Adjournment Debate.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Before calling Deputy Ring I remind Members of the sub judice rule which provides, inter alia, that a matter should not be raised in such an overt manner that it appears to be an attempt by the Oireachtas to encroach on the functions of the courts or the Judiciary.

I offer my support to the people of Dublin. They now realise what the people of the west have put up with for a long time as five of my constituents are in prison for fighting for their rights. People should not go to the new prison to fight for their rights but should go to Mountjoy if they have to.

I raise this matter on the Adjournment because five innocent men are in prison on a health and safety issue. I shall speak on three aspects of the matter one of which is that we gave away our natural resources to an English company which probably will never pay a cent in tax here. I shall not speak about the former Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, because I hope he will come into the House some day and explain his role in this whole project. People thought there would never be a tribunal of inquiry here. There have been tribunals of inquiry and there will be more because many questions remain to be answered on this matter.

I ask the Minister and the Government to immediately step in and ask Shell, which has had great co-operation with the Government, to collapse the injunction. The Taoiseach met Mr. Andy Pyle, managing director of Shell in his offices in September 2003 but to this day we do not know what was discussed. The then Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Fahey, opened the door for Shell on many occasions and Mayo County Council opened the door on many occasions for Shell and Mr. Pyle. The only door the Minister and his colleagues opened for my five constituents was that of Mountjoy Prison.

Members of the Dáil and Seanad flew out to Colombia when three Irish citizens travelled on illegal passports and were arrested in that country. I listened here, morning after morning, to Members asking what the Taoiseach and the Irish Government was doing about the case. While a delegation of Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators flew out to Colombia to do something for them, I did not see many Fianna Fáil Deputies in Cloverhill or in Rossport since the issue arose some months ago. I ask the Minister of State, the Taoiseach and the Government to ensure Shell suspends the injunction immediately to enable us to sit down with those who wish to resolve this problem. There are some who do not wish to resolve the problem.

While there were three other ways Shell could have brought the pipeline onshore it insisted on bringing it within 70 metres of the doors of these people, which would put their lives at risk. That is wrong. This is a health and safety issue. These people do not want the pipeline passing their doors. They want the gas but they do not want it to pass by their doors. Why should the people of Rossport and County Mayo have their lives put at risk when there is no gain for the people of Mayo. Not one town in the county of Mayo will get natural gas. It is a disgrace that a natural resource is being taken out of County Mayo and all it is getting in return is headaches and the danger.

We have listened to many speeches about dialogue. The Government has an opportunity to have some dialogue. I ask that the Taoiseach make a telephone call tomorrow to the managing director of Shell, Mr. Pyle, asking that it immediately suspend the injunction so that serious negotiations can take place to resolve this very serious problem. It is wrong that five men should spend so long in jail not having committed a serious crime. I accept they broke the law and I know the Judiciary had no choice but to put them into jail, but these men will immediately purge their contempt if Shell suspends the injunction and then the negotiations can be got up and running.

I would like to hear from the Minister of State what the Government has done either publicly or behind the scenes to resolve this issue. The Taoiseach has tried to get people out of jail in Colombia. What has he done for his own Irish citizens who are in jail having done nothing wrong? Given that many of the Minister of State's constituents come from that area I am sure he has been contacted by many to try to resolve the problem. Nobody wants to see innocent men in jail fighting for their land, their homes, their families and to feel safe in their beds at night. We all know that one can no longer believe any institution in the State because we have seen what has happened with tribunals of inquiry. Why should these people have to listen to anybody from outside the State?

I wrote to Lord Oxborough in the House of Commons who is a director of Shell. He told me he visited north Mayo, which is more than many of our Ministers did. Had he told us he would visit we would have had a hero's welcome for him. He was delighted to see the support of Mayo County Council and the Government. I would like to see the same support for my constituents who are in jail and I would like to see the issue resolved. I call on the Government to ask Shell to collapse the injunction.

