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 13, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 14 to 55, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 56 to 64, inclusive, answered orally.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

65 Ms Lynch asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the basis of her decision to close down the Dunne inquiry into the retention of organs of deceased children; her proposals for the completion of the work; if an application for additional resources for the inquiry had been received from the chairman and the Government’s response to this; the date on which she expects the final report to be published; if it is intended to introduce legislation to regulate organ retention and transplants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15321/05]

John Gormley

Question:

74 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the Dunne inquiry is not to be published after five years; the total cost to date of this inquiry; her views on whether it has been value for money to date; if she will report on her recent meeting with the Parents for Justice group; when the new inquiry will complete its work and report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15364/05]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

141 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the Dunne inquiry has cost €20 million, is not complete and is being wound up; her views on whether the lack of public sessions, the lack of a special adviser and the lack of press media briefings by the chairperson, all of which were part of the Northern Ireland investigation, had a negative part to play in the result of the Dunne report; her further views on whether there are lessons to be learned with respect to future inquiries; her further views on the further steps that are necessary to prevent a repeat of this fiasco; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15237/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 65, 74 and 141 together.

On 1 September 2004 the Government, following a review of the timescales for all tribunals and inquiries, decided that the post mortem inquiry should furnish its final report not later than the 31 March 2005 and that the inquiry would then cease to exist. The chairman of the inquiry was so advised and subsequently delivered a report on 31 March 2005. This relates primarily to post mortem practice and procedure in paediatric hospitals.

Total expenditure relating to the post mortem inquiry was approximately €20 million. The total legal and administrative costs of the inquiry itself were approximately €11 million. The remainder of the costs include establishment and office rental costs of €2.29 million, grants to the former Eastern Regional Health Authority of just over €5 million, grants to the Parents for Justice, PFJ, organisation of €977,210 and legal fees to Kelly Noone, solicitors for PFJ, of €800,942. The chairman had sought approval to appoint additional legal staff to the inquiry team but approval was not given.

Accident and Emergency Services.

John Gormley

Question:

66 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress that has been made to date in dealing with the accident and emergency crisis; the number of new beds which have been introduced to the system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15365/05]

Additional revenue funding of €70 million and additional capital funding of €10 million has been provided to support the actions identified to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services. The Health Service Executive, HSE, has been charged with responsibility to implement the actions identified in the ten point plan for accident and emergency services. There are also additional actions that are needed which relate more to the management, work practices and processes in hospitals. These too will be addressed by the Health Service Executive.

The HSE has reported that a total of 90 intermediate care beds have been procured in the private sector nationally. Some 64 patients from hospitals in the eastern region and 23 patients in the Cork region have already been discharged as a result of these intermediate care beds being available. Additional home care packages have been provided for 51 patients who have been discharged from acute hospitals in the eastern region. Discharge arrangements are being finalised for a further 45 patients.

On foot of the commitment in the health strategy, funding has been provided to open an additional 900 inpatient beds and day places in acute hospitals. Health agencies have informed my Department that at 6 May 2005, 780 beds were in place. The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the remaining 120 beds will come on-stream during 2005.

Asthma Incidence.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

67 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the huge increase in asthma figures in children; her further views on whether indoor air pollution is a factor in the increase in asthma figures; if she will fund an information campaign on indoor air pollution, particularly with regard to volatile organic compounds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15368/05]

Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases of childhood and approximately 10% have experienced an attack of asthma at some stage. Across Europe the level of asthma has increased significantly and in this country has risen to 20% in young teenagers.

There are many risk factors for asthma. It is considered as a complex disorder where genetics and the environment play an interacting role. Certain agents in the environment can initiate inflammation in airways of susceptible individuals and trigger an attack of asthma. These agents can be found everywhere, outdoors, indoors and at work. In recognition of the significance of environmental factors in contributing to susceptibility to asthma, Ireland hosted the European Union's Joint Research Council Childhood Asthma Envirogenomics Conference in 2004, which is continuing to provide further research information on asthma and its causes. The Irish European Union Presidency also proposed additional research into the factors underlying asthma. In relation to the exposure of children to environmental tobacco smoke which contributes to childhood asthma, the smoke free at work initiative will ensure greater protection from toxic tobacco smoke.

The health promotion unit has no plans to conduct an information campaign on this issue in 2005. However, the unit will raise the matter in discussions with the Health Services Executive in relation to the devolvement of the unit's executive functions to that organisation.

Health Services.

Bernard Allen

Question:

68 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on comments by the HSE that the health services funding is insufficient for 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15414/05]

The recently published Revised Estimates for Public Services set out the funding available to the Health Service Executive in 2005. This funding takes into account general factors such as pay and non-pay increases and allows for the continuance of service levels generally together with additional funding of €200 million for the following priority service areas: disability, accident and emergency and additional medical cards. The Estimates also provide for additional capital funding for the health capital investment framework which was provided in budget 2005.

The interim CEO of the HSE has indicated that a value for money programme will be implemented by the executive during 2005, which will generate appropriate savings and ensure that service levels are maintained.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

69 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has now sanctioned funding for the opening of the Ballymun Health Centre; when she expects that the centre will be operational; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15346/05]

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 funding of the Ballymun Health Centre, including the fit out and equipping of the facility.

Earlier this year I confirmed approval for the completion and fit out of this facility and I asked the HSE to proceed with it as quickly as logistically possible. As I have previously indicated, the HSE is responsible for the funding, timeframe and actual delivery of this project, which I am advised will take nine months to complete.

The HSE has informed me that it has put the necessary funding in place to carry out this work and that contractual arrangements have been finalised to progress the project. This work will commence before the end of this month.

Hospital Staff.

Dan Boyle

Question:

70 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether nurses should be awarded their pay claims in full and without delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15366/05]

Tom Hayes

Question:

120 Mr. Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make a statement on the recent HSE statement that nurses are breaking the national pay agreement. [15443/05]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

133 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a threat has been made to withhold the 3.5% increase due to nursing staff under the Sustaining Progress agreement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15325/05]

John Perry

Question:

159 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to implement benchmarking to members of the nursing profession; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15529/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 70, 120, 133 and 159 together.

The current phase of performance verification for the health sector is the fourth phase of the process set out in the Sustaining Progress agreement. The public service pay agreement provides that the final two phases of the benchmarking increases and the general round increases is dependent on verification of satisfactory achievement of the provisions on co-operation with flexibility and ongoing change; satisfactory implementation of the agenda for modernisation set out in sections 20 to 26 of Sustaining Progress, and the maintenance of stable industrial relations and the absence of industrial action in respect of matters covered by the agreement. The fourth phase sectoral report received by the Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children from the Health Services National Partnership Forum cited the Irish Nurses Organisation in respect of its non co-operation regarding the development and implementation of the health care assistants programme.

In accordance with the procedures laid down in Sustaining Progress, the Secretary General referred the matter to the Health Service National Joint Council for its views on the matter. The referral stated that it is essential that the INO commit to full co-operation with the introduction of the health care assistant programme, which represents a key skill mix initiative in the health sector and is a key component of the Sustaining Progress agreement.

I understand that the National Joint Council is meeting this afternoon to discuss the matter. Once the NJC have replied to the Secretary General, he will submit the matter to the Performance Verification Group, together with his assessment, for its decision on whether the payment due on 1 June is warranted. I am aware that direct discussions have been taking place between the HSE and the INO and I hope that the issues in dispute can be resolved thus allowing nurses to receive their pay increases with effect from 1 June next.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

71 Mr. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the expected completion date of the inquiry, to be chaired by Judge Maureen Harding-Clarke, into the activities of the former Drogheda obstetrician (details supplied); if her attention has been drawn to the call made by a number of victims for the establishment of a redress board; if she intends to act on this suggestion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15312/05]

I met recently with Judge Harding-Clarke who is chairing the Lourdes Hospital inquiry. She advised me that the work of the inquiry is at an advanced stage. I look forward to early receipt of its report. I have also met with representatives of Patient Focus, the advocacy group which represents, inter alia, former patients of the person referred to by the Deputy.

I advised the group that I would have to await the report of the Lourdes Hospital inquiry before consulting with Government on its request for the establishment of a redress board. I intend to meet with the group again following completion of the inquiry.

Suicide Incidence.

Seán Ryan

Question:

72 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the recent comments (details supplied) made by the Coroner for County Offaly; the measures she intends to take to deal with the huge toll of life being taken by suicide; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15344/05]

Suicide is a serious social problem in this country with 444 deaths from suicide registered in 2003. Young males have shown a significant increase in the rate of suicide in the last decade, with 305 such deaths in 1994 rising to 358 in 2003. However, it is important to point out that youth suicide in Ireland is not the highest in the EU. The most recent analysis suggests it is fifth highest. In terms of the overall suicide rate, Ireland ranks 17th in the EU. Recent figures suggest that the rate has stopped rising but it is correct to say that we experienced probably the fastest rising rate in Europe during the 1980s and 1990s, albeit from a low base rate. These are all worrying trends which require further research so that better strategies are developed to help people who are particularly at risk.

Since the publication of the report of the National Task Force on Suicide in 1998, there has been a positive and committed response from both the statutory and voluntary sectors towards finding ways of tackling the tragic problem of suicide. In response to the recommendations of the task force, the National Suicide Review Group was established by the health boards and membership of the group includes experts in the areas of mental health, public health and research. Resource officers have been appointed in all Health Service Executive areas with specific responsibility for implementing the task force's recommendations. The resource officers also engage in the promotion of positive mental health, the de-stigmatisation of suicide and provide information in relation to suicide and parasuicide within their area.

My Department has given special attention over the past number of years to the resourcing of suicide prevention initiatives. Since the publication of the task force report in 1998, a cumulative total of more than €17.5 million has been provided since towards suicide prevention programmes and for research. Support is also provided by my Department for the ongoing work of many organisations such as Mental Health Ireland, GROW, Aware and Schizophrenia Ireland in raising public awareness of mental health issues.

I share the public concern about the level of suicides in this country and I am fully committed to the intensification of suicide prevention measures and research programmes and in this regard, work is now well under way on the preparation of a national strategy for action on suicide prevention. This strategy, which is being prepared by the Project Management Unit, HSE — formerly HeBE — in partnership with the National Suicide Review Group and supported by the Department of Health and Children, will be action-based from the outset and will build on existing policy. All measures aimed at reducing the number of deaths by suicide will be considered in the context of the preparation of this strategy, which will be published later this year.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Michael Noonan

Question:

73 Mr. Noonan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress to date on the national rollout of the cervical screening programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15423/05]

I am committed to the national rollout of a cervical screening programme in line with international best practice. International evidence demonstrates the proven efficacy of programmes that are effectively managed and meet quality assurance standards. Careful planning and consultation with relevant professional and advocacy stakeholders is required before I make definite policy decisions on a national rollout.

The former Health Board Executive commissioned an international expert in cervical screening to examine the feasibility and implications of a national roll-out of a cervical screening programme. The examination included an evaluation of the current pilot programme in the mid-western area, quality assurance, laboratory capacity and organisation and the establishment of national governance arrangements. The expert's report was published on 14 December 2004.

The pilot cervical screening programme commenced in October 2000 and is available to eligible women resident in counties Limerick, Clare and Tipperary north. Under the programme cervical screening is being offered, free of charge, to approximately 74,000 women in the 25 to 60 age group, at five year intervals.

My Department is now consulting with the Irish College of General Practitioners, An Bord Altranais, the Academy of Medical Laboratory Science, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the Faculty of Pathology of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the Women's Health Council, the Irish Cancer Society and the Dublin Well Woman Centre. The consultation with these key stakeholders is well advanced and will be completed in a matter of weeks.

The number of smear tests carried out annually is approximately 230,000 and represents an increase of almost 20% in recent years. To meet this increased demand additional cumulative funding of approximately €14.5 million has been provided by my Department since 2002 to enhance the laboratory and colposcopy services.

In addition, my Department allocated a further €1.1 million to the programme on an ongoing basis to complete the transition of the remaining laboratories to new and more effective testing and to support the development of quality assurance and training programmes. These are essential preparatory elements in a national rollout.

Question No. 74 answered with QuestionNo. 65.

Hospital Services.

Billy Timmins

Question:

75 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will amend the catchment area for a hospital (details supplied) in County Wicklow to include the area of south Wicklow which was in the catchment area prior to 2000; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15479/05]

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 in County Wicklow. Accordingly, my Department has been advised by the HSE that Baltinglass District Hospital covers a very wide catchment area for west Wicklow and has lengthy waiting lists for both extended care and respite care. Rathdown Hospital, St. Colman's, serves the east Wicklow area. The HSE has advised that the catchment areas for both hospitals were redefined in the newly created community care areas in 2000. The former South Eastern Health Board, the south-east area of the Health Service Executive, caters for patients in County Carlow. The HSE south-western area has advised that it has no immediate plans to change the catchment area for the Baltinglass District Hospital from the existing catchment area.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

76 Mr. Deenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to recent reports on the local media in County Kerry expressing concern about the future of maternity services at Kerry General Hospital; if she will reassure the staff of the maternity unit and future users that these reports are unfounded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15306/05]

My Department is not aware of any plans to close the maternity unit at Kerry General Hospital. I understand that management at Kerry General Hospital has taken steps to reassure staff in this regard. In fact, my Department has been informed that interviews were held in March of this year to recruit a permanent third obstetrician for the hospital. This appointment is being processed by the Public Appointments Service at present.

Care of the Elderly.

Willie Penrose

Question:

77 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps he intends to take to address the issues of isolation and loneliness among elderly persons identified in the recent report of the National Council on Ageing and Older People; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11855/05]

I wish to advise the Deputy that I welcome the publication of the report, Loneliness and Social Isolation Among Older Irish People, by the National Council on Ageing and Older People. The report attempts to measure levels of loneliness among older people, record social isolation and explore the experiences of loneliness as described by older people themselves. I am pleased to note that the report also demonstrates that the majority of a representative sample of older people who were surveyed stated that they were not socially isolated or lonely.

My Department's policy in relation to the care of older people is to maintain them in dignity and independence at home in accordance with the wishes of older people, as expressed in many research studies; restore to independence at home those older people who become ill or dependent; encourage and support the care of older people in their own community by family, neighbours and voluntary bodies; and provide a high quality of hospital and residential care for older people when they can no longer be maintained in dignity and independence at home. This approach to the care of older people is also endorsed in the Health Strategy, Quality & Fairness — A Health Strategy For You.

This Government's commitment to the development of a comprehensive range of services for older people can clearly be demonstrated by outlining the resources made available in recent years for service developments. Between 1997 and 2004, total additional funding allocated for service provision was approximately €287 million. In 2004, a total of €9.5 million in additional revenue funding was allocated to services for older people and for 2005, this figure was increased to €15.228 million. This funding is being used for a variety of services to maintain and support older people living in the community including: home care grants; home help service; and support to voluntary organisations.

Lottery funding is also provided to voluntary organisations working with older people in the community. Many of these voluntary organisations are involved in running day care centres for older people living within their catchment area. These centres provide services such as a midday meal, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, chiropody, laundry and hairdressing. They also offer older people the opportunity to socialise, meet new friends and renew acquaintances with old friends and thus help prevent loneliness and isolation. The centres further act as a support for caring relatives, some of whom may have to go out to work during the day, and who can do so in the knowledge that their relative is being cared for in a safe and caring environment. Finally, these centres provide social stimulation in a safe environment, particularly for those older people who are in the early stages of dementia. The development of day care centres supports my Department's policy of maintaining older people in the community. Services provided at day care centres complement one of the key findings in the report which states that in addition to support from families, friends and neighbours, the basic source of social support for older people comes from volunteers, health care and other professionals, and at times, from friends.

Water Fluoridation.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

78 Mr. Sargent asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on recent reports that there are much higher rates of dental fluorosis here than in Northern Ireland as a consequence of water fluoridation; if she intends to address this problem in any way; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15374/05]

Fluoridation of public water supplies as a public health measure is accepted as being one of the most effective methods of ensuring against tooth decay. The World Health Organisation, WHO, recommends fluoridation of public water supplies and has stated that "fluoridation of water supplies, where possible, is the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay". The WHO has also stated that "people of all ages, including the elderly, benefit from community water fluoridation".

The recently completed survey of oral health, covering the whole island of Ireland, shows that fluoridation of public water supplies continues to be a highly effective public health measure. It has contributed significantly to a major reduction in the incidence of dental decay in the Republic of Ireland. This compares favourably with the incidence of dental decay in Northern Ireland, which has significantly higher rates of dental decay and which does not have fluoridated water supplies.

The oral health survey also shows that fluoridation of public water supplies has a significant impact on dental decay in disadvantaged areas. The gap, in terms of levels of decay, between non-disadvantaged and disadvantaged areas in the Republic of Ireland is significantly less than the gap between such areas in Northern Ireland.

The research carried out shows that, at the levels of usage of fluoride in the Republic of Ireland's public water supply, there is no risk to health. Fluoridation of the water supply in Ireland is limited to a maximum of one part per million. In this regard, the WHO and the European Union have identified that fluoridation levels below 1.5 parts per million are acceptable.

The Forum on Fluoridation recognised that there has been some increase in the incidence of mild dental fluorosis in Ireland. Most dental fluorosis is only detectable by dentists. The forum, while recommending that fluoridation of water supplies continue, recommended a reduction in the levels of fluoride used from between 0.8 parts per million and 1 part per million to between 0.6 parts per million and 0.8 parts per million.

The Irish Expert Body on Fluorides and Health was set up in 2004. The terms of reference for the expert body are: to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the Forum on Fluoridation; to advise the Minister and evaluate ongoing research, including new emerging issues, on all aspects of fluoride and its delivery methods as an established health technology and as required; and to report to the Minister on matters of concern at his-her request or on its own initiative.

As part of its work in implementing the recommendations of the forum, the expert body is currently examining the question as to what amendments may be required to the regulations, under the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960 in order to give effect to the forum's recommendation to reduce the level of fluorides in the public water supplies. The expert body is expected to report on its findings to my Department in the near future. My Department will then take the necessary steps to amend the current regulations or, if deemed necessary, to introduce new regulations.

The expert body is overseeing the implementation of the wide-ranging recommendations of the forum and will advise me on all aspects of fluoride going forward.

Question No. 79 withdrawn.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

80 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she is taking to address the prevalence, detection and treatment of prostate cancer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15241/05]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

151 Mr. McCormack asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will consider introducing prostate screening; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15421/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 80 and 151 together.

A new national cancer strategy is currently being finalised by the National Cancer Forum, a multi-disciplinary group of experts in oncology. As part of this work, the forum has reviewed all issues relating to screening, including examining specific diseases such as prostate and colorectal cancer. The forum is also developing criteria against which all future screening programmes will be assessed.

In relation to screening for prostate cancer, I understand the forum will recommend that there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend the introduction of a population based prostate screening programme in this country. This issue should be reassessed when the results are available from randomised trials currently being conducted.

This position is consistent with the recommendations adopted by the European Union, which advocate the introduction of cancer screening programmes that have demonstrated their efficacy having regard to professional expertise and priority setting for health care resources. The proposals do not provide for specific recommendations in respect of screening for prostate cancer.

Appropriate treatment for men diagnosed with prostate cancer is available at major hospitals throughout the country. Any man who has concerns in relation to prostate cancer should contact his GP who will, where appropriate, refer him to the appropriate services in his area.

Nursing Home Services.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

81 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if contracts have been signed for the provision of 500 short-term nursing home beds for patients who no longer need acute care; the location of these beds; when they will become available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15319/05]

A tendering process has been completed to procure nursing home beds from the private sector to meet the needs of 500 people annually for intermediate care of up to six weeks. A total of 90 beds have been procured nationally to allow an annual throughput of 500 patients. My Department understands that the successful applicants have been notified by the Health Service Executive.

Some 64 patients from hospitals in the eastern region and 23 patients in the Cork region have already been discharged as a result of the intermediate beds being available. My Department does not have details of the exact location of the 90 intermediate care beds at this time. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer of the Health Service Executive to provide this information directly to the Deputy.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

82 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps that have been taken in each of the past five years to address the issue of the lack of bed space in all hospitals with particular reference to accident and emergency; if she will further indicate the extent to which the issue has now been satisfactorily addressed or is likely to be in the foreseeable future; if she accepts that hospitals, including accident and emergency departments, are grossly overcrowded; if her attention has been drawn to the need to address these issues as a matter of urgency; her plans in this issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15405/05]

I have already announced a series of measures which are being put in place to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services. These actions take a wide-ranging approach and are aimed at improving access to accident and emergency services, improving patient flows through accident and emergency departments, freeing up of acute beds and providing appropriate longer term care for patients outside of the acute hospital setting. Additional revenue funding of €70 million and additional capital funding of €10 million has been provided to support these actions. The Health Service Executive, HSE, has been charged with responsibility to implement the actions identified in the 10 point plan for accident and emergency services. There are also additional actions that are needed which relate more to the management, work practices and processes in hospitals. These too will be addressed by the Health Service Executive.

On foot of the commitment in the health strategy, funding has been provided to open an additional 900 inpatient beds and day places in acute hospitals. Health agencies have informed my Department that on 6 May 2005, 780 beds were in place. The Health Services Executive has informed my Department that the remaining 120 beds will come on-stream during 2005.

