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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 4 Oct 2005

Vol. 606 No. 3

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 35, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 36 to 113, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 114 to 123, inclusive, answered orally.

Animal Cruelty.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

124 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to serious public concern at the circumstances of the slaughter of 4,000 pigs in Waterford two years ago, under the supervision of her Department, in circumstances of particular cruelty; if she will consider requesting an independent veterinary expert from abroad to conduct a full investigation into all aspects of the slaughter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26449/05]

I would like to set out the background to this incident. The case involved the slaughter on-farm by the herdowner of some 4,000 pigs over a five day period following the discovery by Department veterinary inspectors of quantities of Carbadox on the farm and an admission by the herdowner that he had spread the substance on the floors of pig pens. The movement of any animals from this herd, except under specific licence from the Department, had also been prohibited by the Department in the period preceding slaughter in order to protect public health. Notwithstanding this, some pigs were moved to slaughter plants and products from some of these did in fact enter the food chain. Carbadox is a carcinogen, cancer-causing substance, which is banned by the EU and deemed to be unsafe at any level. Prosecutions have since been issued against the herdowner alleging a range of offences relating to the use of this feed additive and other matters, including the illegal movement of pigs from the farm. The herdowner has issued proceedings against the Department under two headings.

While there was no question of legally permitting the pigs to be slaughtered for human consumption, the Department wrote to the herdowner's solicitors on 7 May 2002 explicitly stating its willingness to allow him to pursue the option of his making arrangements, acceptable to the Department, with a dedicated plant for their slaughter. However, he did not pursue this option. Instead, he sought permission to slaughter the pigs himself on his farm on welfare grounds. He had discussed this approach with Department veterinary inspectors and they were satisfied that he understood fully what would be involved and that he displayed both the competence and confidence to undertake the task.

During the five day period, two veterinary inspectors, including an animal welfare expert from the Department, visited the farm on numerous occasions in order to assess the ongoing slaughter operation. A non-veterinary official of the Department was present on the farm during the five day period in question, whose primary function was ensuring proper disposal of the carcases, that is, to ensure they did not enter the human food chain. At no point during the slaughter process did the herdowner express concerns or disquiet on animal welfare grounds about the slaughter method or seek to suspend operations on grounds of professed animal welfare concerns.

An official of my Department observed the herdowner use a lump-hammer to slaughter a small number of pigs and ordered the practice to cease immediately. The implement was seized and only returned to the farmer when the entire slaughter process was completed. With regard to the attempted suffocation of the pigs, records indeed show that the herdowner was legally instructed to maximise the ventilation capacity of his units in order to minimise the negative welfare impact associated with increased liveweight capacity of the units. Department veterinary staff did not report any attempt to deliberatively deprive the pigs of air.

The circumstances in this case were highly unusual. On-farm slaughter of animals in any number is an exception rather than the rule and occurs only in extreme circumstances, for example, the FMD outbreak in Cooley, where it is not possible to move the animals to a dedicated slaughter plant or where there are compelling reasons, for example, fear of disease spread, for not attempting to so do. In this particular case, the herdowner had decided to slaughter his animals on-farm and the Department considered at the time that it could not legally have forced him to have the operation conducted in a slaughter plant. In view of the foregoing, I do not consider it appropriate to conduct the investigation on the lines suggested by the Deputy.

Common Agricultural Policy.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

125 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will make a statement on the outcome of her meeting on 23 June 2005 with the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Ms Fisher Boel, regarding the EU sugar regime, the overshoot of the special beef premium and the management of the dairy market; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26451/05]

I met the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Ms Fisher Boel, in Ireland last June to discuss the Commission proposals on the reform of the sugar regime, the overshoot of the special beef premium and the management of the dairy market.

As regards sugar, I emphasised my total opposition to the Commission proposals, which had been published just prior to the Commissioner's visit. I explained in detail the adverse impact these proposals would have on sugar production in Ireland. In response, the Commissioner explained the rationale behind the proposals. Both sides accepted that the proposals would be subject to difficult negotiations in the Council of Agriculture Ministers in the months ahead. I restated my position subsequently at the Council in July and am endeavouring, in co-operation with like-minded member states, to seek a more balanced outcome, which will take Irish interests into account.

I had previously been in contact with the Commissioner on the special beef premium overshoot, and at the meeting in June, we reviewed the ongoing technical discussions. The Commissioner expressed her understanding of the problem and subsequently responded positively, allowing me to announce a special payment package. Taken in conjunction with the Exchequer funding, which is the subject of a supplementary estimate, the package is worth approximately €17.5 million.

The concession agreed by the Commissioner only addressed the position of the second age category, as she was adamant that no concession was possible in the first age and bull category in light of the legally binding ceiling of 1,077,458 animals. However, the final outcome means that payments under the 2004 special beef premium scheme will amount to almost €340 million, compared to €290 million paid under the 2003 scheme.

I also used the opportunity to emphasise my serious concerns about the Commission's management of the milk market and called for careful consideration of the effect of these management decisions on the competitiveness of the dairy industry. I particularly disputed the extent to which these adjustments were warranted, arguing that downward pressure on institutional supports limits the sector's ability to fully exploit opportunities to export milk products to international markets, and reduces the returns available to farmers.

I will continue to urge the Commissioner to use all the market management tools at her disposal to provide the stability that the dairy sector now requires to consolidate its competitiveness and future investment capacity and, particularly, to maintain and expand international market share.

Animal Health Strategy.

Damien English

Question:

126 Mr. English asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she intends to take to develop an all-Ireland animal health regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26190/05]

I am fully committed to the development of an all-Ireland animal health strategy, the ultimate objective of which should be the free movement of animals on the island and the development of agreed policies to control animal disease and to facilitate trade.

There is already a long history of co-operation between the Administrations North and South on animal health issues. The Administrations have traditionally shared information at local and national levels on disease control and surveillance issues and have pooled resources to combat illegal movements of animals and animal products. The foot and mouth disease emergency of 2001 is a testament to the extent of co-operation and consultation that exists at official, ministerial and political levels.

The establishment of the North/South Ministerial Council offered an opportunity to build on existing co-operation arrangements and provided a framework for the development of an all-island animal health policy.

The main objectives of the Council are to foster co-operation and to devise a common, unified animal health strategy for the island as a whole. This involves the convergence of animal health policies and the development of joint strategies for dealing with animal diseases. The ultimate objectives are to establish a common import regime and equivalent internal arrangements with a view to achieving free movement of animals and animal products within the island.

A total of nine policy working groups have been established at official level under North-South arrangements to take forward various initiatives. The remit of these groups includes TB and brucellosis, TSEs — BSE and scrapie, veterinary medicines, other zoonoses and animal diseases, disease surveillance, animal welfare, import and export of live animals and animal products, animal identification, traceability and cross-Border aspects of fraud. These groups continue to report progress in exchange of information and in implementation of initiatives aimed at policy convergence and the development of a common unified strategy for the island as a whole.

The main achievements to date are the development of a co-ordinated and complementary approach towards import policies and portal controls at points of entry to the island, the development of similar approaches to combat the introduction of animal diseases, the convergence of policies in regard to animal identification and strengthening of co-ordination and co-operation on issues such as contingency planning.

In addition to the above, there has been a significant deepening and strengthening of co-operation, information exchange and ongoing co-ordination between the two Administrations on a variety of issues such as FMD, BSE, avian influenza and cross-Border fraud while the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council includes representation from DARD. On cross-Border fraud, the two Administrations have worked together successfully in a number of joint enforcement actions against alleged offenders and ongoing exchanges of expertise and information are taking place.

It is my intention to pursue this matter further at a political level with the Right Honourable Lord Rooker, following on from my discussions with Ian Pearson, Minister of State in Northern Ireland.

EU Directives.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

127 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will list the EU directives for which her Department has responsibility that are yet to be implemented in view of the target date for implementation in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26456/05]

The European directives to be implemented by my Department are set out in the following schedule, which has been circulated. Council Directive 2004/117/EC is in the final stages of implementation and is expected to be finalised by the end of the month. In all other cases, I intend to have the directives implemented by the due date.

Schedule

Directives to be implemented by Department of Agriculture and Food: 18

Title of Directive

Date by which Directive is to be implemented

Council Directive 2004/117/EC of 22 December 2004 amending Directives 66/401/EEC, 66/402/EEC, 2002/54/EC, 2002/55/EC and 2002/57/EC as regards examinations carried out under official supervision and equivalence of seed produced in third countries. (OJ L14 18/01/05, p18)

1 October 2005

Directive 2004/28/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 amending Directive 2001/82/EC on the Community code relating to veterinary medicinal products. (OJ L136, 30/04/04, p58)

30 October 2005

Council Directive 2004/68/EC of 26 April 2004 laying down animal health rules for the importation into and transit through the Community of certain live ungulate animals, amending Directives 90/426/EEC and 92/65/EEC and repealing Directive 72/462/EEC. (OJ L139, 30/04/04, p321)

20 November 2005

Commission Directive 2005/34/EC of 17 May 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include etoxazole and tepraloxydim as active substances. (OJ L125, 18/05/05, p5)

30 November 2005

Commission Directive 2005/58/EC of 21 September 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include bifenazate and milbemectin as active substances (OJ L246, 22/9/05, p17)

1 December 2005

Commission Directive 2005/37/EC of 3 June 2005 amending Council Directives 86/362/EEC and 90/642/EEC as regards the maximum levels for certain pesticide residues in and on cereals and certain products of plant origin, including fruit and vegetables. (OJ L141, 04/06/05, p10)

4 December 2005

Commission Directive 2005/13/EC of 21 February 2005 amending Directive 2000/25/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants by engines intended to power agricultural or forestry tractors, and amending Annex I to Directive 2003/37/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the type-approval of agricultural or forestry tractors. (OJ L55, 01/03/05, p35)

31 December 2005

Directive 2004/41/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 repealing certain Directives concerning food hygiene and health conditions for the production and placing on the market of certain products of animal origin intended for human consumption and amending Council Directives 89/662/EEC and 92/118/EEC and Council Decision 95/408/EC. (OJ L195, 02/06/04, p12)

1 January 2006

Commission Directive 2005/46/EC of 8 July 2005 amending the Annexes to Council Directives 86/362/EEC, 86/363/EEC and 90/642/EEC as regards maximum residue levels for amitraz. (OJ L177 09/07/05, p35)

9 January 2006

Commission Directive 2005/6/EC of 26 January 2005 amending Directive 71/250/EEC as regards reporting and interpretation of analytical results required under Directive 2002/32/EC. (OJ L24, 27/01/05, p33)

16 February 2006

Commission Directive 2005/8/EC of 27 January 2005 amending Annex I to Directive 2002/32/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on undesirable substances in animal feed (OJ L27, 29/01/05, p44)

18 February 2006

Commission Directive 2005/7/EC of 27 January 2005 amending Directive 2002/70/EC establishing requirements for the determination of levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in feedingstuffs. (OJ L27, 29/01/05, p41)

18 February 2006

Commission Directive 2005/48/EC of 23 August 2005 amending Council Directives 86/362/EEC, 86/363/EEC and 90/642/EEC as regards maximum residue levels for certain pesticides in and on cereals and certain products of animal and plant origin. (OJ L219 24/08/05, p29)

24 February 2006

Commission Directive 2005/53/EC of 16 September 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include chlorothalonil, chlorotoluron, cypermethrin, daminozide and thiophanate-methyl as active substances (OJ L241, 17/09/2005, p51)

1 March 2006

Commission Directive 2005/54/EC of 19 September 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include tribenuron as active substance (OJ L244, 20/09/2005, p21)

1 March 2006

Commission Directive 2005/57/EC of 21 September 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include MCPA and MCPB as active substances (OJ L246, 22/9/05, p14)

1 May 2006

Commission Directive 2005/43/EC of 23 June 2005 amending the Annexes to Council Directive 68/193/EEC on the marketing of material for the vegetative propagation of the vine (OJ L164, 24/06/05, p37)

31 July 2006

Council Directive 2005/24/EC of 14 March 2005 with regard to the use of ova and embryos and storage centres for semen from pure-bred breeding animals of the bovine species. (OJ L78, 24/03/05, p43)

24 March 2007

Common Agricultural Policy.

Joan Burton

Question:

128 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress made in her discussions with the EU Commission on 19 September 2005 regarding proposals for reform of the EU sugar regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26444/05]

I presume that the Deputy is referring to the meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council which took place on 19 September. On that occasion, the sugar reform proposals did not feature on the Council agenda.

I expressed my serious concerns about the proposals when I met with Commissioner Fischer Boel on her visit to Ireland in June, and again at the Council of Agriculture Ministers in July. I emphasised that the price cuts proposed are too severe, that the reforms should be based on a longer lead-in time for the Everything But Arms agreement and that it would be preferable to await the outcome of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong in December before seeking to conclude an agreement on sugar reform. I have also continued to remain in contact with like-minded colleague Ministers from other member states who are opposed to the reform proposals.

The proposals as they stand would have serious implications for Ireland and I have made clear that they are unacceptable. They will again be discussed at the next meeting of the Council of Ministers on 24-25 October. My overall objective is to ensure a more balanced agreement, which will take Irish interests into account.

Horticulture Sector.

Donie Cassidy

Question:

129 Mr. Cassidy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the horticulture sector here. [26163/05]

The horticulture sector is a very dynamic one that has grown to be a significant entity within the overall agricultural industry. Farmgate production is now close to €300 million with retail sales of €650 million. Demand for processed and semi-prepared produce has increased dramatically over the last number of years and is expected to continue. The horticulture sector is also very labour intensive with some 10,000 people employed across the production and distribution chain. My Department will continue to contribute directly to this sector by providing plant health services, enforcing quality standards and through grant assistance.

A very significant contribution towards the development of the sector is made through the grant aid schemes for capital investment on farms under the national development plan. The scheme aims to promote the diversification of on-farm activities, improve the quality of products, facilitate environmentally friendly practices and improve working condition. Since 2001 over €8 million has been paid to 400 horticultural producers to upgrade or develop new facilities. This grant aid has been a major catalyst for investment and growth in a sector which is making a very significant contribution to the rural and national economy. This year a €6 million grant package will fund projects to the value of over €17 million. All areas of horticulture are eligible for the scheme, covering mushrooms, protected crops, nursery crops, field vegetables, soft fruit, apples, seed potatoes and beekeeping.

Demand in the consumer and food service sectors is buoyant, both for fresh and prepared chilled produce and convenient value-added products. The retail value of prepared horticultural produce was estimated to be €59.8 million in 2004, representing a two-fold increase on 2001, and there are real investment opportunities and challenges for development of this sector. For the first time this year, projects in the fruit and vegetable sector have been prioritised in the scheme of aid for the marketing and processing of agricultural products, which supports capital investment to enhance competitiveness and added value.

In addition, horticulture producers benefit from EU aid under the producer organisation scheme. Over €6 million will be paid to 12 recognised producer organisations this year. The development of producer organisations under EU regulations has made a very important contribution to the development of the sector as it enables producers to benefit from their combined strength in the production and marketing of their product.

Sugar Quota.

Denis Naughten

Question:

130 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will clarify the ownership of the Irish sugar quota; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26224/05]

Under the EU sugar regime, each member state has a quota for manufactured sugar. There is no quota for sugar beet. The EU regulations stipulate that the quota must be made available to the sugar manufacturing enterprises in the member state. Accordingly, in Ireland the entire sugar quota is processed by Irish Sugar Limited, which is the only sugar manufacturer in this country. Irish Sugar Limited places annual contracts with farmers to grow a specific tonnage of sugar beet sufficient to manufacture the sugar quota.

Ownership of the sugar quota had never been an issue in the past because the relevant EU regulations do not provide for the buying and selling of quota. Speculations about quota ownership only arose when the Commission, in July 2004, raised the possibility of cross-border quota mobility, in the context of their initial thinking on reform of the EU sugar regime. Several member states, including Ireland, voiced strong opposition to the idea of cross-border mobility and I am pleased to say that it does not form part of the Commission's legislative reform proposals, which were published in June. In any event, the EU Commission has confirmed that the quota is not an asset owned by the member state or any other party but is simply a mechanism for regulating the market.

Common Agricultural Policy.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

131 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her priorities for the current round of world trade talks and the summit due in Hong Kong in December 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26458/05]

Agreement was reached in Geneva in August 2004 on a framework setting out the structure and general content of the new World Trade Organisation, WTO, agreement. The detailed implementation of this framework has been the subject of ongoing negotiation at technical and political level and the aim is to conclude an agreement at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong in December 2005. I am satisfied that the framework agreement secured the benefits to Irish farmers of the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy and represented a satisfactory outcome from Ireland's point of view. My over-riding objective in the further negotiations is to ensure that the terms of a new agreement can be accommodated without the need for further reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. More specifically, my priorities are to ensure that: the phasing-out of all forms of export subsidies will be applied in parallel, as provided for under the framework agreement, and that the phasing-out period will be as long as possible; Ireland's agricultural exports will remain competitive in the EU market through the continuation of adequate levels of tariff protection on imports from third countries; and the EU's system of direct payments which, following decoupling, qualify as non-trade-distorting, continue to be exempt from reductions under the new agreement.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

132 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress and opportunities in place or planned for farmers and all involved in developing the biofuel and biomass sector in view of the serious increases in oil prices and concerns over the long term security of oil supplies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26468/05]

The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has overall responsibility for energy policy and is primarily responsible for the promotion and development of renewable energy, including biofuels. Nonetheless, the development of the biofuels industry is a cross-sectoral issue impinging on several policy areas, for example those related to environment and fiscal policy as well as energy policy, and involving several Departments and agencies. I am acutely aware of the central role which agriculture can play in the provision of necessary raw materials for the production of biofuels. These raw materials can include oilseed rape, wheat and sugar beet for liquid transport biofuels, forestry by-products for wood biomass, and other farming by-products such as meat and bone meal and tallow for energy-heat generation and biodiesel respectively.

Factors such as the increasing cost of oil, the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the opportunity for farmers to explore alternative land uses following CAP reform mean that the potential of this area must be fully explored.

For the purposes of contributing to the development of policy on biofuels, my Department in conjunction with COFORD and Teagasc has examined the potential of energy crops, wood biomass and farming and food by-products. In general, the production of energy crops for biofuels will have to be demand led and production by farmers will only occur if the economic returns are greater than those offered by traditional crop enterprises. The production of liquid biofuels from energy crops is not economic at current oil price levels. However, the scheme recently announced by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for mineral oil tax relief on pilot biofuel projects has stimulated the production of oilseed rape for biofuel.

The exploitation of wood resources for energy purposes, mainly for heat or electricity generation, offers significant potential. There are also significant opportunities for using by-products of farming and food processing for bioenergy purposes. Approximately 140,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal is produced annually and its use in place of fossil fuels could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 19%.

I am anxious to encourage further research to assist the development of the biofuels industry and I have arranged for research projects on biofuels and other non-food uses of crops to be included in the latest call under my Department's research stimulus programme.

Land Prices.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

133 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to recent figures published by the Central Statistics Office showing that agricultural land prices rose by more than 25% in the last quarter of 2004; her views on the rapid rate of increase in the price of land; her views on the implications of this increase for farmers hoping to expand or those who wish to enter farming for the first time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26450/05]

Low levels of land mobility have been a long-term feature of Irish farming. The number of land parcels placed on the market annually is relatively small, and Ireland's strong economic growth has increased demand for all forms of land. Average agricultural land prices for 2004 were €16,156 per hectare, an increase of 12% on 2003. While there was an exceptionally high increase of 25% in the fourth quarter of 2004, it was partly reversed by a decline of 12% in the first quarter of 2005. The CSO does caution that these figures are based on a very small amount of agricultural land placed on the open market each year; only 0.1% of agricultural land was sold in 2004.

Traditionally, Irish farms are kept within families and are transferred through gift or inheritance. This combined with the low level of land sales means the main option for those who wish to expand their holdings is through leasing. In 2003, almost one-fifth of all agricultural land was leased with one-third of Irish farms leasing-in some portion of land.

For meaningful farm planning, leasing is best done on a long-term basis, and the Government has a number of incentives in place to encourage this and to improve the overall levels of land mobility. There are generous income tax disregards for farmers who lease-out land on a long-term basis. Capital gain tax retirement relief is available to farmers over 55 years who dispose of their farming business, while farmers over 40 years can avail of a rental income tax relief on leases of five years or longer. These measures help improve the availability of land to farmers who wish to increase their scale of production.

There are also a series of measures in place to help reduce start-up costs for new entrants. These include a number of generous grants and tax reliefs. For young, suitably trained farmers there are a number of attractive schemes including an installation aid grant of €9,520, 100% stamp duty relief on land, a 90% relief from capital acquisition tax, CAT, and 100% stock relief for four years for eligible farmers. I believe these are pragmatic measures to help facilitate those who wish to enter agriculture or those who wish to expand production.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

John Curran

Question:

134 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has satisfied herself with the progress under REPS 3. [26170/05]

I am very pleased with the level of demand for REPS since the introduction of REPS 3 last year. During the summer we broke the previous record for participation and we now have over 47,000 farmers in the scheme. Total spending on REPS amounted to €208 million in 2004. Expenditure this year, with three months still to go, has already almost matched that. I am hopeful that we will have close to 50,000 farmers in REPS by the end of the year, which will account for this year's voted provision of €271 million.

I would urge all farmers who are not already in REPS to consider it seriously. It offers real benefits not only to them but also to the environment and society in general.

Grant Payments.

Damien English

Question:

135 Mr. English asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the allocation of entitlements under the national reserve; when she will issue the entitlements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26191/05]

Applications for an allocation of entitlements from the single payment scheme national reserve were received from over 17,500 farmers. Processing of these applications is continuing and the intention is to make allocations to successful applicants by 1 December next. This will allow any allocations to be reflected in the single payment scheme payment which is scheduled to commence on 1 December 2005.

The Single Payment Advisory Committee comprising representatives of my Department, Teagasc and the farming organisations met recently to discuss the rules for allocating the national reserve. Further contacts will take place on this matter before a final decision is made.

Sugar Beet Industry.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

136 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food in view of the continued problems regarding the EU sugar regime, her plans to examine alternative uses for the beet farmers produce, in regard to the possible production of ethanol or other bio-fuels; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26445/05]

As I have indicated previously, I regard the Commission's proposals for reform of the sugar regime as unacceptable and have made this clear directly to the Commissioner and in the Council of Ministers.

The production of ethanol from sugar beet is a possible alternative outlet for farmers but, as matters stand, Irish Sugar Limited has arrangements in place to process the full Irish sugar quota at its Mallow plant, which has been upgraded for that purpose. The question of an alternative use for sugar beet does not therefore arise at present.

Sugar Quota.

Simon Coveney

Question:

137 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the ownership of the Irish sugar quota; when she was informed of the decision to close the Carlow facility; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26218/05]

Under the EU sugar regime, each member state has a quota for manufactured sugar. There is no quota for sugar beet. The EU regulations stipulate that the quota must be made available to the sugar manufacturing enterprises in the member state. Accordingly, in Ireland the entire sugar quota is processed by Irish Sugar Limited, which is the only sugar manufacturer in this country. Irish Sugar Limited places annual contracts with farmers to grow a specific tonnage of sugar beet sufficient to manufacture the sugar quota.

Ownership of the sugar quota had never been an issue in the past because the relevant EU regulations do not provide for the buying and selling of quota. Speculations about quota ownership only arose when the Commission, in July last year, raised the possibility of cross-border quota mobility, in the context of their initial thinking on reform of the EU sugar regime. Several member states, including Ireland, voiced strong opposition to the idea of cross-border mobility and I am pleased to say that it does not form part of the Commission's legislative reform proposals which were published in June. In any event, the EU Commission has confirmed that the quota is not an asset owned by the member state or any other party but is simply a mechanism for regulating the market.

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

Animal Health Strategy.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

138 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she intends to take to develop an all Ireland animal health regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26406/05]

I am fully committed to the development of an all-Ireland animal health strategy, the ultimate objective of which should be the free movement of animals on the island and the development of agreed policies to control animal disease and to facilitate trade.

There is already a long history of co-operation between the Administrations North and South on animal health issues. The Administrations have traditionally shared information at local and national levels on disease control and surveillance issues and have pooled resources to combat illegal movements of animals and animal products. The foot and mouth disease emergency of 2001 is a testament to the extent of co-operation and consultation that exists at official, ministerial and political levels.

The establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council offered an opportunity to build on existing co-operation arrangements and provided a framework for the development of an all-island animal health policy.

The main objectives of the council are to foster co-operation and to devise a common, unified animal health strategy for the island as a whole. This involves the convergence of animal health policies and the development of joint strategies for dealing with animal diseases. The ultimate objectives are to establish a common import regime and equivalent internal arrangements with a view to achieving free movement of animals and animal products within the island.

A total of nine policy working groups have been established at official level under North-South arrangements to take forward various initiatives. The remit of these groups includes TB and brucellosis, TSEs — BSE and scrapie, veterinary medicines, other zoonoses and animal diseases, disease surveillance, animal welfare, import and export of live animals and animal products, animal identification, traceability and cross-Border aspects of fraud. These groups continue to report progress in exchange of information and in implementation of initiatives aimed at policy convergence and the development of a common unified strategy for the island as a whole.

The main achievements to date are the development of a co-ordinated and complementary approach towards import policies and portal controls at points of entry to the island, the development of similar approaches to combat the introduction of animal diseases, the convergence of policies in regard to animal identification and strengthening of co-ordination and co-operation on issues such as contingency planning.

In addition to the above, there has been a significant deepening and strengthening of co-operation, information exchange and ongoing co-ordination between the two Administrations on a variety of issues such as FMD, BSE, avian influenza and cross-Border fraud while the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council includes representation from DARD. On cross-Border fraud, the two Administrations have worked together successfully in a number of joint enforcement actions against alleged offenders and ongoing exchanges of expertise and information are taking place.

It is my intention to pursue this matter further at a political level with the Right Honourable Lord Rooker, following on from my discussions with Ian Pearson, Minister of State in Northern Ireland.

Farming Practices.

John Gormley

Question:

139 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the situation regarding making safe use of digestate from anaerobic digestion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26475/05]

I expect to introduce shortly an amendment to the relevant national legislation to allow for the spreading on non-pasture land of digestate produced by composting and biogas plants using animal by-products in their inputs. These arrangements are being introduced primarily in the context of EU legislation that allows the digestate produced in such plants to be spread on non-pasture land. In introducing this amendment, I have had regard to the declining numbers of BSE cases here and the need to provide productive outlets for the disposal of certain animal by-products where this does not pose a risk to public or animal health.

Veterinary Medicines.

