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 36, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 37 to 101, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 102 to 108, inclusive, answered orally.

Waste Management.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

109 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the names of all companies, other private organisations and public organisations that made representations to him supporting a change in the proximity principle relating to waste treatment facilities; the principal arguments of each organisation; the number of incidences of correspondence received by him from each organisation; the number of times he or a representative from his Department met each organisation named. [5296/06]

I have not met either of the companies referred to in the question regarding the movement of waste since I came into office in September 2004. My Department's records show that my predecessor met two private sector companies — Greenstar and Indaver — to discuss a range of waste management policy issues, including significant discussion of the interpretation of the regional waste boundaries. These meetings took place in October 2003 and January 2004.

The Environmental Protection Agency in its 2001 waste database report recommended that the inter-regional movement and treatment of waste "should be provided for . . . in appropriate circumstances". Similar submissions have been made by others, including the Irish Waste Management Association.

The Government's waste management policy statement, Taking Stock and Moving Forward — 2004, recognised that the prohibition on all inter-regional movements of waste could be unduly restrictive in terms of securing the development of waste infrastructure and the objectives of local authority waste management plans. Last year I therefore issued a ministerial direction under section 60 of the Waste Management Act to recognise and facilitate the need for inter-regional movement of waste where that supported the rational implementation of Government waste management policy. This was to prevent a situation arising whereby it would be legal to export waste to continental Europe or even China for treatment but not across county boundaries within Ireland. Strict adherence to waste region boundaries could mean that counties such as Wicklow, which have suffered as a result of the import of thousands of tonnes of illegal waste, would be unable to re-export such illegal waste to facilities elsewhere in the country.

I considered that such a situation was completely contrary to the environmental proximity principle and logic and that it would have been irrational to let such a situation continue. Sound environmental policy requires a more flexible approach and that was what my policy direction aims to achieve.

Local Authority Housing.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

110 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the local authorities which have already begun to participate in the rental accommodation scheme; the number of people in each of these local authority areas who have already been accommodated under the rental accommodation scheme. [5302/06]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

159 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the operation of the rental allowance scheme to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5254/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

177 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of people who have been assessed as having a long-term housing need, including those on rent supplement for 18 months, for the purposes of the rental accommodation scheme. [5301/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 110, 159 and 177 together.

Under the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, local authorities are providing accommodation for certain recipients of SWA rent supplement who have been assessed as having a long-term housing need. The initial project to transfer rent supplement recipients of 18 months or more continuous duration is due to be completed by the end of 2008. The implementation of RAS is a collaborative project between my Department, local authorities, the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the community welfare service of the Health Service Executive.

Roll out commenced in an initial group of lead authorities, namely, Dublin, Galway and Limerick City Councils; South Dublin, Donegal, Offaly and Westmeath County Councils and Drogheda Borough Council. South Tipperary, Fingal, Louth, Kilkenny and Monaghan County Councils and Waterford and Cork City Councils are also now implementing RAS. These authorities collectively cover more than 70% of the transferable cases. All local authorities will have commenced work on RAS by mid-year.

The first transfers to RAS took place in September 2005. More than 500 cases were transferred by the end of 2005, with a further 200 cases in 2006. The table shows the numbers involved in each authority. Based on Department of Social and Family Affairs data at the end of December last year, there were 60,176 households in receipt of rent supplement. More than half of these, almost 33,000 tenants, have been on the scheme for 18 months or more. The latest statutory assessment of housing needs identified some 13,778 rent supplement households seeking local authority housing support.

Regarding the general progress on the implementation of the scheme, the main objective in 2005 was to put in place the support structures for RAS. By the end of last year this phase of the project was effectively complete. The Department has provided extensive guidance for local authorities, landlords and tenants on the operation of the scheme. Computer systems have been installed, model contract documents drawn up and approximately 170 local authority staff trained.

Local authority-based programme managers, funded by the Department, are also in place to assist local authorities in implementing the new arrangements and ensure liaison locally with HSE regional community welfare officers. Work is ongoing with the review of cases and interviews with tenants, of which more than 1,000 have taken place to date, with the inspection of properties and with meeting accommodation providers. While the roll out of the scheme in 2005 was slower than originally envisaged, I expect the rate of transfer of tenants to RAS to accelerate over the coming weeks and months. Overall, I am satisfied that good progress is being made and that the collaborative approach of all the agencies involved will ensure that RAS will be successful and meet its targets for the coming years.

Transfers to RAS: 10 February 2006.

Local Authorities (Housing)

Nos.

Clare County Council

44

Cork City Council

50

Donegal County Council

57

Dublin City Council

311

South Dublin County Council

15

Galway City Council

75

Limerick City Council

43

Louth County Council — including Drogheda Borough Council and Dundalk Town Council

16

South Tipperary County Council

34

Offaly County Council

20

Westmeath County Council

18

Kilkenny County Council

40

Totals

720

Housing Policy.

Simon Coveney

Question:

111 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the long-term future of the housing situation here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5240/06]

There have been huge advances in housing over the past decade. Overall housing supply has increased dramatically, in response to demands arising from economic growth and demographic change. About one third of Ireland's houses have been built in the past decade and 2005 saw a further year of record housing output, with close to 81,000 new homes completed. Latest forecasts suggest that our population will grow by 1 million over the next 15 years and this will underpin continued strong demand for housing.

Output may not be sustained at 80,000 units per annum and the most recent review of the construction industry 2004 and outlook for 2005 to 2007 prepared by DKM Economic Consultants suggests some easing back of output by 2007. Nonetheless, indications are that supply will be strong in 2006.

The key issue is to ensure that supply is at an appropriate level to meet demand and that the expansion of housing is managed to ensure a quality living environment for householders and local communities. Building on the objectives of the national spatial strategy, the Government launched a new housing policy framework, Building Sustainable Communities, in December 2005. This statement sets out the Government's vision for housing in the coming years.

A key objective of this policy is to promote the conditions whereby the maximum number of people can access affordable accommodation through private provision. A range of supports is required to assist those who cannot access such accommodation from their own resources. All of these policies must be implemented in a manner that promotes sustainable communities. A further statement will be published during 2006 which will set out more detailed approaches to these issues.

Question No. 112 answered with QuestionNo. 107.

John Perry

Question:

113 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the action he is taking to ensure the provision of an effective range of supports to households that fall below the affordability threshold for housing as recommended by NESC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5264/06]

The Government has actively addressed the issue of housing affordability. Our policy has been to make housing supply more responsive to demand in order to improve affordability and access to housing — particularly for first time buyers. There is clear evidence that this policy is having effect. Last year, 2005, was the eleventh year of record overall house completions with more than 80,000 completions. Increased investment has resulted in some 100,000 households benefiting from the range of targeted social and affordable housing measures since 1997.

The National Economic and Social Council, in its report No. 112, Housing in Ireland, Performance and Policy, indicated that the general thrust of Government housing policy is properly directed. Some key challenges for the future were also outlined, including the continuing need to provide an effective range of supports to households that fall below the "affordability threshold".

During 2005, we brought forward initiatives to specifically address issues raised in the NESC report and through consultation with other stakeholders. In June, we launched the affordable homes partnership to co-ordinate and accelerate the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area. In December 2005, the Government launched a new housing policy framework, Building Sustainable Communities, setting the Government's vision for housing policy over the coming years. The framework envisages a substantial increase in investment, which will allow for some 50,000 households to be assisted over the coming three years, allied with a programme of reforms particularly focused on improving the quality of the social housing environment. A more detailed document will be published during 2006.

Planning Issues.

John Gormley

Question:

114 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will recommend that all local authorities would require all development in medium and high risk areas to have flood risk assessments. [5348/06]

John Gormley

Question:

161 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will recommend that all local authorities produce county flood risk maps categorising low, medium and high areas. [5347/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 114 and 161 together.

Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, planning authorities may include in their development plans objectives regulating, restricting or controlling development in areas at risk of flooding. Where development is proposed in an area at risk of flooding, it is a matter for each planning authority to evaluate such risk, on the basis of a flood risk assessment where appropriate and planning permission may either be refused or, if granted, can be made subject to conditions requiring the implementation of measures necessary to alleviate or avoid damage due to flooding.

It is my intention to publish shortly, in draft form for public consultation, guidelines for planning authorities on the preparation of development plans. These guidelines will advise that, in addressing the issue of flooding, development plans should identify areas that experience or are at risk from flooding, drawing from the process of flood risk mapping currently being undertaken by the Office of Public Works. Local development plan policies should then outline the considerations that will arise with development within or near such areas from the point of view of managing existing flood risks or avoiding the generation of new flood risks.

The guidelines will also suggest that development plan policies dealing with flooding also need to recognise the uncertainties inherent in the prediction of flooding and the fact that flood risk is expected to increase as a result of climate change. Development plan objectives could also include policies indicating that developers will be required to support the funding of flood defences needed for particular developments, either partially or fully, depending on the circumstances involved. My Department will welcome comments or suggestions on this or any other aspect of the draft guidelines following their publication.

Waste Management.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

115 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to review the regulations under the WEEE directive in order that a fair proportion of the burden for funding the scheme is placed on the producers of electrical and electronic goods, as set down by provision (20) of EU Directive 2002/96/EC, rather than the burden being placed on the consumer as is currently the case. [5295/06]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

116 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the average percentage of retail prices of electrical goods which is attributable to the environmental management charge as specified by regulations under the EU WEEE directive; the projected revenue from this charge for the first year of the scheme based on this figure; if the projected revenue exceeds the €10 million to €14 million his Department estimated would be required to fund the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5294/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 115 and 116 together.

The WEEE scheme has now been operating for almost six months and the real benefits of this new system for consumers and the environment are becoming apparent. WEEE is now being collected from more than 180 collection points nationwide. Early indications are that significant quantities of this waste type are being returned for recycling. In the first 12 weeks alone 4,800 tonnes, equivalent to an annual rate of almost 20,000 tonnes, of household WEEE was collected. This points to a fourfold increase in the recycling of household WEEE, as 5,510 tonnes of this waste type was recovered in 2004, and indicates widespread public support for the implementation of the directive. While the new regulations will be kept under review there is no proposal to alter the fundamental principle of shared responsibility which underpins the scheme.

Implementation of the directive has not had a negative impact on the consumer price index. This is confirmed by the CSO which recently reported that prices of major household appliances have decreased by 1.3% in the past 12 months and prices of small electrical household appliances have decreased by 0.5% over the same period.

The WEEE directive allows producers to show the cost of recovering and recycling "historic" waste, that is, waste arising from electric and electronic products put on the market before 13 August 2005. These costs are referred to as environmental management costs or EMCs. They are not imposed by, or remitted to, the Government but are paid by producers to the two collective compliance schemes operating in Ireland, WEEE Ireland and the European Recycling Platform. These schemes are on a not for profit basis, operating as a producer responsibility initiative. The purpose of the EMCs is to enable the schemes to pay for the environmentally sound management of all household WEEE taken back by retailers or deposited by members of the public at local authority civic amenity sites.

The EMCs currently applied show the costs of recycling based on data submitted by producers to the WEEE Register Society Limited. The WEEE register assessed and approved the EMCs. The EMCs are currently under review and it will be a matter for the WEEE register to validate any revisions. The WEEE task force report estimated that the costs of collection and treatment could amount to between €10 million and €14 million per annum. The electrical and electronic equipment sector in Ireland has an estimated annual turnover of €1.6 billion. I understand that the WEEE register will make data on the scheme available following completion of the current review. As the scheme is a producer responsibility initiative, such data is not collected by my Department.

Radon Gas.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

117 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his resistance to the introduction of a radon remediation grant scheme for householders is based on his acceptance that for those exposed to similar concentrations of radon, the risk of contracting lung cancer is 25 times greater for those who smoke, and that the vast majority of the radon induced lung cancer cases occur among smokers and ex-smokers. [5209/06]

Emmet Stagg

Question:

151 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, further to Question No. 16 of 29 November 2005, the EU member states that operate a radon grant scheme; and the details of same. [5210/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 117 and 151 together.

As I have previously indicated, Government efforts and resources, together with those of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, are continuing to focus on highlighting public awareness of radon and on improving information to householders to enable and encourage them to address monitoring or remedial requirements effectively and economically. In addition, the building regulations require all new houses built after 1 July 1998 to have radon preventative measures installed. These requirements have been strengthened for houses built after 1 April 2005. More than 400,000 houses, equivalent to 25% of the Irish housing stock, have so far been covered by these measures.

The Government has over the years, largely through the RPII, committed significant resources to assessing the extent of the radon problem throughout the country and to highlighting public awareness of radon and the health risks associated with prolonged exposure to high radon concentrations. The RPII has long been encouraging householders, particularly those in high radon areas, to have their homes tested for radon and to undertake radon remediation works where necessary. Recent research commissioned by the RPII has found that 75% of the general population are aware of radon. In addition, over the past two years there has been a significant increase in the number of radon measurements undertaken by householders compared with previous years.

A link between radon related lung cancer deaths and smoking has been clearly established in the findings of a recent EU co-funded study of residential radon exposure and the risk of lung cancer. This concluded that the risk of lung cancer from radon is significantly higher, about 25 times, for smokers than non-smokers. Having applied the results of that study to the Irish situation, the RPII and the National Cancer Registry of Ireland issued a joint statement on 27 September 2005 confirming their earlier estimate that radon is responsible for 200 lung cancer deaths in Ireland every year but pointed out that the vast majority, over 90%, of these 200 deaths occur in smokers.

The Government considers that increasing public awareness of radon using the building regulations to ensure safer proofing of new buildings is the most effective approach in Irish circumstances to ensuring radon safety in homes. This consideration is not related to the incidence of radon induced cancer as between smokers and non-smokers. It would be difficult for a demand led scheme of domestic radon grants to ensure appropriate and cost effective targeting of remedial action and such a scheme could require very significant public expenditure and administrative resources.

As to the question of radon grants in other EU member states, the situation as I understand it is that the majority of EU states do not operate schemes of grant assistance for radon remediation works on domestic dwellings. My Department understands that Sweden, Finland, UK and the Czech Republic operate a radon grant scheme. Limited radon grants are also available in Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg. I understand that a cost benefit analysis of reducing radon in existing houses in Denmark by way of a scheme of grant assistance concluded that such investment would not be justified. Details of the above schemes would be available either through the appropriate Government websites or the embassies concerned.

Nuclear Plants.

Willie Penrose

Question:

118 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if assurance will be sought from the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, that the British Government energy review announced on 29 November 2005 will not contemplate the location of a nuclear power station on the island of Ireland. [5213/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

135 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the United Kingdom’s new energy policy that will give explicit consideration to the building of new nuclear power plants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5258/06]

Jack Wall

Question:

184 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has had discussions with members of the UK Government following the announcement of the British Government’s energy review on 29 November 2005, which will examine the provision of up to ten more nuclear power stations in the UK. [5212/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 118, 135 and 184 together.

Following Prime Minister Blair's recent announcement regarding a review of the United Kingdom's progress under the medium and long-term energy White Paper 2003 goals last November, a consultation document, entitled Our Energy Challenge: Securing Clean, Affordable Energy for the Long Term, was launched on 23 January by the UK Secretary of State and the Minister for Energy. This consultation document has a broad scope and considers all aspects of the energy system, including both energy supply and demand. It sets out the energy challenges currently faced by the UK and invites responses to the evidence presented and to what should be done to secure clean, affordable energy for the long term.

While the 2003 White Paper concluded that replacement nuclear build was an unattractive alternative, the current consultation document states that the forthcoming review will examine whether recent changes in energy prices have changed that assessment. It will also examine other issues relating to nuclear power, including the important issue of waste. My Department, in conjunction with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, will fully engage in this consultation process on all relevant issues, including the potential siting of new nuclear reactors should the decision be made by the UK to proceed with building additional nuclear capacity. In a recent meeting in London with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the Minister for Foreign Affairs stressed that the Irish Government would be strongly opposed to the building of any new nuclear plants on the island of Ireland.

Ireland remains firmly opposed to the nuclear industry on the grounds of the many risks it poses to human health, the environment and the economy, as well as risks associated with waste and transport. Environmental consequences have arisen for Ireland from historical and ongoing discharges to the sea from Sellafield and the potential risk for a serious accident or incident at nuclear plants, including Sellafield. Any proposals by the UK to develop new nuclear capacity must be addressed in this context. During a meeting in London in October last, with the UK Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry, Mr. Alan Johnson MP, I restated Ireland's position on nuclear safety and did so again when I subsequently met the chairman and the chief executive of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority in Dublin. The issue of new nuclear build in the UK was also addressed.

I reject the argument that nuclear, as a carbon free and plentiful source of energy, can provide a solution to problems of climate change and energy supply. The reality is that the nuclear industry carries with it serious environmental and safety risks and the costs in both economic and environmental terms are unsustainable. The Government will continue to represent this view to the UK at every available opportunity, including at relevant public consultation processes.

Waste Management.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

119 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to provide funding to local authorities that are setting up composting services to pay for the extensive communications programmes that will be required to ensure that such services work at their optimum level. [5323/06]

The Race Against Waste campaign funded by my Department is an extended national environmental awareness campaign to promote better waste management at home and in the workplace. The campaign, which was launched in November 2003, comprises a waste awareness media campaign and a communications strategy.

The media campaign encourages people to prevent, reduce, re-use and recycle or compost their waste while the communications strategy informs the public about waste issues generally and of the need for an integrated approach to waste management. As part of the communication strategy, factsheets on home composting and on the biological treatment of waste have been published and made widely available. In addition, the small change programme and the action at work programme both promote sustainable waste management through prevention, minimisation, re-use, recycling and composting. Comprehensive information on all aspects of waste is also available through the Race Against Waste website and lo-call telephone number.

Any costs incurred by local authorities in communicating with householders, businesses and other organisations in connection with the roll out of biodegradable waste collections are a matter for local authorities in the context of their day to day operations.

Planning Issues.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

120 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he plans to amend legislation in light of the recent review of An Bord Pleanála decisions by a company (details supplied) which found that there is a need for a clear direction from his Department regarding future residential developments in Dublin and other major cities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5267/06]

Pat Breen

Question:

194 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he plans to amend the legislation in light of the recent report by a company (details supplied) which states that many of the decisions by An Bord Pleanála are completely at odds with Government housing policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5233/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 120 and 194 together.

The recent report referred to in the questions, comments on certain decisions by An Bord Pleanála to refuse permission for certain large apartment developments in Dublin and alleges that the board's decisions are contrary to Government policy on housing.

An Bord Pleanála is an independent body, with statutory functions provided for under the Planning and Development Act 2000. It is not, therefore, appropriate for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to comment on particular decisions made by the board. In terms of general policy, the board is required in making decisions to have regard to the 1999 residential density guidelines issued under section 28 of the Act. The board in performing its functions is also required to have regard to the policies and objectives of the Government, a State authority, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and certain other public authorities.

I launched a new housing policy framework, Building Sustainable Communities, in December 2005. This sets out an agenda for an integrated package of policy initiatives in areas such as supporting higher densities and promoting compact urban settlement through design innovation in new homes, new urban spaces and new neighbourhoods. My Department has commissioned a research study into apartment size and space standards which will inform revised planning guidelines on residential densities later this year. The updating of the guidelines will take account of the extensive experience built up since their introduction in the design, assessment and development of higher density proposals. Guidance will also be included on best practice mechanisms in the effective linkage of the development of new residential areas with the provision of wider social infrastructure such as schools and amenities.

Price Inflation.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

121 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, further to his press release of 13 November 2005, the amount by which inflation for construction inputs continues to decelerate; the annual inflation rate for construction inputs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5311/06]

The rate of inflation in the price of building and construction materials continues to decline. The year on year inflation rate to November 2005, the latest month for which figures are available, was 3.3% compared to a corresponding figure of 11.7% at November 2004. As the Minister responsible for overseeing the delivery of a major share of economic and social infrastructure projects under the national development plan, I welcome the decrease in the rate of inflation for construction given the importance of ensuring more value for money in the development of public infrastructure.

Question No. 122 answered with QuestionNo. 108.

House Prices.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

123 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department has carried out an assessment to ascertain whether the policies of his or any other Department are contributing to the ongoing excessive increases in house prices. [5331/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

140 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the warnings from the Central Bank regarding the unsustainable growth in house prices and lending. [5336/06]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

160 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views regarding the development of a bubble or over-valuation in the housing market. [5334/06]

Seán Crowe

Question:

203 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the action he intends to take to tackle house price increases. [5332/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 123, 140, 160 and 203 together.

I refer to the reply to Question No. 103 on today's Order Paper.

Environmental Policy.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

124 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department intends to introduce a range of additional measures to “the polluter pays” principle to reflect the reality of poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5071/06]

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 600 and 601 of 22 November 2005.

EU Directives.

Dan Boyle

Question:

125 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he intends to implement Directive 2003/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003 providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment and amending with regard to public participation and access to justice Council Directives 85/337/EEC and 96/61/EC. [5343/06]

Joe Sherlock

Question:

164 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he intends to transpose Directive 2003/35/EC; the progress which has been made to date in 2006 towards ratifying the Aarhus Convention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5319/06]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

171 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he intends to implement Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information and repeal Council Directive 90/313/EEC. [5342/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 125, 164 and 171 together.

Ireland signed the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters on 25 June 1998. Progress towards ratification of the convention is closely aligned with work at EU level. To date, the European Union has adopted two directives as part of the ratification process for the convention. These deal with public access to environmental information, 2003/4/EC, and public participation in certain environmental decision making procedures, 2003/35/EC. Ratification of the convention will take place after these directives have been transposed into Irish law.

Work is continuing in my Department with regard to the transposition of these two directives and will be completed as soon as possible. When the work on transposition is completed, the instrument of ratification of the Aarhus Convention will be submitted to Government and laid before the Dáil.

Nuclear Safety.

Simon Coveney

Question:

126 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will make a statement on his recent meeting concerning issues relating to Sellafield with Commissioner Franco Frattini, Vice President and EU Commissioner with responsibility for Justice, Freedom and Security, and Commissioner Andris Piebalgs. [5373/06]

Shane McEntee

Question:

145 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his discussions with EU Commissioners, Commissioner Franco Frattini Vice President and EU Commissioner with responsibility for Justice, Freedom and Security and Commissioner Andris Piebalgs regarding safety failures which arose at the THORP facility at Sellafield in 2005 and the ongoing management issue of nuclear waste storage at Sellafield site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5272/06]

Shane McEntee

Question:

166 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his recent discussions with EU Commissioners in view of the Commission’s legal action against Ireland for taking action in the UN courts against the UK regarding Sellafield; the views he expressed and the action the Commission has promised to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5273/06]

Seán Ryan

Question:

190 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the commitments given to him by Commissioner Franco Frattini and Commissioner Andris Piebalgs about the action they intend to take against the UK Government regarding the continued operation of Sellafield. [5216/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 126, 145, 166 and 190 together.

On 31 January, I had meetings with the EU Commissioner for Energy, with responsibility for nuclear energy and protection, Andris Piebalgs, and the Vice President and Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security, Franco Frattini, to impress upon the European Commission the strength of Irish Government concerns about the continued operation of the Sellafield nuclear plant. The meetings concentrated on issues relating to Sellafield and especially the incident at THORP where a serious leak of radioactive liquid into secondary containment occurred in April 2005. I made clear that this leak was yet another worrying example of the long standing poor operational safety record at Sellafield. I also raised the issue of the B30 storage pond that is the subject of a directive issued by the Commission to the UK. I focused on the serious safety failures which arose at the THORP facility and, in particular, the implications that this has for safety and the operation of the safeguards system at Sellafield.

The Commission indicated that it had been misled in regard to the THORP plant. This is a very serious position and underlines the need for the Commission to act. I expect that we will shortly see action being taken under the EURATOM Treaty about the failures at THORP last year. The Commission also indicated to me that further legal action was expected over the B30 pond.

I advised the Commission that while it had claimed competency on the subject matter of the dispute between Ireland and the UK under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, there had been little evidence to date of a desire by the Commission to exercise that competence. I made clear our view that the Commission has a legal and moral duty to deliver on its nuclear mandate and to address failures of Sellafield. I expressed the Irish Government's determination to pursue all possible legal and political action against the continued operation of the Sellafield plant.

Grant Payments.

Enda Kenny

Question:

127 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to increase funding for disability under the disabled persons grant scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5269/06]

Details of capital funding for disabled persons and essential repairs grant schemes in 2006 will be made available in the Revised Estimates for Public Services 2006 which will be published later this month.

Architectural Heritage.

David Stanton

Question:

128 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress that has been made in establishing a new national trust to safeguard old buildings; the terms of reference for the trust; the funding that will be made available for the trust; when it is expected to be operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5354/06]

In August 2005, the Government approved the establishment of an independent Irish heritage trust to acquire, for public access, major important heritage properties where the State does not wish to acquire them directly and where there is imminent risk to their heritage value through neglect or where an appropriate use cannot be brought forward through sale to a private sector investor.

In November 2005, I announced the establishment of a steering group to advise on proposals for governance of the Irish heritage trust so that a workable and effective trust can be established as quickly as possible. I have recently received the steering group report and I will shortly advise Government with detailed proposals on the structure, governance, terms of reference and members of the trust and I will announce the details publicly thereafter.

The Government has approved the provision of funding in 2006 of €5 million from my Department's Vote to enable the endowment funds to be established by the trust. Each property acquired by the trust must be accompanied by an endowment fund sufficient to conserve, maintain and present the property to the public into the future. An additional €500,000 will be provided in 2006 from my Department's Vote to meet the establishment and initial running costs of the trust. However, the trust will also have a strong remit to maximise non-Exchequer resources in support of its activities and to encourage membership and volunteers.

Tax relief capped at €6 million in any one year is provided for in the Finance Bill 2006 for donors of properties to the Irish heritage trust. This relief is available only in respect of the Irish heritage trust and is modelled on the existing scheme for heritage donations such as to the National Gallery.

Climate Change.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

129 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the implications for Ireland of recent reports that the Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier on the east coast of Greenland is melting at a dramatic rate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5243/06]

Among the more significant impacts of climate change on Ireland will be a predicted rise in sea levels associated with thermal expansion as the oceans warm and the melting of ice caps and glaciers such as the Kangerdlugssuaq glacier in Greenland. A 2003 study, Climate Change Scenarios and Impacts for Ireland, conducted by NUI Maynooth under the Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Research Technological Development and Innovation Programme 2000-2006, comprehensively addresses the likely impact of predicted sea level rise on Ireland. A half metre rise in sea levels by the end of this century is envisaged by the study. This will increase coastal erosion, inundation risk and the return frequency of extreme water levels. According to the NUI Maynooth study, approximately 300 sq. km. of land will be at risk of inundation.

While the study concludes that the effects of sea level rise on the coastline may not be felt as severely in Ireland as in some other countries in Europe, it does point to vulnerabilities in low lying coastal locations, coastlines made up of soft or easily eroded material and coastal flood plains. The vulnerability of infrastructure to damage caused by inundation is highlighted particularly in the larger urban settlements of Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway.

My Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are working closely with relevant State agencies further to refine our knowledge of the likely impacts of climate change. This work will inform policy on how best to prepare for the adverse impacts of climate change, including sea level rise.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Joe Higgins

Question:

130 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the costs to his Department during 2005 of the Mahon tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1873/06]

Total expenditure incurred by my Department in 2005 on the planning tribunal was €8.537 million.

EU Directives.

Richard Bruton

Question:

131 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has satisfied himself regarding the water quality here; his views on whether the nitrates directive will have an impact on water quality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5289/06]

Denis Naughten

Question:

148 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will publish the advice provided to him by Teagasc on the enactment of the nitrates directive into Irish law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5284/06]

Billy Timmins

Question:

187 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the differences there are between the completed nitrates directive signed in December 2005 and the advice given to him by Teagasc; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5313/06]

Bernard Allen

Question:

199 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the advice provided to him by Teagasc on the enactment of the nitrates directive into Irish law will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5291/06]

Michael Ring

Question:

210 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to amend the controversial nitrates directive in view of the Irish Farmers Association strong opposition to the directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5259/06]

Richard Bruton

Question:

222 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the advice provided to him by Teagasc on the enactment of the nitrates directive into Irish law will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5288/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

653 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has studied a recent Teagasc report in the matter of water quality with particular reference to the nitrates directive; if he has received submissions from the Department of Agriculture and Food arising from same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5770/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 131, 148, 187, 199, 210, 222 and 653 together.

