Other Questions.

For the benefit of Members, I remind them that on ordinary questions, the Minister has two minutes for an initial response and there is one minute each for two supplementary questions from a Member and two responses from the Minister, with the hope being that each question will have been concluded within six minutes.

Security of the Elderly.

David Stanton


6 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the role his Department plays in the allocation of socially monitored alarms through the scheme of community support for older people; his plans to extend or create a new scheme to support the provision of socially monitored alarms to persons with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16645/05]

Gay Mitchell


8 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the funding that has been allocated to the community supports for older people scheme in 2005; if this scheme has been oversubscribed since its introduction; if he is satisfied that the allocation fully meets the security requirements of eligible older persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16677/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 8 together.

The community support for older people scheme provides grants to assist communities in improving the security of their older members. The scheme is administered by local community and voluntary groups with the support of my Department. It provides for maximum individual grants as follows: €300 for the once-off installation of socially monitored alarms, €150 for locks for doors and windows, €150 for security lighting, and €50 for smoke alarms. People with disabilities who are over 65 are included in the scheme, but there are no plans at present to extend it further. A sum of €2.8 million has been allocated to the scheme for 2005, an increase of 17% on the 2004 allocation of €2.4 million.

Funding was provided at 90% of the cost of equipment between 1997 to 2003. In 2004, following a review of the scheme, this 90% limit on funding was abolished and replaced with individual maximum grants, as outlined earlier. Grant levels were fixed by the Department on the basis of the grants sought and paid out in the previous year. Smoke alarms were added to the list of qualifying equipment in 2004.

Deputies will appreciate that the scheme has been running for the greater part of a decade and has supplied security equipment to many older people. Since 1997, in excess of €30 million has been provided to assist older people under this scheme. Personal security depends on a range of factors and this scheme makes a valuable contribution to the security requirements of eligible older people.

Will the Minister of State consider extending the scheme to people with disabilities who are under 65, who would benefit greatly? I urge him to examine this possibility and report to the House on the outcome of such an examination.

Will the Minister of State clarify who owns the alarms once they have been installed? Does ownership pass to the older person. Is there a scheme in place for the recycling or reuse of the alarms?

The scheme is community based, administered by the community section of my Department and focused on those over 65. People with disabilities under this age limit may require security equipment grants as well as other aids, but this scheme is not appropriate to meet their needs as it specifically targets older people. People with disabilities receive most supports through the health services and are in a different category from the people that this scheme is designed to assist.

My Department issues the grants to local community groups, some of which recycle the security equipment when possible. However, I would like to see more recycling taking place. I get the impression some groups never recycle. The equipment is never removed forcibly from the individual who receives it, but I encourage and support groups who try to recycle it.

What is Department policy with regard to repairs to existing systems and the replacement of obsolete systems?

We will provide new systems where it is established that the old ones cannot be repaired. However, people in the business tell me most of them can be repaired. I am nervous about the issue of obsolescence. If the alarm or pendant is working well a person will not qualify for a new one. I have heard reports, true or untrue, of some suppliers telling people they or their group need a new system and that the ones they got five years previously from some other group are obsolete. If the alarm and pendant work, the person will not qualify for a new system. However, in a case where it is established that it is broken and cannot be repaired, we will replace it.

I agree the scheme is excellent as far as it goes. Does the Minister of State agree that restrictions exist that sometimes make matters difficult? For example, this grant can only be applied for at certain times of the year, probably before the end of May. If an elderly person was discharged from hospital in June or July and needed more security, he or she would probably have to wait till next year to apply for it.

Will the Minister of State confirm whether there is an annual monitoring fee of between €60 and €100 attached to this equipment? This sum would be a considerable drain on the resources of elderly people who receive a non-contributory pension. Should the system not be free, like fuel, electricity or telephone rental?

From the beginning the scheme has been administered once a year. We get queries and complaints from some groups from time to time who feel they should be able to get the pendants on an ongoing basis. However, most groups seem to get by. We advertised for applications some weeks ago. Quite often a number of months pass between the time when a group applies and approval, but most groups get by, perhaps because an applicant may have died or because they usually have a spare or two.

