Written Answers.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies received from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 15 to 41, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 42 to 51, inclusive, answered orally.

Food Agency Co-operation Council.

Richard Bruton

Question:

52 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of meetings of the Food Agency Co-operation Council in 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14003/05]

The Food Agency Co-operation Council was established in 2000 under the aegis of my Department to promote the fullest practical co-operation between the State agencies involved in the food industry, in the interests of the optimum development of the industry. The council has an independent chairman, Mr. Padraic White.

The inaugural meeting of the council took place in March 2000 and it has met on 20 occasions since its inception. The council did not meet in 2004 as a number of factors contributed to the difficulties in re-scheduling meetings that year. My Department is currently drawing up an outline work programme for discussion with the council's chairman, having regard,inter alia, to the recommendations of the enterprise strategy report, the 2015 agri-vision report and work on the national strategic implementation plan to achieve the goals set out in the Government’s research and development action plan, Building Ireland’s Knowledge Economy.

The council has played a significant role in increasing co-operation, at formal and informal level, between the State agencies involved in the food industry and has led to a number of memorandums of understandings being agreed between agencies. The council has also produced a number of publications, which have been well received by the industry. In 2001, the council was instrumental in the drawing up of an agreed human resource development programme for the food processing industry and also produced the publication, Market Trends — Implications for Suppliers and State Agency Initiatives. In December 2002, the council's publication, A National Food Incident Management Plan, was launched. The market led new product development guide, launched in April 2003, provides guidance to food and drink companies in relation to new product development best practice and this has since been promulgated to county enterprise boards.

During 2004 the food development agencies directly concerned with the food programme components of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 met twice with my Department to assess progress on the plan in preparation for meetings of the monitoring committee for the programmes concerned.

Single Farm Payment.

Phil Hogan

Question:

53 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for cross-compliance under the single farm payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13993/05]

Under the new single payment scheme farmers receiving direct aid are required to respect the various statutory management requirements set down in EU legislation on the environment, food safety, animal health, and welfare, and plant health and to maintain the farm in good agricultural and environmental condition, GAEC. There will also be an obligation on the member state to ensure that there is no significant reduction in the amount of land under permanent pasture by reference to the total area under permanent pasture in 2003. These requirements are termed cross-compliance.

The EU directives and regulations referred to in cross-compliance are in place for many years now. Producers are generally familiar with them and are complying with the standards set in implementing them in Ireland. The Department prepared a consultative document on cross-compliance in October 2004 and invited views from interested organisations. Department officials met the main farming organisations in December to discuss their submissions and these discussions have continued more recently in the context of the review of the protocol on direct payments.

An information booklet on cross-compliance has been issued to all farmers and it sets out the principle features of cross-compliance both in terms of the standards that must be met by farmers and the control arrangements that will be necessary. To coincide with the issue of the booklet, a series of countrywide farmer information meetings organised by my Department in conjunction with Teagasc took place in early April. These meetings focused not only on cross-compliance but also addressed the various other issues associated with the introduction of the single payment scheme.

In implementing the single payment scheme, I am aiming to minimise the number of inspection visits and to move towards a situation where, in most cases, all eligibility and cross-compliance checks will be carried out during a single farm visit. It is envisaged that the 22,000 or so inspections, which were carried under the old regime, will be significantly reduced to some 10,000 under the single payment scheme. This approach should minimise the level of inconvenience to farmers. However, in certain instances more than one inspection of a holding may be unavoidable.

Farm Safety.

Dan Boyle

Question:

54 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the details of planned initiatives on farm safety, in view of relative danger of the farm as a workplace; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14222/05]

I remain very concerned about the level of safety on our farms and I support wholeheartedly the Programme of Work 2005 of the Health and Safety Authority which is the State authority charged with overall responsibility for promotion and enforcement of workplace health and safety.

The authority has a proactive inspection and enforcement programme which focuses on high risk sectors, including agriculture, and aims to achieve an improvement in farm safety, and an increase in the percentage of farms with safety statements.

To achieve these objectives actions are being taken to: focus initiatives on changing farmer behaviour as it relates to farm safety, inspect farms, agricultural suppliers and agricultural contractors and address the issues of safety statements, farm self-assessments, machine operation with a particular emphasis on tractor use, slurry handling, livestock handling, electrical installations, and child safety; review the code of practice on preventing accidents to children in agriculture; encourage, promote and implement the approach outlined in the farm safety action plan 2003-07; and undertake innovative approaches with other interested parties in the agricultural sector to promote farm safety.

While I welcome and support the efforts of the Health and Safety Authority, it is clear to me that the primary responsibility for safety on the farm rests personally with each and every farmer and it is ultimately only at farm level that the actions can be taken which will avoid injuries and deaths in the future.

Ministerial Visit.

Donie Cassidy

Question:

55 Mr. Cassidy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on her recent visit to the US with Enterprise Ireland. [14138/05]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

61 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will make a statement on the outcome of her recent business development trip to the United States. [14179/05]

Seán Ryan

Question:

100 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will make a statement on the outcome of her recent meeting with the US Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Mike Johanns. [14180/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 55, 61 and 100 together.

I visited the United States over the period 9 to 16 April. This was my first visit to the US as Minister for Agriculture and Food and had as its overall objective the consolidation and further development of political, investment and trade links between Ireland and the US in the sphere of agriculture, with particular emphasis on food, nutrition and research and development.

My itinerary encompassed visits to New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Washington DC and Chicago, Illinois, in the course of which I had meetings with Mr. Mike Johanns, the US Agriculture Secretary and with a number of American and Irish owned US based companies. I also met the senior executives in the US of both Bord Bia and the Irish Dairy Board.

My meeting with Secretary Johanns covered a number of issues of mutual concern, most notably the recent developments in agricultural policy in both the EU and US and their relevance to the ongoing World Trade Organisation negotiations. I took the opportunity to outline Ireland's particular perspective on the agriculture dimension to WTO. I furthermore explained the recent CAP reforms and the overall policy approach being pursued in the CAP, especially following the MTR, and their impact on the EU's negotiating position in the WTO. As well as considering the up to date position in the negotiations, Secretary Johanns and I discussed the prospects for a conclusion to the talks and how other current policy issues, in the EU and the US, might influence the outcome. I also brought to his attention a number of concerns on bilateral trade issues. Our discussions also covered the significance of both US investment in Ireland in the areas of food and nutrition and ongoing investment by Irish agri-food companies in food-related businesses in the US. My meeting with Secretary Johanns was a very worthwhile and timely exchange of views and perspectives.

On the business development dimension of the visit, a key objective was to promote and further develop investment and technology links between Irish food companies and leading US food corporations, particularly in the areas of research collaboration and new high growth food sectors such as functional foods and ingredients and the health and well-being sectors. A number of key investment initiatives have already arisen out of the visit. I am not in a position to divulge the details at this point because of the necessity to respect commercial confidentiality.

On 28 April I was, however, able to announce one very welcome development arising from the visit. This was an exclusive research, development and cross-licensing agreement entered into by Cork company, Alimentary Health, with the major US company, Mead Johnson Nutritionals. Under the terms of this agreement, Alimentary Health and Mead Johnson Nutritionals will each contribute their intellectual property and patented technologies to research projects and jointly fund development programs focussing on the development of new paediatric nutritional products.

I am satisfied that the visit met its overall objective and that appropriate follow up will be undertaken by Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia.

Food Industry.

John Curran

Question:

56 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on her efforts to develop a competitive potato sector here. [14143/05]

The potato industry makes an important contribution to the rural and national economy. The farm gate value of the sector is estimated at €85 million in 2004 which represents a fall on the previous year due mainly to lower prices and a reduction in fresh potato consumption. Since taking up office in the Department of Agriculture and Food, I have become very conscious of the need to bring the sector to a higher plane and maximise the contribution and value of this traditional industry to the economy.

In 2004, my Department completed an expenditure review report of State programmes in the sector. What was very clear from the report was the need to further develop seed potato production and bring commercial focus to this area of activity. Following a series of meetings with representative bodies, State organisations and others I have put in place measures aimed at revitalising this key area. Charges are being introduced for the first time this year for seed certification. The growing of pre-basic seed, heretofore carried out by the Department, will in future be carried out by growers themselves. These measures will assist in the development of a specialised seed sector and allow market forces operate. The need for close marketing linkages between seed and ware growers is essential and this new framework will assist in this process.

I am also introducing measures which will further protect the high plant health status of Irish potatoes and prevent the entry of such quarantine diseases as ring rot and brown rot which could have a devastating effect on the industry. Accordingly, I will sign a statutory instrument next week which will make it obligatory on all importers of potatoes for planting to notify the Department five days in advance of such importations.

Since last December I have approved grant aid of more than €6.3 million to 17 potato projects for the modernisation and development of new facilities under the Department's marketing and processing scheme. This brings to some €10 million the total grant aid provided to potato growers and packers under the current NDP programme. The modern infrastructures which are now being put in place will ensure all year round availability of quality potatoes, the development of value added products and the minimisation of the need for imports. I am also considering the provision of grant assistance to producers who are prepared to modernise and invest in facilities necessary for high quality seed production, particularly for early generation material. These measures will ensure the development of a competitive potato sector in Ireland.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

57 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the European Commission’s view that governments of member states should take more responsibility for European policy on commercial approval of genetically modified organisms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14224/05]

The Deputy is obviously referring to a draft document prepared by the Commission for a meeting of the college of Commissioners, held last March, to review the current state of the European GMO legislative framework. It should be noted that following that meeting, the Commission confirmed its full confidence in the existing regulatory system and did not consider it necessary to call on the governments of member states to take on any additional responsibility.

Over the past six years or so, a comprehensive suite of legislation governing the deliberate release, the authorisation and the labelling and traceability of genetically modified products has been put in place. This was done to ensure that the highest standards of protection operate to safeguard the health and environmental welfare of the citizens of the Community. That legislation was adopted under the co-decision procedure, which implies that each individual piece of legislation secured the agreement of both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The legislation is binding on all member states.

The position of the Government on genetically modified organisms, which was informed by the report of the interdepartmental group on modern biotechnology published by the Government Stationery Office in October 2000 is positive but precautionary. This takes account of the undoubted potential that biotechnology offers in the fields of medicine, health, agriculture, etc., while at the same time recognising that caution must be exercised to ensure that food safety and the environment are protected. This position is fully consistent with the EU legislation currently in place.

EU Directives.

Liz McManus

Question:

58 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with other Departments and State agencies with a view to meeting the EU biofuels directive requiring Ireland to replace 2% of petrol and diesel with renewable fuels by the end of 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14206/05]

Jim Glennon

Question:

78 Mr. Glennon asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to progress the bio-fuel sector here. [14141/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 78 together.

Promotion and development of renewable energy in Ireland are matters in the first instance for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. My Department is represented on the bioenergy strategy group established by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural resources to consider policy options and support mechanisms available to Government to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion and to make specific recommendations for action to increase the proportion of energy from biomass in Ireland.

In addition, an interdepartmental group chaired by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is considering policy options for the development of a biofuels sector in Ireland. My Department is represented on that group. As part of the group's work, a liquid biofuels strategy study was published by Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, in December 2004. This report provides comprehensive details on the potential for the development of a biofuels market in Ireland and options to stimulate the market.

The possibility of producing bioethanol from sugar beet was mooted recently in the context of the closure of the Carlow sugar factory but Irish Sugar Limited has indicated that it intends to process the full Irish sugar quota at its Mallow plant, which will be upgraded. Arrangements are being made to transport the sugar beet from the Carlow catchment area to Mallow.

Under the single payment scheme operated by my Department aid is available at a rate of €45 per hectare per year for areas sown with energy crops. The aid is granted in respect of areas where production is covered by a contract between the farmer and a processor, except in the case of processing undertaken by the farmer on his holding. Agricultural raw materials, with the exception of sugar beet, may be grown under the energy crops scheme provided the crops are intended primarily for use in the production of products considered to be biofuels and for electric and thermal energy produced from biomass.

A maximum guaranteed area of 1.5 million hectares for which aid for energy crops can be granted has been established in the European Union. According to figures provided by the EU Commission, in excess of 303,000 hectares was sown with energy crops in 2004, of which 439 hectares were Irish. From 1 January 2005, farmers may claim the energy crop payment in addition to their entitlement under the single farm payment. In addition to this scheme, set-aside land can be used for a variety of non-food uses, including growing crops for energy purposes, and will therefore qualify to activate set-aside entitlements under the single payment scheme. I am having the energy crops scheme and a number of other areas such as wood biomass considered by my Department to determine how their bioenergy potential can be promoted.

Live Exports.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

59 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to recent concerns expressed, following the release of film by Compassion in World Farming, of the conditions under which some live cattle are exported from this country for slaughter abroad; the steps in place to ensure that such animals are treated humanely; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14171/05]

I am aware of the recent film produced by Compassion in World Farming, CIWF, and the issues raised therein. However, I should point out that this film did not actually show any ill treatment of Irish cattle during their transportation to the Lebanon.

The live export trade is important to the livestock sector here, as it provides an important outlet for categories of cattle thereby helping to sustain prices for the very many farm families in Ireland who rely on beef production for their livelihoods. I recognise that this trade must be based on high standards and that it is essential that the welfare of animals transported from Ireland should be a priority. To safeguard the welfare of cattle during transport, my Department has in place a comprehensive legislative framework to ensure that vessels authorised for the carriage of livestock by sea are designed and fitted out in a manner which ensures the welfare of the animals and has rigorous controls and procedures in place to ensure compliance with this welfare legislation. My Department will fully investigate alleged breaches of welfare requirements that are brought to its attention.

Food Safety Standards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

60 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the extent to which production, processing, hygiene and traceability standards applicable here have been applied to all meat imports in countries of origin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14234/05]

Detailed EU legislation lays down the conditions that member states must apply to the production of and trade in products of animal origin, including meat and meat extracts, as well as to imports of these products from third countries.

Under harmonised legislation a series of health and supervisory requirements are applied in the member states to ensure that animal products are produced to standards that guarantee the safety of food and the protection of human and animal health. The application of these standards in the member states is monitored by the FVO, food and veterinary office, of the EU.

It is a requirement that animal products imported from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, member states. All such imports must come from third countries or areas of third countries approved for export to the EU. To be approved as an exporter to the EU, a third country must: appear on a list drawn up and updated on the basis of EU audits and guarantees given by the competent authority of the exporting country; have veterinary controls equivalent to those applicable in the EU, particularly in terms of legislation, hygiene conditions, animal health status, veterinary medicines controls, zoonoses controls and other food law; and have in place a residues programme approved by the European Commission.

The animal products must be sourced from establishments that are approved and must bear an EU approved health mark. Exporting establishments must have: standards equivalent to the requirements for EU export establishments; effective control systems and supervision by the competent authorities; traceability-labelling in accordance with the systems approved by the FVO and accepted and notified to the EU member states.

The FVO carries out inspections to ensure that only establishments that meet hygiene and health standards equivalent to those operating within the EU are approved. Where the FVO considers that public health requirements are not being met, an establishment may be removed from the EU approved list. If outbreaks of animal diseases occur in a third country, approval to export to the EU is suspended for the infected regions of the country, or the whole country, as appropriate, until the disease risk has been eliminated.

Importers of animal products must be registered with my Department. They are required to give advance notice of importation and, following import, are required to keep records of importation available for inspection by the Department for a period of three years.

Imported animal products must be accompanied by the appropriate commercial documentation showing country and approval number of the establishment of production and, in the case of meat and meat extracts imported from third countries, a health certificate conforming to the models set down in EU legislation.

While there is free movement for trade within the EU, all consignments from third countries must first be landed at a border inspection post, BIP, that has been approved by the FVO and must undergo documentary, identity and physical checks. These are carried out at frequencies laid down in EU law. In Ireland, BIPs approved for the processing imports of animal products are located at Dublin Port and Shannon Airport. The FVO carries out monitoring and inspection of each member state's BIPs to ensure the conditions for import of animal products into Europe, provided under the harmonised legislation, are being correctly applied.

Once it has been established that imported animal product has met all the required conditions it is released for free circulation within the Community. Copies of the BIP clearance document and the health certificate must accompany the consignment to its destination. Imports failing to comply with these veterinary control checks may be detained for further examination. If non-compliance is established they are returned to the exporting country or destroyed.

Where there are concerns with regard to the effectiveness of controls being operated in an approved third country the Commission, in consultation with the standing committee on animal health and the food chain, may introduce specific controls by means of a safeguard measure to ensure the protection of human and animal health.

Safeguard measures limiting or banning the export of animal products from EU countries or regions of countries may also be implemented where, for example, the conditions of an animal disease outbreak could seriously effect production and trade in animal products in the EU.

Question No. 61 answered with QuestionNo. 55.

Grant Aid.

Damien English

Question:

62 Mr. English asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will increase the level of grant aid available to farmers under the SFP scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14020/05]

The level of funding available to each member state under the single payment scheme has already been agreed under European Council Regulation 1782/2003. The amount available to Ireland in 2005, including the dairy premium, is €1.260 billion and this will increase to €1.322 billion as and from 2006 onwards. The envelope of money available to each member state represents the average value of livestock premia and arable aid paid in the respective member state during the three year reference period 2000 to 2002 calculated at the 2002 rates of payment. Also included in the envelope is the new dairy premium introduced for the first time in 2004, the value of which will increase to some €186 million by 2006.

Increasing or index linking the level of aid available to each member state was not an element of the European Commission's proposals for the mid-term review of Agenda 2000. There was, however, a proposal to provide for a reduction of up to 13% in the single payment, known as degression, to meet future financing needs. One of the major achievements in the negotiations was the removal of this proposal. The removal of this particular provision meant a saving of some €420 million for Ireland over the lifetime of the agreement. The compromise agreed was to allow the Council to review, from 2007 onwards, the financial situation annually if budget deficits arise.

Animal Welfare Bodies.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

63 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the assistance made available to animal welfare centres throughout the country in 2004 in comparison with the previous three years. [14136/05]

In recent years, my Department has madeex gratia payments to a number of organisations directly involved in the delivery of animal care and welfare services to help towards their work. The amounts paid by my Department are as follows. In 2001, €650,741 was allocated to 52 organisations, in 2002, €500,000 was allocated to 67 organisations, in 2003, €850,000 was allocated to 80 organisations and in 2004, €1 million was allocated to 83 organisations.

I am very pleased to be in a position to be able to help these largely voluntary organisations which do so much good work throughout the country in delivering animal care and welfare services. The assistance provided has made a real difference to the bodies concerned in sustaining their efforts over the years. I recognise that such funding will never be enough to defray the full costs to these bodies of meeting all the demands made on them and that they will continue to need the support of the public if they are to maintain their operations at effective levels.

Farm Household Incomes.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

64 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has carried out an assessment to determine the degree to which farm families can rely on the family farm for their livelihood in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14235/05]

The CSO 1999-2000 household budget survey indicates that approximately 60% of farm household income comes from off-farm sources. This indicates that many farm families do not solely rely on farm income for their livelihood and off-farm employment has become increasingly common for farm families. Interestingly, much of this off-farm employment is related to agriculture and the agri-food sector.

Analysis conducted for the agri-vision 2015 committee show that of the 136,000 farms in 2002, 38,700 farms were classified as being economically viable with 19,000 of viable farms being part-time farms that is with the farmer and-or spouse having an off-farm income, 37,000 were classed as non-viable farms and 60,000 as transitional.

If the current trends were to continue to 2015 there would be approximately 105,000 farms with approximately 30,000 viable farms of which 20,000 would be part-time, 37,000 non-viable farms and 38,000 transitional farms.

However, when the impact of decoupling, demographics and macro-economic trends are taken into consideration, the composition of the 105,000 farms projected for 2015 alters with a greater number of viable farms projected. The analysis estimated that there would be 40,000 viable farms of which 31,500 would be part-time, 45,000 non-viable farms and 20,000 transitional farms.

These results show that the policy changes, in particular decoupling, would enable larger numbers of farmers to remain viable, but there would also be an increase in the number of part-time farmers. The 2015 committee emphasised that the changes in farm numbers are based on expected reactions of many thousands of farm families to changes in the policy and economic environment, and that they do not, in any sense, constitute a prescription.

World Trade Negotiations.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

65 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her priorities for the current round of world trade talks and the summit due in Hong Kong later in 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14175/05]

Following intensive negotiations, agreement was reached in Geneva in August 2004 on a framework setting out the general outline and content of the new World Trade Organisation, WTO, agreement. The detailed implementation of this framework is the subject of ongoing negotiation at technical and political level and is likely to conclude at the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December 2005. I am satisfied that the framework agreement secured the benefits to Irish farmers of the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy and represents a satisfactory outcome from Ireland's point of view. My priorities for the further negotiations are to ensure that: the phasing out of all forms of export subsidies will be applied in parallel, as provided for under the framework agreement, and that the phasing-out period will be as long as possible; and Ireland's agricultural exports will remain competitive in the EU market as a result of the level of tariff protection that will apply on imports from third countries. My overriding objective will be to ensure that the terms of a new agreement can be accommodated without the need for further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

Animal Feedstuffs.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

66 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the final conclusion to the reported importation of animal feed contaminated with traces of bone; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14010/05]

I advise the Deputy that there were two separate incidents in the four week period from 18 October to 11 November 2004, in which traces of terrestrial animal bone were found in samples of imported feed material. The affected feed material and associated compound feed was subsequently impounded, recalled, where necessary, and detained by my Department.

The first incident refers to two consignments of sugar beet pulp, totalling around 4,160 tonnes, which were imported into Dundalk port from Germany, via Holland, on 18 and 22 of October 2004. Testing carried out by the competent authorities in other member states discovered similar problems with imports of this material. Officials in my Department examined and accepted a proposal submitted by the importer to dispose of the contaminated material and associated compound feed. In March of this year, the contaminated sugar beet pulp material was despatched under the supervision of Department officials to Holland for destruction by means of incineration at a power generation plant in that country. The dispatch of the associated compound feedingstuffs to Holland is scheduled to happen in the next couple of weeks, and again it will be under the supervision of officials of my Department.

The second incident refers to a consignment of maize gluten, totalling around 6,515 tonnes, imported from the USA and part discharged at Foynes on 9 November and part in Ringaskiddy on 11 November. The original feed material and the associated compound feed has been recalled and is currently held in a number of secure stores. The importer in this case sought a judicial review in the High Court of the powers used to issue the instructions to impound and recall the affected material. The judge ruled in favour of the importer. However, on the advice of senior counsel and considering the implications of the ruling for the current EU controls on processed animal proteins, my Department has lodged an appeal of the judgment with the Supreme Court and will ask its counsel to prepare papers which will I hope result in a reference being made to the European Court of Justice on the interpretation of EU legislation and its effect.

Notwithstanding this, and without prejudice to liability the importer has submitted a proposal to my Department for disposal of the contaminated material, which involves the export of the material for incineration at a power generation plant. Officials of my Department have examined and accepted the proposal and it is anticipated that the export of the material will be carried out shortly under strict supervision.

EU Directives.

Mary Upton

Question:

67 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of EU directives for which her Department has responsibility that are yet to be implemented; the number in respect of which the implementation date has passed; the steps being taken to ensure that all such directives are implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14168/05]

Of the 16 EU directives to be transposed into national law for which my Department has responsibility, none are overdue for transposition. I intend to have the directives implemented by the due date in each case.

Single Payment Scheme.

Michael Noonan

Question:

68Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Foodthe assessment carried out by her Department regarding the implications of the SFP on the ERS; and if she will make a statement on the matter.[13989/05]

My Department has been aware, from an early stage in the negotiations leading to the introduction of the single payment scheme, of the possible implications for retired farmers who had leased their holdings. In so far as it has proved possible in the context of the EU regulations governing the single payment scheme, and following lengthy discussions with the European Commission, provision has been made under the rules of the single payment scheme to address some of the concerns of retired farmers.

As participants in the 1994 scheme of early retirement from farming had retired before the start of the reference period in 2000, they are not in a position to claim entitlements under the single payment scheme. However, a concession agreed with the European Commission will allow family members who take over a holding that was leased to third parties during the reference period to have access to entitlements from the national reserve. This will benefit the family members of retired farmers who decide to take up farming.

Participants in the current early retirement scheme, who would have farmed during part or all of the reference period, can activate entitlements and lease them to their existing transferee. If the transferee does not want the entitlements, the transferor — retired farmer — has until 2007 within which to lease or transfer the entitlements, with land, to another farmer. My Department has recently written to these retired farmers advising them on how to activate entitlements.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

John Perry

Question:

69 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will index link the early retirement pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13992/05]

The rate of pension payable under the 1994 scheme of early retirement from farming is the maximum amount provided for by the EU Council regulation under which the scheme was introduced. The regulation does not provide for indexation of payments.

My Department's proposals for the current early retirement scheme, which commenced on 27 November 2000 and is one of the measures in the CAP rural development plan for the period 2000-06, included provision for annual increases in pension over the period of the plan. The European Commission rejected this proposal and insisted on legal grounds that a fixed rate be set instead.

Farm Safety.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

70 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps being taken to address the serious problems of death and injuries through farm accidents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14173/05]

Emmet Stagg

Question:

105 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps being taken to address the problem of death and injury to children in farm accidents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14174/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 and 105 together.

The Health and Safety Authority is the State authority charged with overall responsibility for promotion and enforcement of workplace health and safety. The authority has a proactive inspection and enforcement programme, Programme of Work 2005, which focuses on high risk sectors, including agriculture, and aims to achieve an improvement in farm safety, and an increase in the percentage of farms with safety statements.

In launching the farm safety week last month, I noted that the trend of death and injuries of children on our farms is, thankfully, falling due to key initiatives taken by the Health and Safety Authority in the recent past. The four key themes for farm safety week were: safety for the elderly on farms; completion of the farm safety self-assessment document; tractor maintenance; and machine guarding, especially power take off, PTO, shafts.

However, it is clear to me that the primary responsibility for safety on the farm rests personally with each and every farmer and it is ultimately only at farm level that the actions can be taken which will avoid injuries and deaths in the future.

Milk Production Partnerships.

Billy Timmins

Question:

71 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to encourage dairy partnerships; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14163/05]

Since the introduction of milk production partnerships, MPPs, in 2002 the regulations have been reviewed regularly to ensure the balance between the special treatment afforded to partnerships and the restrictions on their formation is appropriate to the circumstances of the sector. I am satisfied this objective has been met.

While the number of standard MPPs is still quite low, I am satisfied the partnership format will make a very significant contribution to the sector by allowing dairy farmers operate at a viable level and to have a satisfactory balance between work and family life.

There are now 250 new entrant-parent MPPs operating and this format is giving young trained farmers a worthwhile stake in the family enterprise. This will enhance the prospects of their continuing on with a career in dairying in the longer term which is vital to the whole industry.

In regard to 2005, I have increased the off-farm income limits for both standard and new entrant-parent MPPs and have streamlined the application process by removing the pre-partnership land transfer rule and easing the pre-partnership production rule. In this year's milk quota restructuring scheme, I changed the quota access conditions for new entrant-parent MPPs. Now all but the largest producers will be able to form such partnerships with an eligible son or daughter but the new entrant ceases to have priority access to quota when the combined quota of the parent and new entrant reaches 500,000 litres. This will make the system fairer and further enhance the impressive contribution that the new entrant-parent format has made to the sector. I will continue to examine the partnership model and explore further options for its development to ensure that the format is used to the maximum advantage of the dairy sector.

Farmer Numbers.

Mary Upton

Question:

72 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of farmers who have left full-time farming since 1997; her views on the fall in the number of full-time farmers; the steps she is taking to deal with the drift from the land; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14167/05]

The most recent figures available from the CSO show that there were 77,900 full-time farmers, as defined by the CSO, in 2003 a drop of 20,400 since 1997. Over the same period the number of part-time farmers increased by 7,900 to 57,200. The agri-vision 2015 committee indicated in its report that it believed the trend to part-time farming using a somewhat different definition than the CSO will continue.

The ongoing trend towards part-time farming reflects a combination of factors, including the increased availability of off-farm employment. Many smaller farmers are finding that combining farming with off-farm employment is an effective way to ensure their viability on the land. At the same time, full-time farmers are looking to the new flexibility offered to them under decoupling to develop and intensify their commercial farm enterprises.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Liam Twomey

Question:

73 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans her Department has to evaluate the economic implications of the use of genetically modified organisms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13994/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

89 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans she has to evaluate the economic implications of the use of genetically modified organisms; the action being taken by her Department to trace the full consignment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14009/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 73 and 89 together.

Teagasc has an ongoing programme of research investigating the potential risks and benefits associated with the growing of GM crops in Ireland including,inter alia, the economic implications. Preliminary research completed by it to date indicates that the cultivation of certain crops with certain modifications may provide a financial incentive to the individual Irish farmer. While strands of this research parallel recently completed work in other countries, it does not specifically address the costs associated with the co-existence of GM and non-GM crops. The general conclusion of recent Danish and UK research on the economic impact of co-existence on farm profitability is that the costs of complying with the required thresholds for crops of maize, potatoes, cereals, oilseed rape and sugar beet vary from zero to 9% above the costs of growing conventional crops. However, it should be noted that costs described were based on estimates.

To establish greater clarity in the matter, as far as Irish conditions are concerned, I have asked Teagasc to explore the possibility of carrying out an evaluation of the possible national economic implications for the agri-food industry from the possible use of GMOs in crop and livestock production. Teagasc has now set up an internal working group of economists, agronomists and animal scientists to address this question in more detail and it plans to publish the results of the analysis in due course.

In regard to tracing a consignment, EU legislation, which was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in 2003, requires that all GM products have to be properly labelled and be accompanied by the appropriate documentation to facilitate full traceability.

Energy Requirements.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

74 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will act to make a reality the prospect outlined at the Teagasc national tillage conference in 2003 of Ireland supplying all its energy requirements from fuel crops; and if she will encourage the development of the biofuel sector for the sake of all farmers, especially those who depended on the Carlow sugar factory. [14230/05]

Promotion and development of renewable energy in Ireland are matters in the first instance for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. My Department is represented on the bioenergy strategy group established by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural resources to consider policy options and support mechanisms available to Government to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion and to make specific recommendations for action to increase the proportion of energy from biomass in Ireland.

In addition, an interdepartmental group chaired by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is considering policy options for the development of a biofuels sector in Ireland. My Department is represented on that group. As part of the group's work, a liquid biofuels strategy study was published by Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, in December 2004. This report provides comprehensive details on the potential for the development of a biofuels market in Ireland and options to stimulate the market.

The possibility of producing bioethanol from sugar beet was mooted recently in the context of the closure of the Carlow sugar factory but Irish Sugar Limited has indicated that it intends to process the full Irish sugar quota at its Mallow plant, which will be upgraded. Arrangements are being made to transport the sugar beet from the Carlow catchment area to Mallow.

Under the single payment scheme operated by my Department aid is available at a rate of €45 per hectare per year for areas sown with energy crops. The aid is granted in respect of areas where production is covered by a contract between the farmer and a processor, except in the case of processing undertaken by the farmer on his holding. Agricultural raw materials, with the exception of sugar beet, may be grown under the energy crops scheme provided the crops are intended primarily for use in the production of products considered to be biofuels and for electric and thermal energy produced from biomass.

A maximum guaranteed area of 1.5 million hectares for which aid for energy crops can be granted has been established in the European Union. According to figures provided by the EU Commission, in excess of 303,000 hectares was sown with energy crops in 2004, of which 439 hectares were Irish. From 1 January 2005, farmers may claim the energy crop payment in addition to their entitlement under the single farm payment. In addition to this scheme, set-aside land can be used for a variety of non-food uses, including growing of crops for energy purposes, and will therefore qualify to activate set-aside entitlements under the single payment scheme. I am having the energy crops scheme and a number of other areas such as wood biomass considered by my Department to determine how their bioenergy potential can be promoted.

EU Directives.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

75 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14208/05]

Implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In October last, Ireland submitted an action programme to the European Commission for further implementation of the nitrates directive. In December, the Commission conveyed its view that the action programme was not complete and did not comply with the requirements of the directive or with the judgment of the European Court of Justice against Ireland, which had been delivered in March, 2004.

Subsequently, my Department worked closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the preparation of an initial response to the Commission. This response was sent on 20 April. I understand that a revised action programme, on which my Department has been consulted, will be sent to the Commission very shortly. Ireland has already submitted proposals for a derogation from the general limits laid down in the nitrates directive, designed to allow farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare.

Sugar Quota.

Phil Hogan

Question:

76 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the ownership of the Irish sugar quota; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14008/05]

Simon Coveney

Question:

121 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the ownership of the Irish sugar quota; when she was informed of the decision to close the Carlow facility; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14006/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 76 and 121 together.

Under the EU sugar regime, each member state has a quota for manufactured sugar. There is no quota for sugar beet nor is there a quota at farm level. The EU regulations stipulate that the quota must be made available to the sugar manufacturing enterprises in the member state. Accordingly, in Ireland the entire sugar quota is processed by Irish Sugar Limited, which is the only sugar manufacturer in this country. Irish Sugar Limited places annual contracts with farmers to grow a specified tonnage of sugar beet sufficient to manufacture the sugar quota.

The question of ownership of the sugar quota has never been an issue in the past because the EU regulations do not provide for the buying and selling of quota. However, the status of the quota has become the subject of debate since the Commission raised the possibility of cross-border quota mobility in the context of the proposed reform of the EU sugar regime. Several member states, including Ireland, are strongly opposed to the idea of quota mobility but if it is maintained in the Commission's legislative proposals, due to be published around June, then the Commission will propose appropriate rules to deal with the new situation. I have sought the advice of the Attorney General in that context but my objective will be to ensure that the status quo is maintained and that cross-border mobility of quota is not allowed.

The decision by Greencore to close its plant in Carlow and to consolidate all of its sugar manufacturing in Mallow was a commercial decision taken by the board on 12 January 2005. The company advised my Department two days in advance of the board meeting that a proposal concerning the future of its two processing plants and involving the likely closure of the Carlow plant would be put to the board for decision.

Live Exports.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

77 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on her efforts to protect the trade in live animals from Ireland; the number of cattle exported in the first four months of 2005 compared with 2004. [14137/05]

The Government has consistently supported the live export trade as an essential market outlet for Irish farmers. My Department's function in the transport of animals by sea is to approve vessels for the carriage of livestock by working closely with applicant companies to ensure that the conditions aboard such vessels are consistent with national and EU animal welfare requirements. Within this framework, 18 dedicated livestock vessels and three roll on roll off vessels have been approved for the carriage of cattle since 1995. The actual provision of such services is a commercial matter.

I am pleased that, following the ending of the P&O service in December 2004, the live cattle export trade to continental Europe resumed in February 2005 on the ferry service between Rosslare and Cherbourg. The number of cattle exported live from Ireland in 2005 up to the beginning of April, is 43,243, compared with 25,452 in the same period of 2004.

Exports of live cattle to third country markets take place with the aid of EU export refunds. As recently as last week, I opposed the position taken by some EU member states at the Agriculture Council with regard to eliminating such refunds. I remain committed to the continuation of a viable live export trade. This requires the retention of export subsidies for the time being. In the case of all exports of live animals, the implementation of appropriate welfare safeguards is an essential requirement.