Deputy Ring will be aware that the Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, dealt with this matter yesterday at the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. It was dealt with by the Taoiseach on Leaders' Questions today when the Deputy's constituency colleague and party leader raised the issue.

On behalf of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, I assure the House that the development of the Corrib gas field has received all required approvals and consents from the Department as required by law. These approvals and consents were only given after intense scrutiny, including reports and assessments of consultants of international reputation where warranted, as is the case in regard to the onshore pipeline.

Authorisations were granted for the Corrib gas field under a number of provisions. Under the Continental Shelf Act 1968, authorisation was given for the construction of the sub-sea facilities within the continental shelf designated areas. Consent was also given for the plan for the development of the field under the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960. Under the Gas Act 1976, as amended, consent was given for the construction of a gas pipeline from the gas field through the offshore to the terminal. A foreshore licence was also granted under the Foreshore Acts. In accordance with EU directives, an environmental impact assessment was carried out and an environmental impact statement was submitted with each application for consent or approval.

In regard to the five Rossport men, as the Minister Deputy Noel Dempsey has stated, it is regrettable that anyone should be committed to prison as a result of their opposition to the development of the Corrib gas field. It has been a traumatic time for the men and their families.

Deputies will appreciate that the Minister as a member of the Government cannot intervene in a decision by the High Court. The Minister has nonetheless made every effort to create the conditions that would allow the men to purge their contempt. Initially, the Minister contacted the five men in prison through an intermediary to discuss their concerns. He proposed a safety review by an independent body as a response to those concerns. Despite this and his willingness to meet the men if they purged their contempt, the men decided not to purge their contempt. Despite this also, the Minister ordered an additional comprehensive safety review of the onshore, upstream gas pipeline to be carried out by independent internationally recognised experts. Advantica was identified as the successful bidder and appointed on 25 August. The company is a world leader in the development and application of advanced hazard and risk assessment technologies for gas pipelines. This safety review will examine critically all relevant documentation on the design, construction and operation of the pipeline and associated facilities.

A particular issue of concern to local residents has been the proximity of the pipeline to inhabited dwellings. This will be addressed by the safety review. Advantica has been asked to identify any deficiencies in safety and to make recommendations as to how these, if identified, can be remedied.

It is important that people who have views on the safety of the pipeline should have the opportunity to have those views considered. Views are now being invited from local residents, communities and any interested party during the period of the review.

Why was that not done at the beginning?

The Advantica company is visiting the Corrib site as part of its work. A two-day public hearing will also be held in Mayo next month and will be chaired by Mr. John Gallagher, Senior Counsel.

Not long enough.

The issue of the appointment of an intermediary who would attempt to seek some common ground between the parties and perhaps be able to map a way forward out of the current impasse has been raised. On a number of occasions, the Minister has indicated his willingness to seek out such a person. However, for such a process to work there needs to be the prospect of some movement by both parties towards some common ground. While there has, unfortunately, been no evidence of this to date, the Minister remains strongly supportive of the idea of appointing such an intermediary.

A second area of concern expressed by local people was the level of monitoring and supervision. The Minister has put new monitoring and verification procedures in place to ensure the developer complies with all legal consent issues. Extra personnel have been assigned to the petroleum affairs division of the Department. A new technical advisory group, independent of the petroleum affairs division, has been established to advise, monitor and verify works being carried out on this project.

The Deputy has raised the question of consents for the project. There appears at times to be some confusion about pipeline consents so I would like to clarify the process. On 15 April 2002, the Minister, Deputy Fahey, issued consent to construct a pipeline for the Corrib gas field development.

That is when it started.

He did so under section 40 of the Gas Act 1976, as amended. It was subsequently agreed between the Department and the developers that the consent would be split into seven phases to reflect actual timing as well as the different equipment spreads for each activity. The seven phases are as follows: nearshore construction, landfall, onshore pipeline and umbilical, offshore pipeline, offshore umbilical, manifold installation and in-field works, and hook-up, testing and commissioning. Applications for phases 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 have been submitted by the developers and substantially approved. Phases 5 and 7 have yet to be submitted. The Minister has met with Shell and discussed these consents process with them as well as the safety review and the wider economic aspects of the Corrib project.