I accept that people are released from hospital at various times and the health service provides them with substantial supports, aids, equipment and home care packages etc. It should not be beyond the remit or responsibility of the health service to provide these items where necessary in severe cases as they can be bought commercially.

We provide grants towards the initial cost of the pendants. Depending on who the person is signed up with, there is an annual monitoring fee such as that mentioned by the Deputy, or perhaps more in some cases. That fee is the responsibility of the individual and is not covered by our scheme.

Unfortunately, whether in urban or rural areas, older people are not as secure as they used to be, so obviously the scheme is very welcome. Has any study being done on the effectiveness of the scheme? Have the various alarms been useful in situations where, for example, a home was under attack and the alarm was used? It may be difficult to give a response to that question, but I am interested in whether there is real improvement in terms of the security of older people in their homes.

We have not done any study since our Department took responsibility for the scheme. The scheme has been consistently popular so, obviously, the community groups that apply to the scheme feel it is of benefit. The biggest fear is not so much that houses may be under attack, but that a person alone might be unwell or fall and may need to summon help. I am not aware of any study that has been carried out, but people on the ground and community groups dealing with the elderly feel the scheme is of benefit. It may not provide the elderly with total protection against all concerns, but it provides reassurance that they will be able to contact the outside world in the event of any unforeseen circumstance.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ciarán Cuffe


7 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the full costs that will be incurred in the decentralisation and relocation of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16649/05]

I refer the Deputy to the reply given by the Minister for Finance to Question No. 63 on 27 April 2005.

Costs associated with the decentralisation of my Department will depend on a range of factors including, for example, staff time, staff training, accommodation, information and communications technology, transitional expenses and specialist advice. It is too early to meaningfully seek to quantify the full costs at this stage. My Department will make every effort to keep such costs to a minimum.

I thank the Minister for his response, but I am not sure it clarifies anything. Will the Minister at least indicate the numbers of people who have indicated a willingness to move to the new location of the Department's headquarters? Will he use the opportunity of this question to put on record concerns that have been expressed about the general decentralisation process and the concerns of people who choose not to move to new relocated headquarters of Departments but to remain with secretariats in the Dublin area? Will such a decision affect promotion prospects or how they are considered within the general hierarchy of the Department?

We have 158 applicants for 159 places in Knock. However, the applications do not all match the available positions. We have oversubscription in the lower ranks and under subscription in the higher ranks. The case is similar in the case of Na Forbacha where we have nine applicants for seven and a half places. One of the great mysteries of the public service is how we can have half a place, but Deputies understand how this works.

I agree decentralisation is a difficult change and that we must be sensitive to those who want to stay in Dublin. However, the point has been made to me time and again that nobody asked young people over the past 60 or 70 years whether they thought Dublin was the optimum choice. If they wanted a public service career they had no choice but to come to the big smoke. Nobody asked them whether they wanted to come to Dublin for a job or whether they would like a job at home.

It has come out clearly from the applications and the decentralisation process that there is a problem for those settled in Dublin. We recognise that and it will be dealt with sensitively. It is also clearer that young people would have preferred jobs down the country if they were there. There is no question that transition means difficulties. However, the place to which we seek to go will be much better than the place we are now which discriminates against those who feel they should have a right to a public service career without having to come to the capital city.

Another major problem in the public service, of which we are all aware, is that there is only a certain career path for those outside the capital city. For example, in my Department the highest officer outside of Dublin is a principal officer. This means we get a logjam behind some principal officers who obviously do not want promotion to Dublin. Most principal officers and assistant principal officers in rural local locations will not find many applications to come to Dublin. On the other hand, neither they nor the people behind them have any promotion prospects.

There is constant negative kicking at the decentralisation issue from certain Oppositions parties. They will not come out clearly and say they do not believe in decentralisation but want to put a dris chosáin in its way all the time. I am disappointed by that. They give no consideration to the denial of rights over so many years to people from rural areas to a public service career in their community.