Question No. 78 answered with QuestionNo. 58.

Forestry Sector.

John Gormley

Question:

79 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will investigate the clear felling by Coillte Teoranta of the Nenagh River gorge, a SPA, and the planting of Bolingbrook Hill which the local population feels has not followed proper procedures. [14228/05]

There has been no clear felling of the Nenagh River gorge by Coillte Teoranta. Any clear felling undertaken in adjacent areas has been fully licensed as required under the Forestry Acts. An application for planting at Bolingbrook Hill was approved by my Department at the end of 2003 following full consultation with the appropriate authorities on environmental and other matters. Planting of the site took place in 2004.

Food Imports.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

80 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the fact that Ireland imports between 10,000 and 20,000 litres of goats milk per week; and if she will examine whether there is a way in which to ensure that a licence is granted to any carrier willing to carry goat livestock to Ireland from Britain to help revitalise the breeding stock here. [14226/05]

The movement of livestock between member states of the European Union is governed, inter alia, by Council Directive 91/628/EEC. This directive obliges member states to ensure that livestock are transported in a manner that does not compromise their health or welfare.

The question of whether a ferry company is approved to transport animals from another member state into this country is a matter for the competent authority in the member state of origin. There is no legal obligation on ferry operators to carry livestock. Ferry companies operate on a commercial basis and it is a matter for operators to decide whether to carry livestock and which categories they will carry. Statistics on imports of goats milk are not maintained centrally by my Department.

World Trade Negotiations.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

81 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her Department’s position regarding the abolition of export credit refunds by the EU; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14018/05]

The framework agreement for the next WTO round which was concluded in Geneva in August 2004 commits member countries to agree detailed rules, including an end date, for the parallel elimination of all forms of export subsides and for the introduction of disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect. This agreement covers export refunds, export credits, the trade-distorting practices of state trading enterprises and food aid not in conformity with disciplines to be introduced.

I am satisfied this approach should ensure equal competition on the world market for all exporters. The full detailed implementation of the framework agreement is the subject of ongoing negotiations. It is hoped to conclude the negotiations on a new agreement at the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December 2005.

Food Labelling.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

82 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action she is taking in order that all third country beef is properly labelled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14002/05]

Beef imports into the European Union from third countries must have been sourced, first in countries and second in premises, that are currently listed and approved by the European Commission and which are subject to veterinary audits by the EU's food and veterinary office. In addition, such imports are subject to checks laid down in the harmonised rules prescribed at European level, and must be accompanied by the prescribed veterinary health certification from the competent authorities in the country of export.

The Community beef labelling requirements, which are compulsory in all member states, apply to beef sold at retail level within the Community, regardless of whether that beef was produced within the Community or in a third country. Where beef is imported into the Community from a third country that beef must, at a minimum, be labelled as "Origin: non-EC" along with an indication of the third country in which slaughter took place.

The EU requirements in respect of labelling of beef do not apply at restaurant and catering sector level and Ireland has raised this with the Commission. I intend to proceed with a national legal requirement that country of origin must be displayed in respect of beef served on such premises. Proposals to this effect will be brought forward once the legal options allowing for this development have been examined.

Grant Payments.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

83 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the EU Commission to index link the single farm payment; if she intends to make the payment in two instalments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13996/05]

The agreement on the mid-term review of Agenda 2000 reached at the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 26 June 2003 provided a financial envelope to each member state. This envelope represented the average value of livestock and arable aid premia paid in the member state during the three year reference period 2000-02 calculated at 2002 rates of payment. The outcome of the agreement, which will reshape the Common Agricultural Policy and secure its future in making it more relevant to modern society and more defensible in a WTO context, was a balanced one which addressed Ireland's principal objectives. Among these objectives was the preservation of the financial benefits achieved under the Agenda 2000 agreement and the establishment of a policy framework that will allow farmers and the agri-sector the flexibility to adapt to evolving consumer and market demands and international circumstances.

Index linking of the single payment scheme was not an element of the Commission's proposals. There was, however, a proposal to provide for a reduction of up to 13% in the single payment, known as degression, to meet future financing needs. One of the major achievements in the negotiations was the removal of this proposal. The removal of this particular provision meant a saving of some €420 million for Ireland over the lifetime of the agreement. The compromise agreed was to allow the Council to review, from 2007 onwards, the financial situation annually if budget deficits arise.

The position with regard to payments under the single payment scheme is that the European Council Regulation 1782/2003 governing the scheme stipulates that payments shall be made once a year within the period from 1 December of the year of application to 30 June of the following year. The regulation also provides for the payment of advances in circumstances to be decided by the EU Commission subject to the budgetary situation.

The Deputy will appreciate, therefore, that it is not possible for any member state to decide on different payment dates to those specified in the European Council regulation or to those which, may be specified by the EU Commission if certain circumstances arise. Since the rules governing the single payment scheme are prescribed under European Council and Commission regulations, my Department has no option but to adhere to them.

Food Industry.

Jimmy Devins

Question:

84 Dr. Devins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the main areas being targeted under the food institutional research programme. [14140/05]

The food institutional research measure, FIRM, is a public good research programme in the food sector. The main objectives of the programme are to provide a base of information and expertise in generic technologies that supports innovation and product development in the food industry, and assists in assuring consumer protection by ensuring that product development is underpinned by attention to food safety and quality issues. The research is carried out at suitable institutions that can demonstrate the necessary research capabilities, including universities, institutes of technology and Teagasc food centres.

The areas targeted under the programme include: development of technologies to build a more competitive, innovative, consumer-focused and sustainable food production and marketing sector; development of the scientific knowledge to underpin effective food safety practices at all stages in the food chain; consumer foods technology; innovation in functional foods; cheese diversification; production of new food ingredients; nutrition; and new technologies for added-value meat products.

The FIRM programme has contributed to the formation of recognised centres of excellence in food research in Ireland. A number of research teams have been created at the various institutions and the capability and critical mass that has been developed, together with the associated knowledge base, represents a major resource for industry. In addition, the public good food research programmes have been instrumental in the development of a number of food products which contribute to the health and nutritional intake of the consumer. The outcomes of the research are disseminated widely for the benefit of the industry as a whole.

Progress under the measure has been very satisfactory with 110 projects awarded funding following general calls in 2000 and 2004 and a targeted call in 2001. A further targeted call issued at the end of March 2005 inviting proposals under the food safety and beverages themes.

The following table shows awards and expenditure under the various research areas to date.

Theme

No. of projects

Total Awards (€m) 2000-2004

Expenditure (€m) 2000-2004

Consumer Foods

17

7.745

4.802

Dairy

15

8.152

4.046

DNA Technology

5

2.167

1.267

Food Ingredients

7

3.207

2.854

Food Safety

17

8.057

6.604

Food Viruses

2

0.947

0.776

Food Waste

3

0.607

0.213

Meat

16

6.919

2.996

Miscellaneous

17

6.457

3.672

Nutrition

4

2.539

2.387

Process Design

3

1.380

1.267

Residues

2

0.630

0.430

TSE

2

1.198

0.772

Total

110

50.005

32.086

Notification of awards in respect of a further eight projects with indicative funding of €3.6 million issued in 2005. Three other projects with indicative funding of €2 million have received preliminary approval and these are currently being finalised.

Departmental Agreement.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

85 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will make a statement on the agreement between her Department and a company (details supplied). [14021/05]

The case mentioned by the Deputy arose from a dispute between a company, my Department and two co-defendants. This related to the storage of tallow at its premises going back to 1997.

A settlement was reached with the plaintiff on 6 December 2004. The settlement was agreed on the basis of legal advice from State Counsel and with the sanction of the office of the Attorney General. It was without admission of liability by the defendants. It was also agreed between the parties that the terms of the settlement would remain confidential except as required by law.

Sheepmeat Prices.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

86 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she intends to take to address the serious crisis facing many sheep farmers due to poor prices being paid for lambs by meat plants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14177/05]

As the Deputy will be aware, there have been difficulties recently between sheep farmers and the meat export plants over the price for new season lamb. I am glad these difficulties were resolved following discussions last week between the farmers and the plants concerned.

Bord Bia will shortly commission a promotion of new season lamb on the Irish market, which will be extended over the months of May and June. It will also undertake a campaign on the French market over the coming months, aimed at maintaining and increasing market share for Irish lamb there. Initiatives such as these play an important role in maintaining and developing markets at home and abroad for Irish lamb. Whereas my Department is concerned that farmers receive a fair price for their produce, it has no function in the determination of market prices.

Farmers Markets.

David Stanton

Question:

87 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of farmers markets in operation in the country; the action or supports her Department has taken or made available, or intends to take or make available, to encourage the development of farmers markets; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14233/05]

The farmers markets concept has experienced significant growth in recent years with more than 80 separate markets operating under various arrangements in 22 locations throughout the country. My Department recognises the potential of farmers markets and actively supports efforts to promote the concept on a sustainable basis.

Bord Bia, which operates under the aegis of my Department, has launched a number of initiatives in this area. In co-operation with Invest Northern Ireland, the board recently launched A Guide to Farmers Markets in Ireland. The guide identifies the benefits of farmers markets for producers, consumers and local economies, lists the location of markets and trading days and offers clear advice on what makes for a successful farmers market. Bord Bia also provides general advice and information to people who have an active interest in setting up farmers markets. Further scope for developing farmer markets has been identified in the speciality-artisan food sector and Bord Bia is working with small food producers to develop this route to market.

The Food at Farmleigh model has been a resounding success and I was very pleased to see that Bord Bia hosted a food market in Farmleigh on Mayday with the participation of 28 of Ireland's finest speciality and artisan producers who offered a range of farmhouse cheeses, smoked salmon-eel-mackerel, preserves, cakes and biscuits, confectionery and charcuterie.

My Department has raised with Office of Public Works, OPW, the possibility of extending the successful Food at Farmleigh model style markets to other appropriate OPW sites. Bord Bia and OPW officials have begun discussion on how best to advance this.

EU Directives.

Denis Naughten

Question:

88 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the EU Commission and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding a derogation under the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14001/05]

Implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In October last, Ireland submitted an action programme to the European Commission for further implementation of the nitrates directive. In December, the Commission conveyed its view that the action programme was not complete and did not comply with the requirements of the directive or with the judgment of the European Court of Justice against Ireland, which had been delivered in March 2004.

Subsequently, my Department worked closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the preparation of an initial response to the Commission. This response was sent on 20 April. I understand that a revised action programme, on which my Department has been consulted, will be sent to the Commission very shortly. Ireland has already submitted proposals for a derogation from the general limits laid down in the nitrates directive, designed to allow farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. They were developed by my Department and Teagasc in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Commission has stated that it will not consider the application for a derogation until the action programme itself is agreed and in place but I am hopeful for a favourable outcome.

Question No. 89 answered with QuestionNo. 73.

Beef Industry.

Jim Glennon

Question:

90 Mr. Glennon asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on her efforts to assist the trade in Irish beef in 2005. [14142/05]

In recent years, the focus of the Irish beef industry has been to broaden and expand its market reach at EU retail level, shifting its orientation away from international commodity markets and into the higher priced internal EU marketplace. Effective promotion and marketing of beef by Bord Bia and the industry has ensured a presence for top quality Irish beef in all the key European markets. This includes supply arrangements with multiples and the main retailers in the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

The overall approach in the marketing of Irish beef is to build continually on its reputation as a high quality and safety assured product based on a natural, extensive and well controlled cattle production sector at farm level. The new beef quality assurance scheme, EN45011, is now operational and Bord Bia will shortly promote the scheme to encourage the widest possible farmer uptake.

A strong interest in Irish beef has been generated by building its reputation through the media, by chefs endorsements and the creation of demand from premium chefs-restaurants in each of these markets. The main goal of our marketing strategy is to increase retail market penetration and to invest in growing Irish beef awareness. This is being achieved by building relationships with key customers, product promotions and image building of the brand.

The reform of the CAP means farmers will enjoy greater freedom to grow and develop their enterprises producing for consumer requirements supported by the single farm payment. A targeted approach based on quality production represents the best and most profitable way forward for the Irish industry. This is particularly the case in the post-decoupling context when the market will be the sole determinant of the nature and scale of output from the sector. In such a context, there will be a need for even greater emphasis on good breeding policies, payment related to quality and sophisticated and integrated supply and purchasing systems.

Regarding third country trade, important markets such as Russia, Algeria and Egypt have re-opened for Irish beef while the Lebanon is open for live exports. Access to the Algerian market has now been broadened to include frozen beef in addition to fresh and chilled product. A delegation from my Department and Bord Bia recently visited Egypt and along with embassy officials held positive discussions with the Egyptian authorities with a view to relaxing the conditions under which exports to that country can take place. It is hoped to finalise a protocol with Egypt on these new conditions later this year. I have obtained the agreement of the European Commission to the continuation of the special export refund for Egypt which will also greatly assist trade during the year.

I am committed to opening all international markets to Irish beef and my Department will continue to work closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Bord Bia to achieve that aim.

Animal Diseases.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

91 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she plans to introduce procedures that will reduce the risk of animals contracting MRSA; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14225/05]

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is an antibiotic resistant bacterium, the presence of which in humans was noted over 35 years ago and which has been a feature of antibiotic resistance in human therapy since. During the past two years, the presence of the bacterium has been noted in animals, in particular, dogs and horses. It is thought that the route of infection has been from pet owners and veterinary practitioners.

I am aware that earlier this year, Veterinary Ireland circulated its members advising them of the problem, of how to deal with cases and of procedures to be adopted to minimise risk of transmission in their practices. Veterinary Ireland has also asked practitioners to inform animal owners of the risks which can arise from contact with companion animals infected with the bacterium. I fully support this initiative.

Animal By-Products.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

92 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she is examining the possibility of making safe use of digestate from anaerobic digestion in view of the fact that Denmark and Britain both permit spread of digestate; and if so, the outcome of her examinations. [14231/05]

As I announced on 16 March last, I am making arrangements within my Department to facilitate the use of certain animal by-products in composting and biogas plants. These arrangements are being introduced primarily in the context of EU legislation that allows the digestate produced in such plants to be spread on non-pastureland. In coming to a decision on this, I have had regard to the declining numbers of BSE cases here and the need to provide productive outlets for the disposal of certain animal by-products where this does not pose a risk to public or animal health. The relevant national legislation is currently being amended to facilitate this.

Animal Identification Scheme.

Jack Wall

Question:

93 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the rejection by farm organisations of a proposed system of penalty points for non-compliance with animal registration and identification regulations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14170/05]

In general, the rate of on-farm inspection required for cross-compliance under the single payment scheme is 1% of those farmers to whom the relevant statutory management requirement or good agricultural and environmental conditions apply. However, at least 5% of producers must be inspected under the animal identification and registration requirements as this level is prescribed under the relevant EU regulations.

In addition to cross-compliance checks, it is a requirement to carry out standard eligibility checks to verify that the actual area claimed in the single payment application form corresponds with the area held by the farmer and to ensure that there are no overlapping or duplication of parcels claimed.

The EU directives and regulations referred to in cross-compliance are in place for many years now. Producers are generally familiar with them and are complying with the standards set in implementing them in Ireland.

My Department prepared a consultative document on cross-compliance in October 2004 and invited views from interested organisations. Department officials met the main farming organisations in December 2004 to discuss their submissions. An information booklet on cross-compliance has been issued to all farmers and it sets out the principle features of cross-compliance both in terms of the standards that must be met by farmers and the control arrangements that will be necessary. To coincide with the issue of the booklet, a series of countrywide farmer information meetings organised by my Department in conjunction with Teagasc, took place in early April. These meetings focused not only on cross-compliance but also addressed the various other issues associated with the introduction of the single payment scheme.

In implementing the single payment scheme, I am aiming to minimise the number of inspection visits and to move towards a situation where, in most cases, all eligibility and cross-compliance checks will be carried out during a single farm visit. It is envisaged that the 22,000 or so inspections, which were carried under the old regime, will be significantly reduced to some 10,000 under the single payment scheme. This approach should minimise the level of inconvenience to farmers.

The EU regulations governing the cross-compliance sanctions system sets out a range of percentage reductions. For infringement of a legal standard, a 3% reduction is proposed but this could be reduced to 1% or increased to 5% depending on the extent, severity and permanence of the infringement. If the non-compliance were repeated a multiplier of three must be applied. In the case of intentional infringement, a 20% reduction is proposed but this could be reduced to 15% or increased to 100% depending on the extent, severity and permanence of the infringement.

My Department has recently been engaged in intensive negotiations with the farming bodies on the implementation of cross-compliance under the single payment scheme in the context of drawing up a new protocol on the delivery of all of my Department's schemes and services to farmers.

My Department regards the following principles as being central to the implementation of a sanctions system under the single payment scheme: procedures are fair, equitable, proportional and transparent; the system is standardised to the maximum extent possible across all areas of the country; and the client's rights are protected.

To achieve these objectives, it is necessary to put in place mechanisms that will take due account of whether any non-compliance found is: on its own minor in nature; negligent; or intentional. During the negotiations on the protocol, my Department tabled a paper outlining its proposals including a system of weightings to be applied for infringements of the statutory management requirements with due tolerances for minor infringements which, on their own, are regarded as inadvertent breaches capable of occurring in practical farm situations. The system has become know as the penalty points system. While some of the farming organisations were initially reluctant to accept the Department's proposals it is premature to suggest that agreement cannot be reached.

Food Labelling.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

94 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures she intends to take to improve the standard of food labelling; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14013/05]

There have been a number of positive developments in the area of food labelling, most of which emanated from the report of the food labelling group which was established in June 2002. The group reported in December of that year with a series of recommendations. The recommendations were accepted. As food labelling is a particularly complicated and broad based area, involving a number of Departments and agencies, an interdepartmental-agency group was established to progress the implementation of the report.

Good progress has been made to date in the implementation of the recommendations in the labelling report. There were a total of 21 recommendations, many of which are beyond the remit of my Department and some of which were to be activated only after others had been completed.

The two main issues that emanated from the recommendations of the labelling group were centralising enforcement in one agency and the definition of origin. Enforcement of all of the food labelling regulations has now been centralised in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI. This will not only streamline the enforcement measures but it will also provide a one-stop shop for any complaints on mislabelling of food. The centralisation of food labelling policy, with the exception of fish, in both the Department of Health and Children and my Department achieves another recommendation of the food labelling group. There was full agreement within the food labelling group that consumers have a right to information on the origin of the meat they cook in their homes or eat out. While the group could not agree on how origin should be defined, there was unanimous agreement that further research was necessary to establish consumers' wishes in this area. The consumer liaison panel has carried out this research, the results of which were presented in December 2003.

At the beginning of 2004, two regulations on the labelling of poultry meat were introduced. The first of these regulations requires poultry meat, loose and pre-packaged, originating in a country outside the EU to bear an indication of the country of origin when offered for sale in a retail premises. The second, requires information regarding class, price per unit weight, condition and slaughterhouse details in respect of loose poultrymeat, that is, non-prepackaged, to be provided to the consumer.

EU regulations provide for a detailed labelling system for beef to be applied at retail sale, which is over and above the general labelling provisions. These regulations do not apply at restaurant and catering sector level. It is my intention to proceed with a legal requirement that country of origin must be displayed in respect of beef served on such premises. The legal options allowing for this development are being examined at present. An internal committee has been established in my Department to consider the options.

On the food labelling issue in general, I must emphasise that my primary aim is to protect consumer interest and to ensure that the consumer is properly informed. Ireland is a major exporter of food and food products and, indeed, there are also considerable imports, so it is imperative that the same standards are applied to the labelling of foods in every sector and that there is a level playing field for the food industry at all levels. I hope to achieve this through the implementation in as full a manner as possible of the recommendations of the food labelling group. I have also indicated my views on labelling of foodstuffs in the Council of Agriculture Ministers and have, along with a number of member states, asked the Commission to examine how best food labelling should be handled at EU level in order to best protect the interests of the consumer.

There have been significant developments on food labelling and I am satisfied that other issues of concern are being actively addressed. Today's consumers should be in a position to make food consumption choices which best suit their circumstances and preferences, and an appropriate labelling system is a key element in bringing this about. It is also important to keep in touch with developments in the EU to ensure that any regulations adopted for the Community appropriately address our concerns.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

95 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a decision will be made to upgrade the remaining area of County Monaghan from disadvantaged to severely handicapped status; the stage the application is at in Brussels; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14204/05]

The classification of all of County Monaghan as a more severely handicapped disadvantaged area has cleared all the hurdles in Brussels, as was announced last week by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith.

I am extremely pleased at this news which meets a commitment made to the social partners in Sustaining Progress. The agreement of the European Commission to my Department's proposals means that some 750 farmers in the 322 townlands involved in County Monaghan will receive the higher €88.88 per hectare more severely handicapped rate of payment from 2005 on as compared with the lower €76.18 less severely handicapped rate per hectare which they have been receiving up to now.

These 750 beneficiaries farming around 12,500 hectares will receive between them an additional €160,000 each year as a result. Assuming they are eligible for compensatory allowances, all they have to do this year to qualify for the higher payment rate is complete their single payment application form in exactly the same way as they would have completed it if they were still only going to receive payments at the lower rate.

Food Industry.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

96 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action she is taking to improve the lot of dairy farmers who are being paid less today for milk than a decade ago; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14227/05]

The price paid for milk is a commercial matter between milk producers and purchasers. The manufactured milk prices are determined by a number of factors, including the international market for dairy products, the product mix and the efficiency of the processor as well as the overall operation of the EU price support mechanisms.

My role, as Minister for Agriculture and Food, is to ensure that the areas within my scope of influence such as the EU market management measures are implemented in a manner which enables the dairy sector remain competitive and thereby continue to develop and support farmers' incomes. It is reassuring to note that milk producer prices in Ireland have remained stable for several years.

As part of the reform of the mid-term review of the Common Agriculture Policy producers have been compensated to the tune of €60 million for reductions in intervention prices of butter and skim milk powder. Compensation for these support price reductions takes the form of a direct payment to farmers amounting to approximately 1.2 cent per litre at present rising to 2.4 cent per litre as a decoupled payment later this year. The first intervention price cuts for butter amounting to 7% and skim milk powder, SMP, amounting to 5% took place on 1 July 2004 without any adverse effect on producer prices.

While stability is being maintained in milk prices, undoubtedly the changing nature of EU support for dairying will require a more market-oriented approach by the dairy sector in the future. This focus will, in particular, require a lessening of dependence on intervention and a renewed emphasis on competitiveness and increased efficiencies at all levels of the industry.

On a more general note on production at farm level, producers will also have to look at increasing the scale of their operations, reducing costs where possible, and improving the quality of the milk they produce. While the mid-term reform of the CAP has ensured the extension of the quota regime until 2014-15, it is imperative now, more than ever, to assist those who wish to expand their operations within this new environment. My decision to decouple the dairy premium from 2005, which has been positively received within the dairy sector, should help those who wish to expand. Also, the milk quota restructuring scheme which I announced at the end of last year, and which set a stepped down quota price for two years should also help producers, who wish to expand, gain access to available quota at a reasonable price.

The future development of the dairy sector and, in particular, price stability to milk producers, remains a priority for me. It must be recognised, however, that we are operating in a more global economic environment where many external forces come into play. I will do my utmost to encourage the dairy sector to make the necessary changes, both at producer and processor level to strengthen and improve its position in the increasingly competitive international markets in which it operates.

EU Directives.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

97 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans she has to deal with the crisis in the intensive farming sector, that is, pigs, poultry and mushrooms, being brought about by the new proposals in Brussels for the nitrates directive; her views on whether the new regulation plus increased paperwork will force many out of production; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14205/05]

Implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The nitrates action programme may have implications for the intensive farming sector, particularly in terms of the utilisation of the manure produced by intensive pig and poultry units. Accordingly, I have asked my officials to examine various aspects of intensive production in the context of the action programme, including feeding regimes and the storage, treatment and utilisation of manure. I have also asked them to look at the REPS specifications to see how far manure could be accommodated, in place of artificial fertiliser, within the REPS nutrient management regime.

It remains my objective, and it is also the objective of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to reach agreement on an action programme that meets the objectives of the nitrates directive in terms of safeguarding water quality while also minimising the burden of compliance that the agreement will place on farmers and safeguarding the future of the commercial farming sector.

Modulated Funds.

Shane McEntee

Question:

98 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the modulation fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13991/05]

The modulated funds become available for use in 2006. In that year, their use is confined to the measures in the CAP rural development plan — agri-environment, early retirement, compensatory allowances and forestry — and the new initiatives introduced as part of the CAP mid-term review — food quality, animal welfare, farm advisory services and meeting standards.

I will decide shortly on the use of modulated funds and will then seek the necessary EU approval. My decision will be informed by the terms and conditions of the eligible measures and widespread consultation with stakeholders on this issue.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

99 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if, arising from the recent decision of the EU to ban US imports of certain types of animal feed unless they can be certified as free of genetically modified corn, checks have been put in place to establish whether any such feedstuffs were imported into this country prior to the ban; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14178/05]

Following the coming in to force, on 21 April, of the EU Commission Decision 2005/317/EC on emergency measures regarding the non-authorised genetically modified organism Bt10 in maize products, my Department has introduced a requirement that all imports of maize gluten feed and distillers dried grains originating from the USA be accompanied by an original analytical certificate to demonstrate that Bt10 maize is not present.

My Department also proposes to introduce random checks on such products once an event specific test for Bt10 is validated by the EU joint research centre and put into operation by the State Laboratory. It is anticipated that this test will be available within the next couple of weeks. I remind the Deputy that the European Food Safety Authority has concluded that this incident does not constitute an immediate public health risk, a position fully endorsed by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI.

Question No. 100 answered with QuestionNo. 55.

EU Directives.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

101 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding her negotiations with the EU on the implementation of the EU nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14187/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In October last, Ireland submitted an action programme to the European Commission for further implementation of the nitrates directive. In December, the Commission conveyed its view that the action programme was not complete and did not comply with the requirements of the directive or with the judgment of the European Court of Justice against Ireland, which had been delivered in March 2004.

Subsequently, my Department worked closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the preparation of an initial response to the Commission. This response was sent on 20 April. I understand that a revised action programme, on which my Department has been consulted, will be sent to the Commission very shortly. Ireland has already submitted proposals for a derogation from the general limits laid down in the nitrates directive, designed to allow farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare.

Food Industry.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

102 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position with regard to discussions within the EU on proposed reforms of the EU sugar regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14182/05]

The EU Commission outlined its initial ideas for reform of the EU sugar regime in a communication to the Council and the European Parliament last July. The communication was the subject of technical discussions at Council working group level in Brussels and there was a policy debate at the Council of Agriculture Ministers' meeting in November.

The European Commission's initial ideas for reform would, if adopted, have serious repercussions for sugar beet growing and processing here and I have made it clear in discussions in the Council of Ministers that they are unacceptable. Ireland is in a group of ten member states with shared concerns about the Commission's proposals in their current form and we made a joint ministerial submission to the Commission outlining these concerns.

The next step will be the publication of formal legislative proposals by the Commission which are expected to be published on 22 June. In the forthcoming negotiations on the reform proposals, my overall objective will be to ensure that the future shape of the EU sugar regime is consistent with the continuation of an efficient sugar beet growing and processing industry in this country.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Michael Noonan

Question:

103 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to implement the recommendations of the joint committee report on the ERS; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13990/05]

I received the report of the Oireachtas joint committee formally on 7 April. I have asked my officials to consider the recommendations in the report, having due regard to the terms and conditions both of the early retirement scheme itself and of the European Commission regulations under which both the current and previous schemes were introduced.

Organic Farming.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

104 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will urgently introduce initiatives to encourage organic farming here and to rescue Ireland’s green clean image in the food industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14220/05]

My Department has already provided incentives to encourage organic farming which are substantial in proportion to the size of the sector. Through the rural environment protection scheme, almost €4 million was paid directly to organic farmers in 2004. Since REPS began in 1994, it has delivered some €31 million to the sector. Under the current scheme, an organic farmer with 55 hectares is eligible for an annual payment in REPS 3 of €18,505 a year for the first two years, and €13,555 each year for the rest of his or her time in the scheme. As a further incentive to encourage conventional farmers to venture into organic production, REPS now allows them to convert part of the farm instead of the entire holding as previously.

My Department also operates the scheme of grant aid for the development of the organic sector, which supports investment both on-farm and off-farm. For on-farm investments, grant aid can be given for 40% of the cost up to a maximum grant of over €50,000. For off-farm investments, the maximum grant is more than €500,000.

In addition, my Department has implemented all the main recommendations of the organic development committee's report published in April 2002, including the establishment of a national steering group. This group, made up of a broad range of stakeholder, has met on nine occasions and continues to monitor the implementation of the other recommendations of the organic development committee.

The decoupling of farm payments establishes a new policy framework in which farmers will have the freedom to farm in response to market demands. In this more market-oriented scenario, there is real scope for organic production to expand with the help of the financial incentives that I have outlined already. I strongly urge farmers to give it serious thought.

Ultimately, however, it is the producer and the consumer between them who will determine the size of the Irish organic sector. I do not accept that Ireland's clean green image is in need of rescue or that it depends on the level of organic farming in the country. By the end of the year, I expect that we will have 50,000 farmers in REPS, farming to a standard that goes beyond good farming practice. The bulk of the remaining farmers will be in the single payment scheme and will be under an obligation to keep their land in good agricultural and environmental condition. In these circumstances, I foresee no difficulty in preserving and further enhancing the image of Irish food.

Question No. 105 answered with QuestionNo. 70.

Special Beef Premium.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

106 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action she is taking to reduce the impact of the special beef premium overshoot on farmers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14011/05]

I made arrangements last month to expedite balancing payments to farmers affected by the special beef premium quota excess based on an estimated overshoot reduction. Over the past two weeks, some €80 million has been paid to special beef, suckler cow and slaughter premium applicants with the vast bulk of this going to farmers with more than 25 special beef premium animals.

I have also raised the matter of the overshoot with the European Commission pointing out that it was never the intention of the mid-term reform of the CAP that farmers would be disadvantaged in the transition to the single payment scheme. As the extent of the special beef premium quota excess is linked to the move to full decoupling of direct payments in 2005, I have asked the Commission to address the problem as a matter of urgency.

World Trade Negotiations.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

107 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the EU Commission regarding the next round of the WTO; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14017/05]

I discussed the WTO agriculture negotiations and Irish concerns in relation thereto at a bilateral meeting with the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development on 20 December 2004. The Council of Agriculture Ministers, which reviews the situation on a regular basis, discussed the developments in the negotiations at its meetings on 14 March and 26 April 2005, both of which I attended.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

John Curran

Question:

108 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress of REP scheme 3 to date. [14139/05]

My Department has received approximately 20,100 applications for REPS 3 of which just under 18,500 have already been processed, approved and paid. There are currently more than 45,100 farmers in REPS as a whole. Participation levels will very soon surpass the record reached at the end of 1999. The level of interest in REPS 3 is very encouraging and, with farmers considering their options after decoupling, I expect it to continue.

Animal Diseases.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

109 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of cases of BSE in cattle discovered in 2004 and to date in 2005; the way in which this compares with recent years; the number of such cases discovered in animals born after the imposition of the ban on meat and bonemeal; the reason so many cases in such animals are still being discovered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14186/05]

In 2004, 126 cases of BSE were confirmed compared with 182 in 2003 and 333 in 2002. There have been 25 cases to date in 2005 which represents a decrease of 57% on the number of cases discovered in the same period in 2004, 59. The majority of these cases were in animals born prior to the introduction here of the additional controls in 1996 and 1997. The shift in age profile in BSE cases as well as a reduction in case numbers indicates that the additional controls have been effective in significantly reducing the exposure of animals born after 1997 to the infectious agent. It is expected that the incidence of disease will continue to decline as cows born prior to 1998 leave the system.

Investigations are carried out into the feeding regimes of all herds in which BSE is identified and in particular in herds in which cases born after the feed controls were re-enforced are confirmed. Within the context of the overall picture, the diagnosis of BSE in a small number of animals born after 1997 was to be expected. To date, 11 animals born after 1997, four in 1998 and seven in 1999, have been diagnosed with BSE. In addition, ten cases were confirmed in 1997 born animals but some of these were born before all the enhanced measures were fully in place. My Department had foreseen the likelihood that individual cases would from time to time arise which may relate to circumstances specific to the farms in question and which do not conform with the general trend as the incidence of the disease in the national herd recedes. There is, however, no basis for suspecting that these cases are indicative of either a systemic failure in controls or of a reversal of or deviation from the overall positive trend in relation to BSE in Ireland.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Paul McGrath

Question:

110 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures she intends to take to address the problems experienced by farmers in the Shannon Callows, as a result of current proposals which do not allow them to split their lands for grant aid purposes between REPS funding and funding allocated under the SAC and SPA designation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13998/05]

The designation of land under the EU birds and habitats directives is a function of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The question of compensation for farmers in the Shannon Callows area is a matter, in the first instance, for that Department, and I understand that discussions on the matter with the farming bodies have been going on for some time and are not yet concluded.

As far as REPS is concerned, I have already introduced arrangements designed specifically to address the situation of farmers in the Shannon Callows. Farmers in this area who wish to join REPS but believe that the REPS payments do not fully offset any income loss arising from the restrictions placed on their farming activities because of designation under the directives, may now also apply to the national parks and wildlife service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for additional compensation. Before this arrangement was introduced in September 2004, they had to choose between REPS and the compensation arrangements operated by NPWS but could not benefit from both. Since farmers in the Shannon Callows are thus provided with a means by which they are guaranteed full compensation, it is difficult to see how there could be justification for even more advantageous arrangements.

This further concession was additional to the inclusion of a new supplementary measure in REPS when REPS 3 was introduced in June 2004. Designated areas are already eligible for payments under REPS measure A of €242 per hectare for the first 40 hectares and lesser amounts for areas over 40 hectares, and the new supplementary measure provides for an additional payment of €100 per hectare on particular sites in the Callows which are important corncrake habitats. Those sites are monitored by BirdWatch Ireland, and REPS farmers can qualify for the additional payment by subscribing to BirdWatch Ireland management prescriptions for them.

REPS is a highly successful agri-environment measure and is acknowledged as such by the European Commission. One of the features of REPS which the Commission has commended is the fact that the whole farm is subjected to the full range of basic undertakings. This model has served Irish farmers well since the introduction of REPS in 1994 and it is not my intention to depart from the whole farm approach to accommodate a situation which I have already addressed adequately.

Decentralisation Programme.

Liz McManus

Question:

111 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the decentralisation programme within her Department; the number of the 60 posts that were due to be moved to Portlaoise during April 2005 which have moved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14190/05]

Under the Government's decentralisation programme my Department's Dublin headquarters will be transferred to Portlaoise, my Department's laboratories in Cork and Limerick will move to Macroom and my Department's local offices in Cork city and Mallow will move to Fermoy.

Last November, the decentralisation implementation group published its report to the Minister for Finance identifying the organisations to move in the first phase of the decentralisation programme and included the decentralisation of 392 Department of Agriculture and Food staff from Dublin to Portlaoise. A further report from the decentralisation implementation group is expected shortly to deal with locations not covered in last November's report.

