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 11, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 12 to 84, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 85 to 91, inclusive, answered orally.

Fishing Industry Development.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

92 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the economic downturn in Killybegs and south Donegal resulting from the depression in the fishing industry; and his plans to improve the situation. [34472/05]

I am keenly aware of the industry's views in this area. However, in the context of planning the development of the Killybegs fishing industry, it is important to recognise some key international factors that are impacting on the industry and which are outside domestic influence.

The European fishing industry is experiencing difficulties for a variety of reasons, including scientific concerns about certain key pelagic stocks such as mackerel, on which the Killybegs industry is significantly based. There has clearly been, for example, an adverse effect on raw material supplies into Killybegs as a result of the 27% cut in the 2005 mackerel quota. This effect on Killybegs is not unique. Many other fishing ports throughout Europe have been similarly affected and the situation has been exacerbated by international market changes which have seen Norwegian processors pay record prices for mackerel for most of this year. It is not open to me to obligate vessel owners to land into an Irish port as this would amount to an unjustifiable restraint on trade.

Notwithstanding such impacts, I believe that there are solid grounds for an improving situation. First, as a direct result of €50 million investment, Killybegs Port is now a world class landing location with top class facilities that have the clear capability to attract additional fish landings. In addition, there have been a number of important developments recently concerning the blue whiting and mackerel stocks. On blue whiting, after many years of negotiations, agreement was reached a few weeks ago between the relevant coastal states on the sharing of the blue whiting stock. This agreement has been welcomed by the Irish industry. On mackerel, following recent coastal states negotiations with both Norway and the Faroes Islands, the 2006 mackerel quota is set to increase by 5%.

In addition to these positive developments on fish stocks, I sought and secured the agreement of the Council and the Commission to introduce changes to the pelagic weighing requirements that allows, subject to certain conditions, for weighing to take place in the factories away from the portside. This addresses concerns expressed by industry. I believe that these developments point to an improving situation for Killybegs and the Irish fishing industry generally.

Ferry Operations.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

93 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views regarding the treatment of workers on board the Irish Ferries ship the Normandy, notwithstanding the fact that the Government’s ability to intervene is constrained by the fact that this ship flies under a flag of convenience; and if his Department has raised concerns regarding the treatment of workers on this ship with the management at Irish Ferries or in any discussions with IBEC. [31446/05]

I have responsibility for the Irish Ship Register, that is, for Irish registered ships. Applicable national and international law governs the operation of other ship registers. The Irish Ferries Limited ship, the MV Normandy, has been off the Irish Ship Register since 12 January 2005. Obligations on the ship’s owners regarding maintenance, crewing standards and certification of those matters are appropriate to the flag state responsible for the ship, the Bahamas.

Officers of the Department's marine survey office periodically inspect the ship in the exercise of Ireland's port state control obligations. These inspections are aimed at ensuring that the vessel is maintained and operated in compliance with international safety standards laid down by the International Maritime Organisation, IMO, and, with regard to seafarers' social conditions, by the International Labour Organisation's, ILO, maritime conventions, together with relevant EU initiatives in the maritime area. Deficiencies identified are brought to the attention of the owner and flag state administration and may have to be rectified before the ship continues its journey. The MV Normandy was last inspected in July 2005.

I have spoken to the management of Irish Ferries Limited regarding the operation of its ferries on the Irish Sea but not regarding the crewing arrangements on the Ireland to France route, since the MV Normandy was taken off the Irish Ship Register and placed on the Bahamas Ship Register. I have been given to understand that the economics of operating the Ireland to France ferry service prompted the company to change the ship’s flag and crewing arrangements.

Ireland benefits from having a direct ferry service to the Continent for much of the year. It is regrettable if the economics of providing such a service require the use of non-Irish seafarers and a non-EU flagged ship. I have not spoken to IBEC specifically about the crewing arrangements of the MV Normandy.

Postal Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

94 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he has taken either directly or through the regulator with the objective of broadening the business base of An Post with a view to upgrading and extending the services to a greater number of consumers, with consequent benefit to the economy; the future of the postal services here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34476/05]

This Government and the board of An Post are committed to the objective of securing a viable and sustainable post office network and a postal network for mail and parcel delivery. In so far as the post office network is concerned, notwithstanding the commercial remit of An Post, there is clear Government recognition of the social benefits of maintaining the nationwide post office network. Accordingly, An Post development strategies for the network continue to take full account of these social benefits.

As a commercial company, the development and growth of An Post's business is a matter for the company's management and board. The challenge ahead for An Post is to develop a strategy that satisfies the needs of existing customers, while attracting new customers into the post office. An Post has already had some success in winning new business and continues to benefit from a considerable amount of Government business, especially in the areas of social welfare payments and savings products. While the Government will support the network in any way it can and has demonstrated its commitment in a tangible fashion, with a €12.7 million capital injection in 2003, the way forward is for An Post to enhance existing services and, building on existing strengths, to develop new product offerings.

I have also asked the company to ensure that any strategy for the development of the company should ensure the long-term viability of the post office network and, in this light, An Post is currently working on a new initiative which could see the development and expansion of the range of financial services that it can deliver through its network of post offices. If successful, it could lead to a significant increase in post office business and contribute to the viability of the network.

On foot of substantial investment in computerisation, a significant amount of extra business has already been obtained for the network in terms of banking and utility business. At present, 95% of An Post's business is conducted through automated offices. To gauge the impact of automation on business generation, I have asked the company to initiate a pilot project to automate ten small post offices. This project is underway and the results of the project will be evaluated after the trial period has come to an end. An Post also enjoys a strong relationship with sections of the population that currently have no bank accounts, including many social welfare clients. With the roll out of e-government services, the post office is ideally placed to capitalise on opportunities arising in this space, especially in the area of e-payments.

Looking at the mail and parcel sector, another potential growth area for An Post, in terms of revenue and new business, is the direct mail sector. An Post currently provides two services, called Postaim and Publicity Post Material, which allow businesses to address correspondence about their products and services directly to individuals or alternatively to have unaddressed publicity brochures delivered to houses in a particular area. The growth of Internet fulfilment provides opportunities for the An Post parcels business.

Electricity Generation.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

95 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his role in the proposed separation of the ESB and EirGrid; the person who has responsibility for negotiation of the contract conditions for staff transferring from ESB to EirGrid; and the action which can be taken should such a negotiation procedure prove inconclusive. [34534/05]

The model whereby EirGrid as transmission system operator is to be separated from ESB is laid down in statutory regulations made in 2000 and 2005, in furtherance of obligations under the second electricity market directive, 2003/54/EC. ESB as the current employer and EirGrid as the prospective new employer have between them the duty to bring about the transfer of staff. Other aspects of the separation are to be governed by an infrastructure agreement drawn up under the guidance of the Commission for Energy Regulation. The necessary approval of the CER to this agreement was given on 14 October.

As de facto shareholder, I and my Department monitor developments in reward systems generally in State companies under my aegis. This is done in consultation with the Department of Finance. In that context I would be concerned to ensure that no reward or incentive is given over and above that which is necessary to protect staff fully in respect of their current terms and conditions of employment and pension entitlements. The boards of both companies are aware of my role and views in this matter and it is for them to find an acceptable solution. I believe it is appropriate for me to keep my options open as regards alternative solutions if the parties fail to agree. This problem is now urgent.

Radio Broadcasting.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

96 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will bring forward measures to facilitate the provision of digital radio in its DAB and DRM formats; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34354/05]

Across the world broadcasting services are moving from analogue to digital platforms. The pace of change in the case of television is faster than radio. In some instances, radio services are now often packaged with digital television services. Indeed, the pace of roll out and take up of digital television services has raised the profile of the analogue switch-off debate in Europe generally. The EU Commission has proposed 2012 as a suitable target date for analogue television switch-off.

Digital radio is available through a number of formats. Digital audio broadcasting, DAB, and digital radio mondiale, DRM, are two of those formats. Radio is now also available digitally via satellite, across the Internet and packaged with digital television services. DAB and DRM are available in a number of countries. There has been a significant roll out of DAB in the UK. Digital radio services offer an enhanced quality of reception for existing channels along with new channels and additional services, including text and multimedia.

There are significant challenges in the development of different digital radio platforms. Broadcasters, satisfied with existing broadcast standards, are reluctant to undertake significant costs in rolling out digital radio networks. Digital receivers are expensive and listener uptake has often been limited for this reason. A key decision for broadcasters and policy makers relates to what digital protocols should be used. DAB and DRM, for instance, are not necessarily technically compatible. RTE has conducted some DAB trials in the past and will be trialling DAB from Three Rock and Clermont Carn transmission sites early next year.

My Department is currently concentrating on planning a DTT pilot and developing proposals for a national roll out of DTT. It is expected that DTT will also include radio services.

Marine Safety.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

97 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the details of the new regulations, the Merchant Shipping (Passenger Boat Manning) Regulations 2005, that were recently issued by him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34344/05]

The Merchant Shipping (Passenger Boat Manning) Regulations 2005, SI 649 of 2005, require all skippers of passenger boats to hold a valid certificate for the appropriate class of vessel and a commercial endorsement verifying that the skipper has attained the standard specified in marine notice 27 of 2005 in respect of personal survival techniques, first aid and medical fitness. The regulations will not come into effect until 1 April 2006 to allow a sufficient lead in time to enable skippers and crew to undertake the necessary training.

In accordance with the regulations, I have appointed the Irish Sailing Association as a body for the purpose of issuing certificates and commercial endorsements under the regulations. Discussions are currently under way with a view to additional organisations becoming appointed bodies in the near future.

This is a key initiative in the Department's ongoing safety programme and builds on the regulations that were introduced in 2002 setting down standards for the construction of, and safety equipment to be carried on, passenger boats. The regulations have been introduced following a consultation process with interested parties. They also address one of the recommendations in the report of the marine casualty investigation board into the loss of the Pisces at Fethard-on-Sea in July 2002, when five people tragically lost their lives.

My focus in introducing the new regulations is to enhance safety and to ensure that the public can have confidence that when they pay to be carried on a passenger boat that those in charge of the vessel are appropriately trained and certified. Full details of the new regulations are available on the Department's website, www.dcmnr.ie.

Fishing Industry Development.

Seán Ryan

Question:

98 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the key aims and principles of Ireland’s negotiating position for the forthcoming EU Fisheries Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34374/05]

Although the next Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers takes place from 22-24 November, I assume the Deputy is referring to the Council which will take place in December and decide on the total allowable catches, TACs, and quotas and associated conditions for fish stocks for 2006.

The priority for Ireland at this Council will be to achieve a balanced outcome that will provide for a sustainable future for the Irish fishing industry. The need to take effective conservation measures in order that fish stocks are managed and exploited on a sustainable basis is an over-riding imperative for both the Government and the Irish fishing industry. Within that context, the primary aim will be to ensure that Irish fishermen all around the coast will have available to them the maximum possible quantity and range of fishing possibilities in 2006 that can be justified on a sustainable basis.

The Commission's proposals for 2006, which will be published in the coming weeks, will be considered in the context of the scientific advice, current measures in place, including recovery plans and effort restrictions, and in consultation with industry representatives to determine a national position, taking account of the need to achieve sustainable fishing opportunities for the Irish industry. In so far as Ireland is concerned, this means the setting of catch limits for Irish fishermen in respect of some 40 fish stocks, mainly in western waters around Ireland's coast, as well as effort limitation measures for certain gears in certain waters. I will maintain close contact with industry representatives throughout these negotiations with regard to securing sustainable fishing opportunities for Irish fishermen.

Broadcasting Services.

Billy Timmins

Question:

99 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the discussions he has had with sporting organisations with a view to providing free to air coverage to the widest possible audience; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34523/05]

The Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2003, designates a number of sporting events as being events of major importance to society which should, in the public interest, continue to be made available on a free-to-air television service in Ireland. The purpose of designation is to prevent certain events that have traditionally been available on free-to-air television services from migrating to subscription or pay-per-view services on an exclusive basis.

Section 9 of the 2003 Act provides that I shall carry out a review of designated events not later than three years after the passing of the 2003 Act. Accordingly a review must be undertaken not later than April 2006. I propose to commence that review shortly. As part of that review I will consult with broadcasters, rights holders and the public. The review will consider the existing list of designated events and may also consider additional events.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

100 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the measures he intends to take to promote the development of micro scale renewable energy here, as is requested under EU Directive 2001/77/EC. [34539/05]

The legislative measures required to meet the obligations addressed to Ireland in EU Directive 2001/77/EC had previously been implemented in the Electricity Regulation Act, which liberalised the entire green electricity market prior to the directive. This legislative base is supplemented by decisions from time to time by the Commission for Energy Regulation regulating the electricity market generally.

In addition, Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, commissioned a study to examine the metering options for small scale renewable and CHP generation in Ireland. The study report, Metering Options for Small-Scale Renewable and CHP Electricity Generation in Ireland, was completed in August 2005 and is now published. The study provides a comprehensive technical, financial and economic analysis of the options for metering small scale renewable and CHP electricity generation. The purpose of the study was to identify suitable policy options taking into account the complex technical and administrative issues involved. Further work in this area looking at the issue of connection standards for small scale electricity generators will be addressed shortly by SEI.

Under SEI's house of tomorrow research, development and demonstration programme, 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. There is a total of 55 housing demonstration projects and 2,650 homes have benefited from this programme to date. The technologies installed include: condensing boilers — 1,708 homes; solar water heating — 531 homes; heat recovery ventilation — 381 homes; ground source heat pumps — 176 homes; wood pellet boilers — 308 homes.

Telecommunications Services.

Dan Neville

Question:

101 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has sought or received any explanation directly or through the regulator as to the reason the provision of high speed broadband here is lagging behind most European competitors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34501/05]

Paul McGrath

Question:

138 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has sought or received information directly, through the regulator or from industry regarding the need for the rapid provision of broadband services here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34519/05]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

164 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the areas in respect of which the greatest progress has been made in the past 12 months in the provision of high speed telecommunication services, including broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34510/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101, 138 and 164 together.

The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The principal reason for the slow roll out of broadband services generally has been the slower rate of investment by the private sector in the necessary infrastructure to deliver broadband to all areas. The Government is addressing the local infrastructure deficit by building high speed open access metropolitan area networks, MANs, in 120 towns and cities nationwide on a phased basis, in association with the local and regional authorities. Phase one of this programme has delivered fibre optic networks to 27 towns and cities throughout the country, which were built on time and under budget.

This programme has been extended to a further 90 towns in various locations nationwide. Design and procurement has already commenced in several regions and construction is due to start early in 2006. It is expected that these MANs will be completed during 2006 and 2007. These metropolitan area networks will allow the private sector to offer world class broadband services at competitive costs.

My Department also offers funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities to become self sufficient in broadband through the county and group broadband scheme. The scheme is technology neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area, with each application being assessed by the Department's technical advisers. To date, over 150 projects have been approved for funding under this programme.

A joint industry-Government fund of €18 million has been established for the broadband for schools programme, which will provide every school in the country with broadband by the beginning of 2006. This is a crucial strand in the strategy of integrating ICT into teaching and learning and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources' wider vision of promoting the use of broadband technologies in local communities around the country. The construction-installation phase is now under way and the project is on target for completion within the set timeframe.

The ranking of Ireland against other European countries reflects the late launch of competitive, affordable broadband by private broadband service providers in Ireland and a slow take up by consumers. However, Ireland's rating is improving. According to recent EU Internet statistics, there are over 2 million Internet users in Ireland. This represents user growth of 163% in the last four years and a market penetration per population of 51.2%, which compares favourably with the EU average of 48.9%. Irish broadband prices are now below the EU average and this should have the effect of further stimulating demand.

Fishing Industry Development.

Willie Penrose

Question:

102 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the legal position with regard to regulatory instruments from his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34370/05]

The Deputy's question refers to the Supreme Court judgments in the cases of Vincent Browne of 16 July 2003 and Tom Kennedy of 31 May 2005. The provisions of section 14 and section 15 of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2005, the Second Stage of which is scheduled to be discussed in this House tomorrow, are designed to address the outcome of both cases with regard to fishery matters. I direct the Deputy's attention to the detailed explanatory and financial memorandum which accompanies the Bill, the relevant sections of which deal with the issues raised by both cases and how these are to be addressed via the provisions of the new Bill.

Telecommunications Services.

Joe Costello

Question:

103 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on proposals regarding local loop unbundling; his further views on whether this is a critical development for broadband roll out; the steps he will take to achieve a significant level of access to the local loop; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34367/05]

Bernard Allen

Question:

135 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if achievements to date in 2005 in respect of local loop unbundling are adequate to facilitate the development of the communications industry with particular reference to ready availability to the consumer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34484/05]

Bernard Allen

Question:

175 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if local loop unbundling or other requirements to facilitate broadband or other telecommunications provision or expansion has been completed to date in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34483/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 103, 135 and 175 together.

Local loop unbundling, LLU, is mandated by a European Council regulation and responsibility for its implementation is a matter for the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, under the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and the transposed EU regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services, working with all the industry players. ComReg is independent in the execution of its functions in accordance with the provisions of the 2002 Act.

LLU was the subject of a court case earlier this year. ComReg directions to Eircom relating to LLU were found to have denied Eircom's right to appeal to the electronic communications appeals panel. ComReg's directions were subsequently withdrawn and ComReg is working with Eircom and the industry on the issue. Local loop unbundling is an important element of facilitating competition and broadband delivery. Local loop unbundling in Ireland remains low. I have recently asked ComReg to report to me on what additional regulatory powers are required, if any, to advance local loop unbundling.

In the forthcoming miscellaneous provisions Bill I will provide for increased penalties and more efficient prosecuting procedures for ComReg. These increased enforcement powers will give ComReg greater muscle to enforce regulatory decisions to support the development of competition in the telecoms market.

Fisheries Protection.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

104 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the case taken against Ireland for breach of European Union fish quota rules as decided upon in January 2005 has been resolved; if other outstanding cases exist between the State and the European Union regarding a reported failure to implement EU fishery control legislation; and if Ireland may face fines if it were found to be in continued breach of such control and monitoring measures. [34549/05]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the judgment of the European Court of Justice, dated 18 November 2004 under Article 226 of the European treaty, which related to a number of cases of Irish fish quotas being exceeded in 1995 and 1996. In the light of this judgment, the European Commission asked Ireland to indicate by 22 January 2005 details of the measures that had been taken or would be taken to address the issues raised by the judgment.

A detailed and comprehensive response to this letter was issued by Ireland on 21 January 2005. The Commission may, if it is not satisfied with Ireland's response, initiate proceedings under Article 228 of the treaty to enforce the earlier judgment of the Court of Justice. The court may impose a lump sum penalty and also a periodic penalty for continued failures. However, it must be pointed out, as it was in Ireland's response, that the Department has invested heavily in fisheries control resources and information technology in the intervening years to address the system deficiencies that contributed to the overfishing cases referred to in the judgment.

There are a further six cases in which the Commission has taken court cases or infringement proceedings against Ireland for alleged overfishing or inadequate implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy. Of these cases, the Commission has applied to the European Court of Justice to initiate proceedings in one case, while it has issued reasoned opinions in two further cases and letters of formal notice in the remaining three. All of these cases are under Article 226 of the European treaty but, while they will be defended vigorously by Ireland, they all carry the possibility of adverse judgments and of possible further action by the Commission under Article 228 of the treaty. This makes it imperative that Ireland is able to maintain a vigorous and robust legal and operational framework relating to control and enforcement under the Common Fisheries Policy.

Natural Gas Grid.

Dan Boyle

Question:

105 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects to receive the independent review of the design of the proposed Corrib onshore gas pipeline; if he has the authority to refuse further consent for the development if this review raises concerns about the proximity of the pipeline to houses; the reason the pipeline has a design capacity of carrying gas at pressures at up to 345 bar when the operators of the Corrib field insist that gas pressures from the field will never be greater than 150 bar. [34536/05]

Following representations made during the consultation period, my technical advisory group proposed, and I agreed, that Advantica, the consultants who are undertaking the review on my behalf, should undertake additional work related to the geo-technical behaviour of peat in the context of the planned pipeline route. The consultants are currently undertaking this additional work and, as of today, I do not have a precise date for the submission of their draft report. I can, however, state that it will be available before the end of the month. I have the authority to withhold consents not already granted, provided I have sound reasons for so doing.

The well head shut-in pressure is 345 bar. I understand that the initial normal operating pressure of the upstream, onshore section of the pipeline could be up to 150 bar. The maximum design pressure of the pipeline is set at 345 bar to ensure the safety of the pipeline in the extremely unlikely event that the various valves and chokes were to fail. The consultants undertaking the safety review will determine which pressure figure they deem appropriate as the basis for design safety calculations.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

106 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department intends to replicate the system of grants and credits for renewable energy that are available in Northern Ireland in view of the development of an all-Ireland energy market for electricity generation. [34540/05]

A consultation process on an all-island vision for sustainable energy to 2020 is currently underway. Responses to a consultation paper were requested by 30 September and, following consideration by both Departments, a paper setting out options for future co-operation on the development of a long-term all-island sustainable energy strategy will be published in early 2006. The replication of any existing schemes in operation in Northern Ireland is not necessarily a requirement for any future new system.

To date in Ireland, 675MW of renewable capacity has been connected with a further 175MW under active construction. I recently announced a new support programme to further increase the contribution to electricity production from renewable energy sources. This new programme will move away from the competitive tendering model to a fixed price scheme.

In the area of alternative fuels, the biofuels mineral oil tax relief scheme was launched in April this year and has resulted in eight biofuels projects being awarded excise relief for a period of two years. Excise relief of €6 million will be allowed for these projects, over a two year period to 2007. It is anticipated that this will result in 16 million litres of biofuels replacing imports on the Irish transport market during that period.

In addition to these initiatives, Sustainable Energy Ireland administers a series of programmes aimed at supporting the integration of renewable technologies and sustainable energy practices across all sectors of the economy. I am fully committed to the development of our renewable resources and I believe that the combination of these programmes is serving to ensure the increased deployment of renewable and alternative energy within Ireland's electricity, heat and transport markets.

Co-operation between the North and South on energy matters takes place under the auspices of a joint steering group, JSG, established in July 2003. The group comprises senior officials from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and NI Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and the offices of the two regulatory authorities — Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, in the South and Northern Ireland Authority for Energy Regulation, NIAER, in the North. The energy Ministers' All-Island Energy Market Development Framework sets the policy context for the creation of the all-island market. Both regulators have signed a memorandum of understanding in which they commit themselves to working together to deliver the single electricity market, SEM. The regulators have established a joint project team to progress the design and implementation of the SEM.

Simon Coveney

Question:

107 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he proposes to take further initiatives to promote or encourage the production of hydro, wind or bio-energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34487/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

257 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to encourage the production of wind generated electricity on and off shore; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34662/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

294 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he proposes to take further initiatives to promote or encourage the production of hydro, wind or bio-energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34706/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

312 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to AER VII; the discussions he has had with the industry in regard to this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34961/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 107, 257, 294 and 312 together.

This Government is actively pursuing policies and programmes to increase the penetration of renewable energy technologies within our energy mix. In December 2003, a bioenergy strategy group, BSG, was established to consider the policy options and support mechanisms available to Government to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion. Membership of the BSG comprised representatives of various Departments as well as State agencies in the agriculture and energy sectors and industry representatives.

We are already making progress, particularly in integrating biomass into Ireland's heating infrastructures. The biomass sector has attracted the largest amount of support under Sustainable Energy Ireland's renewable energy research, development and demonstration programme. SEI recently published details of a further funding programme in 2005 for harnessing energy using biomass fed boilers.

This programme also supports research by way of demonstration projects harnessing biofuels and other renewable energy technologies. In addition, in 2004, my Department secured an amendment to the Finance Act 1999, which provides for the introduction of a scheme for mineral oil tax relief for biofuels. The scheme was agreed between my Department and the Department of Finance and was launched in April 2005. A total of 34 applications were received under the call for proposals by the closing date and eight projects were awarded excise relief under the scheme. It is anticipated that these projects will deliver 16 million litres of biofuels replacing imported fuel oil, at an estimated cost of excise foregone of €6 million, over a two year period to 2007. The scheme is an initial measure designed to stimulate market development.

Within the electricity market, I announced in April last a fundamental change in support for proven renewable energy technologies in the categories of biomass, hydropower and wind power. I have changed the previous competitive tendering support programme to an open feed-in tariff arrangement. The new programme, commonly referred to as REFIT, will ensure we more than double the amount of renewable energy powered electricity plant connected to the electricity network from 675 megawatts currently to 1,450 MW by 2010.

The initial target is 400 MW to be allocated on a first come, first served basis. There is no capacity reserved to any technology and no dedicated offshore wind category. Subject to the capacity provisions, offshore and onshore wind energy projects are free to apply in both the large wind and small wind categories. Offshore project developers will argue that they require a higher support level but this would impose a considerably higher burden on electricity consumers.

Since the initial announcement of the REFIT programme in outline form in April, my Department has been in active consultation with relevant parties. Consultations have been with the Commission for Energy Regulation, prospective developers, electricity suppliers, among others, and the European Commission about the detailed implementation of the new arrangement. In September last detailed draft terms and conditions of the proposed REFIT programme were posted on my Department's website, www.dcmnr.gov.ie. Interested parties were given the opportunity to raise any queries or to furnish any observations on the proposals, to be delivered to my Department by 12 October last.

Approximately 30 submissions were received. Those submissions have been evaluated and incorporated into the REFIT programme where appropriate. The draft document is currently out to legal advice and will be published as soon as legal approval is received and after the practical arrangements to print and make available the detailed notes are completed.

These current programmes will continue, and be expanded where appropriate, to ensure the contribution from renewable energy technologies to increasing the security of our energy supplies, lowering emissions, providing a basis for increased economic activity in the national market and potentially providing a source of low cost energy to the electricity, heat and transport markets is maximised.

Postal Services.

Seán Crowe

Question:

108 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the source of information he used for the briefing document he circulated regarding the An Post dispute. [34543/05]

Seán Crowe

Question:

172 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he is satisfied that the briefing document he circulated to backbenchers on the An Post dispute represents a fair assessment of the situation. [34542/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 108 and 172 together.

Deputies will be aware that a briefing note was circulated in respect of the proposed industrial action by CWU workers in An Post. This document was circulated as I felt it important that Deputies be informed of the background and the facts relating to the industrial relations climate in An Post. The briefing note included information on the background to the current industrial relations position, the commitment of the Government to An Post continuing to be a strong player in the Irish postal market, the intensive industrial relations process that has taken place to date, examples of work practices that need to be changed within the company and examples of change agreements in the company over the last few years which have been paid for and not delivered.

As is the usual practice across the public service, officials in my Department prepared the briefing note based on information, some of which was obtained from the company and some of which was already in the Department. This is the normal practice in any public body for collating briefing documents of this nature. The briefing document that was circulated outlines the facts as they are and provides examples of the outdated work practices that are in existence in An Post. As I have stated on many occasions, for An Post to survive and prosper into the future it must become an efficient and effective company.

Proposed Legislation.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

109 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the stage his Department’s work is at regarding the Electronic Communications Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34350/05]

Draft legislative proposals for an Electronic Communications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill are currently under preparation in my Department to enhance the enforcement powers of the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in a number of areas. This Bill is a priority for me in the communications area and the enforcement powers are key.

The Bill will mainly provide that non-compliance with obligations under the regulatory package transposed in 2003 will be rendered subject to summary or indictable penalties as appropriate and will accordingly increase ComReg's enforcement powers in this and other respects. It is envisaged that this legislation, with both civil and criminal remedies, will give ComReg the necessary muscle to enforce regulatory decisions to support the development of competition in the telecoms market.

Other elements of the Bill include, inter alia, provisions to specifically address ComReg’s power to effectively intervene in an instance of suspected overcharging by an authorised operator and provisions relating to the oversight of the Irish domain registry, more commonly known as the IEDR. I hope to bring these legislative proposals to Government shortly.

Telecommunications Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

110 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he directly or through the regulator has examined the implications for the customer arising from recent or proposed takeovers or mergers in the telecommunications area, both landline and wireless; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34509/05]

I have no function in this matter. Any proposals by a commercial operator, in a fully liberalised market, to acquire or merge with another company is a commercial decision for the company.

Denis Naughten

Question:

111 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if a test exists to evaluate or compare the cost of telecommunications services generally here with those available in other European countries, with particular reference to ensuring that customers here have access to the widest degree of up-to-date modern services in line with developments elsewhere in Europe and worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34503/05]

I have no function in regulating of pricing for telecommunications services. The regulation of telecommunications operators, including regulating of pricing for telecommunications services, is the responsibility of the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the requirements of the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and regulations which transpose the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications.

The provision of telecommunications services is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation. As Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, I have responsibility for overall telecoms policy. My main goal in this policy is to create conditions for sustainable growth and competition that will benefit the economic and social development of Ireland and facilitate competitive services.

It is my belief that improving the market conditions to enhance competition is the best way to drive down charges to the end user. The more competitive telecoms services that are on offer, the better in the long run for consumers, the sector and the economy. In March 2004 my predecessor issued policy directions to ComReg, including a direction on competition. The direction on competition mandates ComReg to focus on competition as a key objective, with a particular focus on competition in the fixed and mobile markets, and to implement, where necessary, remedies which counteract or remove barriers to entry and support entry by new players to the market and entry into new sectors by existing players.

ComReg has as one of its key objectives under the Communications Regulation Act 2002 the promotion of competition in the exercise of its functions. Competition in the fixed and mobile markets will drive down prices for consumers. I understand that ComReg has recently launched a new website called callcost.ie, which will allow consumers to compare mobile phone charges across all operators. As Minister with overall responsibly for the development of electronic communications services, I welcome the launch of this site, which should make it easier for consumers to shop around and make informed decisions.

The high penetration rate of 94% for mobile phones, representing 3.83 million subscribers, and the recent roll out of 3G services in addition to the existing mobile phones demonstrates that there is a wide range of choice for Irish businesses and citizens.

Postal Services.

Martin Ferris

Question:

112 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the way in which he can have a positive role in ending the dispute in An Post in view of his public pronouncements regarding same. [34544/05]

An Post has been through one of the most intensive industrial relations processes imaginable. At this stage, the dispute at An Post has been before every industrial relations body that the State has to offer.