This Government has set out to improve the physical infrastructure of acute hospitals and particularly accident and emergency departments. A number of new units in acute hospitals throughout the country are in the process of coming on-stream. New accident and emergency departments have also been provided under the capital investment programme. I opened a new purpose-built accident and emergency department at Cork University Hospital last Monday. New accident and emergency departments and new hospital buildings were also provided at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown and Naas General Hospital at a total capital cost of €100 million and €75 million respectively. A new accident and emergency department was provided at Roscommon General Hospital at a capital cost of €6 million. New accident and emergency departments are expected to open this year at St. James's Hospital, Dublin and at South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel. Major capital projects at Tullamore General Hospital and St. Vincent's Hospital in Dublin will also result in new accident and emergency departments being provided. These developments together with new day facilities, theatre and diagnostic capacity will result in improved patient flows through the hospital system and make better use of existing inpatient beds.

Hospital Procedures.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

83 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action her Department took on receipt of a letter in January 2003 recommending the use of a US based plastic surgeon who had been the subject of investigation by the US authorities; her plans to regulate the growing number of clinics providing cosmetic procedures here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15333/05]

In January 2003 the then Minister for Finance advised my predecessor that he had been approached by a charitable institution in County Kildare regarding the possibility of an American cosmetic-plastic surgeon carrying out operations free of charge on patients in Ireland. It was indicated that the person in question specialised in the treatment of children who were severely disfigured. I understand the proposal would have involved bringing a team to Ireland for a few weeks each year to carry out, free of charge, up to ten operations on persons who were severely disfigured. The doctor in question required information regarding the permission required, the regulations to be followed and whether facilities could be made available to support the establishment of such a service. There was no recommendation from the former Minister for Finance that the services of the person in question be used by the Irish health service.

The correspondence was forwarded by my Department to the former Eastern Regional Health Authority and was considered by two consultant plastic surgeons based at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children and the Children's University Hospital Temple Street, whose views were forwarded directly to the former Minister for Finance. The consultants indicated, inter alia, that the service proposed was not required as there was already a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary service in place in this country for severely disfigured children, and which was funded by the State.

On the question of regulation, 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.

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 with 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.

Mental Health Services.

John Deasy

Question:

84 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the recent report by Comhairle na nOspidéal on the mental health services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15445/05]

An expert group on mental health policy is currently preparing a national policy framework for the further modernisation of the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document, Planning for the Future. The report of Comhairle na nOspidéal, Consultant Staffing in the Mental Health Services, is currently being examined by the expert group which is due to report later this year.

Eating Disorders.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

85 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the services provided for persons with eating disorders; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15449/05]

Persons presenting with eating disorders are generally treated through the local mental health services. Outpatient psychiatric services are provided from a network of hospitals, health centres, day hospitals and day centres. Where inpatient treatment is deemed necessary, it is provided in the local acute psychiatric unit or hospital, beds being allocated on the basis of patient need at any particular time.

The expert group on mental health policy is currently preparing a national policy framework for the further modernisation of the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document, Planning for the Future. The expert group has a number of sub-groups looking at specialist issues in mental health services, including eating disorders. The expert group on mental health policy is expected to report later this year.

Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

Joan Burton

Question:

86 Ms Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in regard to negotiations with hospital consultants regarding the indemnity scheme; if the Government is planning legal action against the Medical Defence Union in regard to historic liabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15310/05]

Discussions are continuing with the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants Association on some residual issues concerning the clinical indemnity scheme. I am confident that these will be resolved in the near future. Earlier this year the Government indicated that it would consider supporting individual consultants who had been left without cover by the Medical Defence Union in challenging these decisions by the MDU. I recently instructed the Chief State Solicitor's office to apply to the High Court for an order joining the MDU as a third party in proceedings between a health board and a former consultant member of the MDU where the MDU had withdrawn assistance. The court granted the order sought and formal notice of this has now been served on the MDU.

Health Service Staff.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

87 Mr. Gilmore asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the chief executive designate of the Health Service Executive will take up their position; if the finance director of the Health Service Executive has resigned; the steps being taken to fill this position; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15316/05]

Following a recommendation by the board of the Health Service Executive, HSE, I agreed to the appointment of Professor Brendan Drumm as the first chief executive of the HSE.

Discussions are under way with Professor Drumm about the arrangements to be put in place to enable him to take up the appointment at the earliest possible date.

The chairman of the HSE has also informed me that the director of finance has indicated his intention to resign from his current position. The chairman has advised me that a recruitment process to replace him will commence immediately and the situation will be kept under review.

Mental Health Services.

Seán Ryan

Question:

88 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her response the recent decision of the High Court to award almost €3 million in damages to a person; if she is concerned that the State may be vulnerable to similar legal actions from other people who found themselves in similar circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15347/05]

It would be inappropriate at this time to comment on the individual case referred to by the Deputy.

As the Deputy may be aware, the Mental Health Act 2001 was enacted in July 2001. The main vehicle for the implementation of the provisions of the Mental Health Act 2001 is the Mental Health Commission, which was established in April 2002. It is an independent statutory body, whose primary function is to promote and foster high standards and good practices in the delivery of mental health services and to ensure that the interests of detained persons are protected.

Under the provisions of the Mental Health Act 2001, mental health tribunals, operating under the aegis of the Mental Health Commission, will conduct a review of each decision by a consultant psychiatrist to detain a patient on an involuntary basis or to extend the duration of such detention. The review will be independent, automatic and must be completed within 21 days of the detention-extension order being signed. As part of the review process the mental health tribunal will arrange, on behalf of the detained person, for an independent assessment by a consultant psychiatrist and the commission will also operate a scheme to provide legal aid to patients whose detention is being reviewed by a tribunal.

While the detailed work programme of the Mental Health Commission is a matter for the commission itself to determine in accordance with its statutory functions under the Mental Health Act 2001, I understand that the commission's Strategic Plan 2004-2005 indicates that one of the priorities for the commission is to put in place the structures required for the operation of mental health tribunals, as provided for in Part 2 of the Mental Health Act 2001.

Hospital Charges.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

89 Mr. Gilmore asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to recent figures produced by the Central Statistics Office showing that hospital charges have risen by 59.9% in three years, more than six times the rate of inflation; if she considers such a level of increase justified; if her attention has been drawn to the hardship that such a level of increase has created; the action she intends to take to address this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15315/05]

On 1 January 2005, the public hospital statutory inpatient charge was increased by €10 to €55 per night, subject to a maximum of €550 in any 12 consecutive months. The charge for a visit to an accident and emergency department was also increased by €10 to €55. This increase in the accident and emergency charge will facilitate more appropriate attendances at accident and emergency units by reducing an incentive for people to attend accident and emergency departments when they might appropriately receive services from general practitioners.

The charges do not apply to a number of categories of person, including those with full eligibility, women receiving services in respect of motherhood, children up to the age of six weeks and children suffering from prescribed long-term diseases. Additionally, the accident and emergency charge does not apply in circumstances where the person has been referred by a medical practitioner or where the attendance results in a hospital admission.

The daily charge of private and semi-private care in major public hospitals was also increased by 25% with effect from 1 January 2005. This income goes towards supporting services in public hospitals. In the interests of equity, it is Government policy to gradually eliminate the effective subsidy for private stays in public hospital beds and relieve the general taxpayers of the burden of carrying these costs. Even with this increase, the cost of providing services to private patients in the major hospitals remains significantly greater than the income from the private insurance companies in many cases. The increase being implemented is aimed at closing that gap.

Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for health services is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive, HSE. It should be noted that where exemptions do not apply and cases of exceptional need arise, the chief officer of the relevant HSE area has discretion to waive the charge where undue hardship would otherwise be caused. It is open to all persons to apply to the Health Service Executive for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

Health Service Staff.

Simon Coveney

Question:

90 Mr. Coveney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on a media report that the new chief executive of the HSE intends to introduce a new tier of management; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15416/05]

An organisational structure for the Health Service Executive was announced in November and is currently being implemented. The organisational structure of the executive is a matter for the board and chief executive officer of the executive, subject to the approval of the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Finance.

Complementary Therapies.

Damien English

Question:

91 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the regulations and legislative protection surrounding the business of complementary therapists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15437/05]

Jack Wall

Question:

116 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the plans she has to regulate those offering alternative health therapies, many of whom have no formal qualifications, especially in view of the serious concerns expressed at a recent inquest into the death of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo who had been attending such a practitioner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15334/05]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

153 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress she has made in regulating the situation whereby any person can practice as a therapist, alternative practitioner or so-called complementary practitioner without any statutory requirement to register; if, further to previous parliamentary questions, she has taken further steps to rectify the situation; the position regarding the working group of the registration of alternative practitioners which was mooted by a forum set up in 2001; her views on whether this process is taking far too long in view of public health and safety; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [10607/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 91, 116 and 153 together.

At present there is no statutory regulatory framework for complementary therapists. The provision of all services to the public is currently subject to the supervision of the Director of Consumer Affairs and must conform to the requirements of consumer legislation.

A national working group was established by my predecessor in May 2003 to advise on future measures for strengthening the regulatory environment for complementary therapists. This group has met 18 times and was expected to report by the end of this year. However, in response to a recent request from my Department, the chair of the working group has given a commitment to an earlier completion date. My approach to the most appropriate framework to be put in place to regulate the activities of complementary therapists will be informed by the group's recommendations.

The whole issue of the regulation of complementary therapists is especially important in light of the increasing number of people who are attending such practitioners, particularly in partnership with conventional medical care. As a result, the often informal nature of how some complementary therapies are practised needs more scrutiny. Greater controls in the complementary therapy area are in the interest of all reputable practising therapists as the presence of some unscrupulous practitioners undermines the sector and presents risks to those using the therapies. It is the personal responsibility of every individual practitioner providing health care services to the public to ensure that they are trained and qualified to the level required to work safely within their area of competence.

It is my firm intention to introduce appropriate measures to strengthen the regulatory environment for complementary therapists as soon as I receive the report of the national working group.

In the meantime, I have asked the health promotion unit of my Department to explore the possibility, in consultation with relevant experts, of running a public information campaign aimed at providing guidance to persons contemplating the use of complementary therapy services. A key message that needs to be communicated is that patients with undiagnosed conditions should be actively encouraged to seek medical advice in the first instance.

Nursing Home Charges.

David Stanton

Question:

92 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the practice of health authorities holding the pension books of elderly patients to pay for their long-term care has reconvened; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [11893/05]

The HSE has reported that where it has been authorised to act as the patient's agent in relation to dealing with the patient's pension payments, weekly spending money is paid to each patient and the balance of such patient's pension is lodged to his-her patient private property account, from where it is accessible to the patient. With regard to the matter of the return of the pension book to patients, it is important that the process of altering the existing arrangements be carried out in an appropriate manner. Accordingly, the HSE has indicated that it is currently issuing a letter to all patients who have authorised it to act as their agent, offering them choices with regard to their pension books, and that arrangements will be made to return the pension books to the patients in question if that is their choice. Some patients may not be in a position to make a decision regarding their arrangements and the process will have to involve the patient's next of kin. This matter will be dealt with by each nursing home-institution and, therefore, there will be an opportunity to discuss the matter with the relevant local staff.

Patients in long stay units have the choice of having their pension book returned to them at any stage. No long stay charges are currently being levied for eligible patients in respect of in-patient services by the HSE. The HSE has advised that it is not aware of any instance where the practice of health authorities holding pension books of elderly patients has recommenced where patients have requested the return of their pension books.

Inter-Country Adoptions.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

93 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to review the law governing international adoptions in view of the experience of a person (details supplied) in a case in Indonesia; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15345/05]

In January this year, I announced that legislation to ratify The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption was being drafted as a matter of priority and I hope it will be published at the end of the year. The Hague Convention is the international instrument that regulates adoptions of children between jurisdictions and sets out the standards expected of both countries of origin and receiving countries in inter-country adoptions.

The case to which the question refers is an adoption which was effected domestically in Indonesia and subsequently registered in Ireland. Current legislative provisions allow domestic adoptions effected legally in other countries to be registered in Ireland and for the High Court to make an order for that registration to be cancelled if such cancellation is found to be in the best interests of the adopted person. It is not proposed to amend these provisions.

Nursing Education.

John Perry

Question:

94 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the INO and the HSE management have reached an agreement on the introduction of a new nursing grade; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15409/05]

I presume the Deputy is referring to the health care assistant grade which supports the work of nurses-midwives and acts under their supervision. This is not a nursing grade, however. Health care assistants are part of the nursing team and make a valuable contribution to the care of patients. Health care assistants and similar grades such as nurse's aide and ward attendant have been a feature of the Irish health service for some time. In recent years there has been investment in the upskilling of these grades so that they can play a greater role in the delivery of care and allow nurses to concentrate on more high level work appropriate to their education and training.

Section 23 of Sustaining Progress includes a commitment to the implementation of improved skill mix in the health service. There is a recognition of the need to mainstream existing developments including greater use of health care assistants. The Report of the Commission on Nursing, 1998, made recommendations in paragraphs 4.55 and 7.63 regarding the scope for increased use of care assistants and other non-nursing personnel in the performance of non-nursing tasks. Specifically, paragraph 7.63 recommended that a group be established to "examine opportunities for the increased use of Care Assistants and other non-nursing personnel in the performance of other non-nursing tasks".

This group was established to examine the effective utilisation of professional skills of nurses and midwives. It issued its report in May 2001. The group recommended that the grade of health care assistant-maternity health care assistant be introduced as a member of the health care team to assist and support the nursing and midwifery function. It also made recommendations related to the education and training of health care assistants including that the healthcare support certificate, FETAC, NCVA, Level 2, qualification be the preparation required for employment as a health care assistant.

Health care assistants are now integrated into many health care teams. During 2004-05, over 900 health care assistants undertook the healthcare support certificate. In addition, health care assistants have been introduced in eight pilot sites in the mental health services and they are undertaking the healthcare support certificate. The pilot programme in mental health services is currently being evaluated.

This vocational education programme has enhanced the skills and competency levels of health care assistants. As a result, health care organisations are increasingly recognising the potential of health care assistants and have requested further development of their role.

The Irish Nurses Organisation does not represent health care assistants, however, because they work under the supervision of nurses-midwives. The INO and other nursing unions have been involved in discussions on the mainstreaming of this grade across the health service. The INO is currently in dispute with the Health Service Executive in relation to the content of one training module in the healthcare support certificate programme. I hope that the matters in dispute will be resolved in the near future in the interests of improved patient services.

Special Needs Children.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

95 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the extent to which studies have been conducted here into the cause or causes of children born with various special needs; the extent to which some are deemed hereditary; the comparisons made with the incidents in other European countries; if sufficient information is available to determine specific causes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15404/05]

Broadly speaking, there are two main sources of information in relation to children born with special needs: (1) major screening programmes such as the EUROCAT, congenital malformation register, and the national metabolic screening programme; and (2) individual studies carried out by hospitals and university departments.

Hereditary factors are prominent in many conditions to a variable degree. The incidence of individual conditions varies widely throughout the world. For example, Ireland would have a relatively high incidence of Down syndrome and phenylketonuria.

My Department has asked the Health Research Board for its advice on the matters raised and will communicate with the Deputy when the reply becomes available.

Nursing Home Charges.

Joan Burton

Question:

96 Ms Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, arising from the Travers report, progress has been made with regard to determining the whereabouts of the file prepared by the Secretary General for submission to the Attorney General, but which was never received in the Attorney General’s office, in regard to the illegal charging of long stay patients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15309/05]

The letter and briefing documents in the file the Deputy refers to were sent to the Attorney General last October at my request, following the issue being raised in the House.

The original file drawn up in January 2004 containing these documents was not found in the Department despite an extensive search undertaken in January and February this year to facilitate the work of Mr. John Travers on the report I requested. A further search now would not be likely to produce a different result.

Hospital Accommodation.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

97 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the bed capacity which St. James’s, the Mater public, St. Vincent’s public, Blanchardstown, Tallaght and Beaumont Hospitals were constructed to accommodate, including completed extensions; the number of hospital beds in place in these hospitals; and the further number of beds in use. [15244/05]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

154 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of beds which are reserved for private patients at St. James’s, the Mater, St. Vincent’s, Blanchardstown, Tallaght and Beaumont Hospitals. [15245/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 97 and 154 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 provision of hospital services. Accordingly, 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.

Tuberculosis Incidence.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

98 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to research showing that rates of tuberculosis infection may be increasing in pockets of north Dublin; the steps she intends to take to counter the renewed threat from tuberculosis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15338/05]

The Health Act 1947 and the Infectious Diseases Regulations 1981, as amended, provide the legislative basis for the control of infectious diseases, including tuberculosis, TB, in Ireland. My Department's strategy in relation to the prevention and treatment of TB is guided by the recommendations of the Report of the Working Party on Tuberculosis, 1996, which covers a wide range of issues including epidemiology, surveillance, screening, preventative therapy, clinical management and laboratory diagnosis. Responsibility for the implementation of the recommendations rests with the Health Service Executive. As recommended in the report, a permanent committee — the National Tuberculosis Committee — was established to advise on a detailed strategy for the control and management of TB. The committee meets when necessary to review all relevant issues.

The incidence of TB in Ireland has declined dramatically since its peak at the beginning of the 20th century. The Health Protection Surveillance Centre monitors rates of TB in Ireland on an ongoing basis and identifies any increases in rates or clusters of the disease.

According to data provided by the HPSC and the Department of Public Health in the HSE eastern region, TB notifications both nationally and in the eastern region between 1991 and 2003 are as shown in the following table.

Year

National TB Notifications

TB notifications in HSE — Eastern Region

1991

640

183

1992

604

202

1993

598

144

1994

524

159

1995

458

150

1996

434

113

1997

416

129

1998

424

154

1999

469

180

2000

395

143

2001

381

171

2002

408

162

2003

421*

167

*Figures for 2003 are provisional

The number of cases in each community care area in the eastern region fluctuates each year. In 2003, the highest rates in the eastern region were seen in the north and south inner city areas of Dublin and west Dublin.

TB services in the eastern region are conducted in accordance with the Report of the Working Party on Tuberculosis, 1996. These guidelines are currently being reviewed. The service has a number of components: hospital-based services, public health services, which include contact tracing, and workplace-school-institutional screening.

Hospital Accommodation.

Richard Bruton

Question:

99 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the efforts she is making to open closed beds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15411/05]

Liam Twomey

Question:

110 Dr. Twomey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on recent reports from the INO that more than 150 beds in Dublin are closed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15410/05]

Richard Bruton

Question:

117 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of closed beds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15412/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 99, 110 and 117 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 executive officer of the Health Service Executive to reply directly to the Deputy with the information requested.

Influenza Vaccines.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

100 Mr. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress made to date with regard to acquiring a stock of influenza vaccines to deal with any influenza pandemic; the number of such doses available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15311/05]

Vaccination is the principal measure for preventing influenza and reducing the impact of epidemics. It will be the primary public health intervention in the event of an influenza pandemic. However, the production of a vaccine tailored to a pandemic influenza strain could take six to nine months. Developments are under way at international level seeking to expedite this process.

Pending the availability of virus specific vaccines, antiviral drugs will be the only influenza specific medical intervention available for use in a pandemic. Following consideration of advice from the Influenza Pandemic Expert Group, I decided at the beginning of March that 1 million treatment packs of oseltamivir, Tamiflu, should be stockpiled. This quantity is sufficient to treat 25% of the population and is in line with international trends.

The Health Service Executive signed a contract with Roche Products (Ireland) Ltd. for the supply of Tamiflu on 8 April 2005. A total of 600,000 packs will be delivered by the end of this year. The remaining 400,000 packs will be delivered in 2006.

Question No. 101 withdrawn.

General Practitioner Co-operatives.

Michael Ring

Question:

102 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress to date on the introduction of an out-of-hours general practitioner co-operative service for the east Cork region; the reason funding is not being made available for 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15426/05]

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. That includes responsibility for the development, implementation and monitoring of GP out-of-hours co-operatives.

Since the first GP out-of-hours co-operative began in 2000, in excess of €104.8 million has been provided to the Health Service Executive for out-of-hours co-operatives nationally.

The Health Service Executive, southern area, received €11.389 million under that heading between 2001 and 2004. In 2005, a sum of €6.271 was provided to the Health Service Executive's southern area to allow further expansion of its out-of-hours service.

Decisions in respect of the geographical area to be covered in any development or expansion of a GP out-of-hours co-operative are matters which fall within the remit of the relevant area of the Health Service Executive to decide, having regard to the strategic, financial and other issues involved. While I understand that some progress regarding the expansion of the out-of-hours service in the east Cork region has been made in recent days, my Department has asked the HSE southern area to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Charges.

Liz McManus

Question:

103 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of calls received to date by the national repayments scheme helpline; the latest information available to her Department regarding the extent of the potential cost to the Exchequer of the illegal charges; the progress made to date by the Government committee considering the question of repayments; if the committee has yet reported to Cabinet; if a decision has been made as to whether or not the statute of limitations will apply; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15307/05]

A memorandum for Government, regarding the repayment scheme for charges for residential long-term care, was brought before Cabinet for consideration, and the Government has agreed the key elements of a scheme for the repayment of long-stay charges.

All those who were charged and are alive, and the estates of all those who were charged and died in the six years prior to 9 December 2004, will have the charges repaid in full. The scheme will not allow for repayments to the estates of those who died more than six years ago. The repayments will include both the actual charge paid and an amount to take account of inflation, using the CPI, since the time the person involved was charged.

