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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 26 Apr 2005

Vol. 601 No. 2

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 9, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 10 to 50, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 51 to 58, inclusive, answered orally.

Education Welfare Service.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

59 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of education welfare officers currently employed by the NEWB; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12933/05]

The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

The priority I attach to supporting the NEWB in delivering on this goal is evident from the fact that the budget which has been allocated to the NEWB for 2005 is up by 20% on the 2004 allocation, to nearly €8 million. To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents-guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers, EWOs, are being appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board's functions locally.

The board issued an information leaflet to 330,000 families and 4,000 schools in March 2004. The leaflet targeted parents and guardians of children aged between six and 16 years of age and young people aged 16 and 17 years who have left school early to start work. It outlined the role parents and guardians play in ensuring that their children do not miss out on education and training and also gave information about the National Educational Welfare Board. In addition, the board launched a new lo-call telephone number to inform parents and guardians about their legal role and responsibilities under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000.

The service is developing on a continuing basis and the board received sanction in late 2004 from my Department to recruit an additional ten educational welfare officers. This brings its total authorised staffing complement to 94, comprising 16 headquarters and support staff, five regional managers, 11 senior educational welfare officers and 62 educational welfare officers. These additional posts will ensure that every county will have an educational welfare service.

To date, the board has focused the resources available to it on providing a service to the most disadvantaged areas and most at risk groups. Five regional teams have now been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff have been deployed in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme. A total of 13 towns with significant school going populations, 12 of which are designated under the Government's RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them.

Guidelines were issued by the NEWB to all primary and second level schools in January of this year on reporting student absences. The guidelines provide step-by-step advice on how and when school attendance returns should be made and on how a new website established by the NEWB can be used by schools to comply with their legal obligations to report student absences to the board.

I will keep the issue of the NEWB's staffing under review in the light of the roll out of services and any further proposals that the board may put to me on clearly identified priority needs.

Third Level Education.

Liam Twomey

Question:

60 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Education and Science the failure rates for first year science courses at universities and institutes of technology; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12939/05]

Information on national failure rates in specific programmes is not available. However, national research conducted by the HEA into the issue of student non-completion found that science had a higher rate of non-completion than the average across the university sector, at 22.2% against 16.7% otherwise. This, however, refers to the number who do not complete the full degree rather than the failure rate in any individual year of course. The report also found that overall Ireland's completion rate in degree level programmes compared favourably against the OECD average of 70%.

I am aware of recent media reports of a high failure rate in science, for example, the finding that in UCD some 28% of students either failed their first year or dropped out of the course. However, it is important to note that students may repeat examinations or all of first year, or choose to follow an alternative subject in higher education. The UCD study found that more than 95% of those who leave during the period of study re-enter the college or another third level institution or intend to do so in the near future, suggesting that only a small percentage of students are leaving third level education entirely. It is also instructive to note that a HEA study on completion rates found that of the total completion rate of 83%, some 15% completed late, which would include some individuals who would have repeated a year of a course.

Nevertheless, I am particularly concerned that this issue be addressed in view of the importance of science for Ireland's continued economic and national development. A number of actions are under way to enhance completion levels in science and all subjects in higher education. Since 2000, €3.8 million in funding has been made available for the HEA's targeted initiatives fund, which funds projects which aim to consider and develop approaches to non-completion and supports activities aimed at examining and improving student retention and participation in HEA funded institutions.

Institutes of technology have also introduced specific measures aimed at improving retention rates and have provided learning supports programmes with particular emphasis on strengthening skills in the areas of maths and science. They have also established retention projects, personal tutor and mentoring systems, training programmes for staff, orientation programmes to facilitate the transition to third level, information handbooks and guides to best practice, additional tutorials and school liaison and improved pre-entry information.

A separate scheme for student retention in the area of ICT was also introduced by the HEA in 2002, as part of the drive to enhance skills output in the ICT area. Some €3 million has been allocated since 2003, mainly focused on the areas of tutorials and mentoring, drop-in learning centres, student advisers and problem based learning.

The effectiveness of these schemes will be kept under review to ensure that maximum encouragment is given to all those who wish to study in the areas of science and technology.

Teacher Training.

Billy Timmins

Question:

61 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science if the curriculum in primary education contains a module on the way in which dyslexia is recognised and the way in which to deal with it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13129/05]

I understand the Deputy is referring to teacher training programmes in the colleges of education. The existing pre-service teacher training programmes provided by the colleges of education include specific elements aimed at enabling all primary teachers to recognise and deal appropriately with the particular needs of all children who have learning disabilities, including those associated with dyslexia.

To further enhance the relevant preparation teachers will have received at pre-service level in the colleges, my Department, in co-operation with colleges of education and universities, also provides a nationwide programme, on an annual basis, of additional specialist training at postgraduate level for learning support teachers and resources teachers. Learning support teachers are available to all primary schools as additional support for children with learning difficulties, including dyslexia. Resource teachers are available to primary schools, as required, as an additional support for children with special educational needs, including children with dyslexia.

In addition, my Department is currently engaged in a further programme of professional development for all teachers in primary schools, with particular emphasis on whole school and classroom based strategies for responding effectively to the learning needs of children with reading difficulties, including those associated with dyslexia. This work is being undertaken in conjunction with the learning support guidelines which have been made available to all schools by my Department.

This specialist training is supported and directly funded by the teacher education section of my Department, which is responsible for the education, training and continuing professional development of teachers across the continuum from initial pre-entry education to inservice. The course syllabi include training in the diagnosis and identification of reading difficulties, including the appropriate techniques for remediation. In particular, there is a focus on the problem of specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia, in diagnosis and pedagogy.

Through the special education support service, which was established in September 2003, my Department also supports many other relevant short-term intensive courses, including some on-line courses, for primary teachers. In its current programme of support and professional development, the special education support service includes dyslexia as an area of priority with other similar courses which are provided through the network of education centres, teachers' organisations and through the programme of summer courses for primary teachers.

Special Educational Needs.

Martin Ferris

Question:

62 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Education and Science the appeal mechanism for parents who wish to transfer their dyslexic child to a special school in a case in which family psychologists rate the pupil at eight and school psychologists rate the same pupil at a scale of 22, closing the child’s access to the school, in view of the widespread confusion surrounding new structures. [13122/05]

Based on the information provided by the Deputy, it is not possible to respond specifically on the case in question. However, my officials will arrange to have the matter examined further if the Deputy or the pupil's family arranges to forward the specific details of the case, including the relevant professional reports, to my Department's special education section.

Children with dyslexia have, up to now, generally been catered for on an integrated basis in ordinary primary schools where they can be supported by the learning support teacher service or the resource teacher service. At present, there are approximately 2,600 resource teachers and 1,531 learning support teachers in the primary system. The Department also provides funding to schools for the purchase of specialised equipment such as computers to assist children with special needs with their education, including children with dyslexia, where recommended by relevant professionals. Schools may apply, through the local SENO, for this support.

Where the condition of a pupil with dyslexia is of a more serious nature, provision can be made in one of the four special schools or 23 special classes attached to ordinary primary schools and dedicated to the needs of children with dyslexia. All special schools and special classes for such children operate at a reduced pupil teacher ratio of 9:1.

My officials will arrange to have the matter examined further if the Deputy or the pupil's family arranges to forward the specific details on the case to my Department's special education section.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

63 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress being made on the implementation of the recommendations of the task force on autism; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12971/05]

The recommendations of the task force on autism provide an invaluable basis for development of educational services and supports for persons with autism. In responding to the recommendations, my Department has given priority to implementing the core legislative and structural measures required to underpin service development and delivery.

The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 has been enacted, while on the structural front, the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has been established on a statutory basis. These developments represent significant progress and I am confident they will have a positive impact on services for children with special educational needs, including those with autism.

My Department has already acted on many of the recommendations of the task force and is continuing to develop the network of special educational provision for children with autism. The extent of improvement in services for children with autism in recent years can be measured from the fact that, since 1998, when autism was first recognised as a distinct special educational need, a number of dedicated facilities have been developed. A total of 141 special classes for children with autism attached to special schools and mainstream schools have been created; 13 pre-school classes for children with autism have been established; eight autism facilities, some of which are providing an applied behavioural analysis model of response to children with autism, are being funded and five special classes for children with Aspergers syndrome have been created.

The typical pupil teacher ratio for pupils with autism in special schools and classes is 6:1, with two special needs assistants in each class. The Department also sanctions home tuition grants for children with autism for whom a home based applied behavioural analysis programme is considered appropriate or in cases where such children are awaiting an appropriate school placement.

The task force on autism made a number of recommendations on teacher professional development and significant progress has been made in this area also. The special education support service was established in 2003 to manage, co-ordinate and develop a range of supports in response to identified training needs. The service has established teams of trainers to deliver training in the four specific areas of autism, challenging behaviour, dyslexia and inclusion at post-primary level. This training is delivered locally across the State through the education centre network. In addition, the service provides immediate responses to requests from schools for support in a variety of autism related areas. The service also funds the provision of on-line training courses, including a course on autism, during the summer months of July and August and during the autumn and spring terms.

My Department also now provides 140 places per annum on a postgraduate diploma programme in special educational needs and 20 places per annum on a postgraduate programme in autism. It has also funded the development of an applied behaviour analysis training programme in Trinity College, Dublin, and funded the participation of 12 teachers on the course in 2003-04. The successful participants are now available to the Department, as classroom teachers and as a further training resource.

I am satisfied the steps taken in recent years and those in hand represent significant progress in the development of services for children with autism. However, I recognise that further progress is required and my Department, in consultation with parents and existing service providers, will seek to ensure the recent rate of development is maintained.

Literacy Levels.

Damien English

Question:

64 Mr. English asked the Minister for Education and Science the percentage of young persons leaving secondary school with literacy difficulties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12975/05]

There is no facility within the education system to measure the percentage of young people leaving post-primary schools with literacy difficulties. However, the results of PISA, the programme of international student assessment, provide detailed information on the standards of reading literacy among Irish 15 year olds.

In the second cycle of PISA, which was carried out in 2003, Ireland ranked 6th in reading out of the 29 OECD countries for which results were analysed. Just three countries — Finland, Korea and Canada — had significantly higher scores than Ireland. The percentage of Irish students in the 2003 survey whose performance in reading was at or below level 1, the lowest level of proficiency, was 11%. The corresponding OECD average was 19.1%. The results of the first cycle of PISA, which took place in 2000, displayed similar differences in favour of Ireland. These outcomes provide strong evidence that, with regard to reading, there are proportionately fewer low achieving students in Ireland compared to the OECD.

Closer examination of the category of low achievement referred to reveals that 2.7% of Irish students performed below level 1 compared with the OECD average of 6.7%. This indicates that the proportion of students with serious reading difficulties in Ireland is less than half that of the OECD average. The results of PISA 2000 provide similar evidence with regard to the prevalence of reading difficulties of this nature among Irish 15 year olds.

Notwithstanding that, young people with poor levels of literacy are a source of concern for my Department. To address their needs, learning support teacher services are available to all second level schools. Currently, there are 528 whole time teacher equivalent posts for learning support. In addition, a total of 1388 whole time teacher posts are provided at second level to cater for students with special educational needs. All of these teachers prioritise the development of literacy skills.

There are also a number of initiatives at post-primary level that have students with literacy difficulties as their target group. The junior certificate school programme focuses specifically on developing literacy skills and schools participating in the school completion programme are given considerable financial resources to provide targeted students with opportunities to improve their literacy skills in accordance with their identified needs. The reduction of the numbers of students with literacy difficulties continues to be a key priority for my Department

Special Educational Needs.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

65 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to further special needs requirements at both primary and second level schools throughout the country; if she intends to make provision for the appointment of the necessary teaching staff to ensure the availability of maximum hours for children with special needs requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12990/05]

Every effort is made to ensure that children with special educational needs receive an education appropriate to their needs and, in this regard, in recent years significant additional resources have been made available to schools to enable them to provide for children with such needs.

The following dedicated resources are now deployed to support children with special educational needs in the primary system: more than 2,600 resource teachers — up from 104 in 1998; more than 1,500 learning support teachers; more than 1,000 teachers in special schools; more than 600 teachers in special classes; nearly 6,000 special needs assistants — up from 300 in 1998; more than €30 million on school transport for special needs pupils; more than €3 million towards specialised equipment and materials — up from €0.8 million in 1998.

In addition, the level of resources being made available to support students with special educational needs in the second level system has also grown significantly in recent years. In the current school year, my Department has allocated approximately 1,388 whole time equivalent teachers and 630 special needs assistants to second level schools and VECs to cater for pupils with special educational needs.

In addition to the measures I have outlined, the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has been established as an independent statutory body with responsibilities as set out in the National Council for Special Education (Establishment) Order, 2003. The establishment of the NCSE is a further major step in ensuring that the requirements of children with special educational needs are identified and the necessary resources put in place in a timely and effective manner.

There are 71 special education needs organisers, SENOs, employed by the council since September 2004. These have been deployed on a nationwide basis, with at least one SENO being deployed in each county. Each SENO is responsible for the primary and second level schools in their area and they have made contact with each of their schools and informed them of their role.

In addition to processing requests for resources, the council will co-ordinate the provision of education and related support services with health boards, schools and other relevant bodies. Placing organisers in the locality will enable them to work with the parents and the schools, particularly to co-ordinate the services on a local level. That will ensure that when a child has been identified as having a special need, the services can be put in place immediately.

The issue of providing adequate resources to meet the needs of children with special educational needs will continue to be a priority for me. In this regard, my Department is continuing to take steps to develop the network of special educational provision for children with special needs. The steps taken in recent years and those currently in hand represent significant progress in the development of those services.

Psychological Service.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

66 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of psychologists employed by the NEPS; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12959/05]

The National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, has delegated authority to develop and provide an educational psychological service to all students in primary and post-primary schools and in certain other centres supported by my Department. A leaflet explaining the NEPS model of service, Working Together to Make a Difference for Children, was issued to all schools in October 2002.

In addition to providing assessments for individual children, NEPS is pursuing a policy of enhancing the skills of teachers in the areas of group and individual testing, programme development and behavioural management. This means that many children's needs can be speedily met without the necessity for individual psychological assessment, although the NEPS psychologists are available as consultants to teachers and parents, thus helping the children in an indirect way. This reduces the waiting times for individual assessment.

The NEPS psychologists address the need for psychological assessments in the schools they serve and provide advice on the identification and screening of children who might need to be assessed. Each psychologist is responsible for a number of named schools and visits each on a regular basis. The school authorities provide names of children who are giving cause for concern and discuss the relative urgency of each case during the psychologist's visits. This allows the psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and such children will be seen or referred on in a matter of weeks, if not days. Where cases are less urgent, the psychologist will, as a preliminary measure, act as a consultant to teachers and parents, offer advice about educational and behavioural plans and monitor progress.

The complement of psychologists in NEPS has increased from 43 psychologists — 30 in permanent full-time posts and 13 on secondment — on the date of establishment in September 1999 to 128 in January 2005, plus two psychologists on career break. Recruitment of psychologists to NEPS has, until recently, been undertaken by the Civil Service and Local Government Commissioners. The last Civil Service Commission panel of 69 psychologists has been exhausted and the recently established Public Appointments Service is now making arrangements to set up a new panel.

With regard to achieving a better regional spread of NEPS psychologists, under the next recruitment competition for NEPS psychologists, regional panels rather than one national panel will be established. This will allow my Department to give greater priority in filling vacancies to areas with the greatest need.

It should be noted that all schools that do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, whereby the school can have an assessment carried out by a member of the panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the psychologist the fees for this assessment directly. Details of this process, and the conditions that apply to the scheme, appear on my Department's website. NEPS also provides assistance to all schools that suffer from critical incidents, regardless of whether they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them.

School Staffing.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

67 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the recent survey undertaken by the ASTI, which showed that work related stress accounted for more than one in three teacher absences from school; the steps she intends to take to reduce stress levels among teachers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13020/05]

Opportunities for professional development and the availability of support on a personal level are important in every profession in enabling staff to work to the best of their abilities and to deal with stress. The priority I attach to providing quality professional development for teachers is evident from the fact that this year's inservice budget is up by almost 19% on the 2004 allocation to roughly €31 million.

Enhanced opportunities for professional development will help teachers to stay at the top of their profession. However, I recognise that just like employees in every other line of work, there will be times during a teacher's career when they might need support on a personal, rather than on a professional level. As I told the ASTI annual conference last month, there is a need to develop an occupational health strategy as a supportive resource for teachers. The aim of such a strategy will be to promote the health of teachers in their workplace, with a focus primarily on prevention rather than cure. In this context I have asked my officials to look at possible models for the development of both an occupational health service and an employee assistance service. Exploratory talks have already commenced with the teacher unions and management groups on the possibilities involved. I will maintain a strong interest in developments.

With regard to creating a positive school environment in our schools in which students and staff can work, I established a task force to review the issue of student behaviour. The task force will produce an interim report shortly with its final report expected before the end of this year.

Schools Building Projects.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

68 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science the timescale for the allocation of funding to commence construction of an extension of a school (details supplied) in Dublin 20; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13118/05]

I have included the building project for the school in question in my recently announced list of school projects to be progressed through architectural planning in 2005. My Department will be in contact with the school shortly to progress the design process. A decision on which school building projects will advance to tender and construction as part of the 2006 schools building and modernisation programme will be taken later in the year.

I have now announced the first phases of the 2005 schools building and modernisation programme which provided details of: 122 major school building projects country wide, including 89 primary school projects, which will prepare tenders and move to construction during the next 12 to 15 months; an additional 171 in the number of primary schools that will be invited to deliver their building projects on the basis of devolved funding; 43 schools, of which 32 are primary schools, that will be authorised to commence architectural planning; 590 schools approved for funding under the 2005 summer works scheme, of which over 360 are primary schools; 124 schools, of which 73 are primary schools, whose projects will further progress through the design process.

In addition, approximately €18 million in respect of all primary schools will be issued under the devolved grant to enable schools to carry out minor works. Each primary school gets a standard rate of €3,809 together with a per pupil rate of €12.70.

I plan to make a further announcement in the coming period regarding the 2005 schools building and modernisation programme that will include details of projects identified as suitable for construction under public private partnerships.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

69 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children at primary level in classes of more than 35; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12947/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

79 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children at primary level in classes of more than 25; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12946/05]

Richard Bruton

Question:

93 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children at primary level in classes of more than 20; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12945/05]

John Deasy

Question:

133 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of primary school children in classes of more than 30; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12936/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 69, 79, 93 and 133 together.

The information requested is as follows and refers to ordinary classes only for the 2003-04 school year: more than 20 — 346,066; more than 25 — 233,262; more than 30 — 73,069; more than 35 — 4,499. The system for allocating teachers to primary schools is based on ensuring an overall maximum class of 29 in each school. Where some classes in a school have class sizes of greater than 29, it is generally because a decision has been taken at local level to use the teaching resources to have smaller numbers in other classes.

Significant improvements have been made in this area in recent years. The average class size at primary level is now 23.9, down from 26.6 in 1996-97. The number of children being taught in classes of 30 plus nationally has almost halved since 1997. The pupil teacher ratio, which includes all the teachers in the school including resource teachers, has fallen from 22.2 to one in the 1996-97 school year to 17.4 to one in 2003-04. More than 4,000 additional teachers have been employed in our primary schools since 1997. These additional teaching posts have been used to reduce class sizes, to tackle educational disadvantage and to provide additional resources for children with special needs.

Significantly smaller class sizes have been introduced in disadvantaged schools involved in the Giving Children an Even Break and Breaking the Cycle programme, with approximately 47,700 pupils in 243 participating schools availing of reduced class sizes of either 15 or 20 pupils per class.

In line with Government policy, my Department will continue to provide further reductions in the pupil teacher ratio. With regard to class sizes, the commitment in the programme for Government is to reduce class sizes for the under nine year olds. The Government is committed to doing this, with priority being given in the first instance to pupils in disadvantaged areas.

Higher Education Grants.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

70 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science the position of discussions with the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Revenue Commissioners regarding the introduction of a new higher education grants scheme; the steps being taken to bring these discussions to a conclusion; when she expects that the new system will be in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13023/05]

My Department funds three means tested maintenance grant schemes for third level students. The higher education grants scheme operates on a statutory basis, while the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme and the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees operate on an administrative basis. The statutory framework for maintenance grants under the higher education grants scheme is set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992.

The administration of student support schemes is complex and resource intensive involving the processing and assessment of applications resulting in the approval of payments to over 56,000 students annually. Expenditure in 2004 was almost €203 million.

In accordance with the commitment in the An Agreed Programme for Government, I propose to introduce a single unified scheme of maintenance grants for students in higher education for the academic year 2006-07. In this context, I intend to put in place as early as possible a more coherent administration system which will facilitate consistency of application and improved client accessibility. This is necessary if we are to ensure public confidence in the awards system and ensure the timely delivery of grants to those who need them most.

My Department has been engaged in extensive consultations with the key stakeholders and with other relevant Departments to map the most logical and effective arrangements for the future structure and administration of the student support schemes. Discussions with the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Revenue Commissioners relate to their possible contribution to the future shape and administration of the student support schemes.

I expect these discussions will be concluded in the near future. I will then be in a position to determine the best strategy to give effect to the programme for Government commitment to the payment of the maintenance grants through a unified and flexible payment scheme. Whatever new arrangements are eventually decided upon will be provided for in new statutory arrangements through a new student support Bill. This Bill, which will provide statutory underpinning for the schemes, will have as a key objective the promotion of equality of access. I also envisage that the Bill will provide for an independent appeals system.

The timescale for the publication of this Bill is contingent on the range of issues which are the subject of the consultations already mentioned.

School Staffing.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

71 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of school days taken by unqualified teachers in the latest year for which figures are available; if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties experienced by school principals in obtaining fully qualified substitute teachers; if she has proposals to address this problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13017/05]

The figures requested by the Deputy are not readily available in my Department. I am aware, however, that the primary sector has experienced a shortage of trained teachers in recent years mainly as a result of the creation of a large number of additional posts — more than 4,000 since 1997 — in our primary schools. The difficulties experienced were aggravated by the number of teachers availing of career breaks and job sharing schemes. With regard to the difficulty of getting trained teachers to work as short-term substitutes, this would be more pronounced in rural areas.

My Department introduced a range of measures to address the shortage of qualified teachers and I am pleased the number of unqualified teachers in our schools has significantly reduced. It is important to acknowledge that the colleges of education have done much to increase the output of primary teachers to meet the needs of schools arising from significant additional teacher allocations in recent years.

Since 1999, more than 1,000 students have been admitted annually to the bachelor of education programme in the colleges of education. Since the 1995-96 academic year, an 18 month postgraduate course has been provided in the colleges of education. The total intake to the colleges of education in the current academic year is circa 1,280 students. This compares with an intake of 500 in 1996-97.

There are currently some 3,500 students enrolled and pursuing various stages of primary teacher training programmes in the colleges of education. In addition, graduates of the new primary teacher training course, which is being accredited by HETAC and delivered by Hibernia College, an on-line third level educational company, will be recognised for the purposes of primary teaching.

I am committed to ensuring that the shortage of qualified teachers will be eliminated as speedily as possible and, in this context, my Department will continue to consider initiatives and keep developments under review.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

72 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of persons who have made compensation applications to the Residential Institutions Redress Board at the latest date for which figures are available; the way in which the number of applications compares with the original estimate made by her Department; the latest estimate of the number of likely applications; the total amount paid out in awards to date; the estimated likely total liability of the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13010/05]

The Residential Institutions Redress Board is an independent body established under statute in December 2002 to provide financial redress to persons who, as children, were abused while resident in industrial schools, reformatories or other institutions that were subject to State regulation or inspection. To date, the board has received 5,909 applications and has made awards in just over 3,000 of these cases at a total cost of approximately €229 million.

The board has prepared its second annual report which covers the period 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2004. This report was laid before each of the Houses of the Oireachtas on 13 April 2005 and will shortly be available on the board's website at www.rirb.ie. In its 2004 report, the board states that, based on the pattern of receipt of applications to date, it anticipates receiving between 7,500 and 8,000 applications by the final date for receipt of applications on 15 December 2005, although it emphasises that this is a tentative estimate.

The redress scheme has now been in operation for almost two and a half years and the board will continue to accept applications until December 2005. At that stage, it will be possible to determine the total number of applications under the scheme but, as it will take the board some considerable time to deal with all applications, the final cost of the scheme may not be known until some time in 2007. Based on the total number of applications the redress board expects to receive up to the end of this year, and allowing for legal and administration costs, the estimated total cost of the scheme will be somewhere in the region of €680 million and €730 million.

The Department's estimate prior to the establishment of the redress board was that the amount of compensation would be €508 million, not including legal and administration costs. Including legal and administration costs the cost of awards under this estimate would be €610 million. The final cost of the redress scheme must be viewed in the context of the Government's concern to provide reasonable compensation towards the hurt and suffering experienced by victims of abuse and the very substantial costs that would have been incurred in any event if no such scheme had been established and if cases had been processed in the normal manner through the courts.

Special Educational Needs.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

73 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Education and Science the measures which will be put in place to ensure that the National Council for Special Education can handle the workload involving deaf education; her views on whether it would be better to reconstitute the advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing for a further fixed period with a majority and minority report arrangement in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13120/05]

The advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing was established in December 2001. The committee held 38 meetings over a three year period as well as a number of other meetings at subcommittee stage.

From an early stage in the committee's deliberations it became apparent that there were entrenched, divergent views among representatives of deaf and hearing persons and their families on approaches to the teaching of the deaf and hard of hearing and that there was little willingness to reach consensus. One group who come from an oralist tradition favours a focus on teaching deaf and hard of hearing children to speak and to understand spoken language. The emphasis in the oralist approach is on the use of residual hearing and has been assisted by advances in audiology and technology. Another group strongly advocates sign language as the appropriate and exclusive means of communication. The opposing viewpoints of these groups made it difficult for the committee to reach decisions. In some cases, decisions arrived at on subcommittee stage were challenged at plenary level by members who were involved in the decisions of the subcommittee.

While various chapters of the committee's report were drafted, including chapters on early intervention, primary education, post-primary education, visiting teacher service and communication issues, no consensus was reached on any of these due to the divergent views of members of the committee. To progress matters, and as two previous deadlines which had been set for the finalisation had not been met, my predecessor, Deputy Noel Dempsey, met the committee in June 2004. At that meeting, Deputy Dempsey stressed that its report should be completed by October 2004. The report did not materialise.

In the circumstances and following consultations between my officials and the chairperson of the committee, I formed the view that there was no prospect of the advisory committee reaching an agreed position in the foreseeable future. Given this position, I recently wrote to the chairperson of the committee and informed her of my decision to disband it. I have no plans to change that decision. In disbanding the committee, however, I requested that all of the material produced by it to date be sent to my Department and this has been done. I now intend to discuss the important issue of deaf education with the National Council for Special Education with a view to carrying out research initially and devising policy on issues relating to deaf and hard of hearing pupils.

I am disappointed that it was not possible for the committee to complete its work but the reality was that, more than three years after its establishment, there was no prospect of it doing so. Rather than continue down the cul de sac that the committee's work had become, I have decided that a different approach is required and this approach includes involving the National Council for Special Education which has a remit to advise my Department on policy matters.

I am confident the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, which has a research function and part of whose remit is to advise my Department on policy matters, will be in a position, after undertaking appropriate research and analysis of this matter, to advise my Department on policy and other issues relating to the education of deaf and hard of hearing pupils.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Seamus Healy

Question:

74 Mr. Healy asked the Minister for Education and Science the timescale and the way in which she proposes to respond to the disturbing facts uncovered in the survey recently carried out by the Irish National Teachers Organisation which showed that there are 55 primary classes in south Tipperary of 30 or more and that 25% of all south Tipperary primary pupils are in classes of more than 30; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12746/05]

The system for allocating teachers to primary schools is based on ensuring an overall maximum class of 29 in each school. Where some classes in a school have class sizes of greater than 29, it is generally because a decision has been taken at local level to use the teaching resources to have smaller numbers in other classes.

The Deputy should note that significant improvements have been made in this area in recent years. The average class size at primary level is now 23.9, down from 26.5 in 1996. The pupil teacher ratio, which includes all the teachers in the school including resource teachers, has fallen from 22.2 to one in the 1996-97 school year to 17.4 to one in 2003-04. More than 4,000 additional teachers have been employed in our primary schools since 1997. These additional teaching posts have been used to reduce class sizes, to tackle educational disadvantage and to provide additional resources for children with special needs.

Significantly smaller class sizes have been introduced in disadvantaged schools involved in the Giving Children an Even Break and Breaking the Cycle programmes, with approximately 47,700 pupils in 243 participating schools availing of reduced class sizes of either 15 or 20 pupils per class.

Other improvements in school staffing in recent years include the following: a reduction in the appointment and retention figure for the first mainstream class teacher to 12 pupils; the appointment of administrative principals to ordinary schools where there are nine or more teachers, including ex quota posts; a reduction in the enrolment figures required for the appointment of administrative principals to ordinary schools and Gaelscoileanna; the allocation of teaching posts to schools where 14 or more pupils with significant English language deficits are identified.

With regard to the average class size in south Tipperary, the latest data available in my Department show that in the 2003-04 school year the average class size in primary schools in Tipperary South was 23. Only 14% of pupils in south Tipperary were being taught in classes of more than 30, down from 40% of all pupils in the area in 1996-97. South Tipperary had one of the smallest proportions of primary pupils being taught in classes of more than 30 in the country.

This improvement is a reflection of the significant increases in staffing that have been provided to our primary schools by this Government. The number of children being taught in classes of more than 30 nationally has almost halved since 1997. In line with Government policy, my Department will continue to provide further reductions in the pupil teacher ratio in our schools. Priority will be given to pupils with special needs and to those from disadvantaged areas.

School Discipline.