Following the 14 day notice of industrial action served on the company by the CWU, which expired on Friday, 4 November, the national implementation body, NIB, at my request, has engaged with both sides to the dispute in An Post and is aware that there are significant differences of understanding between the parties regarding the cost and implications of amendments proposed by the union to changes in the collection and delivery sector recommendations made by the Labour Court in July this year. The NIB considered that clarifications of the costs and implications of the proposed union amendments are essential to facilitating a resolution of the dispute. On this basis the NIB has secured the assistance of a firm of accountants to carry out an independent examination into how much it would cost the company to accede to the union's amendments.

In light of the developments in the NIB, the CWU agreed to a request by the NIB to defer industrial action until the examination has taken place. The industrial action which took place on Monday, 7 November last, the national overtime ban and the strike at the GPO, have been called off. I consider this to be a positive step in the current climate.

Yesterday the NIB met the management side and the CWU and has indicated that the process initiated in conjunction with the accountants would be finalised today. The NIB proposes to meet the parties this evening and has requested that the parties refrain from comment and treat the accountant's report as confidential for a period of 24 hours after it is presented.

I have taken a very even-handed approach throughout the dispute and have met all parties, including the chairperson, the board, the management and the unions, at key intervals so as to be informed of the critical issues on both sides. The simple fact is that the company needs to introduce modern work practices if it is to thrive in a competitive environment. I want to see An Post, an Irish company, delivering a high quality postal service to the Irish people. To enable the company to provide this service, the archaic work practices, that the workers themselves have acknowledged are archaic, need to be changed.

No blame is being placed on one side or the other. I have stated the facts as they are and the history in An Post over the last ten years has not been great. I now hope that both parties take the opportunity afforded to them through the NIB to resolve outstanding issues. Business and consumers are entitled to the high quality postal service which the company and its employees are well capable of delivering.

Telecommunications Services.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

113 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the discussions which have taken place between his Department, other State, semi-State or private sector interests with a view to the provision of State controlled communications services, such as fixed line or mobile phone technology and broadband services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34521/05]

Paul Kehoe

Question:

134 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had discussions with potential service providers with a view to the creation of a State of semi-State communications service with particular reference to mobile, fixed line or wireless technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34520/05]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

160 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the discussions he has had with the ESB, Iarnród Éireann or other bodies or agencies with a view to expanding the scope and scale of telecommunications services countrywide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34511/05]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

179 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding reports that his Department is examining proposals for a new publicly owned telecommunications company involving the ESB, Iarnród Éireann and RTE and their backbone and backhaul assets; when the consultants report on these proposals and broadband penetration is expected; if a special project in this regard is being pursued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34446/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

276 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the discussions he has had with the ESB, Iarnród Éireann or other bodies or agencies with a view to expanding the scope and scale of telecommunications services countrywide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34682/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

284 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had discussions with potential service providers with a view to the creation of a State or semi-State communications service with particular reference to mobile, fixed line or wireless technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34691/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

285 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the discussions which have taken place between his Department and other State or semi-State or private sector interests with a view to the provision of State controlled communications services, such as fixed line or mobile phone technology and broadband services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34692/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 113, 134, 160, 179, 276, 284 and 285 together.

My Department regularly reviews all aspects of the broadband market and holds discussions with broadband interest groups, both public and private, to listen to their concerns. These discussions are ongoing, occasionally involving the State bodies referred to by the Deputies, and typically cover a range of issues relevant to broadband supply and demand nationally.

The Government is addressing the local infrastructure deficit by building high speed open access metropolitan area networks, MANs, in 120 towns and cities nationwide, on a phased basis in association with the local and regional authorities. Phase one of this programme has delivered fibre optic networks to 27 towns and cities throughout the country, which were built on time and under budget. This programme has been extended to a further 90 towns in various locations nationwide. Design and procurement has already commenced in several regions and construction is due to start early in 2006. It is expected that these MANs will be completed during 2006 and 2007. These metropolitan area networks will allow the private sector to offer world class broadband services at competitive costs.

In June 2004, the contract for management of the Government and local authority regional metropolitan broadband networks was awarded to e-Net, a company based in Limerick. The term of the contract is 15 years. e-Net operates as a wholesaler of access to the MANs and offers a full suite of products, including ducting, sub-ducting, dark fibre, high level managed capacity, co-location facilities and relevant auxiliary services. During the summer, e-Net issued a request for information, RFI, to interested parties inviting them to propose possible solutions for the provision of interconnect services from the MANs. I understand that E-Net is currently examining the responses received.

My Department also offers funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities to become self sufficient in broadband through the county and group broadband scheme. Thescheme is technology neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area, with each application being assessed by the Department's technical advisers. To date, over 150 projects have been approved for funding under this programme.

A joint industry-Government fund of €18 million has been established for the broadband for schools programme, which will provide every school in the country with broadband by the beginning of 2006. This is a crucial strand in the strategy of integrating ICT into teaching and learning and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources' wider vision of promoting the use of broadband technologies in local communities around the country. The construction-installation phase is now under way and the project is on target for completion within the set timeframe.

The Government believes that broadband connectivity forms a significant part of ICT development. High speed, resilient, low cost broadband is an essential feedstock for that sector. It has, and will continue to play, a vital role in moving Ireland to the forefront of knowledge based economies in the world.

Prospecting Licences.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

114 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the changes he is planning to make to the licensing and regulatory regime for the exploration and exploitation of natural resources here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34340/05]

Martin Ferris

Question:

183 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals to alter the terms and conditions under which companies are granted oil and gas exploration licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34474/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

310 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to review the conditions regarding the exploration on or off shore in respect of oil or gas or other minerals with a view to ensuring a fair return to the State from such resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34958/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 114, 183 and 310 together.

The terms governing petroleum exploration and development are kept under constant review by my Department. These terms are designed to encourage interest, exploration and development. Unfortunately, prospectivity in the Irish offshore is low, as four successful exploration wells out of 121 wells over 34 years demonstrates, and operating conditions are difficult. The challenge, therefore, is to balance the risks involved in petroleum exploration with any benefits which would accrue where a commercial find is made. Whether we like it or not, Irish offshore prospectivity is not comparable with our petroleum producing neighbours. Until this situation changes, it would be unwise to reform the terms at this time.

I intend, however, to introduce Bills to update the legislation governing petroleum exploration and development, namely the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960 and The Continental Shelf Act 1968. With regard to non- petroleum minerals, exploration and development is undertaken by private enterprise and regulated under the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999. All extraction of minerals under the Acts is subject to payment of royalties to the State. While it is my intention to consolidate and update those Acts in a new Minerals Development Bill currently in preparation, I do not propose to change that policy.

Television Reception.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

115 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, further to his reply to this Deputy in Dáil Éireann on 20 April 2005 when he undertook personally to follow up the issue of RTE reception in Britain, he will report on the proposals he has made in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30007/05]

RTE's mandate to provide radio and television services is defined in section 28(1) of the Broadcasting Act 2001. This Act states that the national television and sound broadcasting services required to be maintained by RTE shall have the character of a public service, continue to be a free-to-air service and to be made available, in so far as is reasonably practicable, to the whole community on the island of Ireland. RTE's statutory mandate is quite clear in that RTE is mandated to make its services accessible to all of the people living on the island of Ireland.

While RTE's mandate does not extend to making its services available to Irish communities living abroad, RTE has acted in a number of ways that have resulted in its radio or television services being more widely accessible: for example, RTE's long wave and medium wave radio services are available throughout much of the UK and parts of Europe. All of RTE's radio services along with some of its television schedules can also be accessed on-line.

I recognise the value to the Irish abroad of being able to access Irish radio and television services. In the broadcasting Bill being prepared, I am considering how RTE's public service mandate needs to be amended to ensure it remains appropriate and relevant to the needs of the audience as the digital only era approaches. I am committed to considering the recommendations of the task force on emigrants in that context.

Telecommunications Services.

Dan Neville

Question:

116 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether the provision of broadband facilities for 2005 is unlikely to meet the targets he set; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34502/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

151 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects Ireland to hit the EU average for broadband penetration in view of the recent OECD statistics on broadband penetration that ranks Ireland 24 out of 30 states; when Ireland will enter the top EU decile for broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34366/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116 and 151 together.

In late 2004, the Government set a target of 400,000 broadband subscribers to be achieved by the end of 2006. Subsequently, broadband subscriber numbers have grown by 75%. The current rate of new take up for broadband is in the region of 10,000 per month and continues to grow across a range of technologies. The Government's broadband target is to be within the top half of EU countries by the end of 2007.

The rate of increase in broadband numbers actually achieved depends on demand for broadband, supply issues relating to current roll out and technological developments. The latest available broadband figures from EUROSTAT relate to 2004, and are now over six months old. They show, however, that Ireland is placed 20th of 26 countries in respect of broadband connections for all enterprises. The figure in respect of large enterprises is 79%, placing Ireland in 16th place. EUROSTAT also reports that 92% of all Irish enterprises have access to the Internet, which is 9th in the table, while for large enterprises the figure for Internet access is 100%.

The level of Internet access for households is 40%, or 11th place in the table, and about 25% of these have a broadband connection. The number of broadband customers in Ireland is increasing rapidly and is now over 170,000, which represents an increase of more than 400% over the January 2004 figure. In 2004, there were over 80 Internet service providers; today there are over 130 companies listed by ComReg, with at least 45 different broadband offerings across a variety of technologies, including DSL, fibre, cable, leased lines and satellite technology. In essence, there are broadband technologies that can deliver broadband to virtually any broadband customer in Ireland right now.

The ranking of Ireland against other European countries reflects the late launch of competitive, affordable broadband by the private broadband service providers in Ireland and the slow take up by consumers.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Phil Hogan

Question:

117 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had any discussions with his European colleagues with a view to more emphasis on the development and production of alternative energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34479/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

246 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had any discussions with his European colleagues with a view to more emphasis on the development and production of alternative energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34650/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 117 and 246 together.

The promotion of renewable energy technologies in electricity production is a key priority of this Government. This priority is shared by EU Community institutions which have addressed a directive in the matter to all member states, Directive 2001/77/EC on the promotion of renewable energy sources in the internal electricity market. There was a full exchange of views within the Council and between Council and Parliament in the formation of this directive and subsequently, when appropriate, on the ongoing implementation of the directive.

My Department and I continue to have both formal and informal discussion on this and other issues from time to time at EU level when it is appropriate.

Postal Services.

Damien English

Question:

118 Mr. English asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether his threat to privatise the postal services was helpful in the context of negotiations between An Post, management and workforce; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34513/05]

I have made no announcements, nor do I have any proposals, regarding the privatisation of An Post and I wish to see An Post continue in State ownership playing a significant role in the Irish postal sector.

I have however, highlighted to the company, the unions and consumers that the EU postal directives, transposed into Irish law, envisage full liberalisation, subject to political agreement, of the postal market in 2009. Furthermore, in light of the uncertainty at the company and the recent vote for industrial action which could lead to a serious disruption to postal services, I am considering all options open to me, up to and including early liberalisation of the sector, to limit the disruption caused to the sector and the economy at large as a result of any prolonged period of industrial action.

Electricity Generation.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

119 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has given recent direction to the regulator with a view to improving access to the grid with particular reference to cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34496/05]

I have no function regarding national grid access, which is primarily a matter for ESB National Grid, which is in turn regulated by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The relevant legislation is the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and I have no power to issue directions of the type referred to.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

120 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has identified the optimum number and location of gas and electricity connectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34491/05]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

168 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects gas and electricity connectors to be provided in such a way as to protect continuity and security of supply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34493/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 120 and 168 together.

At a bilateral meeting in November 2004, Mr. Barry Gardiner, MP, the then Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and I endorsed plans put forward by the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, and the Northern Ireland Authority for Energy Regulation for the construction of a second North-South electricity interconnector. Planning for the construction of the interconnector is continuing. The transmission system operators are currently working on phase I of the project, including technical issues and route selection. This phase is likely to be completed by early 2007. Phase II, the construction phase, will then commence and it is estimated that the interconnector will be operational by 2012. The proposed interconnector will provide increased system security and reliability. It will be a positive step toward further developing competition and will facilitate the development of a fully functioning single electricity market.

With regard to the east-west electricity interconnector, the CER appointed consultants to advise on the financial, technical, commercial and procurement aspects of the development. I understand that phase one of the project, which is now complete, examined procurement options, routing, capacity, ownership and operational parameters and the results will be presented to me shortly. A consultation process was undertaken with all parties who expressed an interest. A decision on how best to take the project forward, whether on a regulated or a hybrid regulated-merchant basis, is the next step and such determination will be informed by the advice of the CER in the matter. I expect the CER to report to me in the coming weeks.

In recent times, Ireland has developed a high standard of security of gas supply, through robust interconnection with the UK, to ensure sufficient importation capacity from external sources. We now have two gas interconnectors, with the second ensuring security of gas supply to 2025 and beyond. Ireland's security of supply status is on par with countries such as France, Italy, Sweden and Denmark, all of whom have duplicated sub-sea pipelines to ensure the availability of alternative routes of natural gas supply. In addition, Northern Ireland has a separate line to Scotland and by the end of 2006 the South-North interconnector will link the two systems.

Under section 19 of the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002, the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, is required to prepare and publish an annual forecast of capacity, flows and customer demand on Ireland's natural gas system over a seven year period. The most recent capacity statement was published on 31 July 2005 and includes a range of possible demand scenarios that may be expected to arise over the coming years. The scenarios incorporate various levels of demand, based on forecasts for the domestic, industrial and commercial, and power generation sectors, while also considering potential timeframes for new indigenous supply.

Natural Gas Grid.

Michael Noonan

Question:

121 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he envisages any changes in regard to the bringing ashore or storage in respect of the Corrib gas field; if he expects that the surrounding regions are likely to receive an extended or improved service in respect of gas supplies to the industrial or domestic sector in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34500/05]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

132 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the progress to date in 2005 on the issues surrounding the Corrib gas pipeline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34497/05]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

149 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the consequences of the EU Seveso directive for the Corrib gas pipeline; if the transposition of this directive will require the production of maps and images; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34369/05]

Seán Ryan

Question:

178 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the details of the appointment of Mr. Peter Cassells as the mediator for the Corrib gas pipeline dispute; the state of play with the Corrib gas pipeline development especially relating to the safety audit and mediation; when an agreed resolution will allow the project to proceed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34343/05]

Michael Noonan

Question:

182 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the progress in respect of the degree to which the mediator has been successful in dealing with the issues surrounding the Corrib gas pipeline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34499/05]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

194 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had discussions with the company or companies involved in the provision of services associated with the Corrib gas pipeline or local interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34498/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

263 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the progress to date on the issues surrounding the Corrib gas pipeline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34668/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

264 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had recent discussions with the company or companies involved in the provision of services associated with the Corrib gas pipeline or local interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34669/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

265 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the progress in respect of the degree to which the mediator has been successful in dealing with the issues surrounding the Corrib gas pipeline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34670/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

266 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he envisages any changes in regard to the bringing ashore or storage in respect of the Corrib gas field; if he expects that the surrounding regions are likely to receive an extended or improved service in respect of gas supplies to the industrial or domestic sector in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34671/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

301 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on progress in respect of the issues associated with the Corrib gas pipeline; when the mediator expects to achieve resolution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34948/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 121, 132, 149, 178, 182, 194, 263, 264, 265, 266 and 301 together.

In August 2005 I appointed Advantica consultants to conduct a comprehensive health and safety review of the proposed Corrib gas onshore pipeline. This study currently under way is in addition to the comprehensive assessment undertaken both within the Department and by an independent pipeline consultant of the original proposals that were submitted to my predecessor in connection with the application for consent to construct a pipeline. The current review includes an examination of all relevant documentation relating to the design, construction and operation of the onshore upstream section of the pipeline and associated facilities. It will also identify any deficiencies in any respect relating to these matters and make recommendations regarding them.

The review also included a public consultation process and a two day public hearing. The public hearing concluded on 13 October 2005 and the consultation process concluded on 28 October 2005. I expect to receive a draft of the independent safety review from the consultants by the end of the month.

On 29 October I appointed Mr. Peter Cassells as mediator in the Corrib gas field dispute. Mr. Cassells was former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions from 1989 to 2001 and was one of the main architects of the social partnership agreements. He is currently chairperson of the national centre for partnership and performance. I am hopeful that the mediation process currently under way, augmented as needed by the results of the safety review, will allow all those concerned to work together to resolve the difficulties that have arisen. I will, in due course, receive a report from Mr. Cassells on progress. The mediator will have the discretion to engage in discussions with other relevant persons or bodies, including local interests and companies involved in the provision of services, as he sees fit.

The transposition of any amendments to the Seveso directive into Irish law is a matter for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Corrib gas pipeline is not subject to the provisions of the Seveso directive. The Corrib terminal at Bellinaboy is classified as a lower tier Seveso site on the basis of the Seveso thresholds and thereby must comply with all the relevant lower tier Seveso directive requirements. Under the European Communities (Control of Major Accident Hazards involving Dangerous Substances) Regulations, the developer is required to have a major accident prevention policy in place. The major accident prevention policy is implemented through the development of a safety management system for the facility. This requirement is outlined in the regulations.

The supply of gas to the industrial or domestic sectors in the region falls within the remit of Bord Gáis Éireann and the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER.

Proposed Legislation.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

122 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the stage his Department’s work is at regarding the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill; the way in which he intends to expand the functions of CER in the Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34352/05]

The Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill is currently being drafted by the Parliamentary Counsel. I expect to seek Government approval to publish the Bill shortly. With regard to the CER, the Bill will expand the commission's functions to underpin its work on the development of an all-island energy market, provide for the regulation of the electrical and gas contracting sectors and safety regulation of all gas licence holders in the State, and facilitate regulated interconnection not owned by ESB.

EU Directives.

Jack Wall

Question:

123 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the Government’s position on the television without frontiers directive from the European Commission; his plans regarding an assessment of the costs and benefits of regulating content delivered over non-broadcast platforms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34341/05]

The review by the European Commission of the television without frontiers directive is ongoing and the Commission's proposals for a revision of the directive are not expected until 2006. Until such time as the Commission has made a formal proposal for a revision of the directive, it would be premature to address the matters raised by the Deputy. I expect, however, that before making any proposal to extend the scope of the directive, the Commission would conduct a regulatory impact assessment of its proposals.

Telecommunications Services.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

124 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the Government’s position on the current negotiations for the future of Internet governance and the existence of ICANN; if he will be attending the world summit on the information society in Tunis in November 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34353/05]

Internet governance is one of the main issues that is scheduled to be discussed at the forthcoming world summit on the information society, WSIS, in Tunis. At the first world summit in Geneva, in December 2003, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan requested that a working group be set up to look at Internet governance. While the working group published its report in July 2005, there remain a number of outstanding issues that need to be addressed. These issues were further discussed in a preparatory conference in Geneva that ended on Friday, 30 September.

As there is no agreed position across the United Nations on Internet governance, a short pre-summit meeting immediately prior to the summit is scheduled in the hope that there will be an agreed position that can be endorsed by the summit. I will be represented at the conference by the Secretary General of my Department.

Departmental Policy.

Damien English

Question:

125 Mr. English asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options for the future development of broadcasting, telecommunications or other utility services for which his Department has overall responsibility; if the issue of the public and private mix in this area will be dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34512/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

277 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options for the future development of broadcasting, telecommunications or other utility services for which his Department has overall responsibility; if the issue of the public and private mix in this area will be dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34683/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

313 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the specific areas in which deregulation or competition has benefitted the consumer in respect of services provided by the various service providers accountable to his Department through the regulator or directly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34962/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 125, 277 and 313 together.

My Department's statement of strategy 2005-07 sets out goals, objectives, strategies and performance indicators relevant to the development of broadcasting, telecommunications and other utility services for which my Department has overall responsibility. The statement of strategy gives particular focus to strategies to enhance governance and regulation, and sets out the context in which developments in the private and public sectors will be managed under each sectoral heading.

The principal areas in which deregulation has applied to service providers operating under the aegis of my Department are: electricity, gas, broadcasting, telecoms and postal services. The principal benefits accruing to consumers in respect of these services include, where appropriate, broader service choices, greater long-term supply security; clearer investment conditions and price adjustments which are restricted to those justified by cost developments.

Fisheries Protection.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

126 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if a scheme for the voluntary buying out of drift or draft net salmon fishing licences will be considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34473/05]

John Gormley

Question:

156 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the arrangements he intends putting in place to negotiate a possible future compensation package for the fishermen who agree to the cessation of commercial netting for wild salmon; if compensation was paid to commercial fishermen affected by the ending of the drift netting for tuna fish; and the effect such a precedent has in regard to the salmon fishery. [34541/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 and 156 together.

The Government has consistently ruled out buy out as an effective means of achieving the restoration of salmon stocks and has instead, since 2002, promoted the application of quotas on commercial fishing and bag limits on angling to achieve catch reductions as the best instrument available to achieve this objective. Moreover, no convincing case has been advanced as to the public good that would be acquired by the State in the context of a publicly funded buy out of commercial salmon licences or why stakeholders benefiting from increased numbers of salmon entering the rivers should not contribute in whole or in part towards achieving that increase.

As a result, and as I have previously and consistently indicated to the House, I have no plans at present to introduce a buy out of commercial salmon fishing licences but I am continuing to review the matter in the context of the policy outlined above. In this regard, I have indicated that I would be open to any relevant proposals presented to me whereby stakeholders benefiting from any reduction in commercial catch would engage in the first instance with licence holders and indicate a willingness to address any compensation issues that might arise.

I can confirm that I have referred the broad outline proposals, which were submitted to me recently, to the National Salmon Commission for an objective evaluation in accordance with its terms of reference in the overall context of conservation management measures designed to achieve the alignment of national and district total allowable catches and quotas. I await its advice in this regard. Since taking up my appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for the marine, I have reaffirmed the Government's belief that the current strategy of developing a sustainable commercial and recreational salmon fishery through aligning catches on the scientific advice holds out the strong prospect of a recovery of stocks and of a long-term sustainable fishery for both sectors.

The decision of the Council of Fisheries Ministers to ban drift netting for tuna did not amount to the ending of the tuna fishery. During a phase out period between 1998 and 2002, and as part of the transition process to new methods of fishing for tuna, Bord Iascaigh Mhara provided support to interested fishermen to develop alternative fishing techniques. The results of trials undertaken in this regard have shown that it is possible to catch tuna with non-drift netting techniques and in these circumstances the question of compensation did not arise.

Marine Safety.

John Perry

Question:

127 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the action which he intends to take following the situation where 13 periwinkle pickers were left stranded on Colt Island; if an inspector from his Department has inspected the boat which took the group to the island; if the boat in question has a correct marine passenger licence; the restrictions which are in place regarding those who can be granted passenger licences for boats; the way in which these restrictions are policed; the clearance that is required to take boats to islands such as Colt Island; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34377/05]

Joe Sherlock

Question:

147 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the role of his Department in the recent incident of migrant workers being abandoned on Colt Island off north County Dublin; if a date has been set for the provision of an emergency towing vehicle to protect mariners around the Irish coast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34357/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 127 and 147 together.

The Department's specific role in the incident involving a group of people found stranded on an island off the coast of Skerries, County Dublin, was twofold. The first priority was to ensure that rescue services answered the emergency call and brought the persons safely to shore. This operation was carried out successfully and, thankfully, without any loss of life. I also immediately initiated an investigation into this incident to determine if the vessel used to transport the people to the island was certified or licensed in compliance with the relevant maritime safety legislation. The maritime safety directorate of the Department is currently carrying out this investigation and I cannot comment any further on this matter until the report is completed.

However, it is the Department's policy to prosecute any person who operates a passenger vessel for reward without a valid licence or certificate. A conviction upon indictment in such an instance could result in a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for up to two years or both.

While the Department has no involvement with the arrangements and schedules that may exist for boats going to islands such as Colt Island, the Merchant Shipping Act 1992 requires that any vessel used to carry passengers should hold a valid passenger ship certificate or passenger boat licence. The Department issues both passenger ship certificates and passenger boat licences to vessel owners following the completion of a satisfactory survey to ensure that the vessel is seaworthy and safe and that it has the appropriate safety equipment on board. The Department can also impose operational restrictions for safety reasons on vessels and operators specific to local conditions and areas where vessels operate.

Marine surveyors who inspect vessels to ensure that they are complying with the safety standards laid down carry out the enforcement of regulations. The Coast Guard and the Garda also have a role to play in this regard.

Under the certification and licensing regimes, the Department undertakes a variety of control measures, including detailed vessel surveys and unannounced operational inspections. Licence and certificate conditions relating to manning levels, maximum passenger numbers allowed and the continued availability of safety equipment are among the issues the inspectors focus on.

The position regarding the provision of an emergency towing vessel, ETV, is that the Department is continuing to examine how proposals to provide an ETV capacity to protect the coast from the consequences of major oil pollution and vessel stranding can be pursued, having regard in particular to the very significant costs involved and the cost benefits associated with such a facility.

Fisheries Protection.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

128 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the consultation and information his Department transmitted to interested stakeholders before the Fisheries and Marine Jurisdiction Bill appeared before the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; the reason no briefing was given to members of the committee and Opposition spokespersons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34371/05]

The State is responsible for enforcement of the Common Fisheries Policy which requires that the appropriate resources are in place to monitor and control fishing activity and that the necessary legal tools are available to provide for the prosecution of those who are found fishing illegally. The EU Commission monitors compliance by member states with their responsibilities under the CFP. In this regard, Ireland faces seven legal proceedings issued by the Commission for alleged failures in its fisheries control regime.

Article 228 of the treaty allows the Commission to initiate proceedings against a member state to enforce an earlier judgment of the Court of Justice given against the member state under Article 226 for failure to comply with its obligations under the EC treaty. While no such proceedings have been taken against Ireland relating to the implementation of the CFP, it is critical that prompt actions are taken in situations where our ability to implement the CFP is compromised. In this regard, two Supreme Court judgments — Vincent Browne v the Attorney General and Thomas Kennedy v the Attorney General — have significantly undermined the current legislative framework for enforcement of fisheries legislation.

In this situation it has been necessary for the State to take urgent action to address the serious shortcomings identified in the Acts and a new regulatory framework is required urgently. Delays in the enactment of new legislation expose the State to infringement proceedings which could result in the State being subject to financial fines imposed by the European Court of Justice, which would have to be paid by taxpayers. In this situation, it is critical that the new legislative framework is enacted urgently. It was, therefore, not possible in the time available to undertake a detailed consultation with fishing interests, marine conservationists or other stakeholders on the Bill. In any case, the regulations for fisheries management and conservation are determined at EU level and the provisions of the Bill are primarily implementing these regulations in Irish law.

A detailed explanatory and financial memorandum was provided with the Bill, giving further information on the Supreme Court judgments referred to and the legislation in question, as well as signposting the 1959 Act provisions being updated and replaced by provisions of the Bill. If any further briefing is required by Deputies that can be given before the Committee Stage of the Bill, as was done with the Bill for the 2003 Act.

Broadcasting Services.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

129 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he has taken steps to ensure the availability of the widest possible degree of service of a sporting, business, social, cultural and educational nature to a greater audience through terrestrial television; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34524/05]

My core broadcasting policy objective is to promote the existence of an environment that encourages the maintenance of high quality Irish radio and television services by both independent broadcasters and RTE. This is likely to be best achieved by having in place an appropriate regulatory framework that provides for the licensing of independent television and radio services and by providing RTE with adequate public funding to deliver on its public service mandate.

Telecommunications Services.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

130 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has received indications of DSL failure rate here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34485/05]

Alternative Energy Projects.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

131 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if aid will be granted for the provision of equipment for households that are equipped with solar panels to provide energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30408/05]

There is no grant or financial assistance available to single residences for the installation of solar panels. I am reviewing all options for innovative approaches to propagating best practice in cost effective energy provision and use but am not in a position to make any commitments today.

Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, 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. 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.

Under SEI's house of tomorrow research, development and demonstration programme, 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 just under €12 million funding to 55 projects comprising a total 2,650 housing units, all featuring an integrated approach to energy supply and use that achieves performance of at least 20% better than current building regulations and, in fact, in the majority of projects, 40% better. The range of sustainable energy technologies employed within these demonstration projects includes the following: condensing boilers — 1,708 homes; solar water heating — 531 homes; heat recovery ventilation — 381 homes; geothermal heating systems — 176 homes; wood pellet boilers — 308 homes.

At the moment, individual consumers can also seek expert advice from SEI's renewable energy information office, REIO. The REIO provides consumers with advice on the optimum renewable energy systems to suit individual requirements and also provides information on low or no cost energy efficient measures.

Question No. 132 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Electricity Generation.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

133 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on recent criticisms by IBEC of the Government dividend that is taken annually from the ESB; the impact of the dividend on electricity prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34342/05]

I am aware of recent comments made by IBEC on dividends of semi-State companies. Decisions on annual dividend payments to shareholders are a matter for the board of ESB in the first instance. ESB operates in a fully liberalised competitive market and it is important that it is treated in all respects, including the dividend issue, as would be the case for its competitors. The determination of electricity prices is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, and not one in which I have a function. I understand there is no direct link between the CER's decision on prices and the ability of the ESB to pay dividends.

Question No. 134 answered with QuestionNo. 113.
Question No. 135 answered with QuestionNo. 103.

Legislative Programme.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

136 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason his Department withdrew the Sea Fisheries and Marine Jurisdiction Bill from Second Stage discussion in Dáil Éireann; the changes being made to the original Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34347/05]

The Second Stage consideration of the Sea Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill was postponed to allow time to consider issues raised at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on 12 October, particularly to seek further advice from the Attorney General on the committee's proposals for the introduction of administrative sanctions to replace the current system of penalties. It was also considered important, in light of the concerns expressed by the committee, to review the provisions in the Bill which allow a sea fishery officer, in certain circumstances, to carry a firearm and to fire a gun at or into the boat.

The Second Stage of the Bill is now planned for tomorrow, 17 November. Any amendments arising, in the context of these issues or others, can be introduced on Committee Stage and, accordingly, should not delay the Bill and its planned adoption by the end of the year.

Fisheries Protection.

John Perry

Question:

137 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he intends to take on the issue of salmon draft and drift netting following the publication of the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources’ report and the recent protest of nearly 4,000 anglers and commercial nets men at the Fianna Fáil Árd Fheis; the person he has consulted to date regarding the report; his views on whether salmon stocks are at such a level that action must be taken; his further views on whether there is massive public opinion in support of a buy out or set aside; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34376/05]

The recently published report by the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources regarding the future management of the wild salmon resource in Ireland has illuminated the various and wide ranging issues surrounding the management of this important natural resource. When addressing the public hearings held by the joint committee in connection with the preparation of its report, I made the point that the management of this natural resource is rarely a simple and straightforward matter. I also reiterated the Government's long held view that our wild salmon stock is a national asset, which must be conserved and protected, as well as being exploited as a resource by all on a shared and sustainable basis.