Following the Government's announcement in budget 2004, my Department established a decentralisation implementation committee, chaired by an Assistant Secretary General, to plan and control the process. Tangible progress has been made on the decentralisation of my Department to Portlaoise already, with some 50 staff having been assigned there in July 2004.

In accordance with recommendations made in the decentralisation implementation group report of November 2004, my Department submitted a revised implementation plan to the decentralisation implementation group on 14 February 2005 which sets out the sequence and proposed timescale in which work areas of my Department will be moved to Portlaoise. In line with that plan, the work of the area aid section, involving over 60 positions, is currently being moved from Dublin to Portlaoise.

My Department is working closely with the OPW regarding the construction of suitable permanent headquarters in Portlaoise. In the meantime, temporary accommodation has been secured in Portlaoise and the relocation of staff into that building has commenced. My Department is also liaising with the OPW regarding accommodation in Fermoy and Macroom.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Jack Wall

Question:

112 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by the farm retirement group for justice that farmers who opted for the EU early retirement package have found themselves financially punished; the steps she intends to take to address these concerns; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14169/05]

Both Ministers of State at my Department have met groups set up to advance the interests of retired farmers. Officials of my Department have also had meetings with them on several occasions. The group referred to had an opportunity to present its case to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food and the committee has recently produced its report. My officials are examining the report and I will respond formally to the committee in due course. Most of the issues raised by the group were also put to the European Commission in the form of a complaint about the way my Department had introduced and implemented the scheme of early retirement from farming and I note that the Commission rejected the complaint.

Certain of the group's concerns related to the implications for retired farmers of the introduction of the new single payment scheme. My Department has been aware, from an early stage in the negotiations leading to the introduction of the single payment scheme, of the possible implications for retired farmers who had leased their holdings. In so far as it has proved possible in the context of the EU regulations governing the single payment scheme, and following lengthy discussions with the European Commission, provision has been made under the rules of the single payment scheme to address some of the concerns of retired farmers.

As participants in the 1994 scheme of early retirement from farming had retired before the start of the reference period in 2000, they are not in a position to claim entitlements under the single payment scheme. However, a concession agreed with the European Commission will allow family members who take over a holding that was leased to third parties during the reference period to have access to entitlements from the national reserve. This will benefit the family members of retired farmers who decide to take up farming.

Participants in the current early retirement scheme, who would have farmed during part or all of the reference period, can activate entitlements and lease them to their existing transferee. If the transferee does not want the entitlements, the transferor — retired farmer — has until 2007 within which to lease or transfer the entitlements, with land, to another farmer. My Department has recently written to these retired farmers advising them on how to activate entitlements.

Food Industry.

Denis Naughten

Question:

113 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans she has to develop the marketing potential of Bord Bia; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14000/05]

The 2004 enterprise strategy group report to the Tánaiste entitled, Ahead of the Curve, focused on marketing as one of two development axes for Irish industry, the other being technology. Promotion and marketing is becoming ever more critical as the Irish agri-food sector enters a period of great change with future production decisions becoming more market led and influenced by decoupling policy under the Luxembourg Agreement, EU enlargement and a new WTO round. A clearly focused strategic marketing and promotion policy is essential to assist the food industry here in exploiting market opportunities.

Bord Bia plays a leading role in supporting the food industry in the development and consolidation of export markets. It is widely acknowledged as doing a very effective job and its success in promoting Ireland as a food island is evidenced by the record results for 2004, when the value of food exports crossed the €7 billion mark for the first time.

In the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2004, public expenditure of €28.69 million was allocated to funding the food marketing and promotion measure of the national development plan. The measure is administered by Bord Bia and covers grant assistance to companies to improve its individual marketing capabilities and the board's generic market development activities. These activities include marketing promotion and advertising, market research studies and information-publications, development of marketing skills, quality and training.

The organisation has recently undertaken an independent strategic review of its future direction. This included wide-ranging consultation, internally and externally, and I expect to receive a report on the outcome in the near future. This review will enable Bord Bia to remain focused on its mission, which in turn will help secure a more diverse, competitive and export orientated food industry.

Forestry Sector.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

114 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food further to the recent Bacon review of the forestry sector, the proposals her Department intends to pursue to develop the sector, particularly in reaching the planting target set out in the programme for Government 2002; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13999/05]

The review and appraisal of Ireland's forestry development strategy undertaken by Peter Bacon and Associates supports a planting target of 20,000 hectares per annum, as set out in the programme for Government. The report also comments that a lesser planting target could be a viable basis for support, providing the planting is undertaken in a manner that maximises the non-timber benefits.

The report by Dr. Bacon will form a key component of an overall review of our forestry strategy, to be carried out later this year, when the position regarding the proposed new rural development regulation becomes clearer. This regulation, which will cover the period 2007-13, is currently being negotiated in Brussels.

The schemes which are currently in place are extremely attractive, offering 100% grants for planting and substantial annual premiums. In addition, the concession obtained in relation to the stacking entitlementsvis-à-vis the single payment scheme, make forestry a very attractive land use option for farmers.

Food Banks.

David Stanton

Question:

115 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of food banks in operation in the country; the success of these food banks in combating food poverty; the measures her Department intends to take to encourage the expansion of the role of food banks (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14232/05]

Food banks are charitable organisations outside the ambit of central government and accordingly my Department has no role in their operation. In accordance with Commission Regulation (EC) No. 3149/932 on the supply of food from intervention stocks for the benefit of the most deprived persons in the Community, my Department has in the past made intervention stocks available to charitable organisations, including the Dublin food bank.

The recent changes in the Common Agricultural Policy with decoupling of supports from production will align agriculture more closely with market and consumer requirements and lessen the availability of intervention stocks. My Department is willing to play a role in facilitating dialogue between the food industry and the charitable organisations for suitable alternative mechanisms for distribution to food banks or targeted groups.

Forestry Sector.

Simon Coveney

Question:

116 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her position on the proposed cut by the EU of grant aid for forestry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14007/05]

The issue raised by the Deputy relates to one of the proposals for forestry contained in the draft rural development regulation 2007-13, first published by the European Commission in July 2004 and which is the subject of ongoing negotiations in the Council of Ministers.

From the outset, the Irish position on the draft regulation in general, including the specific aspects related to forestry has been clear. On these forestry aspects, I have pointed to the negative impacts that the original proposals would have on the sector, particularly those relating to reduced establishment grants, premiums and associated premium payment periods.

Forestry is only one element of the wider rural development proposals but a very important one for Ireland and for those countries with active afforestation programmes. As the overall negotiations move to an expected conclusion in June, I will press for a satisfactory outcome for Ireland on the package as a whole, which will include an outcome on forestry which best suits our particular needs.

Depopulation Programme.

Billy Timmins

Question:

117 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of cattle born before 1996; the estimated value of same; the projected cost of herd depopulation as a result of BSE from 2005 to 2010; if she will consider a depopulation programme for all cattle born prior to 1996; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14219/05]

It is estimated that there are in excess of 450,000 cattle in the national herd which were born before 1996. It is difficult to put an accurate value on such animals since their value to farmers is measured in terms of the calves and milk produced on an annual basis rather than by reference to what they would command at the market or in the factory. However, based on recent values of BSE suspects in this age category, the value of such animals would range from €500 to €1,000 per animal. Taking the lower figure, the value of all pre-1996 born animals left in the population would be at least €225 million. Trends observed over recent years indicate that approximately 165 cases of BSE — range 112-210 — are expected to be diagnosed in Ireland between 2005-10. Using that figure and the average cost of compensation for herd depopulation in 2004, the projected gross cost of compensation of herd depopulation as a result of BSE from 2005 to 2010 would be approximately €18.6 million. It should be emphasised that these are very tentative estimates based on certain assumptions and do not include slaughter, rendering, transport, disposal, etc., costs.

In March 2002, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland produced a report from its BSE sub-committee looking at strategies to reduce the incidence of BSE in Ireland, and whether these add value in terms of consumer protection over the existing control measures. The findings in that report were that provided all existing controls and regulations are strictly complied with, there was no added food safety value in a cull of older cattle in pre-clinical stages of the disease.

Avian Influenza.

Seán Ryan

Question:

118 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she is satisfied that adequate procedures are in place to protect against the spread of avian flu to this country especially in view of the recent warning from the food and agriculture organisation that the virus causing bird flu may be impossible to eradicate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14181/05]

Avian influenza is a serious, highly contagious viral disease of poultry which can also spread to other animals and occasionally to humans. EU legislation to control avian influenza is laid down in Directive 92/40/EEC. In brief, this directive requires that all suspected cases of avian influenza must be investigated and appropriate measures taken in case of confirmation of highly pathogenic avian influenza, HPAI. To limit the spread, infected poultry must be killed in a humane way and disposed of safely. Feeding stuffs, contaminated equipment and manure must be destroyed or treated to inactivate the virus.

The EU has also enacted legislation placing an embargo on imports of poultry and certain poultry products from the affected Asian countries — Commission Decision 2004/122/EC — and also suspending the import of pet birds from south east Asia — Commission Decision 2004/93/EC. Further bans are in place for Canada and the United States.

Under Article 17 of Council Directive 92/40/EEC, each member state must have a contingency plan "specifying the national measures to be implemented in the event of an outbreak of avian influenza". Among other things, the plan provides for access to facilities, equipment, personnel and all other appropriate materials necessary for the rapid and efficient eradication of the outbreak. Ireland's plan also gives details on movement controls and procedures to be followed in the investigation of a suspect premises. Ireland's contingency plan is currently being updated in conjunction with the Department of Health and Children. In addition, operational and other aspects are being reviewed and various elements are being updated.

The European Commission has submitted proposals to update the current Community legislation on this disease with a view to improving prevention and control, reducing the health risks, the costs and losses and the negative impact to the whole of society of avian influenza. The first meeting of experts of member states to discuss the Commission's proposal began yesterday and is continuing today.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

John Gormley

Question:

119 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the large number of farmers now erecting genetically modified free zone signs on their land around the country; and her views on whether, if this trend continues, Ireland will become known as a country free of genetically modified crops and will be able to market its produce accordingly. [14229/05]

EU legislation, jointly adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, on the cultivation of GM crops specifically prohibits the unilateral declaration of a GM free country. There are, however, methods available to restrict the growing of GM crops within regions of a country. These include the concept of voluntarily developed GM free regions — a concept being explored by a number of regional communities and authorities throughout the Community and one which could be examined by communities within this country. Another option is to seek a derogation from the Commission that, on the basis of sound scientific evidence, co-existence is not possible in certain regions in respect of certain named crops. The cultivation of these crops can then be legitimately prohibited if the case made is accepted by the Commission.

The legislative framework on GMOs adopted by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, and which is binding on all members states, provides for a series of controls along the whole supply chain which ensures that only food which meets the highest possible levels of safety is produced and marketed in this country.

Departmental Staff.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

120 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department will be restructured in view of the projected staff surplus of 400 in 2005 and 2006; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14221/05]

The introduction of the single payment scheme will lead to significant staff savings in my Department due to the rationalisation of a number of the farm income support schemes. While the final net impact cannot be stated exactly at this stage, I expect staff savings of 400 by January 2006. The transition is being actively managed within the Department to ensure an orderly redeployment of the staff being released, and a number of steps have been taken in this regard.

Question No. 121 answered with QuestionNo. 76.

Teagasc Service Development.

Damien English

Question:

122 Mr. English asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans she has to develop the Teagasc service provided to farmers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14004/05]

Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, was established under the Agriculture (Research, Training and Advice) Act 1988. Its function under the Act is to provide research, training and advisory services for the agrifood sector. Teagasc is governed by an 11 member authority. The chairman and five ordinary members are appointed by the Minister and the remaining five members are appointed by the Minister following nominations from designated organisations — IFA, ICMSA, ICOS, Macra na Feirme and Teagasc unions.

Teagasc has approximately 1,300 permanent staff, comprising advisers, teachers and research scientists with appropriate supporting services. These are complemented by some 250 contract staff, as well as teaching staff in the private agricultural and horticultural colleges. Teagasc staff carry out their functions from more than 90 locations.

Teagasc's operating budget for 2005 amounts to more than €155 million. Advisory services make up the biggest budget item, 35% of expenditure, followed by production research, 32%, training programmes, 19%, and food research, 13%. My Department's provision to Teagasc for capital and non-capital purposes in 2005 amounts to €123 million. The amount for non-capital purposes is €118.5 million and for capital development purposes the allocation is €4.5 million. By any standards these are substantial resources and are a clear indication of the Government's continuing commitment to supporting Teagasc activities.

It is the responsibility of Teagasc to prioritise activities and to allocate its funding accordingly. This it has done over the years in accordance with the needs of clients, EU and Government policy and industry needs. I am satisfied that in doing so, it has provided a first class service to Irish farmers.

In the short term, Teagasc will have to reconfigure its programmes in response to the fundamental changes in agriculture arising out of the new CAP support framework. The authority is, however, already well accustomed to tailoring its programmes to meet the changing requirements of the agri-food sector. Its annual programme of activities is developed in consultation with the key stakeholders in the sector many of whom are represented on the authority. Recently, it has undertaken more strategic planning initiatives, the Teagasc 2000 review and the three year strategy required under the strategic management initiative. A new review of its training and education programmes has recently got under way.

I am satisfied that Teagasc is well placed to face the future and to continue to provide the innovation and technology transfer for the sustainable development of agriculture, the food industry and rural communities in the years ahead.

Carlow Sugar Plant.

Willie Penrose

Question:

123 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her approval has been sought from Greencore for the proposed sale of the site of the Carlow plant which closed on 11 March 2005; if she has sought information from the company regarding its intentions with respect to the site; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14184/05]

My approval has not been sought to the sale of any property following the recent closure by Greencore of the Irish Sugar plant at Carlow and I am not aware of the company's intentions in that regard. As Minister, I hold a special share in Greencore plc. That share has the same monetary value as any other share in the company but special conditions are attached which prevent the company from engaging in a number of activities without the prior written consent of the Minister. One of the activities for which prior written consent is required is the disposal of more than 20% of specified sugar assets in Carlow and Mallow.

Single Payment Scheme.

Liam Twomey

Question:

124 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if deductions from farmers’ SFP will not exceed 3% when linear and other cuts are accounted for; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13997/05]

European Council Regulation 1782/2003 governing the single payment scheme provides that each member state must set up a national reserve using between 1% and 3% of every individual farmers entitlements. A single payment advisory group comprising representatives from the farming organisations, Teagasc and officials from my Department was set up to advise on the national reserve. A 3% provisional reduction for the national reserve is reflected in the certificates of provisional entitlements that have already issued to some 140,000 farmers. I have decided that in the event of the sum of individual payment entitlements for Irish farmers exceeding our financial ceiling, thus necessitating a linear percentage reduction for all farmers, such linear percentage reduction would be accommodated within the 3% provisional reduction already applied for the national reserve.

The Council regulation also provides for a reduction for modulation of 3% in 2005 rising by a further 1% in each of the years 2006 and 2007. The 3% deduction for modulation has also been reflected in the provisional statements of entitlements, which have already issued. However, a refund of this money will be made in respect of the first €5,000 of the single payment in each case. It is estimated that 46% of Irish farmers will in effect, not be subject to modulation at all.

Animal Feedstuffs.

Dan Boyle

Question:

125 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if, since the challenge by a company (details supplied), she has revised her Department’s testing procedures for animal proteins in feed, in order that they will be legally admissible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14223/05]

The Deputy is aware that the High Court, in respect of a judicial review of the seizure and detention by my officials of certain corn gluten imported into this country, recently ruled in favour of the company referred to on two counts. First, the authorised officers, appointed by the Minister, did not have the necessary powers, under the Irish legislation quoted, to impound the feed material and instruct its recall from the market and, second, the Minister could not prove that the presence of bone fragments in the corn gluten, identified by reference to the analytical methods approved by the EU and applied across the EU, indicated the presence of processed animal protein, PAPs.

This judgment has been appealed to the Supreme Court and officials in my Department are in consultation with the Attorney General's office to examine ways to strengthen the existing national legislation pertaining to inspection and seizure powers. Secondary legislation in this regard will be introduced by me very shortly. My officials, in consultation with the Attorney General, will be asking its legal counsel to prepare papers, which will hopefully lead to a reference being made to the European Court of Justice on the interpretation of the relevant EU legislation and its effect.

Officials within my Department regularly review the methods and procedures in the various areas of control operated within my Department in response to specific events and evolving risks to the feed chain.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

126 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department has concluded the review of the farm retirement scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14207/05]

My Department recently completed the expenditure review of the current scheme of early retirement from farming. Copies of the review were laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas on 13 April 2005.

The expenditure review process was established by the Department of Finance in 1997 in the context of the strategic management initiative. The purpose of the review of the early retirement scheme is to analyse systematically whether the scheme is meeting its objectives and to inform future decisions regarding priorities on expenditure programmes. I am considering the conclusions and recommendations.

Forestry Sector.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

127 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the report from the EU Court of Auditors regarding the way in which forestry grants were awarded here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14172/05]

The Deputy is referring to special report No. 9 of the European Court of Auditors concerning forestry measures within the EU's rural development policy. This report examines the implementation of the various EU forestry measures across all the member states, not just Ireland. It covers a very wide range of issues, many of which are questions which relate to EU policy in this area.

In relation to Ireland, a number of specific issues were raised following the court's visit here and the Irish authorities responded in full to each of these. In general, I am very happy with the manner in which the schemes operate in Ireland where particular emphasis is placed on the principle of sustainable forestry and controls. However, there is always room for improvement and my Department keeps the implementation of the schemes under constant review. The new IFORIS computer system to be introduced later this year will improve both the efficiency with which applications are handled and the manner in which controls are implemented.

Bovine Diseases.

Jimmy Devins

Question:

128 Dr. Devins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding BSE incidence in the country to date in 2005 compared to the same period in 2002, 2003 and 2004. [14135/05]

To date in 2005, there have been 25 confirmed cases of BSE. In the same period in 2004, there were 59 cases. This represents a reduction of 57%. In 2003 and in 2002, over the same period, there were 82 cases and 131 cases, respectively.

Grant Payments.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

129 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the European Commission regarding the impact of the special beef premium overshoot on farmers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14015/05]

I made arrangements last month to expedite balancing payments to farmers affected by the special beef premium quota excess based on an estimated overshoot reduction. Over the last two weeks, some €80 million has been paid to special beef, suckler cow and slaughter premium applicants with the bulk of this going to farmers with more than 25 special beef premium animals.

I have also raised the matter of the overshoot with the European Commission pointing out that it was never the intention of the mid-term reform of the Common Agricultural Policy that farmers would be disadvantaged in the transition to the single payment scheme. As the extent of the special beef premium quota excess is linked to the move to full decoupling of direct payments in 2005, I have asked the Commission to address the problem as a matter of urgency.

Live Register.

Dan Neville

Question:

130 Mr. Neville asked the Taoiseach the details of the live register in Newcastle West for each month of 2005 to date. [14568/05]

The live register series gives a monthly breakdown of the number of people claiming unemployment assistance, unemployment benefit and other claimants registered with the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Figures are published for each county and each local social welfare office. A breakdown by postal district is not available. The most recent information available is for March 2005. It should be noted that the live register is not a definitive measure of unemployment as it includes part-time workers, seasonal and casual workers entitled to unemployment assistance or benefit. Statistics on unemployment are measured at regional level by the quarterly national household survey. The exact area covered by each local office is not limited to the immediate locality of the particular office. For instance, in the Tallaght local office there may be registered persons from the Blessington area. The live register figures for the local office of Newcastle West for 2005, as requested by the Deputy, are set out in the following table:

Live register for Newcastle West by age group 2005.

January

February

March

Males

Females

Total

Males

Females

Total

Males

Females

Total

Under 25 Years

77

91

168

80

97

177

87

107

194

25 Years and Over

470

281

751

475

296

771

447

310

757

All Ages

547

372

919

555

393

948

534

417

951

Source: Central Statistics Office, Live Register Analysis.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings.

Finian McGrath

Question:

131 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach if the legal adviser to a group (details supplied) will have full access to all relevant files and papers of Departments and the Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13983/05]

The Joint Oireachtas Committee which examined the Barron report into the 1974 bombings last year recommended the establishment of a commission of investigation to examine matters relevant to this jurisdiction including specific aspects of the Garda investigation at the time and missing documentation. The Government has established a commission of investigation in accordance with that recommendation with Mr. Patrick MacEntee, SC, as sole member. It is a matter for the commission of investigation to determine how it will operate, including with regard to access to relevant documentation, in accordance with its terms of reference and its powers under the relevant legislation.

Health Levy.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

132 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the arrangements she is making to provide for repayment of the excess health levy of PRSI (details supplied) by residents of the Six Counties employed in this jurisdiction; the steps she intends to take to advise these workers of their entitlement to a rebate; if the rebate will be available retrospectively to 1994; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14058/05]

The health contribution levy was introduced by virtue of the Health Contributions Act 1979 and came into effect on 6 April of that year. The contributions are levied on income at a percentage rate set in pursuance of the Health Contributions Act and proceeds are paid to the Minister for Health and Children in aid of the vote for health. Subject to certain exemptions, the levy is applicable to all persons over the age of 16 with reckonable income. The current rate of contribution is 2% of gross income.

According to Regulation (EC) 1408/71, a person employed in one member state who resides in another member state and who returns to his state of residence at least once a week, is classed as a frontier worker. Under Article 20 of the regulation:

A frontier worker may. . . .obtain benefits in the territory of the competent state. Such benefits shall be provided by the competent institution in accordance with the provisions of the legislation of that State, as though the person concerned were resident in that State.

This provision is designed to ensure that the frontier worker can obtain all health services in both the member state of employment and the member state of residence, in both cases at the cost of the competent institution.

In the case of a frontier worker employed in Ireland and resident in Northern Ireland, the competent state is Ireland and the competent institution is the Health Service Executive. Thus, under the regulation, such a person is entitled to obtain health care both in Northern Ireland or in Ireland, but in both cases the competent state — Ireland — and the competent institution — the Health Service Executive — are responsible for the costs. Under the bilateral agreement on reimbursement of health care costs that exists between Ireland and the UK and as provided for in Regulation (EC) 574/72, Ireland reimburses the UK for the cost of health care provided to those persons resident in Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom who are employed in Ireland and who therefore receive health services in the UK, under Regulation (EC) 1408/71, on behalf of and at the cost of Ireland.

Therefore, when a person resident in Northern Ireland is employed in this State, he or she is liable to health contributions on the same basis as any other individual employed in the State unless he or she is exempt from the payment of health contributions on any of the grounds provided for in the legislation.

Vaccination Programme.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

133 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department has concluded its consideration of the High Court judgment striking down the Government’s proposed inquiry into the conduct of vaccine trials on children in institutional care in the State; if a new form of inquiry into this scandal will be established; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14289/05]

The revocation of the relevant statutory instrument will require a draft resolution to be brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas. A number of complex issues have had to be considered in relation to this matter. These issues are now approaching finalisation and discussions have taken place with a number of parties involved. I am not in a position to outline the course of action which the Government will take on this matter until all discussions have been completed

Civil Registration Act.

Willie Penrose

Question:

134 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has received correspondence from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; if she will consider amending the Civil Registration Act 2004 to reflect the thrust of the submission made therein; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14409/05]

An tArd-Chláraitheoir, Registrar General, is responsible for the registration of all life events, including births. Oifig an Ard-Chláraitheoir has received correspondence from a person in Dublin 9 concerning a submission to amend the provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004. The submission is mainly concerned with the issues of re-registration in cases involving unmarried parents and the child's surname details that may be re-registered.

Section 23 of the 2004 Act provides that where registration has occurred without the father's details in cases where the parents were not married to each other at the date of the birth or at any time during the previous ten months, re-registration of a person as father of a child can occur only at the joint request of the mother and the person acknowledging himself to be the father of the child, or at the request of the mother on production by her of a declaration as to the putative father's identity and his statutory declaration acknowledging fatherhood, or at the request of the putative father on production of his declaration acknowledging fatherhood and the mother's statutory declaration of confirmation, or at the request of the mother or putative father in writing on production of a certified copy of any court order in respect of proceedings relating to section 45 of the Status of Children Act 1987 naming the father of the child.

Provisions relating to surname details are contained in the Registration of Births Act 1996, as amended by the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002. The procedures dealing with the registration or re-registration of the child's surname are: births registered on or after 1 October 1997 with both parents details included on the birth entry cannot be re-registered and the surname assigned cannot be changed; for births registered on or after 1 October 1997 with the mother's details and surname only, the surname assigned may be changed on re-registration if both parents consent; for births registered before 1 October 1997 the surname assigned on re-registration can be the mother's or father's as they appear in the register, or of both. Once assigned the surname cannot be changed at a later date.

Births re-registered between 1 October 1997 and 15 October 2002 where the parents were obliged to re-register with the mother's surname may be re-registered for a second time to change the surname if both parents consent. The consent of both parents in issues involving re-registration and child's surname details is a fundamental principle of the legislation. In cases where consent is not given by either party, An tArd-Chláraitheoir has no legislative authority to arbitrate or decide upon the surname details to be registered as such judgements are appropriate to the courts of law.

The actual forename and surname used in connection with a child is not a matter for the registration service. It is a matter for a parent or parents to decide on the name by which a child is known. A person's legal name is that by which the person is known and a person acquires the right to it by use and repute.

Inter-Church Marriage.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

135 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position with regard to inter-church marriages; if they can be celebrated in churches of religions other than those of the parties to the marriage; and if there are legislative proposals in this regard. [14476/05]

An tArd-Chláraitheoir, Registrar General, is responsible for the registration of all life events, including marriages. I have made inquiries with him concerning this matter and the position is set out below.

The position under current legislation, primarily contained in sections 38 and 39 of the Matrimonial Causes and Marriage Law Ireland (Amendment) Act 1870, is that a marriage may be solemnised, in the case of a mixed marriage, only in a church of the same religion as that of the clergyman or clergywoman solemnising the marriage.

Upon the commencement of the marriage provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004, the requirement will be that all marriages, other than civil marriages, must be solemnised only at a place chosen by the parties to the marriage with the agreement of the registered solemniser concerned. In the case of civil marriages where the venue is not the office of the registrar, the proposed venue must be approved by the Health Service Executive in accordance with any prescribed guidelines which may be issued.

Health Service Allowances.

Martin Ferris

Question:

136 Mr. Ferris asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when persons (details supplied) in County Kerry will receive a Cúram home care grant. [14566/05]

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 health services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

137 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the extent to which genetically modified foods are for sale here, whether labelled or unlabelled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14585/05]

Under EU rules, only authorised GM foods, or foods containing ingredients thereof, can be imported and placed on the market. Ireland applies EU legislation on genetically modified, GM, foods. The following GM foods are authorised for sale on the Irish market: vegetable oil from oil seed rape; vegetable oil from cotton seed; maize products; soya products.

These products are normally used as food ingredients and the following are the food types in which the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, has identified GM ingredients: vegetable casserole, gluten-free reduced sugar rusks, soya protein mince, soya protein chunks, soya biscuits and cakes, soya bran, soya flour, infant formula, soya cream, soya yogurt, soya drink, soya dessert, lecithin granules derived from soya bean and maize meal, tortilla chips, taco shells, breadcrumbs for chicken and burger and corn snacks derived from maize.

However, the above list does not mean that there are not other food types on the market with GM maize or soya ingredients. Further authorisations of GM foods will only occur following full independent safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority and are subject to the latest European regulations with regard to traceability and labelling.

Two regulations which govern the labelling of food products containing genetically modified organisms, GMOs, 1829/2003 and 1830/2003, became applicable in April of last year. These regulations have amended the rules on the labelling of foods produced from GMOs to require labelling irrespective of whether DNA or protein of GM origin is present in the final product. Consequently, highly refined or processed food such as starch, sugar and oil products which may not have any residual DNA or protein require labelling if derived from GMOs. The regulations include a traceability system to verify the origin of the food. Labels have to indicate either, "This product contains genetically modified organisms" or "... produced from genetically modified (name of organism)". These regulations, which operators are required to comply with, are effective since April 2004.

Trace levels of GMOs in conventional food and feed can and do arise during cultivation, harvest, transport and processing. This is not particular to GMOs but can occur in the production of food, feed and seed with the result that it is difficult to achieve products that are 100% pure. Against this background, the EU's objective is to ensure legal certainty and establish certain thresholds above which conventional food and feed have to be labelled as consisting of, or containing, or being produced from a GMO. Under current legislation the presence of GM material in conventional food does not have to be labelled if it is below 0.9%, previously 1%, and if it can be shown to be adventitious and technically unavoidable.

The FSAI is the competent authority in Ireland for the enforcement of EU legislation regarding the genetic modification of foodstuffs. The FSAI carries out checks in the marketplace to ensure compliance with relevant legislation.

Care of the Elderly.

Joe Higgins

Question:

138 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the HSE has rescinded all funding sanctioned by the ERHA with respect to the refurbishment and upgrading of the Brú Chaoimhín care of the elderly facility, Dublin 8, and the old Meath community unit for the elderly; and if this decision has her sanction. [13905/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

140 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the importance of the elderly beds and step down and medium intervention units to the ten point plan for the health service, the planned refurbishment and upgrading of the Brú Chaoimhín care of the elderly facility, Dublin 8, and of the old Meath community unit for the elderly will progress immediately. [13907/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 138 and 140 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, deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in Dublin 8. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matters raised as a matter of urgency and to reply direct to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Joe Higgins

Question:

139 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE is to re-examine all capital or other funding granted prior to its formation on 1 January 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13906/05]

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 all funding, capital and revenue, voted for the executive.

Under section 34 of the Act, the executive requires the prior written permission of the Minister to enter into agreements for capital undertakings where the total amount would exceed an amount specified from time to time by the Minister, with the consent of the Minister for Finance. Any review of funding coming within this category would be carried out on this basis and would take account of health policy and any contractual commitments which might exist. In addition, the annual service plan of the executive includes revenue and capital plans and it is required to be approved by the Minister. Any review of capital or funding plans would take place in this legislative context.

Question No. 140 answered with QuestionNo. 138.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

141 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of a person (details supplied); if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that the surgeon in question has promoted their services through the electronic and print media in this country; if it is known that the surgeon in question has had a large number of malpractice suits against them; if she will order the suspension of the advertising or promotion of this person’s plastic surgery services here, directly or indirectly or through the Internet; if steps will be put in place to prevent the carrying out of any further operations by the surgeon in question; if she will direct the Irish Medical Council regarding the possibility of guidelines on the issue, such as the provision of certain basic requirements which need to be met in the course of surgery of this nature; if she anticipates the introduction of legislation to oblige those offering such surgery or those who carry advertisements promoting such surgery to meet specific ethical requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13908/05]

I take this opportunity to offer my sincere condolences to the family on their tragic loss. As the Deputy may be aware, the Medical Council is the independent authority charged with primary responsibility for the registration and regulation of medical practitioners in the State. The function of the Medical Council is to protect the public through implementing appropriate controls on the medical profession. Doctors practising medicine in Ireland should be registered with the Medical Council.

The surgical procedure in question was undertaken outside of this country and the relevant authorities in the State concerned are investigating the circumstances in this particular case. It is not appropriate or feasible for an authority or body in this country to have jurisdiction over a doctor practising in another country.

Persons who avail of the services of doctors performing cosmetic procedures, whether in this country or abroad, should endeavour to seek the services of reputable institutions. When invasive procedures are being arranged in so-called cosmetic clinics, persons would be strongly advised to check that the services are provided by a medical practitioner who is appropriately registered with the Medical Council in this country or the appropriate regulatory body in the jurisdiction where the procedure is to be performed. In addition, before agreeing to undergo any procedure, persons should ascertain the level of follow-up medical support which will be available to them after the surgery has been completed.

It is an offence under the Medical Practitioners Act for a doctor to falsely represent himself or herself to be a registered medical practitioner when he or she is not registered. Registration is required to sign medical certificates and to issue prescriptions for certain categories of drugs. In addition, doctors are not entitled to recover in legal proceedings, fees charged for the provision of medical or surgical advice or treatment given when they were not registered.

I have met a delegation from the Medical Council to discuss a number of matters relevant to the current and future system of regulation of the medical profession in Ireland. Among the issues discussed was that of cosmetic surgical procedures and the requirement for appropriate follow-up medical care for patients who undergo these procedures. The delegation outlined to me the council's concerns regarding the operation of cosmetic surgery clinics in Ireland. My Department is currently actively examining ways to address the issues raised.

With regard to promotion of the particular doctor's services through advertising, my Department has no role in relation to the restriction of advertising applicable in this or any other jurisdiction. In relation to advertising by medical practitioners and the provision of ethical advice generally, the Medical Council produces a guide to ethical conduct and behaviour in accordance with section 69(2) of the Medical Practitioners Act. The most recent edition of the guide was published in 2004 and includes guidelines on advertising and the media and practice announcements. The council is in a position to consider alleged breaches of the guide in respect of doctors who are registered with it. However, the council has no authority to deal with complaints against doctors whose names are not entered on its register.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

142 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she is now in a position to approve the appointment of a design team as requested by the Health Service Executive in December 2004 in connection with the proposed redevelopment of St. Anthony’s Community Hospital, Dunmanway, including its enlargement from 23 to 45 beds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13912/05]

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.

The HSE service plan for 2005 was recently approved by me and, as required by relevant legislation, laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The detailed capital funding programme for hospitals for 2005 is being finalised in the context of the capital investment framework 2005-09. This process will 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 for 2005 or beyond. A decision on the appointment of a design team for the proposed redevelopment at St. Anthony's Community Hospital, Dunmanway, will be made by the HSE in the context of the approved capital framework.

An Bord Altranais.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

143 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to instruct An Bord Altranais to make its telephone system more customer friendly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13922/05]

An Bord Altranais is the statutory body which provides for the registration, control and education of nurses and midwives and for other matters relating to the practice of nursing and midwifery. The issue raised by the Deputy is an operational matter for An Bord Altranais, and I suggest that the Deputy should contact the board directly about this matter.

Health Services.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

144 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress towards opening the health care centre in Cootehill, County Cavan for the use of the elderly; her views on whether it is acceptable that a new building such as this go unused for the purpose for which it was built almost three years ago; if the Health Service Executive will make sure that capital funding that has been used will be augmented by the necessary funding to run this building in a structured and organised way to give the service that was intended for the elderly and disabled in Cootehill town and district; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13932/05]

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, deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of health services in County Cavan. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's north eastern area to investigate the matters raised as a matter of urgency and to reply direct to the Deputy.

David Stanton

Question:

145 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of patients categorised as chronic young sick currently placed in nursing homes and community hospitals that are, in the main, designed and set up to care for elderly patients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13933/05]

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. Accordingly, my Department has requested the national director for primary, community and continuing care of the HSE to investigate the matter raised and to reply direct to the Deputy.

David Stanton

Question:

146 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of steering groups and advisory groups in each of the Health Service Executive areas; the function and membership of each of these groups; the cost of each group in a full year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13934/05]

The information requested by the Deputy on steering and advisory groups in each of the Health Service Executive areas is a matter for the executive. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief executive officer of the executive to arrange to have the relevant information compiled and provided directly to the Deputy.

