kilgobnet National School

Tahilla

Leitrim

Ballinamore School Complex

Ballinamore

Fenagh National School

Fenagh

Drumcong National School

Keshcarrigan

Central Primary School

Drumshanbo

St. Joseph’s National School, Leitrim Village

Leitrim

Limerick

Bilboa National School

Bilboa

Mayo

Carrowmore Lacken National School

Killala

Moygownagh National School

Kilfian South

Ratheskin National School

Kilfian East

Annaghmore National School

Ballycastle

Kilmovee National School

Kilmovee

Meelick National School

Meelick

Carracastle National School

Cloonmore

Bohola National School

Bohola

Midfield National School

Brackloon

Barnacoogue National School

Sonnagh

Rooskey National School

Doocastle

Sligo

Drimina National School

Banada

Mullaghroe National School

Coolavin

Holy Family National School

Tubbercurry

Enniscrone National School

Kilglass

Easkey Vocational School

Easkey East

Rathlee National School

Easkey West

Bunninadden National School

Cloonoghill

Gurteen Vocational School

Kilfree

Culfadda National School

Drumrat

Cloghogue National School

Templevanny

Tipperary North

Lackamore National School

Abington

Gortagarry National School

Aghnameadle

Upperchurch National School

Upperchurch

Westmeath

Moyvore National School

Templepatrick

Community Development.

Michael Ring

Question:

209 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs , further to Question No. 225 of 9 February 2005, his views on whether the issue involves discrimination; and if he will further clarify his reply. [6329/05]

Only the social welfare payments outlined in my reply of 9 February at present form the basis for eligibility under the rural social scheme.

As I have outlined to the Deputy in my reply of 9 February 2005, a review of the rural social scheme will be undertaken by my Department within the coming months. This review will include an examination of the current eligibility criteria. When this review has been completed I will be in a position to outline whether or not the eligibility criteria should be extended.

Potato Sector.

Denis Naughten

Question:

210 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will postpone the introduction of PCN charges on seed potato producers until full consultation can take place between her Department and the industry; if she will consider the introduction of a grant aid scheme in conjunction with the proposed new charges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6121/05]

In order to provide growers with a period of adjustment to the changes introduced to the seed certification scheme, the charges for PCN testing will be deferred until 2006. The other charges proposed for services under the scheme relating to field inspection, sealing and labelling will however apply as planned later this year.

Wide consultation has already taken place with growers' representatives and others on the introduction of fees for the scheme and the original fee proposed for PCN testing was halved arising directly out of that process. In addition, in order to ensure that growers are fully aware of the new arrangements relating to seed production, a series of information meetings is being arranged by my officials and will take place over the next few weeks.

I will consider grant aid for producers who grow high quality certified seed in order to assist them in bringing their production systems up to the highest international standards. My overall aim is to bring commercial focus to the seed potato sector so that it can become more efficient and meet the needs of the industry, thus reducing our dependence on imports.

EU Directives.

Denis Naughten

Question:

211 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food in view of the fact that the implementation of the nitrates directive will have a major impact on agriculture in Donegal, if she will assure the house that the Brosnan proposals will be fully defended by her Department and the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6122/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. A nitrates action programme was submitted to the EU Commission in October last. Its provisions emerged from a consultation process with stakeholders, including the farming organisations, and from the recommendations of independent adviser Mr. Denis Brosnan who had been appointed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to act as an adviser in the matter.

I share the regret of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government at the fact that the European Commission has indicated that the action programme falls short in some respects of meeting the requirements of the nitrates directive. My officials are working closely with their counterparts in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in preparing a response to the Commission. Agreement with the Commission is necessary not only to avoid the risk of substantial fines on Ireland but also to safeguard ongoing EU funding of rural development measures.

It remains my objective, shared by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to minimise the burden of compliance that the nitrates directive will place on farmers and to safeguard the future of the commercial farming sector.

Veterinary Practices.

Denis Naughten

Question:

212 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food in view of the fact that veterinary cover is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve in western parts of the country, the plans she has to fund the establishment or maintenance of practices where stock numbers are dropping and which as a consequence are threatening the viability of some full time practices; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6123/05]

I do not have any plans to fund the establishment or maintenance of veterinary practices in any part of the country. However, I am conscious that in future the viability of such practices may come under pressure in some areas and I will monitor the situation regarding veterinary cover on an ongoing basis.

Grant Payments.