I am pleased, therefore, to note from the report that the joint committee acknowledges the complexity of this issue and makes "The unequivocal observation that its report must not be seen in terms of winners or losers and that the debate and focus of effort must be on the survival of the salmon species." I will examine carefully the recommendations now being made by the joint committee in its report. Indeed, as an immediate first step, I have already asked the National Salmon Commission to ensure that the joint committee's report receives priority in its consideration on how best the wild salmon resource may be managed, conserved and exploited on a shared and sustainable basis into the future, having regard to Government policy.

I am aware that the joint committee's report contains a recommendation for a move to single stock management and that the committee recognises this would effectively mean a cessation of drift netting for salmon. I note, however, that the committee also recognises that a move to single stock management would take time, cannot be achieved without further and significant scientific input and that a realistic plan needs to be evolved to enable such a move. Wild salmon stocks are under threat from a variety of sources. While there remains an abundance of salmon returning to Irish rivers, the Government has accepted the scientific advice that reductions in the overall fishing effort are required to sustain and rebuild salmon stocks nationwide.

For this reason, current Government policy has been designed to bring spawning escapement up to the level of the scientifically advised conservation limits as soon as possible. In keeping with this policy, when setting the commercial salmon quotas for the 2005 season, I gave a firm commitment to fully align the exploitation of salmon, both at national and district levels, on the scientific advice by 2007. With this in mind, I have now asked the National Salmon Commission to advise me how best to achieve this target. While I remain to be convinced that a move to single stock management would necessarily mean an end to drift netting in all districts, I expect the commission to examine the issue of single stock management and to advise me in this regard.

With regard to compensation issues, I welcome the joint committee's acknowledgement that any compensatory schemes should largely be funded by those stakeholders who would be the main economic beneficiaries of more salmon being free to return to the rivers. I also welcome its comment that "Public monies spent must have, as a primary aim, ensuring the survival of the salmon species and that this precept must be regarded as more important than any economic gain to any sector that may accrue."

Bearing this principle in mind, the Government has consistently ruled out buy out as an effective means of achieving the restoration of salmon stocks and has instead, since 2002, promoted the application of quotas on commercial fishing and bag limits on angling to achieve catch reductions as the best instrument available to achieve this objective. Moreover, no convincing case has been advanced as to the public good that would be acquired by the State in the context of a publicly funded buy out of commercial salmon licences or why stakeholders benefiting from increased numbers of salmon entering the rivers should not contribute in whole or in part towards achieving that increase.

As a result, and as I have previously and consistently indicated to the House, I have no plans at present to introduce a buy out of commercial salmon fishing licences but I am continuing to review the matter in the context of the policy outlined above. In this regard, I would be open to any relevant proposals presented to me whereby stakeholders benefiting from any reduction in commercial catch would engage in the first instance with licence holders and indicate a willingness to address any compensation issues that might arise.

I can confirm that I have referred the broad outline proposals, which were submitted to me recently, to the National Salmon Commission for an objective evaluation in accordance with its terms of reference in the overall context of conservation management measures designed to achieve the alignment of national and district total allowable catches and quotas. I await its advice in this regard, which I intend to consider in the context of any review of policy.

Question No. 138 answered with QuestionNo. 101.

Broadcasting Services.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

139 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to his preferred options in respect of public and private broadcasting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34495/05]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

152 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the way in which he proposes to develop the broadcasting industry in the future with particular reference to the appropriate mix of public and private interest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34492/05]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

180 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects to make final decisions in respect of broadcasting in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34494/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 139, 152 and 180 together.

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 91 on 12 October 2005.

Telecommunications Services.

Enda Kenny

Question:

140 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason mobile telephone services here are more expensive than in almost all European countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34508/05]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

142 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will issue a directive to ComReg to regulate mobile phone termination charges; the position of Ireland in the ranking of mobile phone charges across the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34356/05]

Michael Ring

Question:

150 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he proposes to take to improve the quality of mobile telephony with particular reference to addressing the needs of call breakdown and costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34506/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

272 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he proposes to take to improve the quality of mobile telephony with particular reference to addressing the needs of call breakdown and costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34677/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

273 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason mobile telephone services here are more expensive than in almost all European countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34679/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

303 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if instructions have been given to, or comment invited from, the regulator or service providers with a view to improving the quality of mobile telephone service here with particular reference to call breakdown or other losses of service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34951/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

304 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when it is expected to bring the quality of the mobile telephone service here into line with the quality and standards in other European countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34952/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 140, 142, 150, 272, 273, 303 and 304 together.

I have no function in regulating of pricing for phone services, mobile phone termination costs or quality of service in the mobile market. The regulation of telecommunications operators, including regulating of pricing for phone services, mobile phone termination costs and quality of service is the responsibility of the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the requirements of the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and regulations which transpose the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications.

The provision of telecommunications services is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. I have no information to say that Irish mobile charges are generally the highest in Europe. However, ComReg's quarterly key data for the Irish communications market for the second quarter of 2005 indicate that the Irish mobile operators' average revenue per user is the second highest in Europe; Switzerland has the highest.

Paul McGrath

Question:

141 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had discussions, taken initiatives, issued directives or received information from persons charged with the responsibility of the provision of broadband services here with a view to a dramatic acceleration in the provision of such facilities in line with his previously announced projections and in line with the provision and availability of such services in other European countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34518/05]

Billy Timmins

Question:

153 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has received submissions from the public or private sector with regard to the provision of telecommunications services in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34522/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 141 and 153 together.

The provision of telecommunications, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. ComReg's register of authorised undertakings currently lists no less than 196 companies offering Internet access services in Ireland with a wide variety of service levels.

My Department regularly reviews all aspects of the broadband market and holds discussions with broadband interest groups, both public and private, to listen to their concerns. These discussions are ongoing and look at all options over a range of issues regarding broadband supply and demand. A set of policy directions was issued to ComReg in March 2004. It included a direction on broadband, which encouraged ComReg to use regulatory and other means available to it to stimulate the broadband market. ComReg reports regularly to me on the implementation of these directions.

The rate of broadband uptake is dependent on access by the service providers to suitable infrastructure across the regions. My Department is addressing the infrastructure deficit, in co-operation with the local and regional authorities, through the regional broadband programme, by building high speed open access fibre based metropolitan area networks, MANs, in 120 towns and cities nationwide, using European Regional Development Fund, ERDF, and Government funding under the National Development Plan 2000-2006.

Funding is also available for smaller towns and rural communities to become self sufficient in broadband through the county and group broadband scheme. The scheme is technology neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area. The construction and install action is also under way in the joint industry-Government funded broadband for schools programme. A sum of €18 million has been provided for this scheme, which will provide every school in the country with broadband by the beginning of 2006.

In late 2004, the Government set a target of 400,000 broadband subscribers to be achieved by the end of 2006. Subsequently, broadband subscriber numbers have grown by 75%. The current take up for broadband is in the region of 10,000 per month and continues to grow across a range of technologies. The Government's broadband target is to be within the top half of EU countries by the end of 2007. The current ranking of Ireland against other European countries reflects the late launch of competitive, affordable broadband by private broadband service providers in Ireland and a slow take up by consumers.

However, Ireland's rating is improving. According to recent EU Internet statistics there are over 2 million Internet users in Ireland. This represents user growth of 163% in the last four years and a market penetration per population of 51.2%, which compares favourably with the EU average of 48.9%. Irish broadband prices are now below the EU average and this should have the effect of further stimulating demand.

Question No. 142 answered with QuestionNo. 140.

Liz McManus

Question:

143 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the provision of flat rate dial up Internet access services to Internet users here as directed by his Department to ComReg in February 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34365/05]

Flat rate Internet access caller origination, FRIACO, was introduced in June 2003, following a policy direction issued to the Commission for Communications Regulation by my predecessor. I understand that there are approximately 100,000 customers using FRIACO at present.

Broadcasting Services.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

144 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the European Rugby Cup competition will continue to be televised free to air; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34277/05]

The question of whether the Heineken European Rugby Cup competition is televised is in the first instance a matter for the organisers of the event together with interested broadcasters. Where the event is to be televised it is again a matter for the organisers of the event and the relevant broadcaster or broadcasters to determine whether the event is broadcast live, in full and whether it will be broadcast on a free television service or on a subscription service. I have no function in these matters.

The Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2003 designates a number of sporting events as events of major importance to society which should, in the public interest, continue to be made available on free-to-air television services in Ireland. The Heineken European Rugby Cup competition has not been designated under the Act.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

145 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources further to the recent plans in the UK for a biofuels obligation for all diesel and petrol providers his plans for a similar initiative here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34346/05]

Gerard Murphy

Question:

166 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to reduce the use of high emission fuels with a view to compliance with Kyoto targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34486/05]

Richard Bruton

Question:

169 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason this country’s development and production of alternative fuels has not kept pace with those throughout Europe which seem to have made rapid progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34478/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

245 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason this country’s development and production of alternative fuels has not kept pace with those throughout Europe which seem to have made rapid progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34649/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

252 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to reduce the use of high emission fuels with a view to compliance with Kyoto targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34657/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

253 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to encourage the production and use of low emission fuels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34658/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 145, 166, 169, 245, 252 and 253 together.

The EC biofuels directive sets indicative targets of 2% market penetration for biofuels by end 2005. The targets in the directive are indicative and not mandatory. Ireland is starting from a very low current production base and the 2% target therefore represents a considerable challenge. Market penetration of biofuels is also low in many other EU member states. Only ten member states have identified targets of 2% or more for 2005. A further seven member states, including Ireland, have identified targets lower than 2% and the targets of the remaining eight member states are unclear.

The targets achievable for biofuel production and distribution in Ireland depend on a variety of factors, including availability and end-use of agricultural land and the levels of indigenously sourced or imported feedstock or biofuels. In August 2005, eight projects were awarded excise relief under the biofuels mineral oil tax scheme, which was provided for in the 2004 Finance Act. Excise relief of €6 million will be allowed for these projects over a two year period to 2007. It is anticipated that this will result in 16 million litres of biofuels replacing imports on the Irish transport market during that period. The scheme is an initial measure designed to stimulate market development and I am in discussions with the Minister for Finance about the possibility for upscaling the scheme.

Under SEI's renewable energy research, development and demonstration programme, capital grant aid is also available for biofuels market demonstration projects in the pure plant oil, biodiesel and bioethanol categories. Funding of almost €250,000 has already been awarded to support engine modifications of up to 100 vehicles and provide plant and monitoring equipment. In addition, SEI has provided grant aid of €40,000 to Teagasc for a study to establish oil quality testing procedures for pure plant oil. This study will be critical to building market confidence. Funding has also been provided for the publication of a resource study on recovered vegetable oil and animal fats and study on quality assurance for rapeseed oil as a vehicle fuel.

An interdepartmental biofuels group was established in 2004 to consider policy options for the development of the biofuels market and to consider these options from the perspectives of the sectors or interest represented by each Department. It comprises representatives from my Department, the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Finance, Transport, Agriculture and Food and SEI.

As part of its work, the group commissioned a Liquid Biofuels Strategy Study for Ireland, which was published in December 2004. The report is being considered as part of the overall policy objective to increase market penetration of biofuels in Ireland. The report suggests that excise relief is the most effective short-term measure to stimulate the market but that other policy initiatives, such as a renewables obligation, might be more beneficial in the longer term. A more detailed study on policy options for development of a biofuels market, including the possibility of a renewables obligation, has recently been commissioned. The study is being overseen by a steering group comprising all members of the interdepartmental biofuels group.

I will be following the UK developments closely but I am aware that any obligation in the UK may not commence until 2008. The national climate change strategy sets out the strategies and targets for meeting Ireland's Kyoto commitments. Implementation of transport initiatives in the national climate change strategy is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Transport. My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, has lead responsibility for Government policy on meeting Ireland's target under the Kyoto Protocol. I understand that work on a review of the national climate change strategy, taking account of developments since its publication at the end of 2000, is currently in progress in his Department.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

146 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the current extent of energy production from biomass; his plans for expansion in the future in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34489/05]

Simon Coveney

Question:

189 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if biomass production here is in keeping with best practice elsewhere in Europe and worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34488/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

254 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if biomass production here is in keeping with best practice elsewhere in Europe and worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34659/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

255 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the current extent of energy production from biomass; his plans for expansion in the future in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34660/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 146, 189, 254 and 255 together.

Biomass energy offers potential for Ireland to develop indigenous energy supplies from renewable resources, thereby contributing to security of supply, lowering emissions and providing alternative sources of income for agriculture, forestry and waste management sectors. It also has the potential to provide a source of low cost energy across all sectors of the economy.

Ireland is still at a relatively low level of deployment of biomass energy, and in December 2003 my Department, in association with SEI, set up a bioenergy strategy group, BSG, to consider the policy options and support mechanisms available to Government to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion. Membership of the BSG comprised representatives of various Departments as well as State agencies in the agriculture and energy sectors and industry representatives. The findings of the bioenergy strategy group are being considered by the renewable energy development group in the context of overall policy recommendations and will be considered carefully.

We are already making progress, particularly in integrating biomass into Ireland's heating infrastructures. The biomass sector has attracted the largest amount of support under Sustainable Energy Ireland's renewable energy research, development and demonstration programme. Among the specific projects addressed to date are: a combined heat and power system, using sawmill residues at Grainger Sawmill in Cork; a 100 KW wood chip and pellet boiler at Coillte's headquarters — this 100% sustainable, timber constructed building has incorporated solar and wood heating systems into a purpose built energy centre that is open to the public; a 500 KW wood boiler and solar panels at Inchadoney Lodge and Spa hotel in Clonakilty, County Cork; a 100 KW wood chip boiler at Camphill Community, Jerpoint, County Kilkenny.

SEI recently published details of a further funding programme in 2005 for biomass boilers. Funding for biomass energy has also been made available for a range of projects under the EU Leader, LIFE and INTERREG IIIA programmes.

The biomass technologies supported under the AER process include biomass — landfill gas, biomass-anaerobic digestion and biomass-combined heat and power and a total of 20.204 MW from biomass landfill gas projects has been commissioned to date. Three further biomass CHP projects, 26.8MW, and ten biomass AD projects, 2.022MW, were successful in AER V6. In April this year I announced that I was changing the renewable energy support mechanism from competitive tendering to a fixed feed in tariff mechanism. In September I announced the support prices for different technology bands, including general biomass price support.

The new fixed price tariffs are: large wind energy, over five megawatts — 5.7 cent per kilowatt hour; small wind energy, under five megawatts — 5.9 cent per kilowatt hour; biomass — landfill gas — 7.0 cent per kilowatt hour; hydro and other biomass technologies — 7.2 cent per kilowatt hour.

Nine other member states have chosen feed in tariff as the preferred mechanism to support biomass electricity, including those with the highest market penetration of biomass. The detailed draft terms and conditions of the proposed feed-in support programme were posted on the Department's website, www.dcmnr.gov.ie, in draft form, on 29 September last and interested parties had until 12 October 2005 to raise any queries or to furnish any observations on the proposals, as published.

The report of the renewable energy development group is expected shortly and will form the basis of my future policy decisions on the increased penetration of renewable energy technologies, including biomass, in the electricity market and will seek to ensure that developers can make a reasonable rate of return on renewable energy projects while ensuring that the interests of national competitiveness and the ultimate burden of cost to the final consumer are all fully taken into consideration. In July my Northern counterpart, Angela Smith, MP, and myself published a preliminary consultation paper on an all-island vision for renewable energy to the year 2020 and beyond. The consultation period recently ended and the response has been very encouraging. The aim is to develop a long-term strategy for renewable energy on the island as a whole.

Question No. 147 answered with QuestionNo. 127.

Digital Hub.

Shane McEntee

Question:

148 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the costs of the development and promotion of the digital hub to date in 2005; the likely future costs of same; if this is in accordance with projections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34530/05]

Liam Twomey

Question:

161 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to the promotion and development of the digital hub with particular reference to the associated costs to date in 2005 and its future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34529/05]

Shane McEntee

Question:

176 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the extent of the expansion of facilities at the digital hub; the extent to which targets or projections are being achieved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34531/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

289 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the current position in regard to the promotion and development of the digital hub with particular reference to the associated costs to date and its future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34699/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

290 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the way in which he sees the digital hub developing in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34700/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

291 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the extent of the expansion of facilities at the digital hub; the extent to which targets or projections are being achieved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34701/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

292 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the costs of the development and promotion of the digital hub to date in 2005; the likely future costs of same; if this is in accordance with projections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34702/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 148, 161, 176, 289, 290, 291 and 292 together.

The digital hub project, managed by the independent Digital Hub Development Agency, has been and will continue to be successful in developing a digital industry cluster, as well as in regenerating an historic community area in the heart of Dublin by operating a number of significant community and educational initiatives as part of its role in the digital hub district. During 2005, €2.5 million was provided to the Digital Hub Development Agency to clear an overdraft which had been built up through its operating costs during 2004 and part of 2005. In addition, €550,000 has been provided to date during 2005 to meet the ongoing operating costs of the agency. Future costs will be kept under review by the Department and will be subject to negotiations with the agency.

On 5 October, the agency announced a competition to develop over five acres of land in the digital hub. This land will be developed as a mixture of residential, commercial and retail properties, in addition to public spaces. The private developers will compete on the basis of bids of cash plus office space. The office space will be handed back to the Digital Hub Development Agency and will be used to accommodate an increased number of digital enterprises in the area. These tenders must be submitted by 18 November for evaluation.

With regard to industry development, the agency has been successful to date in growing the cluster, with about 50 companies now employing approximately 400 employees in the hub. These enterprises are involved in a range of activities, including games software development, mobile technology, animation and TV production.

As regards the social and community development remit of the hub, the agency has operated the Liberties learning initiative, which uses technology to tackle social and educational disadvantage in the area. Supported by funding from Diageo Ireland, the programme delivers a range of learning and showcasing projects focused on the creative use of digital media and reflects the national priorities of building a knowledge based society and addressing the digital divide. In addition, the schools programme of the Liberties learning initiative has developed a range of programmes in 16 local primary and second level schools aimed at addressing the digital divide. The schools programme aims to equip local children with the skills needed to live in a digital age and to work in the digital media industry, which will be located on their doorstep.

Question No. 149 answered with QuestionNo. 121.
Question No. 150 answered with QuestionNo. 140.
Question No. 151 answered with QuestionNo. 116.
Question No. 152 answered with QuestionNo. 139.
Question No. 153 answered with QuestionNo. 141.

Electricity Generation.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

154 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if there are issues surrounding the security of supply in the upcoming winter months in view of the serious power cuts experienced recently at Wexford General Hospital and concerns in Britain regarding the wholesale gas market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34358/05]

Ireland's modest domestic energy resources and the geographic distance from other countries make security of supply an especially important issue. Assuring security of electricity supply requires a multifaceted approach with an optimal supply mix.

Responsibility for security of supply in the electricity sector rests by law since February 2005 with the energy regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, assuming the key monitoring and oversight role, aided by the transmission system operator and the Department. This responsibility includes greater powers to act to secure and enhance supply. Specifically, the CER is empowered to take any measures necessary to protect security of supply. In addition, the transmission system operator, TSO, is required by law to advise the CER if there is a threat to security of electricity supply and make recommendations as to measures to cover peak demands and to deal with shortfalls in capacity. The supply demand balance for the coming winter is tight but CER continues to monitor the situation very closely.

As demonstrated by international and domestic blackout events, no electricity power system can be fully protected from all eventualities. Likewise, no system can guarantee that there will be no disruption to electricity supply. Nonetheless, Ireland has an exemplary record and no system wide outage has occurred in the Irish power system to date.

I am informed by the ESB that the incident last month at Wexford Hospital was initially caused by climatic conditions but the ensuing problems with the back-up system were due to a fault in the hospital's own generator and switching gear and not between the ESB substation and the hospital. I have been apprised of the comments made by the UK Minister for Energy in respect of the outlook for UK gas supplies this winter. Bilateral contact between my Department and the Department of Industry in the UK has clarified that Minister Wicks recently sounded a note of caution for UK businesses that do not book firm gas supplies and capacities in advance. Such businesses may face interruption of supplies in the event of colder than average weather conditions. The choice between booking firm or interruptible gas supplies is a commercial decision for individual businesses.

The UK National Grid's winter outlook report was published in October. It concluded that under average winter weather conditions, gas supplies and power generation capacities are sufficient to meet all demand for gas and electricity. If winter weather conditions are extremely cold, then there is a programme in place in the UK to reduce gas demand without leading to power cuts.

In Ireland, the Commission for Energy Regulation has responsibility for monitoring on an ongoing basis the security of natural gas supply. The commission publishes an annual gas capacity statement. This provides a forecast of capacity, flows and customer demand to assess the adequacy of the Irish gas transmission system. The gas capacity statement also considers whether projected supplies of gas from indigenous sources, imports and storage are sufficient to meet forecast demand. A key finding of the 2005 gas capacity statement is that even under unusually cold weather conditions, the Irish gas transmission system will cope with forecast demand.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Jack Wall

Question:

155 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the Cabinet approval recently given to Bord na Móna’s future strategy proposals including the pursuit of interests with waste disposal and alternative energy companies; his views on whether the way is being prepared for the privatisation of Bord na Móna; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34349/05]

The programme for Government, agreed in June 2002, states that the Government will approach the issue of the appropriate form of ownership or structure for state companies on a case-by-case basis and will support the maximum commercial freedom of semi-State companies, subject to the fulfilment of national strategic and balanced regional policy objectives.

Bord na Móna's future strategy proposals, which I recently approved in principle in consultation with my colleague, the Minister for Finance, include diversification into renewable energy, the development of the company's environmental solutions businesses, including waste management, and extracting best value from its land and property asset portfolio, while continuing to maintain its existing peat stock, solid fuels and horticultural businesses.

The approval of the strategy not only supports the concept of maximum commercial freedom for the company but also ensures the long-term viability of the company having regard to the declining and finite nature of its existing peat-based energy supply, solid fuel and horticulture businesses. I have no plan for the privatisation of Bord na Móna.

Question No. 156 answered with QuestionNo. 126.

Mobile Telephony.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

157 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on recent market developments in the mobile and broadband markets; his further views regarding a possible takeover vehicle for Eircom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34368/05]

I have no function in this matter. Any proposals by a commercial operator, in a fully liberalised market, to acquire another company is a commercial decision for it.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

158 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the purpose of the Sea Fisheries (Tuna and Certain Other Species) Fishing Regulations 2005; the number of authorisations which have been applied for and granted under these regulations; and if he intends to promote a commercial tuna fishing industry here. [34550/05]

The purpose of the Sea Fisheries (Tuna and Certain Other Species) Fishing Regulations 2005 is to implement EU Regulation 1329/98 which bans the fishing for albacore tuna by means of drift net. The S.I. allows for the fishing of this stock by other legal means. In Ireland, this fishery is pursued by means of pair trawling and long lining. Ireland can authorise up to 50 boats to fish for albacore tuna each year. In 2005, Ireland has a quota of 5,723 tonnes.

In 2005, there were 55 applications for an authorisation to fish for albacore tuna. This compares to 36 in 2004. A number of applicants were not considered eligible for an albacore tuna licence because they did not meet the requirements set in the S.I. The number of authorisations granted was the maximum 50 allowed. Where the Department was advised that licensed vessels were not in a position to fish in 2005, their licence was revoked and reissued to other boats where the owner expressed an interest in the fishery after the official closing date for applications.

I consider that the albacore tuna fishery offers excellent opportunities for Irish boats, insofar as Ireland has a large quota, which is not being fully taken up. Fishing trials carried out by BIM have already provided substantial support to interested fishermen to develop alternative fishing techniques. BIM will continue to provide technical support for operators in this fishery.

Alternative Energy Projects.

David Stanton

Question:

159 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he has reviewed the various alternative energy sectors with a view to achieving less dependance on imports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34481/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

293 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he has reviewed the various alternative energy sectors with a view to achieving less dependence on imports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34705/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 159 and 293 together.

My Department has conducted a public consultation process on future development of renewable energy to gauge market views on the most appropriate policy initiatives. This process was succeeded by the establishment of a renewable energy development group. The group is chaired by my Department and comprises relevant experts from the administrative, industry and scientific sector, including the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, ESB National Grid and the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, among others.

The work of the group has been informed by the renewable energy consultation process and the submissions made in response to the consultation document. Other inputs to the group came from direct presentations to the group from industry representatives and their associations, analysis conducted by subgroups of the group itself, the work of the CHP strategy group and the bioenergy strategy group. The group has conducted a comprehensive review of available proven technologies. Less developed technologies can avail of the RD and D programmes operated by Sustainable Energy Ireland.

In July, my Northern counterpart, Ms Angela Smith, MP, and I published a preliminary consultation paper on an all-island vision for renewable energy to the year 2020 and beyond. The consultation period recently ended and the response has been very encouraging. The aim is to develop a long-term strategy for renewable energy on the island as a whole.

Question No. 160 answered with QuestionNo. 113.
Question No. 161 answered with QuestionNo. 148.

Port Development.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

162 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if responsibility for ports is going to be removed from the remit of his Department and transferred to the Department of Transport; the reasons behind the consideration of such a move; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34355/05]

The Government has endorsed my proposal, jointly agreed with my colleague, the Minister for Transport, to transfer responsibility for maritime transport and maritime safety from my Department to the Department of Transport from 1 January 2006. The decision to transfer responsibility for the major commercial seaports is being complemented by the simultaneous transfer of the following interlinked policy areas and services. These include shipping policy and State regional ports and harbours, both of which functions are fully integrated with commercial ports policy and the maritime safety and security functions together with the Irish Coast Guard.

The transfer of the maritime transport and maritime safety functions in their totality to the Department of Transport makes strategic and operational sense. The bringing of these functions within the transport policy framework is in the interests of integrated transport policy delivery, efficiency and effectiveness and stakeholders and sectors.

Fisheries Protection.

Denis Naughten

Question:

163 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he will take to address the impact of drift netting on the tourism sector (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34278/05]

I refer the Deputy to my previous reply on this matter to Question No. 176 on 12 October 2005.

While I am aware of the argument that the effect of drift netting on salmon stocks is a reason for the decline in tourism angling in Ireland, I am not, however, aware of any study having been carried out that supports this particular premise. For this reason, the Department has recently taken up this matter with the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism, with a view to asking that Department, and the relevant State agencies under its aegis, to apply their expertise in evaluating the role of salmon angling development and to present a definitive view of its potential within the broader tourism sector.

Question No. 164 answered with QuestionNo. 101.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Willie Penrose

Question:

165 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on targets for renewable energy for 2010, 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050; his further views on whether the vast bulk of Irish energy needs could be provided by renewables in the medium to long term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34372/05]

Within the electricity market, a target is established to increase the amount of electricity consumed from renewable energy sources to 13.2% by 2010. This is regarded as a challenging target to achieve. Currently we have 675 MW of renewable capacity connected to our system and to reach the 2010 target we will have to more than double the present renewable capacity. Current industry build rate shows that the required level is achievable.

In July, my Northern counterpart, Ms Angela Smith, MP, and I published a preliminary consultation paper on an all-island vision for renewable energy to the year 2020 and beyond. The consultation period recently ended and the response has been very encouraging. The aim is to develop a long-term strategy for renewable energy on the island as a whole.

The question of what further targets can be set and in what timeframe is one that requires further analysis and technical input, largely but not exclusively, in regard to grid and associated economic issues.

Question No. 166 answered with QuestionNo. 145.

Television Licence Fee.

Phil Hogan

Question:

167 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his intentions for the distribution of the television licence reserve fund; the full extent of this fund to date in 2005; if he expects to bring in the necessary legislation to deal with this issue in early course; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34480/05]

The Broadcasting (Funding) Act 2003 provides that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland prepare a scheme or schemes for the funding of grants to support certain television and radio programmes.

The EU Commission recently notified Ireland of its decision that it considers the scheme to be compatible with the relevant provisions of the EU Treaty. I subsequently wrote to the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland approving the scheme entitled "Sound & Vision" which has now been launched. The amount payable annually to the fund under section 4(2) of the Broadcasting (Funding) Act 2003 is equal to 5% of net receipts of broadcasting licence fees. The fund now stands at in excess of €23 million.

Question No. 168 answered with QuestionNo. 120.
Question No. 169 answered with QuestionNo. 145.

Postal Services.

Tom Hayes

Question:

170 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had discussions with post masters or sub-post masters with a view to enabling the development, upgrading and expansion of the services available through the post offices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34514/05]

The development and continued viability of An Post and the post office network, is in the first instance, a matter for the board and management of An Post.

An Post plays, and will continue to play, a key role, both in delivery of mails and as a quality service provider through its nationwide network of post office outlets. However, there is universal agreement that change is required if the postal services of An Post are to adapt to the modern business environment and to continue to offer a top class nationwide delivery service to the customer into the future.

With this in mind, the board and management of An Post have presented a recovery plan, which I believe is vital to the re-establishment of the company on a more secure financial footing. Adoption of restructuring that delivers real change is the only way that An Post can secure its financial position. It is the Government's objective to maintain the largest, economically sustainable post office network possible. The challenge for all stakeholders in An Post is to generate sufficient profitable business to maintain the network at its current size by building on existing strengths to develop new product offerings.

The network has a high footfall and to capitalise on these advantages it is essential that existing and new services are developed to meet customer requirements. The network also has the capacity and potential to deliver more private business especially in financial services and opportunities are actively being pursued by An Post in this area. On foot of substantial investment in computerisation, a significant amount of extra business has already been obtained for the network in terms of banking and utility business.

At present 95% of An Post's business is conducted through automated offices. Also underway is a new pilot scheme to automate a total of ten smaller post offices. This will allow the company to determine to what extent, if any, further investment in automation might be justified. The results of this project will be evaluated at the end of the trial period.

I have also asked the company to ensure that any strategy for the development of the company should ensure the long-term viability of the post office network and, in this light, An Post is currently working on a new initiative, the An Post financial services strategy, which could see the development and expansion of the range of financial services that it can deliver through its network of post offices. If successful, it could lead to a significant increase in post office business and contribute to the viability of the network.

I have at all times kept all the key stakeholders at An Post, including the IPU, apprised of developments at An Post and have welcomed its views on the future development of the company. In this regard, I have met with representatives of the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, on a number of occasions over the past 12 months and as recently as last Thursday, 10 November.

Electricity Generation.