Paul McGrath

Question:

140 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps that she is taking to provide a countrywide and weekend veterinary service for the issue of prescriptions for animal remedies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26203/05]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

155 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the introduction of regulations covering animal remedy POMs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26181/05]

Bernard Allen

Question:

162 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to secure competition within the animal remedies sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26199/05]

Shane McEntee

Question:

177 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has completed a regulatory impact assessment on the proposed regulation of animal medicines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26204/05]

Shane McEntee

Question:

185 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will implement the recommendations of the Competition Authority on the animal medicines regulation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26205/05]

John Perry

Question:

199 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the spirit of the EU directive on animal medicines is enshrined in Irish law by allowing persons other than vets to issue prescriptions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26201/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 140, 155, 162, 177, 185 and 199 together.

The draft regulations on veterinary medicines which were circulated by my Department in August for consultation are designed to give effect to EU Directive 2004/28 and to reform aspects of the existing national regime. My Department has received written submissions from most of the main stakeholders and has also subsequently met with many of these stakeholders as part of the consultative process. In addition, as required by the relevant legislation, the Animal Remedies Consultative Committee will meet shortly to consider the draft regulations, following which I will make final decisions on the issues involved so that the regulations can be brought into force by the transposition deadline.

I am aware of the views that have been expressed about the possible impact of the draft regulations on competition in the supply of veterinary medicines, in particular, from the requirement in the EU directive that all veterinary medicines for food producing animals must be subject to prescriptions. I should explain, however, that the directive also includes a provision for exemption criteria to be adopted at EU level, which will provide a mechanism for certain categories of medicines to be exempted from the prescription requirement. The EU has not yet adopted a decision on the exemption criteria but must do so before 1 January 2007. Pending this decision, existing national prescription and distribution arrangements may remain in place.

It is my intention to avail of the exemption clause to the maximum extent possible and my Department has made a submission to the EU with a view to retaining ‘off prescription' in Ireland all products, other than intramammaries, which currently enjoy this status. The draft regulations published by my Department provide that veterinary medicines, such as wormers and certain vaccines, will continue to be available off-prescription for the time being and in practice, this means that, apart from intramammaries, we are retaining the essence of our existing national prescription and distribution regime. In view of this, it is not necessary at this stage, for competition reasons, to extend the range of persons who may be permitted to prescribe. I will, however, review the regulations and in particular the provisions relating to the categories of persons who would be permitted to prescribe medicines in the light of the exemption criteria that are agreed at EU level in due course.

With regard to the recommendations of the Competition Authority, many of these recommendations are based on the misapprehension that all veterinary medicines will be subject to a prescription only regime from 1 November, which I have explained is not the case. However, their views will be taken into account, along with those of the other stakeholders, in my final decisions. My position is that while regulations in this area must, of necessity, give primacy to protection of public health and animal health and welfare, it is also important to minimise costs to the farming sector and, with this in mind, my Department has included a number of important changes in the draft legislation to achieve this objective. Among these are: the removal of inflexibilities in the existing prescribing regime which will reduce the need for mandatory farm visits by practitioners and extending the life of a prescription from the current 31 days up to six months will facilitate the farmer and his-her vet, where appropriate, anticipating needs, particularly for management type products; the new requirement for veterinary practitioners to issue written prescriptions in all cases and to ensure that farmers are made aware of the cost of medicines as distinct from the professional service given and to facilitate the purchase of medicines at premises other than that of the veterinary practitioner; and permitting licensed retailers to supply for prescription only medicines for the first time.

It is evident from the foregoing that my Department is doing everything possible, in so far as it has the flexibility to do so, to create an environment to ensure that there continues to be competition in the supply of veterinary medicines.

In relation to availability of veterinary practitioners to issue prescriptions, the draft regulations published by my Department will, as I have said earlier, substantially retain the existing regime in relation to off-prescription products until I January 2007, which means that, with the exception of intramammaries, medicines currently available generally from pharmacies and licensed merchants will continue to be available from these outlets until that date. I should point out that veterinary practices are primarily commercial entities and their location is driven by commercial realities. In so far as Government involvement is concerned, I would also draw attention to measures in the new Veterinary Practice Act, which should help to address any shortages in Irish trained vets. For the first time, the Veterinary Council is being enabled to recognise qualifications from applicants in third countries generally and this, taken also with the recent enlargement of the EU, should make for the improved availability of practitioners from outside the State to meet any shortfalls in the supply side.

With regard to the regulatory impact assessment, the EU directive which is sought to be transposed via these regulations pre-dated the introduction of the regulatory impact assessment initiative by the Government. Notwithstanding this, my Department has carried an assessment of the impact of the draft regulations in the course of the consultative process with the stakeholders and I will be taking account of this in my final decisions on the regulations.

Food Industry.

Pat Breen

Question:

141 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to develop the marketing potential of Bord Bia; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26213/05]

Bord Bia promotes the Irish food and drink industry in an increasingly competitive global food market. Competition in the market is becoming even more intense with greater trade liberalisation, competition from low cost countries and increasing concentration at retail level. Allied to this consumer requirements are changing with more emphasis being placed on health, convenience and well-being.

Bord Bia is responding to these challenges with the development of a more strategic approach to identifying new and emerging markets and sectors. An independent strategic review of the activities, operations and structures of Bord Bia has been completed. Resulting from this review and following extensive consultation, the board has drafted a strategic plan to guide its development of the next five years in the light of changing dynamics in the marketplace. While the plan does not envisage a radical departure from Bord Bia's current role and remit, however, it does envisage a strategic repositioning of the organisation to enhance the capacity to deliver strategic market development, promotion and information services.

Specifically, it commits Bord Bia to the development and delivery of a range of strategically-focused market development programmes and services to build on and support its existing range of programmes and services. The strategic plan, which does have resourcing implications is being examined by my Department.

In relation to the marketing of beef, one of our main food exports, the plan identifies the importance of securing more value-added markets within the EU. I was pleased that a proposal which I presented to the Select Committee for Agriculture on 28 September for a Supplementary Estimate that included €800,000 for Bord Bia, comprising €500,000 for a beef marketing strategy and €300,000 for initiatives in the new member states and on Asian markets, was commended to the Dáil and will be voted on today. I am confident that the board's strategic approach to future development will enable it to address successfully the many market related challenges facing the food and horticulture industry which in 2004 accounted for exports of some €7 billion.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

142 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on the latest progress in her Department’s decentralisation plans; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26472/05]

Significant progress is being made on implementing the Government's decision on the decentralisation of my Department. The decentralisation programme includes the relocation of the Department's headquarters to Portlaoise, transfer of the local office in Cork city to Fermoy and the rationalisation of the Department's five Munster laboratories to Macroom.

Practically all the Department's Dublin based administrative staff members, approximately 65, who have expressed an interest in moving to Portlaoise are either there or are in the process of moving. Transfers into and out of the Department via the central applications facility, CAF, have now begun. My Department has initiated the transfer process for all the civil servants who had chosen Portlaoise as a first preference. Other Departments and offices have initiated transfers for staff from my Department decentralising to other locations.

I announced the site for the location of my Department's new offices in Portlaoise on 23 May 2005. Construction is due to commence in 2006. Temporary accommodation to meet my Department's immediate needs in Portlaoise has been sourced and additional temporary accommodation is being sought to cater for further phases of decentralisation in 2006, 2007 and 2008. At the request of the central decentralisation implementation group my Department is finalising implementation plans for the move of the Department's local office in Cork city to Fermoy and the rationalisation of the Department's five laboratories in the Munster region to a single complex in Macroom.

Bovine Diseases.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

143 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of cases of BSE in cattle discovered in 2004 and to date in 2005; the way in which this compares with recent years; the number of such cases which were discovered in animals born after the imposition of the ban on meat and bone meal; the reason so many cases in such animals are still being discovered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26461/05]

There were 126 cases of BSE confirmed in 2004 compared with 182 in 2003 and 333 in 2002. To date in 2005 there have been 50 cases which represents a decrease of 47% on the number of cases — 96 — discovered in the same period in 2004. The majority of the confirmed cases were in animals born prior to the introduction of the additional controls in 1996 and 1997. The age profile of BSE cases as well as the reduction in case numbers indicates that these additional controls have been effective in significantly reducing the exposure of animals born after 1997 to the infectious agent. It is anticipated that the incidence of disease will continue to decline as cows born prior to 1998 leave the system.

Where BSE is confirmed, a detailed epidemiological investigation is undertaken and the feeding regime used is an essential element in that investigation, particularly in confirmed cases where the animal was born after the feed controls were reinforced.

To date, 16 animals born after 1997 have been diagnosed with BSE. In addition, ten cases were confirmed in 1997 born animals of which a number were born before all the reinforced measures were put fully in place that year. My Department had foreseen the likelihood that individual cases such as these would, from time to time, arise. This is likely to relate to circumstances specific to the farms in question and need not conform with the general trend as the incidence of the disease in the national herd recedes. There is, however, no basis for suspecting that these cases are indicative of either a systemic failure in controls or of a reversal of or deviation from the overall positive trend in relation to BSE in Ireland.

Food Labelling.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

144 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action she is taking to ensure that all third country beef is properly labelled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26215/05]

Beef imports into the European Union from third countries must have been sourced, first, in countries and, second, in premises currently listed and approved by the European Commission and which are subject to veterinary audits by the EU's Food and Veterinary Office. In addition, such imports are subject to checks laid down in the harmonised rules prescribed at European level, and must be accompanied by the prescribed veterinary health certification from the competent authorities in the country of export. We have comprehensive beef labelling regulations at EU level which apply to all beef produced within the Community and imports from third countries. Where beef is imported into the Community from a third country that beef must, at a minimum, be labelled as "Origin: non EC" along with an indication of the third country in which the slaughter took place.

My priority in this area is to extend the existing beef labelling laws to require information on the country of origin of beef to be provided to all consumers in the restaurant and catering sectors. I put specific proposals to Government at the end of June for a legislative framework to facilitate this, by way of an amendment to the 1947 Health Act. This will be introduced under the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005 which is before the Oireachtas this session. The appropriate regulations are being worked on concurrently and it is my intention to have these cleared at EU level as soon as possible. When the Act is amended and the regulations made, country of origin information will be available to consumers in respect of all beef served in restaurants, hotels and the whole catering sector in Ireland on a mandatory basis.

In the meantime, the various representative bodies including the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and both of the vintners groups, following discussions with my Department, have all agreed to recommend to their members the introduction on a voluntary basis of a mechanism for providing consumers in their premises, with information on the country of origin of the beef served there, in advance of the mandatory legal requirement. This agreement was finalised last week and these organisations are currently at various stages in that process. I expect the voluntary system will be in place in the very near future.

During the discussions with the industry representatives, it was stressed that the information on the origin of the beef served or supplied on their premises must be clearly displayed at the point of consumption, either on the menu or on a poster, chalk board or similar display so that it can be easily read and clearly understood by all consumers. The information must include all countries from which the premises is sourcing its beef and all statements of origin have to be verifiable and be capable of linkage with the delivery records to the establishment.

These requirements are enforced by the relevant authorities at border inspection posts and, within Ireland, by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI.

Grant Payments.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

145 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the total number of applications received by 16 May 2005 deadline under the new single payment scheme; the progress made with regard to processing the applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26453/05]

By the closing date of 16 May 2005 for the single payment scheme, my Department had received almost 149,000 applications.

It will be appreciated that as all farmers who wished to activate their entitlements and-or claim payment under the scheme were obliged to submit an application form, the number of forms submitted includes an element of double-counting. For example, where a farmer who had established entitlements during the reference years had subsequently transferred those entitlements, both the transferor and the transferee were obliged to submit application forms. I am very satisfied with the progress being made in processing these application forms, particularly given the complexity of the new scheme and the fact that, at the same time, staff have had to process the old animal-based schemes to their conclusion.

An indication of progress made in the processing of single payment scheme applications can be gauged from the high level of disadvantaged area scheme, DAS, applicants already paid under the 2005 scheme given that the DAS application form was incorporated into the single payment scheme applications form. Some 85% of DAS applicants have been paid in the past week, a figure that compares favourably with previous years. The first date on which payments may be made under the single payment scheme is 1 December 2005.

Live Exports.

John Perry

Question:

146 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she will take to facilitate the live export of lambs to the United Kingdom and France; if she will address the current holding period restriction; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26200/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

171 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food further to Parliamentary Question No. 258 of 17 May 2005, the steps she will take to facilitate the live export of lambs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26202/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 146 and 171 together.

I am anxious to facilitate trade in live sheep, which has to take place in accordance with EU rules governing such intra-Community trade. Trade in sheep between member states of the European Union is subject to the provisions of, inter alia, Council Directive 2003/50/EC, which amends Council Directive 91/68/EEC regarding reinforced controls on the movement of sheep and goats.

My Department has been in discussions with the Irish Farmers Association in an attempt to overcome the difficulties posed by the residency and standstill certification requirements. In an effort to progress the issue, my Department has written to the EU Commission seeking an amendment to the certification requirements that I accepted should address the concerns of farmers and exporters. We are currently awaiting a response from the Commission.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

147 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if it is the Government’s decision or that of the EU to bring to an end the EU early retirement scheme here; her views on whether it would be in the best long-term interest of young farmers to improve the structure of the scheme and make it more attractive for older farmers to apply; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26311/05]

The EU regulation covering the current early retirement scheme will expire in December 2006. Take-up has fallen far short of expectations, and an expenditure review of the scheme carried out by my Department in 2004 raised a number of questions about it.

The Council regulation on rural development for the period 2007 to 2013 again includes provision for member states to operate early retirement measures. No decisions have yet been taken regarding the schemes to be operated in Ireland under this regulation.

Grant Payments.

Phil Hogan

Question:

148 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the modulation fund under the single farm payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26194/05]

Gerard Murphy

Question:

182 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the modulation fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26206/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 148 and 182 together.

For 2006, I have decided that the modulated funds should be used on a once-off payment under the disadvantaged areas scheme. This requires EU approval and is under current consideration by the EU Commission. My decision reflects the importance of the disadvantaged areas scheme in ensuring continued agricultural land use in the less favoured areas. This in turn leads to economic and environmental benefits.

For the 2007-13 period, the use of modulated funds will be considered in the context of the new rural development strategy and programme to be drawn up for that period.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

149 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the fact that farmers, including organic farmers, have their markets and certification threatened by the importation of genetically modified seed even for feed purposes; and if she will urge farmers to do likewise against genetically modified crops in order that Ireland can be de facto genetically modified free; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26467/05]

Pending agreement at EU level on labelling thresholds for GM seeds, a voluntary agreement exists among most of the member states which prohibits the importation of GM seeds. This agreement, which Ireland is party to, is underpinned by a requirement that each consignment of imported seed of what are deemed to be at risk crop varieties must be accompanied by a certificate from a reputable laboratory indicating that, in as far as it is detectable, GM seed is not present in the consignment being imported. The at risk crops are oilseed rape; beet; maize soya bean; cotton; and tomatoes.

EU legislation governing the growing and distribution of GM products has been jointly adopted by both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers and as such is binding on all member states. This legislation specifically prohibits the unilateral declaration of a GM free country and any efforts to bring about a de facto situation must be based on a voluntary agreement or on sound scientific grounds.

Animal Diseases.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

150 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to reports that BSE has been transmitted naturally between ewes and lambs at a Government experimental farm in Britain; the implications of this development for policy here regarding BSE; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26463/05]

I am aware of both the confirmation of BSE in an animal born in Wales in 2002 and the reports of BSE being transmitted in an experimental sheep flock in the UK. There are no particular implications for Ireland as a result of either incident. To date there have been 16 cases of BSE confirmed in this country in animals born after 1998, the most recent born of which had a registered date of birth of March 2001. Similarly, the reports of BSE in a sheep flock, while informative, have no particular implications for BSE policy in Ireland.

The occurrence of BSE in animals born after 1998, referred to as BARB cases, born after the real ban, does not take from the decline in the incidence of the disease here and throughout the European Union. The epidemiological evidence, both here and in the UK, suggests that a tight control on the use of mammalian meat and bone meal plays a very significant role in reducing the incidence of the disease. It has been suggested in the UK that these BARB cases may be related to imported feed as the controls, which have been in place in Ireland and the UK since 1996, were not introduced EU-wide until 2000. Given the incubation period for BSE, we will, at EU level, have to wait another few years before the full effect of the complete ban on the use of processed animal proteins can be measured.

Apart from the aforementioned case in the UK, no case of BSE has been identified in the EU sheep population despite the fact that testing, which is capable of discriminating BSE from scrapie, is now mandatory throughout the EU. Were such a case to be identified in this country consideration would have to be given about how to deal with the affected flock and the progeny of the affected animal.

Although a case of BSE has been confirmed in a single goat in France, no such cases have been experienced in Ireland and should such a case be confirmed here, decisions about control measures would have to be taken.

The Department continues to operate a range of controls at various locations to protect public health and to eradicate BSE and scrapie.

Common Agricultural Policy.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

151 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the European Commission regarding the next round of the World Trade Organisation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26221/05]

I discussed the WTO agriculture negotiations and Irish concerns in relation thereto at a bilateral meeting with the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development on 23 June 2005. The Council of Agriculture Ministers, which reviews the situation on a regular basis, discussed the developments in the negotiations at its meetings on 18 July 2005 and 19 September 2005, both of which I attended. At both of these Council meetings I outlined my concerns that the Commission should continue to adhere to the mandate on agriculture given to it by the Council and that it should not deviate from this as the negotiations proceed. I spoke, by telephone, with the Commissioner on 24 September.

Pesticide Control.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

152 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department has made any representation to the European Commission regarding the formulation of the EU plan for sustainable pesticides use; if so, the content of such representation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22367/05]

My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, has overall responsibility for matters within the competence of the Environment Council. The proposals being developed by the Commission on sustainable use of plant protection products follow from the Sixth Environmental Action Programme and are being developed following detailed consultation with interested parties.

While there have been no representations made to the Commission, officials from my Department participated in a stakeholders' conference on the subject in November 2002. A response to a questionnaire issued to canvas regulatory authority opinion on a range of possible strategies was submitted earlier this year. My Department continues to be supportive of sustainable initiatives that reduce risks for man, animals and the environment associated with crop protection.

Food Industry.

John Curran

Question:

153 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the current priorities under the food institutional research programme. [26169/05]

As provided in the National Development Plan 2000-2006, the main objectives of the food institutional research measure, FIRM, are to provide a base of information and expertise in generic technologies that supports innovation and product development in the food industry, and assists consumer protection by ensuring that product development is underpinned by attention to food safety and quality. General calls in 2000 and 2004 and a targeted call in 2001 covered: development of technologies to build a more competitive, innovative, consumer-focused and sustainable food production and marketing sector; development of the scientific knowledge to underpin effective food safety practices at all stages in the food chain; consumer foods technology; innovation in functional foods; cheese diversification; production of new food ingredients; nutrition; and new technologies for added-value meat products.

The most recent call, which closed in May 2005, prioritised proposals under food safety and beverages themes as it was considered that these areas offered good potential for research, which would advance the objectives of the measure.

Beef Exports.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

154 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the future of the beef industry with particular reference to its future development and the need to compete with products from other jurisdictions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26484/05]

Under the CAP, decoupling arrangements for direct payments, farmers can for the first time in many decades, now focus more clearly on the market-related element of their incomes, confident that the single payment will provide an assured income stream. This will create a significant incentive towards quality production with producer-processor relationships the key. In such a context there will be a need for even greater emphasis on good breeding policies, payment related to quality and integrated supply and purchasing systems thus satisfying high quality and premium market opportunities. The future well-being of the beef industry will be directly dependent on the returns that farmers can generate from the market. The beef sector can look forward with confidence based on supplying quality products on a competitive basis.

In the past three years, the focus of the Irish beef industry has been to broaden and expand its market reach at EU retail level, shifting its orientation away from international commodity markets and into the higher priced internal EU marketplace. This has coincided with reduced dependence on EU support measures such as intervention and export refunds. EU consumption is predicted to again outstrip production in 2005 with a resulting import gap of an estimated 280,000 tonnes for the year. This will present additional opportunities for Irish beef producers. Beef production is extremely valuable in the Irish economy with a €1.4 billion export value representing almost 25% of total Irish agri-food exports.

The new Bord Bia European autumn promotion of identified Irish beef, in conjunction with EU retailers and their Irish suppliers, is under way. This is being rolled out progressively across eight EU countries over the next two months. Initial feedback is already encouraging in terms of improved demand in response to the promotion. It is hoped that we can strengthen the position of Irish beef in the European marketplace. An increased presence in this sophisticated, high value market is the key to the success of the beef industry in the long term.

Ireland is competing on the EU markets with beef imported from low cost South American economies notably Brazil. The main concern is that Brazil has a capacity to significantly increase its exports, not only to Ireland but also to our chief export outlets in Europe and in other third countries, in direct competition with us. The issue is one which continues to be monitored and is being considered in the context of our preparations for the WTO talks in Hong Kong in December.

Question No. 155 answered with QuestionNo. 140.

Farm Accidents.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

156 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps which are being taken to address the serious problems of death and injuries through farm accidents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26457/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

159 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on progress in promoting and implementing the approach outlined in the farm safety action plan 2003-2007; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26473/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 and 159 together.

I am very concerned about the level of safety on our farms and I support wholeheartedly the work of the Health and Safety Authority which is the State authority charged with overall responsibility for promotion of workplace health and safety. The authority has a proactive inspection and enforcement programme which focuses on high risk sectors, including agriculture, and aims to achieve an improvement in farm safety, and an increase in the percentage of farms with safety statements.

My Department is a member of the Farm Safety Partnership Committee which is an advisory committee to the HSA. The committee is made up of key players in the farming sector including the Department of Agriculture and Food, Health and Safety Authority, Teagasc, IFA, ICMSA, Macra na Feirme, Farm Relief Network, FBD Insurance, Farm Tractor and Machinery Trade Association and Professional Agricultural Contractors of Ireland. An important element of the HSA programme is the implementation of the farm safety plan 2003-07 which sets targets for the reduction of farm accidents for the period. The plan also provides for on-farm inspections, health and safety training for farmers and promotional campaigns highlighting health and safety issues.

Some of the main activities aimed at addressing health and safety problems at farm level are as follows:

Farm Safety Action Week.

The event is co-ordinated annually by the Health and Safety Authority. My Department is also an active participant. The aim of the week is to promote best safety practice and reduce the number of workplace accidents on Irish farms.

Farm Safety Self-Assessment Document.

Farmers are obliged to complete a safety statement for their farm. The HSA farm safety self-assessment document is designed so that it can be completed by the farmer. It identifies the key hazards on the farm and the key controls for these hazards.

Farm Safety Video.

The Farm Safety Partnership Committee is at an advanced stage of finalising a farm safety video which will be made available to all stakeholders.

Finally, the farm waste management scheme operated by my Department provides grant aid for investment in facilities that increase on-farm safety. A revised farm waste management scheme with significantly increased grant rates and broadened farmer eligibility is currently with the EU Commission for approval with the plan of introducing the revised scheme from 1 January 2006. Farm building specifications are also continuously under review by my Department and revisions regularly incorporate enhanced safety specifications.

EU Directives.

Liam Twomey

Question:

157 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the current status of Ireland’s application for a derogation under the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26209/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

In October 2004, Ireland submitted proposals for a derogation from the general organic nitrogen limit of 170 kg per hectare per annum laid down in the nitrates directive. The proposal was designed to allow farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. My Department and Teagasc developed the derogation proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The EU Commission was not prepared to engage in formal discussions on the derogation proposals until Ireland's nitrates action programme was agreed. There have recently been preliminary discussions with the Commission, however, and I will be pressing strongly to have these discussions concluded as early as possible in 2006.

Grant Payments.

Johnny Brady

Question:

158 Mr. J. Brady asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the Government’s measures to assist young farmers here. [26172/05]

While Ireland has a greater percentage of younger farmers less than 35 years of age at 11%, compared to the EU average of 8%, the Government, in recognition of the importance of attracting young farmers into agriculture, has put in place a range of incentives as follows. Regarding installation aid, under the installation aid scheme operated by my Department, a grant of €9,523 is available to young farmers who are between the ages of 18 and 35 on the date of set-up and who meet the educational and income requirements of the scheme. Expenditure to-date under the scheme, since its introduction in 2001, has totalled €22.365 million. Regarding milk quota, seven young trained milk producers with quotas of less than 350,000 litres have priority access to almost 25% of the restructuring pool. They also qualify for the normal allocations open to all producers.

Since 2003, young trained farmers have been able to acquire quota from the restructuring scheme and set up their own enterprise on the existing family holding provided they form a registered milk production partnership with their parents. To date, almost 350 new entrant-parent milk production partnerships have been established. As part of the milk quota restructuring scheme for 2005, the conditions applying to new entrant-parent milk production partnerships were amended so that all but the very largest producers now have the opportunity to form such partnerships.

Regarding taxation measures, a broad range of taxation incentives is in place to facilitate the transfer of farms to young farmers, especially those with agricultural qualifications. Eligible farmers can avail of 100% stock relief for young trained farmers for four years after set-up, 90% agricultural relief on capital acquisitions tax, 100% stamp duty relief on transfers of agricultural land and buildings to young trained farmers and full relief from capital gains tax is available for farmers over 55 years of age who transfer the farm to a child or nephew or niece. There is also a rental income tax exemption for farmers over 40 years of age to lease-out land on a long-term basis. Annual relief of €7,500 for leases of five to seven years and €10,000 for leases of more than seven years is available. This encourages land mobility to allow more productive farmers to increase production.

In regard to advisory services, Teagasc offers all farmers access to a wide range of independent professional advisory services. Advisory staff are located in a nationwide network of advisory offices and local training centres. All front-line advisory staff are supported by specialists, researchers and laboratory staff from the Teagasc research and development centres. The services are focused on meeting the needs of a diverse farming community and rural society.

In regard to education and training, Teagasc provides the full suite of training for young entrants, farmers, rural entrepreneurs and executives-operatives in the food industry. The organisation has a resource of over 200 teachers and trainers operating from nine colleges, local training centres and research centres. More than 10,000 people attend Teagasc training courses each year. All education and training programmes have recently been evaluated, upgraded and benchmarked to the best international standards.

Question No. 159 answered with QuestionNo. 156.

Food Industry.

John Carty

Question:

160 Mr. Carty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her efforts to promote Irish lamb. [26168/05]

I take every opportunity available to me to promote Irish lamb. Bord Bia, which has specific responsibility in this regard, carries out regular campaigns at home and abroad. This year these included a promotion of new season lamb on the Irish market which commenced on 16 May and extended to the end of June. Bord Bia also undertook a campaign on the important French market over the summer months, aimed at maintaining and increasing market share for Irish lamb there. This campaign was launched by the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Smith, on 11 June 2005. Initiatives such as these play an important role in maintaining and developing markets at home and abroad for Irish lamb, thereby supporting prices paid to suppliers.