John Perry

Question:

213 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her officials will include this animal (details supplied) in this person’s (details supplied) cattle movement monitoring system register in view of information (details supplied). [6124/05]

The person named included the animal in question on an application under the 2004 special beef premium scheme received in my Department on 15 July 2004. It is a requirement of the scheme that animals being submitted for premium be CMMS compliant on the date of application. Following computer validation it was found that the animal in question was not recorded on the CMMS database as being in the herd of the person named at the date of application.

By letter dated 24 November 2004 the person named was advised that the animal in question was non-CMMS compliant and was requested to have the movement of the animal regularised. The CMMS database was subsequently amended on 6 December 2004 showing the movement of the animal concerned into the herd of the person named.

By letter dated 10 January 2005 the person named was advised that, as the animal in question was non-CMMS compliant on the date of application for premium, no payment would be made on that animal and a penalty would be applied, in accordance with the terms and conditions. The person named was advised of the right of appeal; to date, no appeal has been received.

Question No. 214 withdrawn.

Animal Welfare.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

215 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on whether current legislation provides for proper controls in preventing the ill-treatment of animals; her proposals to introduce a duty of care for animal owners here; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that such legislation exists in other countries and that the UK is planning to introduce similar legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6306/05]

Primary responsibility for the welfare of animals rests with the owner or keeper of the animals. The owners-keepers are obliged to take all reasonable steps to ensure the welfare of animals under their care and to ensure that such animals are not caused any unnecessary pain, suffering or injury.

The welfare of animals kept for farming purposes in general is covered by the European Communities (Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes) Regulations 2000 and the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984.

In addition, the welfare of calves and pigs is subject to the European Communities (Welfare of Calves and Pigs) Regulations 2003 (SI 48 of 2003) which set out minimum requirements for accommodation in relation to space; lighting; ventilation; veterinary treatment and so on and to allow animals to express natural behaviour.

Laying hens are subject to the provisions of the European Communities (Welfare of Laying Hens) Regulations 2002 (SI 98 of 2002) which specify the accommodation and other welfare requirements for keeping and rearing laying hens.

Under current legislation the welfare of animals being transported must be protected. Inspections on the welfare of animals being transported are undertaken by officials from my Department on a national spot-check basis at meat factories, marts and ports and any follow-up action necessary is undertaken. The outcome of these inspections is reported to the European Commission.

Complaints received by my Department about on-farm welfare of animals are investigated thoroughly under the above-mentioned regulations and appropriate action is taken.

The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council, FAWAC, which was established in 2002, has brought together for the first time in Ireland, representatives of the principal stakeholders, welfare organisations, farming bodies, Government Departments North and South and veterinary representative bodies, in an advisory body. FAWAC already published animal welfare guidelines for beef, dairy and sheep farmers and guidelines for equines are currently being drafted.

One of the initiatives which has recently been taken under the umbrella of FAWAC is an early warning-intervention system for animal welfare cases which involves my Department, the Irish Farmers Association and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals. The objective of this system is to provide a framework within which problems can be identified and addressed before they become critical or overwhelming.

The current body of legislation in this area provides the necessary powers to ensure a high level of animal welfare and to prevent ill treatment of animals. The UK Government is planning to introduce new legislation relating to animal welfare and related areas.

Proposed Legislation.

Denis Naughten

Question:

216 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when she intends to publish the animal health Bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6307/05]

Work on drafting the animal health Bill is proceeding in my Department. There is still a significant body of preparatory work to be completed and it is not possible at this stage to indicate a date for publication.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

217 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a REP scheme payment has not been awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6308/05]

The REPS contract in this case was completed on 31 July 2004. The person named has been paid in full for his participation in REPS.

Single Payment Scheme.

Willie Penrose

Question:

218 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if, in view of correspondence, a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath has been considered for additional entitlements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6331/05]

I confirm that an application form to the 2005 single payment national reserve has been received from the person named before the closing date for receipt of applications. The position with regard to the national reserve is that all applications are being processed at present and in view of the number of applications received and accompanying documentation submitted, it will be some time before processing is completed. It is not possible to indicate at this stage whether the person named will qualify for an allocation of entitlements from the reserve on foot of his application. Applicants will be notified of their eligibility or otherwise as soon as all applications are processed.

Since the person named was not in a position to declare the 30.47 hectares of inherited land on his 2002 area aid application form, that area cannot be used in calculating 2002 extensification premium.

Willie Penrose

Question:

219 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath has been refused an application under force majeure and exceptional needs appeal system, in relation to the single payments system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6362/05]

The person named submitted an application for consideration of force majeure-exceptional circumstances in the calculation of his provisional single payment entitlements as a result of TB restriction of his herd in 2000 and 2001.