Legislation will be brought before the Oireachtas as soon as possible to provide a clear legal framework for the scheme. In the case of those who were charged and are still alive, the repayments will be exempt from tax and will not be taken into account in assessing means for health and social welfare benefits. The normal tax and means assessment arrangements will apply to those who benefit from repayments to estates.

An outside company with experience in handling mass claims will be engaged to design and manage the scheme within the parameters of the key principles approved by Government.

A national steering committee will be appointed to provide an independent input into the design of the scheme and to monitor the operation of the scheme to ensure that it is being implemented quickly and in the most equitable and effective way possible.

The scheme will be designed and managed with the aim of ensuring that those who are eligible for repayments receive them as soon as possible and with the minimum possible imposition of bureaucracy. Priority will be given to those who are still alive. Many of those eligible for repayments have already been identified under the ex gratia payments process. The scheme will include a transparent and thorough appeals process.

The legislation will include appropriate safeguards to prevent exploitation of those who receive repayments and are not in a position to manage their own financial affairs.

The scheme will include a provision to allow those eligible for a repayment to waive their right to a repayment and have the money assigned to fund one-off service improvements in elderly, mental health and disability services.

It is estimated that about 20,000 people who are still alive and a further 40,000 to 50,000 estates will benefit. It is estimated that the scheme will cost approximately €1 billion. The decision to limit payments to the estates of those who died in the past six years reflects the reference in the Supreme Court judgment to the Statute of Limitations.

The national helpline set up by the Health Service Executive to allow people to register if they believe they are due a repayment will continue to operate, but there is no need for anyone who has already registered using that facility to make contact with the HSE again to register for the scheme.

The total number of calls dealt with by the national repayment scheme helpline up to 10 May 2005 was 10,157.

Medical Cards.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

104 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the application process for the doctor-only medical cards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15418/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

113 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the doctor-only medical cards will be introduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15447/05]

Joe Costello

Question:

124 Mr. Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the discussions she has had with the IMO regarding the introduction of the promised doctor-only card; the plans she has for further discussions; the number of such cards issued to date; when she expects that the full complement will be issued; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15314/05]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

137 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the services that will be provided under the new doctor-only medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15419/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 104, 113, 124 and 137 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. That will include responsibility for the determination of eligibility of persons to "GP visit" cards.

In November, I announced the intention of extending free access to general practitioner services under the general medical services schemes to up to an extra 200,000 persons. Free access to general practitioner services will be the only service available to holders of "GP visit" cards. Funding has been provided in 2005 for that measure, and it is my intention that the required target can be met by the end of 2005.

Regarding the GP visit cards, the Health Service Executive has put in place the necessary administrative arrangements for their introduction. A public information campaign will be commenced over the coming days. That will indicate the process to be followed by applicants to obtain application forms and to have their eligibility assessed by the HSE. In the first instance, the HSE will consider the applicants' eligibility for a full medical card.

A process of engagement with the contractor and staff representative bodies is ongoing, and it is my intention to have GP visit cards available to persons on a low income as quickly as possible.

Hospital Services.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

105 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to concerns expressed at the recent IMO conference that surgeons and anaesthetists are regularly arriving at work to find that there is no work for them due to bed shortages; the steps she is taking to address this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15323/05]

I am aware of many issues raised at the recent IMO conference, which I attended, including the question of investment in new acute beds. On foot of the commitment in the health strategy, funding has been provided to open an additional 900 inpatient beds and day places in acute hospitals. Health agencies have informed my Department that, on 6 May 2005, 780 beds were in place. The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the remaining 120 beds will come on stream during 2005.

Additional revenue funding of €70 million and additional capital funding of €10 million has been provided to support the actions identified to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services. The Health Service Executive, or HSE, has been charged with responsibility to implement the actions identified in the ten-point plan for accident and emergency services. Additional actions are needed which relate more to the management, work practices and processes in hospitals. Those too will be addressed by the Health Service Executive.

Increasing the capacity of acute hospitals through the measures contained in the ten-point action plan and through the capital investment framework will enable hospitals to carry out, in a planned way, scheduled elective treatment which will fully utilise the facilities and staff in the hospital.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

106 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the forward planning arrangements which are in place in her Department to assess and provide for increased acute hospital needs in line with projected population increases in fast-developing areas in Dublin and surrounding counties. [15246/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

178 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of extra hospital beds required to bring the bed complement up to international norms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15697/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106 and 178 together.

My Department carried out a detailed study of acute hospital bed requirements up to 2011, and published Acute Hospitals Bed Capacity — a National Review in January 2002. The study examined current bed capacity and activity in acute hospitals and developed a framework for estimating future acute hospital capacity requirements. The study took account of current service pressures, projected increases in total population, the rise in the number of older people, increasing demand for services and potential changes in clinical practice. The study highlighted the need to expand hospital services for public patients.

In the health strategy, the Government committed itself to improve access for public patients. That is to be achieved through a series of measures, for example, funding has been provided to open an additional 900 in-patient beds and day places in acute hospitals throughout the country — 720 are in place, and the remainder will come on stream before the end of 2005. My Department is exploring the scope that exists for the private sector to provide additional bed capacity, and the national treatment purchase fund has been established to source treatment in the private sector for public patients waiting longest for treatment. The fund had arranged treatment for 27,000 public patients up to the end of March 2005.

Following the establishment of the Health Service Executive, responsibility for the preparation of plans regarding new acute hospital facilities, including the provision of additional capacity, now rests with the National Hospitals Office.

Community Care.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

107 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will confirm that it has now been decided not to proceed with the 850 community nursing units, announced in July 2002, and which were intended to provide step-down facilities for elderly patients and thus relieve pressure on acute hospital beds; the reason for such decision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15318/05]

Work has been under way in my Department on the proposal to deliver 850 community nursing unit beds through a public private partnership, or PPP, and the work that has been done so far has helped to clarify several issues. My Department has been examining other procurement options with a view to finding the approach that will deliver the best services and value for money to the Exchequer.

In that regard there have been discussions between my Department and the Department of Finance on an initiative based on entering into a medium-term service agreement with the private sector to deliver the additional long-stay beds required to relieve pressure on the acute hospitals and community care programme.

I will be pursuing that initiative with the Minister for Finance as a matter of high priority, with a view to agreeing that the proposal be developed further to evaluate its cost-effectiveness.

Health Service Staff.

Damien English

Question:

108 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she intends lifting the cap on medical staffing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15439/05]

The 2005 employment ceiling for the health service is currently 97,550 in whole-time equivalent terms. Below that national ceiling, there is no specific cap on the number of medical personnel who may be employed.

Under the Health Act 2004, responsibility for the management of the health sector employment ceiling rests with the Health Service Executive, which took over full operational responsibility for running the country's health and personal social services on 1 January 2005. That management includes such issues as the determination of the appropriate staffing mix and the precise grades of staff employed, in line with service plan priorities, subject to overall employment levels remaining below the authorised ceiling.

The Deputy may wish to note that since the end of 1997 there has been a 41% increase in the number of medical and dental personnel working in the health services, bringing the total number to 7,031, an increase of 2,037 whole-time equivalents at the end of 2004.

Hospital Accommodation.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

109 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will elaborate on the recent plan announced by the HSE to move additional beds into existing wards; if the staffing implications of this decision have been considered; if assessment of the safety implications has been carried out; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15324/05]

The Health and Safety Authority recommended that the Health Service Executive determine, on a hospital-by-hospital basis after undertaking the necessary risk assessment and staff consultation, whether extra capacity can be achieved within existing units. The National Hospitals Office has asked hospital managers to examine the potential for using the total hospital capacity, including in-patient wards for patients who require admission in an attempt to alleviate pressure on the accident and emergency department. As I advocated in the House this week, I favour that measure being taken as a response to patients' needs where overcrowding occurs.

It is a matter for each individual hospital to exercise its own judgment on how to reduce health and safety risks within it. In doing so, hospital managers have been asked to have regard to international best practice in areas such as improving work-flow issues and increasing the use of more appropriate community-based interventions to reduce the pressure on accident and emergency units.

To assist those hospitals experiencing continuing pressures on the emergency service, the NHO is in the process of seeking tenders from companies who are expert in the area of work-flow management to carry out a review of ten hospitals to determine what internal efficiencies could be achieved to improve patient flow and reduce overcrowding.

Question No. 110 answered with QuestionNo. 99.

Hospital Staff.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

111 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress made to date with hospital consultants on the renegotiation of their contract; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15373/05]

As the Deputy will be aware, it is over 12 months since preliminary talks were held between management and the medical organisations to discuss the commencement of negotiations on a new contract for hospital consultants. Unfortunately, the opposition of those organisations to the extension of the clinical indemnity scheme to cover claims against consultants has led to a decision by the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association, or IHCA, not to participate in further negotiations pending a resolution of the issues involved. That has resulted in the commencement of talks on a new contract being postponed.

I am anxious to break the long-standing deadlock that has arisen, and I regret that the medical organisations continue to say that residual issues arising from the introduction of the clinical indemnity scheme, to cover claims against consultants and certain other industrial relations matters, should be resolved to their satisfaction before they will agree to negotiate a new contract. Discussions are continuing with a view to resolving the former. I emphasise that the root cause is the withdrawal of cover for historic liabilities of consultants by the Medical Defence Union. I have given the medical organisations an assurance that consultants who have been unreasonably left without cover will receive State assistance for a legal defence for any case that arises against them. That assurance has been endorsed by the Government. In all the circumstances, I would be hopeful that the medical organisations will see their way to enter into negotiations with the Health Service Executive on a new contract for hospital consultants at an early date.

Water Fluoridation.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

112 Mr. Sargent asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the fact that water fluoridation has occurred here without the necessary statutory approval; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15408/05]

The statutory basis for the fluoridation of public piped water supplies is the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960, 46 of 1960, and various regulations made under the Act. The Act provides for the making by health authorities of arrangements for the fluoridation of water supplied by sanitary authorities through pipes. The Act also provides that the amount of fluorine added to a water supply shall not exceed one part by weight of fluorine per million parts of water.

The expert body on fluorides and health, which was established by the Minister for Health and Children and is charged with implementing the recommendations of the forum on fluoridation, is currently examining the regulations governing fluoridation of public piped water supplies with the aim of making proposals to the Minister for the purposes of implementing the recommendation of the forum to reduce the level of fluorine in public piped water supplies from between 0.8 parts per million and one part per million to between 0.6 parts per million to 0.8 parts per million. As part of that exercise, the expert body is currently carrying out a census of public piped water supplies, and when that work is complete, the expert body will make recommendations to the Minister regarding the updating of the current regulations.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, or 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. That includes responsibility for the levels of fluoridation for each water authority.

Question No. 113 answered with QuestionNo. 104.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

114 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress to date on the national roll-out of BreastCheck in the west and southern areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15422/05]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

142 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to continue the roll-out of BreastCheck; the proportion of the population covered; when the service will be available in all areas and to all women; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15328/05]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

166 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the roll-out of BreastCheck screening to the south and west; the timescale envisaged; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15538/05]

Máire Hoctor

Question:

169 Ms Hoctor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress on the 2005-2009 capital investment plans which are to include the nationwide roll-out of the BreastCheck programme to include the mid-west region in view of the recent representations of a correspondent (details supplied) who awaits the plans prior to approval being made. [15633/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 114, 142, 166 and 169 together.

I am confident the target date of 2007 for the commencement of the rollout of BreastCheck to the west, north west, south and south west will be met. The national roll-out of the programme is a major priority in the development of cancer services. This will ensure all women in the relevant age group of 50 to 64 years in every county will have access to breast screening and follow-up treatment where appropriate.

The national rollout of the programme required detailed planning for the development of infrastructure to provide for two static clinical units, one in Cork and the other in Galway. Last week, I gave approval to BreastCheck to advertise for the appointment of a design team to work on detailed plans for the design and construction of these two units. In addition, I also approved the development of a symptomatic breast centre at University College Hospital Galway. The total capital approved amounts to approximately €25 million. Tender notices have already been advertised in the EU Journal to expedite this major project.

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

Accident and Emergency Services.

John Perry

Question:

115 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding her ten-point plan for the accident and emergency crisis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15442/05]

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 executive officer of the Health Service Executive to reply to the Deputy directly.

Question No. 116 answered with QuestionNo. 91.
Question No. 117 answered with QuestionNo. 99.

Health Capital Programme.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

118 Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the capital projects in the health area for which funding has been provided and which are expected to commence in 2005; if further such capital allocations will be made during this year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15349/05]

Shane McEntee

Question:

143 Mr. McEntee asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she announced the capital programme for 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15452/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 143 together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, established on 1 January 2005, to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. This includes responsibility for progressing the bulk of the health capital programme in 2005 and in future years.

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 2005 is currently being finalised in the context of the capital investment framework, CIF, for 2005-09. This process will be concluded in the near future. The HSE will then be in a position to decide on publication and to progress its capital programme for this year.

This process involves making provision for commitments carrying forward from 2004 and initiating new contractual commitments for individual projects, in line with overall funding resources available for this year or beyond. The question of approving further capital funding during the course of the year will be kept under review by the HSE in the light of the delivery of the programme.

In addition to the Exchequer capital funding for the HSE, my Department has retained direct provision of capital funding for a small number of health agencies. The details of this programme are also being finalised in the context of the CIF. My Department will inform relevant agencies of funding in this regard when this programme has been formally sanctioned.

Health Services.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

119 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the health service plan recently published by the HSE; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15335/05]

The national service plan is the first such plan to be submitted to a Minister for Health and Children under section 31 of the Health Act 2004. The plan covers all the main programmes of care and treatment of the health services and sets down projected activity levels for those programmes. The plan also describes the objectives of the programmes and the actions to achieve these objectives. It describes the key issues for the year ahead and the mechanisms to monitor them. Initiatives in regard to research, quality, evaluation and value-for-money are also discussed.

Under the targeted services to be delivered this year 29,195 older people will receive home help services, with almost 7 million hours of services provided. Some 25,374 older people will avail of day care and almost 5,500 respite care. Almost 19,500 people aged 75 and over will receive continuing care in a residential setting. Acute hospital services will provide more than 1 million patient treatment episodes, of which more than 564,000 will be inpatients and over 504,000 day patients. It is anticipated there will be in excess of 2.5 million outpatient attendances and over 1.23 million accident and emergency department attendances. In regard to ambulance services, it is anticipated there will be 235,000 emergency and 250,000 non-emergency calls dealt with in 2005.

I have approved the plan which is based on some €11.5 billion provided in the Estimates for the Health Service Executive. The implementation of the plan is the operational responsibility of the HSE and it will be monitored by my Department and the HSE during the year. The executive will report to me on a regular basis during the year in regard to the achievement of targets described for each programme.

I appreciate the work of the board of the executive and its management in producing the plan which I regard as a comprehensive document covering all the key areas of activity during 2005. Work will continue in the HSE in co-operation with my Department to further develop the service plan for 2006.

Question No. 120 answered with QuestionNo. 70.

Health Service Reform.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

121 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Government plans to implement the recommendations of the Hanly report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15326/05]

Dan Boyle

Question:

130 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the aspects of the Hanly report she intends to implement; when she plans to do so; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15367/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 121 and 130 together.

The report of the national task force on medical staffing is a significant contribution to the development of acute hospitals services and to the organisation of medical staffing.

The report makes important proposals for reducing the working hours of non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs, in line with the EU working time directive. It highlights the need to implement changes in medical staffing to ensure safety and quality of patient care, and to reduce significantly the unacceptably long working hours of NCHDs. The report recommends a significant increase in the total number of consultants, working in a "consultant-provided", team-based system so that patients can receive faster access to senior clinical decision-making. It also deals with medical education and training, with particular reference to the changes that will be needed in the context of a 48-hour working week for NCHDs.

In regard to the organisation of hospital services, the report proposes an appropriate way forward in terms of regional self-sufficiency, investment in hospital services and the organisation of those services around hospital networks. In line with these recommendations, I will continue the Government's planned investment in new hospital facilities and additional consultant posts. This approach will be to the benefit of all patients.

The national hospitals office is best placed to build on the recommendations of the Hanly report in regard to hospital services and I have asked my officials to progress the issue with that office. Implementation of the other recommendations of the report is proceeding. My Department is working closely with the Health Service Executive and other health agencies to implement the measures set out in the report to reduce the average weekly working hours of junior doctors. Negotiations with the Irish Medical Organisation on the reduction in hours are continuing, local implementation groups have been established in nine hospitals as part of an agreed process and a detailed hospital activity analysis is under way which will inform reforms in this area.

While consultant contract negotiations have been paused pending resolution of issues related to medical indemnity arrangements, significant preparatory work has been undertaken on a draft consultant contract and management position paper. The implications of the required changes for post-graduate medical education and training are being examined by the medical education and training group that was originally established as part of the national task force on medical staffing. I expect a report from that group shortly.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Jack Wall

Question:

122 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when it is expected that publication of full hospital waiting lists will be resumed; the latest information available to the national treatment purchase fund in respect of the number of patients waiting more than three months, six months, 12 months and 24 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15350/05]

Responsibility for the collection and reporting of waiting lists and waiting times now falls within the remit of the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. A new on-line national patient treatment register is being developed by the fund. This register will allow for more accurate identification of waiting lists and, more importantly, waiting times. It is intended the register will be implemented on a phased basis during 2005.

Up to the end of March 2005, a total of 27,000 patients have had treatment arranged for them. It is now the case that, in most instances, anyone waiting more than three months will be facilitated by the fund. My Department has asked the chief executive of the NTPF to reply directly to the Deputy in respect of the latest position regarding the publication of information on waiting lists in the format requested by the Deputy.

Ambulance Service.

Denis Naughten

Question:

123 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she is taking to improve the ambulance service in the west; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15242/05]

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

Question No. 124 answered with QuestionNo. 104.

National Cancer Strategy.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

125 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she will publish the new cancer strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15420/05]

The National Cancer Forum is finalising the new national cancer strategy. The forum, a multidisciplinary group of experts in cancer care, has conducted an extensive consultation process with professional bodies, voluntary organisations and the general public. In developing an organisational model for the delivery of cancer treatment services, the forum's considerations have been informed by the broad strategic context in which the cancer strategy exists, a review of the current status of cancer care, a review of the literature evidence concerning key aspects of the organisation of cancer services and a review of international models of care.

The new strategy will have regard to the multifaceted aspects of cancer control. The key priority in the development of improved cancer care is that cancer patients will have access to multidisciplinary care to ensure optimum treatment and best outcomes in line with international best practice. The strategy will set out the key priorities for the development of cancer services over the coming years and will make recommendations in regard to a balanced organisation of cancer services nationally. It will also make recommendations in respect of health promotion, screening and early detection, cancer treatment services, genetics, supportive care, and research.

Hospital Accommodation.

Liz McManus

Question:

126 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a feasibility study has been carried out as to whether or not St. Bricin’s Military Hospital will be used to help relieve pressure on the Mater Hospital; the outcome of such study; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15308/05]

The possibility of utilising facilities at St. Bricin's Hospital to ease the pressure on accident and emergency departments in Dublin, and in particular at the Mater Hospital, was examined by the Northern Area Health Board some years ago. At that time, the facility was found to be unsuitable as a consequence of the considerable capital investment that would be required. I recently asked that the facilities at St. Bricin's be further examined and I acknowledge the co-operation of my colleague, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, in this regard.

Representatives from my Department, the eastern regional area of the HSE, and the Mater Hospital visited St. Bricin's recently to review the facilities and to consider the feasibility of the hospital being utilised for the provision of acute or sub-acute services. I understand that part of the infrastructure at St. Bricin's has been enhanced but that a significant level of investment would still be required to upgrade the hospital to the necessary standard.

A number of issues are now being considered by my Department in conjunction with the HSE. These include the level of capital investment needed and the timeframe within which the facility upgrade works could be completed. Other issues to be examined by the HSE include the type of service to be provided and any additional revenue requirements arising. My Department will be meeting with the HSE shortly to review the position.

Pharmacy Regulation.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

127 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding her consideration of the report of the pharmacy review group; if her attention has been drawn to the call made by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland for the urgent introduction of legislation to regulate pharmacies and pharmacists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15327/05]

The pharmacy review group submitted its report on 31 January 2003 and it was published in February 2004. I have given the complex issues raised in the report careful consideration and I have had a memorandum for Government prepared. This memorandum outlines my plans to consolidate and update the existing legislation to provide for the safe and effective delivery of pharmaceutical services to all citizens, in a comprehensive, manageable and robust legislative framework, incorporating recommendations from the pharmacy review group, as necessary. The memorandum is currently being revised on foot of observations received from Departments and I expect to be in a position to submit it to Government very shortly.

Health Expenditure.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

128 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children Ireland’s ranking in relation to health spending within the European Union; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15369/05]

The latest information available from the OECD database, as set out in the following table, shows total health expenditure per capita in Ireland in 2002 to be US$2,367 — purchasing power parity, PPP. This places Ireland eighth among the EU 15 and above the EU 15 average per capita spending of US$2,326 — PPP. The OECD database also enables comparison of 19 EU countries — EU 15 plus Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovak Republic and Poland. Ireland still ranks eighth and considerably above the average per capita spending of the EU 19, which is US$2,023 — PPP.

The Health Vote — the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive — contains funds to cover a broad range of personal and social services, including social care, as well as what is recognised by OECD as coming within the standard boundaries of health care. The figures published by the OECD take account of adjustments necessary to bring Ireland's health expenditure better into line with the boundaries for health systems set out in the OECD system of health accounts.