John Deasy

Question:

171 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the cost of access to the grid is a contributory factor in respect of energy costs, including alternative energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34517/05]

I have no function in regard to national grid access, which is primarily a matter for ESB National Grid, which is in turn regulated by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The relevant legislation is the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and I have no power to issue directions of the type referred to.

Question No. 172 answered with QuestionNo. 108.

Fisheries Protection.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

173 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the annual cost to the State of the provision of monitoring, inspection and enforcement of the fishery management system; the most recent estimated annual gross revenue of fish landed in ports here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34538/05]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

177 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the annual cost to the State of the provision of monitoring, inspection and enforcement of the fishery management system; the most recent estimated annual gross revenue of fish landed in ports here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34533/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 173 and 177 together.

The cost of providing the monitoring, inspection and enforcement of Ireland's sea fisheries management system is borne by both the Department of Defence and by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The Department of Defence makes budgetary provision for the Naval Service and for the Air Corps, who in turn monitor and control fisheries. The Naval Service discharges a number of roles as a constituent part of the Defence Forces. Its primary task in peace time is to provide a fisheries protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the EU. In excess of 90% of the day to day activities of the service is devoted to this task at present.

The estimate of the total cost in 2004 of the Naval Service is approximately €97 million. The Air Corps also provides fishery protection services, the estimated total cost of such services in 2004 is €13 million. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has a number of sea fishery officers and administrative personnel engaged in the inspection work related to fisheries conservation and food safety regulation. The inspection work in both areas is generally given equal time and attention. An adjustment to the total annual expenditure for this work to allow for this dual inspection function indicates that the total cost to the State for the provision of inspection and enforcement of fisheries was €2.1 million during 2004.

The costs above cover the cost of fisheries control in respect of all EU and third country fishing fleets in Ireland's 200 mile zone as well as the cost of participating in fisheries control programmes outside the 200 mile zone mandated by the European Commission. The requirement for comprehensive fisheries control in respect of all vessels in the Irish 200 mile zone is a mandatory obligation on the State under European law. The disproportionate burden which this imposes on the State relative to the size of the Irish fishing industry was recognised at the outset of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

The value of landings into Irish ports at first point of sale from Irish and non-Irish fishing vessels was approximately €198.2 million for 2004. Irish fishing vessels would also make significant landings in a number of other EU member states and third countries. The value of exports from Irish seafood companies during 2004 was in excess of €377 million. The value at final point of sale of seafood sold in Ireland or exported from Ireland is almost €700 million. It is estimated that there are up to 15,000 persons employed directly or indirectly in the seafood sector.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

174 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding the new regulations for the National Salmon Commission; his views on introducing legislation to ban drift net fishing in view of a call by MEPs for such a ban; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34447/05]

The National Salmon Commission is a statutory body established to assist and advise me, as Minister with responsibility for the marine, in regard to the conservation, management, protection and development of the wild salmon and sea trout resource in Ireland. The salmon commission includes representatives of the commercial salmon fishing sector, the angling sector and other relevant stakeholders, and provides the primary forum in which the vital issues relating to salmon conservation can be considered. As such, I attach significant importance to the role of the commission in the management of this important natural resource.

Earlier this year, when setting the commercial salmon quotas for the 2005 season, I accepted the outgoing commission's recommendation and gave a firm commitment to fully align the exploitation of salmon, both at national and district levels, on the scientific advice by 2007. With this in mind, I have asked the new National Salmon Commission to advise me as to how best this alignment can be implemented and, in doing so, to propose how an objective balance between competing interests in the salmon fishery may be obtained within the framework of the conservation management mechanism as necessary.

To assist it in this task, I have provided specific terms of reference for the National Salmon Commission which are set out in the National Salmon Commission (Terms of Reference) Order 2005, S.I. No. 627 of 2005. While I am aware of calls for a ban on drift net salmon fishing in Ireland, the Deputy should be aware that the latest scientific advice available to me has not recommended an outright or immediate cessation of drift net fishing for salmon. Such a cessation is not regarded as necessary to protect the biological health of salmon at a national level as there remains an abundance of fish nationally and the scientists recognise that determining the balance of exploitation at this level between different fisheries is an administrative and political choice, to be taken having full regard not just for the biological perspective but also for the wider socioeconomic considerations. The scientific advice is clear, however, that the priority must be to align exploitation on the scientifically recommended conservation levels as quickly as possible. What is also certain is the Government's commitment to the scientific advice and to the adoption of the scientific recommendations on conservation limits by 2007.

I can assure the Deputy that I will examine carefully all recommendations, including those relevant to drift netting, made to me by the National Salmon Commission in this regard.

Question No. 175 answered with QuestionNo. 103.
Question No. 176 answered with QuestionNo. 148.
Question No. 177 answered with QuestionNo. 173.
Question No. 178 answered with QuestionNo. 121.
Question No. 179 answered with QuestionNo. 113.
Question No. 180 answered with QuestionNo. 139.

Ferry Operations.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

181 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had discussions regarding the pay and working conditions of workers on ferries operating between member states of the EU with the Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Commissioner, Vladimir Spidla; and if he will report on the discussions held. [31456/05]

At present, EU Commission initiatives in the area of seafarer employment and working conditions are being progressed by the directorate general for energy and transport, which reports to Mr. Jacques Barrat, Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Transport.

In 1998, the Commission had put forward proposals for a directive on the manning of regular passenger and ferry services operating in and between member states. The Commission issued a revised proposal in 2000. However, no final agreement was reached in the Council of Ministers on the matter and the Commission formally withdrew the proposal in 2004. A central point of the earlier draft directive was that workers on a ferry operating between member states should initially be from whatever two jurisdictions the ship is moving between; otherwise, workers of any nationality on the route in question should be subject to the same national pay rates as all other workers in the State concerned.

Following the failure of that initiative, the Commission has referred the question of the pay and conditions of seafarers working on ferries operating between member states, to the social partners. If a European social partnership agreement is reached, that agreement could be implemented through EU legislation. Ireland is one of the member states supporting the Commission's proposal on European social dialogue.

Another Community initiative of relevance to seafarers is that entitled "Boosting employment prospects in the Community maritime sector and attracting young people to the seafaring profession". My officials, who support this initiative, are currently examining the Commission's proposals as they are developed at working group and COREPER levels.

The UK EU Presidency is pressing to have maritime employment, including the Commission initiative to boost seafarer employment, discussed at the upcoming 5 December 2005 Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council. Ireland will be supportive of measures designed to protect EU seafaring jobs, while having regard to our almost total reliance on maritime transport. I have not had discussions with the EU Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Commissioner, Mr. Vladimir Spidla in view of the seafarer employment initiatives already being progressed by the Commission's directorate general for energy and transport and the current EU Presidency.

Question No. 182 answered with QuestionNo. 121.
Question No. 183 answered with QuestionNo. 114.

Telecommunications Services.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

184 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the proposed digital multiplex system and network service that is currently being put out to tender; if he has reviewed the recent report by the British regulator (details supplied) on the cost and power consumption implications of digital switchover; his plans to undertake a similar study of the implications of digital switchover here; if he has reached a decision on the proposed timeframe for digital roll out and the corresponding analogue switch-off date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34339/05]

My Department is currently running procurement processes to develop a digital terrestrial television, DTT, pilot study. There are two key procurement processes. As regards the multiplex and network service provider procurement, pre-qualified tenderers have been asked to submit final tenders for early January 2006. As to transmission equipment, an open procurement process has been announced with tenders also due in January 2006.

I am aware of the conclusions of the cost-benefit analysis of analogue switch-off as developed in the UK. My analysis of all of the implications of a DTT roll out and possible analogue switch-off is ongoing. As the DTT pilot study develops and proposals emerge for a national roll-out of DTT, it is proposed to bring forward detailed proposals as to possible analogue switch-off dates.

Broadcasting Services.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

185 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the consultants and solicitors (details supplied) are going to report on an implementation plan for the establishment of TG4 as an independent statutory body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34360/05]

The external advisers appointed to assist in the preparation of a detailed implementation plan for the separation of TG4, have submitted a draft report to the project management group which is chaired by my Department and includes officials from the Department of Finance and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, along with RTE and TG4. The draft report is being examined at present and it is expected that a final report will be received by the end of November.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Joan Burton

Question:

186 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the measures, including any fiscal incentives, he is planning to promote the development of renewable energy resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34362/05]

My Department operates a number of fiscal incentive programmes, aimed at promoting the integration of renewable technologies. Under the AER programme, administered by my Department, 675 MW of renewable capacity has been connected with a further 175 MW under active construction. Further development will also take place from the last two rounds of competitive tendering, the AER V and AER VI competitions.

On 27 September, I announced a new support programme to further increase the contribution to electricity production from renewable energy sources. This new programme will move away from the competitive tendering model to a fixed price scheme. This means that any applicant, whether an individual or company, may submit an application at a fixed price based on technology and, in the case of wind, the capacity of the project.

In the area of alternative fuels, the biofuels mineral oil tax relief scheme was launched in April this year and has resulted in eight biofuels projects being awarded excise relief for a period of two years. Excise relief of €6 million will be allowed for these projects, over a two-year period to 2007. It is anticipated that this will result in 16 million litres of biofuels replacing imports on the Irish transport market during that period. The scheme is an initial measure designed to stimulate market development.

In addition to these initiatives, Sustainable Energy Ireland administers a series of programmes aimed at supporting the integration of renewable technologies across all sectors of the economy. Its programmes include: the house of tomorrow programme which promotes and supports sustainable energy practices in Irish housing, by providing grant aid to developers of groups of housing; the public sector buildings programme which supports the development of model, energy efficient public sector buildings; and the renewable energy research development and demonstration programme which aims to stimulate deployment of renewables close to market and address the need for information and education.

Sustainable Energy Ireland has a budget of €16.1 million in 2005 for the administration of these and a range of other sustainable energy programmes. I am fully committed to the development of our renewable resources and I believe that the combination of these programmes is serving to ensure the increased deployment of renewable and alternative energy within Ireland's electricity, heat and transport markets. The question of whether or not there will be further measures to support renewable energy sources can only be considered in the context of this year's budget which is a matter initially for the Minister for Finance and ultimately for the Government.

Post Office Network.

John Deasy

Question:

187 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has in the course of his recent discussions or correspondence with An Post ascertained the number of post offices closed or threatened with closure in the past 12 months; if such proposals are likely to enhance the scope and scale of the postal services and thereby their viability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34516/05]

The development and continued viability of An Post and the post office network is, in the first instance, a matter for the board and management of An Post. As clearly set out in An Agreed Programme for Government, this Administration and the board of An Post are committed to the objective of securing a viable and sustainable nationwide post office network. Notwithstanding the commercial remit of An Post, there is clear Government recognition of the social benefits of maintaining the nationwide post office network.

Accordingly, An Post development strategies for the network continue to take full account of these social benefits. The An Post network comprises the single largest number of retail outlets in the country. In the European context, Ireland still has the highest number of post offices per head of population. In recent years some network restructuring has been undertaken. This activity is in line with similar trends across Europe. In addition to the post office network, An Post has established 2,864 Postpoint outlets in retail premises of which 600 can be used for bill payment. Specifically, as regards the closure of post offices or sub-post offices, it is only when a suitable candidate for a vacancy cannot be found or where there are no applicants, that an office is closed.

I understand that since 1 November 2004, 17 post offices closed and were replaced with postal agencies providing core post office services including social welfare payments and the sale of stamps. In the same period a further 18 post offices closed and no longer provide a service because no suitable applications were received following advertisement campaigns for these contracts. In these instances customers were re-directed to other post offices in the local vicinities. In addition, there are a further 12 post offices that are temporarily closed and for which the company is currently advertising or for which contracts are in process.

It is the Government's objective to maintain the largest, economically sustainable post office network possible. The challenge for all stakeholders in An Post is to generate sufficient profitable business to maintain the network at its current size. While the Government will support the network in any way it can and has demonstrated its commitment in a tangible fashion, with a €12.7 million capital injection in 2003, the way forward is for An Post to enhance existing services and, building on existing strengths to develop new product offerings.

The network has a high footfall and to capitalise on this advantage it is essential that existing and new services are developed to meet customer requirements. The network also has the capacity and potential to deliver more private business especially in financial services and opportunities are actively being pursued by An Post in this area. Indeed, on foot of substantial investment in computerisation, a significant amount of extra business has already been obtained for the network in terms of banking and utility business. At present 95% of An Post's business is conducted through automated offices.

Also underway is a new pilot scheme to automate a total of ten smaller post offices. This will allow the company to determine to what extent, if any, further investment in automation might be justified. The results of this project will be evaluated at the end of the trial period. I have also asked the company to ensure that any strategy for the development of the company should ensure the long-term viability of the post office network and in this light, An Post is currently working on a new initiative which could see the development and expansion of the range of financial services that it can deliver through its network of post offices.

If successful, it could lead to a significant increase in post office business and contribute to the viability of the network.

Electricity Generation.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

188 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment’s description of the lack of State capital investment in the national electricity grid; his plans to change this investment levy that households here and businesses are charged; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34363/05]

Neither my Department nor the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment can trace any record of the matter referred to in the question.

I can advise the Deputy that I have no function in the matter of grid investment. ESB Networks and ESB National Grid manage major investment in Ireland's distribution and transmission infrastructure. The Commission for Energy Regulation has recently undertaken a major review of ESB's capital investment programme over the last five years and ESB investment plans over the next five year period. Between 2001 and 2005 over €2.6 billion was invested in the distribution system and a further €500 million in the transmission system.

Investment in the next five year period will be in the region of €2.278 billion for distribution and €520 million for transmission. This investment is vital in order to support the needs of all electricity customers for world class quality and security of supply. It also assists competition in the electricity sector and the growth of renewable energy and regional development, as well as inward investment. There is no history of Government directly funding grid investment in this country.

As is the case in most countries, the grid investment programme is paid for by all customers through electricity tariffs — use of system charges. There are no network levies.

Question No. 189 answered with QuestionNo. 146.

Energy Resources.

Mary Upton

Question:

190 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the recent EU meeting where a plan for a common EU energy policy was presented by the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair; the Government’s position on the plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34348/05]

Ireland was represented at the recent heads of state informal Council at Hampton Court London by the Taoiseach. I understand that the issue of energy formed part of a wide ranging discussion on the challenges and opportunities posed by globalisation and changing demographics in the EU.

While the British Prime Minister raised the desirability of formulating a common energy policy within the European Union, no formal proposal as yet exists in this respect. I understand that the European Commission is considering bringing forward a Green Paper on this subject sometime during 2006 in which all options will be considered. This is expected to lead to a communication setting out a comprehensive approach to energy policy by the end of next year.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Liz McManus

Question:

191 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the stage of his Department’s work on the Broadcasting Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34375/05]

The priority issues to be addressed by the legislative proposals that will form the basis of a new Broadcasting Bill are as follows: the establishment of a single content regulator for commercial, community and public service broadcasters; the establishment of RTE as a company under the Companies Acts 1963 to 2003; the provision of a statutory mechanism for future adjustments to the level of the television licence fee; and the development of a right of reply mechanism, allowing persons whose reputation and good name have been damaged by an assertion of incorrect facts in a television or radio programme to gain redress.

Work on developing the legislative proposals needed to address these issues commenced following the passing of the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Amendment Act 2003. Advancement of these proposals has taken longer than originally anticipated due to the complexity and range of issues which require to be addressed. However, good progress has been made and I anticipate that the Broadcasting Bill is on course for publication during 2006.

My intention in framing the legislative proposals will be to ensure that the broadcasting regulatory environment continues to encourage the parallel development of high quality broadcasting by Irish public service, commercial and community broadcasters.

Electricity Generation.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

192 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has sought or received information from the regulator or issued instructions in regard to easier access to the grid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34490/05]

I have no function in relation to national grid access, which is primarily a matter for ESB National Grid, which is in turn regulated by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The relevant legislation is the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and I have no power to issue directions of the type referred to.

Fisheries Protection.

Joe Costello

Question:

193 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report to Dáil Éireann on progress in relation to the meeting of the Ministers of State with the fishermen of Carrick-on-Suir and south Tipperary political representatives; if he has been in contact with South Tipperary County Council; if the obstruction on the River Suir in Carrick-on-Suir will be removed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34364/05]

As I indicated in my reply to Question No. 98 of 20 October 2005, catch data provided to the Department by the Southern Regional Fisheries Board on behalf of the fishermen concerned were forwarded to South Tipperary County Council.

I understand that the county council has no proposals to reconsider the location of the outfall diffusers. In view of the local authority's position on the matter, and as I am advised that any effects of the diffusers and the associated navigation buoy on fishing are localised and minor, I do not consider that action as regards their relocation is warranted.

Question No. 194 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Energy Resources.

Joan Burton

Question:

195 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the amount paid to date to the Exchequer in respect of the sale of the Whitegate refinery and the Bantry storage terminal; the amount of the balance which remains outstanding; when he expects that this will be paid; if he is satisfied at the rate of payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34359/05]

It is currently estimated that the final net return to the Exchequer arising from the sale of the business and commercial assets of the Irish National Petroleum Corporation, INPC, will be of the order of some €30 million. The INPC has already paid €20 million to the Exchequer.

In November 2003, the board of the INPC, cognisant of its obligations under the Companies Acts to retain sufficient assets to meet potential liabilities, determined that it would not be appropriate to make a further payment to the Exchequer at that stage as a number of outstanding matters had yet to be resolved. These ongoing matters, comprising environmental claims lodged against the INPC and a contractual dispute with a former customer, have potential financial implications and consequently the INPC is not currently in a position to divest itself of its remaining financial assets. As the claims and the dispute are day-to-day matters for the INPC it is not appropriate for me to elaborate further on them. However, I assure the Deputy that they are being robustly defended by the INPC, with the benefit of expert legal and technical advice.

Given the involvement of third parties in the unresolved matters, neither the INPC nor my Department is in a position to indicate when the remaining proceeds may become available. It has always been accepted that the total cash return to the Exchequer arising from the INPC transaction would be considerably less than the headline sale price of US$100 million as the INPC had, for example, to use some of the proceeds to discharge the company's debt.

I am satisfied that the transaction represented a very positive outcome for the State, particularly having regard to the fact that the Government also placed as a condition of the sale an obligation on the purchasers and any successors to operate the refinery and the oil terminal on a fully commercial basis for a period of at least 15 years.

Health Services.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

196 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether there are enough speech and language therapy and occupational therapy posts to ensure that children with autism get a regular on-site service in schools in Laois and Offaly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34819/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Community Care.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

197 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in the interest of promoting equality for family carer’s, she will support the establishment of a national advisory group made up of carers, representative organisations, union representatives and employers' groups to advise her Department on the various areas of policy affecting carer’s and their families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34732/05]

As the Deputy is aware, carers provide an invaluable role in supporting family members in the community and it is important to recognise their contribution to society. The role of carers in society has to some extent not been fully recognised in the past but this situation is changing with a number of initiatives being introduced to address the needs of carers.

The Department of Health and Children provided in excess of €1 million in funding in 2005 to a number of groups supporting cares such as Care Alliance, Caring for Carers and the Carers Association. The Department of Social and Family Affairs has also implemented a range of measures, since 1999, to assist carers, including increases in the carer's allowance, the introduction of an annual payment of €1,000 towards the cost of respite care, the extension of schemes such as the free electricity allowance, free telephone rental and free television licence to those on carer's allowance.

The Carers Leave Act 2001 allows employees in Ireland to leave their employment temporarily for a minimum period of 13 weeks up to a maximum period of 65 weeks to provide full-time care and attention. Carers leave from employment is unpaid but the Carers Leave Act ensures that those who propose to avail of carer's leave will have their jobs kept open for them for the duration of the leave. These initiatives demonstrate this Government's commitment to addressing the shortcomings identified by the Carers Association and other groups regarding support for carers.

The Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney. and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, met representatives of the Carers Association on the 29 September 2005 to discuss their document entitled Towards a Family Carers Strategy. At that meeting, the importance of work carried out by carers in the home was acknowledged. As outlined at the meeting, an interdepartmental group on the funding of long-term care for older persons set up by the Tánaiste and the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, chaired by the Taoiseach's Department, is currently examining a range of issues surrounding the care of older persons in Ireland, including community care. That group is expected to report shortly and it was agreed that the Carers Association document entitled Towards a Family Carers' Strategy, would feed into its deliberations.

Water Fluoridation.

Finian McGrath

Question:

198 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the health implications of water fluoridation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34734/05]

Fluoridation of public water supplies as a public health measure is accepted as being one of the most effective methods of ensuring against tooth decay. The World Health Organisation recommends fluoridation of public water supplies and has stated that fluoridation of water supplies, where possible, is the most effective public health measure for the prevention of dental decay. The WHO has also stated that people of all ages, including the elderly, benefit from community water fluoridation. The recently completed survey of oral health, covering the whole island of Ireland, shows that fluoridation of public water supplies continues to be a highly effective public health measure. It has contributed significantly to a major reduction in the incidence of dental decay in the Republic of Ireland.

A forum on fluoridation was established to review the fluoridation of public piped water supplies in Ireland. The forum report's main conclusion was that the fluoridation of public piped water supplies should continue as a public health measure. The report of the forum on fluoridation made 33 recommendations covering a broad range of topics such as research, public awareness, policy and technical aspects of fluoridation and the establishment of an expert body to oversee the implementation of the recommendations.

The Irish expert body on fluorides and health held its inaugural meeting in April 2004. The terms of reference of the expert body are to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the forum on fluoridation; to advise the Minister and evaluate ongoing research — including new emerging issues — on all aspects of fluoride and its delivery methods as an established health technology and as required; to report to the Minister on matters of concern at his or her request or on its own initiative. The expert body has broad representation, including from the areas of public health medicine, engineering, management, environmental protection, environmental health, dentistry and health promotion.

The body has a strong consumer input in terms of members of the public and representatives of consumer interests, in addition to the necessary scientific, managerial and public health inputs. The expert body will oversee the implementation of the wide ranging recommendations of the forum and advise me on all aspects of fluoride going forward.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

199 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the refunding of nursing home charges; when such repayments are likely to commence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34735/05]

The Government has agreed the key elements of a scheme for the repayment of long stay charges for publicly funded residential care. All those fully eligible persons who were charged and are alive and the estates of all those who were charged and died in the six years prior to 9 December 2004 will have the charges repaid in full. The scheme will not allow for repayments to the estates of those who died more than six years prior to that date.

The repayments will include both the actual charge paid and an amount to take account of inflation, using the consumer price index, since the time the person involved was charged. It is expected that the scheme will cost approximately €1 billion and at this stage it is envisaged that applications for the scheme can be received up to 31 December 2007. Figures provided by the Health Service Executive show an estimated 60,000 people are likely to be due a repayment, approximately 20,000 of these are living and 40,000 relate to estates of deceased patients.

I intend to have legislation brought before the Oireachtas in the next parliamentary session and to have repayments commencing shortly after the Bill is approved and signed into law. In the case of those who were charged and are still alive, the repayments will be exempt from tax and will not be taken into account in assessing means for health and social welfare benefits. The normal tax and means assessment arrangements will apply to those who benefit from repayments to estates.

The legislation will include appropriate safeguards to prevent exploitation of those who receive repayments and are not in a position to manage their own financial affairs. The scheme will include a provision to allow those eligible for a repayment to waive their right to a repayment and have the money assigned to fund service improvements in elderly, mental health and disability services.

A national oversight committee has been appointed and has already begun its work. It will provide an independent input into the design of the scheme and will monitor the operation of the scheme in order to ensure that it is being implemented quickly and in the most equitable and effective way possible. The scheme will be designed and managed with the aim of ensuring that those who are eligible for repayments receive them as soon as possible and with the minimum possible imposition in terms of bureaucracy. Priority will be given to those who are still alive.

Many of those eligible for repayments have already been identified under the ex gratia payments process. The scheme will include a transparent and thorough appeals process. The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that an outside company with experience in handling mass claims will be engaged by the end of this month to provide an independent input into the design and administration of the scheme. The national helpline set up by the HSE to allow people to register if they believe they are due a repayment will continue to operate but there is no need for anyone who has already registered using this facility to make contact with the HSE again to register for the scheme.

Any person who considers that he or she or a family member may be eligible for repayment may register his or her interest in advance with the Health Service Executive, by writing to the national refund scheme, HSE midland area, Arden Road, Tullamore, County Offaly, by sending an email to refundscheme@mailq.hse.ie or by calling the helpline number 1800 777737 during office hours.

Health Service Staff.

Finian McGrath

Question:

200 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) chose not to interview staff directly involved in the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34736/05]

As the topic mentioned by the Deputy in details supplied is a matter for the Health Service Executive, 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.

Pat Breen

Question:

201 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will receive 20 hours per week on the personal assistance programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34737/05]

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.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Dan Neville

Question:

202 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding an application for works required under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [34738/05]

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 provision of the housing aid scheme for the elderly, on behalf of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. 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.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

203 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has not received an appointment to have a heart bypass operation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34739/05]

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 case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

204 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is proposed to make a site available on the grounds of the old St. Brigid’s Psychiatric Hospital, Ballinasloe, County Galway; the cost at which such a site would be made available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34740/05]

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:

205 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon will be called for an eye test; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34741/05]

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.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

206 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo, who needs false teeth realigned, is being refused this facility on their medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34742/05]

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.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

207 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether a new national policy on long-term care of persons in nursing homes must be reviewed; her further views on whether it is vital that a substantial increase in the subvention rate for nursing home care is awarded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34743/05]

It is the intention of the Department to put in place a more robust regulatory system as quickly as possible to protect vulnerable older people and to provide for the highest possible standards of care for older people in long-stay facilities. It is intended that the Health Bill 2005 will establish both the HIQA and the SSI on a statutory basis and will contain provisions to underpin a more robust inspectorate system.

The Nursing Homes (Care and Welfare) Regulations 1993, made under the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990, set out the standards to which private nursing homes must adhere. The Health Service Executive currently carries out inspections in private nursing homes. In the context of the Health Bill 2005, the process has begun to review the current system with a view to strengthening the powers available to those involved in inspecting facilities and to extend a strengthened inspection system to public facilities.

It is also intended that the Bill will provide for the setting and monitoring of standards for residential facilities for older people. To this end, the Department has commenced a review of the Nursing Homes (Care and Welfare) Regulations 1993, and will be working in conjunction with the HSE, the SSI and other relevant bodies, with the intention of developing a new set of standards that would apply to all residential services for older people. The Department is also currently working on primary legislation to expand the policies and principles of the subvention scheme to facilitate implementation of the scheme by the HSE throughout the country, and it is the intention to bring this legislation before the Oireachtas in the near future. It is also intended to increase the thresholds contained in the Nursing Homes (Subvention) Regulations 1993. These thresholds have not been updated since being set in 1993 and increasing them will render an increased number of people eligible for subvention.

The Mercer report on the future financing of long-term care in Ireland, which was commissioned by the Department of Social and Family Affairs, examined all issues surrounding the financing of long-term care. Following on the publication of this report, a working group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach and comprising senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs has been established. The objective of this group is to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care, including improvements in community care, taking into account the Mercer report, the views of the consultation that was undertaken on that report and the review of the nursing home subvention scheme by Professor Eamon O'Shea. I understand that the group is addressing the issue of residential care for older people. This group will soon report to the Tánaiste and to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

Health Services.

Michael Lowry

Question:

208 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the planned use for a building (details supplied) recently purchased by the Health Service Executive; when the project will progress; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34744/05]

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.

Michael Lowry

Question:

209 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Question No. 108 of 3 November 2005, when a cheque will be re-issued by the Health Service Executive eastern region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34745/05]

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 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 in early November. The Department has again requested that the HSE investigate this matter. The HSE has confirmed that the matter is being investigated thoroughly and will reply to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Infectious Diseases.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

210 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the actions being taken to deal with the challenge of the MRSA issue highlighted in recent times; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34800/05]

The prevention and control of health care associated infections, or HCAIs, is a priority issue for the Health Service Executive. Effective infection control measures, including environmental cleanliness and hand hygiene, are central to the control of HCAIs, including drug-resistant organisms such as MRSA. The HSE health protection surveillance centre has published guidelines on hand hygiene and guidelines on the control of MRSA for hospital and community settings. These significant documents give clear policy and practice guidance to health care workers on the control of HCAIs, including MRSA. Good hand hygiene is one of the simplest and most effective measures that can be used to stop the spread of MRSA and other infections.

The results of the national hygiene audit have now been published. These will form the basis for the changes that are required in both work environments and work practices so as to meet the highest possible standards of cleanliness in hospital settings. The HSE will also publish national infection control standards and national cleaning standards — a consistent and robust set of hygiene standards for hospitals. Where previously standards may have depended on the approach of a particular hospital or health board, the HSE can now ensure every hospital will share and meet the same high standards of cleanliness and infection control.

My Department is continuing to engage with the HSE to agree on a series of actions over the next period of time so that MRSA can be effectively dealt with so as to see a reduction in the incidence and effects of these infections.

Pharmacy Regulations.

Mary Upton

Question:

211 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the circumstances under which a South African trained pharmacist might be able to practice as a pharmacist here; and if she will make a statement on the criteria that non-EU and non-EEA trained pharmacists must fulfil in order to practice here. [34803/05]

To be eligible to register as a pharmacist in Ireland, a candidate must have completed a recognised degree in pharmacy and have undergone a year's training in practice. The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, the PSI, is the professional organisation for pharmacy in Ireland. All practising pharmacists in Ireland must be registered with the PSI.

Pharmacists from outside the EU/EEA, Australia and New Zealand have in the past registered under the adjudication route of the society. However, the PSI experienced difficulties in the operation of this route of registration. In order to address these difficulties, the PSI submitted a proposal for amended regulations to the Minister at that time. However the PSI's proposals for amended regulations are not possible under current legislation and an amendment to the Pharmacy Act is required. The PSI has suspended the adjudicating route of registration and is unable, at this time, to consider any application for registration under this route.

A Government decision was taken in June 2005 to introduce new pharmacy legislation. The legislation will take the form of a Bill which will remove the derogation on EU/EEA qualified pharmacists, introduce fitness to practice regulations and give an appropriate statutory basis for the PSI. It will also address the problems with the adjudication route of registration. This bill will be introduced as a priority. A more detailed second Bill will follow which will legislate for pharmacy practice and the delivery of pharmaceutical services. I intend to have the first Bill introduced as soon as possible.

Health Services.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

212 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reports on disability services which have been commissioned by the Midland Health Board or Health Service Executive that include Laois and Offaly; the amount of same; if the recommendations were implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34817/05]

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.