Jim Glennon

Question:

161 Mr. Glennon asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the progress being made on the establishment of farmers’ markets around the country. [26162/05]

There has been excellent progress in establishing farmers markets and over 85 farmers' markets are operating in 22 locations throughout the country. These markets encourage local produce, assist start-ups of new businesses and create local employment and their growth reflects changing consumer preferences for fresh locally produced foods. They give producers an opportunity to meet and sell directly to consumers and offer consumers a more enjoyable shopping experience and greater choice.

My Department, in co-operation with Bord Bia, the statutory food promotion agency is supporting efforts to promote, strengthen and organise the farmers' market concept. Bord Bia provides advice and mentoring assistance to those wishing to set up farmers' markets. In collaboration with Invest Northern Ireland, Bord Bia has published a comprehensive information guide to the running and operation of these markets and this is available on its website.

Following the success of the Food at Farmleigh model, which attracted on average 40 small producers and 6,000 visitors each Sunday from May to October, Bord Bia and the Office of Public Works are examining the feasibility of using selected national heritage sites as possible future venues for farmers' markets. In addition, my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment has invited the comments of local authorities on draft guidelines to enable casual trading to be carried on in a way, which is beneficial to the consumer and consistent with good regulatory practice. In Dublin, Bord Bia is currently co-operating with Dublin City Council with regard to the Smithfield regeneration programme with particular emphasis on the development of the fruit, vegetable and fish markets which will provide valuable access for small producers to the Dublin market.

Producers are showing great interest in this area and I welcome the role of the IFA in the recent launch of the Wexford town farmers' market and the Sligo IFA food fair. Leader groups are to be commended for launching the origin farmers' markets initiative, a new cross-Border project to set up farmers' markets in Counties Donegal, Tyrone, Sligo, Leitrim, Antrim and Roscommon and I was delighted to see the opening of a farmers' market in Letterkenny under this initiative. The strategies and activities in place will assist the development of farmers markets in a sustainable way.

Question No. 162 answered with QuestionNo. 140.

Energy Resources.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

163 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the research which has been carried out by or on behalf of her Department in regard to the use of sugar beet in the production of ethanol; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26173/05]

Willie Penrose

Question:

189 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with other Departments and State agencies with a view to meeting the EU biofuels directive requiring Ireland to replace the 2% of petrol and diesel with renewable fuels by end of 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26465/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

211 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to encourage the production of crops for alternative energy with particular reference to the maximum use of the various products and by-products; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26483/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos 163, 189 and 211 together.

Promotion and development of renewable energy, including biofuels, in Ireland are matters in the first instance for the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. As matters stand, Irish Sugar Limited has arrangements in place to process the full Irish sugar quota at its Mallow plant, which has been upgraded for that purpose. The question of an alternative use for sugar beet does not, therefore, arise at present.

Following the introduction of the single farm payment scheme, the production of crops for energy purposes will, in common with all agricultural production in future, be demand driven. Farmers will only produce crops for bioenergy if the economic returns are greater than those offered by more traditional uses. Nonetheless, factors such as the increasing cost of oil, the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the facility for farmers to explore alternative land uses following CAP reform, mean that the potential of this area must be fully explored.

For the purposes of contributing to the development of policy on biofuels, my Department, in conjunction with COFORD and Teagasc, has examined the potential of energy crops, wood biomass and farming and food by-products. The production of liquid biofuels from energy crops is not economic at current oil price levels. However, the scheme recently announced by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for mineral oil tax relief on pilot biofuel projects has stimulated the production of oilseed rape for biofuel.

The exploitation of wood resources for energy purposes, mainly for heat or electricity generation, offers significant potential. There are also significant opportunities for using by-products of farming and food processing for bioenergy purposes. Approximately 140,000 tonnes of meat and bone meal is produced annually and its use in place of fossil fuels could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 19%.

Teagasc, which has responsibility for the provision of research and advisory services for the agri-food sector, has done some very valuable research on energy crops. I am anxious to encourage further research in this area and I have arranged for research projects on biofuels and other non-food uses of crops to be included in the latest call under my Department's research stimulus programme.

Departmental Reports.

Joe Costello

Question:

164 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will make a statement on her Department’s recently published report for 2004. [26448/05]

The 2004 annual report detailed progress in relation to my Department's goal and strategies contained in its fourth statement of strategy, published in 2003, as well as complying with legal requirements to report on the operation of the Land Acts and the Prompt Payment of Accounts Act 1997.

The report provides comprehensive information on the activities of my Department in 2004, and some of the main points covered included the arrangements for implementation of the single payment scheme, arising from the decision to opt for full decoupling of direct payments from production. Significant progress was made in what is a major organisational undertaking. The report notes that in addition to commencing the implementation of the SPS, my Department paid over €1.6 billion in direct payments to farmers in 2004, and full details of the payments are included in the report. The report also refers to the substantial progress made during Ireland's EU Presidency in 2004 on the objectives of facilitating the application of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, to the new member states, continuing the process of simplification of the CAP initiated by the mid-term review and enhancing food safety standards; the progress on food initiatives in the National Development Plan 2000-2006 is set out in the report, with a total of some €187 million having been committed by year-end. Other points of interest in the report included a new milk quota restructuring programme announced in December 2004, with the purpose of making the scheme more effective in securing the long-term future of the dairy industry in an increasingly competitive and market orientated environment. Commenting on some of the main markets, the report notes that export of Irish dairy products and ingredients experienced a 6% rise in 2004 to almost €1.86 billion. The year 2004 also saw a strong performance by Irish beef in European markets, with a 7.4% rise in exports to continental Europe.

The report also deals with consumer issues, food safety, animal and plant health, forestry, agri-environment matters, scheme operation and financial management. The report is available from the Government Stationery Office and on my Department's website, www.agriculture.gov.ie.

Food Industry.

Richard Bruton

Question:

165 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of meetings of the Food Agency Co-Operation Council in 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26216/05]

The Food Agency Co-operation Council has met on 20 occasions since its inception in 2000. The council did not meet in 2004 as a number of factors contributed to the difficulties in rescheduling meetings that year.

The council has played a significant role in increasing co-operation between the State agencies involved in the food industry and has led to a number of memorandums of understandings being agreed between agencies. These are currently working well. The council was instrumental in drawing up an agreed human resource development programme for the food processing industry. The council has also produced a number of publications, among them Market Trends — Implications for Suppliers and State Agency Initiatives, a national food incident management plan and a market-led new product development guide, which provides guidance to food and drink companies on new product development best practice and which has been promulgated to county enterprise boards.

During 2004, the food development agencies directly concerned with the food programme components of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 met twice with my Department to assess progress on the plan in preparation for meetings of the monitoring committee for the programmes concerned. One such meeting has been held to date in 2005. In the light of the more market orientated CAP framework, the 2015 agri-vision report and the enterprise strategy report, my Department is considering the manner in which the various food agencies can most effectively co-operate to develop the agri-food industry. The role and format of the Food Agency Co-Operation Council is being examined in this context.

Grant Payments.

Billy Timmins

Question:

166 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the grant assistance in place to deal with scrapie monitoring; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26492/05]

Since January 2005, under the Department's active surveillance programme, some 17,900 sheep were rapid tested for scrapie at meat factories and knackeries. This programme, together with the reporting of suspect animals, led to the identification of 18 new flocks with the disease.

For sheep which are depopulated, compensation payable includes live valuation of the breeding animals and payment for factory lambs in accordance with the average factory price per kilogram pertaining to the week of slaughter. A grant of €28 per breeding ewe is also payable. In addition, the Department genotypes the entire flock and a limited number of replacement rams free of charge.

In May 2004, the Department commenced a national genotype programme. The overall objective of this voluntary scheme is to identify sheep in the national flock, particularly breeding stock, by genotype and to raise the level of resistance to scrapie by promoting the use of scrapie resistant animals for breeding. The Department recently announced enhancements to this national genotype programme, including a once-off payment of €40 towards the costs of veterinary fees, in respect of every flock which is genotyped between 1 September and 18 November 2005. In addition, the Department will also pay a flat-rate compensation in respect of any ram which, when tested during the above period, is found to be in one of the categories which are susceptible or highly susceptible to scrapie.

The amount of compensation payable to any one claimant will be capped at €1,500. In order to avail of this compensation, susceptible animals must be presented for slaughtered on or before 30 November 2005.

EU Directives.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

167 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the current status of the nitrate action plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26408/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Ireland's national action programme under the nitrates directive was formally submitted to the European Commission by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on 29 July 2005. The next step is for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make regulations to give legal effect to the action programme. My Department, supported by Teagasc, has been assisting the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in finalising these regulations. I expect the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to publish the draft regulations very shortly for public consultation.

The final stage of the process, but an extremely important one, is for Ireland to secure a derogation from the general organic nitrogen limits in the directive so that farmers can operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. My Department and Teagasc developed the derogation proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There have been preliminary discussions with the Commission about the derogation application and I will be pressing strongly to have these discussions concluded as early as possible in 2006.

To help farmers meet their obligations under the action programme, I am seeking approval from the European Commission for very significant improvements in the farm waste management scheme. These include increasing the grant rate from 40% to 60%, and to 70% in the counties in zone C; a top-up of 5% to 10% for young farmers; higher investment ceilings and the extension of the scheme to the pig and poultry sectors.

Timber Imports.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

168 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to prohibit the importation of illegally sourced timber and timber products; her further plans to negotiate voluntary partnership agreements with timber producing countries to encourage revenue transparency and accountability in such countries and insist on independent forest monitoring in those countries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18102/05]

Ireland fully supports the commitment made by the European Union at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, to form an EU action plan for forest law enforcement, governance and trade, FLEGT, in order to combat the importation of illegally felled timber into the European Union. Illegal logging is a major contributor to environmental damage in developing countries and is closely associated with corruption and the cycle of bribery which is detrimental to economic growth in the developing world. It is estimated by the World Bank that illegal logging costs the governments of developing countries up to €15 billion each year in lost revenue. The FLEGT regulation will introduce a licensing scheme built around voluntary partnership agreements between the EU and wood producing countries. The partnership agreements will be applicable in all EU member states. My Department has been involved in interdepartmental consultations with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Customs on the matter.

Ireland has been a supporter of the FLEGT proposal since the outset. I can report that the thrust of the regulation has been generally agreed at working group level in Brussels. I look forward to further discussions on the subject at the Agriculture Council of Ministers at the end of October.

Sugar Industry.

Mary Upton

Question:

169 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she has taken arising from the publication on 22 June 2005 of proposals from the EU Commission for reform of the EU sugar regime; if in view of her description of the proposals as unacceptable, the steps taken to date to have them modified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26442/05]

I have made it clear that the Commission's proposals for reform of the EU sugar regime, which were published on 22 June, are unacceptable in their present form. The key elements of the proposals are a 39% price cut in the institutional price for sugar, a corresponding reduction in the minimum price for sugar beet and 60% compensation to farmers for the price cut. A voluntary restructuring scheme is proposed to encourage factory closures and the renunciation of quota. While the need for reform of the EU sugar regime is acknowledged, I consider that the Commission's proposals are unbalanced, go beyond the principles of previous CAP reforms and could lead to drastic consequences for the sugar beet industry in a number of member states, including Ireland. This is an unprecedented situation in terms of CAP reform proposals presented by the Commission for any sector.

I expressed my serious concerns about the proposals when I met with Commissioner Fischer Boel on her visit to Ireland in June, and again at the Council of Agriculture Ministers in July. I emphasised that the price cuts proposed are too severe, the reforms should be based on a longer lead in time for the Everything But Arms agreement and it would be preferable to await the outcome of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong in December before seeking to conclude an agreement on sugar reform. I have also continued to remain in contact with like-minded colleague Ministers from other member states who are opposed to the reform proposals. My overall objective is to ensure a more balanced agreement, which will take Irish interests into account. The proposals will be considered again by the Council of Ministers on 24-25 October and, given their severity, it is clear that the negotiations will continue to be difficult.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

170 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will give clarification of the ownership of the Irish manufactured sugar quota; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26452/05]

Under the EU sugar regime, each member state has a quota for manufactured sugar. There is no quota for sugar beet. The EU regulations stipulate that the quota must be made available to the sugar manufacturing enterprises in the member state. Accordingly, in Ireland the entire sugar quota is processed by Irish Sugar Ltd. which is the only sugar manufacturer in this country. Irish Sugar Ltd. places annual contracts with farmers to grow a specific tonnage of sugar beet sufficient to manufacture the sugar quota. Ownership of the sugar quota had never been an issue in the past because the relevant EU regulations do not provide for the buying and selling of quotas. Speculations about quota ownership only arose when the Commission, in July 2004, raised the possibility of cross-border quota mobility, in the context of its initial thinking on reform of the EU sugar regime. Several member states, including Ireland, voiced strong opposition to the idea of cross-border mobility and I am pleased to say that it does not form part of the Commission's legislative reform proposals which were published in June. In any event, the EU Commission has confirmed that the quota is not an asset owned by the member state or other party but is simply a mechanism for regulating the market.

Question No. 171 answered with QuestionNo. 146.

Afforestation Programme.

Donie Cassidy

Question:

172 Mr. Cassidy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress in forestry planting in 2005. [26158/05]

Progress has been reasonably satisfactory this year to date and I expect planting levels to be about the same as last year, in the region of 11,000 hectares. I would like more to have been planted but I accept that farmers have had to consider their options with the introduction of the new single payment regime, the nitrates situation and the revised REP scheme. I hope that, as the new changed situation beds down, farmers will begin to examine in greater detail the contribution forestry can make to their long-term farm income. Farmers can plant up to 50% of their land without affecting their single payment and draw down forestry premiums of up to €500 per hectare a year for 20 years. I urge farmers to avail of this package and I remind them that if they are thinking about planting next year, they need to begin planning properly now.

Food Industry.

Joan Burton

Question:

173 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her response and the implications for the Irish food industry of the recently published Scientific Study on Children’s Diet, which was presented at a Relay organised conference in Dublin on 19 May 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26446/05]

The Scientific Study on Children's Diet was co-funded by my Department and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and was the first study to benchmark dietary intakes of a nationally representative sample of Irish children. The work was carried out by researchers in Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork who surveyed 600 children aged between five and 12 years from primary schools throughout Ireland during 2003 and 2004 and collected information on diet, physical activity and body measurements on each child as well as lifestyle information for both the children and their parents.

With regard to diet, the study identified that intake of fruit and vegetables was low and on average well below international recommendations. Fat and salt intakes were higher than recommended and food eaten outside the home accounted for less than 10% of total calorie consumption. Overweight and obesity in five to 12 year old schoolchildren is relatively high and increasing. I consider it important that the data collected in the study should be further analysed and cross-referenced with other available information to assist in evidence-based policy formulation and implementation and to provide the public and the food industry with useful information. Discussions on how this might best be done have taken place with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the FIRM funding committee under the aegis of my Department and I expect to have more detailed proposals later this year.

The findings of the Scientific Study on Children's Diet will assist the food industry to tailor product development and promotion to lifestyle patterns and trends based on the scientific data gathered. They will also be of valuable assistance in formulating new products to meet emerging nutritional demands. In addition, a Bord Bia programme to promote consumption of fruit and vegetables in up to 150 primary schools over the next three years will be launched this week.

Bovine Diseases.

Jimmy Devins

Question:

174 Dr. Devins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the incidence of brucellosis in the cattle herd in 2005 compared to recent years. [26160/05]

The incidence of brucellosis has fallen very significantly since 1998 with the number of laboratory positives falling from 6,417 in 1998 to 664 in 2004. This represents a 90% reduction in disease levels in that period. The total number of animals slaughtered per annum under the eradication programme fell from 29,778 to 6,195 during the same period. Further progress has been made this year. Up to the end of August this year, there were only 206 blood positives compared with 514 in the same period last year. There were only 123 new herd restrictions compared with 202 in the same period in 2004; 24 herds were depopulated in 2005 compared with 57 in the same period in 2004. Some 1,346 animals were removed as brucellosis reactors-incontacts compared with 5,078 in the same period in 2004. The substantial improvement in disease incidence is due to a number of factors, including continued co-operation from all parties with the eradication regime, the tightening up on illegal cattle movements through the cattle movement monitoring system, the regulation of dealers, prosecutions for breaches and the imposition of penalties for failures to comply with animal disease and identification regulations. I am confident this progress can be maintained into the future with the continued operation of the existing measures and the ongoing co-operation of farmers and all involved in the livestock industry. It is, however, vital that we continue to recognise that brucellosis is a highly contagious disease and that we do not relax or relent in our efforts to eradicate it from our national herd. In view of this, we need to continue in the medium term with the existing comprehensive control and eradication measures, which have brought about positive results in recent years in terms of reduced incidence of the disease.

Live Exports.

Tom Hayes

Question:

175 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she intends to take to promote the export of live sheep; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26405/05]

The number of sheep exported live from Ireland in recent years has increased from approximately 35,000 head in 2003 to 58,000 head in 2004, with a figure of 65,000 head having been exported to date in 2005. This compares to a total of 3.25 million sheep slaughtered at approved export plants in 2004. The export trade in live sheep consists in the main of animals destined for slaughter in plants in Northern Ireland. All other exports are subject to the application of residency and standstill certification requirements on the movement of animals from farm to farm. My Department is seeking to improve these provisions, which are required under EU legislation, and has written to the EU Commission seeking an amendment that should meet the concerns of farmers and exporters. The Department is awaiting a response from the Commission.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

176 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to evaluate the economic implications of the use of genetically modified organisms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26220/05]

As the Deputy may be aware, an interdepartmental-interagency working group was established within my Department in October 2003 to develop proposals for a national strategy and best practices to ensure the co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming. I have just recently received the report of the group and I am in the process of examining it. While part of the group's work programme included an appraisal of economic implications of co-existence I believe that the wider economic issues should also be examined. Accordingly, I have asked Teagasc to explore the possibility of carrying out an evaluation of the possible implications for the agri-food industry from the possible use of GMOs in crop and livestock production. This evaluation is near finalisation.

Question No. 177 answered with QuestionNo. 140.

Beef Exports.

Jim Glennon

Question:

178 Mr. Glennon asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the prospects for Irish beef exports in 2005. [26164/05]

Beef production is extremely valuable to the economy with a €1.4 billion export value representing almost 25% of total Irish agri-food exports. Most of our beef exports to date, this year, have been to the high value UK and EU markets. EU consumption is predicted to again outstrip production in 2005 with a resulting import gap of an estimated 280,000 tonnes for the year. This will provide opportunities for our beef exports in the high value continental EU markets.

Our aim is to consolidate out position in the EU market and in this regard, Bord Bia recently launched its Irish Beef in Europe campaign which is aimed at building sales of Irish beef in European supermarkets, and to establish the Irish Beef brand firmly in the minds of consumers. This is being rolled out progressively across eight EU countries over the next two months. In recent years, there has been a significant improvement in our market penetration in the high value EU marketplace. In 2001, we exported 72,000 tonnes to continental EU with only two retailers stocking Irish beef. By last year those exports had more than doubled to 174,000 tonnes and more than 30 retail groups, in that valuable market, are stocking Irish beef. The marketing effort will be continued in order to build further sustainable market share in Europe.

The ending of the over 30 months scheme in the UK has been announced and is expected to result in displacement of 70,000 tonnes on the UK market. We will have to intensify our marketing effort to retain outlets for our beef within the EU and in other third country markets. It is estimated that total beef exports in 2005 will be slightly reduced on the 2004 figure of 497,000 tonnes.

Afforestation Programme.

Peter Power

Question:

179 Mr. P. Power asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the outcome of the agreement on the forestry element of the new rural development regulation achieved in 2005. [26159/05]

I welcome the positive outcome of the agreement on the forestry element of the new Rural Development Regulation 2007-2013. Following intensive negotiations, which concluded on 20 June 2005, Ireland secured a most satisfactory outcome, in spite of a bleak starting position. The original draft regulation proposed a maximum 40% establishment grant for new afforestation projects as opposed to the existing 100%; a reduced premium ceiling of €500, currently standing at €725; and a reduced premium period from 20 years to ten years. Ireland consistently opposed the negative aspects of many of the proposals for forestry and in the concluding agreement achieved the following: an establishment grant of 80% in less favoured areas, covering 74% of the country, and 70% elsewhere; premium rate ceiling re-established at €700; premium period set at 15 years; and opportunities for State aid top-up. I regard this outcome as extremely positive for Ireland and I am satisfied that the response provides a careful support system on which to further develop the sector.

Direct Payment Schemes.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

180 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has agreed the rules covering the allocation of the national reserve with the farming organisations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26180/05]

Applications for an allocation of entitlements from the single payment scheme national reserve were received from more than 17,500 farmers. Processing of these applications is continuing and the intention is to make allocations to successful applicants by 1 December next. This will allow allocations to be reflected in the single payment scheme payment which is scheduled to commence on 1 December 2005. The single payment advisory committee comprising representatives of my Department, Teagasc and the farming organisations met recently to discuss the rules for allocating the national reserve. Further contacts will take place on this matter before a final decision is made.

Eating Disorders.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

181 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action which has been taken or it is intended to take arising from the recommendations of the report of the task force on obesity in so far as they relate to her Department’s areas of responsibilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26454/05]

I welcome the publication of the report of the national task force on obesity and I acknowledge the need for a long-term sustained commitment from relevant Departments, agencies and food industry stakeholders to tackle the obesity crisis. My Department is fully committed to engaging in this process and it made a comprehensive submission to the task force setting out the Department's role and responsibilities in the areas of food safety and quality and funding public good research in the food sector. Officials from my Department have met the Department of Health and Children to discuss the report in general terms and to consider the specific recommendations directed at my Department, namely, "the Department of Agriculture and Food should review policies in partnership with other government departments to promote access to healthy food. Such policies should encompass positive discrimination in the provision of grants and funding to local industry in favour of healthy products" and "the Department of Agriculture and Food together with the Department of Health and Children should promote the implementation of evidence-based healthy eating interventions". As I indicated in previous replies, positive discrimination in the provision of grants and funding to local industry in favour of healthy products envisages a form of subsidisation that is not permissible under EU state aid rules and could be challenged on competition grounds.

As regards the second recommendation, Bord Bia, the statutory food promotion agency, through my Department secured approval from the European Commission in June to fund a programme to promote consumption of fruit and vegetables in up to 150 primary schools over the next three years. The programme is based on a concept known as "Food Dude" and was developed by researchers at the Bangor food research unit at the University of Wales. It is designed to encourage schoolchildren to develop a liking for fruit and vegetables by means of customised rewards for eating fruit and vegetables, role model encouragement and the active participation of parents and teachers. The budget of €1.2 million is being co-funded by the European Commission, €600,000, my Department, €240,000, and €360,000 from Wholesale Produce Ireland Ltd., a representative body for the fresh produce industry in Ireland. Bord Bia will manage the programme and recently concluded a contract with my Department to implement the measures. The programme will be launched this week. My Department is examining the possibilities for further initiatives in partnership with the Department of Health and Children.

Question No. 182 answered with QuestionNo. 148.

Animal Diseases.

Bernard Allen

Question:

183 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to prevent an outbreak of avian flu here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26198/05]

My Department has maintained a vigilant approach to the risk of an outbreak of avian influenza in poultry following confirmation of the existence of a high pathogenic strain in Russia and Kazakhstan in August. In particular it has been active in reviewing all aspects of our contingency arrangements and several measures have been introduced to improve our preparedness to deal with any suspect or confirmed outbreak. Given the critical importance of early detection, my Department has, with the assistance of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the National Association of Regional Game Councils and Birdwatch Ireland, introduced an "early warning system" where increased or unusual patterns of wild bird mortality are observed. This "early warning system" is just part of a more intensified approach which we are taking to surveillance, including surveillance of wild birds and poultry. The 2005-06 poultry surveillance programme is under way and my Department has made arrangements for increasing levels of wild bird surveillance at a number of locations throughout the country. In addition, officials from my Department have recently met their colleagues from the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and have agreed to continue to work together and to exchange the results of their respective wild bird surveillance programmes. The two Departments will review progress at a scheduled meeting this month.

The EU Commission recently extended, until September 2006, safeguard measures that have been in place since 23 January 2004. Furthermore, these measures, which originally applied only to affected countries in south east Asia, have been extended to Russia and Kazakhstan. These measures include a ban on live poultry, birds other than poultry and poultry products, other than heat treated poultry meat and treated feathers. Poultry meat, which is properly cooked, does not present a risk of infection as the virus is destroyed at temperatures at or above 70° Celsius. My Department has increased its checks on commercial products and products in personal luggage from all affected countries. There is no evidence to indicate that untreated poultry meat is being imported illegally. In addition, my Department is reviewing the information it makes available to flockowners regarding biosecurity and clinical signs of the disease, as well as travellers, particularly to those countries which are infected.

While we are taking all reasonable steps to avoid an outbreak of avian influenza, we cannot, particularly because of the potential threat posed by migrating wild birds, dismiss the possibility of an outbreak. Our resources are, therefore, primarily focused on ensuring early detection and speedy eradication and minimising risk to public health. The measures in place are designed to ensure a suspected outbreak is investigated quickly and the existence of the virus confirmed or otherwise. My Department has ensured the appropriate technical and veterinary staff are properly equipped to deal with a suspected-confirmed outbreak and we have examined all aspects associated with the destruction of inflected flocks and the subsequent disposal of the carcasses. I fully acknowledge the risks associated with an outbreak of avian influenza and accept that there is no room for complacency. Notwithstanding the low probability of an outbreak of the high pathogenic strain that might pose a risk to human health, my Department is maintaining a vigilant approach to the threat posed and constantly reviewing the adequacy of our contingency arrangements in the light of any new information that emerges.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, there are concerns that a mutation or a genetic change in the virus circulating in Asia could lead to it transforming into a new strain of influenza capable of human to human transmission. Responsibility for preparing for such an eventuality rests with the Department of Health and Children and its agencies. My Department is an active participant in that Department's influenza pandemic expert group and is contributing to updating its influenza pandemic plan.

EU Directives.

David Stanton

Question:

184 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when she will introduce the grant scheme to upgrade housing and holding facilities as required by the nitrates directive; when the nitrates action plan will be finalised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26491/05]

To assist farmers meet the additional requirements of the nitrates action programme, I have announced details of a proposed revised farm waste management scheme for which EU approval is now being sought. I hope early approval of the scheme will be forthcoming so that it can be introduced next January.

Subject to the required EU approval, the scheme will introduce a standard grant rate of 60%, with 70% being available for zone C counties, in place of the current grant rate of 40%, with additional aid available for young farmers at rates of 10% in less-favoured areas and 5% in other areas; it will extend the maximum income unit ceiling for farmers from 450 to 650 income units, with no upper limit being applied in the case of pig and poultry farmers; raise the maximum eligible investment from €75,000 to €120,000; remove any minimum income requirements from farming from the scheme so that all small farmers can participate in the scheme; the scheme will be extended to include horses, deer, goats, pigs, poultry, and mushroom compost; and introduce a new 40% grant rate for specialised equipment with specific environmental advantages subject to maximum eligible investment of €80,000 in the case of decanter centrifuge systems and dry feeding systems for pigs and €40,000 in the case of specialised slurry spreading tankers and related equipment. The scheme will increase the maximum eligible investment for standard mobile equipment from €11,000 to €15,000 with the grant rate remaining at 20%.