Richard Bruton

Question:

147 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the facilities available here to facilitate kidney transplants; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that it was easier to obtain a kidney transplant here 20 years ago than it is today; if she has assessed the savings in dialysis that might be achieved by having a transplant unit here; and the costs of establishing and running such a unit. [13938/05]

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 renal transplant services. Accordingly, my Department has requested the director of the National Hospitals' Office at the Health Service Executive to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Michael Ring

Question:

148 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for a triple bypass at the Mater Hospital; when this person was assessed for the by-pass; and if they are eligible for treatment under the treatment purchase scheme. [13951/05]

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 Mayo, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matters raised, including the position in relation to the national treatment purchase fund and the person's eligibility, and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

John McGuinness

Question:

149 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will expedite an application for a medical card in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [13965/05]

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.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

150 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funding which has been allocated to the south east advocacy network for 2004 to date; if the group is on a contract; if so the timeframe involved; if there is a report due from its work; if so, when; the way in which advocacy groups can apply for funding; the qualifications their representatives need and the reason funding is granted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13966/05]

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 contracting of works by and the allocation of moneys to non-governmental organisations. 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.

Enda Kenny

Question:

151 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the outcome of the contact between her Department and a firm (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13974/05]

I am not aware of any direct contact between my Department and the firm that markets this drug.

John Perry

Question:

152 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to concerns expressed recently in the medical press by an obstetrician regarding the threat to private obstetrics here as a result of a reported withdrawal by the State of a cap on claims above €500,000; her views on whether the withdrawal of this cap will lead to the closure of private maternity services in the remaining private maternity facilities in the State; the steps she will take to ensure that this does not happen; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13979/05]

The supports which the Government put in place in 2004 with the objective of keeping the cost of professional indemnity cover for consultants' private practice at an affordable level remain. These supports mean that most consultants need only purchase indemnity cover for the first €1 million of the cost of any one claim against them. In the case of consultant obstetricians the limit is set at €500,000. In addition the aggregate annual exposure of any individual consultant obstetrician is set at €1.5 million. Beyond these limits the State, through the clinical indemnity scheme, will assume liability for qualifying personal injury claims. In accordance with a Labour Court recommendation issued at the end of 2004, these limits will be reviewed later this year. I am satisfied that these measures have achieved the objective of keeping indemnity cover affordable for consultants in private practice.

Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

John Perry

Question:

153 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of organisations which provide indemnity cover for medical consultants in private obstetrics practice here; her views on whether the high membership subscriptions being charged are attributable to the absence of competitive choice for consultants; the steps she is taking to address this matter in respect of private practice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13980/05]

As far as my Department is aware only one organisation, the Medical Protection Society, is at present offering professional indemnity cover to consultant obstetricians in full or part-time private practice. The only other provider of this type of cover, the Medical Defence Union, has not offered it to obstetricians since 2003. It is obviously not ideal that doctors should have to rely on a sole provider of such a vital service. However, the supports which the Government has put in place to keep the cost of this cover at an affordable level are available to both mutual defence organisations and any commercial insurers interested in entering this market. It is regrettable that no other organisation has, to date, chosen to avail of them. There is no evidence to suggest that the absence of competition in this highly specialised market is leading to the charging of excessive subscription rates. A condition of availing of the supports put in place by the Government is that the subscriptions charged are reasonable and are agreed with my Department.

John Perry

Question:

154 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in relation to the special arrangements that were concluded by her Department in 2001 and 2002 for the continuation of obstetric services, the State has assessed the contingent liability involved arising from the assurances and guarantees provided by the State to consultants or the indemnity organisation involved; if the State has made any payments in respect of such guarantees; if the State has been notified of any claims likely to involve payments under the guarantees; if the agreements are still in force; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13981/05]

The agreements entered into in 2001 and 2002 with the Medical Protection Society were necessary at the time to avert a serious threat to the continuity of obstetric services in public and private hospitals. The period covered by these arrangements is from 1 March 2001 to 1 February 2004. As very few claims have yet emerged from this period it is difficult to come up with an accurate estimate of the value of the claims which will ultimately have to be paid. It must be borne in mind that the consultants covered by the arrangements will be co-defendants with other doctors and hospitals in these claims. The apportionment of liability, and the consequent share of the costs to be borne by the consultants, will vary from case to case. In addition, the State will benefit from the transfer of the funds established under the agreements.

Using some simplifying assumptions about the number of likely successful claims, likely average cost of settlements and share of liability the total cost to the State of settling these claims could range from €70 million to €90 million at present day values. This cost will be offset by the value of the funds to be transferred to the State. The State has made no payments to date on foot of these arrangements. My Department has been notified of a total of 21 claims which may fall to be covered by the agreements. It is difficult to say at this stage how many of these will involve the making of any payment. The funds to be transferred to the State under the agreements will be the first source used to finance the cost of settling these claims. The agreements effectively terminated on 1 February 2004 when claims against consultants were included in the clinical indemnity scheme. Discussions are continuing with the Medical Protection Society on the arrangements for the formal transfer of the balance of the funds to the State.

Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Joe Higgins

Question:

155 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will amend the terms of the long-term illness and disability scheme to include growth hormone deficiency. [14026/05]

There are currently no plans to amend the list of eligible conditions for the long-term illness scheme, LTI. Under the 1970 Health Act, the Health Service Executive may arrange for the supply, without charge, of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition, for the treatment of that condition through the long-term illness scheme. The conditions are: mental handicap; mental illness, for people under 16 only; phenylketonuria; cystic fibrosis; spina bifida; hydrocephalus; diabetes mellitus; diabetes insipidus; haemophilia; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; multiple sclerosis; muscular dystrophies; Parkinsonism; conditions arising from thalidomide; and acute leukaemia. Parkinsonism, acute leukaemia, muscular dystrophies and multiple sclerosis were added to the scheme in 1975. The LTI does not cover GP fees or hospital co-payments.

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

Non-medical card holders, and people with conditions not covered under the LTI, can use the drugs payment scheme. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €85 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines.

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

156 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if and when a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will transfer to Athy nursing home; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14037/05]

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 Kildare, 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.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

157 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department is in a position to provide funding for a hydrotherapy pool; if the grant provisions within her Department which entitle applicants for furnishings of a health facility are applicable in this case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14040/05]

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

Paudge Connolly

Question:

158 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if protocols have been agreed to guide staff in rerouting mothers-to-be from general hospitals without paediatric cover; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14044/05]

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 acute hospitals. Accordingly, my Department has requested the director of the executive's National Hospitals Office to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

John Perry

Question:

159 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an appointment for a person at University College Hospital, Galway, will be brought forward; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14052/05]

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 Sligo, my Department has requested the chief officer of the executive's north-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

John Perry

Question:

160 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Sligo will be called for an operation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14055/05]

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 Sligo, my Department has requested the chief officer of the executive's north-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Allowances.

Paul McGrath

Question:

161 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the mobility allowance scheme is means tested; if there are plans to review this qualifying condition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14056/05]

The mobility allowance is a monthly payment administered by the Health Service Executive, which provides financial support to severely disabled people who are unable to walk or use public transport and is intended to enable them to benefit from a change in surroundings, for example, by financing the occasional taxi journey.

To be eligible to receive the mobility allowance applicants must satisfy the following conditions: be over 16 years and under 66 years — however, an allowance, once granted, will be continued after the age of 66 as long as the other criteria for eligibility are met; be living at home or maintained by a health board in any long-term institution; be unable to walk, even with the use of artificial limbs or other suitable aids, or must be in such a condition of health that the exertion required to walk would be dangerous; inability to walk has to be likely to persist for at least one year; moving of the applicant must not have been forbidden for medical reasons; and be in a condition to benefit from a change in surroundings.

It is a matter for the senior area medical officer in the relevant Health Service Executive area to decide whether the medical criteria are satisfied in each case. Applicants must also undergo a means test to decide eligibility. The administering of a means test for the purpose of eligibility to the mobility allowance is in line with the qualifying conditions laid down by the Department of Social and Family Affairs for eligibility to the allowances paid by that Department. My Department currently has no plans to review this qualifying criteria.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

162 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the status of the application for special housing aid for the elderly for persons (details supplied) in County Wexford; when the application will be processed and works commenced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14087/05]

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, deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for the provision of the housing aid scheme for the elderly in County Wexford, on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south-eastern area to investigate the matters raised as a matter of urgency and to reply direct to the Deputy.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

163 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the range of costs charged by accident and emergency departments for victims of traffic accidents who indicate they wish to make a claim for personal injuries against a motor insurance company; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14090/05]

Under the Health (Amendment) Act 1986, the Health Service Executive may impose charges on all patients for treatment arising out of injuries sustained in road traffic accidents where compensation is subsequently payable. The Act does not withdraw eligibility for public hospital services from road traffic accident victims, but allows health boards to recover the costs of all services provided to the them. Following enactment of the legislation my Department directed that charges be calculated on the basis of the hospital's average daily cost. Following legal challenge, the Supreme Court, in its judgment on 11 July 2001, ruled that this costing approach is reasonable, proper and intra vires the Health (Amendment) Act 1986.

Letters were issued by my Department to the health boards outlining the judgment and directing them to charge the average daily cost in all road traffic accident cases. While bills are generally issued in all road traffic accident cases they are only settled where compensation is received and then forwarded to hospitals. Compensation may be significantly reduced in cases where contributory negligence is established. In the event of a person failing to obtain a compensation award, that person will only be liable for the normal statutory and maintenance charges, where applicable.

The administration of the charging system is a matter for the Health Service Executive and my Department has no function in this regard.

Hospital Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

164 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 88 of 22 March 2005, when a reply will be furnished; the procedures in her Department to ensure that replies to parliamentary questions are furnished within an appropriate timeframe; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14095/05]

I understand that the Health Service Executive's western area has outlined in its letter, dated 27 April 2005, the position on the issues raised by the Deputy in his Parliamentary Question No. 88 of 22 March 2005. My Department has requested the Health Service Executive to reply to the Deputy concerning the procedures it has in place to respond to parliamentary questions about its responsibility to manage and deliver or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health, personal and social services.

Hospital Staff.

Denis Naughten

Question:

165 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 87 of 22 March 2005, when a reply will be furnished; the procedures in her Department to ensure that replies to parliamentary questions are furnished within an appropriate timeframe; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14096/05]

I understand the Health Service Executive, western area outlined in its letter dated 27 April 2005 the position regarding the issues raised by the Deputy in his Parliamentary Question No. 87 of 22 March 2005. My Department has requested the Health Service Executive to reply to the Deputy with regard to the procedures it has in place to respond to parliamentary questions relating to its responsibility to manage and deliver or arrange to have delivered on its behalf health, personal and social services.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

166 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of accident and emergency beds available to the HSE in hospitals throughout the State; and the number of patients presenting to accident and emergency annually for the past five years. [14106/05]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

176 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of new acute hospital beds which have come on stream; the number of existing beds which have been freed up as a result of her ten point plan to address the accident and emergency crisis; the location of these beds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14242/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 166 and 176 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. Accordingly, my Department has requested the interim chief executive of the Health Service Executive to reply to the Deputies directly regarding the number of accident and emergency beds available to the Health Service Executive and the number of beds which will be freed up through the implementation of the ten point plan.

Since 2001, funding has been provided to open an additional 900 inpatient beds and day places in acute hospitals throughout the country. Health agencies have informed the Department that at the end of March 2005, 713 of these beds were in place. The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the remaining beds will come on stream before the end of 2005. The following table shows the number of accident and emergency attendances for the past five years.

Casualty attendances

2000

1,214,154

2001

1,228,406

2002

1,213,669

2003

1,211,071

2004

1,240,241

Source: Integrated Management Returns, IMRs, Department of Health and Children.

Medical Aids and Appliances.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

167 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when payment will be sanctioned for a replacement artificial limb for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [14108/05]

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 aids and appliances. 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.

Proposed Legislation.

Denis Naughten

Question:

168 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she intends to publish legislation to refund nursing home over-payments; if the legislation will address the issue of charges in private nursing homes as well as public institutions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14109/05]

A special Cabinet sub-committee comprising the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, the Attorney General, Mr. Brady, and I has been established to consider the issue of repayment in light of the Supreme Court 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.

Persons who were in publicly contracted beds in private nursing homes are covered by the terms of the Supreme Court judgment. The Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990 regulates the private nursing home sector. Under the nursing home subvention regulations the Health Service Executive makes a financial contribution to an individual towards the cost of his or her private nursing home care provided he or she qualifies on means and dependency grounds. The provisions of the Supreme Court judgment do not apply to individuals in private nursing homes who have entered these homes under the nursing home subvention scheme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

169 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she intends to publish legislation to facilitate the improvement of food labelling; the title of such legislation; the discussions her Department has had with the Department of Agriculture and Food on the issue; the details of such discussions and dates; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14110/05]

Food labelling by its nature encompasses a particularly broad spectrum and in these circumstances officials in my Department are in regular communication with officials in other Departments and agencies to ensure a balanced and co-ordinated approach to labelling issues both at national and international level.

Consumers should be in a position to make food consumption choices which best suit their circumstances and preferences and an appropriate labelling system is a key element to enable this informed choice. In this regard the Deputy may note that I have recently signed a statutory instrument to effect the transposition of EU Directive 2003/89/EC which will facilitate a real improvement in food labelling. The new regulation abolishes the 25% compound ingredient listing exemption and makes it compulsory to list all ingredients in a food with the exception of a small number of particular cases. In addition, from 25 November next it will be compulsory to list on the labelling specified allergens whenever they or ingredients originating from them are used in foods, including alcoholic drinks. This will ensure that consumers suffering from food allergies and intolerances or those who wish to avoid eating certain ingredients for any other reason can identify those ingredients they may need or wish to eliminate from their diet.

At European level the Commission proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on nutrition and health claims is nearing completion of First Reading. The proposal specifies conditions for the use of nutrition and health claims made on foods and aims to ensure consumers receive accurate and meaningful information while allowing food producers to use serious and scientifically substantiated claims as a marketing tool.

At national level discussions are ongoing between my Department and the Department of Agriculture and Food on the question of the introduction of national measures to require the country of origin to be displayed in respect of beef served in the restaurant and catering sector. We are considering the options available in terms of the legal mechanisms to give effect to such labelling. However, as it will be necessary to consult with the European Commission regarding the proposed measures, I am not in a position to give an indication as to when country of origin labelling will be introduced to this sector.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Denis Naughten

Question:

170 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of respite places for adults and children with an intellectual disability in counties Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim and Westmeath, respectively; the waiting list and times for such services for adults and children respectively in each county; the action which is being taken to address this shortfall; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14118/05]

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.

Opticians Regulations.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

171 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department will permit a person to sell and distribute glasses and prescription lenses through the Internet with the prescription end of this being handled in the United Kingdom; if this is not already permitted, if she will consider allowing the establishment of such a service to enable the public to avail of extremely large savings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14127/05]

Bord na Raharcmhastóirí, the Opticians Board, is the regulatory body for the opticians professions in Ireland. It is a body corporate established under the Opticians Act 1956 and provides for the registration and control of opticians and related matters. The prescription, dispensing and sale of spectacles in this jurisdiction are regulated under the Opticians Acts 1956 and 2003 and the rules made under the Acts by the Opticians Board. Where such activities or one or more of them take place in another jurisdiction, such as in the UK, their regulation would be a matter for the relevant authorities in that jurisdiction and as such would not be a matter within the remit of the Opticians Board.

Infectious Diseases.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

172 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will liaise with a person (details supplied) to develop an all-Ireland strategy to deal with the threat of a potential avian flu outbreak. [14132/05]

Officials of my Department and representatives of the National Disease Surveillance Centre met their Northern Ireland counterparts last year to discuss issues of mutual interest, including influenza pandemic planning. It was agreed that a further meeting would be held when the Health Service Executive population health management team is in place. It is expected that this meeting will take place in June. I have no plans at present to meet with the Northern Ireland Health Minister, Ms Angela Smith MP, to discuss this issue but will do so if the need arises.

Mental Health Services.

Dan Neville

Question:

173 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the budget to the mental health service as a percentage of the total health budget for each year since 1997. [14202/05]

The following table shows the budget of the mental health service as a percentage of the total health budget for each year from 1997 to 2004.

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

€000m

€000m

€000m

€000m

€000m

€000m

€000m

€000m

326,841

347,471

394,546

433,654

497,061

563,690

619,466

716,798

8.96%

8.60%

8.21%

7.73%

7.09%

6.90%

6.82%

7.34%

In 2005, the Estimate for spending on mental health services as set out in the Health Service Executive Vote in the recently published Revised Estimates for Public Services 2005 is €766 million. This equates to 7.1% of the total current Health Service Executive funding of €10.975 billion when account is taken of a once-off technical provision of €217 million arising from the establishment of that Vote.

Suicide Incidence.

Dan Neville

Question:

174 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of suicides in 2004 by age and gender. [14203/05]

Data on mortality are compiled by the Central Statistics Office and published in the annual and quarterly reports on vital statistics. The latest period for which data are available is January to September 2004. These figures,which are provisional, are set out in the tables following.

Table 1

Number of Deaths from Suicide by Age Group and Quarter, January to September, 2004.

Age Group

January to March

April to June

July to September

Total January to September

5-14 years

0

1

0

1

15-24 years

7

29

14

50

25-34 years

14

22

16

52

35-44 years

15

30

10

55

45-54 years

4

31

11

46

55-64 years

8

20

11

39

65-74 years

4

3

4

11

75-84 years

2

4

1

7

85 years and over

0

0

0

0

All Ages

54

140

67

261

Table 2

Number of Deaths from Suicide by Gender and Quarter, January to September, 2004

Gender

January to March

April to June

July to September

Total January to September

Male

40

101

59

200

Female

14

39

8

61

Total

54

140

67

261

Hospitals Building Programme.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

175 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a decision will be conveyed by her Department to the Health Service Executive in the matter of approval to proceed to the appointment of a design team for the key oncology and haematology section at Waterford Regional Hospital (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14212/05]

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 HSE service plan for 2005 was recently approved by me and, as required by relevant legislation, laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The detailed capital funding programme for hospitals for 2005 is being finalised in the context of the capital investment framework 2005-09. This process will 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 for 2005 or beyond. A decision on the appointment of a design team for the proposed oncology-haematology unit at Waterford Regional Hospital will be made in the context of the agreed capital framework for the executive.

Question No. 176 answered with QuestionNo. 166.

Hospital Accommodation.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

177 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if extra beds will be provided in Cavan General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14243/05]

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 matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

178 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she expects all the facilities anticipated, including the use of all theatres and back-up facilities, to become fully functional with adequate staff at Naas General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14250/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

181 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she expects to be in a position to provide the extra beds necessary at Naas General Hospital, having particular regard to the need to discontinue the use of trolleys in lieu of beds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14253/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

182 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she expects the next phase in the Naas General Hospital development plan to proceed; the anticipated cost; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14254/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

183 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason all staff vacancies at medical, surgical and nursing levels at Naas General Hospital have not been filled; her plans to address this issue at an early date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14255/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

184 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing, medical or surgical staff available on a daily basis at the accident and emergency department of Naas General Hospital; the extent to which this is sufficient to meet requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14256/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 178 and 181 to 184, inclusive, 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. This includes responsibility for services at Naas General Hospital. Accordingly, 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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

179 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if extra funding will be offered to Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, to expand facilities in the neurological department for patients who suffer with epilepsy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14251/05]

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 to persons with epilepsy. Services at Beaumont Hospital are provided under an arrangement with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

180 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will be offered orthodontic treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14252/05]

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 orthodontic services. 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.

Questions Nos. 181 to 184, inclusive, answered with Question No. 178.

Infectious Diseases.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

185 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of hospitals in respect of which there have been reports of incidences of MRSA in each of the past three years; the extent to which an investigation took place into the cause in each case; and the subsequent action taken; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14257/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

186 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of cases of MRSA reported in each of the past three years; the degree to which this infection is on the increase; the action taken to address the issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14258/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 185 and 186 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. This includes responsibility for infection control including the control of MRSA. Accordingly, my Department has requested the director of the National Hospitals Office to investigate the matters raised regarding the number of hospitals in respect of which there have been reports of incidences of MRSA in each of the past three years, the extent to which an investigation took place into the cause in each case and the subsequent action taken and to reply direct to the Deputy in this regard.

MRSA, methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, is a resistant form of staphylococcus aureus. The health protection surveillance centre, HPSC, collects data on MRSA bacteraemia, also known as bloodstream infection or "blood poisoning", as part of the European antimicrobial resistance surveillance system, EARSS. In 2002, 445 cases of MRSA bacteraemia were notified to the HPSC while 477 cases were notified in 2003. Provisional figures for 2004 indicate that 533 cases of MRSA bacteraemia were notified last year. However, it should be borne in mind that the number of laboratories notifying cases increased in 2004 and thus a direct comparison between these years is probably not valid as it may just reflect the increased number of participating laboratories.

To address the issue of antimicrobial resistance, including MRSA, the strategy for the control of antimicrobial resistance in Ireland, SARI, was launched in June 2001. Since then, approximately €20.5 million in funding has been made available by my Department under the strategy, of which approximately €4.5 million has been allocated in the current year. This SARI funding is in addition to normal hospital funding arrangements on infection control.

In 1995 a Department of Health committee comprising representatives from my Department, consultant microbiologists, specialists in public health medicine, general practice and a representative from the association of infection control nurses produced a set of guidelines for the management of MRSA in acute hospital wards, including specialist units. The implementation and operation of these guidelines in acute hospitals is a matter for those hospitals in the first instance. These guidelines have been widely circulated and include an information leaflet for patients.

The infection control sub-committee of the national SARI committee recently prepared draft guidelines on the control of MRSA in hospitals and community health care settings. The key recommendations cover such areas as environmental cleanliness, bed occupancy levels, isolation facilities, hand hygiene, appropriate antibiotic use and protocols for the screening and detection of MRSA. These draft guidelines, based on the best evidence available internationally, are a key component in the response to MRSA in Ireland. The recommendations, when signed off by the National Hospitals Office of the HSE, will replace guidelines issued by this Department in 1995 on MRSA.

At national level, MRSA bacteraemia has been included since 1 January 2004 in the revised list of notifiable diseases under the infectious diseases regulations. As such laboratories are now legally required to report cases of serious MRSA infection to the departments of public health and the HPSC. The reporting process for MRSA bacteraemia remains the same for now, that is, direct reporting to the HPSC via the EARSS protocol which is done on a quarterly basis. As MRSA bacteraemia is a laboratory diagnosed disease, notification is done per clinical laboratory rather than on a hospital by hospital basis.

Effective infection control measures, including environmental cleanliness and hand hygiene, are central to the control of hospital acquired infections, including drug resistant organisms such as MRSA. The HSE and hospital managers have corporate responsibility for infection control. Infection control, including hand hygiene, is a key component in the control of MRSA. The SARI infection control sub-committee released national guidelines for hand hygiene in health care settings during 2004, which have been widely circulated by the HPSC and are available on the HPSC's website,www.hspc.ie. The ten point plan for accident and emergency which I announced in November 2004 includes provision for dedicated cleaning services and recognises the importance of hospital cleanliness. The National Hospitals Office of the Health Service Executive has identified the auditing and targeting of infection control initiatives and the enhancement of cleanliness of hospitals as priorities in its service plan for 2005.

Mental Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

187 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the way in which the Mental Health Commission deals with complaints; the criteria it uses when investigating complaints against mental health service providers; and its role in involving the families of patients. [14259/05]

I am informed by the Mental Health Commission that, in general, it receives complaints directly from patients or from their families and-or relatives. The Mental Health Commission also receives complaints through third parties, including elected representatives. Complaints can be broadly divided into two main categories: clinical and non-clinical.

I understand that in responding to these complaints, the Mental Health Commission is guided by a number of principles and relevant legislative provisions. The patient's best interest is a primary consideration. This includes the patient's right to confidentiality. In some instances, therefore, complaints received from families cannot be dealt with if the patient declines to give his or her consent to information being shared with another party. If a patient detained under the provisions of the Mental Treatment Act 1945 writes to the Inspector of Mental Health Services seeking a review of the detention order, the inspector makes contact with the treating consultant psychiatrist and seeks documentation on the detention. The inspector then advises the patient of the status of the documentation and detention order. The Mental Health Act 2001, when fully commenced, will introduce a new independent review system for people admitted involuntarily to psychiatric units or hospitals.

I am informed by the Mental Health Commission that the provision of additional information and enhanced communication between the patient, family and service providers can often address the complaints submitted to it. The commission is finalising a model for the handling of complaints by service providers within the mental health services. When the model is finalised discussions will take place between the commission and all the service providers to facilitate the introduction of a comprehensive complaints system within the individual agencies.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

188 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE and the St. John of God service provider will put a care plan in place to assist a person (details supplied) in Dublin 16 and work closely with their family on this matter. [14260/05]

Finian McGrath

Question:

189 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the assessment of needs for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 16; and if they will receive the maximum support and care. [14261/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 188 and 189 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. Accordingly, 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.

Mental Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

190 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding services for persons with a mental illness in the Dublin area, particularly in relation to supported community housing schemes and groups that assist these persons in sheltered accommodation or community housing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14262/05]

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 mental health services. Accordingly, 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.

Nursing Home Charges.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

191 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who have applied to the Health Service Executive for repayment of charges for publicly funded long-term residential care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14276/05]

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 administration of the repayment of such charges. Accordingly, my Department has requested that the HSE make inquiries in this matter and reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Procedures.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

192 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is proposed to enable general anaesthetists to upskill in paediatrics in order that emergency services and interventions can be provided to critically ill infants at general hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14277/05]

The further training for specialists in anaesthesia is a matter for the College of Anaesthetists of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

As the Deputy is aware, 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 acute hospitals. Accordingly, my Department has requested the director of the executive's National Hospitals Office to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

193 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the provision that is made in hospital accident and emergency departments, occupational therapy and other clinics to assist patients with sensory disabilities who are unable to understand spoken announcements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14278/05]

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 capital infrastructure, including the current provision made in health facilities for people with sensory disabilities. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Health Service Executive's National Hospitals Office to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

John McGuinness

Question:

194 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to previous parliamentary questions and the unsatisfactory reply issued by the Health Service Executive in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Carlow, the reason there are no dates available for admission at Cork University Hospital until 20 September 2005 as stated in the reply; the further reason planned admissions and elective admissions have been cancelled at the hospital due to the accident and emergency trolley situation as stated in the reply; the action she has taken or intends to take in the matter; if this person will be admitted as an urgent case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14279/05]

As I explained to the Deputy, the Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which has 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 Carlow, my Department has again asked the chief officer for the executive's south-eastern area to respond to the Deputy on the issues raised.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

195 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress she is making to ensure that the funding of €400,000 in 2005 earmarked by her Department for sheltered housing for the elderly by voluntary housing bodies towards on-site care costs is being administered; the actions she will put in place to expedite this process in order that this money is allocated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14280/05]

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. Accordingly, my Department has requested the national director for primary, community and continuing care at the HSE to investigate the matter raised as a matter of urgency and to reply direct to the Deputy.

Medical Records.

Seamus Healy

Question:

196 Mr. Healy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make urgent inquiries regarding the non-availability of medical records for a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14304/05]

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 south Tipperary, my Department has asked the chief officer for the executive's south-eastern area to respond to the Deputy directly.

Hospital Staff.

Dermot Fitzpatrick

Question:

197 Dr. Fitzpatrick asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when funding will be made available for the appointment of a second consultant ortho-geriatrician post at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14338/05]

Dermot Fitzpatrick

Question:

198 Dr. Fitzpatrick asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when finance will be allocated for the refurbishment of the old surgical A and B wards at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14339/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 197 and 198 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. This includes responsibility for services at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown. Accordingly, 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.

Medical Cards.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

199 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the entitlements of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12 by virtue of the full medical card, the over 70 medical card and the doctor only medical card schemes; the differences between the first and second and the first and third schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14343/05]

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.

People who hold medical cards, including all those aged 70 and over, are entitled to free general practitioner medical and surgical services under the GMS scheme and may also avail of a range of approved prescribed drugs and medicines from community pharmacies.

The doctor visit card entitles people to free general practitioner medical and surgical service under the GMS scheme. People with this card will not be entitled to free drugs and medicines but they will be entitled to avail of drugs and medicines under the drugs payment scheme which ensures that no person or family unit pays in excess of €85 per calendar month.

Inter-Country Adoptions.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

200 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 189 and 200 of 20 October 2004, the position on inter-country adoptions with Belarus; if there is an international agreement between Ireland and Belarus on adoption; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14353/05]

Arrangements with the central authorities in relation to inter-country adoption are primarily a matter for the Adoption Board. The board has remained in regular contact with the Belorussian authorities since inter-country adoptions were suspended in October 2004 and has had a number of very positive meetings with the Belorussian ambassador to Ireland since then. At the most recent meeting on 30 April 2005, the ambassador confirmed that the Belorussian authorities will be focusing their efforts on providing for domestic adoption placements and on fostering arrangements within Belarus, as is required under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. The number of children eligible for inter-country adoption will considerably reduce as a result and foreign citizens will have to wait for long periods to adopt a child in the Republic of Belarus. The authorities in Belarus are compiling a register of children eligible for inter-country adoption. To date they have been unable to clarify how long this is going to take.

Medicinal Products.

Enda Kenny

Question:

201 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the recommendation of the European Medicines Agency that two classes of antidepressants should not be used in children and adolescents except in their approved indications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14354/05]

As the competent authority for the regulation of medicinal products in Ireland, the Irish Medicines Board assesses the safety, quality and efficacy of medicinal products. The matter raised by the Deputy is one which falls within the IMB's remit.

The use of antidepressants in children and adolescents has been the subject of continuous review at both national and EU level for some time and the IMB has actively participated in this review. With regard to the classes of antidepressants referred to by the Deputy, the board is aware of the recommendation of the European Medicines Agency and supports it. These products are not licensed for use in the treatment of depression in children in Ireland. Doctors can prescribe these products for individual patients if they feel they may be of benefit but they are advised to exercise caution. Alternative treatments for childhood depression, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, may be prescribed by child psychiatrists.

Enda Kenny

Question:

202 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons under 18 years of age being prescribed antidepressants on the medical card scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14355/05]

The number of medical card holders under 18 years for whom antidepressants were prescribed in 2004 was 2,541.

Waste Disposal.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

203 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for her refusal to meet the Cork Harbour Alliance for a Safe Environment to discuss the health implications of the proposal for a toxic waste incinerator in Ringaskiddy, County Cork. [14356/05]

In January 2005 my Department responded to the group referred to by the Deputy indicating that I was unable to meet it due to the heavy schedule of Government and departmental business at the time. At my request, my Department forwarded the invitation to my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who has primary responsibility for the issue of waste management.

Medical Cards.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

204 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when doctor-only medical card application forms will be available to the public. [14357/05]

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 in respect of eligibility for health services. Accordingly, my Department has referred the matter raised by the Deputy to the Health Service Executive's director of primary, community and continuing care for direct reply.

Nursing Homes Inspectorate.

John McGuinness

Question:

205 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on establishing an independent inspectorate to check standards in nursing homes, both public and private; the likely cost on an annualised basis of establishing such an agency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14367/05]

Regulations governing standards in the private nursing home sector are set out in the Nursing Home (Care and Welfare) Regulations 1993. These regulations only cover standards in the private nursing home sector. However, there are commitments in the health strategy, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You, Sustaining Progress and An Agreed Programme for Government on the establishment of the social services inspectorate on a statutory basis and the extension of its remit to other social services including residential services for older people. It has been proposed that the inspectorate will take on responsibility for the intellectual disability area in the first instance before moving on to services for older people.

In the interim, work has been carried out in a number of Health Service Executive areas on developing standards for residential care for older people. At the same time, the Irish Health Services Accreditation Board has commenced work on examining the development of accreditation standards for residential care for older people, both public and private. In this regard it is developing a pilot programme which includes both public long-stay units and private nursing homes.

I intend to include the necessary legislative provisions in the health information and quality authority Bill due to be published later this year.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

206 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funding being allocated for cancer services in 2005. [14368/05]

The letters of determination which issued to former health boards-health authority last December provided for an additional €12 million in 2005 for increased oncology services nationally. In addition, €11.5 million was allocated to commission the new radiation oncology department at University College Hospital, Galway, which received €9.5 million, and to expand capacity at the radiation oncology department at Cork University Hospital, which received €2 million.

Information Communications Technology.

John McGuinness

Question:

207 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funding being allocated in 2005 by health services for investment in information and communication systems; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14369/05]

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 information and communications technology. Accordingly, my Department has requested the national director of ICT for the Health Service Executive to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Accident and Emergency Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

208 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will consider new arrangements for accident and emergency services in order that those whose need does not stem from abuse of alcohol are seen in a separate unit from those whose presence in hospital is due to alcohol consumption; if such a change would involve any additional costs; if so, the amount of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14370/05]

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. Accordingly, my Department has requested the director of the National Hospitals Office to reply to the Deputy directly in relation to the issue raised.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

209 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the level of funding her Department is providing to purchase additional step-down beds to alleviate overcrowding in accident and emergency units; the Health Service Executive regions these beds are to be provided in; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14446/05]

I announced a ten point plan aimed at improving the delivery of accident and emergency services on the publication of the Estimates for 2005. Additional funding of €70 million is available to the Health Services Executive this year for these initiatives, which include measures to allow for the discharge of patients from acute beds to a more appropriate setting. These measures are being progressed by the HSE as a matter of urgency.

On the specific information requested by the Deputy, my Department has asked the chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

210 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department has assessed an application from the Health Service Executive, mid-west region for an extension to the accident and emergency unit at the Mid-West Regional Hospital, Limerick; when she will make a decision on the application; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14447/05]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

211 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department has assessed an application from the Health Service Executive, mid-west region for an extension to the accident and emergency unit at Nenagh General Hospital; when she will make a decision on the application; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14448/05]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

212 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department has assessed an application from the Health Service Executive, mid-west region for an extension to the accident and emergency unit at Ennis General Hospital; when she will make a decision on the application; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14449/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 210 to 212, inclusive, 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. This includes responsibility for the development of accident and emergency services in hospitals. Accordingly, my Department has requested the interim chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive to reply to the Deputy directly about the matter raised.

Cross-Border Projects.

Barry Andrews

Question:

213 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Finance the number of EU programmes aimed at peace and reconciliation; the funding which Ireland provides towards their operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14062/05]

The EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the Border region of Ireland, commonly called PEACE II, is the programme to which the Deputy refers. The aim of this unique EU programme is to promote reconciliation and help to build a more peaceful and stable society in Northern Ireland and the six southern bordering counties, Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth. It has a strong bottom-up and cross-Border focus; a minimum of 15% of funds are allocated to cross-Border activities in the public, private and community sectors. PEACE II also concentrates on those areas, groups and sectors which have suffered most from the Troubles. Projects must demonstrate capacity to promote reconciliation and peace-building.

The PEACE II programme has five priorities economic renewal, social integration, inclusion and reconciliation, locally-based regeneration and development strategies, outward and forward looking regions and cross-Border co-operation.