Pat Breen

Question:

213 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be called for a bypass operation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34823/05]

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 case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Staff.

Enda Kenny

Question:

214 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an embargo applies in respect of recruitment to the health service area in general; the restrictions and nature of such embargo if applicable; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34829/05]

There is at present no embargo on recruitment to any area of the health services nor is there any plan to introduce one. The health service operates with an employment ceiling in line with the Government policy to control numbers employed in the public service generally. The 2005 employment ceiling for the health service is 97,550 in whole time equivalent terms.

Employment levels for the health service have been adjusted since 2002 in line with Government policy on public sector employment and also to take account of specific policy measures aimed at increasing service levels for patients. It is a matter for the Health Service Executive, as part of the management of its employment ceiling, to determine the appropriate staffing mix required to deliver upon its service plan priorities.

Medical Cards.

Pat Carey

Question:

215 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, further to previous written parliamentary questions, she will establish with the Health Service Executive if the practice of charging top-up fees for chiropody services to elderly medical card holders still continues, particularly in the Health Service Executive Dublin area; her views on whether this charge is appropriate; if discussions have taken place between her Department and the Health Service Executive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34863/05]

It is inappropriate for chiropodists to charge a top-up fee to patients that are receiving services provided by way of contractual agreements between the Health Service Executive and chiropodists. I am aware that prior to the setting up of the HSE, the practice regarding the provision of community chiropody services varied from one health board to another. My Department has recently asked the HSE to initiate a review of the fee arrangements in place for the provision of these services.

Health Services.

Billy Timmins

Question:

216 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow who is on a waiting list for an orthopaedic chair, railing, and so on; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34865/05]

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.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

217 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there is co-ordination between her Department, the Health Service Executive and the Department of Education and Science with funding and resourcing of speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and psychological services for pre-school, primary and secondary students; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34914/05]

My Department consults with the Department of Education and Science in respect of policy related to the co-ordination and overall planning for the delivery of health related support services to children with special educational needs.

The management and delivery of health and personal social services under the Health Act 2004 are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. The executive works with the National Council for Special Education to co-ordinate liaison arrangements at local and regional level which will assist in delivering health related support services in the most effective and appropriate manner to those children who require them.

While there has been a significant investment in this area in recent years, the Health Service Executive continues to experience ongoing difficulties in meeting the demands for speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and psychological services for pre-school, primary and secondary students.

My Department has taken a number of initiatives to address issues related to increasing the availability of appropriately trained personnel in these areas and the Government is committed to enhancing overall capacity in these services as part of the implementation of the national disability strategy.

Child Abuse.

Joan Burton

Question:

218 Ms Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the estimated cost of the concluded inquiry into the diocese of Ferns and child sexual abuse; the cumulative costs incurred by her Department in respect of all inquiries relating to Ferns, specifically legal fees and other professional fees and the cost of Civil Service time; if the Catholic Church and the diocese of Ferns will be required to pay any part of the cost; the parties which may be awarded their costs for assisting the inquiry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34915/05]

To date, inquiries into the diocese of Ferns have cost €2,379,264.17. The costs are broken down in the following table.

Invoices for legal representation have been received from the diocese of Ferns and from one individual. The Government has not made a decision on the payment of these costs and the advice of the Attorney General has been sought with the intention that a Government decision will be made in due course.

Birmingham Inquiry

Ferns Inquiry

Legal Fees

319,837.31

928,150.00**

(incl. Solicitors, Senior Counsel etc.)

Professional Fees

29,925.00**

Administrative Costs

15,089.91

438,932.90**

(incl. Researchers, Receptionist, Transcripts etc.)

Rent/ Service Charges/ Insurance

81,716.70

456,417.72

IT (Supplies, Training etc.)

33,575.47

Advertising Costs

7,217.40

50,823.31

Printing Costs

6,015.00

Miscellaneous Expenses

11,563.45

Total Costs (incl. VAT)

423,861.32

1,955,402.85

Cost of Civil Service Time

170,683.56*

*1 × CO & 1 × AO from March 2003-November 2005.

**Includes invoices pending payment.

Women’s Refuges.

Joan Burton

Question:

219 Ms Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the support her Department can give to the long standing proposals to establish a small refuge for women and children who are suffering from family violence in Dublin 15; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a suitable site was identified by Fingal County Council for the purposes of such a refuge and the planning agreed by Fingal County Council over a protracted period of time; if the Health Service Executive and the Northern Area of the Health Service Executive has strongly supported this proposal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34917/05]

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.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Finian McGrath

Question:

220 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the maximum support and assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 who is on a hospital waiting list. [34918/05]

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.

Hospital Services.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

221 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children what provision there is for financial assistance for cosmetic needs for cancer patients; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that assistance available varies greatly between different Health Service Executive areas; if the need to improve and standardise supports offered will be investigated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34919/05]

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 have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

222 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of women in County Kerry awaiting a mammogram at Kerry General Hospital; the number of women in County Kerry awaiting a mammogram at Cork University Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34920/05]

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 have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Michael Lowry

Question:

223 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the length of time a person must wait for an MRI scan when referred by the general practitioner in each health service region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34977/05]

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.

Tax Code.

Enda Kenny

Question:

224 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the Government’s position in relation to a person who is living in Donegal but working for a company in Northern Ireland, driving a company car registered in Northern Ireland and who subsequently finds the car is seized by customs in Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34789/05]

I am not sure whether the Deputy is referring to a specific case but in reply to his questions I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that in accordance with section 135 of the Finance Act 1992, a State resident is not entitled to drive foreign registered category A vehicles in the State without the permission of the Revenue Commissioners. Standard passenger cars come within the definition of a category A vehicle. Under certain conditions, current legislation does make provision for residents of the State to drive foreign registered commercial vehicles.

The Revenue Commissioners have advised me of a recent decision of the European Court of Justice in this area, case C-464/02 of 15 September 2005. This relates to the right, under certain circumstances, of persons resident in a certain member state to drive, while travelling in that member state, vehicles registered in another member state supplied by their employer in that other member state. The impact of this judgement is currently being reviewed. Pending this review, officers have been instructed not to seize vehicles in such circumstances and persons or companies who have encountered difficulties in this regard are advised to contact the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, Áras Ailigh, Bridgend, County Donegal.

As an interim measure, the Revenue Commissioners will grant relief to State residents to drive foreign registered vehicles in the circumstances outlined, subject to the following conditions: the person is employed directly by an employer who is "a person established outside the State"; the vehicle in question is owned or leased by that employer; use of the vehicle in the State will be confined to the employee only; and the vehicle may not be disposed of in the State.

If the Deputy is aware of any person who had a vehicle seized in these circumstances, he or she should contact the Office of the Revenue Commissioners at the above address in the first instance.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

225 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Finance the reason share fishermen and crewmen of fishing vessels are deemed by the Revenue Commissioners to be self employed for tax purposes, while under section 2(3)(c) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 are deemed to be employees of owners or skippers; his views on whether this difference in status requires amendment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34768/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the question of whether an individual, including share fishermen and crewmen of fishing vessels, is either employed or self employed is, not alone for tax purposes but for many other purposes, a question of general law and determined having regard to the facts and circumstances of each case. In brief, the courts have found that all the possible factors, including written, oral and implied factors, which bear on the relationship between two parties must be examined, given their proper weight and a judgment made about their overall effect to determine whether one such party is an employee of the other.

Similarly, in the case of share fishermen and crewmen of fishing vessels, the precise terms of each individual's engagement, whether written, oral or implied, must be examined to determine whether such individual is either employed or self employed. Revenue and the Department of Social and Family Affairs have prepared guidelines to assist employers and workers to determine whether an individual is employed or self employed and the Deputy may wish to note that for tax purposes some share fishermen and crewmen of fishing vessels are employees whilst others are self employed.

On the other hand, I am informed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment that a "share fisherman" is deemed under section 2(3)(c) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to be an employee of the owner or skipper of fishing vessel where he or she is remunerated by a share in the catch or the profits or gross earnings of the vessel. The purpose of this is to ensure that a person who works on a fishing vessel, other than as a skipper or as an owner, is given the protective rights of an employee under the Act even if he or she is not an employee.

Where a person, although not an employee, is deemed to be an employee, such deeming is only for the purposes of the specific statute: for example, the deeming under section 2(3)(c) of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 of share fishermen and crewmen of fishing vessels to be employees of the owners or skippers of a fishing vessel is very narrow and is only for the purposes of that Act. There are no proposals under consideration to change the tax legislation so as to deem all share fishermen and crewmen of fishing vessels to be employees for tax purposes of the owners or skippers of a fishing vessel.

Decentralisation Programme.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

226 Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Finance his views on the use of a site at Magee Barracks, Kildare Town, for the Government Offices that it is proposed to decentralise to the town; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that area action plan for the 60 acre site currently being finalised by Kildare County Council, provides for such an eventuality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34769/05]

The Commissioners of Public Works have informed me that, following discussions with Kildare County Council, it was agreed that provision would be made in the area action plan for Kildare town to accommodate a decentralisation office.

Tax Code.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

227 Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Finance his views on the contention of the SIMI that there would be an overall benefit to the Exchequer in a 2.5% reduction in each of the VRT rates, as set out in its pre-budget submission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34770/05]

A 2.5% reduction in VRT rates, as proposed by SIMI, would cost approximately €164 million in 2006. I have no comment on the SIMI contention. However, as has been said to SIMI before, if one believes that cutting the price of cars will generate proportionately more additional revenue, then there would seem to be no reason car dealers should not do so themselves to increase their sales revenues and consequent profits. I am informed that it would take additional sales of 18,000 new cars per annum to offset a VRT cut of 2.5%.

As the Deputy is aware, it is a long standing practice of the Minister for Finance not to comment in advance of the budget on possible budget decisions.

Tax Yield.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

228 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the amount of revenue which would be raised from a 50c increase on a packet of cigarettes based on 2004 figures. [34771/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the amount of revenue that would be raised from a 50c increase on a packet of 20 cigarettes, based on the volume of clearances in 2004, is €107.2 million.

Tax Code.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

229 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the number of taxation cases referred to the Ombudsman; the number of decisions taken by the Ombudsman that required repayments by the Revenue Commissioners; the number of these cases where the Revenue Commissioners repaid in full the sum identified; the number of cases where the Revenue Commissioners repaid a lesser sum than that recommended; the number of cases where the Revenue Commissioners have refused to respond; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34772/05]

I understand that the Deputy is seeking this information in respect of all taxation cases referred to the Ombudsman since the date on which the Ombudsman Act 1980 came into operation. The conduct of the necessary search and retrieval of the relevant records will require a number of weeks. I will arrange to have the information forwarded to the Deputy as soon as it becomes available.

Fiscal Policy.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

230 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether financial allocation towards schools here needs to be addressed in budget 2006 in order that 12 to 19 year olds can realise their potential; his plans for investment in education here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34773/05]

I will present budget 2006 to the Dáil on 7 December 2005. As is normal, I will not comment on the contents of the budget in advance of that date.

Tax Code.

Marian Harkin

Question:

231 Ms Harkin asked the Minister for Finance if he has made a decision regarding the extension of the closing date for property based tax incentive schemes. [34774/05]

In budget 2005, I announced that my Department and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners would be undertaking a detailed review of certain tax incentive schemes and tax exemptions in 2005. Two external consultancy firms have been examining the area-based and sectoral property tax incentive schemes. The review also involves the examination by my Department and the Revenue Commissioners of certain other tax reliefs and exemptions, especially if these may be used by high earners to reduce their tax bills.

The final reports from the consultants have been received by my Department and the findings from these reports will be taken into consideration in the context of the 2006 budget and Finance Bill.

Inland Waterways.

Damien English

Question:

232 Mr. English asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works will carry out a traffic survey of bridge users, a structural survey of the bridge, a subsidence survey due to excessive volume of traffic at a bridge over the River Boyne at Stackallen, County Meath, with a view to implementing a major programme of works to upgrade this aging bridge; if the canal locks on each side of the weir to bring the area up to a proper amenity and recreational level will be reinstated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34775/05]

The Commissioners of Public Works have no responsibility with regard to the bridge in question. The issues raised are matters for the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Arts, Sports and Tourism.

Tax Code.

Michael Lowry

Question:

233 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Finance if the artists exemption will be retained in budget 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34780/05]

I refer the Deputy to the long standing practice of Ministers for Finance not to comment on what may or may not be contained in upcoming budgets. I do not intend to depart from that approach.

Michael Lowry

Question:

234 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Finance the strategies under consideration by his Department for tackling the child care crisis in budget 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34781/05]

I refer the Deputy to the long standing practice of Ministers for Finance not to comment on what may or may not be contained in upcoming budgets. I do not intend to depart from that approach.

Public Service Contracts.

Liz O'Donnell

Question:

235 Ms O’Donnell asked the Minister for Finance the status of plans to introduce fixed price contracts for future public projects; the way in which such contracts might be framed in order to ensure proper standards of construction, viability of smaller firms and the pay and conditions of workers are maintained; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34782/05]

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government decided in May 2004 to reform construction procurement so that greater cost certainty, better value for money and more cost effective delivery of capital works projects can be achieved. My Department, with the assistance of the Government contracts committee for construction, GCCC, specialist legal drafters and external technical expertise, has developed a suite of new draft standard forms of contract and conditions of engagement for construction related services to give effect to this decision. The aim of these documents is to move towards fixed price, lump sum contracts which are tendered on a competitive basis with optimum risk transfer.

Consultation with the construction industry and the relevant professional bodies on these draft documents took place from the end of July of this year until late October. My Department and the GCCC have examined in detail the issues raised and concerns expressed during this phase of consultation and responded formally to the industry and professional body representatives. It is intended to complete the consultation process as soon as possible and have the new contracts available for use in early 2006.

The draft contracts include a provision which requires contractors to ensure pay and conditions of employment comply with the law and are not less favourable than the terms of the registered employment agreements for the construction industry for those employees to whom the agreements apply. I appreciate the concerns of small and medium sized enterprises in the construction sector. To help address some of their concerns separate contract conditions will be developed to deal with minor works.

Tax Code.

Liz O'Donnell

Question:

236 Ms O’Donnell asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding his Department’s and the Office of the Revenue Commissioner’s review of the tax exemption for artists under the Finance Act 1969 and section 195 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997; the value of the exemption; if a conclusion has been reached as to the retention or otherwise of this specific exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34783/05]

The tax exemption for artists is under review in the context of the budget. I refer the Deputy to the long standing practice of Ministers for Finance not to comment on what may or may not be contained in upcoming budgets. I do not intend to depart from that approach.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the latest relevant and sufficiently complete information available from tax returns is in respect of the income tax year 2002. The cost of the exemption to the Exchequer in that year was approximately €23 million.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

237 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the number of cases in which claims by organisations to have been established for charitable purposes have been found by the Revenue Commissioners to be false after granting such an organisation an exemption from tax; and the amount of defrauded tax which has been recouped on each such occasion. [34816/05]

The Revenue Commissioners' role in relation to charities is the determination of entitlement to tax exemption on funds applied for charitable purposes. In that context, Revenue has informed me that detailed procedures are in place towards ensuring that the initial application by each body meets the criteria for charitable exemption. Full details on the application process are set out in information booklet CHY1, Applying for Relief from Tax on the Income and Property of Charities, which can be found on the Revenue website, www.revenue.ie. In additional, Revenue operates a number of controls and monitoring procedures on bodies to which they have granted charitable exemption.

Revenue has informed me that it has no record of any case where the claim to have been established for charitable purposes was found to be false after the application was granted. Where the tax exemption has been withdrawn in certain instances, it has generally been the case that the charity has either become defunct or has failed to comply with the conditions attaching to exemption such as the submission of annual accounts or other details.

Disabled Drivers.

Billy Timmins

Question:

238 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the position in relation to a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow who has applied to the disabled drivers medical board of appeal for a medical certificate for disabled drivers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34866/05]

I have no direct responsibility for the day to day operation of the medical board of appeal for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme. Queries about individual cases may be addressed to the secretary of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal, c/o National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, or by telephone at 01 2355279.

Billy Timmins

Question:

239 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the position in relation to a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow who has applied to the disabled drivers medical board of appeal for a primary medical certificate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34867/05]

I have no direct responsibility for the day to day operation of the medical board of appeal for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme. Queries about individual cases may be addressed to the secretary of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal, c/o National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, or by telephone at 01 2355279.

Pension Provisions.

Richard Bruton

Question:

240 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons employed in the public sector distinguishing the pension contribution made by different categories of worker and indicating the corresponding employer contribution. [34871/05]

The Minister for Finance has statutory responsibility for Civil Service pensions only. The statutory responsibility for other public service and public sector pension schemes rests with the relevant Ministers. The normal usage is that the term "public service" does not include commercial State companies while the term "public sector" does include them.

In general, public service pension schemes operate on a pay as you go basis. There is, therefore, no explicit employer contribution. A few funded schemes are in place in non-commercial bodies but they are more common in commercial State bodies. The contribution rates and benefits for these schemes vary from scheme to scheme. The contribution rules vary depending on whether a person entered public service employment before 6 April 1995. I have been advised that the contribution rates in the main public service schemes are set out as in the table.

Pre-1995

Post-1995

Civil Service Main Scheme

Established

No explicit contributions

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration + 3.5% of co-ordinated remuneration. Co-ordinated pay is gross pensionable remuneration less twice the Old Age Contributory Pension

Unestablished

No explicit contributions

No explicit contributions

Civil Service Spouses & Children’s (S&C)

Established

1.5% of basic pay

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration

Unestablished

1.5% of co-ordinated remuneration

1.5% of co-ordinated remuneration

Garda Síochána

1.75% of gross pensionable remuneration

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration + 3.5% of co-ordinated remuneration

Garda Spouses & Children’s

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration

Defence Forces

Enlisted Personnel

No explicit contributions

No explicit Contributions

Commissioned Officers

No explicit contribution

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration + 3.5% of co-ordinated remuneration

Defence Forces Spouses & Children’s

Enlisted Personnel

1.5% of four times the amount of Spouses pension (somewhat less than 1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration)

1.5% of four times the amount of Spouses pension (somewhat less than 1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration)

Commissioned Officers

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration

Local Authorities

Full PRSI

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration + 3.5% of co-ordinated remuneration

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration + 3.5% of co-ordinated remuneration

Modified

5% of gross pensionable remuneration

5% of gross pensionable remuneration

Local Authority Spouses & Children’s

Full PRSI

1.5% of co-ordinated remuneration

1.5% of co-ordinated remuneration and 1.5% of gross remuneration in certain cases.

Modified

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration

1.5% of gross pensionable remuneration

A new pension scheme will apply to new entrant military personnel who join the Defence Forces on or after 1 April 2004. The terms of this scheme are under discussion with the Defence Forces representative associations. It is envisaged that contribution rates under the new scheme will follow standard public service pension lines.

Both the health and education sectors have the same rates as the local authority sector. A small number of employees who are employed in VECs and institutes of technology and did not opt to join the revised local government superannuation scheme 1990 retain benefits which vary from the standard and pay contributions at 4%. In relation to the spouses' and children's scheme, all teachers who are members of the scheme post-1995 pay contributions to that scheme at a rate of 1.5% of gross pensionable pay.

In local authorities the only sizeable exception is 721 members of the local government superannuation scheme whose benefits vary from the standard and whose contribution rate is 4%.

In general, non-commercial State bodies are similar to the Civil Service for post-1995 staff, although some bodies have contributory schemes for pre-1995 staff. Contribution rates in commercial State bodies vary from scheme to scheme.

The numbers serving in the public service are as follows:

Public Service

Serving end June 2005

Civil Service [Non Industrials]

35,288

Civil Service [Industrials]

1,857

Health Sector

100,934

Education Sector

81,028

Defence

11,553

Gardaí

12,176

Local Authorities

33,643

Non Commercial Semi-States

9,103

Total

285,582

Tax Code.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

241 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the reason a reduced rate of VAT of 4.4% is applied to live greyhounds and the hire of horses; the amount of VAT raised in 2004 in respect of each of these two items; and the amount which would be raised in respect of each of these two items, in 2004 terms, if VAT was charged on them at the standard rate of 21%. [34872/05]

Prior to 1 January 1991, the supply of live greyhounds and live horses was exempt from VAT by way of a derogation from the terms of the sixth VAT directive. The adoption of the 18th VAT directive meant that certain derogations which were allowed for under the terms of the sixth VAT directive had to be abolished with effect from 1 January 1991. Two such derogations related to Ireland's exemptions on supplies of horses and live greyhounds.

Following the removal of the exemption on the supply of live horses and greyhounds, it was decided that the definition of "livestock" should be changed in order that such supplies could be treated in the same way as supplies of other livestock and taxed at the VAT rate applicable to livestock, which is currently 4.8%. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the amount of VAT collected in respect of the supply of live horses and greyhounds cannot be identified in the overall yield of VAT, as the information furnished on VAT returns does not require this to be identified.

Joan Burton

Question:

242 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who have benefitted from the taxation allowance for professional sports people; the sports which they represent and the total cost of such relief for 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005; and the highest relief and the average relief granted in each year. [34971/05]

The categories of sportspersons which can avail of this tax relief are listed in Schedule 23A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, which provided higher contribution limits for retirement annuity purposes. These categories are an athlete, badminton player, boxer, cyclist, footballer, golfer, jockey, motor racing driver, rugby player, squash player, swimmer and tennis player. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information available in regard to individuals availing of the relief relates to preliminary data for claims in respect of the income tax years 2003 and 2004, which have been made via the ROS, Revenue on-line, system and is set out as follows.

Year

Number of claimants

Amounts claimed for deduction

Estimated cost to the Exchequer**

Highest amount claimed for deduction

Average amount claimed for deduction

2003

5

75,162

26,307

63,687

15,032

2004

6

58,322

20,413

21,430

9,720

** Calculated at an assumed average rate of 35 percent.

Any claims which may have been received for years prior to 2003 are dealt with separately and the amounts involved are not centrally recorded. There is, therefore, no basis on which to provide the information requested in respect of those applications. The obligation of the Revenue Commissioners to observe confidentiality in relation to the taxation affairs of individual taxpayers and small groups of taxpayers precludes them from providing a breakdown by type of sport of the claimants who have to date claimed the sportsperson's retirement relief.

Registration of Title.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

243 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Finance the procedure which has to be followed to allow the transfer of title to a local authority for public open space lands which are in his possession as a result of the liquidation of a private development company; if he holds title to a section of public open lands (details supplied) as a result of the liquidation of a company (details supplied) which had been the original developer of the houses on the road in question; if proceedings have commenced to allow the transfer of the title for the lands to South Dublin County Council; if impediments exist to the possible transfer of this title; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34976/05]

I am advised by the Chief State Solicitor that the usual procedure for dealing with dissolved companies where properties are not held on trust for another person is by way of deed of waiver. However, this is not applicable in this instance for the following reasons. The question of ownership by the Minister therefore does not arise in this instance. Section 28(2) of the State Property Act 1954 states: Where a body corporate is dissolved, either before, on or after the operative date, the following provisions shall apply and have effect and, in the case of a body corporate dissolved before the operative date, be deemed to have applied and to have had effect as from such dissolution, that is to say:—

(a) all land which was vested in or held in trust for such body corporate immediately before its dissolution (other than land held by such body corporate upon trust for another person) shall immediately upon such dissolution, become and be the property of the State, subject however to any encumbrances or charges affecting the land immediately before such dissolution.

With regard to the private development company in question, no documentation has been furnished to date proving title to the property which it purported to dedicate to Dublin County Council by agreement dated 29 July 1982. Evidence of title is always required in considering whether from a legal point of view, the property has vested in the State and a waiver can be considered. Furthermore, section 28 does not apply where land is held by a body corporate upon trust for another person, as stated in brackets in the excerpt cited. As the property was dedicated to Dublin County Council, the dissolved company was holding the property on trust for the public and accordingly the provisions of the State Property Act do not apply.

Postal Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

244 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he has taken either directly or through the regulator with the objective of broadening the business base of An Post with a view to upgrading and extending the services to a greater number of consumers with consequent benefit to the economy and the future of the postal services here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34647/05]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 94 of 16 November 2005.

Question No. 245 answered with QuestionNo. 145.
Question No. 246 answered with QuestionNo. 117.

Television Licence Fee.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

247 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his intentions for the distribution of the television licence reserve fund; the full extent of this fund to date in 2005; if he expects to bring in the necessary legislation to deal with this issue in early course; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34651/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 167 of 16 November 2005.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

248 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he or his Department directly or through the regulator have received any reports of bullying, intimidation or stalking through the Internet or mobile telephone systems by voice or message; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34652/05]

As Minister for Communications I have overall responsibility for electronic communications policy but neither I nor the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, the independent regulator, have any responsibility for the actions of persons who use electronic communications networks or services for bullying, stalking or intimidation activities.

By definition, legislation is already in place to prosecute illegal activities, whether they are perpetrated using mobile telephones or other media. The Deputy is aware that the possibilities for carrying out illegal activity via any medium are infinite. Much of the criminal activity perpetrated using electronic communications networks is legislated for according to the offence and not the medium by which it was committed. Some such legislation actually predates the advent of electronic technology. Legislating to combat these offences does not always fall under my remit, nor in these instances are they the responsibility of ComReg.

The Deputy is also aware that it is an offence under section 13 of the Post Office (Amendment) Act 1951, as amended by the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983, to send by telephone any message or other matter which is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. It is also an offence under section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 to harass a person by use of any means including by use of a telephone.

Furthermore, the Irish Cellular Industry Association, ICIA, has published a parent's guide to mobile telephones, which aims to inform parents of some key safety tips which will encourage responsible and secure use of mobile telephones by their children. A copy of the guide, which addresses the subject of bullying and malicious communications, is available on the ICIA website at www.icia.ie. Anyone who has information on these matters should bring it immediately to the attention of the Garda Síochána for criminal investigation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

249 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if local loop unbundling or other requirements to facilitate broadband or other telecommunications provision or expansion has been completed to date in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34654/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

250 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if achievements to date in 2005 in respect of local loop unbundling are adequate to facilitate the development of the communications industry with particular reference to ready availability to the consumer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34655/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 249 and 250 together.

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 103, 135 and 175 answered on 16 November 2005.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

251 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has received any indications of DSL failure rate here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34656/05]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 130 answered on 16 November 2005.

Questions Nos. 252 and 253 answered with Question No. 145.
Questions Nos. 254 and 255 answered with Question No. 146.

Electricity Generation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

256 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has sought or received any information from the regulator or issued any instructions in regard to easier access to the grid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34661/05]

I have no function regarding national grid access, which is primarily a matter for ESB national grid, which is in turn regulated by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The relevant legislation is the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 and I have no power to issue directions of the type referred to.

Question No. 257 answered with QuestionNo. 107.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

258 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the way in which he proposes to develop the broadcasting industry in the future with particular reference to the appropriate mix of public and private interest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34663/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

259 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has satisfied himself that broadcasting in the future is likely to develop with due regard for the current and emerging needs of the consumer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34664/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

260 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects to make final decisions in respect of broadcasting in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34665/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

261 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to his preferred options in respect of public and private broadcasting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34666/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 258, 259, 260 and 261 together.

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 91 on 12 October 2005.

Television Reception.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

262 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to the provision of digital television and associated services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34667/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answers to Questions Nos. 99, 132 and 173 of 12 October 2005.

Questions Nos. 263 to 266, inclusive, answered with Question No. 121.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

267 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has sought or received any explanation directly or through the regulator as to the reason the provision of high speed broadband here is lagging behind most European competitors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34672/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 101 of 16 November 2005.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

268 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether the provision of broadband facilities for 2005 is unlikely to meet the targets he set; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34673/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 116 of 16 November 2005.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

269 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if any test exists to evaluate or compare the cost of telecommunication services generally here with those available in other European countries with particular reference to ensuring that customers here have access to the widest degree of up-to-date modern services in line with developments elsewhere in Europe and worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34674/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 111 of 16 November 2005.

Postal Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

270 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options for the provision of postal services in the future and the retention of the maximum number of post offices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34675/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

311 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he proposes to issue any policy directive in regard to the future of An Post and the post offices including sub-post offices, having particular regard to his preferred options in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34960/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 270 and 311 together.

I believe there will continue to be a key national role for An Post, both in delivery of mails and as a quality service provider through its nationwide network of post office outlets. However, there is universal agreement that change is required if the postal services of An Post are to adapt to the modern business environment and to continue to offer a top class nationwide delivery service to the customer into the future. As a commercial company, the long-term viability and financial security of the company is the responsibility of the board and management of An Post.

With this in mind, the board and management of An Post have presented a recovery plan, incorporating details of proposed new collection and delivery arrangements, which is vital to the re-establishment of the company on a more secure financial footing. The plan has assumed significant changes in work practices, tariff increases and the payment of wage increases. It sets out the way forward for the company. Adoption of restructuring that delivers real change is the only way that An Post can re-establish itself on a firm financial footing.

With regard to the post office network, as clearly set out in the programme for Government, this Government and the board of An Post are committed to the objective of securing a viable and sustainable nationwide post office network. Notwithstanding the commercial remit of An Post, there is clear Government recognition of the social benefits of maintaining the nationwide post office network. Accordingly, An Post development strategies for the network continue to take full account of these social benefits.

The An Post network comprises the single largest number of retail outlets in the country. In the European context, Ireland still has the highest number of post offices per head of population. In recent years some network restructuring has been undertaken. This activity is in line with similar trends across Europe. In addition to the post office network, An Post has also established 2,864 Postpoint outlets in retail premises of which 600 can be used for bill payment.

It is the Government's objective to maintain the largest, economically sustainable post office network possible. The challenge for all stakeholders in An Post is to generate sufficient profitable business to maintain the network at its current size. While the Government will support the network in any way it can and has demonstrated its commitment in a tangible fashion, with a €12.7 million capital injection in 2003, the way forward is for An Post to enhance existing services and, building on existing strengths to develop new product offerings.

The network has a high footfall and to capitalise on these advantages it is essential that existing and new services are developed to meet customer requirements. The network also has the capacity and potential to deliver more private business especially in financial services and opportunities are actively being pursued by An Post in this area. Indeed, on foot of substantial investment in computerisation, a significant amount of extra business has already been obtained for the network in terms of banking and utility business. At present, 95% of An Post's business is conducted through automated offices.

I have also asked the company to ensure that any strategy for the development of the company should ensure the long-term viability of the post office network and, in this light, An Post is currently working on a new initiative which could see the development and expansion of the range of financial services that it can deliver through its network of post offices. If successful, it could lead to a significant increase in post office business and contribute to the viability of the network.