Paul McGrath

Question:

75 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the way in which she intends to tackle growing discipline problems in schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12937/05]

Liz McManus

Question:

119 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the call from the TUI, arising from concerns regarding declining school discipline, for the introduction of new legislative measures to outline the rights and responsibilities of both pupils and teachers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13012/05]

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

137 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science when she expects to receive the report of the task force on student behaviour in secondary schools; if her attention has been drawn to serious concern expressed at recent teacher union conferences regarding the increasing problems of school discipline; if she plans interim measures to deal with this problem, pending the receipt of the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13011/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 75, 119 and 137 together.

I recently established a task force to consider and report on the issue of student behaviour in second level schools. The task force is chaired by Dr. Maeve Martin of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. I want the work of this task force to provide a solid foundation for developing policies and best practice in our schools into the future. The task force will link closely to a wide range of interests across our education system on this important issue.

A consultative group is part of the process, comprising all the partners in education and allowing for their input to the deliberations of the task force. In addition, I have asked that the task force constitute fora of teachers, parents and students with a view to testing emerging ideas and proposals. The task force invited, by public advertisement, submissions from interested individuals and groups.

There have been eight meetings of the task force to date and other meetings are planned. The partners in education were invited to make oral submissions at a number of the task force meetings. Two consultative fora have been held, in Cork on 14 March and Galway on 21 March. A further two consultative fora have been organised for the coming weeks in Dundalk and Clondalkin. The chairperson and three of the task force members have attended the fora. The format is to meet separate groups of teachers, parents and students, with a member of the task force acting as rapporteur for each group. This is followed by a plenary session which is chaired by Dr. Martin.

To date more than 130 submissions have been received. The deadline for receipt of submissions, 31 March 2005, has passed. However, submissions continue to arrive and the task force is still accepting them. I have asked the task force to let me have an interim report by June 2005 and complete its work by the end of 2005.

Lisbon Agenda.

Richard Bruton

Question:

76 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps being taken by her Department to ensure that the targets set under the Lisbon strategy are achieved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12954/05]

The strategic goal set at the Lisbon European Council in March 2000 is to make the European Union the most competitive and dynamic knowledge based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, by 2010. Education and training have a central role in achieving the Lisbon goal.

The Lisbon strategy is at the core of policy-making in my Department. The statement of strategy for my Department is informed by, and explicitly acknowledges, the importance of the Lisbon strategy. My Department has taken a range of policy initiatives and measures in recent years which contribute to developing the knowledge society and achieving the Lisbon goal.

Since the time constraint does not permit me to give a comprehensive list of all the steps taken, I will focus on a number of key areas. Excellent progress has been made in the area of recognition of qualifications. The establishment of the national qualifications framework represents a significant new departure in Irish education with the needs of the learner taking priority. The framework provides a unique opportunity to develop the awards system for education and training in an innovative and creative way, ensuring that Ireland is at the forefront of international developments in this area.

The expert group on future skills needs studies the supply and demand for skills in individual business/industrial sectors and occupations. There has been concrete progress in implementing the expert group's reports: for example, there have been substantial increases in third level and training course places to address supply shortages in the ICT and life sciences sectors in particular. Social cohesion is a significant dimension of the Lisbon strategy. My Department has put in place a range of measures aimed at promoting social inclusion ensuring that all of our young people leave the education system with a high quality education and related qualifications to support their full participation in society. The national anti-poverty strategy is coherent with the achievement of the Lisbon goal.

The lifelong learning dimension of the Lisbon strategy has been advanced by a range of initiatives such as the adult guidance initiative and programmes to promote adult literacy, as well as increased flexibility of education provision which addresses access barriers. Significant progress has also been made in the curriculum at both first and second level in improving ICT access and in science and technology. Over €130 million has been invested in ICT in primary and secondary schools since 2000.

At third level, the Government has also made a strategic decision to invest heavily in research and development as a key means of assuring future economic and social development. Under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, major public investment is being made in research and development. This investment is creating new centres and research programmes through the higher education sector, providing valuable new labour market skills through the development of researchers and providing opportunities for academic-industry research collaborations.

Another important element in achieving the Lisbon goals is the Europass initiative. Europass is a new Europe wide instrument for better recognition of qualifications and skills in the enlarged Europe. It provides for a single framework for the transparency of qualifications and competences. The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland is working with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that Irish people can avail of Europass at the earliest opportunity.

In the context of the Lisbon strategy, the European Commission has been monitoring progress on a number of benchmarks for education and training. Ireland's comparative performance in a number of areas is particularly good: for example, we are among the best performing countries in the number of mathematics, science and technology graduates and in the reading ability of pupils at age 15 years.

Third Level Education.

Simon Coveney

Question:

77 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress which has been made in implementing the recommendations of the OECD review of third level education here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12960/05]

Seán Ryan

Question:

95 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps she intends to take arising from the decision of the Government to endorse the recent OECD report on third level education; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13025/05]

John Gormley

Question:

99 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Education and Science the aspects of the OECD report into higher education which the Government will implement in the coming 12 months. [13117/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 77, 95 and 99 together.

Following consideration and approval by my Government colleagues of the broad thrust of the recommendations contained in the OECD review of higher education, I was delighted to announce yesterday the creation of a strategic innovation fund to facilitate the process of change in the sector and also the bringing forward of legislation to provide for the transfer of the institutes of technology to the Higher Education Authority. These initiatives are evidence of my and the Government's commitment to providing a comprehensive response to the OECD report and ensuring that our higher education system is capable of meeting the challenges ahead. They form part of a detailed response to the report I gave yesterday in which I set out some of the main policy parameters which should now guide the process of change and development that lies ahead.

The OECD report emphasises the need to modernise structures within higher education institutions so they may better deliver on their broad educational mission. This need is already being recognised in the programmes of structural reform which are under way in a number of institutions. The Government recognises the reform efforts required and under way. It has agreed that they should be promoted and supported through accelerated prime funding.

The strategic innovation fund will enable higher education institutions to incentivise and reward internal restructuring and rationalisation efforts, provide for improved performance management systems, meet staff training and support requirements associated with the reform of structures and the implementation of new processes and implement improved management information systems. The fund will also facilitate institutions in introducing teaching and learning reforms, supporting quality improvement initiatives and promoting access, transfer and progression.

A key priority will be the incentivisation of stronger inter-institutional collaboration in the development and delivery of programmes. Funding will be competitively awarded on the basis of an independent external evaluation of the quality of proposals with a requirement for excellence. The fund will be created on a multi-annual basis and I will now ask the HEA to initiate the process of drawing up detailed criteria and launching a competitive process for the approval of funding awards, with a view to the draw down of awards commencing in 2006.

The strategic innovation fund is one part of a process of moving towards a more targeted approach to the overall funding of higher education. The HEA is already working towards the phasing in of a revised funding model which will act as an incentive to institutions to achieve progress on a range of strategic priorities. The challenges to be faced in increasing and diversifying the sources of funding available to higher education, as recommended by the OECD, are also significant and I have stated my intention to work with the sector to ensure that the conditions for a greater diversification of funding are facilitated.

A number of the key recommendations made by the OECD will require legislative change. It is my intention to develop comprehensive new legislation for the sector to give effect to these. The establishment of a new single oversight body to succeed the current Higher Education Authority will be addressed. So too will the need for change in the composition of governing bodies at institutional level. There is a need to place the two research councils, the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology, on an appropriate statutory footing.

In the meantime, I intend to move ahead with the designation of the institutes of technology under the existing Higher Education Authority. This is a key step in developing a coherent management and strategic framework for the sector and in promoting inter-institutional collaboration. Interim amending legislation will now be introduced to give effect to the designation. The aim is for this to be achieved by the end of October of this year, with the designation to take effect from that time. The membership of the authority itself will also be re-configured at that time to ensure that it reflects an appropriate balance of interests.

An important role of the current HEA and its successor body will be to achieve a broad collective fit between the institutional strategies of individual higher education providers and national strategic objectives. An essential starting point has to be the identification of what those national economic, social and cultural objectives are. The OECD report has recommended the establishment of a national council for tertiary education, research and innovation, to be chaired by the Taoiseach. I am not convinced that the particular model recommended by the OECD is the optimal one.

However, there is a need to provide formal structures for an articulation of the broad cross sectoral perspectives that should inform a national strategy for higher education. Those structures need to reflect the central importance of that strategy to Irish society. A re-constituted Higher Education Authority, representing a wider range of interests, and the recently established Cabinet committee on science, technology and innovation form important parts of the picture. It is my intention to further explore the potential approaches, consult further with colleagues and return to Government with proposals on the most effective model overall for achieving the objective behind the OECD recommendation.

I intend all of this to proceed against a background of extensive consultation with key stakeholders in the sector. I initiated this process in January with a colloquium involving myself, senior officials of my Department, the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities, the Higher Education Authority, the Council of Directors of the Institutes of Technology and Dublin Institute of Technology. My Department is now engaged in a consultative process on key areas such as research and access with a view to obtaining the input of relevant stakeholders to the reform process. A research consultative forum is due to take place shortly and others will follow.

I reiterate my commitment to the process of reform and development which will enable our higher education system to move forward, within a framework of a unified national strategy, in contributing to the achievement of our broad economic, social and cultural objectives.

Educational Disadvantage.

David Stanton

Question:

78 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children who have participated in the Early Start programme in each year since its inception; the cost of this project for each of those years; the success of this project in combating educational disadvantage; the success of this project in involving parents and the community in the programme; the success of this project in developing methods of best practice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13127/05]

The Early Start pre-school project was established in 40 primary schools in designated areas of urban disadvantage in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Drogheda and Dundalk during 1994 and 1995. The aims of Early Start are to expose young children to an educational programme which would enhance their overall development, prevent school failure and offset the effects of social disadvantage. The total number of places available in Early Start centres has been 1,680 in each year since 1996, the first full year of operation, with the funding provided to support this number of places on a year to year basis. The provision involved for 2005 is €5 million.

Early childhood education and care is a horizontal policy issue involving several Departments and agencies. Policy options in this area are under active consideration within my own Department and also by the interdepartmental high level group on child care and early education, which is chaired by the National Children's Office.

Question No. 79 answered with QuestionNo. 69.

School Accommodation.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

80 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science the way in which she proposes to address the growing problem of adequate provision of school places for children in areas of expanding population; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12997/05]

The school planning section of my Department is charged with planning the provision of suitable cost effective accommodation to underpin the delivery of first and second level education. Key tasks of the section include ensuring that there are sufficient pupil places available in first and second level schools and that the use of existing accommodation is optimised.

The process of assessing the need for new or additional educational facilities at primary or post-primary level in any given area entails consideration of all relevant factors, including enrolment and demographic trends, housing developments and the capacity of existing schools to meet the demand for places. Liaison with existing schools is an important part of the process also, as the school authorities would usually alert my Department where, in their view, the need for additional accommodation is anticipated. In this way, every effort is made to ensure that there is adequate existing provision or that timely arrangements are made to extend capacity or provide new infrastructure where necessary.

Over and above the statutory consultation provisions relating to draft area development plans, my Department has in recent years worked to strengthen contacts with local authorities to enable informed decisions to be made in planning future educational provision, for example, a specific forum, the Dublin school planning committee, chaired by officials of my Department, interacts with the Dublin local authorities. This forum comprises representatives of the local authorities in Dublin together with representatives of the patron bodies of primary schools and it works proactively in monitoring demographic changes and their likely impact.

The criteria for prioritising large scale building projects were revised following consultation with the education partners. Under the revised criteria, school projects in rapidly developing areas are assigned a band 1 rating which is the highest priority possible. This is clear evidence of my Department's commitment to ensuring that the needs of rapidly developing areas are met as quickly as possible.

The school planning section of my Department is also working proactively with some local authorities to explore the possibility of the development of school provision in tandem with the development of community facilities. This enhanced cooperation has the effect of minimising my Department's land requirements and thus reducing site costs while at the same time providing local communities with new schools with enhanced facilities. In addition, under the provisions of the strategic development zones, SDZ, it is generally the position that sites must be reserved for schools and that the schools must be developed commensurate with housing and other developments such as community facilities.

My Department has recently adopted an area based approach to school planning where, through a public consultation process involving all interested parties, a blueprint for schools' development in an area for a ten year timeframe is set out. The areas covered in the pilot phase of this new approach to school planning include the rapidly developing areas of north Dublin, south Louth, mid-Meath and the N4/M4 route running from Leixlip to Kilbeggan and including all rapidly developing towns and villages on that route.

Taken in combination the measures outlined will improve the speed and effectiveness of the response to emerging needs in rapidly developing areas.

Physical Education Facilities.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

81 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps she is taking to ensure that all goalposts used in schools are safe, in view of a number of accidents in which temporary or portable goalposts have collapsed on children causing injury and in some cases death; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13031/05]

In accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, individual school authorities are responsible, in the first instance, for ensuring the safety and welfare of children and others in their care. The National Standards Authority of Ireland has recently launched a new committee to develop a standard for the safety of goalposts. Involved in this committee, in addition to the National Standards Authority of Ireland itself, are such sporting organisations as the Gaelic Athletic Association, the Football Association of Ireland, Irish Rugby Football Union, the International Rugby Board, engineering firms, universities and other relevant State agencies, including an official from my Department.

Standardised Testing.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

82 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has received a report from the NCCA recommending that all 450,000 primary school pupils should be tested for literacy and numeracy in first class and fifth class; if she intends to implement this proposal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13006/05]

Enda Kenny

Question:

129 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science the position with regard to the introduction of standardised testing at primary level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12953/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 82 and 129 together.

Within the past week, I received the advice of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, on standardised testing in compulsory schooling. This advice contains a number of recommendations all of which complement the NCCA's ongoing work on supporting assessment in schools. Standardised tests offer real potential to improve the quality of teaching and learning in our classrooms, to assist parents in supporting their children's progress and to provide system level data on pupil achievement.

I intend to consider the advice of the NCCA carefully and to consult, as appropriate, before making any decisions on implementing standardised tests as a requirement in primary schools.

Special Educational Needs.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

83 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will reconsider her decision to abolish the advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing; her views on whether the National Council for Special Education is the appropriate forum to deal effectively, comprehensively and quickly with deaf education issues, particularly at developmental stage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13119/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

432 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason there was no consultation between her Department and the deaf community regarding her decision to abolish the advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing. [13138/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

433 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason the advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing was not consulted before her decision to disband it; the assessment she received before her decision; the person who made the assessment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13139/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

434 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention had been drawn to the unbalanced representation on the advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing before her decision to disband it. [13140/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

435 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention had been drawn to the intransigent stance adopted by her officials to proposals and suggestions of the deaf community regarding deaf education issues on the advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing. [13141/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

436 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on receiving majority and minority reports from the advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing based on its work up until disbandment. [13142/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

437 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will clarify her position regarding the education of the deaf community in view of comments made during a debate on 30 June 2004 which suggested that there were mutually exclusive arguments within the deaf community regarding education models; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there are not such major disagreements within the community, but rather between service providers and the deaf community; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13143/05]

Seán Crowe

Question:

449 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the anger and frustration at her decision to disband the advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing; and if there was any communication suggesting that the committee draw up a minority and majority report. [13233/05]

Seán Crowe

Question:

450 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of persons on the NCSE tasked with advising her Department on policy matters and who come from a deaf or hard of hearing background in view of her decision to disband the advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing. [13234/05]

Seán Crowe

Question:

451 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the effort she made as a newly appointed Minister to ensure that the advisory committee finalised its report in view of her decision to disband the committee; if her attention has been drawn to the two bodies of opinion shared by the committee; and if, in the absence of compromise, it was asked to come up with a majority and minority report. [13235/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 83, 432 to 437, inclusive, and 449 to 451, inclusive, together.

The advisory committee for the deaf and hard of hearing was established in December 2001. The committee held 38 meetings over a three year period as well as a number of other meetings at subcommittee stage.

From an early stage in the committee's deliberations, it became apparent that there were entrenched, divergent views among representatives of deaf and hearing persons and their families on approaches to the teaching of the deaf and hard of hearing and that there was little willingness to reach consensus. One group who comes from an oralist tradition favours a focus on teaching deaf and hard of hearing children to speak and to understand spoken language. The emphasis in the oralist approach is on the use of residual hearing and has been assisted by advances in audiology and technology. Another group strongly advocates sign language as the appropriate and exclusive means of communication. The opposing viewpoints of these groups made it difficult for the committee to reach decisions. In some cases, decisions arrived at on subcommittee stage were challenged at plenary level by members who were involved in the decisions of the subcommittee.

While various chapters of the committee's report were drafted, including chapters on early intervention, primary education, post-primary education, visiting teacher service and communication issues, no consensus was reached on any of these due to the divergent views of members of the committee.

To progress matters, and as two previous deadlines which had been set for the finalisation had not been met, my predecessor, Deputy Noel Dempsey, met with the committee in June 2004. At that meeting, Deputy Dempsey stressed that its report should be completed by October 2004. This did not materialise. In the circumstances and following consultations between my officials and the chairperson of the committee, I formed the view that there was no prospect of the advisory committee reaching an agreed position in the foreseeable future. Given this position, I recently wrote to the chairperson of the committee and informed her of my decision to disband it. I have no plans to change that decision.

In disbanding the committee, however, I requested that all of the material produced by it to date be sent to my Department and this has been done. I now intend to discuss the important issue of deaf education with the National Council for Special Education with a view to carrying out research initially and devising policy on issues relating to deaf and hard of hearing pupils.

I am disappointed it was not possible for the committee to complete its work but the reality was that, more than three years after its establishment, there was no prospect of its doing so. Rather than continue down the cul de sac the committee's work had become, I have decided that a different approach is required and this approach includes involving the National Council for Special Education which has a remit to advise my Department on policy matters.

I am confident the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, which has a research function and part of whose remit is to advise my Department on policy matters, will be in a position, after undertaking appropriate research and analysis of this matter, to advise my Department on policy and other issues relating to the education of deaf and hard of hearing pupils.

School Text Books.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

84 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will take action to prevent publishers of school books from reprinting text books with minor textual changes, forcing parents and schools to discard expensive books after a short period of time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13030/05]

Syllabus planners are conscious of the need to avoid over frequent changes, primarily to minimise increases in the cost burden for parents. Apart from a small number of prescribed texts at second level, mainly in the case of language subjects, school books are not approved or prescribed by my Department at first or second level. The publication and sale of school books are in the hands of independent enterprises. Decisions on which books to use are taken at school level.

School authorities have been advised that books should be changed only to the extent that is absolutely necessary. However, textbooks must be changed periodically to enable students' work to be kept educationally stimulating and to ensure that content and methodology are kept up to date.

My Department operates a grant scheme towards the cost of providing school textbooks for pupils from low income families in schools at first and second level. For the purposes of these grants, a needy pupil is a pupil from a family where there is genuine hardship because of unemployment, prolonged illness of a parent, large family size with inadequate means, single parenthood, or other family circumstances, such as substance abuse, which would indicate a similar degree of financial hardship. Principal teachers administer the book grant schemes in schools in a flexible way under the terms of the schemes based on their knowledge of particular circumstances in individual cases. Many schools operate book rental schemes and second-hand book exchanges.

A total of €3,961,683.89 was paid by my Department in respect of the school books grant scheme in primary schools for the 2004-05 school year. This figure includes €3,272,733.40 in respect of the loan or rental scheme. The total expenditure in post-primary schools for the 2004-05 school year was €6,359,000, which includes €221,240.00 in respect of the book rental or loan schemes seed capital.

School Administration.

Liz McManus

Question:

85 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has considered the recent survey carried out by the Irish Primary Principals Network which found that many principals are extremely overloaded and overworked; if she will address the administrative burden under which principals are operating; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13013/05]

I am aware of the concerns expressed by a number of organisations, including the Irish Primary Principals Network in their survey, about the administrative burden placed on schools and the effect this has on the workload of principals. In response to these concerns, I have already started a process of review of the administrative burden imposed on schools arising from departmental and legislative requirements. We can collectively seek opportunities to ensure that this burden is kept to the minimum, consistent with achieving the worthwhile and essential objectives of legislation in recent years.

The core purpose of the review I have set in motion is to focus sharply upon administrative processes and consequent administrative burdens which arise within the school as a result of regulations and/or departmental requirements and to consider what scope exists for alleviating these or having them performed in a more efficient and less demanding manner from the perspectives of the school.

In March my Department wrote to the various representative bodies inviting them to consider where and in what way present processes can be improved upon. My Department will work closely with all parties involved to find meaningful solutions in respect of this important issue.

Computerisation Programme.

Bernard Allen

Question:

86 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Education and Science if a new strategy for introducing information technology into schools will be announced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12941/05]

The major focus for my Department at present is the roll out of broadband connectivity to all recognised schools. This project is being undertaken in partnership with industry, following the establishment of a three year €18 million joint Government/IBEC-TIF fund. The broadband connectivity will be provided via a backbone schools network supported by HEAnet, which will provide managed Internet access, e-mail, security controls and other services designed to enhance the educational process. A broadband support service will be provided by the NCTE to assist schools with advice and information relating to the roll out and ongoing use of their broadband connectivity within the schools network.

The provision of always-on high speed Internet access for recognised schools represents a major development in the schools ICT initative to integrate technology into teaching and learning in our schools and equip our young people for full participation in the information society.

School Management.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

87 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to reported proposals from a number of religious orders to establish collaborative trusts to run schools under their control; if there have been any discussions with her Department on this proposal; if her attention has further been drawn to concerns that such a change might hasten the closure of schools around the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13021/05]

Members of religious orders have kept in close touch with my Department about the evolution of trust boards in their sector. At the core of this approach is an intent and desire to secure the future of the ethos of these schools at a time when the role of members of the orders in day to day management will be greatly diminished as a result of falling numbers of religious. I do not see the trust board concept as a threat to the continuation of a school of any particular ethos. While there is no doubt that issues of demographics and parental choice will have an impact on the future shape of educational delivery in Ireland, I do not see the advent of trust boards per se as resulting in school closures.

Third Level Education.

Seán Ryan

Question:

88 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps she intends to take to address the continuing low levels of attendance at third level institutions by young persons from areas of socioeconomic disadvantage, identified in recent figures published by the CAO; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13024/05]

Ireland has witnessed significant growth in participation in higher education in recent decades. In 1980, only 20% of all school leavers went on to higher education, today that figure is 54%. In 1980, only 3% of children from the least well off families entered higher education. According to the most recent national survey data available — Clancy 2001 — that figure has risen to between 20% and 30% of school leavers from the most under-represented groups. While this represents a big improvement it is below the average participation rate.

Broadening access to further and higher education is one of the Government's major policy priorities. The Government made a €42 million package available in 2003 which involved substantial increases in grant levels while extending the income thresholds and linking the amount of the "top up" grant to the maximum personal rate of unemployment assistance. The impact of this scheme resulted in an increase in the number of grant holders from 51,000 in 2002-03 to more than 56,000 in 2003-04 and an increase in the number of "top up" grant holders to more than 11,500.

In addition to the initiatives within the mainstream grant schemes, the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education manages for my Department a number of funding programmes to widen access and support the participation of socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. These include the HEA strategic initiative funding, Improving Access, through which €7.3 million is ring-fenced annually for widening access programmes of third level institutions; the student assistance fund which provides financial support to disadvantaged students who require additional support to enable them to fully benefit from their third level studies —€5.6 million allocated under this fund in 2004-05; the fund for students with disabilities in respect of which expenditure was over €6 million in 2004, which has contributed to an increase in participation by students with a disability, with approximately 1,790 students in receipt of funding under the 2004-05 scheme, an increase of almost 1,300 since 2000 when 511 were in receipt of funding under the scheme; and the millennium partnership fund for disadvantage through which €1.85 million was allocated in 2004-05 to 68 partnerships and community groups.

A number of practical steps are being taken to address the under-representation of young people from areas of socioeconomic disadvantage. This includes the establishment in August 2003 of the national office within the HEA as a co-ordinating unit to lead work nationally on achieving equity of access to higher education, co-ordinate funding and resources, and monitor and report on progress. In December 2004, the national office published a three year action plan, 2005-2007, which sets out a range of practical steps which need to occur so that more opportunities are created for groups who have to date been under-represented in the sector, such as socioeconomically disadvantaged school leavers. This will include arrangements so that all disadvantaged regions, schools and communities, in particular those with low levels of representation, are linked to access activities and programmes in at least one higher education institution in their region.

An integrated and coherent strategy is required if we are to further increase the participation rates among persons from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Incentivised funding at the level of the institutions and the individual as advocated in the action plan from the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education will be an important element of funding policies in the future. My Department is in consultation with the universities and the institutes of technology about their proposals for alternative entry and retention processes to improve access opportunities for students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. I also attach considerable importance to the recommendations in the action plan relating to awareness issues and the need for user friendly and accessible processes and procedures for the allocation of funding.

A priority area for action is evaluation of access programmes which have been established in higher education institutions to ascertain what strategies and partnerships work best in achieving equity of access to higher education for all under-represented groups. Building upon this work, the national office will develop and support the implementation of a national framework of access policies and initiatives for each target group, including young people from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. The national office will monitor and report on progress in implementing the action plan and reaching national and institutional targets on equity of access to higher education.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

89 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to bring about an early examination of the pupil teacher ratio at primary and second level schools throughout the country; if the necessary corrective measures will be taken to bring the ratio here into line with other jurisdictions in which best practice is observed; her views on the urgent need to address this issue at an early date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12991/05]

Significant improvements have been made in the pupil teacher ratio at both primary and post primary levels in recent years. At primary level, the ratio has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 17.4:1 in the 2003-04 school year. At post-primary level the pupil teacher ratio has been reduced from 16:1 to 13.6:1 in the same period. In line with Government policy, my Department will continue to provide further reductions in the pupil teacher ratio, with priority being given to pupils with special needs, those from disadvantaged areas and those in junior classes.

Public Private Partnerships.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

90 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science if her Department is planning further PPP schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12938/05]

My colleague, the Minister for Finance, provided a capital envelope of €555 million in respect of education PPPs for the period 2005 to 2009 and I am currently examining how this may be best utilised. This examination covers both schools and the third level sector.

A key rationale underpinning the decision to proceed with the initial bundle of five schools was to test the PPP approach in the case of schools, to learn from the experience and thereby to inform future usage of a PPP approach to procuring schools. Based on the experience to date, a number of issues are under active consideration by my Department and will inform my decision on the allocation of the funds available to me for PPP development. These include the type of PPP model to be used, the level of operation and service to be included in any new programme, how the projects should be bundled so as to provide the most cost effective procurement and the size and geographical spread of the bundles.

New building projects on greenfield sites that have been prioritised using the criteria agreed with the education partners and published by my Department fit the PPP model best, as distinct from projects that involve modernisation of existing buildings. I intend to announce my plans for a further PPP programme in the near future.

School Accommodation.

Seán Crowe

Question:

91 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the extra supports her Department plans to introduce in view of the long waiting list for parents looking to send their children to an all-Irish primary school in the Tallaght west area. [13123/05]

I approved the provision of temporary accommodation at the all-Irish primary school in Tallaght to meet its needs for September 2005. If a second all-Irish primary school is deemed necessary in the area, it is a matter for the patron body to make an application before the new schools advisory committee. Details outlining the application procedure for new schools intending to commence operation for the 2006 school year will be advertised later this year.

Special Educational Needs.

Shane McEntee

Question:

92 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Education and Science if the new system for the allocation of resources to children with special educational needs will be introduced as planned in September 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12967/05]

Dinny McGinley

Question:

143 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Education and Science if she plans to introduce a system of weighted allocation for children with special educational needs from September 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12961/05]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

152 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science when she expects the review of the proposed weighted system of allocation of resource teaching support to be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12996/05]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

394 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the changes she will be making to the weighted system for the allocation of resources for children with special educational needs, due to be introduced in September 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13327/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 92, 143, 152 and 394 together.

In light of the reality that pupils in the high incidence disability categories of mild and borderline mild general learning disability and dyslexia are distributed throughout the education system, my Department, in consultation with educational interests, developed a general model of resource teacher allocation to schools to support students in these disability categories. This model, which was announced by my predecessor in 2004 to come into effect from September 2005, was designed to put in place a permanent resource in primary schools to cater for pupils in these categories. The model was constructed so that allocations would be based on pupil numbers, taking into account the differing needs of the most disadvantaged schools and the evidence that boys have greater difficulties than girls in this regard.

The advantages of using a general allocation model are as follows: it facilitates early intervention as the resource is in place in the school when the child enrols; it reduces the need for individual applications and supporting psychological assessments; it puts resources in place on a more systematic basis, thereby giving schools more certainty about their resource levels; it gives more security to special education teaching posts and makes special education teaching a more attractive option; it allows flexibility to school management in the deployment of resources, leading to a more effective and efficient delivery of services.

I have made it clear that while I am in favour of using a general allocation model for the reasons I have just given, I am conscious of the particular difficulties that the model announced last year could cause for small and rural schools if implemented as originally announced. For this reason I asked my Department to conduct a review of the model announced last year. This review is currently being finalised and I expect to make an announcement in this regard shortly.

Question No. 93 answered with QuestionNo. 69.

Schools Refurbishment.

Denis Naughten

Question:

94 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science the action she is taking to upgrade schools in County Roscommon; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12747/05]

Applications for capital funding for schools are assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria, which was revised following consultation with the education partners. I have now announced the first phases of the 2005 schools building and modernisation programme which provided details of: 122 major school building projects country wide, including 89 primary school projects, which will prepare tenders and move to construction during the next 12 to 15 months; an additional 171 in the number of primary schools that will be invited to deliver their building projects on the basis of devolved funding; 43 schools, of which 32 are primary schools, that will be authorised to commence architectural planning; 590 schools approved for funding under the 2005 summer works scheme, more than 360 of which are primary schools; 124 schools, of which 73 are primary schools, whose projects will further progress through the design process.

In addition, approximately €18 million in respect of all primary schools will be issued under the devolved grant to enable schools to carry out minor works. Each primary school gets a standard rate of €3,809 together with a per pupil rate of €12.70. I plan to make a further announcement in the coming period regarding the 2005 schools building and modernisation programme that will include details of projects identified as suitable for construction under public private partnerships.