I believe in a well-structured and planned decentralisation programme. The Minister said that many people have applied to be decentralised to Cnoc Mhuire and Na Forbacha, which is in his constituency. Can he elaborate further on the figures available to him? How many people have applied to be decentralised to Gaoth Dobhair, which is in my constituency? It was announced that Foras na Gaeilge would be relocated to Gaoth Dobhair. Conas a sheasann an scéal ansin? An bhfuil aon dul chun cinn á dhéanamh?

Mar is eol don Teachta, tá sé sin mar ábhar i cheist eile inniu. Tá freagra site sa mbeart. Ba mhaith liom a dheimhniú leis an Teachta go bhfuil sé i gceist dul ar aghaidh le sin. Tá cruinnithe ar bun. Mar is eol don Teachta, caithfidh mé aontas a fháil ó na húdaráis ó Thuaidh chomh maith le aontas a fháil ón Rialtas anseo. Tá na comhráite sin ar bun i gconaí. Bhí toghchán sa mBreatain le gairid, mar is eol don Teachta. Chuir sé sin as beagáinín go chúrsaí. Tá an toghchán sin thart agus tá Aire Stáit nua ceapaithe sa roinn fóilíochta ó Thuaidh. Tá súil agam go mbeidh deis agam brú ar aghaidh le sin.

Cloisim daoine ag cur ceisteanna orm maidir le Gaoth Dobhair. Mar is eol don Teachta, is áit iontach í Gaoth Dobhair. Tá na háiseanna ag forbairt ann an t-am ar fad. Tá na háiseanna oideachais ag forbairt an-tapaidh ann. Tá obair iontach ar bun ag Coláiste na hOllscoile, Gaillimh. Creidim féin, le fás oifig an Údaráis — tá oifig ag mo Roinn ann——

The Minister's time has concluded.

To what extent is age a factor in the comparative reluctance of senior civil servants to participate in the decentralisation programme? Such people are older, by definition, and are more likely to have families. They need to consider of all sorts of factors, such as the availability of third level education facilities. Has the Government examined why senior civil servants do not want to decentralise? I presume they are concerned about the career implications of decentralisation.

Some people believe that decentralisation will be good for one's career. The tenor of the question asked by Deputy Boyle was that staying in Dublin might not be so good for one's career because when promotion opportunities arise there, few people will apply for many places. I think the tenor of the Deputy's question was that one's chances of promotion will be much better if one decentralises.

I sometimes think we can over-analyse the obvious. It is obvious that it is much easier for young people from the country, who may have been working in the public service in Dublin for three or four years and may not have a partner or a family, to participate in the decentralisation programme. All they have to do is ask themselves whether they want to move. People who have been settled here for 25 years need to consider other implications, however. They might have a house, a partner with a job in Dublin and a teenage family attending various schools. The answer to Deputy O'Shea's question is self-evident.

It is obvious that we must take every individual case as it comes. The global reasons for the higher take-up in the lower ranks are obvious. There are other factors which will facilitate the decentralisation programme when we begin to implement it. Such factors will make the implementation of the programme much easier than most people expect it to be. I am confident that progress can be made if we pursue the programme judiciously and sensitively. We are examining the options. A committee has been established in the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to try to facilitate as smooth a transition as possible. I do not doubt that all the positions will be filled when the time comes.

Questions No. 8 answered with Question No. 6.

Limistéirí Gaeltachta.

Michael D. Higgins


9 D’fhiafraigh Mr. M. Higgins den Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta an mbeidh aon athrú ar theorainneacha na Gaeltachta in 2005, 2006 nó 2007; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [16641/05]

Mar is eol don Teachta, tá an staidéar ar úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht, a bronnadh ar Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge in Ollscoil na hÉireann i Gaillimh, i gcomhar leis an Institiúid Náisiúnta um Anailís Réigiúnach agus Spásúil in Ollscoil na hÉireann i Má Nuad, faoi lán-seoil anois. Tá an staidéar teangeolaíoch seo, a thosaigh i mí Aibreáin 2004, dírithe ar úsáid na Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht mar bhunús chun forbairt theangeolaíoch na Gaeltachta mar cheantar labhartha Gaeilge a threisiú agus athbhreithniú a dhéanamh ar na limistéir oifigiúla Gaeltachta. Beidh na roghanna éagsúla tíreolaíochta agus déimeagrafaíochta, a mheastar a bheith oiriúnach mar bhunús chun na limistéir oifigiúla Ghaeltachta a shainiú, á scrúdú mar chuid den staidéar seo. Táthar ag súil leis go mbeidh sé críochnaithe faoi mhí Mheán Fómhair 2006 ar a dhéanaí. Níl sé i gceist aon chinneadh a thógáil maidir le hathruithe ar na limistéir Ghaeltachta go dtí go mbeidh torthaí an staidéir faighte agus scrúdaithe ag mo Roinn. Cuirfear aon mholtaí i ndáil le hathrú ar na limistéir Ghaeltachta, más ann dóibh, faoi bhráid an Rialtais nuair a bheidh an scrúdú sin déanta.