However, if account is taken of all the items which fall within the Health Vote in Ireland, then Ireland's public health sector spending in 2005 is €11.94 billion — Revised Book of Estimates 2005. Per capita, this amounts to €3,000. Since 2002, our real growth in publicly funded health spending has been about 37%.

Total Expenditure on Health EU 15Per Capita— US$ Purchasing Power Parity

Countries

Year 2002

Luxembourg

3,065

Germany

2,817

France

2,736

Netherlands

2,643

Denmark

2,583

Sweden

2,517

Belgium

2,515

Ireland

2,367

Austria

2,220

Italy

2,166

United Kingdom

2,160

Finland

1,943

Greece

1,814

Portugal

1,702

Spain

1,646

Average of EU 15

2,326.267

Countries to include EU 19

Czech Republic

1,118

Hungary

1,079

Slovak Republic

698

Poland

654

Average of EU 19

2,023.316

Source— OECD Health Data 2004 — 3rd Edition.

Health Services.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

129 Mr. Deenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when work will commence on the community nursing unit on the grounds of a hospital (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15240/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

As part of the executive's responsibility to prepare and submit an annual service plan for the Tánaiste's approval, it is obliged under section 31 of the Act to indicate any capital plans proposed by the executive. In this process, the executive can be expected to have regard to the full range of potential capital developments, its own criteria in determining priorities, available resources and any other relevant factors. The Health Service Executive's national capital plan is currently being examined by my Department.

Question No. 130 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Mary Upton

Question:

131 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the recent claim from the Irish Cancer Society that women were dying needlessly from a wholly preventable disease due to the fact that there is no nationwide cervical cancer screening; the plans for the provision of such a service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15329/05]

Dan Neville

Question:

138 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she intends rolling out the national cervical screening programme; if so, the regions to which it will be rolled out; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15424/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 131 and 138 together.

I am committed to the national rollout of a cervical screening programme in line with international best practice. International evidence demonstrates the proven efficacy of programmes that are effectively managed and meet quality assurance standards. Careful planning and consultation with relevant professional and advocacy stakeholders is required before I make definite policy decisions on a national rollout.

The former Health Board Executive commissioned an international expert in cervical screening to examine the feasibility and implications of a national roll out of a cervical screening programme. The examination included an evaluation of the current pilot programme in the mid-western area, quality assurance, laboratory capacity and organisation and the establishment of national governance arrangements. The expert's report was published on 14 December 2004.

The pilot cervical screening programme commenced in October 2000 and is available to eligible women resident in Counties Limerick, Clare and Tipperary north. Under the programme cervical screening is being offered, free of charge, to approximately 74,000 women in the 25 to 60 age group, at five year intervals.

My Department is now consulting the Irish College of General Practitioners, An Bord Altranais, the Academy of Medical Laboratory Science, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the faculty of pathology of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, the Women's Health Council, the Irish Cancer Society and the Dublin Well Woman Centre. The consultation with these key stakeholders is well advanced and will be completed in a matter of weeks.

The number of smear tests carried out annually is approximately 230,000 and represents an increase of almost 20% in recent years. To meet this increased demand additional cumulative funding of approximately €14.5 million has been provided by my Department since 2002 to enhance the laboratory and colposcopy services.

In addition, my Department allocated a further €1.1 million to the programme on an ongoing basis to complete the transition of the remaining laboratories to new and more effective testing and to support the development of quality assurance and training programmes. These are essential preparatory elements in a national roll out.

Hospital Services.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

132 Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in the publication of the Comhairle report on plastic surgical services; the date on which the report is expected to be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15348/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, Comhairle na nOspidéal was dissolved on the day the Health Service Executive was established and the functions of Comhairle have been transferred to the Health Service Executive. My Department has, therefore, requested the interim chief executive of the Health Service Executive to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 133 answered with QuestionNo. 70.

Hospital Accommodation.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

134 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of beds provided to date and the hospitals in each case in regard to the commitment given in the national health strategy to provide an additional 3,000 hospital beds; the projected number that will be provided before the end of 2005; the number of beds lost since 1997 in each such hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15320/05]

On foot of the commitment in the health strategy, funding has been provided to open an additional 900 inpatient beds and day places in acute hospitals. Health agencies have informed my Department that at the 6 May 2005, 780 beds were in place. The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the remaining 120 beds-places will come on stream during 2005. My Department will provide details separately to the Deputy.

There has been no overall diminution in the number of acute hospital beds since 1997. It is important to note that the numbers of beds available in any hospital may fluctuate over time depending on service demands and other factors such as seasonal closures and refurbishment. In addition, extra beds will be provided in the new acute medical units which I announced as part of the accident and emergency services package on the publication of the Estimates for 2005.

Hospital Services.

Bernard Allen

Question:

135 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of new facilities that have opened following the allocation of funding announced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15413/05]

I take it the Deputy is referring to the announcement made by the previous Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, on 15 September 2004 approving the commissioning of a number of new units in acute and non-acute hospitals throughout the country which have been funded under the national development plan.

New units in the following locations have opened since September 2004: a new hospital block at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown; two additional theatres-day unit at Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin; new units at St. James's Hospital, Dublin; a 12 bed assessment unit at Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore; acute psychiatric unit at Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise; a new accident and emergency unit at Cork University Hospital; additional linear accelerators for radiotherapy unit at Cork University Hospital, partially commissioned; a new radiotherapy unit at University College Hospital, Galway; an orthopaedic unit at Mayo General Hospital; and a new accident and emergency unit at Roscommon County Hospital.

The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the remaining units will come on stream during 2005.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Liam Twomey

Question:

136 Dr. Twomey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person is entitled to have their colonoscopy under the national treatment purchase fund if the date for carrying out the procedure is greater than six months since they last saw the consultant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15247/05]

The national treatment purchase fund, NTPF, which is now a statutory body, was established as one of the key actions for dealing with public hospital waiting lists arising from the health strategy. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the NTPF to reply directly to the Deputy with regard to the issue raised.

Question No. 137 answered with QuestionNo. 104.
Question No. 138 answered with QuestionNo. 131.

Company Privatisation.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

139 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has had recent discussions with VHI regarding the privatisation of this company; when this company will be privatised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15371/05]

The Government's legislative programme provides for legislation to be brought forward before the end of the year which will address the VHI's future corporate status. As part of the process of preparing the legislation I recently met the chairman of the VHI board and the senior management of the company. Officials of my Department have also been meeting representatives of the company on a regular basis. It would be premature at this early stage to speculate on the future ownership of the company.

Medical Cards.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

140 Mr. McGinley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department has the full co-operation of IMPACT for the introduction of the new doctor-only medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15417/05]

The HSE advises me that it has indicated that it is prepared to engage in discussions with the staff representative bodies, including IMPACT, regarding the introduction of the GP-visit cards. I do not anticipate any difficulties in this regard.

Question No. 141 answered with QuestionNo. 65.
Question No. 142 answered with QuestionNo. 114.
Question No. 143 answered with QuestionNo. 118.

Risk Equalisation.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

144 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the recent statement by BUPA Ireland that it may have to withdraw from the Irish market if risk equalisation is introduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15370/05]

Willie Penrose

Question:

147 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she intends to trigger the mechanism for risk equalisation following receipt of the recent report from the Health Insurance Authority; if her attention has been drawn to the threat from BUPA Ireland to withdraw from the Irish market; her response to this threat; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15332/05]

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

My Department received the Health Insurance Authority's report on 29 April. However, as I am sure the Deputies are aware, there is a statutory process to be adhered to, following receipt of the report. Given that the statutory process assigns specific functions to me as Minister, it would be inappropriate for me to make any comment on whether the provision for risk equalisation is to be triggered, or on any related issues at this time.

Hospital Accommodation.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

145 Ms Lynch asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the call from the IMO for priority to be given to an increase in public bed capacity and that failure to do so would endanger the long term survival of the public health system; her response to the call; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15322/05]

Funding has been provided to open an additional 900 in-patient beds and day places in acute hospitals throughout the country. Health agencies have informed my Department that by 6 May 2005, 780 were in place. The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the remaining 120 beds places will come on stream during 2005. In addition, extra beds will be provided in the new acute medical units which I announced as part of the accident and emergency services package on the publication of the Estimates for 2005.

General Practitioner Co-operatives.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

146 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress to date on introducing an out of hours general practitioner co-operative service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15425/05]

Funding for full out of hours co-operatives commenced in 2000. Between 2000 and 2004 a total of €72.882 million was allocated to the Health Service Executive for out of hours co-operatives nationally and in 2005 €31.98 million has been included in their baseline funding which includes €5.6 million in additional funding. These figures do not include the fees of the participating doctors.

All areas of the Health Service Executive have expanded their out of hours co-operatives and services since 2003. Co-operatives are now found in part of all areas of the Health Service Executive, providing coverage in part of all of the 26 counties. Decisions with respect to the geographical areas to be covered by co-operatives and any developments or expansions are for each area of the Health Service Executive to make, having regard to the service needs and the strategic, financial and other issues involved.

Question No. 147 answered with QuestionNo. 144.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

148 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in regard to the package of measures announced on Estimates day to improve accident and emergency services, she will list those measures implemented to date; the timetable for the implementation of each other planned measures; if she has satisfied herself with the rate of progress having regard to the serious problems that continue to be experienced in many accident and emergency departments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15317/05]

The actions to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services take a wide-ranging approach and are aimed at improving access to accident and emergency services, improving patient flows through accident and emergency departments, freeing acute beds and providing appropriate longer term care for patients outside of the acute hospital setting. While we all wish to see more immediate solutions, the Health Service Executive, HSE, is working with hospitals in order to deliver these measures and to ensure that the investment produces sustainable solutions. There are also additional actions that are needed which relate more to the management, work practices and processes in hospitals. These too will be addressed by the Health Service Executive.

The following is the current position regarding the ten point action plan which I announced to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services: (i) Development and expansion of minor injury units, chest pain clinics and respiratory clinics in hospitals to relieve pressure on accident and emergency departments: The HSE's eastern region has had very positive discussions with both public and private sector providers for the development of additional minor injury facilities in Dublin. The HSE's eastern region has initiated an exercise due for completion this month to assess minor injury attendances at accident and emergency departments and the potential of having these patients treated elsewhere. The results of this exercise will inform decisions regarding the scope of minor injury and diagnostic initiatives and also the evaluation criteria; (ii) Provision of a second MRI at Beaumont Hospital: It is expected that the second MRI for Beaumont Hospital will be available by the autumn; (iii) Provision of acute medical units, AMU, for non-surgical patients at Tallaght, St. Vincent's and Beaumont Hospitals: The relevant hospitals are finalising their proposals for the HSE. The national hospitals office is in the process of seeking tenders from companies who are expert in the area of workflow management to identify how processes for patient services can be improved and made more efficient. Final decisions on the design of the acute medical units will be taken in the light of this work so that resources are used most effectively, hospital by hospital; (iv) The transfer of 100 high dependency patients to suitable private nursing home care: The tender process for the provision of high dependency beds for 100 patients in private nursing homes is in the final stage. The essential site inspection visits have been completed. Decisions on which nursing homes to be awarded contracts will shortly be taken; (v) Negotiation with the private sector to meet the needs of 500 people annually for intermediate care of up to six weeks: The tendering process is completed and successful applicants notified. A total of 90 beds have been procured nationally to allow an annual throughput of 500 patients. Some 64 patients from hospitals in the eastern region and 23 patients in the Cork region have already been discharged as a result of the intermediate beds being available; (vi) Expanded home care packages to support 500 additional older people at home: Additional home care packages for patients in each of the six major acute hospitals in the Dublin area have been made available. An additional 100 home care packages have been allocated to hospitals outside of the eastern region. To date, some 51 patients have already been discharged from acute hospitals in the eastern region and discharge arrangements are being finalised for a further 45 patients; (vii) Provision of more out of hours GP services in order to keep people's need to attend accident and emergency units to a minimum: Some 150 GPs on Dublin's northside have agreed in principle to the establishment of out of hours services. Discussions in this regard are progressing positively; (viii) Dedicated cleaning services and security measures for accident and emergency departments: The director of the National Hospitals Office is finalising arrangements for the establishment of a national audit and an inspection process to measure cleanliness in all acute hospitals. Funding is available to hospitals to improve security measures and to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure patient and staff safety. The director of the National Hospitals Office has also written to all hospitals with respect to the report of the Health and Safety Authority in this regard; (ix) The further expansion of palliative care facilities: An additional six palliative care beds will made available in Blackrock Hospice in Dublin as soon as the necessary staff are recruited; and (x) Measures to enhance direct access for GPs to diagnostic services: It has been agreed to explore entering into local arrangements with the private sector to match capacity with needs. Negotiations are ongoing. As far as inpatient diagnostic services are concerned, discussions are advanced with two private hospitals in the eastern region regarding MRI and CT.

Health Service Reform.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

149 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress to date on the establishment of the four new regional health areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15415/05]

On foot of proposals from the interim Health Service Executive my predecessor, as Minister and the executive chairman of the interim HSE, announced the four regional areas of the Health Service Executive, which are the western region, the southern region, Dublin and north-east and Dublin and mid-Leinster. The function of these units is to assist in the co-ordination of services delivered through the local health offices in order to improve services to customers. The regional offices will be responsible for performance management, translating national policies through the local areas and gathering and relaying information on a regional basis. Interaction with local communities and their elected representatives through regional forums will also be a key function.

The Health Service Executive was established on 1 January 2005 pursuant to the Health Act 2004, No. 42 of 2004. I will be making regulations shortly to establish the four regional health forums, provided for under section 42 of the Act. The executive's organisational structure provides for the establishment of posts of director for each of the four regional health offices. The recruitment process to fill these posts is at an advanced stage and I have been informed by the executive that offers of appointment have been made.

Health Services.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

150 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that some chiropodists are charging medical card holders €10 per visit; if she considers such a charge to be acceptable; if she intends to take action in regard to this matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15352/05]

The provision of chiropody services is a matter for the local area of the Health Service Executive. This is a service which the executive is not statutorily obliged to provide but a variety of arrangements are in place nationally under arrangements made by the former Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, and other health boards.

Generally speaking, fees paid to private health care practitioners for the provision of services to public patients are reviewed periodically, and in that context I have requested my Department, in conjunction with the Health Service Executive, to look specifically at the current levels of fees paid to chiropodists participating in the chiropody scheme of the former ERHA. Arrangements are being made by my officials to further this matter. I wish to restate that I consider it inappropriate for chiropodists to charge a top-up fee to elderly public patients who have been deemed eligible for services under the scheme. My Department wrote to the Health Service Executive on 26 January 2005 regarding the inappropriateness of these additional charges.

Question No. 151 answered with QuestionNo. 80.

Medicinal Products.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

152 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the investigation which has been held into the circumstances in which huge numbers of counterfeit condoms (details supplied) were distributed and offered for sale here; if the estimate is available as to the number of such condoms that were sold; if she has satisfied herself that all counterfeit products have been withdrawn; if she has further satisfied herself that all appropriate and speedy action was taken when the problem was uncovered; the steps being put in place to prevent a recurrence of such a problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15337/05]

The Irish Medicines Board notified my Department on 8 March last that possible counterfeit condoms had been placed on the Irish market. The condoms had been imported from China through a UK distributor to a company in County Meath.

The packaging of the counterfeit condoms was very similar in appearance to the genuine products and had a CE marking on the boxes. A large quantity of products, approximately 413,000 condoms, was seized from the Irish distributor by the board on 7 March. A recall notice targeted at pharmacies was issued by the board on 8 March instructing them to quarantine all affected products. Subsequently, the board confirmed that the counterfeit products did not meet the stringent European CE standards for condoms and immediately issued an urgent press release on 14 March notifying the public about the products and the serial numbers involved. Since that date, the board has been collecting the counterfeit products and approximately 165,000 condoms are now in its possession in addition to the amount ceased earlier. It is now known that the counterfeit products were in circulation on the Irish market for a number of months and an estimated 333,000 may have been sold.

I am satisfied that the board did everything in its power to safeguard public health and, working in tandem with the manufacturer and brand owner of the genuine products, has acted appropriately to prevent the supply of counterfeit products in the future.

Question No. 153 answered with QuestionNo. 91.
Question No. 154 answered with QuestionNo. 97.

Public Health.

Billy Timmins

Question:

155 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of radioactive contaminants that can be treated using iodine in tablet form; the number of these contaminants which are in use at Sellafield; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12432/05]

Iodine tablets offer protection from radioactive iodine. Those principally produced in a nuclear reactor are iodine-131, iodine-132, iodine-133 and iodine-135, of which iodine-131 is normally the most significant in terms of radiation dose. Radioactive iodine is no longer produced at Sellafield since the closure of the Calder Hall reactors in March 2003. The Deputy may wish to note that in recent years the threat to Ireland has significantly reduced due to the closure of a number of the older reactors in the UK. A programme of further closures over the next five years is planned.

Hospital Services.

John Perry

Question:

156 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. [15524/05]

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:

157 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Sligo will be called for a test; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15527/05]

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:

158 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim will be called for an operation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15528/05]

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 Leitrim, 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.

Question No. 159 answered with QuestionNo. 70.

Medical Cards.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

160 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person from the UK who has resided in the UK all their life, who is in receipt of a contributory pension from the DHSS and is proposing to retire and live here on a full time basis, is entitled to apply for a medical card from the HSE. [15531/05]

Under EU regulations, 1408/71, persons taking up permanent residence in Ireland who are in receipt of a social security pension from another EU member state, who are not in receipt of an Irish Department of Social and Family Affairs pension, as either a recipient or dependant and who cannot be regarded as employed or self-employed in Ireland, are entitled to receive health services free of charge and are issued with a medical card.

For UK pensioners retiring to Ireland, it is necessary to produce proof of their social security pension and in addition the health board must be satisfied that they are not employed or self-employed — that is, subject to PRSI, have an income above a certain ceiling — in Ireland or in receipt of a payment from the Irish Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Where the EC regulations do not apply, persons with social security pensions from another EC member state are entitled to be assessed for medical cards by the Health Service Executive on the normal eligibility criteria.

Health Services.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

161 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the non-payment of a curam home care grant approved by the HSE in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [15532/05]

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 home care grants in County Cork. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply direct to the Deputy.

Community Care.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

162 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the outcome of the review by the HSE in relation to the number of hours allocated to the home help service in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15533/05]

The provision of the home help service in County Kildare is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive, south western area. Following from the issue raised on the Adjournment by the Deputy on 27 April, the Tánaiste wrote to the HSE's national director of primary, community and continuing care to have the matter reconsidered in the context of the needs of the area. The Tánaiste is awaiting a response from the HSE and this will be communicated to the Deputy as soon as it is received.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

163 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the recent request to the HSE to consider using mobile military field hospitals to alleviate overcrowding in accident and emergency departments (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15534/05]

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 Nationals Hospitals Office to reply to the Deputy directly.

Health Service Executive Property.

John McGuinness

Question:

164 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost of security, maintenance and insurance of the vacant property at Myshall, County Carlow since the property was transferred in August 2002; if a decision has been reached regarding the future use of this property; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15535/05]

The responsibility for the provision of security at Myshall rested with my Department from September 2002 to December 2002. During that period the total cost of the security to my Department was €18,606.36.

Since January 2003, it has been the responsibility of the Health Service Executive south eastern area — formally the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has asked the chief officer of the Health Service Executive south eastern area to reply directly to the Deputy. With regard to the future use of the property, my Department is awaiting a definitive response from the Health Service Executive south eastern area on the matter.

Hospital Services.

Willie Penrose

Question:

165 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when funding will be awarded to allow the special care baby unit at the Regional Hospital, Mullingar to open immediately on a full time basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15537/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

170 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if approval has been given for a special care baby unit at Mullingar General Hospital; if so, when approval was given for this unit; and the funding allocated to this unit. [15640/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

171 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a special care baby unit has not yet opened at Mullingar General Hospital (details supplied). [15641/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

172 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the special care baby unit at Mullingar General Hospital will be allocated staff and funding (details supplied). [15642/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 165, 170, 171 and 172 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 provision of hospital services at the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's midland area to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputies directly.

Question No. 166 answered with QuestionNo. 114.

Civil Registration Service.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

167 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when it is proposed to provide for the commencement of the marriage provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004 allowing marriages to be solemnised in a place chosen by the parties to the marriage with the agreement of the registered solemniser. [15623/05]

An tArd Chláraitheoir, Registrar General, is the person with statutory responsibility for civil registration in Ireland. I have made inquiries of the Registrar General and the position is set out below. The Civil Registration Service has been engaged in a major modernisation programme in recent years, including conversion of historic records to electronic format, implementation of a new computerised registration system and organisational reform. This work, which is key to the implementation of the Civil Registration Act 2004, is being carried out in phases and the stage has been reached where it will soon be possible to begin commencing certain provisions of the Act.

The Civil Registration Act 2004 provides for the commencement of the various provisions of the Act on a gradual basis. Preparatory work for the commencement of parts I, II, III, V and VIII of the Act is at an advanced stage. The new procedures for marriage are set out in Part VI of the Act and include universal procedures for notification, solemnisation and registration of marriages. Before these provisions can be commenced, a substantial body of work must be completed, including drafting and publication of regulations, guidelines and detailed procedures, establishment of a register of solemnisers in consultation with religious bodies, establishment of a register of approved venues for civil marriages and the further development of the computer system to facilitate the administration of the new marriage provisions introduced by the Act.