Mobile Telephony.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

271 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of mobile telephone service providers; the extent to which this is likely to change in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34676/05]

I have no function with regard to the number of mobile telephone service providers in the market. The regulation of telecommunications service providers is the responsibility of the independent regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the requirements of the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and regulations made under the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications.

Questions Nos. 272 and 273 answered with Question No. 140.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

274 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he directly or through the regulator has examined the implications for the customer arising from recent or proposed takeovers or mergers in the telecommunications area, both landline and wireless; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34680/05]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 110 of today.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

275 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the areas in respect of which the greatest progress has been made in the past 12 months in the provision of high speed telecommunication services including broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34681/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

306 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the availability of high speed broadband on a county basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34954/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

307 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which broadband delivery has been achieved to date through DSL, fibre, fixed, wireless, leased lines, cable or satellite in the past 12 months; the likely growth in the future under each heading; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34955/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 275, 306 and 307 together.

The provision of telecommunications, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg.

In 2004 there were over 80 Internet service providers. Today there are over 156 companies listed by ComReg, with at least 45 different broadband offerings across a variety of technologies, including DSL, fibre, cable, leased lines and satellite technology. Wireless broadband technology is improving rapidly, and the lowering of equipment prices has made this technology much more attractive of late. The use of fixed wireless local access is increasing, especially in rural areas that cannot obtain ADSL connectivity, and the development of Wi-Max offers considerable potential in the future.

In essence, there are broadband technologies that can deliver broadband to virtually any broadband customer in Ireland right now. The rate of uptake is dependent on access by the service providers to suitable infrastructure. The latest quarterly data report from ComReg on broadband delivery rates indicates that broadband subscriptions have grown by 15% in the last quarter and stand at 175,000. DSL remains the largest platform for broadband access, representing 80% of subscriptions and a growth rate of 44% in the last quarter.

Fixed wireless broadband services have exhibited the fastest growth in subscriptions in the broadband market. Cable subscriptions have grown by 25% in the quarter and represent around 8% of total broadband subscriptions.

The Government is addressing the infrastructure deficit in the regions by building high speed open access metropolitan area networks, MANs, in 120 towns and cities nationwide, on a phased basis in association with the local and regional authorities. Phase one of this programme has delivered fibre optic networks to 27 towns and cities throughout the country, which were built on time and under budget.

This programme has been extended to a further 90 towns in various locations nationwide. Design and procurement has already commenced in several regions and construction is due to start early in 2006. It is expected that these MANs will be completed during 2006 and 2007. These metropolitan area networks will allow the private sector to offer world class broadband services at competitive costs.

My Department also offers funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities to become self-sufficient in broadband through the county and group broadband scheme. The scheme is technology neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area.

A joint industry-Government fund of €18 million has been established for the broadband for schools programme, which will provide every school in the country with broadband by the beginning of 2006. The construction-installation phase is now under way and the project is on target for completion within the set timeframe.

Question No. 276 answered with QuestionNo. 113.
Question No. 277 answered with QuestionNo. 125.

Postal Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

278 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether his threat to privatise the postal services was helpful in the context of negotiations between An Post management and workforce; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34684/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 118 of today.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

279 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had any discussions with postmasters or sub-postmasters with a view to enabling the development, upgrading and expansion of the services available through the post office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34685/05]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 170 of today.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

280 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has in the course of his recent discussions or correspondence with An Post ascertained the number of post offices closed or threatened with closure in the past 12 months; if such proposals are likely to enhance the scope and scale of the postal services and thereby their viability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34687/05]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 187 of today.

Electricity Generation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

281 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the cost of access to the grid is a contributory factor in respect of energy costs, including alternative energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34688/05]

I have no function in relation to national grid access, which is primarily a matter for ESB National Grid, which is in turn regulated by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The relevant legislation is the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, and I have no power to issue directions of the type referred to.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

282 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had recent discussions, taken any initiatives, issued any directives or received any information from those charged with the responsibility of the provision of broadband services throughout here with a view to a dramatic acceleration in the provision of such facilities in line with his previously announced projections and in line with the provision and availability of such services in other European countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34689/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 141 of today.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

283 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has sought or received information directly, through the regulator or from industry, regarding the urgent need for the rapid provision of broadband services here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34690/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 101 of today.

Questions Nos. 284 and 285 answered with Question No. 113.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

286 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has received submissions from the public or private sector with regard to the provision of telecommunications services in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34693/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 141 of today.

Broadcasting Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

287 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the discussions he has had with sporting organisations with a view to providing free to air coverage to the widest possible audience; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34694/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 99 of today.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

288 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he has taken steps to ensure the availability of the widest possible degree of service of a sporting, business, social, cultural and educational nature to a greater audience through terrestrial television; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34695/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 129 of 16 November 2005.

Questions Nos. 289 to 292, inclusive, answered with Question No. 148.
Question No. 293 answered with QuestionNo. 159.
Question No. 294 answered with QuestionNo. 107.

Energy Resources.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

295 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has identified the optimum number and location of gas and electricity connectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34707/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

296 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects gas and electricity connectors to be provided in such a way as to protect continuity and security of supply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34708/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 295 and 296 together.

At a bilateral meeting in November 2004, Mr. Barry Gardiner, MP, the then Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and I endorsed plans put forward by the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, and the Northern Ireland Authority for Energy Regulation for the construction of a second North-South electricity interconnector. Planning for the construction of the interconnector is continuing.

Transmission system operators are working on phase one of the project, including technical issues and route selection. This phase is likely to be completed by early 2007. Phase two, the construction phase, will then commence and it is estimated that the interconnector will be operational by 2012. The proposed interconnector will provide increased system security and reliability. It will be a positive step toward further developing competition and will facilitate the development of a fully functioning single electricity market.

In regard to the east-west electricity interconnector, the CER appointed consultants to advise on the financial, technical, commercial and procurement aspects of the development. Phase one of the project, which is now complete, examined procurement options, routing, capacity, ownership and operational parameters. A consultation process was undertaken with all parties that expressed an interest. A decision on how best to take the project forward, whether on a regulated or a hybrid regulated-merchant basis, is the next step. Such determination will be informed by the advice of the CER in the matter. I expect the CER to report to me in the coming weeks.

In recent times, Ireland has developed a high standard of security of gas supply, through robust interconnection with the United Kingdom, to ensure sufficient importation capacity from external sources. We now have two gas interconnectors, with the second ensuring security of gas supply to 2025 and beyond. Ireland's security of supply status is on par with countries such as France, Italy, Sweden and Denmark, all of whom have duplicated sub-sea pipelines to ensure the availability of alternative routes of natural gas supply. In addition, Northern Ireland has a separate line to Scotland and, by the end of 2006, the South-North interconnector will link the two systems.

Under section 19 of the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002, the CER is required to prepare and publish an annual forecast of capacity, flows and customer demand on Ireland's natural gas system over a seven-year period. The most recent capacity statement was published on 31 July 2005 and includes a range of possible demand scenarios that may be expected to arise over the coming years. The scenarios incorporate various levels of demand, based on forecasts for the domestic, industrial and commercial, and power generation sectors, while also considering potential timeframes for new indigenous supply.

Electricity Generation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

297 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has given recent direction to the regulator with a view to improving access to the grid with particular reference to cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34709/05]

I have no function in regard to the national grid access, which is primarily a matter for ESB National Grid, which is in turn regulated by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The relevant legislation is the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, under which I have no power to issue directions of the type referred to by the Deputy.

Postal Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

298 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the way in which he proposes to combat junk mail in the event of the introduction of postcodes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34710/05]

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, public utilities, businesses in general and consumers, and would facilitate the provision of a wider range of services to them.

In regard to junk mail, An Post is statutorily obliged under section 12 of the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983 to satisfy all reasonable demands for postal services throughout the State. The public receives a wide variety of mail from a number of sources, some of which could be regarded as unsolicited mail, including unaddressed mail material, which may also be delivered by operators other than An Post. An Post itself provides two services called Postaim and Publicity Post Material that allow businesses to address correspondence about their products and services directly to individuals or, alternatively, to have unaddressed publicity brochures delivered to houses in a particular area.

Measures are already in place to manage the impact of direct mailing. Under section 2(7) of the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003, individuals have the right to request that they be removed from any direct mailing lists used by businesses. Householders also have the option of limiting the amount of unsolicited mail they receive by completing a mailing preference service form requesting that their names be removed from mailing lists controlled by members of the Irish Direct Marketing Association. The form, available from post offices, goes directly to the association and only applies to addressed mail sent by their members. It has no bearing on mail from any other source or unaddressed mail. This will continue to be the position in the event of the introduction of postcodes.

Radio Broadcasting.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

299 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on whether there is scope for a greater number of local independent radio stations; his further view on whether the licensing regime should be amended to allow for a greater number of stations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34711/05]

Under the Radio and Television Act 1988 and the Broadcasting Act 2001, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, BCI, has statutory responsibility for decisions in regard to the licensing of independent radio services. This responsibility includes determining the number of licences to be issued, the nature of such licences and the related franchise areas. The BCI is an independent statutory body and I have no function in regard to licensing decisions.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

300 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has taken steps to combat spam on the Internet at national or international level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34712/05]

My responsibility in regard to the matters raised extends to the development of policy and legislation on the sending of unsolicited e-mails and faxes for direct marketing purposes. Due to concerns raised by member states in regard to the sending of unsolicited e-mails for direct marketing purposes, mobile telephones and other electronic communications media, the EU introduced Directive 2002/58/EC, directive on privacy and electronic communications. This directive was transposed into national law in November 2003 via the Data Protection and Privacy Regulations 2003, SI 535 of 2003. The regulations place restrictions on the sending of unsolicited e-mails for direct marketing purposes via the Internet, mobile telephones and other electronic communications media.

The responsibility for the enforcement of the aforementioned regulations rests with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner which is an independent body under the aegis of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The responsibility for laws to tackle offensive messages sent by e-mail, telephone or fax rests with my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána.

It is an offence under section 13 of the Post Office (Amendment) Act 1951, as amended by the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983, to send by telephone any message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. Furthermore, it is an offence under section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 to harass a person by use of any means including by use of a telephone. Anyone with information in regard to these matters should bring it immediately to the attention of the Garda Síochána.

Question No. 301 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Postal Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

302 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of occasions on which he has met with An Post management and unions in the past six months; the subject matters discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34949/05]

I have met with representatives of An Post management and the chairperson on a total of five occasions in the past six months. Furthermore, officials in my Department continue to meet management in the company on a regular basis.

I have also met with representatives of the main union in An Post twice, the Communications Workers Union, CWU, as well as representatives of the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, on a total of two occasions. I have listened with interest to the views of all parties concerned in regard to the future of the network. I emphasised to them the importance of an early start to the company's modernisation and that both sides must engage directly, within the parameters of the Labour Court recommendations on the collection and delivery, in order to resolve long standing and deep seated problems besetting the company.

Questions Nos. 303 and 304 answered with Question No. 140.

Television Reception.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

305 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which RTE radio and television service extends to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom; if he has sought or given any direction in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34953/05]

RTE's mandate to provide radio and television services is defined in section 28(1) of the Broadcasting Act 2001. This Act states that the national television and sound broadcasting services required to be maintained by RTE shall have the character of a public service, continue to be a free-to-air service and be made available, in so far as is reasonably practicable, to the entire community on the island of Ireland.

In July, I officially launched a new service whereby TG4 would be broadcast in the Belfast area, which has the effect of making TG4 available to more than 90% of the population in Northern Ireland. The provision of this service for Belfast followed on from the Good Friday Agreement under which it was agreed to explore urgently the scope for achieving more widespread availability of TG4 in Northern Ireland.

While RTE's mandate does not extend to making its services available to Irish communities living abroad, RTE has acted in a number of ways that has resulted in its radio or television services being more widely accessible: for example, RTE's long wave and medium wave radio services are available throughout much of the UK and parts of Europe. All of RTE's radio services along with some of its television schedules can also be accessed on-line.

Questions Nos. 306 and 307 answered with Question No. 275.

Postal Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

308 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the issues which have caused recent and ongoing disputes in An Post and his proposals to address these issues at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34956/05]

An Post has been through one of the most intensive industrial relations processes imaginable. At this stage, the dispute at An Post has been before every industrial relations body in the State.

Following the 14 day notice of industrial action served on the company by the Communications Workers Union, which expired on Friday, 4 November, the National Implementation Body at my request has engaged with both sides to the dispute in An Post and is aware that there are significant differences of understanding between the parties regarding the cost and implications of amendments proposed by the union to changes in the collection and delivery sector recommendations made by the Labour Court in July this year.

The National Implementation Body considered that clarifications of the costs and implications of the proposed union amendments are essential to facilitating a resolution of the dispute. On this basis the National Implementation Body has secured the assistance of a firm of accountants to carry out an independent examination into how much it would cost the company to accede to the union's amendments.

In light of the developments in the National Implementation Body, the Communications Workers Union agreed to a request by the National Implementation Body to defer industrial action until the examination has taken place. The industrial action which took place on Monday, 7 November, the national overtime ban and the strike at the GPO, has been called off. I considered this to be a positive step in the current climate.

The National Implementation Body met yesterday with the management side and the Communications Workers Union and has indicated that the process initiated in conjunction with the accountants would be finalised today. The body proposes to meet with the parties this evening and has requested that the parties refrain from comment and treat the accountants' report as confidential for a period of 24 hours after it is presented.

I have taken a very even handed approach throughout the dispute and have meet with all parties including the chairperson, the board, the management and the unions, at key intervals so as to be informed of the critical issues on both sides. The company needs to introduce modern work practices if it is to thrive in a competitive environment. I want to see An Post, an Irish company, delivering a high quality postal service to the Irish people. To enable the company to provide this service, the archaic work practices, that the workers themselves have acknowledged are such, need to be changed.

No blame is being placed on one side or the other. I have stated the facts as they are and the history in An Post over the past ten years has not been great. I now hope that both parties take the opportunity afforded to them through the National Implementation Body to resolve outstanding issues. Business and consumers are entitled to the high quality postal service which the company and its employees are well capable of delivering.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

309 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has given directions to the regulator or through the regulator to the service providers with a view to provision of modern broadband in areas such as the Black Valley in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34957/05]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Questions Nos. 183 and 263 on 12 October 2005.

Question No. 310 answered with QuestionNo. 114.
Question No. 311 answered with QuestionNo. 270.
Question No. 312 answered with QuestionNo. 107.
Question No. 313 answered with QuestionNo. 125.

Broadcasting Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

314 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has studied the number and content of submissions made to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission; if he intends to respond to these; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34963/05]

The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland, which is an independent statutory body, has sought submissions from the public on a number of topics in recent months. These public consultations relate to the exercise by the commission of functions conferred on it by statute and in respect of which I have no role as Minister. Accordingly I have not contributed to the consultations.

Computerisation Programme.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

315 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to the development of the e-government project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34964/05]

This Department's e-government programme consist of the following projects.

MAPS, minerals application and programme support, provides for the management of activities in exploration and mining in the State and for the marketing and promotion of inward investment. The first on-line, web presence supporting the application and payment for a prospecting licence and associated GIS services went live in December 2002 and is located at www.dcmnronline.ie. This on-line website was superseded in January 2004 with an enhanced website located at www.minex.ie. The initial release of the fully integrated MAPS system including the end-to-end processing for prospecting licences went live on 4 April 2005. This system is not yet fully operational pending completion of several enhancements. These enhancements are being tested with a view to the system being fully operational by end 2005.

IFIS, integrated fisheries information system, has been developed to support the needs of users across the sea fisheries division. It provides full integration of the business processes of the various sections within sea fisheries. Phase 1 of the system went live in March 2005. This included the intranet back-office system for managing sea fisheries and fishing vessel licensing and registration. The e-service to enable customers submit sea fishing licence applications on-line is scheduled for delivery in early 2006.

CoZAS, coastal zone administration system is a licensing processing system which will enable the issuing of licences to customers who wish to carry out various economic activities in the coastal zone. The system will also enable customers of the Department to apply for coastal zone licences over the web. Phase 1 of the project went live in the coastal zone division last month. Phase 2, which includes a geographical information system, payment and Internet functionality, is scheduled for release in 2006.

The corporate vessel register will collect, manage and disseminate information intrinsic to seafaring vessels regardless of whether the vessels are engaged in mercantile, commercial fishing, passenger transport, research, defence and/or leisure activities. Phase 1 of this project is intrinsically linked to the SafeSeaNet Ireland Project. This project is associated with the European Maritime Safety Agency which is tasked with co-ordinating the communication of seafaring activities between EU member states.

SafeSeas Ireland will provide the framework from 2006 for exchanging messages, notifications and alerts between member states related to defined categories of vessels. System users will be entities such as port authorities with responsibility for managing international maritime traffic on behalf of their national authorities.

The Department makes extensive use of geographical information systems and has developed a high quality technical infrastructure and many key datasets. The Department has built up a spatial database approaching 1 terabyte and geographical information systems functionality has been deployed via the intranet to every PC user in the Department.

This geographical information system already underpins the MAPS Internet system and will be utilised in the Internet applications for all other Departmental on-line systems. The integrated petroleum affairs system will enhance the management of petroleum affairs division's customer needs, applications, licences, geophysical data and documentation. The project is at planning stage.

Port Development.

Finian McGrath

Question:

316 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will give support and advice to a company (details supplied) in their efforts to ensure all extra space in Dublin Port is used to the maximum benefit rather than infilling the 52 acres of Dublin Bay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34965/05]

It would not be appropriate for me to interfere in the day-to-day operations of a commercial State body such as Dublin Port Company in the manner suggested.

In January 2005, I launched the Government's ports policy statement which aims to better equip the port sector and its stakeholders to meet national and regional capacity and service needs. One of the key challenges that lies ahead is the provision of adequate in-time port capacity, particularly for unitised trade. The policy statement sets out a framework to ensure capacity needs are identified, planned and progressed in a co-ordinated manner.

As an initial step in this process, the Department consulted with the commercial ports handling unitised trade to determine their view of port capacity and how they intended to deal with the projected capacity requirement. In its response to this request, Dublin Port Company provided information to the Department concerning its proposal for the reclamation of 21 hectares of foreshore in Dublin Bay.

In addition, the Department recently appointed Fisher Associates consultants to, inter alia, draw up a uniform template for submission of detailed project proposals; assess the scope for efficiencies within existing areas of ports, including Dublin Port, handling unitised trade and advise on evaluating the projects submitted by the commercial ports with a view to the Department’s recommendations to Government.

The purpose of this process is to satisfy the Government that the anticipated capacity requirement to 2014 and beyond can be efficiently and adequately met through the successful advancement and implementation by the port sector of some combination of the key projects referred to above, which have been the subject of an independent and expert evaluation. In addition, section 12(1)(b) of the Harbours Act 1996 provides that it will be the general duty of a port company to conduct its business at all times in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

Visa Applications.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

317 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the advice the embassy in Moscow gave to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform visa office in Dublin on the visa application of a person (details supplied); if the visa officer in Moscow found the application for a visa to be credible. [34797/05]

The visa application from the person concerned was referred by my Department to the responsible Department in these matters, namely the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, for decision on 22 August 2005.

A visa officer from the embassy in Moscow was subsequently requested to interview the person concerned by an official of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This interview took place in Kiev on 17 October 2005. The procedure then followed was that a transcript of this interview was forwarded to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for consideration in conjunction with her original visa application.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform refused the visa application on 3 November 2005. The honorary consul in Kiev was notified of this decision by the Department of Foreign Affairs on 7 November 2005.

Overseas Development Aid.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

318 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action he is taking to respond to the developing tragedy in Pakistan following the recent earthquake; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34801/05]

The disaster in Pakistan is, logistically, one of the toughest challenges ever faced by the UN and the international community. Some 15,000 villages were affected by the earthquake and many are in areas difficult to reach. The majority of these villages have yet to be visited by a relief team. The relief effort has been adversely affected by the shortfall in donations to the UN appeal. The race against the onset of winter is ongoing and deep concerns remain about the potential for further casualties among the population living above the snow line, calculated to be over 200,000 people.

As Minister with responsibility for development co-operation and human rights, I have remained in contact with the ambassador of Pakistan to Ireland, His Excellency Mr. Toheed Ahmad, in the weeks following the disaster. I have also been in close contact with our key non-governmental organisations and with the Pakistani community in Ireland, which has responded with enormous generosity to this appalling tragedy.

Ireland was among the first countries to respond to the earthquake. Within a few hours of the earthquake €1 million was pledged towards immediate relief efforts in northern Pakistan and the surrounding regions. As the casualty figures rose dramatically, our response was increased to €5 million, placing Ireland as one of the highest donors to the disaster on a per capita basis. Approximately €1.5 million of our assistance has been allocated to key UN humanitarian agencies, including UNICEF and the World Food Programme. Over €2.5 million has been allocated to non-governmental organisations, such as Concern, GOAL, Oxfam, Plan Ireland and Trócaire, which are active in the provision of essential services on the ground. These services include the provision of food, health services, shelter, water and sanitation.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs remain in close contact with the Government of Pakistan through its embassy in Dublin, with our missions abroad and with UN agencies, the International Red Cross movement and non-governmental organisations. Moreover, a team of my officials is in Pakistan to assess the situation there and, in particular, as it relates to the work which we are funding.

The former Taoiseach, Mr. Albert Reynolds, has agreed to travel to Pakistan this week to lead Ireland's delegation to the rehabilitation and reconstruction conference, which is scheduled to take place in Islamabad on 19 November. Mr. Reynolds will report back to me with his findings and recommendations. I will travel to the region next month as part of a joint visit with my Dutch opposite number, the Minister for Development Co-operation, mevrouw Agnes Van Ardenne. My visit will assess progress at that point in the relief effort and identify outstanding needs in the recovery phase.

Foreign Conflicts.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

319 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, further to Question No. 184 of 27 October 2005, if more information has been made available by the Government of the USA on an Irish citizen or citizens being held in Iraq; if the USA has confirmed that it is holding an Irish citizen or citizens in Iraq; if consular contact has been possible with this person or persons; if he has satisfied himself that this person, or persons, is receiving due process and is able to avail of all rights under international law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34969/05]

It has now been confirmed by the US State Department to the Irish embassy in Washington that no Irish nationals are in detention in Iraq and that the report carried to this effect was incorrect.

Arts Funding.

Finian McGrath

Question:

320 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if a 29% increase in spending on the arts will be supported; his views on their valuable work in the wider society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34785/05]

Since taking office in 2002, I have consistently and effectively made the case, in the context of annual Estimates discussions, for increased funding for the arts. The results are clearly in evidence. Funding for the Arts Council has increased by a total of 28% from €47.67 million in 2002, to €61 million in 2005. This built on earlier increases of about 80% between 1997 and 2002. I must, like every other Minister, await the publication of the 2006 Estimates figures before any outcomes are announced.

Sports Funding.

Mary Wallace

Question:

321 Ms M. Wallace asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the amount of Government funding which has been provided for the National Aquatic Centre, Croke Park, Lansdowne Road, and other relevant national stadia in the city of Dublin which is of benefit to young persons and to sporting organisations since 1997; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34826/05]

The Government has provided capital funding towards the provision and development of a wide range of sports facilities and stadia at national, regional and local level. The capital cost of the National Aquatic Centre was €71 million; the GAA received €109.84 million towards the costs of the redevelopment of Croke Park; while the redevelopment project at Lansdowne Road Stadium, being undertaken jointly by the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Football Association of Ireland, and which has been awarded funding of €191 million, has, to date, received a capital funding of €1.75 million.

Under the sports capital programme, funding has also been provided in respect of a number of other national sporting facilities. Since 1997, those located in Dublin include €1.95 million in respect of the National Boxing Stadium, €1.29 million in respect of the National Hockey Stadium in UCD, €800,000 in respect of the National Indoor Tennis Centre in DCU, and €176,974 in respect of the National Indoor Cricket Centre at Balrothery. Since 1997, almost €386 million has been allocated under the sports capital programme in respect of over 4,900 projects at local, regional and national level, of which €103 million relates to projects located in Dublin.

Question No. 322 withdrawn.

John Curran

Question:

323 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the expected cost of providing a new stadium at Lansdowne Road; the amount of this funding which is to be provided by the Irish Rugby Football Union, the Football Association of Ireland and the State; and if he has satisfied himself that the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Rugby Football Union have their funding securely in place and are in a position to proceed with this project. [34938/05]

The detailed design for the provision of a new stadium at Lansdowne Road has been costed at €365 million, including VAT, of which €191 million is being provided by the State. The Government is committed to providing a maximum of €191 million towards the project and this position has been reiterated and is accepted and understood by both the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Football Association of Ireland. Both the Irish Rugby Football Union and the Football Association of Ireland have provided undertakings that they can meet the balance of the required funding for the project.

Company Law.

Pat Carey

Question:

324 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to cases where the phoenixing of foreign based companies has had a direct or indirect negative impact on Irish subcontractors of such companies; and if legislation exists to prevent such negative impact. [34858/05]

Pat Carey

Question:

325 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the cases of phoenixing of companies here; if legislation to combat such actions will be considered or if he has satisfied himself that the existing legal and regulatory framework is sufficiently robust to deal with such eventualities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34859/05]

Pat Carey

Question:

326 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the laws, directives or regulations which are in place at European level to prevent the phoenixing of companies; if there are issues or concerns with conducting business with businesses which are governed by different national laws, which may not offer the same level of protection as applies here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34860/05]

Pat Carey

Question:

327 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the case (details supplied) in which the main contractor has ceased trading here, though continued in the UK, and has left a number of locally based Irish subcontractors awaiting payment of outstanding invoices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34861/05]

Pat Carey

Question:

328 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the measures which are in place to prevent companies who owe substantial sums to individuals or other companies declaring bankruptcy for the purpose of recommencing trading under a new name for the sole purpose of avoiding their legal responsibilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34862/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 324 to 328, inclusive, together.

The Office of Director of Corporate Enforcement has made inquiries into the matter of the status of Controlled Demolition Group and he understands that joint administrators were appointed to the company under the provisions of the UK Insolvency Act 1986, as amended by the Enterprise Act 2002. He also understands that, following the appointment of the joint administrators, the business and assets of the company, including the company name but not the company itself, was sold to another company. Under the provisions of UK law, the joint administrators of the company are obliged to give a report to creditors not later than eight weeks after their appointment which will address their actions since appointment and will include an indication of the likely surplus available, if any, to pay creditors.

With regard to European Law, the most recent legislation in the area is the European cross border insolvency regulation — Council Regulation (EC) No. 1346/2000 dated 29 May 2000. The regulation ensures that most forms of insolvency proceedings are mutually recognised within member states of the European Union. The regulation sets out under Article 39 the right of any creditor to lodge a claim and Article 40 deals with the duty to inform known creditors of insolvency proceedings. The regulation also provides for equal treatment of creditors.

The main company law provisions in Ireland dealing with companies who fail and re-engage in trading under a new name are addressed under the Companies Acts 1963 to 2005 and in particular under the provisions of the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001. Section 56 introduced a new reporting obligation by liquidators in respect of all insolvent liquidations to the Director of Corporate Enforcement. The liquidators of such companies are legally obliged to bring proceedings for the restriction of directors unless relieved of this obligation by the Director of Corporate Enforcement. The director also has additional powers available to him to pursue directors of insolvent companies that have not been placed into liquidation.

The Deputy will be aware that business failure is an unfortunate fact of life. However, not all business failure is a result of unlawful business practice. If the creditors of the company are aware of specific breaches of UK company law they may wish to bring these to the attention of the appropriate UK authorities, which are the UK insolvency service, in the context of breaches of the Insolvency Acts and the Department of Trade and Industry for wider breaches of the UK companies acts.

Social Welfare Code.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

329 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a national strategy will be formulated for carers (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34722/05]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

332 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if, in the interest of promoting equality for family carers, he will support the establishment of a national advisory group made up of carers, representative organisations, union representatives and employers' groups to advise his Department on the various areas of policy affecting carers and their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34731/05]

I proposed to take Question Nos. 329 and 332 together.

Supporting carers in our society has been a priority of the Government since 1997. Over that period weekly payment rates to carer's have been greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carers' allowance have been significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carers' benefit and the respite care grant have been introduced.

I had the pleasure last May of launching the Carers Association national strategy document "Towards a Family Carers Strategy". The strategy is a focused document with very clear objectives and actions. These objectives and actions cover a range of areas and Departments, including income support and health related issues.

The long-term care working group, chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach and comprising senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs is due to report to the Tánaiste and to me shortly. The objective of this group is to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care, taking account of the Mercer report, the views of the consultation that was undertaken on that report and the review of the nursing home subvention scheme by Eamon O'Shea. The issues raised in the Carers Association strategy will also be included in the group's deliberations.

I am always prepared to consider changes to existing arrangements where these are for the benefit of recipients and financially sustainable within the resources available to me. Those recommendations involving additional expenditure will be considered in a budgetary context. I will continue to review the issues raised by the Carers Association and other bodies representing carers.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Dan Neville

Question:

330 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason patients at the Central Mental Hospital, Dublin, are not entitled to the disability allowance. [34725/05]

There are a number of different categories of residency in the Central Mental Hospital as follows: those detained under the categories of "guilty but insane" and "unfit to plead" who are deemed to be detained in legal custody and are not eligible for payment of disability allowance under the Social Welfare Acts and those detained under the relevant Mental Health Acts who are not considered to be detained in legal custody but rather are deemed to be in residential care and are therefore eligible for disability allowance, personal expenses rate. There are a number of such residents of the Central Mental Hospital currently in receipt of this payment.

The disability allowance, personal expenses rate, was provided for in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2005, at an amount not exceeding €35 per week, effective from 1 June 2005. This payment replaced the spending allowances, formerly paid by the health boards to people in residential care since prior to 1999 who are not eligible for full disability allowance, solely due to their residency. The Social Welfare Act 1999, made provision for the retention of entitlement to disability allowance where a person who has been living at home subsequently enters residential care, effective from June of that year.

During the administrative preparations for the introduction of the disability allowance, personal expenses rate, my Department contacted the Central Mental Hospital to establish the number of residents who would be eligible for this new payment. There are no plans to amend the current legislation with regard to persons in legal custody. I intend, however, to review the situation regarding people in residential settings who are not currently eligible for the payment of full disability allowance and to move towards the removal of this disqualification so that all persons in residential care will have an income maintenance payment on the same basis.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Michael Ring

Question:

331 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the outcome of an appeal for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo which was held on the 18 October 2005. [34726/05]

The person concerned was in receipt of carer's allowance from 1 October 1998. Following a review of her entitlement, payment from 4 January 2001 to 30 March 2005 was disallowed by a deciding officer retrospectively, as it was found that the person was working more than ten hours per week. As a consequence, an overpayment of €34,970.31 was assessed against her. The person concerned appealed against this decision to the social welfare appeals office.