Chuir mé síos an cheist seo mar tá eagla orm go bhfuil contúirt ann go mbeidh cúrsaí ag druidim agus nach dtarlóidh tada i ndeireadh na dála, go mórmhór i rith saol an Rialtais seo. Tá a fhios ag an Aire go bhfuil cúrsaí ag dul i léig taobh istigh de na Gaeltachtaí. Tá cuid mhaith ceantair ann, ceantair i Dáilcheantair an t-Aire ina measc, nach féidir Gaeltachtaí a glaoch orthu má tá aon cóir sa scéal. Tá fhios agam go ndúirt an t-Aire go bhfuil sé tar éis féachaint isteach go mion sa scéal. B'fhéidir nach bhfuil ceantair ann gur féidir a thabhairt suas go dtí critéir teangeolaíochta i dtreo is gur féidir Gaeltachtaí a glaoch orthu san. An bhfuil sé ceart nó cóir go bhfuil ceantair ann nach Gaeltachtaí iad atá ag fáil deontaisí is a thuilleadh nach ceart dóibh iad a fháil? Dhéanfadh an t-airgead atáá chailleadh sna ceantair sin maitheas sna ceantair gur fíor-Gaeltachtaí iad.

Níl an cheist á sleamhnú. Go deimhin féin, le gairid bhí mé ag déanamh fiosrú chun a fhéachaint an bhfaigheadh muid an staidéar in am. An rud a tharla nuair a thosnaigh muid an staidéar ná gur déanfar cinnithe. Mar is eol don Teachta, ceann de na moltaí a bhí ag Coimisiún na Gaeltachta ná go dtabharfaí seans do na ceantair imeallacha iad féin a chruthú agus nach caithfear amach iad díreach thar oíche. Is féidir leis an Teachta a bheith cinnte go bhfuil fonn orm brú ar aghaidh leis an cheist seo. Má cheapann éinne go bhfuil mé ag iarraidh é a chuir siar de bharr go bhfuil toghchán ag teacht, ní thuigeann siad an chás.

An áit is mó ina ndéanann na limistéir Gaeltachta difríocht go praiticiúil ná an cheist a phléadh i gcomhthéacs vótáil i dtoghcháin an Údaráis. Go deimhin féin, bhí iontas orm nuair a bhí mé ag breathnú ar na haighneachtaí nach tógadh an cheist seo ach i gcabhair chás sna haighneachtaí a fuair muid roimh an toghchán maidir leis an Údarás, ach sin scéal eile. Bhí sé luaite, ach ní fhéadfá a rá go raibh sé téama an-mhór trasna na n-aighneachtaí ar fad.

Maidir le caitheamh an airgid, is dóigh liom go gcaitheann an Roinn dhá chineál airgid — airgead a chaithfear as an Stáitchiste ar aon bhealach i chuile cheantair mar go bhfuil na saoráidí seo ag dul go dtí an phobal agus an airgead a chaithfear go speisialta mar gur Gaeltachtaí iad. Tá an chuid is mó den dara chineál sin airgid — scéim labhairt na Ghaeilge, deontais tithíochta — ceangailte le Gaeilgeoirí. Nuair a scrúdaítear na figiúirí, is beag dóibh atá á chaitheamh sna Ghaeltachtaí laga. Mar sin, éinne a cheapann go mbeadh mórchuid airgead breise le chaitheamh sna Ghaeltachtaí láidre dá ndéanfaí an Ghaeltacht a laghdú, tá míthuiscint iomlán orthu maidir le chaitheamh airgead na Roinne.