In addition, the General Register Office decentralised to Roscommon recently and considerable efforts are ongoing to ensure the hand over of sufficient skills and corporate knowledge to enable the new team to provide an efficient service from the new location. For these reasons, the Registrar General is unable to give a specific date for the implementation of the new marriage procedures but it is unlikely to be before the end of this year. It is intended to give as much public notice as possible and a comprehensive public information campaign, incorporating guidelines and registration procedures regarding marriage venues, will be undertaken at the appropriate time.

Health Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

168 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will allocate additional rehabilitative training places to the HSE western region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15626/05]

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 rehabilitative training. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 169 answered with QuestionNo. 114.
Questions Nos. 170 to 172, inclusive, answered with Question No. 165.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

173 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will clarify the apparent discrepancy between her statement to the Dáil on 23 March 2005 regarding dedicated transport arrangements in place for radiotherapy patients and the letter of the HSE, south eastern region (details supplied); the urgent arrangements she will make to put in place a dedicated transport system for cancer patients travelling outside of Waterford or the HSE, south eastern region, to Cork or Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15679/05]

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. Significant investment has been made in the south eastern region since the implementation of the national cancer strategy in 1997 to address pressures and progress developments in oncology services. I consider that appropriate transport arrangements for patients requiring radiotherapy should be made available, where necessary, by the HSE. Accordingly, I have requested my Department to refer this matter to the director of the National Hospitals Office for priority attention.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

174 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the position regarding the fitting out and equipping of the new health centre and health board offices in Ballymun, Dublin 9; the amount of funding which has been allocated for this purpose; when this work will commence and the timeframe proposed; if moneys owed to Dublin City Council for the rental purchase of this property have been paid; and when this facility will be open for public use. [15680/05]

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

Departmental Correspondence.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

175 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason no reply issued to this Deputy in respect of Parliamentary Question No. 257 of 8 July 2004; if she has satisfied herself with the capacity of the HSE to provide detailed replies in a reasonable timeframe; if she has further satisfied herself with the accountability of the HSE; and if information requested will be provided without further delay. [15693/05]

My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy in connection with the original information requested and to investigate why a response did not issue to Parliamentary Question No. 257 of 8 July 2004.

The Health Service Executive has recently established a parliamentary affairs division. A key function of this division involves the making of arrangements to respond to queries raised in parliamentary questions that are appropriate for direct reply by the executive, having regard to its object and functions under the Health Act 2004. I will shortly make regulations under section 79 of the Act in regard to the conduct by the executive of its dealings with Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I am keen to ensure the executive provides a high quality service to Members of the Oireachtas. My Department is having discussions with the executive to agree appropriate further actions in that regard.

I am satisfied regarding the accountability of the Health Service Executive as provided for under Part VII of the Health Act 2004. In addition to the specific accountability provisions concerned, the executive is currently making provision in its organisational structure and operational processes for the efficient delivery of information to Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

176 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons on waiting lists for heart and hip replacement and eye surgery; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15695/05]

Responsibility for the collection and reporting of waiting lists and waiting times now falls within the remit of the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the NTPF to reply to the Deputy directly with the information requested.

Medical Cards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

177 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the way in which the number of medical cards issued to date compares with the commitment given by the Government prior to the general election of 2002; the costing provided at the time and the eventual cost; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15696/05]

The health strategy committed to making improvements in the income guidelines in order to increase the number of persons on low incomes who are eligible for medical cards and to give priority to families with children. Income limits for medical card eligibility increased in the years between 2002 and 2004 in line with the annual consumer price index. Both the income guidelines and income allowances for children, taken into account for the purposes of assessment of eligibility for the medical card, have now been increased further with effect from 1 January 2005. These increases were among the set of priorities for new health initiatives in 2005 that I announced on 18 November 2004. The Government's policy remains as stated in the programme for Government, namely, to extend eligibility for medical cards rather than to achieve coverage of a certain percentage of the population or to issue a specific number of medical cards. Accordingly, the issue of costing would be dependant on the timeframe for the introduction of additional cards.

A sum of €60 million has been provided for in the 2005 Estimates for health to improve access to primary care by providing for additional persons to become eligible for a medical card and free access to GP visits for those on low incomes. The medical card income guidelines were increased with effect from 1 January 2005 by 7.5% generally. With specific regard to children, the income allowance for each of the first two children was increased by 20% and for the third and subsequent children by 30%. The higher rate of increase in respect of the allowances for children is specifically aimed at assisting low income families with children in accessing primary care services. It is estimated that this will increase the numbers eligible for medical cards by approximately 30,000. The estimated cost of an additional 30,000 standard medical cards would be in the order of €30 million in a full year.

In addition, free access to general practitioner visits will be provided to individuals and families based on income guidelines 25% over the new medical card income guidelines. However, it should also be noted that discretion to allow eligibility for the doctor visit medical card for those above the guidelines suffering hardship will also apply as for the existing medical card. It is estimated that approximately 200,000 persons will become eligible for free GP services as a result of this measure. The estimated cost of 200,000 new doctor visit cards would be in the region of €50 million in a full year. Taking into account both of these initiatives, in the region of 230,000 additional people, including children, will be able to access their general practitioner free of charge.

Question No. 178 answered with QuestionNo. 106.

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

179 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of speech and language therapists and child psychologists required throughout the country at present; her plans to meet this requirement in full having particular regard to the needs of children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15698/05]

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 recruitment and employment of speech and language therapists and child psychologists. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Health Service Executive's national director for primary, community and continuing care to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

180 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of consultant orthodontics employed throughout the health service; the number required; her plans to address any shortfall; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15699/05]

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 employment of consultants. Accordingly, my Department has requested the national director of human resources to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Staff.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

181 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of posts to be filled at each level throughout the health services at the present time; her plans to bring staffing levels up to requirement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15700/05]

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 health service staffing. Accordingly, my Department has requested the national director of human resources to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Accommodation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

182 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of beds available at a hospital (details supplied) in County Kildare; the number occupied; the number of patients awaiting admission; the extent to which the full staff requirement is being met; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15701/05]

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 beds in Maynooth Community Hospital. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

183 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when all the posts at Naas General Hospital will be filled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15702/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

187 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of extra beds required at Naas General Hospital having particular regard to the next phase of the hospital development plan; if she will consider increasing the bed complement to meet requirements arising from demographic trends; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15707/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 183 and 187 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 provision of hospital services at Naas General Hospital. Accordingly, 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 Service Staff.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

184 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number and status of posts awaiting to be filled in the health services in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15703/05]

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

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

185 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to improve, enhance or otherwise upgrade the various health centres in County Kildare having due regard to demographic trends; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15705/05]

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

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

186 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to upgrade health centres with a view to relieving some of the pressure on hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15706/05]

The strategy, Primary Care: A New Direction, sets out the Government's broad vision for the development of primary care as the central focus for the delivery of health and personal social care services in a modern health system.

The strategy aims to shift the emphasis from the current over-reliance on acute hospital services to one where patients will have direct access to an integrated multidisciplinary team of general practitioners, nurses, health care assistants, home helps, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and social workers in their local community. As the new primary care model is implemented, a wider network of other health and social care professionals will also provide services for the population served by each team.

The strategy provides a template for the development of primary care services over a period of ten to 15 years. The full implementation of the primary care strategy will require significant investment, over a sustained period, in order to expand capacity and to enable primary care to fulfil its role as the cornerstone of our health system. There are three broad approaches which will be taken to enable this to happen. These are: revenue and capital investment by the State in order to deliver additional services in primary care; a structured role for the private sector in the development of facilities and possibly also the delivery of services; and the substantial reorganisation of the resources already within the health services.

In relation to implementation, one of the first steps has been to establish an initial group of ten primary care teams, with supplementary funding, to enable existing staff resources within the public system to be augmented. These teams are intended to demonstrate the primary care model in action and also to enable practical experience to be gained of the process involved in establishing a primary care team.

Among the enhanced and expanded range of services which these teams are providing or developing are improved access to physiotherapy and occupational therapy, shared care arrangements with general hospitals and social work services focusing on general family support needs.

A significant element in the implementation of this strategy will be the reorganisation and reconfiguration of resources and services already within the health service. This reflects also one of the core principles underpinning the health service reform programme. This must be addressed by the Health Service Executive in order to provide a firm basis for the development of primary care teams and networks as the standard model of service delivery. I am aware that considerable work has already been undertaken by the former health boards over the past two years to map out the proposed numbers, locations and configuration of future primary care teams and the resource requirements associated with these. The HSE must complete this task to provide a firm basis for the reorganisation of resources within primary care.

All the investment needed to enable implementation of the primary care strategy need not involve the public sector and I am committed to developing policy in ways which will stimulate private sector investment in the development of both facilities and services. In the same way as we have seen considerable private sector interest in the development of hospitals and long-term care services, I see much potential for such developments in primary care to complement investment by the State. I have asked my Department to consider how this agenda can be advanced in a way which will harness this undoubted potential within the non-State sector and so enable and support the delivery of integrated primary care services in line with national policy.

Question No. 187 answered with QuestionNo. 183.

Hospital Accommodation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

188 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of respite beds available in County Kerry at the present time; the number required; her plans to expand this service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15708/05]

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 respite beds in County Kerry. Accordingly, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply direct to the Deputy.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

189 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of respite care places available in the country in 2005; the number required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15709/05]

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 respite beds. Accordingly, my Department has requested the HSE's national director of primary, continuing and community care to investigate the matters raised and to reply direct to the Deputy.

Infectious Diseases.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

190 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of cases of MRSA reported to date; if more than one such case has been reported from the same location; the steps being taken to address the issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15710/05]

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. At national level, MRSA bacteraemia is now included — since 1 January 2004 — in the revised list of notifiable diseases under the infectious diseases regulations and therefore laboratories are now legally required to report cases of serious MRSA infection to the Departments of Public Health and to 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. Provisional figures for 2004, the most recent period for which data are available, indicate that 533 cases of MRSA bacteraemia were notified last year.

International experience shows that the number of MRSA bloodstream infections seen in an individual hospital is generally proportional to the size of the hospital and the complexity of illnesses seen at that hospital. Thus larger hospitals treating sicker patients are more likely to see cases of MRSA bloodstream infection compared to smaller hospitals. As can be seen from the overall number of cases reported, hospitals reporting cases of MRSA bloodstream infection will report more than one case in each quarter and this is in keeping with surveillance data from other countries.

In order 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 this, approximately €4.5 million has been allocated in the current year. This SARI funding is in addition to normal hospital funding arrangements in relation to 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 in relation to the control of MRSA in Irish 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 the guidelines issued in 1995 in relation to MRSA.

Effective infection control measures, including environmental cleanliness and hand hygiene, are central to the control of hospital acquired infections, HAIs, 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 — these guidelines 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 services, which I announced in November 2004, includes provision for dedicated cleaning services; this recognises the importance of hospital cleanliness.

The NHO of the HSE 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.

Hospital Accommodation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

191 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of hospital beds available in 1990; the number available now; if the position reflects needs created by increased population; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15711/05]

The information sought by the Deputy is set out in the following table.

Publicly Funded Acute Hospitals In-Patient Beds and Day Places 1990 and 2004

Type of Bed

1990

2004

In-Patient

11,868

12,329

Day

284

1,080

Total

12,152

13,409

Source: 1990 — Health Statistics Report 1990, Department of Health — Bed Complement

Source: 2004 — Integrated Management Returns, Department of Health and Children — Average no. of beds in use (provisional figures)

The increase in acute hospital capacity has come about through investment in new facilities, the bed capacity initiative and the opening of new units in acute hospitals throughout the country.

The increase in day places reflects the changes in medical and surgical practices which allows for treatment without the necessity to stay in hospital overnight.

Activity levels in our acute hospitals continue to rise. We are now treating over 1 million patients as either inpatients or day cases.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

192 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost to date of the treatment purchase scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15712/05]

The funding provided in respect of the national treatment purchase fund in the years 2002 to 2004 was €79.069 million. The allocation available to the fund in 2005 is €64 million.

Hospital Staff.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

193 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to address the shortage of nursing staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15713/05]

According to the most recent Health Service Executive-employer representative division survey of nursing resources, recruitment remains well ahead of resignations and retirements. Employers reported that 765 vacancies existed at 31 December 2004. The vacancy rate now stands at 2.25%. This could be considered to be a normal frictional rate, given that there will always be some level of movement due to resignations, retirements and nurses availing of opportunities to change employment and locations.

The recruitment and retention of adequate numbers of nursing staff has been a concern of this Government for some time. A number of substantial measures have been introduced in recent years. The number of nurse training places has been increased by 70% since 1998 to 1,640 from 2002 onwards. In excess of €90 million revenue funding is being provided in 2005 for undergraduate nurse training. This is in addition to a capital investment programme costing €240 million for the establishment of purpose-built nursing education facilities on the campuses of 13 higher education institutions around the country. Nursing continues to be regarded as an attractive career. Provisional data indicates that overall CAO applications for nursing in autumn 2005 are 8,155, with 4,869 first preferences, an increase of 3.5% over first preferences in 2004.

A comprehensive range of financial supports have also been introduced to support nurses in pursuing part-time degrees and specialist courses, including "back to practice" courses. The cost of these supports will be €10 million in 2005. My Department introduced a scheme of flexible working arrangements for nurses and midwives in February 2001. Under the scheme, individual nurses and midwives may apply to work between eight and 39 hours per week on a permanent, part-time basis. Almost a quarter of all nurses now job share or work part-time hours.

Since 1998 nurses have been paid for overtime. Previously they had been given time off in lieu and the introduction of payment represents a further significant financial incentive for nurses. There have been substantial salary increases for nurses over the last number of years. Between 1997 and 2004, the basic salary of a staff nurse increased by 57.5%. In the same period, the salaries of clinical nurse managers increased by between 73% and 89%.

The promotional structure within nursing, including the introduction of a clinical career pathway, has been substantially improved on foot of the recommendations of the Commission on Nursing and the 1999 nurses' pay settlement. The National Council for the Professional Development of Nursing and Midwifery has been especially active in this area and, to date, over 1,650 clinical nurse specialists and 24 advanced nurse practitioner posts have been created.

The measures I have outlined have produced very positive results. Since 1997 there has been a net increase of 7,000 nurses. This represents a 25% increase in the nursing and midwifery workforce in the public health service. Turnover of nursing staff has also declined. The most recent turnover study covered the years 1999 to 2003. The results of this study showed that nationally turnover had decreased by 40% over the five year period.

Ensuring that there are sufficient nursing resources in 2005 and 2006 is a priority for the Health Service Executive. This will be the transition period between the diploma and the degree programmes. The final group of diploma students graduated in late 2004 and the first group of degree students will graduate in autumn 2006. A national steering group inclusive of nurse managers and HR specialists has been established by the HSE to examine and address the issues involved in ensuring there are adequate numbers of nurses in 2005 and 2006. This group is overseeing the work of a project office tasked with running local and overseas recruitment campaigns. Additional funding has been provided to the HSE for nurse recruitment in 2005. Work is well under way on the tender process for overseas recruitment. Registered nurses in Ireland, who are not practising are being targeted for recruitment and nurses working flexible-part-time hours are being asked to increase their hours. Improved skill mix will also assist in addressing the problem.

Hospital Accommodation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

194 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of step down beds provided since June 2004; the number required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15714/05]

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 executive officer of the Health Service Executive to reply to the Deputy directly.

Garda Stations.

Paul McGrath

Question:

195 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the towns and villages in which Garda stations have been disposed of and which have had new purpose built facilities with the finance from these dealings; the profit in each case from these transactions; and the funds available for 2005 to refurbish rural Garda stations. [15546/05]

A pilot equity exchange programme was developed to test the feasibility of exchanging clusters of small Garda stations that cannot be viably maintained on an ongoing basis in return for modern new facilities. However, following an advertising campaign in the national press, the level of interest expressed was not adequate to meet the requirements of the programme. Various options are under consideration to progress matters in the future.

Departmental Staff.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

196 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance if there is a job vacant or becoming vacant in the near future on OPW sites (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15636/05]

Local management in the first site referred to by the Deputy has requested that three general operative positions be filled. A decision on whether some or all of these positions are to be filled will be made shortly. Three temporary seasonal guides-information officers were recruited recently for the summer season. There are currently no vacancies in the second site referred to by the Deputy. Four temporary season guides-information officers were recently recruited for the summer season.

Tax Collection.

Billy Timmins

Question:

197 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the position in regard to the case of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15650/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that notices of assessment issued on 1 July 1998 detailing the taxpayer's liabilities for the tax years 1996-97 and on 17 February 1999 for the years 1997-98. The taxpayer also received a demand for outstanding liabilities for 1996-97 on 2 September 1998 and made three additional payments reducing his liabilities for 1996-97 to €380.03. A total of €738.50 remains outstanding.

The taxpayer can enter into an instalment arrangement with the Revenue Commissioners, debt management section, Apollo House, Tara Street, Dublin 2, to clear outstanding tax owed. It is a matter for the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs to determine the level of pension to which he is entitled.

Tax Code.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

198 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance if a study has been completed regarding the benefits of introducing here a flat tax on personal and corporate income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15687/05]

I am aware that a number of eastern European countries have introduced a flat rate of tax on personal and business income. The tax policies of individual countries reflect a range of factors and democratic choices, social, economic and cultural.

The Irish tax system as it has developed, particularly over the period 1997 to date, with lower rates of personal and business taxation, has proven, along with other factors, to be a very successful tool in incentivising and creating employment and in attracting and retaining inward investment. The most recent OECD data relating to the year 2004 show that for the single worker on the average production wage, Ireland has the lowest tax wedge, that is, income tax plus employee and employer PRSI as a proportion of gross wages plus employers PRSI, in the EU and one of the lowest in the entire OECD. According to data from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Investment, foreign direct investment flows into Ireland in 2003 amounted to the equivalent of about €19.5 billion. This represents 8.5% of all foreign direct investment flows into the EU 15 in 2003; a very strong performance given that Ireland's share in the EU 15 population is only approximately 1%. Indeed, in absolute terms only six other countries in the world registered larger FDI inflows in 2003 than Ireland. With the exception of Luxembourg, all of these countries were larger than Ireland, most considerably Spain, Belgium, France, China and the US.

Economic growth has been sustained at higher levels than our EU counterparts and the role that taxation has played in the success of the Irish economy, especially in recent years, has been widely recognised internationally. Having regard to the success of the Irish tax system in contributing to our economic development, I see no need at present to explore alternative models which would involve a dramatic shift from our current approach.

Immigration Policy.

Willie Penrose

Question:

199 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the Government intends to ratify the UN Convention on the protection of the rights of migrant workers and members of their families, which is especially relevant in view of recent examples of publicised exploitation by employers here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15638/05]

Ireland is not a signatory to the International Convention on the protection of the rights of all migrant workers and members of their families. The convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1990, and it entered into force on 1 July 2003, following ratification by the requisite number of states — 20. The convention on migrant workers has been open for signature and ratification since December 1990. However, to date, only 29 states have ratified the convention. No European Union member state has as yet signed or ratified the convention, nor have any indicated an intention to do so.

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

The convention on the rights of migrant workers has been examined by my Department. It would appear that in order for Ireland to ratify the convention, significant changes would have to be made across a wide range of existing legislation, including legislation addressing employment, social welfare provision, education, taxation and electoral law. These changes would also have implications for our relations with our EU partners, none of whom has signed or ratified the convention, and possibly for the operation of the common travel area between Ireland and the UK.

There are no plans at present to introduce the changes in the areas above which would be necessary before Ireland could ratify or consider signing the convention. Moreover, the convention on the rights of migrant workers has not acquired universal recognition as a standard for the protection of the human rights of migrant workers.

It should also be noted that the rights of migrant workers and their families are already protected under existing national legislation and under the Irish Constitution. In addition, the rights of migrant workers and their families are addressed by Ireland's commitments under international human rights instruments to which the State is already a party. These international instruments include, for example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

National Minimum Wage.

Joe Higgins

Question:

200 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of disabled persons in sheltered or supported employment earning less than the minimum wage. [15505/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

201 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the average wage awarded to disabled persons in sheltered or supported employment. [15506/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 200 and 201 together.

FÁS provides a grant to sponsors of the supported employment programme to fund the provision of co-ordinators and job coaches in order to provide support to people with disabilities in employment. The supported employment programme is designed to assist in the integration of persons with a disability into a job in the open labour market, leading to independence and career progression. The terms of employment contracts, including the wage rates, are agreed between employers and employees and are covered by the relevant employment legislation, including that relating to the national minimum wage.

In regard to sheltered employment, my Department has responsibility for the pilot programme for the employment of people with disabilities, PEP, and FÁS pays an annual subvention to Gandon Enterprises in regard to 182 places. The terms of employment contracts, including the wage rates, are agreed between employers and employees and are covered by the relevant employment legislation, including that relating to the national minimum wage.

Joe Higgins

Question:

202 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the entity which pays disabled persons on the NTDI’s community workshop scheme to manufacture products for private companies. [15507/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

203 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the average wage of disabled persons on the NTDI’s community workshop scheme. [15508/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 202 and 203 together.

FÁS contracts with NTDI and other agencies to provide training to people with disabilities who are deemed capable of accessing the open labour market. All trainees are paid a standard training allowance, average €179 per week, by the NTDI. Some trainees may also retain their social welfare entitlements, depending on their circumstances.

Training is delivered via three delivery methods: centre based, distance learning and company based. FÁS has no responsibility for persons who are employed in NTDI workshops. This is a matter for the company itself.