PEACE I ran from 1994 to 1999 and the duration of PEACE II was supposed to be from 2000 to 2004. However, following a joint initiative from the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister the European Council announced its support in June 2004 for an extension of the programme for a further two years to 2006. This extension will bring it in line with other structural fund programmes. The Border region received €106 million between 2000 and 2004 and this was matched with €35 million by the Irish Exchequer.

The EU also provides approximately €15 million each year to the International Fund for Ireland, IFI, which was established by the Irish and British Governments in 1986 to promote economic and social advance and to promote contact, dialogue and reconciliation between Nationalists and Unionists throughout Ireland. The IFI also receives funding from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Wheelchair Access.

Mary Upton

Question:

214 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Finance if he will review the accessibility of a Garda station (details supplied) in Dublin 12 to persons who are wheelchair-bound; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14126/05]

As part of the OPW's universal access programme, an accessibility audit is first carried out to determine the level of works required to make a premises fully accessible to all persons. The accessibility audit is requested in the first instance by the relevant Department, in this case the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In the matter of the Garda station in Dublin 12, a request has not been received by the OPW.

Asylum Support Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

215 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance the details of the settlement reached with the residents of Dublin Road, Kilkenny, relative to the site at Leggetsrath, Dublin Road, Kilkenny, which was leased for use by the RIA; the total legal costs borne by his Department; the total rent paid by his Department; the date the lease ended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14201/05]

I refer to my reply to Question No. 332 of 12 April 2005. The position is unchanged.

Tax Code.

Seán Haughey

Question:

216 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Finance if he will introduce measures to allow persons with various illnesses such as diabetes who cannot obtain life assurance, to obtain a house purchase mortgage from a building society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14426/05]

Section 126 of the Consumer Credit Act 1995, which requires mortgage lenders to arrange mortgage protection insurance, provides for an exemption from this requirement in respect of certain loans, including in subsection 2(b), “loans to persons who belong to a class of persons which would not be acceptable to an insurer, or which would only be acceptable to an insurer at a premium significantly higher than that payable by borrowers generally,”.

The 1987 regulations, which introduced this requirement for building societies, contain a similar exemption in respect of persons who would not be acceptable to an insurer on health grounds.

The decision to grant a mortgage is a commercial decision, at the discretion of the lender, and there are many factors, other than the insurability of the borrower, which would also have to be considered.

Jack Wall

Question:

217 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance the liability a person has in relation to the payment of capital gains tax (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13917/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the taxpayer will be chargeable to capital gains tax on her share of the gain, unless she is entitled to retirement relief.

On the transfer of an asset from one spouse to another the spouse acquiring the asset is deemed to have acquired it at the same time and for the same consideration as the other spouse. Accordingly, the chargeable gain is computed by reference to the original cost.

Under section 598 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, an individual who is 55 years or over may obtain retirement relief from capital gains tax on the sale of "qualifying assets". "Qualifying assets" include land used for the purposes of farming carried on by an individual which he/she has owned for a period of at least ten years ending on the date of the sale and which he/she has used for farming throughout that ten year period. As the taxpayer is regarded as having acquired her interest in the land 18 years ago it will treated as a "qualifying asset" providing she has farmed it throughout the period of ten years ending with its sale.

Full retirement relief is available where the proceeds from the disposal do not exceed €500,000. In that 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 — 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 disposal of the property is to a child, and the individual meets the above conditions, the gain is exempt from capital gains tax irrespective of the amount of the proceeds.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

218 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance when a P45 will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14039/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a form P45 issued to the taxpayer at his home address on Monday 25 April 2005.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

219 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Finance his plans to reintroduce a tax incentive scheme to encourage the restoration of derelict buildings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14043/05]

There has never been a tax incentive scheme targeted exclusively at the restoration of derelict buildings in general. However, there are provisions under the area-based tax incentive schemes such as the urban renewal scheme, the town renewal scheme, the rural renewal scheme and the countrywide refurbishment scheme for tax relief in respect of refurbishment and conversion expenditure incurred on certain properties. There is no requirement under these schemes that qualifying properties must be derelict.

In the 2005 budget I directed my Department, together with the Revenue Commissioners, to undertake a thorough evaluation of the effects of all relevant tax incentive reliefs including certain area-based schemes. I also confirmed in the budget that the termination dates laid down previously in the 2004 Finance Act in respect of a number of area-based tax incentive schemes would remain unchanged.

I have been informed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that section 23 of the Derelict Sites Act 1990 provides for the imposition of an annual derelict sites levy in respect of urban land registered by the relevant local authority for the purposes of the Act. The amount of this levy is 3% of the market value of the urban land concerned and remains payable until such time as the land ceases to be derelict. Revenues from the derelict sites levy may be applied by a local authority for the purpose of their functions generally and may be directed to the purchase of lands at the discretion of the local authority. I am satisfied this levy, consistently applied and rigorously enforced, constitutes a sufficient financial incentive to property owners to eliminate dereliction. Consequently, I have no proposals to introduce a tax incentive scheme for the restoration of derelict buildings.

EU Directives.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

220 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Finance when he intends to sign into law the EU public procurement directive; and the practical applications of the directive which are being considered for use once it is signed into law. [14100/05]

The revised EU public procurement directives must be transposed into the laws of member states by 30 January 2006. I intend to meet this deadline. The revised directives contain optional new provisions for modernising public procurement, including the use of electronic means in purchasing and greater flexibility in procedures for the award of more complex contracts. Ireland intends to avail of the new provisions which will be important in helping to implement the Government's national strategy for public procurement.

Enviromental Policy.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

221 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works will set an example for private sector developers and require that building contracts it commissions use a percentage of products such as green cement to help achieve the national climate change reduction targets. [14101/05]

The Office of Public Works will soon require the specification and use of more environmentally friendly cement in publicly funded construction projects, in compliance with EU procurement and environmental policies and the Government's policy statement on architecture which includes the concept of sustainable development.

Tax Code.

Paul McGrath

Question:

222 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider a tax credit similar to the PAYE tax credit to recipients of foreign pensions, in cases in which it is their sole income, to put these pensioners on an equal footing to recipients of Irish contributory pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14122/05]

Entitlement to the employee PAYE tax credit in respect of a foreign occupational pension in this case is subject to meeting all the following statutory conditions: The foreign pension is chargeable to tax in the country in which it arises and, on payment, is subject to a system of tax deduction at source in that country similar in form to Irish PAYE deductions; the foreign pension is fully chargeable to tax in this State; and the pension, if it arose in this State, would be subject to PAYE deductions.

As the person's pension is neither chargeable to tax nor subjected to any form of tax deduction in the state in which it arises owing due to the provisions of the double taxation agreement between Ireland and the United Kingdom, the above criteria are not met and the employee tax credit is not due.

I have asked my Department, in conjunction with the Revenue Commissioners, to look at the points raised by the Deputy in this case as regards the treatment of such pensions under the law. I will communicate further with the Deputy in due course.

Inland Fisheries.

John McGuinness

Question:

223 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance the plans he has to construct a proper fish pass at Lacken Weir, Kilkenny, in light of the failure of the existing fish pass to function as evidenced in recent months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14198/05]

The Office of Public Works, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Southern Regional Fisheries Board have carried out a tripartite review of the problems associated with the functioning of the fish pass at Lacken Weir, Kilkenny. The review has established that modification of the existing fish pass will resolve the issue. The modifications required include the extension of the existing pass by about three metres and the construction of a pool below the extended pass and a channel leading to the pass. A draft design for these works is being prepared by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. It is anticipated that the works will be undertaken under safe conditions this summer.

Departmental Properties.

John McGuinness

Question:

224 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance the date of purchase and the purchase price of properties (details supplied); the cost of maintenance and security on each property to date; if each is not in use and if so, for what purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14199/05]

The property in County Carlow was purchased by the Office of Public Works on behalf of the reception and integration agency of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the sum of €1,333,225. The security and other costs incurred on the property from its acquisition until its transfer to the Department of Health and Children in August 2002 was €176,509.98.

The Commissioners of Public Works, acting on the agency's behalf, purchased the property in County Cork in October 2000 for €3,549,711. The total security and other costs incurred on the property to date are €677,000. The property is the subject of judicial review proceedings.

The Commissioners of Public Works, again acting on behalf of my Department's agency, purchased the property in County Dublin in June 2000 for €9,205,601. The security and other costs incurred on the property to date are €620,000. The commissioners are in negotiations with the Health Service Executive regarding the future use of the property.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.

Seamus Kirk

Question:

225 Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider introducing a special incentive savings scheme for persons under the age of 21 with a view to reducing their spending power for binge drinking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14297/05]

I have no plans to introduce such a scheme as outlined by the Deputy.

Tax Yield.

John Curran

Question:

226 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Finance the revenues accruing to the Exchequer from the vehicle registration tax in 2004. [14336/05]

The provisional figure for revenue from vehicle registration tax in 2004 was €946 million.

Tax Code.

John Curran

Question:

227 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider introducing a vehicle registration tax equalisation system in order that the owners of used cars which are exported abroad receive a proportionate refund of VRT paid; the likely cost of such a system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14337/05]

I have no plans to introduce a scheme along the lines proposed.

Universities Act.

Enda Kenny

Question:

228 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the conditions that must be met to allow for the alteration of university statutes, in cases in which such alteration might have an implication for public service retirement age; if consent for any such alteration must be received from his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14345/05]

The alteration of university statutes is, in general, a matter for the relevant governing body. However, if the alteration of a statute concerns a change in pension terms or retirement age, it would be deemed to be an amendment to the pension scheme and would, therefore, under the provisions of the Universities Act 1997, require the approval of the Higher Education Authority and the consent of the Ministers for Education and Science and Finance.

Tax Yield.

John McGuinness

Question:

229 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance the amount paid by deposit holding institutions in corporation tax in 2004. [14366/05]

The estimated corporation tax paid in 2004 by all banks, their Irish subsidiaries, building societies and banks in the Irish Financial Services Centre was €580 million. It is not possible to identify and exclude any taxpaying banks which may not have a deposit-taking facility without conducting an extensive investigation. This figure does not include any foreign tax paid by Irish financial institutions in respect of their overseas operations, which is likely to be significant.

Sugar Beet Sector.

Denis Naughten

Question:

230 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance the meetings held with the Department of Transport regarding the provision of time slots by Iarnród Éireann to accommodate two sugar beet trains from the Portlaoise depot to Mallow in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14417/05]

I met officials from Iarnród Éireann on two occasions regarding the provision of a beet depot in Portlaoise. A representative of mine met Iarnród Éireann on three occasions and was in constant communication with them regarding this issue.

The first meeting took place on 8 February 2005. At this meeting Iarnród Éireann stated that Portlaoise was the preferred site of Iarnród Éireann, from a technical and efficiency point of view, for a rail depot to transport beet to Mallow. Subsequent meetings took place at the proposed site of the rail depot in Portlaoise, which were attended by the area manager and senior engineer from Iarnród Éireann. In a subsequent letter to me, Iarnród Éireann outlined that subject to certain conditions, it would be possible to run six trains per day from Portlaoise to Mallow, each with a capacity of 560 tonnes. However on the insistence of Irish Sugar and with the agreement of the Irish Farmers Association it was decided to locate the depot at Milford on the Waterford rail line.

I have spoken to the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, and officials in his Department regarding this issue on a number of occasions. On 27 April 2005 I wrote to the Minister to specifically outline my concerns at the hazardous increase in trucks, approximately 400, on the road to transport beet to Mallow in the absence of a rail depot servicing the Carlow factory catchment area. A meeting has been arranged for Thursday, 5 May 2005 between officials from Iarnród Éireann, Members of the Oireachtas from Laois and Offaly and representatives from the Irish Farmers Association to discuss the matter further.

Post Office Network.

Billy Timmins

Question:

231 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding the serious threat to the future of post offices unless action is taken by the Government; the steps the Government is taking to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13929/05]

The Government is committed to a viable and sustainable rural post office network providing a range of services to meet consumer needs as set out in the programme for Government. This commitment is illustrated by the Government injection of €12.7 million into the network in 2003 to facilitate modernisation measures. The Government has strongly supported An Post initiatives such as the channelling of new utility and banking services through the network. In addition, An Post has introduced the new service delivery models to improve access to and take-up of post office services.

This network is geared towards customer demand in both urban and rural locations. Notwithstanding the commercial remit of the network, there is a clear recognition of the social benefits of a nationwide service. The network must be adaptable to changing circumstances and trends but the core objective of the Government and An Post continues to be the retention of access to post offices services in as many locations as possible in the manner which best meets consumer needs, whether services are provided via post office, postal agencies or the postpoint network. The main business developments in 2004 are the collection of Garda fines scheduled for 2005; Barclaycard credit card payments; 800,000 new bill payment transactions for the ESB; Tele 2 bill payments; and Dublin City Council commercial bin tags payments.

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. Nevertheless, An Post is now moving to undertake a pilot project which would see ten manual post offices automated to gauge the effect on business. Furthermore, An Post will undertake a fundamental reappraisal of the post office network. The objective of this exercise is to build on the existing strengths in terms of nationwide network, strong brand recognition and high footfall and to devise a suite of products and services to meet current and future needs of post office customers. This strategy will provide the road map for future service delivery throughout the network.

The level of remuneration for postmasters-postmistresses is a contractual matter between An Post and the individuals concerned. Contracts in place between An Post and members of the Irish Postmasters Union are of a commercial nature and are based in some cases on the level of transactions carried out by individual offices. The issue of social welfare payments being paid through the post office network is a matter for the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

Postal Services.

John Perry

Question:

232 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason up to 300 former employees of An Post have not yet received 7% pension entitlements under the Sustaining Progress agreement; the progress made on the conclusion of the negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13971/05]

The authority to implement pension increases was delegated to An Post, subject to certain conditions, as this activity was considered part of the day-to-day operations of the company. This allowed the company to implement pension increases following pay increases to employees. However, decisions outside the scope of the original delegated authority still require the consent of the Ministers for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Finance.

Following a proposal from the board of An Post to amend the existing pension increase terms of An Post, in this instance, my Department and the Department of Finance undertook a review of the situation. While I fully empathise with An Post pensioners for the position they find themselves in owing to the failure of An Post management and unions to reach agreement on implementation of the recovery strategy, the wider overall policy issues raised by the proposal from An Post also need to be considered.

The existing terms of the An Post superannuation scheme provide for pay parity so that pensions are increased in line with the pay of serving staff. This is in accordance with public service defined benefit pension increase policy generally, pay parity being an integral and well established practice which is widely applied in public service defined benefit pension schemes.

Unfortunately, following examination of the issue and taking into consideration the implications of providing a precedent which could impact adversely on the cost of pensions in the wider public sector and the existing practice of pay parity, increases to pensioners of An Post linked to increases under Sustaining Progress are not possible at this time.

While I understand the frustration of An Post pensioners with the situation, agreement in partnership with An Post unions to the restructuring plan aimed at securing the future of the company and providing sustainable long-term employment for An Post workers is the way forward. I have urged both the unions and the management of An Post to engage fully with the industrial relations mechanisms of the State to agree a way forward for the future of the company and all stakeholders in this matter.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Barry Andrews

Question:

233 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has allocated funding for research on wave and tidal energy in 2005. [14059/05]

Sustainable Energy Ireland, established as a statutory agency in May 2002, implements initiatives on renewable energy and energy efficiency, including research, on behalf of my Department. Its renewable energy research, development and demonstration programme aims to stimulate the deployment of renewable energy technologies that are close to market and also to assess and develop potentially successful technologies. The programme provides support for renewable energy product research, development and demonstration, market demonstration of new technologies, resource studies and public good research activities.

Sustainable Energy Ireland has through its renewable energy research, development and demonstration programme commissioned and funded the publication of two major studies in the form of atlases which between them quantify and locate the wave energy and offshore wind energy resources for Ireland. Sustainable Energy Ireland has also part-funded five demonstration-feasibility projects in the wave and offshore wind energy sectors. These include the development of an engineering specification for 1 MW wave energy pilot plant; scale modelling and wave tank testing programme; assessment of inshore Atlantic wave regime; assessment of tidal and marine current energy resources in Ireland; impacts of tidal and wave energy on an all-Ireland electricity system.

Sustainable Energy Ireland commitments in this sector amount to €445,000. It is estimated expenditure in this field will be €194,000 in 2005. In addition to the work being carried out by Sustainable Energy Ireland, technical and research development capabilities in ocean energy are being expanded through a new €1 million contract over three years between the Marine Institute and the hydraulics and maritime research centre in UCC to develop a centre of excellence for wave energy study. The new contract will allow UCC to build up a technical support team in its wave tank facility which provides test facilities for device developers. A protocol for device developments has also been developed with a view to providing a recognised benchmark for ocean energy device standards. This is now being used by device developers and by agencies or financiers who wish to evaluate proposed devices for support.

The Marine Institute has recently applied to the Department for foreshore permission to develop a site in Galway Bay which can be used to assist developers in testing large-scale devices. It is expected that this application will be published for public consultation in the coming weeks. In tandem with these developments Sustainable Energy Ireland and the Marine Institute have commissioned a study by Peter Bacon and Associates on the economic benefits of wave development and it is expected that this study will be published shortly.

Natural Gas Grid.

Barry Andrews

Question:

234 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the volume of cast iron piping in the gas pipe network; the cost of replacing and upgrading this piping; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14060/05]

It is an operational matter for Bord Gáis Éireann, under the supervision of the Commission for Energy Regulation, to arrange the safety of its natural gas network and this includes works to upgrade the network or to replace cast iron pipes. I am aware, however, that gas safety is a high priority for Bord Gáis Éireann.

Bord Gáis Éireann has a distribution network in the order of 9,000 km, of which approximately 12% is cast iron. During 2004, Bord Gáis Éireann developed a plan, in conjunction with the Commission for Energy Regulation, to accelerate its mains renewal programme and eliminate all remaining cast iron pipes by the end of 2009. The costs associated with this renewal programme are a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation and Bord Gáis Éireann.

Electricity Generation.

Michael Ring

Question:

235 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the subsidy which has been granted under the public service obligations order to a power station (details supplied) in County Mayo for each of the past seven years. [14099/05]

Since 2002 the Commission for Energy Regulation has been responsible for determination of the level of public service order granted for Bellacorrick peat station by virtue of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 (Public Service Obligations) Order (Amended) 2002, (S.I. 217 of 2002). The Commission for Energy Regulation is obliged under that order, from its commencement date of 23 May 2002, to approve the ESB's estimated additional costs incurred in complying with the public service obligation imposed on the ESB by my Department. It also apportions those costs, recoverable from all final customers of electricity, based on the proportion of maximum demand attributed to each category of accounts such as domestic, small-medium, and large.

The aim of the order is to ensure that Ireland has reasonable self-sufficiency in electricity generation capacity by ensuring that a percentage of the State's generation capacity is fired on indigenous peat to help protect the environment by promoting the use of renewable energy sources.

The public service obligation order requires the board, in its capacity as public electricity supplier to purchase electricity generated from peat and renewable, sustainable or alternative forms of energy. The amount of the levy, which is not a subsidy, is the excess of the board's allowed costs for bought-in and owned peat fired generation and alternative energy requirements over the best new entrant price for electricity. The levy includes an economic return on investment, where relevant, and any other revenue accruing to the board associated directly with peat-fired generation and alternative energy requirements generation schemes.

The commission's decision on the public service obligation charges for 2005 — CER/04/269 — contained, for the first time, a detailed breakdown of the allocation of the levy between the peat stations, peaking capacity and alternative energy requirements-supported plant. This included €1.060 million for Bellacorrick peat station for an estimated four-month operation. This was based on an installed capacity of 20 MW and 38 GW. The 2006 public service obligation calculation will reconcile any changes based on the actual operation of the plant. I am advised by the Commission for Energy Regulation, as the responsible authority in the matter, that a breakdown of the public service obligation charges for preceding years from 2002 onwards has not been published.

Pension Provisions.

Joe Higgins

Question:

236 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he is taking to ensure that An Post pensioners receive the increases in their pensions. [14121/05]

The authority to implement pension increases was delegated to An Post, subject to certain conditions, as this activity was considered part of the day-to-day operations of the company. This allowed the company to implement pension increases following pay increases to employees. However, decisions outside the scope of the original delegated authority still require the consent of the Ministers for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Finance.

Following a proposal from the board of An Post to amend the company's existing pension increase terms in this instance, my Department and the Department of Finance undertook a review of the situation. While I fully empathise with An Post pensioners for the position in which they find themselves due to the failure of An Post management and unions to reach agreement on implementation of the recovery strategy, the wider overall policy issues raised by the proposal from An Post must also be considered.

The existing terms of the An Post superannuation scheme provide for pay parity, that is, that pensions are increased in line with the pay of serving staff. This is in accordance with public service defined benefit pension increase policy generally, pay parity being an integral and well established practice widely applied in public service defined benefit pension schemes.

Unfortunately, following examination of the issue and taking into consideration the implications of providing a precedent which could impact adversely on the cost of pensions in the wider public sector and the existing practice of pay parity, increases to pensioners of An Post, linked to increases under Sustaining Progress, are not possible at this time. While I understand the frustration of An Post pensioners with the situation, agreement in partnership with An Post unions to the restructuring plan aimed at securing the future of the company, and indeed providing sustainable long-term employment for An Post workers, is the way forward.

I have urged the unions and the management of An Post to fully engage with the industrial relations mechanisms of the State to agree a way forward for the future of the company and all stakeholders in this matter.

James Breen

Question:

237 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will review the pension rights of a person (details supplied) in County Clare in order to reflect public service conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14151/05]

The Department has been informed by Shannon Foynes Port Company, that the person concerned was a licensed pilot of the former pilotage authority for the Shannon Estuary. He is in receipt of pension benefits from a pilots' benefit fund established on foot of a by-law made under the Pilotage Act 1913 which continued in existence under section 41 of the Harbours Act 1996. Section 41 provides,inter alia, that the company shall ensure that persons in receipt of benefits under such a fund shall continue to receive benefits. Such receipt is subject to the same terms and conditions to which the said fund provided that the receipt of the said benefits was to be subject.

The person concerned has raised the issue of his pension benefits not being index linked. However, the company informs the Department that the by-law which established the fund did not provide for pension benefits to be index linked. The company has confirmed that the pilots' benefit fund is being executed in accordance with the relevant provisions of section 41 of the Harbours Act 1996.

Inland Fisheries.

John McGuinness

Question:

238 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the cost of installing a fish counter at Mocollop on the River Blackwater; if the counter functioned at all times since its installation and if he deems it to be worthwhile; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14194/05]

John McGuinness

Question:

240 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the fish counter on the Suir and Clondulane on the River Blackwater are operating; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14197/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 238 and 240 together.

The overall management of the national fish counter programme has been primarily the responsibility of the Marine Institute which has operated directly, or by sub-contracting where necessary, to maintain the objectives of the programme.

The cost of installing the counter at Mocollop on the River Blackwater came to under €89,000. This funding was provided under the final tranche of the national development plan tourism angling measure in 1999. According to the Marine Institute, both this and the counter on the River Suir are hydro-acoustic counters which use echo location. They were two of four purchased in the late 1990s, to use as the basis for an experimental programme on large rivers, which pose particular difficulties with regards to directly quantifying fish runs.

These counters functioned well during testing and received clear acoustic signals. However, this type of counter requires additional technical refinement to calibrate to ensure verifiable salmon counts and to differentiate between various species of fish. This work has not yet been completed and, as a result, both of these counters are being held in storage by the Marine Institute.

The resistivity counter at Clondulane weir on the River Blackwater is a partial counter, providing an index of fish ascending the fish pass at the weir. According to the Marine Institute, this counter was fully functional during the latter half of 2004 and provided a total count of 8,185 ascending and 756 descending fish. However, in November 2004, a non-critical fault within the counter was detected and, as a result, a replacement counter was installed. The original unit was returned to the manufacturers for repair. No data was lost from the counter as a result of this fault.

Since taking up office as Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I have emphasised that I expect the regional fisheries boards and the Marine Institute to collaborate in managing the fish counter programme in the most effective and efficient way possible. In order to achieve this, I have directed the Department to review the arrangements in respect of the operational, data management and quality assurance issues for the national fish counter management programme. I expect this review to be completed so that an enhanced national management programme, including the calibration of the hydro-acoustic counters, will be established within the available resources. It will be carried out by the regional fisheries boards, in partnership with the Marine Institute, from 2005.

John McGuinness

Question:

239 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if it was his Department or the Office of Public Works that expressed a preference in 2004 for a denil pass rather than a pond pass as was the plan in 2001 for the work to be undertaken on the Lacken Weir, Kilkenny; the reasoning behind the decision taken; if the cost implications were considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14196/05]

While I am aware of the difficulties arising from the works undertaken on the weir on the River Nore in Kilkenny city, this project was undertaken on behalf of, and is, therefore, the responsibility of, the Office of Public Works. The OPW and the consulting engineers involved consulted the engineering division in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Southern Regional Fisheries Board in Autumn 2003 on the proposed fish pass options to be facilitated in the project. Based on the data given to the Department's engineers by the consulting engineers on upstream and downstream water levels during average daily flow conditions, it was recommended that a denil pass be included in Lacken Weir rather than the previously proposed pool pass. The cost implications of the change from a pool pass to a denil pass were not considered significant in the overall cost of the works.

It now transpires that the data provided by the consulting engineers in respect of these water levels was incorrect and that the downstream water level at the entrance to the constructed pass has been found to be lower than required for the normal operation of a denil pass. As a result, the fish pass installed impacted adversely at certain times on the passage of migrating salmon up river earlier this year.

When this matter was discovered, both the regional fisheries board and the engineering division of the Department offered technical expertise to address the problem. The Southern Regional Fisheries Board, in co-operation with the engineers in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Office Of Public Works, has installed a temporary extension to the fish pass to ameliorate the situation and allow for the passage of fish up river.

The engineering division of the Department has designed a permanent remedial scheme, expected to be put in place during low water in the summer months. The cost of the remedial works will be borne by either the Office Of Public Works or its consultant engineers.

Question No. 240 answered with QuestionNo. 238.

Post Office Network.

Willie Penrose

Question:

241 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the Government is taking steps to bring the post offices that are less than commercially viable within the ambit of the public service obligation; if An Post will be encouraged to expand its banking operations to allow for more flexibility for post office customers in the matter of savings and withdrawals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14298/05]

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.

While this is an operational matter for the board and management of An Post, and one in which I have no direct function, I have urged An Post to develop a forward looking strategy for the post office network. That 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.

It is widely recognised 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 also developing services to attract new customers. This strategy is already being followed with some success.

Proposed Legislation.

Willie Penrose

Question:

242 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when it is envisaged that the Maritime Safety Bill 2003, will be enacted in order to enable local authorities to take appropriate measures to control power craft and speed boats; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14299/05]

I have no function in this matter as the enactment of Bills is a matter for Dáil Éireann.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Joe Costello

Question:

243 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the provisions in the Broadcasting (Funding) Act 2003 to ring-fence moneys for funding programmes produced by the independent sector; the sums of money which have been identified for such programming to date; the works which have been commissioned; if the scheme has attracted the attention of EU scrutiny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14300/05]

The purpose of the Broadcasting (Funding) Act 2003 was to establish a special fund to encourage private and public broadcasters to include additional programming of a particular character in their programme schedules. The Act provided that the 5% of the net proceeds of the television licence fee should be paid into the fund from 2003 onwards. At the end of April 2005, almost €20.5 million had been paid into the fund. The legislation, enacted in December 2003, provided that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland would have responsibility for drawing up schemes through which the fund could be accessed. During the course of 2004, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland developed and published a draft scheme and consulted widely on it. However, before the scheme can become operational, two formal approvals are required.

Under section 2(1) of the Act, the commission is required to submit a draft scheme to me for approval. The draft scheme was formally submitted for approval to the Department by the commission in December 2004. EU Regulations 659/1999 and 794/2004 require Ireland to formally notify the EU Commission of all aid schemes to ensure compatibility with EU state aid and competition rules. To this end, a copy of the draft scheme was sent to the Commission in mid-January to seek their initial views. Towards the end of March, the Commission indicated that it did not see any major problems with the scheme.

Accordingly, my Department proceeded to formally notify the Commission. Under the procedural regulations, the EU Commission has two months to make a decision, although this period may be extended with the consent of the member state concerned. I await the outcome of the Commission's deliberations.

Inland Fisheries.

Joe Costello

Question:

244 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the publication date of a review (details supplied) of inland fisheries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14342/05]

I recently received the report from the consultants and am considering its findings. It is my intention to bring this report to Government in the near future and to have it published as soon as possible. Until such time as the report is presented to Government, I am not in a position to report on its recommendations.

Colombia Three.

Finian McGrath

Question:

245 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if assistance will be given to families of the Colombian Three with translation issues regarding Judge Acosta’s decision at the trial and his judgment; and if the translation of the verdict for the families and the Oireachtas Members who acted as observers at the trial will be facilitated. [13918/05]

My Department has provided all appropriate consular assistance to the three men in this case, as well as to their families and representatives.

The particular judgment, to which the Deputy refers, acquitted the three men on the more serious charge of providing training for terrorists and convicted them on the lesser charge of travelling on false documents. The latter part of this judgment was not, I understand, contested by the men's legal representatives or their families.

When the judgment on the more serious charge was overturned by the appeal court in Colombia on 16 December 2004, my Department internally translated it to enable a fuller understanding of the reasons for the reversal of the earlier decision. Given that we had done this informal translation, we were happy, so as to be as helpful as possible to the men's families, to make available a copy of the text to a representative of the families. In general, however — this also applies to the earlier court decision — the Department does not provide translations of court decisions. This would normally be a matter for the defence lawyers concerned to arrange.

Human Rights Issues.

John Gormley

Question:

246 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason Ireland voted at the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva against a draft resolution on the question of detainees in Guantanamo Bay submitted by Cuba on 14 April 2005, despite the fact that the European Parliament adopted a resolution on 28 October 2004 calling for an impartial and independent investigation of the allegations of torture; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13955/05]

The Government has, on a number of occasions, made known its concerns to the US Government regarding the treatment and status of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. It shares the view of the European Parliament that these detainees should be treated in accordance with the requirements of international human rights and humanitarian law. The Government also recognises the danger posed by terrorist networks such as al-Qaeda. Together with our EU partners, we remain committed to countering all forms of terrorism while upholding the highest standards of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The draft resolution on the detainees in Guantanamo Bay, to which the Deputy refers, was tabled at the Commission on Human Rights, CHR, by the delegation from Cuba on 14 April 2005. The draft resolution was defeated in a vote taken on 21 April 2005, with all EU partners who are members of the commission, including Ireland, voting against, following full and detailed consideration of the issue. The draft resolution was opposed by 22 commission members and supported by eight.

The reasons that Ireland and its partners voted against this draft resolution were given in a statement explaining our vote which was delivered by the Netherlands on behalf of the EU Presidency. This reiterated the EU's condemnation of all acts of terrorism, while emphasising its commitment to human rights and international humanitarian law standards for the Guantanamo detainees. The statement noted that resolutions on the protection of human rights, in the context of the fight against terrorism and of arbitrary detention, already addressed the fundamental issues underlying the Cuban draft resolution. These resolutions are strongly supported in the Commission on Human Rights by the EU.

As regards a request in the draft resolution for the United States to co-operate with the special procedures of the commission, which in effect are special rapporteurs and independent experts on the issues in question, the EU statement recalled the fundamental importance it attaches to full co-operation by all states with these mechanisms. It noted with satisfaction that the United States has already started discussions on the modalities for a visit by special procedures to Guantanamo Bay and indicated that the EU would welcome an early visit. The EU statement also noted that some countries, including Cuba, refuse to allow such visits to their own territories and prisons and called on these countries to change their attitude. In this regard, the EU statement observed that introducing a resolution calling on the United States to act in manner which Cuba refused to do, risks damage to the work and credibility of the commission.

I understand that the United States has facilitated regular visits by the international committee of the Red Cross to Guantanamo Bay. In this regard, the ICRC does not have access to prisons maintained by the Cuban Government. I would welcome an early decision by the United States Government to facilitate a visit by special procedures of the CHR to Guantanamo Bay.

Emigrant Services.

Barry Andrews

Question:

247 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans regarding the recommendations made by the task force on policy regarding emigrants; the funding required to implement such recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14061/05]

The task force on policy regarding emigrants produced a very good report with wide-ranging conclusions, covering the full range of emigrant needs. Its recommendations were far-reaching and varied and the implementation of some of these will be, by necessity, on a phased basis over a number of years. Considerable progress has already been made, with action under way on over two thirds of its recommendations. A great many of the recommendations in the report relate to issues of continuing importance which will require ongoing action from all partners, in Government and the voluntary sector, in Ireland and abroad.

Funding for emigrant services has been rising significantly in recent years. Since 1997, funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs, and grants from the DION fund for emigrant welfare in Britain, have increased by some 850%. I was delighted to secure €8.27 million for 2005, an increase of 63% on the 2004 amount. The task force report, which provides a valuable framework for progress, stresses that help should go first and foremost to the vulnerable, the elderly and the marginalised. The increased funding being made available by my Department this year, the vast majority of which will again be directed to organisations providing frontline services to these vulnerable emigrants, will make a huge qualitative and quantitative difference. These organisations are active across the range of critical areas identified by the task force including pre-departure services and frontline advice and counselling to our community living abroad.

The Irish abroad unit is promoting progress on initiatives which build on the task force report. Officials of the unit have had a wide range of meetings in Ireland with Departments and agencies that have a role in the provision of services to emigrants. They have also had meetings with organisations that provide frontline services to Irish people throughout Britain and the US, including with groups supporting Irish people identified by the task force as being in need of special attention and assistance, such as older emigrants, travellers and undocumented Irish people in the US. Close and ongoing exchanges of this type ensure that those in the voluntary sector engaged in the provision of services to our emigrants have an effective channel of communication to the Government. In this way, we can ensure that the needs of our emigrants continue to be accorded the highest priority and that our response is effective and is developed further in the period ahead.

Overseas Development Aid.

Joan Burton

Question:

248 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the annual incremental increases agreed by which Ireland would provide 0.7% of its GNP in development aid by 2012 in view of the serious slippage which has occurred in achieving same. [14152/05]

The allocation for 2005 provides for an increase of €70 million in Government spending on official development assistance this year. This will bring total Government aid to the developing world to approximately €545 million in 2005, the highest allocation in the 30-year history of the aid programme. The Government has also agreed to provide further increases of €65 million in each of the years 2006 and 2007. These substantial increases mean that over the three years from 2005 to 2007, €1.8 billion will be spent by Ireland on development assistance.

The Government remains strongly committed to achieving the UN target for expenditure on ODA. The issue of how best to meet the target, and in what timeframe, is under ongoing review. As a matter of record the Taoiseach has not made a pledge to achieve the target of 0.7% by 2012. In fact the 2012 date is my personal preference for when we should try to achieve the target. Clearly, any decision on a new target date would be a matter for the Cabinet.

Economic Partnership Agreements.