I am satisfied that, if approved, the revised scheme will provide a very satisfactory platform for Irish farmers who need to carry out additional investment works to meet the requirements of the nitrates directive. I urge farmers to make the necessary arrangements to ensure they are ready to avail of the scheme by the proposed implementation date.

Implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Ireland's national action programme under the nitrates directive was formally submitted to the European Commission by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on 29 July 2005. The next step is for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to make regulations to give legal effect to the action programme. My Department, supported by Teagasc, has been assisting the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in finalising these regulations. I expect the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to publish the draft regulations very shortly for public consultation.

The final stage of the process, but an extremely important one, is for Ireland to secure a derogation from the general organic nitrogen limits in the directive so that farmers can operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kilogrammes of organic nitrogen per hectare. My Department and Teagasc developed the derogation proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. There have been preliminary discussions with the Commission about the derogation application and I will press strongly to have these discussions concluded as early as possible in 2006.

Question No. 185 answered with QuestionNo. 140.

Dairy Industry.

Dan Neville

Question:

186 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she intends to take to protect Ireland’s dairy industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26188/05]

Dan Neville

Question:

209 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had at EU level to protect dairy supports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26189/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 186 and 209 together.

The dairy industry continues to contribute very substantially to the national economy, with an output value of some €2.3 billion and exports of €1.86 billion last year. This year exports are again performing very well despite adjustments to market management supports brought about by the implementation of the Luxembourg Agreement on the reform of the CAP.

The Commission market management policy has been far too aggressive and I have consistently and resolutely challenged the Commissioner at every opportunity, including raising the matter at the Council of Ministers. As a consequence of enlisting the support of many other member states for my point of view I believe the Commission policy has moderated in recent times, now having closer regard to the market implications of its actions rather than its previous emphasis on budgetary policy.

While acknowledging that some adjustment in market management measures is warranted, indeed necessary, if the Luxembourg Agreement is to be implemented in full, my concern has been to ensure that the transition is implemented in a more measured way. Sustained downward pressure on market supports would effectively reduce our international competitiveness and put pressure on our ability to fully exploit opportunities to export milk products to international markets. A longer period in which to make the necessary adjustment will instead provide a more solid platform on which to build new market opportunities while consolidating our position in existing markets.

Mindful of the role exchange rates play in international price competitiveness I have asked the Commission to be particularly sensitive about how it implements market adjustments in reaction to currency fluctuations that may be susceptible to exceptional circumstances rather than reflecting otherwise normally stable economic indicators. The stability prevailing in producer prices over recent times is welcome and the direct payments, amounting to €120 million this year, rising to €180 million next year, as compensation for the reduction in institutional support prices should result in a higher return for dairy farmers this year and into the future. I will continue to exert every possible pressure on the EU Commission to ensure that in its management of the EU dairy regime, we achieve a satisfactory outcome for the Irish dairy industry in terms of enhanced industry competitiveness and stable farm incomes into the future.

Motor Fuels.

Dan Boyle

Question:

187 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the advice she will give farmers faced with a further substantial rise in diesel prices over the summer on top of an increase of more than 30% in 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26470/05]

The price of gas oil, which includes agricultural diesel, as measured by the Central Statistics Office wholesale price index shows that gas oil increased by 11.1% in 2004 and by 22% to the end of August of this year. The CSO data shows that the price of gas oil increased by 30.2% in the 12 months from August 2004 to August 2005. The CSO agricultural price index indicates that the cost of motor fuels in agricultural inputs increased by approximately 15% over the 12 months to July 2005.

The CSO output, input and income in agriculture release also shows that the category fuel and lubricants accounts for approximately 7% of intermediate consumption which, although significant, means these increases have had a relatively limited direct impact on the overall cost of agricultural inputs.

The cost of fuel and energy products is driven by international oil prices. This is an issue for all parts of the economy including the agricultural sector. Rising input costs, and fluctuations in international oil prices, underline the importance of ensuring that all inputs are used efficiently.

Food Labelling.

Peter Power

Question:

188 Mr. P. Power asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress on the introduction of a voluntary labelling system for meat used in the restaurant and catering sector. [26157/05]

Traceability and labelling of Irish farm produce is an area accorded priority by my Department. Sophisticated traceability systems for cattle, sheep and pigs have been developed and implemented in recent years. In addition the labelling of foodstuffs was examined by a food labelling group and the main recommendations of that group have been implemented, in particular the centralisation of enforcement of food labelling legislation through the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI.

In respect of beef, we already have in place a full identification, traceability and labelling system under comprehensive EU regulations. The labelling requirements under those regulations extend up to and including retail level and to the point of delivery into hotels, restaurants and catering establishments.

My next priority in this area is to extend the existing beef labelling laws to require information on the country of origin of beef to be provided to all consumers in the restaurant and catering sectors. I put specific proposals to Government at the end of June for a legislative framework to facilitate this, by way of an amendment to the 1947 Health Act. This will be introduced under the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005 which is before the Oireachtas this session. The appropriate regulations are being worked on concurrently and it is my intention to have these cleared at EU level as soon as possible. When the Act is amended and the regulations made, country of origin information will be available to consumers in respect of all beef served in restaurants, hotels and the whole catering sector in Ireland on a mandatory basis.

In the meantime the various representative bodies including the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and both of the vintners groups following discussions with my Department, have all agreed to recommend to their members the introduction on a voluntary basis of a mechanism for providing consumers in their premises, with information on the country of origin of the beef served there, in advance of the mandatory legal requirement. This agreement was finalised last week and these organisations are currently at various stages in that process. I expect the voluntary system will be in place in the very near future.

The beef sector has the most developed system of labelling within the EU legislative framework. The next step in meat labelling is to extend the labelling requirements in law for poultry meat, pig meat and sheep meat in order to have similar provisions as those for beef. This is not a straightforward matter and would involve considerable complexities. EU approval would be required and there is no precedent so far for individual member states being allowed to extend meat labelling requirements internally, beyond providing information which is already required in EU laws.

Question No. 189 answered with QuestionNo. 163.

Farm Waste Management.

Jimmy Devins

Question:

190 Dr. Devins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to introduce a new farm waste management scheme. [26161/05]

Dinny McGinley

Question:

197 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when she will introduce new grant rates provided to farmers under the control of farmyard pollution scheme in view of the increasing cost of steel and the demands which will be placed on farmers due to the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26182/05]

Willie Penrose

Question:

200 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when the new grants system for the construction of new slurry storage facilities arising from the nitrates directive will be in place; the areas of the country where it will apply; the amount of aid that will be available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26464/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 190, 197 and 200 together.

To assist farmers meet the additional requirements of the nitrates action programme, I have announced details of a proposed revised farm waste management scheme for which EU approval is now being sought. I hope early approval of the scheme will be forthcoming so that it can be introduced next January.

Subject to the required EU approval, the scheme will introduce a standard grant rate of 60%, with 70% being available for zone C counties, in place of the current grant rate of 40%, with additional aid available for young farmers at rates of 10% in less-favoured areas and 5% in other areas; extend the maximum income unit ceiling for farmers from 450 to 650 income units, with no upper limit being applied in the case of pig and poultry farmers; raise the maximum eligible investment from €75,000 to €120,000; remove any minimum income requirements from farming from the scheme so that all small farmers can participate in the scheme; the scheme will be extended to include horses, deer, goats, pigs and poultry, and mushroom compost; introduce a new 40% grant rate for specialised equipment with specific environmental advantages subject to maximum eligible investment of €80,000 in the case of decanter centrifuge systems and dry feeding systems for pigs, and €40,000 in the case of specialised slurry spreading tankers and related equipment; and increase maximum eligible investment for standard mobile equipment from €11,000 to €15,000 with the grant rate remaining at 20%.

I am satisfied that, if approved, the revised scheme will provide a very satisfactory platform for Irish farmers who need to carry out additional investment works in order to meet the requirements of the nitrates directive. I would urge farmers to make the necessary arrangements to ensure that they are ready to avail of the scheme by the proposed implementation date.

Departmental Agencies.

Richard Bruton

Question:

191 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to develop the Teagasc service provided to farmers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26217/05]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organic Farming.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

192 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to encourage organic farming here (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26471/05]

I am strongly committed to the development of the organic sector in Ireland. My Department already provides incentives to encourage organic farming, which are substantial in proportion to the size of the sector. Through the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, almost €4 million was paid directly to organic farmers in 2004. Since REPS began in 1994, it has delivered some €31 million to the sector. Under the current scheme, an organic farmer with 55 hectares is eligible for an annual payment of €18,505 a year for the first two years while the farm is in conversion, and €13,555 each year for the rest of his or her time in the scheme.

Many of the changes recommended in the organic development committee report were incorporated in the new REPS 3 scheme launched last year. To facilitate and encourage the expansion of the sector, partial conversion of a holding is now permitted. The increase in the eligible area for payment has benefited all farmers. The scheme conditions have been amended to facilitate a farmer to receive the in-conversion financial support for the equivalent of his or her full conversion period. Farmers with commonage lands or grazing rights can now participate, under strict criteria, in the organic supplementary measure of the scheme.

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

In addition, my Department has implemented all the main recommendations of the organic development committee's report published in April 2002. The demonstration farm project, for example, has been a considerable success and additional farms have been included this year.

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

EU Directives.

Simon Coveney

Question:

193 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the current status of the application for a derogation to the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26407/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In October 2004, Ireland submitted proposals for a derogation from the general organic nitrogen limit of 170 kilogrammes per hectare per annum laid down in the nitrates directive. The proposal was designed to allow farmers to operate under appropriate conditions and controls up to a level of 250 kilogrammes of organic nitrogen per hectare. My Department and Teagasc developed the derogation proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The European Commission was not prepared to engage in formal discussions on the derogation proposals until Ireland's nitrates action programme was agreed. There have been preliminary discussions with the Commission, however, and I will press strongly to have these discussions concluded as early as possible in 2006.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Dan Boyle

Question:

194 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 57 of 25 May 2005, she has studied the United Kingdom Royal Society results of genetically modified trials for winter oilseed rape; if she will ensure such genetically modified crops are not grown here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26469/05]

I am aware of the results of the farm scale evaluation trials, published by the United Kingdom Royal Society, on a study carried out in Britain that compared genetically modified winter oilseed rape against its conventional counterpart. I am sure this information will feed into any future amendments that will be made by the EU in respect of the approval of oilseed rape for cultivation within the EU.

As the Deputy is aware EU legislation governing the growing and distribution of GM products within the EU has been jointly adopted by both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, after many years of negotiations and discussions. The provisions of this legislation are binding on all member states. The only area where subsidiarity is permitted within this legislative framework is in regard to co-existence between GM crops and non-GM crops. Member states have been asked to draw up their own rules in how this can be implemented and I have just recently received a report and recommendations from the interdepartmental interagency working group which was established to draw up such rules for this country.

Departmental Offices.

Billy Timmins

Question:

195 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when the district veterinary office in Wicklow town opened; the number of staff employed there; if all necessary transactions will be carried out there similar to the office in Tallaght and other such places; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26493/05]

My Department opened an office in Wicklow town in 2001, the purpose of which was to improve the level of service provided to farmers in the east Wicklow area. A superintending veterinary inspector based in my Department's Tallaght office has responsibility for the operation of the Wicklow veterinary office. There are two veterinary inspectors covering the east Wicklow area, one of whom is based in the Wicklow office. There are three agricultural technical staff and one full-time and one part-time clerical staff engaged on veterinary work in the office.

While files for east Wicklow are held in the Tallaght office, the Wicklow office is linked electronically into the Department's disease eradication network including the cattle movement and monitoring system, CMMS, and the animal health computer system, AHCS.

The services provided by the Wicklow office include the issue of movement permits, CMMS clearance for abattoirs and provision of information on disease control. The Wicklow office also provides agricultural environmental and single payment scheme services to farmers and six staff are engaged on this work.

Grant Payments.

Mary Upton

Question:

196 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to reports that a small number of wealthy landowners are receiving payments of more than €10,000 per year under the single farm payments scheme; her views on whether it is appropriate that some farmers receive large payments of this size from public funds when other farmers are facing such a struggle to survive; if she will seek any review of the system to ensure that payments are directed towards those who most need them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26443/05]

The agreement on the mid-term review of Agenda 2000 reached at the Council of Agricultural Ministers on 26 June 2003 was a balanced one, which addressed Ireland's principal objectives. Among these objectives were the preservation of the financial benefits achieved under the Agenda 2000 agreement and the establishment of a policy framework that will allow farmers and the agri-sector the flexibility to adapt to evolving consumer and market demands and international circumstances. The financial envelope provided for each member state represented the average value of livestock and arable aid premia paid in the member state during the three year reference period 2000-2002 calculated at 2002 rates of payment. I am particularly pleased that the 2002 rate of payment was used to calculate the single payment as this was the highest rate payable under the Agenda 2000 agreement.

The result of the negotiations represented a very satisfactory outcome for Ireland with the achievement of significant improvements on the original proposals. In particular the proposed automatic degression of direct payments by a level of up to 13% was withdrawn. The removal of this particular provision meant a saving of some €420 million for Ireland over the lifetime of the agreement. The compromises agreed was to allow the Council to review, from 2007 onwards, the financial situation annually if budget deficits arise.

Under the agreement, member states were allowed to implement the single payment scheme using the so-called historic model or a variation of that model. Following widespread consultation with farmers and other interested parties, Ireland opted to implement full decoupling with effect from 2005 using the historic model. This means that the single payment scheme is applicable to farmers who actively farmed during the reference years 2000, 2001 and 2002, who were paid livestock premia and-or arable aid in one or more of those years and who will continue to engage in an agricultural activity in 2005. The gross single payment entitlement for each farmer represents the average number of animals and-or the average number of hectares, in the case of arable aid, on which payments were made in the three reference years.

The overall agreement also allows for a review of the single payment scheme to take place in 2009.

Question No. 197 answered with QuestionNo. 190.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

198 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress she has made on the implementation of the report by the Oireachtas joint committee on the early retirement scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26460/05]

The joint committee's examination of the early retirement scheme provided a welcome opportunity to air a wide range of issues and this in itself has been helpful in clarifying the position. Earlier this month I provided a detailed response to the report. Regrettably, there are a number of the committee's recommendations I have not been able to accept. They are precluded by elements of the EU regulations under which the current scheme and its predecessor are operated. When the same issues were raised by retired farmers with the European Commission, the Commission concluded that my Department was operating the scheme correctly. However, the committee made other recommendations which I am still considering.

Question No. 199 answered with QuestionNo. 140.
Question No. 200 answered with QuestionNo. 190.

Direct Payment Schemes.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

201 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the European Commission to index link the single farm payment; if she will make the payment in two instalments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26210/05]

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

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

In so far as making payment in two instalments is concerned Council Regulation 1782/2003, governing the single payment scheme, provides that payments shall be made once a year within the period from 1 December of the scheme year to 30 June of the following calendar year. The regulation also provides that the European Commission may authorise making advance payments in certain circumstances.

My Department is committed to commencing full payments on 1 December next, the earliest date possible under the regulation. The target date of 1 December for commencement of full payments is particularly tight taking account of the fact that this is the first year of the new scheme involving a complete new system and more than 154,000 applications must be processed. Therefore, we will not make advance payments this year. However, in the context of the new charter of rights for farmers, I am committed to requesting the European Commission to provide for advance payment on an ongoing basis with effect from 2006. It should be noted however that if the European Commission were to agree to the making of advance payments, for budgetary reasons it is unlikely that any such payments could be made before 16 October each year.

Organic Farming.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

202 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress of the organic food sector here. [26165/05]

Although proportionally, the organic sector is still extremely small, the Irish organic market has witnessed strong growth levels in recent years to reach an estimated €38 million at retail level in 2003. The indications are that an annual growth rate of approximately 10% should be achievable in the Irish organic food market in the medium term. I am strongly committed to the organic sector and my Department provides a number of incentives to encourage this development, including the rural environmental protection scheme, a grant aid scheme supporting investment by farmers and processors and a demonstration farm project.

EU Directives.

Pat Breen

Question:

203 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the European Commission and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding a derogation under the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26214/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In October 2004, Ireland submitted proposals for a derogation from the general organic nitrogen limit of 170 kg per hectare per annum laid down in the nitrates directive. The proposal was designed to allow farmers to operate under appropriate conditions and controls up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. My Department and Teagasc developed the derogation proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The European Commission was not prepared to engage in formal discussions on the derogation proposals until Ireland's nitrates action programme was agreed. However, preliminary discussions with the Commission have taken place, and I will press strongly to have these discussions concluded as early as possible in 2006.

To help farmers meet their obligations under the action programme, I will seek approval from the European Commission for significant improvements in the farm waste management scheme. These include increasing the grant rate from 40% to 60%, and to 70% in the counties in zone C; a top-up of 5% to 10% for young farmers; higher investment ceilings and the extension of the scheme to the pig and poultry sectors.

Grant Payments.

Michael Noonan

Question:

204 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the allocation of entitlements under the national reserve; when the entitlements will be issued; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26178/05]

Applications for an allocation of entitlements from the single payment scheme national reserve were received from more than 17,500 farmers. Processing of these applications is continuing and the intention is to make allocations to successful applicants by 1 December next. This will allow any allocations to be reflected in the single payment scheme payment which is scheduled to commence on 1 December 2005.

The single payment advisory committee comprising representatives of my Department, Teagasc and the farming organisations met recently to discuss the rules for allocating the national reserve. Further contacts will take place on this matter before a final decision is made.

Live Exports.

Johnny Brady

Question:

205 Mr. J. Brady asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the level of live exports of cattle to date compared to the same period in 2004. [26171/05]

Live exports continue to be an important outlet for our cattle providing an essential element of competition within the beef trade. Live exports to date are 52% up on the same period last year. Live exports in 2004 were sluggish however, and our exports this year are more in line with the more traditional export levels of 2003. The information on main destinations has been forwarded to the Deputy.

Year to Date (w/c 19/09)

Change 2005 v 2004

2005

2004

2003

No.

%

Northern Ireland

16,533

27,811

22,450

-11,278

-41

EU except NI

102,027

51,190

114,420

50,837

99

Third Countries

6,824

3,600

29,503

3,224

90

Total

125,384

82,601

166,373

42,783

52

Proposed Legislation.

John Deasy

Question:

206 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when the Animal Health Bill will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26193/05]

My Department is continuing to draft an Animal Health Bill. I am not in a position, at this stage, to say when the Bill will be published.

Food Industry.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

207 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the progress of the prepared consumer food sector within the Irish food industry. [26166/05]

Ireland has a dynamic prepared consumer foods sector, which plays a significant role in the Irish economy with output of €2.6 billion and exports of €1.3 billion. Approximately 16,000 people are directly employed in 180 companies in the sector, which now accounts for 12% of food exports.

The food development agencies work closely with companies to assist them to develop, commercialise and market products that satisfy consumer demand and preferences. The key drivers of demand in the sector are changes in consumer eating habits; health focus; snacking products; cook times; food service and new eating occasions such as in-car dining.

The sector also faces challenges, principally retail consolidation, a very competitive and cost-focused international market and issues of scale. The food related measures in the national development plan are focused on enhancing the competitiveness and innovative capability of the industry and exploiting market opportunities. My Department is committed to supporting the food development agencies and the industry to achieve continued growth in value-added products and exports.

Beef Exports.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

208 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the amount of beef which has been exported to Russia in each of the past five years and to date; if she is satisfied that farmers here are getting a realistic payment for their high quality beef production; her plans to further access the Egyptian market; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26312/05]

The amount of beef exported to Russia in the past five years and to date is as follows:

Year

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005 (end July)

Tonnes

11,000

43,000

83,000

76,000

47,000

10,000

The same period has seen a substantial increase in beef exports to EU markets. In 2001, we exported 72,000 tonnes to the continental EU and only two retailers stocked Irish beef. By last year, exports had more than doubled to 174,000 tonnes and over 30 retail groups in that valuable market stock Irish beef. The beef industry is worth €1.4 billion in foreign earnings to the Irish economy annually.

Following considerable work with regard to the Egyptian market, significant progress was made with the signing in August of a new protocol on veterinary and animal heath conditions to apply to our beef exports to Egypt. The protocol considerably eases the restrictions on trade which previously existed and a revised veterinary certificate which reflects this has been agreed. I anticipate that these developments, which effectively reduce the costs associated with beef exports to that destination, allied to the special attractive export refund for Egypt, should enhance trade prospects this autumn.

The usual seasonal drop in beef prices has occurred this autumn, although earlier and greater than in previous years. However, because of the higher prices paid in the earlier part of the year, the average price since the start of 2005 to date is 4% above that paid during the same period in 2004. It is estimated that overall, average cattle prices for 2005 will be 3% up on last year.

Question No. 209 answered with QuestionNo. 186.

Departmental Staff.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

210 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress made regarding the redeployment of the estimated 400 staff previously employed in administering farm income support schemes; the number of such staff redeployed to date; the locations and the sectors of her Department to which they have been redeployed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26466/05]

The introduction of the single payment scheme this December and the consequential ending of a number of headage and premium schemes will reduce my Department's requirement for staff. While the final net impact cannot be stated exactly at this stage, it is estimated that my Department will be able to operate with approximately 400 less staff than authorised numbers.

The redeployment of staff is actively managed within my Department to ensure that the service levels for our clients in existing schemes are maintained and that the preparations for the introduction of the single payment scheme are progressed satisfactorily. To this end many staff freed from the livestock and premium schemes have been transferred, on a temporary basis, to work on the new single payment scheme.

My Department has also been in contact with other Departments that have networks of existing local offices, in particular the Revenue Commissioners, the Departments of Social and Family Affairs, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Courts Service and Land Registry, with regard to the transfer of staff to other Departments. A total of 28 staff comprising one principal officer, one assistant principal, six higher executive officers, five executive officers, two staff officers and 13 clerical officers from local offices and Castlebar have already been redeployed to other Departments.

Question No. 211 answered with QuestionNo. 163.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Paul McGrath

Question:

212 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures she intends to take to address the problems experienced by farmers in the Shannon Callows as a result of proposals that do not allow them to split their lands for grant aid purposes between REP scheme funding and funding allocated under the special area of conversation and SPA designation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26212/05]

The designation of land under EU birds and habitats directives is a function of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The question of compensation for farmers in the Shannon Callows area is a matter, in the first instance, for that Department, and I understand discussions with the farming bodies have been taking place for some time and were continuing up to recent days.

As far as REPS is concerned, arrangements specifically designed to address the situation of farmers in the Shannon Callows are already in place. Farmers in this area who wish to join REPS, but believe the REPS payments do not fully offset any income loss arising from the restrictions placed on their farming activities because of designation under the birds and habitats directives, may now also apply to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for additional compensation. Before this arrangement was introduced in September 2004, such farmers had to choose between REPS and the compensation arrangements operated by NPWS but could not benefit from both.

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

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

Direct Payment Schemes.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

213 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for cross-compliance under the single farm payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26183/05]

An important part of the reform of the CAP leading to the introduction of the single payment scheme is the creation of an effective link between EU support for agriculture and measures aimed at protecting the environment and improving the countryside as well as achieving high standards in food safety and in animal health and welfare. Farmers receiving direct aid under the single payment scheme are required to observe various statutory management requirements on the environment, food safety, animal health and welfare and plant health. They must also maintain their land in good agricultural and environmental condition. This is known as cross-compliance.

In general the rate of on-farm inspection required for cross-compliance is 1% of those farmers to whom the relevant statutory management requirement, SMR, or good agricultural and environmental condition, GAEC, apply. However at least 5% of producers must be inspected under the animal identification and registration requirements, as this level is prescribed under the relevant regulations. This applies to bovines only as sheep are being discussed.

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

My Department, as the EU accredited paying agency, will have primary responsibility to ensure that the required level of cross-compliance inspections is carried out and for fixing any sanctions to be applied. At the same time the competent control authorities are responsible for ensuring compliance with the standards and requirements defined under the SMRs and good agricultural and environmental conditions. The competent control authority responsible for compliance with identification and registration of cattle is the national beef assurance division of my Department while the body responsible for ensuring compliance with the habitats directive is the National Parks and Wildlife Service section of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and local authorities have responsibility for compliance with the requirements defined in the sewage sludge, and protection of groundwater directives.

In implementing the single payment scheme, the policy of my Department is to minimise the number of inspection visits and to move towards a situation where, in most cases, all eligibility and cross-compliance checks will be carried out during a single farm visit. My Department has consulted all competent control authorities to ensure the maximum level of integration of inspections across all areas. This approach should minimise the level of inconvenience to farmers. However, in certain instances it may not be possible to avoid more than one inspection of the same holding. On this basis it is estimated that, in all, fewer than 10,000 inspections will be carried out annually under the single payment scheme. This represents a reduction of approximately 50% in the number of inspections carried out annually under the old coupled direct payments schemes.

My Department has engaged in detailed discussions with farming organisations in the context of a new charter of rights for farmers. The charter will set out the criteria under which on-farm inspections will be carried out with a view to ensuring that the arrangements are fair and equitable and that minor non-compliance will not give rise to any financial sanction.

The European Commission has conducted a preliminary audit of our system and has signalled in preliminary findings that the tolerance levels proposed are likely to result in the application of sanctions at the lower end of the acceptable scale. My Department is awaiting the Commission's final report and confirmation that it regards the framework for the application of cross-compliance checks in Ireland as fully meeting the requirements. The next step is to make arrangements for implementing the seven statutory management requirements, SMRs, applicable from 1 January 2006 and the three SMRs applicable from 1 January 2007. Work has already commenced in this respect.

Animal Foodstuffs.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

214 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to strengthen the existing national legislation pertaining to inspection and seizure powers in terms of the problem of animal proteins in feed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26474/05]

I presume the Deputy is referring to a High Court ruling last April by Mr. Justice Kelly stating that there was a deficiency in powers quoted by an authorized officer of this Department when impounding a consignment of imported feed material in which traces of bone spicules were detected. My Department has since amended the legislation to strengthen the powers of the authorised officers.

Food Labelling.

Denis Naughten

Question:

215 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to introduce a clear and transparent food labelling system here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26211/05]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

216 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to introduce a clear and transparent food labelling system here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26223/05]

David Stanton

Question:

217 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has considered or will consider introducing reforms to the food labelling system here to safeguard consumers’ confidence in Irish products; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26490/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 215 to 217, inclusive, together.

My Department has given considerable attention to food labelling as I regard it of importance that consumers are provided with full information on foodstuffs. In this regard, my Department has pursued assiduously the implementation of the recommendations of the food labelling group. Nineteen of the 21 recommendations, many of which were beyond the remit of my Department and some of which were to be activated only after others had been completed, have been addressed. The remaining two recommendations, which concern aspects of origin labelling, are also being addressed.