Economic Partnership Agreements.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

204 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he shares the concerns and reservation expressed by the UK Government in respect of economic partnership agreements; and if the Government intends to seek to negotiate changes to the EU position on EPAs. [15597/05]

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 would agree with the basic thrust of an approach to the EPAs which ensures that the needs and concerns of developing countries are taken adequately into consideration during the substantive phase of these negotiations. I note in particular that, 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 the development dimension is put first. I fully support this approach by the commissioner.

As trade is a European Community 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 the member states. The Commission provides the Council with regular updates on the progress of the negotiations. Ireland is 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.

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.

Work Permits.

Joan Burton

Question:

205 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his Department was in any way involved in the issue of permits for exemption from PRSI to GAMA workers from Turkey; if his Department corresponded on the matter with the Department of Social and Family Affairs; and if the work permits issued by his Department to GAMA’s Turkish workers were subject to any inquiry or conditionality by his Department in respect of the location of employment and contract of employment of such workers. [15619/05]

My Department has no function regarding PRSI payments by any company, nor has the Department been involved in determining the PRSI to be paid by any specific company. Work permits are only granted in respect of specific employments in the State.

I have sent a copy of the labour inspectorate's report of the investigation into alleged breaches of employment rights in GAMA to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

Joan Burton

Question:

206 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the conditions which apply in respect of foreign workers granted a work permit here; if such workers are required to reside here and work for an Irish employer, agency or company registered here with a contract of employment in Ireland; and the information which is given in respect of such workers to the Department of Social and Family Affairs. [15620/05]

Nationals of the European Economic Area, EEA, do not require an employment permit to work in Ireland. The EEA comprises the 25 EU member states, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and, for this purpose, Switzerland. Where an employer cannot source a person from within the EEA to fill a specific vacancy, that employer may make an application for a work permit in respect of a specified non-EEA national.

Non-EEA nationals who enter employment in Ireland under the work permit system have permission to remain in the State for the duration of the stated employment. Section 2 of the Employment Permits Act 2003 provides that work permits in Ireland are issued only in respect of employment positions in the State. There is no requirement for the employing company to be registered here.

Data protection considerations preclude the transfer of information from my Department to the Department of Social and Family Affairs in respect of non-EEA national workers.

Industrial Development.

Michael Lowry

Question:

207 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the incentives available to an industry (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15646/05]

The 35 county and city enterprise boards, CEBs, which were established nationally in 1993, provide a source of support for small businesses with ten employees or fewer. The function of the CEBs is to develop indigenous enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity at local level.

Subject to certain eligibility criteria, enterprises may qualify for support from the CEBs in the form of feasibility, employment and capital grants. In addition, the CEBs deliver a comprehensive range of development and support programmes designed to help new and existing enterprises to operate effectively and efficiently so as to last and grow.

I suggest that the person concerned should, in the first instance, make direct contact with his or her local county enterprise board to explore what type and level of assistance, if any, would be available to him or her from that board.

Private Rented Accommodation.

Mary Upton

Question:

208 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the procedures which are in place to monitor the standard of accommodation provided by private landlords whose tenants are in receipt of rent supplement; if he has satisfied himself that tenants in receipt of rent supplement are placed in suitable accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15607/05]

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.

To qualify for a rent supplement, a person must satisfy a means test. The executive must satisfy itself also that the applicant has a genuine accommodation need which he or she cannot provide for, that a bona fide tenancy arrangement exists between the applicant and the landlord and that the property being rented is suitable to his or her needs. The executive may consider that a property is not suited to the applicant's needs if the accommodation does not comply with the Housing (Standards for Rented Housing) Regulations 1993.

Responsibility for enforcing housing standards regulation rests with the local authorities. In addition, the Private Residential Tenancies Board provides a mechanism for dealing with problems between landlords and tenants associated with rent levels, accommodation conditions, etc., and its services are available to people in receipt of rent supplement in the same way as for any other tenant.

The Government has introduced a new system of rental assistance to be operated by the local authorities. One of its objectives is to ensure that a full range of good-standard and appropriate housing options is available to people with long-term housing needs, who currently rely on rent supplement. The rental accommodation scheme component of the new arrangements will involve local authorities in ongoing contact with participating private rented sector landlords. This will place the authorities in a position to enforce good accommodation standards for people receiving housing support under the scheme.

Social Welfare Code.

John Perry

Question:

209 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to extend the boundary areas with regard to the entitlement of the smokeless fuel allowance; the criteria used for drawing up the boundaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15513/05]

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide for their extra heating needs during the winter season. A fuel allowance payment of €9 per week is paid to eligible households, with an additional €3.90 per week being paid in smokeless zones, bringing the total amount in those areas to €12.90 per week.

The current set of designated cities and towns in which the smokeless fuel allowance rate applies is as follows: Arklow, Bray, Celbridge, Cork City, Drogheda, Dublin city, Dundalk, Galway city, Kilkenny city, Leixlip, Limerick city, Naas, Sligo, Tralee, Waterford city and Wexford.

The specification of designated urban areas in which the sale of smoky fuels is prohibited is primarily an environmental and public health matter. It comes under the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and he is responsible for designating the boundaries of these areas. The responsibility of my Department is to ensure that the special smokeless fuel allowance is paid to eligible pensioners and other relevant social welfare clients in these designated areas, to assist them with the additional cost of purchasing smokeless fuel products.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paul McGrath

Question:

210 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of customers who receive either weekly or monthly payments from his Department; the percentage of these who receive their cash payments through the local post office; if he has encouraged his customers to opt for payments through a particular method; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15521/05]

My Department makes payments to some 1.6 million customers on a weekly or monthly basis. Of those, 58% currently receive payment through their local post office, 11% are paid by cheque through the postal system and 31% receive direct electronic payment to their bank or building society account.

Customers opt for a particular payment method having regard to their own circumstances and particular needs. It is my Department's policy to provide as much information as possible to customers to enable them to make an informed choice in this regard. Occasionally, it may be necessary for customers to move from one payment method to another, for example, where a new computer system is being introduced and a particular payment option is no longer available. Subject to this, customers generally are free to opt for the payment method which suits them.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

211 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if, following the introduction in 2005 of a €35 allowance to disabled persons in residential care who have hitherto been deprived of any disability payment, it is intended to award some or all of the years of back money to these residents. [15522/05]

Responsibility for the disabled person's maintenance allowance, DPMA, scheme was transferred from the Department of Health and Children and the health boards to the Department of Social and Family Affairs in October 1996. On the transfer of the scheme, the existing qualifying conditions were retained and the scheme was renamed "disability allowance". This position was provided for in Part IV of the Social Welfare Act 1996.

One of the qualifying conditions applying to the former DPMA scheme was that the payment could not be made to people who were in residential care where the cost of the person's maintenance was met in whole or in part by a health board. Since 1999, the restrictions on payment to persons in residential care have been progressively relaxed, as reflected in successive amendments to the Act. From August 1999, existing disability allowance recipients living at home can retain their entitlement where they subsequently go into hospital or residential care.

A wide-ranging review of illness and disability payment schemes completed by my Department in September 2003 recommended the removal of the residential care disqualification for disability allowance purposes. The working group which oversaw the review recognised that the removal would have a range of implications, and that, in the absence of reliable data on the numbers involved and the actual funding arrangements currently in place, it was not possible to assess fully the likely impact or cost of such a move.

Budget 2003 provided for the takeover by my Department of the discretionary "pocket money" allowances paid to people with disabilities in residential care who are not entitled to disability allowance and for the standardisation of the level of these allowances. My Department then undertook an information-gathering process with the health boards with a view to arranging for the transfer of responsibility for the payment of these allowances and of the funds involved.

In budget 2005, I announced that, as an interim measure, a payment of €35 per week would be payable to the persons with disabilities who are affected by the current restriction, with effect from June 2005. This development was provided for in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2005.

There are a number of practical and administrative issues to be resolved with the Department of Health and Children, including the question of the appropriate contribution to be made by residents of institutions towards care and maintenance. It is my intention that the outstanding issues will be progressed as a matter of urgency. Payments of disability allowance were at all times made in accordance with the relevant legislative provisions so the issue of repayments does not arise in this instance.

Social Insurance.

Richard Bruton

Question:

212 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department will consider allowing stay-at-home husbands or wives to purchase credits under the PRSI code as a means of paying a contribution towards the old age contributory pension; if, in relation to other social welfare schemes, a rule exists to allow persons to gain credits at various stages of their working lives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15523/05]

PRSI credited contributions are an integral part of the social insurance system. The primary purpose of PRSI credits is to secure social welfare benefits and pensions of insured workers by covering gaps in insurance where workers are not in a position to pay PRSI, such as during periods of unemployment, illness or caring.

To qualify for social insurance credits, a person must have previously worked and paid PRSI, must have paid PRSI in the last two full contribution years and must show evidence of the underlying contingency giving rise to the credited contribution, such as illness, unemployment or maternity. In addition, credited contributions are provided in particular circumstances for periods of studying or training or when undertaking work as a volunteer development worker.

Separate arrangements have been put in place to protect the long-term social insurance pensions of men and women who spend periods outside the workforce for caring purposes. From 6 April 1994, periods spent out of the workforce caring for children up to the age of 12 years, or incapacitated people, are disregarded when calculating pension entitlements, subject to a maximum period of 20 years. In addition, the homemakers scheme provides for credits to be awarded for the balance of the tax year in which the person leaves the workforce and from the beginning of the tax year to the date of re-entering employment.

An examination of the provisions of the homemakers scheme is being undertaken as part of the review of eligibility conditions for old age contributory pensions. I expect to receive recommendations on foot of that review later this year.

A scheme providing the option of purchasing voluntary PRSI contributions also exists. It allows previously insured workers to maintain their entitlement to long-term benefits such as old age pension. To qualify as a voluntary contributor, a person must be under 66 years, have ceased to be compulsorily insured, have a minimum number of paid contributions and apply within 12 months from the end of the contribution year in which he or she last paid contributions on a compulsory basis.

Social Welfare Benefits.

John Perry

Question:

213 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a decision will be expedited for a person (details supplied) in County Sligo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15525/05]

Mortgage interest 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.

The HSE, western area, has advised that, following a review of the household income situation of the person concerned, it was decided that he no longer qualifies for payment of a mortgage interest supplement. The executive has further advised that he has been unsuccessful in appealing against this decision to its area appeals officer. At the request of the person concerned, his case was referred by the executive to the social welfare appeals office for further adjudication and a decision on that appeal is expected shortly.

Social Welfare Code.

Mary Upton

Question:

214 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that social welfare payments awarded via a bank account are delayed by one day when a Monday bank holiday occurs; his views on whether this delay in payment causes hardship to social welfare recipients; if this delay will be removed in future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15548/05]

My Department makes payments to approximately 667,000 customers who are in receipt of long-term benefit on schemes such as old age, lone parent and invalidity pension. Some 168,000 of my Department's long-term customers receive their payment entitlements by way of electronic funds transfer, EFT. This facility allows these customers to receive their payment into their bank accounts. There would not normally be any delay in EFT payments being made over a bank holiday period. All EFT payments are lodged on their due date, except where this coincides with a bank holiday, in which case the lodgement is made a day earlier.

A specific problem occurred with payments due to be lodged to customers' accounts on Thursday, 5 May in that an incorrect date was entered during the transmission stage of the processing cycle. This only came to light on the day in question and, despite efforts to have these payments credited that day, this proved not to be possible. All payments were available to customers on Friday, 6 May. My Department greatly regrets the delay which occurred in this instance. A major review of the systems for generating and transmitting payments under my Department's long-term schemes is under way and all the procedures involved are being examined in this context to ensure that they are fully robust and that incidents of this kind do not recur.

Computerisation Programme.

David Stanton

Question:

215 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the computerisation of births, deaths and marriage records has eliminated the perceived risks previously identified with electronic funds transfer payment systems for social welfare recipients; if automatic computer systems are in place to link in appropriate ways and subject to data protection requirements the computerised records of births, deaths and marriages with his Department’s computer systems in so far as these issue or generate payment instructions for periodic benefits such as pensions that could be paid efficiently by electronic funds transfer. [15681/05]

The introduction of electronic registration of life events, including births, marriages and deaths, has enabled the automatic transmission of registration data to my Department at the time of registration. The necessary systems have been put in place to electronically match registration data against social welfare payment systems to identify cases for appropriate action.

The information received from the civil registration system is a positive addition to existing measures in place to minimise possible overpayments whether payment is by way of electronic fund transfer or by personal payable order book. The necessary provisions have been incorporated into the Social Welfare Acts to meet data protection requirements as regards the receipt of life event data from the civil registration system.

Social Welfare Fraud.

David Stanton

Question:

216 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to any country that requires electronic funds transfers or equivalent arrangements for the standard method of paying most benefits and making analogous payments; if so, if any such country has experienced levels of fraud and error that suggest that electronic funds transfer might not be a cost-effective alternative payment arrangement compared to pension books, cheques and cash; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15682/05]

The relevant state agencies in the United Kingdom are currently engaged in the migration of all social welfare-type payments to direct payment. At the end of December 2004, 72% of their customers were paid by direct payment to their bank or building society accounts and 14% were paid by direct payment to their post office accounts.

The Department is not aware of any increased risk of fraud or error in countries adopting electronic means of paying social welfare recipients. In the main, the potential for fraud in respect of welfare payments is determined by the risks associated with the claim profile and characteristics rather than the method of payment.

Proposed Legislation.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

217 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if it is intended to legislate to provide that digital imagery will be deemed admissible as proof of commission of a speeding offence in cases taken before the courts. [15603/05]

Section 21 of the Road Traffic Act 2002 provides an appropriate and comprehensive basis for the use of apparatus, including cameras, for the purpose of establishing evidence in respect of a range of traffic offences, including speeding offences.

The Road Traffic Act 2004 introduced further clarity to the provisions of section 21 to affirm the use of radar guns, and other apparatuses that do not produce permanent records, to support Garda enforcement. The parameters established by section 21 for the use of apparatus generally are stated in the broadest possible manner to facilitate the deployment of any technology currently in use, including digital imaging. Decisions relating to both the type of equipment and the technology to be deployed to support enforcement are matters for the determination of the Garda Commissioner.

National Car Test.

Michael Lowry

Question:

218 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Transport the number of tests carried out by the national car test in each test centre since 2000; the number of test failures and the main reason for the failure in each test centre since 2000; the amount of money generated from test failures and retests since 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15630/05]

My Department does not compile data on test activity or outcomes for individual test centres. Data on test activity, pass rates and top failure items for the car testing service since 2000 are available on the website maintained by National Car Testing Service Limited, the address of which is www.ncts.ie .

My Department is satisfied that the rate of re-testing and the fees associated with such re-testing reflect the condition of the vehicles presented for inspection.

Michael Lowry

Question:

219 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Transport if there are failure targets which national car test centres must meet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15631/05]

The sole basis for determining the outcome of a national car test is the assessment of the vehicle carried out by the vehicle inspector in accordance with the requirements set out in the National Car Test Manual, published by my Department. The setting of failure targets for individual test centres or for the service as a whole would be inconsistent with the basis on which test outcomes are determined, and does not happen.

Community Development.

Joan Burton

Question:

220 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will make a statement on the award of funds by his Department for a proposed play area at Ladyswell, Drumheath, Dublin 15; the amount which was awarded; when it was awarded; if the amount was conditioned to be spent by a certain date; the programme heading under which the money was disbursed; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a contractor arrived on site for a brief period, left the site in a mess, and that local people are completely dissatisfied with the work, which has left the area dangerous to children; and the role of Fingal County Council in this case. [15621/05]

My Department provided funding of €30,000 to Fingal County Council in February of this year. This funding was provided under the local authority housing estate enhancement scheme 2004, which is part of the RAPID programme, to enhance an open area in this estate. The funding was paid to the council following confirmation by Fingal County Council and the chair of the area implementation team that works were completed to their satisfaction. The quality of these works has not matched the community's expectations. However, Fingal County Council has undertaken to carry out a full programme of remedial works.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Question:

221 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be paid the balance on 18 animals, on the special beef premium. [15588/05]

The person named lodged two applications under the 2004 special beef premium scheme in respect of 21 animals. The first application, in respect of three animals, was lodged on 5 October 2004, while the second application, in respect of 18 animals, was lodged on 31 December 2004. The 60% advance payment in respect of the second application, €2,268.00, issued on 1 April 2005.

The three animals, which were included on the first application, had been the subject of a query, which has now been resolved satisfactorily. Payment of the 60% advance payment in respect of the first application, together with the balancing payments in respect of both applications, will issue shortly.

Direct Payment Schemes.

Donal Moynihan

Question:

222 Mr. D. Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of clients of her Department being paid by direct credit system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15589/05]

A total of 62,360 clients of my Department, including staff members, are paid by direct credit to a bank account. We are actively promoting payment by direct credit to all client groups.

Milk Quota.

John Perry

Question:

223 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the fact that due to ongoing medical problems a person (details supplied) had to give up milk production; if the reference year 2002 will be used; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15590/05]

The person named, having been notified that the circumstances outlined by him did not satisfy the criteria for force majeure or exceptional circumstances under Article 40 of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1782/2003, submitted an appeal to the independent single payment appeals committee.

Following a full examination of the circumstances outlined in the appeal, the independent single payment appeals committee made a recommendation and a letter issued to the persons named on 8 November 2004. The findings of the appeals committee were that the original decision taken by my Department should be upheld.

The person named submitted an application under the single payment scheme national reserve under categories B and C. Category B caters for farmers who, between 1 January 2000 and 19 October 2003, made an investment in production capacity in a farming sector for which a direct payment under livestock premia and — or arable aid schemes would have been payable during the reference period 2000-02. Category C caters for farmers who sold their milk quota into the milk quota restructuring scheme and converted to a farming sector for which a direct payment under livestock premia and-or arable aid schemes would have been payable during the reference period 2000-02.

My Department is processing in excess of 16,500 applications already received and the closing date for receipt of completed applications to the national reserve has been extended to 16 May 2005. In view of the number of applications received and the documentation submitted, it will be some time before a decision is reached on whether the person named is entitled to an allocation from the reserve. The person named will be notified of the outcome as soon as all applications are processed. However, it should be noted that an applicant may benefit under only one category that is, whichever one is more beneficial to him or her.

Grant Payments.

Willie Penrose

Question:

224 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the way in which existing participants in the forestation grant scheme, who have already been receiving grants under the said scheme, will have their entitlements treated under the new single entitlement system, for the purpose of the 2005 single payment scheme and subsequently; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15591/05]

: Participants in the afforestation premium scheme must submit a single payment scheme application in 2005 and are obliged to declare all the land parcels in their holding — owned, rented and leased.

All land parcels in receipt of payment under the afforestation premium scheme must also be registered on this Department's land parcel identification system with a unique identification number. Failure to register afforested parcels under this scheme on that system could affect future premium payments.

Participants in the afforestation premium scheme should shade the circle at 11 on the front of the single payment scheme application form and also enter their forestry contract number in the space provided on the front of the single payment scheme application form and ensure that all land parcels, including the land parcels afforested in accordance with the afforestation premium scheme are detailed on the back of the form.

Farmers who afforested lands since 2000 and do not have sufficient lands to benefit from their full single payment can apply to consolidate their single payment entitlements on their declared lands in 2005. Such farmers should complete the consolidation application form and submit it with their single payment application form.

Farmers should consider carefully the consequences of consolidation if there is a possibility they might wish to avail of the early retirement scheme or might wish to retire from farming within the next five years. Consolidated entitlements are allocated from the national reserve and cannot be sold or leased for five years. These entitlements must also be claimed each year for five years, failing which the unclaimed entitlements will revert to the national reserve.

These farmers will continue to receive the afforestation aid on the planted lands and if successful in their application to consolidate their entitlements, will also benefit from their full single payment.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

225 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if notification of entitlement under the single payment scheme has issued to a person (details supplied) in County Cork since 1 March 2005. [15592/05]

Summary statements of provisional entitlements issued to all farmers during April 2005, including the person named. However, I have had arrangements made to have a further copy issued today to the person named.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

226 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will give consideration to a person (details supplied) in County Cork for approval under the national reserve-single payment scheme. [15593/05]

The person named submitted an application under the single payment scheme national reserve under category B which caters for farmers who, between 1 January 2000 and 19 October 2003, made an investment in production capacity in a farming sector for which a direct payment under livestock premia and — or arable aid schemes would have been payable during the reference period 2000-02.

My Department is processing in excess of 16,500 applications already received and the closing date for receipt of completed applications has been extended to 16 May 2005. In view of the number of applications received and the documentation submitted, it will be some time before a decision is reached on whether the person named is entitled to an allocation from the reserve. The person named will be notified of the outcome as soon as all applications are processed.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

227 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork has not yet received notification of her entitlements under the EU single payment scheme; and if her attention has been drawn to the fact that their application was approved under the category of force majeure. [15594/05]

The person named applied for consideration of force majeure— exceptional circumstances on 4 February 2004. Having fully examined the circumstances outlined by the person named, my Department is satisfied that force majeure circumstances should apply in this case.

The years 2001 and 2002 will be excluded and 2000 only will be used in the calculation of the provisional single payment entitlements. This decision was notified to the person named on 8 November 2004.