In addition to the three building projects currently under construction in County Roscommon, funding for a further nine projects is included in my recent announcements.

Question No. 95 answered with QuestionNo. 77.

School Curriculum.

Dan Neville

Question:

96 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of recommendations of the task force on the physical sciences which remain to be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12969/05]

My Department continues to progress the recommendations of the task force on the physical sciences as resources permit in collaboration and consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Forfás and industry. One of the recommendations in that report was the appointment of a chief scientist who would have responsibility for overseeing developments under the task force and other science focused initiatives, and providing advice on all aspects of science and technology policy.

A chief science adviser and a deputy chief science adviser have been appointed and maintain continuing contact with my Department on implementation issues. The office of the chief science adviser works in conjunction with the interdepartmental committee for science, technology and innovation and the Cabinet committee for science and technology. It is not intended, therefore, to establish an implementation committee for the task force report. Significant progress has been made in a range of areas pertaining to my Department. A new science curriculum has been introduced at primary level supported by a resource grant in December 2004 of €1000 per school plus €10 per pupil. Revised syllabi in junior certificate science and in leaving certificate physics, chemistry and biology have been introduced. Work on the revision of the two remaining leaving certificate subjects — agricultural science and physics and chemistry, combined — is well advanced. The introduction of the revised syllabi has been supported by comprehensive inservice programmes for teachers. Additional equipment grants have been provided to schools, and laboratories continue to be refurbished as part of the ongoing schools building programme. In that context, €16 million was issued to schools in 2004 to support the implementation of the revised junior certificate science syllabus.

A review of grading of subjects in the leaving certificate and initial reports on teacher training has been undertaken and a review of mathematics at post-primary level is being undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Investment in the programme of research in third level institutes is continuing apace to enhance and promote world class standards in research, innovation and development. Between this programme and the various grants to the research councils and other sources, an estimated €101.5 million will be invested in third level institutions in 2005.

The discover science and engineering programme, operated under the aegis of Forfás with the collaboration of the education sector, was launched in October 2003 to bring together existing science awareness activities in a unified strategy. I have recently announced a provision of €750,000 towards the cost of the BA Festival of Science which is being hosted by Trinity College this year. This is one of the world's leading science events and will be attended by some 3,000 delegates, with an estimated 7,000 — 10,000 people enjoying some part of the programme.

Psychological Service.

Bernard Allen

Question:

97 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of national schools currently covered by the NEPS; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12958/05]

The current situation is that 1,772 national schools have psychologists from the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, directly assigned to them and, therefore, have access to the full NEPS service. All schools that do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA, whereby the schools can commission assessments from a member of the panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the fees directly to the psychologists concerned. Details of this scheme, including the conditions that apply to it, appear upon the Department's website.

NEPS also provides assistance to all schools that suffer from critical incidents, regardless of whether they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them.

Multi-Denominational Schools.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

98 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the call from Educate Together for the State to take action to provide real support for the planned development of a national network of multi-denominational schools; if she intends to respond to the call; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13028/05]

I am aware of Educate Together's call for more state support for multidenominational schools. Significant Government funding, €14.1 million, has been provided for capital projects in Educate Together schools in recent years, including six new schools in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Kildare. Of all the new schools recognised in the past three years, 12 were Educate Together schools. A total of 12 multidenominational schools were granted recognition under ET patronage since the revised procedures came into operation for the 2003-04 school year, three opened in 2003, four opened in 2004 and five have been granted provisional recognition for opening in September 2005.

Question No. 99 answered with QuestionNo. 77.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

100 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Education and Science if any research is currently funded by her Department into biofuels; the plans in place for the next five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13121/05]

My Department, through its agencies, is currently funding a number of projects in this area. The agencies and projects are the following.

The Higher Education Authority, under the programme for research in third level institutions, is funding: Environment Research Institute, University College Cork, which aims to develop expertise in the areas of wind energy and other sustainable energy sources; Urban Institute, University College Dublin, which conducts research into components on energy and resource efficiency and energy conservation, transport policy; Environmental Change Institute, NUIG, which is overseeing research projects in areas such as the maximisation of biological renewable energy generation — methane — from organic wastes and wastewaters: role, impact and control of sulphate reducing bacteria or SRB.

The Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology is funding four individual researchers who are undertaking the following research projects in the area of biofuels: energy and chemicals from converted biomass technologies; development of an integrated heat pump energy simulation model for green buildings; proton transport in new materials for fuel cells; technical and economic analysis of renewable generation connected into the electricity distribution grid.

Finally, there are two projects in the institute of technology sector which are being funded under the technological sector research programme. These are in IT, Carlow — biothanol from waste for use as a fuel — and Limerick IT — design as a wind VSCF converter.

The policy issues associated with renewable energy sources are matters for my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. A dedicated agency, Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, was established under the aegis of his Department in May 2002 for the purpose of addressing these issues. I understand that SEI may also commission research projects in this area.

School Transport.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

101 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Science when she expects to publish the review of the school transport scheme; if the review recommends that parents of primary pupils will have to pay charges of up to €150 per year; if she intends to accept this proposal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13007/05]

The review of the school transport scheme within my Department is at an advanced stage. I have no plans to introduce new charges for pupils attending primary schools.

Register of Offenders.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

102 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Education and Science when the legislation to establish a register of persons considered unsafe to work with children will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12966/05]

A cross governmental working group was established to put forward proposals for reform of vetting by the central vetting unit run by the Garda Síochána. Among its recommendations was the proposal that the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children explore the possibility of developing an employment history register, similar to the PECS system in Northern Ireland.

An implementation group has been established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and discussions between my Department and the Department of Health and Children are ongoing in that context. In addition, my Department will convene a meeting with the relevant interested parties to explore the issues involved. Although considerable preparatory work examining the issues relating to a PECS system has been undertaken by my Department, given that substantial further work needs to be undertaken it is not possible at this time to estimate when any legislative proposals arising from these discussions can be published.

The implementation group is also examining issues relating to the introduction of legislation to ensure the maintenance of a national criminal records system within the Garda Síochána, the disclosure of not just "hard" facts but also "softer" information, and access to information about — and proof of — criminal convictions for the purposes of litigation. The working group also recognised the need to expand the number of agencies which could access the central vetting unit operated by the Garda Síochána to include all people working with children and vulnerable adults. To that end, the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has announced a major increase in the resources to be provided to the Garda vetting unit to improve the level of vetting available to employers who employ people to work with children and vulnerable adults. The initiative includes the more than doubling of staff resources for the unit to enable the Garda Síochána's vetting services to be extended to all persons working with children and vulnerable adults.

The Teaching Council has a role here too. Once it is formally established, the council will provide the teaching profession, both primary and post-primary, with the means to self regulate and its functions will include maintaining a register of teachers and, if necessary, removing the names of those shown to be unfit to teach, including those unfit to teach by reason of the fact that they pose a threat to children.

Third Level Education.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

103 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she intends to increase the number of places available for persons applying for a higher diploma in education course; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12748/05]

My Department is responsible for teacher education and development, with particular regard to initial teacher education covering the colleges of education and the education departments in the universities and colleges. Applications for the higher diploma in education are made through the Higher Diploma in Education — National University of Ireland — Applications Centre, known as the HDEAC, which was established in 1998.

The higher diploma in education course is offered by the education departments of Trinity College Dublin and the four universities of the National University of Ireland at Cork, Dublin, Galway and Maynooth. The current quota for admissions for the 2005-06 programmes is 1,000 and I have no plans to increase this number at present. My Department and the HEA continue to review the supply and demand of second level teachers on an ongoing basis.

Ministerial Appointments.

Phil Hogan

Question:

104 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Education and Science the circumstances surrounding the recent appointment of the former Secretary General at the Department of Health and Children to the Higher Education Authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12956/05]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

125 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has received any communication from any current or former member of the HEA with regard to the recent appointment of the former Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children to the authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12963/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 104 and 125 together.

On 9 March 2005, the Government made a decision to appoint the then Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children to the position of full-time chairman of the Higher Education Authority. This appointment took effect from 11 April 2005 for a two year period. This two year period has been identified as a key transitional phase in the implementation of change within higher education on foot of a recent OECD review of higher education in Ireland. I can confirm that on 21 March last I received correspondence from a then member of the HEA about this appointment.

School Curriculum.

Willie Penrose

Question:

105 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has received the further report from the NCCA on changes to the structure and content of the leaving certificate examination; if she has given consideration to any of the proposals contained therein; if it is intended to publish the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13018/05]

The second advice from the NCCA on proposals to reform of senior cycle education was sent to me on 19 April 2005. Clearly, we are all concerned that our education system should be positioned so that it continues to maintain excellence, relevance, quality and inclusiveness in the changing climate which lies ahead.

The proposals are ambitious and far reaching and I have already expressed some concerns about the logistics, feasibility, cost and complexity of some aspects. I am having the NCCA's advice examined fully within my Department and will engage in further discussions with the council and with stakeholders on the proposals and priorities for the future, with a view to making a decision as soon as possible.

It is crucial that reforms will promote cohesion and equity in our society and enable students to develop their talents, prepare them for adult life, for lifelong learning and employment in the knowledge society. The system must continue to play its part in promoting Ireland's competitiveness and growth. We must also ensure that public confidence in the integrity, objectivity and quality of senior cycle education is maintained, that change is well managed and resourced and that change is managed at a pace the system can absorb.

These are major considerations of fundamental importance to our future and our children's future. It is vital that the implications of the proposals be examined thoroughly and that changes adopted are effective in supporting strategic change which promotes increased relevance, quality and equity in the system. I do not intend to publish the NCCA's advice. However, a copy is accessible on the NCCA's website at www.ncca.ie.

Schools Building Projects.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

106 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the measures which exist to provide additional funding for schools that are not located in RAPID areas but which cater for a sizeable proportion of pupils who live in RAPID areas; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that 40% of pupils attending a school (details supplied) in Dublin 20 live in a RAPID area ; if the school’s extension and refurbishment requirements will be fast tracked in view of this information; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13115/05]

The school in question has an application with my Department for a major capital project, which has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects revised last year in consultation with the education partners. This project will be progressed in the context of the school buildings and modernisation programme from 2005 to 2009.

The school is participating in the urban dimension of my Department's Giving Children an Even Break programme and will receive non-pay support amounting to €4,250 in the current school year under the programme. The school is also participating in the Palmerstown cluster of my Department's school completion programme and, in this context, benefits from funding of €160,000 being provided for the cluster, which encompasses three schools in all, in the current school year.

Higher Education Grants.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

107 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason her Department is still not able to supply figures for the academic year 2002-03 of the socioeconomic breakdown of new recipients of third level grants; when she expects to be able to make this information available; the action she intends to take to broaden access to third level grants; when the Student Support Bill will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13029/05]

The most recent data on participation rates at third level is that published in the HEA review of higher education participation in 2003, which showed that participation in higher education among the school leaver age cohort has passed the 50% mark for the first time. The study puts the overall transfer rate to higher education at 54% in 2003, as against 44% in 1998, 36% in 1992, 25% in 1986 and 20% in 1980. These data are based on a full census of entrants.

The study also contains findings relating to the socioeconomic breakdown of entrants in that year which are based on a sample of new entrants in 2003. It should be noted that previous studies on participation by socioeconomic group, the Clancy reports, conducted on 1998, 1992, 1986 and 1982 were based on a census of new entrants in those years. A follow up to previous Clancy studies based on a census of entrants in 2004 is under way and will provide a full picture of progress in higher education participation by socioeconomic group since 1998.

Final analysis and comparison with previous Clancy studies, together with any policy conclusions, should await the outcome of the full survey which will be available later this year. The current study nonetheless provides some interesting pointers. It suggests that participation rates of some of the lower socioeconomic groups, particularly skilled manual and semi-skilled and unskilled manual and other non-manual workers, have increased substantially.

With regard to the number of students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds in receipt of higher education grants, it is noteworthy that the number of students benefiting from the "top up" grant scheme has increased from approximately 2,300 in 2000-01 to more than 11,500 in 2003-04, of whom more than 9,000 were in higher education. In terms of spending on student financial assistance, the total allocation for the student support schemes in 2005 is in excess of €200 million. This reflects the outcome of the Government's decision in 2003 to provide a special €42 million package to improve the maintenance grant schemes, which involved an increase in payment levels and in qualifying thresholds. The maximum amount of grant support available this year is €4,855, including the top up grant, compared to just €2,032 in 1996/97.

In so far as data on the socioeconomic backgrounds of grant holders are concerned, limited data have been collected by my Department in the past with specific reference to the higher education grants scheme. For this reason, the level of data requested by the Deputy is not yet available in my Department for each of the schemes.

Looking to the future, the HEA has, at the request of my Department, been working to place the Clancy surveys on a more systematic basis. An electronic student record system is being developed in conjunction with the universities and the institutes of technology. It is intended that this new system will provide more timely and complete data, including the socioeconomic background of first time students. I have asked the HEA to examine how this system can provide more timely and reliable data on the socioeconomic background of grant holders.

With regard to the system for allocating higher education grants, in accordance with the commitment in the An Agreed Programme for Government, I propose to introduce a single unified scheme of maintenance grants for students in higher education for the academic year 2006-07. In this context, I intend to put in place, as early as possible, a more coherent administration system which will facilitate consistency of application and improved client accessibility. This is necessary if we are to ensure public confidence in the awards system and ensure the timely delivery of grants to those who need them most.

Whatever new arrangements are eventually decided upon will be provided for in new statutory arrangements through a new Student Support Bill. This Bill, which will provide statutory underpinning for the schemes, will have as a key objective the promotion of equality of access. I also envisage that the Bill will provide for an independent appeals system. The timescale for the publication of this Bill is contingent on a range of issues which are the subject of ongoing consultations.

Another significant development in the area of access to third level education was the launch last December of the national action plan prepared by the National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education. This plan was prepared with the assistance of an advisory committee from the education and social partners. A key objective of the plan is the development of the most effective means towards increasing access and participation in higher education by learners from disadvantaged schools and communities. My Department is, in this context, in consultation with the universities and the institutes of technology about their proposals for alternative entry and retention processes to improve access opportunities for students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Teacher Training.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

108 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the ratio of male to female primary school teachers at entry level to the teaching profession; the way in which she will tackle the growing gender gap in teaching at primary level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12950/05]

According to my Department's records, in the current school year 144 male teachers have been appointed for the first time as permanent or temporary qualified teachers at primary level. The equivalent figure for female teachers is 1,213. The female to male ratio is, therefore, in the order of 9:1. The relatively low number of males in the teaching force is a feature common to all OECD countries.

It is important to attract more men into teaching for a number of reasons, not least of which is the positive role models that teachers provide in children's lives and the desirability of having both male and female role models in our schools. I genuinely believe that teaching should be seen as an attractive profession for the best candidates of both genders. Teaching is fulfilling work which makes a huge social contribution.

With the increases in teachers' salaries under partnership agreements and benchmarking in recent years, it is also now a well paid job. The average salary for a teacher is now €50,000, an increase of approximately 43% on the 1997 figure. This compares favourably with an average industrial wage of about €29,000 per annum. The pension and holiday entitlements of teachers also heighten the attractiveness of the profession. I also genuinely believe that teachers are held in high regard in this country and deservedly so.

The Government wants to attract and reward the best teachers. In addition to increasing teachers' salaries, we have undertaken other initiatives to enhance the status of the profession, not least of which is the establishment of the Teaching Council as a professional regulatory body. However, a particular focused effort must be made to encourage more men to become teachers, particularly at primary level. A report on attracting more men into primary teaching is currently being compiled by a committee comprising representatives of the colleges of education, the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, the INTO and officials of my Department.

The main objective of this committee is to make recommendations on strategies and initiatives to increase the number of males entering primary teaching. It is expected that the committee will make recommendations in respect of both short-term and long-term strategies. The work of the committee is almost complete and I understand I can expect to receive its report within a few weeks.

Early Childhood Education.

Michael Ring

Question:

109 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if the Early Start programme will be extended; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12952/05]

The Early Start pre-school project was established in 40 primary schools in designated areas of urban disadvantage in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Drogheda and Dundalk during 1994 and 1995. The aims of Early Start are to expose young children to an educational programme which would enhance their overall development, prevent school failure and offset the effects of social disadvantage.

Early Start is a one year, pre-school intervention aimed at children from selected designated areas of disadvantage. Children must be between the ages of three and four years on 1 September of the year they are enrolled. The Early Start project is designed to cater for the needs of children, including those with disabilities, who are most at risk of not reaching their potential in the education system and the school must give priority to the children who are most at risk.

With regard to any expansion in early childhood education provision, including for children from disadvantaged areas, I am concerned to ensure that any future actions by my Department in this area are based on a collaborative approach with other Departments involved in the overall early childhood care and education, ECCE, sector. Meeting the overall objective of providing the best possible service to the communites and children involved requires that any educational provision by my Department takes account of child care measures under the remit of other Departments.

Third Level Education.

Simon Coveney

Question:

110 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has given assurances to the third level sector that funds raised independently will not be taken into account when making Exchequer funding available to universities and ITs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12942/05]

I have recently indicated that I accept as a matter of principle that income generated by higher education institutions from external sources should not be subject to off setting in the allocation of Exchequer funding. This is in a context where the recent OECD review of Irish higher education recommended that institutions should be incentivised to seek external sources of funding. However, in determining the income which it is appropriate for institutions to retain, account must be taken of Exchequer expenditure which has facilitated the generation of such income.

Suicide Prevention.

Jack Wall

Question:

111 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has satisfied herself that there is a sufficient educational and awareness programme in schools on depression and suicide; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13016/05]

I am aware of the serious problem of youth suicide and of the vital role schools can play in prevention. Prevention needs to be addressed at whole school level through provision of relevant curricula for all children, through effective implementation of the social personal and health education, SPHE, programme and through the provision of care afforded by a good pastoral system, including the capacity to respond appropriately to early signs of difficulty. The development of self esteem, general coping skills and personal effectiveness is the most appropriate way to help the general population of young people to deal with life pressures and stress.

Within the curriculum, social, personal and health education, SPHE, provides for the development of personal and social skills, including self awareness, respect for others, self esteem and communication skills which can play an important role in encouraging a positive self image. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools. At second level the key emphasis is on promoting self esteem, physical and mental/emotional well being and responsible decision making. Self management, communications, physical and emotional health, coping with loss, handling conflict, substance abuse, personal safety, relationships and sexuality are covered. Implementation of SPHE in schools is assisted by a full-time support service which operates on an integrated basis in collaboration between the Department of Education and Science and the health boards.

A curriculum in SPHE is being developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment for senior cycle students. Mental health is one of five key areas which will be addressed in the new syllabus. An optional module in mental health matters is among the programmes included by many schools as part of their transition year programme. In addition, exploring masculinities, which may be taken as part of the SPHE programme in schools in transition year or senior cycle includes many topics designed to assist young males to become more open when experiencing personal problems and to seek professional help.

Pastoral care teams in schools provide important assistance in promoting students' wellbeing and in ensuring that potential difficulties can be identified early. Class year tutors, guidance counsellors, home school liaison co-ordinators and the services of the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, can play an important role in this respect. NEPS has developed an advice and information pack for schools on responding to critical incidents. The pack is designed to provide practical step by step guidance for teachers and principals on how to respond when a trauma or tragedy occurs. The pack was prepared drawing on a range of publications and from the work of a range of agencies, including those concerned with bereavement and suicide.

My Department is represented on a national steering group which is preparing a national strategy for action on suicide prevention.

Educational Disadvantage.

Joan Burton

Question:

112 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the main points of the proposals to combat educational disadvantage which she outlined to the INTO conference; when recruitment will commence for the new posts; when the new posts will be in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12999/05]

I will shortly publish a new framework for tackling disadvantage in education. The new action plan will build on the success of existing programmes, while addressing the issues that have diluted the overall effectiveness of some measures.

The new approach to tackling disadvantage will include better identification of levels of disadvantage in our schools and a single integrated programme of supports for schools with concentrated levels of disadvantage which will bring together, and build upon, some ten existing schemes and initiatives. Each school in the programme will benefit from a package of supports, with the highest level of assistance being targeted at children in the most disadvantaged schools. To make sure that it is effectively implemented, the new framework will be introduced on a phased basis, starting in the next school year.

Early School Leavers.

Michael Ring

Question:

113 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children who leave school before sitting the junior certificate examination for the most recent year for which statistics are available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12972/05]

The most recent published analysis by my Department of school retention in Ireland was released in August 2004. The report indicates that of those who commenced the junior cycle programme in September 1994, approximately 3,600 or 5.7% left school before completing the junior certificate three years later.

My Department's approach to addressing the issue of retention in schools comprises legislative and curricular reforms as well as interventions to prevent early school leaving. The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board, NEWB, as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance.

With regard to curriculum reform, my Department's strategies have included widening the educational experience available to students through such programmes as the junior certificate schools programme, JCSP, the leaving certificate vocational programme, LCVP, and the leaving certificate applied, LCA.

The school completion programme directly targets those in danger of dropping out of the education system and is a key component of my Department's strategy to discriminate positively in favour of children and young people who are at risk of early school leaving. It is important to note that education and training provision is available outside the formal school system for young people who leave school earlier in programmes such as Youthreach, Youth Encounter and FÁS.

Schools Building Projects.

Billy Timmins

Question:

114 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the situation regarding funding at a school (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13128/05]

As part of a review of all projects for the 2005 capital programme, the application for capital funding from the school in question was assessed against the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects which were revised last year following consultation with the education partners. Under this review all projects were assigned a band rating and the progress of individual projects is being considered in the context of the school building programme from 2005.

Children Act.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

115 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science the sections of the Children Act 2001 for which her Department has responsibility and which have been brought into operation; the sections that have yet to be brought into operation; if a timetable has been set for the implementation of the remaining sections; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13022/05]

Part 10 of the Children Act 2001 relates to the governance and operation of children detention schools. Section 159(1) of the Act has been commenced for the purpose of allowing three representatives of children detention schools to be appointed to the special residential services board. However, Part 10 of the Act cannot be commenced more fully at this time as its effect will include replacing the existing industrial and reformatory schools with children detention schools. While boys aged between 17 and 21 years who are convicted of a criminal offence may be sent to a place of detention, there is no equivalent place at present for female offenders who may be imprisoned from the age of 17 years.

It is intended that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform will provide a facility for young women similar to that provided for boys. The timing of the commencement of Part 10 of the Act is contingent upon such a facility becoming available. Pending commencement, industrial and reformatory schools continue to be governed by the Children Acts.

School Accommodation.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

116 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the recent closure of a national school (details supplied) in Limerick which had to close as a result of rodent activity; her views on whether it is acceptable that schools should be forced to close for such reasons; the steps she is taking to bring all such schools up to an acceptable condition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13004/05]

In accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, individual school authorities are responsible, in the first instance, for ensuring the safety and welfare of children and others in their care. The management authority of the school referred to by the Deputy is given an annual allocation of €3,809, plus €12.70 per pupil, under the grant scheme for minor works which can be used entirely at its discretion to address such basic health and safety issues as they arise. The management authority of this school has an application with my Department for the provision of a new school building, which has been assessed in accordance with the revised prioritisation criteria and is being considered in the context of the school buildings and modernisation programme.

I have made a number of announcements about the 2005 school building programme since the beginning of the year, which included details of 43 school projects which are being authorised to proceed to architectural planning immediately. I will make further announcements on projects which will progress, on a phased basis, into the architectural planning process. The proposed project at the school referred to by the Deputy will be considered in this regard.

Early School Leavers.

Enda Kenny

Question:

117 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children who fail to make the transition from primary to secondary school annually; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12973/05]

The specific information requested by the Deputy is not available at present. My Department operates a number of programmes at both primary and post-primary level to tackle the problem of early school leaving, such as the Giving Children an Even Break programme, the home/school/community liaison scheme and the school completion programme. Both the HSCL scheme and all 82 school completion programme projects operate transfer programmes which are very important in assisting pupils in making the transition from primary to post-primary level.

The Education Welfare Act 2000 and the establishment of the National Educational Welfare Board provide a comprehensive framework for promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The funding provided for the NEWB this year represents an increase of 20% on the 2004 allocation, a clear reflection of my strong commitment to improving school attendance and addressing early school leaving.

School Staffing.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

118 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to two schools in the Tallaght area in which 54 nationalities are represented, which are not designated disadvantaged but are on the other periphery of a RAPID area, to which no extra funding or teaching staff are available and a large proportion of the parents of whose children are on welfare payments; and the way in which she proposes to support schools working under these conditions. [13125/05]

One of the schools to which the Deputy refers is currently included in the Giving Children an Even Break, GCEB, programme and is in receipt of financial support under this scheme. Both schools are included in the school completion programme, which is my Department's main programme for tackling early school leaving.

The school completion programme is based on an integrated cross community approach to tackling educational disadvantage, involving primary and post primary schools, parents, communities and relevant statutory and voluntary agencies. Its objective is to provide a range of interventions in areas of disadvantage that support the retention of young people in education. The two schools referred to by the Deputy are part of a school completion programme "cluster" of one post-primary school and three primary schools that received an allocation of €160,000 in the current school year.

Schools with an enrolment of 14 or more non-English speaking non-national pupils are entitled to an additional teacher for a minimum of a year and a maximum of two years. Where a full-time teacher is sanctioned to provide English language support, a start up grant of €634 is paid with a top up grant of €317 where the appointment is continued for a second year. The two schools to which the Deputy refers have five language support teachers appointed for this school year.

Question No. 119 answered with QuestionNo. 75.

School Curriculum.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

120 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of schools offering the full relationships and sexuality module at secondary level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12943/05]

Social, personal and health education, SPHE, is a mandatory part of the curriculum in junior cycle in all post-primary schools with effect from September 2003. The curriculum is designed to promote personal development and the health and well-being of students, help them create supportive relationships and encourage the values and skills for responsible decision making. Issues regarding belonging and integrating, handling conflict constructively, dealing with peer pressure, influences on decision making, substance misuse, relationships and sexuality education, RSE, are dealt with specifically.

In addition, all schools are required to have an agreed school policy and a suitable relationships and sexuality education programme in place for senior cycle pupils. An integrated SPHE programme at senior cycle incorporating RSE is being developed. The curriculum is supported by guidelines for teachers and a full-time support service operating in collaboration with the health boards. An evaluation of the implementation of SPHE is currently under way.

Schools Refurbishment.

Seán Crowe

Question:

121 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if her Department sees a school (details supplied) in Dublin 1 playing any education role in future; and if funding will be made available for the refurbishment that is needed. [12749/05]

My Department is examining the overall provision of all-Irish post-primary education in the general north Dublin city area. The outcome of this examination will determine the long-term accommodation options for the school referred to by the Deputy.

Literacy Levels.

Joan Burton

Question:

122 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science if it is intended to publish the report, Literacy and Numeracy in Disadvantaged Schools; if the report found that in some schools up to 50% of pupils have literacy problems; the steps she intends to take to address the serious problems identified in the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12998/05]

The report of the inspectorate of my Department of a thematic evaluation of literacy and numeracy in disadvantaged schools will be published shortly and details on its findings will be given at that point. I have expressed my commitment to prioritising support for children with literacy and numeracy difficulties on a number of occasions as I know that the attainment of proficiency in reading and mathematics has a major effect on children's attainment at school and on the employment and other opportunities available to them throughout their lives.

A number of initiatives have been introduced in recent years in the most disadvantaged schools to address literacy and numeracy problems, for example, last November, I announced an additional grant of €500,000 to improve the availability of books in disadvantaged schools, with a view to these books being given to children to read in the home. Research shows that the availability of books and the extent of a culture of reading in the home has a significant effect on children's literacy levels. Initiatives to promote family literacy and encourage parents to help with their children's reading through paired reading programmes have also been put in place.

A comprehensive professional development programme for teachers has been introduced in a number of disadvantaged schools in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Early intervention initiatives such as the reading recovery and maths recovery programmes have also been put in place in several areas of socio-economic disadvantage. Reports of the effectiveness of these interventions are very positive and my Department is considering their extension to more schools in disadvantaged areas. Improving literacy and numeracy standards in disadvantaged areas is a key priority for me and one that I have prioritised for funding and support.

School Curriculum.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

123 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has considered the inaugural report by the Irish Language Commissioner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12962/05]

Emmet Stagg

Question:

142 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the call made by the Irish Language Commissioner, Mr. Seán Ó Cuireán, for a review of Irish language education in primary and secondary schools; her views on this call; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13027/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 123 and 142 together.

The recent report of the Irish Language Commissioner highlighted the fact that despite appreciable time devoted to Irish in the school system, many students emerge from primary and post-primary education without achieving a reasonable command of the language. Particular concerns were raised about students' command of the spoken language.

While I accept that the standard of oral Irish in particular of many of our young people is not as it should be, it is important to note that significant efforts have been made by my Department in recent years to improve standards in the teaching and learning of Irish in our schools. The revised Irish language programme at primary level places a strong emphasis on oral Irish. This programme, implemented in all schools since September 2003 and supported by extensive in-service training by the primary curriculum support programme, should bring significant improvement to the standard of spoken Irish over time. This development at primary level complemented similar curricular changes at second level where syllabus reform is ongoing.

Significant improvements are being made in regard to the provision of materials and resources for the teaching of Irish. An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta has been established to progress this area and to provide support services for schools. Funding has been provided to the comhairle to support this task and this is an area that will need further work.

Marino Institute of Education now provides Irish courses at different levels for teachers and an enhanced range of supports for those studying for the scrúdú le haghaidh cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge has been put in place. Evaluations by my Department's inspectorate of the teaching and learning of Irish in our schools provide useful analysis to underpin future policy making in this area.

The inspectorate, in its 2002 publication, 50 School Reports — What Inspectors Say, has reported that the teaching of Irish is good in the majority of primary schools with the strongest aspects being the teaching of reading, poetry and writing. However, oral language attainment is generally poor despite considerable time being devoted to this aspect of Irish. This resonates with a view expressed by the Coimisinéir Teanga that insufficient attention is given to the use of Irish as a medium of communication in lessons taught. The Coimisinéir Teanga has pointed to other issues which I will consider in the context of developing ongoing policy responses.