Mary Upton

Question:

249 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will seek that the EU work with the 77 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries either to achieve at the WTO an extension of the Cotonou waiver or to change GATT Article XXIV in order that Europe can continue to give preferential access to poor countries; and his views on whether, in view of the fact that the EU 25 plus the ACP 77 constitute the vast majority of WTO members, this approach is not preferable to pushing ahead with reciprocal economic partnership agreements. [14153/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

250 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the assessment which the Government has undertaken of the impact upon industrial and agricultural producers in Ireland’s priority aid countries of the entry into force of EPAs which the EU proposes will include full liberalisation of 90% of trade with the poorest countries. [14154/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

251 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the communications, meetings and other representations his Department has had with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment regarding the EU requests for opening of markets under the proposed EPAs; the number and date of each; and if he will make documents from these meetings available to Dáil Éireann. [14155/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

252 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the concerns his Department has raised with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment in respect of the opening up of priority country markets to EU competition; and the areas of these markets which his Department has suggested be excluded from liberalisation. [14156/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

253 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the representation his Department has had at EU 133 committee meetings considering liberalisation of trade with priority countries under EPAs in view of the fact that EPAs are being framed in the context of the Cotonou partnership for development co-operation. [14157/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

254 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the consultations his Department has had with priority country Governments, the business community and civil society regarding their defensive interests in the EPA trade negotiations; the areas of concern which were highlighted through such consultations; the steps which have been taken by his Department to ensure that these interests are catered for in the EU position on EPAs. [14158/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

255 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the concerns his Department has regarding the regional groupings being established under EPAs; his views on whether Zambia, an Irish priority aid country, is forced by this process to decide between the two regional groups in which it has invested years of energy; his further views on whether it is appropriate for Europe, through EPAs, to bring about an effective redrawing of the economic map of Africa. [14159/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

256 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether there are parallels between, on one hand, the 19th century colonial exercise of the 1884 redivision of Africa and the simultaneous America for the Americans doctrine and, on the other, the contemporary redrawing of the economic map of Africa in EPAs and the parallel negotiation by the US of the free trade areas of the Americas. [14160/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

257 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department has made an assessment of industries in each of Ireland’s priority countries which will most come under pressure through the liberalisation envisaged in EPAs; if he will identify these industries; the number of persons they employ; the capacity they have to adjust to competition from European exports inside the transition period; the level of unemployment in Ireland’s priority aid countries which he expects will result from such liberalisation. [14161/05]

Mary Upton

Question:

258 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the industries in Mozambique which can sustain full opening up to competition from South Africa; the way in which this can be envisaged as a poverty reduction strategy consistent with the objectives of the Cotonou Agreement. [14162/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 249 to 258, inclusive, together.

The economic partnership agreements, EPAs, 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, ACP, states and the European Union.

The EPAs are intended first and foremost as instruments for development to foster the smooth and gradual integration of ACP 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. 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 cannot see this approach as constituting a dilution of African sovereignty regarding its economic future. It seems to me that it addresses the particular concern of Ireland and other member states that development and poverty reduction should be the principle objectives of the EPAs.

As far as the impacts of liberalisation of trade are concerned, I draw the Deputy's attention to Article 37(7) of the Cotonou Agreement, which states that the negotiations on the EPAs

. . . shall take account of the level of development and the socio-economic impact of trade measures on ACP countries, and their capacity to adapt and adjust their economies to the liberalisation process. Negotiations will, therefore, be as flexible as possible in establishing the duration of a sufficient transitional period, the final product coverage, taking into account sensitive sectors, and the degree of asymmetry in terms of timetable for tariff dismantlement, while remaining in conformity with WTO rules then prevailing.

Under European Union regulations, it is the European Commission which conducts the EPA negotiations between the EU and six regional groupings of ACP states on behalf of the member states. The Commission provides the Council with regular updates on the progress of the negotiations. While Ireland, like other member states, does not participate in the ongoing EPA negotiations, we are satisfied that 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 ACP States. As in all trade negotiations, the EPA discussions have brought to light differences of approach between the parties in a number of areas. It is to be hoped that, as the talks progress, these divergences can be resolved in accordance with the principles and objectives underlying the negotiations. Ireland is actively following the developments in the EPA negotiations and will continue to do so.

In Ireland, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment has primary responsibility for trade policy. An officer of that Department represents Ireland at meetings of the 133 committee, which normally meets once a month at the level of full members. An officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs also attends meetings of the 133 committee on a regular basis. Given the importance for Ireland of trade and trade relations with other countries, including those which are programme countries for Ireland's development cooperation programme, there is regular and on-going contact with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and other Departments, including the Department of Agriculture and Food, in preparing for meetings of the 133 committee and on questions relating to trade in general. Ireland is actively following the developments in the EPA negotiations and will continue to do so.

All of the programme countries in Ireland's bilateral aid programme — Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Timor Leste — are ACP states. In each of these countries, Ireland works in close co-operation with its partner government, other donors, the private sector and civil society to ensure coherence in our approach across a range of sectors. Among the issues discussed are the impact of EU policies, including EPAs, and the wider question of integration of LDCs into the international trading system. This approach will help build the economic infrastructure in these least developed countries, LDCs, which will lead to employment generation and ultimately to long-term sustainable development. The level of detail being sought by Deputy Upton in relation to employment in particular industries in sub-Saharan Africa and other related details are not available to me.

In common with most other countries in the southern Africa region, South Africa is Mozambique's main foreign investor, and strong trade links have developed between the two countries in recent years. It would not be appropriate for me to express a view on which specific industries in Mozambique, or indeed any other third country, could sustain competition from South Africa. Part of our overall engagement with the private sector in sub-Saharan Africa involves working to create a better climate for enterprise development and economic growth and involves efforts aimed at creating a more enabling international environment and improving coherence on trade and agriculture domestically.

Visa Applications.

Willie Penrose

Question:

259 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if an application for a visitor’s visa by a person (details supplied) will be expedited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14268/05]

The visa application referred to by the Deputy, reference No. 1022430, was made in Riga on 21 March 2005 and forwarded to the Department of Foreign Affairs visa office in Dublin on 23 March 2005. Visas of this kind are not covered by the Department of Foreign Affairs' delegated sanction to issue visas and the application was, therefore, referred to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for decision. The Department of Foreign Affairs database shows that no decision on the application has yet been made by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Sports Capital Programme.

Finian McGrath

Question:

260 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the maximum support and advice will be given to a football club (details supplied) with its grant; and if assistance will be given to same in resolving the delay in accessing the final part of the grant. [13913/05]

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

A grant of €130,000 was provisionally allocated to the club in question under the 2002 sports capital programme. The grant was subject to the terms and conditions of the programme, which include the requirement that a tax clearance certificate be supplied in respect of each contractor employed on the grant-aided work. To date, €123,500 of this grant has been paid to the club in question. Officials from my Department have confirmed to the club that a tax clearance certificate is required for the contractor who has finished this project. On receipt of this certificate, which is an essential requirement of Government funding, the remaining €6,500 will be released to the club.

Denis Naughten

Question:

261 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will approve a sports capital grant (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14098/05]

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

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

Mary Upton

Question:

262 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will give consideration to an application (details supplied) for sports funding. [14102/05]

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

Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December last. The closing date for receipt of applications was 4 February 2005. A total of 1,362 applications were received by this date. No application was received before the deadline in the name of the organisation concerned.

All applications received before the closing date are currently being evaluated against the programme's assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed. I expect to announce details of the 2006 sports capital programme towards the end of this year. It is open to the organisation in question to submit an application to that programme should it have a project which meets the programme's guidelines, terms and conditions.

Motor Fuels.

Richard Bruton

Question:

263 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the monthly movements in the price of unleaded petrol and motor diesel here during the past 12 months; and the movements in the spot prices over the same period and in movements of the average European price of these fuels at the petrol pumps. [13941/05]

Richard Bruton

Question:

264 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he has been tracking the movement of fuel prices at the pumps; if he has satisfied himself that the movement in prices at the pump are justified by the movement in the spot price, taking account of reserves and other factors that might mitigate its impact; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13937/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 263 and 264 together.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment does not track the movement of fuel prices at the pumps. The policy of the Government in respect of oil products generally is to promote competition and consumer choice. There is no price control on these products and in common with most other goods and services, price differences are an ongoing feature of the market economy. It is a matter for retailers to explain price differences where they occur and my Department encourages consumers to raise price concerns directly with retailers.

While fuel may not be subject to price control, the Retail Price (Diesel and Petrol) Display Order 1997, which is enforced by the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs, requires persons selling diesel and petrol products to specify the price per litre being charged and to display their prices in a clear and prominent manner. The order enables consumers to readily compare prices and purchase their fuel on the basis of an informed choice. If it is the case that prices for petrol are affected by agreements between petrol companies or retailers or by an abuse of a dominant position, the Competition Authority is there to enforce competition law. Any suspected infringements of competition law should be brought to the attention of the Competition Authority.

National Minimum Wage.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

265 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will address the concerns of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13952/05]

The National Minimum Wage Act came into effect in April 2000. Prior to the introduction of the legislation, the national minimum wage commission was appointed by the Government to advise on the introduction of a national minimum wage. The commission examined a number of issues including the social implications of a national minimum wage and the determination, implementation and enforcement of a minimum wage. It recommended that employees under the age of 18 should be entitled to 70% of the national minimum wage. This percentage was recommended to strike a balance between ensuring that young employees are not exploited and ensuring that the rate of pay does not encourage students to leave full-time education.

This recommendation was endorsed by the interdepartmental group on implementation of a national minimum wage which felt that a reduced rate for those under 18 raised important issues for national education and employment policies and required particularly careful consideration. In its report it stated:

The group is of the view that, having regard to the fact that there will always be a certain group of young people entering full time employment before the age of 18, that this group is among the most vulnerable in society and there is need to cater for them in the context of a national minimum wage. Nevertheless, it is also clear that the introduction of a national minimum wage has two possible effects on this group — a possible increase in the supply of such workers attracted by the minimum wage rate to leave education earlier than they would otherwise have done, and a possible reduction in demand for such workers by raising their price to beyond a level which employers were prepared to pay.

The sub-minimum rate for those under 18 was therefore recommended by the national minimum wage commission, endorsed by the interdepartmental group on the implementation of a national minimum wage and was subsequently implemented in the minimum wage legislation.

Community Employment Schemes.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

266 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reason no reply has been received for Parliamentary Questions Nos. 189 of 14 December 2004 and 297 of 15 February 2005; and if a reply will issue. [13953/05]

Community employment, CE, is intended as a labour market work experience programme of pre-determined duration. Participants who leave the programme are replaced on an ongoing basis and thus redundancy does not arise in such cases because the programme position continues to exist. In circumstances where a project closes down, the participants, with their agreement, may transfer to another FÁS-sponsored project to complete their term on CE.

Redundancy is, in the first instance, an issue between the employer and employee. In the exceptional circumstances where redundancy arises, due to the closing down of the project, CE participants may claim statutory redundancy provided they have worked continuously for at least 104 weeks with the same employer. Such claims are made directly to the employer who sponsors the project in the first instance. I am informed by FÁS that during the years 2002 and 2003 the number of participants who were paid statutory redundancy was in the order of 120. The figure for 2004 is estimated by FÁS at being substantially less, particularly as the overall level of places provided on CE increased by approximately 2000 during that year. Finally, I regret the delay in providing the Deputy with the information.

Job Creation.

Martin Ferris

Question:

267 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of companies that were brought or referred to County Kerry by IDA Ireland in 2004; the type of business in which they are engaged; and the number that have decided to invest in the county. [14105/05]

IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment, FDI, to Ireland, including its regions and areas. Ultimately, decisions regarding where to locate, including what areas or sites to visit as potential locations are taken by investors. In 2004 two companies visited the Kerry region, one an ICT company which visited Killarney and Tralee and the other an international services company that visited Killarney. To date, neither company has decided to locate in Ireland.

In addition to targeting potential new projects, IDA Ireland is also working with its existing base of companies in the region with a view to supporting such companies with potential expansions and diversification of activities, which strengthen their presence in the region. During 2004, three expansion projects were announced in Kerry, the details of which are as follows. Dollinger (Ireland) Limited is to be the global centre for production of its compressed air products range. This €1.1 million investment will create over 70 new jobs over the next four years and has resulted in Dollinger re-locating to larger premises. Liebherr Container Cranes Limited is to recruit six highly skilled R&D personnel for a new R&D specialised team. The team, which will be of strategic importance to the parent company and will enhance the facility's role as the centre of control for Liebherr's container crane products, will develop products from concept through to product launch. In addition, any intellectual property developed will be the property of the Irish company. Fujisawa, one of the world's top 30 pharmaceutical companies, announced that it had invested €17 million in the expansion of its Irish operation in County Kerry. The company has a total employment of 280 people and has constructed a 27,000 sq. ft. extension to provide additional production space for the new operation.

At the end of 2004 there were 2,022 people in permanent employment in 21 IDA-supported companies in County Kerry. I am confident that the strategies and policies being pursued by IDA Ireland will bear fruit in terms of maximising sustainable investment and jobs for the people of Kerry.

Work Permits.

Denis Naughten

Question:

268 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the maximum penalty which can be imposed on an employer for the employment of a person outside of the EEA without a work permit; if, in view of a recent court case in Galway, he intends to review the legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14120/05]

Under section 2(3) of the Employment Permits Act 2003, an employer who employs a non-EEA national without permission is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €3,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both. On conviction on indictment, an employer is liable to a fine not exceeding €250,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or both. This legislation is enforced by the Garda national immigration bureau. I have no function in respect of the courts.

The Employment Permits Bill, currently at the final stages of drafting, will introduce additional protections for migrant workers and provide for penalties and proceedings for breaches of these protections.

Job Losses.

Michael Noonan

Question:

269 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the prospect of re-opening a company (details supplied) and the creation of 100 jobs is receding; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact if the liquidator proceeds with the sale of the machinery at the plant on an ex situ basis, the plant will not reopen; if, in recognition of the importance of the 100 jobs to the region, he will appoint a facilitator; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14123/05]

Shannon Development is the agency responsible for regional economic development in the mid-west region. Plans for the factory site in question are an operational issue for the company and not one in which I have any direct function. However, I understand that Shannon Development have been in contact with the consortium of ex-workers and the liquidator.

It is of the utmost importance that all efforts be made to ensure that the workers who became unemployed through the liquidation of Fitzpack Ltd. are assisted in finding new employment in the region. Shannon Development, as the regional economic development agency, has a role to play in this regard. However, it also has to observe other rules and requirements, such as public procurement requirements and act in an open and transparent manner, when it is dealing in State assets, which is essential in the good operation of any State body. In the circumstances, I have no plans to appoint a facilitator.

It is understood from Shannon Development that it is proceeding with the process of placing the factory building and land within its curtilage on the open market. Consulting engineers have been engaged to advise on what portion of the lands in the vicinity of the building are required in order to ensure that adequate access and services are available for use of the factory. The final decision on the method of disposal to be used — public auction, public tender or private treaty — will be made on the advice of the professional property agents who will be appointed to handle the marketing and sale of the premises. The marketing process is likely to commence shortly and continue through June.

Economic Partnership Agreements.

Bernard Allen

Question:

270 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Government’s 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 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 EPAs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14133/05]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

271 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he has satisfied himself that consideration of EPAs at the 133 committee meeting of 6 May 2005 gives Ireland and other member states sufficient time to consider the UK paper on EPAs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14236/05]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

272 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he supports the view advocated by the UK Government in the context of the EPA negotiations that the EU should propose within the WTO that Article XXIV of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, should be reviewed as suggested by the Commission for Africa, in order to reduce the requirement for reciprocity and increase the focus on development priorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14237/05]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

273 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he supports the view advocated by the UK Government in the context of the EPA negotiations that the EU should offer ACP countries an alternative to an EPA which would provide no worse market access to the EU than is currently enjoyed under Cotonou preferences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14238/05]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

274 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he supports the view advocated by the UK Government in the context of the EPA negotiations that investment, competition and government procurement should be removed from the negotiations unless specifically requested by an ACP regional negotiating group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14239/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 270 to 274, inclusive, together.

EPAs are, first and foremost, instruments for development that will foster the smooth and gradual integration of ACP States into the world economy. Substantive negotiations are currently underway between the EU and ACP states in this regard. As trade is a Union competence, it is the European Commission which conducts the negotiations on the EPAs between the EU and six regional groupings of ACP States on behalf of member states on the basis of an agreed mandate. The Commission provides the Council with updates on the progress of the negotiations.

I have read with interest the recent position paper that sets out the UK view on how best the commitment to put development at the heart of the EPA negotiations can be best delivered. I agree with the basic thrust of an approach to the EPAs which ensure that the needs and concerns of developing countries are taken adequately into consideration during the substantive phase of these negotiations. Indeed, more recently, in the context of the further progression of EPA negotiations, Commissioner Mandelson has indicated that he is putting the EPA process under continuing review, with a new review mechanism to ensure that at every stage in the negotiations that the development dimension is put first. I fully support this approach by the commissioner.

Ireland is actively following the developments in the EPA negotiations process and will continue to do so. In so far as the discussions within the EU Council, including the Article 133 committee, are concerned, Ireland will have full regard to the content of the UK paper. In all of these discussions, we will be insisting that the Commission discharge its mandate in accordance with the provisions of the Cotonou Agreement and in a manner which is sensitive to the particular concerns of ACP states.

Company Closures.

John McGuinness

Question:

275 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, further to previous parliamentary questions, his views on the position of some unsecured creditors such as a company (details supplied) in County Kilkenny which as yet have not been paid by the liquidator at IFI; the costs incurred to date by the liquidator; the prospect of payment for those yet unpaid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14294/05]

The determination of any payments due to creditors of IFI is a matter solely for the liquidator. The position of unsecured creditors can only be determined by the liquidator when all the assets of the company have been realised and all liabilities established. In this regard, I understand that the liquidator has made considerable progress in realising the assets of the company and establishing the full extent of its liabilities. The liquidator has indicated that he hopes to complete the liquidation process later this year.

At this stage, the main production sites at Arklow and Cork remain the principle assets yet to be realised. It is understood that contracts have been signed for the sale of the Arklow site and the sale is due to close later this month. Discussions have also been taking place with a number of parties about the Cork site. It is a matter solely for the liquidator to determine whether to accept any particular offer made.

Reports received from the liquidator on the progress of the liquidation covering the period to 7 November 2004 indicate that the liquidator has been paid fees and expenses amounting to €4,197,576.

Work Permits.

Mary Upton

Question:

276 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will review an application for a work permit for a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath; and if this person will be assisted in obtaining a work permit for work in the information technology sector. [14295/05]

The work permit section of my Department refused an application in respect of the above non-EEA national on 11 March 2005 on the grounds that the proposed employee was here on a student visa and that the position was not sufficiently highly skilled and highly paid. Following an appeal by the employer, this decision was upheld by the work permit section on 21 April 2005. Non-EEA nationals with appropriate qualifications may consider applying for an IT work visa, which requires them to apply in their home country to the nearest embassy of Ireland.

Semi-State Bodies.

Phil Hogan

Question:

277 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of cases notified to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board since establishment to the end of March 2005 by category of claim; the number of cases where the respondents have refused to allow the PIAB assess the claim by category; the number of such cases where the respondents refusal arises at the outset of the PIAB process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14453/05]

Phil Hogan

Question:

278 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of awards made by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board to claimants since its establishment, by category of claim; the average amount of such awards by category of claim; the number that have been accepted and rejected by claimants; the number that have been accepted and rejected by respondents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14454/05]

Phil Hogan

Question:

279 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the average length of time it is taking the Personal Injuries Assessment Board to process claims from the notification of the claim to the final award; if he has satisfied himself with the performance of the PIAB since inception; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14455/05]

Phil Hogan

Question:

280 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the amount of money the Personal Injuries Assessment Board has received by way of Exchequer funding or other revenue from claimants by way of charges, and from respondents by way of charges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14456/05]

Phil Hogan

Question:

281 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the percentage of respondents before the Personal Injuries Assessment Board who are represented by an insurance company in their dealings with the PIAB; the percentage of respondents represented by lawyers; the percentage of respondents who deal with the PIAB directly without any third party representation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14457/05]

Phil Hogan

Question:

282 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of applications where the Personal Injuries Assessment Board has executed its discretion under section 17 of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 not to arrange for the making of any assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14458/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 277 to 282, inclusive, together.

Some of the information regarding issues raised by the Deputy in his questions is available on the PIAB's website atwww.piab.ie and is updated regularly. In this regard, the latest figures available on the number of applications to PIAB for assessment of quantum indicate that, at 21 April 2005, 19,099 calls had been received, 898,206 website hits had been recorded and a total of 7,196 applications for assessment had been made. These are broken down as follows: 1,879 employer liability applications; 2,204 public liability applications; and 3,113 motor accident applications.

However, many details requested by the Deputy relate to operational matters for which the chief executive officer of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board holds responsibility. Further information is, however, currently being collated by the PIAB and will be made available to me shortly. I will ask the PIAB to make this information available to the Deputy. I also understand that the PIAB will be releasing this information publicly.

Regarding the funding of the PIAB, the Exchequer has provided funds of €5.5 million for the set up and running costs of the PIAB in the years 2003 and 2004. A further €2.5 million has been provided for in the Department's 2005 Estimates. The PIAB is expected to be self funding by year end 2005.

I am satisfied that the statutory obligations relating to all applications received by the PIAB have been met. My understanding is that data relating to the first 25 assessments will be released to the public shortly. These awards have been made within nine months of the relevant respondents consenting to assessment, as required by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003.

With regard to volumes, the PIAB expects to assess in the region of 10,000 cases per annum when fully operational. The PIAB started handling all personal injury cases in the country from 22 July 2004. As it approaches its first anniversary next July, it will be on target with current applications standing at 7,196. This is all the more significant bearing in mind that the natural flow of claims into the PIAB was slowed by the acceleration of approximately 16,000 cases into the litigation route prior to the PIAB commencing operations. I am very pleased with the operation of the PIAB to date.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jack Wall

Question:

283 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Kildare has had their rent subsidy reduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13924/05]

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. Rent supplements are subject to a means test and are normally calculated to ensure that an eligible person, after the payment of rent, has an income equal to the rate of supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to his or her family circumstances, less a minimum contribution — currently €13 per week — which a recipient is required to pay from his or her own resources.

In addition to this minimum weekly contribution, each recipient is also required to contribute any additional assessable means he or she has over and above the appropriate supplementary welfare allowance rate towards his or her rent. Up to €60 of additional weekly income is disregarded in the rent supplement means test in respect of participation in approved training courses, to ensure that a person gains overall as a result of taking up such an opportunity.

The Dublin and mid-Leinster area of the executive has advised that the amount of rent supplement in payment to the person concerned was reduced to take account of an increase in the level of her assessable household income. In addition to her one-parent family payment, the person concerned is now in receipt of a weekly training allowance of €148.80. Taking account of this additional income, and allowing the appropriate €60 disregard, the person concerned is in receipt of the correct amount of rent supplement for her circumstances. Her income before rent supplement is €316.90 per week and she is also in receipt of an additional €60.70 per week in rent supplement.

Family Support Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

284 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department, through the family support agency, has received an application from a group (details supplied) in Dublin 24 for inclusion in its family and community services resource centre programme; when a decision will be taken in respect of this application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13960/05]

The group concerned applied to the family support agency, FSA, for inclusion in the family and community services resource centre, FRC, programme in June 2004. FSA officials visited this group in March 2005. A report on the meeting was prepared which included an overall assessment of the application. This will be submitted for consideration to a committee established by the board of the agency, and with expertise in this area, which has responsibility for assessing applications for inclusion in the programme. The next meeting of this committee is scheduled to take place on 7 June 2005 and this group's application will be considered at that meeting.

The committee's evaluation will then be subject to ratification by the FSA board, which, if positive, will then be submitted for my approval. At this stage the board will notify the group of the outcome.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

285 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the grants available in his Department to assist in the building and renting of family resource centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13961/05]

Family resource centres are funded under the family and community services resource centre, FRC, programme which is administered by the family support agency. The aim of the FRC programme is essentially to help combat disadvantage by improving the function of the family unit. The emphasis in the centres is on the involvement of local communities in developing approaches to tackle the problems they face and on creating successful partnerships between the voluntary and statutory agencies in the area concerned. Family resource centres involve people from marginalised and most vulnerable groups and areas of disadvantage at all levels in the project.

In 2005, I have made almost €25 million available to the family support agency to fulfil its strategic priorities. These include the expansion of the national family mediation service, the continuing development of the scheme of grants for voluntary organisations providing marriage, child and bereavement counselling services and the ongoing promotion and development of the family and community services resource centre, FRC, programme, to which I specifically allocated over €10.5 million for the current year.

This amount includes a specific allocation of €200,000 toward capital grants to projects in the programme. This is the first year that a grant for capital funding has been allocated to the programme. Annual core funding to projects in the programme includes an amount towards the rental costs of premises.

There are currently 77 family resource centres in receipt of core funding, with another 12 centres to be brought into the programme during this year. I fully expect that the target of 100 centres by the end of 2006, set under the national development plan, will be achieved by the family support agency.

Social Welfare Fraud.

David Stanton

Question:

286 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the consultancy projects which have been undertaken in the past 20 years to assist his Department estimate the scale and nature of losses that might be occurring due to fraud and errors made by claimants and employers in so far as the collection of PRSI and the payment of benefit and allowances is concerned; when consultants issued their findings on each such project; the follow up actions which were taken by his officials or by Government to counteract any risks identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13967/05]

In August 1986, Craig Gardner Consultants were commissioned to examine the major payment systems in my Department with a view to establishing where they were most at risk and to advise on cost effective measures to keep these risks to a minimum. The consultants submitted three reports containing a number of recommendations covering operational and organisational arrangements and about protecting the schemes from abuse. The final report was submitted in November 1987.

The main recommendations covered internal working arrangements and the manner in which services were delivered. In particular, the consultants recommended a greater emphasis on local service and control, the examination of identity issues and the introduction of new payment methods. Since then the Department has gone through a major reorganisation which has allowed for a more focused approach to fraud and control. This reorganisation included the establishment in 1991 of a regional structure, a dedicated control division in 1992 and the setting up of separate control units in each of my Department's scheme sections. There has also been an increase in the number of staff involved in control work generally.

Throughout the 1980s the rapid introduction of information technology facilitated the move from manual to computerised systems to support the administration of the Department's schemes and the elimination of cash payments in local offices. This allowed my Department to take a more focused, co-ordinated and effective approach to control of schemes by enabling data from a variety of sources to be cross checked and potential irregularities isolated and investigated.

The services operated by the network of local and branch offices have expanded significantly since the Craig Gardner reports. Claims for pre-retirement allowance and farm assist are processed locally and currently the one-parent family payment scheme is being localised. A facility is also available to register and to certify ongoing entitlement to claims for disability benefit. In addition, all applications for personal public services numbers, formerly the revenue and social insurance number, are processed through the network of local and branch offices. A comprehensive information service is also provided in these locations for customers.

There has also been an increased emphasis on liaison and co-operation with external organisations to support my Department's control activities. In this context, my Department has put an extensive legal framework in place to support the sharing of data with other prescribed organisations for the purposes of controlling the entitlement and payment of benefits. Information is obtained and acted upon on an ongoing basis from a range of organisations including the Revenue Commissioners, FÁS, the Health Service Executive and other Government Departments. For example, commencement of employment data received from the Revenue Commissioners and details of full-time registered day time students from third level institutions is matched against social welfare databases to identify cases where there is a possible overlap between the employment or college attendance period and the social welfare payment. Cases identified with open claims are referred to the relevant areas for investigation.

In addition, there is regular contact between my Department and the social security authorities in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. The level of co-operation between my Department and all these organisations is kept under continuous review with a view to enhancing it where appropriate.

Another initiative involved the setting up of a joint investigation unit, comprising inspectors from my Department's special investigation unit and the Revenue Commissioners, to use their combined legal powers to ensure that employers comply with their PAYE-PRSI obligations and to identify customers working and claiming benefit. My Department's control strategy, published in 2003, is based on a four pronged approach to the control of schemes, namely, prevention of fraud and error at the initial claim stage, early detection through effective review of claims in payment, measures to deter fraud and the pursuit and recovery of overpayments.

The introduction of systematic risk analysis of major schemes is a key element of the approach to tackling fraud and abuse. Furthermore, surveys of schemes are undertaken to establish baseline levels of fraud and abuse and my Department is committed to undertaking at least two such surveys annually. All cases of fraud are considered for prosecution. A policy on prosecution was published in early 2003 which has resulted in increased numbers of cases being prosecuted. In 2004, 503 cases were submitted for prosecution compared with 405 and 245 respectively in respect of the previous two years.

David Stanton

Question:

287 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the new or additional legislative provisions which have been adopted in the past ten years to assist in preventing and deterring fraud; and the incidence of cases identified to which any such new provisions relate. [13968/05]

The following anti-fraud initiatives were enacted in the last ten years. Section 22 of the Social Welfare Act 1998 amended the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993 to provide that persons who fail to provide information to the Minister about persons or class of persons, as may be prescribed, shall be guilty of an offence.

Section 26 of the Social Welfare Act 1999 amended section 212 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993 by conferring more specific powers on social welfare inspectors regarding inspection and taking copies of records found on inspection of premises, removing and retaining such records and securing records for later inspection. Social welfare inspectors were also given power to summon the occupier of the premises, or an employer on the premises, to attend at an office of the Minister or other premises for clarification of any questions consequent on inspection, by notice in writing. A social welfare inspector may be accompanied by Garda when performing any power conferred under that section and, if accompanied by Garda, may stop any vehicle suspected to be used in course of employment or self employment and may question and make inquiries of any person in the vehicle or require him to produce any employment records in his possession.

Section 28 of the Social Welfare Act 1999 amended section 224 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993 to allow a prosecution for a summary offence under that Act to be brought at the suit of the Health Service Executive and the Collector General. It also provided that civil proceedings under that Act may be taken by or against the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Section 17 of the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2005 amended section 224(a) of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993 to extend the period under which a prosecution may be taken from six to 18 months, commencing on the date on which evidence sufficient to justify the institution of that prosecution comes into the possession of the Minister. The Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Control Provisions) Regulations 1997, S.I. No. 155 of 1997, consolidated existing regulations and introduced an extension of the notification of commencement of employment requirement to the meat processing industry. They also extended to PLC students the requirements applying to some institutes of higher education to provide information to the Minister at the start of each academic year in respect of each person registered as a student at that institution.

The amendment contained in section 22 of the 1998 Act was used to extend these provisions to private colleges or schools which do not receive funding or validation from the Department of Education and Science or other bodies. The Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Control Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations 1998, S.I. No. 468 of 1998, refer. The Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Control Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations 2001, S.I. No. 327 of 2001, extended the obligation on employers to maintain on-site records to the construction industry. These measures were designed to facilitate the detection of potential fraud and abuse.

While the specific nature of the fraud or abuse detected is recorded in all cases in terms of the outcome of investigations, records are not maintained in such a way as to provide the information sought by the Deputy.

David Stanton

Question:

288 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of employers who have been compelled to repay benefits, pensions, allowances, assistance or supplements, in accordance with section 219 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, fraudulently obtained as a result of an employer’s failure to maintain records as required by the Act, each year since the provision was enacted; and the amount repaid in each year. [13969/05]

The aim of my Department's control policy is to prevent fraud and abuse. A key aspect of control policy is deterrence and effective debt management is seen as an integral part of the deterrent approach.

Use of section 219 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 1993 as a method of overpayment recovery, in appropriate cases, is one element of my Department's debt management policy. Under this section, where an employer fails to maintain proper and complete wage records detailing the employment details of it's employees and where, due to that failure, an employee receives a benefit, pension, assistance or allowance payment to which he/she would not otherwise be entitled, the employer is liable to repay the full amount of that benefit, pension, assistance or allowance.

Based on available records, the number of employers in respect of whom overpayments have been assessed under section 219 and the amounts paid from 1999 onwards are detailed in the table. Details of payments made by employers under section 219 prior to this are not available.

Year

Number of Employers

Total Amounts (Euro)

1999

24

120,712.55

2000

42

101.583.49

2001

33

65,403.55

2002

45

101,760.52

2003

45

107,204.69

2004

40

86,098.13

2005 (to date)

18

35,969.90

Social Welfare Code.

David Stanton

Question:

289 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the Reach agency has considered the question of cards for social welfare and related purposes; if so, the recommendations or proposals which were made in this matter; and when these recommendations were first made. [13975/05]

The development of a public service card was one of a number of objectives set for the Reach agency at the launch of the Reach initiative in 1999 and 2000. The objectives included the establishment and use of the personal public service, PPS, number as the common customer identifier and the development and acceptance of the public service card as the citizen's key to services.

Reach pursued the public service card objective through a programme of research and analysis of international best practice in the use of cards and, following preliminary consultations with Government Departments, developed a rationale for furthering the development and deployment of a public service card in the Irish public services context. The rationale provided foundation material for the Government approval in 2004 to develop the current SAFE initiative, which is jointly managed by client identity services in my Department and the Department of Finance.

During this period, the Reach agency was also mandated to develop and implement the public services broker. The refocusing of Reach's priorities in that time facilitated the development of the complex and significant broker project, the first phase of which is to go live shortly. Reach continues to work with client identity services to build and extend identity services to support access to services through the public services broker.

Reach has participated in the steering group established to progress the SAFE initiative, which is developing a set of business principles to form a standard for a public service card. The SAFE initiative has recently completed the initial phase of its work and proposals will shortly be prepared for Government relating to this which will also address future phases of work, including convergence issues and a communication and consultation programme.

David Stanton

Question:

290 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of the existing social service cards which were issued in each of the years 1992 to date; and when the decision to issue such cards was first proposed and agreed with the Department of Finance. [13976/05]

David Stanton

Question:

291 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the types of function for which the existing social service cards are currently used or have been used in earlier years, either for his Department purposes, for the purposes of payment of benefit by An Post or for any other purpose formally supported by State agencies and organisations such as voting; and if he will give an indication of the levels of each type of usage in each year since they were first issued. [13977/05]

David Stanton

Question:

292 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the consultations which have occurred with other Government Departments and other State agencies on the types of usage that might be appropriate for the existing social service cards or equivalent cards, in each of the years 1992 to date. [13978/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 290 to 292, inclusive, together.

In 1991, responsibility for the allocation of RSI numbers, which were subsequently renamed personal public service, PPS, numbers in 1998, transferred from the Revenue Commissioners to my Department. In 1991, it was proposed by my Department and agreed with the Department of Finance to replace the cardboard registration card with the more modern social services card. This card, which shows the client's name and PPS number on the front, has a magnetic stripe on the back which contains the PPS number, sex and date of birth of the client.

The number of social services cards issued in each year since 1992 is set out in appendix 1. On its introduction it was intended that the card would be used as a permanent and durable record of a person's PPS number. The card was also to provide customers with secure access to electronic information transfer, EIT, payments via the post office network. These are the only uses to which the card has been put since its introduction. The social services card does not formally support any other uses.

The number of customers using the social services card for the EIT method of payment is set out in appendix 2. The yearly numbers of EIT transactions made using the social services card is set out in appendix 3. No discussions with other Government Departments have taken place specifically on the types of usage that might be appropriate for the social services card since 1992. However, discussions have taken place on the more substantive issue of an integrated approach to public service delivery, including the role a card could play as a means to facilitate this integration.