It has been commented incorrectly that there is no State agency with specific responsibility for onshore, upstream pipeline safety. This is simply untrue. The Minister has specific powers concerning the safety of the gas pipelines and he will use all legislative mechanisms available to him to ensure that safety in the installations and operation of such pipelines is being addressed and policed properly.

I assure the House that the Minister is committed to the safe and effective exploration of natural resources. He very much regrets that anyone should be committed to prison as a result of his or her opposition to the Corrib onshore gas pipeline. The Minister is extremely conscious that residents in the vicinity of the pipeline have concerns about health and safety issues and he is committed to setting up all the necessary mechanisms, including a comprehensive safety review and public hearing, to deal with these issues.

Job Losses.

I am grateful for the opportunity of raising this issue which, because of the length of our summer recess, has lost some of its immediacy but has lost none of its importance. I am further grateful that my constituency colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, has chosen to respond to this issue. I know he shares my concerns, not only as a Minister, but also as a constituency Deputy, about what will happen from here. That is the motivation for my having raised this issue today.

We need to address the loss of 146 jobs at the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, ADM, in Ringaskiddy and the replacement of gainful, long-term employment for those concerned. There are ongoing difficulties that need to be examined in a wider context and I am prepared to debate them at another time but I do not think there will be any disagreement between the Minister and myself as regards to a necessary response to this set of workers.

I would like the Minister to respond concerning the amount of foreknowledge that might have been available to his Department and other State agencies concerning forthcoming difficulties that may provide workers in such situations with a better sense of preparedness. As a constituency colleague, the Minister will be aware of industrial difficulties that existed in the recent past that resulted in a lock-out of workers in this particular factory. The management cited economic difficulties and the need to change the cost structure, which in itself was a warning sign.

As a Green Party Deputy, I am quite prepared to acknowledge the degree of environmental difficulties, although I do not believe they are linked to the commercial or economic difficulties, but were themselves another signal that there were wider problems with the company concerned. In order to avoid similar circumstances arising in future, I would like to know what kind of early-warning systems exist. How do the Minister's Department and State agencies respond to such warning signals? How can workers who might find themselves in such a situation be given sufficient advance notice in order to find alternative employment? I suspect the Minister will reply by citing his other efforts, which I welcome, including the new positions that will be found in the Centocor factory and the opening of the Recordati factory in the next few weeks.

I am not making the argument about additional jobs, however. We are talking about a specific set of people who have worked for ADM which is not a pharmaceutical company per se, but a food additive one. It was established as part of a wider facility that was Pfizer’s and then became Archer-Daniels-Midland. Therefore, something that had been part of a wider whole, became a separate entity but has now ceased to exist.

Two issues need to be addressed by the Minister and his Department: first, the 146 people who have lost their employment and, second, the existence of an industrial installation in that area that could be put to alternative use. There is a history in Cork South-Central of working collectively to address those issues. I am grateful the Minister has attended the House to outline how we as constituency Deputies, including himself as the Government Minister responsible, can respond to this issue.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I accept the spirit in which he has raised it for debate.

Unfortunately, the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, or ADM, announced the closure of its facility at Ringaskiddy with the loss of 146 jobs on 14 September 2005. This is a major blow to the workers and their families. I want to reassure the House, as I did on that occasion, that every effort will be made via the State agencies to respond to their needs and secure alternative employment for those workers.

The redundancies will take place from October 2005 to January 2006. The company has cited what it terms "non-viability of the business" as the reason for the plant closure. We were not informed about the actual closure until the day of the announcement. I will give some of the background issues later as to how the IDA was dealing with the company on an ongoing basis.

Following our instructions I met with FÁS personnel. FÁS met with senior managers of ADM Ringaskiddy and all staff will be registered with FÁS. The full range of FÁS services will be offered to the staff. Indeed, FÁS has already met with some ADM workers and there has been a good deal of interest in pursuing the courses on offer.

ADM in Ringaskiddy manufactures citric acid, sodium citrate, potassium citrate, gluconic acid and other products for the food industry. The biggest single product is citric acid, which is an ingredient in soft drinks. The business and site was acquired from Pfizer in 1990. Employment at the time of the closure announcement earlier this month was 150 people.

It gives me no satisfaction to have to say the site in Cork has had a turbulent recent past. As an essentially commodity-based business there has been increasing cost pressures on production facilities. In early 2003, I understand that suggested changes on the site were rejected locally. The company then closed the site and there were many disputes at the time. I met the workers concerned. The company then conducted a fundamental review of the viability of future operations at Ringaskiddy. The plant remained closed for more than five months while the review was undertaken and subsequent negotiations with SIPTU were completed. At that time 180 people were employed and 70 of those availed of a severance deal. A new package of conditions was agreed.

ADM Ringaskiddy is a client company of IDA Ireland and the agency maintained contact with the local and parent companies throughout the difficulties in 2003. As I mentioned, the business in Cork is commodities-based and there was concern over the company's medium-term future in manufacturing, particularly with the bulk of the world's citric acid being sourced in China. In particular, meetings were held between IDA and the company in early 2004 to discuss additional responsibilities for the Cork operation.

ADM has grown substantially in Europe over the past 15 years by acquisition. The European headquarters has at various times in the recent past been in the Netherlands and London before moving to its current site in Hamburg. The company generally operates a divisionalised and decentralised structure in Europe. However, ADM is in the final stages of implementing a standard IT platform for its financial affairs. The Irish company spotted an opportunity to take control of the European treasury function for all ADM businesses early last year. Treasury activities are controlled from Cork but with the bulk of the transactions outsourced. The company is undertaking a major overhaul of its banking relationships and arrangements throughout Europe. This is the only function that will remain in operation in Cork but only four people will be employed.

IDA Ireland has recently met company representatives to discuss ways and initiatives in marketing the existing facility and lands as an option for potential foreign direct investment. The industrial development agencies will be making every effort to secure alternative employment for the area. Over the past 11 years direct employment in IDA-supported companies in Cork city and county has grown from 10,345 in 1993 to 18,648 in 2004. The sectors contributing to this growth are ICT, pharmaceuticals and medical technologies, and international services. Over the past five years IDA Ireland has approved new projects for the Cork area with a job potential of up to 5,000 people at full operation. This growth is expected to continue into the future. There are currently 137 IDA supported enterprises in Cork city and county.

In July 2005, Pfizer Incorporated, the largest pharmaceutical company in the world, announced it is to invest €20 million to establish a high containment development facility at Pfizer Ireland Pharmaceuticals, Ringaskiddy, County Cork. In July 2004, Centocor, a wholly owned subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson, announced plans to construct a new biopharmaceutical centre of excellence at Ringaskiddy. The project, regarded as a key strategic biopharmaceutical investment, will employ an estimated 330 people over five years. This follows the announcement in 2003 of investments by Italian pharmaceutical company Recordati and GlaxoSmithKline in new research and development activities in Ringaskiddy. We would hope that some of the workers from ADM could be recruited to these new enterprises. FÁS will endeavour to use its placement service with this in mind and will retrain people for the biopharmaceutical sector.

Other recent new project announcements in Cork include Ellison, Engenio, McAfee, AK Pharmaceuticals, Altera, Ecora and Centocor, which will all add to the value and depth of overseas industry in Cork. Enterprise Ireland will continue to do what it can to increase employment in the area. Since January 2004 Enterprise Ireland has approved funding to client companies totalling €18.9 million. I assure the Deputy that the State development agencies, under the auspices of my Department, will continue to work closely together and with local interests in promoting Ringaskiddy for further job creation and investment.

The Department has an early warning system and generally companies alert IDA Ireland which then alerts me or my officials regarding potential difficulties. While there would have been overall concern over the medium-term prospects, this matter did not feature on such a system until I got it on the day.

School Transport.

I wholeheartedly welcome the improvements in safety standards introduced during the summer months for all students on school buses. Safety measures are of paramount importance to our children travelling on school buses twice daily. However, I raise this matter to highlight the difficulties experienced by a group of first year students who cannot avail of school transport. Many of my constituents and their children are experiencing great distress, frustration and uncertainty because of the withdrawal of school transport from 38 students attending the Salesian College in Pallaskenry. When I tabled the motion, the same problem existed in Askeaton. Thankfully that issue was resolved.

I will outline my understanding of the sequence of events since the early 1980s when the Department of Education found it necessary to grant full eligibility to students who had no choice but to take up places in Pallaskenry and Askeaton second level colleges because they were unable to secure places in second level colleges within the city catchment area. This remained the case up to 2001 when a letter issued from the Department of Education and Science that the status quo would remain in place until a review of the catchment areas could take place. No such review has taken place. A central applications system was introduced for the 2004 school year to ensure pupils would be given their choice of places in secondary schools and vocational colleges in the city catchment area. Transport was then to be withdrawn. However, I understand this decision was postponed.

In 2005 schools expressed concern at the withdrawal of transport and meetings took place. I understand no decisions were made in the absence of the central applications system finalising its business. Schools were notified in late June and parents were notified in late July. Unfortunately from the parents' point of view children had been enrolled, uniforms purchased and I cannot condone the timing of the notification to parents.

Unfortunately we have now reached an impasse. I can see only one way to resolve the issue, which is by dialogue. I have never seen a dispute resolved without dialogue and negotiation. I appeal to all concerned to step back from the brink in the interest of the children involved and find a solution acceptable to all sides. I am asking for a meeting to be convened involving all interested parties — Bus Éireann, the VEC transport liaison officer, Department officials, parents' representatives, school representatives, if necessary, and the Minister or her representatives. I believe a solution can and should be found to resolve the issue.

I agree with Deputy Cregan on the safety matter. I welcome the Minister of State. That representatives from three different parties have raised this matter indicates its importance. If we were not here we would be at a meeting in Ballybrown GAA club to discuss the matter. We have attended such meetings each Wednesday in recent weeks. I agree with Deputy Cregan that we need to resolve the issue through dialogue. However, the parents who enrolled their children in Pallaskenry believed that the status quo would remain because of the letter sent out in 2001 when the Minister for Defence, Deputy O’Dea, was the Minister of State with responsibility for school transport.

In May I received a reply to a parliamentary question which indicated no decision had been made and that it would be decided in the context of the school places issue in Limerick city. That issue is central in that insufficient places exist on that side of the city. While it can be said that places exist in Limerick city, there is no logic in parents having to send their children to the other side of the city when they could be sent a few miles out the road to Pallaskenry, which is their choice of school. There is not availability in terms of the choices parents made last year and the previous year. More than 50% of the children at school in Pallaskenry are from outside the catchment area.

In my role as education spokesperson, I am aware of what goes on in other parts of the country. Extra buses have been provided in these cases and children outside catchment boundaries, in some cases in numbers as large as those involved in Pallaskenry, have been facilitated in recent weeks. I ask the Minister of State to re-open this issue because there has been a suggestion that somehow it has been decided and cannot be re-opened. In the interests of parents it must be re-opened. The Minister of State should listen to some of the stories we have heard about parents who were losing earnings, who were trying to return from night work and get their children to school, and who are now car-pooling. They cannot go on like this much longer. They are determined to send their children to the Salesian college in Pallaskenry and they know they cannot get their children into city schools. They were not able to do so in the past year. I dealt with many parents who now have their children in the Salesian college in Pallaskenry who had nowhere to send their children in the city.

This is an issue of catchment as well as one about not having sufficient places in the city catchment. The Minister of State must find a resolution in the context of that overall situation. This is not simply a matter of the children being able to go to school within their own catchment area. The demographics have changed greatly in the Limerick area since 1967, when the boundaries were drawn up. The city has extended greatly on the western side in areas such as Raheen, Mungret and Clarinagh. All children in those areas are outside the catchment area for Pallaskenry. They are in the city catchment, but there is no logic in their parents having to drive right across the city traffic to the other side of Limerick if they could have a school bus which would bring them to the Salesian college in Pallaskenry. For many reasons, that makes much more sense. I ask the Minister of State to please resolve this issue.

I support my colleagues in asking for a review of this issue and an understanding of the special problem which has arisen with regard to Pallaskenry and the catchment area of the old Mungret college, which closed in the early 1970s. Children who live close to Pallaskenry are now in the city catchment area. Because of the difficulties with regard to schools in the city, parents have sent their children to the Salesian college in Pallaskenry. The siblings of those children are not now being allowed the facility while their brothers and sisters are being allowed it. I ask the Minister of State to understand the situation of parents who over a long period of time planned that their children would attend the college in Pallaskenry.

I raised this question on 5 February last. I will quote from the Adjournment Debate in which I participated on 5 May. At that time the Minister of State informed me that the continued provision of full school transport for the pupils and new applicants for school transport was being reviewed. That is on the record of the Dáil. On 20 February 2001 the Salesian college received a letter stating:

The position regarding the need to transport pupils out of the Limerick city centre to the Salesian college is that the status quo should be maintained pending a review of the present arrangements and the catchment boundary areas. You will appreciate that this will involve extensive discussion with the relevant interested parties.

That was the guarantee given then, that nothing would happen until the catchment areas were reviewed. The letter confirming that pupils arriving in the Limerick city catchment area, enrolling for the first time, would not get a school transport service from that area, was dated 30 June. Telling pupils on 30 June, who have enrolled in a school and bought their uniforms, that they must switch schools is not acceptable. The school nearest those pupils is the Crescent comprehensive college. That school is in their catchment area but they have no chance of getting places there.

A letter sent to the Department of Education and Science by the chief executive officer of the County Limerick VEC, who is dealing with the matter, states:

Taking cognisance of the seriousness of the matter and taking into account the various circumstances of the situation, including the lateness of the decision which was communicated during the school holiday period, I urge and reiterate with the greatest temerity that the matter be revisited with a view to deferring the decision.

This letter came from a highly respected senior official in the County Limerick VEC, one of the most respected people in public service in the Limerick area.

The Minister of State will talk about costs, but they are minimal in terms of the total education budget. This is a very serious situation for the families involved and for the pupils. Can the Minister of State understand the pressure on those kids? They do not know what will happen to them.

I am confused. The Minister of State tells us he has the agreement of the Taoiseach and of the Minister for Education and Science. For years we sought a Cabinet Minister in the Limerick area. We now have one. The former Minister, Deputy Des O'Malley, delivered a lot to Limerick city. The former Minister, Deputy Tom O'Donnell, was one of the best Ministers we ever had. When he was Minister, Deputy Noonan totally revamped the Limerick regional hospital. Yet the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, cannot deliver a bus.

I thank Deputies Cregan, O'Sullivan and Neville for their contributions. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter and to outline my position on school transport to the Salesian college in Pallaskenry and Scoil Mhuire in Askeaton, County Limerick.

One of the main objects of the school transport scheme is to provide a basic level of service for children who live long distances from schools and who might otherwise experience difficulty in attending regularly. There are about 138,000 primary and post-primary pupils using the school transport scheme on a regular basis. The allocation for school transport in 2005 is €116.533 million, an increase of 6% on last year's out-turn. Some 30% of the allocation will be expended this year on transport costs and grant aid for children with special needs, who represent about 6% of the overall number of children carried each day.

For the purposes of post-primary education provision, the country is divided into catchment areas, each of which has its own post-primary centre. Under the terms of the post-primary school transport scheme, a pupil is eligible for school transport if he or she resides 4.8 kilometres or three miles or more, from the post-primary centre in the catchment area in which he or she lives. A post-primary centre is not necessarily a school building. It is usually a central point in the catchment area to which the distance from home is measured.

Eligible pupils who wish to attend post-primary schools in another catchment area may be allowed transport on school services from within the catchment boundary of the school being attended, subject to there being room available on the school transport service and to there being no additional cost to the State. Pupils are responsible for getting to the nearest school bus service within that catchment area. An eligible pupil who is approved for catchment boundary transport is not guaranteed school transport for the duration of his or her education at that centre. As a concessionary measure, continued transport will depend on the availability of space on the school service to that centre each school term.

A large number of pupils who reside in the Limerick city catchment area have been provided with full transport facilities to the Salesian college in Pallaskenry because of difficulties encountered in previous years in securing placements in certain schools in Limerick city. A lesser number of such pupils were provided with full transport to Scoil Mhuire, Askeaton, for the same reason. However, as a result of the introduction of the central applications facility for the allocation of places in Limerick city post-primary schools for the current school year, it became apparent that there were enough places in the city for all applicants from the catchment. Every child who applied for a place got one and 95% received offers within their first three preferences.

In the circumstances, it was decided to discontinue the practice of offering a special service to new catchment boundary pupils travelling to Pallaskenry and Askeaton. Existing passengers were reassured that they would have a place for the rest of their schooling but new applicants were told they would have to be treated in the same way as catchment boundary applicants in other parts of the country. Catchment boundary transport will continue to be available to pupils enrolling in the Salesian college in Pallaskenry and in Scoil Mhuire, Askeaton, subject to the terms of the scheme. I do not propose to reverse my decision which was made following a full assessment of all relevant factors.

On the issue of catchment boundaries, there have been calls for local and general reviews of these boundaries to enable pupils to be accommodated with school transport to attend a school of their choice. The catchment boundaries have their origins in the establishment of free post-primary education in the late 1960s. For planning purposes, the country was divided into geographic districts, each with several primary schools feeding into a post-primary centre with one or more post-primary schools. The intention was that these defined districts would facilitate the orderly planning of school provision and accommodation needs. They also facilitated the provision of a national school transport service, enabling children from remote areas to get to their nearest school.

While the service has been developed over the years to take account of linguistic and denominational considerations in the matter of school choice, it was never the intention that such choice would be unlimited. Clearly, the cost of operating such a scheme would be unsustainable, especially in the context of competing demands, including the major safety programme we are implementing at present.

It is reasonable for parents to exercise educational choice. However, expectation as to the extent to which choice can be facilitated must be tempered with realism. A review of catchment boundaries may be appropriate where, for example, a new post-primary school is established in an area where previously there was none or, conversely, where a "sole provider" school closes due to declining enrolment. However, to revise boundaries to provide school transport for pupils to their school of choice would not be appropriate and it is not my intention to undertake such reviews. Any other approach would make it impossible to operate the school transport service on a cost effective basis and could well give rise to additional costs related to additional teacher posts and accommodation.

I thank the Deputies for referring to the work being done on the safety programme. It has been an expensive programme and I thank them for their acknowledgement of that. However, with regard to the issue of Askeaton and Pallaskenry which is under discussion this evening, it saddens me to hear from Deputy Neville that people are confused about the situation. I have never attempted to play politics with this issue. I have always been up front about my decision. I accept that the Deputy is not accusing me of being duplicitous but I am saddened that some who are not present might be using this situation as a political manoeuvre. If that is so, it is sad.

I have not added to the confusion. I have stated where I stand to the parents when I met them, on more than one occasion. The confusion does not emanate from me and I believe the Deputy appreciates that.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 29 September 2005.