At post-primary level, subject inspection reports indicate that inspectors regularly observe a good standard in the teaching and learning of Irish and that students demonstrate a good knowledge of texts being studied. However, there is concern that Irish is not used as the language of instruction in many classes, that Irish is taught through English in a significant number of classrooms and that the level of exemptions from Irish is too high.

My Department is engaged in a number of evaluation activities relating to the teaching and learning of Irish. These include a focused evaluation of Irish in 45 primary schools and an evaluation of the teaching and learning of Irish in the junior cycle in 75 post-primary schools. Both of these inspections will be completed in 2005 and reports will be published subsequently. A report on standards of Irish in sixth class in primary schools is being prepared by Dr. John Harris and will be finalised later in 2005. This report will look at changes in pupil achievement levels between the years 1985 and 2003. Also, at the request of my Department, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, is carrying out a review of languages in the post-primary curriculum. This will include Irish.

I am confident that the above reports will both inform us of good practice within the system and point to areas requiring improvement. The inspectorate of my Department, on foot of a major review of Irish language policies carried out in the Department last year, has recently prepared an internal report for policy discussion regarding areas where further improvements could be made. The Coimisinéir Teanga, along with other interest groups, contributed to that process. I have also recently met with An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta to discuss further improvements that could be made to support schools in improving the teaching and learning of Irish and to promote high quality education through the medium of Irish.

It is important to note that the issue of promoting the Irish language is not one that can be advanced by schools alone. Societal attitudes to the Irish language certainly impact on students' desire to learn it. This Government has demonstrated a clear commitment to promoting our national language. It is hoped that the continuing initiatives in education along with the increased emphasis on the use of Irish in the Official Languages Act will in time create a positive climate whereby students will realise the value of learning our native language and, as a consequence, language competence will prosper.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

124 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on the findings of the report of the Committee of Public Accounts into the redress scheme for victims of institutional abuse; the action she intends to take arising from the report; if she intends to implement the recommendations contained in the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13009/05]

I welcome the publication of report of the Committee of Public Accounts and I have asked my Department to give due consideration to its findings and recommendations, particularly in terms of their relevance to and implications for the management of major policy issues within the Department.

I was pleased to note that the report acknowledges that, in establishing the redress board and introducing the various other redress initiatives for survivors of child abuse, the Government was motivated by a combination of social, humanitarian and legal considerations. The report notes that the setting up of a statutory redress scheme should be viewed in the context of the significant contingent liability which existed in respect of survivors of child abuse and the wish of the Government to provide a fair and humane way for compensating survivors without requiring them to face the trauma of adversarial cross examination in court. The report also notes that the Government decided to establish a statutory redress scheme regardless of whether the religious congregations would contribute to the scheme and that in securing a meaningful contribution from the congregations the Government had achieved its baseline level of €128 million.

While the report deals specifically with the redress scheme, the recommendations are of general cross departmental concern and their relevance for the Civil Service will need to be considered. My Department is working with the Department of Finance on the preparation of a minute of the Minister for Finance responding to the committee on the recommendations of the report. A copy of this minute will be circulated to all Accounting Officers.

Question No. 125 answered with QuestionNo. 104.

Psychological Service.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

126 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has satisfied herself with the roll out of the NEPS particularly outside the greater Dublin area; the areas of difficulty and the steps her Department is taking to fill the gaps in the system in these areas. [13124/05]

The complement of psychologists in NEPS has increased from 43 psychologists, 30 in permanent full-time posts and 13 on secondment, on the date of establishment in September 1999 to 128 in January 2005, plus two psychologists on career break. Recruitment of psychologists to NEPS has, until recently, been undertaken by the Civil Service and Local Government Commissioners. The last Civil Service Commission panel of 69 psychologists has been exhausted and the recently established Public Appointments Service is now making arrangements to set up a new panel.

It has proved difficult to recruit psychologists to certain regions, most notably the mid-western region. Accordingly, to achieve a better regional spread of NEPS psychologists, under the next recruitment competition for NEPS psychologists, regional panels rather than one national panel will be established. This will allow my Department to give greater priority in filling vacancies to areas with the greatest need.

It should be noted that all schools that do not have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, whereby the school can have an assessment carried out by a member of the panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the psychologist the fees for this assessment directly. Details of this process, and the conditions that apply to the scheme, appear on my Department's website. NEPS also provides assistance to all schools that suffer from critical incidents, regardless of whether they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them.

State Examinations.

Willie Penrose

Question:

127 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the call made by the National Parents Council for the abolition of the €90 fee to sit the junior certificate exam, which it described as grossly unfair; if she intends to respond to the call; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13019/05]

I am aware of the call for the abolition of the examination fee. However, examination entry fees are in existence to defray in part the costs of running the certificate examinations. Examination entry fees cover only part of the costs involved. Candidates who hold a current medical card or are dependent on a parent or guardian who is the holder of a current medical card are not liable for examination fees. Medical cards will be accepted only if valid on 1 February 2005, the due date for payment.

School Enrolments.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

128 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science the provisions she is putting in place to cater for the projected increase in the student population in the years ahead; if she will publish the report prepared by her officials on this subject; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13014/05]

My Department is considering the results of recent revisions to projections of future enrolment in the light of demographic and social changes as well as the publication by the CSO of new population projections in December 2004. Uncertainties arise in regard to future migration trends, participation at various levels of education and long-term trends in births. Nevertheless, it is important to move ahead and plan for the continuing increase in enrolments at primary level, which will eventually feed into second level, as well as the need to increase completion flows from further and higher education in the light of long-term economic and social needs. I plan to make the latest projection publicly available in due course.

Question No. 129 answered with QuestionNo. 82.

Interculturalism in Schools.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

130 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps she is taking to assist schools in catering for the increasingly diverse cultural and ethnic nature of the pupil base, particularly at primary level; if her attention has been drawn to concerns expressed by teachers at the lack of resources available to them to cope with the changing nature of the pupil base; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13015/05]

My Department has been active for a number of years in promoting interculturalism in schools. A range of actions are in place to support the participation of minority groups and Travellers in education. These include information for schools on the integration of asylum seekers and Travellers; additional resources for schools to support the needs of students for whom English is not the mother tongue; resource packs for schools prepared by organisations such as the National Consultative Committee on Anti-Racism and Interculturalism; a video for second level schools highlighting excerpts from the "Mono" television programme; materials and training for teachers through funding the work of Integrate Ireland Language Training and other bodies; development in progress by the NCCA of guidelines for primary and post-primary teachers on how the existing curriculum can be mediated and adapted to reflect the emergence of an expanding multi-cultural society — the primary guidelines will be published in May and the post-primary guidelines are expected to be ready by the end of the year; supports provided by the Reception and Integration Agency to assist in the integration of refugees and asylum seekers into schools; and expanding provision for language and literacy tuition for adults for whom English is not the mother tongue through the VEC literacy services.

In the current school year, 393 language support teacher posts have been sanctioned at primary level and 202.78 wholetime equivalent teaching posts have been allocated to post-primary schools to support the needs of pupils for whom English is not the mother tongue. The new curricula at primary and post-primary levels provide ample opportunity to extend students' awareness of the wider world and to learn about the lives and histories of people in other countries and of their contributions to art and science. In particular, the social personal and health education programmes at primary and post-primary levels are designed to prepare students for participatory citizenship and to develop the skills of critical appraisal and decision making based on human rights and social responsibilities. They also promote a respect for human dignity, tolerance for the values and beliefs of others and a celebration of diversity.

Garda Operations.

Tom Hayes

Question:

131 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has discussed with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law the reported entry of gardaí into classrooms to seize children for deportation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12935/05]

Emmet Stagg

Question:

151 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the serious concern expressed by teachers at a number of incidents in which gardaí are reported to have entered school premises in search of pupils who were the subject of deportation orders; if she has had a response to representations she made to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on this matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13026/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 131 and 151 together.

I have indicated my concern to the Minister, Deputy McDowell, that in applying the immigration laws the Garda authorities should have regard to the sensitivities of the school environment, particularly where children are involved. The Minister has already informed the House in a written reply to a parliamentary question on 12 April 2005 that he had received correspondence from school authorities about the removal of non-national children from school premises. He also indicated that because a complaint had been made to the Garda complaints board, he was precluded from commenting further on the issue at that time.

Institutes of Technology.

Denis Naughten

Question:

132 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science if she intends to transfer funding responsibility for the institutes of technology sector away from her Department to an independent funding authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12970/05]

The Government recently approved the early drafting of legislation to transfer responsibility for the daily management of the institutes of technology sector from the Department of Education and Science to a reconstituted Higher Education Authority. My Department is preparing amending legislation to give effect to the Government decision.

Question No. 133 answered with QuestionNo. 69.

Teacher Training.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

134 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Education and Science if she intends to bring the Irish language entry requirements for primary teaching courses into line with those for English and mathematics; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12965/05]

My Department specifies the minimum academic requirements for entry to primary teacher training courses provided in the colleges of education. As part of these requirements, all candidates, including school leavers, mature students and university graduates, must have a minimum of a grade C at higher level in Irish in the leaving certificate or an approved equivalent. This requirement embodies both the written and oral element of a student's proficiency in Irish. My Department considers it to be the minimum standard in Irish necessary for students entering a teacher training course which will equip them to teach Irish to pupils at all levels in primary schools. I have no plans to change the entry requirements to primary teacher training courses at present. I will, however, continue to keep the position under review.

Educational Welfare Service.

John Perry

Question:

135 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science the average number of cases allocated to each educational welfare officer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12934/05]

The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

To discharge its responsibilities, the board is developing a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents or guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers, EWOs, are being appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board's functions locally. The service is developing on a continuing basis and the board received sanction in late 2004 from my Department to recruit an additional ten educational welfare officers. This brings its total authorised staffing complement to 94, comprising 16 headquarters and support staff, five regional managers, 11 senior educational welfare officers and 62 educational welfare officers.

There are 48 educational welfare officers and 11 senior educational welfare officers serving with the board. I understand the board is in the process of making appointments which will bring the number of service delivery staff to its authorised complement. When in place, these staff will enable the board to further roll out its services at local level around the country.

Five regional teams have been established by the board with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff are deployed in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme. Thirteen towns with significant school going populations, 12 of which are designated under the Government's RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. In addition, the board follows up on urgent cases nationally where children are not receiving an education. The budget which has been allocated to the NEWB for 2005 is €7.8 million, an increase of €1.3 million or 20% on the 2004 allocation.

The National Educational Welfare Board has indicated to my Department that the average caseload of each educational welfare officer as at end February 2005 was 176.

Schools Building Projects.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

136 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the provision of a new building at a school (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12818/05]

The project at the school to which the Deputy refers has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria, which was revised following consultation with the education partners. The proposed project at the school referred to will be considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme 2005-2009.

Question No. 137 answered with QuestionNo. 75.

Health and Safety Inspections.

Joe Costello

Question:

138 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of schools at primary level and secondary level inspected by the Health and Safety Authority in each of the past five years; the number of cases in which adverse findings were made by the inspectors; the steps she is taking to ensure that all schools are brought up to an acceptable level and that such inspections should no longer be required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13003/05]

In accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, it is the responsibility of school management authorities to have a safety statement in place in their schools. Schools are obliged to identify possible hazards, assess the risks to health and safety and to put appropriate safeguards in place.

It is open to school management authorities or individuals to make direct contact with the Health and Safety Authority on matters of concern to them and the Department would not necessarily be aware of such communications. Where they are issued, notifications from the Health and Safety Authority are sent to the management authorities of schools in the first instance. In practical terms, individual school authorities are best placed to assess the detail of their own health and safety requirements.

Provision is built into the school building programme to enable schools address urgent health and safety problems. Primary schools are given an annual allocation, currently amounting to €3,809 plus €12.70 per pupil, under the grant scheme for minor works which can be used entirely at the discretion of school management to address basic health and safety issues relating to school infrastructure. In addition, the summer works scheme was introduced during 2004 which provided capital grants for improvement works at primary and post-primary schools. A total of 457 schools were approved for funding under this scheme in 2004. More than 580 schools have been approved for funding under the 2005 summer works scheme.

My Department also sets aside a contingency sum each year to deal with emergency works in primary and post-primary schools, including health and safety works. Urgently required health and safety works relating to asbestos removal, radon mitigation or dust extraction may be grant aided under the remediation programmes operated by the school building section of my Department.

Academic Accreditation.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

139 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the position with regard to academic accreditation for long-term volunteers in social and paramedical work being advanced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11397/05]

I am aware of the recent Oireachtas joint committee report on volunteers and volunteering in Ireland which recommends that academic accreditation for long-term volunteers in social and paramedical work should be advanced.

In keeping with the terms of the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999, the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland, NQAI, and the Further and Higher Education and Training Awards Councils were established in 2001 to develop a single national framework of qualifications and to provide a unified system for the validation of non-university education and training awards at further and higher levels across the education and training sectors. The NQAI has published a framework of qualifications covering all awards in the State from initial schooling and basic education to higher doctorate level. The authority has also published a range of policy documents setting out the principles and operational guidelines for awards under the framework, and providers are obliged under the Act to comply with these criteria to facilitate access, transfer and progression of learners. The new framework is being implemented on a phased basis over the period to 2006.

The policies provide for the development of a national approach to credit which will enable learners to accumulate credits towards awards and provide processes for the recognition of prior learning. In that context, the NQAI has published in November 2004 "Principles and operational guidelines for the implementation of a national approach to credit in Irish higher education and training". These have been adopted and provide a framework for learners to accumulate credits towards awards, including for prior and experiential learning, building on European developments in this area.

The guidelines provide that responsibility for assigning credit values will rest with the education providers and-or awarding bodies in accordance with the framework and such bodies will be required to provide clear information for learners on the arrangements for recognition of prior learning and credit accumulation and transfer. The development by the authority of national principles and operational guidelines on recognition of prior learning is also under way. The issue of recognition of prior learning usually arises in the context of a learner seeking access to a programme, an exemption from studying particular aspects of a programme or recognition for a full award.

In addition, it should be noted that under the Act, the awards councils, FETAC and HETAC, may make awards to persons who apply for such and who, in the opinion of the councils, have achieved the relevant standards for an award. It is thus possible for a learner to achieve an award without having participated in a specific education or training programme. In addition, many universities and third level colleges have arrangements in place in collaboration with business and community or voluntary groups for flexible access and accreditation arrangements to meet the need of particular groups. I would encourage the relevant groups to make contact with a relevant college or awards council.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

140 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will set out a timetable for meeting the commitment on class sizes given in An Agreed Programme for Government within the lifetime of this Administration and put in place the steps needed to ensure the recruitment of the additional teachers required and the provision of the extra classrooms required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13001/05]

The system for allocating teachers to primary schools is based on ensuring an overall maximum class of 29 in each school. Where some classes in a school have class sizes of greater than 29, it is generally because a decision has been taken at local level to use the teaching resources to have smaller numbers in other classes.

Significant improvements have been made in this area in recent years. The average class size at primary level is now 23.9, down from 26.6 in 1996-97. The pupil-teacher ratio, which includes all the teachers in the school including resource teachers, has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 17.44:1 in 2003-04. More than 4,000 additional teachers have been employed in our primary schools since 1997. These additional teaching posts have been used to reduce class sizes to tackle educational disadvantage and to provide additional resources for children with special needs.

In line with Government policy, my Department will continue to provide further reductions in the pupil teacher ratio, with priority being given to pupils with special needs, those from disadvantaged areas and those in junior classes. Any requirement for additional accommodation arising from the creation of additional teaching posts will be considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme.

Literacy Levels.

Liam Twomey

Question:

141 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Education and Science the percentage of children who leave primary school with literacy difficulties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12974/05]

The Department does not collect data on the literacy levels achieved by children leaving the primary system. The nearest points of reference available are the results of a survey of primary school children at the end of fifth class and the results of the OECD programme for international student assessment, PISA. Data currently available for fifth class children relate to the 1998 survey and the PISA survey of 15 year olds, which was conducted in 2003.

In the 1998 survey of fifth class pupils, teachers' ratings indicated that 10.5% of pupils were regarded as having "weak" or "inadequate" levels of reading and 9.2% were regarded as having reading achievement levels at or below third class level. In the 2003 PISA survey, the percentage of Irish students whose performance in reading was at or below level 1, the lowest level of proficiency, was 11%. The corresponding OECD average was 19.1%. Closer examination of this category of low achievement reveals that 2.7% of Irish students performed below level 1 compared with the OECD average of 6.7%. The results of the first cycle of PISA which took place in 2000 displayed similar differences in favour of Ireland.

The consistency between the teachers' ratings of pupils in fifth class and the achievement data from the PISA survey would suggest that the best estimate of the percentage of pupils leaving primary school with literacy difficulties is in the region of 10%. International comparative data, also available from the PISA survey, indicate that this proportion is low by comparison with most OECD countries.

Question No. 142 answered with QuestionNo. 123.
Question No. 143 answered with QuestionNo. 92.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

144 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the serious concern expressed at the recent INTO conference at existing class sizes; if she will take steps to reduce maximum class sizes to 25:1 in mainstream classes, 20:1 in disadvantaged schools and 15:1 in schools in which there is chronic disadvantage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13000/05]

Joe Costello

Question:

147 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the fact that average primary class size here is now the second largest in the EU; the steps she intends to take to deal with this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13002/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 144 and 147 together.

The system for allocating teachers to primary schools is based on ensuring an overall maximum class of 29 in each school. Where some classes in a school have class sizes of greater than 29, it is generally because a decision has been taken at local level to use the teaching resources to have smaller numbers in other classes.

Significant improvements have been made in this area in recent years. The average class size at primary level is now 23.9, down from 26.6 in 1996-97. The pupil teacher ratio, which includes all the teachers in the school including resource teachers, has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 17.44:1 in 2003-04. More than 4,000 additional teachers have been employed in our primary schools since 1997. These additional teaching posts have been used to reduce class sizes, to tackle educational disadvantage and to provide additional resources for children with special needs.

Significantly smaller class sizes have been introduced in disadvantaged schools involved in the Giving Children an Even Break and Breaking the Cycle programmes, with approximately 47,700 pupils in 243 participating schools availing of reduced class sizes of either 15 or 20 pupils per class.

The new policy framework for tackling educational disadvantage that I will publish shortly will provide for a new standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and will put in place a new integrated programme of supports that will bring together and build upon existing policy interventions and initiatives for schools and school communities with a concentrated level of disadvantage.

Teaching Qualifications.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

145 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether the time allocated to physical education on teacher training courses should be increased; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12948/05]

Physical education is included in the programme of pre-service education for all students in each college of education. A number of students also take additional elective courses in various aspects of physical education, such as aquatics and games. All college of education graduates are, therefore, fully qualified to teach the physical education curriculum in primary schools.

I am satisfied that the training programme for physical education in the colleges of education is sufficient and appropriate to meet the training needs of student teachers. The primary curriculum support programme, PCSP, is implementing the new curriculum in physical education. Fifty percent of the roll-out is being covered in the current year and the remaining 50% will be covered in the 2005-06 year. This process upskills teachers in the area of physical education and builds upon their pre-service training in this area.

The issue of the number of hours spent on physical education in pre-service education is, however, in the first instance a matter for the mangement authorities of the individual colleges of education. It is the management authorities of the individual colleges of education who are responsible for the delivery of physical education programmes to their students. I will continue to keep teacher training under review and this includes subject matter and individual course content and the importance of the individual components.

School Curriculum.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

146 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether a complete and thorough examination of the teaching of Irish at primary and secondary school should take place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12964/05]

The recent report of the Irish Language Commissioner highlighted the fact that despite appreciable time devoted to Irish in the school system, many students emerge from primary and post-primary education without achieving a reasonable command of the language. Particular concerns were raised about students' command of the spoken language. While I accept that the standard of oral Irish in particular of many of our young people is not as it should be, it is important to note that significant efforts have been made by my Department in recent years to improve standards in the teaching and learning of Irish in our schools.

The revised Irish language programme at primary level places a strong emphasis on oral Irish. This programme, implemented in all schools since September 2003 and supported by extensive inservice training by the primary curriculum support programme, should bring significant improvement to the standard of spoken Irish over time. This development at primary level complemented similar curricular changes at second level where syllabus reform is ongoing.

Significant improvements are being made in regard to the provision of materials and resources for the teaching of Irish. An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta has been established to progress this area and to provide support services for schools. Funding has been provided to the comhairle to support this task and this is an area that will need further work.

Marino Institute of Education now provides Irish courses at different levels for teachers and an enhanced range of supports for those studying for the scrúdú le haghaidh cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge has been put in place. Evaluations by my Department's inspectorate of the teaching and learning of Irish in our schools provide useful analysis to underpin future policy making in this area.

The inspectorate, in its 2002 publication, 50 School Reports — What Inspectors Say, has reported that the teaching of Irish is good in the majority of primary schools with the strongest aspects being the teaching of reading, poetry and writing. However, oral language attainment is generally poor despite considerable time being devoted to this aspect of Irish. This resonates with a view expressed by the Coimisinéir Teanga that insufficient attention is given to the use of Irish as a medium of communication in lessons taught. The Coimisinéir Teanga has pointed to other issues which I will consider in the context of developing ongoing policy responses.

At post-primary level, subject inspection reports indicate that inspectors regularly observe a good standard in the teaching and learning of Irish and that students demonstrate a good knowledge of texts being studied. However, there is concern that Irish is not used as the language of instruction in many classes, that Irish is taught though English in a significant number of classrooms and that the level of exemptions from Irish is too high. My Department is engaged in a number of evaluation activities relating to the teaching and learning of Irish. These include a focused evaluation of Irish in 45 primary schools and an evaluation of the teaching and learning of Irish in the junior cycle in 75 post-primary schools. Both of these inspections will be completed in 2005 and reports will be published subsequently.

A report on standards of Irish in sixth class in primary schools is being prepared by Dr. John Harris and will be finalised later in 2005. This report will look at changes in pupil achievement levels between the years 1985 and 2003. Also, at the request of my Department, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, is carrying out a review of languages in the post-primary curriculum. This will include Irish. I am confident that the above reports will both inform us of good practice within the system and point to areas requiring improvement.

The inspectorate of my Department, on foot of a major review of Irish language policies carried out in the Department last year, has recently prepared an internal report for policy discussion regarding areas where further improvements could be made. The Coimisinéir Teanga, along with other interest groups, contributed to that process. I have also recently met with An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta to discuss further improvements that could be made to support schools in improving the teaching and learning of Irish and to promote high quality education through the medium of Irish.

It is important to note that the issue of promoting the Irish language is not one that can be advanced by schools alone. Societal attitudes to the Irish language certainly impact on students' desire to learn it. This Government has demonstrated a clear commitment to promoting our national language. It is hoped that the continuing initiatives in education along with the increased emphasis on the use of Irish in the Official Languages Act, will in time create a positive climate whereby students will realise the value of learning our native language and, as a consequence, language competence will prosper.

Question No. 147 answered with QuestionNo. 144.

Bullying in Schools.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

148 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Education and Science the initiatives that she is taking to tackle bullying at primary and secondary schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12944/05]

I am acutely aware of the issue of bullying in schools and my Department has in place a multifaceted strategy to tackle the issue. The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools on anti-bullying behaviour is a central part of the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools. The SPHE curriculum provides for the development of personal and social skills, including self awareness, respect for others, self esteem and communication skills, all of which are important elements in addressing the issue of bullying.

In primary education, the issue of bullying is addressed in the SPHE curriculum in the strand "Myself and Others" from infant classes onwards. In second level education, the issue of bullying is addressed from first year onwards in the SPHE curriculum at junior cycle, in the module on "Belonging and Integrating".

My Department, in its Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour in Schools, has provided a national 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 and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of the school. Each school is required to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, properly devised and implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.

The school development planning initiative plays an important role in supporting schools to raise awareness of the need for anti-bullying measures. In addition, my Department funds a number of support services and pilot initiatives which provide direct assistance to schools in dealing with the issue of bullying.

Physical Education Facilities.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

149 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to ensure that children have access to play and physical education facilities in inclement weather conditions; if there is a timeframe in which her Department will ensure that all schools have such facilities, particularly in view of their importance in combating childhood obesity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13005/05]

Many primary schools have a general purposes room for play and PE facilities during inclement weather. In addition, practically all schools have play areas which are utilised for teaching different aspects of the physical education programme. A similar situation with sports halls and outdoor facilities applies at second level. Many schools have the use of adjacent local facilities, including public parks, playing fields and swimming pools.

The provision of multi-purpose space for primary schools will continue to be considered within the design brief for new schools and-or renovation and extension of school buildings. This will also be the case for PE facilities at second level. This will be done in the context of available resources and the published criteria for prioritising school building projects.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

150 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science when she intends to finalise the institutions to be added to the list under the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13008/05]

Section 4 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 enables additional institutions, in which children were placed and resident and in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function, to be added to the Schedule to the Act. Since the enactment of the legislation, my Department has received correspondence from both individuals and survivor groups identifying a number of additional institutions that may be eligible for inclusion in the Schedule. Accordingly, consultations have taken place between my Department and other Departments which may have provided a regulatory function in the operation of these facilities to ascertain the case for their inclusion under the Act.

While inquiries have not yet been completed in respect of all institutions, I signed an order on 9 November 2004 which provided for the inclusion of 13 additional institutions in the Schedule. Further consultations are taking place about a number of institutions and I will consider the position of these institutions when this process has been completed.

Question No. 151 answered with QuestionNo. 131.
Question No. 152 answered with QuestionNo. 92.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Finian McGrath

Question:

153 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the case of Mr. Pat Finucane; and if the maximum support will be given to their family. [12617/05]

At my recent meeting with Prime Minister Blair, I again raised the question of a public inquiry into the murder of Pat Finucane. We want to see the standard agreed at Weston Park and set by Judge Cory adhered to. While Prime Minister Blair has been very clear in his discussions and correspondence with me that this is also the British Government's intention, we continue to share the concern of the Finucane family that the new Inquiries Act, under which the British intend to have the Finucane case investigated, will not meet these standards. The Finucane case was also discussed with President Bush during my recent visit to Washington. The family has our full and continuing support in their tireless efforts over so many years to achieve the full truth in this deeply disturbing case and officials remain in close contact with the family.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings.

Finian McGrath

Question:

154 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the case of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings 1974; if persons (details supplied) will receive the maximum assistance and co-operation from all Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12618/05]

The Oireachtas joint committee which examined the Barron report into the 1974 bombings last year recommended the establishment of a commission of inquiry to examine matters relevant to this jurisdiction, including specific aspects of the Garda investigation at the time and missing documentation. The Government has decided to proceed with the establishment of a commission in accordance with that recommendation. The Government is also considering the other recommendations of the committee and will follow up, as appropriate, including in discussions with the British Government.

With regard to the representatives of victims and survivors of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, we have always been concerned to provide as much assistance and co-operation as is possible and appropriate. My Department remains in close contact with victims and their representatives. The persons mentioned by the Deputy are taking legal action against the Taoiseach, Ireland and the Attorney General. A defence has been entered and it would be inappropriate to comment further.

Departmental Staff.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

155 Mr. O’Connor asked the Taoiseach the arrangements for maternity leave within the public bodies under the aegis of his Department and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12743/05]

The arrangements for maternity leave within the public bodies under the aegis of my Department are the arrangements specified in the Maternity Protection Act 1994 (Extension of Periods of Leave) Order 2001, the Adoptive Leave Act 1995 (Extension of Periods of Leave) Order 2001 and the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004 and in the Department of Finance circular on maternity leave 35/95 and circular 09/01 which extends this leave.

Public Capital Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

156 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the number of public servants in his Department who are employed full time on the assessment, procurement, project management and delivery of infrastructure projects covered by the public capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12874/05]

Enda Kenny

Question:

157 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a broad description of each capital project considered by his Department over the past five years; when each project was first considered; when each project will be procured; when each will be completed; if each project will be part financed by user charges; the number of public servants employed in the delivery of each project; the names of the consultants and advisers used to date in respect of each project; the titles of the consultancy reports carried out or in progress; the expenditure to date on each project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12913/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 and 157 together.

There are no staff employed full-time on the assessment, procurement, project management and delivery of infrastructure projects at present, although a number of officials in my Department are involved in considering infrastructure expenditure programmes in the course of the work of interdepartmental groups, such as the cross-departmental team on housing, infrastructure and public private partnerships.

There are two officials from my Department seconded to Sports Campus Ireland Limited. The Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism has responsibility for this project and will provide the detailed information sought in the question. In the case of the millennium fund projects, the supervision and implementation of the awards lay with the sponsoring entity who received the award, that is, council, local authority and so forth. My Department has no capital projects in its Vote this year. However, the capital projects handled within my Department over the past five years are listed below.

Capital Projects

Year — Outturn

Projects

Cost (€000)

2000

Multi Media Developments

28,750

Sports Campus Ireland

570

Millennium Celebrations

6,275

2001

Millennium Celebrations

9,077

2002

Millennium Celebrations

2,900

Hospitals Building Programme.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

158 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when approval will be given to appoint the design team to a project (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12753/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, established on 1 January 2005, to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for considering new capital proposals or progressing those in the health capital programme. It would, therefore, be a matter for the HSE to consider any proposed development of the type specified, in the context of its overall priorities and funding resources.

Health Services.

Pat Breen

Question:

159 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will meet a deputation from a centre (details supplied) in County Clare to discuss its application for funding for a dementia unit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12754/05]

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 health services in County Clare. I understand that the HSE mid-western area has arranged a meeting to discuss dementia sevices this week and that the group referred to by the Deputy is to attend.

As Minister of State with responsibility for services for older people, I met this group during my visit to Clare at the end of February. Following the meeting with the HSE mid-western area, a further meeting can be arranged, if required, by contacting my office.

Civil Registration Service.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

160 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department intends to increase the amount per application that it is paying to officers who provide the extremely vital service of registration of births, deaths and marriages; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that regardless of the amount of time or correspondence involved the officers are being paid a minimal flat rate; if her Department intends to replace retired officers in rural parts of the country, especially in the north Mayo area; if her Department will commit to a continuance of this vital service, replace retired persons and review the payment system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12755/05]

The appointment of registrars within the civil registration service is primarily a matter for the Health Service Executive, HSE. With regard to fees, I have no plans to increase the level of fees per registration or the annual allowance payable to registrars.

Nursing Education.

John Perry

Question:

161 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will change a new provision (details supplied) brought in under the Nurses Rules 2004. [12760/05]

John Perry

Question:

162 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will change amendments to the Nurses Rules 2004 (details supplied). [12761/05]

I propose to take QuestionsNos. 161 and 162 together.

The issues raised by the Deputy are a matter for An Bord Altranais. Regulation of the nursing and midwifery professions, including the setting of requirements and standards in education programmes for registration, is the statutory responsibility of An Bord Altranais. The board is a broadly representative body; the 29 members include 17 elected by nurses who are representative of all the divisions of the register.

In November 2004, An Bord Altranais approved the following amendment to Nurses Rules regarding admission requirements for nurses wishing to train in public health nursing:

Before admission to the programme for education and training leading to registration in the Public Health Nurses Division of the Register, the name of the candidate for the registration must already be entered in the Register of Nurses and the candidate must have two years clinical experience in nursing. Unless the candidate's name is entered in the Midwives Division of the Register, the candidate must complete an An Bord Altranais approved module or unit of study on Maternal and Child Health as part of the programme.

I understand that, in framing this rule change, the board was mindful of recommendation 8.30 of the report of the commission on nursing which recommended dropping the mandatory requirement for a midwifery qualification for those wishing to train as public health nurses. My approval is required under section 26 of the Nurses Act 1985 and these rules were formally approved by me in December 2004 as soon as they were submitted by the board.

Hospital Services.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

163 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a new state of the art orthopaedic unit at Mayo General Hospital, which was opened on 1 September 2004, ceased elective orthopaedic operations on 26 January 2005; when elective operations will resume; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12770/05]

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 provision of services at Mayo General Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

164 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason management at Mayo General Hospital is refusing to provide the extra X-ray staff, clerical staff and computer equipment necessary to enable all elective orthopaedic operations to be resumed at the hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12771/05]

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 provision of services at Mayo General Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

165 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) had to spend his birthday on a trolley in the accident and emergency department of Mayo General Hospital with 14 other people; the reason a person lost all their possessions because their trolley position had been changed so much during the three days they spent in accident and emergency; if she will visit the hospital to see the scandalous situation first hand; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12772/05]

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 provision of services at Mayo General Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Subventions.

John McGuinness

Question:

166 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if refunds under the new scheme due to patients in psychiatric care have already been made; if statements regarding the repayment have been issued to the persons concerned or to family members; if statements regarding the private property accounts of patients are given to the patients on a monthly or weekly basis; if these statements are explained to the patients or to family members; if a proper transparent system will be put in place throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12780/05]

A special Cabinet sub-committee, comprising the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, the Attorney General, Mr. Brady, and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgment. Full details of a repayment scheme will be announced as soon as possible and it is the intention to make repayments as automatic as possible.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, HSE, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under this Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and social services. This includes responsibility for the issue raised by the Deputy and, accordingly, my Department has requsted the HSE to investigate the matter and reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

167 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an eye operation will be expedited at Waterford Regional Hospital for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; the reason for the delay in dealing with the matter. [12786/05]

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 referred to by the Deputy resides in County Kilkenny, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter and reply directly to the Deputy.

Tony Gregory

Question:

168 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to Question No. 243 of 2 November 2004, and the subsequent meeting arranged with the regional chief executive of the ERHA, the reason for the refusal of treatment on two separate occasions and the refusal to clarify information as requested regarding treatment undertaken in 2002; and if arrangements will be made to correct inaccuracies in the medical records of this case. [12802/05]

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 functions of the former Eastern Regional Health Authority. Accordingly, my Department has asked the chief officer for the Health Service Executive's eastern regional area to investigate the position with the matters raised by the Deputy and to reply directly to him.

Meetings have already taken place to attempt a resolution of this case. A further meeting is due to take place today between the individuals concerned and my special adviser.

Health Services.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

169 Ms Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the number of staff for frontline therapy services in Kildare delivered through the Eastern Regional Health Authority has not been increased since 1996; and if they are subject to an embargo. [12803/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service 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. This includes responsibility for staffing of frontline therapy services, including in Kildare. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer of the HSE eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

John Cregan

Question:

170 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the operation of the national treatment purchase fund is under the control of her Department or the HSE; if she will report on procedures done, the cost of same to date, the impact on waiting lists and give an analysis of each category of procedure; the number of procedures in each hospital; if there is competition between hospitals; the way in which work is divided between them; if public hospitals are allowed to tender for procedures; if so, the reason this is allowed when they cannot cope with existing patients; if this practice will cease before this scheme is destroyed; if the waiting list initiative fund still exists; if so, the amount budgeted for same in 2005; the way in which hospitals qualify for their payments; and if it is distributed without focus. [12834/05]

The national treatment purchase fund, NTPF, is a statutory body funded directly by my Department. The health strategy envisaged that the fund would be used to purchase treatment from private hospitals in Ireland and from international providers, and would also make use of any private capacity within public hospitals to arrange treatment for patients. Having regard to the demands on the public hospital system, I have asked the fund to keep its use of private capacity within public hospitals to the minimum.

Responsibility for the collation and publishing of waiting list and waiting time data rests with the NTPF. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the NTPF to reply to the Deputy directly with regard to the detailed information requested. The waiting list initiative has been wound up and the relevant funding was transferred to the NTPF.

Hospital Staff.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

171 Mr. McCormack asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, with regard to University College Hospital, Galway, she will commission the approximately 50 whole-time equivalent staff necessary to allow wards and beds to be opened; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12856/05]

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 provision of services at University College Hospital, Galway. Accordingly my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

172 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if early treatment for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 17 will be secured. [12857/05]

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 matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Mental Health Services.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

173 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost for 2004 of placing persons with dual diagnosis of intellectual disability and a psychiatric condition in institutions outside the country for services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12906/05]

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 matter referred to by the Deputy. Accordingly, my Department has requested the executive's national director for primary, community and continuing care to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

174 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost for 2004 of placing persons with dual diagnosis of intellectual disability and a psychiatric condition in unsuitable hospital settings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12908/05]

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 matter referred to by the Deputy. Accordingly, my Department has requested the executive's national director for primary, community and continuing care to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

175 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons with dual diagnosis of intellectual disability and a psychiatric condition who have been placed in institutions outside the country for services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12909/05]

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 matter referred to by the Deputy. Accordingly, my Department has requested the executive's national director for primary, community and continuing care to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

176 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons with dual diagnosis of intellectual disability and a psychiatric condition who have been placed in unsuitable hospital settings in 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12910/05]

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 matter referred to by the Deputy. Accordingly, my Department has requested the executive's national director for primary, community and continuing care to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Seamus Kirk

Question:

177 Mr. Kirk asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is intended to upgrade and expand accident and emergency services at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12929/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service 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. This includes responsibility for the provision of services at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's north eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Willie Penrose

Question:

178 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath has had an important operative procedure cancelled on two occasions and will not be seen in the foreseeable future; the further reason this person was deemed unsuitable for the patient treatment scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13069/05]

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 County Westmeath, my Department has requested the chief officer of the executive's midland area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Labour Court Recommendation.

Pat Breen

Question:

179 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to Questions Nos. 85 and 101 of 22 March 2005, if the HSE has set up a meeting with the Irish Nurses Organisation to agree arrangements on the way in which the court’s recommendations will be implemented; if she will provide the necessary moneys to honour Labour Court Recommendation No. 18030; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13070/05]

James Breen

Question:

185 Mr. J. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make funding available to pay and honour Labour Court Recommendation No. 18030; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13077/05]

I propose to take QuestionsNos. 179 and 185 together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service 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 person social services. This includes responsibility in relation to the funding of industrial relations settlements involving health service staff.

I understand that negotiations with the Irish Nurses Organisation with regard to arrangements for the payment of students covered by Labour Court Recommendation No. 18030 are ongoing and it is hoped that the matter will be finalised in the near future.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Michael Lowry

Question:

180 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when BreastCheck will be made available to the residents on the mid-western region; the reasons for the delay in rolling out the programme to the region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13071/05]

Michael Lowry

Question:

181 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the BreastCheck programme will be rolled out immediately in the mid-western region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13072/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 180 and 181 together.

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.

Design briefs for the BreastCheck static units at the South Infirmary-Victoria Hospital, Cork, and University College Hospital, Galway, have been completed. The advertisement for the appointment of a design team will be placed in the EU Journal shortly. I am confident that the target date of 2007 for the expansion of BreastCheck nationally will be met.

Any woman, irrespective of her age or residence, who has immediate concerns or symptoms should consult her general practitioner who, where appropriate, will refer her to the symptomatic services in her area.

Health Services.

Michael Lowry

Question:

182 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive in the mid-western region has contracted any beds from private nursing homes in County Tipperary. [13073/05]

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 nursing home care in the Health Service Executive mid-western area. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Charges.

Michael Lowry

Question:

183 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if patients in long-stay care in private nursing homes will be eligible for similar repayments to those in public long-stay care. [13074/05]

The Supreme Court judgment of 16 February last related only to charges in public long-stay institutions and publicly contracted beds in private nursing homes. My Department has received counsel's advice on the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990 and regulations made thereunder. This advice, which is privileged, is being examined in consultation with the Attorney General's office and it would be inappropriate at this stage to comment on the advice.

Hospital Accommodation.

Michael Lowry

Question:

184 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the level of overcrowding in a hospital (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and the measures she has taken to address the overcrowding of the accident and emergency department at the same hospital. [13076/05]

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 provision of services at Nenagh General Hospital. Accordingly my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 185 answered with QuestionNo. 179.

Medical Cards.

John Perry

Question:

186 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if he will address the concerns raised by a person (details supplied) regarding the medical card guidelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13090/05]

Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on means. Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board. Other than for persons aged 70 years and over who are automatically entitled to a medical card, medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.

Income guidelines are drawn up by the chief executive officers to assist in the determination of a person's eligibility and these are revised annually by reference to the consumer price index. However, the guidelines are not statutory binding and even though a person's income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that his-her medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship. The Deputy is no doubt aware that a range of income sources are excluded by the health boards when assessing medical card eligibility. Many allowances, such as the carer's allowance, child benefit, domiciliary care allowance, family income supplement and foster care allowance are all disregarded when determining a person's eligibility.

As part of budget 1996, the then Government announced that "persons who have been unemployed for at least one year, who take up paid insurable employment were deemed to meet the criteria for retaining their medical cards for three years". The provision also covers participants on approved schemes applicable to the long-term unemployed, including the back to work allowance, BTWA, community employment, Jobstart, job initiative, the partnership and community group initiative and development courses such as the workplace and vocational training opportunities scheme, VTOS. The purpose of this provision was to remove disincentives to labour force participation by long-term unemployed persons. The retention of medical card eligibility is approved for a period of three years when a person or spouse of a person who has been unemployed for a minimum of one year takes up employment. In this context, time spent on the live register, approved schemes or courses for the long-term unemployed is treated as an unemployed period.

The issue of eligibility was considered in the context of the national health strategy launched by the Government. The strategy outlines a number of measures designed to improve eligibility for health services which the Government has committed itself to introducing over a number of years. Among the measures proposed is an increase in access to medical cards. In addition to the extension of eligibility to all persons aged 70 years and over, the strategy includes a commitment that significant improvements will be made in the income guidelines to increase the number of persons on low incomes who are eligible for a medical card and to give priority to families with children and particularly children with a disability. The extension of the medical card to the over 70s is wholly consistent with Government policy aimed at improving the position of the elderly.

My Department has advised the health board chief executive officers in writing last year that medical card holders should not lose their cards because of increases in social welfare rates announced in the budget. In addition, the CEOs were asked that every effort be made to ensure that both medical card holders and applicants are made fully aware that increases in social welfare payments will not disadvantage them when applying to hold or retain a medical card.

There has been a 7.5% increase on 2004 income guidelines in respect of standard medical cards which came into effect on 1 January 2005 and this increase is expected to allow approximately 30,000 new people to become eligible for medical cards. In addition, the introduction of doctor-visit cards is intended to help to overcome barriers to accessing GP services for many individuals and families who are above the standard medical card income guidelines. The Health Service Executive initially intends to set the income threshold for doctor-visit cards at 25% higher than applies for the standard medical card. It is estimated that this policy initiative will result in approximately 200,000 people becoming eligible for free doctor visits.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Paul McGrath

Question:

187 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of patients who have presented at the accident and emergency department at Tallaght Hospital on each of the past 21 days; and the effect these patients have had on the normal admissions at this hospital. [13133/05]

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.

Services at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght, are provided under an arrangement with the executive. My Department has, therefore, requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to examine the issue raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Health Services.

Paul McGrath

Question:

188 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13135/05]

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 matter raised by the Deputy. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer of the executive's midland area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

189 Mr. McGinley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to the extension and new building for the psychiatric section of the hospital in Letterkenny, County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13149/05]

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 the provision of psychiatric facilities. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the Health Service Executive's north western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

190 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if urgent assistance and the maximum support and advice will be given to the family of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 with regard to their domiciliary care grant. [13150/05]

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 eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Charges.

Liz McManus

Question:

191 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will take steps to ensure the publication of the second value for money report by a company (details supplied) on the verification of compliance with the EU expenditure supports programme 2004-2009 in view of the public interest in relation to nursing home charges. [13163/05]

I assume that the Deputy is referring to the human resources operational programme 1994-1999 on the vocational training infrastructure, measure — improvement of the quality of training provision of the European Regional Development Fund. The company referred to by the Deputy performed a system-based audit from 1999 to close of programme under Article 3.1(a) of Regulation 2056/97 and 5% verification under Article 3.1(b) of Regulation 2064/97. Article 13 of Regulation 2067/97 states:

Information collected in the course of the controls shall be protected by professional secrecy, in accordance with the relevant provisions of national and community law. It may not be communicated to any persons other than those who, by reason of their duties in the Member States or in the institutions of the Community, are required to have knowledge thereof for the purpose of performing their duties.

Consequently it is not proposed to publish the above report.

Health Services.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

192 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her Department’s guidelines regarding the number of visits a new mother and baby can expect from a public health nurse in their home; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13164/05]

The maternity and infant care scheme provides an agreed programme of care free of charge to an expectant mother arising out of her pregnancy and to her new born baby for six weeks after birth. All expectant mothers who are ordinarily resident in Ireland are eligible to avail of services under the scheme. Women who choose to avail of these services are under the care of both a general practitioner of their choice and a hospital obstetrician.

After the birth, usually within 48 hours of discharge from hospital, a public health nurse visits the mother and child at their home. The scheme also provides for two designated post-natal visits to the general practitioner. The purpose of these visits is to conduct developmental checks on the baby and a post-natal examination of the mother. The first visit is within two weeks of the birth and the second is at six weeks.

The Best Health for Children report provides for a new core surveillance programme for all children in the 0-12 age group. It was published in late 1999 and covers both pre-school developmental examinations as well as the school health service. The programme recommends an examination at birth and a visit by the public health nurse within 48 hours of discharge from hospital. It also recommends a developmental check at six to eight weeks, three months, seven to nine months and 18 to 24 months.

The former Health Boards Executive has since established a programme of action for children, PAC, to facilitate a co-ordinated and integrated approach to the delivery of a range of child health projects. The PAC has undertaken a review of the surveillance recommendations from Best Health for Children, in the light of emerging evidence. Among the aims of the review are to establish a standardised national core child health screening programme; to review evidence for best practice; and to develop guidelines for screening. Its recommendations for this programme are being considered by the Health Service Executive.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

193 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cover which has been made available to the patients of the public health nurse at a location (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13165/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service 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 person social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of a public health nursing service. 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.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

194 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the current waiting time for the 12-month development check on children at a location (details supplied) in County Wexford; the action being taken to reduce the waiting time; the nature of the reassurance she will offer parents of young children not receiving this important check; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13166/05]

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 developmental screening of children. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Charges.

Beverley Flynn

Question:

195 Ms Cooper-Flynn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the way in which the appropriate recipient of a refund under the national repayments scheme is to be determined in the case of a deceased nursing home resident who would have been eligible for a refund under the scheme; and the procedure to be followed in determining the recipient in the case of conflicting claims by family members to be awarded the refund. [13167/05]

A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, the Attorney General, Mr. Brady, and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgment. Full details of a repayment scheme will be announced as soon as possible and it is the intention to make repayments as automatic as possible.

Health Services.

Beverley Flynn

Question:

196 Ms Cooper-Flynn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if capital funding is available to a community centre (details supplied) in County Mayo. [13168/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, HSE, established on 1 January 2005, to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for providing support and funding for community-based health projects. It would therefore be a matter for the HSE to consider any proposed development at the community centre specified, in the context of its overall priorities and funding resources.

Hospital Services.

Seán Crowe

Question:

197 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the ongoing crisis in public hospital accident and emergency departments as highlighted by the series of protests by the Irish Nurses Organisation, including the totally unacceptable situation in Tallaght Hospital (details supplied); and the measures that will be introduced in Tallaght Hospital to deal with this ongoing crisis. [13169/05]

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.

Services at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght, are provided under an arrangement with the executive. My Department has, therefore, requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Nursing Home Charges.

John Perry

Question:

198 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the measure she has in place to address the situations in which estates of deceased persons have been finalised with regard to the forthcoming legislation on charges for nursing care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13170/05]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the national repayment scheme in this instance. A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, the Attorney General, Mr. Brady, and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgment. Full details of a repayment scheme will be announced as soon as possible and it is the intention to make repayments as automatic as possible.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

199 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if forms are available to patients or their relatives to claim back their rights, as decided by the Supreme Court for payments for nursing home charges; if they are not available, when she expects they will be; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13171/05]

A national repayment scheme inquiry details form is available on the Health Service Executive, HSE, website, www.hse.ie, which enables persons who believe they are due a repayment to register their interest which the HSE will follow up when the details of the scheme are in place.

A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, the Attorney General, Mr. Brady, and myself has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the judgment. Full details of a repayment scheme will be announced as soon as possible and it is the intention to make repayments as automatic as possible.

Any person who considers that they or a family member may be eligible for repayment may register their interest in advance with the Health Service Executive, by writing to the National Refund Scheme, HSE Midland Area, Arden Road, Tullamore, County Offaly; or emailing refundscheme@mailq.hse.ie; or by calling the helpline 1800 777737 during office hours.

Children in Care.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

200 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been brought to the case of a person (details supplied); if she will meet with the family of this person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13195/05]

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 children taken into care. I understand that the Health Service Executive, northern area has contacted the person referred to by the Deputy with a view to arranging a meeting.

Medical Cards.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

201 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if patients with a valid general medical card who were treated for psychiatric illnesses in the Mater public psychiatric hospital had the cost of their treatment deducted from their disability or other social welfare payments during the 1990s; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13197/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, HSE, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under this Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and social services. This includes responsibility for the issue raised by the Deputy and accordingly my Department has requested the HSE to investigate the matter and reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 202 withdrawn.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

203 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15 has had a valid general medical card since 1992. [13199/05]

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 applications for medical cards. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area and chief officer for the north eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Accommodation.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

204 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the timescale for the commissioning of an additional 12 beds for Monaghan General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13200/05]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

205 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the timescale for the upgrading of two wards at Monaghan General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13201/05]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

207 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the undercapacity of beds in the surgical department of Monaghan General Hospital will be used to relieve the overcrowding at Cavan General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13203/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 204, 205 and 207 together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service 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. This includes responsibility for the provision of services at Monaghan General Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's north eastern area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

206 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to the commissioning of an additional 23 beds (details supplied) for Cavan General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13202/05]

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 provision of services at Cavan General Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's north eastern area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 207 answered with QuestionNo. 204.

Medical Cards.

John McGuinness

Question:

208 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a medical card will issue to persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if a decision will be expedited. [13204/05]

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 applications for medical cards. 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.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Paul McGrath

Question:

209 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that all elective surgery has been cancelled at Tallaght Hospital since 10 April 2005; the number of procedures and patients so postponed or cancelled; if she has put in place a protocol to prevent a repeat of this crisis situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13209/05]

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.

Services at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght, are provided under an arrangement with the executive. My Department has, therefore, requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Paul McGrath

Question:

210 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath will be admitted for surgery; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13210/05]

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 County Westmeath, my Department has requested the chief officer of the executive's midland area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

211 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the Health Service Executive failed to give an adequate response in the case of persons (details supplied) in Dublin 3; and if this matter will soon be resolved in order to prevent legal proceedings. [13243/05]

Finian McGrath

Question:

212 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will compensate persons (details supplied) for the amount of money spent on dealing with noise and disruption from the Health Service Executive; and if assistance will be given to these persons. [13262/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 211 and 212 together.

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 persons in question reside 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.

Disabled Drivers.

John McGuinness

Question:

213 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an application for a primary medical certificate in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be expedited. [13332/05]

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. The medical assessment for the purpose of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions scheme) is carried out by the senior area medical officer in the relevant health service executive area. This function is to assist the Department of Finance which has statutory responsibility for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

John McGuinness

Question:

214 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason an operation at St. James’s Hospital, Dublin for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny was cancelled on five occasions; the further reason operations of this kind are not co-ordinated with the management and availability of the high dependency unit at St James’s Hospital; the number of these units available at the hospital; if the operation will be re-scheduled for this person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13333/05]

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 referred to by the Deputy resides in County Kilkenny, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter and reply directly to the Deputy.

Suicide Incidence.

John McGuinness

Question:

215 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the plan of action or awareness campaign being undertaken by the HSE in the south east relative to the high level of suicides; the number of reported suicides in this region on a county basis each year for the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13334/05]

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 the provision of suicide prevention programmes. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the Health Service Executive's south eastern area to reply directly to the Deputy in this matter.

As the Deputy may be aware, work is now well under way on the preparation of a national strategy for action on suicide prevention. This strategy, involving the project management unit of the Health Service Executive in partnership with the national suicide review group and supported by the Department of Health and Children will be action-based from the outset and will build on existing policy. All measures aimed at reducing the number of deaths by suicide will be considered in the context of the preparation of this strategy which will be published later this year.

The number of deaths by suicide in each county in the south east region for the years 1999 to 2003, as requested by the Deputy, are as follows:

County

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003*

Carlow

2

2

8

3

6

Kilkenny

14

17

15

11

11

Tipperary SR

12

11

13

11

12

Waterford

11

12

17

12

8

Wexford

16

23

19

17

23

Total

55

65

72

54

60

*Provisional figures based on year of registration.

Source: Central Statistics Office.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

216 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when funding will be released for a company (details supplied) in County Wexford; the reason for the delay in the funding; the action she will take to speed up the building; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13389/05]

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 provision of funding. 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.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

217 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when phase 2 will begin at a hospital (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13390/05]

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 St. John's Hospital, County Wexford. 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.

Hospital Services.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

218 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a bed crisis in Wexford General Hospital, that the accident and emergency department is not able to cope with the number of patients that are going through it and that there is a crisis in the outpatients department; if her attention has further been drawn to the number of day procedures that are cancelled on a daily basis; the action she will take to improve the situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13391/05]

Paul Kehoe

Question:

219 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will visit Wexford General Hospital or meet a delegation comprising the Wexford Oireachtas members and a number of consultants and representatives from Wexford General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13392/05]

Paul Kehoe

Question:

220 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that Wexford General Hospital has been promised a 19-bed unit since 2002; when this promise will be delivered upon; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13393/05]

Paul Kehoe

Question:

221 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the new Health Service Executive has outlined the crisis in Wexford General Hospital since 1 January 2005; if so, when and the action she will take; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13394/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 218 to 221, inclusive, together.

I am aware of the difficulties being experienced at Wexford General Hospital. 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 provision of services at Wexford General Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to reply directly to the Deputy.

The detailed capital funding programme for hospitals for 2005 is being finalised in the context of the capital investment framework 2005 to 2009. This process is expected to be concluded in the near future and the HSE will then be in a position to progress its capital programme, in line with overall funding resources available in 2005 and beyond. It is my intention to meet members of the Oireachtas from the area once the capital investment framework has been finalised. I will be in touch with the Deputy again on the matter as soon as possible.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

222 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if non-EU and non-EEA doctors are allowed to participate in the general medical scheme here; the conditions that apply to such participation; the number of non-EU doctors recognised as general practitioners by the Medical Council; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13395/05]

Vacancies for GMS posts are advertised in the national and medical newspapers and applications invited from suitably qualified persons. Applicants, whether from this or another jurisdiction, must satisfy the provisions of EU Directive 93/16/EEC. This directive facilitates the free movement of doctors and the mutual recognition of their diplomas, certificates and other evidence of formal qualifications. It also stipulates the requirement in respect of vocational training for persons seeking to be considered for such posts.

Recent information from the Medical Council indicates that 833 doctors are fully registered under reciprocal agreements with New Zealand, South Africa, Australia — except Tasmania — and Canada — except Saskatchewan — and that there are 2,121 fully registered doctors from non-EU countries such as Pakistan, India, Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, etc. However, whereas these doctors could technically set up as general practitioners in Ireland, they may not be eligible to hold contracts under the GMS scheme unless they fulfil the qualification criteria as mentioned above. Also, it should be noted that these numbers include doctors currently working in hospitals. Statistics on the ethnicity of the general practitioners are not recorded.

Hospital Services.

Seamus Kirk

Question:

223 Mr. Kirk asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if hospitals record alcohol related admissions; if her Department has statistics available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13418/05]

Statistics in regard to activity within the mental health services is contained in the Health Research Board publication Activities of Irish Psychiatric Services. It contains data on admissions to psychiatric hospitals by main diagnosis.

The hospital inpatient enquiry, HIPE, system is the principal source of national data on discharges from acute hospitals in Ireland. The HIPE system records the condition chiefly responsible for the patient's admission to hospital for care. Excessive consumption of alcohol can cause a wide variety of medical and psychiatric conditions which can be a reason for admission to hospital. Data to the effect that excessive alcohol consumption is a strong contributory factor in the case of such admissions is not routinely recorded on the HIPE system.

The Deputy may be aware of an alcohol and injuries pilot study which was commissioned by the health promotion unit of the Department of Health and Children and carried out in the Mater Hospital in 2001 by Dr. John Sheehan, consultant in liaison psychiatry. This study has been expanded to include six major hospitals in various locations throughout the country. The data collected during this study is being analysed at present and a report is expected to be published around mid-year.

Hospital Charges.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

224 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Cork who paid maintenance charges at a geriatric type hospital while in continuing care for a period of six months is entitled to a refund of all or part of the charges as they are a medical card holder and an old age pensioner. [13419/05]

The details of a repayment scheme to address the situation following the Supreme Court decision are currently being finalised and it is only following this that it would be possible to calculate accurately the amount of repayment due to an individual.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive which was established on 1 January 2005. Under this Act, the executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and social services. This includes responsibility for the issue raised by the Deputy and, accordingly, my Department has requested the HSE to investigate the matter and apply directly to the Deputy.

Flood Relief.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

225 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing flooding problems upstream from Laraghbyran, Maynooth, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12810/05]

The Office of Public Works carried out works in 2002 on behalf of Kildare County Council on both the Lyreen and Meadowbrook rivers in the Maynooth area. Works on the Lyreen-Joan Slade river commenced at the point where it crosses the Royal Canal and continued downstream through Maynooth. Any queries relating to maintenance of these channels should be directed to the local authority, as the Office of Public Works has no responsibility for maintenance of the Lyreen and Meadowbrook rivers.

Drug Seizures.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

226 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Finance the weight of cannabis seized in the State by customs officials in each year between 1995 and 2004. [13212/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

227 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Finance the weight of cocaine seized in the State by customs officials in each year between 1995 and 2004. [13214/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

228 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Finance the quantity and weight of ecstasy tablets seized in the State by customs officials in each year between 1995 and 2004. [13218/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

229 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Finance the weight of crack cocaine seized in the State by customs officials in each year between 1995 and 2004. [13220/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

230 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Finance the weight of heroin seized in the State by customs officials in each year between 1995 and 2004. [13222/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 226 to 230, inclusive, together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the relevant statistics are set out in the following table.

Year

Cannabis (kgs)

Cocaine (kgs)

Ecstasy(No. of tablets)

Ecstasy (kgs)

Crack Cocaine (kgs)

Heroin (kgs)

1995

3,214.34

0.01

12,129

3.64

3.95

1996

1,902.1(+460 mls oil)

651.01

1,059

0.32

3.15

1997

615.49

2.99

126

0.01

0.39

1998

335.34

322.33

143

0.04

1.33

1999

2,045.72

27.20

61,119

18.34

1.13

2000

528.67

11.81

201,679

60.51

3.91

2001

13,335.00

0.01

189

0.06

0.001

3.23

2002

6,499.05

19.47

20,030

6.01

0.002

0.25

2003

933.00

38.00

128,117

38.44

15.00

2004

1,306.31

46.88

6,343

1.90

0.17

Cannabis figures includes cannabis resin and weight of ecstasy is an estimate.

Tax Yield.

Joan Burton

Question:

231 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of revenue collected in PAYE in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12765/05]

The net receipt of income tax collected under the PAYE system in the calendar year 2004 was €8.111 billion. This was approximately €200 million or 2.5% higher than expected.

Crime Levels.

John McGuinness

Question:

232 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance the number of times in each of the past three years that Kilkenny Castle grounds have been broken into; the level of security at the castle and the grounds; if both are covered by closed-circuit television; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12777/05]

Kilkenny Castle Park is subject to regular security patrols at night. Only two incursions have been recorded in the period in question, one in 2003 and one in 2004. The castle is protected by a special 24-hour security system linked directly to the local Garda station and providing effective cover. A closed circuit television security system has been provided for the parade tower area.