I refer to the replies to Question No. 215 on 9 February 2006 and to Priority Question No. 105 and Questions Nos. 107 and 112 on today's Order paper. Water quality in Ireland is generally good but has been deteriorating since the 1970s due to the increasing incidence of slight to moderate pollution. The third report of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, on the state of the environment — Ireland's Environment 2004 — identifies eutrophication of inland waters as perhaps Ireland's most serious environmental pollution problem. Eutrophication arises mainly from excess inputs of phosphorus from sources such as farming, sewage and industry. Excess inputs of nitrates also contribute to eutrophication, especially in saline waters, for example, estuaries, coastal and marine waters.

Across the European Union, agriculture accounts for the bulk of nitrate and phosphorus nutrient losses to the environment; in Ireland, some 73% of all phosphorus and 82% of all nitrate inputs to waters are attributable to agriculture. Reduction of these agricultural inputs is essential to redress known environmental problems affecting Ireland's surface water and ground-water. According to the most recent EPA report on water quality in Ireland, published in June 2005, some 20% of ground-water has nitrate concentrations above EU drinking water guide levels, 27% of Ireland's rivers are affected by eutrophication and there is widespread bacteriological contamination of ground-water and drinking water supplies by livestock manure. My Department is not aware of any general Teagasc report on water quality.

The primary input of Teagasc in the context of the nitrates action programme related to nutrient management and was based on its published guidelines, Nutrient and Trace element Advice for Grassland, Tillage, Vegetable and Fruit Crops, second edition 2004. Teagasc was closely involved in the process of preparing the nitrates action programme and the case for the derogation. Much of its advice would have been given orally in the context of meetings and discussions.

I have at all times during the development of the national nitrates action programme and the related regulations been in continuing liaison with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

Nuclear Plants.

Jack Wall

Question:

132 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has completed its investigation of the THORP incident of April 2005. [5211/06]

I understand from the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, that preparation of the report by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, NII, into the incident at THORP in April 2005 is at an advanced stage. Although it is the intention of the NII to publish the report, there is a possibility of enforcement action, in the form of legal proceedings, arising from its investigation and this could impact on the publication date of the report.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Damien English

Question:

133 Mr. English asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to increase funding for care of the elderly under the special housing aid for the elderly scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5372/06]

Martin Brady

Question:

644 Mr. M. Brady asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, further to the allocation of €12 million from his Department to the Health Service Executive for the special housing aid for the elderly scheme 2006, if it is his intention to provide further moneys to include the replacement of windows for the elderly who are in urgent need of this work to be carried out at their homes as local authorities do not provide for this work in their essential repairs grant. [5491/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 133 and 644 together.

The special housing aid for the elderly scheme, administered by a task force under the aegis of my Department and operated by the Health Service Executive, was established to provide assistance to improve the housing conditions of elderly persons living alone in unfit and insanitary conditions. Typically, the work undertaken would be necessary repairs to make a dwelling habitable for the lifetime of the occupant, such as repairs to chimney or fireplace, the provision of heating, water and sanitary facilities, the repair of windows or doors, roof repairs, the provision of food storage facilities and so forth.

An allocation of €12 million for the scheme, compared with an initial allocation of €11 million in 2005, has recently been notified to the Health Service Executive regions. A further allocation of funding will be provided later in the year.

Waste Disposal.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

134 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Article 15 of Council Directive 75/442/EEC, as amended by Directive 91/156/EEC, states that the cost of waste disposal must be borne by the holder who has the waste handled by a waste collecter, or the previous holder or the producer of the product from which the waste came; if he intends to amend the WEEE regulations in order that the producers of the products being disposed of under the WEEE directive will be obliged to pay their fair share of the recycling and disposal costs of their products. [5320/06]

Primary responsibility for the environmentally sound management of WEEE rests with producers, in line with the producer responsibility obligations imposed by the directive. Producers are required under the legislation to finance the collection, treatment, recovery and environmentally sound disposal of WEEE deposited by retailers and members of the public at collection facilities and to achieve the prescribed recovery targets.

Important responsibilities are also placed on retailers who are obliged to take WEEE back on a one-for-one basis, local authorities in providing the necessary infrastructure, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which has the lead role in enforcement and consumers who are required to act responsibly in disposing of WEEE. This balance of responsibilities as between the various stakeholders is in line with other producer responsibility schemes such as packaging waste.

The directive places two distinct obligations on producers. First, they must finance the recycling recovery of any item of household electrical and electronic equipment they have placed on the market since 13 August 2005 when it reaches end of life. Second, all producers have to pay for the recycling of all household electrical waste, termed "historical WEEE" which arises from household goods sold before the 13 August in proportion to their current market share. This includes paying for all historical waste as it arises whether it is taken back by a retailer on a one-for-one basis or deposited at a local authority civic amenity site. It also includes paying for waste from producers who are no longer in the market or who cannot be traced.

The WEEE directive allows producers to show the cost of recovering and recycling "historical" waste. These costs are referred to as environmental management costs or EMCs. They are not imposed by, or remitted to, the Government but are paid by producers to the two collective compliance schemes operating in Ireland, WEEE Ireland and the European Recycling Platform. The purpose of the EMCs is to enable the schemes to pay for the environmentally sound management of all household WEEE taken back by retailers or deposited by members of the public at local authority civic amenity sites.

I am satisfied that the legislation strikes the proper balance between the responsibilities of the relevant stakeholders.

Question No. 135 answered with QuestionNo. 118.

Waste Management.

Phil Hogan

Question:

136 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the implications of the European Communities (Waste Water Treatment) (Prevention of Odours and Noise) Regulations 2005 on existing facilities such as those at Ringsend in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5229/06]

The European Communities (Waste Water Treatment) (Prevention of Odours and Noise) Regulations 2005 require sanitary authorities to ensure that new and existing waste water treatment plants under their control are operated and maintained so as to ensure that they avoid causing nuisance though odours or noise.

The regulations require each sanitary authority to maintain records of all environmental complaints related to the operation of the waste water treatment plants under their control. In addition, sanitary authorities are required to report annually to the Environmental Protection Agency on the steps taken to comply with the regulations and to report details of any incidents arising from odours or noise during that year in respect of any of their waste water treatment plants. Sanitary authorities are also required, on request from the agency, to furnish the agency with copies of complaint records relating to odours and noise from such plants.

The regulations will play an important role in promoting continuous improvement in the standards of waste water treatment plant operation.

Housing Policy.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

137 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he is taking to help young people to gain access to the property market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5252/06]

The Government has actively addressed the issue of housing affordability. Our policy has been to make housing supply more responsive to demand to improve affordability and access to housing, particularly for first time buyers. There is clear evidence that this policy is having effect; 2005 was the eleventh year of record overall house completions, with more than 80,000 completions. Increased investment has resulted in some 100,000 households benefiting from the range of targeted social and affordable housing measures since 1997.

In addition to planning, taxation and other measures such as mortgage interest relief, the Government has placed a particular emphasis on targeted affordable housing measures which are designed to assist those who cannot access affordable housing without assistance. These include the shared ownership scheme, the 1999 affordable housing scheme, affordable housing through Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2004 and the affordable housing initiative in Sustaining Progress. We will streamline these schemes to make them simpler to implement and understand but, in the meantime, eligibility and subsidy levels under the various schemes were increased in January this year. About 15,000 households will benefit under these measures in the next three years.

In addition, the affordable homes partnership, which we established last year, is already making good progress in its efforts to accelerate the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area where the problem is most acute. The recently launched housing policy framework, building sustainable communities, will ensure that we build on our achievements to date, continue to create the conditions where housing output will meet demand and provide targeted support for those with affordability problems.

Waste Disposal.

Joan Burton

Question:

138 Ms Burton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when the proposed enforcement plans will be formulated in respect of targeted efforts to deal with the dumping of construction waste, which was cited late in 2005 by the Office of Environmental Enforcement’s report, The Nature and Extent of Unauthorised Waste Activity in Ireland. [5315/06]

Enforcement of environmental legislation is a matter for local authorities and the Office of Environmental Enforcement. I understand the office, through the enforcement network it has established, arranged a meeting of regional co-ordinators on 17 January 2006 to finalise the overall content of the work plans for enforcement activities for 2006, which include initiatives planned to deal with this sector on both a regional and national basis. The implementation of these measures is a matter for the enforcement authorities concerned.

Nuclear Safety.

Seán Ryan

Question:

139 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in view of the European Court of Justice’s preliminary court ruling regarding the State’s legal action against the UK under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the legal action the State intends to pursue against Sellafield at this stage. [5215/06]

Phil Hogan

Question:

213 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the status of Ireland’s dispute with the United Kingdom regarding Sellafield; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5228/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 139 and 213 together.

The Government initiated international legal proceedings against the United Kingdom under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, UNCLOS, with regard to the Sellafield Mox plant. This litigation was suspended pending resolution of jurisdictional issues in the dispute, which were raised by the European Commission and heard by the European Court of Justice on 8 November 2005. Essentially, the Commission claims that it is the proper agency to act on matters or disputes relating to the nuclear sector in accordance with the EURATOM Treaty and that the ECJ is the proper court to hear such disputes.

On foot of this hearing, the Advocate General issued his opinion on 18 January. While this opinion favours the Commission's case, it is a matter for the court to issue the final judgment in the case and this is expected later in the year. If the court ultimately confirms the opinion of the Advocate General, the Irish Government will expect the Commission to act robustly in respect of the operation of the Sellafield plant, a situation which has, in Ireland's view, not been the case to date.

The Attorney General is currently studying the opinion issued by the Advocate General and will advise the Government on the legal strategy to be adopted on the final ruling when that becomes available. However, the policy of this Government on Sellafield remains clear and unambiguous and we will continue to pursue all legal, political and diplomatic options to secure its safe and orderly closure.

Question No. 140 answered with QuestionNo. 123.

Planning Issues.

Joe Costello

Question:

141 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the call by the Association of City and County Councils for the regulation of the planning status of adult entertainment venues and shops; his plans to make regulations to require such operations to obtain planning permission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5326/06]

Tony Gregory

Question:

648 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps that will be required to amend planning regulations to prevent adult shops, lap dancing clubs and so on locating in residential areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5666/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 141 and 648 together.

I have recently received a request from the Association of County and City Councils calling for the regulation of adult entertainment stores and related venues through the planning code. When next amending the planning exemption regulations, I will consider whether the regulation of this sector is necessary and, if so, whether this can be appropriately achieved through the planning code. Changes to the exempted development regulations require a positive resolution of both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Billy Timmins

Question:

142 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to request a review of the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5312/06]

The strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area were published in 1999 and were succeeded by the Regional Planning Guidelines Greater Dublin Area 2004-2016. The latter were prepared at my direction and adopted jointly by the Dublin Regional Authority and the Mid-East Regional Authority.

The guidelines are in the second year of their 12 year lifespan. My Department monitors demographic and population trends on an ongoing basis in terms of changing circumstances and forecasts. I will keep under review the need for further guidance to regional authorities, in particular, the need to review their regional plans, especially in the light of the forthcoming 2006 census, from which preliminary information will be available later this year.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Martin Ferris

Question:

143 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department has carried out an assessment to determine the approximate number and percentage of households which are likely to fall below housing affordability thresholds in the period from 2006 to 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5339/06]

My Department has not assessed numbers of households likely to require assistance from affordable housing measures in the period 2006 to 2010. However, local authorities, in drawing up their housing strategies, estimate the proportion of need for new households in their area that would fall below a common affordability threshold.

Housing strategies are an important tool in assessing overall housing demand. They inform decisions on the requirements for zoned and serviced land within development plans and the need for affordable and social housing. Action plans for social and affordable housing programmes developed by local authorities for the period 2004 to 2008 reflect needs identified in their housing strategies. A mid-term review of plans will be undertaken this year and will enable authorities to take account of any change in their housing needs identified in their assessment of housing needs or in reviews of their housing strategies.

The Government has actively addressed the issue of housing affordability. Our policy has been to make housing supply more responsive to demand to improve affordability and access to housing, particularly for first time buyers. There is clear evidence that this policy is having an effect; 2005 was the eleventh year of record overall house completions, with more than 80,000 completions. Increased investment has resulted in some 100,000 households benefiting from the range of targeted social and affordable housing measures since 1997.

In addition to planning, taxation and other measures such as mortgage interest relief, the Government has placed a particular emphasis on targeted affordable housing measures which are designed to assist those who cannot access affordable housing without assistance. These include the shared ownership scheme, the 1999 affordable housing scheme, affordable housing through Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2004 and the affordable housing initiative in Sustaining Progress. We will streamline these schemes to make them simpler to implement and understand but, in the meantime, eligibility and subsidy levels under the various schemes were increased in January this year. About 15,000 households will benefit under these measures in the next three years.

In addition, the affordable homes partnership, which we established last year, is already making good progress in its efforts to accelerate the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area, where the problem is most acute. The recently launched housing policy framework, Building Sustainable Communities, will ensure that we build on our achievements to date, continue to create the conditions where housing output will meet demand and provide targeted support for those with affordability problems.

Nuclear Safety.

Willie Penrose

Question:

144 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason the Government did not make a submission to the European Union investigation into the establishment of the British Nuclear Decommissioning Authority under state aid rules. [5214/06]

Following notification from the United Kingdom in December 2003 that it intended to provide state aid to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, NDA, the European Commission opened a formal investigation in December 2004 to investigate whether the establishment of the NDA complied with EC treaty rules requiring that state aids should not distort or threaten to distort competition. State aid is in principle forbidden by the EC treaty, but it can be authorised by the Commission provided it can be clearly proved that the negative impact of the aid on trading conditions is outweighed by its positive contribution to the fulfilment of other Community objectives.

To establish whether Ireland should intervene in this case, my Department sought advice from the office of the Attorney General, which considered the issue in the context of the overall legal strategy by the Government on Sellafield. Based on the legal advice received, no intervention in the investigation by the EU Commission was made by Ireland. The investigation by the Commission regarding state aids and the NDA is based on competition law and does not address the primary concerns of Ireland about Sellafield, which relate to environmental impacts and safety and security issues.

The establishment of the NDA in the UK reflects the insufficiency of the financial provisions so far made in the UK for nuclear clean up and decommissioning costs. It is imperative that the UK Government should ensure that adequate funds are available for decommissioning and clean up of legacy waste and that these are carried out quickly, safely and without adverse environmental impacts. This is an issue I have repeatedly raised with the UK Authorities, particularly regarding Sellafield.

While the Irish Government, based on legal advice, did not intervene in this case, it has taken international legal actions against the UK Government over Sellafield. The European Commission instigated legal proceedings in the European Court of Justice against Ireland with regard to the international legal action taken by Ireland against the UK under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. These proceedings are ongoing. The Advocate General issued his opinion in the case last month and the court's decision is expected later this year. The case against the UK under UNCLOS remains suspended pending the outcome of these proceedings in the European Court of Justice.

Question No. 145 answered with QuestionNo. 126.

Planning Issues.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

146 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the fact that 75% of one-off houses outside Dublin and one third of rural housing schemes are not in compliance with accessibility requirements for people with disabilities under part M of the building regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4950/06]

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 537, 538, 539 and 540 on 7 February 2005.

EU Directives.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

147 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress which has been made to date in 2006 to recruit, train and register the estimated 2,000 energy rating assessors required to carry out inspections as set down in the EU energy performance building directive; and when the register of energy rating assessors is due to be operational. [5298/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

158 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the unwarranted delay in transposing the EU energy performance of buildings directive into Irish law; and when it is expected that the Building Control Bill 2005 will be discussed by the Houses of the Oireachtas. [5337/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 147 and 158 together.

Article 15 of the EU energy performance of buildings directive allows for the phasing in of the building energy rating, BER, of buildings not later than 4 January 2009. I understand that most EU member states are phasing in BER certification, over the period 2007 to 2009, under Article 15. I have already announced that I intend to phase in the BER certification in Ireland as follows: BER certification of new dwellings with effect from 1 January 2007; BER certification of new non-domestic buildings with effect from 1 January 2008; BER certification of existing buildings, when sold or let, with effect from 1 January 2009.

The draft action plan for the implementation of the energy performance of buildings directive in Ireland, published in April 2005, explained that time is needed to develop energy rating methodologies, to develop software tools to help designers and builders use these methodologies and to then train building professionals in the use of both the methodologies and the related software. My Department has just received the draft of the definitive action plan from Sustainable Energy Ireland, acting on behalf of an interdepartmental group which includes representatives of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and my Department. It has had regard to submissions received during the public consultation phase. I expect to approve this action plan and submit it to the EU Commission within the next month or so. The plan will be published and a copy will be placed in the Oireachtas Library.

The draft plan estimated that up to 2,000 building energy auditors would have to be trained, on a phased basis, for the BER certification of both new and existing buildings by 2009. I understand that Sustainable Energy Ireland plans to arrange the commencement of the training and registration of an estimated 500-1,000 auditors, in the second half of this year, for the energy rating of new dwellings, with effect from 1 January 2007. The training courses will be organised in partnership with relevant building professional organisations.

Just before Christmas, I made amending Part L (Conservation of Fuel and Energy) Building Regulations which provide the legal basis for the introduction of a building energy performance methodology for new dwellings, whereby performance will be measured according to the annual volume of CO2 emissions generated by heating dwellings. This will apply to new dwellings commencing on or after 1 July 2006 and will provide a platform for the introduction of a simple energy rating system, based on this performance, with effect from 1 January 2007. I will shortly publish the 2006 edition of technical guidance document L on how to comply with the amended part L.

I published the Building Control Bill on 22 December 2005. Sections 4 and 5 of the Bill transpose Articles 5 and 7 of the EU directive. The Second Reading is taking place in this House today and on Thursday.

Question No. 148 answered with QuestionNo. 131.

Waste Management.

Dan Boyle

Question:

149 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on introducing a more standardised waste charges waiver scheme. [5344/06]

I refer to the reply to Question No. 217 of 9 February 2006.

Election Management System.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

150 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to give prisoners in gaols here a postal ballot; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5257/06]

A person in legal custody may be registered as an elector and, under section 11(5) of the Electoral Act 1992, such persons are deemed to be ordinarily resident in the place where they would have been residing but for their detention. Following a judgment of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights in a UK case in October 2005, the Government has approved the drafting of a Bill to provide a mechanism to allow prisoners to vote by post; work on this is under way at present.

Question No. 151 answered with QuestionNo. 117.

Housing Policy.

Pat Breen

Question:

152 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the purpose and function of the new Centre for Housing Research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5232/06]

The new Centre for Housing Research replaces the housing unit which was set up as a joint initiative between my Department and the local authorities in 1998. The overall purpose of the centre, which operates out of the Institute of Public Administration, is to facilitate the improved management of the public and social housing sector and in this regard the centre will continue the work previously done by the housing unit. This work includes the publication of best practice guidelines on the management of social housing, facilitating a housing practitioners' network and providing training.

It is intended that the new centre will be able to expand its research role and take on new responsibilities for the collection and analysis of housing statistics and will be supported in this with additional funding from my Department.

Environmental Policy.

John Perry

Question:

153 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress he has made to date in 2006 in promoting co-operation on North-South and east-west environmental issues such as waste management, environmental research and protection, water quality management and natural heritage. [5277/06]

My Department is undertaking a number of actions to promote co-operation on North-South and east-west environmental issues.

A North-South market development steering group — comprising representatives of my Department, the Department of the Environment Northern Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the UK based Waste Resources Action Programme, WRAP, Invest Northern Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Northern Ireland Waste Management Advisory Board — is working to identify options to encourage the expansion of waste recycling on an all-island basis and, in particular, to develop a joint approach to marketing and manufacturing development for secondary materials and recyclates. Phase 1 of a jointly funded study intended to determine the feasibility of establishing a paper mill on the island of Ireland was completed in 2005 and is currently undergoing a consultation exercise with the stakeholders and agencies concerned with a view to reaching consensus on taking forward the project.

A priority focus of the national enforcement network, established under the Office of Environmental Enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency, is to deal with unauthorised waste activity in Ireland and, in particular, the issue of illegal cross-Border movements of waste. In this context, the environment and heritage service of the Department of Environment and the police authorities in Northern Ireland are represented on the national enforcement network.

A working group on water quality, established under the North-South Ministerial Council and comprising officials from my Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Environment Northern Ireland and the environment and heritage service of that Department is continuing its work on the co-ordinated implementation of the EU water framework directive. The group meets on a regular basis to consider, inter alia, implementation of the directive with regard to cross-Border waters.

Joint funding has been agreed through the working group for collaboration on co-funded research projects being overseen by a North-South technical advisory group. Of particular note is an ongoing project, costing an estimated €7.45 million and part-funded by the EU INTERREG programme, the objective of which is to strengthen inter-regional capacity for environmental monitoring and management, to improve public awareness and participation in water management issues and to develop a number of river basin management strategies for cross-Border waters based on best practice in river basin management planning. This project will be the main means of co-ordination and joint implementation of the water framework directive in shared cross-Border waters over the coming years.

We are also involved in co-operation with the UK technical advisory group on the implementation of the water framework directive with regard to marine and transitional-coastal waters. The directive identifies as a single eco-region — the Atlantic Ocean — the transitional and coastal waters off the west coast of Great Britain and the whole coast of the island of Ireland.

My Department together with the Department of Environment Northern Ireland is responsible for implementing the environmental protection and management measure of the EU INTERREG III A North-South Programme 2000-2006. Some 20 cross-Border projects, costing in excess of €20 million, have been approved for part-funding under the programme.

My Department's national parks and wildlife service is involved in co-operation with the environment and heritage service in Northern Ireland on the management of shared biodiversity resources and specifically on developing a common approach to both threatened species and invasive alien species. Four North-South species action plans were published in 2005, for the corncrake, the Irish hare, the pollan freshwater fish and the Irish lady's tresses orchid. Work on the implementation of these species actions plans has commenced and, during 2006, it is envisaged that work will continue on the production of further plans for the red squirrel, trichomanes or Killarney fern and a number of bat species. A project has been established for the propagation of the threatened freshwater pearl mussel in Ireland, with the assistance of expertise developed by pioneering research in Northern Ireland.

A jointly commissioned report on invasive alien species — one of the greatest threats to biodiversity — has been produced and we are now moving towards implementation of its recommendations. My Department and the environment and heritage service will jointly fund this action.

With regard to the east-west dimension, an informal structure has been in place for some years whereby officials of the national parks and wildlife service of my Department and representatives at both government department and agency level from the United Kingdom meet twice a year to discuss a wide biodiversity agenda, to share experiences and to agree on co-operative actions where warranted.

My Department and the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland have been exploring the practicalities involved in developing the potential for effective co-operation for mutual benefit on strategic issues such as infrastructure development and spatial planning. To this end, a study on a collaborative framework for joint action in implementing the cross-Border aspects of both the national spatial strategy and its equivalent in Northern Ireland, the regional development strategy, is ongoing and will be completed shortly. It is envisaged that the outputs from this study will inform both Governments in taking forward the issue of co-operation on spatial policy and infrastructure co-ordination in the year ahead.

There is regular contact between officials of my Department and the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland with their counterparts in Northern Ireland in regard to radiological protection issues, including matters relating to nuclear emergency planning. My Department is engaged in ongoing contact through correspondence and meetings at ministerial, official and expert level with the relevant UK Ministers and authorities regarding a range of issues relating to nuclear safety and radiological protection matters, including, in particular, the Sellafield nuclear plant. These contacts reflect an increasing recognition by the UK Government of the serious concerns held by the Irish Government in regard to Sellafield. Sellafield is also one of a number of topics on the agenda of the British-Irish Council environment sectoral group.

The British-Irish Council meetings, which I attend, provide a unique and useful forum where representatives of the member administrations meet regularly to address issues of mutual interest through enhanced co-operation and sharing of information and best practice. In addition to these specific actions, meetings are held informally as the need arises between officials of my Department at all levels and their counterparts in Northern Ireland and in the British-Irish Council administrations to share experiences and best practice and explore further possibilities for co-operation.

Election Management System.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

154 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number and locations at which electronic voting equipment is currently stored; the ongoing costs; his proposals for this technology in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5227/06]

Gerard Murphy

Question:

181 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the cost to date in 2006 of electronic voting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5246/06]

Michael Noonan

Question:

201 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if and when he believes electronic voting will be introduced here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5247/06]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

642 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he has taken to reduce the cost of storage for the electronic voting machines; and the annual and total costs to date in 2006 of storing same. [5445/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

659 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the way in which the concept of e-voting was first generated in this Department; the person from whom advice was given or sought; if the full financial implications were thoroughly examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5780/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

660 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if, in the course of the initial consideration of the concept of e-voting, any regard was had for alternative use for the technology in the event of not proceeding with the proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5781/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 154, 181, 201, 642, 659 and 660 together.

The Government decision in February 2000 to move to electronic voting and counting in Ireland followed extensive research on electronic voting systems and experiences in other countries and input from a range of sources on legislative, financial and practical considerations, including from representative returning officers, the local government computer services board, Department officials and other Departments in the course of interdepartmental consultation. In this context, the issue of alternative uses of the technology did not arise.

The total cost incurred to date in the development and roll out of the electronic voting and counting system is some €51.3 million. In addition, information provided by returning officers to my Department indicates that the total annual storage cost for the electronic voting machines and ancillary equipment is some €696,000; payments to returning officers in respect of their electoral duties are made by the Department of Finance from the central fund. The table gives information on the storage of the electronic voting equipment by returning officers. I have requested my Department to examine the question of central storage of the voting equipment.

A programme of further assessment, testing and validation of the electronic voting and counting system is underway to address issues raised by the Commission on Electronic Voting and demonstrate that the system operates reliably, securely and accurately. The timing of the further use of the system is dependent on the progress made with this work and the ongoing work of the Commission on Electronic Voting and on the dates on which future polls may be held.

Storage Locations of Electronic Voting Equipment

Constituency

No. of Voting Machines

Location of Storage Premises

Carlow

115

Mortarstown

Kilkenny

135

Cavan

148

Monaghan Town

Monaghan

140

Clare

200

Ennis

Cork County

425

Togher

Cork City

505

Ballygarvan

Donegal

295

Letterkenny

Dublin City

777

Ballycoolin

Dublin County

768

Finglas

Galway

310

Galway City

Kerry

310

Tralee

Kildare

275

Clane

Laois

100

Portlaoise

Offaly

120

Limerick

335

Limerick City

Longford

90

Longford Town

Roscommon

142

Roscommon Town

Louth

180

Dundalk

Mayo

370

Castlebar

Meath

265

Navan

Sligo

130

Sligo Town

Leitrim

100

Carrick-on-Shannon

Tipperary North and South

408

Clonmel

Waterford

195

Waterford City

Westmeath

175

Mullingar

Wexford

240

Drinagh

Wicklow

245

Kilcoole

Retail Sector Developments.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

155 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a retail company (details supplied) has abandoned plans to build large outlets in the UK due to planning restrictions there and will instead opt for a larger number of smaller outlets within cities; if, in view of this and in view of the serious concerns raised regarding traffic volumes, he will revisit the decision to lift the cap for retail warehousing in the retail planning guidelines. [5316/06]

My Department is aware from media reports that the company referred to has applied for planning permission for what it terms a smaller store of about 20,000 sq. m laid out over three levels in London, which the company says will be first in a series of such smaller stores in town centres across Britain. The company already operates a network of some 13 stores in the UK. Eight of these 13 stores are in excess of 20,000 sq. m and all of them are in excess of 15,000 sq. m, that is, more than double the size of the floor space cap of 6,000 sq. m which applied to retail warehouses in Ireland.

Planning policies and their implementation in Ireland must be responsive to the circumstances here rather than to the circumstances that may apply in another jurisdiction. Accordingly, I do not intend to review the decision to lift the cap on retail warehousing, subject to a number of conditions, in the retail planning guidelines.

Litter Pollution.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

156 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason he decided to take the course of action he took on chewing gum litter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5231/06]

Dan Neville

Question:

214 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason he did not impose a levy on chewing gum manufacturers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5262/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 and 214 together.