Arising from the implementation of the group's recommendations, the enforcement of all food labelling regulations has been centralised in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI. This not only streamlines the enforcement measures but it also provides a one-stop shop for any complaints on mislabelling of food. In addition, the responsibility for food labelling policy, with the exception of fish, has been assigned to the Department of Health and Children and my Department, in accordance with another recommendation of the food labelling group.

Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children is responsible for general labelling regulations which require information on food labels to be given clearly, accurately and in a language understood by the consumer. My Department is responsible for more detailed legislation on the labelling of specific food products including beef and poultry meat. With regard to beef, EU regulations require operators to label their product with: a reference code to enable the beef to be traced back to the animal or group of animals from which it was derived; the approval number of the slaughterhouse and the country in which it is located; the approval number of the de-boning hall and the country in which it is located; and an indication of the origin of the animal from which the beef was derived.

These labelling requirements, which are compulsory in all member states, apply to the marketing of beef within the Community, regardless of whether that beef was produced within the Community or in a third country. Where beef is imported into the Community from a third country and not all the above details are available, that beef must, at a minimum, be labelled as "origin: non-EC", along with an indication of the third country in which slaughter took place. The labelling requirements under those regulations extend up to and including retail level and to the point of delivery into hotels, restaurants and catering establishments.

Given the identified consumer demand for information on the country of origin of beef to be provided by the restaurant and catering sectors, I put specific proposals to the Government at the end of June for a legislative framework to facilitate this by way of an amendment to the Health Act 1947. This will be introduced under the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005 which will come before the Oireachtas this session. The appropriate regulations are being worked on concurrently and it is my intention to have these cleared at EU level as soon as possible. When the Act is amended and the regulations made, country of origin information will be available to consumers in respect of all beef served in restaurants, hotels and the entire catering sector in Ireland on a mandatory basis.

The various representative bodies, including the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and both of the vintners groups have agreed, following discussions with my Department, to recommend to their members the introduction on a voluntary basis of a mechanism for providing consumers on their premises with information on the country of origin of the beef served there in advance of the mandatory legal requirement. This agreement was recently finalised and these organisations are currently at various stages in that process. I expect the voluntary system will be in place in the near future.

The beef sector has the most developed system of labelling within the EU legislative framework. With regard to poultry meat, two regulations were introduced in early 2004 requiring loose and pre-packaged poultry meat originating in a country outside the EU to bear an indication of the country of origin when offered for sale in a retail premises and requiring information regarding class, price per unit weight, condition and slaughterhouse details in respect of loose or non-packaged poultry meat to be provided to the consumer. I am having the possibility examined of further extending the labelling requirements for poultry meat, pig meat and sheep meat in order to have similar provisions to those for beef. This is not a straightforward matter as EU approval would be required and there is no precedent thus far of individual member states being allowed to extend meat labelling requirements internally beyond providing information that is already required by EU laws.

There has also been a great deal of concern expressed about products imported into the Community and then processed in some way, allowing it to be described as a product of a member state. This is known as substantial transformation in the context of European customs regulations. Accordingly, any changes in this regard would have to be made with the agreement of the other member states. At a meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 28 February, I raised this issue in the context of the review on food labelling being carried out by the Commission.

Overseas Visitors.

Paul McGrath

Question:

218 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the number of foreign visitors here in each tourism region for the past five years; and the total number of foreign visitors who were returning with the purpose of visiting family members. [26320/05]

The CSO estimates of overseas visits to Ireland by non-residents are national estimates. Regional destination estimates are not available. The information concerning the number of overseas visits to Ireland by non-residents is contained in the following table.

Estimated number of overseas visits to Ireland: 2000 to 2004

Visits ’000

2000

6,310

2001

5,990

2002

6,065

2003

6,369

2004

6,574

Overseas visits by non-residents are classified by reason for journey, comprising business, holiday, leisure and recreation, visits to friends or relatives and other, to accord with Council Directive 95/57/EC and the recommendation of the World Tourism Organisation. The following table shows the estimated number of overseas visits to Ireland by non-residents classified by reason to visit friends or relatives for the years 2000 to 2004.

Estimated number of Overseas Visits to Ireland to Visit Friends/Relatives: 2000 to 2004

Visits to Friends/Relatives

Visits ’000

2000

1,564

2001

1,566

2002

1,603

2003

1,736

2004

1,807

Nursing Home Accommodation.

Paul McGrath

Question:

219 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of additional nursing home beds provided by private nursing homes annually since December 1997. [26326/05]

The Deputy's question concerns the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

220 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive a refund for the cost of glasses. [26392/05]

The Deputy's question concerns the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Violence Against Women.

Martin Ferris

Question:

221 Mr. Ferris asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make a statement on the need to provide increased and adequate funding for groups dealing with the issue of domestic violence against women. [26538/05]

The Deputy's question concerns the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

222 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position with regard to genetically modified foods; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26767/05]

Government policy with regard to genetically modified organisms, GMOs, is based on the report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Modern Biotechnology, published in October 2000. In line with the recommendations of this report, my Department adopts a positive but precautionary approach to the issue of genetically modified foods which reflects the priority given to consumer choice and safety. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is the competent authority in Ireland for the enforcement of legislation governing genetically modified food and carries out regular checks of the marketplace to ensure compliance with genetically modified food legislation. I am satisfied that appropriate arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of authorised genetically modified foods or foods containing genetically modified ingredients placed on the market in Ireland.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Seán Crowe

Question:

223 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the plans for the new children’s hospital at the Mater Hospital site at Eccles Street are going ahead without any delay; the details of her preparation costing to date regarding the children’s hospital at Eccles Street; and if she is in support of this development. [26184/05]

The Deputy's question concerns the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. This includes responsibility for considering new capital proposals or progressing those in the health capital programme, including the Mater and Children's Hospital development. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy. I stress however, that subject to agreement on the significant capital and non-capital funding requirements associated with this project, which is the largest capital development ever proposed for the health service, the current plans are being progressed without delay.

Health Services.

Joe Higgins

Question:

224 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15 is still waiting for speech and language therapy. [26228/05]

Joe Higgins

Question:

225 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15 will begin the speech and language therapy and the occupational therapy recommended for them. [26229/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 224 and 225 together.

The Deputy's question concerns the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Inquiries.

Mary Wallace

Question:

226 Ms M. Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the report of the Lourdes Hospital inquiry; if she will provide clarification on the present position regarding a redress board in view of the delay in publishing this report; if she will further provide any information arising from the news report this week regarding copies of some missing files now being available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26230/05]

My Department is advised by the Lourdes Hospital inquiry that the report of the inquiry is at an advanced stage and is going through a necessary legal process before it will be furnished to me. Last March, I met representatives of Patient Focus, a group representing a number of patients who attended the maternity unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. I advised the group that I would await the report of the inquiry before consulting the Government on the request for the establishment of a redress board. I intend to meet the group again following receipt of the report of the inquiry.

In terms of the issue raised by the Deputy concerning missing files, this is being dealt with by the Garda Síochána. Accordingly, my Department has requested a report on the matter from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and I will revert to the Deputy when the report is received.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

227 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 with their orthodontic needs and if the family will get the maximum support. [26231/05]

The Deputy's question concerns the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

John Gormley

Question:

228 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the health service here is following an American style rather than adopting the successful model of the Scandinavian and EU countries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26232/05]

The overall policy objectives for health care in Ireland were clearly set out in the health strategy quality and fairness and are based on the four principles of equity, people centredness, quality and accountability. The Irish health care system is evolving and will provide a service which will best meet the needs of people here. The health strategy indicated that the Government was committed to exploring fully the scope for the private sector to provide additional capacity and that additional capacity would be provided by a combination of public and private providers working in closer partnership.

Notwithstanding the significant additional Exchequer funded investment in health services over the past few years, there remains a gap between public expectation levels and the capacity of the public system to fully address those expectations. It is vital, therefore, that benefits associated with the input of private financing in terms of addressing issues of access to and quality of services as well as sustainability in health care be fully exploited.

In this regard, I recently issued a policy direction to the Health Service Executive aimed at freeing up additional beds for public patients in public hospitals through the development of private hospital facilities on public hospital sites. This will improve access for public patients and provide a better quality of service.

John McGuinness

Question:

229 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has examined the transport needs for those who have to travel from the south east to other centres for radiation and chemotherapy treatment; if the report on this issue which was being prepared will now be made available; the amount of funding made available to each region for this type of transport; her intentions relative to this issue and the treatment to be provided in the south-east region in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26240/05]

As I have previously indicated to the House, I consider that appropriate transport arrangements for patients requiring radiotherapy should be made available, where necessary, by the Health Service Executive. My Department raised this matter with the HSE last May to ensure that approporiate transport arrangements are put in place on a national basis for patients who are required to travel to obtain radiotherapy. Transport solutions are already a feature of the current provision of radiation oncology services. My Department has asked the HSE to advise the Deputy directly in relation to current and proposed transport arrangements for radiation oncology patients nationally.

Last July I announced the Government's plan for a national network of radiation oncology services to be put in place by 2011 and commencing in 2008. The network will consist of four large centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway and two integrated satellite centres at Waterford Regional Hospital and Limerick Regional Hospital. Appropriate transport arrangements will form part of the planning and implementation of this plan, given the significant increase in capacity involved.

The National Radiation Oncology Co-ordinating Group, NROCG, provides advice to my Department and the HSE on radiotherapy. In light of what I have outlined and the fact that under the Health Act 2004 the HSE has responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services, the NROCG does not intend to prepare a specific report on transport.

John McGuinness

Question:

230 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will arrange an early appointment at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; the reason he was notified of an appointment for March 2007; the reason for such a waiting list; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26241/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Michael Lowry

Question:

231 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if income from an account (details supplied) will be included in any means-tested payments from her Department; and the applications which will have this account included in any means-tested assessment. [26242/05]

The main means tested entitlement under the aegis of my Department is the medical card, which is operated by the Health Service Executive. Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive, other than for persons aged 70 years and over who are automatically fully eligible for a medical card. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the Health Service Executive, are unable to provide general practitioner, medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.

With regard to investment income generally, the Health Service Executive takes the annual income from savings and investments into consideration in the assessment of means for a medical card. On the treatment of SSIA proceeds, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs has recently announced increases in capital disregards to ensure that SSIA savings will not affect social welfare payments. I understand that the Health Service Executive is considering adopting a similar approach in medical card assessments. I will consult the HSE on this matter shortly.

Health Services.

Michael Lowry

Question:

232 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a substantial response will be issued regarding correspondence (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26243/05]

I understand from the Health Service Executive that it is in the process of preparing a reply to the Deputy.

Health Service Reform.

Michael Lowry

Question:

233 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the boundaries of the former health boards will be removed from operational practice in the Health Service Executive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26244/05]

The Health Service Executive was established on a statutory basis with effect from 1 January 2005 under the Health Act 2004. The executive took over responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services from the Eastern Regional Health Authority, the health boards and a number of other specified agencies. The organisational design for the new body, as devised by the interim Health Service Executive, provided for the establishment of a number of national directorates. These include the primary, community and continuing care directorate which is responsible for the planning, management and delivery of all primary care, community based health and personal social services and continuing care hospitals and services. Since 1 September 2005, 32 local health offices, LHOs, established under this directorate, have responsibility and authority for the management of all services, other than acute hospital services, in their area.

The executive's national hospitals office directorate is responsible for the provision of all public acute hospital care and ambulance pre-hospital emergency care. The management and delivery of these services is effected through ten hospital networks. Operational practice in the management and delivery of health and personal social services under these structures is a matter for the Health Service Executive. If the Deputy has a specific query on this aspect, he should relay it to the executive's parliamentary affairs division, Health Service Executive, Mezzanine Floor, Stewarts Sports Centre, Waterstown Avenue, Palmerstown, Dublin 20, Phone 01 6426952 and e-mail address HelenM.Stokes@mailf.hse.ie.

Health Services.

Michael Lowry

Question:

234 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the case of a person (details supplied) in County Offaly; the provision that will be made to accommodate the person involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26245/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Departmental Reports.

Michael Lowry

Question:

235 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it remains her policy to implement the Hanly report, either directly or by stealth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26246/05]

James Breen

Question:

271 Mr. J. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Hanly report is being withdrawn; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26719/05]

James Breen

Question:

273 Mr. J. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if all hospitals who were to lose their accident and emergency and acute services under the Hanly report will no longer be subject to downgrading; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26721/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 235, 271 and 273 together.

The Report of the National Task Force on Medical Staffing, Hanly report, made a series of important recommendations regarding the development of hospital services. Responsibility for the future configuration of acute hospital services, taking into account the recommendations of the report by the national task force on medical staffing, now rests with the Health Service Executive. The key priority is to ensure that patients, wherever they live, have access to high quality hospital care.

European Health Insurance Card.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

236 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that Irish citizens who travel abroad and who get sick at sea while travelling are not covered under the E111 scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26247/05]

Under Regulation (EC) 1408/71, a person who is eligible for health services in Ireland, is accepted by the Health Service Executive as being ordinarily resident or is an EU national employed in Ireland, and who becomes ill or injured while on a temporary stay in the territory of a member state of the EU, EEA or Switzerland is entitled to receive health care through the public health care system of that member state. The European Health Insurance Card, which replaced the form E111 on 1 June 2004, provides evidence of this entitlement.

It should be noted that the card does not cover the cost of treatment in a private setting. Card holders are advised on the public information website and leaflet about the EHIC to contact their local HSE office or log on to www.ehic.ie for more information about their entitlements in particular countries.

In the event of an Irish resident falling ill while at sea there is a marine rescue service which is operated by the coastguard service of individual EU/EEA countries. In cases where the appropriate course of action is to transport the patient to a hospital in one of these countries, the service is provided and health care costs are paid by the Health Service Executive.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

237 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will publish the relevant figures for the average time per patient between admittance at accident and emergency units and their discharge for the various hospitals in the State; and if comparable figures for the past ten years will be published. [26248/05]

Information on the average length of stay in hospital for patients admitted as emergencies for each hospital is being compiled by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Mental Health Services.

John Gormley

Question:

238 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the working group which was established by the Mental Health Commission will make rules providing for the use of ECT under the Mental Health Act 2001 to finalise these rules; if there is a need for the appointment of an ombudsman for mental health; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26249/05]

The Mental Health Commission has established a multidisciplinary working group to prepare the rules to which the Deputy referred. The working group is expected to complete its work by the end of the year. In view of the many safeguards afforded by the Mental Health Act 2001, including the establishment of the Mental Health Commission and the appointment of the inspector of mental health services, there are no plans for the establishment of an Ombudsman for Mental Health.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

239 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the exact time element involved including time taken from first referral to actual date of appointment with a doctor (details supplied) in Merlin Park Hospital, Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26270/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

240 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of patients awaiting consultation with the rheumatologist in Merlin Park Hospital, Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26271/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Denis Naughten

Question:

241 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Question No. 87 of 23 June 2005 the steps which are being taken to address the appalling backlog in audiology services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26274/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has again requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

242 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to provide further funding for counselling for the Parents for Justice group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26286/05]

Funding for Parents for Justice is now a matter for the Health Service Executive — HSE — and I have asked the HSE to reply directly to the Deputy in this regard. I am aware, however, that Parents for Justice have received approximately €1.3 million in funding since 2000, which includes funding of €330,000 for 2005.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Pat Breen

Question:

243 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a medical practitioner under the general medical services will be appointed to Quin, County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26289/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. This includes responsibility for the appointment of general medical services — GPs. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Organ Retention.

Sean Fleming

Question:

244 Mr. Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding inquiries concerning organ retention, specifically in respect of adults; and the length of time the next of kin of various deceased adults who have had their organs retained will be contacted or informed of the position. [26316/05]

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. The report dealt primarily with post mortem practice and procedure in paediatric hospitals. However, following consideration, the Attorney General advised the report should not be published for legal and constitutional reasons.

On 3 May last, the Government approved the appointment of Dr. Deirdre Madden, BL, a distinguished expert on medical law and ethics, to provide me with a report on post mortem practice and organ retention by 21 December 2005. In view of the tight timeframe for her work and, in order to deliver a comprehensive report by the December deadline, it was decided to concentrate on children who were under 12 years of age. While Dr Madden's report will not deal specifically with adults, it is envisaged that some of her findings will have general application.

Research Funding.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

245 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to correspondence (details supplied); if the Government has committed any funding to research of this kind; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26343/05]

My colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, has lead responsibility for the EU Seventh Research Framework Programme under which the issue of funding for research of this kind may arise. My Department has not funded any research in its province that would lead to the deliberate destruction of human embryos.

The work of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction is directly related to this issue and I was pleased to receive its report last May. As I indicated at that time, the Government has decided to refer the report to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children; this will allow for further public and political consideration of the complex issues involved. After this process, the Government will make decisions on the regulation of assisted human reproduction in Ireland on the basis of both the commission's and the Oireachtas committee's reports.

Health Services Investigation.

John McGuinness

Question:

246 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the status of an investigation by the Garda in the Waterford area into the alleged misappropriation of funds in the control of the former South Eastern Health Board; the amount of money involved; if the investigation is complete; the action that will be taken; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26349/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

247 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the methods employed by the Health Service Executive in Kilkenny to assess applicants for home help hours; the number of cases where home help hours have been cut and the reason for the cutbacks; if appointments are made in each case or if the visit is random and unannounced; the level of funding provided for this service; if the hours cut will be restored; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26350/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

248 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the policy procedure where the family of a person (details supplied) can be told on the telephone by the Health Services Executive staff that the person will have to wait three years for an assessment by an occupational therapist in Area 5 of the former South Western Area Health Board, before they can apply for a grant to the local authority for a shower; if, following the matter being brought to the health board’s attention the board will clarify that the waiting list for over 80s is in fact a year; if this is standard practice within the health and safety authority; if this means that another elderly person who has been waiting for an assessment is affected. [26362/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

251 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the current waiting list for an assessment by an occupational therapist in the former Area 5 of the South Western Area Health Board exceeds three years for a person under 80 and exceeds one year for a person over 80; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26366/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 248 and 251 together.

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

249 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a system similar to the national treatment purchase fund will be set up in relation to the provision of assessments by private practice occupational therapists. [26363/05]

I will have this matter considered in the course of my Department's strategic review of services for people with disabilities.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

250 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the current Health Service Executive waiting lists for a range of services in Area 5 of the former South Western Area Health Board, including general nurse check-ups for children and so on (details supplied); the additional inclusion of comparative waiting list times on a region by region basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26364/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 251 answered with QuestionNo. 248.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Tony Gregory

Question:

252 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the average number of patients on trolleys in the accident and emergency section, Mater Hospital, Dublin 7 in September 2004 and September 2005; if her ten point plan to improve conditions has been implemented; the specific aspects that have been implemented and the hospitals concerned; and if a separate facility for intoxicated and disruptive persons will be provided. [26365/05]

The Health Service Executive is advancing the implementation of a series of measures identified in the ten point plan to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services. These initiatives 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.

My Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy in respect of the current position regarding implementation of these measures and the information requested with regard to the Mater Hospital.

Adoption Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

253 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the approximate number of applications for inter-country adoptions currently outstanding; if it is correct that such applications are now taking over three to four years to process; and the practical measures which have been identified as indicated in earlier replies to tackle the waiting lists; and if these practical measures have been put in place. [26367/05]

The most recent statistics available relate to numbers of applications on hand on 30 June 2005. At that time, the number of applications awaiting inter-country adoption assessment was 1,829. Currently, waiting times for assessment range from three to six months in the HSE north-west region to 45 months in the HSE mid-west region, with the average waiting time of approximately 18 months Factors that have affected the service and waiting lists include the increasing number of applicants, from 232 in 2000 to 1,033 in 2004, a three and a half fold increase in just five years; the significant increase in the number of post-placement reports resulting from the increase in successful applicants; and population movements within Ireland, which have also shifted the pattern of demand, increasing it in particular areas.

Over the same period the number of social work staff working on inter-country adoption assessments has increased from 38.7 whole-time equivalents in 2000 to 46 whole-time equivalents in 2004.

The Adoption Board and the HSE recently reached agreement on measures to tackle the waiting lists. These include a review of the waiting times and the immediate application of the €1 million in additional, ongoing funding I provided earlier this year to tackle the backlog of applications, the funding distribution to take account of the existing demand in each HSE area; the application process will be improved to ensure the most efficient use of administrative and social work time and to identify ineligible or unsuitable applicants early on in the process; and a general review by the Adoption Board and the HSE of the operation of the standardised framework for inter-country adoption to identify measures which will ensure sustainable improvements. The HSE reform programme affords the opportunity to review the provision of adoption services. The Adoption Board has agreed to fund this important review.

Health Services.

Tom Hayes

Question:

254 Mr. Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress which has been made by the Health Service Executive in its examination of the service requirements of rape victims and when the recommendations of the Health Service Executive in this regard will be published. [26368/05]

My Department does not directly fund or co-ordinate health and personal social services to victims of abuse. Moneys are made available each year, formerly through the health boards and now through the Health Service Executive, for the provision of services to women victims of violence. In recent years there has been a substantial increase in funding so that over €12 million is provided annually for the provision of such services. The distribution of this funding is a matter for the Health Service Executive.

I asked the HSE, together with my Department, to carry out an analysis of the current level of service provision in this area and to report back to me. I have been informed by the HSE that the final draft report is complete. The publication of the report into the examination of the service requirements of rape victims is imminent.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Liz McManus

Question:

255 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the accident and emergency and acute services in Ennis General Hospital will be continued or discontinued; if all hospitals that were to lose their accident and emergency and acute services under the Hanly report proposals are no longer to be subject to downgrading; if the Hanly report will be withdrawn; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26370/05]

James Breen

Question:

272 Mr. J. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if Ennis General Hospital will remain an acute surgical and medical hospital with 24-hour accident and emergency services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26720/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 255 and 272 together.

The report of the national task force on medical staffing, Hanly report, made a series of important recommendations regarding the development of hospital services. Responsibility for the future configuration of acute hospital services, taking into account the recommendations of the report by the national task force on medical staffing, now rests with the Health Service Executive. The key priority is to ensure that patients, wherever they live, have access to high quality hospital care.

The provision of services at Ennis General Hospital is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 256 withdrawn.

Health Services.

John Perry

Question:

257 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo and have them called for cataract surgery; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26424/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

John Perry

Question:

258 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo and have them called for a hip operation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26425/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

John Perry

Question:

259 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to have a neurologist clinic established in Sligo General Hospital (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26428/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

260 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to establish extra places in long-term care facilities for the greater Dublin area, including Kildare, in view of the submission made to her Department by senior management of the main Dublin teaching hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26497/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Mental Health Services.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

261 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the strategy which is in place or planned to address the issue of the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease; if she will initiate a public awareness campaign regarding the symptoms of this disease including the instance of early onset dementia; her plans to establish a specific policy relating to early onset dementia to include improved and wider availability of homecare facilities, specialist respite care facilities and residential facilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26498/05]

The Deputy may be aware that the development of services for people of all ages with Alzheimer's disease is based on the action plan for dementia published by the National Council on Ageing and Older People in 1999. Considerable progress has been made in service development since the publication of the report and, in each of the years since 1999, my Department has provided additional funding to psychiatry of old age, over €5 million, and to the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, over €2 million, for services delivered. In addition, carers of Alzheimer sufferers have benefited from the €5 million we have made available, in the same period, specifically for the support of carers. The Health Service Executive is also making progress in the provision of stand-alone dementia units on a gradual basis. All of the above provisions apply to all dementia sufferers, regardless of age.

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland launched a document entitled Early Onset Dementia: A Needs Analysis of Younger People with Dementia in Ireland. My Department will continue to work with the society to discuss the recommendations contained in this report.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

262 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of recent questions raised by representatives of the ESRI regarding the efficiency of the State paying the full cost of private hospital treatment for public patients through the national treatment purchase fund, her plans to phase out this practice through the provision of adequate public inpatient hospital beds; in the absence of such plans, if she will commit to an increase in inpatient beds and services in the public healthcare system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26499/05]

The national treatment purchase fund, NTPF, was established as one of the key actions for dealing with public hospital waiting lists arising from the health strategy. It is used for the purpose of treating public patients who have been waiting longest for surgery. Up to the end of September approximately 36,000 patients have had treatment arranged for them by the NTPF. It is now the case that, in most instances, anyone waiting more than three months will be facilitated by the fund.

While the majority of procedures funded by the NTPF to date have been carried out in private hospitals in Ireland, my Department has been informed by the NTPF that the prices negotiated by the NTPF compare favourably with the comparative benchmarks available for the costs of the vast majority of procedures.

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. Some 797 beds are in place and the Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the remaining 103 beds or places will come on stream during the coming months.

It should be noted that acute hospital activity has increased significantly in recent years. There were over one million inpatient and day case discharges from acute hospitals in 2004, representing an increase of approximately 33% since 1997.

A policy direction has recently issued to the HSE which is aimed at freeing up additional beds for public patients in public hospitals through the development of private hospital facilities on public hospital sites. My Department, in conjunction with the HSE, will be reviewing public capacity requirements in the acute hospital sector in the light of developments since the health strategy and the progress of this initiative.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Mary Wallace

Question:

263 Ms M. Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the average annual funding per client in the intellectual disability sector for a day activation place; if the €5,800 per client per annum paid to an organisation (details supplied) is below the norm; the steps she will take to ensure that services such as this are provided with appropriate annual funding and should not have to rely on emergency December funding as occurred in 2003 and 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26500/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have the matter investigated and for a reply to issue directly to the Deputy.

Suicide Incidence.

Joe Costello

Question:

264 Mr. Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to a group of persons who are relatives and friends of persons who died by suicide and who are involved in setting up a teen-line service for young persons at risk; if she will provide financial assistance to them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26502/05]

The Deputy may be aware that a national office for suicide prevention was established by the Health Service Executive following the recent publication of the national strategy for action on suicide prevention, Reach Out. The office will drive the implementation of the strategy and will be responsible for giving support to groups and organisations for their work in developing suicide prevention initiatives. The group referred to by the Deputy should be advised to contact the national office for suicide prevention directly in this regard. The office may be contacted at Health Service Executive North East, Dublin Road, Kells, County Meath, or by telephone at 046 9280595.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

265 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason certain adults with special needs who have been cared for at a care community (details supplied) in County Kildare have been informed by the Health Service Executive they are to be placed with an alternative service provider from 31 October 2005; the reason they were not informed of this change in care arrangements with more notice; the reason this decision has not been reversed in view of the level of distress this decision and its method of communication has caused to both the patients and their families alike; if she will intervene in the matter to ensure it is resolved to the satisfaction of the patients and their families alike; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26519/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have the matter investigated and for a reply to issue directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

266 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a medical card has been refused in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26520/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have the matter investigated and for a reply to issue directly to the Deputy.

Suicide Incidence.

Dan Neville

Question:

267 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of deaths and rates per 100,000 population for suicide by HSE regional areas and county for the years 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003. [26583/05]

Mortality data, including principal causes of death, are collected by the Central Statistics Office through the death registration system. Place of residence is coded to the level of county and county borough. The information requested by the Deputy in respect of suicide by county for 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 is as follows:

Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury Number of Deaths and Rate per 100,000 population, 2000-03.

2000

2001

2002

2003

County/Area

Cases

Rate*

Cases

Rate*

Cases

Rate*

Cases

Rate*

Carlow

2

4.53

8

17.77

3

6.52

6

12.79

Cavan

7

12.75

9

16.17

10

17.68

8

13.96

Clare

8

8.05

13

12.85

16

15.49

13

12.36

Cork

67

15.39

100

22.68

62

13.84

64

14.1

Donegal

13

9.7

15

11.06

20

14.54

14

10.05

Dublin

115

10.52

120

10.85

103

9.17

111

9.76

Galway

20

9.97

23

11.25

26

12.44

21

9.85

Kerry

20

15.45

20

15.29

13

9.81

9

6.72

Kildare

20

13.09

12

7.59

21

12.81

18

10.61

Kilkenny

17

21.78

15

18.97

11

13.69

11

13.51

Laois

6

10.65

7

12.18

6

10.21

4

6.67

Leitrim

4

15.77

6

23.49

7

27.13

3

11.54

Limerick

32

18.76

16

9.27

30

17.11

24

13.52

Longford

3

9.82

6

19.5

4

12.87

2

6.39

Louth

13

13.3

7

7.03

14

13.75

16

15.41

Mayo

17

14.83

17

14.68

18

15.33

10

8.42

Meath

11

8.82

19

14.72

19

14.18

11

7.93

Monaghan

11

21.24

2

3.84

4

7.61

8

15.11

Offaly

18

29.2

12

19.18

11

17.28

7

10.83

Roscommon

6

11.37

5

9.4

4

7.44

3

5.53

Sligo

3

5.26

10

17.39

4

6.87

7

11.91

Tipperary NR

9

15.11

10

16.61

11

18.03

14

22.69

Tipperary SR

11

14.22

13

16.64

11

13.9

12

15.01

Waterford

12

12.19

17

17.03

12

11.82

8

7.77

Westmeath

9

13.16

9

12.86

6

8.35

6

8.15

Wexford

23

20.62

19

16.68

17

14.58

23

19.31

Wicklow

9

8.2

9

8.03

15

13.08

11

9.39

Ireland

486

12.82

519

13.49

478

12.2

444

11.16

* Rate per 100,000 population.

Health Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

268 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that in some parts of Dublin, the fee paid by the Health Service Executive for domiciliary visits to nursing homes by chiropodists is just €7.03 after the first visit; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that the Health Service Executive has sought sanction from her Department to increase its rate to a uniform charge of €29.96 which applies in other areas of the health board; and the reason with the new independent Health Service Executive, it is necessary to obtain departmental sanction to apply uniform rates of payments. [26705/05]

Different arrangements were in operation in the various health boards in respect of the provision of chiropody services before the Health Service Executive was established. I am conscious of the need to standardise arrangements under the new structure. The Department, in consultation with the HSE, is examining how best to achieve this in the context of the unified structure having regard to agreed pay policy.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

269 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the lack of funding to rape crisis centres, refugee centres and other phone help lines; if she will ensure that additional funding will be provided as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26706/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have the matter investigated and for a reply to issue directly to the Deputy. I assume the Deputy is referring to refuge centres. If that is the case, responsibility for the provision of such centres lies with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Hospital Services.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

270 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps she has taken towards the reopening of Monaghan General Hospital for surgery in view of the fact that all consultants in the Cavan/Monaghan Hospital Group have requested in writing that this be done as a matter of urgency; the meetings she has had with politicians or health executives relating to the Cavan/Monaghan Hospital Group crisis; her views on whether it is value for money to have a modern theatre, surgeons and equipment totally under utilised while the State is paying for treatment through the national treatment purchase fund (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26718/05]

I met Deputies and Senators from counties Monaghan and Cavan on 9 December 2004 to discuss the provision of services at Monaghan General Hospital. The other issues raised in the Deputy's question relate to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have the matter investigated and for a reply to issue directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 271 answered with QuestionNo. 235.
Question No. 272 answered with QuestionNo. 255.
Question No. 273 answered with QuestionNo. 235.

Health Services.

Pat Breen

Question:

274 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will receive speech therapy weekly on a long-term basis as recommended by professional therapists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26722/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have the matter investigated and for a reply to issue directly to the Deputy.

Michael Ring

Question:

275 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to increase funding to frontline violence against women services such as helplines, refuges, rape crisis centres and the provision of a 24 hour service in order that all women seeking help will be assisted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26723/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy. The responsibility for the provision of refuges lies with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

John McGuinness

Question:

276 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will restore home help hours in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if she will confirm the reason the funding and hours of help are being cut in this area; if she will provide extra funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26729/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

John McGuinness

Question:

277 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason home help hours have been cut in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if the hours will be restored; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26730/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

John McGuinness

Question:

278 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will restore the hours of home help given in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if a positive response in the case will be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26731/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

John McGuinness

Question:

279 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if home help will be provided in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if a positive response in the case will be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26732/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

280 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will reinstate the hearing clinic in Drogheda; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26781/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Forums.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

281 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if ministerial regulations have been made under the Health (Amendment) Act 2005 to establish regional health forums; the composition of such forums, the level of representation from local government on these forums; the date for their establishment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26799/05]

The Health Act 2004 included as a central part of the reforms accountability at all levels of the system. In respect of local representatives it specifically includes in Part 8 under section 42 provision for the establishment of a number of regional health forums. These forums will facilitate local representatives in raising issues of local concern in relation to health services within their region with the executive. Membership of the forums will be based on nominations from city and county councils within the functional areas of each forum. Putting such arrangements in place will ensure that the voice of local public representatives will continue to be heard in relation to the development of health services.

These arrangements are designed to complement and reinforce the role of the Joint Committee on Health and Children in reflecting the views of public representatives in the ongoing oversight of the health services. The regulations will specify the following: the title of each forum and define its functional area; the number of members for each forum; the number of members from each city and county council to be nominated to each forum; and the requirements relating to the manner in which the functions of a forum are to be performed. They will also set out the procedures for the following: appointing members to a forum; the election of a chairperson and vice-chairperson of a forum; filling of casual vacancies; the meetings of a forum; the establishment of committees and the appointment of their members; and ensuring the proper administration of each forum.

My Department has been engaged in a consultation process regarding the proposed regulations and, as a result of these consultations, I hope to finalise the regulations and lay them before the Houses shortly, with a view to establishing the forums very soon afterwards.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

282 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she will convene the national health consultative forum; the proposed composition of the forum; if she will provide for representation for people in Northern Ireland on the forum; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26800/05]

Section 41 of the Health Act 2004 provides for the convening of a national health consultative forum to advise me, in my capacity as Minister, on matters relating to the provision of health and personal social services as defined in the Act. This forum will replace the national consultative forum on the health strategy which has been convened annually since 2002. The strategy forum will be held in December this year. The strategy forum participants are primarily drawn from senior management in the health system, the voluntary sector, patient and client groups, service providers, trade unions, professional bodies, Departments and other sectoral interests.

My Department is preparing a ministerial order on the membership, rules and procedures of the national health consultative forum. While its composition has yet to be decided by me, it is envisaged, having regard to the provisions of the Act, that its membership will be on similar lines to the existing strategy forum.

Health Services.

Michael Noonan

Question:

283 Mr. Noonan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Health and Children that the orthodontic programme initiated by a doctor (details supplied) in Limerick should be restored and become the template for a national programme; if she will ensure that persons involved in this programme will not have their careers adversely affected by previous conflicts with her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26811/05]

The recent report by the Joint Committee on Health and Children is a follow up to its earlier report of 2002, The Orthodontic Service in Ireland. As the committee makes clear, the report should be read as an appendix to the 2002 report.

The Deputy will be aware that under the Dentists Act 1985 the regulation of professional education and training in dentistry is statutorily vested by the Oireachtas in the Dental Council alone. The Dental Council is the competent authority in Ireland for issuing certificates that internationally recognise dentists who have completed specialist training in orthodontics. It is the Dental Council, through the Irish Committee for Specialist Training in Dentistry, that decides whether to accredit specialist training regimes. The Minister for Health and Children does not have a statutory role in the recognition of training regimes in dentistry.

My Department is not the employer of the person to whom the Deputy refers. The Department has, in the past, dealt with allegations made by the person referred to by the Deputy against officials of this Department. The Department carried out an examination of the allegations and found no evidence to support them.

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that a number of measures have been adopted to improve orthodontic services on a national basis. The grade of specialist in orthodontics has been created in the orthodontic service. My Department and the Health Service Executive, HSE, have funded 22 dentists from various HSE areas for specialist in orthodontics qualifications at training programmes in Ireland and at three separate universities in the United Kingdom. The most recent group of 13 trainees have now completed their training and have taken up posts in the HSE since 1 October 2005. This means that almost half the orthodontists in Ireland are now working in the public health service.

My Department has been informed by the HSE that, at the end of the June 2005 quarter, there were 23,216 patients receiving orthodontic treatment in the public orthodontic service. This means that there are over twice as many patients getting orthodontic treatment as there are waiting to be treated and more than 7,000 extra patients are getting treatment from the HSE since the end of the June 2001 quarter. The improvement in quality of treatment and numbers being treated is directly attributable to the steps that have already been taken and will continue to be taken to ensure ongoing improvements to the service. The addition of 13 specialists in orthodontics to the service since 1 October 2005 will have a further significant impact on numbers in treatment and waiting lists.

My Department has met the HSE regarding the latest joint committee report. Since that meeting the HSE, to ensure ongoing training, has committed funding for the training of a further four orthodontists. My Department, in conjunction with the HSE, is considering each of the recommendations set out in the report of the joint committee.

Tax Collection.

Paul McGrath

Question:

284 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of companies who are in arrears on their obligations to pay PRSI; and the amount of PRSI outstanding from those employers. [26599/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

285 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of employers who are three months, six months, nine months, 12 months or longer in arrears of PRSI payments to his Department; the average amount owing for each time frame described above and the total amount owing by employers. [26600/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 284 and 285 together.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that PRSI and health levy are paid as one amount. The total amount paid annually by employers for each of the past five years is as follows:

Tax Year

PRSI and Levy paid by employers

€m

2004

6,881

2003

6,177

2002

5,775

2001

5,169

2000

4,391

The number of employers, excluding those with minor amounts, with PRSI and health levy outstanding is in the region of 11,000 out of a total number of live employer registrations of 193,000. Cases with debts are all subject to ongoing collection and compliance activity by Revenue. PRSI and health levy outstanding for all years to end 2004, at 31 March 2005 was €176 million. This represents 2.5% of total PRSI and health levy collected in 2004 and is in line with the overall levels of tax outstanding. It is not possible to give a breakdown for the timeframes requested.

Tax Code.

James Breen

Question:

286 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Finance if he will give the same concessions to the visually impaired as are available to other people who suffer from disabilities in relation to VAT refund on components purchased by the aforementioned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26734/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that under certain circumstances a claim for refund of VAT may be considered in accordance with Value Added Tax (Refund of Tax) (No. 15) Order 1981. This order enables VAT paid on qualifying goods to be refunded where the goods are purchased for the exclusive use of disabled persons suffering a specified degree of disablement. Visually impaired persons are regarded as coming within the terms of this order and VAT refunds are regularly made in respect of qualifying items considered necessary to that particular disability. For such persons, qualifying items would include specially adapted computer equipment, braille books, braille writing equipment, braille converters and radar devices.

If the Deputy has a particular case or particular component in mind, he should contact the VAT Repayments Section in the Revenue Commissioners, Government Offices, Kilrush Road, Ennis, County Clare, who would be glad to clarify the position.

Tax Yield.

Richard Bruton

Question:

287 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the tax revenue from housing in each of the years 1997 to 2005 distinguishing the revenue raised from VAT, stamp duties on new sites, stamp duty on second-hand sales, capital gains taxes on new sites and from home sales. [26225/05]

I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information requested by the Deputy as regards value added tax, VAT, stamp duty and capital gains tax, CGT, is as follows.

The figures available for VAT are of the estimated yields from new housing and the maintenance and repair to all housing for the years 1997 to 2004, inclusive. In the case of the sale of a new house or apartment to a purchaser, VAT applies at the reduced rate of 13.5% both on its construction and on the site where these are connected contracts and is included in the final price of the property to the purchaser. No VAT applies in respect of the purchase of a second-hand house. However, VAT, also at 13.5%, applies on housing repair and maintenance. The relevant information available in respect of VAT is the estimated yield as follows.

Year

New housing

Housing repair and maintenance

Total

€m

€m

€m

1997

367

205

572

1998

494

217

711

1999

641

289

931

2000

809

332

1,141

2001

927

382

1,309

2002

1,100

336

1,436

2003

1,541

332

1,873

2004

1,999

364

2,364

The figures given for the VAT raised in 2003 are a revision of figures provided previously. The revision was necessitated by more accurate information becoming available in the interim.

In the case of stamp duty, the figures available are of the total collected from residential property. However, data are not collected in a manner that would enable a more detailed breakdown of the annual yield to be provided as between second-hand and relevant new residential property. Stamp duty is also chargeable on transfers of sites at the appropriate rates for non-residential property but it is not possible to determine what proportion of the total stamp duty yield on non-residential property relates to site transfers. The following table shows the figures for stamp duty yield from residential property for each of the years 1997 to 2004 and for 2005 to the end of July 2005.

Year

€m

1997

194

1998

213

1999

263

2000

282

2001

265

2002

349

2003

528

2004

752

2005 (to end July)

464

The end-July 2005 figure is provisional and subject to revision. The stamp duty figures shown are estimated for 1997 to 2000, inclusive, because the breakdown in the yield figures for property as between residential and non-residential is approximate only for those years. As regards CGT, the precise information requested by the Deputy is not available.

Richard Bruton

Question:

288 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the tax revenue raised from each of the motor fuels in each year from 1997 to 2005. [26226/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the period for which data are available is 1997 to August 2005, inclusive. As regards data pertaining to 2005, estimated revenue to end-August only can be provided. The relevant information has been forwarded to the Deputy.

Estimated Excise and VAT Yield from Motor Fuels.

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

20051

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

Petrol

Excise

602

677

720

755

725

854

854

971

704

Estimated VAT

196

207

223

288

264

286

290

328

237

Total

797

884

944

1,043

989

1,140

1,144

1,298

940

Auto Diesel

Excise

429

509

583

624

519

660

731

889

632

Estimated VAT

17

19

22

29

27

30

32

38

29

Total

445

528

605

653

546

690

764

927

661

Auto LPG

Excise

0.5

0.4

0.3

0.3

0.1

0.1

0.1

0.1

0.1

Estimated VAT

0.5

0.4

0.4

0.3

0.3

0.2

0.1

0.1

0.1

Total

1.0

0.7

0.6

0.6

0.4

0.3

0.2

0.2

0.1

Total

1,243

1,413

1,549

1,697

1,536

1,831

1,908

2,226

1,601

12005 data relates only to end August 2005-10-05

The figures for VAT collected are estimated as VAT returns are not required to be completed in a manner that identifies the yield from particular goods and services. The figures given for the revenue raised from auto LPG is a downward revision of those provided in reply to a previous parliamentary question on 17 November last. The revision was necessitated by more accurate information becoming available in the interim.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

289 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the excise charged per unit of alcohol on the different categories of alcohol products subject to VAT. [26227/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the position is as set out in the following table which shows the comparative incidence of excise duty — alcohol products tax — per degree of alcohol contained in the main types of alcoholic beverage, taking products of typical strength within each category.

Per litre per 1% alcohol

Wine: @ 12.5%

Beer: All

Spirits: All

Cider: @ 4.5%

Sparkling Wine @ 12%

Sherry/ Port @ 18%

€0.218

€0.1987

€0.3925

€0.185

€0.455

€0.220

Spirits and beer are charged on the basis of their alcohol content — per degree of alcohol. The other products are charged on a volume basis, that is, the same rate, per hectolitre of product, is applied to products within certain bands of strength. A schedule of current rates has been forwarded to the Deputy.

Description of Product

Rate of Duty

Spirits

39.25 per litre of alcohol in the spirits

Beer

Exceeding 1.2% vol

19.87 per hectolitre per cent of alcohol in the beer

Other beer

Nil

Wine

Still and sparkling, not exceeding 5.5% vol

90.98 per hectolitre

Still, exceeding 5.5% vol but not exceeding 15% vol

273.00 per hectolitre

Still, exceeding 15% vol

396.12 per hectolitre

Sparkling, exceeding 5.5% vol

546.01 per hectolitre

Other Fermented Beverages

(1) Cider and Perry

Still and sparkling, not exceeding 6.0% vol

83.25 per hectolitre

Still and sparkling, exceeding 6.0% vol but not exceeding 8.5% vol

192.47 per hectolitre

Still, exceeding 8.5% vol

273.00 per hectolitre

Sparkling, exceeding 8.5% vol

546.01 per hectolitre

(2) Other than Cider and Perry

Still and sparkling, not exceeding 5.5% vol

90.98 per hectolitre

Still, exceeding 5.5% vol

273.00 per hectolitre

Sparkling, exceeding 5.5% vol

546.01 per hectolitre

Intermediate Beverages

Still, not exceeding 15% vol

273.00 per hectolitre

Still, exceeding 15% vol

396.12 per hectolitre

Sparkling

546.01 per hectolitre

The VAT rating of goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. The EU Sixth VAT Directive requires the supply of alcohol to be subject to the standard rate of VAT, which in Ireland is set at 21%.

Denis Naughten

Question:

290 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance the steps he intends to take to address the cost of fuel for the licensed haulage industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26276/05]

Fuel prices are driven by a number of factors, including the price of oil on international markets, exchange rates, production costs and refining costs. The rise in oil prices over recent periods reflected additional factors such as geopolitical uncertainty, supply disruptions and strong economic growth in catch-up countries such as China. Mineral oil taxes are a factor influencing fuel prices.

As the Deputy will be aware, changes in taxation are made in the context of the annual budget and, accordingly, any requests made regarding changes in tax rates are considered in the period leading up to the budget. The Deputy will appreciate that it is neither practical nor prudent to adjust tax rates between budgets. However, it should be noted that Ireland's mineral oil tax on petrol and diesel is below that of our main EU trading partners and, as the Deputy may be aware, I did not increase taxation on motor fuels of any description in last year's budget.

A submission has been made to me in this connection on behalf of the licensed haulage industry by the Irish Road Haulage Association and officials of my Department met representatives of that association recently. The proposals made in its submission, which were elaborated on at the aforementioned meeting, will be examined in the context of the forthcoming budget.

Departmental Properties.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

291 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the plans the Office of Public Works has to ensure that the former social welfare office in Victoria Street, Dublin 8, is properly cleaned up and secured; and the plans for the future of this building. [26288/05]

The Commissioners of Public Works are aware of the current state of this building and have arranged a detailed condition report to be prepared. Remedial works have already been undertaken to the roof so as to minimise any damage to the building. The commissioners hold this building by way of lease with only a short period to run. It is intended to surrender the lease on the due date. In the meantime, the Commissioners of Public Works are committed to adhering to the terms and conditions of the lease on this property and will carry out in the near future any works deemed necessary to maintain the property to an acceptable standard.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

292 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the reason for implementing section 12 of the Finance Act 2005; the additional costs which arise for State employees living abroad; the number of State employees who have been certified as tax exempt under section 12; the value of the tax exemption of State employees to date; if section 12 applies retrospectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26305/05]

Section 12 of the Finance Act 2005 provides for the Minister for Finance, in consultation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs or a relevant other Minister, to certify as exempt from taxation certain allowances which provide compensation to officers of the State for the extra costs of having to live outside the State in order to perform their duties. The provision is aimed mainly at civil servants attached to diplomatic missions but it also covers members of the Garda Síochána and the Permanent Defence Force on certain overseas postings. The purpose of the provision was to give a statutory basis to a de facto position where these allowances were treated as exempt from tax by the State. It is also in line with the general international practice of exempting such allowances from tax.

The additional costs for State employees posted abroad vary from one foreign location to another but may arise in respect of differences in costs of living, extra costs in the performance of duties, accommodation costs and additional expenses relating to the care and education of children. There are approximately 340 officers of the State, mainly officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs, who are in receipt of allowances covered by the exemption.

The tax treatment of these allowances reflects the fact that they are calculated to cover the additional costs incurred by officers of the State who are posted abroad. Section 12 clarifies the tax position of such officers but does not give rise to any additional Exchequer costs. The question of retrospection did not arise as the provision gave legal effect to an existing long-standing practice.

Paul McGrath

Question:

293 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of nursing homes which availed of the capital allowances on an annual basis since December 1997. [26325/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

294 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount of capital allowances claimed by nursing homes each year since December 1997. [26327/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

295 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of nursing homes where capital allowances have been clawed back as a result of the building ceasing to be a qualifying nursing home for each year since 1997. [26328/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 293 to 295, inclusive, together.

Capital allowances for the construction of private nursing homes were introduced in Finance Act 1998. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they are not in a position to estimate the number of nursing homes which have benefited from this tax incentive. This is because the normal self-assessment tax return form does not distinguish between capital allowances claimed in respect of private nursing homes from those claimed in respect of other buildings entitled to capital allowances. Consequently, it is not possible for Revenue to indicate the level of take up of this specific incentive. Similarly, the Revenue Commissioners have no information on the numbers of nursing homes where capital allowances have been clawed back.

As part of ongoing commitments to improve the quality of information available on the costs of tax expenditures generally, the Revenue Commissioners have introduced a number of changes to certain tax forms which will yield additional information regarding the cost of various reliefs and the number of taxpayers availing of them. Provisions were included in the Finance Act 2004 to underpin these changes. This will provide better data in this area and enable fuller estimates of the tax forgone to be made over time. Consultancy studies nearing completion will also provide significant additional data in this regard.

The capital allowances were introduced in Finance Act 1998 with effect from 3 December 1997. The latest information from the Department of Health and Children is that the number of beds in private nursing homes increased from 6,932 at the end of 1997 to 13,178 in December 2003. The new capital allowances incentive for nursing homes would have caused some of this increase in bed capacity but the Department of Health and Children does not have any information on this matter.

Capital Funding.

Tony Gregory

Question:

296 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance if his Department has expressed value for money concerns regarding capital funding for certain hospitals; the hospitals involved; and the reason for the concern. [26355/05]

The Deputy will be aware that the capital envelopes are agreed for each Department and office by the Cabinet. In the case of the health sector, sanction to spend this money is provided by this Department on an annual basis. This sanction is subject to a series of general and specific conditions, including adherence to national and EU requirements in relation to capital appraisal and procurement issues. In this context, all Departments and offices must comply with the Department of Finance's guidelines for appraisal and management of capital expenditure proposals in the public sector. The systematic appraisal and professional management of all capital projects helps to ensure that the best choices are made and that the best value for money is obtained.

The Deputy may be referring to my Department's letter of sanction in respect of the Health Service Executive's capital expenditure for 2005. In the context of this sanction, concerns were raised regarding the projected ongoing staffing and other costs relating to the Longford-Westmeath hospital. In this regard, my Department's sanction was subject to the Department of Health and Children arranging for an independent review of these costs. This sanction also stated that my Department's specific sanction should be obtained before the Mater project can proceed to tender. This condition was included to ensure that my Department and the Department of Health and Children are satisfied that all proper procedures have been followed in the context of the procurement process, that the necessary capital funding is in place for the duration of the project and that ongoing staffing and resource issues arising out of the project are considered and addressed in advance of signing of contracts.

Liquor Licensing Laws.

John Curran

Question:

297 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Finance the number of premises licensed to sell alcohol by retail sale in Dublin city and county on 30 June 2004, 31 December 2004 and 30 June 2005 based on information available from the Revenue Commissioners. [26401/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the information requested is not readily available. However, I have asked the Revenue Commissioners to forward all relevant information to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Departmental Records.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

298 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the press reports of a large number of hits which were made to social welfare computer records of a person (details supplied); if there were hits in excess of what is normal on their tax files; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26410/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that their standing procedures instruct staff that the accessing of taxpayer records should not take place except in the normal course of an officer's assigned duties and for business reasons. I am also informed that Revenue has an internal security policy that monitors any apparent irregular or excessive viewing or accessing of taxpayer records of any individuals. While there are indications that access to the records of the individual in question might be slightly higher than normal during the past two months, it is not possible to conclude without further inquiries that this access was not necessary for normal business reasons. I am informed by Revenue that they are carrying out further inquiries in this matter as part of their internal security procedures and that they will take any action that is appropriate in the light of the findings of the inquiries.

Tax Code.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

299 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance when the returns for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford will be assessed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26482/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the returns of income for the relevant years have been processed and notices of assessment issued to the person on 3 October 2005.

Jack Wall

Question:

300 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the application for a tax rebate for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare. [26518/05]

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners they have no record of having received correspondence for an application for a tax rebate from the person concerned. However, based on the details provided by the Deputy, they examined the case and issued a notification of the tax refund due to the person on 29 September 2005. A cheque in settlement will issue in the coming days.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.

Paul McGrath

Question:

301 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will indicate the current number of investors, the average amount saved monthly and the monthly cost to the Exchequer for SSIA’s since the scheme commenced. [26602/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

302 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the estimated cost to the Exchequer of the SSIA scheme through to completion and the estimated total amount invested in this scheme through to completion. [26603/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

303 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount available to SSIA account holders on a monthly basis from May 2006 on maturing accounts until the completion of this scheme. [26604/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 301 to 303, inclusive, together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the latest figure of the total number of active SSIA accounts, based on the SSIA annual returns by all qualifying savings managers, is at 31 December 2004. This figure was 1,094,294. The average monthly subscription at that date was €175.

The monthly cost to the Exchequer for SSIAs since the scheme commenced is set out in the following table:

Claims

Year

Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

June

July

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Total

2001

2.0

6.1

9.1

11.0

12.6

14.2

16.0

71.0

2002

17.8

19.3

21.0

25.6

43.1

44.4

43.5

44.1

43.6

43.6

43.5

43.5

433.0

2003

44.4

44.8

44.1

44.0

44.2

44.0

44.3

44.3

44.1

44.9

44.8

44.0

531.9

2004

45.2

44.8

44.2

45.6

45.1

45.8

46.0

45.3

46.3

46.3

46.4

47.0

548.0

2005

47.0

47.9

48.1

48.8

48.5

50.3

50.3

50.4

391.4

The total amount invested in the scheme since its commencement, according to Revenue Commissioners data, is set out in the following table.

Period

Subscriptions

€ million

May-December 2001

356.6

January- December 2002

1,859.3

January-December 2003

2,187.3

January-December 2004

2,264.8

January-July 2005

1,408.3

Total

8,076.3

It is not possible to give a definitive answer as to the eventual cost of the scheme and the total estimated amount invested in the scheme, as it is subject to a number of variables such as participants dying, withdrawing from the scheme or varying their monthly contributions. The Exchequer cost of the scheme to date is as outlined above. The estimated cost in 2005, based on the average tax credit payout in the first eight months of 2005, is €587 million but this is not a conclusive figure, and the final figure may be different if account holders change their monthly contributions. The total gross cost over the period of the scheme will be reduced by the exit tax to be received at the end. For these reasons, together with the fact that any gains arising is a matter for the relevant financial institution, it is not possible to estimate the total amount of subscriptions upon completion of the scheme and the amount available to SSIA holders on maturity.

Tax Yield.

Paul McGrath

Question:

304 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the annual revenue on fuels, petrol, diesel, gas and home heating oil when the fuel is priced at 80 cent per litre, 100 cent per litre, 120 cent per litre and 140 cent per litre. [26605/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the annual revenue from fuels when priced at 80, 100, 120 and 140 cent per litre, based on total volume consumption in 2004, would be as presented in the following table:

Excise

Estimated VAT

Total

€m

€m

€m

80 Cent

Petrol

969

304

1,273

Diesel

874

34

908

Marked Gas Oil

69

66

135

Kerosene

33

100

133

100 Cent

Petrol

969

380

1,349

Diesel

874

42

916

Marked Gas Oil

69

82

151

Kerosene

33

125

158

120 Cent

Petrol

969

456

1,425

Diesel

874

51

925

Marked Gas Oil

69

98

167

Kerosene

33

150

183

140 Cent

Petrol

969

532

1,501

Diesel

874

59

933

Marked Gas Oil

69

115

184

Kerosene

33

175

208

European Council.

Dan Boyle

Question:

305 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance the way in which his Department will be responding to the agreements reached by Ministers under the topic of current economic situation and oil at the latest ECOFIN meeting, especially the commitment to develop more effective international co-operation on energy efficiency and development of clean technologies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26617/05]

Ministers at the recent ECOFIN agreed that dialogue at EU level with major oil producing regions should be progressed. This is under way and the European Commission is looking at options to improve the transparency of oil markets with respect to available data. In respect of the agreement that Ministers should pursue policies aimed at promoting energy efficiency, any further options that emerge with respect to how international co-operation can facilitate this, will be explored fully. With respect to current international agreements, the Government is fully committed to the Kyoto Protocol and the international response to combat climate change. I am open-minded towards initiatives in the tax area which can impact positively on the environment but in reviewing any such initiatives have to be mindful of competitiveness issues and the impact of any particular measure across the overall community.

Tax Code.

Dan Boyle

Question:

306 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance his views on Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel’s suggestion that the EU could part-fund its budget with a levy on international financial transactions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26618/05]

The Austrian Chancellor recently stated there should be an automatic financing mechanism for part of the EU budget, for example, through taxation of international financial transactions. The issue of a currency transactions tax, Tobin tax, has been considered in several fora, including the informal ECOFIN meeting at Liege on 22 September 2001. The Belgian Presidency indicated it wished to pursue the matter in the context of a general study to be carried out by the Commission on the issue of globalisation. However, most EU Finance Ministers at that time had reservations about the Tobin tax proposal. Many believed it was not clear that a further examination of the issue by the Commission would ensure that satisfactory answers would be given to the many real questions concerning the tax, including the difficulties relating to practical implementation of the tax; its doubtful effect on short-term speculative capital movements; its conflict with the basic tenet of free capital movement in the EU; its disproportionate effect on small business and consumers; the probability that the tax would simply drive participants into other, non-taxable, alternatives; and the negative impact on liquidity in the foreign exchange market. I am of the same view.

Nevertheless, at a formal ECOFIN meeting on 16 October 2001, it was agreed the Commission would carry out a study on globalisation and that this study would examine the arguments for and against a Tobin tax. The study, Responses to the Challenges of Globalisation, was published on 14 February 2002. On the matter of the Tobin tax, the study concluded that "while as a source of additional revenue a currency transaction tax may look appealing, its feasibility is, however, not demonstrated". This issue has also been raised at EU level in 2005 in the context of the financing of development aid but was dismissed by the EU Commission for reasons such as those already outlined. As indicated in replies to previous parliamentary questions on this matter, I do not propose to introduce such a tax as I remain unconvinced of its feasibility.

Tax Yield.

Joan Burton

Question:

307 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the bands of income of €10,000 and the income tax rate paid by taxpayers with an income in excess of €100,000. [26743/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent basic data on incomes available from which information of the type requested by the Deputy could be derived are in respect of the income tax year 2002 and is set out in the following tables. However, because of the Revenue Commissioners' obligation to observe confidentiality in the taxation affairs of individual taxpayers and small groups of taxpayers, the breakdown by income bands requested by the Deputy is not provided for incomes exceeding €1 million due to the small numbers of income earners with incomes in excess of that level.

A married couple who has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit. Married couples and individuals with income chargeable to tax under both schedule E and schedule D have been classified in the attached tables by reference to the schedule under which the larger amount of income is taxable.

The designation of a tax rate to an income earner in the tables is based on identifying the top tax rate applying to the taxable income of each earner. To arrive at the figure for taxable income, the gross income is reduced by various relevant deductions and allowances such as capital allowances, losses, allowable expenses and retirement annuities. In some cases, these will reduce the taxable income to nil. The information on incomes is based on income returns on Revenue's records at the time the data were compiled for analytical purposes, representing about 95% of all returns expected.

INCOME TAX 2002

Numbers of all income earners with incomes exceeding €100,000

Range of Gross Income*

No net liability for income tax

Liable for tax at the standard rate (20%) or marginal relief

Liable for tax at the higher rate (42%)

Overall

Single*

Married

Total

Single*

Married

Total

Single*

Married

Total

Total

100,000 110,000

8

21

29

9

101

110

1,255

7,908

9,163

9,302

110,000 120,000

3

15

18

5

53

58

857

5,381

6,238

6,314

120,000 130,000

1

22

23

3

58

61

645

3,827

4,472

4,556

130,000 140,000

3

13

16

3

32

35

482

2,901

3,383

3,434

140,000 150,000

2

8

10

3

24

27

384

2,232

2,616

2,653

150,000 160,000

5

11

16

0

25

25

302

1,794

2,096

2,137

160,000 170,000

0

3

3

1

22

23

262

1,496

1,758

1,784

170,000 180,000

2

5

7

1

19

20

210

1,269

1,479

1,506

180,000 190,000

2

7

9

4

16

20

177

1,055

1,232

1,261

190,000 200,000

4

3

7

1

11

12

150

968

1,118

1,137

200,000 210,000

1

5

6

1

10

11

132

842

974

991

210,000 220,000

0

6

6

0

8

8

133

651

784

798

220,000 230,000

0

7

7

0

10

10

109

585

694

711

230,000 240,000

1

5

6

1

6

7

82

499

581

594

240,000 250,000

1

0

1

1

1

2

74

521

595

598

250,000 260,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

62

401

463

464

260,000 270,000

1

4

5

1

6

7

59

371

430

442

270,000 280,000

0

2

2

2

8

10

54

338

392

404

280,000 290,000

1

1

2

0

1

1

53

300

353

356

290,000 300,000

1

2

3

0

1

1

44

279

323

327

300,000 310,000

2

1

3

0

1

1

39

271

310

314

310,000 320,000

0

3

3

0

4

4

31

228

259

266

320,000 330,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

330,000 340,000

0

3

3

0

5

5

68

399

467

475

340,000 350,000

1

1

2

1

2

3

33

188

221

226

350,000 360,000

0

0

0

0

2

2

22

179

201

203

360,000 370,000

0

2

2

0

1

1

17

149

166

169

370,000 380,000

0

0

0

0

2

2

26

127

153

155

380,000 390,000

0

1

1

1

1

2

21

132

153

156

390,000 400,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

12

102

114

116

400,000 410,000

1

4

5

0

0

0

27

118

145

150

410,000 420,000

0

2

2

0

2

2

21

103

124

128

420,000 430,000

0

0

0

0

2

2

14

108

122

124

430,000 440,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

12

79

91

92

440,000 450,000

1

1

2

0

1

1

14

94

108

111

450,000 460,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

17

76

93

94

460,000 470,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

14

77

91

91

470,000 480,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

9

75

84

85

480,000 490,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

5

70

75

76

490,000 500,000

0

0

0

1

0

1

13

52

65

66

500,000 510,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

11

63

74

76

510,000 520,000

0

0

0

0

2

2

9

65

74

76

520,000 530,000

0

0

0

0

2

2

8

45

53

55

530,000 540,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

13

54

67

67

540,000 550,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

7

39

46

46

550,000 560,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

3

54

57

58

560,000 570,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

7

44

51

51

570,000 580,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

46

48

48

580,000 590,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

33

35

35

590,000 600,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

35

38

38

600,000 610,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

4

34

38

39

610,000 620,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

7

27

34

34

620,000 630,000

0

2

2

0

1

1

6

28

34

37

630,000 640,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

9

37

46

47

640,000 650,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

4

31

35

36

650,000 660,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

5

32

37

37

660,000 670,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

2

31

33

35

670,000 680,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

4

20

24

25

680,000 690,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

23

26

26

690,000 700,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

5

37

42

42

700,000 710,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

26

29

29

710,000 720,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

4

25

29

30

720,000 730,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

4

22

26

26

730,000 740,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

27

33

33

740,000 750,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

4

25

29

29

750,000 760,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

1

16

17

18

760,000 770,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

17

18

18

770,000 780,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

12

13

13

780,000 790,000

0

0

0

1

1

2

3

12

15

17

790,000 800,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

0

18

18

19

800,000 810,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

13

13

13

810,000 820,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

1

6

7

8

820,000 830,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

2

11

13

14

830,000 840,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

11

12

12

840,000 850,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

10

12

12

850,000 860,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

16

18

18

860,000 870,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

2

9

11

12

870,000 880,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

13

13

14

880,000 890,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

1

9

10

11

890,000 900,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

1

7

8

9

900,000 910,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

10

11

11

910,000 920,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

8

9

9

920,000 930,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

9

11

11

930,000 940,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

5

8

8

940,000 950,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

0

4

4

5

950,000 960,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

7

8

8

960,000 970,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

6

6

970,000 980,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

4

7

7

980,000 990,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

9

9

9

890,000 900,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

5

6

6

Over 1,000,000

1

4

5

1

5

6

67

359

426

437

42

176

218

41

460

501

6,173

37,754

43,927

44,646

"Single" includes widowed persons.

Joan Burton

Question:

308 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the excise duty and approximate VAT charge on a litre of home heating oil in the domestic market in September 2005; and the amount of excise duty and VAT included in the cost of a typical delivery of 1000 litres of home heating oil. [26744/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the excise duty and VAT on a litre of home heating oil and the amount of excise duty and VAT for a delivery of 1,000 litres of home heating oil at September 2005 are set out in the followingtable.

Product

Per litre

Per 1,000 litres

Price (cents)

Excise (cents)

VAT (cents)

Total Tax (cents)

Excise €

VAT €

Total Tax €

Kerosene

66.9

3.2

8.0

11.2

31.74

79.57

111.31

Marked Gas Oil

65.4

4.7

7.8

12.5

47.36

77.79

125.15

This table is based on a price of €669 for 1,000 litres of kerosene and €654 for 1,000 litres of home heating diesel on 6 September 2005.

Joan Burton

Question:

309 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of excise duty which has been received on home heating oil in 2002, 2003 and 2004. [26745/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information available for home heating oil refers to the consumption of kerosene and marked gas oil. While the majority of kerosene is used for home heating purposes, it should be noted that marked gas oil, as well as being used for home heating purposes, is also used for industrial and commercial heating, agricultural use and transport. The amount of excise duty received for kerosene and marked gas oil from 2002 to 2004 is set out in the following table.

Year

Kerosene

Marked Gas Oil

Total

€m

€m

€m

2002

30

66

96

2003

31

70

101

2004

33

52

85

Joan Burton

Question:

310 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of VAT which has been received on home heating oil in 2002, 2003 and 2004. [26746/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

311 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of additional VAT revenue on home heating oil received in 2004 due to price rises; the amount of additional VAT revenue he will receive in 2005 and 2006 due to price rises; if the current end of September 2005 prices will prevail until the end of 2005 and throughout 2006. [26747/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 310 and 311 together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information available for home heating oil refers to the consumption of kerosene and a portion of the consumption of marked gas oil. Marked gas oil, as well as being used for home heating purposes, is also used for industrial and commercial heating, agricultural use and transport. While it is assumed that almost all of the usage of kerosene involves home heating, it is not possible to accurately state what portion of the total usage of marked gas oil is used for home heating purposes. The information furnished on VAT returns does not require the yield from particular sectors of trade to be identified.

The overall amount of VAT which was received on kerosene and the full usage of marked gas oil is estimated in the following table.

Year

Kerosene

Marked Gas Oil

Total

€m

€m

€m

2002

42

28

70

2003

48

31

79

2004

53

34

86

The additional estimated VAT revenue on all kerosene and the full usage of marked gas oil, which was received in 2004 due to price rises during 2004, and the further additional amounts of VAT revenue expected in 2005 and in 2006 due to price rises, if it is assumed that end of September 2005 prices will prevail until the end of 2005 and throughout 2006, are set out in the following table.

Year

Kerosene

Marked Gas Oil

Total

€m

€m

€m

2004

4.7

5.6

10.3

2005

12.8

8.3

21.1

2006

14.9

8.5

23.4

The extent to which spending in the economy is re-allocated to home heating oil and away from other VAT liable spending so that the overall level of economic activity is reduced by higher oil prices, may be of little or no net gain to the Exchequer. It should be noted that the VAT content of purchases of kerosene and marked gas oil is a deductible credit for business in the VAT system.

Joan Burton

Question:

312 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of additional VAT revenue on LPG which was received in 2004 due to price rises; the amount of additional VAT revenue he will receive in 2005 and 2006 due to price rises; if the current end of September 2005 prices will prevail until the end of 2005 and throughout 2006. [26748/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the increase in VAT revenue arising during 2004 due to movement in national average retail prices for LPG is estimated at €800,000.

If it is assumed that end of September 2005 prices will prevail until the end of 2005 and throughout 2006, then the amount of additional VAT revenue that will be received is estimated to be €500,000 in 2005 with a further additional amount of €800,000 for 2006. These estimates are based on provisional volume clearances for 2005 up to the end of August and on the assumption that there is no fall in consumption levels.

It should be borne in mind that to the extent that spending in the economy is re-allocated to LPG and away from other VAT liable spending and to the extent that the overall level of economic activity is reduced by higher oil prices, there may be little or no net gain to the Exchequer. It should be noted that the value-added tax content of LPG purchases are treated as a deductible credit for business in the Irish VAT system.

Joan Burton

Question:

313 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of VAT which was received on sales of gas in 2002, 2003 and 2004; the amount of additional VAT revenue which was received on sales of gas in 2004 due to price rises; the amount of additional VAT revenue on sales of gas which will be received in 2005 and 2006 due to price rises taking account of the recently announced 25% price increase and the amount of VAT revenue which was attributable to sales to domestic households. [26749/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information available pertains to the estimated net VAT received from users of natural gas for the years 2002 to 2004. The information to be furnished on VAT returns does not require the yield from particular sectors of trade to be identified. It is, therefore, not possible to identify what portion of the net VAT received relates to sales of gas to domestic households.

The estimated amount of VAT received on sales of gas for the years 2002 to 2004 which would include VAT from unregistered or exempt businesses as well as domestic consumers is for 2002, €33.9 million; for 2003, €42.2 million; and for 2004, € 45.9 million.

The estimated additional VAT received due to price rises for 2004 and the expected additional receipts for price increases in 2005 and 2006, assuming that the consumption on which the latest net receipts are based remains the same, are: 2004, €400,000; for 2005, €600,000; and for 2006, €16 million.

It should be borne in mind that to the extent that spending in the economy is re-allocated to gas and away from other VAT liable spending and to the extent that the overall level of economic activity is reduced by higher oil prices, there may be little or no net gain to the Exchequer. It should also be noted that the VAT content of purchases of gas is treated as a deductible credit for business in the Irish VAT system.

Joan Burton

Question:

314 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of VAT which was received on sales of electricity in 2002, 2003 and 2004. [26750/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

315 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of additional VAT revenue which was received on sales of electricity in 2004 due to price rises. [26751/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

316 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of additional VAT revenue on sales of electricity which will be received in 2005 and 2006 due to price rises taking account of the recently announced price increases. [26752/05]

Joan Burton

Question:

317 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of VAT revenue received on sales of electricity in 2002, 2003 and 2004; received on sales of electricity in 2004 due to price rises; and on sales of electricity which will be received in 2005 and 2006 due to price rises taking account of the recently announced price increase which was attributable to sales to domestic households. [26753/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 314 to 317, inclusive, together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information available relates to the estimated net VAT received from users of electricity for the years 2002 to 2004. The information furnished on VAT returns does not require the yield from particular sectors of trade to be identified. It is therefore not possible to identify what portion of the net VAT received relates to sales of electricity to domestic households.

Therefore, the estimated amount of VAT received on sales of electricity for the years 2002 to 2004 which would include VAT from unregistered or exempt businesses as well as domestic consumers is €98 million in 2002, €117 million in 2003 and €128 million in 2004. The 2004 figure includes an estimated amount of €6.3 million in respect of price increases that arose in 2004. An additional estimated amount of €6.5 million is expected in 2005, with a further additional amount of €6.5 million in 2006 as a result of price increases occurring in those years.

It should, however, be borne in mind that to the extent that spending in the economy is re-allocated to electricity and away from other VAT liable spending and to the extent that the overall level of economic activity is reduced by higher oil prices, there may be little or no net gain to the Exchequer. It should also be noted that the VAT content of purchases of electricity is a deductible credit for business in the Irish VAT system.

Joan Burton

Question:

318 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of VAT which was received on petrol in the first six months of 2004 and in the first six months of 2005. [26754/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated amount of VAT received on sales of petrol in the first six months of 2004 is €164 million and for the same period in 2005, the amount is €177 million.

Joan Burton

Question:

319 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of VAT which was received on diesel in the first six months of 2004 and in the first six months of 2005. [26755/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated amount of VAT received on diesel in the first six months of 2004 is €19 million and, for the same period in 2005, the amount is €22 million. It should be noted that the VAT content of purchases of diesel is a deductible credit for business in the Irish VAT system.

Joan Burton

Question:

320 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of additional VAT revenue on petrol which was received in 2004 due to price rises; the amount of additional VAT revenue he will receive in 2005 and 2006 due to price rises if it is assumed that current end of September 2005 prices will prevail until the end of 2005 and throughout 2006. [26756/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the increase in VAT revenue arising during 2004 due to movement in national average retail prices for petrol is estimated at €22.9 million. If it is assumed that current end of September 2005 prices will prevail until the end of 2005 and throughout 2006, then the amount of additional VAT revenue that will be received is estimated to be €43.7 million for 2005 and €46 million for 2006. These estimates are based on provisional volume clearances for 2005 up to the end of August and on the assumption that there is no fall in consumption levels.

It must be borne in mind that to the extent that spending in the economy is re-allocated to petrol and away from other VAT liable spending and to the extent that the overall level of economic activity is reduced by higher oil prices, there may be little or no net gain to the Exchequer.

Joan Burton

Question:

321 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of additional VAT revenue on diesel which was received in 2004 due to price rises; the amount of additional VAT revenue he will receive in 2005 and 2006 due to price rises if it is assumed that current end of September 2005 prices will prevail until the end of 2005 and throughout 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26757/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the increase in VAT revenue arising during 2004 due to movement in national average retail prices for auto diesel is estimated at €2.9 million.

If it is assumed that current end of September 2005 prices will prevail until the end of 2005 and throughout 2006, then the amount of additional VAT revenue that will be received is estimated to be €3.7 million for 2005 and €3.7 million for 2006. These estimates are based on provisional volume clearances for 2005 up to the end of August and on the assumption that there is no fall in consumption levels.

It must be borne in mind that to the extent that spending in the economy is re-allocated to diesel and away from other VAT liable spending and to the extent that the overall level of economic activity is reduced by higher oil prices, there may be little or no net gain to the Exchequer. It should also be noted that the value-added tax content of auto diesel purchases is a deductible credit for business in the Irish VAT system.

Departmental Funding.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

322 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the purpose for which a reported further €4 million was allocated to the Digital Hub project; his plans for the project including whether it is to be wound up; and the salaries paid to senior executives and remuneration to board members. [26527/05]

The Government and I are completely committed to the Digital Hub project. The Digital Hub continues to be successful in attracting digital industry tenants and operating community, educational and promotional initiatives. The digital industry cluster now has almost 50 companies located in it, employing approximately 500 people.

My Department has recently provided €2.5 million to the Digital Hub Development Agency, which manages the development of the Digital Hub, to meet operational costs that were incurred during 2004 and 2005. The Government is committed to providing funding to support the Digital Hub project in the future.

The remuneration paid to senior executives and board members for 2004 is as follows: the salary of the chief executive officer, which is based on the Department of Finance's document on remuneration of chief executives of non-commercial State-sponsored bodies, is €136,972; the salaries of the finance, operations and marketing executives are based on the general service pay grades for civil servants, which are in the range of €80,750 to €96,597; and board fees paid to six out of 11 board members amounted to €38,088.

Postal Services.

Michael Lowry

Question:

323 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will review the procedures in place within An Post in the event of auditors visiting an office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26268/05]

The procedures in place within An Post in the event of auditors visiting are in the first instance a matter for the company. However, the annual report and audited accounts of the company, including the auditor's report, are presented before each House of the Oireachtas on an annual basis in accordance with sections 32 and 33 of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983. The annual report and audited accounts are submitted to me by An Post in accordance with the corporate governance guidelines set out by the Department of Finance.

Seirbhísí An Phoist.

Tony Gregory

Question:

324 D'fhiafraigh Mr. Gregory den Aire Cumarsáide, Mara agus Acmhainní Nádúrtha an bhfuil sé i gceist go mbeidh na zipchóid nua in Éirinn bunaithe ar logainmneacha Gaeilge; mar shampla, in ionad an ghiorrúcháin IE, atá in úsáid sa chóras idirnáisiúnta ríomhaireachta, a úsáid, go mbeadh an leagan dátheangach Ireland/Éire ann ar aon dul le cód na Fionlainne. [26348/05]

Táim sásta go dtabharfaidh úsáid post-chódanna deis tairbhe do ghnó An Phoist, do na seirbhísí poiblí, do lucht gnó agus don chustaiméar. Pléifidh sé freisin leis na fadhbanna a tharlaíonn nuair a bhíonn an t-ainm céanna ar an seoladh á úsaid le haghaidh ionad éagsúla. Tá sé i gceist go gceadóidh an córas atá beartaithe leanúint le húsaid an tseolta sa Bhéarla agus sa Ghaeilge mar atá faoi láthair, beag beann ar an litriú, agus go gcoimeádfar logainmneacha agus ainmneacha na mbailte fearainn. Ullmhaíodh tuarascáil dom chun ceist na bpost-chódanna a scrúdú agus bhí ceist na logainmneacha luaite sna téarmaí tagartha don togra.

Marine Safety.

John Perry

Question:

325 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the current threat to salmon stocks by a parasite worm Anisakis simplex (details supplied); if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that fish infected with this parasite can pass the parasite on to all other fish in that river; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that fish infected with this parasite are not safe to handle or eat; if he will issue warnings to persons who could come in contact with infected fish not to handle them without protective clothing as the parasite could enter the body through open wounds and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26360/05]

I thank the Deputy for providing me with the opportunity to allay any fears among the public caused by inaccurate reports about a particular parasite affecting salmon stocks. I am advised by the Marine Institute that in early September anglers had noticed that some salmon caught on the River Blackwater were infected with a parasite. Samples were analysed and the parasite was identified as Anisakis species. Anisakis is not uncommon. The best advice to the public is to observe good hygiene practice by washing hands after handling fresh fish and to thoroughly cook fish as normal. The most important thing to emphasise is that parasites in fish are parasites of cold-water animals. Once the flesh of the fish is well cooked there is no risk to human health.

The occurrence of this parasite does not represent serious infectious pressure to the coarse fish population. Salmon can be intermediate hosts or occasionally final hosts for this parasite. In order for freshwater fish to become infected, they must eat returning salmon, or possibly flesh from dead salmon. If freshwater fish were to become infected, they would merely act as another intermediate host. The life cycle of the parasite would not be completed in these freshwater fish. There can be no association between falling salmon numbers and the burden of Anisakis so far described. There is no history of high numbers in Irish salmon or of the capability of Anisakis to cause epidemics that might wipe out populations of fish. Indeed some authors describe Anisakis as being of little importance except for the human aspect. Anglers who are concerned about any apparent parasitic infestations or diseases in fish should contact their local regional fisheries board staff, who will know who to contact and how best to collect and preserve fish for examination.

Postal Services.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

326 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he intends to take to ensure the restoration of former levels of postal service; and if his attention has been drawn to the detrimental social and economic effects of ongoing delays in delivery. [26373/05]

Matters relating to quality and levels of postal service are a matter in the first instance for the management and board of An Post. The standards of service delivery in the postal sector are set out in the two European postal directives which outline the universal service obligations which universal service providers must honour, including An Post.

The independent communications regulator, ComReg, is responsible for the monitoring, measurement and regulation of the postal sector including measuring the levels of service against those set out in the postal directives. The quality service target for the nationwide next day delivery of single piece priority mail set for An Post by ComReg during 2004 was 94%. The results of the measurement of compliance with this target reported that 78% of national mail was delivered the next day during the most recent measurement period. This represents an improvement of 8% on the similar period last year.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

327 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the existing or planned incentives to individual householders to install renewable energy such as solar, PVs and micro turbines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26386/05]

Sustainable Energy Ireland, which was established as a statutory agency in May 2002, implements a wide variety of programmes on energy efficiency and renewable energy on behalf of my Department. Under SEI's house of tomorrow research, development and demonstration programme, or HOT, financial support is directed at encouraging developers of housing, both new-build and refurbishment, to incorporate design and technology features which deliver significantly superior energy and CO2 performance. By targeting developers of schemes of houses, from the private or social housing sectors, the aim has been to establish over a number of years a nationwide network of accessible examples of more sustainable energy design and technology practices. With the accompaniment of other promotional measures by SEI, this is intended to encourage a sufficient degree of market replication, without subsidy, to elevate energy performance standards across the wider housing stock. This targeted approach is also designed to be an administratively efficient method for deployment of public moneys.