Departmental Agencies.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

233 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance the details and number of projects before the National Development Finance Agency; the estimated value of each project; when each of these projects was first submitted to the agency; the average period it takes for each project to be assessed; the number, details and estimated value of all projects assessed to date by the National Development Finance Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12799/05]

The National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, was established on 1 January 2003. The role of the NDFA is to advise Departments on the optimum means of financing the cost of capital projects in order to achieve value for money, whether procured through a PPP approach or through traditional procurement. In the case of PPP projects, it also involves advising State authorities on all aspects of financing, refinancing and insurance of such projects. The NDFA does not have a project approval role.

Under my Department's guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital expenditure proposals in the public sector, and under PPP guidelines and circulars, the sponsoring agency is required to seek the advice of the NDFA on all projects above €20 million. The sponsoring agency is also required to seek the advice of the NDFA at the preliminary appraisal stage and in any event no later than before tender documents are finalised. The NDFA role at various stages of projects is carried out as the sponsoring agency continues with its appraisal, planning and procurement of the projects. The level of involvement of the NDFA and the timing and duration thereof vary across projects depending on whether they existed prior to the establishment of the NDFA or whether they are new projects and also on whether, following preliminary appraisal, the PPP option is being explored and developed. As a result, the NDFA's involvement in procurement can range from six months for arranging the loan finance element of a simple project to a number of years for large complex projects. In that context, it is not possible to speak of an average duration of assessment.

The nature and complexity of the project are determining factors in ascertaining the time required to complete it. In addition to project-specific issues, there are a number of external factors, such as archaeology or planning issues or legal challenges, which can influence progress.

I am advised that some 80 projects are currently referred to the NDFA for advice at varying stages of the appraisal and procurement process. Some of these have yet to be deemed "live" as they are pipeline projects or still undergoing assessment or have been delayed as a result of some external factors, and accordingly are not listed in the attached tables. These external factors include delays because of archaeology and legal challenges. I understand the NDFA is awaiting formal instruction from the relevant sponsoring Departments on a number of projects.

I am advised by the NDFA that table 1 represents the current projects, as at 20 April 2005, on which ongoing advice is being provided by the agency. I understand that many of the projects listed are legacy projects and were referred to the NDFA for review and advice at a later stage of the planning and procurement process. The table identifies the type of project and the date the project was referred to the NDFA. For convenience, the projects are grouped under their relevant Department categories.

Table 2 lists the 11 projects on which NDFA advice was provided, and on which the projects have reached financial-contract close. In this regard, one tourism project for Clare County Council on which the NDFA has issued an opinion is expected to reach financial close shortly. Further details, including the value or cost of the various projects, are a matter for the relevant State authorities responsible for procuring the projects.

Table 1: List of Active Projects Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government

Type of Projects

Referred to NDFA

South Eastern Region Waste (Integrated Waste Management Infrastructure)

Waste

August 2004

Waterford County Council Grouped Towns and Villages Sewerage Scheme

Water

August 2003

Dublin City Council — Dublin Waste to Energy

Waste

May 2003

Wicklow County Council — Greystones Marina

Harbour

August 2003

Wicklow County Council — Bray Marina

Harbour

March 2004

Fingal County Council — Landfill

Waste

December 2003

Dublin City Council — O’Devaney Gardens

Social, Affordable and Private Housing

January 2004

Dublin City Council — Fatima Mansions

Social, Affordable and Private Housing

June 2003

Dublin City Council — Jamestown Road

Affordable Housing

September 2004

Dublin City Council — Infirmary Road

Affordable Housing

September 2004

Dublin City Council — St. Michael’s Estate

Social, Affordable and Private Housing

April 2005

Dublin City Council

East-Link Bridge

February 2004

Sligo Borough Council — Ballinode

Social, Affordable and Private Housing

November 2004

Meath County Council

New HQ

January 2005

Clare County Council

New HQ

December 2004

Cork County Council

Loan Finance (Waste project)

April 2005

Department of Transport

(i) National Roads Authority

N25 Waterford Bypass

Road

April 2003

N3 Cavan to Dublin (Clonee — Kells)

Road

December 2003

N7 Limerick Southern Ring Road Phase 2

Road

Early 2004

(ii) Railway Procurement Agency

Luas

Line extension

February 2005

Integrated ticketing

Integrated Ticketing

March 2004

(iii) CIE

Financing

Rolling Stock

December 2003

Department of Education and Science

Dublin Institute of Technology

Relocation to Grangegorman

June 2003

Cork School of Music

Music School

November 2003

UCD Relocation from Earlsfort Terrace

Possible deal on site

February 2005

Department of Health and Children

Southern Health Board

Community Nursing Units

July 2003

Eastern Regional Health Board

Community Nursing Units

March 2003

Eastern Regional Health Board — Central Mental Hospital

Hospital relocation

July 2003

Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources

Digital Hub

Development of site

November 2003

Office of Public Works

Decentralisation

Office accommodation

January 2004

Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Courts Service — Criminal Courts Complex

New buildings

March 2003

Courts Service — Programme new court houses

New buildings

February 2005

Prisons Service — Mountjoy Prison relocation

New prison

April 2003

Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism

National Conference Centre

Provision of building

mid 2003

Lansdowne Road — State funding component

Reconstruction

July 2004

Table 2: List of Completed Projects from NDFA perspective

Project

State Authority

Referred to NDFA

Role of NDFA completed

Transport — Roads

Dundalk Western Bypass

National Roads Authority

April 2003

2 February 2004

Kilcock-Kinnegad

National Roads Authority

January 2003

12 March 2003

Rathcormac — Fermoy

National Roads Authority

April 2003

4 June 2004

Transport — Rail

Luas Credit Facility

Railway Procurement Agency

Early 2003

22 September 2003

Housing

Fatima Mansions

Dublin City Council

September 2003

21 June 2004

Local Authority Loans

Kildare County Council (Offices)

Kildare County Council

May 2003

22 June 2004

Cork City Council (Drainage and Offices)

Cork City Council

June 2003

13 April 2004 and 5 October 2004

Cork County Council (Offices)

Cork County Council

April 2003

5 October 2004

North Tipperary County Council (Offices)

North Tipperary County Council

June 2003

5 October 2004

Clare County Council (Tourism Building)

Clare County Council

December 2004

NDFA financial opinion issued 8 March 2005. Contract due to be signed end April 2005

Broadband/Technology

Metropolitan Area Network

Dept. of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources

Mid-2003

June 2004

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

234 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance the number of National Development Finance Agency employees employed by the agency and involved in the assessment of capital projects submitted to the agency; their individual areas of specialist expertise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12800/05]

The functions of the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, which was established on 1 January 2003, are performed through the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, under section 11(1) of the National Development Finance Agency Act 2002. In common with the other functions performed through the NTMA, the NDFA is staffed by persons who are employees of the NTMA.

The NTMA currently allocates seven employees dedicated exclusively and full-time to the work of the NDFA. These employees have experience and expertise in a number of disciplines including project finance, law, accountancy, economics, corporate finance and risk management. I am advised that, in addition to the full-time employees allocated to the NDFA, other NTMA staff and facilities are used, as is required, from other parts of the NTMA, including its IT, security, legal, financial control, as specialists in real estate, the equity markets and the NTMA's funding and debt management unit.

Departmental Staff.

Pat Breen

Question:

235 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Finance if a building in Kilrush, County Clare, has been identified for the transfer of 50 civil servants from the Revenue Commissioners; if the contract has been signed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12801/05]

One of the proposed solutions for Kilrush is a building at planning stage. Negotiations are at an advanced stage with the developer.

The signing of a contract in respect of the selected solution will, of course, depend on a number of factors, including acceptable terms, compliance with OPW technical requirements and a suitable timescale.

Garda Stations.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

236 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if plans for the Leixlip Garda station have been finalised by the Garda Síochána and the OPW; if planning permission has been sought; and when the development on the site is expected to commence. [12804/05]

Officials from the Office of Public Works met officials of Kildare County Council on 16 March 2005 to discuss the acquisition of an additional plot of land for this development. It is understood that Kildare County Council has agreed in principle to dispose of the plot of land in question to the OPW and has commenced the process to effect this disposal. When Kildare County Council has completed the process of disposal, a revised sketch scheme reflecting the expanded development site can be issued to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for approval.

Tax Yield.

Barry Andrews

Question:

237 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Finance the revenues accruing to the Exchequer from value added tax on renewable energies; the likely impact on Exchequer revenues of halving the VAT rate on renewable energies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12919/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the VAT yield from renewable energy for 2005 is tentatively estimated at €10.1 million. The ESB estimates that 7.5% of electricity production is from renewable energy sources.

The VAT rating of goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law, with which Irish VAT law must comply. The supply of electricity is subject to the reduced VAT rate of 13.5% under Article 28 (2)(e) of the sixth VAT directive. This allows that member states which, at 1 January 1991, applied a reduced rate to supplies of goods and services other than those specified in Annex H of the sixth VAT directive to apply a reduced rate to such supplies, provided that the rate is not lower than 12%. It would, therefore, not be possible under EU rules to halve the VAT rate on renewable energies.

Departmental Correspondence.

Willie Penrose

Question:

238 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Finance if he has received correspondence from a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath; if he will deal with same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13104/05]

I can confirm to the Deputy that the correspondence in question was received in my Department on 20 April 2005. I have asked the Revenue Commissioners to examine the matter and report back to me as soon as possible.

Physical Education Facilities.

Liam Aylward

Question:

239 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Finance the progress to date on the application by a community school (details supplied) in County Kilkenny for transfer of a site owned by the OPW to allow the school expand its sporting facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13109/05]

The Commissioners of Public Works are currently dealing with legal aspects concerning this property. When these are completed, the intention is to dispose of the property on the open market. The OPW has had no approach in the matter. The appropriate authority through whom such application should be made is the Minister for Education and Science.

Tax Code.

Bernard Allen

Question:

240 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Finance the tax liabilities which an oil rig worker incurs while working outside the country for more than six months in a year. [13250/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the tax liabilities which an oil rig worker incurs while working outside the country for more than six months in a year depend on the individual's personal circumstances. In particular, the following factors will be relevant: the individual's residence position; the source of the individual's income, be it Irish or foreign; the individual's other sources of income, if any; the relieving provisions of any relevant double taxation agreement; and the individual's entitlement to tax credits.

On a general basis, an individual who is regarded as non-resident in the State will be taxable in the State in respect of Irish sourced income and in respect of the profits or gains from any employment exercised, or from any trade or profession carried on in the State, subject to the relieving provisions of any relevant double taxation agreement. On the other hand, an individual who is regarded as resident in the State will be taxable on his or her worldwide income subject to the relieving provisions of any relevant double taxation agreement. An individual will be regarded as resident in the State where he or she is present in the State for 183 days or more in the relevant year or is present in the State for more than 280 days in the relevant year and the previous year.

I am also informed by the Revenue Commissioners that there is specific legislation — section 13 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 — which deals with the charge to income tax in respect of employments relating to exploitation and exploration activities on the Continental Shelf which might also have a bearing on an individual's liability. Section 13 imposes a charge to Irish income tax on any employment income or any profits or gains derived from employments or activities carried out in the State's area of the Continental Shelf by treating such activities as being carried on in the State.

I draw the Deputy's attention to some relevant information published by the Revenue Commissioners which may be useful: information leaflets Res 1 and Res 2 — Working Abroad and Coming to Live in Ireland and the Guide to Moving to Ireland. These are available on the website at www.revenue.ie and I will arrange to have copies forwarded to the Deputy for his information.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joe Callanan

Question:

241 Mr. Callanan asked the Minister for Finance the number of the civil servants who have applied for decentralisation and who have selected Ballinasloe as a lower preference than first with regard to the decentralisation process; the number of persons who had Ballinasloe as either their second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth choice. [13320/05]

The central applications facility was set up to receive applications from civil and public servants to participate in the decentralisation programme. From the outset, the terms on which the facility operates have been the subject of detailed discussions with the Civil Service unions. Based on these discussions, all applicants were allowed to nominate a total of ten locations to which they would like to transfer, in order of preference. All of the material published and provided to Departments to date refers solely to the first preference choice of applicants. Following a recent agreement with the Civil Service unions on a protocol to govern interdepartmental transfers, Departments have commenced transferring staff on the basis of their first preference choice only.

The agreed protocol provides that when all first preference applications have been processed by way of interdepartmental transfer and shortfalls still exist, those applicants who nominated a location with a shortfall as their second and subsequent preferences will be offered positions. In the interim, details on the number of applicants who have applied for each location as their second to tenth preferences are not available.

Economic and Monetary Union.

Dan Boyle

Question:

242 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance his assessment of the planned new system of integrated guidelines and annual reports that would replace the broad economic policy guidelines, as proposed by the European Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13383/05]

I have no problems with the integrated approach. It clearly makes sense. It is essential that the proposed national programmes to give effect to the guidelines be underpinned by sound macroeconomic policies and be sufficiently flexible to take account of national circumstances and national policy priorities. I welcome the fact that this concern is clearly reflected in the Commission's approach.

Tax Code.

Dan Boyle

Question:

243 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance his views on the recent assertion that the best way to ensure development aid increases is to encourage private donations through tax relief; if this approach is compatible with his failure to introduce reforms in the taxation of charities as proposed by the ICTRG; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13384/05]

It is undoubtedly true that the tax relief scheme for donations, introduced by my predecessor in the Finance Act 2001, is an effective means of incentivising private individuals to assist charities in the Third World.

With regard to the proposals of the ICTRG, I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 50 by Deputy Cuffe on the same subject on 3 March last. As I indicated on that occasion, the tax relief available is already very generous and I am not prepared to make any further concessions regarding the scheme at this time. Contrary to what the Deputy appears to maintain, this Government increased, enhanced and extended the relief available on charitable donations far beyond the limited existing schemes and far beyond the expectations of the charities sector generally.

Oil Prices.

Dan Boyle

Question:

244 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance if, in view of a report (details supplied) which predicts a super-spike in oil prices to $105 a barrel, his Department has simulated the economic and fiscal effects of oil prices rising to $70, $90, and $105 a barrel, respectively; if he will publish any such research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13385/05]

Economic models can be used to simulate the possible impact of changes in oil prices. Model results suggest that, holding other factors constant, each sustained $10 per barrel rise in the price of oil reduces growth in the Irish economy by approximately 0.5 percentage points in a full year, relative to baseline. As outlined in the stability programme update of December 2004, this lower growth would have a negative impact on the public finances, reducing the fiscal balance by around 0.25% of GDP.

However, it should be recognised that model-based studies are subject to a number of limitations. First, simulations rely on extrapolation from past trends in oil prices and growth. As oil has not in the past risen to a level as high as $70 per barrel, it is difficult to accurately simulate such a scenario because there are no past data on which to base an estimate. Second, substantial structural change in the economy has taken place over recent years. This has involved a greater relative importance of services which are less energy intensive and a decline in the relative importance of traditional manufacturing sectors which are more energy intensive. This has reduced our dependence on oil. For example, oil imports in the late 1970s amounted to around 6.5% of GDP. The equivalent figure in 2004 was approximately 1.25% of GDP. As a result of these factors, estimates of the impact of oil prices rising to in excess of $70 would contain a high degree of uncertainty.

Decentralisation Programme.

Dan Boyle

Question:

245 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance if he has requested officials to monitor closely the movement of those affected by the decentralisation process; the number of officials who transfer within or leave the public service during decentralisation; the reason for these transfers and departures; if he will quantify the effect of various parts of the public service in terms of efficiency of these transfers and departures; if he will document all issues arising from decentralisation for each affected agency; if he will quantify the effect of these issues on efficiency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13386/05]

When the new decentralisation programme was announced by my predecessor, he appointed a decentralisation implementation group to implement it and drive the process forward. The group's terms of reference include the examination of how decentralisation might enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the public service.

In its report of March 2004, the implementation group recommended that each participating organisation submit an implementation plan addressing all of the business issues which would impact on the organisation during the relocation programme. Subsequently, in its July 2004 report, the group reported that the overall standard of the implementation plans submitted was good and requested that updated versions be produced including appropriate risk mitigation strategies.

The latest versions of the participating organisations' implementation plans are being received at various dates during 2005. In preparing these plans, all organisations have the benefit of detailed information from the central applications facility which was set up to receive applications from civil and public servants to participate in the relocation programme. All organisations now have details of the staff members in each organisation who wish to relocate with the organisation, the names and grades of staff who wish to leave the organisation to relocate with another employer and the names or grades of civil and public servants who wish to transfer into each organisation to participate in the relocation programme.

As assignments and transfers of staff proceed, regular updates on staff assignments are provided to both my Department and the decentralisation implementation group. This information on overall staff movements will provide an ongoing input into the work of the implementation group.

Dan Boyle

Question:

246 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance if he continues to maintain that there is absolutely no link between choosing to work in a decentralised location and the probability of being promoted in the civil or public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13387/05]

As I outlined to the House in my answers to similar questions on 3 March 2005, promotion and recruitment are key elements of the Government's decentralisation programme. I refer the Deputy to my earlier reply which set out the general position on this matter.

In accordance with the recommendations of the decentralisation implementation group, recruitment and promotion practices and procedures must be revised to allow Departments and offices to secure sufficient staff to allow them discharge their functions in their new locations. Clearly, where a promotion vacancy arises for a post which is being decentralised as part of the Government's programme, it is entirely reasonable for the employing Department to ask staff accepting that promotion to agree to move with that post.

As I said last month, discussions are continuing between the management and the Civil Service unions with a view to agreeing new promotion and recruitment mechanisms to support implementation of the programme. It would not be appropriate for me to comment in detail on these discussions. However, I will say that the Government wants to reach a reasonable agreement on these issues with the staff unions, that is, an agreement which supports the early and efficient implementation of the decentralisation programme and, at the same time, takes account of the very legitimate desire of staff remaining in Dublin to maintain opportunities for promotion.

Financial Services Regulation.

Dan Boyle

Question:

247 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance if he intends to request IFSRA to investigate the continuing rise in personal credit along the lines of the investigation proposed by the Irish League of Credit Unions; if he intends to take action to prevent the debt-income ratio from continuing to rise; if he intends to bring in further regulations to prevent financial institutions from granting excessive personal credit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13388/05]

I am aware of the concerns expressed by a number of commentators on the continued increase in credit growth, particularly to the household sector, and the possible effects of increasing indebtedness upon borrowers.

The growth of credit and the associated increase in indebtedness are a matter for the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland, taking into account its role as a part of the European system of central banks and its functions, as the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, regarding the prudential supervision of financial institutions and the protection of the consumers of those firms.

As regards the views of the Irish League of Credit Unions, the financial regulator has already drawn attention to the need for consumers to choose the right type of loan for their needs and in particular to consider carefully the long-term effects of consolidating personal debt into existing mortgages. Separately, mortgage lenders were requested to review their practices and to stress test every would-be borrower's ability to meet his credit obligations in the event of more challenging times.

The provision of consumer credit in Ireland is regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1995, which is administered by the financial regulator. This Act obliges credit providers to include specific information in all credit agreements in order to ensure that a consumer, when making credit decisions, has access to the fullest possible information regarding the agreement being entered into and the impact that servicing a loan will have on the consumer's household budget.

In addition, the Central Bank and the financial regulator have sought to raise the level of awareness of both borrowers and lenders of the importance of prudent borrowing and responsible lending. For example, the financial regulator, with its statutory consumer mandate, has developed a number of specific initiatives to help consumers make informed choices in terms of the financial products they choose, the amount of risk they take on and the cost of financial products. These initiatives have been developed through the framework of the financial regulator's "It's Your Money" campaign and have involved publishing consumer guides on credit products, fact sheets, cost surveys on personal loans, all of which are intended to assist borrowers in making the most appropriate credit decisions given their circumstances.

Tax Code.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

248 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance if a person is liable for full capital gains tax when they compete in the EU early farm retirement scheme having leased their farm to a non-relative family member, lost all entitlements and being prevented from farming in any form, should they decide to sell a building site. [13408/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that, under section 598 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, an individual who is 55 years or over may obtain relief from capital gains tax on the sale of his or her qualifying assets.

In a case where the site being sold is part of a farm that was leased under the 1992 or the 2000 EU early retirement from farming scheme, qualifying assets include land which has been leased under the scheme where the land was, for a period of ten years or more prior to such a lease, owned by the individual and used by him or her for the purposes of farming throughout that period. To qualify, the individual must be at least 55 years of age at the time of the disposal. Full relief is available where the proceeds from the disposal do not exceed €500,000. In such a case, no tax is charged on the gains arising. If the proceeds exceed €500,000, marginal relief may apply. It should be noted that this limit is an aggregate limit, that is, the relief is limited to an aggregate consideration of €500,000 for all disposals of qualifying assets made after the individual has reached 55 years of age.

If the site being sold is not part of a farm that was leased under the early retirement from farming scheme, or if the vendor does not otherwise qualify for the relief, capital gains tax is payable on the chargeable gain. The taxpayer in question should contact the Revenue Commissioners if further details are required.

Postal Services.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

249 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if post offices will be supported to expand their banking operations and other public services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12820/05]

The Government and the board of An Post are committed to the objective of securing a viable and sustainable nationwide post office network as set out in the programme for Government.

The post office network has been the subject of a number of studies and reviews in recent years. Many of the recommendations arising from these reviews have been implemented, with particular regard to winning new business, including extra banking and new utility business.

There is widespread recognition that the best strategy to sustain the post office network is for An Post to continue adapting to customer needs, with a view to retaining existing customers, while at the same time developing services to attract new customers. This strategy is already being followed with some success.

Harbours and Piers.

James Breen

Question:

250 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will make funding available for the completion of the Doonbeg pier in Clare in order to allow the fishing and sea angling to develop to its full potential; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12768/05]

Doonbeg pier is owned by Clare County Council and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests, in the first instance, with the local authority.

A programme for the funding of small harbours within the overall 2005 fishery harbours development programme is under consideration at present and funding for Doonbeg pier will be considered under this programme, taking into account the amount of Exchequer funding available and overall national priorities.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

251 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the obstacles to the development of community ownership of wind farms as outlined in the Catch the Wind report presented by community groups and the Western Development Commission; and if he plans to establish preferential conditions for community-owned wind farms in any new support mechanisms for wind power. [12811/05]

My Department is familiar with the study referred to by the Deputy and has engaged with the Western Development Commission on its content. Each programme operated by my Department to support the construction of new wind powered electricity generating stations to date has divided that support between large scale and small-scale projects. In addition, the most recent competition also included a separate provision for biomass anaerobic digestion to encourage small scale projects within that category.

The small-scale categories operated primarily to support the construction of locally owned or community-based projects. However, the programme exists primarily to encourage environmental protection and the rules cannot be so restrictive as to constitute unfair discrimination in delivering the task within any particular category.

On 7 April last, I announced the outline of a future programme to support the construction of additional renewable energy powered electricity generating plant. The major change signalled was a move away from competitive bidding on price to a fixed price system. A quantitative limit will continue to apply to the amount of plant, which can be supported and, therefore, a competitive element remains.

I have noted the concerns of small-scale producers generally. I appreciate that there may be a problem with how "small-scale" is currently defined and I am conscious that this may require further consideration. However, the future support programme I have outlined will retain a competitive element and I cannot make specific commitments to any particular group of competitors until the detailed rules are published and accessible simultaneously to all prospective applicants.

Sports Funding.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

252 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if grant aid is available from his Department to purchasers of schooner sailing boats between 18 m and 20 m for the provision of pleasure sailing craft. [12858/05]

The Department has no funds available to grant aid the purchasers of schooner sailing boats, regardless of length, for the provision of pleasure sailing craft. An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, provides grant aid towards the introduction of new purpose built and suitable modern second hand vessels where these vessels are exclusively engaged in sea angling and marine tourism-related activities. A mandatory criterion of the BIM scheme is that the vessels must be less than 15 m in length overall. Full details of the fisheries inshore diversification and safety programme are available at www.bim.ie.

Fisheries Protection.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

253 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of submissions which were received on the public consultation phase of the 2005 wild salmon and sea trout commercial tagging system; and when he will decide on and publish the regulations for 2005. [12927/05]

In the course of the statutory consultation process on the wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme, which concluded on the 13 April, I received nine submissions. In addition, some 2,600 objections to the proposed quota were received on pre-printed cards, standard form letters and standard form e-mails.

The Wild Salmon and Sea Trout Tagging Scheme Regulations 2005, S.I. 204 of 2005, were signed into law on 21 April and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on the following day. The regulations were published on the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources website on 22 April. Printed copies of the regulations are also available from the Government publications office.

I have considered and weighed all the serious objections received during the consultation period and decided to proceed with the quota proposed in the draft regulation. This figure is in line with the recommendations made to me by the National Salmon Commission.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

254 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the communication he has received from the UK Government regarding Ireland’s current management of the commercial netting of wild salmon; if the Government intends responding to the criticisms raised by the UK environmental agency that Irish drift nets now represent the main form of exploitation of salmon on many English and Welsh rivers; and if the Government has received advice on whether Ireland’s commercial netting practices may be in breach of obligations given in the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation protocols, European Union directives and the UN Law of the Sea Convention regarding the protection of migratory wildlife species. [12928/05]

Since my appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for marine matters, I have not received any communication from the UK Government regarding the management of the Irish wild salmon fishery. I am aware, however, of the concerns being expressed abroad that drift netting in the Irish fishery is having an adverse impact on wild Atlantic salmon stocks.

The recent statement issued by the UK Environment Agency has been brought to my attention. The report relies on the findings of a joint Irish-UK scientific working group of scientists from our Marine Institute and the UK Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, with contributions from the Environment Agency, which has been assessing the recent patterns and levels of exploitation on English and Welsh salmon stocks in the Irish coastal fishery.

The statement contends "the Irish drift net fishery is currently thought to take about 10% of salmon returning to these (English and Welsh) rivers". The report also states "it appears, therefore, that exploitation on salmon from north east England in the Irish fishery is negligible, that exploitation on stocks from north west England and north Wales is currently low, but that levels increase for rivers further south in Wales and in south west and southern England". The report indicates that on the river test all rod caught fish are released and there is no net fishery, so it is in that context that it states that "the Irish fishery is probably the biggest exploiter of this stock."

I am advised that the results of the scientists' work have demonstrated that salmon from parts of England and Wales are exploited in the Irish coastal fishery. However, the report states "the levels of exploitation have varied between stocks from different regions and from year to year, and have also declined following the introduction of new management measures in the Irish fishery since 1997".

The same report recommended that improvement in the riverine environment to address issues of diffuse pollution, siltation, degraded habitat and obstructions to migration is seen as a key component in reversing the downward trend in egg deposition estimates on many UK rivers.

I understand the joint Irish-UK scientific working group's report is finally nearing completion and is expected to be released in 2005. In the absence of this report, it should be noted that the Government has not received any advice nor does it accept the validity of the argument that its salmon management regime does not comply with international legislation or best practice. Furthermore, the Government does not accept that there is any sound or agreed scientific basis for the allegations made that the Irish salmon drift net fishery has an unacceptable impact on salmon stocks either in Ireland or in other European countries.

The Government considers that its management of the Irish home water commercial salmon fishery, which limits the commercial salmon fishing season, confines it to within the six-mile limit and restricts the number of fish being caught, demonstrates a commitment to the conservation of the wild salmon stock, which is in keeping with the spirit and principles of our obligations both as a member of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, NASCO, and under relevant EU legislation and international conventions.

Quantified Risk Assessments.

Martin Ferris

Question:

255 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of pages in the original QRA and the number of appendices supplied to his Department in November 2001 in the matter of the proposed Corrib project. [13055/05]

The quantified risk assessment, QRA, is an organic document. The QRA, version D, comprised 52 pages plus 12 pages of appendices. The QRA, version E, incorporating Mr. Johnston's recommendations and those of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, comprised 54 pages plus 12 appendices.

Natural Gas Grid.

Martin Ferris

Question:

256 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department’s attention has been drawn to the consequences arising from the pipeline failure of the proposed pipeline at Rossport; and if he will make a statement regarding the safety of residents within a 500 m separation distance of this proposed pipeline, quoting the sources which underpin this statement. [13056/05]

The Department's attention has been drawn to a number of possible and hypothetical scenarios arising from the proposed pipeline at Rossport, all of which will be taken fully into consideration.

Post Office Network.

Michael Lowry

Question:

257 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the 400 non-computerised post offices will be brought under the ambit of a public service obligation; if An Post will be instructed to computerise these remaining post offices in the post office networks as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13084/05]

The Government and An Post share the objective of maintaining a viable nationwide post office network through a strategy of maximising the volume of both public and private sector business handled by the network. Notwithstanding the commercial remit of An Post, the Government recognises the social benefits of maintaining the nationwide post office network. Accordingly, An Post development strategies for the network continue to take full account of these social benefits.

With regard to computerisation of non-automated offices, the automated network accounts for over 95% of An Post's counter business. This means that the 1,000 automated offices transact 95% of counter business while 475 non-automated offices undertake 5% of business. This figure illustrates the level of business transacted by individual non-automated offices. The current level of automated coverage is considered by An Post to be extremely comprehensive by any objective standard and this level of coverage makes it difficult to justify on either customer service or economic grounds the extension of automation to all offices, regardless of their location or business volumes.

Automation of the post office network was completed in 1997. Offices are automated today only in very exceptional circumstances, such as when an existing automated office closing and its equipment being transferred to a suitable neighbouring location which transacts significant volumes of welfare business. Nevertheless, I have asked An Post to undertake a pilot project to automate a selected number of non-automated offices to gauge the effect on new business.

Michael Lowry

Question:

258 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will impress upon the Department of Social and Family Affairs the importance of the rural post office network and urge him to maintain the social welfare contact with An Post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13085/05]

An Post is a commercial State company. The payment of social welfare benefits at post offices is a contractual matter between the company and the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs and I agree that social welfare beneficiaries should continue to have the choice of having their benefits paid through the post office network.

Michael Lowry

Question:

259 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of post offices closed since 1997 in each county; the location of each post office closed since 1997; the number of offices facing closure at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13086/05]

There were 1,839 post office outlets in 1997 and today there are 1,455 post offices, 157 postal agencies and 3,000 postpoint outlets giving a total of 4,612 postal outlets in the State.