Work has also taken place on the development of the legal and operational basis for the unique identifier, the PPS number, and on the progression of the initiative in the context of the e-government modernisation programme. In June 2004, the Government approved proposals for the development of a framework for public service cards using the personal public service, PPS, number as a unique identifier. An interdepartmental group is currently working on developing this framework, which is known as SAFE — standard authentication framework environment. The report on its first phase of work is currently being prepared.

Appendix 1

Year

1992

74,781

1993

295,195

1994

465,861

1995

399,505

1996

226,394

1997

227,520

1998

326,572

1999

289,428

2000

249,559

2001

289,562

2002

356,000

2003

188,854

2004

151,202

Appendix 2

Month

No. of customers on EIT

December 2002

143,578

December 2003

141,586

December 2004

133,332

March 2005

134,120

Appendix 3

Year

No. of transactions

1998

8,210,165

1999

8,392,638

2000

7,003,733

2001

6,626,419

2002

6,901,212

2003

7,032,649

2004

6,661,462

Joe Higgins

Question:

293 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the payment of old age pensions by means of pension books at post offices is to be replaced by electronic funds transfers to banks. [14023/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

294 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if, in the event of old age pension books being replaced by electronic funds transfers, this facility will be made available at the post offices. [14024/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 293 and 294 together.

Current payment options for old age pensions include payment at post offices by means of a pension order book and direct payment to customers' bank, building society or post office savings accounts. My objective 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.

I recently announced a comprehensive review of my Department's payment systems. The purpose of the review is to identify a system for the future that will respond most effectively to the individual needs of customers and deliver a service that is flexible and cost effective. This review will have regard to current trends and offerings in the financial services sector and the rapid advances in card based technologies. It will also take account of Government policy to facilitate the greater use of electronic payment systems in the economy in the interests of developing a world class payments environment in Ireland.

The increased use of electronic systems and card based technologies opens up possibilities for improved service and greater efficiency in payment delivery generally in the future. I recently met with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, who is the Minister responsible for An Post, to discuss these possibilities and their future role in payment delivery in post offices.

Mary Upton

Question:

295 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to reform the rent allowance system, in particular contacts with other Government Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14125/05]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to assist an eligible person who is unable to provide for his or her accommodation costs from his or her own resources and who does not have accommodation available from any other source.

A significant number of people have come to rely on rent supplements on a long-term basis over the years. In July 2004, the Government announced a new initiative to meet the long-term housing needs of rent supplement recipients. The new system will see local authorities assume responsibility for meeting long-term housing assistance needs, including the needs of those people on rent supplements for 18 months or longer. These needs will be met through a range of approaches, including the traditional range of social housing options, the voluntary housing sector and, in particular, a new public private partnership type rental accommodation scheme. A total of €19 million has been transferred from my Department's Vote to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Vote this year to help finance this initiative.

The new arrangements are currently being implemented in seven local authorities. My Department and the Health Service Executive are actively assisting the local authorities and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in this process. That Department has appointed programme managers to assist the lead authorities with the implementation of the new arrangements. Thereafter, these managers will be available to support other authorities during the implementation period. Regional and local implementation groups in the seven lead authority areas have been established to ensure effective ongoing liaison and co-operation locally between housing authorities, Health Service Executive areas and other agencies.

It is expected that the lead local authorities will transfer the first eligible rent supplement recipients to the rental accommodation scheme in May 2005. The new arrangements will be initiated in all local authority areas by the end of 2005. Almost 30,000 households who have been in receipt of a rent supplement payment for 18 months or more and are likely to be supported under the new rental assistance arrangements in due course.

The aim of the new system is to minimise ongoing dependence on rent supplement. The objective is to progress to a situation where suitable long-term accommodation is available for all who need it and where the rent supplement scheme is not necessary other than for short-term support. This is planned to be achieved within a period of three years from commencement of the new arrangements in each local authority and, in any event, no later than September 2008. Overall, the new rental assistance arrangements represent a major step forward in supporting people with long-term housing needs. All the relevant agencies are co-operating actively to make the system work successfully.

The supplementary welfare allowance rent supplement scheme will continue to provide short-term income support for eligible people who are unable to meet their immediate accommodation needs through their own resources. The role, efficiency and effectiveness of this supplement is being considered in the context of a comprehensive evaluation of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme being carried out by my Department this year as part of its programme of expenditure reviews.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Question:

296 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will consider increasing the fuel allowance from €9 to a more realistic amount. [14217/05]

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. It is not intended to meet the full cost of fuel. 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 end-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.

I have no plans at present to increase the rate of fuel allowance. Any such change to the scheme would have to be considered in a budget context and in the light of other priorities.

Michael Ring

Question:

297 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the complete and total breakdown of all contributions made by a person (details supplied) in County Mayo during their working life; and the reason this person has been refused a medical appliance benefit. [14266/05]

Under the treatment benefit scheme administered by my Department, persons insured under the Social Welfare Acts and their dependent spouses can avail of benefit in respect of a certain range of dental, optical and aural services subject to satisfying certain contribution conditions. To qualify for medical appliance benefit an insured person who reached 66 years before July 1992 is required to have: 208 weeks reckonable PRSI contributions paid since entry into insurable employment and 39 weeks reckonable insurance contributions paid or credited in either of the two complete tax years before reaching the age of 66 years. If the person does not qualify at age 66 years their contribution record is examined to check if they satisfied the contribution conditions at age 60.

The relevant tax years for the person concerned are 1986-87 and 1987-88. According to the records of my Department, he satisfies the first condition. He does not satisfy the second condition as he has no contributions paid or credited during those tax years. The relevant tax year for the person concerned at age 60 is the 1981-82 tax year. He has no contributions paid during that year. He does not, therefore, qualify for medical appliance benefit.

If the person concerned is the holder of a medical card he may be entitled to some assistance towards his costs under the scheme administered by the Health Service Executive. Inquiries in this regard should be made at his local health services centre.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

298 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action he proposes to take against retailers who place restrictions on the cashing of social welfare payment cheques (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14269/05]

My Department issues over half a million cheques every month and, as a general rule, there are no problems regarding their encashment. Occasionally, people experience difficulty in cashing their cheques, mainly because of inadequate identification. Such problems were resolved on a case by case basis.

Cheques are but one of a range of payment methods offered to customers and would account for about 10% of total payments issued by my Department. While precise statistics are not available, it is estimated that about one third of social welfare customers in receipt of cheque payments cash them at retail outlets without any difficulty. The cashing of cheques by retail outlets is a matter between the customer and the retailer and it would not be appropriate for me to interfere in this relationship.

Cheques issued by my Department are drawn on the Bank of Ireland and may be cashed at any bank branch on production of necessary identification. In addition, Bank of Ireland has an agreement with An Post whereby social welfare cheques may be cashed at any post office subject to satisfactory proof of identity. If a social welfare customer experiences any difficulties in cashing their cheques, they should bring the matter to the attention of my Department which will ensure that alternative payment arrangements are offered to them. These arrangements include payment at the customer's local post office or by direct payment into the customer's bank or building society account.

Willie Penrose

Question:

299 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department will assess correspondence to ascertain whether a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath is permitted to retain the rent allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14270/05]

Rent supplements are available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. Neither I nor my Department has any function in determining entitlement in individual cases.

In general, people in full-time education are excluded from receiving assistance, including rent supplements, under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. However, there is statutory provision for continued payment of rent supplement to eligible people, generally over age 21 years, who wish to resume full-time education in approved courses through the back to education allowance or VTOS schemes, subject to satisfying the other standard conditions of the rent supplement scheme.

The Dublin and mid-Leinster area of the executive has advised that it became aware that the person concerned is a full-time student in the course of a routine review of her entitlements. As she is not participating in either the back to education allowance or VTOS schemes, she does not satisfy the statutory conditions for retention of rent supplement.

Michael Lowry

Question:

300 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the anomaly raised in correspondence from a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; the reason a social welfare payment from the UK is included in a means test for the old age non-contributory pension; the steps he plans to take to rectify the discriminatory practices in regard to the old age non contributory pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14410/05]

Michael Lowry

Question:

301 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will award the full old age non-contributory pension to Irish persons who are in receipt of any social welfare payment as outlined in his Department’s information leaflet SW60; if he will end the discriminatory practice of including a social welfare payment from another State in means testing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14412/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 300 and 301 together.

It has not been possible in the time available to examine comprehensively the details of the case mentioned by the Deputy. I will write to him shortly in regard to this matter.

Departmental Funding.

Tony Gregory

Question:

302 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will take urgent steps to make the necessary funds available to enable a centre (details supplied) to remain open after 30 years of service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14413/05]

The centre concerned 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, including the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, 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.

I am fully cognisant of the valuable role which a community-based legal advice service such as the centre concerned 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 and I will be following this up with him as a matter of urgency.

In the meantime, I am increasing their funding for 2005 to €360,000. This will allow for a breathing space between now and the end of the year during which a solid, long-term strategy can be assembled that will ensure the centre can continue its work into the future.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

303 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the rent allowance will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14416/05]

The position remains as advised in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 284, which I answered for the Deputy on 8 March 2005. The Dublin-mid-Leinster area of the Health Service Executive has advised that it has no record of an application for rent supplement from the person concerned. If the person concerned wishes to apply she should contact the community welfare officer at her local health centre who will assess her situation and determine her entitlement.

Driving Tests.

Michael Ring

Question:

304 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Transport the reason the mobile unit that is used for the theory test for learner drivers cannot be brought to Erris in County Mayo, obviating the need for persons to travel to Ballina. [14425/05]

The contract for the delivery of the driver theory testing service was awarded to Prometric Thomson Learning on the basis that testing be conducted at 41 locations nationally, including Ballina and Westport in County Mayo. There are 16 permanent centres, and mobile units service 25 locations. The centres are strategically located to limit, as far as is commensurate with the achievement of an economic testing system, the average distance that candidates are required to travel for a driver theory test.

Regional Airports.

Michael Lowry

Question:

305 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to correspondence (details supplied); his views on the initiatives outlined in same; if he will meet with the group involved to discuss its concerns in more detail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13904/05]

The correspondence to which the Deputy refers was sent to the Taoiseach, but was also copied to me and many other Deputies. The letter concerns the approaching liberalisation of the EU-US aviation market and its impact on Shannon. I have made it clear on a number of occasions that the development of an EU-US open skies regime provides many opportunities for Shannon Airport to contribute to the development of the mid-western region. I have also acknowledged that adjustment to this new regime will present challenges for the airport and that these are best addressed in the context of the business plans being finalised by the Shannon Airport Authority.

Road Safety.

Richard Bruton

Question:

306 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Transport the reason for the delay in issuing guidelines in regard to the introduction of lower speed limits at locations such as schools; and when these guidelines will be issued. [13925/05]

Denis Naughten

Question:

320 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport if he will furnish a copy of the guidelines issued to local authorities on the implementation of special speed limits; when these guidelines issued to local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14302/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 306 and 320 together.

On 18 April 2005, I issued guidelines on the application of special speed limits to the county and city managers. Copies of the document have been placed in the Oireachtas Library and the guidelines are also available on my Department's website,www.transport.ie, in the section on roads publications.

Public Transport.

Finian McGrath

Question:

307 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding public transport services in the Artane, Beaumont and Coolock areas in Dublin 5. [13982/05]

The provision of Dublin Bus services and any decision by Dublin Bus to alter any of its services are part of the day-to-day responsibilities of that company.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

308 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Transport the reason for the delay in supplying additional buses to Dublin Bus under the national development plan; if he is aware that the non-provision of same is preventing Dublin Bus from providing 15 additional buses to serve the Maynooth, Leixlip, Celbridge and Lucan areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14046/05]

Significant investment has been made to date under the national development plan, NDP, in acquiring new buses for Dublin Bus. In addition, significant Exchequer funding has been provided for a new depot for these buses. As a consequence, the capacity of the fleet has been increased by nearly 25% since 1999 and the company is now carrying approximately 150 million passengers per annum. Some 418 buses have been purchased by Dublin Bus since 1999 with the assistance of Exchequer and EU funds.

In addition to the significant Exchequer investment in Dublin Bus in recent years, significant investment has been made under the NDP in other public transport modes such as Luas, the Maynooth and Kildare suburban rail lines and the DART. In light of the significant expansion of rail capacity and considering demographic changes in the city, the management of Dublin Bus is examining whether capacity on certain corridors might be better utilised to meet growing demand elsewhere. I await the outcome of this review.

Barry Andrews

Question:

309 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Transport the current passenger capacity of the DART; the likely cost to Iarnród Éireann of doubling that capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14064/05]

I have been informed by Iarnród Éireann that the DART fleet now comprises 154 carriages, following the recent delivery of 40 new carriages. The capacity of the system is around 27,000 passengers in the peak hour. A new DART carriage costs almost €2 million. The fleet has almost doubled in size from 80 carriages in 2000 and the company considers that when the current DART upgrade programme is completed later this year and eight carriage trains are in operation, the capacity of the fleet will be of sufficient size to cater for demand for the foreseeable future.

Barry Andrews

Question:

310 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Transport the proportion of GDP being allocated to funding public transport in 2005; the way in which this compares to the EU average; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14065/05]

In recent years, the Government has allocated approximately 5% of GNP to capital investment across all sectors of the economy which compares with an EU average of around 2.5%. In 2005, the transport allocation is around €1.8 billion, which represents approximately 27% of the overall capital budget. The public transport allocation at around €480 million is 26% of the transport total. The average allocation for public transport across the EU is not readily available.

Barry Andrews

Question:

311 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Transport if he will consider establishing a Dublin transport authority; the likely cost to the Exchequer of such a body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14066/05]

The Government consultation paper, New Institutional Arrangements for Land-Use and Transport in the Greater Dublin Area, was published jointly by the Departments of the Environment and Local Government and Public Enterprise in April, 2001. The paper proposed the establishment of a new strategic land use and transportation planning authority for the greater Dublin area. Developments since the publication of this consultation document have caused a review of the proposals.

The national spatial strategy was published in December 2002 and, arising from that strategy, the regional authorities have finalised regional planning guidelines under the provisions of the Planning and Development Act 2000. These provide effective regional land use strategies consistent with the national spatial strategy. The Dublin and mid-east regional authorities have collaborated to produce a single set of guidelines for the greater Dublin area which were published on 8 July last. These guidelines recommend a number of specific actions required for the further development of transport in the region. The guidelines also recommend a number of policy principles that are to be pursued in that regard.

The relevant agencies investing in transport in the region are now developing their plans in the light of the guidelines. In particular, the guidelines provide an important guidance to the Dublin Transportation Office in its input into all development plans and planning applications in the greater Dublin area.

In the light of the developments in the intervening period, I am of the view that the establishment of a greater Dublin land use transportation authority is not now a priority in seeking to improve the transport system for Dublin. However, I intend to keep this issue under review as we proceed with the preparation of the proposed ten year transport investment plan.

Barry Andrews

Question:

312 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Transport his views on whether it is appropriate to double the availability of park and ride facilities at DART and suburban railway stations; the likely cost of such action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14067/05]

The provision of park and ride facilities is an operational matter for Iarnród Éireann. Iarnród Éireann informs me it has utilised all available sites in the ownership of the CIE Group for the purpose of providing park and ride sites. The company has indicated that it would be happy to liaise with local authorities to determine whether lands in their ownership may be used for the provision of additional facilities for rail users.

In addition, the Dublin Transportation Office, DTO, working group on rail-based park and ride has developed a strategy for the provision of park and ride facilities at a number of locations on the existing and proposed rail network within the greater Dublin area. It has also proposed an evaluation methodology to assess the suitability of any future proposals. I am currently considering the final report of that group detailing the locations and factors to be considered when progressing the implementation of such facilities.

Barry Andrews

Question:

313 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Transport his plans for additional public bus stock and the development of bus and cycle lanes; the funding being provided for such in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14068/05]

Significant investment has been made to date under the national development plan in acquiring new buses for Dublin Bus. In addition, significant Exchequer funding has been provided for a new depot for these buses. As a consequence, the capacity of the fleet has been increased by nearly 25% since 1999 and the company is now carrying approximately 150 million passengers per annum.

My Department is providing funding of approximately €1.2 million towards the company's fleet replacement programme for 2005. Given the demands on the multi-annual capital budget negotiated by my Department with the Department of Finance, prudent management requires that my Department is satisfied regarding the utilisation of existing resources before considering additional funding. In this context, the management of Dublin Bus is currently examining ways of maximising the utilisation of the bus fleet, in light of the significant investment made to date under the NDP in other modes such as Luas, suburban rail and the DART upgrade. I await the outcome of this review.

A key element in improving public transport in the Dublin area has been the provision of quality bus corridors, QBCs. The QBCs are making a significant contribution in terms of greater patronage and increased bus speeds. So far, there are nine QBCs in operation in the Dublin area, Malahide, Lucan, Stillorgan, Finglas, north Clondalkin, Rathfarnham, Tallaght, Swords and Blanchardstown.

It is proposed to complete a number of quality bus corridor projects in the course of 2005, accounting for a total of about 40 km in length. The sections of new QBCs that will be completed in 2005 depend on the outcome of public consultation and tendering processes. Funding for the QBCs is provided through the Department of Transport's traffic management grants scheme which is administered by the Dublin Transportation Office, DTO. I have allocated €40 million to the traffic management grants scheme for 2005 and I understand that the DTO steering committee has decided to allocate 85% of this amount for the design, development and implementation of bus priority schemes in 2005.

Cycle facilities will be developed in conjunction with the implementation of bus priority schemes. Grants to the value of €1million for 2005 have been approved by the DTO steering committee to date, for expenditure on cycle provision in the DTO area over and above those facilities provided as part of bus schemes.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

314 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport the number of passengers carried by Dublin Bus in the morning peak hour for the year 2004. [14129/05]

I am informed by Dublin Bus that in 2004 the company carried approximately 94,000 passengers per weekday in the morning peak, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

315 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport the amount allocated in each year since 1997 for the provision or enhancement of bus corridors in Dublin. [14130/05]

The amounts allocated for each year since 1997 for the provision or enhancement of quality bus corridors in Dublin are as follows:

Year

Amount Allocated €

1997

1.5 million

1998

3.7 million

1999

8.6 million

2000

17.8 million

2001

23.4 million

2002

15.1 million

2003

18.6 million

2004

28.1 million

Funding for the QBCs is provided through the Department of Transport's traffic management grants scheme which is administered by the Dublin Transportation Office. I have allocated €40 million to the traffic management grants scheme for 2005 and I understand that the DTO steering committee has decided to allocate 85% of this amount for the design, development and implementation of bus priority schemes in 2005.

Road Safety.

Seán Haughey

Question:

316 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Transport if trucks will be fitted with wing mirrors to ensure that drivers can see pedestrians; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14150/05]

Developments at EU level will result in new heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, having to comply with higher standards in regard to the fields of vision of drivers. EU Directive 2003/97/EC, which harmonises the rules relating to the type-approval of devices for indirect vision, including mirrors and camera-monitors, on motor vehicles and of vehicles equipped with these devices, provides,inter alia, for an extension of the field of vision so as to address the issue of blind spots. These enhanced requirements should lead to a reduction in fatalities and serious injuries involving pedestrians and cyclists due to the driver’s inadequate field of vision. The directive requires all new HGVs entering into service from 26 January 2007 to meet the revised standards for field of vision set in the directive.

The directive was transposed into Irish law through the European Communities (Mechanically Propelled Vehicle Entry into Service) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations, which were made on 20 December 2004. Subject to practical engineering constraints and the agreement of the European Commission, it is my intention to require existing vehicles of the types covered by the directive to be retrofitted with the necessary mirrors and/or cameras and monitors.

In the meantime, drivers of mechanically propelled vehicles in a public place should be aware of the statutory requirements in road traffic law to drive with reasonable consideration for other persons and with due care and attention.

Road Traffic Offences.

Billy Timmins

Question:

317 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Transport the plans he has to ensure that penalty points are endorsed on the licence record of a person; if it is acceptable that it may take several months for the penalty to be recorded; if this is fair to the person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14166/05]

The Road Traffic Act 2002, which provides the legislative basis for the introduction and operation of the penalty points system, contains specific provisions governing application of such points on the licence record of an individual. Section 5 of the Act provides that where penalty points are to be endorsed on a record, a notification of that endorsement must be issued to the licence holder involved. The notice sets out in particular the basis for the endorsement of the points. Section 7 of the Act provides that, save in very limited and quite specific instances, the operative date for penalty points is 28 days from the date of the notice issued under section 5. This date is referred to in the Act as the appropriate date.

The provisions in the 2002 Act, in regard to the appropriate date, recognise that as a result of the endorsement of penalty points a person may face the application of an automatic disqualification from driving. Section 3 of the Act establishes that where a person accumulates at least 12 penalty points, he or she will be disqualified for a period of six months. If penalty points were to be applied from the date of the commission of the offence in the first instance or from the date of the payment of the fixed charge, a person could be faced with the prospect that they would have already been disqualified in advance of any notification being sent to that effect. This would in turn create the situation that a person would be open to a charge of driving when disqualified where they had driven in the period between the commission of the original offence or the payment of the charge and the date of the notice.

The penalty points system has been designed and structured to ensure that any person who is accused of the commission of a penalty point offence is afforded a significant time period to chose whether or not to allow the matter to proceed to court. Save in respect of eight of the 70 offences determined to be penalty point offences in the Act, the option of the payment of a fixed charge is afforded to the accused person. A person presented with a fixed charge notice is given a period of 56 days in which to make such a payment before the certainty of a court summons is applied. There is, therefore, a potentially significant period made available to a person to make a decision and all of the time lapses relating to the system that are established in the Act are set out in the fixed charge notice issued in respect of the alleged commission of the offence.

Road Network.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

318 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Transport if he will meet with a deputation from Monaghan County Council to hear their case for the reclassification of the Cremartin-Castleblayney road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14200/05]

A review of the national and regional road classification system as set out in Statutory Instrument 209 of 1994, Roads Act 1993 (Declaration of National Roads) Order 1994, and S.I. 400 of 1994, Roads Act 1993 (Declaration of Regional Roads) Order 1994, is currently under way. It is designed to update the statutory instruments to take account of road improvements and route changes since 1994. The classification of the Cremartin-Castleblayney road,inter alia, will be reviewed in the update. It is anticipated that the update will be concluded later on this year. In view of the foregoing, a meeting with a deputation from Monaghan County Council is not proposed.

Driving Tests.

Michael Lowry

Question:

319 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Transport further to Parliamentary Question No. 550 of 12 April 2005, when resources will be sanctioned to allow for the urgent and essential recruitment of driver testers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14301/05]

My Department's discussions with the Department of Finance about a package of measures to reduce waiting times at all test centres are at an advanced stage. The measures include the recruitment of additional driver testers as well as increased productivity. I expect that my Department will be in a position to proceed with these measures at an early date.

Question No. 320 answered with QuestionNo. 306.

John Curran

Question:

321 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Transport if he will consider introducing mandatory approved training courses and statutory registration for all driving instructors; the likely cost to the Exchequer of such initiatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14311/05]

Proposals being developed by my Department for the regulation and quality assurance of driving instruction will involve a test of the competence of individual instructors. A working group comprising representatives of my Department and of instruction interests has formulated the design of the standards that a driving instructor must meet.

I am considering what arrangements will be put in place to oversee implementation of the standard in the context of the establishment of the driver testing and standards authority. The Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004 is at Second Stage. It is not possible at this stage to determine the likely cost to the Exchequer, if any.

Rail Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

322 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport if Irish Rail will provide time slots to accommodate two sugar beet trains from the Portlaoise depot to Mallow in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14418/05]

I wish to advise the Deputy that this is a day-to-day operational matter for the company concerned.

Public Transport.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

323 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Transport if he will report on his meeting with the South Dublin Chamber of Commerce based in Tallaght; will the proposal receive his special attention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14451/05]

I held a very useful meeting with the South Dublin Chamber of Commerce on 27 April during which I received its transport policy paper. The meeting dealt with the full range of transport issues in the South Dublin area and beyond. In the light of the announcement by the Minister for Finance in his budget statement of agreement in principle to a ten year capital investment envelope for transport, work is under way in my Department on a ten-year transport investment plan.

The draft plan takes account of the work already done on investment priorities under the current capital envelope to end 2009 and of the various strategic studies already completed by my Department and its agencies. The matter is currently under consideration by the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, housing and PPPs. I will bring proposals to Government in due course once the Cabinet committee has concluded its work. In this context, I will give careful consideration to the various proposals that the South Dublin Chamber of Commerce has put forward.

Haulage Industry.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

324 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport if he will report on his Department’s inspectorate for the haulage industry; the remit of the inspectorate; the number of inspectors in same; the number of inspections carried out in each of the past five years; the number of drivers who have been found to be non-compliant in each year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14570/05]

The road haulage division of my Department includes an enforcement section that is responsible for the enforcement of operator licensing regimes for both bus and road haulage operators and of drivers' hours rules in the road transport sector.

There are currently nine transport officers engaged full time on enforcement of these rules. Transport officers enforce the rules through roadside checkpoints, in co-operation with the Garda Síochána, and visits to operator premises. Details of the inspections carried out on operators, both at their premises and at the roadside, and the tachograph offences detected in respect of drivers in the past five years are set out in the table below.

Year

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

Operators Inspected

4,038

2,485

3,706

4,010

4,157

No. of detected Tachograph Offences by drivers*

2,924

4,226

4,298

3,436

4,502

*Figures are not available for the number of drivers who have committed offences; in some cases a driver may have committed a number of offences.

Rural Social Scheme.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

325 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo could not participate in the rural social scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13914/05]

To be eligible to participate in the rural social scheme a person must be in receipt of: farm assist or have been allocated a valid herd or flock number from the Department of Agriculture and Food and be in receipt of unemployment assistance, unemployment benefit, have previously been on a community employment scheme or disability allowance or be a self employed fisherman whose fishing boat has been entered in the register of fishing boats or have been issued with a fishing licence for fishing for salmon at sea, from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and be in receipt of unemployment assistance, unemployment benefit, have previously been on a community employment scheme or disability allowance.

I understand that the person concerned is in receipt of a one parent family payment and is, therefore, not eligible within these criteria to participate in the rural social scheme. It is intended to carry out a review of the scheme in the near future and the issue of eligibility of lone parents for the scheme will be considered in this context.

Irish Language.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

326 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the discussions he has had or proposes to have with the Department of Education and Science regarding the need to simplify Irish language grammar to enable the language to survive (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13985/05]

The idea which has been raised in the media is an interesting one, which I am sure will stimulate public debate. As I have indicated in response to previous questions from the Deputy, I do not regard it as appropriate to respond formally on the record of this House to each and every item raised in or covered by the media.

Inland Waterways.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

327 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will meet with a deputation from Monaghan County Council to discuss the steps which can be taken to move forward the project for the reopening of the Ulster canal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14195/05]

I am more than willing to meet delegations concerning the Ulster Canal or any other issue to which a meeting can make a meaningful contribution. However, in view of the current care and maintenance mode in which the North-South bodies are operating, there is currently no possibility of advancing consideration of the possibility of proceeding with work on the Ulster canal. That being so, I do not feel that a meeting at this time would serve any useful purpose. However, I wrote to Monaghan County Council on the 24 March, 2005, stating that I am willing to review this decision on receipt of a clear perspective from it as to the precise purpose such a meeting would serve.

Community Development.

Michael Ring

Question:

328 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will reconsider his decision in respect of the removal of funding from the community workers co-operatives. [14443/05]

I have dealt comprehensively with this issue in the House already. I refer the Deputy in particular to my replies to Questions Nos. 24, 27 and 37 of 14 April 2005.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

329 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the Government’s negotiating position regarding the EU review of disadvantaged areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14247/05]

The proposed redefinition of disadvantaged areas is one element of a EU Commission proposal on support for rural development in the 2007-13 period. The proposed redefinition responds to the European Court of Auditors' criticism, endorsed by the European Parliament, of the current system. The suggested new methodology is based on natural conditions, notably soil and climatic factors. The socio-economic criteria that were taken into account to designate the current eligible areas would no longer apply.

At meetings of the Council of Ministers, I stressed that this is an extremely important and sensitive issue. Other member states have adopted a similar position. The Commission has accepted that the proposal presents difficulties for member states. However, a revised compromise text circulated by the Presidency on 27 April did not propose any changes to the original text in so far as the disadvantaged areas are concerned. I will continue to seek a solution that is equitable and in Ireland's interests.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

330 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to implement the recommendations of the Joint Committee report on the ERS; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14248/05]

I received the committee's report formally on 7 April and my officials are currently examining it. This report arises from an investigation by the committee of a complaint by a group representing retired farmers. Department officials provided a comprehensive formal written response to the complaint and attended a meeting of the committee in July 2003 to answer questions from members. The report covers a range of issues, including taxation, which is outside my remit. I will address the issues shortly in a formal response to the committee.

I am naturally anxious that the early retirement scheme delivers maximum benefits to retired farmers. However this is an EU-funded scheme and I am constrained by the regulations under which it was introduced. I have to point out that the same group of retired farmers made an identical complaint to the European Commission, which did not uphold it. The Commission concluded, in other words, that my Department is administering the scheme correctly and in accordance with the governing EU regulations.

The Department has recently conducted an expenditure review of the current early retirement scheme and copies were laid before the House on 13 April. The expenditure review process was established by the Department of Finance in 1997 in the context of the strategic management initiative. The purpose of the review of the early retirement scheme is to analyse systematically whether it is meeting its objectives and to inform future decisions regarding priorities on expenditure programmes. The Department's review includes a number of conclusions and recommendations that will help to inform my response to the report of the joint committee.

Single Payment Scheme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

331 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for cross-compliance under the single farm payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14249/05]

Under the new single payment scheme, farmers receiving direct aid are required to respect the various statutory management requirements set down in EU legislation on the environment, food safety, animal health, and welfare, and plant health and to maintain the farm in good agricultural and environmental condition, GAEC. There will also be an obligation on the member state to ensure that there is no significant reduction in the amount of land under permanent pasture by reference to the total area under permanent pasture in 2003. These requirements are termed "cross compliance".

The EU directives and regulations referred to in cross compliance are in place for many years. Producers are generally familiar with them and are complying with the standards set in implementing them in Ireland.

The Department prepared a consultative document on cross compliance in October, 2004 and invited views from interested organisations. Department officials met with the main farming organisations in December to discuss their submissions and these discussions have continued more recently in the context of the review of the protocol on direct payments.

An information booklet on cross compliance has been issued to all farmers and sets out its principle features both in terms of the standards that must be met by farmers and the control arrangements that will be necessary. To coincide with the issue of the booklet, a series of countrywide farmer information meetings organised by my Department in conjunction with Teagasc, took place in early April. These meetings focused not only on cross compliance but also addressed the various other issues associated with the introduction of the single payment scheme.

In implementing the single payment scheme, I am aiming to minimise the number of inspection visits and to move towards a situation where, in most cases, all eligibility and cross compliance checks will be carried out during a single farm visit. It is envisaged that the 22,000 or so inspections, which were carried out under the old regime, will be significantly reduced to some 10,000 under the single payment scheme. This approach should minimise the level of inconvenience to farmers. However, in certain instances more than one inspection of a holding may be unavoidable.

EU Directives.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

332 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department will go ahead with its action programme for the implementation of the EU nitrates directive; her views on whether she should honour the Government’s commitments given to sustaining progress; if her attention has been drawn to the disastrous future effects if suppliers have to cut stocking rates, consequently leading to an increase in milk production costs (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14373/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

In October last, Ireland submitted an action programme to the European Commission for further implementation of the nitrates directive. In December the Commission conveyed its view that the action programme was not complete and did not comply with the requirements of the directive or with the judgment of the European Court of Justice against Ireland, which had been delivered in March, 2004.

Subsequently, my Department worked closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the preparation of an initial response to the Commission. This response was sent on 20 April. I understand that a revised action programme, on which my Department has been consulted, will be sent to the Commission shortly. Ireland has already submitted proposals for a derogation from the general limits laid down in the nitrates directive, designed to allow farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg. of organic nitrogen per hectare.

As regards Sustaining Progress, the Government has already delivered fully on its undertakings in respect of the nitrates directive. A revised REPS was introduced in July 2004 which delivered average increases in payments of 28%. I am pleased to note that demand for the new scheme is very strong and that participation is about to reach an all-time record with every sign of continued growth.

Improvements in the on-farm investment schemes were also introduced in line with undertakings in Sustaining Progress. The vast majority of Irish farmers can now avail of grant-aid as the ceiling for eligibility under the schemes has been raised from 200 to 450 income units — equivalent to an income of €114,300. The investment ceilings have also been raised from €50,790 to €75,000 in the case of farm waste management works. A standardised grant rate of 40% now applies for most investments, twice that which would have been available to many farmers previously. In addition, increases have already been applied to the standard costs used to calculate grant aid, providing a solid basis for farmers to continue their efforts to improve standards in farming.

The scheme of capital allowances for expenditure on farm pollution control has been extended to the end of 2006 and my colleague, the Minister for Finance announced in his budget on 1 December 2004 that the writing down period of special tax relief for expenditure on farm pollution control measures will be reduced from seven to three years in order to assist farmers to comply with the nitrates action programme.

Biotechnological Inventions.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

333 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will act to make a reality the prospect outlined at the Teagasc national tillage conference in 2003 of Ireland supplying all its energy requirements from fuel crops; and if she will encourage the development of the biofuel sector for the sake of all farmers, especially those who depended on the Carlow sugar factory. [14481/05]

Promotion and development of renewable energy in Ireland are matters in the first instance for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

My Department is represented on the bioenergy strategy group established by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural resources to consider policy options and support mechanisms available to Government to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion and to make specific recommendations for action to increase the proportion of energy from biomass in Ireland.

In addition, an interdepartmental group chaired by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources is considering policy options for the development of a biofuels sector in Ireland. My Department is represented on that group. As part of the group's work, a liquid biofuels strategy study was published by Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, in December 2004. This report provides comprehensive details on the potential for the development of a biofuels market in Ireland and options to stimulate the market.

The possibility of producing bioethanol from sugar beet was mooted recently in the context of the closure of the Carlow sugar factory but Irish Sugar Ltd. has indicated that it intends to process the full Irish sugar quota at its Mallow plant, which will be upgraded. Arrangements are being made to transport the sugar beet from the Carlow catchment area to Mallow. Under the single payment scheme operated by my Department aid is available at a rate of €45 per hectare per year for areas sown with energy crops. The aid is granted in respect of areas where production is covered by a contract between the farmer and a processor, except in the case of processing undertaken by the farmer on his holding. Agricultural raw materials, with the exception of sugar beet, may be grown under the energy crops scheme provided the crops are intended primarily for use in the production of products considered to be biofuels and for electric and thermal energy produced from biomass.

A maximum guaranteed area of 1.5 million hectares for which aid for energy crops can be granted has been established in the European Union. According to figures provided by the EU Commission, in excess of 303,000 hectares was sown with energy crops in 2004, of which 439 hectares were Irish. From 1 January 2005, farmers may claim the energy crop payment in addition to their entitlement under the single farm payment. In addition to this scheme, set-aside land can be used for a variety of non-food uses, including growing of crops for energy purposes, and will therefore qualify to activate set-aside entitlements under the single payment scheme.