To date the programme has committed over €9 million funding to 48 projects comprising a total 2,269 housing units. All feature an integrated approach to design, orientation, building fabric and energy supply and use that achieves performance of at least 20% better than current building regulations and, in the majority of projects, 40% better. The sustainable energy features across the range of projects funded include solar hot water systems, ground source heat pumps, condensing boilers, group heating schemes and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery along with higher levels of insulation. The programme has been directed at suppliers and developers of housing, rather than individual householders. There have been two main reasons for this. House of tomorrow is a research and development support scheme, not a home improvement grants scheme. It is seeking projects of sufficient scale and impact to influence wide application of the practices and technologies demonstrated. An effective way to achieve this is by means of clusters of homes, which will provide regionally visible and accessible examples and which can be replicated. Overall, integrated developments are encouraged.

A key need in moving towards more energy efficient planning and construction practices in Irish homes is to develop the necessary awareness and capability within the construction industry. SEI, through its consumer awareness programmes, seeks to increase the demand for energy efficiency amongst homeowners and occupants. House of tomorrow, as a research, development and demonstration programme, supports the development and demonstration of capability in the industry to deliver higher quality energy efficient homes to meet such a demand. The aim is to increase standards and practices across the industry as a whole.

Regular reviews are conducted on all SEI's funding programmes. Factors entering into any consideration of an individual grant scheme include the establishment of consumer product standards, supplier capability and installation quality assurance systems appropriate to consumer markets. This is in addition to the core requirements of energy and CO2 saving impact, market impact potential, administrative efficiency and ultimately, value for money for the taxpayer. Funding for SEI is determined on an annual basis. SEI submits a proposed work programme for the coming year along with a budget for each of its programmes, such as the house of tomorrow programme, to my Department. Any increase in funding required for these programmes would have budgetary implications and could only be considered in the light of the overall budgetary requirements of SEI and the level of funding available to my Department.

That being said, I am keen to see a wider take up of energy-efficient technology in design, building and use of homes. While many of the measures involved are self-financing, with payback periods of as little as two or three years, I am looking at what might be needed to improve the rate of take-up and use. Increasing the energy efficiency of our building stock reduces our energy imports, reduces our CO2 emissions and saves money for the individual household and for the Exchequer.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

328 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has considered legislation similar to the Electric Law passed in France in February 2002 which introduced a feed-in tariff system for individuals as well as companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26387/05]

Historically, support for new renewable energy powered electricity generating plants in Ireland, operated by my Department, was based on a competitive tendering process. In April 2005 I announced a change from competitive tendering to a feed-in tariff under the existing legislative basis in section 39 of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. I have no plans to propose changes to this legislative authority at this time. The support programme, in its current draft form, proposes that any applicant, whether an individual or company, may submit an application under the fixed-feed in support programme. The detailed terms and conditions of the proposed feed-in support programme were posted on my Department's website, www.dcmnr.gov.ie, in draft form, on 29 September 2005 and interested parties have until 12 October 2005 to raise any questions or to furnish any observations on the proposals, as published.

Postal Services.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

329 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on the changes in postal district numbers; the reason he is making such proposals; the position of these proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26412/05]

I am favourably disposed towards the introduction of postcodes because of the case made that a national postcode system would offer significant potential benefits for the postal business, for public utilities, for business and for consumers and the general public including addressing the issue of non-unique addresses. To examine the matter further, I established a working group comprising people with experience of the postal sector, together with a representative from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which is the lead Department for the Irish spatial data infrastructure initiative to examine the high level issues relating to the introduction of a postcode system in Ireland. This group produced its report earlier this year.

The report found that the introduction of a publicly available postcode could deliver many potential benefits. The purpose of a postcode system would be to improve efficiencies and quality in the postal sector, to stimulate mail volume growth, to assist utilities and emergency services, to address the problem of non-unique addressing and to facilitate competition by making it easier for new postal operators to enter the market. These improvements collectively will boost the country's competitiveness. Following from the recommendations of the working group report, I asked the Commission for Communications Regulation to appoint project managers to support the postcode project by providing technical and economic advice including matching the costs and benefits of the introduction of a postcode. These managers will be supported by a national postcode project board, comprising representatives of Departments, together with public and private sector organisations which I appointed earlier this year.

The precise nature and format of any proposed postcode system has yet to be decided but it will fall within the remit of the postcode project board to examine a broad range of possible models including the costs and benefits of introducing the models. It is hoped that the project managers will present a proposal describing in sufficient detail what is the most efficient, effective and most publicly usable postcode system by 31 December 2005 with a launch date of no later than January 2008.

Energy Resources.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

330 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, in the absence of the State retaining equity in offshore exploration for oil and gas, he will employ independent experts to determine the extent of offshore finds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26503/05]

My Department employs three specialists in petroleum exploration plus technical support staff whose work includes the assessment of offshore prospects on a regional basis. This work is done in particular for every licensing round. These specialists have an accumulated 65 years experience of the Irish offshore within my Department, in addition to industry experience. Other expertise is contracted in as required. At present the Department employs a geophysicist and a petroleum engineer on a consultancy basis — these consultants work up to 150 days each per annum for my Department.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

331 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he will initiate and complete a review of designated sporting events which are of major importance under section 9 of the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2003; if he will commit to carrying out such a review prior to April 2006 in view of the timing of the Ryder Cup and the need for formal consideration to take place well in advance of this event in order to facilitate arrangements, including budgetary provisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26504/05]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

332 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the discussions he has had with the organisers of the Ryder Cup in relation to television coverage in the context of the designation of major events as it relates to the Broadcasting Act 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26505/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 331 and 332 together.

Section 9 of the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) (Amendment) Act 2003 requires me to carry out a review of designated events not later than three years after the passing of the 2003 Act, that is to say, not later than April 2006. It is my intention to undertake this review later this year. It is also my intention to deal with the possible designation of the Ryder Cup in the context of that review. At this stage I have had no direct contact with the European Tour regarding the possible designation of the Ryder Cup.

Energy Resources.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

333 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will review the planning and consultation system as it relates to oil and gas finds in view of the experience with the Corrib gas find where the system of project splitting has worked to the disadvantage of the local community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26506/05]

I refute the Deputy's statement that project splitting has worked to the disadvantage of the local community. Where aspects of the development covered by legislation administered by my Department required consultation with local people, this was carried out in accordance with the requisite statutory provisions. The overall Corrib project required separate statutory approvals, consent and licences in respect of six separate elements under various legislative enactments. The elements of the project examined and approved within my Department's responsibility are as follows: under the Continental Shelf Act 1968, for construction of the offshore installation within the continental shelf designated areas, consent was given on 15 April 2002 by the then Minister for Marine and Natural Resources; under the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960, the plan of development approval, subject to a number of conditions, was given on 15 April 2002 by the then Minister for Marine and Natural Resources; under the Gas Act 1976, as amended, consent was given on 15 April 2002 by the then Minister for Marine and Natural Resources for the construction of a gas pipeline from the gas field through the offshore up to the terminal building - this is an integral part of the plan of development approval of 15 April 2005; under the Foreshore Act 1933, as amended, a foreshore licence was granted by the then Minister for Marine and Natural Resources on 17 May 2002, in respect of the routing of the pipelines through the foreshore connecting the gas field to the land-based installation. I am satisfied that the regulatory processes were fully complied with.

My Department is currently reviewing the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960, as amended, with a view to producing an updated petroleum legislative framework, as well as the Continental Shelf Act 1968. While I have no direct responsibility for planning regulatory matters, planning laws or licensing matters concerning the Environmental Protection Agency, approval given by my predecessor in respect of the plan for development of the field was subject to a number of conditions. Amongst these was the requirement to obtain all necessary planning permissions and an integrated pollution control licence.

Regional Fisheries Boards.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

334 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to replace the regional fisheries boards with one central body; if such a proposal has been considered or discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26532/05]

I received the report of the first stage of the high level review of the inland fisheries sector in Ireland from the consultants earlier this year and have considered its findings. It is my intention to bring this report to Government in the very near future and to have it published as soon as possible thereafter. Until such time as the report is presented to Government, I am not in a position to comment on its recommendations or implementation.

Foreshore Licences.

James Breen

Question:

335 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the foreshore licence will be granted to the Quilty, Mullagh, Carrigaholt, Labasheeda sewerage schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26567/05]

The grant of a foreshore licence to Clare County Council for an effluent outfall pipe in connection with the proposed sewerage scheme for the towns of Quilty, Mullagh, Feakle and Scariff was approved on 8 September. Clare County Council has been furnished with a draft licence and the Department is awaiting the council's agreement to it.

Foreshore applications have not been received by the Department for sewerage schemes at Carrigaholt or Labasheeda.

Harbours and Piers.

James Breen

Question:

336 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if moneys will be allocated for improvements to the pier and harbour at Doolin, County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26568/05]

Doolin Pier is owned by Clare County Council and responsibility for its maintenance and development is a matter for the local authority in the first instance.

The funding available to the Department under the port infrastructure improvement programme of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 is directed at projects that improve infrastructure and facilities at key strategic fishery harbours and the construction and improvement of berthage and related facilities at smaller harbours and landing places, with a key role in maintaining jobs in fishing, aquaculture and ancillary activities.

In February 2003, Clare County Council wrote to the Department requesting funding towards the cost of a geo-technical survey that would allow an exact costing of the dredging required at the harbour. The feasibility study, completed in 2002, does not identify any significant fishing activity at Doolin Harbour to justify an investment of the nature proposed. The development needs at Doolin are required to allow the continuation of Doolin's existence as a major access point to the Aran Islands. I regret there is no funding available in the Department for projects that are primarily island access projects.

Research Vessels.

Michael Ring

Question:

337 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of days for which the two Marine Institute research vessels the Celtic Explorer and the Celtic Voyager were at sea in 2004; the number of days lost due to weather conditions; the running costs for each vessel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26569/05]

I am advised by the Marine Institute that both the Celtic Explorer and Celtic Voyager had a busy year in 2004. The Celtic Voyager had 184 scheduled days with 24 days downtime due to weather. The Celtic Explorer had 263 scheduled days with 8.5 days downtime due to weather. These figures do not include mobilisation and demobilisation days, open days, re-fits, maintenance or passage in the case of the Celtic Voyager.

The following table sets out the running costs for both vessels. The combined figure covers shore technical support costs and overheads such as insurance etc.

Research Vessel

Operational Costs in 2004

Celtic Voyager

943,441

Celtic Explorer

2,357,936

Combined Shore support

1,714,094

Total

5,015,471

Port Development.

Seán Haughey

Question:

338 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has received proposals from the Dublin Port Company regarding changing the situation on long leases to tenants at the port; his views on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26704/05]

Dublin Port Company and the Irish Ports Association have expressed a view to the Department that the application of the provisions of the Landlord and Tenants Acts to the port companies operating under the Harbours Acts 1996 and 2000 is not appropriate to the management of the port estates. The Maritime Safety Act 2005 added the port companies referred to above to the list of State bodies to which the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (No. 2) Act 1978 does not apply. This Act provides, inter alia, for a general right to acquire the fee simple.

The ports policy statement published earlier this year states that the Department acknowledges the view of port companies that the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Acts impose restrictions on their ability to effectively facilitate the development within their ports of an efficient and competitive market for port services, including new entrants. The ports policy statement indicates that, as recommended by the high level review of the State commercial ports, published in May 2003, the Department intends to give consideration, in the context of future legislative changes, to the possible adaptation of the provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Acts to the particular circumstances of the ports.

The changes contemplated may provide for port companies to be exempted from landlord and tenants legislation in its entirety, similar to the position pertaining with regard to the State airports. It should be noted that any legislative amendment in this regard would not have retrospective effect.

US Appeal Court Decision.

John Gormley

Question:

339 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he has taken to ensure that the US civil authorities implement the US Appeal Court’s decision in the case of the Miami Five; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26262/05]

As I have previously informed the House, the Government has no standing in this matter, which is a bilateral consular question between the Cuban and US authorities.

Passport Applications.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

340 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has satisfied himself that current arrangements are effective for the issuing of passports; his plans to further develop the system; and his views on whether Tallaght would be an ideal location for a new passport office. [26588/05]

I am happy that the current arrangements, and the proposals for further development which are outlined below, provide for an effective passport issuing service.

By the end of September 2005, almost 500,000 passports had been issued by the Passport Office this year. This is over 10% higher than in the same period last year. At the end of the year, I expect that a record 550,000 passports will have been issued. Over 90% of these are issued within ten working days. The majority come through the "passport express" service which is operated jointly by my Department and An Post and which is available in over 1,000 past offices nationwide.

In response to increasing demand for passports in recent years, as well as requirements for higher security standards and a commitment to offer our citizens the most effective possible service, the passport issuing system has been going through a process of modernisation and upgrading. A new automated passport system has been introduced in the past year in the main Passport Office in Molesworth Street, Dublin 2, and in a new passport production facility in Balbriggan, County Dublin. The system is being extended this month to the Cork and London passport offices and I expect that the roll out to all missions will be completed by the end of the year. Our new passport booklet is one of the most secure in the world and has been widely admired.

In addition to the above, my Department is working on developing on-line facilities to enable applicants to track the progress of their application over the Internet. It is hoped that this facility will be available towards the end of the year. Work is also under way to develop an on-line passport application facility allowing applicants to submit personal details, other than photograph and signature, over the Internet. This is expected to be available next year.

Ireland, along with other member states of the European Union, is preparing to incorporate biometric identifiers in passports before the end of 2006 to further improve passport security. This will involve storing, in a microchip to be embedded in the passport, a digital image of the passport holder's face taken from the photograph submitted along with the passport application form.

It is my policy to keep the operations of the Passport Office under regular and active review so that the best possible service can be maintained for the public. However, in view of the ongoing developments set out above, there would be no justification in extending the number of passport offices within the State.

Arts Funding.

Máire Hoctor

Question:

341 Ms Hoctor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will re-introduce the access programme for the refurbishment or new building of arts centres in provincial towns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26314/05]

My Department is currently examining a successor to ACCESS, and I hope to make a decision in that regard in due course. However, pending conclusion of the Estimates' process, we cannot finalise what the form or extent of such a scheme might be. Applications for any such successor scheme would be invited by public advertisement.

Sports Capital Programme.

Michael Ring

Question:

342 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the capital sports grant will be awarded to an organisation (details supplied) in County Mayo. [26319/05]

The organisation in question was provisionally allocated €70,000 on 21 July last under the national lottery-funded 2005 sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department. It had also previously been allocated funding of €19,046 in 1997 and €63,487 in 2000. In addition, the organisation may receive a top-up to the 2005 grant from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs as the project is located in a designated disadvantaged area, being located in a CLÁR region. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, will be announcing such top-ups in the near future.

While the organisation has submitted most of the documentation required to draw down its 2005 grant, it is aware that a deed of covenant and charge must be executed by my Department's legal advisers, the Chief State Solicitor's Office, CSSO, before grant payments can be made. The requirement for such a deed is standard practice in regard to State funding and provides for a refund of the grant in the event of the facility not continuing to be used for the purpose for which the grant was allocated. The CSSO is in contact with the organisation's solicitors to progress the execution of the deed of covenant and charge, following which my Department will be in a position to progress payments to the organisation in question.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Mary Wallace

Question:

343 Ms M. Wallace asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will provide details of the allowances made in health and safety instruction for road workers and for persons in other similar employments to ensure that employees whose first language is not English understand the health and safety instruction and guidance provided on the use of manual signage and other instructions to motorists using the road during roadworks; his views on whether a lack of understanding of such instruction gives rise to danger to all employees working in such an environment and to the general public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26187/05]

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, the Health and Safety Authority is the State body charged with overall responsibility for administration, enforcement and promotion of workplace safety and health. A lack of clear communication and of understanding in any workplace could potentially pose a risk to the health and safety of the workers therein. It is clear that there are many workers who do not have English as a first language and, accordingly, it is appropriate that employers and those who are in control of workplaces in this country put in place clear systems of communication to ensure that all safety critical information is conveyed clearly to all workers in the workplace.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act at section 9 sets out the type of information on safety, health and welfare required to be given by employers to employees. It specifies that the information must be in a form, manner and language that can be understood. It must include information on hazards, risks and measures taken as regards safety, health and welfare as well as the names of emergency staff and safety representatives.

Furthermore, the 2005 Act, at section 20, provides that an employer is obliged to prepare a written safety statement, based on the identification of hazards and an assessment of risks. This statement, which sets out how the safety, health and welfare of the employees will be secured and managed, must also be in a form, manner and, as appropriate, language that can be understood.

In addition to the statutory obligations set out above, the Health and Safety Authority recognises the new challenges that the growth of non-English speaking people within the workforce brings. This is evidenced by the launch this year of a new authority initiative, safe system of work plan, aimed at reducing injuries and deaths in construction and allied work.

The initiative relies heavily on pictograms to explain and clarify hazards and controls, thereby creating a wordless document where safety can be communicated to all workers regardless of literacy or language skills. The safe system of work plan aims to focus on those who are most at risk, allowing them to ensure that all necessary safety controls are in place prior to the commencement of planned work. In addition, the Health and Safety Authority is working on the production of explanatory leaflets in a number of different languages.

The new statutory provisions in the 2005 Act and the safe system of work plan initiatives are aimed at meeting the new challenges evolving in our economy due to the changing nature of the workforce. Signage and instruction to motorists is a matter for the Minister for Transport and his Department.

Research Funding.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

344 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to correspondence (details supplied); if the Government has committed any funding to research of this kind; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26344/05]

I am aware of the correspondence to which the Deputy refers concerning the acceptability of the EU funding ethically sensitive research activity, which arose in the context of the recent adoption by the European Commission of its specific programmes under the proposed seventh research framework programme, FP7. The Government is fully conscious that the ethical framework within which research is carried out, particularly in the context of the EU funded framework programmes, has given rise to significant ethical concerns among member states and the European Parliament especially with regard to the use of human embryonic stems cells.

The current sixth framework programme, FP6, decided by Council in agreement with Parliament, explicitly forbids EU funding for research that involves human reproductive cloning, the creation of human embryos for research, often referred to as therapeutic cloning, and research that would change the genetic heritage. However, FP6, which covers the period 2003 to 2006, does allow EU funding of projects involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells derived from supernumerary embryos.

The Department of Health and Children is responsible for ethical issues in the health and related areas and, during the course of the negotiations at EU level on FP6, it advised on the approach to be taken by Ireland on such issues. In this regard, in discussions at Council on the issue of stem cell research under FP6, Ireland considered it inappropriate to object to the EU funding of such research in member states where it is legal and deemed ethical and, consequently, it did not oppose the Commission's proposal, that is, the core principle of respecting "ethical subsidiarity" was guaranteed.

Under FP6 the funding of such ethically sensitive projects is dealt with through a process of ethical review and must conform to the ethical rules of the current programme. In summary, the current rules state that all projects that raise any ethical questions are submitted to a rigorous four stage process before being funded: national ethical review, European scientific review, European ethical review and consideration by a committee of member states. EU research programmes never fund in a member state, under any circumstances, anything that is not legal or is deemed unethical in that particular member state. In this regard, I can confirm that no EU funding has been committed to such research projects in Ireland. Funding is being provided by Science Foundation Ireland for regenerative medical research involving stem cells deriving from adult sources.

The seventh framework programme is due to commence at the beginning of 2007 and is scheduled to run until 2013. In presenting its proposal for FP7, the Commission has stated that it has adopted a no-change policy with regard to the respect of fundamental ethical principles in research activity. This explicitly respects the positions of those member states whose legal and ethical regimes forbid such research.

The detailed technical examination of the FP7 specific programmes will be undertaken by member states over the coming months and the aim is to ensure that a final decision, taking into consideration the views of the European Parliament, is secured so as to enable a smooth transition from FP6 to FP7. In this regard, I have sought the advice of the Minister for Health and Children on the position to be adopted by Ireland on the ethical issues that arise in respect of EU funded research activities in the Commission's proposals.

Foreign Trade.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

345 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the trade links between Ireland and Cuba; the general type of goods exported and imported; their value over the past number of years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26384/05]

Irish trade with Cuba is marginal and tends to fluctuate considerably. In 2004, Cuba was Ireland's 127th largest trading partner, 145th largest export market and 112th largest import market. Exports to Cuba in 2004 amounted to €778,000. The principal exports were cork, wood manufactures and beverages. Imports from Cuba in 2004 amounted to €500,000. The principal imports were fruit and vegetables, tobacco, coffee, tea and cocoa.

The following table shows the value of exports and imports between Ireland and Cuba in respect of the years 1994 to 2004.

Year

Exports (€000)

Imports (€000)

1994

3,795

866

1995

6,366

364

1996

133

1,714

1997

2,247

894

1998

3,798

800

1999

682

622

2000

2,057

801

2001

880

1,217

2002

189

941

2003

521

1,263

2004

778

500

Redundancy Entitlements.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

346 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a person who has worked three days a week for twenty years and has had to retire due to ill health is entitled to redundancy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26411/05]

Ill health alone is not a valid reason for redundancy. If, however, a redundancy situation existed in the employment at the time the person left his position, it would be open to the employer to make the person redundant. A redundant employee would be entitled to receive a statutory lump sum payment of two weeks' pay per year of service based on the following criteria; age, length of service in the employment, gross weekly wage up to a ceiling of €600 per week plus a bonus week.

Job Creation.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

347 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his proposals for job creation initiatives in Tallaght, Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26711/05]

The issue of job creation is a day-to-day operational matter for the industrial development agencies and relevant county enterprise boards, and not one in which I have a direct role. IDA Ireland informs me that it continues to market south County Dublin, including Tallaght and its environs, as a potential location for new foreign direct investment, FDI, to secure new investment and additional jobs for the region.

IDA Ireland's strategy for the Dublin area is to attract and expand major FDI projects, moving up the value chain. South County Dublin is well equipped to compete with other areas for potential foreign direct investment given its superb infrastructural facilities at Citywest and Grangecastle and its third level institute of technology at Tallaght.

Sectors such as life sciences, including pharmaceuticals, provide high-value employment. This year the Japanese pharmaceuticals company Takeda Chemical Industries will complete construction of its facility at Grangecastle, Clondalkin. Greencastle is within easy commuting distance of Tallaght and the plant will employ more than 60 people upon completion. This is a significant and important investment from a leading company in Japan and will highlight Ireland as a key location for other such Japanese investors in the future. Also in Grangecastle, the pharmaceutical company Wyeth Biopharma opened this year and already employs approximately 900 highly skilled people. Wyeth Biopharma continues to recruit and will eventually employ 1,300 at the facility in Greencastle.

Enterprise Ireland works with companies in its portfolio to assist them grow their sales and exports and improve innovation so they can compete in world markets. The agency is encouraging companies to adopt new technologies to add value to their products and services. Since the beginning of 2002, Enterprise Ireland has approved over €9.6 million and made payments of over €9 million in support of development projects for indigenous companies in south County Dublin.

Enterprise Ireland is also actively involved with the provision of infrastructure to facilitate business development and employment. The agency has provided funding for the development of community enterprise centres in south Dublin such as Brookfield, Bolbrook and Killinarden. These centres provide incubation space for start-ups and micro-enterprises, and also provide ancillary services such as training, mentoring and customised courses to address the needs of the local clients.

Enterprise Ireland also supports the development of business incubation workspace as part of its ongoing commitment to fostering links between colleges and industry and has provided €2.54 million towards the development of incubation space at the Tallaght Institute of Technology. It is anticipated that graduates from the college or members of research teams based in the college will be to the forefront in using the centre and in creating new jobs, particularly in the high-tech sectors.

The South Dublin County Enterprise Board is also proactively involved in the development of indigenous enterprise and provides a source of support for small businesses in the region. The Tallaght area represents just over one third of the population of the county. Since its inception, the board has approved just over €3.4 million to businesses based in Tallaght. These grants and other financial supports have resulted in the creation and maintenance of 320 jobs.

Price Inflation.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

348 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on his efforts to respond to criticism of rising prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26712/05]

While recent returns show that inflation in Ireland continues to moderate and is in line with the average rate of inflation throughout the European Union, it is undoubtedly the case that many consumers do not feel they are getting a fair deal.

The Deputy will be aware that in March 2004, my Department appointed the consumer strategy group to advise and make recommendations for the development of a national consumer policy strategy. The group's final report, Make Consumers Count, was published in May of this year. The report emphasises the importance of empowering consumers so they can make informed choices and reap the benefits of freely functioning competitive markets. The consumer strategy group has suggested a way forward in terms of consumer protection policy, particularly in terms of how the balance of power can be shifted more toward the consumer and has made over 30 separate recommendations as to how this can be achieved.

The group's core recommendation that a new statutory body, the national consumer agency, be established to advocate the consumer's case has already been accepted by the Government. My Department has begun work to ensure that the new agency be formally established as soon as possible.

In the interim, the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs continues to play an important role in the area of consumer protection particularly in terms of enforcing the wide range of existing consumer laws and regulations. In this regard, the Deputy will be aware that my Department recently increased significantly the sanctions for breaches of those laws. To build upon the work of the ODCA and to ensure that the momentum of the report of the consumer strategy group is maintained and that the consumer's voice is heard, I recently appointed a board to the new agency to act in an interim capacity until the agency is formally established.

The Deputy will be aware that since its appointment, the board had been very active on issues such as the debate on the future of the groceries order, the cost of goods and services etc. It is vital that these and other consumer debates are not dominated by vested interests, as has happened heretofore, and that the consumer's case is forcefully advocated. I am confident that the interim board will continue to be a forceful advocate for the consumer until the full national consumer agency is established. In this regard, I am aware that the board intends to increase significantly its activities in terms of consumer awareness, advocacy and information campaigns.

I am satisfied that the report of the consumer strategy group does offer the way forward. The report re-emphasises the importance of promoting competition and empowering consumers. I am confident that the application of these policies in conjunction with the work of agencies such as the Competition Authority, the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs and the interim board of the national consumer agency will help to ensure that consumers get a fair deal.

Industrial Relations.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

349 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will make a statement on the fact that competition law is being mischievously used to attack the rights of certain workers, in particular actors, musicians, film crews and freelance journalists to be collectively represented; if he will amend the Industrial Relations Acts in respect of the definition of an employee to rectify this unacceptable situation. [26740/05]

The aim of the Competition Act 2002 is to prohibit anti-competitive practices such as price-fixing and-or the abuse of a dominant position. The Act applies to all sectors of the economy in the State.

All entities covered by the Act must ensure that they do not infringe the prohibitions in the Act. The Act covers "undertakings" which are defined as "a person being an individual, a body corporate or an unincorporated body of persons engaged for gain in the production, supply, or distribution of goods or the provision of a service". This definition has been used in Irish competition law for some time and is supported by European case law. Accordingly, I have no plans to amend the Industrial Relations Acts in this regard.

Statutory Rebates.

John McGuinness

Question:

350 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a rebate relating to the payment of redundancy to a person will be made to his employer (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; the reason for the delay in this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26742/05]