The case was referred to an appeals officer, who having considered all the evidence, including that adduced at the hearing, disallowed the appeal. The person concerned is being notified of the decision. Under social welfare legislation, decisions relating to claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Question No. 332 answered with QuestionNo. 329.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Joe Costello

Question:

333 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has completed his review of the cases of the 237 persons who have been denied the fuel allowance in winter 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34802/05]

Fuel allowances are not payable in situations where a person has access to his or her own fuel supply or is benefiting from a subsidised or low cost heating service, such as those provided by Dublin City Council at a number of its housing complexes. The basis for this condition is that the contribution that local authority tenants in communal heating situations make towards their heating costs is limited to a fixed and relatively small amount, typically around €6 per week, included as part of their overall rent charge.

Unlike other tenants and social welfare clients generally, who must buy their own fuel at prevailing retail cost, these tenants are subsidised significantly by Dublin City Council and the other local authorities concerned and thus are protected from increases in heating costs. To ease the burden on tenants, payments are spread over 52 weeks and in addition to heating each room, hot water is provided 24 hours a day for each day of the calendar year.

My Department carried out a review of the fuel allowance payments to ensure that the eligibility rules were being applied correctly and consistently. In the course of a routine review, it came to light that payments had been made in error to certain recipients who were in local authority accommodation with subsidised or low cost heating. The allowances in question, which should not have been put in payment in the first place, were withdrawn in these cases with effect from the start of this winter heating season.

Fuel allowance payments in previous years were made in error to these people; in some instances, fuel allowance was awarded because the applicant indicated that their heating costs were not being subsidised. While it may be inequitable to retain the allowance when neighbouring tenants in the same circumstances are not eligible and are managing their budgets accordingly, I am conscious of the particular circumstances which apply in the cases which the Deputy mentions. I am at present reviewing the situation as a matter of urgency.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Michael Ring

Question:

334 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when an appeal for the carer’s allowance for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be finalised. [34820/05]

The person's application for carer's allowance was disallowed by a deciding officer on the grounds that he is working, on his holding, for more than ten hours per week. The person appealed this decision to the social welfare appeals office. In accordance with the statutory requirements, the relevant departmental papers, including a report from a social welfare inspector and a submission from the deciding officer, are being sought. The file will be forwarded to the appeal office for determination when these are to hand.

At present the person concerned is in receipt of unemployment assistance. Under social welfare legislation decisions regarding claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

335 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether there is a need to allow mortgage payments as a charge or allowance for means test purposes when claiming for the disability allowance; his further views on whether a disability in itself can be a major crisis in a family; if he will consider making the necessary changes in budget 2006 so that mortgage charges can be accepted as a legitimate cost when disability allowance is being decided upon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34825/05]

In assessing means for social assistance purposes, including disability allowance, account is taken of any cash income the person or his or her spouse may have, together with the value of capital and property, except the home. Outgoings, such as mortgage payments on the family home, are not taken into account in determining entitlement to disability allowance and other weekly income maintenance payments.

The person concerned made a claim for disability allowance in July 2005. While she satisfied the medical conditions for entitlement to disability allowance, her weekly means were determined by a deciding office of my Department to be in excess of the statutory limit for entitlement to that scheme. These means were derived from her husband's earnings and the appropriate deductions for income tax, PRSI, superannuation, trade union and health insurance subscriptions as well the spouse's income disregard of €88.88 per week were deducted from gross earnings before her means were calculated.

Any changes to the current means testing provisions for disability allowance and other schemes would fall to be considered in a budgetary context.

Rail Network.

Damien English

Question:

336 Mr. English asked the Minister for Transport the amount of State money invested in the Navan to Drogheda rail line for each of the years 1999 to 2004 and to date in 2005; the income derived from commercial activity on this rail line for the same periods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34776/05]

Damien English

Question:

337 Mr. English asked the Minister for Transport the amount of State money invested in the Navan to Kingscourt rail line for each of the years 1999 to 2004 and to date in 2005; the income derived from commercial activity on this rail line for the same periods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34777/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 336 and 337 together.

The Drogheda to Navan to Kingscourt railway line has conveyed only rail freight traffic in the period 1999 to the present day. A total of €5.14 million was invested in this line since 1999 from the railway safety programme, approved by my Department. The revenue earned from the traffic carried on the line is a commercial matter for Iarnród Eireann.

Road Traffic Offences.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

338 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the action he intends taking arising from the outcome of court cases as reported (details supplied) where cases against drivers for the non-display of L-plates and for not being accompanied by a qualified driver were struck out due to deficiencies in Article 20 of the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations 1999; when he will address such deficiencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34790/05]

The article referred to by the Deputy does not specify any alleged deficiencies in Article 20 of the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations 1999 and no deficiencies have been notified to my Department. The position is that Article 20 provides in sub-article (6)(b)(iii) that a person provisionally licensed to drive vehicles of category B, C1, C, D1, D, EB, EC1, EC, ED1 or ED shall not drive such a vehicle unless there are displayed on the vehicle rectangular plates or signs bearing the letter “L” not less than 15cm high in red on a white ground, in clearly visible vertical positions to the front and rear of the vehicle. Furthermore sub-article (6)(b)(iv) provides that a person provisionally licensed to drive vehicles of category B, C1, C, D1, D, EB, EC1, EC, ED1 or ED shall not drive such a vehicle unless he or she is accompanied by and is under the supervision of a qualified person, that is, a person who holds a driving licence in respect of the vehicle category being driven.

A provisional licence only licenses a holder to drive a vehicle in respect of which the licence is granted provided these and other conditions applicable to a provisional licence are complied with. Non-compliance with any of these conditions leaves a person open to prosecution under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, which prohibits driving without a driving licence, as under section 35(3)(a) of that Act the holding of a provisional licence having effect is a good defence against such a charge.

Public Transport.

Michael Lowry

Question:

339 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Transport the reason north Tipperary was excluded in major transport projects in the Transport 21 plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34791/05]

I reject the implication that north Tipperary has been excluded from major projects contained in Transport 21. The position is that north Tipperary will gain significantly under Transport 21 as follows: completion of the N7 Dublin-Limerick motorway; the targeted improvement of the N52 from Dundalk to Nenagh, which is a key cross-country linking corridor identified by the national spatial strategy; the introduction of a service every hour on the Dublin to Cork rail line and every hour at peak and every two hours off-peak on the Dublin to Limerick rail line.

In addition, rural areas of the county can also expect to benefit from the upgrading of regional bus services and the decision to put the rural transport initiative on a permanent footing from 2007 and to significantly increase the cash funding for this successful and innovative programme.

Air Services.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

340 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Transport if aircraft (details supplied) which are alleged to have been used by the CIA in the process of extraordinary renditions have ever landed at any airport here or at Casement Aerodrome; if those aircraft were examined by the State’s security forces to determine if the UN Convention on Torture or Article 3 of section 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights was breached; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34922/05]

In accordance with the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, aircraft may come into Ireland for technical stops, such as for refuelling purposes, without notifying the Department of Transport, and no notification about these aircraft was received by my Department. As I indicated in the House previously, the aircraft registered N379P and N8068V have landed at Shannon on a number of occasions. I understand that the aircraft N4476S has not landed at Shannon, Dublin or Cork. No examinations have been carried out on these aircraft by my Department. Examinations by the State's security forces are a matter for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Landings at Casement Aerodrome are a matter for the Minister for Defence.

Furthermore, as I have said in the House on previous occasions, I understand that the US authorities have confirmed to the Department of Foreign Affairs that prisoners are not being transported through Irish airports. The US also confirmed that it would not seek to use Irish airports for this purpose in the future without seeking the authorisation of the Irish authorities.

Rail Services.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

341 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport further to his recent announcement that his Department is in discussion with an international open access freight operator, the measures which have been put in place to allow the issue of operators licences and for the allocation track access in a fair and unbiased manner. [34923/05]

My Department, in accordance with Directive 2001/13 on the licensing of railways and Directive 2001/14 on the allocation of infrastructure capacity and safety certification has introduced the following measures: S.I. 537 of 2003 European Communities (Licensing of Railway Undertakings) Regulations, 2003, to provide for an operator to obtain a licence; S.I. 643 of 2004 entitled European Communities (Allocation of Railway Infrastructure Capacity and the levying of Charges for the use of Railway Infrastructure and Safety Certification) Regulations, 2004, which provides for the allocation and charging for track access.

My Department has received a communication from an operator confirming its intention to establish itself in the international freight market in Ireland, in accordance with Directive 2004/51/EC. Officials in my Department have been in contact with the operator concerned.

Departmental Reports.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

342 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the costs incurred by or on behalf of his Department arising from the publication of an eight page commercial report on the Transport 21 plan, published in a magazine (details supplied) on 10 November 2005; if outside agencies were used in the preparation and production of material; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34924/05]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

344 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport if, in regard to the publication in a magazine (details supplied) of an eight page commercial report on the Transport 21 plan, it is intended to publish the report in other publications; if so, the publication, the planned date in each case, and the anticipated cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34926/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 342 and 344 together.

My Department did not commission or make any financial contribution towards the report in question.

Road Traffic Offences.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

343 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport when he expects to increase the fine, currently €19, for illegal parking in disabled parking bays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34925/05]

This offence currently comes within the scope of the fines on the spot system, FoTS, and, in association with the majority of other parking offences, attracts an on the spot fine of €19. The Road Traffic Act 2002 provides for the replacement of the FoTS with the new fixed charge system. That system currently applies to the offences of exceeding a speed limit and non-compliance with seat belt regulations.

The extension of the fixed charge system to additional offences will be progressively commenced once the appropriate Garda Síochána IT processing system is fully operational and related administrative supports are in place. I will make the necessary statutory instruments at that point. This extension will include its application to the offence of illegally parking in disabled persons' parking bays. The level of the charge for that offence will be pitched at a level significantly higher than that which will apply to other parking offences.

Question No. 344 answered with QuestionNo. 342.

Proposed Legislation.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

345 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when legislation to regulate charities will be published; and the reason its publication has been subject to ongoing delays. [34792/05]

I do not accept the Deputy's contention that the publication of legislation to regulate charities has been subject to ongoing delays. As I have previously pointed out to the House, it is only following the establishment of my Department in June 2002 and the setting up of a dedicated charities regulation unit in February 2003 that substantive moves began to be taken towards regulation of the charities sector.

The draft legislation under preparation in my Department will ensure that charities are regulated for the first time since the foundation of the State. With regard to a publication date, I have already publicly signalled spring 2006 as our target for publication of the Bill and my Department continues to give priority to the work of advancing this important legislation.

Security of the Elderly.

Pat Breen

Question:

346 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, further to Question No. 323 of 9 November 2005, when funding will be made available for panic buttons and security lighting for the elderly (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34793/05]

My Department has recently received a current tax clearance certificate from the group in question. Payment of the grant will be arranged shortly.

Bullying in the Workplace.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

347 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the case of a person (details supplied); if she is satisfied with the treatment of this person, especially having regard to the case previously settled and the compensation received arising from allegations that the person was bullied; if it was part of the settlement that the person was not to have contact with the person who was alleged to have bullied him or her; if she is satisfied that this commitment has been honoured; if the person concerned was removed from the building on 7 October 2005, and if so, the reasons for same and the circumstances in which it took place; the status of the person and if they continue to be paid; if the person’s general practitioner has certified the person as being fit for work; if the person will be allowed to return to work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34796/05]

In March 2005 my Department, through the Chief State Solicitor's office, entered into an agreement with the person to whom the Deputy refers in settlement of a case brought by that individual against my Department. I am satisfied that my Department has used its best endeavours at all times to comply with the terms of that agreement.

On 7 October 2005 the person in question was involved in a serious incident with a senior officer in the Portlaoise office. Arising from this incident the person, who is the subject of this parliamentary question, was requested to remain at home until the chief medical officer certifies him fit to return to duty. The chief medical officer has requested a medical report from the person's medical consultant and the chief medical officer has not yet received this report.

Grant Payments.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

348 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when the disadvantaged payment will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34931/05]

An application under the 2005 single payment scheme-disadvantaged areas scheme was received from the person named. During processing of this application, an eligibility issue was identified regarding one of the parcels claimed. This has now been resolved and payment in respect of the disadvantaged areas scheme will issue shortly.

Infectious Diseases.

David Stanton

Question:

349 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures her Department has considered or is considering introducing, in addition to the measures introduced on 27 October 2005 as a result of the European Commission decision on avian influenza; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34932/05]

Since the confirmed outbreaks in Russia and Kazakhstan in July and the more recent outbreaks in Turkey, Romania and Croatia, a range of measures have been put in place to further minimise the risk of the introduction of the H5N1 avian influenza virus into the European Union and, consequently, Ireland.

Since the initial outbreaks of the H5N1 virus in south east Asia in late 2003, the EU Commission has moved swiftly to apply safeguard measures to any affected countries that, essentially, ban the importation into the Community of poultry and certain specified poultry products from those countries. In addition, the Commission has now banned the importation of captive birds and has placed controls on the importation of pet birds. All of the Commission decisions have now been transposed into Irish law through a series of statutory instruments that I signed over the past few weeks.

These decisions include a ban on the gathering of birds for shows, exhibitions, markets and cultural events, other than under licence in regard to the latter, I have made and provision for the licensing of caged bird shows and pigeon shows. This ban will be reviewed at EU level before the end of November and may well be extended for a further period. This is another entirely reasonable measure to minimise the risk of introduction of the disease. I am satisfied that the measures taken to date are proportionate to the risk of the introduction of the virus and represent a reasonable and measured response. My Department is constantly reassessing the level of risk and is updating its contingency arrangements based on that risk assessment. Notwithstanding the measures taken to date, I will not hesitate to take such additional measures as I consider appropriate to any increased level of risk.

My Department is actively engaged at EU and international level and will continue to take account of the most up to date national and international veterinary and scientific advice available to us from such sources as the EU, the FAO and the OIE. While I have no particular plans to introduce any further specific measures at this time, I am keeping the situation under review and have given consideration to other measures which it may be appropriate to introduce in the future, including the possibility of requiring compulsory housing of all free range and organic poultry. This is a measure that I do not consider necessary at the moment given the current level of risk but is one that might well be appropriate in the event, for example, of confirmed outbreaks of the virus within the EU or in countries that are on a direct migratory flyway to or from Ireland.

Food Industry.

David Stanton

Question:

350 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the way in which her Department supports small rural based food enterprises; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34934/05]

My Department supports the development of small rural based food enterprises directly and through Bord Bia. Grant aid is available under the scheme of investment for the commercial horticulture sector to encourage investment in commercially viable horticultural enterprises. The scheme is primarily aimed at those in rural areas who are engaged in production or are starting production projects. Over €6 million will be paid this year involving investments of €20 million bringing the total grant payable to date under the NDP 2000-06 to €14 million.

Under the NDP scheme for the development of the potato sector, grants were available in respect of capital costs of equipment and facilities for the production, storage and marketing of potatoes. The objective of the scheme was to support investment in new or improved storage and other marketing facilities by potato growers in order that they could remain in business. The scheme to date has paid out €1.36 million to 51 applicants. The scheme in 2005 applies to potato seed producers.

My Department operates the scheme of grant aid for the development of the organic sector, which supports investment both on-farm and off-farm. For on-farm investments, grant aid can be given for 40% of the cost up to a maximum grant of over €50,000. For off-farm investments, the maximum grant is over €500,000. Bord Bia, the State agency under the aegis of my Department, has a statutory function to promote, assist and develop the marketing of Irish food, drink and horticulture products. The vast bulk of the board's client companies are micro, small and medium sized, SME, food and drink and horticultural enterprises, whose annual turnover is less than € 2.5 million.

All of Bord Bia's five broad activity categories — buyer contact, food promotion, information, quality development and marketing finance — contribute to the development of the SMEs. The marketing finance activity, for example, comprises two grant programmes, the marketing improvement assistance programme and the market participation programme, both of which assist SMEs with marketing activities. The board operates a brand forum in partnership with Bank of Ireland business banking. Membership of this forum includes SMEs and the it provides a centre of excellence for brand marketing that delivers new skills to the industry, including practical brand development services, access to exclusive market research and insight and food and drink brand promotion and promotes the long-term success of food and drink brands.

Bord Bia also provides a range of support services for farmers markets, including advice and mentoring assistance and has also published a comprehensive information guide on the running and operation of these markets in co-operation with Invest Northern Ireland. With over 100 farmers markets now in operation, I recognise the important contribution they are making to local and regional economies through encouraging local produce, assisting start-ups of new businesses and creating local employment.

The growth of these markets also reflects changing consumer preferences and demand for more locally produced foods. They offer a real opportunity to promote sustainable production of more locally produced speciality and high quality artisan type products that reflect the unique characteristics of a locality and region.

Recently, my Department, in co-operation with Bord Bia and other State agencies, launched a new initiative to promote local and regional food economies with the core aim of stimulating and expanding interest in regional and local food production and encouraging the formation and growth of more small rural based food enterprises on a regional basis. The speciality and artisan food sectors have developed a new momentum and research indicates that further opportunities exist for the right products. There is considerable scope to develop new opportunities in Ireland and United Kingdom where the market is forecast to reach €7.5 billion over the next three years.

Common Agricultural Policy.

David Stanton

Question:

351 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department is succeeding in protecting the interests of the Irish agri-food sector with regard to the CAP reform; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34935/05]

While the Common Agricultural Policy is subject to ongoing reform, the last substantive reform took place under the mid-term review, which was agreed by the Council of Agriculture Ministers in June 2003. The reform represented a favourable outcome for Ireland. The main policy proposals under consideration at present are the Commission's proposals for the reform of the sugar sector.

In the wider context, the December European Council will consider proposals on the financial perspective for the period 2007-13 and the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong is expected to advance the negotiations on the next WTO agreement, both of which represent a challenge to the future of the CAP. I am participating directly in or contributing to the negotiations in each case with a view to protecting the interests of the Irish agrifood sector and to securing the best possible outcome from our point of view.

Sugar Beet Industry.

David Stanton

Question:

352 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department has been successful in protecting the interests of the sugar beet producers and the sugar beet industry here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34936/05]

I reiterated my firm opposition to the Commission's proposals when I addressed last month's meeting of the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg. I emphasised that the price cuts proposed are too severe, the reforms should be based on a longer lead-in time for the EBA and we should await the outcome of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong before seeking to agree a more equitable and balanced outcome.

I have also remained in close contact with like minded colleague Ministers from other member states who are opposed to the reform proposals. In this context, a joint ministerial letter from a group of 11 member states, including Ireland, was submitted to the Commission in advance of the formal discussion at last month's Council meeting, setting out the objections of the group to the proposals. I have met with the Agriculture Commissioner a number of times to voice my strong reservations. Meanwhile, there has been ongoing contact at official level with other member states and the Commission in respect of the reform proposals.

Negotiations have become more intensive over recent weeks and the United Kingdom Presidency is striving to reach political agreement at next week's Council of Ministers. I will continue to be resolute in pursuing my overall objective of achieving a more balanced agreement, which will take Irish interests into account.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Michael Lowry

Question:

353 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if a refund will be issued to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; when such a refund will issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34972/05]

One of the early retirement scheme requirements is that the applicant's farming transferee meets certain viability criteria. In the case of the person named, it was found that his farming transferee did not meet the viability threshold of 20 income units derived from farming owned or leased land. Accordingly, his application, which was received in my Department on 26 March 2002, was rejected and the applicant was notified on 4 June 2002.

The application was resubmitted on 5 November 2002. In the interim, the transferee had leased additional land to meet the viability threshold. As a result, the application was found to be valid and payment was approved from that date.

An appeal against the rejection of the first application was received on 26 November 2002. On examination of the appeal, it was ruled that the decision should stand. On 20 January 2003 the person named was advised of this ruling and informed that he could pursue the matter with the agriculture appeals office within three months. To date, no appeal has been submitted to that office.

Michael Lowry

Question:

354 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason for cessation of the farm retirement pension to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and when such a refund will issue. [34973/05]

It is a requirement of the EU regulation under which the early retirement scheme is implemented that the early retirement pension can be paid only as a supplement to any national retirement pension that the participant receives. Consequently, the value of any such national retirement pension must be deducted from the early retirement pension.

In the case of the person named, he became entitled to a contributory old age pension from 17 June 2005. As the amount of his old age pension exceeded that of his early retirement pension, payment of the early retirement pension needed to cease.

Crime Prevention.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

355 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has had any discussions with his EU colleagues with a view to combating the predatory use of the Internet by those with doubtful intentions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34653/05]

By its very nature, the Internet lends itself to being used for a wide range of criminal activities. These can include illegal pornography, racist or hate materials, financial fraud, intimidation or any other criminal activity carried out via the Internet. Combatting such illegal, harmful and predatory use of the Internet requires a response at national, EU and international levels.

The Internet is an international and worldwide phenomenon with no borders and no single organisation controlling it. Measures to combat illegal materials and activities on the Internet are, therefore, hampered by a multiplicity of jurisdictions, differing legal systems and differing societal norms. Furthermore, developments in communications technologies allowing for Internet access by new means are a regular occurrence. These are largely positive developments but also bring particular challenges for those charged with protecting against the down sides of the Internet.

A combination of responses and the co-operation of all the stakeholders at both national and international level, such as legislators, law enforcement, schools, child protection practitioners, parents and guardians, is essential. My Department is fully committed to playing its part in a proactive way. The European Union has taken a strong line on combating child pornography and other illegal and harmful uses of the Internet.

Since 1999, under the Safer Internet Action Plan, the EU has provided financial and other supports for measures in the member states to combat illegal and harmful uses of the Internet, with particular emphasis on protecting children. A new EU action plan, Safer Internet Plus, covering the period 2005 to 2008 and with a budget of €45 million, was agreed under the Irish Presidency in June 2004 and is now in operation. My Department is represented on the management committee for the programme.

The EU Council adopted a framework decision on combating the sexual exploitation of children and child pornography on 22 December 2003. While the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 is a particularly robust legislative measure, my Department is preparing additional legislative provisions to ensure compliance with this framework decision. In September, 2001 the Council of Europe Ministers' Deputies approved the first international convention on cybercrime, to which Ireland signed in June 2002. The main objective of the convention is to foster international co-operation in protecting society against cybercrime. The convention deals specifically with the distribution of child pornography on the Internet, infringements of copyright, computer related fraud and violations of network security. My Department is fully committed to co-operating with and promoting these measures nationally, at EU and international level.

Family Carers.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

356 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in the interest of promoting equality for family carers, he will support the establishment of a national advisory group composed of carers, representative organisations, union representatives and employers’ groups to advise his Department on the various areas of policy affecting carers and their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34733/05]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

360 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in the interest of promoting equality for family carers, he will support the establishment of a national advisory group made up of carers, representative organisations, union representatives and employers groups in order to advise the Departments of Social and Family Affairs, Health and Children, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Health Service Executive on the various areas of policy affecting carers and their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34761/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 256 and 360 together.

The Equality Authority appointed an advisory committee in March, 2004 to consider equality issues for family carers. The committee members represent carers' organisations, Departments with specific responsibilities in the area, NGOs, relevant State bodies and the social partners.

The work of the committee has involved providing an overview and an analysis of carers, caring situations and the policy context for caring, exploring a range of themes relevant to equality for carers and identifying issues relating to these and making recommendations to the board of the Equality Authority that would address the issues identified and contribute to equality for carers. I understand that the committee is currently in the process of finalising its report to the board of the Equality Authority and I look forward to its publication in the near future.

Human Rights Issues.

Pat Carey

Question:

357 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the Government has considered amending the Human Rights Commission Act 2000, which would make the Commission directly accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas rather than to a Department of State as at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34827/05]

Michael Lowry

Question:

376 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has reviewed the Irish Human Rights Commission annual report for 2004; the implications of the IHRC request that the commission is made accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas; his strategy for dealing with the request; if substantial legislative changes are required for the change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34978/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 357 and 376 together.

The question of the Irish Human Rights Commission being made accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas was one of a number of recommendations made by the commission in its report on effectiveness submitted to the Government under section 24 of the Human Rights Commission Acts 2000 and 2001. The Commission also referred to the matter in its annual report for 2003 presented to me in accordance with section 23 of the Act and it has been discussed with me by the president of the commission, Dr. Maurice Manning.

My formal responses on behalf of the Government to the various commission's recommendations, including this one, were laid before the Houses on 20 October 2004. The president of the commission mentioned the point again in his foreword to the annual report for 2004, published on 5 October 2005 when, after acknowledging the growing relationship with Oireachtas committees, he stated: "It is the long term objective of the commission that it be accountable directly to the Oireachtas rather than to a Government Department as at present and that it will be working to achieve this over the coming years".

As is clear from the papers laid before the Oireachtas, the commission is aware that as far as I am concerned, it is free to explore the issue further with a view to developing concrete proposals for my consideration.

Departmental Inquiries.

Joan Burton

Question:

358 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the estimated cost of the inquiry into sex abuse in the Dublin dioceses; and if all of the costs will be borne by the taxpayer. [34916/05]

Following a Government decision on 8 November, in accordance with the provisions of the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004 and as the specified Minister in respect of this commission, I am arranging for the laying before the Dáil and Seanad of a draft of the proposed Government order establishing the commission seeking the approval of the two Houses.

Following their approval, the Government will by order establish the commission, following which I will arrange for the preparation of an estimate of the costs, including legal costs, to be incurred by the commission in conducting the investigation and preparing its reports, to be published in Iris Oifigiúil. Sections 23 and 24 of the Act provide for the recovery by witnesses of legal costs necessarily incurred by them and certain other expenses and the issuing of guidelines concerning the payment of such legal costs.

Prison Work Schemes.

Billy Timmins

Question:

359 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in respect of a contract for a company (details supplied) for work carried out by women prisoners in Mountjoy Prison; the amount the State is paid for this work; the amount the prisoners are paid; if there are other such contracts for work carried out in Irish prisons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34759/05]

Women prisoners in the Dochas Centre are not currently involved in any arrangements with the company referred to in the Deputy's question. I understand that a limited number of women prisoners were voluntarily involved in some assembly activity in connection with the company concerned in the past but that this arrangement ceased some time ago.

There is a very limited provision, through arrangements with private entities, of voluntary occupational opportunities for a small number of prisoners in two other institutions. Payments made by the firms concerned are in line with what is payable for such activities in the community.

Question No. 360 answered with QuestionNo. 356.

Disability Support Services.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

361 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if there are arrangements in place to offer an information pack regarding entitlements to persons with disability and their families following the diagnosis of disability; if there are no such arrangements in place, if he will introduce such a pack; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34762/05]

The issue raised by the Deputy is a matter for Comhairle in the first instance, and for my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs.

Visa Applications.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

362 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the rights the spouses of Irish citizens have to enter into and live here, in view of the refusal to grant a visa to a person (details supplied). [34763/05]

I refer the Deputy to my previous reply to Question No. 515 of Tuesday, 8 November 2005, and Questions Nos. 176 to 179 of Thursday, 10 November 2005, in which I clearly stated the reason for refusal for this particular applicant. It is important to state at the outset that marriage to an Irish national does not grant any automatic right to enter or reside in the State solely on that basis. A visa required non-EEA spouse of an Irish national must apply for a visa to enter the State. This application will be assessed on its own merits, in accordance with general policy.

The visa system operates under the principle that the onus is at all times on the applicant to satisfy this Department that it would be in order to grant them a visa. In this case as I have clearly stated in my previous replies to the Deputy, inconsistencies were noted in the information supplied by the applicant with regard to her employment history.

I also advised the Deputy that the applicant had leave to appeal the decision within two months of the refusal date and this remains the position. My Department has received no such appeal to date.

Victim Support.

Billy Timmins

Question:

363 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to funding for victim support; the amount his Department allocates to victim support organisations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34764/05]

Funding for services providing victim support is provided through the commission for the support of victims of crime which I established in March 2005 following a review of existing provision for crime victims. The commission's term of office is for three years and its members are: Mr. Jim McHugh, retired assistant commissioner, the Garda Síochána, who is the chairman; Ms Nora Owen, former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Mr. Sean Lowry, former head of the probation and welfare service; Mr. Michael Whelan, Gemini Consulting; Ms Marian Finucane, broadcaster.

Its remit is to: devise an appropriate support framework for victims of crime into the future and disburse funding for victim support measures. The sum of €750,000 has been made available for disbursement under commission supervision in 2005 to community and other voluntary groups providing victim services, with a particular emphasis on the funding of activities on the ground that provide direct supports for victims of crime. I am advised that the commission received over 60 applications for funding for measures to support victims of crime in response to a public advertisement earlier this year. The commission examines each application on its merits and makes an independent decision in relation to eligibility for funding.

In 2005 the commission has approved funding for the following organisations: the national crime victims helpline — a single lo-call number manned by volunteers and providing information on all services available to victims of crime, which I launched on Monday, 14 November; Rape Crisis Network; Women's Aid Dublin; Irish Tourist Advisory Service, ITAS; Support after Homicide Group; Advic — a new organisation providing advocacy for families of homicide victims; Court Support Service — providing impartial practical support for victims and witnesses in court proceedings; Muintir na Tire — follow-up support for elderly rural crime victims; ICPAC — Irish Centre for Parentally Abducted Children; CARI — services to child abuse victims.

In all, the commission has approved funding of €411,000 to date. This includes commission agreement in principle to fund a further 16 applications. The commission is currently in correspondence with those applicants. The commission is also currently considering applications from the Victim Support organisation, which my Department funded up to March 2005, as well as from several groups that were formerly part of that organisation.

Child Care Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

364 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when contracts will be sent to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo following their approval for funds under the equal opportunities child care programme. [34765/05]

The private provider in question was approved capital grant assistance of €50,790 under the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme, EOCP, 2000 — 2006, in September 2005. The private provider has been advised of the decision by the child care directorate of my Department.

I understand from inquiries I have made with Area Development Management Ltd., which is engaged to administer the EOCP on behalf of my Department, that the contract in relation to this grant has recently issued to the grant recipient.

Asylum Applications.