Following the success of the plastic bag levy, consultants were appointed by my Department to make recommendations on the possible application of economic instruments, including environmental levies, to other items that are problematic from a litter perspective. With regard to chewing gum, the consultants recommended either a levy on the retail price of chewing gum or a negotiated agreement with the chewing gum industry.

Unlike plastic bags, I have no desire either to discourage people from buying chewing gum or to curtail its use. My objective is to encourage people to dispose of it properly. In this instance a levy would penalise both the industry and the consumer. It would also involve collection costs and, crucially, it would not alter the behaviour of the people who do not dispose of their gum in a responsible manner.

The joint agreement between my Department and the chewing gum industry is a better and more practical option. It provides for a joint initiative to promote a lasting solution to our gum litter problem. The agreement was developed using the partnership approach that has served this country well and it will be implemented using this approach also. This will deliver benefits that could not have been secured by imposition of a levy.

Social Inclusion.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

157 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the local authorities which have signed up to the Barcelona Declaration which is aimed at encouraging local government authorities to make provision for greater inclusion of people with disabilities in the community; if a target date by which all local authorities are expected to have signed up to the declaration is in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5340/06]

The local authorities which have adopted the Barcelona Declaration, as advised to my Department by the National Disability Authority, NDA, are included in the table. The NDA has also advised that there is no target date for the adoption of the declaration by all local authorities. The aims and objectives of the declaration are also largely reflected in the national disability strategy.

County Councils

Carlow

Cavan

Clare

Cork

Donegal

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

Fingal

Laois

Leitrim

Limerick

Longford

Louth

Kerry

Kildare

Kilkenny

Mayo

Meath

Monaghan

North Tipperary

Offaly

Roscommon

Sligo

South Dublin

South Tipperary

Waterford

Westmeath

Wexford

Wicklow

City Councils

Cork

Dublin

Galway

Limerick

Waterford

Borough Councils

Clonmel

Drogheda

Kilkenny

Sligo

Wexford

Town Councils

Ardee

Arklow

Athlone

Athy

Balbriggan

Ballina

Ballinasloe

Ballybay

Ballyshannon

Bandon

Bantry

Birr

Boyle

Bray

Buncrana

Bundoran

Carlow

Carrickmacross

Carrick-on-Suir

Castlebar

Castleblaney

Cavan

Clonakilty

Clones

Dundalk

Dungarvan

Edenderry

Ennis

Enniscorthy

Fermoy

Gorey

Granard

Killarney

Kilkee

Kilrush

Kinsale

Leixlip

Letterkenny

Lismore

Listowel

Longford

Macroom

Mallow

Monaghan

Mountmellick

Muinebheag

Mullingar

Naas

Nenagh

New Ross

Passage West

Portlaoise

Shannon

Tipperary

Tralee

Tramore

Trim

Tuam

Tullamore

Skibbereen

Westport

Wicklow

Question No. 158 answered with QuestionNo. 147.
Question No. 159 answered with QuestionNo. 110.
Question No. 160 answered with QuestionNo. 123.
Question No. 161 answered with QuestionNo. 114.

Environmental Policy.

Tom Hayes

Question:

162 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the action he is taking to promote wider co-operation on North-South and British-Irish biodiversity strategies and plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5278/06]

My Department is undertaking a number of actions to promote wider co-operation on North-South and British-Irish biodiversity strategies and plans. My Department is represented on the Northern Ireland biodiversity group and nominations are being sought for reciprocal representation on our biodiversity forum, the establishment of which I announced recently. These complementary structures are charged with the task of overseeing the implementation of the NI biodiversity strategy and our national biodiversity plan, in recognition of the fact that the island must be treated as one biogeographical entity in these matters.

The national biodiversity plan also contains a number of specific actions which are intended to be developed through a joint or co-ordinated North-South approach and a number of worthwhile initiatives have already been taken by my Department. A jointly commissioned report on invasive alien species — one of the greatest threats to biodiversity — has been produced. We are now moving towards implementation of its recommendations, which will be jointly funded by my Department and the Environment and Heritage Service of Northern Ireland.

In 2005, four North-South species action plans were published — for the corncrake, the Irish hare, the pollan freshwater fish and the Irish lady's tresses orchid. Work on the implementation of these species action plans has commenced and, during 2006, it is envisaged that work will continue on the production of further plans for the red squirrel, trichomanes or Killarney fern and a number of bat species. A project has also been established for the propagation of the threatened freshwater pearl mussel in Ireland, with the assistance of expertise developed by pioneering research in Northern Ireland. In addition to these specific actions, regular liaison meetings are held between officials of the national parks and wildlife service of my Department and their counterparts in the Department of the Environment and the environment and heritage service in Northern Ireland to share experiences and explore further possibilities for co-operation.

Turning to the British-Irish dimension, an informal structure has been in place for some years whereby officials of the national parks and wildlife service of my Department and representatives at both government department and agency level from the United Kingdom meet twice a year to discuss a wide biodiversity agenda, to share experiences and to agree on co-operative actions where warranted. An Ireland/Wales INTERREG IIIA/ERDF funded project on integrated constructed wetlands is progressing, with work continuing in Ireland and in Wales.

Informal contacts take place on matters of common interest with agencies such as English Nature. Moreover, ongoing informal contacts are at present being maintained in regard to the risk of the spread of avian influenza by migratory wild birds.

Waste Management.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

163 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the average generation of household waste has increased from 428 kg per capita in 2003 to 430 kg per capita in 2005; his views on whether the trend is towards an increase in waste per capita rather than a reduction; the steps he intends to take, particularly regarding public awareness, to encourage the public to reduce and reuse as well as to recycle, since reduction and reuse of waste are of higher priority in the waste management hierarchy than recycling. [5310/06]

An effective basis for addressing our waste management responsibilities has been put in place through my Department's policy statements Changing Our Ways, 1998, Delivering Change, 2002, and Taking Stock and Moving Forward, 2004; through statutory waste management plans, largely prepared on a regional basis; and through the comprehensive regulatory framework now in place for waste. The Government's approach is based on the internationally recognised waste management hierarchy of prevention/minimisation, significantly increased levels of recycling, energy recovery and, finally, utilising landfill as the last resort for residual waste that cannot otherwise be recovered.

National waste statistics in respect of all waste streams are published on an annual basis by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. The latest figures available on municipal waste generation are contained in the National Waste Report 2004, published by the agency last month, which reports that household waste arisings in 2004 were 1,737,416 tonnes, an increase of less than 2% in 2004. Per capita arisings of household waste are estimated by the EPA to have increased by 0.47% in the same period. The Cental Statistics Office, CSO, in its National Income and Expenditure: Annual Results for 2004, July 2005, estimates that gross national product GNP at constant prices grew by 4% in 2004. It is accepted that considerable further progress is required and we are engaged in a series of initiatives to bring further improvements in this area.

A key priority currently is the development and roll out of a national waste prevention programme. A core prevention team was established in 2004 in the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and drive the programme. The core prevention team is in the process of developing baseline studies as part of the initial phase of the programme. The five year programme also envisages mandatory waste and material audits, waste prevention pilot schemes and so forth. The initial budget for the national waste prevention programme is €2 million.

A key component of the waste management system in Ireland has been the development of producer responsibility initiatives. In recent years, successful producer responsibility initiatives have been introduced in the areas of packaging waste and waste electrical and electronic equipment. My Department is currently developing regulations for a further producer responsibility initiative under an EU directive on end-of-life vehicles. These initiatives are based on the promotion of waste prevention and minimisation objectives. Work is also underway in developing producer responsibility initiatives for waste tyres and for newsprint.

Waste prevention and minimisation is also being actively promoted in the Race Against Waste campaign. The Race Against Waste is the most extensive waste information campaign ever run in the country and is now well into its third year. It combines a multi-media national awareness campaign and supporting communications strategy and aims to get people acting to prevent waste.

The media campaign focuses on the prevention of waste and the need to reduce, reuse and recycle and aims to turn awareness on waste issues into action to reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill. The communications strategy informs people of the problem and issues, addresses their questions and concerns, and enables them to take ownership of the problem. It provides information about waste management and infrastructure issues, highlights activities at home and at work that contribute to waste and the positive changes that can be made to reduce waste through a series of fact sheets, a website and e-zine, and a lo-call telephone line.

The campaign works closely with environmental awareness officers in all of the local authorities, who work locally with householders, schools, businesses and community groups. It encourages communities to minimise, recycle and compost their waste through the national Tidy Towns competition's Race Against Waste module. A pilot project, Ireland's first "green town", is in operation in Mountmellick, County Laois.

In addition, workshops for youth leaders are organised by Race against Waste to encourage young people to better manage waste. In November 2005, I launched a special a special youth programme and interactive web based resource "Challenge 3600" to engage young adults in the Race against Waste. A national waste prevention programme is currently being prepared as part of year three of the Race against Waste campaign.

Question No. 164 answered with QuestionNo. 125.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

165 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to give direction under the EU Directive 2003/87/EC, whereby the low emission production of cement from granulated blast furnace slag can be included as an activity covered under Article 22 of the emissions trading scheme from 2008 onwards. [5321/06]

Liam Twomey

Question:

205 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position with regard to a complaint from manufacturers of so-called green cement who claim discrimination in the workings of Ireland’s carbon emissions trading scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5235/06]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

219 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the emissions trading scheme as it applies to the cement sector, and green cement in particular, and if it contradicts the criterion 5 of Annex II of the EU directive relating to the emissions trading scheme; the action he intends to take in the matter. [5322/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 165, 205 and 219 together.

I have sought legal advice from the Attorney General about the matters raised in the questions. Until I receive this advice and have determined on an appropriate course of action, I do not propose to comment further.

Question No. 166 answered with QuestionNo. 126.

Homeless Persons.

Liz McManus

Question:

167 Ms McManus asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the average length of time homeless families with children spend in bed and breakfast accommodation; what is currently the longest length of time a family with children could expect to spend in bed and breakfast accommodation; and the number of families with children in Dublin who have been living in bed and breakfast accommodation for longer than one month. [5306/06]

Local authorities are responsible for meeting the accommodation needs of homeless persons. It is consequently a matter for individual authorities to determine the level of bed and breakfast accommodation to be provided, having regard to the need for such accommodation within their areas. My Department does not have detailed information on the bed and breakfast arrangements applying to individual families. The further development and reorientation of services for the families will be taken forward in the context of a revised Government strategy on homelessness, to be prepared by my Department having regard to the independent review of the implementation of homeless strategies, which I published last week.

The need for particular focus on the development of long-term accommodation, as opposed to emergency accommodation such as bed and breakfast, is one of the main recommendations of the independent review. While the use of bed and breakfast accommodation is seen, at present, as essential for the provision of emergency accommodation, it is recognised that it is not suitable as a long-term solution and that its use should be phased out, particularly for families. I am concerned to ensure that high standards prevail in the operation of the sector and that it is used only as a short-term response to homelessness.

At the request of my Department, Dublin City Council, which is a major user of bed and breakfast accommodation, and the Homeless Agency are conducting an ongoing review of this type of accommodation. This has led to increased monitoring, improved co-ordination and better management practice within the Dublin area. The research report Planning for Children, published recently by the Homeless Agency, recommended the establishment and monitoring of length of stay targets for children in such accommodation.

Waste Management.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

168 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the further regulations he intends to introduce under sections 28 and 29 of the Waste Management Act 1996 to bring about waste prevention and minimisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5335/06]

An effective basis for addressing our waste management responsibilities has been put in place through my Department's policy statements Changing Our Ways, 1998, Delivering Change, 2002, and Taking Stock and Moving Forward 2004; through statutory waste management plans, largely prepared on a regional basis; and the comprehensive regulatory framework now in place on waste. The Government is committed to an integrated approach to waste management based on the internationally recognised hierarchy of prevention/minimisation, significantly increased levels of recycling, energy recovery and, finally, utilising landfill as the last resort for residual waste that cannot otherwise be recovered.

A key priority currently is the development and roll out of a national waste prevention programme. A core prevention team was established in 2004 in the Environmental Protection Agency to develop and drive a national waste prevention programme. The core prevention team has been developing baseline studies as part of the initial phase of the programme. The five year programme also envisages mandatory waste and material audits, waste prevention pilot schemes and so forth. Where regulatory provisions are required as the programme is implemented these will be given consideration by my Department.

A key component of the waste management system in Ireland has been the development of producer responsibility initiatives, PRIs. Last year I made regulations under the Waste Management Acts 1996 to 2005, to transpose and implement the EU directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment, WEEE, which is based on the promotion of waste prevention and minimisation objectives, and to further streamline the packaging waste regulations made in 2003.

My Department is currently developing regulations for further PRIs on waste tyres and the EU directive on end-of-life vehicles. Following on the success of producer responsibility initiatives already operating in the areas of packaging, farm plastics, construction and demolition wastes and WEEE, work is ongoing in developing a producer responsibility initiative for newsprint.

Environmental Policy.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

169 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on Ireland’s poor performance in terms of wilderness protection, regional ozone, ecoregion protection and in the Environment Performance Index 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5250/06]

I was pleased to note that Ireland is ranked at tenth place overall in the Pilot 2006 Environmental Index which is published by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University. This reflects the generally high quality of our environment and the effectiveness of public and private sector actions on the environment. The index employs 16 indicators and, as with any index with multiple indicators, it is to be expected that the performance of individual countries will vary when assessed under the different indicators. While Ireland has performed well under certain indicators, our performance has been less strong in those mentioned in the question.

Nonetheless, as regards the indicators measuring wilderness protection and eco-region protection, the relevance and value of these indicators for countries such as Ireland — and other developed European countries — is not entirely clear. Our biodiversity rich habitats are semi-natural, reflecting thousands of years of moulding and management by human activity, and we have no true wilderness of the kind found in many less developed countries.

I am satisfied that our performance in protecting these habitats is good. The most important category in this regard is that of special areas of conservation, SACs, under the habitats directive. We are now conserving 420 SACs, covering some 11% of our land area; this is close to the European Union average. Furthermore, I am advised that some of the data for these indicators appear to date from around 2000. This would not adequately reflect significant new areas designated since that time under the habitats directive, and recent further progress in this regard.

It appears that the indicator relating to regional ozone relates to the protection of ecosystems from ozone. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, report, Ambient Air Quality in Ireland 2004, makes the point that the average concentrations of ozone in Ireland are well below the threshold for effects on human health. Moreover, the EPA report also states that levels are well below the thresholds for effects of ozone pollution on ecosystems.

Homeless Persons.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

170 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the provision he intends to put in place to aid and resource homelessness agencies to deal with the rise in homelessness among immigrants. [5305/06]

Very significant resources are being made available to address the issue of homelessness at national level. Any further development and reorientation of services for homeless persons generally will be taken forward in the context of a revised Government strategy on homelessness, to be prepared by my Department having regard to the independent review of the implementation of homeless strategies, which I published last week. A copy is being made available to the Oireachtas Library.

Question No. 171 answered with QuestionNo. 125.

Housing Policy.

Michael Noonan

Question:

172 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will introduce a long-term strategy for the zoning and servicing of sufficient land to deliver housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5261/06]

Under section 95 (1) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, planning authorities are obliged to ensure that sufficient and suitable land is zoned for residential, or for a mixture of residential and other uses, to meet the requirements of their housing strategy and to ensure that a scarcity of residential land does not occur at any time during the period of the plan or within a reasonable period thereafter. The Part V housing supply guidelines set out how planning authorities can meet their obligations in this regard.

It is incumbent on planning authorities to take all reasonable steps to ensure that sufficient zoned and serviced residential land is available throughout the lifetime of the development plan and beyond to meet anticipated needs and allow for an element of choice. In particular, to ensure continuity of supply of zoned and serviced residential land, planning authorities should ensure that at the time they make a development plan, enough land will be available to meet residential needs for a sufficient number of years to meet not just the expected demand arising within the development plan period of six years, but will also provide for meeting demand for a sufficient period beyond the date on which the current plan ceases to have effect.

Considerable resources have been provided under the national development plan to facilitate the servicing of land for residential purposes. The benefits of this investment are evidenced by the growth in housing supply, with almost 81,000 homes completed last year and a growth in the stock of serviced land for residential purposes. The results of a survey in 2004 indicate that at the end of June that year, there were over 12,500 hectares of serviced residential land zoned nationally, with an estimated yield of about 367,000 housing units. The results of the 2005 survey are not available yet but the broad indications are that the situation has further improved.

Last year, the Government decided to task all local authorities to review their land management strategies, to ensure that they had sufficient land available to support their five year action plans for social and affordable housing. This review is now under way at local authority level.

Waste Management.

Joan Burton

Question:

173 Ms Burton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress he has made in his consideration as to the way in which the waste collection market might be best regulated in the future, following the conclusions of the Competition Authority in October 2005 that the present system is not working well for consumers nationally. [5314/06]

It should be stressed that the Competition Authority did not note any significant anomalies in the amounts charged by private waste collectors throughout the country. However, it did suggest that a competitive tendering process might offer better options to customers by increasing competition in the market. As I have already indicated publicly, I am giving consideration to how the waste market might best be regulated in the future. My Department is examining a range of issues which require careful consideration and is having regard to the views of the authority in that context. I expect this process to be concluded shortly.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

174 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the projected expenditure on carbon emission trading for each year from 2006 to 2012 inclusive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5249/06]

I refer to the reply to Question No. 7 of 29 November 2005. In terms of the purchase of carbon allowances by the State, the Kyoto Protocol commitment period does not commence until 2008 and the purchase of allowances in respect of greenhouse gas emissions in 2006 and 2007 does not arise.

The purchase of allowances by Irish installations participating in the EU emissions trading scheme depends on whether installations concerned opt to introduce measures to reduce emissions or buy allowances or a mix of both. These options are open to each installation and their individual decisions will influence the overall cost to the trading sector.

EU Directives.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

175 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the title of each EU directive within his Department's competency which has not been transposed into law; the number of warning letters received by his Department from the Commission or other EU bodies relating to each non-transposed directive; the date by which each non-transposed directive was to have been transposed; the date by which he intends to have each non-transposed directive transposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5318/06]

I am fully aware of the importance of timely transposition of EU environmental legislation, some 200 items of which, including more than 140 directives, have by now been transposed in this country. There are nine directives in my Department's area of responsibility which are outstanding for transposition. Details of these directives are set out as follows.

Directive Number and Title

Date Due for Transposition

No. of Communications received

Current Position on Transposition

Directive 2000/53/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 September 2000 on end-of life vehicles

21 April 2002

4

My Department will be publishing draft regulations to give effect to this directive later this month. It is anticipated that the legislation fully transposing the directive will be finalised in the second quarter of 2006.

Directive 2002/49/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 June 2002 relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise

18 July 2004

2

It is intended that the regulations to transpose this directive will be signed in the next few weeks.

Directive 2002/88/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 December 2002 amending Directive 97/68/EC on the approximation of the laws of the member states relating to measures against the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants from internal combustion engines to be installed in non-road mobile machinery Directive 2004/26/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 amending Directive 97/68/EC on the approximation of the laws of the member states relating to measures against the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants from internal combustion engines to be installed in non-road mobile machinery

11 August 2004 20 May 2005

2

The drafting of regulations to transpose these is ongoing and will be completed as quickly as possible.

Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information and repealing Council Directive 90/313/EEC

14 February 2005

2

Regulations for the transposition of this directive are in drafting and it is intended that it will be transposed at the earliest possible date.

Directive 2003/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003 providing for public participation in respect of the drawing up of certain plans and programmes relating to the environment and amending with regard to public participation and access to justice Council Directives 85/337/EEC and 96/61/EC

25 June 2005

2

Work is continuing on the various instruments with a view to completing transposition at the earliest possible date.

Directive 2004/12/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 February 2004 amending Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste

18 August 2005

1

My Department has prepared draft Regulations to transpose this directive. These will be submitted to the EU Commission shortly.

Directive 2004/42/CE of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain paints and varnishes and vehicle refinishing products and amending Directive 1999/13/EC

31 October 2005

1

The drafting of Regulations to transpose these is ongoing and will be completed as quickly as possible.

Directive 2002/91/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2002 on the energy performance of buildings

04 January 2006

Elements of this directive have already been transposed. Work is continuing, in co-operation with the Department of Communications Marine and Natural Resources, with a view to the submission of the outstanding transposing material by the second quarter of 2006.

Private Rented Accommodation.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

176 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the operation of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5253/06]

Seán Crowe

Question:

212 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if a review will be carried out of the implementation of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to assess the degree of compliance of landlords with its provisions and with a view to amending its provisions to address the deficiencies in the Act with regard to security of tenure for tenants. [5333/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 176 and 212 together.

The Residential Tenancies Act is generally operating well and I am not aware that deficiencies in the security of tenure provisions have come to light. It is a statutory function of the Private Residential Tenancies Board to review the operation of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and any related enactments and make recommendations to the Minister for amendments, as appropriate. I will consider any such recommendations as well as any suggestions from other sources that may be received, following an adequate period of experience of the operation of the legislation.

Question No. 177 answered with QuestionNo. 110.

Environmental Policy.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

178 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the strategies he intends to put in place to ensure that air quality levels continue to comply with the air quality standards in future years, particularly in city and urban areas where, according to the recent air quality report from the Environmental Protection Agency, the areas most at risk to deteriorating air quality are due to traffic-related pollutants. [5308/06]

The Air Quality Standards Regulations 2002 introduced requirements for development of air quality management plans by local authorities, in co-operation with the Environmental Protection Agency. Where the indicative level for any pollutant is exceeded, the 2002 regulations require the local authority concerned, following notification by the agency, to develop a long-term air quality management plan to ensure compliance with the thresholds for the relevant pollutant or pollutants, including those arising from traffic. Where there is a future risk of a pollutant threshold being exceeded and the agency considers measures are likely to be needed in the short term, the agency is expected to notify the relevant local authority to prepare a short-term air pollution action plan to reduce the risk. Under the EU auto oil programme, a series of directives has been implemented which provide for progressively cleaner road fuels, including the introduction of sulphur-free fuels.

The fourth air quality "daughter" directive, which must be transposed by February 2007, addresses arsenic, cadmium, nickel and polycyclic aromatics hydrocarbons, PAHs, in ambient air. PAHs arise, inter alia, from traffic emissions. Regulations are in place since 2001 requiring the mandatory provision of consumer information on fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions from all new passenger cars. This measure allows consumers to make informed choices in vehicle purchasing on both environmental and fuel efficiency grounds.

In September 2005, the European Commission published the Thematic Strategy on Air Pollution, one of seven thematic strategies promised in the sixth environmental action programme. The strategy represents the next generation environment policy on air quality which takes a medium perspective to 2020 and aims to cut the annual number of premature deaths from air pollution related diseases by almost 40% by 2020, from the 2000 level, while also substantially reducing the area of forests and other ecosystems suffering damage from airborne pollutants.

The strategic objectives of the thematic strategy will be attained by simplifying current air quality legislation and, where appropriate, revising and-or proposing new legislation, including reducing emissions from light and heavy duty vehicles, EURO 5 and 6 standards, shipping, agriculture and small combustion plants.

The proposal for a directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe was published in conjunction with the thematic strategy. The directive aims to simplify and streamline current air quality legislation by consolidating the 1996 air quality framework directive and the first three "daughter" directives into a into a single directive; the "daughter" directives address sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, PM10, lead, benzene, carbon monoxide and ozone in ambient air. The proposed directive includes requirements to address fine particulates, PM 2.5.

Measures in regard to the transport sector are generally the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Transport. These measures are broadly covered by vehicle standards, fuel efficiency, modal shift, Luas, DART, QBCs, cycle lanes, etc., and demand management, large infrastructural projects such as the M50 upgrade, the Dublin Port tunnel, various town bypasses and general measures to help relieve traffic congestion, etc.

Recycling Policy.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

179 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the submission to the Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government by a person (details supplied) which states that there is little or no true recycling here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5242/06]

Government policy on waste management is firmly rooted in the waste hierarchy, an integrated waste management approach that places greatest emphasis on waste prevention, followed by minimisation, reuse, recycling, waste to energy and finally environmentally sustainable disposal of residual waste. National waste statistics in respect of all waste streams are published on an annual basis by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. The latest figures available on municipal waste generation are contained in the national waste report 2004, published by the agency last month, which reports that the recycling rate in the municipal waste stream has risen to 32.6% in 2004, up from 28.4% in 2003. The 2013 recycling target of 35% set in the Government's policy document Waste Management: Changing Our Ways, 1998, is almost achieved. Recovery rates for packaging waste in 2004 increased to 56%, exceeding Ireland's 2005 target recovery rate for this waste stream of 50% set out in EU Directive 94/62/EC on packaging and packaging waste.

The data in the 2004 report demonstrates the positive impact of a number of Government initiatives in the area of waste management in recent years as follows: the extension of segregated waste collection services for dry recyclables to 560,000 households by 2003; the increased availability of bring facilities with 1,929 bring banks and 69 civic amenity sites nationwide by 2004; greater use of pay by use waste charging to incentivise recycling; the race against waste public awareness campaign with its key message to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"; and the introduction of producer responsibility initiatives in the areas of packaging waste and waste electrical and electronic equipment.

The EPA National Waste Report 2004 indicates that 891,240 tonnes of non-hazardous waste destined for recovery was exported for recycling in 2004 which represents 73.8% of Irish waste recycling. A total of 26.2% of the total of recyclables collected were processed in Ireland. As noted by the EPA report, the export of recyclable waste materials is a trade that cannot be inhibited by member states. The OECD decision of C(92)39 final on the control of transboundary movements of wastes destined for recovery operations notes that the recovery of valuable materials and energy from wastes is an integral part of the international economic system and that well established markets exist for, and can contribute to, the collection and processing of such materials within member countries.

While international trade in waste is consistent with Government policy in so far as it supports improved performance in recycling, the Government recognises the value of a more developed recycling infrastructure in Ireland. A market development group was established by the Government in 2004 to identify market opportunities for materials recovered for recycling. A market development programme will be developed by the group in 2006.

Animal Welfare.

Damien English

Question:

180 Mr. English asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress of the public consultation on the working group’s review of the management of dog breeding establishments; if he will commit to its swift implementation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5274/06]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

627 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the findings of the report from the working group’s review of the management of dog breeding establishments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5377/06]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

628 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will commit to the swift implementation of the report from the working group’s review of the management of dog breeding establishments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5378/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 180, 627 and 628 together.

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 539 and 556 of 31 January 2006.

Question No. 181 answered with QuestionNo. 154.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

182 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the level of social housing completions between January and September 2005, accounted for just 5.8% of the total houses built within that timeframe; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that just 6.7% of the 76,954 houses built in 2004 were for social housing purposes; and the reason social housing completions fell by 21.6% between 2003 and 2004. [5303/06]

My Department is currently compiling the output figures for social housing for 2005 on the basis of returns from local authorities. These figures will be published in due course in the Department's annual housing statistics bulletin for 2005 and on the Department's website at www.environ.ie. Based on returns to date, I expect this will show an increase on the total number of houses constructed and purchased by local authorities and the voluntary sector in 2004, which was 6,117 units.

The Government's response to the housing need cannot be judged based on new social housing units built as a percentage of the overall supply. First, the growth in overall output of housing in Ireland over the past decade has been unprecedented and this in itself is providing greater choice and access to housing for our growing population. The year 2005 represented a further record year with nearly 81,000 new homes completed.

Second, we now have in place a broad range of targeted measures to meet the needs of lower income groups. In addition to building new homes, local authorities also purchase some second-hand homes for social housing applicants, vacancies arise in the stock and a range of affordable housing schemes are also available. In 2004, some 12,000 households benefited through these various measures. There are record levels of housing output and increased investment in social and affordable housing measures, the positive impacts of which can be seen in the 10% decrease in waiting lists for local authority housing over the period 2002 to 2005.

In December 2005, the Government launched a new housing policy framework, Building Sustainable Communities, setting out the Government's vision for housing policy over the coming years. The framework envisages a substantial increase in investment involving €4 billion in Exchequer capital between 2006 and 2008, which will allow for some 50,000 households to be assisted over the coming three years. We will also be implementing a programme of reforms particularly focused on improving the quality of the social housing environment.