Following an examination of the pattern of production, the inward and outward movements recorded on the cattle movement monitoring system and the premia eligibility of the animals present on the holding during the reference years. The single payment unit advised the person named that the circumstances outlined by him did not satisfy the force majeure-exceptional circumstances criteria laid down in Article 40 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1782/2003.

The person named appealed this decision to the independent single payment appeals committee who carried out a full review of the circumstances of the case. The recommendation of the appeals committee was that the decision taken by the single payment unit should be upheld.

Disability Support Service.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

220 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the way in which he intends to spend the extra €3 million in disability funding allocated to it in budget 2005. [6248/05]

The funding is part of the multi-annual investment programme for disability announced in the budget. A sum of €15 million will be available for voluntary sector projects between 2005-2009 with the first tranche of €3 million in 2005. This fund is intended to support innovative, efficient and cost effective approaches to disability services and to help provide examples of effective service co-ordination. Practices developed as part of funded projects must be suitable for assimilation by mainstream service providers in the future.

The fund will be administered by my Department and will involve once-off grants for selected projects. Details including criteria for funding will be finalised in consultation with other key Departments. Disbursal of funding will be in accordance with the normal accounting procedures applicable to projects availing of State funding.

Visa Applications.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

221 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to student visa applications in respect of ten students who are English speaking and have sworn affidavit’s that they will be returning to their country following training. [6249/05]

The applications referred to by the Deputy were refused by my Department on 15 of February 2005.

For the most part, the reasons for refusal related to the visa officer being unable to establish, based on the documentation supplied, that the applicants would observe the conditions of the visa applied for, or that the applicants had demonstrated sufficient evidence of their obligations to return to their country of origin. In the majority of cases, the visa officer had concerns with regard to the applicant's student profile, specifically, that many of the people in question did not have a sufficient level of English or had notable gaps in their educational history.

In assessing any visa application, the visa officer will consider various matters, including whether it is reasonable in all the circumstances to conclude that the applicant would fully honour the conditions of the visa, for example, it is unlikely that the applicant would overstay the length of time applied for. The visa officer will also have regard to information provided and to such factors as the applicant's ties and general circumstances in their country of origin.

In this regard, an affidavit alone is not considered to be an appropriate level of documentary evidence. In all cases the onus is on the applicant to fully satisfy the visa officer that it would be appropriate to issue them with a visa. Appropriate supporting documentation must be submitted. The Department's approach in these matters is informed by past experience, including experience of abuse of the system.

It is also noted that the school concerned appears to be a newly established organisation operating from within the premises of a public house. In the normal course of events this school would be subject to a visit from the immigration authorities with a view to establishing its own bona fides.

It is open to the applicants to appeal the refusal decision in writing. Any appeal should be accompanied by appropriate additional supporting documentation that it is felt will address the reasons for refusal mentioned above and explained on my Department's website.

Citizenship Applications.

Billy Timmins

Question:

222 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to an application for Irish citizenship by a person (details supplied) County Carlow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6312/05]

A declaration of acceptance of Irish citizenship as post nuptial citizenship was received in the citizenship section of my Department on 16 December 2004 from the person referred to in the Deputy's question.

The current processing time for such declarations is approximately ten months from the date of lodgement and it is likely, therefore, that the processing of the declaration of the person will be finalised by the end of October 2005.

It is not the case that non-national persons are precluded from studying in this jurisdiction. There are many thousands of non-national students lawfully resident here. I will advise the Deputy and the applicant when the matter has been concluded.

Disability Support Service.

David Stanton

Question:

223 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the disability, mental health, human rights or other organisations which have made representations, had contact with or made submissions directly or indirectly to his Department in relation to the Disability Bill 2004 following its publication in September 2004; the organisations which have expressed reservations regarding, criticism of or suggested amendments to the Bill; the organisations which have expressed unreserved support for the Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6339/05]

My Department has, to date, received 44 submissions from various organisations in respect of the Disability Bill 2004 most of which were received via the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. As a member of that committee, the Deputy will be aware that the views of 34 of the groups concerned, four of which also sent submissions to the Department, were presented to the committee before Christmas. The names of the organisations concerned are set out in the lists accompanying this reply.

As with any Bill progressing through the Dáil, most of the submissions received relate to areas of concern and suggested amendments. The Deputy will appreciate that these submissions are being examined to see if it is possible to meet, in whole or in part, concerns expressed by way of Government amendment. The process of considering amendments in the context of the Bill is one that requires consultation with relevant Departments and the Attorney General. The process is ongoing. In the meantime, the Bill is on Second Stage in the House, having been debated over several days since 4 November 2004.

Organisations that sent submissions directly to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights:

Age Action Ireland

AHEAD — Association for Higher Education Access and Disability

Alzheimer Society of Ireland

Amnesty International

Ann Sullivan Foundation for Deaf Blind

AWARE — Helping to defeat depression

Bodywhys

Brainwave — The Irish Epilepsy Association

Carers Association

Children in Hospital Ireland

Disability Federation of Ireland

Enable Ireland

FADE — North Fingal Centre for Independent Living

Forum of People with Disabilities

Genetic and Inherited Disorders Organisation

Headway Ireland — The National Association for Acquired Brain Injury

Hope Project

Huntington's Disease Association Ireland

Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus

Irish Deaf Society

Irish Insurance Federation

Irish Senior Citizen's Parliament

Irish Wheelchair Association

Mental Health Ireland

NAHMI

National Council on Aging and Older People

National Federation of Voluntary Bodies

National Institute for the Study of Learning Difficulties

National Parents' and Siblings' Alliance

Not for Profit Business Association

Organisations that sent submissions directly to my Department:

Broadcasting Commission of Ireland

Disability Legal Resource Centre

Disability Legislation Consultation Group

Equality Authority

Institute for Design and Disability

Irish Congress of Trade Unions

Irish Human Rights Commission

Irish Life

National Disability Authority

Parkinson's Association

People with Disabilities in Ireland Ltd

Schizophrenia Ireland

Society of Actuaries in Ireland

TV3

Departmental Correspondence.

Willie Penrose

Question:

224 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will provide a response in relation to correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6366/05]

I expect that the Deputy will by now have received my recent response to him in relation to the matter he has raised.

School Transport.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

225 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties being experienced by school bus users, in an area (details supplied), due to serious overcrowding on the route with 70-75 students on a 57 seater bus; if she will provide a second bus on this route; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6130/05]

Under existing regulations which are a matter for the Department of Transport the licensed carrying capacity of vehicles engaged in school transport is based on a ratio of three children to every two adult seats.

The pupils to whom the Deputy refers are accommodated on a 53 seater adult bus, which is licensed to carry 79 children. Bus Éireann has advised that 73 tickets have been issued for this service. As the service in question can adequately cater for the number of eligible pupils offering for transport from the area concerned, my Department is satisfied that a second bus is not warranted.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

226 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will recommend the inclusion of a specific area in a primary school bus route where five school going children reside (details supplied). [6132/05]

A minimum of seven eligible pupils residing in a distinct locality are required for the establishment of a school bus service. My Department has been advised by Bus Éireann that the pupils referred to in the question are residing in a separate distinct locality from the area already covered by the existing service. As the minimum number of eligible pupils required for the establishment of a service has not been met in this case, it is not open to my Department to sanction a new bus route.

Stádas Scoile.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

227 D’fhiafraigh Mr. McGinley den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta an féidir glacadh le scoil (sonraí tugtha) atá suite sa Ghaeltacht d’aistriú ar ais ó scoil ina múintear ábhair trí Bhéarla go scoil ina múintear gach ábhar trí Ghaeilge. [6176/05]

Is ceist d'údaráis scoile í, ar an gcéad dul síos, cinneadh a thógaint maidir leis an meán múinteoireachta sa scoil. Má tá sé beartaithe an meán múinteoireachta sa scoil a athrúó Bhéarla go Gaeilge, ba chóir do'n patrún iarratas foirmeálta a chur faoi bhráid mo Roinne áit a ndéanfar an t-iarratas a bhreithniú i gcomhthéacs polasaí na Roinne agus an soláthar oideachasúil sa cheantar atá i gceist.

School Accommodation.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

228 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a school (details supplied) in County Wexford has exceeded its maximum numbers and has turned students away; the action she will take to allow the students that were turned away to be educated in this school; if these students will be facilitated in the school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6177/05]

The school to which the Deputy refers has made an application under the summer works scheme, SWS, to upgrade existing accommodation on its site to enable it to provide extra classroom accommodation for next September.

All applications under the SWS are currently being assessed in the school planning section of my Department and I will be announcing the successful applicants shortly.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

229 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science if her Department has received an application from a school (details supplied) for temporary accommodation for September 2005; if her attention has been drawn to a situation at the school; if the required temporary accommodation will be provided in good time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6178/05]

An application for temporary accommodation has been received from the school authority to which the Deputy refers. All applications for temporary accommodation for the 2005-06 school year are currently being assessed in the school planning section of my Department. I intend to publish a list of the successful applicants shortly.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

230 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount spent on providing new prefabricated buildings at primary and secondary school premises respectively, for 2004; the amount spent on upkeep for existing prefabricated buildings at primary and secondary school premises for 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6179/05]

My Department spent €8,745,049.73 on the provision of prefabricated accommodation in primary schools in 2004. Any expenditure incurred in 2004 on the upkeep of existing prefabricated accommodation would have been financed under the minor works grant issued to all recognised primary schools annually.