Court Actions.

John Gormley


10 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of court actions currently involving his Department; and the reason such actions are being heard. [16653/05]

There is one current court action involving the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. As the matter is sub judice, I have been advised by the Office of the Attorney General that I am not in a position to discuss the stated reasons for the matter.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. The Green Party asked this question in light of emergency legislation that was introduced by the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs two weeks ago on foot of a number of court actions which were pending against his Department. We live in a society that, sadly, is becoming more litigious. Does the Department, which was established relatively recently, keep statistical information about the number of court actions which have been taken against it since 2002? Can the Minister of State comment on the Department's success rate in tackling such court cases?

I do not have statistics on the matter. The Deputy is probably making a distinction between court actions in which the Department might be directly involved or other cases before the courts in which the Department might be indirectly involved. I cannot provide figures offhand but I am sure there are very few such court actions, if any at all. However, I will try to find the relevant figures and forward them to the Deputy.

There would be normal court cases involving commercial interests, in which the Department might have an interest in that the cases might refer to legislation or have an influence on some of the agencies under the remit of the Department.

National Drugs Strategy.

Damien English


11 Mr. English asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16657/05]

Dan Boyle


12 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will report on the findings of the review of the national drugs strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16647/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 12 together.

The mid-term review of the national drugs strategy was overseen by a steering group, chaired by my Department, and made up of representatives from a number of relevant Departments and agencies, as well as from the community and voluntary sectors. The group was tasked with examining the overall progress made to date in implementing the strategy and with identifying future priorities for the remaining period up to 2008. The relevance of the strategy in tackling the current nature and extent of drug misuse in Ireland, including emerging trends, was also examined. The steering group has completed its deliberations and the Cabinet committee on social inclusion approved its report at its recent meeting.

In keeping with the terms of reference of the review, the report looks broadly at progress made to date under the strategy's 100 actions and identifies a number of areas, across each of the pillars of the strategy that need to be prioritised in the remaining period up to 2008. Amendments to existing actions and new actions in some cases are recommended to give renewed focus and priority to the issues for the remainder of the strategy. The report will be launched on Thursday 2 June in the Government press centre.

As I received my invitation today, that is a well timed reminder. On the question, the House knows that the drugs strategy is not working, as is clear from results on the ground. I hope the review is honest, practical and highlights the problems. I accept that the strategy has worked to an extent in some areas and may have led to slight improvements. However, the majority view is that the strategy is not working.

What actions will be permitted under the review? Will there be a supplementary budget or Supplementary Estimate for this year to put increased funding into problem areas? The cocaine problem is growing. I presume the review refers to this and recommends urgent action. Will the House discuss finance for these actions in the coming weeks, given that there are only perhaps five sitting weeks before the summer recess?

Will the Minister comment on what seems to be the central trend of the review, namely, the shift in the Dublin area from heroin use to cocaine use and the stabilisation in the use of heroin in Dublin but its growing use in other urban centres?

In reply to Deputy English, the report states that the strategy is working well and that its objectives and aims are well focused. While it suggests some new priorities, and while a few of the strategy's 100 actions are being amended, fundamentally, the strategy gets a clean bill of health.

There will not be a supplementary budget for this year. The budget for this year under the drugs subhead has already been increased by 18%. That has allowed me to do many things, including providing funding for the regional drugs task forces, which were of interest to the Deputy. The plans of seven of the ten regional drugs task forces are now being considered. They will be rolled out as the year progresses.

These plans will address the point made by Deputy Boyle. I acknowledge that the number of heroin addicts in Dublin has stabilised at approximately 12,500 but that heroin use has spread, particularly to the towns of Leinster, such as Arklow, Carlow, Portlaoise, Tullamore, Athlone and similar towns. The services in such areas need improvement.

However, given the 18% increase in funding in this area, no extra funding will be made available this year. Some €5 million was allocated to the regional plans, many of which did not begin last January. While we might not have enough money to roll out those plans on a whole year basis, by the time they get up and running, the year will be at least half over.

Written answers follow Adjournment Debate.