An application for consideration in respect of the inheritance measure of the single payment scheme was also submitted. Following an examination of this application the person named was notified that her application to transfer special condition entitlements was successful. A statement of provisional entitlements outlining the amended position has now issued to the person named.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

228 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding a single payment scheme application under force majeure for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [15595/05]

The person named was originally notified that the circumstances outlined by him did not satisfy the criteria for force majeure— exceptional circumstances under Article 40 of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1782/2003.

The person named then submitted an application for consideration in respect of the inheritance measure of the single payment scheme. Following processing of this application he was notified that his application was successful. The amended position reflecting the inheritance measure was included in the statement of provisional entitlements issued to him on 22 March 2005.

The person named subsequently submitted additional medical information and following a full examination of this additional information it has been decided that force majeure should be applied. Consequently, 1998 only will be used in the establishment of the single farm payment entitlement for the person named.

The person named has been notified of this decision and an updated statement of provisional entitlements reflecting this position has now issued.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

229 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding an appeal in relation to the single payment scheme under the category of force majeure for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [15596/05]

The person named has been notified that the circumstances outlined by him did not satisfy the criteria for force majeure— exceptional circumstances under Article 40 of Council Regulation (EC) No. 1782/2003.

Following this decision the person named submitted an appeal to the independent single payment appeals committee. A full review of the circumstances of the case will be carried out by the independent single payment appeals committee and the person named will be notified shortly of the outcome.

The person named also submitted an application requesting consideration in respect of the inheritance measure of the single payment scheme. Following processing of his application I am pleased to advise that the person named has been notified that his application was successful and a statement of provisional entitlements outlining the amended position issued to him on 22 March 2005. The person named cannot be considered for the new entrant measure of the single payment scheme as he received no direct payments in the reference years 2000-02.

Commercial Horticulture.

Michael Lowry

Question:

230 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the incentives which are available to an industry (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15627/05]

My Department operates the scheme of investment aid for the development of the commercial horticulture sector funded under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. The scheme is intended to assist in the development of the horticulture sector by grant aiding capital investments in specialised plant and equipment in commercial horticulture.

Applicants must demonstrate that they have the necessary skill and competence for the running of the business. The horticulture enterprise must be shown to be viable on a commercial scale. The minimum investment which will be considered is €10,000. The upper cumulative limit for investments per applicant over the period of the scheme is €1.27 million. Aid will be payable at the rate of 35% on the accepted net cost of investments approved and completed to the Department's satisfaction.

Even though the scheme is not aimed at start-up business, if such an application is considered to be viable then the project would be given every consideration. Applications for the scheme in 2005 are now closed.

Rural Development.

Michael Lowry

Question:

231 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on a proposal (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15628/05]

The issues raised by the Deputy relate to the forestry elements contained in the draft Rural Development Regulation 2007-2013, 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 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 be pressing 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.

Grant Payments.

Denis Naughten

Question:

232 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food , further to Question No. 129 of 4 May 2005, the reason her Department deems up to 27% of animals ineligible even though it has paid moneys out on all animals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15629/05]

The Deputy will be aware that I decided to estimate the quota overshoot reduction in order that balancing payments could be made under all of the bovine premia schemes to farmers who had applied for special beef premium in respect of more than 25 animals.

The calculations involved in the interim balancing payments under the 2004 special beef premium scheme involved reducing the rate of aid rather than the number of animals. This process did not have any impact on the amount paid to individual farmers. On establishing the definitive position regarding the quota overshoot, a full recalculation of payments due to all scheme applicants will be carried out by my Department. This recalculation will involve a reduction in the number of animals rather than reducing the rate of aid, which was an interim measure to facilitate early payment.

John Perry

Question:

233 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties encountered by a person (details supplied) which have been outlined in correspondence in relation to the new single payment scheme and the national reserve; the avenues this person should pursue to ensure that their application is successful; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15632/05]

An application for consideration under the force majeure-exceptional circumstances measure of the single payment regulations was submitted by the person named in early February 2004. The person named has been notified that the circumstances outlined by her 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 she can appeal this decision to the independent single payment appeals committee who will carry out a full review of the circumstances outlined. No such appeal has been received to date.

The person named also submitted an application to the 2005 single payment scheme national reserve under category B which caters for farmers who made investments in production capacity between 1 January 2000 and 19 October 2003.

My Department is at present processing in excess of 16,500 applications already received and the closing date for receipt of completed applications has been extended to 16 May 2005. In view of the number of applications received and the documentation submitted, it will be some time before a decision is reached on whether the person named is entitled to an allocation from the reserve. The person named will be notified of the outcome as soon as all applications are processed.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

234 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan will receive the balance of cattle premiums and any other moneys due to them under the headage or premium area. [15635/05]

The person named has received his full entitlement under the 2004 area based compensatory allowance scheme.

The person named lodged three applications under the 2004 special beef premium scheme, in respect of a total of 28 animals. The first application, in respect of 23 animals, was lodged on 28 May 2004, the second application, in respect of four animals, was lodged on 6 December 2004 and the third application, in respect of one animal, lodged on 20 December 2004.

The 60% advance payment of €2,070.00, in respect of the first application, issued on 18 October 2004. Having been selected by the computer based risk analysis programme, the herd was the subject of a field inspection, which was carried out on 17 February 2005. The inspection results having been finalised on 22 April 2005, the outstanding payment will issue in the coming days, that is, the 60% advance payments in respect of the second and third applications, together with the interim balancing payments for the three applications.

Two animals eligible under the 2004 slaughter premium scheme were slaughtered under the herd number of the person named. The 60% advance payment of €96.00 issued on 20 October 2004. The balancing payment due will issue immediately following the special beef premium scheme payments mentioned above.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

235 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food further to an appeal in 2003 made by a person (details supplied) in County Wexford, if this case will be reinvestigated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15637/05]

This appeal was received in the agriculture appeals office on 27 May 2004 and the appeals officer issued a decision on 13 August 2004 to disallow the appeal. The decision of the appeals officer is final and conclusive, except in the following circumstances: an appeals officer may change a decision where there is new evidence, new facts or a relevant change in circumstances but the appeals officer considers that no new evidence has been provided that would warrant a change in the decision; the director of agriculture appeals may revise a decision where there has been a mistake made in relation to the law or the facts of the case, but the director has reviewed the file and is satisfied that there are no grounds for revising the decision of the appeals officer; and a case may be appealed to the High Court on a point of law.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

236 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her proposals to meet the difficulty of a person (details supplied) in County Waterford and other persons regarding the early retirement scheme in farming, particularly in relation to the single payment scheme, force majeure and exceptional circumstances (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16003/05]

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 during the reference years 2000 to 2002. 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.

The person named retired from farming in 1994 and was a participant in the scheme of early retirement from farming from May 1994 until September 2000 when he reached 70 years of age. As he had retired before the reference period, he is 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.

The person named applied under the force majeure measure of the single payment scheme but as he did not apply for any direct payments during the reference period 2000-02, or during the alternative reference period of 1997-99, the provisions of the EU regulations in relation to force majeure do not apply to this case. He subsequently submitted an appeal to the independent single payments appeals committee and following a full examination of the circumstances outlined in the appeal, the single payments appeals committee made a recommendation that the original decision taken by my Department should be upheld. The person named has been notified of this decision.

Coroners Service.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

237 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether a penalty of €6.35 is a grossly inadequate penalty for a person who refuses to attend a Coroner’s Court when summonsed to do so; her further views on whether such action requires urgent reform of the Coroners Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15239/05]

I refer the Deputy to my response to Questions Nos. 81, 96, 137 and 743 of 12 April 2005. The position has not changed.

Youth Diversion Project.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

238 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will approve and provide funding for youth diversion project for the Mitchels area, Tralee, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15604/05]

Garda youth diversion projects are a community-based, multi-agency crime prevention initiative which seek to divert young persons from becoming involved — or further involved — in anti-social or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development, promote civic responsibility and improve long-term employability prospects. By doing so, the projects also contribute to improving the quality of life within communities and enhancing Garda-community relations.

The number of projects has grown from 12 in 1997 to 64 at present, a process made possible, in part, by funding under the National Development Plan 2000 — 2006. A budget of €5.471 million has been provided for the Garda youth diversion projects and local drugs task force projects in 2005. There are currently two Garda youth diversion projects operating in County Kerry, the Connect 7-Just Us project and the BAPADE project.

I am committed to the continuing development and, as resources permit, the expansion of Garda youth diversion projects. Proposals made by the Garda Síochána to my Department on establishing further projects are examined within the context of available resources. All applications relating to the establishment of further projects should follow the establishment process as set out in the Garda youth diversion project guidelines which I launched in 2003. The 11 establishment guidelines give a clear structure to the application process from the initial expression of interest to the final submission of the proposal and cover issues such as the pre-establishment phase, consultation, memorandum of understanding, legal structure, coordinator's job description and catchment area.

It is expected that the amount allocated in 2005 will be required to meet the funding needs of the projects currently in operation. However, the possibility of funding further projects in light of prevailing budgetary conditions remains, and in this context the application for the project referred to by the Deputy will be kept under review.

Courts Service.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

239 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps being taken to avoid exposing the State to possible action before the European Court of Human Rights due to failure by a judge to deliver a reserved judgement in view of the fact that there have been four cases in recent years in which the State was sued over delays in issuing reserved judgements. [15606/05]

As the Deputy will appreciate, the courts are, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions. It is not therefore open to me to comment or intervene in any way in relation to how a particular case is being conducted, which is entirely a matter for the presiding judge.

With regard to the general issue of reserved judgments, the Deputy will be aware that I recently signed the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002 (Register of Reserved Judgments) Regulations 2005, which came into effect on 31 March 2005. These regulations provide for the establishment and maintenance on computer by the Courts Service of a register of the judgments reserved by the Supreme Court, the High Court, the Circuit Court and the District Court. They set out where the various parts of the register are to be kept, the arrangements for getting a copy of an entry in the register and other relevant matters.

I am informed that every effort is being made to afford judges time to prepare reserved judgments within acceptable time periods.

Crime Levels.

Tony Gregory

Question:

240 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of house break-ins in an area (details supplied) in Dublin 7 to date in 2005; the number of persons charged to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15643/05]

I wish to advise the Deputy that it has not been possible to compile the information requested in the timeframe allowed. I will arrange for the information to be forwarded directly to the Deputy at the earliest possible opportunity.

Criminal Prosecutions.

Tony Gregory

Question:

241 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of persons charged to date in relation to the ongoing serious anti-social behaviour at the new senior citizen scheme (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15644/05]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that there have been two persons arrested since January 2005 directly related to public order incidents at the location referred to by the Deputy. Both persons are being dealt with under the juvenile diversion programme.

I am further informed by the Garda authorities that a new development for senior citizens is under construction at the complex. On completion the entire site will be surveyed by the divisional crime prevention officer to ensure that access to the complex will be made more difficult for non-residents.

Crime Levels.

Tony Gregory

Question:

242 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if there has been a recent upsurge in street prostitution in a residential area (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15647/05]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that there has been no recent upsurge in street prostitution in the area referred to by the Deputy.

I am further informed by the Garda authorities that all gardaí at the Bridewell Garda station have been briefed on this matter and are aware of the concerns of residents in the area. In addition to normal patrols there are two plain-clothes gardaí specifically assigned to deal with this activity.

Citizenship Applications.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

243 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a decision on an application for family reunification will be made in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; if this person will be considered for citizenship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15648/05]

The person referred to by the Deputy was admitted to the State in December 2001 as a programme refugee. His wife arrived in the State in 2003. I can confirm that the visa applications in relation to his wife's family have been received in my Department. She has been requested to provide further documentation and information in support of the applications and on receipt of same a decision will be reached.

An application for a certificate of naturalisation was received in July 2003 from the person referred to by the Deputy. That application is in the final stages of processing and will be submitted to me for a decision in the coming weeks. I will advise the Deputy and person concerned as soon as I have reached a decision in the matter.

Equal Rights Issues.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

244 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the rights which fathers have in seeking sole custody or full time care of a child who has been physically and emotionally abused by their mother; if he plans to make changes to family law to ensure equal rights in terms of caring for children in the case of fathers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15672/05]

In a case of alleged physical and emotional abuse by the mother of a child, it is open to the father to apply to the court for custody of the child. It is also open to a father to apply to the court, under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 as amended by the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act 2002, for a barring order or a protection order against the mother.

Married parents living together are joint guardians and custodians of their child. If they separate, the custody is normally with the parent with whom the child primarily resides but the other parent still remains a guardian. Under section 6A of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, as inserted by section 12 of the Status of Children Act 1987, an unmarried father may apply to the court to be appointed a guardian of his child. Alternatively, where there is agreement between the parents, they can make a statutory declaration under section 2(4) of the Guardianship of Infants Act, as inserted by section 4 of the Children Act 1997, conferring on the father the status of guardian. Under section 11 of the 1964 Act, a guardian may apply to the court for its direction on any question affecting the welfare of the child —"welfare" in relation to a child is defined in section 2 of the Act of 1964, by way of amendment in the Act of 1997, and comprises the religious, moral, intellectual, physical and social welfare of the child. Examples of such proceedings are applications for custody and access orders. In making such orders and in determining, say, whether an unmarried father should be appointed guardian, the court has to regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration. Where appropriate and practicable, the court in making any order takes into account the child's wishes in the matter having regard to the age and understanding of the child. In considering whether to make an order under section 6A or 11 the court is directed — under provision in the Act of 1997 — to have regard to whether the child's best interests would be served by maintaining personal relations and direct contact with both his or her father and mother on a regular basis.

The Act of 1964, by way of amendment in the Act of 1997, encourages parties to a dispute in relation to a child to agree on the custody or guardianship of or access to a child. Prior to institution of proceedings the legal representatives of the parties must discuss with them the possibility of agreement. The court may adjourn any proceedings to assist agreement between the parties.

These legislative provisions are extensive. They permit the court in cases of disagreement to decide on arrangements for the child's care and upbringing having regard to the child's best interests. I am aware of the concerns of non-custodial parents regarding custody and access rights and the issue of enforcement. Operation of the law in this whole area is being kept under review in my Department.

Visa Applications.

Jack Wall

Question:

245 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason correspondence in relation to a visa has been forwarded to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in view of the fact that they made an application for naturalisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15675/05]

I have been unable to trace any recent correspondence in relation to a visa concerning the person or any family members of the person named by the Deputy.

The visa reference numbers quoted by the Deputy numbers 1229469 and 1229470 relate to applications made in August 2003. Formal notification regarding refusal of these applications issued to Abuja on 5 September 2003. The reasons for refusal of the visas issued by post to the address provided on the visa application forms on 15 May 2004. No appeal was received in connection with these refusals.

It is open to the applicants to make fresh applications. Any such applications should include up to date supporting documentation.

Crime Levels.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

246 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the crime statistics for the Rathmines Garda station area, Dublin, for each of the years between 1997 and 2004; the personnel strength by rank for each of these years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15688/05]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

247 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the crime statistics for the Donnybrook Garda station area, Dublin for each of the years between 1997 and 2004; the personnel strength by rank for each of these years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15689/05]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

248 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the crime statistics for the Irishtown Garda station area, Dublin for each of the years between 1997 and 2004; the personnel strength by rank for each of these years. [15690/05]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

249 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the crime statistics for the Harcourt Terrace Garda station area, Dublin for each of the years between 1997 and 2004; the personnel strength by rank for each of these years. [15691/05]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

250 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the crime statistics for the Pearse Street Garda station area, Dublin for each of the years between 1997 and 2004; the personnel strength by rank for each of these years. [15692/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 246 to 250, inclusive, together.

On becoming Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I arranged for the publication of headline crime statistics on a quarterly basis in order to improve the quality of information available to the public. While caution should be exercised in interpreting levels of crime between quarters, I am pleased to note that during my term of office as Minister, the quarterly crime rate has decreased from 6.7 per 1,000 population to six per 1,000 over the longer period of eleven quarters for which figures are available. This trend is reflected throughout most Garda districts in the country. In interpreting these figures, account has also to be taken of the introduction of the new PULSE computer system by the Garda Síochána in 1999, which led to more complete and comprehensive recording of crimes reported than was previously the case. The Deputy will also wish to be aware that, taking into account the significant increase in our population since 1995, the headline crime rate has fallen from 29 per 1,000 population in 1995 to 25 per 1,000 population in 2004.

The following tables show the headline offences, for the years 2000 to 2004 inclusive, for the Terenure Garda district which covers the Rathmines area, the Pearse Street Garda district, which covers the Harcourt Terrace area, and the Donnybrook Garda district which covers the Irishtown area. Comparable figures for the years 1997 to 1999 are not available.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the personnel strength by rank for each of the Garda stations requested by the Deputy is set out on the attached tables. The number of Garda personnel assigned to each station, together with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy, is continually monitored and reviewed. Such monitoring ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and the best possible Garda service is provided to the general public. In this regard, I should like to mention that in addition to the specific resources available to above stations, there has also been a considerable increase since 1997 in the number of gardaí serving in National units which are available to all the stations in the DMR. Specialist Garda units such as the Garda National Drug Unit, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation operating under the assistant commissioner in charge of national support services has enabled the Garda Síochána to tackle serious crime effectively. These specialist units work very closely with Garda operating at district and divisional level.

In regard to Garda resources generally, I am very pleased that the Government has approved my proposal to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members on a phased basis, in line with the An Agreed Programme for Government commitment in this regard. This is a key commitment in the programme for Government, and its implementation will significantly strengthen the operational capacity of the Force.

The Commissioner will be drawing up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources. Clearly, the additional resources will be targeted at the areas of greatest need, as is envisaged in the programme for Government. The programme identifies in particular areas with a significant drugs problem and a large number of public order offences, but it will be possible to address other priorities as well, such as the need to very significantly increase the number of gardaí allocated to traffic duties as part of the new Garda Traffic Corps. I have already promised that the additional gardaí will not be put on administrative duties. They will be put directly into frontline, operational, high-visibility policing. They will have a real impact.

Table 1

Headline Offences Recorded and Detected for Terenure Garda District from 2000 to 2004*

Year

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004*

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Homicide

2

1

0

0

0

0

1

1

0

0

Assault

20

12

35

21

56

25

68

45

43

25

Sexual Offences

11

3

15

4

32

14

42

26

26

10

Arson

12

2

14

0

14

2

17

1

31

5

Drugs

11

11

13

13

14

14

21

21

18

18

Thefts

840

191

834

240

911

267

874

253

854

187

Burglary

684

189

675

235

722

92

782

100

727

64

Robbery

59

30

50

19

65

16

71

20

55

18

Fraud

14

5

29

20

53

37

22

11

44

27

Other

4

3

10

5

12

9

7

2

11

6

Total

1,657

447

1,675

557

1,879

476

1,905

480

1,809

360

*Statistics for 2004 are provisional/operational and liable to change.
Table 2

Headline Offences Recorded and Detected for Pearse Street Garda District from 2000 to 2004*

Year

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004*

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Homicide

0

0

1

1

2

2

2

1

4

1

Assault

54

25

115

76

212

141

171

89

145

70

Sexual Offences

24

19

62

53

119

103

41

21

28

8

Arson

17

3

15

1

13

2

12

2

12

2

Drugs

71

71

75

75

128

128

145

145

179

179

Thefts

4,639

1,418

4,747

1,741

5,471

1,867

4,819

1,455

4,029

1,268

Burglary

661

266

673

259

557

170

726

138

583

109

Robbery

256

99

266

95

282

99

240

69

183

67

Fraud

76

52

130

93

193

148

162

125

115

59

Other

11

9

17

12

22

19

26

21

16

6

Total

5,809

1,962

6,101

2,406

6,999

2,679

6,344

2,066

5,294

1,769

*Statistics for 2004 are provisional/operational and liable to change.
Table 3

Headline Offences Recorded and Detected for Donnybrook Garda District from 2000 to 2004*

Year

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004*

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Rec

Dec

Homicide

1

1

0

0

1

1

1

1

2

1

Assault

13

11

38

30

37

31

25

22

35

21

Sexual Offences

19

19

32

26

47

40

37

31

23

15

Arson

10

0

8

1

10

1

12

5

20

9

Drugs

3

3

17

17

14

14

17

17

6

6

Thefts

977

274

926

342

1,074

310

1,067

233

1,046

198

Burglary

434

241

492

239

549

166

692

230

663

99

Robbery

43

25

64

33

50

23

75

38

54

27

Fraud

18

15

47

27

128

95

38

26

46

36

Other

2

2

11

6

27

26

20

13

14

7

Total

1,520

591

1,635

721

1,937

707

1,984

616

1,909

419

*Statistics for 2004 are provisional/operational and liable to change.
Table 4

Personnel strength of Rathmines Garda Station for the years 1997 to 2004.

Year

Superintendent

Inspector

Sergeant

Garda

1997

1

5

11

73

1998

1

5

11

73

1999

0

1

10

65

2000

0

1

9

69

2001

0

1

10

70

2002

0

1

8

58

2003

0

1

8

62

2004

0

1

9

62

Table 5

Personnel strength of Pearse Street Garda Station for the years 1997 to 2004.

Year

Chief Superintendent

Superintendent

Inspector

Sergeant

Garda

1997

2

1

8

29

191

1998

1

2

7

28

177

1999

1

2

9

24

179

2000

1

2

9

26

183

2001

1

2

8

26

179

2002

1

2

8

24

179

2003

1

2

6

27

202

2004

1

2

7

28

214

Table 6

Personnel strength of Donnybrook Garda Station for the years 1997 to 2004.