The minor works grant is issued on the basis of a school allocation amounting to €3,809.21 and a pupil allocation amounting to €12.70. In the post-primary sector, my Department spent €3,997,842.79 on the provision of prefabricated accommodation and a sum of €129,456.92 on the refurbishment of prefabricated accommodation.

Any additional expenditure in 2004 on the upkeep of prefabricated accommodation would have been addressed directly by individual schools as necessary using the maintenance portion of current funding provided by my Department.

My Department is anxious to ensure that prefabricated accommodation is only purchased where absolutely necessary. A permanent accommodation initiative was introduced in 2003 to give 20 primary schools the capacity to provide a permanent solution to their accommodation needs instead of addressing their needs with the use of temporary or prefabricated accommodation. The initiative was expanded in 2004 to include 41 additional primary schools. Increasingly, the focus within my Department is to empower schools to resolve their accommodation needs in a permanent manner rather than relying heavily on temporary accommodation.

Schools Building Projects.

Jack Wall

Question:

231 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science if her Department has changed its options in regard to a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; if so, the new plan for the school; the timescale for such a plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6180/05]

This school's building project went to tender in late 2004. Unfortunately, the tender outcome was significantly in excess of the budget for this project. Officials from my Department's building unit met with the school authority and its design team on 21 February 2005 and advised them that the project can proceed as early as possible in 2005 provided reductions are achieved that bring my Department's level of investment down to an appropriate level for a school of this size.

The school authority is due to revert to my Department when they have considered the matter further.

Jack Wall

Question:

232 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding an application by a board of management and a parents’ association (details supplied) for a new school; if she plans to meet with the board of management; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6181/05]

My Department proposes to build a new 16 classroom primary school in Castledermot. The property management section of the OPW, which acts on behalf of my Department regarding site acquisitions generally, is exploring the possibility of acquiring a site for this development. Progress on the project will be considered in the context of the school building programme when the site has been acquired. In the circumstances it is not my intention to meet the board of management at this time. However, officials in the school planning and building unit of my Department will keep the board of management informed of developments.

Jack Wall

Question:

233 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding a new school building (details supplied); if she has agreed to meet with a deputation from the town council and RAPID officials in relation to the school; the timescale for progress at the school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6183/05]

Jack Wall

Question:

237 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding a new school building (details supplied); if she has agreed to meet with a deputation from the town council and RAPID officials with regard to the school; if she will give a timescale for the school’s progress; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6235/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 233 and 237 together.

The building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an early stage of architectural planning. I recently announced details of 122 major school building projects which will progress to tender and construction phase over the next 12 to 15 months under the €3.4 billion multiannual funding secured for the years 2005-09. I am anxious to ensure that a consistent flow of projects to tender and construction can be sustained into the future. I plan to make a number of announcements in the near future regarding the schools building and modernisation programme, including details of those school projects which will further progress through the design process. All projects in architectural planning, including the school in question, will be considered as part of this process. I have advised the organisations mentioned to contact the Kildare-Wicklow regional office and officials there will make arrangements to meet with them to discuss the project in question.

School Closures.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

234 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will liaise closely and consult with the principal, staff, students and parents of a school (details supplied) in Dublin 5 to ensure that the full curricular and educational needs of students are fully resourced and met during the period up to the proposed closure of the school in June 2007. [6184/05]

Teacher allocations to second level schools are approved annually by my Department in accordance with established rules based on recognised pupil enrolment. Each school management authority is required to organise its timetable and subject options having regard to pupils needs within the limit of its approved teacher allocation.

The rules for allocating teaching resources provide that where a school management authority is unable to meet its curricular commitments, my Department will consider applications for additional short term support, that is, curricular concessions. Any such application from the school concerned will receive full consideration. An independent appeals mechanism is available to school authorities which wish to appeal the adequacy of their teacher allocation.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

235 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science if it is intended to make payments of any kind to the trustees of a school (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [6185/05]

It is unclear what type of payments the Deputy has in mind. However, I confirm the question has not arisen in my Department.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

236 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science if there will be close liaison with the principal and staff at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 5 regarding grave concerns among staff over the lack of consultation from her Department on the impact of the proposed closure of the school in 2007 on full-time and part-time teaching staff. [6186/05]

A decision was taken by the trustees of the school concerned that the school will close in June 2007. Officials of my Department have met with representatives of the teacher unions involved concerning the closure of the school. Arising from this meeting, the position of the teachers in the school is under consideration within my Department. Further meetings will be held in the near future with the relevant parties.

Question No. 237 answered with QuestionNo. 233.

Bullying in Schools.

Mary Upton

Question:

238 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether each secondary school should have an anti-bullying policy in place; the guidelines her Department has issued in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6295/05]

Every school should have in place, as part of its code of behaviour, a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour. Such a code, properly devised and implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools. My Department, in its document entitled, Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour in Schools, has provided the framework within which individual school management authorities may meet their responsibilities for implementing effective school based policies to counter bullying. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents. The purpose of the guidelines is to assist schools in devising school based measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and increase awareness of the problem among school management authorities, staff, pupils and parents. They are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of the school. The guidelines remind schools of their responsibility in formulating a written code of behaviour and discipline which should include specific measures to counter bullying behaviour.

Higher Education Grants.

Billy Timmins

Question:

239 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the position with regard to a course (details supplied) which is not yet on the list of Department approved courses for students applying to the VEC for third level grants; and if this will be dealt with as speedily as possible. [6313/05]

Under the higher education grants scheme 2004, my Department has approved six courses for the purposes of the third level grant scheme at St. Patrick's, Carlow College, as follows: diploma in humanities; diploma in theology; BA degree in theology; national certificate in applied social studies in social care; national diploma in applied social studies (Social Care); and bachelor of arts in humanities.

To have courses approved for the purposes of the grants scheme St. Patrick's, Carlow College, must make an application in writing to my Department outlining the details of the course proposed for inclusion in the scheme. An application has been received for the approval of a one year add-on BA (Hons) in applied social studies in social care to the 2004 higher education grant scheme. This application is being considered by my Department.

Special Educational Needs.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

240 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science , further to Question No. 500 of 15 February 2005, the reason for the delay in passing on the outcome of the special needs assistance provision review for a school (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6314/05]

The review of special needs assistant, SNA, provision in primary schools commenced in September 2004 and is continuing. The review is concerned with the level and deployment of SNA posts in mainstream classes. The intention is to ensure that the level of approved SNA support in schools and the manner in which that support is being allocated are such as to ensure that the special care needs of pupils are being appropriately met. Decisions regarding the appropriate level of SNA support in respect of applications made to my Department will be based on the outcome of this review.

The school in question was reviewed in December 2004. My Department is finalising administrative matters in the context of all schools reviewed. I expect that this process will be completed shortly and the schools in question will be advised of the outcome of the reviews undertaken as quickly as possible thereafter.

Schools Building Projects.

Billy Timmins

Question:

241 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the provision of an extension at a school (details supplied) in County Wicklow; if this can be dealt with as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6315/05]

The project at the school to which the Deputy refers has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria, which were revised following consultation with the education partners. Progress on the project is being considered in the context of the school building programme from 2005 onwards. In this regard, the Deputy will be aware that I recently announced the first phase of the 2005 school building programme which provided details of 122 major school building projects country wide for which tenders will be prepared and construction will begin during 2005.

This announcement is the first in a series of announcements I plan to make in the coming period regarding the schools building and modernisation programme which will include: details of schools identified as suitable for construction under public private partnerships; an expansion of the number of schools that will be invited to deliver their building projects on the basis of devolved funding; details of schools with projects approved under the 2005 summer works scheme; schools whose projects will further progress through the design process; and schools that will be authorised to commence architectural planning.

Educational Disadvantage.

Billy Timmins

Question:

242 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to the involvement in the SSRI strand of the school completion programme of a school (details supplied) in County Wicklow; if she will re-examine the decision and allow the school to continue the good work started to ensure the maximum number of students stay at school until they have completed their leaving certificate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6316/05]

A review of educational disadvantage programmes is being finalised by my Department. Decisions to expand or extend any of the initiatives aimed at addressing educational disadvantage are being considered in this context of this review, the purpose of which is to build on what has been achieved to date, to adopt a more systematic, targeted and integrated approach, and to strengthen the capacity of the system to meet the educational needs of disadvantaged children and young people. I hope to announce the outcome of this review shortly.

Special Educational Needs.

Mary Upton

Question:

243 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science , further to Question No. 150 of 17 February 2005, the expert advice her Department obtained to assess the needs of the person in question; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [6332/05]

The matter has been considered by my Department's inspectorate and the advice is that adequate provision exists within the State to cater for the special educational needs of the person in question. It is not, therefore, proposed to make funding available to the person in question towards an educational placement abroad.