Telecommunications Services.

John Perry

Question:

260 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when broadband facilities will be installed in Cliffoney, County Sligo; the negotiations that have taken place; the commencement date of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13099/05]

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

The sector has failed to invest at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband, so my Department's regional broadband programme is addressing the infrastructure deficit by building high-speed fibre based broadband networks, in association with the local and regional authorities, in the major towns and cities. These metropolitan area networks, MANs, are open access fibre-based trunk networks that will allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs.

Nineteen MANs are now completed, and a further six are under construction, including the Sligo town MAN. Funding for the next phase of the programme will allow the building of MANs in a further 90 towns of 1,500 and above that do not have a satisfactory broadband offering from the sector.

For rural communities and small towns, such as Cliffoney, my Department offers funding under the county and group broadband scheme to enable these communities to become self-sufficient in broadband, in association with the service providers. Full details of the scheme, including application procedures, are on the website www.gbs.gov.ie, and the call for proposals is open until the end of April.

My Department's website, www.broadband.gov.ie, lists nine service providers offering satellite broadband services in Cliffoney, and gives contact details for each company, together with prices for the various service levels on offer.

Community Development Projects.

John Perry

Question:

261 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when approval will be sanctioned for the community development project at Raughley Pier, County Sligo; the negotiations that have taken place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13100/05]

Raughley Pier is owned by Sligo County Council and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests with the local authority in the first instance. A programme for the funding of small harbours within the overall 2005 fishery harbours development programme is under consideration at present and funding for Raughley Pier will be considered under this programme taking into account the amount of Exchequer funding available and overall national priorities.

Post Office Network.

Dan Neville

Question:

262 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether the local post office is a vital part of the social fabric of the community and whether it is in the national interest to preserve and allow its role to grow; and if he will respond to the Irish Postmasters Union’s concerns about the future of the post office network. [13185/05]

The Government and the board of An Post are committed to securing a viable and sustainable nationwide post office network as set out in the programme for Government. I believe that the Irish Postmasters Union also shares this commitment and the input of its members into the development of our post office network, in partnership with An Post management, is an essential element of securing the future of the network.

Postal Services.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

263 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if postal delivery staff are required to post unaddressed direct marketing material through letter boxes even if householders have displayed a “no junk mail please” sign or similar on the letter box; if there is any way in which a householder can avoid receiving such mail from An Post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13240/05]

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. Individual post persons have no discretion in regard to the delivery or otherwise of individual items of mail.

Energy Resources.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

264 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the proportions of electricity generated from oil, natural gas, peat, hydro-energy, wind, solar energy and other sources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13428/05]

I refer the Deputy to the answer I gave to Question No. 127 of Tuesday, 8 February 2005.

International Agreements.

Joan Burton

Question:

265 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the UK paper on the economic partnership agreements being negotiated by the European Commission with 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries; if, in accordance with the concern expressed by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Government will join with the UK and other like-minded Governments with a view to changing the EU position on economic partnership agreements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13463/05]

Pat Carey

Question:

272 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the possible economic effects of the new economic partnership agreements with the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries with particular regard to the negotiation process on the least developed economies; the Governments views on such agreements and their effectiveness in terms of furthering the EU’s commitment to the eradication of poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13078/05]

Pat Carey

Question:

273 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will elaborate on the role of the European Union in supporting the growth and development of economies in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13079/05]

Pat Carey

Question:

274 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the possible effects of Ireland’s aid policies under the EU’s new economic partnership agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. [13080/05]

Pat Carey

Question:

275 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the possible positive changes which the terms of the new economic partnership agreements with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries particularly regarding free trade of intellectual property rights, may have on Irish and EU aid packages involving medications and vaccinations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13081/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 265 and 272 to 275, inclusive, together.

Under EU regulations, the European Commission conducts the negotiations on economic partnership agreements between the European Union and six regional groupings of African, Caribbean and Pacific states on behalf of the member states. The Commission provides the Council with regular updates on the progress of the negotiations. Ireland is following the developments in the economic partnership agreements negotiations process. While Ireland, like the other member states, does not participate in the ongoing economic partnership agreements negotiations, we are satisfied the Commission is discharging its mandate in accordance with the provisions of the Cotonou Agreement and in a manner which is sensitive to the particular concerns of the African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

The economic partnership agreements, which are to enter into force by 1 January 2008, are an integral element of the legally-binding Cotonou Agreement between the African, Caribbean and Pacific states and the European Union.

Economic partnership agreements are primarily instruments for development that will foster the smooth and gradual integration of African, Caribbean and Pacific states into the world economy, with due regard for their own political choices and their own development priorities, thereby promoting their sustainable development and contributing to poverty eradication in the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. They combine trade and wider development issues in a unified framework, while taking account of the specific economic, social and environmental circumstances of each regional group and its component states. I am satisfied that this approach addresses the particular concern of Ireland and other member states that development and poverty reduction should be the principal objectives of the economic partnership agreements.

I have read with interest the recent UK position paper setting out views on how the commitment to put development at the heart of the economic partnership agreements negotiations can best be delivered. The paper was designed to promote an open discussion on economic partnership agreements issues particularly as the substantive negotiations get under way.

Article 46 of the Cotonou Agreement states that the parties recognise the need to ensure an adequate and effective level of protection of intellectual, industrial and commercial property rights. Under economic partnership agreements the arrangements for intellectual property rights will conform with the provisions of the World Trade Organisation's agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights.

US Visas.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

266 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs what recent contacts he has had with the United States Government regarding the introduction of legislation to enable 50,000 or so undocumented Irish people in the US to work legally in that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12815/05]

The number of Irish people who may be resident in the United States without the appropriate authorisation is difficult to estimate. I do not know how the Deputy arrived at the figure he cites. While the US authorities estimate that the number may have declined to 3,000 in 2000, many of the organisations working with our emigrants would regard this as a low estimate. No one, however, is in a position to be precise.

The circumstances of undocumented Irish people in the United States are raised on an ongoing basis in our bilateral contacts with US political leaders. Most recently, the issue was raised when the Taoiseach and I met President Bush on St Patrick's Day. During our meeting, the President reaffirmed his commitment to work with Congress on immigration reform. The Taoiseach and I welcomed this commitment and emphasised the importance of addressing the situation in a positive and sympathetic way.

During the St. Patrick's Day period, I also had a detailed meeting on immigration issues with four organisations in the Boston area, including the two main Irish immigration centres there. I commend the role and work of the immigration centres in the United States in particular the support, information and advice they make available to our communities there. Funding by my Department to these organisations increased by 83% last year. The substantial increase in funding which I have secured for emigrant services in 2005 will enable further support to be given to them this year.

The issues of our undocumented citizens and immigration reform have the highest priority for the Government. Through the ongoing efforts of our embassy and the contacts of the Taoiseach, Cabinet colleagues and me with political leaders in the United States, we will continue to encourage and support all measures that benefit Irish citizens.

Ministerial Travel.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

267 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the cost to the State involved in his trip to the South Down constituency on 15 April 2005.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

268 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Garda Síochána was involved in his protection during his trip to the South Down constituency on 15 April 2005.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

269 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if members of the Garda Síochána drove him to and from South Down constituency on 15 April 2005.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

270 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the PSNI was involved in his protection during his trip to South Down constituency on 15 April 2005.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

271 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if members of the PSNI drove him to and from South Down on 15 April 2005.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 267 to 271, inclusive, together.

In response to a long-standing invitation, I visited South Down, my neighbouring constituency, on 11 April. I fulfilled several engagements with the sitting MP, including a visit to a regeneration project in Castlewellan and a meeting with members of the Northern Ireland Youth Forum in Warrenpoint town hall.

As regards other aspects of the visit raised by the Deputy, it is not the practice to disclose the security arrangements for such visits. The only additional cost to the State was €203.34.

Questions Nos. 272 to 275, inclusive, answered with Question No. 265.

UN Missions.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

276 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the continued non-publication of the results of investigations by the UN interim mission in Kosovo, the NATO-led Kosovo Force and the French and German Governments into their respective failures to protect minority communities during the March 2004 riots in Kosovo; if he will call for the immediate publication of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13226/05]

The outbreak of ethnically-motivated violence in March 2004 was a serious setback to the work of building a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo. In a series of attacks across Kosovo on 17 March, 19 people were killed and widespread damage was caused to homes and other property, most of which were owned by members of the Kosovo Serb community.

I am aware of criticism by Amnesty International on the first anniversary of the violence that the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo, UNMIK, and KFOR, the UN-mandated peacekeeping force in Kosovo, have not admitted responsibility for their failings or made public the results of their investigations. In the aftermath of the violence, the UN Secretary General asked the Norwegian ambassador, Kai Eide, to undertake a comprehensive review of the policies and practices of all actors in Kosovo and to prepare recommendations on the way forward, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999. The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan submitted Mr. Eide's review to the UN Security Council on 6 August 2004. The Secretary General conveyed his recommendations to the Security Council on 17 November 2004. All of these documents are available on the website of UNMIK.

The Eide review concluded that the international community was taken by surprise by the violence in March and, with UNMIK in the lead, gave an impression of being in disarray and without direction or internal cohesion. The review further concluded that a restructuring of UNMIK was unavoidable, in order to re-energise the mission and bring its various components together in a more organised way. The Secretary General recommended immediate streamlining and realignment, with a comprehensive restructuring of the international presence as a whole to be undertaken in 2005.

KFOR has also carried out internal reviews of the conduct of its operations in Kosovo. For reasons of security — of the members of KFOR and of the local population — it is normal practice that such reviews are not made public. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the role of other national contingents. However, I pay tribute to the particularly courageous role played by the Irish contingent in KFOR during last year's violence. Some 18 members of the Defence Forces received citations from the commander of KFOR for their actions to protect civilians. There are over 200 members of the Permanent Defence Force serving with the Irish contingent in KFOR. The latter has also carried out internal reviews of the conduct of its operations in Kosovo.

The Government and its partners in the European Union fully support the work of UNMIK and of the special representative of the UN Secretary General in Kosovo, Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen. The European Union will play its part in the months ahead in the political process aimed at reaching an agreed settlement in Kosovo, based on the creation of a multi-ethnic society in which the rights of all communities are fully protected.

Sports Funding.

Seán Crowe

Question:

277 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism how much State funding has been made available for the building of a proposed stadium in Tallaght; and the position regarding the proposed future and finishing of this project. [13188/05]

Under the sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, capital grants totalling €2.57 million were allocated over the three years 2000 to 2002 in respect of the Shamrock Rovers stadium in Tallaght. Of this, €2.44 million has been paid out in respect of works certified by invoices to the value of €3.3 million.

Following its refusal in December 2004 to extend the period of planning permission on the site, South Dublin County Council has initiated a series of discussions with interested parties with a view to the repossession of the property. In the event of a satisfactory outcome, South Dublin County Council will consult with my Department on how best to ensure the completion of a sporting facility on the property. I intend to support South Dublin County Council in putting together a financial package that would ensure the completion of the stadium. Discussions on the parameters of any such financial assistance will take place when the council regains ownership of the site.

Work Permits.

John Cregan

Question:

278 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the situation regarding work permit holders who are non-EEA nationals and in regard to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; the length of time the normal restrictions on the issuance of work permits do not apply after a non-EEA national is made redundant; if the ineligible job categories apply only to persons outside the State applying for their first permit; if there is an exemption from the normal restrictions for persons taking cases to the Employment Appeals Tribunal; and if a work permit will be granted to this person. [12836/05]

The work permit section of my Department issued a work permit in respect of the above named individual for the period 16 April 2003 to 15 April 2004. No further applications for a work permit have been received.

In circumstances where the employment relationship has recently broken down or where the employee has recently been made redundant, the work permit section will look favourably on an application from another employer. In such instances, the ineligible categories do not apply and the application is processed on its own merits with regard to existing employment and immigration legislation.

Job Losses.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

279 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the serious impact on the local economy of the announcement by a company (details supplied) of the decision to close its call centre with the loss of 100 jobs; if he plans to have discussions with the company on the possibility of saving the jobs; if this is not possible, the steps he intends to take to secure alternative employment for the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12978/05]

I am aware of the announcement made by the company in question to close its call centre in Castlebar. The parent company has decided to consolidate its business into one Irish location. It is no longer practical for the company to operate out of two centres in Ireland. All business will be consolidated into the company's operation in Shannon and staff are being offered the option, including a relocation package, of employment in Shannon.

The industrial development agencies are committed to the development of County Mayo. IDA Ireland client companies have made seven site visits to the county since January 2004. Last year, four IDA Ireland supported companies also committed to research and development projects in the county, with a potential spend of approximately €5.5 million. In Castlebar, a new 16-acre modern business and technology park has been fully developed and is being actively promoted by IDA Ireland for new projects. Enterprise Ireland has approved funding support of over €5.8 million and paid over €4.8 million to companies in Mayo in recent years. A further €563,000 has been approved in support for the indigenous sector this year.

The State agencies, including the local county enterprise board, will continue to make every effort to secure alternative employment for the staff affected by the job losses at the particular company. In this regard, I am encouraged by the most recent live register analysis figures released by the Central Statistics Office. The year on year figures for March 2005, as against March 2004, for Castlebar show a decrease of 99 people, down from 964 to 865. For the county as a whole, the figure was 5,297 in March of this year, down from 5,863 in March 2004, a decrease of almost 10%.

Shannon Development.

Pat Breen

Question:

280 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will meet a small delegation as a matter of urgency to discuss the future of Shannon Development and the distribution of its assets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13083/05]

Several recent developments will impact on the future role of Shannon Development, the most significant of which are: the proposed relocation of the headquarters of Enterprise Ireland to Shannon as part of the decentralisation programme; the enterprise strategy group recommendation that Shannon Development should disengage from industrial development functions; and the establishment of an independent Shannon Airport Authority.

The new airport authority was incorporated in October 2004. Shannon Development fully supports the decision to establish an independent airport authority which is vital to the economic development of the region. The company has also further agreed on the need to re-focus its activities on the airport with a view to generating business for the airport and that the company's assets should be used to support the airport authority particularly in its early, vulnerable years.

In the light of these developments, the Shannon Development board was asked to devise a new strategy for the company. The board recently submitted a detailed strategy document outlining its vision of the future role of the company and my Department is engaged in a detailed examination of these proposals. The results of this examination will be submitted to me as soon as possible, following which I will engage in any necessary consultations with Shannon Development, my Government colleagues affected by the proposals, together with other interested parties in the region.

Employment Rights Legislation.

John Perry

Question:

281 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will address the concerns raised by a person (details supplied) regarding the employment legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13091/05]

The labour inspectorate of my Department is responsible for monitoring certain employment conditions for all categories of workers in Ireland, including immigrant workers. The inspectorate operates without any differentiation with regard to worker nationality as statutory employment rights and protections apply to immigrant workers in exactly the same manner as they do to native Irish workers. Inspectors pursue allegations of worker mistreatment and when evidence of non-compliance with the relevant employment rights legislation is found, the inspectorate seeks redress for the individual or individuals concerned and, if appropriate, a prosecution is initiated.

The numbers of workplace inspections or visits undertaken by the labour inspectorate in 2004 was 5,160. In addition, the labour inspectorate secured €486,000 arrears of pay on behalf of employees. There are approximately 600 cases under investigation by the labour inspectorate which relate to various alleged breaches of employment rights legislation, including payment of wages, holiday pay and overtime.

Inspections are undertaken in several ways: the labour inspectorate's primary role regards complaint-based inspections, that is, following receipt of a complaint from an employee, employee's representative or other source. In addition, routine inspections are undertaken on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance with employment rights legislation. Enforcement campaigns, targeted at specific sectors also form part of the labour inspectorate's role in enforcing employment rights legislation.

Following my announcement on 12 April there are 31 labour inspector posts. Immediate steps have been taken to source the new inspectors initially from within the existing staff complement of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Accordingly, I expect early appointments. The additional inspectors will strengthen the labour inspectorate's capacity to ensure that workers in these sectors receive their entitlements under employment rights legislation.

Where employers seek work permits in order to employ non-EEA nationals, the Department requires a statement of the main functions of the job, salary or wages, deductions — other than statutory, other benefits and hours to be worked per week. The proposed employer and the proposed employee must sign this statement. Work permits are not granted unless there is evidence of intention to comply with minimum wages legislation. Applications for work permit renewals require confirmation that the stated wages have been paid. Form P60 and other sources are used for this.

Arising from the mid-term review of Sustaining Progress, agreed by all parties in June 2004, the inspectorate was asked to draw up a discussion document for the social partnership process. It did this by identifying 39 key proposals but the document is not prescriptive. It presents the arguments for and against an extensive range of issues impacting on the mandate and associated resourcing of the labour inspectorate and its linked business units. A spectrum of possible models for compliance checking and enforcement have been identified and were presented for discussion. In the absence of appropriate analysis, no particular model can be endorsed. However, the purpose of their inclusion is primarily to stimulate debate and signal that fundamental changes in approach should be considered. Some views have been received from the social partners while others are awaited.

County Enterprise Boards.

John McGuinness

Question:

282 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment why Kilkenny County Enterprise Board is informing clients whose projects have been approved in principle that formal letters cannot issue due to lack of funding from his Department; if this is the case throughout the country; the reason this is so at this time of year; his plans in regard to the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13184/05]

Over €30 million has been made available to fund the county and city enterprise boards in 2005 of which €17.714 million will be available for capital expenditure on direct grant aid and soft support measures to micro-enterprises across all 35 boards.

All boards were invited to submit their 2005 budget demands to my Department and following receipt and examination of those submissions 2005 budget allocations have been determined for the 35 boards. All boards have been informed of their individual allocations. Pending the determination of 2005 allocations each board received an interim payment to meet immediate costs.

In determining the 2005 allocations my Department has adopted a systematic approach to ensure the maximum degree of objectivity and equity of treatment. This approach involved the provision of a basic allocation to each board as well as an additional allocation determined by other factors such as unemployment, capacity to spend, existing commitments and regional spread.

The programme budget approved for Kilkenny County Enterprise Board is over 9% higher than the allocation provided in 2004. This increase will enable Kilkenny County Enterprise Board to maximise entrepreneurial development in the micro-enterprise sector throughout the county in 2005.

Industrial Development.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

283 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of site visits which have taken place at a company (details supplied) in County Wexford; the number of visits which went through IDA and Enterprise Ireland; the date the visits took place; the results from each visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13414/05]

IDA Ireland has arranged two site visits from potential overseas investors, one in February 2003 and the other in May 2005. Neither of these site visits resulted in a tenant for the building. A profile of the facility has been circulated to IDA Ireland's overseas offices informing them of its competitive rental rate in comparison to locations like Dublin.

Enterprise Ireland has reported that the demand for factory space in the south east has been very slow over the past three years. The agency has brought three groups to view the facility over in the period late 2003 to early 2004. Groups that EI took to view the space included a call centre operation, which project did not proceed; an engineering firm from Northern Ireland, which project, as far as EI is aware, did not proceed in the Republic of Ireland; and a timber frame company for whose requirements the premises was not suitable.

I have been assured by the development agencies, IDA Ireland which is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment and Enterprise Ireland which is concentrating on indigenous industry, that they are actively marketing the factory to potential investors.

Work Permits.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

284 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will reconsider an appeal in relation to an application for two non-EU work permits; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the employer has been unable to use some of his machinery which is now idle as he is unable to secure drivers. [13417/05]

Having heard an appeal in this case, the work permits section of my Department issued two work permits to the above named employer.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Phil Hogan

Question:

285 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when a decision will be made in respect of an application for the rent allowance for a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12925/05]

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 Dublin and mid Leinster area of the executive has advised that a rent supplement has been awarded in this case backdated to the date of application, 22 March 2005. The first payment of the supplement will issue to the person concerned this week.

Departmental Staff.

Tony Gregory

Question:

286 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Question No. 322 of 19 April 2005, if there is an appeal procedure available for a civil servant who is refused the right to compete for establishment. [13524/05]

Tony Gregory

Question:

304 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Question No. 322 of 19 April 2005, the circumstances whereby a service grade employee in a permanent position may be excluded from competing in a competition for establishment. [13382/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 286 and 304 together.

All service grades, that is, cleaners, service attendants and service officers in my Department are appointed in an unestablished capacity. Competitions are held by the Public Appointments Service from time to time to allow them compete for establishment.

An interdepartmental competition for established appointment to certain positions within the Civil Service was recently advertised. The criteria which a person had to satisfy to be permitted to compete in this competition are set out below.

Candidates must: (1) be serving in an unestablished capacity in one of the grades specified in the governing circular which, in relation to service grades, are head services officer, formerly head messenger, services officer, formerly messenger, services attendant, superintendent of cleaners, supervisor of cleaners, cleaner; (2) have not less than one year's continuous service in the aggregate in one or more of these grades; (3) persons who would have been eligible under (1) and (2) above but for the fact that they were promoted or assigned to other duties were eligible to compete.

In addition, the personnel officer had to be satisfied that the candidates: (a) fulfil the conditions of eligibility specified above; (b) have worked well and been satisfactory in their present duties; (c) have been satisfactory in general conduct; and (d) are suitable from the point of view of health with particular regard to sick leave. In relation to sick leave, the procedures set out in Deptartment of Finance circular 34/76, as amended by circulars 32/91, 33/99 and 17/03, must be followed. If a person does not fulfil all of the above criteria, they are excluded from competing in a competition for establishment.

Appointment to established positions in the Civil Service is carried out under the provisions of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004. The Act provides that appointments will be made under codes of practice set down by the Commissioners for Public Service Appointments, CPSA. Where a competition is run by the Public Appointments Service or other licence holder, there is provision for appeal under the Act and as set out in the codes of practice.

The appeal procedures provide for the review of a decision, within specified time limits, on any of the issues covered in the code of practice by a person other than the individual who made the decision in question and for further review, if required, by a decision arbitrator.

The relevant codes of practice are available at www.cpsa-online.ie.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Question:

287 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the schemes which a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will qualify for; and if they will qualify for the free schemes, the living alone scheme, the fuel scheme and any other schemes. [12763/05]

The person concerned has been awarded the household benefits package with effect from 9 September 2004. Eircom and the ESB will be notified as soon as possible to apply the allowances to his accounts.

He has also been awarded a free lifetime television licence with effect from the expiry date of his current TV licence. If the person concerned has purchased a television licence since 9 September 2004, he can obtain a refund by sending proof of purchase, a receipt or a copy of the licence, to the Free Schemes Section, Pension Services Office, College Road, Sligo.

The fuel allowance scheme is intended to help households who are dependent on long-term social welfare payments and who are unable to provide for their own heating needs. One of the conditions for receipt of this payment is that the claimant must be in receipt of a pension from my department or an equivalent payment from a country covered by EU regulations or a country with which Ireland has a bilateral social security agreement.

To qualify for a living alone allowance, a person must satisfy a number of conditions. One of these conditions requires that the applicant be in receipt of a pension from my Department. As the person concerned is not in receipt of a qualifying payment, I regret that he is not eligible to claim the fuel allowance or the living alone allowance.

Community Law Centres.

Finian McGrath

Question:

288 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if urgent assistance will be given to the northside community law centre in its funding crisis (details supplied) in order that it remain open for the community in Coolock, in the form of the maximum grant. [12767/05]

The northside community law centre is one of a number of organisations which are funded under my Department's scheme of grants for the development and promotion of information and welfare rights. Since its establishment in 1975, the centre has been funded exclusively by State agencies with my Department taking over direct funding in 1995. Annual funding has increased progressively over the years and my Department provided €215,000 to the centre in 2004. In 2005, advance payments totalling €140,000 have been paid and it is costing €35,000 per month to keep the centre open.

I am fully cognisant of the valuable role which a community-based legal advice service such as the northside community law centre can play in the delivery of a comprehensive and cost effective legal advice service for citizens. However, I am satisfied that my Department is not in the long term the most appropriate source of funding for this service having regard to the fact that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has primary responsibility for funding legal aid services.

Social welfare queries dealt with by the centre in 2004 represented less than 5% of its annual business. I have, therefore, written to my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, regarding future funding of the centre as an integral part of its legal aid services.

In the meantime, my Department will continue to fund the centre for a period. The centre is seeking a substantial increase in funding for 2005 which my Department will not be in a position to meet from its budget. Discussions are continuing with the centre's management on these issues.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Question:

289 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be assessed for farm assist. [12787/05]

There is no record in the Department of an application for farm assist from the person concerned. An application form has been issued to him. On receipt of the completed application form, his entitlement will be considered and the person concerned will be notified of the outcome.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

290 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the criteria which will be used for the respite grant as was raised in the budget for 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12788/05]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

291 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the criteria which will be used for the respite grant, as announced in the budget for 2005, in the Social Welfare Bill; if a person who is giving full-time care but has been refused the carer’s allowance owing to the means test will be eligible for the respite grant; if the application forms are available; the way in which persons may apply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12790/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 290 and 291 together.

In the budget for 2005, I announced the extension of the respite care grant scheme to all carers providing full-time care to an older person or a person with a disability, regardless of means and subject to certain qualifying conditions. The respite care grant will continue to be payable to recipients of carer's allowance, carer's benefit, prescribed relative allowance, constant attendance allowance and domiciliary care allowance. Carers who do not qualify for a grant under one of these schemes may now obtain a grant if they and the person for whom they are caring satisfy certain conditions. The grant will be payable to those carers who previously did not qualify for carer's allowance on means grounds provided they satisfy the conditions of the scheme.

Carers must be aged 16 or over; ordinarily resident in the State; caring for the person on a full-time basis for at least six months, which period of care must include the first Thursday in June; living with the person or have a direct system of communication to the person's home. In addition, a carer must not be employed or self-employed for more than ten hours outside the home; getting or entitled to unemployment benefit or unemployment assistance or signing for unemployment credits; living in a hospital, convalescent home or other similar institution. The care recipient must need full-time care and attention, not reside in a hospital convalescent home or other similar institution and not already get full-time care and attention within their own home from another person.

The grant, which is being increased to €1,000, will be payable from 2 June 2005. Application forms and information leaflets will be available from early May. The forms and leaflets will be available throughout my Department's network of local offices and will also be available from citizens' information centres. They may also be requested by phone from my Department or by downloading them from my Department's website.

An extensive publicity campaign is commencing this week and includes advertisements in both provincial and national newspapers as well as posters in various centres and offices. Officials of my Department have already briefed representatives of carers' organisations about the scheme. These organisations will in turn be providing information to their members.

My Department has set up a special section to deal with this scheme. Arrangements are being put in place to ensure applications are processed efficiently and in a timely manner. As part of these arrangements, a dedicated freefone helpline will be operated to coincide with the publicity campaign.

Pat Breen

Question:

292 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Clare has been refused the supplementary welfare allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12805/05]

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, a heating supplement may be paid to recipients of social welfare or Health Service Executive payments who have exceptional heating costs due to ill health or infirmity and who are unable to provide for these costs from within their own resources.

The southern area of the executive has advised that an application for a heating supplement from the person concerned was refused on the grounds that the level of his household income was considered to be sufficient to cater for his heating requirements.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

293 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of savings he will make for his Department by forcing all social welfare recipients to accept their payments through a bank rather than the post office network; the damage that will be done, especially to rural communities, if post offices are forced to close; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12820/05]

John Cregan

Question:

295 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will report on the current agreement with An Post for social welfare payments; if the contract is nearing its end; if so, if it will be given to An Post again; if an open competition will be held, with tenders from different financial institutions; and if the concerns of old age pensioners will be uppermost in his mind when making a decision on the award of contracts for these payments in the future. [12825/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 293 and 295 together.

My Department's policy is to ensure that a range of payment options is available to customers and that service is continually improved by providing access to the wide range of payment options and new services and facilities now available. Customers opting for a particular payment method do so on an entirely voluntary basis having regard to their own circumstances and particular needs.

Current payment methods include payment at post offices by means of a pension order book, electronic or manual postdraft issued to the customer's designated post office each week, payment by cheque to the home address of customers and direct payment to customers' bank or building society accounts by electronic fund transfer. Some 58% of customers receive payment through their local post office, 11% are paid by cheque through the postal system and 31% receive direct electronic payment to their bank or building society account.

In regard to costs, my Department incurs a cost of €1.24 for each payment made through the post office network which amounts to an annual payment to An Post of in excess of €48 million based on current transaction levels. There is no cost to my Department in respect of direct payments lodged to a customer's bank or building society account.

Following the decision in 1999 to extend my Department's existing contractual arrangements with An Post, a complaint was lodged with the European Commission in 2000. That complaint was subsequently referred by the European Commission to the European Court of Justice. In the meantime, An Post, with the agreement of the Commission, has continued since 1 January 2000 to provide services to my Department on an interim basis. There are no plans to change that arrangement. While not wishing to pre-empt the outcome of the case before the European Court of Justice, I am confident that An Post will continue to have an important role in the delivery of services for my Department into the future.

Post Office Closures.

Joan Burton

Question:

294 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department’s attention has been drawn to the serious inconvenience caused to social welfare recipients, particularly old age pensioners, using the services of the post office in Castleknock, which closed without warning in April 2005; when and the location at which alternative services will be provided. [12824/05]

My Department is notified in advance by An Post of the closure of any post office. On receipt of the notification, my Department's customers who are affected are redirected to the nearest post office or, alternatively, to a post office designated by the customer. Where these arrangements do not suit a customer, my Department provides alternative payment arrangements either by cheque or by direct payment into a customer's account with a financial institution.

The post office referred to by the Deputy was closed temporarily on 7 April 2005 owing to flooding and social welfare customers were redirected to one of four alternative post offices within a two mile radius of the closed office. It is understood that these arrangements are working satisfactorily. A customer may contact my Department to seek alternative payment arrangements at any time.

Question No. 295 answered with QuestionNo. 293.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Bernard Allen

Question:

296 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason for the long delay in hearing the appeal of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [12854/05]

The person concerned has been in receipt of disablement benefit from injuries he received in a motor accident which he sustained in the course of his work in May 2001. His claim was reviewed in April 2004 and, following an examination by a medical assessor of my Department, his loss of faculty was provisionally assessed at 20% for a further six months period. The person appealed this decision in June 2004 and, following an oral hearing in March 2005, his appeal was disallowed and loss of faculty was affirmed at 20%. The person concerned was informed of the appeals officer's decision on 15 March 2005.

This appeal was processed by way of oral hearing and the earliest that it could be heard was early March 2005. In this regard, precedence is given to cases where the appeal concerns payments that constitute a person's primary source of income. The claim in this instance concerns a payment that is normally additional to a basic social welfare payment or, as in this case, additional to the person's ordinary income, as he had returned to work.

Under social welfare legislation, decisions in regard to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in making decisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

297 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if rent supplement will continue to issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13049/05]

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 Dublin and mid Leinster area of the executive has advised that it was unaware of a bereavement in the family in question at the end of March. Payment of the rent supplement to the late spouse of the person concerned had been suspended pending the return of outstanding documentation relating to an unrelated routine review carried out in January. The executive will contact the person concerned immediately to assess her circumstances and determine her entitlement to rent supplement.

Departmental Staff.

John Perry

Question:

298 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied) has been on the transfer list for over six years; when a decision will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13095/05]

In accordance with formal procedures agreed between the Civil and Public Service Union, which represents clerical officers, and the Department of Finance, the names of officers applying for transfer to a location are entered in the Department's central transfer lists in the order in which they are received. Vacancies which arise in locations are then filled by reference to these lists.

The person in question accepted an offer of appointment to a permanent position in the Dublin offices of the Department of Public Enterprise and took up her appointment on 19 October 1998. She transferred to the Sligo offices of my Department on 5 November 2001. She subsequently applied for transfer to Ballina office of the Department on 19 November 2001 and she is placed 80th on that list. In accordance with the agreed arrangements as outlined above, earlier applicants on the transfer list would have to be considered for transfer first in the event of a vacancy, fillable by transfer, arising in the Ballina office of the Department.

While the operation of the transfer list to the Department of Transport in Ballina is a matter for that Department, I understand from inquiries made that the person concerned applied for transfer to that Department in October 1998 and is placed 47th on the transfer list.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Seán Crowe

Question:

299 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons claiming family income supplement and who submitted a claim for backdating but were refused due to the lack of knowledge clause, in each of the past five years. [13172/05]

There is a general obligation on people to claim their social welfare entitlements on time and there are legislative provisions designed to cater for situations where they fail to do so. Regulations provide for payment to be made on foot of late claims in the case of a range of schemes, including family income supplement, for a period of six months prior to the date of the claim provided there is satisfactory cause for the late claims. Lack of knowledge is not in itself regarded as a basis for backdating of claims.

There are 15,040 persons in receipt of family income supplement. Information on the number of claims for the backdating of family income supplement, as a result of lack of knowledge is not held by my Department for the period in question. My Department is aware of one claim this year for the backdating of an award on the basis of lack of knowledge. That case was considered in the context of the relevant legislative provisions.

I am satisfied that the current provisions in regard to late claims strike a reasonable balance between, on the one hand, the need to exercise control of claims and the requirements of sound financial management and control of public expenditure and, on the other, the need for appropriate recognition to be given to cases of genuine hardship or difficulty.

Social Welfare Code.

Seán Crowe

Question:

300 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the criteria laid down by his Department for social welfare officers when assessing clients who are receiving social welfare payments while actively seeking work; and the evidence such clients need to produce. [13223/05]

Social welfare legislation provides that, among other conditions, a person must satisfy the condition of being genuinely seeking work to be entitled to unemployment benefit, UB, or unemployment assistance, UA. A deciding officer will take a number of factors into account in deciding whether a customer is genuinely seeking work. The legislation requires a person to be genuinely seeking employment suitable for him or her, having regard to his or her age, education, physique, location and family circumstances. To satisfy this condition, it is necessary for the person to demonstrate that he or she has taken some positive action and is making genuine efforts to secure employment. The person must show that he or she has taken reasonable steps to secure employment during the relevant period and provide examples of such steps. The steps which a person is required to take should be reasonable in his or her case and offer him or her the best prospects of securing employment.

Steps which would indicate that a person is genuinely seeking work may include making oral or written applications for work to employers or persons who have advertised job offers on behalf of an employer; looking for 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 his or her case; acting on the advice given by a job facilitator, a FÁS adviser or other placement agency such as the local employment service, LES; a deciding officer is advised to question a person not only on whether he or she has approached such agencies or persons seeking advice but also on the nature of the advice received and the action he or she has taken on the basis of that advice; and taking positive, well advised steps towards establishing himself or herself in self-employment which would take the form of researching possible areas of self-employment, preparing business plans for a self-employment project, attending relevant "start your own business" courses, or seeking information, advice or guidance in relation to any of these steps.

Regard may be had to any other steps which a person has taken, provided they offer the best chance of getting employment. The steps which are expected to be taken to seek work will vary from person to person and from one period to the next. In determining what are reasonable steps, the deciding officer is advised to consider the nature and conditions of the employment sought and the individual circumstances of the persons concerned in examining the steps taken to seek employment, inclusive of their level of skills and-or qualifications and having regard to existing labour market opportunities.

Any person who fails to satisfy the deciding officer that he or she is genuinely seeking work is not entitled to an unemployment payment. Where a person is dissatisfied with a decision made by a deciding officer, he or she may appeal this decision to the social welfare appeals office.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Seán Crowe

Question:

301 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will consider submitting a supplementary budget to extend the fuel allowance for elderly and other persons in view of the winter conditions being experienced by clients. [13224/05]

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide for their extra heating needs during the winter season. A fuel allowance of €9 per week —€12.90 in designated urban smokeless fuel zones — is payable to eligible households for a 29 week period from the end of September to mid-April each year.

Significant increases in recent years in primary social welfare payment rates, such as the old age pension, have improved the income position for people dependent on the social welfare system. These rates are payable throughout the year and are intended to cover basic living costs, including cooking and heating, supplemented where applicable by the fuel allowance during the winter heating season. Many households also qualify for electricity or gas allowances throughout the year under the social welfare household benefits scheme. In addition, a heating supplement may be payable through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme in cases of individual special need.

The 2004-5 winter heating season for fuel allowance purposes, which started on 27 September 2004, ended on 15 April. Any extension of the period over which the scheme applies in subsequent winter seasons would have significant cost implications and would have to be considered in a budget context in the light of other priorities.

Richard Bruton

Question:

302 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of claims for family income supplement which are in payment; and his estimate of the number of families which fail to apply for their entitlement under this scheme. [13237/05]

Family income supplement, FIS, was introduced in 1984 to provide income support for employees on low earnings with families and thereby preserve the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where they might otherwise only be marginally better off than if they were fully reliant on social welfare payments. Weekly payments of FIS are made to families, including one-parent families, with children under 18 or between 18 and 22 if in full-time education, where at least one parent is in full-time remunerative employment of not less than 19 hours per week, or 38 hours per fortnight, where the employment is likely to last at least three months and where the income of the family is less than a prescribed weekly amount.

The number of FIS claims in payment at week ending 8 April 2005 is 15,040. This represents an increase of nearly 25% in just over two years, on the 12,043 recipients at the end of December 2002. Weekly FIS income limits have risen by €84 since 2002, a net increase of €50.40. The guaranteed minimum rate of payment for anyone who qualifies for FIS increased to €20 from January 2004.

It is difficult to estimate the number of families who fail to apply for their entitlements under the family income supplement scheme. However, research undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute in 1997, which was based on the results of the living in Ireland survey 1994, suggested that at that time, fewer than one in three of potentially eligible claimants were actually in receipt of the payment. Since those with a higher entitlement are more likely to avail of the scheme, the take-up in expenditure terms was then estimated to be somewhat higher at between 35% and 38% of potential expenditure.

International research on schemes similar to FIS and the ESRI analysis has pointed to misconceptions of the scheme and lack of proper information as factors in low take-up levels. For example, people may not realise that FIS is not taxable and does not affect entitlement to a medical card. My Department undertakes a number of proactive measures to ensure that people are aware of possible entitlement to family income supplement. In this regard, ongoing publicity is provided in a number of ways, which include advising all newly awarded one-parent family payment recipients, advising all employers annually in PRSI mailshots and examining entitlement for all recipients of the back to work scheme. FIS has also been extensively advertised on local and national press and radio, in poster campaigns and targeted mailshots. Information on all social welfare schemes is also available on the Department's website and from any of the Department's local offices.

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard Allen

Question:

303 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the arrangements which exist in order that EU citizens who have worked in France and Germany are able to claim social welfare and old age pension entitlements here; and if social welfare contributions made during a term of employment in France and Germany are reckonable for social welfare and pension purposes here. [13246/05]

Under the Treaty of the European Community and the European Economic Area, EEA, agreement, citizens of member states are entitled to travel to other member states to seek employment. As such, EEA nationals are treated in the same way as Irish citizens in respect of applications for social welfare payments and national legislation does not distinguish between nationals and non-nationals.

In addition to national legislation, the entitlement of EU nationals to social welfare payments are governed by EU social security regulations 1408/71 and 574/72. The regulations are based on four principles: a person is generally only subject at any given time to the legislation of a single state, usually the state of employment; equality of treatment with own nationals — member states must not discriminate against the nationals of other member states; entitlements accumulated in one member state should be recognised when calculating benefit entitlements in another; the regulations allow for relevant periods of insurance, employment or residence in any member state to be taken into account, that is, aggregated to help people obtain certain benefits in another member state; and the regulations provide that pensions acquired under the legislation of a member state must be paid to the person concerned even if she or he resides in another member state and cannot be subject to reduction or modification. Subject to certain conditions, sickness benefits and unemployment benefit are exportable, the latter for a maximum of three months.

Thus workers who do not satisfy the contribution conditions under national legislation can rely on aggregation to qualify in Ireland for such payments as disability benefit and unemployment benefit. If such persons have been insured in Ireland for at least one year, they can qualify for pro-rata pensions, such as survivor’s and old age contributory pension. For example, a person with 15 years’ reckonable Irish PRSI contributions and 25 years insurance’ in France could get 15/40ths of the Irish old age contributory pension that would be payable if all the 40 years’ contributions were Irish. On the same basis, the person could be entitled to 25/40ths of a pension from France as if all the 40 years’ contributions were paid in France.

Question No. 304 answered with QuestionNo. 286.

Bank Charges.

Seamus Kirk

Question:

305 Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if pensioners are facing bank charges as a result of opting for pension payments by electronic transfer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13420/05]

The overall aim of my Department's payment delivery policy is to ensure that the most modern and widest range of payment methods are available to my Department's customers. Current payment methods include payment at post offices by means of a pension order book, electronic or manual post draft issued to the customer's designated post office each week, payment by cheque to the home address of customers, and direct payment to customers' bank or building society accounts by electronic fund transfer.

Customers opting for a particular payment method do so on an entirely voluntary basis having regard to their own circumstances and particular needs. Some 59% of customers receive payment through their local post office, 10% are paid by cheque through the postal system, mainly short-term schemes, and 31% receive direct electronic payment through their bank or building society account. An Post provides a direct payment option to Post Office Savings Bank accounts which, however, require a seven-day advance notice of withdrawal.

Bank charges which may arise for customers availing of the direct payment option are a matter for each customer having regard to their personal banking arrangements. It is understood, however, that some financial institutions offer special facilities to elderly persons involving free banking or reduced banking charges.

Driving Tests.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

306 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Transport if a person (details supplied) in County Cavan will be excused from the written theory phase of the driving test; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13208/05]

Since 11 June 2001 all applications for a first provisional licence must be accompanied by a driver theory test certificate. The specification which the contractor operating the driver theory test is obliged to meet provides for the delivery of a user-friendly computerised theory testing system and requires that provision is made for candidates with special needs. This includes the provision of reading assistance and voiceover audio with an extended time slot for the test.

The test is based on a question bank, which has been developed, inter alia, in consultation with the Association for Children and Adults with Learning Difficulties and the National Adult Literacy Agency. The question bank is available in book format or as a CD which includes voiceover audio. The test standard applies to all candidates and special allowances cannot be made in any particular case regardless of the circumstances.

Rail Services.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

307 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Transport the position in regard to negotiations between Iarnród Éireann and beet farmers in the Laois, Offaly and Kildare areas for the provision of a secondary depot at Portlaoise to facilitate the transfer of beet to Mallow by rail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13607/05]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

308 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Transport if he will take action to try to bring about a positive outcome to discussions held between Iarnród Éireann and farmers in the Laois, Offaly and Kildare areas to facilitate the transport of beet by rail from Portlaoise to Mallow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13608/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

318 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if Iarnród Éireann provides, as promised, a direct Portlaoise-Mallow train service to midland beet growers; and if the service will be provided off peak or at night. [13239/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 307, 308 and 318 together.

The carriage of beet by rail is a commercial matter between Iarnród Éireann and Greencore. Iarnród Éireann has advised me that an agreement has been successfully concluded with Greencore for the carriage of beet by rail to Mallow, in the upcoming season, from Wellington Bridge and Milford. I have been advised that Iarnród Éireann was not requested by Greencore to provide a service from Portlaoise. Iarnród Éireann states that the trains from Milford will operate at night.

Driving Tests.

John McGuinness

Question:

309 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Transport the locations for the off-road driver training and testing centres for HGVs; if Kilkenny is being considered as a location; the list of sites already agreed and those being considered; his policy in this area and the related costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12779/05]

My Department is in consultation with the Office of Public Works with a view to providing off-road testing facilities for the testing of drivers of heavy goods vehicles. Such facilities have been provided in Sligo, Limerick and Dundalk. It is the intention, subject to the availability of suitable sites and the efficient and economic delivery of the service, to provide similar facilities at the test centres that currently test drivers of articulated heavy goods vehicles. The following table sets out details of the centres where driving tests for articulated heavy goods vehicles are normally undertaken. These centres are not driver training centres. The cost of securing the sites will vary depending on location and other commercial considerations.

Test centres where drivers of articulated heavy goods vehicles are tested:

Athlone

Castlebar

Cork

Dundalk

Finglas

Galway

Kilkenny

Killarney

Letterkenny

Limerick

Mullingar

Rathgar/Churchtown

Sligo

Tralee

Tullamore

Waterford

Road Network.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

310 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the nature of the advice offered to him by way of the Atkins report with particular reference to the need to increase the height of the port tunnel; if he proposes to follow the advice given in the report in this regard; if not, the reason therefor; if he has studied any alternative proposals to meet the extra height requirement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12807/05]

Atkins Consultants were commissioned to review the feasibility, safety implications and cost of raising the height of the Dublin Port tunnel. The options for increasing the height of the tunnel were also considered by the National Roads Authority and by Dublin City Council. In addition, the contractor, NMI Consortium, priced the work that would be involved in increasing the height of the tunnel. It was clear from this work that raising the height of the tunnel would not be justified having regard to safety considerations and additional cost and delay factors and I announced my decision not to increase the height of the tunnel in October 2004. The Atkins report is available on my Department's website at www.transport.ie .

Public Transport.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

311 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Transport if the Naas Road hard shoulder is intended to be one of the pilot cases proposed new bus lanes. [12814/05]

It is proposed to provide a quality bus corridor on sections of the hard shoulder of the Naas Road. This is one of the pilot projects for bus lanes on hard shoulders. The tenders for phases two and three were advertised on Monday, 18 April 2005. Phase two is the section between the N7 Kingswood interchange and the Red Cow and phase three is the section between Robinhood Road and Long Mile Road.

Works are expected to commence on site in July-August 2005 with a completion date of March 2006.

Great Southern Hotels Group.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

312 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport his plans on foot of discussions at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport on 13 April 2005 for the Great Southern Hotels Group; the position regarding the many members of staff employed in this group; and the plans he has to secure and safeguard a secure future for this hotel group and its staff. [13082/05]

Under the State Airports Act 2004, the Dublin Airport Authority has a statutory mandate to do everything necessary to give effect to the restructuring of the State airports. All three authorities for the State airports are preparing comprehensive business plans and in furtherance of Dublin Airport Authority's new role, the position of its principal subsidiaries, including the Great Southern Hotels Group, must be considered by the authority in the first instance.

The business plan under preparation by the Dublin Airport Authority will indicate the board's proposals for the future of the hotel group and that business plan will in due course be considered by myself and the Minister for Finance. It would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt the board's consideration of this matter.

Departmental Staff.

John Perry

Question:

313 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied) has been on the transfer list for over six years; when a decision will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13094/05]

The officer has been on the clerical officer transfer list for Ballina since 18 October 1998. While there is a vacancy to be filled in Ballina, she is not in the first 20 staff on the transfer list and it is extremely unlikely that she will be considered for this position.

Road Network.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

314 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport the percentage of the total road network, as of the end of 2004, which comprises national roads; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13183/05]

The length of the national road network, as of end 2004, is 5,421.67 kms which is approximately 5.6% of the total road network.

Public Transport.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

315 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the delays being experienced by Dublin Bus commuters in the Pearse Street area; and if he has considered a contra-flow bus way for Dublin’s north and south quays as a means of reducing delays in Pearse Street and elsewhere. [13229/05]

The quality bus network project office has prepared a scheme for Pearse Street. Works are planned for this year on this scheme with completion expected in 2006. I am aware also that Dublin City Council has examined proposals for contra-flow bus lanes on the quays. The proposal was considered unfeasible for several reasons, including the contra-flow would introduce complication and inefficiency into signal operation; the quays are two lanes wide in several locations and a contra-flow bus lane would reduce the capacity for general traffic to one lane; taxis may not use a contra-flow bus lane and would be severely affected.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

316 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Transport if he has satisfied himself that the queueing arrangements in place in Pearse Street for Dublin Bus are sufficiently safe from a road safety perspective. [13230/05]

The power to determine the location of bus stops is vested in the Garda Commissioner under section 85 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. I understand the Garda consults both the local authority and bus service provider before issuing a direction under section 85. I have no function in this matter.

State Airports.

Michael Noonan

Question:

317 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Transport his policy position on the dual gateway status of Shannon Airport; if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concern in the mid-west region at the prospect of change; if, in negotiating any change in the position, a lengthy transition period will be allowed to Shannon Airport before services on the north Atlantic are completely liberalised; the present state of the negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13231/05]

Negotiations between the European Commission and the US authorities on an EU-US open aviation area are paused following the failure to reach agreement in June 2004. European transport Commissioner Barrot reported to the April meeting of EU Transport Ministers on his recent meetings in Washington with US Secretary for Transport Mineta and on the continuing efforts of US and EU officials to identify a basis on which formal negotiations can recommence. Commissioner Barrot will give a further report on progress to the June European Transport Council.

I have had meetings with all of the Irish stakeholders to ensure that I am familiar with their views. Increased access to US destinations under an open skies agreement would provide significant benefits to Irish tourism, trade economic growth and aviation.

Expanding scheduled services across the Atlantic is of great importance to the growth of Irish tourism and Irish airlines. Under the existing arrangements Irish airlines are restricted to serving five cities in the US. It is my understanding that Aer Lingus has been approached by airports in a number of other US cities in an attempt to encourage the airline to operate services to these airports. US carriers are also likely to offer a wider range of services to Ireland if the present restrictions are removed.

Whatever new arrangements might be agreed, I am clear that Shannon remains an attractive destination for transatlantic services, particularly from the east coast of the US. Any change in Ireland-US arrangements will open up new destinations in the US for Irish airlines, and this presents new opportunities for Shannon. Clarity on the open skies issue would be very helpful to the new board of Shannon Airport in its business planning process. I am convinced that Shannon, with the right cost base for the airport and with the proper competitive environment, can maintain and grow its transatlantic business.

Question No. 318 answered with QuestionNo. 307.

Road Network.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

319 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport the total amounts spent by his Department on roads and public transport respectively for each year between 1995 and 2004. [13336/05]

Expenditure by my Department on public transport capital projects in the period 1995 to 2004 is outlined in the table below.

Year

Public Transport Capital Expenditure — million

1995

Nil

1996

4.618

1997

17.426

1998

21.35

1999

197.712

2000

281.75

2001

378.316

2002

425.782

2003

479.122

2004

437.912

Total

2,243.988

The allocation of funding in respect of national roads improvement projects to local authorities is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, under section 19(f) of the Roads Act 1993.

In the period 1995 to 2004 capital expenditure on national road infrastructure is outlined in the table below.

Year

Improvements — million

1995

242.600

1996

256.580

1997

294.427

1998

334.393

1999

500.162

2000

622.171

2001

908.238

2002

1,083.499

2003

1,169.424

2004

1,178.959

Total

6,590.453

Benchmarking Awards.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

320 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason general operatives employed by one of the North-South implementation bodies (details supplied) are awaiting benchmarking payments since 2001; the reason for this delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13261/05]

The Southern-based craft and industrial staff in the North-South implementation body referred to by the Deputy are linked for pay purposes to State industrial employees. As part of the terms of Sustaining Progress and its associated pay agreements, the staff in question were granted an award, which is to be paid in instalments, subject to the agreement and implementation of an appropriate modernisation plan.

I understand that, owing to the negotiations involved, no industrial State employee received the first phase of the award earlier than 2004. Agreement on the modernisation plan of the North-South implementation body in question was finalised in December 2004 when the first phase of the award was paid and backdated to December 2001. Subsequent phases of the award are being paid in line with the provisions contained in Sustaining Progress.

Dormant Accounts Fund.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

321 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason a centre (details supplied) in County Donegal which applied for dormant accounts funding has only now, ten months after its application, been informed that it is an ineligible project; and if he will make a statement on the way in which this project was ineligible and the way in which this long delay will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13102/05]

Decisions on the disbursement of funds from dormant accounts moneys are a matter for the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board, an independent body established under the Dormant Accounts Acts. The board has engaged Area Development Management Limited, ADM, to administer the initial round of funding on its behalf, which involves the disbursement of up to €60 million from the fund.

An application from the group concerned was received by ADM and evaluated against the criteria set out in the published guidelines. I understand that the board decided not to approve the application and the group concerned was advised of the board's decision on 8 April 2005. The group can obtain further information regarding the reasons the application was not approved and can avail of the opportunity to seek a review of the decision by contacting ADM.

I have no direct role in relation to the board's decisions except where the board decides to approve grants in excess of €300,000. In such cases my consent is required before any disbursement can be made.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

322 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason a centre (details supplied) in County Donegal which applied for dormant accounts funding has only now, ten months after its application, been informed that it is an ineligible project; and if he will make a statement on the way in which this project was ineligible and the way in which this long delay will be addressed. [13103/05]

Decisions on the disbursement of funds from dormant accounts moneys are currently a matter for the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board, an independent body established under the Dormant Accounts Acts. The board has engaged Area Development Management Limited, ADM, to administer the initial round of funding on its behalf, which involves the disbursement of up to €60 million from the fund.

An application from the group concerned was received by ADM and evaluated against the criteria set out in the published guidelines. I understand that the board decided not to approve the application and the group concerned was advised of the board's decision on 15 April 2005. The group can obtain further information regarding the reasons the application was not approved and can avail of the opportunity to seek a review of the decision by contacting ADM.

I have no direct role in relation to the board's decisions except where the board decides to approve grants in excess of €300,000. In such cases my consent is required before any disbursement can be made.

Community Development.

Beverley Flynn

Question:

323 Ms Cooper-Flynn asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if funding is available from his Department for a community centre (details supplied) in County Mayo. [13179/05]

The Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board approved a grant of €121,907 in February 2005 for this centre for the purpose of setting up an after school and homework club. This centre has also received funding in the past under the area-based rural development initiative and it is open to the community council to make an application to South West Mayo Development Company Limited for the purpose outlined in the Deputy's question. It is also open to the group to apply for funding under the programme of grants for locally based community and voluntary organisations operated by my Department. The 2005 programme will be open for applications in the coming months.

Pat Carey

Question:

324 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if any discussions here taken place with the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment to develop and extend a model of community support along the lines of the community employment schemes; his proposals for developing a scheme using the €5 million allocated to his Department in the budget for 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13462/05]

I have had discussions with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment regarding the possibility of the transfer of responsibility for the social economy programme to me. Discussions between our two Departments are ongoing with regard to the practicalities of such a move. It is in this context and in the context of our experience with programmes such as the rural social scheme that the best use of the funding referred to by the Deputy is being considered.

Decentralisation Programme.

Donal Moynihan

Question:

325 Mr. D. Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding progress made in relation to the decentralisation programme for Macroom, County Cork; if the Office of Public Works has identified a property to accommodate the public service staff who have already volunteered to transfer under the central applications facility; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13089/05]

The decentralisation implementation group published a report in November 2004 dealing with the organisations-locations selected for inclusion in the first phase of moves as part of the Government's decentralisation programme. These organisations-locations were to be given priority. Although Macroom was not included in this list, an accommodation brief of requirements is being prepared for the Office of Public Works.

Live Exports.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

326 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the procedures adopted in the selection of a shipping business in 1997 to receive financial assistance from her Department for the provision of a substitute ferry service to carry live cattle to the European continent; the amount of such assistance provided and the conditions attaching to the grant; the date on which the decision was made and the manner in which it was notified; if her Department made adequate checks on the financial suitability and track record of applicants for this aid and of the successful bidder in particular; if and the manner in which the assistance was awarded to the successful bidder; if her Department has satisfied itself that any State payments appear in the financial books and accounts of the company to which it was awarded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12758/05]

The carriage of most categories of livestock from Ireland to continental Europe was discontinued by the main commercial ferry operator from August 1997. Given the vital importance to the Irish agricultural sector of an export outlet for live cattle in particular, tenders were invited for the provision of a replacement ferry service. Six responses were received from parties interested in providing such a service. Following evaluation by my Department, which included an evaluation by an independent assessor, a total of £1 million in State funding was made available to a company called Gaelic Ferries Limited to provide a service subject to the following conditions: State grant to assist with the start-up of the service would be limited to a maximum of £1 million, payable over the period to the end of April 1998 on a decreasing basis to be finalised by negotiations; owner's equity would be initially £100,000 and would be increased to at least £200,000 by the end of the initial three months of operation; every voyage would be accessible to livestock exporters for the carriage of livestock and livestock would be given preference over other freight in the event that on any voyage demand were to exceed capacity.

The decision to provide assistance was made in principle in September 1997 and the decision to provide assistance to Gaelic Ferries Limited was notified to the company by letter dated 9 October 1997. In its submission, Gaelic Ferries Limited had provided a business plan including financial arrangements and projections. This business plan was evaluated by my Department and by the independent assessor. The company was a joint venture involving the Port of Cork, Dundalk Shipowners Limited and the Irish Road Hauliers Association. Payments were made to the company as follows: £450,000 in October 1997, £250,000 in December 1997, £200,000 in February 1998 and £100,000 in March 1998. The service was operated from October 1997 to May 1998 when it was discontinued on the grounds that it was not commercially viable. By that time, alternative commercial ferry operators were offering facilities for transporting live animals to the Continent.

As examination of financial books and accounts of private companies is a matter for the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Companies Registration Office and other regulatory bodies. My Department did not undertake an audit of this company's accounts.

Grant Payments.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

327 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a REP scheme payment will be made to persons (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12816/05]

Payment dated 21 April 2005 has issued in this case.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

328 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if an application, as a forcemajeure case, was approved for persons (details supplied) in County Kerry. [12817/05]

The persons named, having been notified that the circumstances outlined by them did not satisfy the criteria for forcemajeure-exceptional circumstances under Article 40 of Council Regulation EC No. 1782/2003, submitted an appeal to the independent single payment appeals committee. Following a full examination of the circumstances outlined in the appeal, the independent single payment appeals committee made a recommendation and a letter issued to the persons named on 22 April 2005. The findings of the appeals committee were that the original decision taken by my Department should be upheld.

Veterinary Inspection Service.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

329 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the delay in her Department passing out the annual round of testing dates for tuberculosis for veterinary surgeons; if the test will be advised at an earlier date in order that it can be carried out on a more even basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12914/05]

In view of the level of TB and brucellosis in Ireland, all herds are required by EU Directive 64/432/EEC to have one annual test for TB and brucellosis to maintain official free status and dependent trading opportunities. My Department circulated instructions for the 2005 annual round test to the district veterinary offices on 1 March 2005 and the DVOs issued instructions to the private veterinary practitioners who carry out the tests shortly thereafter. This year my Department decided to reduce the number of phases from six to three with the result that the first phase of tests are scheduled to be completed by 12 June compared with 2 May last year. In view of this and the fact that the "round" circular issued three weeks earlier than last year, private veterinary practitioners are being given a significantly longer period to carry out the tests this year than in other years.

Grant Payments.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

330 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the file number, date and area of each forestry pre-planting application submitted by a person (details supplied) and their spouse or other party acting on their behalf; the date of pre-planting approval, the date of planting and the date and amount of grant awarded to this person. [13058/05]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

331 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the file number, date and area of each forestry pre-planting application submitted by a person (details supplied) and their spouse or any other party which has not been planted by this person. [13059/05]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

332 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the file number, date and area of each and every forestry pre-planting application submitted by a person (details supplied) and their spouse or any party acting on their behalf which was subsequently planted by another person; the file number, the date of pre-planting approval, date of planting, date and amount of grant awarded in respect of each and every other such new applicant and the forestry contractor who carried out the work. [13060/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 330 to 332, inclusive, together.

There are two applications recorded on the Departments files for the person in question. There are no recorded details of an application from the person's spouse. The details are:

File Number

Date of Application

Area

CN12492

February 1997

40.61 Ha

CN23077

May 20

14.26 Ha

The actual planting was done by new owners of the land following change of ownership after planting approval had been given. The detailsare:

File Number

Date of Approval

Date of Planting

Grant Paid

Date Grant Paid

CN12492

3 March 1998

29 May 1998

65,379.07

November 1998

CN23077

28 July 2000

22 December 2000

33,091.91

March 2001

There may be other instances where applications originally approved in the name of the person concerned or their spouse subsequently led to plant