Year

Superintendent

Inspector

Sergeant

Garda

1997

1

4

14

107

1998

1

4

17

107

1999

1

4

15

106

2000

1

3

15

101

2001

2

3

14

97

2002

1

4

15

94

2003

1

4

16

102

2004

1

4

15

105

Table 7

Personnel strength of Harcourt Terrace Garda Station for the years 1997 to 2004.

Year

Superintendent

Inspector

Sergeant

Garda

1997

0

0

12

79

1998

0

0

13

80

1999

0

0

12

72

2000

0

1

10

73

2001

0

1

9

70

2002

0

1

10

68

2003

0

1

9

65

2004

0

1

9

67

Table 8

Personnel strength of Irishtown Garda Station for the years 1997 to 2004.

Year

Superintendent

Inspector

Sergeant

Garda

1997

0

1

9

50

1998

0

1

11

47

1999

0

1

9

47

2000

0

1

9

49

2001

0

1

10

43

2002

0

0

10

39

2003

0

1

8

46

2004

0

1

8

48

School Staffing.

Marian Harkin

Question:

251 Ms Harkin asked the Minister for Education and Science the service which will be put in place to replace resource teaching hours for a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim from September 2005. [15509/05]

The review of the general allocation system has now been completed. The new model replaces that which was notified to schools in June 2004, which has been reviewed to take account of difficulties that it may have caused for smaller schools.

I confirm that 660 additional special needs teaching posts will be put in place in primary schools from next September to facilitate the implementation of the new general allocation system.

The introduction of this new system will involve the provision of an estimated additional 340 permanent posts in primary schools from September next. A further 320 posts are being provided on a temporary basis to facilitate the transition to the new system and to ensure continuity of service for children who have previously been given an individual allocation until those children leave the primary school system.

My Department is now devising school clusters in respect of allocations to be made under the general allocation system. These will be notified to schools shortly along with the details of each school's individual allocation. My Department is also finalising a circular for schools which will contain detailed information on how the new system will operate. This circular will issue before the end of the school year.

School Transport.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

252 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science the way in which catchment areas for school bus transport for secondary schools are drawn up and decided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15539/05]

In the interest of rational arrangements for the purposes of educational provision, the country is divided into catchment areas, each of which has its own post-primary education centre. These areas were drawn up in the late 1960s in the context of the free education scheme. The catchment boundaries were determined following consultation with local educational interests and the intention was that certain primary schools would feed exclusively into each post-primary centre. A relatively small number of primary schools are shared between two or more centres. My Department provides resources to meet the educational needs of an area on this basis.

Recognised post-primary pupils who live at least 4.8 kilometres from the post-primary centre of the catchment area in which they reside are eligible for transport under the scheme to that centre.

Eligible pupils who wish to attend a post-primary centre other than their appropriate one may be allowed transport from within the catchment boundary of the centre being attended, subject to there being spare accommodation available on the service and provided that no additional State cost is incurred.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

253 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has received a report from Bus Éireann in relation to a school bus route (details supplied). [15540/05]

My Department has requested Bus Éireann to clarify certain matters regarding this case. The Deputy will be advised of the position, as soon as possible.

Youth Services.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

254 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will make the necessary funding available to a project (details supplied) in County Cork. [15541/05]

A request for funding under the special projects for youth scheme has been received in my Department on behalf of the project referred to by the Deputy. My Department is at present giving consideration to this request and to other applications made for youth work funding in 2005, having regard to available financial resources. A decision regarding funding will be given as soon as possible.

School Staffing.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

255 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science the assistance her Department will offer to a person (details supplied) in County Louth in relation to remedial spelling at their present school; the further assistance which will be given at the post-primary school of this person’s choice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15542/05]

The school referred to by the Deputy currently has the services of a learning support teacher shared with one other school in the area. The professional report indicates that the pupil in question would benefit from learning support provision. In this regard, it is open to the school in question to make provision for this pupil from within existing learning support provision available in the school.

In regard to the future provision at post-primary level, all second-level schools in the free education scheme have an entitlement to an ex-quota allocation in respect of learning support teaching. The allocation to an individual school for a particular school year is determined by its enrolment at the end of the preceding September. Schools with an enrolment of 600 or more are entitled to a full post and those with an enrolment below 600 are entitled to the equivalent of one half of a post for learning support teaching.

Richard Bruton

Question:

256 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the minimum number of non-national children that must be at a school before it obtains additional teaching support, particularly for language skills; the number of schools in which such support is made available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15543/05]

Primary schools which have 14 or more non-national pupils with a significant English language deficit are entitled to an additional temporary teacher for a period of up to two years. Schools with 28 or more such pupils are entitled to two temporary teachers.

Primary schools in which between three and 13 non-English speaking non-national pupils are enrolled are eligible for grant assistance. This grant aid is intended to enable schools to take appropriate measures to improve the standard of English of non-national pupils with significant English language deficits. In the current school year, grant assistance was provided to 355 primary schools with 13 or less non-English speaking, non-national pupils. Post-primary schools which have 14 or more non-English speaking non-nationals enrolled are entitled to an additional full-time temporary teacher. Schools with 28 or more such pupils are entitled to two temporary teachers.

In the case of post-primary schools which have fewer than 14 non-national pupils with significant English language difficulties enrolled, additional hours, ranging from three hours per week in respect of one such pupil to 19.5 hours per week in respect of 13 pupils, are sanctioned.

Approximately 384 post-primary schools have been allocated hours under this scheme in the current school year.

School Discipline.

Richard Bruton

Question:

257 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the procedures in place in respect of school expulsions; if the newly established Education Welfare Board must authorise a school expulsion, even after a decision has been taken to expel a students by the local board of management; if, as a result of the passage of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, the ultimate power of school boards of management has been reduced or alerted in respect of school expulsions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15544/05]

There is no provision in the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 requiring the National Educational Welfare Board to authorise a school expulsion. Section 24 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 requires schools to notify their educational welfare officer before expelling any student. The educational welfare officer concerned is then required to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that provision is made for the continued education of the student, including consulting with the school authorities, the student concerned and his or her parents. In such instances, the role of the educational welfare officer is to bring together the relevant parties to try and identify a mutually agreeable solution to provide for the education of the student concerned.

Section 24(4) requires that a student shall not be expelled from a school before the passing of 20 school days following the receipt of such a notification by the educational welfare officer. However, this requirement is without prejudice to the right of the board of management to take such other reasonable measures as it considers appropriate to ensure that good order and discipline are maintained in the school and that the safety of students is secured.

Section 23 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000 requires all schools to have in place a code of behaviour specifying: (a) the standards of behaviour that shall be observed by each student attending the school; (b) the measures that may be taken when a student fails or refuses to observe those standards; (c) the procedures to be followed before a student may be suspended or expelled from the school concerned; (d) the grounds for removing a suspension imposed in relation to a student; and (e) the procedures to be followed relating to notification of a child's absence from school.

Under this section of the Education Welfare Act, the school principal is required, before registering a child in the school, to provide the child's parents with a copy of the code of behaviour and may, as a condition of registering the child, require his or her parents to confirm in writing that the code is acceptable to them and that they will make all reasonable efforts to ensure that the child will comply with the code.

Each board of management is responsible for formulating, in consultation with parents, a fair and efficient code of behaviour. This code should ensure that the individuality of each child is accommodated, while acknowledging the right of each child to education in a relatively disruption free environment. This code should include provision for dealing with serious breaches of discipline and continually disruptive pupils.

My Department has issued guidelines to boards of management to assist them in discharging their obligations in the area of school discipline. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of the school. These guidelines lay considerable stress on the use of expulsion only as a last resort.

Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 provides for an appeal to the Secretary General of my Department where a board of management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the board refuses to enrol a student, suspends a student for a cumulative total of more than 20 days in an academic year or expels a student from the school.

At post-primary level, appeals against permanent exclusions and suspensions make up approximately one third of all appeals lodged to date. Taking the years 2003 and 2004 together, the number of appeals which progressed to a hearing before an appeals committee were decided almost two-to-one in favour of the schools position.

At primary level, the overwhelming majority of appeals under section 29 of the Education Act 1998 are against refusals to enrol rather than suspension or expulsion.

School Accommodation.

Richard Bruton

Question:

258 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the additional teaching resources and facilities which will be made available to a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24 in connection with the unprecedented demand for school places at this school as a result of recent housing development in the area; if the local school has made known this fact to her Department; the response of her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15545/05]

The school to which the Deputy refers has not informed the school planning section of my Department that its pre-enrolment list is oversubscribed for 2006-07 school year.

If this is the case, it will be open to the school authority to apply under the temporary accommodation scheme for the 2006-07 school year when it is announced.

In the Dublin 24 area generally, a project to increase the capacity at Ballycragh national school to 24 classrooms is one of a number of projects which I recently announced to progress through the architectural planning process. In addition to this, the school has received sanction for temporary accommodation to meet its immediate needs.

Also, a site for primary school purposes has been reserved in the Ballycullen area. A decision on the provision of a new school in Ballycullen will involve further consultations with the local authority regarding the likely timescale for the delivery of housing developments together with an ongoing assessment of the capacity of existing schools in the area to meet anticipated demand.

School Staffing.

Liam Aylward

Question:

259 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Education and Science if the staffing of a primary school (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be reviewed. [15608/05]

The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by applying the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year to a staffing schedule, agreed between my Department and the education partners.

In accordance with the staffing schedule, the staffing of the school referred to by the Deputy for the school year 2004-05 is a principal and eight mainstream class teachers based on an enrolment of 209 pupils at 30 September 2003. In addition, the school has the services of a learning support teacher.

It is expected that the staffing schedule for the 2005-06 school year will issue to all national schools this week.

According to data submitted to my Department by the board of management of the school, the enrolment on 30 September 2004 was 204 pupils. The staffing for the 2005-06 school year will be determined on the basis of this figure and in accordance with the agreed staffing schedule.

As outlined in primary circular 19/02, an independent appeals board was established to adjudicate on appeals from boards of management on mainstream staffing allocations in primary schools. The appeals board operates independently of the Minister and my Department and its decision is final. Appeals must be submitted to primary payments section, Department of Education and Science, Athlone, on the standard application form, clearly stating the criterion under which the appeal is being made, after the schedule for the 2005-06 school year has issued.

Higher Education Grants.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

260 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason the Higher Education Training Awards Council does not come within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 1997; and if she will take steps to address this matter in order to ensure transparency in the third level sector. [15609/05]

Proposals for extending the Freedom of Information, FOI, Acts are currently being considered in the Department of Finance.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Joan Burton

Question:

261 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of classes at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 20 which have 30 children or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15611/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

262 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of classes at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 15 which have 30 children or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15612/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

263 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of classes at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 15 which have 30 children or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15613/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

264 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of classes at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 15 which have 30 children or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15614/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

265 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of classes at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 15 which have 30 children or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15615/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

266 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of classes at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 15 which have 30 children or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15616/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

267 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of classes at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 15 which have 30 children or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15617/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

268 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of classes at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 15 which have 30 children or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15618/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 261 to 268, inclusive, together.

The information sought by the Deputy is not readily available for 2004-05 as my Department is still collecting and finalising data for the current school year. Data for the 2003-04 school year is provided in the following table. However it should be noted that this data may be out of date and not reflect the current position in these schools.

The Deputy will be aware that mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by applying the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year to a staffing schedule, agreed between my Department and the education partners. The system for allocating teachers to primary schools is based on ensuring an overall maximum class of 29 in each school. Where some classes in a school have class sizes of greater than 29, it is generally because a decision has been taken at local level to use their teaching resources to have smaller numbers in other classes.

No. of Classes by Class Size (2003/04)

No. Classes

PQ No.

Roll No.

10-19 Pupils

20-24 Pupils

25-29 Pupils

30-34 Pupils

15611/05

18324C

2

10

4

15612/05

19601H

7

6

15613/05

19643A

1

5

4

15614/05

19435Q

3

11

15615/05

19470S

1

12

2

15616/05

19605P (Junior)

8

4

1

19694R (Senior)

6

6

15617/05

19505L

1

3

4

15618/05

19545A (Junior)

4

9

19636D (Senior)

6

3

Site Acquisitions.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

269 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will report on progress in securing a permanent location for a school (details supplied) in Dublin 9; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that this school will have major overcrowding problems from September 2005; if she will honour the commitment given in 2002 in respect of the purchase of a suitable site which the school has identified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15639/05]

The property management section of the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department in relation to site acquisitions generally, has identified a site which could provide for the long term accommodation needs of the school referred to by the Deputy. Negotiations are ongoing regarding the acquisition of this site. However, the building of a new school on a greenfield site is only one option being considered by my Department.

A second option, which could offer a better value for money solution, is being examined as part of an overall review of the primary educational infrastructure in the area where the school is located. The purpose of this review is to ascertain the likely demand for pupil places in the medium to long term and to ensure that existing provision is maximised to meet this demand. This review, which will be completed as quickly as possible, will inform any future decision on how best to resolve the accommodation needs of the school in question.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

270 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress which has been made since her visit on 10 March 2005 in locating a suitable site for a school (details supplied); if she has made financial provision for the purchase of a site; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15685/05]

The property management section of the OPW, which acts on behalf of my Department regarding site acquisitions generally, is continuing to explore the possibility of acquiring a site for the school referred to by the Deputy. While a technical report on sites in the area has been received by OPW, a number of issues identified in this report need to be pursued. Due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed at this stage to identify specific sites to be acquired.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

271 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress which has been made in identifying a site for a Gaelcholáiste in County Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15686/05]

It is my Department's policy to support the provision of all-Irish school facilities at primary and post-primary level in all areas where a demand for such provision is clearly demonstrated and no alternative exists within a reasonable distance. My Department is in receipt of a proposal from Limerick City VEC to establish a Gaelcholáiste in Limerick from September 2006 and this is under active consideration. Location is part of this consideration.

Overseas Missions.

Billy Timmins

Question:

272 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Defence the reason a person (details supplied) has not been selected for overseas service with the 93rd Infantry Battalion on the UN mission in Liberia; if consideration will be given for this person’s inclusion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15511/05]

The military authorities advise that the individual in question is undergoing training under the Defence Forces trainee technician scheme. His future on this scheme is currently being reviewed arising from an assessment of his performance on the most recent phase of his training. He is not eligible for deployment overseas with 93rd Infantry Battalion, UNMIL, pending the outcome of the review into his participation in trainee technician scheme training.

Air Pollution.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

273 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has studied the result of various air pollution monitors throughout County Kildare; if any trends are detectable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15704/05]

Air quality assessment is a matter for the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and air quality management is a matter for local authorities informed by air quality measurement data. The EPA's 2002 annual report on air quality monitoring contains details of the monitoring and assessment of national air quality. It incorporates data from all air quality monitoring stations operated by the EPA and local authorities, including monitors in County Kildare. In light of the most recent data available to them, neither the EPA nor Kildare County Council have drawn my attention to any particular air quality issue in County Kildare. I understand the EPA's 2003 report will be published shortly and I will arrange for a copy to be placed in the Oireachtas Library. A copy of the EPA 2002 report and Kildare County Council's annual report on ambient air quality for 2003-04 are already available in the Library.

Fire Stations.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

274 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason no allocation was made to Waterford County in the fire services capital programme 2005 in respect of fire station development projects in regard to Tallow, Dungarvan and Portlaw which are awaiting approval; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15598/05]

Waterford County Council's proposals for new fire stations at Tallow and Portlaw, together with an extension to Dungarvan headquarters fire station, are under consideration in my Department in the context of the fire services capital programme. Having regard to the overall availability of resources under the programme it was not possible to approve additional fire station projects in Waterford this year. However, my Department has provided €2.3 million to Waterford County Council for fire services investments since 1997, including funding for a new fire station currently under way at Ardmore.

Fire Services Capital Programme.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

275 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when the documentation awaiting approval in his Department since October 2004 in regard to the approval in 2004 for Waterford County Council to purchase one new fire vehicle will be dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15599/05]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

276 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if, in regard to the 2005 allocation of one new class B fire appliance to Waterford County Council, he will ensure that there is no repeat of the needless delays with the processing of the 2004 new fire vehicle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15600/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 275 and 276 together.

Waterford County Council's tender proposal for the purchase of a new fire appliance, which was submitted to my Department on 5 January 2005, is at present the subject of correspondence with the council. On the receipt of the outstanding information a decision will issue to the council as early as possible. A further new fire appliance has been approved for the council under this year's fire services capital programme. Subject to compliance with the relevant guidelines for the purchase of new fire appliances there should be no avoidable delay in dealing with any tender proposal submitted by the council on this matter.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Willie Penrose

Question:

277 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will furnish a comprehensive account of the position concerning the provision of a new modern sewerage plant for the town of Mullingar and its environs; the cost associated with it; the timeframe over which it will be constructed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15601/05]

The upgrading of the Mullingar wastewater treatment plant is an element of the Mullingar sewerage scheme which is included in my Department's water services investment programme 2004-2006 as a scheme to commence construction this year at an overall estimated cost of €66.4 million. My Department approved the preliminary report for the scheme in June 2003 and is now awaiting the submission of contract documents by Westmeath County Council. The council will be in a position to invite tenders for the scheme following my Department's approval of the contract documents.

Road Network.

Willie Penrose

Question:

278 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will allocate funding to carry out works on the R394 Mullingar to Castlepollard road at Taughmon, County Westmeath, as they are urgently required. [15602/05]

The improvement of non-national roads at the location concerned is a matter for Westmeath County Council. Non-national road schemes are funded from the local authorities' own resources supplemented by grants from my Department. In 2004, my Department sought applications from road authorities for funding under the 2005 EU co-financed specific improvement grants scheme. While Westmeath County Council's application included a request for funding of €100,000 in respect of improvement works to the R394 Mullingar to Castlepollard road at Taughmon, it has not been possible to prioritise this project for funding in 2005. However, five of the eight schemes submitted by the council received an allocation from my Department in 2005. All applications submitted under this scheme were considered in my Department having regard to EU eligibility criteria, the need to prioritise projects, competing demands from other local authorities and the funds available for the scheme in 2005.

My Department will again seek applications under the EU co-financed specific improvement grants scheme later this year and it will be open to the Westmeath County Council to submit a funding application for consideration under this scheme in 2006.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Richard Bruton

Question:

279 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of persons purchasing dwellings under shared ownership both nationally and in each of the four Dublin local authorities during the period 1997 to 2005; the amount of rent subsidy awarded under the shared ownership scheme during this period; the number of applicants obtaining rent subvention; the income thresholds for qualifying for rent subvention; the income limit to qualify for a shared ownership loan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15684/05]

The number of persons who purchased dwellings under the shared ownership scheme both nationally and in each of the four Dublin local authorities during the period 1997 to 2005 and the amount of subsidy and number of households obtaining rent subsidy are set out in the following table:

Year

Total National

Dublin City

Fingal

Dublin South

Dun-Laoghaire Rathdown

Amount of rent subsidy paid

No. of households in receipt of ongoing rent subsidy

1997

1,042

294

123

160

11

624,973

1,414

1998

805

278

54

114

9

1,347,390

1,846

1999

1,314

539

45

306

36

1,241,882

1,981

2000

1,190

463

42

249

40

864,254

1,273

2001

1,611

468

20

400

30

1,156,776

1,502

2002

1,686

577

6

144

27

1,878,536

1,602

2003

998

358

2

41

16

1,757,979

1,356

2004

798

329

0

18

0

2,770,817

2,022

*1st Qtr 2005

354,605

431

9,444

3,306

292

1,432

169

11,997,212

13,427

*The number of persons who purchased dwellings under the shared ownership scheme to date in 2005 is not available yet.

The qualifying income limit and the amount of rent subsidy available under the shared ownership scheme were revised in January 2002 for transactions completed on or after 1 January 2000 and are as follows:

Household Income per annum

Mortgage/Rent Subsidy payable per annum

€13,000 and under

€2,550

€13,001 to €15,500

€2,300

€15,501 to €18,000

€2,050

€18,001 to €20,500

€1,800

€20,501 to €23,000

€1,550

€23,001 to €25,500

€1,300

Over €25,500

Nil

I announced increases in the income limits for the shared ownership scheme in July 2004 together with an increase in the loan limit, in line with growth in average wage costs and house price inflation. The eligibility limit for applying for the scheme is now €36,800 for a single-income household. In the case of a two-income household, both incomes are assessed in determining eligibility on the basis of a formula whereby two and a half times the main income and once the second income cannot exceed €92,000. The terms and conditions of this scheme are being kept under review with the assistance of input, as appropriate, from the housing forum which has been charged under Sustaining Progress to review the effectiveness of all social and affordable housing programmes and in light of the NESC report was published just before the end of last year.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

280 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the percentage of the overall affordable housing initiative announced on 4 July 2003 which is planned for Magee Barracks, Kildare town; the location of the other affordable housing initiatives which are to take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15694/05]

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 456 and 457 of 10 May 2005.

The commitment under the Sustaining Progress affordable housing initiative is to increase the supply of affordable housing by 10,000 units. It is proposed that a minimum of 350 affordable housing units will be provided on the former Magee Barracks site that was made available to the initiative, which works out at 3.5% of the overall total. To date, more than 70 projects on State and local authority lands are planned, which together with the projected 2,500 housing units under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2004, gives more than 10,000 housing units in total projected for delivery under the initiative. These projects are located in Clare, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Meath, Sligo, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow. In addition, housing units under the Part V arrangements are under way throughout the country.