Waste Management.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

244 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to provide or support the provision of a paper and cardboard waste recycling facility following the announced closure of a company (details supplied); if he is aware that 360,000 tonnes of paper and cardboard waste are generated annually in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6126/05]

My Department — under the auspices of the North South Market Development Group, and in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment and the UK waste resources action programme, WRAP — recently commissioned a consultancy study to examine the feasibility of developing new paper mill capacity on the island of Ireland with a view to utilising greater volumes of collected waste paper and cardboard locally. If a viable option can be identified, this would provide stable domestic recycling capacity and produce new recycled paper and cardboard products for the domestic market. The commissioning of this consultancy study, which is being undertaken by a multinational consortium and is due for completion by the end of March, is timely. I await its conclusions with interest.

A range of measures to promote the recycling of paper is already in place and the available data show that they are having a significant impact. These measures have included the progressive roll-out of segregated household collection of dry recyclables, or kerbside green bin collection services, to more than 560,000 households, or some 42% of all households in the State. It is estimated that newsprint and other paper and cardboard waste account for more than 50% of the material being collected from households via the green bin collection service. The 2003 packaging regulations imposed a mandatory obligation on those placing packaging on the market to segregate specified back-door packaging waste arising on their premises and have it collected by authorised operators for recycling. Paper and cardboard are among the specified materials that must be segregated for this purpose. A public service waste management programme which is being prepared will ensure that all public authorities will routinely use recycled paper. Moreover, a producer responsibility initiative, PRI, is under discussion with the newsprint industry with a view to improving recovery rates for newsprint.

The EPA has reported in its National Waste Database Interim Report for 2003, published in December 2004, that an estimated 925,329 tonnes of paper and cardboard waste were generated in that year, of which 358,878 tonnes were collected for recycling, representing a recovery rate of 38.8% for this waste stream. The plant referred to in the question had a capacity to process approximately 45,000 tonnes of paper and cardboard annually, which is relatively small by international standards. While the closure of this plant is regretted, the vast majority — approximately 87.5%, or 313,878 tonnes — of the increasing volumes of paper and cardboard collected for recycling was already being sent abroad. All the indications are that the recycling position generally, including the recycling of paper and cardboard, will continue to improve as a result of the ongoing implementation of the local and regional waste management plans.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

245 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding the connection of the Mahon River to the Ballyshunnock Reservoir in County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6237/05]

The east Waterford water supply scheme, stage two, phase two, has been approved for construction as part of my Department's water services investment programme for 2004 to 2006, at an estimated cost of €20.25 million. The scheme includes a new source of water from the River Mahon and a pumping station and rising mains to the Ballyshunnock impoundment.

Waterford County Council's reports on tenders for the civil, mechanical and electrical works related to this element of the scheme are under examination in my Department and will be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Housing Grants.

Jack Wall

Question:

246 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of local authorities that have sought funding in regard to the provision of independent living units in each of the past three years; the number of units constructed in each local authority area in each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6270/05]

I assume the question refers to assistance from my Department under the voluntary housing capital assistance scheme. The number of local authorities that have sought funding under this scheme for the years 2002 to 2004 is set out in the following table:

2002

2003

2004

28

33

29

The available information on the number of units completed in each local authority area in respect of the scheme in 2002 and 2003 is published in the Department's annual housing statistics bulletins for the years in question. Copies of these bulletins are available in the Oireachtas Library. Figures for 2004 are being compiled and will be published in due course in the 2004 annual bulletin.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Jack Wall

Question:

247 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has satisfied himself that developers are not providing affordable housing as part of their schemes and are instead offering financial contributions to the relevant local authority; if not, his plans to address this serious matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6271/05]

Apart from the provision of housing units to the local authority on or off site, an agreement under part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2004 provides for the transfer of land or sites to the local authority within the area of proposed development or within the functional area of the local authority; the transfer of fully or partially serviced sites to the local authority within its functional area; the transfer of fully or partially serviced sites to an approved housing body or other nominated persons; the payment of money in lieu of land, new units or sites; or any combination of these options.

Part V is fully operational in all local authorities and all relevant residential planning applications are subject to a part V agreement. While it is a matter for local authorities to identify the order of priority to be given to each of the above options in their housing strategies, I understand that most local authorities favour the provision of housing units on site as the preferred option. On the basis of returns to my Department, at the end of September 2004, a total of 390 social and affordable housing units had been acquired by local authorities, more than 1,800 were in progress and almost 2,700 proposed on foot of part V agreements with developers.

On this basis, I am satisfied that the provisions of part V are being suitably progressed and that they will contribute significantly to the supply of social and affordable housing into the future.

Jack Wall

Question:

248 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views in regard to affordable housing policy; his further views in regard to the number of houses allocated under the scheme; his plans to improve the number of houses to be allocated; the number of meetings he has had with local authorities in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6273/05]

Access to affordable housing for first-time buyers is an important objective of Government housing policy and we will continue to monitor and review housing developments and policies as necessary to achieve this aim. Our policy has been to make housing supply more responsive to demand and, in this way, to bring moderation to house price increases, thus improving affordability and access, particularly for first-time buyers.

There is clear evidence that the measures introduced by this Government to boost supply are having effect. The year 2004 is likely to be the tenth year of record overall house completions with more than 75,000 completions expected. From 2001 to the end of September 2004, a total of 233,000 private houses have been completed in the State. This increased supply, supported by Government measures, means the market is supplying houses in many areas of the country at affordable prices.

In addition to measures to support a market response to unprecedented demand, the Government has placed a particular emphasis on the delivery of targeted schemes of affordable housing. This includes the shared ownership scheme, the 1999 affordable housing scheme and, more recently, the provision of affordable housing through part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2002 and the Sustaining Progress affordable housing initiative.

Substantial growth is anticipated in affordable housing output over the coming years, as the part V mechanism and the Sustaining Progress affordable housing initiative take effect. Since 1997, more than 13,000 households have benefited through affordable housing measures and it is envisaged that more than 11,000 units will be delivered from the various affordable schemes between 2005 and 2007. This year alone, it is provisionally estimated that these schemes will produce some 3,500 affordable housing units.

The allocation of affordable houses is a matter for each local authority in accordance with the scheme of allocation priorities adopted by its elected members. My Department is in regular contact with local authorities concerning different aspects of the various affordable housing schemes and, where necessary, meets with local authority officials to discuss these matters.

Affordable housing targets are included within the five-year action plans for social and affordable housing introduced last year. My Department has discussed these plans with all the local authorities involved.

Local Authority Housing.

David Stanton

Question:

249 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the powers and responsibilities of local authorities to ensure that local authority tenants maintain their premises and keep them litter and pest-free; the actions that the local authorities can and are obliged to take if a tenant allows rubbish and litter to build up in the vicinity of the property; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6274/05]

The management, maintenance and improvement of their rented dwellings is a matter for each housing authority. The powers conferred on them under the Housing Acts, including, where necessary, the recovery of possession, are intended to ensure they have the capacity to fulfil their responsibilities.

Under the Litter Pollution Act 1997, the occupiers of residences let in two or more dwellings have a statutory duty not to create litter. In addition, the occupiers of properties located within the confines of a speed limit area, other than the general or motorway speed limits, are required to keep any footpaths or pavements adjoining the road free of litter. Local authorities are responsible for enforcement of this legislation, which carries a fine of up to €3,000 on conviction for an offence and up to €600 for each day of a continuing offence.

The Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 1993, made under section 18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992, prescribe minimum standards for rented houses and require common areas, yards, forecourts and items such as walls and fences to be kept in good repair and clean condition.

The behaviour of tenants, normally including provisions relating to the upkeep of the dwelling, is governed by the tenancy agreement, which constitutes the legal basis of the relationship between the local authority and its tenants. My Department has no role in regard to individual tenancy agreements.

Election Management System.

Paul McGrath

Question:

250 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which were followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6276/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

251 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6341/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

252 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6342/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

253 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6343/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

254 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6344/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

255 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6345/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

256 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6346/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

257 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6347/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

258 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6348/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

259 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6349/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

260 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6350/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

261 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6351/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

262 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6352/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

263 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6353/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

264 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6354/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

265 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6355/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

266 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6356/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

267 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6357/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

268 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6358/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

269 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6359/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

270 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6360/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

271 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the procedures which followed to invite tenders for the contract to store the electronic voting machines by a local returning officer (details supplied); if national and local newspapers featured advertisements inviting tenders for storage facilities; if so, when these advertisements appeared; the number of tenders which were received; the cost of each; the lowest tender offered for the storage of this equipment; the person who was awarded the tender; if this was not the lowest tender submitted, the reason therefor; and if this tender included the storage of the electronic voting machines in addition to the ancillary equipment. [6361/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 250 to 271, inclusive, together.

The procurement of appropriate secure storage accommodation for electronic voting machines and ancillary equipment is the responsibility of returning officers, who are statutorily charged with conducting elections and referenda. My Department has written to returning officers requesting information in regard to, inter alia, the procurement of such accommodation.

As regards information provided by returning officers on ownership of storage premises, I refer to the reply to Question No. 516 of 8 February 2005.