The energy crops scheme and a number of other areas such as wood biomass will be considered by my Department to determine how their bioenergy potential can be promoted.

Grant Payments.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

334 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the payments made under a herd number for a person (details supplied) in County Galway for the years 2000, 2001 and 2002; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13915/05]

Payment details for the years 2000, 2001 and 2002 in respect of this herd owner were contained in a statement of his provisional entitlements issued by my Department to him on 1 February of this year.

The Department has issued a duplicate of that statement together with a review form to the herd owner.

Single Payment Scheme.

Michael Ring

Question:

335 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will address the EU single payment entitlements of farmers who inherited holdings during or since the reference years; if so, the nature of the action being taken, including instances in which, during or after the reference years, the inheritor of a farm switched from dairying to dry stock; if regard is being taken of the fact that the entitlements have not been clarified, although the date for the submission of applications to the national reserve has almost passed; her estimate of the entitlements which will accrue to the farmers in question; the number of farmers involved; if, for the situations in which some may not qualify under the existing single payment regime, she has made or proposes to make an entitlements case based on years subsequent to the current reference period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13944/05]

Under the EU regulations governing the single payment scheme, farmers, who inherited holdings during or since the reference years from those who had entitlements established for them, may also inherit those entitlements. The farmers concerned should each complete an inheritance form in order to get the entitlements registered in their own names.

The completed form together with supporting legal documentation should be sent to my Department's single payment office at Government Buildings, Portlaoise. To date, the Department has received some 13,919 applications in respect of the inheritance-only and the inheritance and new entrant combined measures and a further 2,341 applications were received in respect of the new entrant-only measure. To date, 13,292 applicants have been notified of the final decision in respect of their applications, while a further 1,1757 applicants have been requested to submit the required legal documentation such as grant of probate, letters of administration etc. to support their applications.

Farmers who sold their milk quota into the milk quota restructuring scheme between 1 January 2000 and 19 October 2003 and who converted their enterprise to a farming sector for which a direct payment under the livestock or arable aid schemes would have been payable in respect of the years 2000 to 2002, may apply to the national reserve under category C for an allocation of entitlements. Application forms have been available for the national reserve since mid- December 2004 and the closing date for receipt of completed applications is 16 May 2005. Farmers who have already applied under the inheritance measure and whose case is under query may apply to the national reserve if they meet the eligibility conditions for the reserve. It is not necessary to know the outcome of the inheritance application before one applies to the national reserve under category C as it will be the extent to which the farmer has converted his enterprise which will be assessed.

The Department is at present processing some 16,500 national reserve applications already received. In view of the number of applications received and the documentation which must be obtained from some farmers, it is not possible at this stage to indicate the number or value of entitlements which will be allocated from the reserve.

EU Council Regulation 1782/2003 introducing the single payment scheme stipulates that entitlements may only be based on the three reference years of 2000, 2001 and 2002. It also allows for the use of 1997, 1998 and 1999 in the case of hardship. The regulation does not provide for using any year subsequent to 2002 in the calculation of the single payment.

I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that the Department has no option but to adhere to the regulations governing the scheme.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Question:

336 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive a REP scheme payment. [13946/05]

Payment dated 28 April 2005 has issued in this case.

Single Payment Scheme.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

337 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the application for single payment for a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13947/05]

The person named submitted an application for consideration in respect of the new entrant measure of the single payment scheme.

Following processing of the documentation received it was deemed that it is more beneficial financially to have the entitlements established in her husband's name transferred rather than the new entrant measure. A letter outlining the position has issued to the person named today requesting the completion of an application form in respect of the inheritance measure. When this application has been processed a statement of provisional entitlements will issue to the person named.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

338 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she proposes to seek the designation of the remaining 16% of County Monaghan as severely handicapped; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14042/05]

The classification of all of County Monaghan as "more severely handicapped" has cleared all the hurdles in Brussels, as was announced last week by my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith.

I am extremely pleased at this news which meets a commitment made to the social partners in Sustaining Progress. The agreement of the European Commission to my Department's proposals means that some 750 farmers in the 322 townlands involved in County Monaghan will receive the higher €88.88 per hectare more severely handicapped rate of payment from 2005 on as compared to the lower €76.18 less severely handicapped rate per hectare which they have been receiving up to now.

These 750 beneficiaries farming around 12,500 hectares will receive between them an additional €160,000 each year as a result. Assuming they are eligible for compensatory allowances, all they have to do this year to qualify for the higher payment rate is complete their single payment application form in exactly the same way as they would have completed it if they were still only going to receive payments at the lower rate.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

339 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the recommendations of the report of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food on early retirement from farming will be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14045/05]

I received the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee formally on 7 April. I have asked my officials to consider the recommendations contained in the report, having due regard to the terms and conditions both of the early retirement scheme and of the European Commission regulations under which both the current and previous schemes were introduced.

Land Reclassification.

Michael Ring

Question:

340 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if a person is selling their farm and have consolidation entitlements, if those entitlements go to the person who buys the land. [14078/05]

Consolidated entitlements are granted through the national reserve and except in cases offorce majeure, must be used in full by the person who has applied for consolidation for a period of five years following their granting. Otherwise the unused entitlements are returned to the national reserve. The only exception to this rule is where the land and entitlements are transferred by gift or inheritance.

A person with consolidated entitlements who sells the farm and wishes to transfer the entitlements with the land can only do so following the expiry of a five year period following the consolidation of the entitlements.

Veterinary Matters.

Michael Ring

Question:

341 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to bring in legislation in order that farmers receive prescriptions to obtain animal medication; if legislation is required; and the plans the Government has to change the system. [14079/05]

Under EU Directive 2004/28, there is a general requirement that all medicines for food-producing animals must be brought under veterinary prescription control. However, taking account of difficulties Ireland and a small number of other member states had expressed about this prescriptive approach during negotiations on the legislation, provision has been made under the EU directive for exemptions to this general principle in accordance with criteria to be determined at EU level. The deadline for decisions on the exemptions is January 2007, pending which the EU legislation specifically provides that existing national distribution regimes may remain in place.

My approach to the exemption provision is to seek at EU level to retain off-prescription status for those categories of medicines, such as wormers, which the Irish Medicines Board has determined on a scientific basis may be safely sold under existing controls without the need for a veterinary prescription. It remains to be seen whether this approach will be accepted by the Commission and other member states. However, I do not propose to pre-empt the outcome of this exercise by introducing a general legislative requirement that all medicines for food producing animals must be subject to a veterinary prescription.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Question:

342 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be informed of entitlements for the single payment scheme. [14086/05]

The person named submitted applications for consideration in respect of inheritance and new entrant measures of the single payment scheme. Following processing of her application it was deemed that she did not meet the criteria for a person commencing a farming activity during the reference years as it commenced in February 2003. An application form for consideration in respect of the national reserve has been forwarded to the person named if she considers she meets the criteria.

I am pleased to advise that she was notified that the application for consideration in respect of inheritance after the reference period was successful and the inherited entitlements will be transferred to her. An official from my Department has contacted the person named and advised her of the position. A statement of provisional entitlements outlining the amended position will issue to the person named immediately. However the person named should ensure that a single payment application form is submitted prior to the closing date of 16 May 2005 to activate and utilise the transferred entitlements. The 16 May closing date also applies in the case of the national reserve applications.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

343 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding a force majeure appeal in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14088/05]

The person named applied for consideration offorce majeure exceptional circumstances on 21 January 2004. Following consideration of his application for force majeure exceptional circumstances by the single payment unit and the independent single payment appeals committee, force majeure was applied in this case. It was agreed that the year 2002 will be excluded and the years 2000 and 2001 will be used to establish single payment entitlements for the person named. A letter notifying the person named of this decision issued on 1 November 2004.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

344 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of entitlements under single payments to persons (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14091/05]

The person involved in this case submitted applications for consideration in respect of both the new entrant and inheritance measures of the single payment scheme. Additional information to substantiate the applications was requested and duly submitted on 13 April 2005. Following examination of the documentation the person involved has been notified that his new entrant application has been rejected as he had established no entitlements during the reference period 2000 to 2002. However, the notification of the decision also included an application form for consideration in respect of the national reserve measure. Completed application forms should be returned prior to the closing date of 16 May 2005.

I am pleased to advise however, that the inheritance application has been accepted and the entitlements gifted to the person named are to be transferred. A provisional statement of entitlements will issue to the person named immediately outlining the amended position.

Tom Hayes

Question:

345 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the entitlements which will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary under the single payment scheme; if circumstances peculiar to this case will be taken into consideration; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14131/05]

An application for consideration under theforce majeure exceptional circumstances measure of the single payment regulations was submitted by the person named on 6 February 2004. The person named has been notified that the circumstances outlined by him do not satisfy the criteria for force majeure exceptional circumstances under Article 40 of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1782/2003. The person named has been advised that he can appeal the decision to the independent single payment appeals committee which will carry out a full review of the circumstances outlined.

Milk Quota.

Billy Timmins

Question:

346 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the legislation which governs the transfer of milk quota; when this legislation was last changed; the regulations which deal with the matter; if and when these regulations were last changed and if so for what purpose; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14165/05]

Milk quota regulations form part of European Union agriculture policy and, accordingly, the various Community regulations are transposed into Irish law by way of statutory instrument in accordance with the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972. The last amendment to these regulations came into effect on 1 April, 2005 under the European Communities (Milk Quota) (Amendment) Regulations 2005, SI 177 of 2005. The purpose of this amendment,inter alia, was to allow for the transfer of quota within families without the transfer of land in certain circumstances. This exceptional provision facilitates the consolidation of quota within families, so improving the viability of existing enterprises. It also allows the retiring dairy producer to continue to farm the amount of lands needed to activate entitlements in the single payment scheme.

I also provided that quota attached to lands purchased from 1 April 2005 must stay attached to those lands until 31 March 2009, the effect being that where quota lands are bought in the 2005-06 quota year, the quota must stay attached to lands for the same length of time as applied to quota lands bought in the 2004-05 quota year.

Bovine Disease Controls.

Michael Ring

Question:

347 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason her Department is ceasing or suspending the herd number of temporarily out of stock livestock owners; if the action is improper, and possibly illegal interference in the herd ownership rights of the farming community; the EU and Irish regulations which empower her Department to suspend a herd number in cases in which a farm is only temporarily cleared of stock; the number of farmers, by region and year, from whom in such circumstances herd numbers have been withdrawn; the reason the herd number of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo was deactivated without prior notice or consultation; if it will be restored; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14218/05]

A herd number is an administrative device used by my Department to identify and register owners or keepers of animals, particularly for the purposes of disease control and the implementation of the annual TB and brucellosis round tests. It has been the practice of my Department for some time when there are no bovine animals held under the herd number for a period to suspend the herd number so that testing under the bovine disease eradication programmes is not scheduled for such no-stock herds. Where a farmer who has maintained the eligibility conditions for a herd number wishes to restock the same holding with cattle within a short time, the herd number is re-activated on receipt of notification to the DVO by the farmer concerned.

The suspension of the herd number from a bovine disease eradication perspective does not preclude the farmer from applying for other schemes if eligible for such and has no implications for ownership rights.

The situation regarding the person indicated is that, in the course of checks on all untested herds due for test, the district veterinary office in Sligo received confirmation from the nominated private veterinary practitioner of the herd owner in question that he had no stock on his farm at the time. Accordingly, his herd number was suspended. A letter was sent to the herd owner on 4 March 2005 explaining that his herd number was being suspended as he had no cattle on his holding at present. He was advised that whenever he should decide to restock, he should make contact with the district veterinary office and his old herd number would be re-activated. He was further advised to contact any of the veterinary officials in the DVO should he require any clarification in relation to this matter. Data relating to the number of farmers, by region and year, from whom in such circumstances herd numbers have been withdrawn are not readily available.

Grant Payments.

Billy Timmins

Question:

348 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to amend qualification for the single farm payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14164/05]

In accordance with Article 33 (1) of European Council Regulation 1782/2003 governing the single payment scheme, farmers shall have access to the scheme if they have been granted a payment in the reference period under any livestock premia and or arable aid schemes; they have received a holding or part of the holding by way of inheritance, from a farmer who met the conditions referred to; or they have received a payment entitlement from the national reserve or by transfer. Since the rules governing the eligibility to the single payment are already prescribed under EU legislation, my Department has no authority to amend them.

The agreement of the mid-term review of Agenda 2000 was a balanced one which addressed Ireland's principle objectives. Amongst these objectives was the preservation of the financial benefits achieved under the Agenda 2000 agreement and the establishment of a policy framework that will allow farmers and the agrisector the flexibility to adapt to evolving consumer and market demands.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

349 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the age limit for the transferee under the ERS is a State or EU rule; if she will consider the review of such an age limit in the context of the difficulty in obtaining a transferee following the introduction of the SFP; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14273/05]

The objective of the European Council regulation which governs the current early retirement scheme is structural reform through the provision of a financial incentive to older farmers to retire early to facilitate their replacement by younger farmers who are considered more likely to improve the economic viability of the holding. The regulation sets down minimum requirements that must be met but enables individual member states to set additional conditions considered necessary to meet the objectives of the scheme. In designing the scheme, my Department considered that the focus should be on younger farmers and provided for a sliding upper age limit for prospective transferees starting at 45 years and reducing annually to 40 years for applications received in 2006. This age structure continues to be supported by the representatives of young farmers. I have no plans to change the age limits.

Denis Naughten

Question:

350 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her Department’s views on correspondence from a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [14274/05]

The person named wrote to me recently about the upper age limit for eligibility as a transferee under the current early retirement scheme. Eligibility as a transferee for applications made under the scheme in 2005 is limited to those farmers aged up to 41 years. The husband of the person whom she wished to make her transferee is 45 years of age and is not now eligible under the scheme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

351 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the off-farm income limit of the transferee under the ERS is a State rule or EU rule; if she will consider the removal of this limit in the context of the difficulty in obtaining a transferee following the introduction of the SFP; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14275/05]

The objective of the European Council regulation which governs the current early retirement scheme is structural reform through the provision of a financial incentive to older farmers to retire early to facilitate their replacement by younger farmers who are considered more likely to improve the economic viability of the holding. The regulation sets down minimum requirements that must be met but enables individual member states to set additional conditions.

The upper off-farm income limit for transferees is not a provision of the EU regulation. It was included in the current scheme to make it more likely that qualifying transferees would be younger farmers, with a greater commitment to farming, who are most likely to remain within the rural community and to continue in farming into the future. If the upper off-farm income limit were removed, it would increase the likelihood of holdings passing to transferees whose primary source of income was from non-farming and possibly urban activity and who would be less likely to retain a commitment to farming in the longer term. Their presence would in turn reduce the amount of land available to young farmers trying to make their future in farming.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

352 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her officials have considered the recommendations contained in the report of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food on the early retirement scheme; if she will implement the recommendations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14360/05]

I received the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee formally on 7 April. I have asked my officials to consider the recommendations contained in the report, having due regard to the terms and conditions both of the early retirement scheme itself and of the European Commission regulations under which both the current and previous schemes were introduced.

Bovine Diseases.

Denis Naughten

Question:

353 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action her Department is taking to reduce the incidence of botulism in bovine animals within the vicinity of poultry farms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14419/05]

Botulism is not a notifiable disease under the Diseases of Animals Acts. However samples from animals may be submitted for testing to my Department's central veterinary laboratory or regional veterinary laboratories at the discretion of a private veterinary practitioner or on request by a herd owner through his or her private veterinary practitioner.

Bovine botulism can be contracted by contact with contaminated decomposing organic material such as poultry litter which contains poultry carcass material and which has been spread on land grazed by cattle. The spreading of animal by-products, for example, litter containing poultry carcass material, on land is prohibited under Regulation EC No. 1774/2002. Manure from egg laying hens may be spread on pasture as there is no evidence that it presents a risk of botulism in cattle.

While human beings may be affected by botulism, it should be noted that the specific toxins implicated in the conditions in humans are not those associated with the condition in cattle. The risk to human health from consumption of milk or meat from cattle on farms with cases of botulism, therefore, appears to be remote.

In 2003, my Department wrote to dairy processors advising them about the condition and asking them to distribute to their producers an information-advisory note entitled Good Farming Practice with regard to Spreading Poultry Litter on Land. Poultry processors were also circulated with a similar information-advisory note. Information Note on Botulism for Veterinary Practitioners and Instructions for Practitioners when dealing with Suspected Cases of Botulism on Farm were also circulated to private veterinary practitioners by district veterinary offices. Copies of the information referred to are available to farmers from district veterinary offices.

In addition to the above, the Department's veterinary staff has held meetings with the industry to raise awareness on the issue. The poultry industry is well aware of the issues with regard to its obligations on the safe disposal of litter and carcass material in accordance with Regulation EC No. 1774/2002. Sections of the industry have been very proactive in dealing with this issue and have adopted good practice procedures. The veterinary inspectorate carries out annual inspections of waste disposal procedures on these farms, but diligence on the part of individual producers is required to ensure that good practice procedures are maintained. Indications so far this year suggest that there is a reduction in the reported incidence of the disease.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Question:

354 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be awarded the balance of the beef and suckler cow premia. [14420/05]

The person named submitted three applications for special premium in 2004 in respect of a total of 61 animals. The first application was received on 26 January 2004 in respect of 34 animals, 23 for first age premium and 11 for second age premium. The second application was received on 17 February 2004 in respect of nine animals, all for second age premium. The third application was received on 31 December 2004 in respect of 18 animals, 13 for first age premium and five for second age premium.

Full advance payments of €3,060 for the first application and €810 for the second application issued on 12 November 2004. Part advance payment of €1,530 issued for the third application on 1 April 2005. Following computer validation, one animal on the third application was identified as having been dead prior to application. This animal has now been deleted from the application. Payment of the interim balancing payments in respect of the three applications will issue shortly.

The person named applied for premium on 14 animals under the 2004 suckler cow premium scheme. Payment of his 60% advance instalment amounting to €1,882.86 issued on 18 October 2004. The application has been processed and found in order for balancing payment. However, at balancing payment stage all administrative and on-farm checks of bovine premia applications lodged by the herdowner are carried out on an integrated holding-based approach and payment due in this case under the suckler cow scheme had to be deferred pending processing of his special beef application. As that has been finalised recently, payment of the suckler balancing payment will issue shortly.

Martin Ferris

Question:

355 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position of an application by a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim under the single farm payment scheme. [14556/05]

The person named submitted an application for consideration in respect of both new entrant and inheritance measures of the single payment scheme. Following an initial decision on his application, he was notified that he met the criteria for consideration in respect of both new entrant and inheritance and that the inheritance measure was more financially beneficial. However, on a further review of the application, it was noted that as the person named farmed in all three reference years, he was not deemed to satisfy the criteria for new entrant to farming during the reference period.

A letter issued to the person named on 25 April 2005 informing him of the amended position and informing him that his application for consideration in respect of the inheritance measure only was successful and that the entitlements established by his father would be transferred to him.

Food Poverty.

David Stanton

Question:

356 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures her Department has implemented since 2004 or intends to implement in 2005 to address the issue of food poverty and the lack of affordable food for those on low incomes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14557/05]

David Stanton

Question:

357 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of local food co-operatives in operation here; the measures her Department intends to take to encourage the establishment of more local food co-operatives to facilitate access to food in disadvantaged areas and to address the issue of food poverty and the lack of affordable food for those on low incomes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14558/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 356 and 357 together.

As Minister for Agriculture and Food I have no role in direct provision of food or in the planning of food distribution outlets or in providing general income support for those on low incomes. Primary responsibility for driving the social inclusion agenda, including the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion, lies with my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

Grant Payments.

Tom Hayes

Question:

358 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of herdowners who have entitlement under the new single farm retirement scheme. [14559/05]

The number of herdowners who have entitlements established under the single payment scheme is 136,983.

Tom Hayes

Question:

359 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of persons who opted for long-term land leases that overlapped the reference period and who have no entitlement. [14560/05]

My Department does not have this information.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Tom Hayes

Question:

360 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of persons who have availed of the farm retirement scheme each year since its inception. [14561/05]

Details of the number of participants who joined the 1994 scheme of early retirement from farming, which closed to new applicants on 31 December 1999, and the current scheme introduced in November 2000, in each year since their inception, are set out in the following table.

Year ended

Number

31 December 1994

1,962

31 December 1995

2,198

31 December 1996

1,795

31 December 1997

1,796

31 December 1998

1,305

31 December 1999

1,608

31 December 2000

41

31 December 2001

805

31 December 2002

809

31 December 2003

525

31 December 2004

275

World Trade Negotiations.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

361 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the development which has taken place in regard to the WTO; the significance of such developments or preliminary discussions from the Irish and European viewpoint; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14571/05]

Intensive negotiations concluded in August 2004 in agreement on a framework setting out the general outline and content of a new WTO agreement. The detailed implementation of this framework is the subject of ongoing negotiation at technical and political level and are likely to conclude at the next ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December 2005.

The main elements of the framework agreement from the EU and Irish perspectives are as follows. EU decoupled direct payments which are non-trade-distorting will qualify for inclusion in the WTO green box category of domestic supports and will, therefore, be exempt from reduction in the future. While the framework agreement provides for substantial improvements in market access, WTO members may self-select an appropriate number of sensitive products for special treatment in so far as tariff protection on imports is concerned. All forms of export supports, not just EU export refunds, will be reduced in parallel or subjected to disciplines, thereby ensuring EU exporters will not be at a competitive disadvantage on third country markets.

I am satisfied that the framework agreement secured the benefits to EU and Irish farmers of the mid-term review of the CAP and represented a satisfactory outcome from Ireland's point of view.

Sheep Imports.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

362 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the extent of sheep imports in the past 12 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14572/05]

Imports of sheep for slaughter at export plants in this jurisdiction amounted to 357,939 head in the last 12 months, or approximately 11% of slaughterings at all export plants. All these originated in Northern Ireland. Small numbers are also imported for breeding purposes from various countries.

Food Labelling.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

363 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the success or otherwise of her efforts to discourage misleading relabelling of meat and meat products; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14573/05]

There are a number of pieces of legislation governing the labelling of meat and meat products. The general labelling regulations covering among other things all food sold in Ireland require that the information be given clearly, accurately and in a language understood by the consumer. This legislation comes within the remit of the Department of Health and Children. My Department is responsible for policy regarding legislation on the labelling of specific products including beef and poultry meat.

The labelling of beef is governed by EU regulations which were introduced in 2000. These require operators involved in the marketing of beef to label their product with a reference code to enable the beef to be traced back to the animal or group of animals from which it was derived; the approval number of the slaughterhouse and the country in which it is located; the approval number of the de-boning hall and the country in which it is located; and an indication of the origin of the animal from which the beef was derived.

For the purpose of these regulations, marketing means all aspects of beef production and marketing up to and including retail sale. These labelling requirements, which are compulsory in all member states, apply to the marketing of beef within the community regardless of whether that beef was produced within the community or in a third country. Where beef is imported into the Community from a third country and not all the above details are available, that beef must at a minimum be labelled as "Origin: non-EC" along with an indication of the third country in which slaughter took place.

My Department introduced two regulations on the labelling of poultry meat at the beginning of last year. The first of these regulations requires poultry meat, both loose and pre-packaged, originating in a country outside the EU to bear an indication of the country of origin when offered for sale in a retail premises. The second requires information regarding class, price per unit weight, condition and slaughterhouse details in respect of loose poultry meat, that is, non-prepackaged, to be provided to the consumer. Heretofore, while these labelling indications have been compulsory for pre-packaged poultry meat, it had not been a requirement to provide this information for poultry meat sold loose.

In addition to the above mentioned action, a working group within my Department is examining the labelling legislation for each of the meat sectors to identify any deficiencies, from a consumer viewpoint, in the labelling regulations for those commodities. Responsibility for the enforcement of all this legislation is now centralised with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and any instances of misleading labelling should be reported to that authority. I am satisfied that where it is shown that the regulations referred to above are not being complied with that the appropriate action to remedy the problem is being taken by the relevant agency.

Food Industry.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

364 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason for the dramatic difference between the prices paid to the producer and those charged to the consumer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14574/05]

The prices received by producers and obtained in retail establishments are determined by the process of negotiation within the marketplace. The level of supply of a certain product, the degree of competitiveness within a sector and the level of consumer demand will all influence the final price received by the producer.

Similarly, the prices received by retail outlets are dependent on a range of influences. The location of retailers, transport costs, the degree of processing and refinement of the product and other similar factors all have an impact upon the final pricing of foodstuffs. To find out more about this process, the consumer liaison panel has invited tenders to assess data sources on the price of food in Ireland. This has been done with a view to devising a model for monitoring food prices and the share of these prices absorbed at different stages of the supply chain. A research organisation has been chosen and their findings will be published in late 2005.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

365 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the extent to which the food industry here is keeping pace with international developments in the area of pre-cooked, frozen and oven-ready products; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14575/05]

The prepared consumer foods sector plays a significant role in the economy with annual output of €2.6 billion, exports of €1.3 billion and direct employment of 16,000. The sector is one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of the Irish food industry, with growth at about 10% per annum. The prepared consumer foods sector is comprised of almost 200 companies out of a total of 700 food processing enterprises in Ireland and 75% of exports go to the UK.

The key drivers in the sector include changes in consumer eating habits, a health focus, snacking products, cooking times, food service and new eating occasions such as in-car dining. The sector continues to develop high levels of growth based on market knowledge, customer led innovation and service. I am satisfied that the sector has kept pace with international developments and is well positioned to supply key blue chip customers in the UK.

My Department and the food development agencies work closely with Irish food sector companies to assist them to develop, commercialise and market products that satisfy consumer demand and preferences across the main drivers of consumption. The food related provisions of the national development plan are focused on enhancing the competitiveness and innovative capability of the industry and ensuring market opportunities can be exploited.

Potato Sector.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

366 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the acreage of potatoes grown in the country in 2005; the most prominent varieties; the value of the crop; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14576/05]

Preliminary indications are that potato plantings in 2005 will be slightly down on the 2004 figure of 12,600 hectares. Planting of the 2005 potato crop is ongoing. The annual national potato census takes place during the summer and results for 2005 will be published later in the year. The main varieties grown in 2004 were Rooster, which represented 54% of main crop production area, Kerr's Pink, British Queen and Record. The output value was €85 million.

The potato sector is one of the few agricultural commodity areas where the Common Market organisation does not operate and consequently production is market driven. The market for potatoes is price sensitive and recent years have seen significant volatility in terms of supplies and prices. Last year saw potato growers under considerable pressure as market returns declined considerably on the previous two years.

Pigmeat Sector.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

367 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position in regard to the pigmeat industry with particular reference to the extent of imports as a percentage of national production; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14577/05]

The following table summarises the estimated quantities of pig meat, in carcass weight equivalent, produced, imported, consumed and exported in 2004. It indicates that imports are the equivalent of 29% of national production.

Tonnes

Production

206,000

Imports

59,000

Consumption

146,000

Exports

119,000

Pet Food.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

368 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the extent to which pet food is imported into this country; if such imports contain meat and bonemeal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14578/05]

Importation of meat and bonemeal or such products for any purpose to do with the farm animal and human food chain is prohibited. Under Community rules the importation of such products which have already been incorporated within pet foods and which are destined for meat eating animals is provided for subject to certain conditions. Data supplied by the Central Statistics Office indicate that the total quantity of pet food imported into this country from January to December 2004 was 40,621 tonnes.

Importers of pet foods are required to register with my Department and give at least 24 hours' notice of intention to import. In the case of pet food originating from an EU source, it must come from an approved establishment and be accompanied to its destination with a commercial document or a health certificate signed by an official veterinarian of the competent authority of the member state of origin. In the case of importation from third countries, it can only be imported under licence and must be presented to an authorised officer of my Department at a border inspection post. In such cases it must originate in a country approved by the EU for trade in such products, have been produced in an approved establishment and be accompanied by a health certificate in accordance with the provisions of Community legislation.

EU Directives.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

369 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the extent to which she has measured the potential impact of the nitrates directive and its likely effect on production; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14579/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In October 2004, Ireland submitted an action programme to the European Commission for further implementation of the nitrates directive. In December the Commission conveyed its view that the action programme was not complete and did not comply with the requirements of the directive or with the judgment of the European Court of Justice against Ireland, which had been delivered in March 2004.

Subsequently my Department worked closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the preparation of an initial response to the Commission. This response was sent on 20 April. I understand that a revised action programme, on which my Department has been consulted, will be sent to the Commission very shortly. Ireland has also submitted proposals for derogation arrangements which would allow farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, at a higher level of intensity.

Until agreement is reached with the European Commission on the terms of the action programme and the derogation arrangements, the full implications cannot be known with certainty. However, studies already undertaken by Teagasc indicate that the great majority of farmers are already operating below the general limit of 170 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare per annum specified by the directive. A proportion of dairy specialist producers are operating above that level. However, the vast majority of these are operating below 250 kg per hectare, and the proposals already made to the Commission for derogation arrangements would accommodate such farmers.

The nitrates action programme may have implications for the intensive farming sector, particularly in terms of the utilisation of the manure produced by intensive pig and poultry units, and accordingly I have asked my officials to examine how these may be mitigated. It remains my objective, and it is also the objective of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to reach agreement on an action programme that meets the objectives of the nitrates directive in terms of safeguarding water quality while also minimising the burden of compliance that the agreement will place on farmers and safeguarding the future of the commercial farming sector.

Food Safety Standards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

370 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if all meat imports into this country are rigorously inspected to prevent the importation of disease; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14580/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

374 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has satisfied herself that the production, slaughter and processing of all imported meat and poultry has been subjected to best practice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14584/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 370 and 374 together.

Detailed EU legislation lays down the conditions that member states must apply to the production of and trade in products of animal origin, including meat and meat extracts, as well as to imports of these products from third countries. Under harmonised legislation a series of health and supervisory requirements are applied in the member states to ensure that animal products are produced to standards that guarantee the safety of food and the protection of human and animal health. The application of these standards in the member states is monitored by the Food and Veterinary Office of the EU.

It is a requirement that animal products imported from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, member states. All such imports must come from third countries or areas of third countries approved for export to the EU. To be an approved third country, it must appear on a list drawn up and updated on the basis of EU audits and guarantees given by the competent authority of the exporting country; have veterinary controls equivalent to those applicable in the EU, particularly in terms of legislation, hygiene conditions, animal health status, veterinary medicines controls, zoonoses controls and other food law; and have in place a residues programme approved by the European Commission.

The animal products must be sourced from establishments that are approved and must bear an EU approved health mark. Exporting establishments must have standards equivalent to the requirements for EU export establishments; effective control systems and supervision by the competent authorities; and traceability and labelling in accordance with the systems approved by the FVO and accepted and notified to the EU member states. The FVO carries out inspections to ensure that only establishments that meet hygiene and health standards equivalent to those operating within the EU are approved. Where the FVO considers that public health requirements are not being met, an establishment may be removed from the EU approved list. If outbreaks of animal diseases occur in a third country, approval to export to the EU is suspended for the infected regions of the country or the whole country, as appropriate, until the disease risk has been eliminated.

Importers of animal products must be registered with my Department. They are required to give advance notice of importation and, following import, are required to keep records of importation available for inspection by the Department for a period of three years. Imported animal products must be accompanied by the appropriate commercial documentation showing country and approval number of the establishment of production and, in the case of meat and meat extracts imported from third countries, a health certificate conforming to the models set down in EU legislation.

While there is free movement for trade within the EU, all consignments from third countries must first be landed at a border inspection post, or BIP, that has been approved by the FVO and must undergo documentary, identity and physical checks. These latter are carried out at frequencies laid down in EU law. In Ireland, BIPs approved for the processing imports of animal products are located at Dublin Port and Shannon Airport. The FVO carries out monitoring and inspection of each member state's BIPs to ensure the conditions for import of animal products into Europe, provided under the harmonised legislation, are being correctly applied. Once it has been established that imported animal product has met all the required conditions, it is released for free circulation within the community. Copies of the BIP clearance document and the health certificate must accompany the consignment to its destination. Imports failing to comply with these veterinary control checks may be detained for further examination. If non-compliance is established, they are returned to the exporting country or destroyed.

Where there are concerns with regard to the effectiveness of controls being operated in an approved third country, the Commission, in consultation with the standing committee on animal health and the food chain, may introduce specific controls by means of a safeguard measure to ensure the protection of human and animal health. Safeguard measures limiting or banning the export of animal products from EU countries or regions of countries may also be implemented where, for example, the conditions of an animal disease outbreak could seriously affect production and trade in animal products in the EU.

Food Industry.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

371 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the way in which she proposes to enhance the marketing of Irish beef and lamb at home and overseas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14581/05]

In recent years, the focus of the Irish beef and sheepmeat industry has been to broaden and expand its market reach at EU retail level. For beef this has meant shifting its orientation away from international commodity markets and into the higher priced internal EU marketplace. Effective promotion by Bord Bia and marketing by the industry has ensured a presence for top quality Irish beef and lamb in the key European markets. This includes supply arrangements with multiples and the main retailers in the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

The overall marketing approach is to build continually on the reputation of Irish meat as a high quality and safety assured product based on a natural, extensive and well controlled production sector at farm level. The new beef quality assurance scheme is now operational and Bord Bia will shortly be promoting the scheme to encourage the widest possible uptake. A strong interest in Irish beef and lamb has been generated by building its reputation through the media, by chefs' endorsements and the creation of demand from premium chefs and restaurants in each of these markets. The main goal of our marketing strategy is to increase retail market penetration and to invest in growing awareness of Irish beef and lamb. This is being achieved by building relationships with key customers, product promotions and image building of the brand.

Bord Bia will also shortly begin a promotion of new season lamb on the Irish market which will be extended over the months of May and June. The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy means farmers will enjoy greater freedom to grow and develop their enterprises producing for consumer requirements supported by the single farm payment. A targeted approach based on quality production represents the best and most profitable way forward for the Irish industry. This is particularly the case in the post-decoupling context when the market will be the sole determinant of the nature and scale of output from the sector. In such a context there will be a need for even greater emphasis on good breeding policies, payment related to quality and sophisticated and integrated supply and purchasing systems.

Regarding third country trade, important markets such as Russia, Algeria and Egypt have re-opened for Irish beef while Lebanon is open for live exports. Access to the Algerian market has now been broadened to include frozen beef in addition to fresh and chilled product. A delegation from my Department and An Bord Bia recently visited Egypt and, along with embassy officials, held discussions with the Egyptian authorities with a view to relaxing the conditions under which exports to that country can take place. It is hoped to finalise a protocol with Egypt on these new conditions later this year. I have obtained the agreement of the European Commission to the continuation of the special export refund for Egypt which will also greatly assist trade during the year.

France is the main export market for our lamb. While we export small quantities to other markets, Bord Bia's promotional activities are focused particularly on the valuable French market and it will be undertaking a campaign there in the coming months aimed at maintaining and increasing market share for Irish lamb. I am committed to opening and improving access to as many international markets as possible for Irish beef and lamb. My Department will continue to work closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and An Bord Bia to achieve that aim.

Food Labelling.