Decentralisation Programme.

John Deasy

Question:

183 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress to date in 2006 in implementing the Government’s decentralisation programme for his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5281/06]

My Department is co-operating with the Department of Finance, the decentralisation implementation group, DIG, and the Office of Public Works to ensure the Government's decentralisation programme is implemented efficiently and effectively. The programme involves the relocation of my Department's operations to four locations in the south east, Wexford, Waterford, New Ross and Kilkenny. In accordance with the Government decision on the first phase of moves under the programme, the transfer of my Department's headquarters to Wexford is included in the list of those organisations designated as early movers.

Implementation plans setting out the issues to be addressed in implementing the decentralisation programme for this Department have been submitted to the DIG. The plans are available to view on the Department's website www.environ.ie. At this stage, a total of 113 staff are available for transfer to Wexford and the transfer of volunteer staff to the Department is ongoing. My Department has also commenced the process of contacting applicants for the other three locations with a view to arranging for their early transfer to the Department.

In regard to property requirements, my Department and the Office of Public Works expect very shortly to agree a site for the location of the Department's headquarters. As regards the remaining three locations, the Office of Public Works is evaluating site options at present.

Question No. 184 answered with QuestionNo. 118.

Recycling Policy.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

185 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on the delay in the implementation of a producer responsibility scheme for the newspaper and magazine sector, in view of the fact that it was the view of his Department, as far back as 2001, that systems were available for such an implementation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5341/06]

My Department has been in discussion with the newsprint industry with a view to developing a producer responsibility initiative, PRI, for the recovery and recycling of newspapers and magazines. A joint industry taskforce, comprising the Regional Newspapers Association of Ireland, RNAI, Irish Retail Newsagents Association, IRNA, Newspread and Eason Wholesale Limited, and co-ordinated by National Newspapers of Ireland, NNI, was established and has been engaged in negotiations with the Department. The current position is that a proposal from industry for a producer responsibility initiative in regard to post consumer newsprint waste is being examined by my Department.

Local Authority Housing.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

186 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will introduce a requirement to oblige local authorities to replace every unit of social housing sold under the tenant purchase scheme with a new additional unit of social housing. [5330/06]

Figures available to my Department indicate that the number of local authority houses constructed or acquired in recent years far exceeds the number of local authority houses sold under tenant purchase schemes. For example, in the years 2000 to 2004 22,785 units were constructed or acquired by local authorities while 7,669 local authority units were sold to tenants.

Question No. 187 answered with QuestionNo. 131.

Waste Disposal.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

188 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of times he and his Department officials have met Indaver Ireland on the subject of incineration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5230/06]

I understand that meetings took place between officials of my Department and the company in question in summer 2003 and that my predecessor, accompanied by officials, met representatives of the company early in 2004. At no point have I as Minister met the company.

My Department and I hold regular consultations with stakeholders in the context of the ongoing implementation of Government policy on waste management. This is designed to ensure that all concerns are understood and, where possible and appropriate, addressed.

Sustainable Development Strategy.

Dan Neville

Question:

189 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the policy initiatives he is taking to ensure sustainable development, including sustainable urban densities and consolidated urban areas as recommended by NESC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5263/06]

My Department is undertaking a wide range of initiatives to ensure that the unprecedented rate of population growth and housing development being experienced in Ireland is planned for in a manner that will over the longer term support more balanced regional development and the creation of sustainable urban areas and communities.

Many of these initiatives have the full support of the NESC, including the national spatial strategy which the council endorsed as the national spatial framework to structure and direct future growth. The council also endorsed the integrated structure of spatial planning at the national, regional and local levels put in place in partnership between my Department and regional and local authorities. A more strategically focused and plan-led planning system, including the NSS, regional planning guidelines and city and county development plans, is now in place to ensure closer integration between where people live and where people work and the provision of infrastructure, thereby reducing congestion and longer distance commuting and enhancing quality of life. The challenge now is to support the implementation of these policies, particularly at local level.

On this issue of more compact and sustainable urban development and building on the objectives of the NSS, my Department launched a new housing policy framework, Building Sustainable Communities, in December 2005. This framework, which also responded to NESC Report No. 112, Housing in Ireland, Performance and Policy, sets out the Government's vision for housing policy over years. It provides for an integrated package of policy initiatives in areas such as supporting higher densities and compact urban settlement through design innovation in the creation of new homes, new urban spaces and new neighbourhoods. To support the introduction of these policy initiatives, my Department has commissioned a research study into apartment size and space standards which will feed into new planning guidelines later this year. Additional guidance on best practice mechanisms in the effective linkage of the development of new residential areas with the provision of wider social infrastructure such as schools and amenities is also envisaged.

The residential density guidelines have also been in place since 1999. Taking account of the NESC housing report and recognising the major contribution that higher densities and compact urban development is making towards the aims for more sustainable development, my Department also intends to update and further develop these planning guidelines later this year. The updating of the guidelines will take account of the extensive experience built up since the introduction of the residential density guidelines in the design, assessment and development of higher density proposals.

Question No. 190 answered with QuestionNo. 126.

Register of Electors.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

191 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has received a request from local authorities for additional resources to assist in the compilation of the electoral register; the local authorities which have made such a request; his response to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5327/06]

The compilation and publication of the register of electors is a matter for each local registration authority in accordance with electoral law and it is the duty of registration authorities to ensure as far as possible the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the register.

Local authorities fund their general expenditure, including in regard to the register, from a variety of sources, including commercial rates, rents, fees, charges for services and general purpose grants from the local government fund. Since the establishment of the fund in 1999, record levels of funding have been made available through the local government system to improve the quality and range of services being provided by local authorities. In 2006, I have allocated general purpose grants from the fund totaling €875 million, an increase of €57 million or 7% over the amount provided last year.

In recent times, I have received a request from one local authority, in November 2005 from Kildare County Council, seeking additional resources for its work in compiling the register. I replied to the authority along the general lines set out above. In the case of Kildare County Council, I have allocated €23.893 million in general purpose grants in 2006, an increase of 9.6% over 2005.

Fire Stations.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

192 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on whether the fire service here has the resources, personnel, training and emergency planning to deal with a blaze of the magnitude of that at the fuel depot in Herefordshire in the UK in December 2005. [5309/06]

The provision of a fire service is a statutory function of the individual fire authorities and my Department has no direct role in this matter. Each local authority has a major emergency plan for dealing with major incidents and such plans take account of particular potentially hazardous facilities within the functional area concerned. Major emergency plans are reviewed on a regular basis and exercises are carried out, including joint exercises with the Garda and the Health Service Executive, to test the plans.

An interdepartmental committee chaired by my Department has just completed a review of the major emergency planning framework on which the local authority, Health Service Executive and Garda Síochána major emergency plans are based. I intend shortly to promulgate and implement the updated framework which will place particular emphasis on the co-ordination of response to major incidents.

Litter Pollution.

Tom Hayes

Question:

193 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress to date in 2006 in implementing the litter action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5279/06]

The litter action plan, the national anti-litter strategy, adopts a multi-sectoral approach — with broadly based local partnerships with local authorities taking the lead role — as the basis for combating litter. Key actions continuing or implemented under the litter action plan are as follows: developing and implementing the national litter pollution monitoring system and publicising system results; co-financing the an Taisce-led national spring clean initiative; implementing a local authority anti-litter awareness grant scheme; co-financing the Irish business against litter campaign, IBAL, national litter league; maintaining a best practice website to encourage new or innovative anti-litter action; increased on-the-spot and court fines for offences under the Litter Pollution Acts; prohibition of advertising by means of placing items on vehicles; arranging for national anti-litter advertising campaigns; introducing a plastic bag levy; and securing a negotiated agreement with the chewing gum industry.

My Department is now taking forward further actions, including the following: working with local authorities to improve training for the litter warden service; working with the relevant sectors to reduce or eliminate the impact of problematic litter items such as bank ATM receipts and fast food wrapping; and encouraging the development of anti-litter action plans by Departments and the principal State agencies in respect of their own organisations.

Key measures in the litter action plan affecting local authorities include: establishing broadly based anti-litter partnerships at local level; undertaking new and innovative forms of anti-litter action; reviewing and improving litter management plans; intensifying enforcement action; providing free phone services for reporting litter offences; introducing greater flexibility in litter warden working arrangements; implementing fully the national litter pollution monitoring system; reviewing existing clean up services to ensure maximum efficiency and effectiveness; using grant funding for anti-litter education and awareness, and for activities to leverage local business funding for additional anti-litter measures; and focusing litter education and awareness activities on the involvement of schools in anti-litter action.

Progress reports returned to the Department by local authorities on the implementation of actions relevant to them indicate that they are active in meeting the objectives set for them in the plan. Litter enforcement statistics are available in the Oireachtas Library and show that local authority performance on enforcement of the litter laws continues to improve. More litter wardens have been employed and there have been substantial increases in the number of prosecutions taken and on-the-spot fines issued annually.

Question No. 194 answered with QuestionNo. 120.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

195 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps he intends to take to ensure that social housing completions account for at least 12% of all housing completions by 2012, as recommended by the 2004 NESC report on housing in Ireland. [5304/06]

There has been unprecedented growth in overall housing output in Ireland over the past decade and this in itself is providing greater choice and access to housing for our growing population. The year 2005 represented a further record year, with nearly 81,000 new homes completed. In addition, there is now in place a broad range of targeted measures to meet the needs of lower income groups. As well as building new homes, local authorities also purchase some second-hand homes for social housing applicants, vacancies arise in the stock and a range of affordable housing schemes is also in operation. In 2004, some 12,000 households benefited through these various measures.

The Government has also put in place a number of new arrangements to facilitate the delivery of strong programmes of social and affordable housing. In consultation with my Department, local authorities have developed five-year action plans for their social and affordable housing programmes covering the period to 2008. The preparation of these plans has improved the identification of priority needs and will help to ensure a more coherent and co-ordinated response across all housing services.

The new multi-annual plans have also provided an overview of delivery by a range of providers — local authorities, voluntary and co-operative housing bodies and the private sector — through Part V and public private partnership arrangements. A mid-term review of plans will be undertaken this year which will allow for adjustments to be made in light of actual performance and any new housing policy initiatives arising in the interim.

In December 2005, the Government launched a new housing policy framework, Building Sustainable Communities, which outlines key principles underpinning housing policy and investment over coming years. The framework sets out an important programme of investment and reform to address the key policy challenges highlighted by the NESC report on housing, and takes account of the results of the 2005 housing needs assessment and the work of the housing forum in regard to the effectiveness of social and affordable housing provision.

As a result of extra capital provision in the budget for 2006, substantial increased investment in social and affordable housing is outlined in the framework. This will allow for some 23,000 new social homes to be commenced between 2006 and 2008 and some 15,000 affordable homes to be delivered. In total, some 50,000 households will benefit over the coming three years from an Exchequer capital investment package of close to €4 billion. Implementation of these expected targets will represent a significant response to the recommendations of the NESC housing report.

Local Authority Property.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

196 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department will implement a code of conduct to recommend the principles to which local authorities should adhere in their purchasing and selling of property. [5352/06]

In regard to the purchase and disposal of land, local authorities operate within the framework of relevant legislative provisions, notably those of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Local Government Act 2001. In addition, the extensive legislative and administrative procedures set out in EU public procurement directives and related guidelines govern the activities of local authorities and other public bodies in regard to the purchase and disposal of other property above defined thresholds.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

197 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on whether it is unfair to ask non-residential residents of rural areas to pay enormous contributions towards sewerage schemes; his views on whether the requested €3 million towards the long awaited Achill sewerage scheme is impossible for local business; his further views on the fact that the Achill area cannot be compared to a large urban area or town under the polluter pays principle; the steps he will take in this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5072/06]

The Achill Sound sewerage scheme has been approved for construction under my Department's water services investment programme 2005-2007. In common with all projects funded under the programme, this scheme is subject to water services pricing policy. Local authorities must ensure that the design and scale of individual schemes takes account of the implications of the pricing policy framework. In broad terms, this involves my Department funding the capital costs associated with the provision of services to meet the requirements of the existing domestic population. The additional marginal capital cost of servicing non-domestic consumers, and providing for future development, is recovered by the local authority from all non-domestic consumers in its functional area, that is, on a county-wide basis, through a combination of water charges on commercial consumers and planning levies on future development. Only significant large-scale consumers who reserve a specific proportion of the overall capacity of a scheme are required to make a direct contribution to the capital costs upfront. I understand that it is unlikely that there are any such consumers in this case.

My Department is awaiting submission by Mayo County Council of a revised water services pricing policy report that will determine the appropriate apportionment of the capital costs in this case in accordance with the policy framework. I understand that the council is reviewing the scheme with a view to reducing the overall cost to a more economic level.

Liam Twomey

Question:

198 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason he instructed local authorities to speed up water and sewerage schemes; if he will take a greater leading role on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5234/06]

Joe Costello

Question:

216 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the strategies he intends using to speed up the construction of water and waste water treatment plants proposed under the water services investment programme 2005-2007; the implications these strategies will have for communities in the vicinities of the proposed plants; if these strategies include the curtailment of public consultation with local communities in the vicinity of the sites of the treatment facilities; if the carrying out of environmental assessments on such facilities will be affected by these strategies. [5297/06]

Paddy McHugh

Question:

621 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if new rules have been produced which allow sewerage schemes under €5 million to proceed without reference back to his Department once they have been approved; if this new rule applies to schemes already in the pipeline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5167/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 198, 216 and 621 together.

Record levels of funding have been provided for new and upgraded water and waste water infrastructure under the current national development plan. The additional capacity this has produced has made a direct and substantial contribution to strengthening economic performance by facilitating industrial and residential development and by supporting environmentally sustainable growth across all sectors. Given its pivotal role, it is essential that the most efficient procedures are in place to ensure that water services infrastructure provision can continue to anticipate and respond effectively to demand for new or improved services.

Against that background, I recently introduced new administrative procedures to streamline the advancement of individual water and sewerage scheme through the procurement process. The procedures, drawn up in consultation with the local authorities, provide that an individual scheme with a value of less than €5 million may, following preliminary approval by my Department, proceed to construction without further reference to the Department. This reduces from four to two the number of stage approvals that are subject to departmental approval in such cases up to the commencement of construction. Subject to the submission of certain limited additional supplementary information, the new procedures also apply to schemes where preliminary approval has already been received from the Department.

The new procedures are entirely administrative and, as such, will have no bearing on any statutory or other public consultation processes. I am nevertheless confident that devolving greater responsibilities to the local authorities and streamlining the administrative process will, as well as strengthening the local government system, maximise progress on individual schemes and on the water services investment programme generally.

Question No. 199 answered with QuestionNo. 131.

Fire Stations.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

200 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the action he intends to take on the Farrell, Grant, Sparks report on the fire service given to his Department in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5255/06]

My Department has implemented a number of the important recommendations of the report review of fire safety and fire services in Ireland. These include in particular the enactment of the Licensing of Indoor Events Act 2003, which addressed a number of legislative changes called for in the review. In addition, the high level of capital investment in the fire service has been continued and now stands at almost €20 million per annum. The interdepartmental committee on major emergency planning, which is chaired by my Department, has just completed a review of the major emergency planning framework on which local authority, Health Service Executive and Garda major emergency plans are based and I will be taking proposals to Government shortly for the implementation of the updated framework.

In February 2005, I announced a fire services change programme to implement the key fire services and fire safety recommendations of the review of fire safety and fire services in Ireland. This programme sets out the strategy for the future development of the fire service and includes measures addressing the development of community fire safety programmes, the development of a risk-based approach to the determination of fire cover standards, the introduction of a competency-based approach to recruitment, retention and career progression in the fire service and the enhancement of health, safety and welfare programmes within the fire service. Work on the fire service change programme is being carried out by a dedicated project team and is progressing satisfactorily.

Question No. 201 answered with QuestionNo. 154.

Planning Issues.

Paul McGrath

Question:

202 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department will request An Bord Pleanála to introduce a formal quality review procedures to allow evaluation of the planning merits of its decisions and the setting of standards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5265/06]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

208 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department regularly monitors planning decisions; his plans to address problems which may have arisen in relation to the quality of such decisions arising at a policy or planning authority level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5266/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 202 and 208 together.

As part of the response to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of April 2002 on the operation of the planning appeals system, a committee of officials from my Department and An Bord Pleanála was established to meet to assist in responding to the recommendations of that report. Arising out of the discussions of that committee, An Bord Pleanála has put in place a mechanism to address and respond to complaints about its decisions and to correct decisions where appropriate. The board has also put in place revised internal operational procedures aimed at ensuring ongoing quality in the decisions that they make. In addition, under section 34(10) of the Planning and Development Act, the board is required to indicate the main reasons and considerations on which its decisions are based.

The report also identified a role for the Department in examining the rate in overturns of planning decisions of individual planning authorities. In addition to working with the board through the joint committee to analyse the trends in overturns by category of development, my Department is actively liaising with a sub-committee of the City and County Managers' Association to monitor practices and identify the need for policy guidance on specific issues and the scope for exchanging best practice amongst planning authorities. Over recent years, the Department has also proactively engaged in producing policy guidelines on key areas to help ensure greater consistency in decision making. The performance indicators, which contain a number on the planning system and were published for the first time in 2004, will also be a valuable baseline against which future performance can be assessed over the coming years. The Department will continue to work with the board and the local authorities to improvement the quality of their performance in development management.

Question No. 203 answered with QuestionNo. 123.

Site Maintenance.

John Deasy

Question:

204 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress to date in 2006 by his Department in implementing the legal requirement of his Department to rehabilitate the site of the former Irish Steel Company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5280/06]

My Department is mandated by a Government decision to maintain and secure this site, to conduct a suitable site investigation and to prepare a report for Government on the results of that investigation. The site investigation works have now been completed and my Department expects to have the resulting interpretative reports within a few weeks.

The deteriorating condition of a number of the buildings on site, coupled with an opportunity to sell for scrap the metal content of the remaining plant and buildings, resulted in a decision to undertake certain demolition works as an interim measure. These works are now well advanced.

Question No. 205 answered with QuestionNo. 165.

Departmental Audit.

Paul McGrath

Question:

206 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the results of his Department’s internal audit which reviewed the adequacy of his Department’s internal control and risk management systems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5282/06]

The internal financial controls of my Department are reviewed regularly and amended and updated as appropriate, particularly in the context of the preparation of the statement on internal financial controls which must accompany the annual appropriation account. My Department's internal audit unit also reviews internal control and risk management systems on an ongoing basis and provides assurances to the Accounting Officer on the existence, adequacy and effectiveness of these systems. This is primarily achieved through undertaking a programme of internal audits across the Department in the context of audit plans. This programme is approved by my Department's audit committee which oversees the work of the internal audit unit. The committee advises the Accounting Officer on internal control and risk management systems as part of the ongoing systematic review of the control environment and governance procedures within my Department.

House Prices.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

207 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his view of the situation whereby tax incentives being offered to property investors are driving up house prices at a time when housing lists are growing and social housing provision is at an all time low; and the strategy he intends to take to ensure the recommendations of the NESC report are carried out. [5317/06]

The unprecedented demand for housing, consequent on rapid economic growth and demographic changes, has been the major driver of house price increases in recent years. Although precise information is not available, it is clear there has been significant activity over this period by investors in the housing market. This is to be expected in a growing economy. While at different times and locations this may have an impact on prices, there are also gains in terms of the supply of private rented accommodation, tourist accommodation and revitalisation of areas. The winding down of some property-based tax reliefs announced in the budget for 2006 is consistent with the greater capacity of particular economic sectors to fund such investment from their own resources.

Against this background, the key focus of the Government's strategy in the housing area is to increase housing supply to meet the diverse demand. This approach has been endorsed by the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, in its Report No. 112, Housing in Ireland, Performance and Policy. The effectiveness of this approach is seen in the substantial growth in housing supply, with almost 81,000 new homes completed in 2005. House price increases have moderated significantly in recent years and this is largely attributable to the large increase in housing output achieved in recent years.

Substantial investment has been made in targeted measures to assist those with affordability problems, and some 100,000 households have benefited from these measures over the past nine years. This, combined with overall increases in housing supply, has impacted positively on housing waiting lists. The most recent housing needs assessment showed a 9.7% decrease compared with the 2002 assessment.

Building on the achievements to date, during 2005, we brought forward new initiatives to specifically address the policy challenges for the future raised in the NESC report. In June, we launched the affordable homes partnership to co-ordinate and accelerate the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area. In December, we launched a new housing policy framework, Building Sustainable Communities. This sets out the fundamentals of the Government's vision for housing policy in coming years. The framework outlines a substantial increase in investment. This includes starting some 23,000 new social homes over the coming three years which, together with affordable housing and other housing options, will allow for some 50,000 households to be assisted over the coming three years. We will also be rolling out a programme of reforms particularly focused on improving the quality of the social housing environment. A more detailed document will be published during 2006.

Question No. 208 answered with QuestionNo. 202.

Planning Issues.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

209 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of reported unauthorised developments handled by each local authority in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5329/06]

The Service Indicators in Local Authorities 2004 report showed that 10,176 complaints regarding unauthorised developments were investigated by planning authorities in 2004. As this was the first national report on service indicators, no comparable information is available in respect of 2003. I expect to receive the 2005 report on service indicators from the local government management services board by the end of June 2006.

Question No. 210 answered with QuestionNo. 131.

Architectural Heritage.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

211 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to take action to ensure the protection of No. 16 Moore Street following a consultants’ report recommending that the property be added to the record of protected structures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5324/06]

I refer to the replies to Question No. 413 of 12 October 2005, Question No. 637 of 25 October 2005 and Question No. 111 of 29 November 2005.

Statutory protection of the architectural heritage is primarily a matter for the planning authorities to whom my Department provides advice in the exercise of their functions in that regard under the Planning and Development Act 2000. On 25 August 2005, I recommended to Dublin City Council in accordance with section 53 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 that No. 16 Moore Street should be added to its record of protected structures, RPS, because of its historical and architectural interest. I understand that Dublin City Council then commissioned a report to determine the historical and architectural significance of the building and that the report was completed in November 2005 and circulated to the city council members for discussion at their December 2005 meeting. On 5 December 2005, Dublin City councillors unanimously decided to place No. 16 Moore Street on the RPS. The council also decided to add the buildings beside No. 16, at Nos. 14, 15 and 17 Moore Street to the RPS. I greatly welcome this step. I also understand that the city council made arrangements for the owners to carry out essential repairs to the roof of the premises to ensure the essential fabric of the structure is protected while appropriate decisions were taken. I also welcome these actions.

I am satisfied that the use of the Planning Acts, together with the city council acting proactively and in a vigilant manner to ensure the status of the building once it is formally proposed for inclusion on the record of protected structures, will be sufficient to ensure its protection. The Planning Acts were modernised recently to empower local authorities to protect our built heritage, and I intend to continue to allow the council to exercise its powers responsibly on this basis.

Question No. 212 answered with QuestionNo. 176.
Question No. 213 answered with QuestionNo. 139.
Question No. 214 answered with QuestionNo. 156.

Air Pollution.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

215 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the extent to which air pollutants have been recorded at various locations here; if such measurements indicate a trend, with particular reference to compliance with Kyoto principles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5226/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

658 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the extent to which air pollutants have been recorded at various recording points throughout County Kildare; if such measurements indicate a trend, with particular reference to compliance with Kyoto principles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5775/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 215 and 658 together.

Air quality assessment is the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and air quality management a matter for local authorities informed by air quality measurement data. The EPA's ambient air quality in Ireland report 2004, which is available in the Oireachtas Library, contains details of the monitoring and assessment of national air quality and incorporates data from all air quality monitoring stations operated by the EPA and local authorities. Air quality was good throughout the country in 2004 and complied with the air quality standards in force for all pollutants.

The EPA is also responsible for the preparation of annual greenhouse gas inventories in accordance with guidelines from the intergovernmental panel on climate change under the United Nations framework convention on climate change. The agency compiles much of the information on the basis of national activities data, such as energy balances and agriculture statistics, obtained from relevant Government Departments and their agencies, and the Central Statistics Office. Trends in ambient air pollutants are not relevant to compliance with greenhouse gas emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol.

Question No. 216 answered with QuestionNo. 198.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

217 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when his Department will publish a review of the national climate change strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5351/06]

I refer to the reply to Question No. 12 of 29 November 2005. The position is unchanged.

Departmental Staff.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

218 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the chief archeologist’s academic qualifications. [5349/06]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

643 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the details of the chief archaeologist’s academic qualifications. [5446/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 218 and 643 together.

The chief archaeologist post in my Department is occupied by an officer who holds a BA honours in archaeology and who has served in the national monuments service of the Office of Public Works, the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government since 1976, dealing with a wide range of archaeological issues. These include the archaeological survey of Ireland, conservation programmes at national monuments and all aspects of development related archaeology.

It would be wrong to assume that academic qualifications should be the only or main criterion on which appointments within my Department or other public service organisations are made. The position in question requires strong leadership qualities, management skills and sound judgment, all of which are evident in this case. The incumbent enjoys the full confidence of his team and superiors, as well as my support.

Question No. 219 answered with QuestionNo. 165.

Waste Disposal.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

220 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to include information technology hardware within the remit of a producer responsibility scheme in the near future; and if so, his views on initiating a wider consultation process than accompanied the transposition of the WEEE directive. [5345/06]

Information technology hardware is within the scope of the EU directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment, WEEE, and is therefore already fully provided for in the WEEE regulations.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

221 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to provide extra funding for the provision of special housing in other urban areas where building costs are high on foot of his decision to provide extra funding for the greater Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5239/06]

I assume that the question refers to rates of funding applying under the voluntary housing schemes. I have recently announced increased funding limits for categories of accommodation under the schemes which are set out in the following table:

Capital Assistance Scheme

Ordinary

Higher

Certain offshore islands

Category 1 (one or two person units)

110,000

150,000

140,000

Category 2 (three or more person units)

135,000

170,000

150,000

Category 3 (Traveller bays)

135,000

170,000

150,000

Capital Loan and Subsidy Scheme

Ordinary

Higher

Certain offshore islands

Category 2 (three or more person units)

135,000

170,000

150,000

Site costs

Ordinary

Higher

€40,000

€50,000

The new rate for communal facilities is €7,500 per unit of accommodation provided.

The higher level of assistance, previously available in the five county borough areas — Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford — and in the areas of Fingal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and South Dublin, was also extended to include Kildare, Meath and Wicklow county council areas. There are no proposals to extend the higher level of assistance to other urban areas.

Question No. 222 answered with QuestionNo. 131.

Martin Ferris

Question:

223 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number and percentage of overall house completions in 2005 which were social housing units. [5338/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

650 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of new houses built by the various local authorities and offered to tenants in the year ending 31 December 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5767/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

651 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of houses provided through the various local authorities under the private or subsidised sites scheme in the year ending 31 December 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5768/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 223, 650 and 651 together.

Details in respect of the number of social houses provided under the local authority housing programmes and by the voluntary and co-operative housing associations in 2005 are not yet available. My Department is compiling and collecting these statistics. However, details are available for the nine months from January to September 2005 in my Department's housing statistics bulletins, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library and also on the Department's website at www.environ.ie.

Departmental Staff.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

224 Ms Shortall asked the Taoiseach if a closing date or dates are operated by his Department in respect of the Civil Service travel pass scheme; if so, the dates in question; the way in which temporary, seasonal or other non-routine workers are accommodated in the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4953/06]

Staff in my Department can join the Civil Service travel pass scheme at any time during the year. Applications are processed monthly.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

225 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if, in respect of decentralisation proposals that are relevant to his Department, he has satisfied himself that sufficient numbers of staff at Secretary General and assistant secretary level are willing to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5022/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

226 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if the Secretary General of his Department has consulted officers at assistant secretary level regarding decentralisation; the number who have expressed an interest in decentralising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5037/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 225 and Nos. 226 together.

There are no proposals to decentralise any part of my Department or any of the bodies under its aegis. None of the officers at assistant secretary level in my Department has expressed an interest in decentralising.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Ring

Question:

227 Mr. Ring asked the Taoiseach if, in respect of each of the non-Civil Service advisers who are employed by his Department, he will confirm the salary they were each paid in 2005; their expenses and travel or subsistence payments in 2005; and the travel undertaken by these staff in 2005. [5133/06]

The non-Civil Service advisers who are employed by my Department are as follows:

Name

Title

Salary 2005*

Gerry Hickey

Programme manager and special adviser

203,014

Gerard Howlin

Special adviser

120,117

Úna Claffey

Special adviser

120,117

Brian Murphy

Special adviser

90,753

Katherine Bulbulia

Programme manager to Tánaiste

142,108

John Lahart

Special adviser to Minister of State and Chief Whip

75,036

Pádraig Slyne

Special adviser, with responsibility for co-ordination between all Ministers of State

59,786

*Salaries as per Department of Finance circulars 15/05 and 24/05.

Payments made to non-Civil Service advisers in 2005 in respect of T&S expenses and details of travel undertaken.

Name

Amount received in 2005

Details

Date

G. Hickey

248.60

Washington

March 2005

G. Howlin

120.66

London

December 2004

U. Claffey

1,061.18

Brussels Brussels Bulgaria and Poland Galway Belfast/Donegal Madrid Brussels Luxembourg and Berlin Moscow

December 2004 March 2005 February 2005 May 2005 April 2005 April 2005 June 2005 June 2005 May 2005

K. Bulbulia

2,111.44

Kilkenny Carlow New York Waterford Kildare Kilarney Cork Waterford Waterford

October 2004 November 2004 November 2004 January 2005 February 2005 April 2005 April 2005 June 2005 November 2005

J. Lahart

3,054.69

Mileage claims for various trips Derry and Belfast Mileage Claims for various trips Mileage claims for various trips

January and February 05 February-March 05 April, May and June 05 August 05

B. Murphy

Nil

P. Slyne

Nil

Some of the above payments include travel and subsistence payments in respect of travel undertaken by non-civil servant advisers in late 2004. Travel and subsistence payments are made at the appropriate Civil Service rates in respect of certified official travel and subject to the usual Civil Service regulations which apply in respect of travel and subsistence.

Commemorative Events.

Enda Kenny

Question:

228 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if it is intended to hold a national day of commemoration in respect of the Great Famine; if his attention has been drawn to the national committee for Famine commemoration proposal to have same on the last Sunday in May; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5169/06]

The 150th Anniversary of the Great Famine was commemorated by the Government in 1995. I am satisfied that the Famine is commemorated on an ongoing basis in many different ways. For example, in the Cobh Heritage Centre, in Rowan Gillespie's Famine memorial at Custom House Quay and in many other localities. In addition, in the context of State and official visits to countries with large Irish communities, often resulting from the emigration of the Famine years, the opportunity is taken whenever possible to include an appropriate act of remembrance in the official programme.

I am of the view that there has been a significant and appropriate commemoration to date of the Famine and its impact on Ireland and the Irish people. I am satisfied that remembrance and commemoration of the Famine will continue to occur on many appropriate occasions.

Computerisation Programme.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

229 Ms Shortall asked the Taoiseach if he will arrange for the Attorney General’s website to be updated to include all 2004 and 2005 Acts and, in particular, statutory instruments. [5812/06]

Since the mid-1990s, the Office of the Attorney General has prepared, and updated on an ongoing basis, an electronic Irish Statute Book, which includes the full text of all Acts, statutory instruments and chronological tables published since 1922 on its website. The office has also published the Statute Book in CD-ROM format. The website gives the documentation up to the end of 2003 and the office is making arrangements to have this brought up to June 2005 in respect of Acts and statutory instruments and to the end of 2004 in respect of chronological tables. A new CD-ROM is also being prepared and it and the updated material on the website should be available by mid-March 2006.

At the office's suggestion, a group was established last year to look at the issue of producing statutory instruments in a common electronic format as, in the past, delay has been experienced in collating statutory instruments prepared by Government Departments and other agencies. Should statutory instruments be produced in such a format, it would allow the website to be updated with new material sooner than can be done at present. The office is examining its future strategy in respect of the Statute Book. In respect of pre-1922 legislation, the office is preparing an electronic database which will list the Acts of a public and general nature which remain in force. It is hoped to make this database accessible to the public.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pat Carey

Question:

230 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when cheques will re-issue to a person, details supplied, in Dublin 11; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5202/06]

The Deputy's question relates to the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of the Department of Social and Family Affairs by the Health Service Executive. 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.

Homeless Persons.

John Deasy

Question:

231 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funding made by her Department to provide assistance to homeless people here; the total of all such funding in each of the years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5421/06]

Since 2000, the Department of Health and Children has provided €32.4 million additional funding to the Health Service Executive towards the implementation of Homelessness — An Integrated Strategy. This funding has been spent on meeting the in-house care costs associated with accommodation for homeless adults along with developing new designated services for homeless adults who are not ready or able to avail of mainstream services, including the development of primary care services in hostels and day services such as dental, general practitioner, nursing, chiropody, alcohol detox and counselling. In addition, outreach teams and dedicated mental health teams have been established with the aim of linking people who are homeless into mainstream services.

Cumulative total spending on homeless adult services

Year

€ million

2000

1.3

2001

8.9

2002

18.4

2003

21.0

2004

26.1

2005

30.2

2006

32.2

Foster Care.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

232 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of children who were in foster care for which a payment is being made to their foster families in 2004 and 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5688/06]

The latest available statistics from the child care interim dataset show that 4,016 children were in foster care in 2003. My Department has asked the Health Service Executive to provide me with the figures for 2004 and 2005 and as soon as they are received, I will forward them to the Deputy.

Infectious Diseases.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

233 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the medical treatment in the line of prescribed drugs that is available to patients infected with the HIV virus; the reason some patients do not receive any prescribed drugs at all; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4954/06]

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

Health Services.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

234 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the dental treatment for a person, details supplied, in County Wexford is not being covered by the Health Service Executive; if the work can be done by the local health centre; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4966/06]

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.

Paul McGrath

Question:

235 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the services available to expectant mothers in early pregnancy units in Tullamore and Portlaoise Hospitals; the figures available outlining the number of cases dealt with in each hospital in the past three years; her plans to improve this valuable service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4971/06]

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.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

236 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the national cancer strategy, submitted by the national cancer forum, has made recommendations for the introduction of colorectal cancer screening; the age group to which this may apply; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4974/06]

I received a strategy for cancer control in Ireland 2006 from the chairman of the national cancer forum last month. The strategy makes recommendations in respect of the criteria for decisions on the introduction of population-based screening, including colorectal screening. I am examining the strategy with a view to bringing the proposals to Government. I expect to have the strategy published in March.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

237 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in respect of the case of a person, details supplied, in County Meath and the role of two social workers. [4976/06]

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.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

238 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason there was a crisis at Beaumont Hospital accident and emergency department on 4 February 2006; the reason patients were lying on trolleys and chairs; and if this matter will be resolved. [4977/06]

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

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

239 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding a complaint, details supplied; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4978/06]

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

Nursing Home Subventions.

Finian McGrath

Question:

240 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person, details supplied, in Dublin 9; and if she will work with them on this matter. [4979/06]

Finian McGrath

Question:

241 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the criterion for a person going into a private or a public nursing home, the subvention and costs; and if advice will be given to a person, details supplied. [4980/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 240 and 241 together.

The cost of care in a private nursing home is a private matter between the nursing home operators and the patient involved. The nursing home subvention scheme was introduced in 1993 to give some financial assistance towards the cost of private nursing home care. It was never intended that the scheme would subsidise the full costs of private nursing home care. As the applicant for subvention would be subject to a means assessment, the results would vary from person to person. As a result, the costs of private nursing homes will differ from place to place and it would not be possible, therefore, to say what the exact costs of private care would be for any individual.

In respect of costs in a public nursing home, section 53 of the Health Act 1970, as amended by the Health (Amendment) Act 2005, provides, inter alia, for the levying of a charge where inpatient services have been provided for a period of not less than 30 days or for periods aggregating not less than 30 days within the previous 12 months. In this regard, charging of patients in long-term care commenced on 14 July 2005, which was after the expiration of 30 days after the regulations were signed.

The regulations, in keeping with section 53 of the Health Act 1970, as amended, have provided for two different classes of persons on whom charges can be levied. Class 1 refers to people in receipt of inpatient services on premises where nursing care is provided on a 24-hour basis on those premises. In this case, a weekly charge can be levied of €120 or the weekly income of that person less €35, whichever is the lesser. Class 2 refers to people in receipt of inpatient services on premises where nursing care is not provided on a 24-hour basis on those premises. In this situation, a weekly charge can be levied of €90 or the weekly income of that person less €55 or 60% of the weekly income of that person, whichever is the lesser.

These regulations provide for the maximum charge to be levied on either class of person. The Health Service Executive has the power to reduce or waive a charge on the grounds of undue hardship. Under Section 1(b) of the Health (Amendment) Act 2005, the Health Service Executive can examine a person’s overall financial situation in view of the person’s reasonable expenditure with regard to themselves or their dependants, if any.

The management and delivery of health and personal social services are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. It is a matter for the executive, based on its own legal advice and taking into account the individual circumstances as well as the service being provided, to make a decision on any charges levied.

The charging for long-stay care under the Health (Amendment) Act 2005 is being implemented by way of the Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) Regulations 2005. These regulations were signed on 14 June 2005 and reinstated charges for inpatient services and provided for the levying of a charge in respect of the maintenance of persons in receipt of inpatient services. The regulations were prepared following extensive consultation with the Health Service Executive and others.

The circumstances of an individual 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 reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Pat Breen

Question:

242 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Question No. 832 of 29 September 2004, when a person, details supplied, in County Clare will be called for orthodontic treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4987/06]

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 Charges.

Enda Kenny

Question:

243 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of people who have received the ex gratia payment following the illegal nursing home charges controversy; the cost of the scheme to date in 2006; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4999/06]

The ex gratia payment scheme refunded fully eligible persons who were wrongly charged for publicly funded long-stay residential care and who were alive on 9 December 2004. Those qualifying under the scheme were paid up to a maximum of €2,000 and 10,798 persons have received an ex gratia payment to date at a cost of €20.819 million. The payments made under this scheme will be incorporated into repayments made under the national repayment scheme and the national scheme will capture any outstanding ex gratia payments due.

Hospital Accommodation.

Finian McGrath

Question:

244 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person, details supplied, in Dublin 5 and their neighbours are been forced to seal their back doors backing on to Beaumont Hospital; and if this disruption will end. [5004/06]

Under the Health Act 2004 the Health Service Executive has responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services, including services provided at Beaumont Hospital. While the Deputy's question does not specifically relate to the provision of a health service, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

John Deasy

Question:

245 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in carrying out a cochlear implant for a person, details supplied, in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5010/06]

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 a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Departmental Investigations.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

246 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person, details supplied, has completed their aspect of the independent external inquiry into the death of a person at Monaghan General Hospital on 14 October 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5018/06]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

247 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person, details supplied, has completed and presented their report into the circumstances surrounding the death of a person at Monaghan General Hospital on 14 October 2005 to her and the Health Service Executive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5019/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 246 and 247 together.

Following the death of Mr. Patrick Walsh in Monaghan Hospital on 14 October 2005, the Health Service Executive commissioned Mr. Patrick Declan Carey, a consultant surgeon at Belfast City Hospital and an honorary senior lecturer at Queen's University, and Professor John Monson, Professor of Surgery, University of Hull, to carry out an independent and external review. The executive has advised my Department that the review has commenced with an anticipated completion date of late March-April 2006.

Medicinal Products.

Paul McGrath

Question:

248 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the early treatment cancer drug herceptin is licensed for use here; if same is available on the GMS; the cost per patient of this drug; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5020/06]

This product was approved throughout the European Union in 2000 for the treatment of non-early stage breast cancer in patients who satisfy the criteria outlined in the licence. It is available for use in this country under these circumstances. The use of medicinal products outside the licence indication would generally be exceptional and decided case by case. The product concerned is a hospital-only medicinal product and is not therefore reimbursable under the GMS schemes.

The information requested by the Deputy in relation to the cost per patient of this product is not readily available. This aspect of 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 the matter investigated and a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

249 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in respect of decentralisation proposals that are relevant to her Department, she has satisfied herself that sufficient numbers of staff at Secretary General and assistant secretary level are willing to decentralise; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5023/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

250 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Secretary General of her Department has consulted with officers at assistant secretary level regarding decentralisation; the number who have expressed an interest in decentralising; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5038/06]

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

My Department is not one of the Departments earmarked for decentralisation under the Civil Service decentralisation programme. Therefore, the issue of staff at Secretary General and assistant secretary level wishing to decentralise with my Department does not arise.

In 2004, the Department of Finance requested each Secretary General or head of office to discuss the question of decentralisation with his or her senior officers at assistant secretary level. In total, up to 60 posts at this level are due to relocate under the decentralisation programme. The decentralisation implementation group reported in September 2004 that at that stage, 19 individuals indicated that they would move or were likely to move and a further 19 would consider moving at a later stage.

I can confirm that the Secretary General of my Department consulted assistant secretaries regarding decentralisation. However, I do not consider it appropriate to indicate the individual preferences of officers at this level in this Department but I am confident that there will be a sufficient cadre of people at this level to provide continuity of leadership and management experience as the decentralisation programme is rolled out over the coming years.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

251 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in arranging an appointment for a person, details supplied, in County Carlow; if a response will be expedited from the Health Service Executive regarding this matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5054/06]

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 a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

State Property.

John McGuinness

Question:

252 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans for the use of a property, details supplied; the outcome of meetings held with local residents; the timeframe for action in the case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5060/06]

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.

Services for People with Disabilities.

John McGuinness

Question:

253 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress in respect of the development of a property, details supplied, in County Carlow as a European centre of excellence for the treatment and care of people with autism; if the report is available following the consultation process; if funding will be made available to action the report and to provide the service at this location; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5061/06]

This property has transferred to the ownership of the Health Service Executive, south eastern area. Therefore 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.

John McGuinness

Question:

254 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the support service in place for a patient of St. Canice’s Hospital, Kilkenny, details supplied; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5062/06]

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.

Infectious Diseases.

John McGuinness

Question:

255 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress made by her Department to date in 2006 relative to the issues raised regarding MRSA by the group MRSA and families; if the submission made by representatives of this group to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children has been examined or acted upon; if the work of a doctor (details supplied) in the UK regarding the control of MRSA in hospitals and the community will be examined to determine the assistance here; if the doctor will be consulted by her Department or the Health Service Executive; her views on the rise of MRSA cases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5063/06]

Following from my meeting with the group MRSA and Families, I wrote to Professor Drumm, chief executive of the Health Service Executive, HSE, on the issues raised by the relatives and victims of MRSA at our meeting. In relation to the communication of information to patients infected with MRSA, my Department understands that the HSE intends to issue a direction to hospitals on this matter. The HSE is reviewing the national policy on hospital visiting times with a view to issuing revised guidance to hospitals. With regard to the discharge from hospital of patients with MRSA, the HSE is considering how best to ensure that good practice and the proper procedures are followed in all such cases.

This year Ireland will participate in the Hospital Infection Society's prevalence survey of health care associated infections to be carried out in the United Kingdom and Ireland. The survey will provide the Department and the HSE with accurate and comparable data on the prevalence of health care associated infections, including MRSA, in acute hospitals in Ireland. The data gathered from hospitals can also be used to compare with similar data being obtained in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The publication of the revised SARI Guidelines on the Control and Prevention of MRSA in Hospitals and in the Community, the clean hands campaign, the national hygiene audits and the development of national standards in relation to infection control and hospital hygiene are some of the measures aimed at bringing about change in the hospital system. The HSE has announced that the second national hygiene audit of acute hospitals will commence in February and will assess the extent of the improvements made at hospital level since the publication of the first audit report.

It is now a matter for the HSE to continue to develop and implement the necessary strategies needed to ensure the effective control of health care associated infections. My Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy in relation to the work undertaken in the UK by the doctor mentioned.

Cancer Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

256 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount which was allocated from her Department to the Health Service Executive south east towards a designated transport system for cancer patients who have to travel from the south east to other centres; if a report was presented by the group appointed by her Department to assess the needs in this area as to the type of specialised transport solutions required if that report will be actioned; if there is a designated oncology ward at Waterford Regional Hospital; if so, if that ward is capable of dealing with the number of patients involved; if home care packages for the terminally ill in the south east are being funded by her Department and the Health Service Executive; when a comprehensive cancer treatment service will be provided in the south east; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5064/06]

The national service plan 2006 of the Health Service Executive provides a commitment to develop proposals to support patients who have to travel long distances to access specialist services, with particular focus in 2006 on those travelling for radiotherapy treatment. I approved this plan in December and it was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas earlier this month. I made available an additional €9 million to the executive for developments in cancer services in 2006, inter alia, to facilitate better access to radiation oncology services, including dedicated transport arrangements. The Deputy’s question also 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.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

257 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure that appropriate home help hours are allocated in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if an investigation of the case will be expedited with a view to providing the service required. [5065/06]

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.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

John McGuinness

Question:

258 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the treatment required by a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny can be provided under the treatment purchase fund; the reason for such a delay and the action being taken to reduce the waiting list; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5066/06]

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 a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Funding.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

259 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the Health Service Executive funding for the Laois Centre for Independent Living was withdrawn within hours of a verbal complaint by the programme manager regarding the misuse of funds by a company director; the reason the Health Service Executive has asked the same company director to investigate these allegations; the further reason the Offaly Centre for Independent Living is now investigating the Laois Centre for Independent Living; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5101/06]

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 a reply on this issue sent directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

260 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the parents of a person (details supplied) in County Wexford have been told that they will not be eligible for attention for five years. [5103/06]

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.

Enda Kenny

Question:

261 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the details of the post mortem of a person (details supplied) in a hospital; if the clinician who carried out the post mortem referred the whole body or certain organs to another hospital for examination as sometimes happened according to the recently published Madden report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5107/06]

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.

Enda Kenny

Question:

262 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a hospital could inform a person (details supplied) in County Louth where their daughter was buried; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5108/06]

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. My Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated urgently and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Organ Donation.

Jack Wall

Question:

263 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the proposals she has or is proposing to deal with matters raised in correspondence supplied; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5113/06]

The annual organ donor awareness campaign, which is organised by the Irish Donor Network and administered by the Irish Kidney Association, highlights the necessity for organ donation generally. The campaign, which is supported by my Department, highlights the need for organ donors by promoting the carrying of a organ donor card.

There are two systems that can be used to ascertain an individual's wishes on organ donation: the opt-in system and the opt-out system. The former system, which operates here, requires that the specific consent to donation of each person, or their relatives, be obtained before organs or tissues are removed. The opt-out system presumes that all citizens consent to donation unless they have specifically expressed a wish to the contrary.

The practice here is that, even when a person has indicated his or her willingness to donate organs by way of carrying an organ donor card, or a driving licence marked accordingly, the consent of the next of kin is always sought. Even where opt-out systems are in operation, the relatives of the deceased are approached as part of the donor screening process to seek a medical history of any high-risk behaviour. Thus, the relatives will always be aware that a donation is being considered and can register an objection to the donation.

The European Commission is considering the question of a directive in respect of organ transplantation, including the issue of consent, and proposes to conduct a thorough scientific evaluation of the situation. It will present a report on its analysis to the Council of the European Union and it is expected that this report will inform decisions regarding the development of a legislative framework in this area.

In the context of increasing the number of donor organs available for transplant, the Health Service Executive has been asked by the Department to undertake a review and analysis of the factors that impact on organ procurement and retrieval rates in hospitals around the country.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

264 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has not been assessed for home help; and when they first requested this service. [5114/06]

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.

Hospital Procedures.

Dan Neville

Question:

265 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the independent review of the procedure of symphysiotomy in hospitals here in the 1940s and 1950s as announced on 1 October 2003. [5115/06]

Dan Neville

Question:

267 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the promised counselling and free health service for the victims of the procedure of symphysiotomy practised in hospitals here in the 1940s and 1950s. [5117/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 265 and 267 together.

My predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Martin, met the Survivors of Symphysiotomy, SOS, group in late 2003 and agreed that a range of measures would be put in place to support the group.

My Department is advised by the Health Service Executive, HSE, that the following is the position with regard to the services now in place. The former health boards and the relevant voluntary hospitals appointed liaison officers, who met and continue to meet with patients who have undergone symphysiotomy to discuss their health care needs. Independent clinical advice is available, on request, through the liaison personnel, to patients who have undergone symphysiotomy. This has already been availed of by a number of members of SOS and appropriate follow-up has been arranged. An assessment service for patients was established at Cappagh Hospital, Dublin. This service is provided by a multidisciplinary team which undertakes an assessment of patients, following which, recommendations for care pathways are discussed with individual patients. Medical cards have been granted, based on medical grounds, to SOS patients who do not have such eligibility. The HSE has recently issued replacement medical cards that contain a unique patient identifier that is designed to allow for the fast-tracking of patients requiring hospital appointments and-or treatments. The provision of certain non-GMS items recommended for patients by their GP and-or consultant will continue and the pharmacist-supplier will be reimbursed by the HSE. In addition, medical expenses related to symphysiotomy may be refunded, where necessary, to patients in respect of medication-private treatments required to address the effects of symphysiotomy. Applications for home help and modifications are dealt with on an individual basis and applications are fast-tracked, where necessary. Independent counselling services are available to patients where requested. Information packs have been made available to general practitioners and relevant health care personnel.

I met the chairperson of the SOS group and a representative of the HSE on 17 January 2006. The chairperson expressed satisfaction with regard to progress made to date. Regarding the matter of a review, I advised that my predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Martin, had been exploring the idea of engaging an expert from abroad to advise on the practice of symphysiotomy and that it did not prove possible to source such a person who would be acceptable to the various interests.

It is evident from the foregoing that considerable progress has been made in putting in place a comprehensive range of support services for patients who have undergone symphysiotomy. The HSE will continue to oversee the provision of necessary support services for this patient group.

Medical Cards.

Pat Breen

Question:

266 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Clare did not qualify for a medical card or a general practitioner visit card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5116/06]

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

Question No. 267 answered with QuestionNo. 265.

Nursing Home Charges.

Tony Gregory

Question:

268 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the nursing home national repayment scheme where persons have applied for reimbursement of costs of a parents stay in a hospital (details supplied) in County Dublin and have heard nothing. [5123/06]

The general rules and policy relating to the national repayment scheme have been set out in responses to previous parliamentary questions. These can be made available to the Deputy should he require them.

As the Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the scheme, inquiries relating to individual cases are referred to the parliamentary affairs division of the executive. My Department has asked the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Tony Gregory

Question:

269 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a report will be requested from the Health Service Executive regarding the complaint of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5124/06]

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.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

270 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the procedures which are in place to ensure that multiple sclerosis sufferer’s here are provided with access to leading edge, ethical treatment overseas. [5134/06]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

272 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the treatments available to multiple sclerosis and other sufferers of degenerative diseases here; her plans to bring in newer forms of ethically sound treatments such as umbilical cord stem cell therapy; if a temporary case could be made for those multiple sclerosis sufferers assessed as being suitable for treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5136/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 270 and 272 together.

Multiple sclerosis, MS, is an inflammatory disease of the central nervous system, CNS, that is, the brain and spinal chord. Predominantly, it is a disease of the white matter. White matter is made up of nerve fibres which are responsible for transmitting communication signals both internally within the CNS and between the CNS and the nerves supplying the rest of the body.

In people affected by MS, patches of deyelination appear in random areas of the CNS white matter. Depending on which areas of the CNS are affected and how badly they are damaged, the type and severity of symptoms can vary greatly. There are many treatments available for MS, depending on the patient's symptoms. These vary from Interferon to chemotherapeutic agents such as azathioprine and cyclosporine. Corticosteroids can also be used in the treatment of MS. Many other drugs are used, depending on individual symptoms, for example, neurogenic pain may require treatment with carbameazepine, which is an anti-convulsent, and symptoms of depression or anxiety may require treatment with an anti-depressant. Other drug treatments may be required, depending on the symptoms experienced by the individual patient.

A recent development in MS treatment is the production of new therapies based on embryonic stem cell research. These treatments are at a very early and experimental stage and have not yet been licensed for use. Introduction of these treatments in the future will depend on the evidence base for their effectiveness and their safety.

Responsibility for the provision of services to people with multiple sclerosis and sufferers of degenerative diseases is a matter for the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. 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.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

271 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the treatment purchase scheme will cover some or all of the costs for umbilical cord based stem cell therapy for multiple sclerosis sufferers (details supplied); if not, her plans to do so; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5135/06]

The National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, was established as one of the key actions for dealing with public hospital waiting lists arising from the 2001 health strategy. The NTPF is used to treat public patients who have been waiting longest for surgery. It is not intended to expand the remit of the NTPF to funding the type of treatment referred to by the Deputy.

Question No. 272 answered with QuestionNo. 270.

Medical Inquiry.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

273 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to an Adjournment debate in 2005 seeking a review of the circumstances of the death of a person (details supplied), the reason the Mental Health Commission has referred the case back to the Health Services Executive; the further reason a review has not taken place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5137/06]

I have been informed by the Mental Health Commission that the Inspector of Mental Health Services reviewed the documentation on the circumstances surrounding the death of the person concerned. The Mental Health Commission then requested the Health Service Executive to arrange a review of the case by suitably qualified medical personnel, which should include a consultant in emergency medicine. The details of this review are a matter for the Health Service Executive. 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 Mental Health Commission has been in contact with the husband of the deceased to inform him of the current situation.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Niall Blaney

Question:

274 Mr. Blaney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the public waiting list to see a rheumatologist at Letterkenny General Hospital is five years; her plans to ease this waiting list; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5141/06]

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

Health Service Staff.

Marian Harkin

Question:

275 Ms Harkin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to ensure adequate training for existing staff to enable a roll-out of digital hearing aids to clients nationwide. [5148/06]

Marian Harkin

Question:

276 Ms Harkin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to recruit the necessary extra staff that will be required to ensure an effective service in the allocation and ongoing monitoring of digital hearing aids to clients nationwide. [5149/06]

Marian Harkin

Question:

277 Ms Harkin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to set up a training facility here for audiologists. [5150/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 275 to 277, inclusive, together.

There are no plans at present to set up a training facility here for audiologists.

The Deputy may wish to note the large increase in the number of audiologists employed in the public health system in the past decade. The relevant numbers are set out in the following tables.

Audiologists (all grades) by Health Service Executive Area

Health Service Executive — Area

31/12/1997

30/09/2005

Increase

% Increase

Eastern

3.2

17.2

14.0

Midland

1.0

4.5

3.5

Mid-Western

0.0

2.9

2.9

North-Eastern

0.0

3.0

3.0

North-Western

1.9

8.0

6.1

South-Eastern

1.0

7.2

6.2

Southern

1.6

6.2

4.6

Western

2.0

5.4

3.4

Total

10.7

54.4

43.7

410%

Audiologists by Grade

Grade

31/12/1997

30/09/2005

Increase

% Increase

Audiological Scientist

3.99

Audiological Scientist, Senior

2

Audiologist

10.66

20.76

Audiologist, Chief

12.82

Audiologist, Senior

14.8

Total

10.66

54.37

43.71

410%

Source: Health Service Personnel Census

Health Services.

Marian Harkin

Question:

278 Ms Harkin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on extending the grant that is already available for adults to access digital hearing aids to children, until such time as a complete service is in place. [5151/06]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the treatment benefit scheme run by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. My Department has no plans to develop such a scheme for children. However, under the Health Acts, the Health Service Executive, HSE, is required to provide a health examination and treatment service for children under the age of six and also an examination and treatment service for pupils attending a national school. These services include audiology services. The relevant legislation also requires the HSE to make aural appliances available in respect of defects noted in the course of these examinations.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

279 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the way in which the doctor on call has access to patients’ details when they arrive at the home as a stranger to an elderly sick patient; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5152/06]

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.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

280 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary has been waiting for results from a smear test since October 2005. [5153/06]

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.

Pat Breen

Question:

281 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the status of an application under the housing aid for the elderly for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5160/06]

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 the 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.

Pat Breen

Question:

282 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the status of an application under the housing aid for the elderly for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5165/06]

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 the 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 Insurance.

Michael Lowry

Question:

283 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for her decision to press ahead with risk equalisation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5180/06]

Michael Lowry

Question:

284 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to statistical information which details the number of persons expected to return to the public health system in the event of health insurance prices rising as a result of risk equalisation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5181/06]

Michael Lowry

Question:

285 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to expert advice given to Government which acknowledges that any levy imposed on current private health insurance operators will deter new market entrants, thereby restoring the State monopoly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5182/06]

Michael Lowry

Question:

286 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the proposals developed for the Joint Committee on Health and Children regarding risk equalisation when she took the decision to implement risk equalisation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5183/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 283 to 286, inclusive, together.

On 23 December 2005, I made the decision that the commencement of risk equalisation transfers between insurers in the market was necessary having carefully considered the report submitted by the Health Insurance Authority and the subsequent representations made by insurers in the market. I did so in accordance with the provisions set out in the risk equalisation scheme and in the Health Insurance Acts, having regard to the best overall interests of health insurance consumers.

There is widespread support in this country, reflected in the decisions of the Oireachtas, for applying community rating to health insurance. Under community rating subscribers pay the same amount for similar cover throughout their lives. Risk equalisation is a necessary mechanism to support a community rated health insurance market and provision for risk equalisation has been part of the regulatory framework for health insurance since the enactment of the Health Insurance Act 1994. The risk equalisation scheme, 2003, having been affirmed by this House, took effect from 1 July 2003. The scheme had previously been submitted to the European Commission which, in May 2003, found that the scheme is justified, given the open enrolment, community rating and lifetime cover requirements that apply in our health insurance market.

The Deputy refers to expert advice received by the Government which he says states that risk equalisation transfers will deter new market entrants, thus restoring the State monopoly. The Health Insurance Acts specifically provide for competition to be taken in to account. They state that the best overall interests of health insurance consumers include the need to maintain the application of community rating across the market for health insurance and to facilitate competition between undertakings.

I am satisfied that the decision made to commence risk equalisation was the correct one and the question of reviewing it does not arise. I do not consider that it would be appropriate at this time to enter into further details in relation to the matters raised given that they are before the courts.

Health Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

287 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the target period for arranging a consultant appointment to follow up an eye defect identified in a primary school by examination; if either her Department or the Health Service Executive has a system in place for monitoring the performance against this standard; and if her attention has been drawn to the shortcomings in certain parts of Dublin’s northside where a wait of well over a year elapses between the identification of a defect and a follow up consultation. [5185/06]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

288 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of x-ray facilities at a hospital (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5195/06]

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

Health Service Expenditure.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

289 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount spent by the Health Service Executive and its predecessor health boards on leased or rented premises here in each year since 2002; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5199/06]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

290 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of premises rented or leased here by the Health Service Executive in its various regions; the costs of renting or leasing each of the premises; the person to whom these amounts were payable; the type of contract entered into in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5200/06]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

305 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the premises rented or leased here by the Health Service Executive in its various regions which have remained unused; the annual expenditure on these premises; the cumulative expenditure on such premises since 2000; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5411/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 289, 290 and 305 together.

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

Special Educational Needs.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

291 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to provide special educational and occupational needs for a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5201/06]

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

Health Services.

James Breen

Question:

292 Mr. J. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps she intends to take to reduce waiting lists for occupational therapists in County Clare as there are 600 people waiting for this service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5203/06]

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.

Care of the Elderly.

James Breen

Question:

293 Mr. J. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an ombudsman will be appointed for the old and the disabled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5204/06]

There are no plans to appoint an ombudsman for older people or persons with a disability.

Health Service Allowances.

John McGuinness

Question:

294 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the domiciliary care allowance has not been approved in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if a response will be expedited. [5220/06]

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.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

295 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals in regard to core funding for community employment staff supporting essential services (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5355/06]

In the Estimates for 2006, which were recently published, significant additional funding was included for the improvement of health services for people with disabilities.

As part of this provision, funding is being made available to address core under-funding and core staffing issues in services provided by the non-statutory sector. The Health Service Executive will be asked to allocate this funding on an equitable basis, having regard to the needs of people with disabilities. I expect that the executive's consideration of these needs will take into account those services which are currently staffed through community employment schemes.

Hospital Services.

Pat Breen

Question:

296 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she intends to amalgamate the catering section of Ennis General Hospital with that in St Joseph’s Hospital, Ennis; when the catering kitchen in Ennis General Hospital will be closed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5369/06]

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.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Liz McManus

Question:

297 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to her statement of 7 February 2006, the amount of the additional €9 million allocated to the Health Service Executive for cancer services which will be dedicated to the cervical screening programme; the amount of the additional €9 million allocated for cancer services which will be dedicated to BreastCheck screening programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5401/06]

My Department made available an additional €9 million to the Health Service Executive for the development of cancer services in 2006 including the continuation of preparations for a national cervical screening programme. The Deputy's question concerning the allocation of funds 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.

My Department is making available €13.693 million this year to BreastCheck, a statutory body, to cover the costs of current services and to continue the national roll out to the southern and western regions. This includes €2.3 million for the expansion and is over and above the €9 million allocated to the executive.

Hospital Staff.

Paul McGrath

Question:

298 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the regional health regions where there is a consultant with responsibility for palliative care; when each of those consultants were appointed; and the reason one region does not have such an appointment. [5402/06]

This question was previously raised by the Deputy on 18 October 2005, under PQ Reference 29155/05. As previously advised in the reply for PQ Reference 2915/57/05, this related 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. The HSE has again been requested to reply direct to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Health Services.

Paul McGrath

Question:

299 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost funding supplied by her Department for hospice care support in each health region in each of the past five years; and the reason there is a discrepancy in funding between those regions. [5403/06]

This question was previously raised by the Deputy on 18 October 2005, Question No. 313. As previously advised in the reply to Question No. 313, this related 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. The HSE has again been asked to reply to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Paul McGrath

Question:

300 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funding available from her Department for the Irish Hospice Foundation for each of the past five years; and the staff numbers to which these funds relate for each of those years. [5404/06]

This question was previously raised by the Deputy on 18 October 2005, Question No. 314. As previously advised in the reply to Question No. 314, a once-off grant of €55,000 was provided to the Irish Hospice Foundation from this Department's capital allocation in 2003 towards the establishment of an information centre.

In relation to the further information requested by the Deputy, this related 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. I understand that a reply was sent to the Deputy on 5 January 2006 by the Health Service Executive.

Paul McGrath

Question:

301 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the location of each palliative care unit funded by her Department; the year each was established; the funding provided in each of the past five years; and the staff numbers in those units. [5405/06]

This question was previously raised by the Deputy on 18 October 2005, Question No. 315. As previously advised in the reply to Question No. 315, this related 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. I understand that an interim reply was sent to the Deputy on 7 February 2006 by the Health Service Executive.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

302 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the timescale for the closure of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, by the Health Service hospital north east and for the construction of a new hospital to replace it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5408/06]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

303 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if consideration will be given to sites at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Ardee, or St. Brigid’s Hospital, Ardee, as possible locations for the new replacement hospital for Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5409/06]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

304 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if consideration has been given to the new location of the replacement hospital for Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda (details supplied); the sites that are being considered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5410/06]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

306 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the interim developments on the existing site of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, to ensure that a safe service will be provided by the hospital pending the development of a new replacement hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5412/06]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

307 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the range of new services that the Health Service Executive north east is proposing to provide at the new replacement hospital for Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5413/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 302 to 304, inclusive, 306 and 307 together.

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

Question No. 305 answered with QuestionNo. 289.
Questions Nos. 306 and 307 answered with Question No. 302.

Health Services.

John Deasy

Question:

308 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the medical and hospital services that are provided to refugee and asylum seekers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5414/06]

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.

Hospitals Building Programme.

John Deasy

Question:

309 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the capital proposals she has received from the Health Service Executive for the redevelopment of St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dungarvan, County Waterford; the capital funding her Department is providing to the Health Service Executive in 2006 to carry out the redevelopment of St. Vincent’s, Dungarvan; her views on whether the facilities at St. Vincent’s, Dungarvan are totally unsuitable to provide required care and services to older people; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5415/06]

I have recently received the 2006 Health Service Executive capital plan from the executive. The proposed development at St. Vincent's, Dungarvan, is in the plan and I will revert to the executive as soon as possible on the plan submitted.

My Department does not provide funding to the HSE for its capital programme; that is provided by the Exchequer following decisions by Government on the appropriate Estimates for the executive. The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment on individual elements of the plan at this stage.

Hospital Services.

Damien English

Question:

310 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of delayed discharges in hospitals in the north east region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5447/06]

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 Staff.

Damien English

Question:

311 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the ratio of doctors to beds available for patients in Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5448/06]

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.

Patient Statistics.

Damien English

Question:

312 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the breakdown of birth asphyxia cases in the Health Service Executive north east region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5451/06]

The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the table below. Data are derived from the hospital inpatient inquiry system which records information on each episode of hospitalisation in publicly funded acute hospitals.

Number of Newborns with a Diagnosis of Birth Asphyxia in the HSE North Eastern Region 2004

Condition

Number

Severe Birth Asphyxia (With Neurological Involvement)

5

Mild / Moderate Birth Asphyxia (Without Neurological Involvement)

33

Unspecified Birth Asphyxia

6

Total

44

Notes:

(i)Data refer to newborns with an area of residence of Cavan, Louth, Monaghan or Meath and a diagnosis code of ICD-9-CM 768.5 [Severe Birth Asphyxia], 768.6 [Mild/ Moderate Birth Asphyxia] or 768.9 [Unspecified Birth Asphyxia].

(ii)This table is based on Hospital InPatient Enquiry (HIPE) data received to end of January 2006.

Health Services.

Damien English

Question:

313 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funding provided by the Health Service Executive for radiotherapy services in the north east; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5453/06]

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.

Community Care.

Damien English

Question:

314 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of public home stay beds which have been opened in the County Meath area since October 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5454/06]

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.

Health Services.

Damien English

Question:

315 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the continuing waiting time for extra access to speech and language therapy in Meath will be addressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5455/06]

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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

316 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3 will be granted a medical card; and if the maximum support will be given. [5456/06]

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

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

317 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo cannot get an appointment for evaluation and treatment by the paediatric occupational therapy service with the Health Service Executive. [5464/06]

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.

Pharmacy Regulations.

Jackie Healy-Rae

Question:

318 Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the income earned from rental of a commercial unit owned by a general practitioner or a group of general practitioners situated within or adjacent to the medical surgery or practice of the same general practitioners would be constituted as beneficial interest and therefore be in breach of section 21(1) of the community pharmacy contractor agreement 1996; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5465/06]

The opening or establishment of all new pharmacies is governed by the Pharmacy Acts, subject to restrictions imposed by non-pharmacy legislation such as the Planning Act. There is no statutory prohibition on the provision of pharmacy and general practitioner services from co-located facilities. However, a community pharmacy contract may not be awarded to a pharmacy in which a GP practising in the area has a beneficial interest.

The Government has accepted the recommendation of the pharmacy review group that there be no beneficial interest between prescribing and dispensing.

The Government approved in June 2005 the drafting of two pieces of pharmacy legislation. It is proposed to deal with most of the recommendations of the pharmacy review group in the second pharmacy bill, dealing with pharmacy practice and the delivery of pharmaceutical services.

Water Fluoridation.

John Gormley

Question:

319 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the fact that the US scientist invited to present the case against fluoridation has strongly criticised her Department for being unfamiliar with the relevant science and thus unable to answer the 50 reasons to oppose fluoridation as promised, and has further accused her Department of hiding behind anonymous postings on her Department’s website, her views on whether the policy is unsustainable and must be reversed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5467/06]

John Gormley

Question:

320 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps she will take to protect children by ordering an immediate suspension of fluoridation in view of the ridicule heaped on the Irish expert body on fluorides and health, whose 2005 action plan was endorsed, in a recent medical journal and in particular its failure after three years to implement a single one of the recommendations of the fluoridation forum and considering the growing evidence of an epidemic of dental fluorosis in children. [5468/06]

I intend to take Questions Nos. 319 and 320 together.

As the Deputy is aware, 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 forum also concluded that water fluoridation has been very effective in improving the oral health of the Irish population, especially children but also adults and the elderly; the best available and most reliable scientific evidence indicates that at the maximum permitted level of fluoride in drinking water at one part per million, human health is not adversely affected; and dental fluorosis, a form of discolouration of the tooth enamel, is a well recognised condition and an indicator of overall fluoride absorption, whether from natural sources, fluoridated water or from the inappropriate use of fluoride toothpaste at a young age.

The forum recognised that there has been some increase in the incidence of mild dental fluorosis in Ireland. Most dental fluorosis is only detectable by dentists. The forum considered the US scientist's document entitled "50 reasons to oppose fluoride". The forum undertook to respond to the document but the report of the forum was finalised before it had time to respond. My Department agreed, at the request of the forum, to commission the oral health services research centre in Cork to compile a response to the document "50 reasons to oppose fluoride". The comprehensive response to that document was published on my Department's website on 4 May 2005.

The forum recommended fluoridation be reduced to 0.8 parts per million in the Irish context. An expert body was established to oversee the implementation of its recommendations. The Irish expert body on fluorides and health was set up in 2004. The terms of reference for the expert body are to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the forum on fluoridation; to advise the Minister and evaluate ongoing research, including new emerging issues, on all aspects of fluoride and its delivery methods as an established health technology and as required; and to report to the Minister on matters of concern at his/her request or on its own initiative.

As part of its work in implementing the recommendations of the forum, the expert body examined what amendments may be required to the regulations, under the Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960, to give effect to the forum's recommendation to reduce the level of fluorides in the public water supplies. The expert body has reported its findings to my Department. My Department is taking the necessary steps to introduce a new regulation.

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

The recently completed survey of oral health, covering the whole island of Ireland, shows that fluoridation of public water supplies continues to be a highly effective public health measure. It has contributed significantly to a major reduction in the incidence of dental decay in the Republic of Ireland.

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

Benchmarking Awards.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

321 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when benchmarking will be awarded to home helps operating in County Kildare. [5481/06]

My Department approved the payment of the increases due to all eligible grades under the final phase of parallel benchmarking, which included home helps, on 3 June 2005. As the payment of salaries to personnel within the Health Service Executive, is a matter for the executive 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.

Organ Donation.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

322 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has satisfied herself that sufficient resources are being invested by her Department in the promotion of awareness of donor cards; her proposals to increase awareness; if she will provide figures as to the number of people at present in possession of donor cards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5489/06]

The annual organ donor awareness campaign, which is organised by the Irish donor network and administered by the Irish Kidney Association, highlights the necessity for organ donation generally. The campaign, which is supported by my Department, highlights the need for organ donors by promoting the carrying of a organ donor card. My Department has been providing financial support to the donor awareness campaign for a number of years. The grant in 2005 amounted to €500,000.

There are two systems that can be used to ascertain an individual's wishes on organ donation: the opt-in system and the opt-out system. The former system, which operates in this country, requires that the specific consent to donation of each person, or their relatives, be obtained before organs or tissues are removed. The opt-out system presumes that all citizens consent to donation unless they have specifically expressed a wish to the contrary.

The practice in this country is that, even when a person has indicated his or her willingness to donate organs by way of carrying an organ donor card, or a driving licence marked accordingly, the consent of the next-of-kin is always sought.

Even where opt-out systems are in operation, the relatives of the deceased are approached as part of the donor screening process to seek a medical history of any high-risk behaviour. Thus, the relatives will always be aware that a donation is being considered and can register an objection to the donation.

The European Commission is considering the question of a directive in respect of organ transplantation, including the issue of consent, and proposes to conduct a thorough scientific evaluation of the situation. It will present a report on its analysis to the Council of the European Union and it is expected that this report will inform decisions regarding the development of a legislative framework in this area.

In the context of increasing the number of donor organs available for transplant, the Health Service Executive has been asked by the Department to undertake a review and analysis of the factors that impact on organ procurement and retrieval rates in hospitals around the country.

The Irish Kidney Association, which organises the annual donor awareness campaign, has advised the Department that it does not have figures for the number of people who carry a donor card.

Health Services.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

323 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to make funding available for the provision of a psychiatric day care centre for Kenmare County Kerry which is a priority development by management of the Kerry mental health services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5490/06]

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.

John McGuinness

Question:

324 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an application for maximum subvention will be approved in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if they will be granted a bed in Thomastown hospital, County Kilkenny, as an interim measure; and if a response will be expedited. [5492/06]

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.

Health Services.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

325 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on an application for the enhanced nursing home subvention by a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5513/06]

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

Paul Connaughton

Question:

326 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding an application for the nursing home subvention by a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5514/06]

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 Ring

Question:

327 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans regarding people in County Mayo who do not have access to the winter initiative scheme; if the scheme is being used in the county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5548/06]

Michael Ring

Question:

328 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the counties which are currently availing of the winter initiative scheme. [5549/06]

Michael Ring

Question:

329 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount which was provided in 2005 for the winter initiative scheme. [5550/06]

Michael Ring

Question:

330 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the winter initiative scheme is not being used in County Mayo. [5551/06]

Michael Ring

Question:

331 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children what the winter initiative scheme is; when same was introduced; the way in which it operates, its yearly cost to date in 2006; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5552/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 327 to 331, inclusive, together.

The winter initiative was an investment package introduced in 2000, which was designed to relieve some of the pressures experienced by accident and emergency departments. This investment package was designed to fund additional nursing home places for patients who were occupying acute hospital beds, the recruitment of additional emergency medicine consultants, aids and appliances for older people and the development of medical assessment and minor injury units at emergency departments in the eastern region.

The additional funding provided under the winter initiative was allocated to health boards and the additional services outlined above were put in place. The funding is now part of the Health Services Executive's expenditure estimate for 2006. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Grant Payments.

John McGuinness

Question:

332 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the extenuating circumstances relative to the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be examined with a view to granting them a motorised transport grant; and if the process will be expedited. [5663/06]

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

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Question:

333 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if home help will be provided in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if a response will be expedited in their case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5689/06]

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 Staff.

John McGuinness

Question:

334 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the arrangements which are in place within the Health Service Executive to allow freedom of movement for employees who are appointed and permanent to transfer to similar positions within the system but in different Health Service Executive regions that are occupied by staff who are in an acting capacity; the number of positions of director of nursing; if these positions are held by staff that are appointed or acting in the Health Service Executive south-east region; if it is intended to advertise the positions within the Health Service Executive or through the media; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5704/06]

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

Health Services.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

335 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there are reliefs or incentives available to persons wishing to build and open a health centre in their local area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5759/06]

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.

David Stanton

Question:

336 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the photoselective vaporisation of the prostate laser procedure using the green light laser system to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia; if her attention has been drawn to plans to introduce the system here; her views on such a system; the way it compares to the more traditional transurethral resection of the prostate; the number of cases of benign prostatic hyperplasia treated by transurethral resection of the prostate each year here since 2000; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5810/06]

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.

My Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated urgently and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Motor Vehicle Registration.

Joan Burton

Question:

337 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the situation regarding foreign vehicles imported into Ireland by people working here on a temporary basis of less than six months or more than six months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5014/06]

Joan Burton

Question:

347 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the circumstances in which a person coming to work here may import a vehicle and yet not be required to register the vehicle for vehicle registration tax, road tax, car insurance here, national car test and driver testing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5017/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 337 and 347 together.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that under section 135 of the Finance Act 1992 a vehicle, which is temporarily brought into the State by someone whose normal residence is outside of Ireland, may be exempted from the normal requirement to be registered.

Regulation 5(1) of the Temporary Exemption from Registration of Vehicles Regulations 1993, SI No. 60 of 1993, sets out the conditions which must be satisfied to gain the exemption. These include: the vehicle must be owned by or registered in the name of a person whose normal place of residence is outside Ireland; the vehicle must not be disposed of or hired out in Ireland or lent to someone who is normally resident in Ireland; the vehicle must not be driven by someone who is normally resident in Ireland, other than with the permission of the Revenue Commissioners; generally speaking, the vehicle may not be used, within Ireland, for transporting persons for reward or the transport of goods between places within Ireland.

A person is generally regarded as being normally resident in the country where he or she lives for at least 185 days in a year because of personal ties, or both personal and occupational ties. A person who lives in a country primarily for the purposes of attending a school or university or other educational or vocational establishment is not regarded as having his or her normal residence in that country. Proof of normal residence may be required by the Revenue Commissioners. The period of the exemption may generally be for not more than 12 months but the Revenue Commissioners have the discretion to allow a longer period in a particular case.

The temporary exemption rules accord with article 39 of the EC Treaty which provides for the free movement of workers within member states. A reciprocal arrangement also applies to Irish residents who bring their cars temporarily to another member state.

Road tax is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, while car insurance is that of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Minister for Transport and national car testing and driver testing that of the Minister for Transport.

Child Care Services.

Paul McGrath

Question:

338 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the funding which has been transferred from tourism projects to child care projects in the Border midland western area in each of the past five years. [5105/06]

The European Regional Development Funds, commitment of €4.36 million for the tourism measure for 2005 was the only reallocation made to the faster spending child care measure within the BMW operational programme. This action was necessary to minimise the risk of loss of these funds by the application of the automatic decommitment rules for Structural Funds set out in Article 31 of Regulation EC 1260/1999, the so-called N+2 rule.

The action to reallocate the ERDF commitment was taken by the BMW regional assembly, as managing authority of the programme, with the agreement of the programme monitoring committee and my Department in fulfilment of its obligations to avoid any possible loss of Structural Funds. The action was taken following detailed consideration of the levels of project approvals and expenditure patterns under the Tourism measure of the BMW operational programme.

The transfer of ERDF from the tourism measures should not impact on tourism related projects funded under the BMW regional operation programme and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism has indicated that he will make available Exchequer funds from the Vote of his Department to ensure that, notwithstanding the reallocation of the ERDF commitment, the same level of investment in the region's tourism product can be supported.

Public Transport.

Joe Higgins

Question:

339 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works has received requests from Bus Éireann to allow bus routes from Dublin 15 to the city centre through the Phoenix Park; and the response of the Office of Public Works. [5170/06]

The Office of Public Works has commissioned a comprehensive traffic management study of the Phoenix Park and those routes surrounding it. The question of a bus corridor through the Phoenix Park will be considered as part of this study.

Telecommunications Services.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

340 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance the contractual arrangement made between a telecommunications company and his Department regarding the placement of telecommunications antennae on telecommunications masts that are in the ownership of the State, such as those adjacent to Garda stations. [5511/06]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

341 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide a copy of contractual arrangements made between a telecommunications company and the Office of Public Works regarding the placement of telecommunications antennae on telecommunications masts that are in the ownership of the State, such as those adjacent to Garda stations. [5763/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 340 and 341 together.

Following negotiations between the Commissioners of Public Works, the Chief State Solicitor's office, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and all mobile phone operators, agreement was reached last year on the terms and conditions of standard licence agreements, which will govern all future installations of telecommunications equipment on State property and in particular on Garda telecommunication masts.

All operators who are granted a licence to install telecommunications equipment on any State property are required to comply with the same terms and conditions, including all national and EU health and safety legislation and guidelines issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection and normal planning regulations. This compliance with health and safety legislation etc., required under the licence agreement, also applies to any future relevant legislation-regulations and International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection guidelines. Licences are granted for an agreed annual fee. If additional equipment is required the fee is increased in accordance with agreed rates.

A copy of the standard licence agreement will be forwarded to the Deputy.

Drainage Schemes.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

342 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the position in regard to the completion of the cleaning, improvement and drainage works at the Slate river, Allenwood, County Kildare; when the works will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5777/06]

Responsibility for maintenance of the River Slate lies with Kildare County Council. The Office of Public Works carried out drainage works at Allenwood in 2003 as agents for the local authority. There are no proposals to carry out further work.

Tax Code.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

343 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance his plans to change the tax code in order that cohabiting couples who live as a family unit are not taxed as single people. [4957/06]

Generally speaking, the tax system treats members of cohabiting couples as separate and unconnected individuals. Each partner is a separate entity for tax purposes, therefore, tax credits, tax bands and tax reliefs cannot be transferred from one partner to the other. There are no special favourable tax arrangements for cohabiting couples with dependent children.

The working group examining the treatment of married, cohabiting and one-parent families under the tax and social welfare codes, which reported in August 1999, was sympathetic, in principle, to changes in the tax legislation to address the issues raised relating to cohabiting couples and reported that the options it set out should be considered further. However, it acknowledged in regard to the tax treatment of cohabiting couples that a key issue is whether tax law should proceed ahead of changes in the general law.

I am aware of various developments in this general area, including the consultation paper on the rights and duties of cohabitees, which was published by the Law Reform Commission in April 2004; the tenth progress report of the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution entitled ‘The Family', which was recently published, and the plans recently announced by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to establish a working group to examine the area of civil partnerships and to prepare options on the various legislative choices available to the Government for action in this area.

I previously put on the record of the House that I would view as problematic and unwise a situation where changes in the tax code relating to the treatment of couples would set a headline in advance of developments in other relevant areas of public policy, for example, in the area of legal recognition of relationships other than married relationships. I am still of that view.

M. J. Nolan

Question:

344 Mr. Nolan asked the Minister for Finance when a final decision will be made in relation to probate tax liability with the question of interest payments in the estate of a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5011/06]

I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a signed affidavit was issued to the solicitors in this case on 8 February 2006. I have also been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that there are no outstanding issues in this case as far as they are concerned.

Motor Vehicle Registration.

Joan Burton

Question:

345 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the figures or an estimate regarding the number of foreign cars being imported into Ireland by people working here paying vehicle registration tax and not paying vehicle registration tax; the liabilities each class of owner and vehicle has to vehicle registration tax, road tax, car insurance here, national car test and driver testing; the number of cars and the amount of vehicle registration tax and applicable road tax paid in respect of such vehicles for each year from 1998 to date in 2006 on an annual basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5015/06]

The Deputy will be aware that responsibility for road tax, car insurance, national car test or driver testing does not lie with my Department. My reply, therefore, is in respect of vehicle registration tax only.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the information available in this regard refers to the number of cars, new and used, imported into Ireland and registered within the vehicle registration tax system. I attach a schedule giving details of gross registrations and net receipts of VRT for cars together with the total number of exemptions from VRT of new and used cars for the full calendar years 1998 to 2005 together with the applicable rates. However, in the registration process, it is not obligatory to provide the nationality of the persons importing the vehicles or to record whether the person is working here.

As a general rule, all vehicles imported permanently into the State must register for VRT purposes within 24 hours of arrival. This rule applies equally to vehicles imported by EU and non-EU persons. However, section 135(a) of the Finance Act 1992 permits a European or other foreign registered vehicle which is temporarily brought into the State by a person established outside the State to be exempted from the requirement to register for VRT purposes for a period normally not exceeding 12 months from the date upon which the vehicle concerned was brought into the State.

There is no requirement for vehicles imported under the temporary exemption provisions to be presented to the Revenue Commissioners to avail of the relief. Documents relating to ownership, registration or bringing into the State of the vehicle must be kept with the vehicle when it is in use in the State. When such vehicles fail to meet the conditions for temporary exemption they must be permanently removed from the State or presented for registration. The details of such vehicles are, therefore, not normally captured or held in the vehicle registration system.

The temporary exemption rules are in accordance with Article 39 of the EC treaty, which provides for the free movement of its workers within member states. The Deputy may wish to note that a reciprocal arrangement is also in place for residents of Ireland who bring cars temporarily to other member states.

The current rates of VRT in respect of cars is as follows:

Category

Engine

Rate

A1.

with an engine cc less than or equal to 1400 c.c.

— 22.50% of chargeable value or €315, whichever is greater.

A2.

with an engine cc exceeding 1400 c.c. and not exceeding 1900 c.c.

— 25.00% of chargeable value or €315, whichever is greater.

A3.

with an engine cc exceeding 1900 c.c.

— 30.00% of chargeable value or €315, whichever is greater

Rates applicable since 1998 are as follows:

1998 (1 January 1998)

0-2500 cc Rate of Duty — 22.5%

> 2500 cc Rate of Duty — 28%.

1999 (1 January 1999)

0-1400 cc Rate of Duty — 22.5%

1401-2000 cc Rate of Duty — 25%

> 2000 cc Rate of Duty — 30%.

2003 (1 January 2003)

0-1400 cc Rate of Duty — 22.5%

1401-1900 cc Rate of Duty — 25%

> 1900 cc Rate of Duty — 30%.

Tax Code.

Joan Burton

Question:

346 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of checks which have been carried out by Revenue and Customs and Excise in respect of foreign vehicles imported here; if they are fully compliant with Irish vehicle registration tax, road tax and insurance obligations; the number of such checks which have identified non-compliant vehicles; the figures for each year from 1998 to date in 2006 on an annual basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5016/06]

As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for road tax and insurance obligations do not lie with my Department. My reply is therefore only in respect of vehicle registration and vehicle registration tax.

In order to fully answer the Deputy's question, it is helpful to outline the legislative nature of vehicle registration tax, and the conditions governing its administration and enforcement by the Revenue Commissioners. VRT is applicable at the time of registration of a vehicle in the State, rather than at the time of its arrival here. This tax was introduced in 1993 following the establishment of the Single Market, which under European Community law required the removal of all taxes and customs controls that up to then had been imposed on goods at the time of their importation from other member states. Consequently, enforcement of the law in regard to VRT takes place subsequent to the arrival here of vehicles from abroad. The law requires that under normal circumstances all foreign vehicles being brought permanently into the State must be registered for VRT purposes within 24 hours of arrival. The appropriate VRT must be paid at the time of registration unless the vehicle qualifies for relief under transfer of residence or other similar provisions.

However, under section 135 of the Finance Act 1992, a non-resident of the State is entitled to temporarily keep a foreign vehicle in the State for a period normally not exceeding one year without having to register it, or pay vehicle registration tax. Non-residents who bring vehicles into the State under this provision are not legally required to declare them to the Revenue Commissioners in order to avail of the relief. As such, Revenue has no record of the number of instances in which this exemption is availed of.

Regulation 5(1) of the Temporary Exemption from Registration of Vehicles Regulations 1993, S.I. No. 60 of 1993, sets out the conditions which must be satisfied to gain the exemption. These include that the vehicle must be owned by or registered in the name of a person whose normal place of residence is outside Ireland; the vehicle must not be disposed of or hired out in Ireland or lent to someone who is normally resident in Ireland; the vehicle must not be driven by someone who is normally resident in Ireland, other than with the permission of the Revenue Commissioners and generally speaking, the vehicle may not be used, within Ireland, for transporting persons for reward or the transport of goods between places within Ireland.

A person is generally regarded as being normally resident in the country where he or she lives for at least 185 days in a year because of personal ties, or both personal and occupational ties. A person who lives in a country primarily for the purposes of attending a school or university or other educational or vocational establishment is not regarded as having his or her normal residence in that country. Proof of normal residence may be required by the Revenue Commissioners.

The temporary exemption rules accord with Article 39 of the EC Treaty which provides for the free movement of workers within member states. A reciprocal arrangement also applies to Irish residents who bring their cars temporarily to another member state. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that their officers, who are based at numerous locations around the country, carry out regular and ongoing checks to identify and deal with breaches of the VRT regulations. This applies particularly in regard to the permanent retention of unregistered vehicles in the State or in the possession of State residents. Co-ordinated national enforcement campaigns are also carried out periodically to detect infringements in this area. If a vehicle is confirmed as being in contravention of the VRT regulations it is seized and is normally released either for export on payment of a penalty or on payment of the appropriate tax and a penalty. The penalty is scaled according to the length of time the vehicle has been in the State on an irregular basis. In first encounter cases a warning is issued to the vehicle's owner to regularise its status either by registration or exportation. These warnings are followed up by subsequent checks to confirm compliance, failure of which results in seizure. Cases involving serious fraud or aggravated circumstances such as obstruction are normally prosecuted.

The following table sets out the level of VRT enforcement activity since 1998 to date. It is worth pointing out that a number of the seizures in the table below resulted from Garda activity.

VRT

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

No. of vehicles checked

21,489

17,203

11,484

9,722

11,031

10,456

13,429

11,876

794

No. of written warnings to register issued

2,280

2,374

1,619

2,277

1,985

2,003

2,623

2,783

156

No. of vehicles seized

584

580

405

469

514

543

774

910

98

No. of convictions following prosecution

11

13

25

17

7

7

9

23

1

Question No. 347 answered with QuestionNo. 337.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

348 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance if, in regard to decentralisation proposals that are relevant to his Department he has satisfied himself that sufficient numbers of staff at Secretary General and assistant secretary level are currently willing to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5024/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

349 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance if the Secretary General of his Department has consulted with officers at assistant secretary level regarding decentralisation; the number who have expressed an interest in decentralising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5039/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 348 and 349 together.

In 2004 my Department requested each Secretary General or head of office to discuss the question of decentralisation with his or her senior officers at assistant secretary level. In total, up to 60 posts at this level are due to relocate under the decentralisation programme. The decentralisation implementation group reported in September 2004 that, at that stage, 19 individuals indicated that they would move or were likely to move and a further 19 would consider moving at a later stage.

Since then vacancies at this level are being filled by the top level appointments committee, TLAC, on the basis that the successful candidate will decentralise at the appropriate time. I do not consider it appropriate to indicate the individual preferences of officers at this level in my Department but I can say that I am confident that there will be a sufficient cadre at this level to provide continuity of leadership and management experience as the decentralisation programme is rolled out over the coming years.

The senior management of my Department are all actively involved in the preparation of the implementation plans for decentralisation to meet the timescale emerging from the work of the decentralisation implementation group which is co-ordinating the effort.

Enda Kenny

Question:

350 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the number of posts to be filled at Secretary General and assistant secretary levels under the decentralisation plans announced in December 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5052/06]

Up to 70 posts at Secretary General, assistant secretary and equivalent levels are due to be decentralised under the Government's decentralisation programme, including nine posts at Secretary General level.

Since the announcement of the programme, vacancies at this level, including those at Secretary General level, are being filled by the top level appointments committee, TLAC, on the basis that the successful candidate will decentralise at the appropriate time.

I am satisfied there will be a sufficient cadre at this level to provide continuity of leadership and management experience as the decentralisation programme is rolled out over the coming years.

Pension Provisions.

Mary Upton

Question:

351 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Finance the way in which and the reason the deduction by twice the rate of the old age contributory pension arises for people in receipt of the old age pension. [5089/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

352 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Finance if a person who retires before the age of 65 years, for example at 58 years, still has his entitlement to an old age pension reduced by a deduction of twice the rate of the old age contributory pension. [5090/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 351 and 352 together.

The Deputy is referring to the system of pension "integration" or "co-ordination" for public servants. This is an arrangement under which the pension entitlements of public servants on full PRSI are limited to take account of the fact that these public servants have both a social welfare pension and an occupational pension from a public service pension scheme. Integration has the effect that the reduced occupational pension, when combined with the old age contributory pension, provides an overall pension which is at least as good as the pension which would have been payable if the sole source of pension were occupational pension alone.

Before July 2005 "integration" was based on a formula which deducted twice the rate of the contributory old age pension, OACP, from the pensionable income used in the calculation of their occupational pension. After that date, a revised formula was introduced to improve the position of public servants on lower income. The introduction of the new formula was agreed by the Government as part of public service pension reforms and implementation of the bulk of the recommendations of the Commission on Public Service Pensions. The new formula does not make a flat rate deduction of twice the OACP, but applies a weighted deduction to give relatively greater benefits to lower-paid staff.

This new approach to the calculation of the occupational portion of pensions is as follows: 1/200th of the pensionable remuneration below three and one third times OACP — currently €33,621.31 — multiplied by the total number of years reckonable service plus, where applicable, 1/80th of the pensionable remuneration in excess of three and one third times OACP multiplied by the total number of years of reckonable service.

Persons appointed to the public service can not, as a general rule be paid superannuation benefits until they have reached 65 years of age — 60 years of age in the case of people appointed before April 2004. While there are exceptions to this general rule, such exceptions tend to apply in the security services — Garda, Army, Prison Service — where members can retire at earlier ages. In 2005, following on the recommendation of the Commission on Public Service Pensions, a scheme was introduced — backdated to 1 April 2004 — to allow public servants, who meet certain conditions, to retire with immediate payment of actuarially reduced superannuation benefits. The actuarial reduction is designed to ensure that the overall cost of the pension benefits are not increased.

In any situation, regardless of age, where an integrated pension is being calculated the entitlement to old age contributory pension is taken into account by the application of the revised formula to reckonable remuneration.

Tom Hayes

Question:

353 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Finance the position with effect from the 1 January 2004 on the fact that PRSI and tax relief apply to all pension contributions as raised by a person (details supplied). [5126/06]

I understand PRSI relief is only available for employees who pay pension contributions to occupational pension schemes, retirement annuity contracts, or personal retirement savings accounts. Relief is not available to the self-employed. PRSI is first and foremost a matter for the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs.

Disabled Drivers.

Bernard Allen

Question:

354 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Finance when a decision will be made on an application for a person (details supplied) in County Cork for the VAT concessions for vehicles suitable for persons suffering from a disability. [5154/06]

I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they do not have any record of an application by the relevant person under the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. Therefore, I presume the Deputy is referring to the preliminary application process for a primary medical certificate under the scheme. This certificate is issued by the senior medical officer of the appropriate area of the Health Service Executive on the basis of a clinical assessment.

The medical officer is independent in this function and I do not have any role in that application process.

Tax Collection.

Jack Wall

Question:

355 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will be furnished with a P21 statement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5161/06]

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a form P21 balancing statement for 2005 issued to the taxpayer on 8 February 2006.

Decentralisation Programme.

James Breen

Question:

356 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Finance his plans to lift the cap on the number of Revenue staff in Ennis, County Clare, in an effort to address the considerable number of staff awaiting transfer to Ennis (details supplied). [5205/06]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that there were 151 posts in Ennis prior to the announcement of the current decentralisation programme.

The decentralisation programme for the civil and public service announced by the Government in December 2003 required Revenue to establish new offices in Newcastle West, Listowel and Kilrush.

In giving effect to the Government's decision on decentralisation, Revenue has taken the opportunity to consolidate and relocate some functions within the mid-west region. Arising from this, a decision was made to relocate the Clare Revenue district from Limerick to Ennis and the VAT repayments functions from Ennis to Limerick.

The net effect of this decision is that, in addition to establishing the required presence in the three locations defined under the decentralisation plan, an additional 20 posts will be moved to Ennis. There are no plans to move any further functions to Ennis in the foreseeable future.

It should also be borne in mind that under the current decentralisation programme some 660 Civil Service posts will be transferring to the mid-west region, including 50 Civil Service posts to County Clare, and staff have the option of applying under the CAF arrangements.

Economic and Monetary Union.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

357 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the foreign exchange reserves in the balance sheet of the Central Bank have been reduced from €6 billion at the end of 2001 to €641 million at the end of 2005; the set of liabilities against which the now mainly euro-denominated assets of the bank are held; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5359/06]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

358 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that overall balance sheet of the Central Bank had risen to almost €33 billion in 2005 from a figure of almost €22 billion in 2001; the reason a sum of almost €12 billion has been set aside to cover other liabilities in addition to the bank notes in circulation and liabilities to other euro area residents accounts which are shown in the balance sheet at €19.1 billion; the liabilities that are covered by the sum of €12 billion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5360/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 357 and 358 together.

As set out in the annual reports of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland, the bank has restructured its foreign reserves portfolio significantly since EMU. Following the adoption of the single currency, the euro area as a whole, rather than individual participating member states such as Ireland, required external reserves for intervention purposes. In this regard, the bank transferred €425 million to the foreign reserves of the European Central Bank in January 1999 as Ireland's share — about 1% — of the ECB's pooled external assets.

Accordingly, the bank is no longer required to maintain a highly liquid portfolio, concentrated in the major global currencies, for possible use in foreign exchange intervention. This has allowed changes to be made to the composition of the bank's investment assets with a view to minimising the impact of movements in exchange rates on the value of the bank's assets given that all of its liabilities are now denominated in euro. Over the past six years, the bank has sold the bulk of its foreign currency investments and invested the proceeds in euro-denominated investments to eliminate exchange rate risk on its investment assets. These assets are held against euro banknote liabilities. The move from foreign currency to euro assets generated realised exchange rate gains of €630 million, which have been reflected in the transfer of surplus income to the Exchequer over the period.

The increase in the bank's balance sheet between 2001 and 2005 primarily reflects the €13 billion net value of the euro banknotes issued by the bank. The sum of €12 billion in other liabilities in the bank's balance sheet at the end of December 2005 principally reflects the bank's liability to other central banks of the eurosystem in respect of cross-border payments made by domestic financial institutions in euro through the trans-European automated real-time gross settlement express transfer system, TARGET, the European System of Central Banks' large-value payment system.

Tax Code.

Willie Penrose

Question:

359 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Finance if a person satisfies all the criteria to qualify for revenue job assist, from the perspective of the additional tax allowance, if he or she takes up employment with a partnership company; if the person will then qualify for the additional tax credits under the revenue job assist scheme once the job is not one of displacement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5362/06]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that although an individual may be a qualifying individual and may have taken up a qualifying employment, the Revenue job assist allowance will not be available where the qualifying individual, or his or her employer, is benefiting or has benefited under an "employment scheme" in respect of that qualifying employment.

An "employment scheme" is defined as "a scheme or programme which provides for the payment in respect of an employment to an employer or an employee of a grant, subsidy or other such payment funded wholly or mainly, directly or indirectly, by the State or by any board established by statute or by any public or local authority".

County and city enterprise boards are empowered to provide employment grants to employers by virtue of the Industrial Development Act 1995 and therefore, an employee's entitlement to the Revenue job assist allowance will be dependent upon whether the partnership company is or was in receipt of any grant, subsidy or other such payment in respect of the employment.

Where the partnership company is or was in receipt of an employment grant, subsidy or other such payment from a county or city enterprise board in respect of the qualifying employment, the Revenue job assist is not available to the relevant employee in respect of that qualifying employment.

If the Deputy has a particular case in mind, I suggest he contact the Revenue Commissioners directly with the details so that a definitive reply in relation to that case may be published.

Phil Hogan

Question:

360 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the 2% levy in respect of motor policy holders insurance should be terminated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5368/06]

The 2% levy is a stamp duty that is charged on most non-life insurance premiums and is part of the normal stamp duty system. The exceptions are re-insurance, voluntary health insurance, marine, aviation and transit insurance and export credit insurance. The purpose of the non-life levy is to broaden the stamp duty base while maintaining low direct tax rates.

It is a modest charge compared with other EU member states where similar charges vary between 9% and 50%. It is a significant source of revenue to the Exchequer across all relevant categories of insurance, which is demonstrated by the yield in recent years:

Year

Yield

€m

1997

38.7

1998

42.3

1999

48.1

2000

57.0

2001

69.1

2002

87.2

2003

99.7

2004

97.7

2005

90.8 (estimated)

I have no plans to reduce or remove the levy.

Inland Waterways.

Pat Breen

Question:

361 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Finance the number of large dams that are situated on Irish rivers together with the heights of such dams; the body responsible for their upkeep and maintenance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5390/06]

The Minister has no official responsibility to the Dáil in relation to this matter.

Public Service Pay.

Richard Bruton

Question:

362 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the way in which performance pay in the public service is structured; the people who are entitled to it; the scale on which it is set; the way in which the level of payment is linked to measures of performance; the proportion of cases where performance has been found not to warrant maximum payment; the amount awarded annually to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5423/06]

Following recommendations made by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector, schemes of performance-related awards were introduced for the levels of deputy secretary and assistant secretary in the Civil Service, the deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner ranks in the Garda Síochána and the ranks of brigadier general and major general in the Defence Forces.

The schemes of awards are based on performance by reference to demanding targets. The pool for performance awards is 10% of the pay bill for the group concerned. Within that overall limit individuals can receive payments of up to 20% of pay.

Decisions on awards are made by the Committee for Performance Awards, CPA, which includes a majority of private sector members. The main roles of the committee are to monitor the application of the scheme of performance-related awards and to bring independent judgment to bear in approving objectives for the persons covered by the scheme and in approving recommendations for awards.

Details of the procedures, the numbers covered by the schemes, the range of awards and the total amounts paid in Departments are outlined in the annual reports of the committee, available on the website www.finance.gov.ie. The Deputy will note from the annual reports of the CPA that it is rare for an officer to be paid the maximum award of 20%. In 2004, of the 207 persons who participated in the schemes, the maximum award was made in only three cases. The maximum award was not made in any case in 2002 or 2003. Awards for performance in 2005 have not yet been agreed.

Similar schemes of performance-related pay operate for senior grades in the health service and the local authorities. The Committee for Performance Awards in the local government sector deals with the assessment of performance for senior managers in local authorities. That committee's reports for 2003 and 2004 are available in the Oireachtas Library. Awards for 2005 have not yet been approved. A similar committee operates for senior managers in the health service but these arrangements are being adapted to reflect the establishment of the Health Service Executive.

Schemes of performance-related pay can also apply to the chief executive officers of non-commercial State-sponsored bodies and, in some cases, to the second tier of management. The review body considered that certain conditions should be in place in non-commercial State-sponsored bodies before schemes of performance-related awards were introduced for the CEOs of those bodies. Where these conditions are met, the board of the body concerned can submit a scheme to the parent Department and, subsequently, my Department for approval. These schemes are also based on the achievement of stretched targets and provide for a maximum bonus of 20% of pay. The guidelines provide that awards of between 15% and 20% should arise only in the most exceptional situations where performance has surpassed all reasonable expectations and has resulted in the achievement of a major goal of the body. Decisions on the level of payment to be awarded are the responsibility of the board of the body concerned.

Proposed Legislation.

Martin Ferris

Question:

363 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Finance if the Government will in future commit itself to supporting the European Parliament amendment which adds to the remit of the EGTC/EGCCs (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5426/06]

The European Commission has the right to initiate legislation in this area and has not proposed the introduction of such an amendment. The Government will consider all proposals brought forward by the European Commission and the Presidency to amend the draft regulation.

The Government supports the introduction of the draft regulation to provide for the establishment of European groupings of territorial co-operation, EGTC. The objective of this regulation is to facilitate and promote cross-border, transnational and/or inter-regional co-operation where this has proved difficult. The EGTC will help by providing a framework within which measures to reduce these difficulties can be addressed. The EGTC will be a co-operation instrument at the community level with the aim of strengthening economic and social cohesion in the regions involved. The regulation will allow the creation of co-operative groupings in the community territory and give them legal personality. Security and regulatory powers exercised by regional and local authorities as public authorities are excluded from the regulation.

I welcome the contribution of the European Parliament to the preparation of this regulation and to the suggestions made with respect to extending its scope. Some of these suggestions have been taken on board in discussions on the regulation within the Council working group charged with its preparation. I have some reservations with respect to certain aspects of the regulation, particularly where these relate to the role of the member state in the establishment of an EGTC.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joe Walsh

Question:

364 Mr. Walsh asked the Minister for Finance when work will commence on the accommodation building to facilitate decentralisation to Clonakilty, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5520/06]

Tenders have been invited for the design and construction of new offices for the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Bord Iascaigh Mhara in Clonakilty. Following receipt and evaluation of the tenders, a preferred tenderer will be selected. The sanction of the Department of Finance will then be sought to proceed to the next stage of the process. On receipt of sanction, the preferred tenderer will be instructed to apply for planning permission. Subject to receipt of a satisfactory planning permission, a formal contract will be entered into and work will commence on site. The Commissioners of Public Works are anxious to ensure the project will progress to construction at the earliest possible date.

Tax Collection.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

365 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether it is equitable that overpayments of PAYE tax may only be recovered from the Revenue Commissioners within a four-year period whereas taxpayers remain liable in perpetuity for underpayments of tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5535/06]

I will outline the current position on time limits for claiming repayments of tax. In the Finance Bill 2003, the then Minister for Finance examined the question of the entitlement of taxpayers to repayments of tax and interest with a view to introducing, in so far as practicable, a uniform scheme which was fair and reasonable for taxpayers and which took into account the position of the Exchequer. On foot of that review, a new provision was introduced in section 17 of the Finance Act 2003, which gives taxpayers a general right to a repayment of tax overpaid subject to a four-year claim limitation period. This became effective for all claims received on or after 1 January 2005. It is important to note that a corollary to the restriction to four years on the taxpayer's right to a repayment is a restriction on the Revenue Commissioners going back more than four years to assess taxpayers, except if fraud or neglect is involved and no limit applies. It is not, therefore, the position that taxpayers remain liable in perpetuity for underpayments of tax.

Flood Relief.

Tony Gregory

Question:

366 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works will detail the work to be carried out to the River Tolka walls (details supplied); and when this flood alleviation work will be done. [5665/06]

The upgrading of the wall on the right bank of the River Tolka downstream of Dean Swift Bridge was recommended in the final report of the River Tolka flooding study. While there was no flooding at this point in November 2002 as the present wall was high enough to prevent flooding from the 100-year flood event, the condition of the wall is poor and is complicated by the fact that the wall supports roofs to extensions and garden sheds. The OPW and Dublin City Council have concentrated their efforts to date on the high risk areas highlighted in the report. With almost all the recommendations in the high risk areas completed, those items with lesser risk can now be attended to. The OPW hopes to commence work on the wall and the associated widening of the left bank in Griffith Park in the next few months.

Tax Code.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

367 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance if there are reliefs or incentives available to persons wishing to build and open a health centre in their local area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5760/06]

A number of tax reliefs are available for the construction of certain health facilities, including capital allowances for private hospitals, convalescent homes, private nursing homes and residential units attached to nursing homes. Various conditions have to be met for the reliefs to apply. In general, there are no reliefs available for health centres but a health centre which is located in a special tax incentive area such as a rural renewal or urban renewal area and is located in a commercial premises may qualify for relief as long as all the necessary conditions are met.

National Monuments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

368 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance when full restoration and improvement works will be undertaken at Connolly’s Folly, Maynooth, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5779/06]

There is no change in the position I outlined in my response of 13 December 2005 to the Deputy's most recent question on this issue.

Flood Relief.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

369 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the position in regard to discussions between his Department and Kildare County Council in the matter of alleviation of flooding at Mill Lane, Leixlip, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5784/06]

The Office of Public Works have written to Kildare County Council to advise it of the position in respect of the Leixlip flood study. It is expected that a meeting will be arranged in the near future.

Land Reclamation.

Finian McGrath

Question:

370 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding Dublin Bay and any proposal to infill 52 acres; and if this proposal will be rejected as a matter of priority. [4985/06]

An application from Dublin Port Company for approval under the Foreshore Acts for the proposed reclamation of an area of some 21 hectares of foreshore is before the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources at present. The application must be considered in accordance with the appropriate procedures, including a process of public consultation in which it will be open to interested persons or organisations to make submission on the proposal. The proposed development will also require planning permission.

Energy Resources.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

371 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the grants available to householders to install renewable energies; and his plans in this regard. [5388/06]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

372 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he has taken to make available domestic grants for sustainable construction solution as outlined in budget 2006. [5444/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 371 and 372 together.

The multiannual financial package announced in budget 2006 provides funding for renewable energy schemes totalling €65 million for the period between 2006 and 2010. The renewables package includes a grant aid package for the domestic sector, which will provide for individual grants to install renewable energy technologies including wood pellet boilers, solar panels and geothermal heat pumps. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, in conjunction with Sustainable Energy Ireland, is developing the necessary detailed measures to roll out the new programme, which will be announced shortly. Under Sustainable Energy Ireland's research, development and demonstration programme, House of Tomorrow, financial support is directed at encouraging developers of new-build and refurbishment housing to incorporate design and technology features which deliver significantly superior energy and carbon dioxide performance. Some 55 housing demonstration projects and 2,650 homes have benefited from the programme to date. The technologies installed include condensing boilers in 1,708 homes, solar water heating in 531 homes, heat recovery ventilation in 381 homes, ground source heat pumps in 176 homes and wood pellet boilers in 308 homes.

Postal Services.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

373 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on issuing a stamp in honour of Michael Davitt, to whom Ireland and especially the west owes a tremendous debt, in view of the fact that 2006 is the centenary of his death; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5847/06]

Michael Ring

Question:

382 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on asking An Post to issue a commemorative stamp in honour of Michael Davitt from Straide as 2006 is the centenary of his death. [5487/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 373 and 382 together.

In March 2005, the Government approved the issue of a commemorative stamp in honour of Michael Davitt as part of the 2006 special and commemorative stamp programme. The design of the stamp was approved by the Government in December 2005 and the stamp is due to be issued in September.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

374 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, in relation to decentralisation proposals that are relevant to his Department he is satisfied that sufficient numbers of staff at secretary and assistant secretary level are willing to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5025/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

375 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the Secretary General of his Department has consulted with officers at assistant secretary level regarding decentralisation; the number who have expressed an interest in decentralising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5040/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 374 and 375 together.

The Secretary General of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has consulted all the assistant secretaries and the deputy secretary general about decentralisation. The issue will be kept under review as the programme for decentralisation proceeds. All new posts at assistant secretary level have a specific requirement for the appointee to be based in the decentralised location. I am satisfied that these arrangements will continue to be adequate.

Broadband Infrastructure.

John McGuinness

Question:

376 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the level of grants approved in the past ten years to private companies, local and regional authorities for the provision of broadband infrastructure; if his Department monitors or audits the take-up of the service relating to the grants given to determine if the State is getting value for money for the investment; his views on the level of unlit fibre throughout the country and the poor back haul in certain locations; his plans to overcome the problems in the market and to encourage a greater take-up of the service; his plans regarding connectivity relative to the last mile; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5068/06]

Grants amounting to €117,581,623 have been approved by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for the provision of broadband infrastructure over the last ten years. Some €34,800,952 has been given to private sector projects and €82,780,671.62 has been given to public sector projects.

Following a poor response to a call for proposals from the private sector, the Government decided to address the infrastructure deficit in the regions by building high-speed, open access, carrier neutral metropolitan area networks in 120 towns and cities on a phased basis, in association with the local and regional authorities. Phase 1 of the programme has delivered fibre optic networks to 27 towns and cities so far. The networks were built on time and under budget.

The programme has been extended to a further 94 towns in various locations nationwide — these metropolitan area networks are due for completion during 2006 and 2007. They will allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs. The Government has approved €80 million for the roll-out of this phase of the metropolitan area network programme. The Department continually reviews all aspects of the regional broadband programme, including monitoring the usage of fibre and the provision of backhaul.

The management services entity, e-Net, won the contract to manage, operate and maintain the local authority metropolitan area networks under phase 1. Activity has started on the networks with several customer contracts being signed by e-Net, including arrangements for backhaul. Twenty of the 23 metropolitan area networks handed over to e-Net have been lit to date. Details of the contracts are commercially sensitive and are a matter for e-Net. The contractual obligations are set out in the concession agreement that was agreed by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and e-Net. Tight controls exist within the agreement to closely monitor e-Net's performance closely. E-Net formally reports to the Department on a quarterly basis and is obliged to file various documents throughout the contract term dealing with its activities. E-Net also publishes an annual set of accounts.

The Government recognises that supply issues are being addressed under the regional broadband programme, but demand issues require focused attention. The Department recentlypublicised a discussion paper on this area,which is available for public consultation at www.dcmnr.gov.ie/Communications+Development/Broadband+demand+report.htm. Feedback on the demand paper is welcomed. The Department invites interested parties to send their comments by email to information@broadband.gov.ie by Wednesday, 1 March 2006. Local loop unbundling is mandated by a European Council regulation. Responsibility for its implementation is a matter for the Commission for Communications Regulation under the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and the transposed EU regulatory framework for electronic communications networks and services.

Postal Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

377 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the service obligations which the Government requires of An Post, for example in respect of universal delivery, the maintenance of a network of post offices and so on which would deviate from normal commercial criteria which might otherwise be applied by the business; the way in which the Government makes allowance for these requirements in setting expectations for its financial performance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5125/06]

As a commercial State company established under the Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983, An Post is legally obliged to be operated to generate revenues to meet all current charges, to generate a reasonable proportion of its capital requirements and to remunerate capital. The Government and the board of An Post are committed to the objective of securing a viable and economically sustainable post office network and a postal network for mail and parcel delivery attuned to the needs of its wide range of customers. An Post operates within a regulatory framework as enshrined in EU and Irish law and therefore the universal service obligation, which includes nationwide postal delivery requirements, is a statutory requirement for An Post as the designated universal service provider. This is set out in SI 616 of the European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations 2002. Furthermore, the regulations establish the area of the postal market solely reserved for universal service providers and this reserved area assists An Post in fulfilling its universal service obligations. The area of the market for post that is reserved to An Post is postal items weighing less than 50g or costing less than two and a half times the standard tariff. In regard to the post office network, An Post has 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.

Harbours and Piers.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

378 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals to further extend the pier at Clogherhead, County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5285/06]

Louth County Council, which owns Port Oriel harbour at Clogherhead, is responsible for the development of the harbour. The council's proposal for the development of Port Oriel involved the extension of the pier with two options, an extension of 75m and an extension of 105m. Approval was given in 2004 to proceed with the 75m option with a total cost project of €6.5 million, which was subsequently increased to €8.55 million. The Department is providing grant aid of 75% towards the total cost under the fishery harbours development programme. I visited the site at Clogherhead on 9 November 2005 and met local fishing representatives. Louth County Council has recently requested additional funding to provide the 105m pier extension option at an extra cost of €2.45 million. I have allocated additional funding of €1.8 million to Louth Country Council this year for the 105m pier extension. I understand that the works will be completed this year.

Minimum Wage.

David Stanton

Question:

379 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has satisfied himself that all persons working in his Department or in State or semi-State bodies under the auspices of his Department are being paid at least the minimum wage for the hours worked; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5357/06]

I am satisfied that my staff in the Department are being paid at least the minimum wage for the hours worked. The rates of pay for employees of State and semi-State bodies under the auspices of the Department are day-to-day operational matters for the bodies concerned and are not matters in which I have a function. The Deputy's questions about such matters should be directed at the bodies concerned.

Departmental Surveys.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

380 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the €10,000 required to facilitate a study (details supplied) will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5387/06]

This is an operational issue for the service provider concerned. Responsibility for the regulation of electronic communication service providers rests with the independent regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the requirements of the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and the regulations which transpose the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications. My Department does not have the resources required at its disposal, to facilitate the funding of the study in question.

Television Licence Fee.

Seamus Kirk

Question:

381 Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if self-catering chalets built in clusters require more than one television licence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5419/06]

The requirement to have a television licence applies to properties for which a permanent address exists. Accordingly, if each self-catering chalet is identifiable by its own address then a separate licence would be required for each property.

Question No. 382 answered with QuestionNo. 373.

Fisheries Protection.

John Perry

Question:

383 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, in view of the fact that, in 1997 the unregulated relaying of seed mussel began in Lough Foyle, the reason same was done without regard for the eco system in Lough Foyle; the precautions which were taken at that time to protect the ecosystem in Lough Foyle; the action which is currently being taken to protect the ecosystem in Lough Foyle; the reason a grant was then given for €34,500 to be relayed; the reason the oyster grounds were not mapped out before the relaying began; if his attention has been drawn to the devastating effect that this has had on oyster beds and the people who depend on them for a living; if assistance has been offered to oyster fishermen in Lough Foyle (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5658/06]

The relaying of mussel seed in Lough Foyle in 1997 took place following the discovery of a large, naturally occurring bed of mussel seed within Lough Foyle itself. Therefore, the relaying which took place at that time was internal to the lough, that is, it involved transplanting mussel seed from one location in the lough to other locations in the lough. I am advised by Bord Iascaigh Mhara that there was no additional loading on the primary productivity of the lough's ecosystem, and as the lough has always had a mixed fishery of bottom mussels and native oysters, that specific protection measures were not considered necessary.

With regard to the grant to which the Deputy refers, this was a scheme which was put in place by BIM in conjunction with the Foyle Fisheries Commission, following consultation with the authorities in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The objective of the scheme was to fund the gathering and recording of key tracking data, so that accurate information on quantities, growth performance and location of relayed mussel seed would be available. Therefore, the objective of the scheme was not to promote the transplantation of seed, but to involve the local fishermen in gathering data crucial for the future management of fisheries in the lough. Since then, the data has proved very valuable in gaining a more comprehensive understanding of fisheries in the lough. The full details of the grant payments are to be found in BIM's annual reports. There were maps of the known oyster grounds in existence prior to the relaying of mussel seed in 1997 and these were used by local fishermen to guide the surveying process referred to above. To a large extent these maps were found to be accurate and they were successfully employed, as subsequent surveys showed that, with a few minor exceptions, there was little overlaying of oyster ground with mussel seed. The results of surveys carried out have been disseminated to all interested parties in Lough Foyle. On the basis that the output of the native oyster fishery did not altered significantly in the years after 1997, there has not been any substantive evidence to show that the relaying of seed at that time has had the devastating effect to which the Deputy refers.

The Deputy refers to a meeting held at Moville in 1997. BIM was represented at this meeting of prospective mussel seed fishermen in its capacity as an advisory agency for fisheries development. BIM advice to this group was that it might be appropriate to engage in a trial transplantation of some 5,000 to 6,000 tonnes of mussel seed within the lough. As it transpired, the bed of mussel seed found in the lough was much larger than anticipated and local fishermen decided to pursue a different course of action.

Telecommunications Services.

Enda Kenny

Question:

384 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the charging arrangements for special cases currently being considered by ComReg in its consultation (details supplied) will be finalised; the reason the proposed reasonable access threshold of €7,000 is so low; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5785/06]

Under the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services)(Universal Service and Users Rights) Regulations of 2003, SI 308 of 2003, the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, may specify requirements to be complied with by a designated undertaking for the provision of certain basic telecommunications services, with my consent as Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

ComReg issued a decision notice and response to the consultation document to which the Deputy refers in September 2005, which was ComReg's document 05/70. This decision notice issued following my approval of their recommendation to me last summer that a threshold level of €7,000 for expenditure for connection to the public telephone network be deemed to be reasonable and proportionate. ComReg's recommendation followed a review, which included a public consultation undertaken by them in March of 2005 and discussions with eircom as the designated universal service obligations provider. I understand from ComReg that the number of applications received for service which would exceed the threshold of €7,000 is minimal.

Human Rights Issues.

Finian McGrath

Question:

385 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs to raise the question on the methods of torture used in Burma’s interrogation centres and prisons since March 1998 in the United Nations and at the European Union. [4984/06]

Ireland has taken a consistently strong position on Burma at the United Nations and within the European Union. Together with our EU partners we avail of all opportunities to condemn the abuse of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Burma and deplore the lack of progress towards democracy. Our goal remains an end to human rights violations, the release and restoration of liberty to Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners, and the realisation of democracy, peace and prosperity for the long-suffering people of Burma.

A recently published report, entitled The Darkness We See: Torture in Burma's Interrogation Centres and Prisons, published by the Association of Political Prisoners in Burma last December, was funded by Development Cooperation Ireland last year via Burma Action Ireland. DCI has also funded a second and related report which is due to be published soon. Total funding of €6,620 for the two publications was provided to assist the Association of Political Prisoners in Burma to document and raise awareness of human rights violations in Burma.

I will continue to raise the issues in question on all possible occasions and to work for real progress in Burma. I am pleased that the UN Security Council held a briefing on the situation in Burma last December. The UN Secretary General is expected to appoint a new special representative on Burma in the near future to replace Mr. Razali Ismail who resigned at the end of last year. I hope that the new special representative and the UN special rapporteur on the situation on human rights in Burma, Mr. Sergio Pinheiro, will be allowed to visit Burma at an early date and to meet with all the key players there. I also welcome the fact that ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, recently announced that it would send the Malaysian Foreign Minister as an envoy to Burma.

The EU applies a range of sanctions and restrictive measures against Burma, referred to as the EU common position, which are up for renewal in April 2006. In view of the absence of any progress in Burma, Ireland will be strongly supporting the renewal of the measures for a further year.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

386 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, with regard to decentralisation proposals that are relevant to his Department he is satisfied that sufficient numbers of staff at secretary and assistant secretary level are currently willing to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5026/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

387 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Secretary General of his Department has consulted with officers at assistant secretary level regarding decentralisation; the number who have expressed an interest in decentralising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5041/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 386 and 387 together.

Under the Government's decentralisation programme, the development co-operation directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is currently based in Dublin, is scheduled to decentralise to Limerick in the first quarter of 2007. The directorate is headed by a director general, at assistant secretary level.

Early in 2004, the Secretary General of the Department invited all departmental assistant secretaries to inform him if they had an interest in decentralising to Limerick with the development cooperation directorate, or elsewhere with other Departments or offices. As a result of this approach, two assistant secretaries expressed an interest in decentralising to Limerick. The post of director general of DCD has now been filled by one of those officers. No expressions of interest in decentralising with other Departments or offices have been received.

International Agreements.

Mary Upton

Question:

388 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the allegation that a person (details supplied) currently in a US prison was not afforded his right immediately subsequent to his arrest under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, of which Ireland and the US are ratified signatories, to be informed of his rights under that article; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that President George W. Bush stated in a 28 February 2005 memorandum for the US Attorney General, inter alia, that the United States will discharge its international obligations under the decision of the International Court of Justice in Avena and that therefore US courts would now have jurisdiction to determine whether such violations might have taken place and the implications for that person’s conviction and sentence if they had been; if his attention has further been drawn to communications between a person and the Irish Consulate in Massachusetts through which that person seeks to have his individually enforceable rights under the Vienna Convention vindicated in court and that, had it not been for the Avena decision of the ICJ, Ireland would have been morally obliged, as Mexico had been in the Avena decision, to bring a case on his behalf to the ICJ; his views on whether, in view of the Avena decision, that same moral obligation has transferred in order that Ireland must do everything in its power to ensure that a person’s rights under Article 36 of the aforementioned Vienna Convention are discharged by the US Government, even if that means supporting a person in his efforts to have such rights as have arisen under that international treaty discharged in US municipal courts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5147/06]

The Department of Foreign Affairs, through the consulate general in Boston, has closely followed the case of the person mentioned by the Deputy since shortly after his arrest in 1997 and has been in regular contact with him throughout his detention. The person in question was found guilty of the first degree murder of his girlfriend on 30 April 2001 and sentenced to life imprisonment. I understand that, following his arrest, the person made a full confession and that his history of mental illness constituted his main defence at the trial. His subsequent appeal against the guilty verdict was rejected. In 2002, an attorney was appointed by the Massachusetts judicial system to lodge a fresh appeal in this case. This appeal requested a new trial on two grounds. The first was that his Vienna Convention rights had been denied, as he was not offered a telephone call to the consulate after his arrest. The second was that the testimony given as to his disturbed mental state at the time of the crime was not given enough weight at his original trial. In 2003, this appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. His attorney subsequently lodged a petition for habeas corpus at the federal court. The court dismissed the petition on the grounds that it had been lodged too late.

The Irish consul-general in Boston recently met with the defence attorney and was informed that a further petition has been lodged to the US Supreme Court on the grounds that the person in question is entitled to habeas corpus relief. It is not appropriate for the Department of Foreign Affairs to become directly involved in legal disputes before the courts in other countries. However, the consulate general in Boston will continue to provide all appropriate consular assistance.

Genealogical Office.

Enda Kenny

Question:

389 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the competing claims for the dukedom of Leinster; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the dispute concerned was prompted by the eighth Duke of Leinster (details supplied) in December 2004 in respect of which a claim was submitted through the Crown Office to prove succession, and that a competing claim has been submitted on behalf of a person claiming to be the true heir-apparent of the fifth duke, and if a dispute before the Crown Office has implications for Irish titles, property or assets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4975/06]

Responsibility for genealogical matters reside with the genealogical office, a branch of the National Library of Ireland. The national library is an autonomous body under the aegis of my Department and responsibility for operational matters relating to genealogy is for the board of the National Library of Ireland.

Article 40 of the Constitution requires all citizens to be held equal before the law, and prohibits the conferral of titles of nobility by the State. Consequently, the genealogical office provides no recognition for such titles as those referred to in the Deputy's question. My Department has no role to play in property rights.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

390 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if, with regard to decentralisation proposals that are relevant to his Department he is satisfied that sufficient numbers of staff at secretary and assistant secretary level are currently willing to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5027/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

391 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the Secretary General of his Department has consulted with officers at assistant secretary level regarding decentralisation; the number who have expressed an interest in decentralising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5042/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 390 and 391 together.

In 2004 the Department of Finance requested each Secretary General or head of office to discuss the question of decentralisation with his or her senior officers at assistant secretary level. In total, up to 60 posts at this level are due to relocate under the decentralisation programme. The decentralisation implementation group reported in September 2004 that, at that stage, 19 individuals indicated that they would move or were likely to move and a further 19 would consider moving at a later stage. Since then vacancies at this level, including in this Department, are being filled by the top level appointments committee on the basis that the successful candidate will decentralise at the appropriate time.

I do not consider it appropriate to indicate the individual preferences of officers at this level in this Department but I am confident that there will be a sufficient cadre at this level to provide continuity of leadership and management experience as the decentralisation programme is rolled out over the coming years. The senior management of my Department are all actively involved in the preparation of the implementation plans for decentralisation to meet the timescale emerging from the work of the decentralisation implementation group which is co-ordinating the effort.

Sports Capital Programme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

392 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of applications submitted from counties Roscommon and Leitrim respectively under the sports capital programme 2006; the amount of funding sought in each county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5088/06]

The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Applications for funding under the 2006 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 27 and 28 November 2005. The closing date for receipt of applications was 20 January 2006. Under the 2006 programme 28 applications seeking funding totalling €3,776,258 were received from County Roscommon while 28 applications seeking funding totalling €3,676,670 were received from County Leitrim. All applications received before the deadline are being processed and will be evaluated against the programme's assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

Arts Funding.

Finian McGrath

Question:

393 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the reason work has stopped at a house (details supplied) in Dublin 5; and the further reason rats and pigeons are causing a major health hazard to the local community. [5095/06]

Northside Arts and Cultural Centre Limited was allocated a grant of €380,921, of which €190,460 was drawn down, in 1996 by the former Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands under the 1994-99 cultural development incentives scheme to redevelop the property in question as an arts and cultural centre. This company had leased the property from the Eastern Health Board. In March 2001, Northside Arts and Cultural Centre advised the Department that it could not proceed with the project. It is understood that the leasehold on the property has been surrendered to the owner and that property maintenance, upkeep and so forth are a matter for the Health Service Executive. My Department is not responsible for the property.

Tourism Industry.

Enda Kenny

Question:

394 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the breakdown of the projected figure of 8.5 million visitors here for 2006; the specifics of the multifaceted strategy to be adopted to accelerate the promotion of the regions of Ireland overseas; the projected spend of the €5 million allocated for this purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5127/06]

Given that the State received just about 7 million visitors in 2005, the figure of 8.5 million clearly does not represent a visitor growth target for the State for 2006. Most likely the Deputy is referring to the all-Ireland visitor growth target set by Tourism Ireland for 2006. To support Tourism Ireland in its work, I have secured an unprecedented level of Exchequer resources for tourism development —€134 million for 2006 — representing an increase of 7% on 2005. This investment will enable the tourism agencies — Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland — to deliver, in full, their ambitious plans for 2006 which will include a strong emphasis on addressing regional spread.

The increased marketing funding — up almost €5 million on 2005 — will enable both agencies to step up significantly their game on the marketing front this year. In securing the largest ever allocation of €40 million for the tourism marketing fund, I have specifically asked the agencies to focus on stimulating regional spread, promoting greater usage of special interest products, capitalising on air access developments and enhancing their e-marketing capabilities. Specific details of Tourism Ireland's marketing strategy for 2006 were announced in December last at a major event involving the industry and media, which I attended, and are freely available on the agency's website. Fáilte Ireland's calendar of promotions is similarly available on its website. As I said at the December launch, marketing campaigns of this nature are best left to the experts in the field and I am confident that the two agencies will deploy this funding to optimal effect.

Visitors

2005

Target Change

2005

Forecast Change

2006

Target Change

(000’s)

%

(000’s)

%

(000’s)

%

Great Britain

4,904

3

4,881

2.5

5,027

3

Mainland Europe

1,777

7.8

1,922

16.6

2,082

8.4

North America

1,072

7.8

994

0

1,079

8.5

New and Developing Markets

386

13

342

0

376

10

All Island Total

8,139

5.1

8,139

5.1

8,565

5.2

Enda Kenny

Question:

395 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the estimated number of holidays trips abroad in 2006 by Irish people; the estimated spend involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5128/06]

As the Deputy will be aware, I have no remit in relation to outbound tourism. As such, neither my Department nor its agencies has any estimates of the number of Irish people travelling abroad or their expenditure.

It is clear from CSO figures that outbound tourism in the last three years has grown at a higher rate than inbound tourism. Ireland's economic prosperity, particularly in comparison with that of our main tourism markets, coupled with the greatly improved access to foreign tourist destinations has undoubtedly contributed to this trend. However, it is also clear that our prosperity has fuelled significant growth in domestic tourism. CSO figures over the last five years show domestic holiday trips have increased by 32% and expenditure is up by over 50% over that period.

Against a backdrop of intense international competition for Irish holidaymakers, Fáilte Ireland — which is responsible for promoting the home market — has significantly stepped up its home holiday campaigns in recent years, backed by significant Exchequer resources.

Enda Kenny

Question:

396 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the measures which will be taken in 2006 to address the clear disparity of visitors among regions here; the schedule of actions to be taken and promotions undertaken to address this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5131/06]

As I previously advised the House, individual actions and measures relating to tourism promotion or development in so far as specific areas of the country are concerned are day-to-day functions of the State tourism agencies. Arising from the "New Horizons" policy review, national tourism policy has seen a particular emphasis on putting measures in place to achieve a wider regional spread of tourism business. This is especially important as the increase in shorter breaks and urban tourism continue to bite in rural areas.

In 2006, Fáilte Ireland will invest in excess of €60 million in developing regional tourism, from supporting local festivals to building capability and strengthening the tourism product itself. With regard to the promotion and development of tourism by the regions themselves, the authority will channel in the region of €10 million of this sum directly into the regional tourism companies to strengthen and enhance their operational and marketing capabilities this year. This investment is designed to ensure both a high quality visitor servicing experience at key tourist information offices and also a strong overseas promotional effort.

Both Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland are rolling out a number of very innovative approaches in 2006 which should heighten the regional impact of Ireland's marketing activities both nationally and overseas. Fáilte Ireland is introducing a new local area marketing fund to support the industry in generating additional business in 2006 and 2007. Recognising the importance of home holidays at regional level, the authority will invest €4 million to sustain the recent remarkable growth in the home market and it will also advertise domestic holidays and short breaks 44 weeks a year in order to reach and stimulate the impulse market. Fáilte Ireland's website www.ireland.ie generated half a million direct sales leads to the tourism industry during 2005.

On the basis that activities and attractions — things to do and see — are central to increasing spend per visitor, Fáilte Ireland will continue to assist in product development including developing and promoting looped walks, angling, festivals, cycling routes, equestrian, golfing and water based activities. In addition, a new €1 million innovation fund will be made available to industry groups seeking to develop and market new tourism initiatives.

The recruitment and training of people to work in tourism remains a key issue for the industry across all regions. In response, Fáilte Ireland has decided to deliver 80 return to work programmes in 55 locations and four temporary training centres will also be set up to attract approximately 500 local people into tourism. The programmes run at these workshops have proved to be extremely popular as a means of providing training relevant to the needs of local employers. Fáilte Ireland also recognises the particular pressures on small tourism businesses, and, in response, is establishing tourism business networks in every county in the country as a practical step to helping small businesses address their own development needs.

Tourism Ireland, for its part, will invest an estimated €5 million in 2006 specifically to support promotion of the regions of Ireland overseas and will engage in additional, co-operative marketing with all regions. Key activities include presenting "super region" brands based on strategic marketing alliances between adjoining neighbour regions. Building on the success of the "Go West" initiative, which was launched last year, Tourism Ireland is proposing an enhanced joint marketing programme for the regions. The campaigns will highlight the attractions of the area, ease of access and present good value packages from the industry to consumers in the key markets of Great Britain and mainland Europe. It will present and promote a series of all-island tourist theme trails or "rainbow routes" to help tourists get the most out of their visit. Themes will include music, gourmet, literature, history, Christian heritage, houses and gardens and will be cross-regional. It will further promote and support regional access development as well as reinvigorating the car touring sector.

As the Deputy will appreciate, visitors cannot be forced to go to a particular location against their will. The responsibility primarily lies with the individual communities and operators in the regions to present and market compelling attractions, facilities, accommodation and experiences that deliver value for money and quality service. The Deputy will be aware that the initiatives to which I have already referred are being undertaken against a backdrop of a restructuring and refocusing of the delivery of tourism at regional level that will effectively lead to the provision of a one-stop-shop for the tourism industry in the regions, with strong regional representation.

This revision of regional tourism structures, which I have fully endorsed, is based on the PricewaterhouseCoopers, PWC, and Travers reports on how best Fáilte Ireland might carry out its development mandate countrywide. The PWC report highlights the need for a much wider and strategic brief for regional tourism. It recommends a greatly increased emphasis on targeted marketing, product development and enterprise support and suggests establishing an integrated linkage between regional tourism strategy and national policy and exploiting avenues to leverage increased resources. An implementation group, chaired by Mr. Finbarr Flood, was established to assist Fáilte Ireland in implementing the recommendations of the two reports. Fáilte Ireland expects that changes on foot of this work will be seen in the regions later this year.

Decentralisation Programme.

Séamus Pattison

Question:

397 Mr. Pattison asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress made regarding the position of the decentralised Government office for Carlow. [4955/06]

My Department has been making good progress in implementing its decentralisation programme. In relation to the site, the current position is that the Office of Public Works has completed the purchase of a site in Carlow town centre. Next steps in the process will include the OPW issuing a call for expressions of interest for the design, build, finance and maintain procurement option selected for this project by the decentralisation implementation group, and approved by the Government.

OPW has indicated that it will be seeking expressions of interest for the project in March of this year, with a view to awarding a tender subject to planning permission, following this pre-selection phase, during the autumn of 2006. The OPW expects construction to begin early in 2007. In the meantime, staff opting for decentralisation continue to be assigned to decentralising areas of my Department. I have not ruled out the option of moving some of my Department's functions to Carlow within a shorter timeframe than that foreseen for the completion of the new building. This option will be explored by my officials in consultation with staff and decentralising business units and provided that suitable high-standard accommodation can be found in Carlow.

Work Permits.

Pat Breen

Question:

398 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a permit for an extended stay will be granted to a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4988/06]

The work permits section of my Department has indicated that the above named individual's current permit expired on the 21 January 2006 and that it has no record of a renewal application being received. In order for a new permit to issue, the employer will have to submit a renewal application on behalf of this employee.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

399 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, in relation to decentralisation proposals that are relevant to his Department he is satisfied that sufficient numbers of staff at secretary and assistant secretary level are currently willing to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5028/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

400 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the Secretary General of his Department has consulted with officers at assistant secretary level regarding decentralisation; the number who have expressed an interest in decentralising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5043/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 399 and 400 together.

Of the approximately 300 posts in my Department decentralising to Carlow there are, based on the most recent information available, 256 first preference applications registered with the Central Applications Facility. In 2004 the Department of Finance requested each Secretary General or head of office to discuss the question of decentralisation with his or her senior officers at assistant secretary level. In total, up to 60 posts at this level are due to relocate under the decentralisation programme. The decentralisation implementation group reported in September 2004 that, at that stage, 19 individuals indicated that they would move or were likely to move and a further 19 would consider moving at a later stage. Since then vacancies at this level, including in my Department, are being filled by the top level appointments committee, TLAC, on the basis that the successful candidate will decentralise at the appropriate time.

I do not consider it appropriate to indicate the individual preferences of officers at this level in my Department. Senior management of my Department are actively involved in the preparation of the implementation plans for decentralisation to meet the timescale emerging from the work of the decentralisation implementation group.

Research Funding.

Denis Naughten

Question:

401 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of applications received under the research, technology and innovation grant by Enterprise Ireland in 2005; the number of applications approved in 2005; the amount approved; the budget for allocation in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5086/06]

The RTI scheme is managed by Enterprise Ireland, on behalf of its clients and those of IDA Ireland, Shannon Development and Údarás na Gaeltachta. It supports commercially focused, industry-led projects in product and process development. In 2005, 153 applications were received for the scheme, of which 150 were supported. The total value of approvals in 2005 was €30.6 million and it is expected to exceed €32 million in 2006. The budget for grant payments in 2006 is €23 million.

Community Employment Schemes.

Tom Hayes

Question:

402 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding persons aged 50-55 employed on community employment schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5110/06]

The main purpose of the community employment programme operated by FÁS is to provide work experience and training for the long-term unemployed and disadvantaged groups and thereby enable participants to advance successfully to employment in the open labour market. Following a review of FÁS employment schemes — community employment, job initiative and social economy programmes — on 10 November 2004 I announced that the three-year cap for participants on community employment was raised to six years for those over 55 to ensure the maintenance of essential community services particularly in rural areas, where it had been found that difficulties existed in finding replacement participants.

Persons aged between 50 and 55 years normally leave the programme after three years but I am informed by FÁS that about 20% of participants including persons less than 55 years of age may benefit from an additional year on the programme under the flexibility guidelines introduced in August 2001.

Competition Policy.

Jack Wall

Question:

403 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views in regard to the submission accompanying this question; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5118/06]

I am writing directly to the Deputy in response to the submission he has sent me. In the meantime, I have set out below my views on each of the specific points made in that submission in regard to the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2005.

It is claimed that the Bill does not adequately deal with predatory pricing. He refers to my Department's report and analysis of the Restrictive Practices (Groceries) Order. It is true that the report does state that it is unlikely that any firm would be considered to be dominant in the grocery market if it holds less than 35% market share, and that on that basis no grocery retailer would be considered dominant in the national Irish market. However, as the report makes clear, the matter is more complex than this. "Dominance" under section 5 of the Act can be measured either in the State or "in any part of the State". Therefore, the existing legislation is sufficiently flexible to allow the Competition Authority or the courts to tackle predatory pricing in all circumstances, including small local markets. Specifically, an individual supermarket outlet in a small rural town, whether part of a multiple chain or otherwise, could be considered dominant, in certain circumstances, within the meaning of the Competition Act 2002, and thus prosecuted if it engaged in predatory pricing.

The submission further states: "Thus with the abolition of the Groceries Order predatory pricing is no longer banned in the Irish Grocery sector." This is completely inaccurate. Predatory pricing is already prohibited by section 5 of the Competition Act 2002, which outlaws the abuse of a dominant position in a market. The Competition Act 2002 is based on Articles 81 and 82 of the EC Treaty. There is a strong body of case law which shows that these provisions can be and are used to prohibit and punish predatory pricing. Furthermore, predatory pricing is punishable under Irish competition law by fines of up to €4 million or 10% of turnover. These penalties are much greater than those which applied under the groceries order and are likely to act as a real deterrent to any business contemplating predatory pricing. Finally, the Competition Authority has extensive powers and a dedicated division of expert staff which investigates allegations of companies abusing a dominant position. The circumstances of each allegation are unique and each complaint is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The submission refers to "restriction of offer". At this point, I am not in favour of imposing statutory rules in regard to restriction of offer type arrangements. Such a measure would be extraordinarily difficult to enforce and would represent an interference in the freedom to trade that is not in the interests of guaranteeing fair competition in the grocery market.

With regard to credit terms, I would point out that on 7 August 2002 the European Communities (Late Payment in Commercial Transactions) Regulations 2002, SI No. 388 of 2002, came into operation on foot of Directive No. 2000/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council. These regulations apply to all commercial transactions in the public and private sectors. They provide that interest shall be payable in respect of the late payment of a commercial debt. A payment is regarded as late if it has not been paid 30 days after an invoice or goods have been received or by a date as agreed by contract. The regulations also provide that compensation may be claimed for debt recovery costs. The use of terms that are grossly unfair may be unenforceable and such terms may be challenged in court. Criteria for testing whether terms are grossly unfair are specified in the regulations and such terms may also be challenged by organisations representing small and medium sized enterprises.