Paul McGrath

Question:

365 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when an asylum appeal will be heard for a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath. [34766/05]

It is not the practice to comment in detail on individual asylum applications. Applications for refugee status in the State are determined by an independent process comprising the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which make recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted.

A final decision on this application will be made upon receipt of the decision of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Liquor Licensing Laws.

Finian McGrath

Question:

366 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will raise the age limit to 21 for persons buying alcohol from off-licences due to the unsupervised distribution issue; and if anti-social behaviour will be reduced in our communities. [34767/05]

The position is that the Government legislation programme published on 27 September last makes provision for publication of a Bill to codify the licensing laws in mid-2006. It will repeal the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2004, as well as the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2004, and replace them with updated provisions more suited to modern conditions.

The reform proposals contained in this Bill will take account of the work of the Commission on Liquor Licensing and the recommendations set out in the commission's reports. As regards the current age limit of 18 years, the commission did not recommend any changes in existing legislative provisions and I do not propose therefore to increase the current legal age for the purchase and consumption of intoxicating liquor to 21 years.

I am conscious of public concerns in relation to alcohol related harm in our society and the Bill will therefore contain improved safeguards and provide for increased penalties in order to combat such harm. These include: extending the jurisdiction of the District Court to all retail licences and giving specified notice parties, including the health authority and members of the public, the right to object to the grant of a licence; streamlining the system for renewing licences and clarifying the right of members of the public to object to renewal in any particular case on stated grounds; strengthening provisions designed to combat sales to under-age persons by, for example, requiring all off-sales premises to have written policies and control procedures; supplementing existing offences relating to under-age consumption of alcohol with a new offence of being in possession of a forged Garda age card; and increasing the levels of penalties and sanctions, including a proposal that all temporary closure orders should involve closure for a minimum of two days.

The Bill will also allow the Garda to object to applications for new retail licences on the grounds of an undue risk of public nuisance or a threat to public order or safety. In addition, it will contain provisions for dealing with drunkenness and disorderly conduct on licensed premises, as well as combating the sale and supply of alcohol to under age persons.

Residency Permits.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

367 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when an application for a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34821/05]

The person concerned submitted an application in March 2005 to remain in the State on the basis of being the parent of an Irish born child under the revised arrangements announced by me on 15 January 2005 for the processing of applications for permission to remain in the State from the non-national parents of Irish born children born before 1 January 2005. Their application is being processed and the person concerned has been requested to provide further documentation to enable this process to be completed.

European Arrest Warrant.

Pat Breen

Question:

368 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress which has been made in processing the extradition warrant for a person (details supplied); the reason their extradition hearing in Britain has been adjourned five times; if there has been a problem with the paperwork of the European arrest warrant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34824/05]

As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, acting as the central authority for the European arrest warrant, I have only a limited function in relation to outgoing European arrest warrants which is to ensure their safe transmission to the receiving state and in some cases the transmission of additional information. In this particular case the UK authorities had requested the central authority to provide certain additional information. The central authority subsequently transmitted the requested information to the UK authorities.

The court also requested that the Irish authorities be asked to provide an indication of its approach to an issue concerning the sentence currently being served by the subject of the European arrest warrant for other offences committed in the UK. This request was not transmitted to the Irish authorities before the most recent court hearing concerning the European arrest warrant request. I am informed that it will be available to the court before the next hearing date in early December.

I have had inquiries made with the Garda Síochána in relation to this case. The Garda has informed me that they are in close contact with their counterparts in the UK and that no issue has been raised in respect of the validity of the European arrest warrant.

Firearms Offences.

Martin Ferris

Question:

369 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if new information has recently come to light that would cast doubt on the arrest of a person (details supplied) for the alleged possession of an illegal firearm and ammunition. [34828/05]

I have received a number of communications by and behalf of the person in question. I am currently considering my response to these communications and a reply will issue in due course.

Garda Deployment.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

370 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of serving gardaí in each Garda district in Cork city and county and the population in each such Garda district. [34875/05]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength of each Garda district in Cork city and county as at 15 November 2005 was as set out in the table. Corresponding population figures sourced from the CSO 2002 census of population are also included.

District

Strength

Population

Cork City

Anglesea Street

293

36,469

Gurranabraher

90

44,598

Mayfield

104

38,892

Togher

127

79,234

Cork North

Cobh

53

29,998

Fermoy

71

26,331

Mallow

57

29,094

Midleton

64

29,540

Cork West

Bandon

87

28,712

Bantry

40

18,761

Clonakilty

43

24,186

Kanturk

40

20,731

Macroom

38

22,087

It should be noted that the allocation of Garda personnel is determined by a number of factors including population, administrative functions, crime trends and other operational policing needs of the area. I should point out that Anglesea Street Garda station is the divisional headquarters for the Cork city division. It is also the regional headquarters for the southern division. Anglesea Street station polices Cork city centre and in relation to the population figure, it must be noted that this relates to the resident population only and would not include people who socialise, shop or work in the city centre area.

Garda management states that Garda personnel assigned throughout the country, together with the overall policing arrangements and operational strategy are continually monitored and reviewed. Such monitoring ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and the best possible Garda service is provided to the general public.

In relation to Garda resources generally, the accelerated recruitment campaign to reach a record force strength of 14,000, in line with the commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of 2006. The Garda Commissioner will now draw up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources, and in this context the needs of Garda districts in Cork city and county will be fully considered within the overall context of the needs of Garda districts throughout the country.

Probation and Welfare Service.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

371 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of the restorative justice pilot projects, including intentions to evaluate them; when the findings are likely to be made public and when the pilot projects will be extended to other areas. [34943/05]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 1041 of 28 September 2005. Both the Nenagh community reparation project and the restorative justice services, Tallaght, formerly known as the victim-offender mediation project, have been evaluated and the reports on the evaluations are available, on request, from the respective projects or from the probation and welfare service, Smithfield Chambers, Smithfield, Dublin 7. My Department is currently examining the feasibility of further extending the restorative justice projects to other locations.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

372 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount of funding given to probation and welfare services each year for the past ten years. [34944/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

373 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount of funding given to prison services each year for the past ten years. [34945/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 372 and 373 together.

The funding provided to the prison and probation and welfare services is as set out in Vote 21 of the annual report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and Appropriation Accounts, Volume 2, for each year up to and including 2003. Details for 2004 are set out in the Comptroller and Auditor General's audited appropriation accounts for that year.

Garda Deployment.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

374 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí tasked with being juvenile liaison officers each year for the past ten years. [34946/05]

I have sought the information requested by the Deputy from the Garda authorities and I will be in contact with the Deputy as soon as it becomes available.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

375 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the elements of the Children Act 2001 that have yet to be enacted and the reason therefor. [34947/05]

The Deputy will appreciate that the Children Act 2001 is complex and comprehensive legislation and, for those reasons, provisions under the Act are being implemented on a phased basis, as was envisaged at the time of enactment. Responsibility for implementing the Children Act 2001 lies with three Departments: the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science mainly in respect of juvenile offending, and the Department of Health and Children mainly in respect of children who are non-offending but out of control. The National Children's Office is co-ordinating the cross-departmental aspects of the implementation of the Act.

Three main areas of the Act for which I have responsibility remain to be brought into operation. These concern the age of criminal responsibility, community based options and the provision of children detention centres for 16 and 17 year old offenders.

As stated, it was envisaged at the time of enactment that the provisions of this Act would be implemented on a phased basis. The community sanction provisions are largely a matter for the probation and welfare service of my Department to implement. In line with this, provision is being made by the probation and welfare service to allow for the commencement, on a phased basis, of the remaining sections of the Act relevant to the probation and welfare service.

Currently, young offenders coming before the courts may be placed under the supervision of the probation and welfare service in accordance with: section 2 of the Probation of Offenders Act 1907, probation orders, or section 3 of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 1983, 16 years or over. Since May 2002, a restriction on movement order under sections 133 to 136, may be imposed. In addition, since July 2004, courts can order that a family conference be arranged by the probation and welfare service with all interested parties in a case so that an action plan can be drawn up in the individual case. The child concerned must have acknowledged his or her culpability and the action plan must come back to court for approval. If the child complies with the elements of the action plan, the court may, at the end of the period covered by the plan, dismiss the charge(s).

A pilot mentor project, sections 131 to 132, has commenced in the north Dublin area. A pilot parental supervision programme, sections 112 to 113, which focus on parenting skills has also commenced in the south Dublin area.

Other provisions under the Act require capital investment prior to commencement for buildings, equipment and expanding programmes. Work is already underway regarding some of these provisions. Under the day centre order, Part 9, sections 118 to 123, a new probation office which is due to open in Cork very shortly will have provision for meeting the requirements of the day centre order. The development of a similar provision for the Tallaght area has been incorporated into plans for the new Tallaght probation and welfare service office which is expected to be completed in 2006.

Under the probation — training or activities programme — order, Part 9, section 124, the probation and welfare service has identified programmes already being funded through the service that meet the service requirements under this sanction. In addition, the service is also working toward the development of additional facilities suitable for use. With regard to the probation, intensive supervision, order, Part 9, section 125, preliminary meetings have taken place to explore the feasibility of establishing two pilot intensive supervision programmes in Cork and Dublin, utilising existing intensive probation supervision projects. Preparatory work is ongoing in this regard.

Under the probation, residential supervision, order, Part 9, sections 126 to 127, a document has been prepared outlining standards for probation and welfare service funded hostels. In preparation for meeting these standards, staff of hostels will require training and development. Work is underway to identify suitable training which will meet these needs and training will be organised for staff over the coming months. Inspections of the hostels, in accordance with section 126(4) of the Act, has commenced. In addition, Cork probation hostel is being extended and refurbished to meet the required standards and this hostel is expected to reopen very shortly.

The suitable person, care and supervision, order, Part 9, sections 129 to 130, will require the same rigorous recruitment, screening and training elements as outlined in the standards on practices and procedures in foster care. Suitable persons will have to be recruited and trained. Work on implementation of this order is expected to commence early next year. The dual order, Part 9, sections 137 to 139, sanction will be developed, on a phased basis, as day centres become available.

With regard to places of detention, Part 9, section 150, under the Children Act, I, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, will be obliged to provide separate detention facilities for 16 and 17 year old boys and girls who are committed to custody by the courts, either on remand or under sentence. The primary objective of these detention centres will be to provide a secure but supportive environment in which young offenders can develop the personal and social skills necessary to avoid future offending. The Deputy may wish to know that the Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who has responsibility for children, is examining the outcome of a recent review in my Department of the scope for rationalising and restructuring the delivery of the State's services in the area of youth justice in accordance with the Children Act 2001. The intention is to bring proposals arising from this examination to Government in the very near future, including proposals in the area of detention.

The issue of the appropriate age of criminal responsibility is being considered in the context of implementing the remaining aspects of the Children Act 2001 and the review of youth justice services which is currently being finalised in this Department.

Question No. 376 answered with QuestionNo. 357.

Schools Building Projects.

Barry Andrews

Question:

377 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Education and Science if the inclusion of a sports hall for a school (details supplied) in County Wicklow will be considered in the next round of announcements for school building projects. [34746/05]

The school planning section of my Department is in receipt of an application for major capital funding for a sports hall from the management authority of the school to which the Deputy refers. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale projects. Progress on the proposed works is being considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme from 2006 onwards.

School Curriculum.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

378 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether school programmes adequately deal with sex, relationship, gender and gender-based violence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34747/05]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

383 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether school programmes adequately deal with sex, relationship, gender and gender-based violence in mainstream education programmes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34752/05]

Damien English

Question:

390 Mr. English asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to introduce a meaningful sex, relationship, gender and gender-based violence component into mainstream education programmes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34778/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 378, 383 and 390 together.

All recognised primary and second level schools are required to offer relationships and sexuality education, RSE. It is an integral part of the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum at primary level and at junior cycle second level where it has been made mandatory for all schools with effect from September 2003. In addition, all second level schools are required to have an agreed school policy and a suitable relationships and sexuality education programme in place for senior cycle pupils. Comprehensive guidelines for junior cycle and senior cycle have also been published and provided to schools by the NCCA to support the RSE aspects of the curriculum. An integrated SPHE programme at senior cycle incorporating RSE is being developed.

The overall aims of the SPHE curricula are: to foster the personal development, health and well-being of students and help them to create supportive relationships and become responsible citizens; to develop a framework of values, attitudes, understanding and skills that will inform their actions and decision making; and to establish and maintain healthy patterns of behaviour.

At primary level, SPHE is one of the seven curriculum areas in the revised primary school curriculum that was introduced in 1999. SPHE has been implemented in all schools since September 2003 and is taught to pupils from junior infants' class to sixth class. One of the three strands within SPHE is Myself. The strand units within this include: taking care of my body; growing and changing; and safety and protection. This means that pupils from the beginning of their primary schooling learn, in an age-appropriate way, how their bodies develop, the importance of caring for one's body and that of others with dignity and respect and how to identify people, places and situations that may threaten personal safety.

The SPHE modules at junior cycle in second level schools deal specifically with belonging and integrating, handling conflict constructively, dealing with peer pressure, influences on decision-making, relationships and sexuality in terms of values, reproductive system, tackling myths about sex and pregnancy, personal safety, substance use and the impact of teenage pregnancy.

Two of the SPHE modules relate specifically to relationships and sexuality and personal safety. The aims of these modules include bringing students to an understanding of the physical changes that take place during adolescence and exploring with them procedures for protecting their personal safety along with appropriate responses when their safety is threatened. In third year, an awareness of help agencies is promoted and students' skills for obtaining access to them are developed.

For senior cycle students, all schools are required to have an agreed school policy and a suitable relationships and sexuality education programme in place. The RSE programme at senior cycle deals further with these issues and includes pregnancy, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and accepting sexual orientation.

The Department of Education and Science has developed two sets of resource materials that are particularly relevant to this area for use with transition year and senior cycle students as part of an SPHE programme. These are: BALANCE — Who cares? and Exploring Masculinities. These resources use a variety of materials and strategies to explore and discuss issues of gender equality. Specific attention is paid to addressing both sexual harassment and domestic violence in both resources. Also included in the Exploring Masculinities resources are materials on bullying and child sexual abuse.

All second level schools provide a guidance and counselling service for their students and they receive ex-quota hours from the Department for this provision. Guidance counsellors are qualified to provide counselling support to students who may have suffered abuse and to assist them in accessing appropriate help when needed.

Domestic Violence.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

379 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science when policies for schools on disclosure and appropriate referral where children have experienced violence in the home will be introduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34748/05]

Damien English

Question:

391 Mr. English asked the Minister for Education and Science when policies will be introduced for schools on disclosure and appropriate referral where children have experienced violence in the family; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34779/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 379 and 391 together.

Child protection guidelines for primary and post-primary schools, which were distributed to primary and post-primary schools in 2001 and 2004 respectively, were produced in consultation with the partners in education to meet the needs for schools to have in place clear procedures which teachers and other school staff should follow where they suspect, or are alerted to, possible child abuse.

The guidelines cover four different types of abuse; neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. The guidelines provide management authorities and staff with guidance on recognising the signs and symptoms of child abuse and with procedures for dealing immediately with such concerns.

A central facet of the guidelines is the requirement for each board of management to designate a senior member of staff as the designated liaison person for the school. The designated liaison person will act as a liaison for the school in all dealings with the Health Service Executive, the Garda Síochána and other parties, in connection with allegations of and/or concerns about child abuse and as a resource person to staff who may have child protection concerns.

Schools Building Projects.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

380 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to provide a proper school building for a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34749/05]

The school to which the Deputy refers has applied for a new school building. My Department acknowledges that there is no scope for the development of the existing site. Therefore, among the options being considered is the possibility of securing a greenfield site in the area where the school is located to provide a new building.

The property management section of the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department in site acquisitions generally, will pursue this matter in tandem with other options being considered by my Department. My Department recognises the need for a solution to the school's accommodation difficulties and it is committed to working with the school authorities to achieve a satisfactory solution as soon as possible.

School Accommodation.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

381 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to provide a school building for a school (details supplied) in Dublin 7; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the lease for this school was due to expire in June 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34750/05]

Officials in the school planning section of my Department have been informed by the school to which the Deputy refers that it must vacate its existing accommodation by the end of June 2006. My Department is aware that the sourcing of alternative accommodation in this location will be problematical and it is actively seeking suitable alternative accommodation for the school.

Schools Refurbishment.

Pat Breen

Question:

382 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of an application regarding a school (details supplied) in County Clare for a summer works scheme 2006; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34751/05]

The school referred to by the Deputy has made an application for funding under the summer works scheme 2006. All applications under this scheme are currently being examined in school planning section of my Department. The list of successful applicants will be published when the assessment process is completed.

Question No. 383 answered with QuestionNo. 378.

Capitation Grants.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

384 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether financial allocation towards schools here needs to be addressed in this year’s budgets in order that 12 to 19 years olds can realise their potential; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34753/05]

There have been significant improvements in the level of funding for second level schools in recent years. In addition to the increases in the standard per capita grant that now stands at €286 per pupil from January last, voluntary secondary schools have benefitted additionally by the introduction of grants under the school services support initiative. The standard support services grant that was increased to €103 from January 2005, was increased further to €145 per pupil in the case of voluntary secondary schools. This increased grant of €42 per pupil is paid in addition to the range of equalisation grants of up to €15,554, that is €44.44 per pupil, per annum that have also been approved for voluntary secondary schools.

Teacher allocations for second level schools are approved by my Department on an annual basis in accordance with generally applied rules relating to recognised pupil enrolment. In general a ratio of 18:1 is applied in respect of recognised pupils on established junior certificate, leaving certificate, repeat leaving certificate and transition year programmes and a ratio of 16:1 is applied in respect of recognised pupils on the leaving certificate vocational programme, post leaving certificate courses and leaving certificate applied. There have been significant improvements in the pupil teacher ratio at post-primary level in recent years. In 1997-98, there was one teacher for every 16 pupils. For the school year 2004-05, the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen to 13.4:1.

There also has been enormous progress made over the past number of years on increasing the number of teachers in our schools who are specifically dedicated to providing education for children with special educational needs. At second level, there are approximately 1,614 whole-time equivalent teachers in place to support pupils with special educational needs. This compares to approximately 558 teachers who were in place in the 2001-02 school year for such pupils. In addition, there are currently 1,023 whole-time equivalent special needs assistants, SNAs, in our second level schools compared to 292 in the 2001-02 school year.

The new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, aims to ensure that the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities are prioritised and effectively addressed. The plan provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated school support programme, SSP, which will bring together and build upon a number of existing interventions for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage.

At second level, this new standardised system for identifying disadvantage in schools will replace all of the existing arrangements for targeting schools for participation in initiatives to address disadvantage. As a result, some 150 second level schools, that will be included in a new school support programme, SSP, will benefit from additional staffing and funding supports, including increased funding under the school book grant scheme, access to home school community liaison scheme services, access to a range of supports, both academic and non-academic, to retain young people in school and so forth. These measures will be extended to second level schools in the school support programme on a phased basis.

These significant increases in the funding of post-primary schools is a clear demonstration of my commitment to prioritise available resources to address the needs of schools.

Educational Disadvantage.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

385 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether educational disadvantage is not currently being addressed; her plans to change same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34754/05]

A key focus of the Government's education policy is to prioritise investment in favour of those most at risk and to optimise access, participation and outcomes at every level of the system for disadvantaged groups.

The wide variety of measures in place for tackling educational disadvantage and social exclusion reflect these concerns. These measures range from pre-school interventions, supports for tackling children's literacy problems, reduced pupil teacher ratios, increased capitation grants, measures to tackle early school leaving and strengthen ties between the school, the family and the community. In addition, there are interventions in support of youth and in providing second chance education for young people and adults.

DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, the new action plan for educational inclusion which I launched last May, aims to ensure that the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities are prioritised and effectively addressed. The plan provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated school support programme, SSP, which will bring together and build upon a number of existing interventions for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage. Approximately 600 primary schools and 150 second level schools will be included in the school support programme.

The new action plan will be implemented on a phased basis over the next five years, starting during the current school year, and will involve an additional annual investment of €40 million on full implementation. It will also involve the provision of some 300 additional posts across the education system.

Since 1997, the Government has increased funding on specific measures at primary and second level to tackle educational disadvantage by some 130% — from some €50 million in 1998 to about €120 million in the current year. The additional €40 million annual investment under this action plan on full implementation will represent a 33% increase on current expenditure and a three-fold increase in spending in this area since 1998.

The action plan will address all of the following key issues and needs: improving identification of disadvantage — a standardised approach will allow my Department to target resources more effectively; increasing early childhood education provision in the most disadvantaged communities; improving supports for pupils with low attainment levels in literacy and numeracy; enhancing procedures for measuring the outcomes achieved from educational inclusion measures; enhancing integration and partnership working, both within the education sector itself and cross-sectorally; enhancing professional development supports for principals and school staff; and enhancing research and evaluation.

The new action plan represents a shift in emphasis away from individual initiatives, each addressing a particular aspect of the problem, with the new plan adopting a multifaceted and more integrated approach. This is the first time that an integrated educational inclusion strategy has been developed for three to 18 year olds in this country.

A crucial aspect of the action plan will be a more developed planning process, implemented through the school development planning initiative, and improved arrangements for measuring progress and outcomes, at both local and national level.

Special Educational Needs.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

386 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to change the current teaching of special needs students in view of the fact that the learning support for the mainstreaming of pupils with special needs is entirely inadequate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34755/05]

As the Deputy will be aware, the general allocation of learning support/resource teachers, LS/RTs, is intended to cater for children with learning support and high incidence special educational needs. The system was constructed so that LS/RT allocations would be based on pupil numbers, taking into account the differing needs of the most disadvantaged schools and the evidence that boys have greater difficulties than girls in this regard.

The new system has a number of benefits associated with it. It puts resources in place on a more systematic basis, thereby giving schools more certainty about their resource levels. It facilitates early intervention as the resource is in place when the child enrols. It reduces the need for individual applications and supporting psychological assessments. It allows flexibility to school management in the deployment of resources, leading to a more effective and efficient delivery of services.

In introducing the general allocation system transitional arrangements were also introduced whereby transitional hours were allocated to schools to cater for children for whom individual teaching resources had previously been allocated but which it would not have been possible for the school to continue to provide from its general allocation. In the circumstances no child should have experienced a loss of resource teaching support.

In the circumstances I have no plans to change the current mechanism of allocating teaching resources to schools to support pupils with special educational needs. It is intended that a review of the general allocation model will be undertaken within three years of operation.

I am satisfied that at this stage the general allocation system is working well and has been favourably received by schools. My Department will continue to work with schools and the education partners with a view to ensuring that this remains the case going forward.

I would add that there are now over 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares to fewer than 1,500 in 1998. Indeed, one out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

387 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether the staffing figures in secondary schools needs to be addressed as the average figure here is 59.5 classroom teachers per 1,000 teachers compared to the OECD average of 72.9 classrooms teachers per 1,000 teachers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34756/05]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

388 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to change the current situation where 30,000 adolescent students are in classes of 30 or more; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34757/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 387 and 388 together.

Teacher allocations for second level schools are approved by my Department on an annual basis in accordance with generally applied rules relating to recognised pupil enrolment. In general a ratio of 18:1 is applied in respect of recognised pupils on established junior certificate, leaving certificate, repeat leaving certificate and transition year programmes and a ratio of 16:1 is applied in respect of recognised pupils on the leaving certificate vocational programme, post leaving certificate courses and leaving certificate applied.

Each school management authority is required to organise its curriculum, teaching time-table and subject options having regard to pupils' needs within the limits of its approved teacher allocation. The rules for allocating teaching posts provide that where a school management authority is unable to meet essential curricular commitments, my Department will consider applications for additional short-term support. An independent appeals committee is available to school authorities who wish to appeal the adequacy of their teacher allocation.

School Accommodation.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

389 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science if the arrangements put in place in 2005 to allow out-of-catchment or disputed catchment pupils from certain schools in north Wexford to be enrolled in a school (details supplied) in County Wexford, will continue in place in 2006 and until additional secondary school accommodation is provided for north Wexford in Kilmuckridge and Gorey; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34758/05]

The school to which the Deputy refers is heavily oversubscribed as a result of a significant number of pupils enrolling from outside its catchment area. The development of this type of situation can impact negatively on pupils from within the catchment area and who are entitled, as of right, to a place in a particular school. It also invariably impacts negatively on the school or schools to which these pupils should rightly attend and in which considerable capital investment has been made for this purpose. It is a matter for all school authorities, in the context of their enrolment policies, to limit enrolment to within their catchment areas to ensure that such situations do not arise.

As a once-off exceptional measure, my Department decided that a number of named pupils from outside the catchment area to which the Deputy refers would be allowed to enrol in the school in question for the 2005/2006 school year. This decision was taken because the pupils concerned had an expectation that they would be enrolling in the school and did not have sufficient notice to secure alternative placements.

It was made clear to the school authority in July of this year that this arrangement would apply for the 2005/06 school year only. It was made equally clear that the arrangement did not create a precedent and that it would not be repeated in subsequent years. I am satisfied that there are adequate places for the enrolment of the pupils in question in schools in their own post-primary centres. I am also satisfied that adequate notice has been given to the particular school concerned to ensure that it implements an appropriate enrolment policy for the 2006/07 school year in the best interests of its own pupils. In the circumstances, my Department's position in this matter remains unchanged.

Question No. 390 answered with QuestionNo. 378.
Question No. 391 answered with QuestionNo. 379.

Youth Services.

Liz O'Donnell

Question:

392 Ms O’Donnell asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the allocation of the additional €5.5 million announced for youth development in the 2005 budget estimates; the progress which has been made on implementation of the national youth work development plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34784/05]

The additional allocation made available for youth work purposes in 2005 is catering for a number of developments under the Youth Work Act 2001 and the national youth work development plan and for enhancements to existing youth work programmes and services, and will be fully expended by year end.

Under the national youth work development plan, to date in 2005 additional funding has been provided in the following areas: establishment of ten new special projects for disadvantaged youth, upgrade of 20 single worker special projects to two worker projects, review of youth work funding; review of youth information provision, continued support of the child protection training programme, establishment of a development fund for youth work organisations and establishment of a North-South youth work training endorsement panel.

Funding will be allocated in the near future for the establishment of a national youth work development unit and for the capacity development of vocational education committees to carry out their responsibilities under the Youth Work Act 2001 as well as other youth work activities.

Modern Language Teaching.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

393 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the efforts being made by a group (details supplied) to have a memorial centre built in memory of a person who founded the Irish Naval Service; if an application has been received for funding towards the construction of a building and related interpretative material; if her attention has further been drawn to the potential to attract a substantial number of Argentine students here to attend language courses during the winter months in the northern hemisphere; the financial funding she will give to the memorial centre. [34787/05]

My Department has not received an application for funding towards the construction of a memorial centre as referred to by the Deputy. My Department would not have any funding available for such a project.

According to the Advisory Council for English Language Schools, the number of students from South America, including Argentina, coming to Ireland to study English has been on the increase in recent years. As the Deputy may be aware, my Department published a report on the internationalisation of Irish education services in 2004 with a number of important recommendations, including the establishment of a new body, Education Ireland.

Education Ireland, which will incorporate the International Education Board of Ireland and the Advisory Council for English Language Schools, will be the leading body responsible for the promotion of Ireland as a centre of excellence in education. It will work with educational institutions and relevant agencies to plan for the expansion of quality educational services for all international students.

Psychological Service.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

394 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the procedure for NEPS psychologists with regard to prioritising assessments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34818/05]

The Deputy will be aware of the new model recently introduced by my Department for the general allocation to primary schools of resources for children with special educational needs. This ensures that children within the high incidence categories of special needs will have their automatic entitlements to additional teaching resources dealt with in an efficient and effective manner, without the requirement of a psychological assessment. However, I accept that parents and teachers will require psychological assessments in order to provide more information and advice in particular cases.

In common with many other educational psychological services, the national educational psychological service, NEPS, operates a staged model of service to schools, whereby an initial referral usually leads to a consultation and provision of advice to teachers and parents on appropriate teaching and management strategies. Progress is kept under review and only those children who fail to respond to these interventions will need to see a psychologist. This allows the psychologists to offer early appointments to children who are in urgent need of support and early advice to teachers in respect to those children whose needs are perhaps less pressing but who still need additional help in school.

Principal teachers refer children to NEPS psychologists assigned to the schools and the urgency in each case is discussed on the visit of the psychologist to the particular school. Where serious disabilities are suspected in a school going child, NEPS, in consultation with principal teachers, prioritises an assessment to ensure that there is not a long waiting time. If the child attends a school that is not yet served by NEPS, an assessment may be arranged under the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA. Principals of schools that avail of this scheme prioritise the more serious cases for early assessment.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Joe Costello

Question:

395 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Education and Science if a nursing home (details supplied) will be included in the list of institutions covered by the Residential Institutions Redress Board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34822/05]

Section 4 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 provides that the Minister for Education and Science may, by order, provide for the insertion in the Schedule of additional institutions in which children were placed and resident and in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function.

Since the enactment of the legislation, my Department has been contacted by individuals and/or solicitors about various institutions not specified in the Schedule, including the institution mentioned by the Deputy. Following consideration of the matter and consultation with relevant public bodies, I signed an order on 9 November 2004 which provided for the inclusion of 13 additional institutions in the Schedule. A further order was made on 1 July 2005 adding three institutions to the Schedule. The institution referred to by the Deputy did not qualify for inclusion under the provisions of section 4 of the Act.

The question of including additional institutions has now been fully considered by my Department in consultation with relevant Departments and it is not proposed to add any further institutions to the Schedule at this point.

Teaching Qualifications.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

396 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if the qualifications of a person for a post (details supplied) were referred to her Department by the relevant vocational educational committee, in order to have these qualifications assessed, either before appointment or since appointment to that post; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34831/05]

The qualifications in question were not referred to my Department. My Department prescribes qualifications for appointment to such posts but does not sanction individual appointments. The making of an appointment to the post in question is a matter for the vocational education committee as the employer. The vocational education committee has confirmed to my Department that the successful candidate qualifies in accordance with the criteria set down for the position.

School Enrolments.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

397 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of pupils entering first year for each year since 1995 in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [34833/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

398 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of pupils entering first year for each year since 1995 in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [34834/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

401 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of pupils entering first year for each year since 1995 in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [34837/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

402 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of pupils entering first year for each year since 1995 in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [34838/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

403 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of pupils entering first year for each year since 1995 in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [34839/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

404 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of pupils entering first year for each year since 1995 in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [34840/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 397, 398, 401, 402, 403 and 404 together.

The information requested is being compiled by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh