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 14, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 15 to 56, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 57 to 63, inclusive, answered orally.

Nuclear Programmes.

Enda Kenny

Question:

64 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department has had contact with the Pakistani Government with regard to the status of its nuclear programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6812/06]

Ireland, along with our EU colleagues, is deeply concerned about the ongoing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, considering it to be a major threat to international peace and security. The European Council in December 2003 adopted a strategy against the proliferation of such weapons. Under this strategy, the EU will use all political and diplomatic instruments at its disposal and undertake a wide range of actions to stem the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery by both state and non-state actors. In this context, the EU has underlined the importance of full compliance with, and national implementation of, existing disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and agreements and other relevant international obligations.

Moreover, all EU member states, under an EU Common Position, agreed in November 2003, are legally obliged to promote the universalisation of key multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation agreements, including the NPT.

Ireland has a long-standing policy of support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, going back to Frank Aiken's initiative almost 50 years ago, and attaches the utmost importance to its universalisation. India, Israel and Pakistan are the only three countries that have not acceded to the NPT and Ireland will continue to avail of every opportunity to call for their adherence to the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states — nationally, within the EU, within the New Agenda Coalition, NAC, and at the United Nations.

Ireland strongly supports United Nations Security Council Resolution 1172 passed in June 1998 which, inter alia, calls on India and Pakistan to become parties to the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, CTBT, and to immediately stop their nuclear weapons development programmes, including the development of ballistic missiles capable of nuclear weapons delivery.

In February 2004, my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, led an EU ministerial level troika to Pakistan and, in line with this Common Position, emphasised our desire that Pakistan adhere to the NPT. At the NPT review conference in New York last May, I stated that it was a matter of serious concern that India, Israel and Pakistan continue to remain outside the NPT regime and I urged them to accede to the treaty unconditionally and at an early date. Such a call has also been made in recent statements by the European Union.

In addition, Ireland, with our partners in the New Agenda Coalition, introduced a resolution on the NPT to the first committee of the United Nations General Assembly last October. A separate vote was called on the paragraph in the resolution that urged India, Israel and Pakistan to accede to the treaty. The paragraph was supported by 148 countries. Last December, when the issue was taken up in the plenary of the General Assembly, 158 UN member states endorsed this call. Pakistan voted against that paragraph of the resolution at the first committee but abstained during the plenary.

Human Rights Issues.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

65 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the procedures for the review in general of the association agreement between Israel and the European Union and, in particular, compliance with its human rights clauses; the procedures which are in place for such a review; and the proposals in this regard. [6986/06]

The EU-Israel association agreement was signed on 20 November 1995. It entered into force on 1 June 2000. This agreement replaced an earlier EU-Israel co-operation agreement which dated from 1975.

The EU-Israel association agreement is a mixed competence agreement. This means that in addition to economic, trade and trade related matters, it also covers areas such as political dialogue and various matters which arise in the framework of justice and home affairs policy, all of which are within the competence of the individual EU member states. Ireland ratified the agreement on 15 May 1997.

As in the case of all the Euro-Mediterranean association agreements, the EU-Israel agreement covers a wide range of issues. In line with the current generation of association agreements between the EU and its Mediterranean partners, the preamble emphasises the importance of the principles of the United Nations charter, in particular the observance of human rights, democratic principles and economic freedom. Respect for human rights and democratic principles constitute an essential element of the agreement.

The agreement provides for political dialogue at ministerial and senior official level and at parliamentary level through contact between the European Parliament and the Knesset. It emphasises the need to promote peace, security and regional co-operation, the need to contribute to the stability and prosperity of the Mediterranean region and to promote understanding and tolerance. A joint declaration attached to the agreement stresses the importance which both parties attach to the struggle against xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism.

To review its operation, the agreement provides for meetings of an association council at ministerial level and of an association committee at the level of senior officials. These meet regularly, in the normal course once a year, in order to examine and discuss issues arising from the operation of the agreement and any other issues of mutual interest.

The fifth meeting of the EU-Israel association council at ministerial level was held in Brussels on 13 December 2004. It consisted of a dinner attended by representatives of all EU member states at which political matters were discussed, and a formal meeting where economic, trade and trade-related matters were dealt with. A meeting of the association committee at senior official level was held in April 2005. Last year saw the establishment of ten EU-Israel sub-committees to assist the association council and association committee on technical matters. These sub-committees deal with political dialogue and co-operation, as well as economic and financial issues, customs matters and social and migration affairs. Human rights matters are discussed by the sub-committee on political dialogue and co-operation.

The sixth meeting of the EU-Israel meeting was scheduled to take place in Brussels on 12 December 2005, in the margins of a meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. However, in light of political developments in Israel, the meeting was postponed until after elections to the Knesset to be held in March 2006.

Middle East Peace Process.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

66 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the stance of the US administration in relation to Hamas to date. [6967/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

67 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is in a position to respond, and his views on the Government’s position and that of the European Union, in relation to the recent statement from Hamas that a commitment to ultimate withdrawal behind the 1967 borders on the part of Israel would be a basis for peace talks with Israel and would include de facto as well as de jure recognition of Israel. [6985/06]

Seán Crowe

Question:

92 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the statement made by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, following the Palestinian parliamentary elections, to NATO Defence Ministers including a number of EU Defence Ministers that contacts with Hamas are out of the question; and his views on whether such a statement is conducive to peace-building efforts. [6965/06]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

100 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the stance of Israeli officials in relation to Hamas to date. [6968/06]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

146 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the 30 January 2006 meeting of EU Foreign Ministers following the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7109/06]

Damien English

Question:

147 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding the Middle-East peace talks following the recent elections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6817/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 66, 67, 92, 100, 146 and 147 together.

The Government, and our partners in the EU, welcomed the professional conduct of the Palestinian legislative elections, which were held on 25 January. It is a tribute to President Mahmoud Abbas, and to the Palestinian people, that the process was seen to be both free and fair, and that the voters turned out in such large numbers. Hamas gained an overall majority of seats in the new Palestinian Legislative Council, which met for the first time on 18 February. We now await the formation of a government.

In the aftermath of the elections, the international community has adopted a united approach in setting out the basic principles which must be respected by all parties to the Middle East peace process. A lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli — Palestinian conflict can only be found through a negotiated, mutually-satisfactory two-state solution. The principles and steps set out clearly in the quartet roadmap continue to provide the only available framework for such a settlement.

The meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which I attended on 30 January, reviewed developments in the peace process in the light of the election results. The Council issued a clear message that violence and terror are incompatible with the democratic process. It urged Hamas and all other factions to renounce violence, to recognise Israel's right to exist, and to disarm. The Council also urged the Legislative Council to support the formation of a government committed to a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the conflict, based on existing agreements and on the terms of the roadmap. Later the same day, the members of the quartet — the US, UN, EU and Russia — agreed that all members of a future Palestinian government must be committed to non-violence, to recognition of Israel, and to acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including those of the roadmap. The quartet also stated that it was inevitable that future assistance to a new government would be reviewed by donors against that government's commitment to these basic principles.

The Government and our partners in the EU will continue to work closely with President Mahmoud Abbas and to monitor the situation carefully, including the range of statements emanating from different quarters. We will not prejudge the outcome of the discussions now taking place on the formation of a new government. We need to examine carefully, in co-operation with our international partners, how best to encourage Hamas to take the vital steps so clearly set out by the international community, while adhering to our fundamental principles.

I recognise fully the very real sense of concern in Israel at the victory of Hamas in the elections and the prospect of a government led by Hamas. The Israeli Government, at its meeting on 19 February, set out a number of measures which it intends to implement once a Palestinian government has been formed. I welcome its stated intention to await the formation of that government, which is not expected for several more weeks.

The EU is determined to maintain its strong support for those Israeli and Palestinian political leaders with the courage to take the difficult decisions necessary for a negotiated settlement, leading to the creation of a democratic and viable Palestinian state, living in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours. I and my colleagues in the General Affairs and External Relations Council will review developments further when we meet in Brussels on Monday next, 27 February.

EU Defence Policy.

John Perry

Question:

68 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to European developments in the sphere of security and defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6854/06]

The European security and defence policy, ESDP, is an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP, and serves the Union's general objectives of peace and stability. These objectives and the provisions governing the ESDP are set out in the Treaties of Amsterdam and of Nice, which were approved by referendum. In this context, the European Union is increasing its ability to contribute to both the civilian and military dimensions of crisis management.

It is important to distinguish between the ESDP, which continues to develop, and the possibility of a common defence. Any move to a common defence would be for decision by the European Council acting unanimously and in accordance with member states' constitutional requirements. At present, there are no proposals for such a move. In any event, Ireland's position is clear. The amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann in October 2002 precludes Ireland from participating in a common defence. As a consequence, the people would have to amend Bunreacht na hÉireann before Ireland could take part in a common defence.

The Union is continuing to develop its capabilities for crisis management, both military and civilian. The objectives which it has set itself are clearly set out in the military headline goal 2010 and the civilian headline goal 2008. The General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 21 November 2005 reviewed the progress of activities in both of these areas. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, on behalf of the Minister for Defence, reported to the House on 7 December 2005 in relation to the military elements of the discussion. On progress towards the civilian headline goal, Ministers adopted a declaration in which they reiterated their strong commitment to the further development of civilian crisis management and noted with satisfaction the work undertaken to date. Ministers recommended that priority should be given to improving the EU's ability to react more quickly to crises, as well as to addressing issues related to the logistical support and financing of the EU's civilian crisis management actions.

An important aspect of ESDP is the development of a standby military rapid response capacity, in the form of battlegroups. As Deputies will be aware, the establishment by the EU of such a capacity has received the strong support of the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and been endorsed in the outcome document of the world summit last September.

Almost all EU member states have already made a commitment to contribute to a specific battlegroup formation. Apart from Ireland, the only countries which have not done so are Denmark, which is in a special position due to its opt-out in this area, and Malta. Ireland has indicated to its EU partners a positive disposition to taking part in battlegroups, and the legal, operational and other issues surrounding participation have been considered by an interdepartmental working group established by the Minister for Defence, which included representatives of my own Department. The report of the working group has been considered by the Cabinet committee on European affairs and, informally, by the Government. Further to this consideration, as the Minister for Defence recently announced, exploratory discussions with like-minded countries will begin shortly with regard to the possibility of participation by the Defence Forces in a battlegroup.

Decentralisation Programme.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

69 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has met Dóchas to discuss its concerns regarding the Government decentralisation programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6836/06]

I have not met Dóchas on this specific issue but I am aware of its concerns with respect to the decentralisation of the development co-operation directorate of the Department to Limerick. These concerns were set out in a letter received from Dóchas to which my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, replied in detail on 31 January. In this letter, the Minister stated that decentralisation is a Government decision which we are committed to implementing and Department officials are currently involved in detailed planning and implementation of the decentralisation project. We look forward to continued engagement and co-operation with Dóchas and other stakeholders throughout the process of decentralisation. My officials continue to meet regularly with Dóchas to discuss a wide range of matters and while I have not received a specific request to meet with Dóchas on decentralisation, I am happy to discuss the issue with Dóchas or any other interested party.

Human Rights Issues.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

70 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the occasions on which he has raised the issue of human rights violations at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay with the US Administration; if he will be raising with the US Administration the recent UN Commission on Human Rights report which calls for the closure of Guantanamo highlighting the human rights abuses at Guantanamo, including torture; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7113/06]

I refer the Deputy to the reply I gave to the Priority Question No. 58 of today on this issue.

Foreign Conflicts.

Seán Ryan

Question:

71 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had occasion to review the position of the Government with respect to the legality of the current war and occupation in Iraq, in view of the information available regarding the legal position communicated by Lord Goldsmith the Attorney General of the United Kingdom to the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair by memo on 7 March 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6976/06]

Seán Ryan

Question:

167 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had occasion to review the position of the Government with respect to the legality of the current war and occupation in Iraq in view of the views recently published by the former Attorney General of Ireland, Mr. Declan Costello, in an article in a publication (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6977/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 167 together.

On the outbreak of the war in Iraq, the Taoiseach moved a motion which was adopted by the Dail on 20 March 2003, which reaffirmed Ireland's commitment to the United Nations as the guarantor of collective global security and the appropriate forum for the resolution of disputes threatening international peace and security. In his statement to the House, he acknowledged that there was no clear legal consensus on whether there was a mandate for the use of force against Iraq, based on previous Security Council resolutions. He noted that the arguments put forward by the coalition asserting the existence of a mandate were also supported by a number of countries which were not participating in the military action. However, he made clear the Government's position that Ireland could not participate in the military campaign without an explicit further Security Council mandate. This remains the Government's position, and it is not intended to re-examine our position on the invasion of 2003 in the light of subsequent comments or views expressed by legal experts.

In relation to current military activity, it is clear that the international forces serving in Iraq are operating at the request of the Iraqi Government and under UN mandate. The presence of the multi-national force in Iraq was authorised by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1511 of October 2003. This authorisation was reaffirmed in Resolution 1546 of June 2004, and was recently extended to the end of 2006 by Resolution 1637, which was adopted unanimously by the Security Council in November 2005.

Human Rights Issues.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

72 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the Government’s response to the Council of Europe’s inquiry, chaired by a person (details supplied), into secret detention centres and US extraordinary renditions will be issued; if the response will be made public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7110/06]

On 14 December 2005, I stated in Dáil Éireann the Government's intention to co-operate fully with the Council of Europe investigations into the allegations mentioned by the Deputy.

Two investigations are currently under way under the aegis of that body. The first is an investigation by Senator Dick Marty, a rapporteur appointed by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The second takes the form of a questionnaire which has been sent to all member states of the Council of Europe by the Secretary General, Mr. Terry Davis. In respect of the first investigation, the Department of Foreign Affairs has not been contacted by Senator Marty who, in his most recent information memorandum to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, accurately records the Government's "total condemnation" of the practice of extraordinary rendition.

In respect of the second investigation, as I informed the House yesterday in response to a parliamentary question, the Government has co-operated fully with the Secretary General's request, which he sent on 21 November 2005. Preparation of the Government's response has required input from a number of different Departments and Government bodies. This response, in which the Government emphatically answers in the negative the Secretary General's questions on whether "unacknowledged deprivation of liberty" might have taken place in Ireland, is now complete and was transmitted to the Secretary General on Monday in advance of the deadline. The Government's response was laid before Dáil Éireann yesterday. In addition, it has now been made public, and is available for download from the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

National Development Plan.

Liz McManus

Question:

73 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has received a copy of Co-operation Ireland’s submission to the National Development Plan 2007-2013; if he has noted its recommendation for increased practical co-operation for mutual benefit; his views on this document; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6990/06]

The Government announced in August 2005 that it will prepare a national development plan for the period 2007 to 2013. The current NDP has seen an unprecedented investment in our economic and social infrastructure. To build on that success, the Government will set out a new blueprint for investment for the seven year period after the expiry of the current plan. The new plan will in particular seek to address the investment now necessary to maintain national competitiveness within a sustainable economic and budgetary framework.

The all-island dimension will be a particular strategic theme of the new NDP. In preparing proposals for the new NDP, Departments have been asked to include proposals on enhanced North-South co-operation. As part of the extensive consultation process under way in preparation for the next NDP for the period 2007 to 2013, I received a submission from Co-operation Ireland.

I welcome Co-operation Ireland's input into the NDP consultation process. Co-operation Ireland is an important promoter of practical cross-Border co-operation. Through its education, exchange and facilitation programmes, as well as its work on the all-island Pride of Place Award and as an intermediary funding body for the Peace II and INTERREG IIA programmes, it makes an important contribution to developing mutual understanding and reconciliation on a cross-Border basis.

Its recommendations, which cover issues such as the future funding of cross-Border programmes, the practical barriers to co-operation and the importance of co-operation in the education sector, are valuable in informing our thinking, not just with regard to the NDP, but to North-South co-operation in general.

EU Membership.

Michael Noonan

Question:

74 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to Turkey’s application for EU membership; when the matter is next to be discussed with his EU counterparts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6847/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

248 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which discussions have taken place at EU level in the matter of Turkish membership of the Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7433/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 74 and 248 together.

Accession negotiations were opened with Turkey on 3 October 2005, marking the beginning of what is set to be a protracted and complex process. Turkey's accession could have substantial financial consequences and the conclusions adopted at the Council on 3 October 2005 indicate that the negotiations can only be concluded after the establishment of the Union's financial framework for the period beyond 2014.

The agreed negotiating framework states that the shared objective of the negotiations — an open-ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand — is accession. Turkey will be expected to maintain its commitment to the full implementation of human rights and other reforms. The negotiating framework also states that the Union's capacity to absorb Turkey will be an important consideration. The issue of the Union's absorption capacity is expected to be raised in the context of the forthcoming debate on the Union's enlargement strategy. It is recognised that the Union must remain rigorous in demanding the fulfilment of its criteria for membership. It is also accepted that the Union must communicate effectively with EU citizens and respond to concerns that have been raised in order to anchor support for the enlargement process.

The Commission is currently engaged with Turkey in conducting a screening process designed to assess their state of readiness in the various chapters of the accession negotiations. It is expected to take until late 2006 to complete the screening process for all chapters. After each chapter has been screened, the Council can decide, on the basis of a proposal from the Commission, whether negotiations can be opened in these specific areas. To date, two screening reports, concerning the science and research and education and culture chapters, have been forwarded by the Commission to the Council for consideration.

On 12 December 2005, the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, welcomed agreement on the accession partnership with Turkey, which has the objective of dealing with problems related to accession. The Council encouraged Turkey to update its national plan for implementing the identified priorities and recalled that the advancement of negotiations would be guided by progress in implementing the accession partnership. Ireland is providing assistance to Turkey as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs' bilateral assistance programme, which is designed to help new member states and candidate countries prepare for the challenges of EU membership.

In December, the Council also recalled that the Union will ensure follow-up in 2006 on those issues set out in the counter declaration of the EU and its member states of 21 September 2005. This counter declaration was issued in response to Turkey's statement that its signature of the additional protocol to the Ankara agreement — which takes account of the accession of ten new member states, including the Republic of Cyprus to the Union — did not amount to the recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. The EU's counter declaration stresses that the opening of negotiations on certain chapters will depend on Turkey's implementation of its contractual obligations to all member states, including the Republic of Cyprus.

UN Recruitment Policy.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

75 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the manner in which positions within the United Nations and its agencies are advertised to the Irish public; his views on whether more can be done to ensure the widest possible recruitment to such positions; and if he will make a statement on such reforms as he favours on the matter. [6974/06]

Recruitment to the United Nations and its agencies is a matter for the UN and the agencies concerned. They conduct recruitment competitions centrally, advertising a range of positions as they arise, both via the Internet and in the international print media.

The UN Charter at Article 101.1 provides that staff shall be appointed by the Secretary General under regulations established by the General Assembly. Article 101.3 provides that the paramount consideration in the employment of the staff and in the determination of the conditions of service shall be the necessity of securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity. It also provides that due regard shall be had to the importance of recruiting the staff on as wide a geographical basis as possible.

I am satisfied that Irish applicants enjoy equal status with citizens of other member states when seeking positions with the UN. I am also satisfied that Irish nationals are fairly represented among the personnel employed by the UN Secretariat, including at senior level. Indeed under the UN system for measuring geographic distribution, the number of Irish nationals employed is currently at the maximum point within its range.

I would like to mention one particular UN programme, the junior professional officer programme, JPO, which is managed by the development co-operation division, DCD, of my Department. This programme is designed to provide individuals with experience of multilateral development co-operation undertaken within the UN system. In 2004, DCD ran a recruitment competition in cooperation with the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners, and in consultation with the relevant UN agencies which were represented on the interview board. The six successful candidates took up their positions in 2005 and it is expected that they will complete their assignments in early 2007. A new JPO competition will take place in the last quarter of 2006. Advertisements will be placed in the national newspapers and on www.publicjobs.ie. DCD maintains a database of individuals who express an interest in the JPO programme and e-mail notification will be sent to everyone on this database in advance of the next competition.

In addition, UN development specialist volunteer positions funded by Development Co-operation Ireland are advertised throughout the non-governmental organisations development network, using where possible the websites of Dóchas and Comhlámh. Last year, Development Co-operation Ireland initiated a new United Nations volunteer internship programme on a pilot basis. Following advertisements in all the national newspapers, ten positions were filled. All positions with the UN volunteer programme were advertised in prominent positions on the Development Co-operation Ireland website www.dci.gov.ie as well as on the Comhlámh website www.comhlamh.org. A link to the webpage was also sent out to subscribers to the Development Co-operation Ireland electronic newsletter.

The outcome document agreed by last September's UN world summit called on the Secretary General to develop proposals to ensure that the existing budgetary, financial and human resources policies, regulations and rules are aligned with the current and future needs of the organisation with a view to enabling him to carry out his managerial responsibilities more effectively. The Secretary General is expected to submit a set of concrete proposals to the General Assembly in the coming weeks. Ireland and its partners in the EU will look constructively at proposals to reform human resources management with a view to ensuring that the UN is equipped with the skilled and versatile workforce it needs in addressing the global challenges of the 21st century.

Human Rights Issues.

Bernard Allen

Question:

76 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had recent discussions with the US Government with regard to the rendition of prisoners through Irish facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6815/06]

As Deputies will be aware from my replies to previous questions on this subject, most recently Parliamentary Question No. 35 of 14 December 2005, the United States has given Ireland repeated, clear and explicit assurances that no prisoners have been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission. These assurances were confirmed by Secretary Rice at our meeting on 1 December, and have been confirmed during several meetings already this year, including as recently as last week.

In the Government's contacts with the US authorities, on which I have reported to the House on numerous occasions, we have been concerned above all to ensure that no extraordinary rendition of prisoners has occurred or is occurring through Ireland. The assurances that we have received from the US authorities that this is indeed the case have been categorical and unambiguous — indeed in the wider European context they are of particular clarity and completeness. I should add that our complete opposition to the practice of extraordinary rendition has been made clear on numerous occasions.

Overseas Development Aid.

John Deasy

Question:

77 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level of funding allocated by the Government to Ethiopia for 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6833/06]

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

104 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the proportion of Irish aid to Ethiopia that is on a Government basis; the proportion that is spent through regional and sectoral agencies autonomous from the federal government; and if he will ensure that no aid is discontinued to those in need in the areas of health, education and special needs such as HIV and AIDS. [6997/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 77 and 104 together.

Ireland's total bilateral aid to Ethiopia in 2005 amounted to €35 million. It is expected that the total funding to Ethiopia in 2006 will be at approximately the same level. Ireland's support to Ethiopia is focused on addressing the basic needs of the rural poor. Ireland does not provide general or direct budget support to the federal government of Ethiopia.

Of the total budget for 2005, €5.3 million was delivered to sectoral programmes in the areas of health, education and transport. Working with the relevant ministries, Ireland earmarked support for the training of health workers and teachers and the improvement of rural roads.

Ireland also assisted two regional authorities — Tigray in northern Ethiopia and the SNNPR, southern nations nationalities and peoples region in the south. In Tigray, Ireland expended €6 million to assist the authorities to provide a full range of services, health, education, etc., to the people of this very poor region. In the southern nations region, Ireland provided support of €4.3 million to the regional authorities' programmes in education, health and HIV-AIDS.

A key component of Ireland's programme in Ethiopia is our support to the social safety nets fund, administered by the United Nations, which provides some 7 million of the poorest Ethiopians with cash for food in exchange for labour. This innovative fund, which was established with assistance and expertise from Ireland, is perceived as an invaluable instrument in preventing up to 7 million people from facing starvation each year.

In 2005, Irish non-governmental organisations working in Ethiopia received financial support of €5 million. These included Concern, GOAL, Self Help Development International and Trócaire. An additional €2 million was shared with over 30 Ethiopian-based non-governmental organisations to mitigate the effects of the HIV-AIDS pandemic.

Ireland expended €4.5 million on initiatives promoting better governance in Ethiopia. Activities supported included promoting the voice of poor communities and facilitating Government institutions to be more responsive to people's needs, including assistance for the Human Rights Commission and civic education.

In 2006 the aid programme in Ethiopia will continue to focus on the rural poor with the emphasis on the areas of health, education, good governance, HIV-AIDS and the safety nets programme. The aid programmes in all of Ireland's programme countries, including Ethiopia, are constantly monitored and reviewed to ensure the continuous relevance and quality of the programmes.

Recent negative political developments in Ethiopia have raised questions about Ireland's development co-operation programme in Ethiopia. In the light of these developments, Ireland along with other donors, has been reviewing our aid activities and plans in Ethiopia. In making any assessment and future decisions about Ireland's cooperation with Ethiopia, I will be guided by the situation on the ground and by close contact and liaison with Ireland's EU and like-minded development partners. I will at all times take a careful and measured approach to ensure that any decisions taken will not impact negatively on the poor.

Foreign Conflicts.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

78 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the most recent position in relation to the declaration of results in the recent election in Haiti, including the apparent delay in the declaration of a final result; and the role of the United Nations in the preparation and execution of the election and the prospects for a peaceful transition in the country. [6987/06]

The Haitian interim government and the provisional electoral authority of Haiti, Conseil Electoire Provisoire, reached an agreement on 16 February under which René Préval was declared the winner of the presidential elections held on 7 February. It is my understanding that Mr. Préval was declared the winner following an agreement to interpret the Haitian electoral law so as to exclude over 80,000 blank votes from the final count. As a result, Mr. Préval received 51.15% of the valid votes cast and therefore achieved an outright victory in the presidential election without the need for a run-off poll.

United Nations forces played a key role in facilitating the elections as well as improving the security environment in Haiti. The United Nations Stabilisation Mission to Haiti, MINUSTAH, worked with local authorities to launch civic education programmes to prepare for the elections. It also co-operated in demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration efforts. MINUSTAH has provided and continues to provide assistance to the Haitian national police, Police Nationale d’Haïti or HNP, in the development of a reform plan aimed at enhancing professionalism and technical skills, but has noted that respect for the human rights of the Haitian population continues to be compromised by a mixture of criminal violence and institutional deficiencies. MINUSTAH has, therefore, been working to develop local capacities, including by training and advising local human rights organisations, while continuing to monitor human rights on the ground.

On the day of the elections, MINUSTAH's 7,500 troops and 1,800 police officers patrolled throughout the country together with the HNP. A joint security plan was put in place for polling day, which offered a 30-minute response time to all voting centres, except 78 isolated sites, where quick reaction forces could be deployed by helicopter if necessary. Particularly volatile red sites were identified and were detailed a permanent UN military presence, with support from the HNP and MINUSTAH police officers. Military reserves were made available at every level and helicopters were deployed around the country to provide rapid reaction and medical evacuation capacity.

In the run-up to the elections, the Security Council also urged the Haitian authorities to increase and accelerate efforts to prepare for and ensure the smooth conduct of the elections and called on international donors to provide the necessary resources to support the election process. On 14 February 2006 the United Nations Security Council extended the mandate of MINUSTAH until 15 August 2006.

On 21 February 2006 the Austrian Presidency, on behalf of the EU, issued a statement congratulating President René Préval on his new mandate and reiterating the EU's support for reconstruction and development initiatives in Haiti. The statement also congratulates the people of Haiti on the high voter turnout for the presidential election, which marked the first step in the process of re-establishing democratic institutions in Haiti, despite serious technical and logistical problems in the run up to polling day. The statement, which has Ireland's full support, notes that the holding of free and fair elections in Haiti is essential in ensuring a return to a secure and stable society and emphasises the importance of holding successful legislative and parliamentary elections in order to consolidate the rule of law and the creation of strong, stable institutions in Haiti. In this regard the European Commission deployed an EU Election Observation Mission, EOM, to Haiti on 12 November 2005, although the elections were subsequently delayed.

As Haiti enters a new phase, I would encourage all political and social actors to come together in a spirit of national reconciliation and dialogue in order to build strong democratic institutions, social and economic stability and an inclusive governance system. Respect for the rule of law and abstention from all kinds of violence is of key importance to ensuring a secure and stable environment in Haiti.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Liz McManus

Question:

79 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of the comprehensive agreement; if the timetable for the devolution of responsibility for justice and policing to the Northern Ireland Assembly remains the template from which the two Governments are working; the efforts that have been made to encourage all parties to support policing arrangements in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6991/06]

Regrettably, it did not prove possible to reach agreement on the proposals for a comprehensive agreement in December 2004. However, the package published at that time remains an important reference point for the Governments' ongoing engagement with the political parties in Northern Ireland, which has as its ultimate objective the restoration of partnership Government and the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement at the earliest possible opportunity.

Recommendation 20 of the Patten report stated that responsibility for policing should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive as soon as possible. The criminal justice review stipulated that the same range of criminal justice functions as are devolved to the Scottish Parliament should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The British Government published draft enabling legislation and a discussion document on 16 February 2006 indicating a willingness to devolve most reserved powers in this field, including matters related to the criminal law, public order, the creation of offences, the police service and the courts.

It is now for the political parties to decide on the exact scope of devolution and the shape of any future ministry or ministries. I am aware that all political parties are willing in principle to support the devolution of policing and justice in the right circumstances. In order for powers to be transferred, a cross-community vote in the Assembly will be required and it is envisaged that the process of transferring responsibility will take a period of up to two years from the date of that vote.

The Government has made it clear that the restoration of the institutions and the devolution of policing and justice powers will require all parties to fully endorse the police service and the criminal justice system, both of which have undergone wide-ranging transformation in recent years as part of the ongoing implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The Taoiseach and I have reiterated directly our view to the Sinn Féin leadership that there should be no further delay in joining the policing board and supporting the police. I have also made it clear that endorsement of policing requires a willingness to encourage people to deal with and join the police. It also involves taking a full and constructive part in the work of the policing board and the district policing partnerships.

The PSNI has been described by the independent oversight commissioner as one of the most accountable policing organisations in the world. A new culture of policing is being created in Northern Ireland, and it is important that all political parties partake in consolidating that culture. With the publication of the draft legislation and the British Government's stated commitment to devolving policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, one of the final elements of the Patten reform package is now being put in place. In light of these positive developments, a decision by Sinn Féin to endorse the new policing arrangements would ensure that nationalist areas have the full benefit of an effective, accountable police service, as is their entitlement under the Good Friday Agreement.

EU Funding.

Michael Noonan

Question:

80 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to mid-term review of the agreed financial perspectives for the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6831/06]

Liam Twomey

Question:

140 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the final position with regard to agreement on the future financial perspectives for the EU for the period 2007-2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6841/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 80 and 140 together.

Deputies will be aware of the political agreement reached at last December's European Council meeting on the enlarged European Union's future financial perspectives for the period 2007-2013. The House had an opportunity to debate the matter in detail on 25 January this year when the Taoiseach presented his report of that meeting and outlined its successful outcome for Ireland and the Union as a whole. The Taoiseach and I also wrote to all Oireachtas Members and Irish MEPs in early January with details of the agreement and its significance for Ireland.

The agreed package preserved Ireland's key interests and provides the enlarged Union with the necessary financial framework to meet the challenges of the coming period. The review mechanism provided for in the December agreement invites the Commission to submit a report in 200809 covering all aspects of EU spending and resources. We are pleased that the review will be carried out in a transparent manner with the participation of all member states. Any decisions arising out of this review will require unanimous support.

The Council is currently working with the European Parliament and the Commission on an inter-institutional agreement to give legal effect to the future financial framework for the period 2007-13. The European Parliament, as the Council's partners in deciding the EU budget, will be very aware of the political realities surrounding this agreement which balances the expectations of the cohesion countries, the financing needs of agriculture and other key EU policies, and the interests of those countries that are net contributors to the EU budget. The Government is working with the Austrian Presidency and with partners generally to ensure that the final agreement maintains the delicate balance achieved in December.

Nuclear Programmes.

Michael Ring

Question:

81 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department has had contact with the Israeli Government with regard to the status of its nuclear programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6813/06]

Ireland, along with our EU colleagues, is deeply concerned about the ongoing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, considering it to be a major threat to international peace and security. The European Council in December 2003 adopted a strategy against the proliferation of such weapons. Under this strategy, the EU will use all political and diplomatic instruments at its disposal and undertake a wide range of actions to stem the proliferation of WMD and their means of delivery by both state and non-state actors. In this context, the EU has underlined the importance of full compliance with, and national implementation of, existing disarmament and non-proliferation treaties and agreements and other relevant international obligations.

An integral and important aspect of this policy is the EU's continuing commitment to the objective of pursuing a mutually and effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, biological and chemical, and their delivery systems, as set out in the Barcelona Declaration of 1995.

Ireland has a long-standing policy of support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, and attaches the utmost importance to its universalisation. India, Israel and Pakistan are the only three countries that have not acceded to the NPT and Ireland will continue to avail of every opportunity to call for their adherence to the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states — nationally, within the EU, within the New Agenda Coalition, NAC, and at the UN.

At the NPT review conference in New York last May, I stated that it was a matter of serious concern that India, Israel and Pakistan continue to remain outside the NPT regime and I urged them to accede to the treaty unconditionally and at an early date. Such a call has also been made in recent statements by the European Union in line with an EU Common Position on the universalisation of key multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation agreements, adopted in 2003. The EU has made clear that Israel's accession to the NPT, and the placement of all its nuclear facilities under the comprehensive safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, is of great importance to the EU as it would contribute to the peace and stability of the region and the prospects of an overall settlement in the Middle East.

In addition, Ireland, with our partners in the New Agenda Coalition, introduced a resolution on the NPT to the first committee of the United Nations General Assembly last October. A separate vote was called on the paragraph in the resolution that urged India, Israel and Pakistan to accede to the treaty. The paragraph was supported by 148 countries. Last December, when the issue was taken up in the plenary of the General Assembly, 158 UN member states endorsed this call. On both occasions, however, Israel voted against the resolution.

Foreign Conflicts.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

82 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to legitimate desire for independence of the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic; if Ireland has changed its position from full recognition accorded some years ago at the UN; the proposals he favours for the achievement of international law in this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7003/06]

The Government has consistently supported the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. Ireland played a prominent role in seeking a solution to the Western Sahara dispute during its term on the UN Security Council, and the Government has remained closely engaged with the issue. As regards recognition, there has been no change in the position of the Government, that is, that a Saharan state that meets the internationally recognised criteria for recognition has not yet come into being and, therefore, the question of recognition by Ireland does not arise. In addition, an announcement of recognition in these circumstances would prejudge the question of self-determination, and impede the outcome of UN efforts to bring about a solution.

The Government continues to believe that the Baker II plan, recommended to the parties by the Security Council in July 2003, represents the best framework for a negotiated settlement which respects the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people. The plan envisages a preparatory phase under UN supervision, leading to a referendum to determine the future of the territory. The Government also strongly supports the continuing role of the UN in working to bring the parties towards an agreement, under the new special representative of the Secretary General, Mr. Peter Van Walsum. The issue is very likely to be considered again by the by the UN Security Council in April, when the mandate of the UN monitoring mission in the Western Sahara is due for renewal.

Aid Distribution.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

83 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level of funding allocated to Pakistan in the aftermath of the earthquake which devastated large parts of that country for 2006; the manner in which such aid is being distributed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6832/06]

Within hours of the appalling disaster of 8 October 2005 in Pakistan, the Government pledged an initial €1 million for humanitarian relief assistance. As the scale of the catastrophe became clear, the Government quickly increased this amount to €10 million in support of relief and recovery efforts. This places Ireland as one of the highest donors per capita to this disaster. Some €8 million of this funding was disbursed in 2005 to UN agencies, the Red Cross family and Irish NGOs, such as Concern, GOAL, Trócaire, Oxfam Ireland, Plan Ireland and World Vision Ireland, which have been providing much-needed humanitarian assistance in the region. The remainder of the pledge will be carefully targeted to assist the recovery process.

Former Taoiseach, Mr. Reynolds, represented Ireland at a reconstruction conference convened by the Government of Pakistan in November. Mr. Reynolds presented the report of his findings to me following the conference.

I travelled to the affected region in December with my Dutch colleague. I met President Musharraf and Prime Minister Aziz, both of whom briefed me on the challenges facing the country. I also met the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator for the relief effort, the Red Cross and Irish NGOs working in the region. I saw at first hand the devastation caused by the earthquake and the logistical difficulties in the relief and recovery effort. I visited GOAL in Bagh district and saw its food distribution network in operation. I visited Concern, which has adapted its long-term programme there, to meet the relief needs in the camps and surrounding area.

My Department remains in close contact with the UN which, with the Government of Pakistan, is leading the relief effort. While there is some evidence of recovery, the delivery of emergency relief such as shelter, food, health services and the logistical support to deliver these services, continues to be a priority. We are conscious of the continuing challenges facing the relief effort and the need to provide sustained and substantial relief into the spring. Ireland will continue to play its part in the relief and recovery process.

EU Constitution.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

84 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the most likely procedure to be followed here and in other EU countries in the matter of the ratification of the European constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7054/06]

It is for each member state to ratify the European constitution in accordance with its own legal and political requirements. Belgium completed the parliamentary process required for it to ratify the European constitution on 8 February. This means that 14 of the 25 member states have now ratified the constitution.

Following last year's negative referendum results in France and the Netherlands, the European Council decided to embark on a period of reflection concerning the constitution and the future of Europe. During the current Austrian Presidency, the European Council will take stock of the situation and decide how best to proceed at this time.

Given the continuing uncertainties at European level, the conditions are not now right for holding a referendum on the EU constitution in Ireland. In the circumstances, and while we remain very strongly committed to the constitution, there are no plans at this time to move the 28th Amendment of the Constitution Bill, which was published in May 2005, to Second Stage.

EU Battle Groups.

Paul McGrath

Question:

85 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the EU States which have agreed to participate in the development of EU battlegroups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6849/06]

Paul McGrath

Question:

91 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has discussed Ireland’s participation in an EU security and defence force with the Department of Defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6851/06]

John Gormley

Question:

117 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the contacts he has had in the past 12 months with other EU states concerning Ireland’s proposed participation in EU battle groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7103/06]

Paul Kehoe

Question:

123 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has discussed an EU security and defence force with his European counterparts at recent meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6850/06]

Dan Boyle

Question:

128 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if consideration will be given to enshrining the triple lock in the Constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7105/06]

John Gormley

Question:

144 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the legislation his Department is considering or preparing to allow Irish troops to fully participate in EU battlegroups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7104/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

245 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has satisfied himself regarding the extent of Ireland’s participation in European defence and security measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7430/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

250 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the result of discussions he might have had with his European colleagues in respect of European defence and security measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7435/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 85, 91, 117, 123, 128, 144, 245 and 250 together.

The European security and defence policy, ESDP, is an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, CFSP, and serves the Union's general objectives of peace and stability. These objectives and the provisions governing the ESDP are set out in the Treaties of Amsterdam and of Nice, which were approved by referendum. In this context, the European Union is increasing its ability to contribute to both the civilian and military dimensions of crisis management.

It is important to distinguish between the ESDP, which continues to develop, and the possibility of a common defence. Any move to a common defence would be for decision by the European Council acting unanimously and in accordance with member states' constitutional requirements. At present, there are no proposals for such a move. In any event, Ireland's position is clear. The amendment to Bunreacht na hÉireann in October 2002 precludes Ireland from participating in a common defence. As a consequence, the Irish people would have to amend Bunreacht na hÉireann before Ireland could take part in a common defence.

The Union continues to develop its capabilities for crisis management, both military and civilian. The objectives which it has set itself are clearly set out in the military headline goal 2010 and the civilian headline goal 2008. The General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 21 November 2005 reviewed the progress of activities in both of these areas. The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, on behalf of the Minister for Defence, reported to the House on 7 December 2005 in relation to the military elements of the discussion. On progress towards the civilian headline goal, Ministers adopted a declaration in which they reiterated their strong commitment to the further development of civilian crisis management and noted with satisfaction the work undertaken to date. Ministers recommended that priority should be given to improving the EU's ability to react more quickly to crises, as well as to addressing issues related to the logistical support and financing of the EU's civilian crisis management actions.

An important aspect of ESDP is the development of a stand-by military rapid response capacity, in the form of battlegroups. As Deputies will be aware, the establishment by the EU of such a capacity has received the strong support of the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and been endorsed in the outcome document of the world summit last September.

Almost all EU member states have already made a commitment to contribute to a specific battlegroup formation. Apart from Ireland, the only countries which have not done so are Denmark, which is in a special position due to its opt-out in this area, and Malta. Ireland has indicated to its EU partners a positive disposition to taking part in battlegroups, and the legal, operational and other issues surrounding participation have been considered by an interdepartmental working group established by the Minister for Defence, which included representatives of my own Department. The report of the working group has been considered by the Cabinet committee on European affairs and informally by the Government. Further to this consideration, as the Minister for Defence recently announced, exploratory discussions with like-minded countries will begin shortly with regard to the possibility of participation by the Defence Forces in a battlegroup.

As I have previously reported to the House in Questions No. 241 of 2 February 2005, Question No. 36 of 28 April 2005 and Question No. 45 of 2 June 2005, I met the Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Finland in January 2005 and the Foreign Minister of Austria in April 2005. I discussed a range of issues, including possible Irish participation in battlegroups. I have not had any more recent discussions with EU counterparts on the matter. As regards legislation to allow Irish troops to participate in EU battle groups, the Deputy will be aware from recent statements by my colleague, the Minister for Defence, that he intends to introduce legislation to amend the Defence Acts in a number of respects.

As the Taoiseach, the Minister for Defence and I have stated on many occasions, the Government remains committed to the triple lock requirements of UN approval, Government decision and Dáil resolution. However, the Government sees no reason for a constitutional amendment to enshrine the triple lock in the Constitution. The 1937 Constitution, consistent with our system of representative democracy, invested certain responsibilities in relation to foreign and security policy in the Government and the Oireachtas. The Constitution is not intended, nor is it the purpose of a Constitution to do so, to spell out every aspect of the functioning of the State. I believe that matters like the triple lock are more appropriately dealt with by the Government and the Oireachtas, in exercise of the responsibilities given to them by the Constitution, rather than in the Constitution itself.

EU Membership.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

86 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures Croatia is taking towards meeting membership criteria for the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6835/06]

Accession negotiations were opened with Croatia on 3 October 2005. According to the agreed negotiating framework, the shared objective of the negotiations — an open-ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand — is accession. Croatia will be expected to maintain its commitment to the full implementation of human rights and other reforms. The negotiating framework also states that the Union's capacity to absorb Croatia will be an important consideration.

The issue of the Union's absorption capacity is expected to be raised in the context of the forthcoming debate on the Union's enlargement strategy. It is recognised that the Union must remain rigorous in demanding the fulfilment of its criteria for membership. It is also accepted that the Union must communicate effectively with EU citizens and respond to concerns that have been raised in order to anchor support for the enlargement process.

The Commission is currently engaged with Croatia in conducting a screening process designed to assess their state of readiness in the various chapters of the accession negotiations. It is expected to take until late 2006 to complete the screening process for all chapters. After each chapter has been screened, the Council can decide, on the basis of a proposal from the Commission, whether negotiations can be opened in these specific areas. To date, two screening reports, concerning the science and research and education and culture chapters, have been forwarded by the Commission to the Council for consideration.

On 12 December 2005, the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, welcomed agreement on the accession partnership with Croatia, which has the objective of dealing with problems related to accession. It encouraged Croatia to update its national plan for implementing the identified priorities and recalled that the advancement of negotiations would be guided by progress in implementing the accession partnership. Ireland is providing assistance to Croatia as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs' bilateral assistance programme, which is designed to help new member states and candidate countries prepare for the challenges of EU membership.

Human Rights Issues.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

87 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the adequacy of the response by the Government of Egypt and the United Nations in terms of international law to the killing and injuring of large numbers of Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in the course of the forceful dispersal of a protest in front of the UN in Cairo, specifically in view of the fact that some estimates put the number of dead at over 200; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6998/06]

The tragic events which took place in Cairo on 30 December 2005 were shocking. According to information available to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 27 Sudanese demonstrators were killed in clashes with the police, who had acted to break up a demonstration at the UNHCR office in Cairo. I would like to take this opportunity to extend our sympathies to the families of those were killed, and to the people who were injured.

I share the profound regret expressed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that this situation was not resolved peacefully and through dialogue, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had consistently urged. Some 2,500 Sudanese migrants had been demonstrating at the UNHCR office in Cairo since 29 September, to protest at their living conditions and to demand resettlement in third countries. It is deeply regrettable that patient mediation efforts, involving intensive dialogue between the UNHCR and the Egyptian authorities, failed to avert a tragic outcome. Violence of this nature can never be justified. Following the incident, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo expressed the grief and sorrow of the Egyptian Government at the deaths and injuries and underlined its commitment to working in cooperation with the UNHCR to meet its obligations to Sudanese refugees in Egypt.

Since the incident, the UNHCR has been working closely with the Egyptian Government for the release of all the demonstrators who were detained on 30 December and to ensure that none are deported from Egypt, in particular to the Darfur region. In January, the UNHCR also resumed the registration of asylum seekers and the renewal of identity cards which, since September, had been hampered by the demonstrations.

The situation of Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Egypt remains a matter of concern. The Government fully supports the work of the UNHCR in relation to the legal status of Sudanese migrants in Egypt, and their living conditions. It is essential that the UNHCR and the Egyptian Government work closely together to ensure that there is no repeat of the tragic events which occurred at the end of September.

Ireland is also playing its part. For the past number of years, the Government has been providing much-needed assistance, administered through the embassy in Cairo, to contribute to meeting the medical and education needs of Sudanese refugees in Cairo and in Alexandria.

EU Conventions.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

88 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when Ireland intends to ratify the European Union convention on corruption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6980/06]

Ireland has already ratified the Convention on the Fight against Corruption Involving Officials of the European Communities or Officials of Member States of the European Union. For the purposes of this convention, the term "official" means an employee of the European Communities, as defined by the staff regulations and conditions of employment of officials of the European Communities, or a person seconded to the European Communities who carries out an equivalent function, or a national official as defined by the national law of the member state in which the person in question performs his functions.

The terms of the convention were approved by Dáil Éireann on 17 December 2002 and, as required by the convention, Ireland deposited with the Secretary General of the Council of the European Union, on 11 March 2003, its notification of the completion of constitutional procedures for the adoption of the convention. The convention entered into force on 28 September 2005, 90 days after the last of the 15 pre-enlargement member states deposited its instrument of notification with the Secretary General of the Council of the European Union.

Avian Flu.

Billy Timmins

Question:

89 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the co-operative efforts being undertaken by EU member states to establish protection for citizens in the event of an avian flu outbreak; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6806/06]

Gerard Murphy

Question:

112 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had recent discussions with his European counterparts with regard to avian flu protection in the event of an outbreak; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6805/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 89 and 112 together.

As the House is aware, the H5N1 virus, first identified in poultry in south-east Asia two years ago, has since been confirmed in a number of other Asian countries, in west Africa, the Caucasus, western Europe, and in an increasing number of EU member states including, most recently, Germany and France. As the Minister for Agriculture and Food has noted, the role of migratory birds in spreading the virus is such that there are obvious limitations on what can be done to prevent the virus's introduction into Ireland. Much of her Department's focus, therefore, is on equipping ourselves to identify any outbreak quickly and to move to ensure its speedy eradication if it arrives here.

At its meeting on 18 October 2005, the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, resolved to keep the issue of avian influenza under close review and to return to it as the situation requires. The GAERC considered the matter further at its meeting on 7 November 2005 and received reports from the Presidency and Commission. Avian influenza is also discussed in other Ministerial Council formations, primarily agriculture, which considered the matter at its meeting on Monday last. In addition to the ministerial meetings, the issue is receiving constant attention at official level at meetings of the chief veterinary officers and at the standing committee on the food chain and animal health.

The Commission has moved swiftly to apply safeguard measures to all affected countries. As a precautionary measure, the Commission adopted at an early stage several decisions to ensure that no poultry meat, untreated meat products or birds other than poultry, such as ornamental and pet birds, are imported from countries where avian influenza has occurred. In the coming days the Commission will adopt further decisions on measures to be taken by member states in the case of an outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza in wild birds and in commercial poultry. These measures will further reinforce EU legislative provisions for dealing with an avian flu outbreak. As the House is aware my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, is continuing to review and modify contingency arrangements to minimise the risk of an outbreak of avian influenza in Ireland and thereafter to control and eradicate any disease outbreak.

The possible implications of avian influenza for human health are also under consideration at EU level, primarily by the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council which had a detailed discussion on the matter at its meeting on 9 December 2005. An informal meeting of EU Health Ministers will take place in Vienna later this week to discuss further the possible impact of avian influenza on human health. At official level, a special expert group has been established for the purpose of improving strategic co-ordination at EU level, for sharing views and best practice among member states on issues related to pandemic influenza, and for discussing the international aspects of any possible outbreak.

Nuclear Programmes.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

90 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether the general failure by key state parties to implement the nuclear proliferation treaty is a crucial element in the current impasse over Iran’s development of nuclear technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6978/06]

Tom Hayes

Question:

106 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions that Iran has had with the EU3 (details supplied) with regard to nuclear development in Iran; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6853/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

120 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the latest status of IAEA testing in Iran; the discoveries which have been made with regard to nuclear development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6842/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 90, 106 and 120 together.

The IAEA board of governors adopted a further resolution on 4 February 2006 which set out a number of confidence building measures that Iran should take and requested Iran to extend full and prompt co-operation to the agency, which the director general deemed was indispensable and overdue. In particular, Iran was requested to help the agency clarify possible activities which could have a military nuclear dimension. The resolution asked the director general to report to the UN Security Council that these steps are required and also to report all relevant reports and resolutions. A further report from the director general is scheduled to be issued in advance of the next board of governors meeting on 6 to 10 March. It will thereafter also be sent to the Security Council.

An oral report by the IAEA deputy director general at the 2 to 4 February board of governors meeting detailed a number of recent discoveries by the IAEA inspection team relating to Iran's nuclear programme. One issue of particular concern to the IAEA inspectors, which was noted in the resolution reporting Iran to the Security Council, is the existence of a document concerning the production of uranium metal hemispheres. The process of producing these uranium metal hemispheres is related to the production of nuclear weapon components.

Following the decision by the IAEA board of governors to report Iran to the Security Council, Iran notified the IAEA that it would no longer implement the provisions of the IAEA additional protocol. The IAEA will now revert to an inspector presence in Iran based on its safeguards agreement of 1974. This agreement allows the agency, inter alia, to take environmental samples at declared facilities and use unattended monitoring equipment. However, the IAEA will no longer have the same degree of access, for example, access at short notice to all buildings on a nuclear site, or the taking of environmental samples beyond declared locations. Negotiations between the E3-EU and Iran are currently suspended following Iran’s decision in August 2005 to recommence conversion of uranium at its Isfahan facility. This action was in breach of the Paris agreement signed by Iran and the E3-EU, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, in November 2004. There had been several rounds of these negotiations and the E3-EU had just presented detailed written proposals before Iran’s actions in August brought the process to an end.

Last December, officials representing the E3-EU and Iran met in Vienna to explore whether there was a basis for a resumption of negotiations. There was no concrete outcome from the talks but both sides agreed to meet again in January. Before the meeting took place, Iran decided to recommence enrichment related activities. I believe that the issue can still be solved by negotiations but this will require a co-operative and transparent approach on the part of the Iranian government and the implementation of the confidence building measures set out by the board of governors.

There have been suggestions that the failure to implement the NPT on the part of other states may be a factor in the current impasse over Iran's nuclear programme. Moreover, the fact that Israel, India and Pakistan are not signatories to the NPT undoubtedly adds to tension in the wider region. At the same time, all parties to the NPT have obligations which must be implemented in full; conditional implementation is not an option. At the NPT review conference in New York last May I made clear the particular importance Ireland attributes to the nuclear disarmament obligations in the treaty. I stated my conviction that disarmament and non-proliferation are mutually reinforcing processes requiring irreversible progress on both fronts. At the same time, I stressed that neither the continued retention of nuclear weapons nor the unsatisfactory rate of progress in their elimination can ever serve as a justification for proliferation by other states.

Question No. 91 answered with QuestionNo. 85.
Question No. 92 answered with QuestionNo. 66.

Corruption Levels.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

93 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department has analysed the position in relation to information published as to the existence of high level corruption in Kenya; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6979/06]

The Government is aware of the allegations of high-level corruption made by Mr. John Githongo. Following a period as director of Transparency International Kenya, Mr. Githongo was appointed Permanent Secretary for Ethics and Governance by President Kibaki when he won the presidential election in December 2002. Having reportedly received death threats, Mr. Githongo fled Kenya in February 2005 and went into exile in Britain. In November 2005, Mr. Githongo sent President Kibaki an extensive report relating to what has become known as the Anglo leasing affair. Mr Githongo visited Ireland in November last and discussed the issue of corruption generally with officials of my Department.

Details of Mr. Githongo's report became public on 23 January 2006 and were followed by the resignations of the Ministers for Finance and Energy and of an assistant to President Kibaki. The Minister for Education has also resigned having been implicated in a previous corruption scandal. He and 19 other suspects have been required to surrender their passports as part of criminal proceedings.

Ireland welcomes President Kibaki's general emphasis on fighting corruption and his attempts to strengthen the legislative and institutional anti-corruption framework. The series of resignations that has occurred must be welcomed as a positive sign of a rejection of corruption. We must remember that the current scandal has been identified by Kenyans themselves and addressed by Kenyans. This is a sign of some progress.

The issue of governance and corruption is always of grave concern to donors, including Ireland. Good governance is a key driver of development. Corruption by its very nature impedes development and has huge costs for an economy. The promotion of governance is a growing part of Ireland's aid programmes, including in Kenya, where Ireland is assisting with parliamentary reform.

The Government remains committed to supporting development in Kenya where Ireland has a long history of engagement. Ireland does not provide budget support to the Government of Kenya but works with donor partners, NGOs, missionaries and other agencies in providing a wide spectrum of assistance to Kenya, including in the areas of education, health, governance and emergency assistance. In the last two years Ireland has provided approximately €12 million in assistance to Kenya.

The Government will continue, along with its EU and international partners, to monitor closely the developing situation while emphasising the need for the Kenyan Government to persevere in using all political and administrative means available to combat corruption.

Decentralisation Programme.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

94 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason the number of development specialists within Development Co-operation Ireland volunteering for decentralisation has fallen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6837/06]

Dan Boyle

Question:

97 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress in the decentralisation of staff from Development Co-operation Ireland to Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7106/06]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

161 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of senior development specialists with Development Co-operation Ireland volunteering to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6821/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 94, 97 and 161 together.

Under the Government's decentralisation programme, the development co-operation directorate, DCD, of the Department of Foreign Affairs, currently based in Dublin, will decentralise to Limerick. This is scheduled to take place during the first quarter of 2007 and will involve the relocation to Limerick of 124 posts.

Already, a total of 26 posts in the directorate, including that of director general, are filled by officers who have signalled their intention to decentralise to Limerick. Nine of these officers were already serving within the Department and the remainder is made up of 11 officers who have been recruited from other Departments via the central applications facility, CAF, for Limerick, four who have been assigned from inter-departmental promotion panels and two newly-recruited officers.

In addition, there are currently 15 officers serving elsewhere in the Department, mostly abroad, who have also expressed an interest in decentralising to Limerick. These officers will be assigned to the directorate on a phased basis. The process of recruiting further staff for Limerick via the CAF is now being accelerated. The aim is that, by the second half of 2006, most posts in the directorate will be filled by staff who will decentralise to Limerick. This total of 41 represents some 33% of the posts being transferred to Limerick.

Five officers included in the above total are development specialists, of whom four were recruited since the announcement of the decentralisation programme in December 2003 and one applied via the CAF. Two senior development specialists, and a further four development specialists, who had also applied, have since withdrawn their applications. Those that did so indicated that they did not have sufficient information regarding the conditions of service that would be applicable to specialists transferring to Limerick, or to those that chose to remain in Dublin. Discussions are ongoing with representatives of the specialists, with their union IMPACT, and with the Department of Finance about the issues involved which, of course, also have a wider Civil Service dimension.

Democratisation Process.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

95 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the way in which the Government supports and engages in democratisation processes in African countries in which it operates as a donor; the measures which have been taken in response to recent political unrest in these countries, for example in Ethiopia and Uganda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6863/06]

Martin Ferris

Question:

141 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the conditions currently attached to aid from Ireland to developing countries; and the systems in place to ensure that in situations involving human rights abuses aid is redirected through alternative channels when appropriate. [6964/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 and 141 together.

The Government is committed to helping the poorest and most vulnerable people in the developing world. Support for good governance and democratisation is critical for eradicating poverty and promoting development. Ireland's aid programme is committed to strengthening good governance in our partner countries through support for democratic systems of government; public sector reform; strengthening the rule of law; and enhancing respect for human rights.

For example, in Lesotho, Ireland supports electoral reform and civic education. In Mozambique support is provided for capacity building programmes for electoral bodies. In Ethiopia, Ireland supports the Human Rights Commission as well as local non-governmental organisations active in the areas of human rights and prisoner support. In Uganda, Ireland supports the promotion of free and fair elections and through our embassy in Kampala is participating in monitoring the presidential and parliamentary elections.

The aid programmes in all of Ireland's programme countries, including Ethiopia and Uganda, are constantly monitored and reviewed to ensure the continuous relevance and quality of the programmes. Recent negative political developments in Ethiopia and Uganda have raised questions about Ireland's development co-operation programmes in those countries. In the light of these developments, Ireland, along with other donors, has been reviewing its development aid activities and plans in both countries.

In 2005, the Government reduced aid to Uganda by €3 million because of concerns about the slow pace of democratic reform and transition to a multi-party system. We are continuing to assess the situation over this crucial period in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections.

In making future assessments of and decisions about Ireland's cooperation with Uganda and Ethiopia, I will be guided by the situation on the ground and by close contact and liaison with our EU and like-minded development partners. I will at all times take a careful and measured approach ensuring that any decisions will not impact negatively on the poor in either country.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

96 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on recent comments from the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the salaries and allowances of MLAs elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly may shortly be terminated; his view on whether this represents a threat to the maintenance of democratic culture in Northern Ireland as only those of independent or other means will be able to maintain a living through politics; his further views on whether this threatens the livelihoods of an entire generation of politicians in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6989/06]

I understand that the recent comments by the Secretary of State to which the Deputy refers were made in the context of the need to make political progress in Northern Ireland in 2006. The Secretary of State made the point that salaries and allowances continue to be paid to elected members of institutions that have not met since 2002 and expressed the view that tax-payers and voters would not put up with this situation indefinitely. In that context, he urged the parties to engage with the political process. He said that in the absence of political progress by the summer, he would have to review the issue of salaries.

The focus of the two Governments is clearly on the restoration of the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement at the earliest practicable opportunity. The Taoiseach and Prime Minister Blair made it very clear at their meeting on 26 January at Farmleigh that 2006 is the decisive year for the peace process. The Governments remain convinced that those best placed to lay the foundations for a prosperous and peaceful future for Northern Ireland are the political parties themselves. It is for this reason that the Secretary of State and I are engaging in the current round of talks in a joint effort to set out the arrangements and timetable for the restoration of the institutions.

It is clear that we have an ambitious goal. It is also clear that the parties must work with us to enable the necessary trust to be rebuilt in order that the restored institutions will have solid and stable foundations. The Taoiseach said in the Dáil last week that: "The solution is to end the debate by creating trust and confidence for everybody to make the necessary decisions". I am determined that our current work should lead to progress in this regard, to enable the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland to once again make important decisions on behalf of their constituents, within the framework of the devolved institutions. I believe this is the best way to sustain the democratic culture and foster the next generation of politicians in Northern Ireland.

Question No. 97 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

Nuclear Programmes.

Denis Naughten

Question:

98 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has discussed the possible development of nuclear weaponry by North Korea with his EU counterparts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6811/06]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

115 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of IAEA inspections undertaken recently in North Korea; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6814/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 98 and 115 together.

The issue of the nuclear programme of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, DPRK, is kept under close and regular scrutiny within the European Union. The International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, has the responsibility of carrying out inspections of nuclear and related facilities under the safeguards agreement with the DPRK, which was ratified in 1985. Following the expulsion of the IAEA inspectors on 31 December 2002, however, the agency has been unable to draw any conclusions regarding nuclear activities in that country.

The EU has called for the DPRK's compliance with its safeguards agreement with the IAEA and the full implementation of all the required safeguard measures, including the return of IAEA inspectors. The EU also issued a statement in February 2005 expressing its strong concern about the DPRK's statement that it possessed nuclear weapons and urged the DPRK to completely dismantle any nuclear weapons programme in a prompt, transparent, verifiable and irreversible manner and to comply with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT. The EU has indicated its support for the efforts of the IAEA director general to enter into dialogue with the DPRK, with a view to restoring the verification role of the IAEA.

The IAEA board of governors has also expressed serious concern about the DPRK nuclear issue, considering it to be a serious challenge to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime, as well as to the peace and stability of north east Asia. The IAEA board of governors emphasised the importance of continued dialogue to achieve a peaceful and comprehensive solution of the DPRK issue and, in this regard, said it attached great importance to the crucial role played by the six party talks between the DPRK, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States.

Ireland, together with our partners in the EU, supports the six party talks process and urges the DPRK to co-operate with the international community to find a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue. While not directly involved in these talks, the EU has availed of every opportunity to confirm the Union's willingness to contribute to the international efforts to move matters forward. The Union has also indicated our readiness to consider enhanced co-operation with the DPRK if the present difficult situation can be resolved in a satisfactory manner.

EU Constitution.

Dan Neville

Question:

99 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if elements of the EU constitution, which could be acted upon without referendum, will be prioritised for action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6810/06]

Agreement on the European constitution was arrived at following a long and complex set of negotiations. The outcome represents a finely balanced package and we oppose any suggestions for its selective implementation which could disturb that essential balance. It remains the Government's firm wish to see the constitution, as agreed in 2004, enter into force following ratification by all member states.

There are a number of areas, however, where it may be possible to make pragmatic improvements to the functioning of the Union within the existing treaty framework. For example, in December 2005 a decision was taken to improve openness and transparency with regard to the EU Council of Ministers. I am very supportive of moves towards greater transparency in EU business which can help give people a greater sense of engagement with, and ownership of, decisions taken at EU level.

Another area currently attracting attention is the role played by national parliaments in EU affairs. This is an area where more could be done without the need for treaty change and I would welcome further discussion of the contribution of national parliaments to the democratic life of the Union.

Question No. 100 answered with QuestionNo. 66.

Diplomatic Relations.

Joan Burton

Question:

101 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on recent aggressive statements made on behalf of the United States Government by its Secretary of Defence, Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, with respect to certain democratically elected Heads of State in Latin America, including the likening of President Chavez of Venezuela to Adolf Hitler; his further views on continuing allegations of United States conduct of espionage, support for a general strike and other efforts to undermine and remove the Government of that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6973/06]

I am aware of recent comments which US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld has made, including a likening of President Chavez to Adolf Hitler. Such comments reflect continuing tensions in relations between the United States and the Government of Venezuela, which are also reflected in, inter alia, accusations of espionage. It goes without saying that any political change in Venezuela should not occur other than peacefully and democratically.

The EU continues to follow the situation in Venezuela with great interest, in particular efforts to promote national reconciliation and respect for democratic principles, tolerance and dialogue. The legislative elections which took place in December 2005, unfortunately, did not contribute to the reduction of divisions in Venezuelan society, which is characterised by extreme political polarisation and regular acts of political violence. In this sense, they represented a lost opportunity. The EU remains concerned about aspects of a number of policies being pursued by the Venezuelan Government, particularly in relation to the independence of the judiciary and the media. We will continue to monitor the political situation in Venezuela and seek to engage constructively with the Administration of President Chavez.

Question No. 102 answered with QuestionNo. 63.

Human Rights Issues.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

103 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of a recent human rights report published by the UN, he will openly condemn the continued use of the US Government facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to intern and torture prisoners denying them access to justice and due process; if, in view of the significant breeches of human rights perpetrated by US officials as documented in this report, he will order that all US military aircraft using Irish airports be boarded and inspected to ensure that extraordinary renditions are not occurring and that Ireland is not complicit in these breaches in human rights; if in the absence of such a condemnation and a commitment to inspect US military flights he will clarify his position as regards Ireland’s neutrality and commitment to human rights as he sees it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7139/06]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

136 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has come to any decision regarding the rendition of passengers at Irish airports; if he has come to a final decision in relation to on the spot inspections in view of the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition, in view of his previous statements to such practice; his views on whether on the spot inspections are the only way forward; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7132/06]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

155 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the additional steps that will be taken to ensure that no Irish facility will be used for the covert transfer of detainees or prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6804/06]

Shane McEntee

Question:

159 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps the Government has taken to ensure that no Irish facilities have been used for the rendition of prisoners or detainees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6848/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 103, 136, 155 and 159 together.

I refer Deputies to my reply to Question No. 76 of today and, in particular with respect to the US facility at Guantanamo, I refer Deputies to the reply I gave earlier to Priority Question No. 58 on this issue.

I am not aware of any suggestion that US military aircraft transiting through Irish airports are involved in extraordinary rendition operations. Allegations regarding extraordinary rendition have tended almost universally to involve chartered civilian aircraft. The Government will continue to follow the long-standing practice whereby details supplied by the US authorities to the Department of Foreign Affairs regarding flights by military aircraft are accepted in good faith as being accurate.

As recognised by Dáil Eireann on 20 March 2003, the Government's decision to continue to extend landing and overflight facilities to US military aircraft continued a long-standing arrangement. US military aircraft have been landing in and overflying Ireland since at least the end of the Second World War. There is therefore no question Ireland's policy of military neutrality being affected by US military landings.

As I have made clear to the House on numerous occasions, the United States has given Ireland repeated, clear and explicit assurances that no prisoners have been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission. These assurances were confirmed by Secretary Rice at our meeting on 1 December, and have been confirmed during several meetings already this year, including as recently as last week. I should add that our complete opposition to the practice of extraordinary rendition has been made clear on numerous occasions.

Question No. 104 answered with QuestionNo. 77.

Emigrant Support Services.

Pat Breen

Question:

105 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps being taken to assist the undocumented Irish in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6807/06]

Jack Wall

Question:

122 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the Kennedy McCain Bill in the US legislature which addresses the urgent position of the out of status Irish in the United States. [7001/06]

Dan Neville

Question:

149 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to the Government’s contact with the US Administration to support the Kennedy McCain Immigration Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6846/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 105, 122 and 149 together.

The Government attaches the highest priority to the issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States. We raise our concerns in all of our contacts with US political leaders and emphasise the importance of addressing the situation in a positive and sympathetic way.

We appreciate of course that immigration is a highly divisive and sensitive issue in the US. The current legislative debate in the US Congress involves differing approaches and strongly held opinions. Some members of the US Congress, for example, are strongly opposed to any proposals which would allow undocumented people the opportunity to regularise their status. This was clear from a debate in the House of Representatives in December on an immigration Bill which concentrates on enforcement and security measures and does not propose provisions that would regularise the status of the undocumented. Achieving the necessary compromise remains a formidable challenge.

The focus of the debate has shifted to the US Senate. Indications are that the Senate judiciary committee will discuss the immigration issue again in early March. The proposals before them include the Bill sponsored by Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain, as well as the Kyl-Cornyn Bill and a compromise text proposed by Senator Specter, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee.

Deputies can be assured that in all of my meetings with US contacts, including with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and key congressional figures, I have made known the Government's support, and the support of the Oireachtas, for the approach favoured by Senators Kennedy and McCain. Their Bill has also been strongly endorsed by the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, a group established in December to mobilise grassroots support within the Irish community in the US for immigration reform. I welcome the establishment of this organisation and recently approved a grant to it of €30,000 towards its operational expenses.

In the critical period ahead, as various proposals are debated and compromises are put forward, we will continue to make known our strong support for the inclusion in final legislation of the key elements of the Kennedy McCain Bill. The situation continues to receive the most careful, active and ongoing monitoring and assessment. In addition, the Government's views will be conveyed at the highest level over the St. Patrick's Day period in Washington.

Question No. 106 answered with QuestionNo. 90.

Overseas Development Aid.

Richard Bruton

Question:

107 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level of overseas development aid for 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6822/06]

In line with the Government's commitment to increasing official development assistance in order to meet the UN target of 0.7% of GNP by 2012, an allocation of €600 million has been provided in 2006 in the Estimates for my Department's Vote for International Co-operation, Vote 29. This represents an increase of €129 million, 27%, on the 2005 level.

Taken together with the contributions of other Departments, total ODA is expected to reach a record €734 million in 2006. This includes the additional contribution of €59 million for debt cancellation made to the World Bank, as announced by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, in December 2005. Based on current anticipated growth rates, this will bring the aid budget in 2006 to 0.51% of GNP.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

108 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the African counties currently experiencing the most serious deficiencies in the administration of democracy, observance of human rights, famine or internal strife; the extent to which he directly or through the EU and UN or otherwise can positively influence the situation with a view to addressing such issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7053/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

240 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will indicate the ten African countries currently having human rights strife or deficiencies in democracy; the extent to which he will influence the international community to improve the situation or by direct aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7425/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

243 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which the assistance of the African Union countries can be enlisted in the context of the improved distribution of aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7428/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

244 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the full extent of Ireland’s aid programme to the various African countries; if improved targeting of aid can be achieved in specific locations particularly in areas of strife and famine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7429/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 108, 240, 243 and 244 together.

There is no internationally recognised system for ranking either the severity of humanitarian crisis situations around the world or countries deemed guilty of the greatest deficiencies in the administration of democracy and the observance of human rights. However, it is clear that there is a strong interrelationship between conflict, the abuse of human rights, food insecurity and poverty and that all these factors impact disastrously on levels of human development.

The UNDP's human development index, HDI, is a composite index, which takes into account life expectancy, education levels, per capita GDP and overall development. Out of a total of 177 countries indexed, 32 are classified as belonging to the low human development category and of these 30 are in Africa. The 24 lowest ranked countries are all in Africa.

Ireland's development co-operation programme has Africa at its core and the greater proportion of Ireland's funds is delivered to that continent. Ireland has strong development partnerships with six countries in sub-Saharan Africa and last year opened a development office in Sierra Leone, thereby demonstrating our commitment to assisting countries emerging from conflict. While final outturns on the full extent of Ireland's aid programme are not yet available for 2005, it is estimated that Ireland provided over €150 million to the six programme countries — Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia — and South Africa and over €30 million in emergency and recovery funding to 18 countries in Africa. Considerable additional funding is provided to Africa through NGOs and missionaries.

Of particular concern at this time is the ongoing food security crisis in the Horn of Africa. I recently announced a humanitarian aid package of over €5 million for countries suffering from drought in that region. As well as directly assisting many of the poorest countries in Africa, Ireland is a strong advocate for the developing world and for international peace and security through our membership of the EU and the UN. The EU is the world's largest contributor of development co-operation. At the emergency humanitarian level, the EU strives to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and food insecure populations of Africa. In 2005, the European Commission's humanitarian office, ECHO, allocated over €240 million in humanitarian assistance to Africa.

Africa is a continent beset by often seemingly insurmountable problems including conflict, debt and poverty, HIV-AIDS and the abuse of human rights. However, working through the African Union and its new partnership for Africa's development, NEPAD, programme, African Governments are showing a new determination to address these issues collectively. The African Union represents an important strategic partner for the European Union and one with whom ever closer relations are being forged in the interests of promoting peace, security, democracy and development on the African continent. The European Council in December 2005 adopted a long-term strategy for strengthening the EU's relations with Africa. The strategy, which is based on the principles of African ownership, equality and partnership, aims at promoting development, security and good governance in Africa and achieving the millennium development goals, as well as enhanced EU-Africa dialogue. Ireland has provided assistance to the African Union for its mission in Sudan, AMIS, as part of the EU's joint actions to foster peace and security in Darfur.

Ireland closely monitors developments in the human rights situation of African countries and promotes appropriate action at bilateral, EU and UN levels. The Government has made known its concerns in relation to recent developments in both Ethiopia and Uganda and has raised these directly with the Governments involved. The EU, in its political dialogue with African countries, regularly raises issues of respect for promotion of democracy and human rights. Ireland and its EU partners also are active within the UN Commission for Human Rights in raising serious abuse of human rights in Africa, including tabling resolutions in recent years on the serious human rights situation in countries such as Zimbabwe and Sudan. We face huge challenges in working in Africa. However, I believe our approach stands the best chance of success in enabling a better future for all of the peoples of Africa.

Human Rights Issues.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

109 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he or officials of his Department will be appearing before the ongoing European parliamentary committee investigation into the operation of secret prisons and the practice of extraordinary rendition by the United States in Europe; and if so, if they will be expanding on the reasons for their acceptance of a diplomatic assurance in the area of fundamental guarantees in human rights as established in international law. [7006/06]

Willie Penrose

Question:

134 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, further to his statement to Dáil Éireann in response to Parliamentary Question No. 118 of 14 December 2005 a detailed questionnaire on the subject of secret detention and the practice known as extraordinary rendition from the Council of Europe’s Secretary General has been completed by Department officials; if its contents, and the full submission made to the Council of Europe, will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7007/06]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

160 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the question of the possible existence of secret detention centres within the EU has been discussed with his European counterparts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6808/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 109, 134 and 160 together.

I refer Deputies to my reply to Question No. 72 of today. The Government's response to the questionnaire circulated by the secretary general of the Council of Europe, Mr. Terry Davis, issued on Monday, in advance of the deadline set by the secretary general. In its response the Government emphatically answers in the negative the secretary general's questions on whether "unacknowledged deprivation of liberty" might have taken place in Ireland. The Government's response was laid before Dáil Éireann yesterday. It has now been made public, and is available for download from the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Within the EU, the question of the possible existence of secret prisons has been discussed at official level between the European Commission and officials in member states in eastern Europe. The issue was also discussed informally during the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 21 November 2005. Following this meeting, the Presidency wrote to the US Secretary of State seeking clarification on the issue of secret prisons and rendition flights. Secretary Rice's reply of 7 December 2005 reiterated her widely-reported statements on the matter.

The Government will co-operate to the fullest extent practicable with the temporary committee established by the European Parliament to investigate "whether the CIA carried out torture or illegal detentions on EU territory, and whether citizens from Member States or candidate countries have been detained". There will, presumably, be a very considerable overlap between the investigation of the European Parliament and those of the Council of Europe. As yet, there has been no invitation to any Government representatives to attend. In the event that any representatives are invited to attend, I expect that the issue of the clear and unambiguous assurances the Government has received from the US authorities will arise.

Phil Hogan

Question:

110 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps Turkey has taken towards improving human rights and freedoms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6809/06]

In recent years, Turkey has made significant progress in the adoption of wide-ranging political reforms. Important human rights reforms have been introduced, including in relation to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, and the rights of women.

In December 2004, the European Council decided that Turkey sufficiently fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria, including in relation to human rights, to enable the opening of accession negotiations. These began on 3 October 2005. Throughout the accession negotiations, the European Union will expect Turkey to sustain the process of reform which it has already begun and to work towards further improvements, including in respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In its 2005 progress report on Turkey, the European Commission noted that important legislative reforms have now entered into force and should lead to structural changes in the legal system, particularly in the judiciary. However, the Commission also stated that the pace of change slowed in 2005 and implementation of reforms remained uneven. Despite some progress the report notes inconsistencies in human rights protection. Legislative progress has been achieved with regard to the exercise of fundamental freedoms, notably through the entry into force of a new penal code and a new law on associations, and in practice individuals and civil society organisations enjoy greater freedom than in the past. Nevertheless, individuals continue to be prosecuted and convicted for the expression of non-violent opinion and certain associations continue to face constraints on their activities. In this context, the European Union welcomed the decision of the Turkish courts to dismiss the case against the writer Orhan Pamuk on 22 January 2006. At the same time, the Union reiterated its continued concern at other charges related to the expression of non-violent opinions which are still pending before Turkish courts.

Together with our EU partners and through our embassy in Ankara, we will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Turkey and to stress the importance of adherence to the standards enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. We look forward to engaging positively with Turkey on the issues involved.

EU Membership.

Denis Naughten

Question:

111 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures Bulgaria has taken to meet membership criteria for the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6845/06]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

130 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures Romania has taken towards meeting membership criteria for the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6819/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 111 and 130 together.

The accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union will mark the completion of the fifth enlargement process, which will increase the Union's membership to 27. The Union's objective is to welcome both countries as members in January 2007, if they are ready to meet the responsibilities and obligations of membership.

The Commission's annual monitoring reports for Bulgaria and Romania were published on 25 October 2005, providing a comprehensive overview of the progress made by both countries towards fulfilling the requirements of membership. For both countries, a number of red flag issues were identified as needing urgent attention before the date of accession. These included the need to tackle corruption, piracy and counterfeiting, improve justice systems, and meet EU agriculture and food safety requirements. The Commission's reports also expressed concerns about these countries' ability to absorb EU structural and cohesion funds.

Intensive work is continuing in both countries in order to address the problems highlighted in the Commission's reports. Their progress in implementing the necessary reforms is being closely monitored by the Commission and the member states. The assessment in the next Commission monitoring reports, which will be issued in May 2006, will form the basis for a final recommendation to Council as to whether or not Bulgaria and Romania will be ready to join the Union on 1 January 2007. If it is found that either country falls short of this target, the Commission could recommend that the Council postpone the date of accession until 1 January 2008.

The EU-Bulgaria Association Council on 31 January 2006 provided a timely opportunity to review Bulgaria's progress ahead of the Commission's next monitoring report. This meeting expressed a firm expectation that Bulgaria will urgently address all outstanding issues in order to reach the objective of acceding to the EU on the 1 January 2007. The EU-Romania Association Council is scheduled to take place on 20 March 2006.

Ireland is providing assistance to both Bulgaria and Romania as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs' bilateral assistance programme, which is designed to help new member states and candidate countries prepare for the challenges of EU membership.

Question No. 112 answered with QuestionNo. 89.

Emigrant Support Services.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

113 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the establishment of a new organisation (details supplied) whose aim is to regularise the position of undocumented Irish in the United States; his plans to meet the said organisation on his next trip to the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6803/06]

I warmly welcome the establishment of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. It provides the Irish in the US with a powerful tool to give clear expression to their views on immigration reform. I hope to meet representatives from the organisation at the next available opportunity.

The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, ILIR, was established in New York last December. It is mobilising grassroots support within the Irish community across the United States in support of the pragmatic and sympathetic approach to immigration reform advocated by Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain. Its success in this regard is clear from the very well attended meetings it has arranged in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Further meetings are being arranged to take place in New York and San Francisco, as well as in Washington DC. I am pleased to note that ILIR is working closely with existing Irish organisations in the Irish community such as the excellent network of Irish immigration centres and GAA clubs.

I commend the community spirit of Niall O'Dowd, Grant Lally and others involved in ILIR. I am delighted that Senator Kennedy has expressed his personal appreciation for their initiative in establishing this organisation. As a reflection of the Government's continuing commitment to supporting the undocumented, I was pleased to approve a grant of €30,000 towards ILIR's operational expenses. The Ambassador in Washington and our diplomatic representation in the US are maintaining very close contact with ILIR. In this way, we can ensure that our respective activities will complement each other in the critical period ahead.

Ministerial Travel.

Joe Costello

Question:

114 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the full list of Irish attendance abroad at ministerial, junior ministerial, official and other representative levels, for the St. Patrick’s Day festival. [6983/06]

A formal decision on Government representation at St. Patrick's Day celebrations overseas has yet to be taken. In deciding on ministerial travel commitments, the Government will seek to maximise opportunities for showcasing Ireland as a world class economy and tourism destination. The St. Patrick's Day festival offers a unique opportunity for Ministers to promote modern Ireland and to enhance our links with Irish people and friends of Ireland around the world, particularly in the economic and business spheres.

The special opportunity, unique to Ireland, that the occasion provides for direct and detailed dialogue with the President of the United States and his Administration, and also key players on Capitol Hill, is exceptionally valued by the Government.

Question No. 115 answered with QuestionNo. 98.

Foreign Conflicts.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

116 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the outcome of the recent meetings between the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Mr. Louis Michel on behalf of the European Union; if Ireland will be represented at the court hearings at which members of the opposition will be arraigned; if he has further proposals for mediation on the internal difficulties following the elections;and if he favours the referral of the Ethiopian-Eritrean dispute to the international border resolution group. [6996/06]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

129 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political situation in Ethiopia; the effect the situation will have on the level of funding that Ethiopia will receive from here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6816/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116 and 129 together.

Ireland, along with our EU partners, continues to emphasise to the Government of Ethiopia, most recently in a meeting with the Prime Minister, Mr. Meles Zenawi, on 17 January 2006, the need to respect human rights and the rule of law, to strengthen the democratisation process by opening a non-conditional dialogue with all opposition parties and allowing those parties and civil society organisations to operate freely and to allow the private media operate without restrictions.

Some recent positive developments should be noted. An independent investigation commission to examine the June and November violence was set up by the Ethiopian Parliament in late November and is expected to report-back by end February. An initiative to reform Ethiopia's parliamentary rules of procedure and strengthen the role of the opposition is under way. The Prime Minister has recently indicated some flexibility regarding the composition of the national election board and willingness to consider amendments to the draft press law. It is understood that 141 out of 173 opposition MPs have now entered parliament. Dialogue is under way between the Government and two opposition political parties. The majority of detainees arrested during the unrest last November have been released. Also, the necessary minimum number of the opposition councillors who won control of the Addis Ababa City Council last May have recently agreed to take their seats, which should allow the opposition to manage the affairs of 3 million people in Ethiopia's capital.

However there remain issues of serious concern, particularly the forthcoming trial of opposition leaders and other political detainees, which is due to begin on 23 February 2006. Some 131 individuals, including the elected leaders of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, CUD, the largest opposition party, journalists, and civil society leaders are currently facing the most serious charges of treason and genocide. Ireland, along with our EU partners, has underlined to the Ethiopian Prime Minister the need for the trial to be conducted in a transparent, fair and speedy manner in accordance with international standards. We have also called for the release of the detainees on bail as a confidence building measure and for better access to detainees by families, lawyers and the international community. The Prime Minister has agreed to an EU request for international observation of the trial. A distinguished international lawyer, Mr. Michael Ellman, will observe the trial on behalf of the EU and provide a report. EU embassies in Addis Ababa, including Ireland, will also monitor developments.

The EU Development Commissioner, Mr. Louis Michel, met Prime Minister Meles in Brussels on 4 February 2006 and subsequently visited Addis Ababa on 16 to 17 February 2006. The Commissioner held a three hour meeting with the imprisoned CUD leadership, the first time such access had been allowed to a representative of the international community, and also met the Prime Minister twice.

The Prime Minister confirmed to Commissioner Michel that international legal observers will be welcome at the trial, indicated that the trial could be speeded up and assured him that the Government was committed to dialogue. While there may be some concessions in relation to the charges against the detainees, indications are that these would not be sufficient to allow their release on bail.

The CUD leadership told the Commissioner that its main ambition was to resume dialogue with the Government on a package of democratic reforms. It also stressed that it respected the Ethiopian Constitution and would not support any attempt to overthrow the Government.

Recent negative political developments in Ethiopia have raised questions about Ireland's development cooperation programme there. In the light of these developments Ireland, along with other donors, has been reviewing our aid activities and plans in Ethiopia. In making any assessment and future decisions about Ireland's co-operation with Ethiopia, I will be guided by the situation on the ground and by close contact and liaison with Ireland's EU and like-minded development partners.

The US is pursuing its efforts to facilitate progress in the stalled Ethiopia-Eritrea peace process. A meeting of the Witnesses to the 2000 Algiers Peace Agreement is taking place today in New York at which the Austrian Presidency is representing the EU. It is hoped that this meeting will be followed shortly by a meeting of the Ethiopia- Eritrea boundary commission, in which both countries would participate and that this will lead to a quick start to the demarcation of the border. Ireland and the EU remain fully committed to the implementation of the Algiers agreement. We welcome the US initiative and hope that it will promote stability between the parties and lay the foundation for sustainable peace in the region.

Question No. 117 answered with QuestionNo. 85.

Michael Ring

Question:

118 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the contacts that have been made with the military regime in Burma with regard to the detention of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6843/06]

Phil Hogan

Question:

165 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his position with regard to the diplomatic relationship between Ireland and the military regime in Burma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6830/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 165 together.

Ireland takes a consistently strong position on Burma in relevant bilateral contacts, in the European Union framework and at the United Nations. 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.

I have been deeply concerned about the ongoing detention under house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and use every available occasion to highlight her plight and to call for her immediate release. I made a statement on 24 October last to mark the tenth anniversary of Aung San Suu Kyi's detention in which I called for her release and the release of all other political prisoners. In my statement on behalf of Ireland to the 60th Session of the UN General Assembly last September, I referred to the continuing denial of human rights and democracy in Burma. I stated that this was most acutely symbolised by the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and that her ordeal was not forgotten by the people of Ireland.

On 28 November last, Ireland joined EU partners in issuing a statement expressing deep concern about the reports that Aung San Suu Kyi's detention had been extended. The statement said that the release of all political prisoners would help facilitate an open and genuine dialogue involving all ethnic and political groups in Burma in the interests of national reconciliation and the resolution of Burma's long-standing political and humanitarian problems.

I was delighted to hear that the Olof Palme Memorial Fund in Sweden, established in memory of the assassinated former Swedish Prime Minister, has awarded Aung San Suu Kyi the Olof Palme Prize 2005 for her unyielding fight for a democratic Burma. The prize is due to be received on her behalf at a ceremony in Stockholm on 28 February.

The most recent EU meeting with Burma was an EU-Burma informal troika meeting at official level held in London on 30 November in the margins of the Asia-Europe senior officials meeting at which my Department was represented. The EU side recalled our concern at the situation in Burma and the EU's desire to see real progress in the roadmap towards democracy. The EU statement calling for the immediate release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, was recalled.

I assure the Deputy that I will continue to raise concerns about Burma on all possible occasions and to work for real progress there. 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, announced last December 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.

As regards Deputy Hogan's question, Ireland announced the establishment of diplomatic relations on a non-resident basis with Burma on 13 February 2004. However, given that the progress which had been anticipated in 2004, most notably the meeting of an open and unhindered national convention and the release of Auang San Suu Kyi, did not materialise, the Government decided to put on hold the exchange of ambassadors. Any decision to proceed with an exchange of Ambassadors with Burma will have to await positive and significant moves by the Burmese Government.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

John Deasy

Question:

119 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s position with regard to reform of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6852/06]

There is no reform process, as such, under way in respect of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT. Review conferences take place every five years, however, and afford an opportunity to review the implementation of the treaty and all its provisions. The next scheduled NPT review conference will take place in 2010 and will be preceded by a series of preparatory meetings beginning in 2007. At the last such conference, in May of last year, there were a number of specific proposals on actions that states parties might take to meet the challenges confronting the treaty. Regrettably, the conference ended without agreement on substantive conclusions and recommendations on how to strengthen the non-proliferation regime.

I have made clear the Government's deep disappointment at this outcome. This was a missed opportunity for the international community to tackle some key threats to global peace and security and to agree an effective collective response. We continue to believe that global challenges are best tackled together, through such a response. We are firmly of the view that the NPT is now more than ever of tremendous importance to the achievement of international peace and security. We believe that the international community does not need a new treaty to address the challenges that confront us. What we need is the full implementation of the existing obligations of the treaty. Action to strengthen the treaty and ensure full respect for all its provisions remains essential and we will spare no effort in pursuit of this objective.

Question No. 120 answered with QuestionNo. 90.

Freedom of Information.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

121 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if requests to his Department for information regarding the use of Shannon Airport by United States military forces have been refused under section 24 of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and if he will make a statement on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1128/06]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 381 of 31 January 2006 which was as follows. The Freedom of Information Acts 1997 and 2003 established an independent process for consideration of freedom of information, FOI, requests. As I have no role in relation to how the provisions of the Acts are applied in specific instances, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the detail of individual requests. To do so would undermine the independence of designated decision makers and may also be prejudicial to the conduct of the appeals process provided for in the Acts.

As the Deputy will be aware, section 24(2) of the Acts provides for a mandatory exemption for certain types of records relating to security, defence, international relations and matters relating to Northern Ireland and deciding officers are required to refuse records that fall within its scope. I can confirm that the Department replied to two requests during 2005 that included a reference to the use of Shannon Airport. I understand that, while section 24(2) was appropriately applied to both requests, the requesters were provided with access to a number of records that did not come within its provisions.

Question No. 122 answered with QuestionNo. 105.
Question No. 123 answered with QuestionNo. 85.

Overseas Development Aid.

Liam Twomey

Question:

124 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress that has been made in regard to the development of the voluntary humanitarian corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6827/06]

Bernard Allen

Question:

125 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has discussed the proposals for the development of the voluntary humanitarian corps with the Department of Defence or with representatives of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6826/06]

Billy Timmins

Question:

176 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Defence Forces will have the lead role in co-ordinating Ireland’s response to disasters, both natural and man-made and in co-ordinating civilian volunteers for such responses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7213/06]

Billy Timmins

Question:

233 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Defence Forces will have the lead role in co-ordinating Ireland’s response to disasters, both natural and man-made, and in co-ordinating civilian volunteers for such responses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7508/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 124, 125, 176 and 233 together.

Last November my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, announced two initiatives to coincide with the Government's decision to make substantial increases in Ireland's programme of official development assistance over the coming years. These are: first, to establish a rapid response initiative with the aim of strengthening Ireland's response to emergencies and disasters in developing countries; and, second, to facilitate and harness the vibrant volunteering spirit which is thriving in Irish society today.

Disasters such as the tsunami, the food crisis in Niger and the Pakistan earthquake all served to direct public attention towards natural and man-made disasters and the international response. It is clear that the international community needs to respond more effectively to such disasters and crises. At EU level Ireland has pushed for a stronger Union response.

My Department is now engaged in planning a more operational and value-added response to humanitarian crises, through the development of a distinctively Irish rapid response initiative. This initiative will include: the pre-positioning and transportation of humanitarian supplies to disaster areas; the availability of a roster of highly skilled and experienced individuals, including from the Defences Forces, for deployment at short notice to situations of great need; and the creation of stand-by arrangements and support to highly-regarded international humanitarian response agencies and mechanisms. Officials from my Department are working closely with counterparts in the Department of Defence, the Defences Forces and other relevant Departments to ensure that the initiative is carried forward in a planned and co-ordinated fashion.

In order to advance volunteering, the creation of a dedicated unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs has also been announced. It will have a clear and straightforward mandate — to harness and facilitate the strong volunteer spirit, the interest in development work and the wide range of abilities that exists throughout the country. This will be advanced by the establishment of a dedicated information centre to provide information to the public on opportunities for volunteering and to provide information on all aspects of Ireland's overseas aid programme. This facility will be in a highly visible and accessible location in the city centre and will be opened later this year.

These two initiatives are aimed at bringing forward important aspects of public involvement in the aid programme. I want to strengthen public awareness of, and buy-in to, our aid programme which is already widely admired internationally. It is vitally important that Irish people should be proud and genuinely feel a part of Ireland's efforts to reduce poverty worldwide.

Official Travel.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

126 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his travel plans for the coming six-month period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6834/06]

During the next six months, I will have a number of EU related engagements including meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, the informal meeting of EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs and the meetings of the European Council scheduled for March and June.

I will, of course, continue to meet representatives of the British Government and with all of the parties associated with the peace process in Northern Ireland and I will travel, as required, in furtherance of the Government's commitment to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

Other overseas engagements are under consideration and decisions on these will be taken in due course.

Irish Community Abroad.

Joe Costello

Question:

127 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he and his Department are taking in order to maintain links with members of the Irish community living abroad, with particular reference to those in Argentina and Uruguay, on whose behalf dissatisfaction has been expressed at the existing level of contact. [6982/06]

Maintaining and strengthening links with Irish communities abroad is a key priority of my Department. Ireland's diplomatic missions and consular offices are dedicated to the pursuit of Ireland's interests and a central area of their responsibilities is attending to the needs and interests of local Irish communities. In the course of their representational and promotional work, our diplomats work closely with Irish communities across a wide range of issues, including cultural, educational, commercial and consular interests. I am pleased that the expansion of our diplomatic network in recent years has enhanced our ability to engage directly with a greater number of Irish communities.

Visits abroad by the President, the Taoiseach, Ministers and Oireachtas delegations are a further valuable tool in enhancing the relationship with our communities abroad. Our embassies work closely with local Irish communities to ensure that the programmes for high level visits include active contact with local Irish residents.

The high priority which the Government attaches to the interests of Irish people living abroad is further reflected in the establishment within my Department of the Irish abroad unit. Its officials are active in encouraging connections with our communities abroad and in strengthening links with Irish people and people of Irish ancestry. The Irish abroad unit manages my Department's financial support to Irish community organisations abroad. A particularly positive development is the substantial level of funding now available. In 2006, the unprecedented amount of €12 million has been secured for emigrant services, an increase of 45% on 2005. This is a further reflection of the Government's firm commitment to the welfare of our community abroad.

The Deputy raises the Irish communities of the southern cone of the Americas. Their distinct experiences add to the rich history of our diaspora. I am aware that the many descendants of those who left Longford, Westmeath and other parts of Ireland and settled in this part of the world, in particular in Argentina, maintain a strong pride in their Irish identity and a great interest in Ireland. I am pleased to note that the number of high level visits from Ireland to Argentina has risen significantly in recent years. The President, the Taoiseach and a number of Ministers have visited Argentina and interaction with the strong Irish Argentine community has been a central aspect of their programmes. I am also pleased that the Naval Service vessel LE Eithne is visiting Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil during March and that the programmes in these countries will include engagement with the local communities of Irish descent.

Our embassy in Buenos Aires, which is also accredited to Uruguay, maintains close contact with the range of groups and associations there active in nurturing the special relationship between Ireland and the local Irish communities. At my request, the officials of the Irish abroad unit and the embassy in Buenos Aires are giving active consideration to how my Department can even more effectively support the Irish community networks there.

Question No. 128 answered with QuestionNo. 85.
Question No. 129 answered with QuestionNo. 116.
Question No. 130 answered with QuestionNo. 111.

Foreign Conflicts.

Willie Penrose

Question:

131 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of recent developments, he remains as satisfied with the conduct of the trial of Saddam Hussein as expressed in his response to a Parliamentary Question No. 59 of 14 December 2005. [7009/06]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

145 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political and security situation in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6829/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 131 and 145 together.

The democratic elections which were held in Iraq on 15 December 2005 marked the start of the final phase in the political process for the reconstruction of Iraq, which was set out by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1546 of June 2004. The new parliament and government will be fully sovereign and mandated for a four-year term. The Government and our EU partners have strongly supported the political process. The meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which I attended in Brussels on 30 January, welcomed the conduct of the elections and the heavy turnout from all communities in Iraq. It noted that the results provide a clear working agenda for the new government to overcome divisions in the country.

Discussions are continuing between the parties in Iraq on the formation of a government, and they may yet take some time to conclude. The EU has encouraged the formation of a truly representative government with the broadest possible support in the Council of Representatives. One of the main political priorities will be to encourage representatives of the Sunni community to play their full part in the new political structures. The EU has reaffirmed its readiness to support the Iraqi people in broadening the consensus on the future of the country. This process will include a thorough and transparent review of the Constitution approved by referendum last year, which I hope will enable some of the concerns of the Sunni community to be met.

Unfortunately, the new Iraqi Government and parliament will face the grave challenge of combating the continuing brutal campaign of violence directed at the institutions of government and at innocent civilians, which is aimed at fomenting further violent divisions in Iraqi society. The violence continues to obstruct the reconstruction of Iraq's infrastructure, economy and public services. The Government and our EU partners are committed to maintaining support for the reconstruction process, and for the building of a secure, stable, unified and prosperous Iraq.

As I stated in December, I welcome the determination of the Iraqi authorities to ensure that former President Saddam Hussein, and his senior associates, face trial for the terrible crimes of which they have been accused. It is important that every effort be made to ensure that the trial meets international standards to the extent possible. I am aware of the continuing difficulties in the conduct of the legal proceedings, some of which were perhaps inevitable, given Iraq's recent history. I remain satisfied, however, that the Iraqi authorities are making every effort to conduct a trial in accordance with the law.

UN Security Council Reform.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

132 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reforms of the UN Security Council deemed necessary by the Government; and the steps he has taken and intends to take to identify the necessary reforms and to promote these at the UN level in view of the UN General Assembly 2005 world summit outcome. [6961/06]

At the UN 2005 World Summit, world leaders reaffirmed the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security. Despite the absence of agreement on reform of the Security Council in the run up to the summit, they unanimously supported its early reform and asked the General Assembly to review progress by the end of 2005.

On 10-11 November 2005, a debate in the General Assembly reconfirmed widespread agreement both that there is a need to expand the Security Council with a view to making it more broadly representative and that enlargement of the council's membership should contribute to its efficiency and effectiveness. However, the debate also showed that views remain divergent, inter alia, as to the size of the council and the categories of its expanded membership.

It is clear that none of the models so far proposed for reform of the Security Council commands sufficient support to secure adoption by the necessary two thirds majority of the members of the General Assembly. It is also clear that there are divergent views among the permanent members of the Security Council, each of whom must ratify under its national procedures any change to the UN Charter adopted by the General Assembly.

Some members of the General Assembly, moreover, do not regard it as sufficient to adopt a reform of the Security Council by means of the two thirds majority required under the UN Charter. They maintain that the legitimacy of, and universal respect for, any reform measure requires a much broader degree of consensus.

The President of the General Assembly has reiterated his belief that discussions on Security Council reform should resume in 2006 and has reiterated his availability for consultations with member states, as well as his intention to convene a further meeting on the issue.

In common with many colleagues, my own address to the General Assembly last September drew attention to the wide acknowledgement of the need to align the Security Council with today's realities, and noted that this remained an important piece of unfinished business. In a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of Ireland's UN membership on 18 November, I stated that Ireland will approach future work on its reform on the basis of a number of key principles: the Security Council should be increased in size to reflect the realities of the 21st century; increase should be regionally balanced, including enhancing the role of Africa; any change should not lessen the capacity of smaller member states like Ireland to continue to aspire to membership from time to time; while we would ideally wish to see the complete removal of the veto, there should be no conferral of new veto powers; and an expanded Security Council should accommodate member states that play a particularly significant role in the UN system, for instance, financially, in peacekeeping or through their capacity for regional leadership. I and other members of the Government will continue to draw on these principles in contacts with representatives of other states, bilaterally and at the UN.

Middle East Peace Process.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

133 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of peace talks in the Middle East; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6818/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

152 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the survival of the Quartet roadmap for peace in the view of the recent statement by the acting Prime Minister of Israel that Israel intends to retain control over east Jerusalem and two thirds of the illegal settlements in the West Bank, that it will include the Jordan Valley in an extension of its borders, and that it will do so within a period of two years by unilateral action if necessary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6984/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 133 and 152 together.

The Government and its partners in the EU firmly believe that a lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be found through a negotiated, mutually-satisfactory two-state solution. The principles and steps set out clearly in the quartet roadmap continue to provide the only available framework for such a settlement.

The meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which I attended in Brussels on 30 January, reviewed developments in the peace process in the light of the outcome of the Palestinian legislative elections. It urged the Palestinian Legislative Council to support the formation of a government committed to a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the conflict based on existing agreements and on the terms of the roadmap. We and our EU partners are closely following developments on the formation of a new government.

The EU and the quartet have made it clear that Israel and the Palestinian Authority must adhere to their obligations under the roadmap, and avoid any unilateral actions which would prejudice final status issues. The EU has repeatedly stated that it will not recognise any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties.

The Government, together with our partners in the EU, will continue to support those Israeli and Palestinian political leaders with the courage to take the difficult decisions necessary for a negotiated settlement. I expect that in the weeks and months ahead the international community will remain united in support of a settlement which entails the creation of a democratic and viable Palestinian state, living in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours.

Question No. 134 answered with QuestionNo. 109.

Overseas Development Aid.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

135 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the Pakistan earthquake, early response measures are being discussed with NGO’s and foreign Governments to ensure that an adequate response will be issued in the future to combat the extreme difficulties experienced by people caught up in natural disasters; the practical measures the Government plans to take in order that Ireland can deploy response teams and resources to affected areas in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7092/06]

Ireland responded immediately to the devastating earthquake in Pakistan last October. Within a few hours of the catastrophe, the Government made an initial pledge of €1 million in support of the relief effort. My Department kept in close contact with the UN, the EU and our partners in civil society throughout. As the full scale of the disaster became evident, I moved quickly to increase Ireland's pledge to €10 million.

Former Taoiseach Mr. Albert Reynolds represented Ireland at a reconstruction conference convened by the Government of Pakistan in November. Mr. Reynolds presented the report of his findings to me following the conference.

I travelled to the affected region myself in December with my Dutch colleague. I met with President Musharraf and Prime Minister Aziz, both of whom briefed me on the challenges facing the country. President Musharraf thanked Ireland for the immediacy of its response, which had prompted other states to respond generously. I also met with the United Nations humanitarian co-ordinator for the relief effort, the Red Cross and Irish NGOs working in the region. I saw at first hand the devastation caused by the earthquake and the logistical difficulties in the relief and recovery effort. I visited GOAL in Bagh district and saw its food distribution network in operation. I visited Concern, which has adapted its long-term programme there to meet the relief needs in the camps and surrounding area.

The Pakistan earthquake was one of the toughest logistical challenges faced by the UN and the international community. Severe cold weather and snow has made delivery of relief supplies difficult. While there is some evidence of recovery, the delivery of emergency relief such as shelter, food and health services and the logistical support to deliver these services, continues to be a priority. Some 15,000 villages were affected and many are in areas which are difficult to reach. We continue to monitor the situation in the region and further assistance will be carefully targeted to assist the recovery process.

Natural disasters such as the tsunami in December 2004 and the Pakistan earthquake have presented the international community with the challenge of providing more rapid and effective assistance to those most in need. Ireland supports the moves by the UN to strengthen the international response to humanitarian crises. The number and scale of natural disasters in recent years reinforce the need for global resources to be mobilised and deployed rapidly to bring humanitarian relief on a large scale to anywhere in the world.

Ireland has been actively focusing on how we can better respond to such emergencies. During disasters most lives are saved quickly by local organisations and communities. The tsunami was a good example of this. Ireland, through the Red Cross, funds capacity building at local level to respond to emergencies of various kinds. The best response is effective local response.

Last November my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, announced a rapid response initiative with the aim of strengthening Ireland's response to emergencies and disasters in developing countries. My Department is now engaged in carrying forward this initiative which will include the following: the pre-positioning and transportation to disaster areas of humanitarian supplies which would be ready for deployment at short notice; the availability of a roster of highly skilled and experienced individuals, including from the Defences Forces, for deployment at short notice to situations of great need; and stand-by arrangements and support to highly-regarded international humanitarian response agencies and mechanisms, including the UN joint logistics centre.

While the international community responds to natural or sudden onset disasters, there are many humanitarian crises, including chronic slow-onset emergencies and complex political emergencies, in the world at any one time. They generate various levels of support. Regrettably, some become forgotten crises. That is why Ireland is a strong advocate of the principles and good practice of good humanitarian donorship, GHD. This initiative by leading donors, including Ireland, seeks to ensure that the response to humanitarian crises is based purely on needs assessment and allocated according to the principles of independence, neutrality, humanity and impartiality.

Internationally, Ireland has been at the forefront in supporting the development of a revised UN emergency fund mechanism which will be launched in March. The new UN central emergency response fund, CERF, to which I have pledged €10 million, will create a grant-based fund that will allow UN agencies to respond more immediately and effectively in the face of a sudden onset disaster and forgotten emergencies.

Work is also continuing at EU level to improve civil protection and rapid response capability through the tsunami follow-up action plan. The further development of rapid response capacity must, of course, complement and support the UN's primary role as co-ordinator in humanitarian disasters.

Disasters and humanitarian emergencies are, in many respects, a failure of development. Ireland's aid programme, now at the highest level of funding in its history, seeks to address the fundamental causes of poverty and marginalisation, which directly and indirectly lead to humanitarian crises, both natural and man-made. At the same time we must provide immediate relief, in an effective manner to those most affected by such crises. I expect that in 2006 over €60 million will be delivered by Ireland to save lives and rebuild livelihoods.

Question No. 136 answered with QuestionNo. 103.

Citizens’ Risk Abroad.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

137 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether Irish citizens in certain countries are at an increased risk following recent rioting related to the publication of cartoons in European media; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6839/06]

I am aware that there were a number of incidents of hostility and aggression towards some European interests and individuals following the publication of the cartoons referred to by the Deputy in some European media. However, I am not aware that there are any reasons at this stage to believe that Irish citizens are the target of any specific threat. The Department is keeping the situation under constant review. If there is any serious deterioration in the situation, the Department will alert Irish citizens through the media and the travel advice on the Department's website. The Department already advises Irish citizens travelling to any of the countries concerned to be vigilant and avoid public demonstrations and rallies.

Sudanese Famine.

Damien English

Question:

138 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the situation in Sudan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6840/06]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

169 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s position with respect to the proposed engagement of United Nations forces in Darfur, western Sudan, in particular if it has formed a view of the optimal relationship of such a force to the current African Union deployment; if he will make available a copy of the review conducted on the operation of the AU mission completed in January 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6999/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

241 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which achievements have been made in respect of the alleviation of starvation or strife in Darfur; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7426/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 138, 169 and 241 together.

In the past year, there has been progress in stabilising the long-running conflict between the north and the south of Sudan. A comprehensive peace agreement was signed in Nairobi on 9 January 2005. Following a delay due to the accidental death of southern leader and First Vice President John Garang in July, a Government of National Unity was formed in September on foot of the new constitution. The interim constitution for South Sudan was also finalised and an autonomous regional Government of South Sudan established on 22 October. Both President Bashir of the National Congress Party and First Vice President Salva Kiir, on behalf of the south, have expressed their desire to implement the comprehensive peace agreement and, to date, there has been good progress on the implementation of technical and institutional aspects. However, the Government of National Unity needs to be strengthened. The two main coalition partners need to work together to address some major unresolved issues such as the effective and transparent sharing of oil revenues.

The complexity and difficulty of the situation in the south of the country should not be underestimated. The south of Sudan is very underdeveloped, especially as regards infrastructure and basic services such as health care. It will take several years before essential services can be provided in most areas by the new Government of South Sudan, which currently lacks capacity at every level. In the meantime, millions of Sudanese in the south must continue to depend on humanitarian assistance.

Simmering tensions in eastern Sudan also represent a risk to the stability of the country. Efforts by various international and regional parties have not yet succeeded in launching a comprehensive negotiation process.

The spill-over into Darfur of Chad's internal instability has added a dangerous regional dimension to the crisis in western Sudan. With our partners in the EU, Ireland welcomed the 8 February agreement between Sudan and Chad which should contribute to a reduction of violence in the Darfur region.

The humanitarian situation in Darfur remains a matter of great concern to the Government. Over 70% of greater Darfur's estimated population of 6.5 million has been directly or indirectly affected by the conflict and some 2.5 million people require food assistance. The volatile security situation means that both local and displaced populations in conflict-affected areas are unable to plant or harvest crops. Regional cereal production has been badly affected and markets no longer function in many remote pastoral areas. Even if people are able to return to their homes, the destruction of seeds and farm implements has been on such a scale as to make short-term recovery extremely challenging. The World Food Programme, WFP, has indicated that prevalent and ongoing insecurity in south and west Darfur during January of this year prevented it from reaching some 223,000 vulnerable beneficiaries during the month.

At the Oslo International Donors Conference in April 2005, Ireland pledged support of €15 million to Sudan over the next two years, €9.8 million of which was provided in 2005. In 2006, Ireland will collaborate with a number of donor partners to provide funding directly to the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Sudan. This will enable the co-ordinator to receive predictable funding which he will, in turn, earmark for the most urgent priority activities within the UN work plan for 2006. In addition, Ireland will continue to provide funding support for emergency and recovery activities to our other partners in the UN and NGOs. It is clear, however, that only a political solution to the problems of Darfur will lead to a lasting solution to the humanitarian crisis in the region.

Therefore, early and successful conclusion of the peace negotiations taking place in Abuja, Nigeria, under the auspices of the African Union, AU, is essential. While progress has been slow overall, the pace has quickened. If the necessary political goodwill is demonstrated, final results could be reached by the end of March 2006. Therefore, I call on all parties to show their commitment to peace in Darfur by giving their full commitment to the talks and negotiating positively and flexibly. The parties must also immediately halt all violations of their cease-fire agreements, especially attacks on AMIS and humanitarian convoys. Violations of the UN arms embargo on Darfur must also be stopped.

The Government, with our partners in the EU, has fully supported the AU's role in Darfur. In 2004-05, Ireland contributed €1.5 million to humanitarian, human rights and policing aspects of the AU's AMIS mission alongside over €160 million in support from the EU through the African Peace Facility. AMIS has been valuable in creating a favourable environment for the political process and in stabilising the security situation. Following a meeting on 12 January, at which the AU Peace and Security Commission, PSC, expressed its support for transition of AMIS to the UN, the PSC chairperson initiated contacts with the UN and other partners with a view to consolidating the successes of AMIS by ensuring the sustainability of the operation. On 3 February the UN Security Council requested the UN Secretary General to work with the AU and the parties to the Abuja talks to draw up contingency plans for a transition to a UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur. The AU PSC is scheduled to meet again at the beginning of March. I hope on that occasion they will be in a position to initiate formally the process of transition to a UN-led force. To ensure that AMIS is provided with sufficient funding in the interim, a donors' conference is planned for 8 March 2006 in Brussels.

I will provide Deputy Moynihan-Cronin with a copy of a report by the AU Commission, which summarises the recommendations of the December 2005 AU-led joint assessment mission which reviewed the operations of AMIS. A follow-up mechanism to implement these recommendations is being established by the AU.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

139 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had discussions on the proposals of the British Government to extend to Northern Ireland legislation on donations to political parties; if, in particular, he has discussed the need to co-ordinate such legislation with the equivalent rules in this jurisdiction, in order to provide effective regulation for parties operating on an all-island basis; if there will be consultations for such a purpose at official level including with officials of the Standards in Public Office Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5496/06]

The proposals referred to by the Deputy were discussed with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Peter Hain, and with his predecessor Paul Murphy, on a number of occasions prior to the publication on 16 February 2006 of the relevant draft legislation in the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The issue was discussed at meetings of the BIIGC, which I chair jointly with the Secretary of State, on 2 March, 27 June and 11 October 2005 and on 1 February 2006.

The Government's approach to these discussions has been informed at all times by the key principle that any new arrangements should be in keeping with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. I have also been concerned to ensure that the new framework is both accountable and maximises transparency, while allowing individuals and companies the freedom to make legitimate donations to their chosen political party or parties without fear of intimidation.

The all-island dimension referred to by the Deputy is particularly relevant in that context. In my discussions with the Secretary of State, I put forward the view that although there are significant differences between the party funding frameworks North and South, for example, there is no provision for State funding for political parties in Northern Ireland, it was nonetheless desirable to ensure close co-ordination between the rules governing party funding in both parts of the island.

The Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006, introduced by Secretary of State Peter Hain on 16 February 2006, includes provisions to allow for donations from Irish citizens and Irish companies, in line with our current legislative framework. It will also allow for a mechanism to facilitate future adaptation in the light of any changes which might arise in this jurisdiction, thus facilitating North-South coherence. The Bill also provides for political parties in Northern Ireland to make their donation returns in confidence to the Electoral Commission until 2010, or later, if this period is extended by order of the Secretary of State with the approval of the British Parliament.

I am satisfied that these provisions are in keeping with the spirit of the Agreement and with our wish to ensure close co-ordination of the rules governing donations on both parts of the island. I and my officials will continue to keep these issues under review in close consultation with the British authorities and, of course, with the relevant authorities in this jurisdiction.

Question No. 140 answered with QuestionNo. 80.
Question No. 141 answered with QuestionNo. 95.

Travel Advice.

Shane McEntee

Question:

142 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department has altered travel advisories for any countries for Irish citizens abroad recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6823/06]

The Department of Foreign Affairs travel advice is available on its website, www.dfa.ie. The advice is regularly updated and is designed to help Irish citizens make informed decisions before travelling overseas. It reflects a considered assessment of the risks involved and is based on the best information available to the Department. It draws on reports from Irish diplomatic and consular missions abroad and advice issued by other countries including member states of the European Union. Every effort is made to ensure the advice offered is accurate and up to date.

Since January 2006 the Department has updated its advice on Bolivia, Cambodia, Colombia, Cuba, Cyprus, Guatemala, Ivory Coast, Laos, Lebanon, Mexico, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, USA and Vietnam. The Department also includes advice on countries where avian flu has been detected in the bird population, namely, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Nigeria, Romania, Turkey and Asia. This advice is based on the current advice from the World Health Organisation and the Departments of Health and Children and Agriculture and Food.

International Agreements.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

143 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will move beyond its position of qualified support for the idea of an arms trade treaty and join the 50 countries that have declared their full support for the treaty under consideration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7111/06]

Ireland's support for the concept of an international arms trade treaty is unqualified. The process of negotiating such a treaty is, however, likely to be lengthy and complex and it is not at this stage possible to forecast when, or in what form, a final text might emerge. The General Affairs and External Relations Council of the European Union, at its meeting on 3 October 2005, acknowledged the growing support throughout the world for an international treaty to establish common standards for the global trade in conventional arms. The Council also agreed that binding standards, consistent with the existing responsibilities of states under relevant international law, would be critical in tackling proliferation. It was further agreed that the United Nations was the only forum that could deliver a truly universal instrument, and the Council called for the start of a formal process at the UN at the earliest opportunity. As I made clear in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 135 of 10 November 2005, Ireland fully supports this approach and believes that it is the best way for taking this issue forward. Ireland strongly supports the process of developing strict controls on arms and will continue to participate actively within the UN and at other international fora to promote the objective of strengthening arms controls globally. At a small arms conference in New York last month, the Austrian Presidency, on behalf of all EU member states, confirmed the Union's support for an arms trade treaty.

Question No. 144 answered with QuestionNo. 85.
Question No. 145 answered with QuestionNo. 131.
Questions Nos. 146 and 147 answered with Question No. 66.

Human Rights Issues.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

148 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department has studied the recently published report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented to King Mohammed VI of Morocco; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7002/06]

The establishment of the Justice and Reconciliation Commission by King Mohammed VI of Morocco in January 2004 was a courageous initiative, unprecedented in the region, to investigate human rights abuses in the period from 1956 to 1999. The 17-member commission was successful in launching a vigorous public debate in Morocco on the difficult legacy of that era. It presented its report to the king in December 2005, detailing extensive human rights abuses and making specific recommendations to the Government on compensation for victims and their families and on further legal steps to strengthen the rule of law. I was greatly impressed by the determination with which the Justice and Reconciliation Commission undertook its difficult task and I am encouraged by the positive reaction of the king and of the government of Morocco to its report and recommendations. The process of reconciliation following decades of human rights abuses is difficult and painful for any country. The Government and our partners in the EU will support the Moroccan authorities, as they work to follow up and implement the recommendations of the Commission.

More broadly, the Government, and its partners in the EU, are strongly committed to the strengthening of relations with Morocco, which continues to play an important, constructive role in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Under the European neighbourhood policy, the relationship between the EU and Morocco is firmly based on respect for democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms. Considerable progress has been made in the political reform process in recent years. I warmly welcome the important steps which have been taken by the government of Morocco to put in place the legislative structure for the protection and the promotion of human rights, including the adoption of an updated law against the use of torture, in compliance with UN definitions. The EU has welcomed the review undertaken by the government of reservations to several human rights conventions, and has encouraged it to pursue this work as a matter of priority. The EU has also welcomed the moratorium on the death penalty, and the important national debate launched by the Moroccan authorities on its abolition.

Question No. 149 answered with QuestionNo. 105.

International Agreements.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

150 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the agreements reached between Ireland and the United States and only recently revealed to Dáil Éireann; if the trawl of departmental records he subsequently ordered has revealed additional agreements or treaties negotiated in recent years but not placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7108/06]

The two agreements in question are the Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the United States of America concerning Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information and the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement between the Department of Defence of Ireland and the Department of Defence of the United States of America. The first agreement is of a generic nature and is designed to permit the sharing of classified material between the US and EU member states. It regulates such matters as the handling of information, and the manner in which such information may be transmitted. The second agreement outlines the procedures that apply to the reciprocal provision of logistical support between the US army and our Defence Forces. It, in particular, enables Irish troops participating in KFOR, the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, to avail of US facilities in Kosovo, including the use of the US military hospital there. Both agreements were laid before the Dáil on 26 January and both agreements have been published in the Irish Treaty Series. On 13 January, the full texts of both agreements were placed in the Oireachtas Library for the information of Members, and were also made available on my Department's website.

It is the policy of my Department to ensure all international agreements to which the State is a party are laid before the Dáil promptly. The Constitution does not specify a timeframe within which international agreements should be laid before the Dáil though, at the least, it is highly desirable that this should be done as quickly as possible. Until recent years, no specific timetable was in place. However, since 2004, internal targets have been set; currently the target is for all agreements which have entered into force for Ireland in a given calendar year to be laid before the Dáil no later than the end of the following calendar year. Accordingly, all international agreements which entered into force for Ireland in 2005 will be laid before the Dáil no later than the end of 2006. Once an agreement is laid before the Dáil, it is immediately added to the Irish Treaty Series and the text is made freely available from the Department's website. As a result of this, the texts of all international agreements published since 2002 can be downloaded from the Department's website free of charge.

New resources have also been made available to help with the task of identifying international agreements which the State has entered into over the years and which, inadvertently, may not have been laid before the House. In particular, last month a designated treaty officer was assigned to the task of conducting a thorough review of all international agreements entered into by Ireland since 29 December 1937, the date of entry into force of the Constitution. This review will result in a comprehensive account of the State's international treaty obligations. The review is ongoing and any international agreement identified, which has not yet been laid before Dáil Éireann or published in the Irish Treaty Series, will be promptly laid and published, and, if necessary, registered with the United Nations. No such agreement has to date been identified. Ensuring that all agreements are identified will require extensive research, involving the review of a large number of records. As a result, it is estimated that, while the review will be able to make significant progress relatively quickly, it will take some time to complete.

Human Rights Issues.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

151 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he views with concern the extension of the US blockade against Cuba into Mexico, as evidenced by an incident in Mexico City in February 2006 in which a US subsidiary hotel, following pressure from the US authorities to observe their Helms-Burton Law on the embargo against Cuba, refused services to Cuban nationals. [6962/06]

I am aware of the incident to which the Deputy refers. The Government, in common with its EU partners, regards the extra-territorial provisions of the Helms-Burton Act as contrary to international law. The Council of the European Union has adopted legal measures protecting EU enterprises against the effects of extra-territorial legislation adopted by a third country.

Question No. 152 answered with QuestionNo. 133.

International Agreements.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

153 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had discussions with India with regard to its status as a non-signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6844/06]

Ireland has a long-standing policy of support for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, NPT, with which we have had a close association since Frank Aiken's initiative almost 50 years ago. We attach the utmost importance to its universalisation. India, Pakistan and Israel are the only three countries that have not signed the NPT and Ireland will continue to avail of every opportunity to call for their adherence to the treaty as non-nuclear weapon states — nationally, within the EU, and within the New Agenda Coalition, NAC, and at the UN. Ireland strongly supports United Nations Security Council Resolution No.1172 passed in June 1998 which, inter alia, calls on India and Pakistan to become parties to the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, CTBT, and to immediately stop their nuclear weapons development programmes, including the development of ballistic missiles capable of nuclear weapons delivery.

Under an EU Common Position, agreed in November 2003, all EU member states are legally obliged to promote the universalisation of key multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation agreements, including the NPT. In February 2004, my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, led an EU ministerial troika to India and, in line with this Common Position, emphasised our desire that India adhere to the NPT. At the NPT review conference in New York last May, I stated that it was a matter of serious concern that India, Israel and Pakistan continue to remain outside the NPT regime and I urged them to accede to the treaty unconditionally and at an early date. Such a call has also been made in recent statements by the EU.

In addition, Ireland, together with its partners in the NAC, introduced a resolution on the NPT to the first committee of the United Nations General Assembly last October. A separate vote was called on the paragraph in the resolution that urged India, Israel and Pakistan to accede to the treaty. The paragraph was supported by 148 countries. Last December, when the issue was taken up in the plenary of the General Assembly, 158 UN member states endorsed this call .On both occasions, however, India voted against the resolution. Most recently, the issue of India's nuclear programme was also raised during the Taoiseach's visit there last month. We will continue to press for the universalisation of the NPT and for India to accede unconditionally to the treaty.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

154 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has received a copy of the SDLP’s recently published North South Makes Sense document; the efforts he is making to progress North-South economic and social development while the institutions created under the Good Friday Agreement are in abeyance; the areas he wishes to prioritise in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6988/06]

I welcome the SDLP North South Makes Sense document launched on 13 February. It represents a positive contribution to the agenda of North-South co-operation and the development of the all-island economy. I agree wholeheartedly with the document's proposition that North-South co-operation makes sense, and will be closely examining the SDLP proposals on how we might take this process further. The Government's objective is the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of the institutions, including the North-South Ministerial Council. This would greatly enhance the excellent work undertaken by the North-South bodies, as well as facilitating the development of North-South co-operation to the mutual benefit of both parts of the island.

Over the past 12 months, in the context of giving an enhanced impetus to North-South co-operation, the Taoiseach and I have brought two comprehensive memoranda to Government in this area. All relevant Departments, in conjunction with my Department, undertook comprehensive reviews of the scope for co-operation in their areas of responsibility. Key North-South objectives and projects were identified. These cover a wide range of areas including measures to develop co-operation on infrastructure and spatial planning, telecommunications, energy, transport, as well as co-operation on cross-Border public services such as health and education.

My Department, in accordance with its overall co-ordination role, and the Department of the Taoiseach, are working closely to assist Departments in advancing these objectives via the established North-South channels and in close contact with the British Government. In addition, I have reviewed the potential for progress in a series of meetings with the private sector, including the IBEC-CBI joint business council, the North-South roundtable group and the Northern Ireland Business Alliance, as well as setting out our thinking in a number of public speeches to interested groups. Work is also going forward on a North-South basis to identify opportunities for co-operation to foster economic development on a co-ordinated basis in the north west.

The development of North-South co-operation has a high priority in our consultations with the British Government. At the most recent British Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 1 February, Secretary of State Hain and I announced a comprehensive study to identify areas where future co-operation would deliver mutual benefits. This study will draw on the joint contribution we have prepared under the revised Lisbon strategy. The study will examine further ways of developing all-island economic co-operation and will consider issues such as skills, research and development and innovation, competitiveness, business development, trade promotion and investment. The conference also welcomed the recent initiative by Government to include Northern Ireland businesses in the trade delegation accompanying the Taoiseach to India in January 2006 and agreed that further opportunities for joint trade promotion would be explored. In addition, we agreed that there is significant potential for further co-operation on a range of infrastructure and spatial planning issues. Responsible Departments and agencies-regulators are identifying further projects for co-operation and will report to the BIIGC on progress within the next six months.

Question No. 155 answered with QuestionNo. 103.

Human Rights Issues.

Joan Burton

Question:

156 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide an update on such work as is taking place at the United Nations or through its agencies to deal with the issue of bonded labour and, in particular, child bonded labour; and Ireland’s role in contributing to these efforts. [6972/06]

Article 42 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. The main UN agency dealing with the issue of bonded labour — a form of forced labour where workers are tied or "bound" to their employer, often through forms of indebtedness — is the International Labour Organisation, ILO. The ILO, founded in 1919, is the only surviving creation of the Treaty of Versailles, which brought the League of Nations into being. It became a specialised agency of the UN in 1946 and seeks to improve working and living conditions through the adoption of international labour conventions and recommendations setting minimum standards in such fields as wages, hours of work and conditions of employment. It also conducts research and technical co-operation activities to promote democracy and human rights, alleviate poverty and protect working people. The ILO is unique in the UN system, given its tripartite organisation comprising representatives of governments, employer groups and worker groups.

The ILO's work on bonded labour and child bonded labour takes place in the framework of its international labour standards, which are international legal instruments. The Forced Labour Convention 1930 (No. 29), the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention 1957 (No. 105), as well the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 1999 (No. 182) and the Minimum Age Convention 1973 (No. 138) are the main ILO standards in this area. ILO global reports on forced labour in 2001 and 2005 have highlighted the continuing importance of the issue. The 2005 report estimated that the number of victims of forced labour is 12.3 million. The reports also highlight the forced labour dimensions of human trafficking. The ILO has also played a critical role in highlighting the plight of over 246 million children in child labour and has sought to tackle this issue through its International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour, IPEC. Ireland strongly supports the work of the ILO and was elected as a deputy member of its governing body for a three-year term in June 2005.

The Government, through its official aid programme, supports the ILO special action programme to combat forced labour. Total Government funding for this programme between 2003 and 2006 will amount to €1.6 million. The programme tackles issues of bonded labour in Asia, forced labour and human trafficking in Europe and forced labour among indigenous peoples in Latin America. The programme has had considerable impact worldwide in galvanizing international action on forced labour. The Government has also provided support of more than €600,000 to an ILO programme in Albania, Moldova and Ukraine, which focuses on employment, vocational training and migration policy measures to prevent and reduce trafficking in women.

In his address to the international labour conference last June, my colleague, the Minister responsible for labour affairs, Deputy Killeen, reiterated Ireland's intention to continue supporting the ILO's work in this area and urged other donors to do likewise. Ireland and the EU have also raised this important issue at meetings of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

International Agreements.

Seán Crowe

Question:

157 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the prospect of Israel joining NATO anti-terrorism naval patrols in the Mediterranean. [6966/06]

The first meeting at the level of Defence Minister between the 26 NATO countries and the southern Mediterranean countries was held in Italy on 10 February 2006. Israel was represented at the meeting, as were Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. The Ministers agreed to develop further their co-operation in areas, including defence reform, training and response to natural and man-made disasters. The Government believes that the question of participation by Israel, or any of the other Mediterranean countries, in joint NATO military or naval activities is a matter for decision by the membership of NATO.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

158 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s view as to whether it has a responsibility under international law to ensure Ireland does not serve indirectly as a link in US extraordinary renditions where planes transit through Irish territory en route to or returning from such missions; the Government’s view of the likely implication for Ireland’s duties under international law of the arrival at Shannon Airport of a plane (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7114/06]

The Government is satisfied that it is fully in compliance with its obligations under international law in regard to the issue of so-called "extraordinary renditions". With regard to the landing at Shannon Airport of the plane mentioned in the Deputy's question, the allegations made about it and other planes are based on the retrospective imposition of a pattern of movement on flight data some considerable time after the fact and which do not involve a claim of illegal activity on Irish territory. In this regard, as I have repeatedly stated in the House, the Government has received categorical and unambiguous assurances from the US authorities that prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, and would not be, without our permission.

Question No. 159 answered with QuestionNo. 103.
Question No. 160 answered with QuestionNo. 109.
Question No. 161 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

Foreign Trials.

Jack Wall

Question:

162 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s attitude to the continuing incarceration of the Miami five; if he supports the international campaign for their release following the nullification of their conviction; if he has responded to requests for representation in this regard; and his plans to do so. [7000/06]

The case to which the Deputy refers relates to five Cuban citizens who were convicted in the US in 2001 on charges ranging from espionage to first degree murder. A panel of three judges from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the 2001 convictions on 9 August 2005 and ordered a retrial based on new evidence. The Miami District Attorney duly filed an appeal against the decision of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal was heard on 14 February 2006 and the decision is expected by mid-April 2006.

As I have previously informed the House on a number of occasions, the Irish Government has no standing in this matter, which is a bilateral consular question between the US and the Cuban authorities and, consequently, I did not send a representative to the hearing.

Overseas Development Aid.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

163 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government is supporting humanitarian aid programmes in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6824/06]

A new Afghanistan Compact was launched by the Government of Afghanistan and the international community at a conference in London on 31 January 2006. The compact provides a framework for international engagement in Afghanistan for the next five years. Ireland pledged €5 million at the launch of the compact. This new pledge, which will be expended over the next two years, reflects Ireland's continuing commitment to supporting the reconstruction and reform process in Afghanistan. Funding will be expended through the World Bank administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, in support of the Afghan national development strategy and the achievement of Afghanistan's millennium development goals. We will also continue to support the efforts of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations towards pro-poor sustainable development in Afghanistan.

Previous pledges by Ireland of €12 million, made at the Tokyo donor conference in January 2002, and €5 million, made at the Berlin donor conference in March 2004, have been delivered in full and ahead of schedule. Funding was expended via the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund, ARTF, which supports programmes under the Afghan national development plan, assists in ensuring a stable environment for development, contributes to poverty reduction through the delivering of essential services, institutional capacity building and the strengthening of governance. Ireland also supported the electoral process through the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, election support programme, which steered the successful presidential election in 2004 and National Assembly and Provincial Council elections in 2005. Funding was also delivered through a range of Irish and international non-governmental organisations, including Trócaire, Concern, GOAL, Christian Aid, Halo Trust and Handicap International.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

164 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures he proposes to take to secure such an adequate, transparent public inquiry as would meet the requirements of international law, from the Government of the United Kingdom in relation to the murder of Pat Finucane. [7008/06]

I refer the Deputy to today's priority question on this case.

The House will be aware of the support which the Government has given to the Finucane family in its long campaign for an independent public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane. We fully agree with it on the need for a public inquiry as recommended by Judge Peter Cory.

As the Deputy is aware the British Government's current position is that it proposes to hold the inquiry under the UK Inquiries Act 2005. This is unacceptable to the Finucane family. Both prior to, and since the enactment of this legislation, the Government raised its concerns about it with the British Government, including directly by the Taoiseach in contacts with Prime Minister Blair.

The Government has also highlighted our difficulties with the legislation in contacts with the US authorities and the appropriate international fora such as the UN Human Rights Committee and at the Council of Europe. The simple reality is that an inquiry under this Act would not be in line with the commitment made by the Governments at Weston Park, nor with the recommendations of Judge Cory.

I have continued to raise our concerns about the case with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and will continue to do so. I met the family in November and my officials remain in contact with it to offer every support necessary. I assure the Deputy that the Government will continue its efforts bilaterally in support of the family's campaign.

Question No. 165 answered with QuestionNo. 118.

Foreign Missions.

Richard Bruton

Question:

166 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if security at Irish embassies and consulates abroad has been reviewed following recent rioting in the wake of publication of cartoons in the European media; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6838/06]

My Department regularly reviews the security of Irish missions abroad from the point of view of the safety and protection of personnel, both staff and visitors, and the security of all official premises and their contents. In addition, as part of the risk management process within the Department, our missions abroad have crisis response plans for dealing with emergencies that would threaten the safety of their staff or of Irish citizens within their area of accreditation. These are reviewed regularly.

In the light of recent events, the Department has remained in particularly close contact with our missions in the Middle East and the Gulf states. Through the reports received from them, and through contacts with our EU partners, the Department is able to monitor the situation effectively and on a continuous basis.

Question No. 167 answered with QuestionNo. 71.

Overseas Development Aid.

Pat Breen

Question:

168 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government is supporting humanitarian aid programmes in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6828/06]

The Government has committed itself to providing humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people. Since 2003, Ireland has delivered over €6.5 million to meet the immediate emergency humanitarian needs of some of the most vulnerable groups in that country. Funding has been delivered through key non-governmental partners such as Concern, GOAL and Trócaire and through UN and international agencies such as the World Food Programme, the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNOCHA, and the Red Cross family. Funding was also delivered to the AMAR International Charitable Foundation for health care programmes to assist the Marsh Arab population of southern Iraq, which suffered considerably under the former regime.

While the security situation in Iraq has greatly increased the difficulty for those working in the humanitarian field, the Government remains committed to funding humanitarian programmes of the United Nations and of international and non-governmental agencies, which can be delivered in this challenging environment.

Question No. 169 answered with QuestionNo. 138.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

170 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether the current threatened drought in southern Somalia is a powerful indictment of the international community, both states and personalities, that engaged with the Somali famine in 1991 but have since stayed inactive as the Somali people have sunk into crisis and the condition of a failed state. [7004/06]

A number of countries in the Horn of Africa region, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, have been suffering from prolonged drought and are in food crisis. It is estimated that some 5.5 million people have been affected, including 1.4 million in Somalia. On 2 February 2006 the UN Secretary General appointed Mr. Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Prime Minister of Norway, as his special humanitarian envoy for the Horn of Africa. Mr. Bondevik will work with the United Nations system, the governments of the affected countries, the donor community, non-governmental organisations and other civil society organisations to ensure effective humanitarian action and tackle the root causes of chronic food insecurity.

In response to the current crisis, the Irish Government has recently announced a humanitarian assistance funding package of over €5 million, of which over €1 million has been specifically earmarked for Somalia and a further €1.5 million is for regional responses. The organisations being supported are the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Trócaire and Concern.

Almost €3 million in emergency and recovery funding was provided to a range of non-governmental organisations and UN agencies for programmes in Somalia in the 2004-2005 period. Sectors assisted included mine clearance, health care, primary education, reintegration of returning refugees, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, DDR, of former combatants, and mine risk education.

Despite Somalia's major continuing difficulties, positive developments should not be ignored. After almost 15 years of civil war in Somalia, the successful conclusion of the Somalia national reconciliation conference, sponsored by the regional organisation IGAD, resulted in the creation of the transitional federal institutions, charter, parliament, president and government, with a five year mandate, 2004-09. Ireland and the EU provided strong political and financial support to the national reconciliation conference.

President Abdullahi Yusuf was elected on 10 October 2004, the transitional federal government was inaugurated in December 2004 and the formal relocation to Somalia of the transitional federal institutions began in June 2005. Problems arose because the speaker of the Parliament and a number of MPs moved to Mogadishu, while due to continuing insecurity there, the Government moved to the relative safety of the city of Jowhar. However, the transitional government appears to have been gathering strength since September 2005. The faction leaders based in Mogadishu have become increasingly marginalised and a significant number of Mogadishu-based MPs, including the speaker and his deputies, now support the government. A special session of the Somali Parliament is due to be held in Baidoa on 26 February 2006 and all MPs are expected to attend.

Ireland and the EU strongly support these recent positive developments in Somalia. The EU aims to achieve the overall goal of establishing peace and stability in Somalia through major strategies. These are: supporting the progressive installation and operation of the legitimate transitional federal institutions; encouraging reconciliation, democracy and state building at all levels; taking a lead role in the international community's engagement in the reconstruction of Somalia; and addressing the threat of militant Islam.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

171 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he, or representatives from his Department, have had meetings with representatives from the Parades Commission to discuss upcoming contentious parades in Northern Ireland; if such meetings will be held before the beginning of the marching season in order to try to avoid much of the conflict that emerged in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6992/06]

In line with the close attention which the Government gives to parades issues, yesterday I met the chair of the Parades Commission, Roger Poole. I expressed support for the work of the commission and outlined the Government's view that contentious parades should be resolved through meaningful dialogue between the relevant groups. In addition there have been ongoing contacts at official level with the newly-appointed Parades Commission in the period since Christmas, at which the prospects for the 2006 marching season were discussed.

Officials from my Department meet regularly with a wide range of groups and organisations involved with parades. A resolution of parading disputes is a key priority of the Government in making progress towards a stable future in Northern Ireland. The annual cost of a prolonged period of tension and instability each year in terms of tourism, the economy and community relations in Northern Ireland makes it imperative that all concerned, including political leaders, act responsibly and make every effort to reduce tension.

While parades often attract negative publicity, it is important to note that of the 3,500 or so parades that take place each year, the vast majority are uncontested and pass off without incident. In certain communities, following years of difficulty surrounding parades, patient mediation work has produced excellent results, most notably in Derry city. This has been achieved through a willingness to address difficulties and through compromises on both sides. This model provides a useful template for the resolution of other contentious parades.

Avian Flu.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

172 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the funding announced in January 2006 to be given to developing countries to combat avian flu; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7107/06]

Avian flu has become a global threat, with developing countries facing the greatest threat. The virus has recently been detected in Nigeria, and it is probably inevitable that it will spread to other African countries. Compared to countries in Asia and Europe, many African countries lack the capacity to effectively address outbreaks and prevent the avian flu virus becoming rooted in the countryside. The consequences of this are exceptionally serious. Millions of poor families are dependent on poultry as a livelihood and as a food source. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of outbreaks in poultry, due to their high poverty levels and food insecurity. This is quite apart from the health impact of a human pandemic.

Developing countries need to respond to the avian flu threat as a matter of urgency. On the positive side, most are now in the process of developing national plans and strategies. However, many lack the resources to mount an effective national response. Ireland is committed to playing its role in supporting developing countries as part of the global response. At the international conference in Beijing in January, Ireland pledged €1 million for this purpose, with the funding to be focused on developing countries. We will also work through our existing bilateral programmes to help countries to develop their national plans to address both the human health and veterinary aspects of the situation.

In addition to channelling our contribution directly to developing countries, part will be channelled through the World Health Organisation, WHO, which has become the lead agency in co-ordinating the global response to major communicable diseases. In this regard, the organization was extremely effective during the SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, epidemic in 2003.

EU Constitution.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

173 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the EU Constitution will next be discussed with his European counterparts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6820/06]

The European constitution is a major issue on the European Union's agenda and is therefore regularly discussed when I meet with my European counterparts.

Following the "No" votes in France and the Netherlands, the European Council decided to embark on a period of reflection on the constitution and the future of Europe with a view to responding to the concerns voiced by EU citizens. EU Foreign Ministers will be preparing a review of the period of reflection for submission to the June European Council. This means that we will devote increased attention to this subject in the months ahead. Ireland will contribute actively to these discussions, which I hope will help clear the way for progress with regard to the constitution's successful ratification.

Diplomatic Representation.

Martin Ferris

Question:

174 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on opening an embassy in Venezuela. [6963/06]

Ireland currently has diplomatic relations with Venezuela on a non-residential basis. The ambassador to Mexico is also accredited to Venezuela. Ireland also has an honorary consul in Caracas.

The opening of missions abroad is considered by the Government on an ongoing basis. As I believe the Deputy will appreciate, constraints on Government expenditure mean that any expansion of our diplomatic network can only be undertaken having regard to clear priorities. In this regard, there are no plans to change the status of our representation in Venezuela at this time.

Human Rights Issues.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

175 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the detention of an Irish citizen (details supplied); the details of communications made to his Department, and to Irish embassies or consulates by or on behalf of this person since 2003; the actions taken by the Government, especially in view of the Government’s knowledge that, before acquiring Irish nationality, the individual had been recognised as a refugee and hence at risk of persecution if involuntarily returned to Tunisia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7112/06]

On 8 December, the detention in Syria of the person referred to by the Deputy, and his proposed deportation to Tunisia, was first brought to the attention of my Department. The Irish Embassy in Cairo immediately instructed the honorary consul in Damascus to inquire about his case and to ascertain whether he was subject to a deportation order. The embassy also requested the honorary consul to inquire as to his general health and well-being. In raising this case, the honorary consul expressed his concern that the Irish authorities had not previously been made aware of the person's detention. The Syrian authorities informed the honorary consul on 14 December 2005 that the person had been detained in Syria in 2003 on suspicion of travelling on falsified documents, and had been deported to Tunisia on the evening of 13 December 2005. The authorities did not supply any further information on the case.

Upon learning that he had been deported to Tunisia, the Irish Embassy in Madrid, which is accredited to Tunisia, instructed the honorary consulate in Tunis on 16 December to approach the Tunisian authorities to find out where the person is being held, the reason for his deportation to Tunisia, and the conditions of his detention, and also to arrange to visit him. On 19 December, the honorary consulate reverted to the embassy stating that he had been unable to obtain any details about the case from the Tunisian authorities.

Following further unsuccessful attempts to determine the person's whereabouts via the honorary consulate in Tunis, the Irish Embassy in Madrid sent a formal communication to the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our embassy in Madrid subsequently followed up with the Tunisian authorities, stressing the urgency and importance of the case. Our most recent approach was on 17 February when we were informed that our inquiry has been referred to the Tunisian Ministry for the Interior. No response has to date been forthcoming from that ministry. The Deputy can be assured that my Department will continue to actively pursue this case through all appropriate channels.

Question No. 176 answered with QuestionNo. 124.

Unemployment Levels.

John Curran

Question:

177 Mr. Curran asked the Taoiseach the recent figures of unemployment rates in Palmerstown for the years 2003, 2004 and 2005. [7465/06]

John Curran

Question:

178 Mr. Curran asked the Taoiseach the recent figures of unemployment rates in Clondalkin and Lucan for the years 2003, 2004 and 2005. [7466/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 177 and 178 together.

The exact information as requested by the Deputy is not available. Statistics on employment and unemployment are compiled, at a regional level, from the quarterly national household survey. The latest statistics show that there were 27,500 people classified as unemployed in the Dublin region, equating to an unemployment rate of 4.5%, in the September to November quarter of 2005. Sub-regional statistics, of the kind requested by the Deputy, are not available from the quarterly national household survey.

The live register series gives a monthly breakdown of the number of people claiming unemployment assistance, unemployment benefit and other claimants registered with the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Figures are published for each county and each local social welfare office. A breakdown by postal district is not available. The most recent information available is for January 2006. It should be noted that the live register is not a definitive measure of unemployment as it includes part-time workers, seasonal and casual workers entitled to unemployment assistance or benefit. Statistics on unemployment are measured at regional level by the quarterly national household survey. Furthermore, the exact area covered by each local office is not limited to the immediate locality of the particular office. For instance, there may be persons from the Blessington area registered in the Tallaght local office.

The exact information as requested by the Deputy is not available as there is currently no Department of Social and Family Affairs local or branch office in Palmerstown or in Lucan. The live register figures for all the local or branch offices in County Dublin for the period 2003 to date are set out in the following table. Also set out is a table from the quarterly national household survey displaying ILO economic status data for the Dublin region from 2003 to date.

Number of persons on the Register for Co. Dublin and Offices from 2003

Live Register/County Dublin/No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

43,270

43,852

43,178

44,372

43,283

46,335

48,526

48,729

45,417

43,207

42,331

43,562

44,672

2004

45,104

44,597

43,677

43,096

42,370

44,043

45,618

44,953

41,585

39,281

37,880

39,361

42,630

2005

39,873

39,708

39,802

38,898

38,910

41,202

43,620

43,911

40,435

39,287

38,959

39,933

40,378

2006

41,103

Live Register/Gardiner Street1/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

2,913

3,002

2,912

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2004

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2005

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2006

0

Live Register/Cumberland Street/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

5,621

5,639

5,566

5,671

5,398

5,807

6,093

6,160

5,875

5,664

5,543

4,239

5,606

2004

5,877

5,816

5,726

5,654

5,519

5,710

5,768

5,683

5,422

5,022

4,957

5,097

5,521

2005

3,681

5,135

5,157

5,122

5,127

5,348

5,620

5,673

3,612

5,130

5,126

5,155

4,991

2006

5,237

Live Register/Navan Road/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

2,747

2,781

2,748

2,865

2,764

2,868

2,926

2,874

2,779

2,604

2,589

5,658

3,017

2004

2,697

2,688

2,679

2,773

2,712

2,794

2,850

2,825

2,669

2,509

2,460

2,543

2,683

2005

2,605

2,581

2,595

2,485

2,492

2,672

2,854

2,865

5,222

2,619

2,559

2,616

2,847

2006

2,651

Live Register/Thomas Street/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

2,447

2,470

2,420

2,453

2,472

2,627

2,735

2,744

2,491

2,453

2,449

2,630

2,533

2004

2,478

2,482

2,460

2,434

2,455

2,539

2,514

2,499

2,329

2,216

2,117

2,157

2,390

2005

2,189

2,251

2,270

2,222

2,224

2,318

2,360

2,399

2,656

2,178

2,166

2,141

2,281

2006

2,219

Live Register/Tara Street/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

1,495

1,529

1,487

1,478

1,447

1,568

1,602

1,627

1,503

1,406

1,404

3,224

1,648

2004

1,443

1,410

1,354

1,352

1,360

1,423

1,437

1,389

1,257

1,172

1,162

1,151

1,326

2005

1,174

1,181

1,168

1,125

1,137

1,194

1,265

1,280

3,510

1,166

1,142

1,157

1,375

2006

1,153

Live Register/Tallaght/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

3,347

3,395

3,332

3,386

3,275

3,599

3,804

3,815

3,534

3,296

3,244

2,445

3,373

2004

3,631

3,502

3,476

3,513

3,438

3,609

3,702

3,608

3,380

3,077

3,021

3,126

3,424

2005

3,214

3,184

3,273

3,279

3,321

3,456

3,649

3,558

2,228

3,146

3,176

3,302

3,232

2006

3,503

Live Register/Ballymun/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

1,521

1,517

1,539

1,510

1,502

1,548

1,575

1,550

1,505

1,437

1,452

1,467

1,510

2004

1,521

1,513

1,499

1,488

1,483

1,536

1,529

1,465

1,430

1,382

1,354

1,374

1,465

2005

1,473

1,477

1,474

1,423

1,431

1,463

1,569

1,557

1,191

1,481

1,498

1,502

1,462

2006

1,562

Live Register/Clondalkin/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

2,773

2,827

2,823

2,896

2,796

2,970

3,137

3,217

3,066

2,899

2,824

3,401

2,969

2004

3,187

3,153

3,106

3,059

3,012

3,130

3,287

3,237

3,026

2,926

2,791

2,921

3,070

2005

2,987

3,043

3,056

3,062

3,099

3,249

3,519

3,630

3,291

3,368

3,416

3,440

3,263

2006

3,630

Live Register/Rathfarnham/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

2,024

2,142

2,114

2,235

2,116

2,408

2,634

2,674

2,245

2,146

2,102

1,445

2,190

2004

2,237

2,155

2,086

2,046

2,085

2,321

2,492

2,449

2,035

1,956

1,783

1,980

2,135

2005

1,868

1,835

1,833

1,735

1,743

1,936

2,176

2,219

1,529

1,771

1,704

1,904

1,854

2006

1,813

Live Register/Kilbarrack/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

2,984

3,037

2,937

3,004

2,875

3,101

3,306

3,310

3,051

2,923

2,861

2,955

3,029

2004

3,024

2,944

2,930

2,805

2,691

2,809

2,950

2,927

2,692

2,475

2,399

2,484

2,761

2005

2,479

2,462

2,416

2,337

2,345

2,436

2,593

2,572

3,498

2,259

2,197

2,250

2,487

2006

2,320

Live Register/Dún Laoire/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

3,420

3,449

3,345

3,487

3,330

3,651

3,825

3,828

3,425

3,174

3,168

2,260

3,364

2004

3,248

3,292

3,014

2,949

2,907

3,043

3,329

3,305

2,802

2,738

2,539

2,788

2,996

2005

2,611

2,576

2,576

2,501

2,481

2,802

2,932

2,951

1,788

2,391

2,316

2,398

2,527

2006

2,471

Live Register/Balbriggan/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

1,303

1,315

1,279

1,295

1,243

1,274

1,348

1,339

1,297

1,244

1,238

2,991

1,431

2004

1,341

1,353

1,296

1,249

1,206

1,233

1,306

1,308

1,213

1,193

1,179

1,226

1,259

2005

1,238

1,187

1,204

1,167

1,170

1,229

1,329

1,375

2,278

1,238

1,251

1,324

1,333

2006

1,364

Live Register/Ballyfermot/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

1,186

1,193

1,211

1,276

1,219

1,289

1,312

1,363

1,287

1,278

1,186

3,287

1,424

2004

1,261

1,289

1,273

1,256

1,206

1,256

1,260

1,253

1,184

1,139

1,135

1,171

1,224

2005

1,256

1,273

1,272

1,239

1,218

1,259

1,351

1,330

2,539

1,268

1,258

1,242

1,375

2006

1,338

Live Register/Finglas/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

2,088

2,116

2,108

2,161

2,178

2,252

2,348

2,439

2,336

2,208

2,162

1,321

2,143

2004

2,349

2,374

2,347

2,299

2,264

2,270

2,346

2,374

2,245

2,125

2,042

2,121

2,263

2005

2,165

2,168

2,174

2,175

2,174

2,256

2,365

2,380

1,278

2,225

2,184

2,255

2,150

2006

2,307

Live Register/Bishop Square/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

4,256

4,277

4,224

4,403

4,484

4,900

5,182

5,086

4,700

4,376

4,220

1,187

4,275

2004

4,367

4,262

4,134

4,074

4,062

4,260

4,451

4,355

3,965

3,670

3,537

3,642

4,065

2005

3,681

3,656

3,682

3,550

3,589

3,920

4,021

4,019

1,255

3,398

3,308

3,452

3,461

2006

3,432

Live Register/Coolock2/Exch./No. Total

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

2003

3,032

3,033

3,136

3,198

3,174

2,952

2,829

2,736

2,834

.

2004

2,883

2,824

2,807

2,767

2,718

2,753

2,839

2,778

2,650

2,482

2,369

2,439

2,692

2005

2,493

2,432

2,423

2,330

2,277

2,368

2,496

2,505

2,290

2,259

2,239

2,306

2,368

2006

2,424

Source: Live Register Series, Central Statistics Office.

1Gardiner Street office is replaced by Coolock office with effect from April 2003.

2Coolock replaces previous office Gardiner Street with effect from April 2003.

Persons aged 15 years and over classified by NUTS3 regions and ILO Economic Status

Region

In employment

Unemployed

In labour force

Unemployment rate

Participation rate

’000

’000

’000

%

%

Dublin

Dec-Feb 2003

548.4

24.6

573.0

4.3

62.4

Mar-May 2003

548.2

21.9

570.1

3.8

62.1

Jun-Aug 2003

553.9

28.1

582.0

4.8

63.3

Sep-Nov 2003

554.1

24.8

578.8

4.3

62.7

Dec-Feb 2004

548.7

25.1

573.8

4.4

62.0

Mar-May 2004

550.2

24.7

574.9

4.3

62.0

Jun-Aug 2004

560.2

24.7

585.0

4.2

63.0

Sep-Nov 2004

564.0

24.4

588.4

4.1

62.9

Dec-Feb 2005

567.3

23.7

591.1

4.0

62.9

Mar-May 2005

574.3

25.5

599.7

4.2

63.7

Jun-Aug 2005

585.6

28.8

614.5

4.7

65.0

Sep-Nov 2005

586.4

27.5

614.0

4.5

64.4

State

Dec-Feb 2003

1,783.6

85.2

1,868.7

4.6

59.5

Mar-May 2003

1,793.4

82.1

1,875.5

4.4

59.6

Jun-Aug 2003

1,836.4

98.8

1,935.3

5.1

61.3

Sep-Nov 2003

1,828.9

85.9

1,914.8

4.5

60.2

Dec-Feb 2004

1,835.9

83.6

1,919.5

4.4

60.1

Mar-May 2004

1,836.2

84.2

1,920.3

4.4

60.0

Jun-Aug 2004

1,893.6

93.9

1,987.5

4.7

61.8

Sep-Nov 2004

1,894.1

85.6

1,979.7

4.3

61.0

Dec-Feb 2005

1,908.3

82.1

1,990.5

4.1

61.0

Mar-May 2005

1,929.2

85.6

2,014.8

4.2

61.5

Jun-Aug 2005

1,989.8

96.7

2,086.5

4.6

63.2

Sep-Nov 2005

1,980.6

91.3

2,071.9

4.4

62.2

Source: Quarterly National Household Survey, Central Statistics Office.

Health Services.

Jack Wall

Question:

179 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on financial assistance for a group (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7410/06]

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 reply directly to the Deputy.

Food Labelling.

John Deasy

Question:

180 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of breaches of food labelling and traceability regulations detected in the food processing, retailing and catering sectors since 1 January 2004; the number of prosecutions undertaken as a result of such breaches and the number of convictions secured; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7452/06]

Responsibility for the enforcement of labelling and traceability legislation rests with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The European Communities (Labelling, Presentation and Advertising of Foodstuffs) Regulations 2002, SI 483 of 2002, as amended, is the main legislation in Ireland dealing with the general labelling of pre-packaged foodstuffs. However, there are many other labelling provisions contained in separate national and European Union legislation such as provisions relating to nutrition labelling and the labelling of beef, fish, natural mineral waters, approved novel foods, food additives, food supplements, sweeteners as well as declarations on price indication, weights and measures and merchandise markings. Traceability requirements are, in the main, contained in Regulation EC No. 178/2002 and applied from 1 January 2005. There have been no prosecutions connected to traceability requirements to date.

In 2004, the Health Service Executive reported to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that in the course of its inspection programme, 909 breaches of labelling regulations were detected. Food business operators were notified of these breaches and appropriate follow up action was taken, including one successful prosecution. While full information for 2005 is not yet available, it is understood that at least one prosecution is pending for that year.

The Department of Agriculture and Food has advised the Food Safety Authority of Ireland of 862 breaches of labelling regulations in 2004. In all cases the food business operators were notified and further inspections were made to ensure there were no further breaches. It was not deemed necessary to pursue any prosecutions with regard to these breaches. Information for 2005 is not yet available.

During 2004 and 2005 the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs carried out surveys of 892 pre-packaged foods produced by micro and small Irish companies to establish the level of compliance with the food labelling regulations. In 2004, all products surveyed were fully compliant with the relevant legislation and discussions are ongoing with regard to two non-compliant products from the 2005 survey.

Information from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the local authorities with regard to their enforcement activities is not yet available. I have asked the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to forward all outstanding information to the Deputy when it becomes available.

Nursing Home Charges.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

181 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo must pay €110 weekly towards nursing home charges for an aunt; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7234/06]

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 reply directly to the Deputy.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

182 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the estimated cost per year of provision of an acute hospital bed for a public patient in the private system under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. [7252/06]

My Department has asked the chief executive of the National Treatment Purchase Fund to reply directly to the Deputy with the information requested.

Hospital Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

183 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the process underway in the Health Service Executive with regard to the future development of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda; the process of consultation regarding the general study of health service configuration in the north east, with particular reference to acute hospital services; if consultants have been appointed to undertake this study; if so, the brief given and criteria outlined to them and the timescale given; if there will be public consultation on the process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7255/06]

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 reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Subventions.

John McGuinness

Question:

184 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an application for nursing home subvention will be expedited and approved in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if the maximum subvention will be approved. [7256/06]

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 reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

John McGuinness

Question:

185 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an application for a medical card in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be expedited. [7280/06]

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 reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Staff.

Barry Andrews

Question:

186 Mr. Andrews asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there is a nurse to patient ratio in operation in public hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7281/06]

Nurse to patient ratios in public hospitals are currently determined locally by such factors as staffing, historical establishment, the professional judgement of the director of nursing and his or her staff and service needs. I am advised that the Health Service Executive is currently planning a project to identify workforce systems that could be used by health service managers to assist in determining nurse and midwife staffing levels.

Community Care.

Barry Andrews

Question:

187 Mr. Andrews asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if progress has been made on the community nursing units which were due to be rolled out in several locations in Dublin. [7282/06]

The report of the interdepartmental group on long-term care for older people examined, among other issues, residential care needs. That report has been discussed at Cabinet and it is a matter for Government to decide on the next steps regarding the report.

Hospital Staff.

Barry Andrews

Question:

188 Mr. Andrews asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if more nurses’ aids could be employed to release nurses from labour intensive duties; and if equal pay issues would arise in those circumstances where nurses’ aids were doing work that nurses previously carried out. [7283/06]

Nursing is a regulated profession. While health care assistants make a very valuable contribution to the care of patients, their position is quite different to that of the nurse and there is a clear distinction between the role of a nurse and a health care assistant. The assistants work under the supervision of nurses and midwives and a higher level qualification is required for employment as a nurse.

There are currently over 7,000 health care assistants, nurse attendants and nurses' aids employed in the public health service. It is likely that the number of health care assistants required in the public health service will rise over the next number of years as demand for services continues to increase. The introduction of health care assistants as part of care teams frees up nurses to concentrate on higher level tasks more appropriate to their education and training.

A national training programme for health care assistants was rolled out in 2003. In 2005 agreement was reached with the relevant parties on the inclusion of an additional module of training into the programme entitled activities of living patient care. This new module equips health care assistants with the skills to check and record the vital signs, that is, blood pressure, temperature and so forth, of patients in a variety of care settings. While health care assistants have been upskilled in recent years, their qualifications and training is not at the same level as that of nurses and midwives and it is not possible for an assistant to undertake the range of roles and duties appropriate to nursing grades. In these circumstances, therefore, equal pay issues do not arise.

Medical Aids and Appliances.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

189 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on providing ileostomy bags free of charge to persons who need them; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that users need these for their lifetime; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that in the United Kingdom and most of Europe these bags and associated equipment are available free of charge; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7297/06]

Under the 1970 Health Act, the Health Service Executive may arrange for the supply, without charge, of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition, for the treatment of that condition, through the long term illness scheme. The scheme does not cover general practitioner fees or hospital co-payments. The conditions covered are mental handicap, mental illness for those under 16 only, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia. There are currently no plans to extend the list of eligible conditions.

Products which are necessary for the management of the specified illness are available to long term illness scheme patients. Other products are available according to the patient's eligibility. There are a variety of ileostomy bags included on the list of reimbursable non-drug items for the community drugs schemes.

People who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. In the assessment process, the Health Service Executive can take into account medical costs incurred by an individual or a family.

In November 2004, I introduced a new graduated benefit in the form of the general practitioner visit card to extend free general practitioner care and treatment to individuals and families on low incomes.

In June last year, I simplified the means test for both medical and general practitioner visit cards. It is now based on an applicant's and spouse's income after income tax and PRSI deductions and takes account of reasonable expenses incurred in respect of rent or mortgage payments, child care and travel to work. In October, I announced that the income guidelines for both medical and general practitioner visit cards would be increased by an additional 20%. This means the income guidelines are now 29% higher than this time last year. These improvements have also made the assessment process much fairer and ensure that those on low or moderate incomes can qualify for free general practitioner care.

Non-medical card holders can use the drug payment scheme, which protects against excessive medicines costs. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €85 per calendar month, or approximately €20 per week, towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme is easy to use and significantly reduces the cost burden for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines. In addition, the Deputy will be aware that drug payment medical expenses above a set threshold may be offset against tax.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

190 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has produced a circular on the distribution of revenue funding for sheltered housing of €928,000 which she allocated in December 2005; the specific allocations which are being made for each separate Health Service Executive region in 2006; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7298/06]

The development of sheltered housing accommodation provides a real alternative to residential care and reflects the desire of older people to live with as much independence as possible. The total budgetary allocation in 2006 for sheltered housing is the existing allocation of €428,000 plus the extra funding of €500,000 announced on 8 December, giving a total of €928,000 for 2006. An additional €500,000 has also been provided for 2007. This additional funding will help sheltered housing developments to deliver a comprehensive service to older people.

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. Specifically, it is a matter for the executive to allocate the funding made available to it within its regions. 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.

While this Department is allocating current funding to provide health service supports for sheltered housing schemes, responsibility for sheltered housing falls within the remit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Ambulance Service.

Jackie Healy-Rae

Question:

191 Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if funding will be given for another ambulance or refurbishment of the old ambulance that serviced Caherciveen, County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7317/06]

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 considering new capital proposals or progressing those in the health capital programme. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Jackie Healy-Rae

Question:

192 Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if funding will be expedited for the much needed extension to Kenmare Hospital, Kenmare, County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7318/06]

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 reply directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Liz McManus

Question:

193 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the VFM report 52: Provision of Disability Services by Non-profit Organisations submitted to her on 16 December 2005 will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7319/06]

Section 11 of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993 requires the Minister to lay a copy of the report before Dáil Eireann not later than three months after submission to her. The VFM report referred to by the Deputy was presented to the Minister on 16 December 2005 and accordingly, a copy will be laid before the Dáil within the three month period to 16 March, 2006. The report will be published on the date of presentation.

Medical Cards.

Pat Carey

Question:

194 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she views as an anomaly which needs to be addressed a situation where a student over 18 years of age and working part-time is eligible for a medical card while another student over 18 years of age who is not working is not eligible for a medical card unless his or her parents hold one; if she will address the anomaly, if such exists in this case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7339/06]

Under current legislation, persons aged between 16 and 25 years are considered financially independent of their parents or guardians if they are maintaining themselves. Their eligibility for a medical card is then assessed in their own right. Financial independence may be established through student loans, education grants, employment, self-employment, part-time employment, savings or social welfare payments.

If the Deputy has a specific case in mind, the Health Service Executive could be advised of the particulars of the case with a view to its investigation. My Department has drawn the attention of the executive to the matter.

Avian Flu.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

195 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the actions being taken to counter the threat of avian flu; her plans for a public awareness campaign particularly in respect of foreign travel; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7341/06]

Avian influenza, or bird flu, is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. The Department of Agriculture and Food is responsible for controlling avian influenza in birds and mammals other than humans. That Department has contingency plans in place and all questions relating to these plans should be referred to my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan.

The health sector's role in respect of avian flu relates to the human health implications that would arise were there to be an outbreak of avian flu in this country. My Department works very closely with the Department of Agriculture and Food in this context and there are ongoing meetings between officials to discuss issues of mutual concern. The Department of Agriculture and Food is also an active participant in my Department's influenza pandemic expert group.

The overall aims of pandemic planning are to reduce mortality and morbidity and to minimise the resulting disruption to society. However, the consequences of a global pandemic are still likely to be serious. Pandemic planning can only mitigate the effects. The Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive work closely together on pandemic planning on a number of fronts. First, the influenza pandemic expert group is updating expert guidance. Second, the pandemic influenza operational response plan is being updated in line with the most up to date expert advice. This work is being progressed through working and implementation groups established by the Health Service Executive within the following functional areas, namely, surveillance, health services, public health measures, vaccines and antivirals, etc., communications, laboratories and materials management. Third, the Department of Health and Children has established a standing interdepartmental committee to consider issues which go beyond the health aspects of an influenza pandemic, such as border controls and suspension of travel, travel advices, school closures, suspension of other gatherings, and possible security issues etc. This committee will assist the Department of Health and Children with planning for such an emergency and will also be available in the event of an emergency arising.

The spread of H5N1 to poultry in new areas is of concern as it increases opportunities for further human cases to occur. While neither the timing nor the severity of the next pandemic can be predicted, the probability that a pandemic will occur has increased. Nevertheless, the World Health Organisation level of pandemic alert remains unchanged at phase 3: a virus new to humans is causing infections, but does not spread easily from one person to another.

People intending to travel to countries or regions affected by avian flu are not being discouraged from so doing. However, they are advised to avoid contact with wild birds and live poultry and to avoid live bird markets, farms and other places that may be contaminated by bird faeces and to take other sensible precautions, including advice about eating and handling poultry and poultry dishes.

Information on avian influenza is available on the Health Protection Surveillance Centre website, www.hpsc.ie, under the health topics section and a fact sheet for travellers forms part of this information.

Grant Payments.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

196 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the delay in issuing payment of a grant which has been approved in respect of persons (details supplied) in County Cork will be investigated. [7342/06]

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.

Pharmacy Regulations.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

197 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the report of the pharmacy review group in respect of beneficial ownership of a community pharmacy by local general practitioners; and her views on the establishment of same. [7343/06]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

210 Mr. Deenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the construction and placement of pharmacies within and adjacent to surgeries, by local general practitioners or groups of general practitioners here is in breach of clause 21(1) of the Health (Community Pharmacy Contractor Agreement) Regulations 1996; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7437/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 197 and 210 together.

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 Acts. 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 recommendations of the pharmacy review group that there should be no beneficial ownership or business interest between prescribing and dispensing and, in regard to group practices and pharmacies, contracted pharmacies and general practice surgeries should occupy discrete premises, with separate entrances.

In order to ensure that any commercial links between a contractor and a health centre would not affect the integrity and probity of the operation of a contracted pharmacy within a health centre, my Department has advised the HSE that it should satisfy itself, in assessing contract applications, that any commercial relationship between a pharmacy contractor and a health centre will not affect the proper provision of services under the contract and that the terms of the contract, in particular clauses 21, 22(3), 22(4) and 23, dealing with ownership of pharmacies and beneficial interest, are met.

Arising from the recommendations of the pharmacy review group, the Government has approved the drafting of two pieces of pharmacy legislation. The first Bill will allow for fitness to practice regulations for pharmacists and the removal of the derogation on pharmacists educated in other EU or EEA countries from owning, managing or supervising a pharmacy in Ireland that is less than three years old. It will also provide a proper statutory basis for the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland. The second Bill will deal with desirable changes in the regulatory framework pertaining to pharmacy practice and the delivery of pharmaceutical services. It will also deal with the recommendations of the review group in relation to ownership.

Grant Payments.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

198 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given in having an occupational therapist visit persons (details supplied) in County Cork who have applied to Cork County Council for a disabled persons grant and who have been waiting almost four months for the assessment to take place. [7344/06]

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.

Death Certificates.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

199 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in having a death certificate made available in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [7345/06]

The administration of the civil registration system is statutorily a matter for an tArd-Chláraitheoir, the Registrar General, and for registrars of births, deaths and marriages who operate under his general direction. I have made inquiries of an tArd-Chláraitheoir and the position is set out below.

When a person dies, it is the duty of a relative of the deceased to act as qualified informant. This means that the relative must give to a registrar the information necessary to register the death, including a medical certificate of the cause of death, obtainable from the medical practitioner who attended the deceased within one month of the death, and sign the register of deaths.

In certain circumstances, a death is referred to the coroner. There is a legal responsibility on doctors, registrars, undertakers, gardaí, hospitals and nursing homes to inform the coroner where a death occurs suddenly or unexpectedly, or from a cause unknown, unclear or unnatural, or where the deceased was not seen or treated by a registered medical practitioner within one month prior to death.

In such cases, the coroner may request a post mortem examination. If the post mortem shows that a death was due to natural causes, the coroner may issue a certificate to the registrar, who can then proceed to register the death and issue a death certificate. If the post mortem shows that a death was due to unnatural causes, the coroner may cause an inquest to be held. In such cases, the registrar must await the outcome of the inquest and the issue by the coroner of a coroner's certificate, before registering the death.

An tArd-Chláraitheoir is not aware of any particular reason for the delay in issuing a death certificate in the case of the person concerned, details supplied, other than the death in question has not been registered as yet. A relative of the deceased should contact the nearest registrar of births, deaths and marriages as soon as possible in order to effect registration.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Willie Penrose

Question:

200 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason, in view of commitments to the Irish Wheelchair Association among others, the process of core funding for community employment positions, currently supporting personal and social services for people with disabilities has not been put in place along the lines of the submission made by the Irish Wheelchair Association to her Department in October 2005, and in particular the context where there is a significant reliance on community employment schemes for basic and essential services to be provided to people with disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7353/06]

In the Estimates for 2006, significant additional funding totalling €100 million has been included for the improvement of health services for people with disabilities.

As part of this provision, funding of €10 million has been made available to address core underfunding and core staffing issues in services provided by the non-statutory sector. The Health Service Executive has been 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 any urgent case for funding of necessary services which may be made by the Irish Wheelchair Association.

Organ Donation.

Willie Penrose

Question:

201 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps she is taking to raise awareness of transplantation issues here and to promote the awareness and necessity for donor cards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7357/06]

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 currently 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.

Medical Cards.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

202 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding an application for a medical card in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7358/06]

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 Lowry

Question:

203 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) will be seen by a speech therapist as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7380/06]

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.

Michael Lowry

Question:

204 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if funding will be provided for the retention of a personal assistant to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7381/06]

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.

Michael Lowry

Question:

205 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary will be given an appointment as a matter of grave urgency with the early intervention team; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7382/06]

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 Subventions.

Jack Wall

Question:

206 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department or the health service executive received an application for or granted a nursing home subvention payment to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7411/06]

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.

Grant Payments.

Jack Wall

Question:

207 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties a group (details supplied) in Dublin 7 are encountering due to lack of funds; if funding will be allocated to the group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7412/06]

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.

Pat Breen

Question:

208 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a speech therapist will be replaced at a medical centre (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7413/06]

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.

Departmental Funding.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

209 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount of funding provided by her Department in the health budget for each year from 1998 to date in 2006; the number employed in the health services throughout the same period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7436/06]

The amount of gross funding provided for the health Vote from 1998 to 2006 is detailed in the following table. The Deputy should note that figures for 2005 and 2006 relate to the Votes for the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive. The 2006 figures are in respect of published Abridged Estimates figures plus the budget 2006 provision.

Year

Current

Capital

Total

€ million

€ million

€ million

1998

3,937.586

186.969

4,124.555

1999

4,600.446

230.694

4,831.140

2000

5,362.094

293.944

5,656.038

2001

6,703.640

373.620

7,077.260

2002

7,846.096

507.115

8,353.211

2003

8,788.128

514.186

9,302.314

2004

10,050.587

508.479

10,559.066

2005

11,356.457

584.500

11,940.957

2006

12,176.313

578.500

12,754.813

The sources are the Revised Estimates for Public Services, 1999 to 2005, the Abridged Estimates Volume for 2006 and budget 2006.

The Department of Health and Children's health service personnel census is collected on a quarterly basis and encompasses staff employed by the Health Service Executive, the voluntary hospitals and some intellectual disability agencies. The latest available figures, which are for the end of September 2005, together with year-end data for the remainder of the period referred to by the Deputy are as per the table below. The Deputy may wish to note there has been an increase in the number of medical and dental personnel over the period of 2,056, or 40%; of 8,267, or 31%, in the number of nurses; and of 7,275, or 114%, in the numbers of health and social care professionals. The Deputy should exercise caution in making grade category comparisons over time due to the reclassification of certain grades.

The figures for health service employment in the following table excludes home helps.

Grade Category

31/12/98

31/12/99

31/12/00

31/12/01

31/12/02

31/12/03

31/12/04

31/12/05

Medical/Dental

5,153

5,385

5,698

6,285

6,775

6,792

7,013

7,209

Nursing

26,611

27,044

29,177

31,429

33,395

33,766

34,313

34,878

Health & Social Care Professionals

6,390

6,812

7,579

9,183

12,519

12,629

12,830

13,665

Management/ Admin.

9,480

10,599

12,366

14,714

15,690

15,766

16,157

16,657

General Support Staff

22,005

22,953

25,250

13,864

13,807

13,923

13,857

14,175

Other Patient & Client Care

14,826

13,493

13,624

14,553

14,929

Total

69,640

72,793

80,070

90,302

95,679

96,501

98,723

101,513

The source is the health service personnel census.
Question No. 210 answered with QuestionNo. 197.

Health Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

211 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the claims of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow in a nursing home will be investigated. [7442/06]

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.

General Practitioner Co-operatives.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

212 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on progress regarding efforts to set up a general practitioner co-operative in the Tallaght area; the contacts and discussions she has had in the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7443/06]

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.

State Property.

Joan Burton

Question:

213 Ms Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there are proposals to transfer land at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, to a private developer, or otherwise to make land available to a private developer for the purposes of developing a private hospital in the grounds of Connolly Hospital; the meetings which took place between her Department, the Health Service Executive and the Department of Finance to discuss or explore such private hospital proposals; when and the locations where such meetings took place; the people who were present at each meeting and if she herself attended; the outcome of discussions and meetings in respect of the private hospital proposal; if a full cost benefit has been prepared including the cost of tax expenditures; the estimated cost of the project; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7458/06]

In July 2005, I made a policy direction to the board of the Health Service Executive in regard to private hospital developments that would free up new public beds. Attached to the policy direction was an assessment framework which the Health Services Executive, HSE, has been requested to follow in relation to proposals to locate private hospital facilities on public hospital sites. It requires that the evaluation should have regard to a detailed assessment of need, and existing and planned capacity on a particular site and within the relevant region. It should also provide for a rigorous value for money assessment of any proposal which would take account of the value of the public site and the cost of any capital allowances. In addition, it makes clear the need for adherence to public procurement law and best practice.

Any private development at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, which is owned by the HSE, would have to adhere to the above policy direction. I answered a question from the Deputy on 12 October last on meetings I had attended on this matter. I have not attended any further meetings on this subject since then and there have been no meetings between the two Departments and the HSE on it.

Health Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

214 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that under the initiative to move patients in hospital to step down facilities suitable to their needs, that a promise that wheelchairs would be provided where needed, has not been honoured; and if she will seek a full report on the operation of this initiative for the use of contracted facilities for hospital patients in order that Dáil Éireann can be informed of the effectiveness of the initiative. [7491/06]

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.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Pat Breen

Question:

215 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Finance the measures he intends to take to prevent the banks and the financial institutions from making exorbitant commissions from equity-based SSIAs, amounting to sums almost equal to the Government top-up; his views on whether the appropriation of such commissions would have a damaging effect on engendering a savings culture among the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7261/06]

Under the codes of conduct issued by the financial regulator, which applies to all investment firms and stockbrokers, firms are required to disclose in advance to all clients or potential clients, the basis on which their fees are calculated. Any alteration to this basis for calculation must also be disclosed to clients. As part of their contract with investment firms, clients would have to agree to these terms and conditions.

If a consumer has a complaint against a financial institution, he may contact the Financial Services Ombudsman. The ombudsman's office is an independent statutory body whose remit is to investigate, mediate and adjudicate unresolved complaints of customers about financial service providers. There is no charge for using the Financial Services Ombudsman and his office can deal with complaints related to conduct occurring up to six years before the complaint was made.

I am satisfied therefore that the interests of customers in this instance are appropriately safeguarded by existing regulatory arrangements.

Tax Code.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

216 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Finance if he will reduce the minimum threshold for donations to charities from €250 to €100; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7299/06]

Reducing the minimum threshold at which donations qualify for tax relief under the terms of the donations scheme from €250 to €100, as the Deputy has proposed, would significantly increase the current cost of the scheme to the Exchequer. A recent study by Irish Charities Tax Research Limited indicated that the introduction of such a measure would approximately double the cost of the scheme. The relief is already very generous. There is no upper limit on the amount which can be donated generally and relief is granted at the donor's marginal rate of income tax. Donations can be cumulative, so that a donation of €5 per week over the course of a year would qualify.

As the Deputy will be aware, the donations scheme was one of the tax reliefs examined as part of last year's overall review of tax reliefs and exemptions. The review concluded that the €250 minimum threshold is serving its purpose and should be retained at its current level, subject to ongoing review. I agree with this conclusion. The Deputy may wish to note that the full text of the review can be found on the Department of Finances website at www.finance.gov.ie/documents/publications/other/ revtaxreliefsvol3.pdf.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

217 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Finance if he will introduce a VAT refund mechanism for the benefit of the Irish charities sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7300/06]

I should explain that charities and non-profit organisations are exempt from VAT under the sixth VAT directive with which Irish law must comply. As such, they do not charge VAT on their services and cannot recover VAT on goods and services which they purchase. Essentially only VAT registered businesses which charge VAT are able to recover VAT. Refund orders, of the kind put forward by the Deputy, have in the past been used in a limited way to provide refunds of VAT on certain aids and appliances for the disabled and on medical equipment donated voluntarily to hospitals. These orders are focused and are designed to target particular sectors. However, it is not possible to introduce new schemes which would allow for VAT refunds to exempt bodies or non-taxable persons.

I would add that the tax code currently provides exemption for charities from income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax, deposit interest retention tax, capital acquisitions tax, stamp duty, probate tax and dividend withholding tax.

Site Acquisitions.

Michael Smith

Question:

218 Mr. M. Smith asked the Minister for Finance if he will sign a contract for the acquisition of a site to facilitate decentralisation to Thurles, County Tipperary. [7301/06]

I am informed by the Commissioners of Public Works that they have already signed contracts in respect of a site in Thurles for decentralisation.

Tax Yield.

Pat Carey

Question:

219 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Finance if he will clarify where tax at 42% has to be paid on refunds of AVC’s and other such pension refunds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7389/06]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that section 780 of the Taxes Consolidation Act provides for a tax charge on refunds of employee-pension contributions. The rate of tax is the standard rate, which currently is 20%, in force at the time of payment. A refund of employee contributions may only be made if the employee is leaving the employment and has less than two years service. The refund of employee contributions is in lieu of any other benefits from the pension scheme.

Refunds of AVC are not generally allowed by Revenue. In exceptional cases, for example, where an AVC has been made in error, Revenue may allow a refund of the AVCs. Where the employee has received tax relief in respect of the contributions which will be refunded, Revenue will seek to recover any tax relief claimed. The rate applying will depend on the individual's marginal rate of tax and could be either 20% or 42%.

State Property.

Paul McGrath

Question:

220 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the expenditure to date and planned expenditure on the Steward’s House, Phoenix Park, Dublin, including purchase price of the house and any renovations and other works carried out since purchase; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7453/06]

Paul McGrath

Question:

221 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide the schedule, with an estimated current value, of art work, furniture and any other fixtures and fittings, which are to be used in the Steward’s House, Phoenix Park, Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7454/06]

Paul McGrath

Question:

222 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the expenditure and the nature of the expenditure on the gardens, security system and outhouses at the Steward’s House, Phoenix Park, Dublin, since it was purchased; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7455/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 220 to 222, inclusive, together.

Work on the refurbishment of the Steward's House at Farmleigh to further enhance the guest facilities on the estate is now complete. The purpose of the refurbishment is to provide an additional guest accommodation facility as part of the overall Farmleigh complex but separate from the main house.

The Steward's House is an integral part of the Farmleigh Estate and it was included as part of the purchase of Farmleigh by the State in 1999. Much of the renovation work was done directly by the building maintenance service of the Office of Public Works as part of its ongoing programme of works. External contracts directly associated with the renovation work total €568,076 inclusive of VAT. In addition, direct landscaping contracts came to €30,748 inclusive of VAT.

Furniture and decorative elements are bought from time to time by the Office of Public Works and are used in various State buildings over their lifetime as will be the case in Steward's House. In addition, some of the Guinness collection of furniture on loan to Farmleigh will also be placed in the Steward's House. It is not possible therefore to provide the costed schedule as requested by the Deputy.

Security works carried out in Farmleigh from time to time relate to the entire estate. The cost of security works directly associated with the Steward's House refurbishment works would be relatively small in the context of the overall cost of such works.

Joan Burton

Question:

223 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance if consideration will be given to including a children’s playground in Farmleigh; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Farmleigh is a popular destination for visits by families with young children, but there are no playground facilities at Farmleigh or at the northwest end of the Phoenix Park; his views on whether a playground located in the grounds of Farmleigh would offer an important amenity to residents in Dublin 15 and beyond in view of the enormous population living in the Dublin 15 area without in any way interfering with Farmleigh’s other functions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7459/06]

Farmleigh House and estate is not considered to be an appropriate or suitable location for a children's playground for the local community given its nature and specific functions as a State residence for visiting dignitaries and as a venue for high level Government meetings and functions. The grounds and facilities of Farmleigh are made available for the use and enjoyment of the public to the greatest extent possible under its successful public access programme which includes activities specifically for children. In itself this represents a considerable amenity for the community of Dublin 15. However, necessary security restrictions during official use of Farmleigh means that the estate cannot be open for public use seven days a week. It is sometimes necessary also to close the estate and house to the public at short notice. In these circumstances, it would not serve the interests of the local community nor would it represent good value for money to devote resources to developing a children's playground at Farmleigh as a community amenity when access to that facility by the local community may be restricted to a significant extent and in an unpredictable manner.

The possibility of developing a second play area for children located at the northwest end of the Phoenix Park, is at present being examined by the Commissioners of Public Works.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joan Burton

Question:

224 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of civil servants now in place at each decentralisation location in respect of the decentralisation proposals for the Department of Finance and the Office of Public Works; the number of civil servants who have moved to their new Department pending transfer to the decentralised location; the number of existing, serving civil servants in each of these sections who have opted for decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7460/06]

Under the decentralisation programme announced by Government in December 2003, there are 131 staff of my Department due to decentralise to Tullamore from July 2006 and 33 staff due to decentralise to Kildare. The number of civil servants who have moved to my Department pending transfer and the number of staff in my Department who have chosen to move are as follows:

Tullamore

Kildare

Number of staff within the Department who have chosen to decentralise

19

9

Number of staff who have transferred into the Department pending decentralising

63

0

Total number in situ

82*

9

*In addition there are a further 20 people who have accepted offers and are in the process of being transferred.

I am informed by the Office of Public Works that, under the decentralisation programme, there are 349 staff due to decentralise to Trim, 150 staff to Claremorris and 100 staff to Kanturk. The information requested by the Deputy is as follows:

Trim

Claremorris

Kanturk

Number of staff within the OPW who have chosen to decentralise

95

10

7

Number of staff who have transferred into the OPW pending decentralisation

42

0

0

Total number in situ

137

10

7

The Deputy should note that the figures included in the tables above are subject to change as further assignments under the decentralisation programme are made.

Public Transport.

Joan Burton

Question:

225 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the position in respect of proposals to allow for express buses at peak time, including the 37 and 39 to use the main road in the Phoenix Park in order to speed journey times to town and provide access to Luas for people living in Dublin 15; the problems his Department have identified in respect of this proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7461/06]

The position remains unchanged from that outlined in my reply on 14 February 2006 to Parliamentary Question No. 339.

Telecommunications Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

226 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on the fact that Ireland has slipped to second from the bottom in the EU league table for broadband; and if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties created for people in small rural communities in Ballydehob in west Cork who are unable to obtain broadband internet connection. [7233/06]

Grant aid has been awarded for the provision of broadband in the Ballydehob area under the group broadband scheme administered by my Department and this service is now operational.

Ireland's relatively low ranking against other European countries in terms of broadband connections reflects the late launch of competitive, affordable broadband by private broadband service providers and a slow take-up by consumers. However, the situation is improving rapidly. In 2004, there were more than 80 internet service providers but today more than 156 companies are listed by ComReg. At least 45 different broadband offerings now exist across a variety of technologies, including DSL, fibre, cable, leased lines and satellite technology. Wireless broadband technology is improving rapidly and the lowering of equipment prices has made this technology much more attractive of late. The use of fixed wireless local access is increasing, especially in rural areas that cannot obtain ADSL connectivity and the development of wi-max, offers considerable potential in the future.

In essence, there are broadband technologies that can deliver broadband to virtually any broadband customer in Ireland right now. The rate of uptake is dependent on access by the service providers to suitable infrastructure. Ireland is the lowest cost country in the OECD for international connectivity; our regional broadband pricing is now on a par with the best in Europe, and the price of basic broadband access is at the EU average. Furthermore, Ireland is now one of the cheapest locations in the world for international leased lines.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Seamus Kirk

Question:

227 Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans for the development of alternative energy sources such as geothermal heating and solar panelling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7253/06]

The multiannual financial package for renewables announced in budget 2006 includes a grant aid package for the domestic sector which will provide for individual grants to install renewable energy technologies, including solar panels, geothermal heat pumps and wood pellet boilers. My Department, in conjunction with Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, is developing the necessary detailed measures to roll out the new programme, which will be announced shortly.

Under the SEI house of tomorrow research, development and demonstration programme, financial support is already directed at encouraging developers of housing, both new-build and refurbishment, to incorporate design and technology features which deliver significantly superior energy and CO2 performance. A total of €5 million was expended on research and development, international collaboration, and public research to December 2005, with outstanding commitments of €10.5 million.

To date, there have been 55 housing demonstration projects and 2,650 homes have benefited from this programme. The technologies installed include: condensing oil and gas boilers, in 1,984 homes; solar water heating, in 687 homes; heat recovery ventilation, in 633 homes; ground source heat pumps, in 392 homes; and wood pellet boilers, in 344 homes.

SEI also runs a low-income housing programme to assist with the establishment of a national plan of action to address the issue of fuel poverty in low-income households. This provides the context for co-ordinated action to ensure such households have access to adequate cost-effective heating and hot water, and energy efficient lighting and appliances. A total of €3.6 million has been expended on more than 8,000 homes since the programme commenced. There are eight operational community based organisations which actively completed homes in 2005. An additional four groups were approved in December 2005 and they are currently recruiting staff and undergoing training. It was announced in the budget that an additional €2 million is to be made available under the low-income housing programme to tackle fuel poverty.

Telecommunications Services.

Michael Lowry

Question:

228 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the provision of broadband for Cloughjordan village, County Tipperary can be expected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7372/06]

Michael Lowry

Question:

229 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the provision of broadband for Modreeny, Cloughjordan, County Tipperary can be expected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7373/06]

Michael Lowry

Question:

230 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the provision of broadband for Borrisokane, County Tipperary can be expected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7374/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 228 to 230, inclusive, together.

Grant aid has been awarded for the provision of broadband in the Borrisokane and Cloughjordan area of County Tipperary under the group broadband scheme administered by my Department. The project is being developed by the Internet service provider in conjunction with the community group.

Fisheries Protection.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

231 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of licences issued for the capture of salmon in Dublin Bay in 2005; the number of recorded salmon killed in 2005 by methods (details supplied) in the stated area; the number of salmon recorded as caught and tagged by anglers on the River Liffey in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7439/06]

I am advised by the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board that it issued 26 commercial wild salmon and sea trout fishing licences for the Dublin district, comprising the area from Skerries to Wicklow Head and including Dublin Bay, in 2005. This comprised ten drift net and 16 draft net licences.

I understand licence holders can fish throughout the district, in accordance with the conditions of their licence. In 2005, four salmon and 41 sea trout were recorded as caught by drift nets. In the same period, two salmon and 56 sea trout were recorded as caught by draft nets. Logbook returns for 2005 show 22 wild salmon and five sea trout were caught by rod and line on the River Liffey.

Details of the commercial and recreational catch for each district are published in the annual Wild Salmon and Sea Trout Tagging Scheme Fishery Statistics Report, published by the Central Fisheries Board.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joe Walsh

Question:

232 Mr. Walsh asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the interim arrangements he is putting in place to facilitate the 200 staff from his Department and BIM who have, for more than two years, volunteered to decentralise to Clonakilty under the central application facility procedure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7476/06]

The Government's decentralisation programme provides for the relocation of 91 posts in my Department's seafood and coastal zone functions to Clonakilty. The 93 posts in An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, are also to be relocated to Clonakilty. The Public Appointments Service, PAS, has indicated that a total of 176 expressions of interest, from across the public service, have been received for these posts, of which 140 relate to the Department's posts and 36 to the BIM posts.

The Department has so far concentrated on translating expressions of interest into concrete commitments and on progressing the issue of a permanent accommodation solution to assist the Office of Public Works in meeting the decentralisation implementation group's anticipated timeframe for completion of facilities in Clonakilty. As a result of our ongoing liaison with the Office of Public Works, a suitable site has been acquired for both the Department and BIM. OPW has also confirmed that the tender process to secure a design-build solution, based on a detailed specification of our requirements in Clonakilty, is nearing completion. Having progressed these priority issues, I recently asked officials in the Department to look for interim accommodation in Clonakilty to facilitate an early move there.

Question No. 233 answered with QuestionNo. 124.

Nuclear Programmes.

Bernard Allen

Question:

234 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action being taken with regard to the potential development of a nuclear capability by Iran; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7221/06]

There are several dimensions to the action being taken with regard to the potential development of a nuclear capability by Iran. There is an ongoing investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, to clarify the nature and scope of Iran's nuclear programme, certain aspects of which had not been declared, contrary to its obligations under the safeguards agreement with the agency. There have also been discussions with the E3-EU under the framework of the Paris Agreement of 2004 and, more recently, between Iran and the Russian Federation. Both sets of discussions are focused more on possible arrangements for future co-operation with Iran in the nuclear field, rather than examining past activities.

The IAEA board of governors adopted a further resolution on 4 February 2006 which set out a number of confidence-building measures that Iran should take and requested Iran to extend full and prompt co-operation to the agency, which the director general deemed was indispensable and overdue. In particular, Iran was requested to help the agency clarify possible activities which could have a military nuclear dimension. The resolution asked the director general to report to the UN Security Council that these steps are required, and also to report all relevant reports and resolutions. A further report from the director general is scheduled to be issued in advance of the next board of governors meeting on 6 to 10 March. It will thereafter also be sent to the Security Council.

Reporting Iran to the Security Council does not signal the abandonment of the investigatory process under way within the framework of the IAEA. Rather, it is an effort to further strengthen the authority of the IAEA and to encourage Iran to show the necessary co-operation and transparency that has so far been lacking.

Negotiations between the E3-EU and Iran are suspended following Iran's decision in August 2005 to recommence conversion of uranium at its Isfahan facility. This action was in breach of the Paris Agreement signed by Iran and the E3-EU, France, Germany and the United Kingdom, in November 2004. Within the framework of the agreement, there had been several rounds of these negotiations on long-term arrangements in the areas of political and security issues, technology and co-operation and nuclear issues and the E3-EU had presented detailed written proposals, before Iran's actions in August brought the process to an end.

Last December, officials representing the E3-EU and Iran met in Vienna to explore whether there was a basis for a resumption of negotiations. There was no concrete outcome from the talks but both sides agreed to meet again in January. Before the meeting took place, Iran decided to recommence enrichment related activities.

Iran has held discussions recently with Russia regarding the latter's proposal that Iran's uranium fuel be enriched on Russian soil rather than in Iran. Iran has been giving some mixed signals on whether it could accept such a proposal. Further talks on the matter were held earlier this week in Moscow.

Iran's decision to resume enrichment related activities at its nuclear sites has greatly jeopardised further talks to find an agreed solution consistent with IAEA resolutions. I strongly urge Iran to immediately reconsider its actions and refrain from proceeding with its nuclear programme. This issue can be resolved by negotiations but it will require a co-operative and transparent approach on the part of the Iranian Government with the IAEA, and the implementation of the confidence-building measures set out by the board of governors.

Middle East Peace Process.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

235 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he intends to respond to an inquiry from Amnesty International as to the status of a recent report prepared by diplomatic missions of the EU in Ramallah and Jerusalem in regard to the present position in Israel and the occupied terrorities, including proposals for breaking the impasse in regard to peace; if the report will be published; if it has been considered by the General Council of Foreign Affairs Ministers of the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7222/06]

The Government and its partners in the EU remain seriously concerned at Israeli activities in the occupied territories, including the building of settlements, house demolitions and continuing construction of the separation barrier on occupied land. These activities are contrary to international law and to obligations under the quartet roadmap. They threaten to undermine a solution based on the coexistence of two viable states and, likewise, the possibility of a final status agreement on Jerusalem. It remains the clear position of the EU that it will not recognise any change to the pre-1967 borders other than those arrived at by agreement between the parties.

The meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which I attended on 7 and 21 November 2005, expressed particular concern about the implementation of these policies in and around east Jerusalem and repeated the EU position on changes to the pre-1967 borders. The EU's concerns were reaffirmed in the declaration on the Middle East which was adopted by the European Council on 15 December 2005.

At its meeting on 21 November, the Council agreed that a detailed EU analysis on east Jerusalem should be prepared, for adoption and publication on 12 December 2005. The matter was discussed in detail at the meeting on 12 December but consensus was not reached on the publication of an analysis, primarily because of the domestic political developments in Israel in the intervening period. There has, however, been no change in the EU position on these important issues. The Government will continue to raise its concerns directly in discussions with the Israeli Government. We and our partners in the EU will continue to engage directly and constructively with the Israeli Government and with the Palestinian Authority to encourage it to fulfil its obligations under the roadmap and under international law.

In line with the position set out above, a substantive reply has issued to the inquiry from Amnesty International.

Foreign Conflicts.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

236 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether the Government could play a role in assisting the development of a conflict resolution process in the Basque country. [7292/06]

The issue of any possible role for the Government in assisting the development of a conflict resolution process in the Basque country is a matter for the Spanish Government to decide. We have not been approached with such a request. Although I have no reason to believe such a request will be forthcoming, the Government would be willing to offer support in any way deemed helpful by the Spanish Government.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Finian McGrath

Question:

237 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will raise once again with the British Government the murder of solicitor Mr. Pat Finucane; and if support will be given to the family on this matter. [7415/06]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Deputy Gregory to Priority Question No. 61.

The House will be aware of the support the Government has given to the Finucane family in their long campaign for an independent public inquiry into the murder of Patrick Finucane. We fully agree with them on the need for a public inquiry as recommended by Judge Peter Cory.

As the Deputy is aware, the British Government's current position is that it proposes to hold an inquiry under the UK Inquiries Act 2005. This is unacceptable to the Finucane family. Both prior to and since the enactment of this legislation, the Government has raised its concerns about this legislation with the British Government, including directly by the Taoiseach in contacts with Prime Minister Blair.

The Government has also highlighted our difficulties with the legislation in our contacts with the US authorities and at appropriate international fora such as the UN Human Rights Commission and the Council of Europe. An inquiry under this Act would not be in line with the commitment made by the Governments at Weston Park and in line with the recommendations of Judge Cory.

I have continued to raise our concerns about the case with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and will continue to do so, with a view to finding a satisfactory outcome in this case. I met the family in November and my officials remain in regular contact with them to offer every support necessary. I can assure the Deputy that the Government follows developments in this case closely and will continue its efforts in support of the family's campaign for an independent public inquiry.

Human Rights Issues.

Finian McGrath

Question:

238 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is correct that Columbian security forces have killed civilians and covered it up by dressing the bodies as guerrillas; and if same came up recently in a United Nations human rights report. [7242/06]

The report issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNHCHR, on Colombia on 20 January 2006 states that while a number of indicators of violence at the national level continue to show a downward trend, the human rights situation in Colombia remains problematic. There are credible reports of extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture and other cruel and degrading treatment, and attacks on the freedom of expression. As the UNHCHR report acknowledges, such violations are not part of a deliberate state policy, but the report challenges the Colombian Government to do more to surmount these problems, including by seeking to end impunity. The High Commissioner considers it vital that the country overcomes the internal armed conflict by way of dialogue and negotiation.

The report further highlights the complete disregard and disdain for human rights and humanitarian duties shown by the illegal armed groups, particularly the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionárias de Colombia, FARC. This is reflected in the persistence of massacres, murders and indiscriminate attacks. The Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC, is also reported to persist in committing grave breaches such as murders, threats and attacks on the civilian population.

Ireland was actively involved in negotiating the chairperson's statement on the situation of human rights in Colombia which was adopted on 22 April 2005 at the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights held in Geneva. That statement condemned all breaches of international humanitarian law in Colombia and called on all parties to the conflict to respect human rights. The statement also noted that, in 2004, illegal armed groups were responsible for the vast majority of criminal acts and breaches of international humanitarian law. It strongly urged such groups to comply with international humanitarian law and to respect the population's legitimate exercise of their human rights.

Ireland monitors the human rights situation in Colombia along with its partners in the European Union. On 3 October 2005 the General Affairs and External Relations Council reiterated its call on all parties to the conflict to respect human rights and international humanitarian law. The conclusions principally address the Colombian Justice and Peace Law, which provides an overall legal framework for demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of illegal armed groups into society. The overall assessment of the Council was that if implemented effectively and in a transparent manner, the Justice and Peace Law will have a positive effect on peace-building in Colombia. The conclusions also commended the work of the UNHCHR in Colombia and confirmed the EU's willingness to work closely with it. At its meeting on 7 November 2005, the Council reiterated the need to intensify support for the Colombian peace process.

The peace process in Colombia is making some progress. A process of dialogue is under way between the AUC and the Colombian Government. In addition, representatives from the Colombian Government and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional de Colombia, ELN, met in Cuba in December 2005 and it is hoped that the two sides will meet in Cuba again in the near future with the aim of agreeing an agenda for more formal peace talks. There are no signs of equivalent progress with the FARC, however.

Ireland, together with the EU, will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Colombia. Real progress towards an improvement in the human rights situation for all the people of Colombia is most likely to be made in the context of a settlement of the internal armed conflict. All those involved should respond positively to invitations to negotiate and should avail of the opportunities presented by the Justice and Peace Law.

Diplomatic Representation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

239 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he contemplates opening further embassies worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7424/06]

With the opening of new missions in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Romania and Vietnam in the latter half of last year, Ireland now maintains a network of 55 embassies, six multilateral missions and 13 consulates general overseas.

As I believe the Deputy will appreciate, any expansion of our diplomatic network can only be undertaken having regard to clear priorities. However, and while there are no plans to establish further embassies at this time, the opening of new missions is reviewed by the Government on a regular basis.

Question No. 240 answered with QuestionNo. 108.
Question No. 241 answered with QuestionNo. 138.

Democratisation Process.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

242 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which the democratic institutions are established or developing in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7427/06]

The transition process inaugurated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, under the 2002 Sun City peace accords is due to conclude formally on 30 June 2006. Over the course of the past four years, major strides have been made in re-establishing a democratic and effective system of government in the DRC. The transitional national Government and Parliament have operated effectively since 2003. A new constitution was approved by an overwhelmingly majority in a referendum held in December 2005 and was formally promulgated on 18 February 2006. The imminent adoption of an electoral law by the transitional national Parliament will set the stage for the holding of the first genuinely free elections in the DRC in over forty years next June.

The successful holding of national elections in the DRC will be a major undertaking. Substantial international support will be required for the elections, which are likely to cost in the region of US$400 million to organise. These elections are important, not only for the future stability and democratic development of the DRC but also for ensuring peace and security throughout the Great Lakes Region as a whole. The EU and its member states have made substantial contributions in support of the electoral process, with the European Commission alone pledging some €150 million. Ireland has also made a national contribution of €500,000 in support of the DRC electoral process which I announced following my meeting last September with the Foreign Minister of the DRC, Mr. Raymond Ramazani Baya, en marge of the UN General Assembly.

Major challenges still remain if the transition process is to be successfully completed. Greater progress needs to be made in tackling impunity and establishing an effective system of justice. The continued existence of armed militias in eastern DRC, and the threat which they pose to the peace process, also needs to be confronted. The DRC Government and armed forces are working in close conjunction with MONUC, the UN peace-keeping mission, to confront the armed militias and hasten their disarmament. Pressure on the rebels to disarm has now been stepped up through the imposition on 1 November 2005 of sanctions against selected militia leaders who are judged by the UN Security Council to have violated the arms embargo in force against the DRC. The UN Security Council, through Resolution 1635 on 28 October 2005, has also authorised an increase of 300 in MONUC's strength in order to enhance its capacity for confronting the continued existence of armed militias.

The DRC Government also needs to hasten progress in the area of security sector reform, particularly with regard to completing the creation of a fully integrated national army and police and effectively establishing its authority throughout the DRC. This is particularly important, if a secure environment is to be created for the holding of national elections. The EU is actively supporting the process of security sector reform in the DRC, through deployment of two EU missions, EUPOL and EUSEC, which are concentrating on improving the capabilities of the Congolese police and armed forces, respectively. The EU is also currently considering a request from the UN to deploy a reserve force to support MONUC and enhance its quick reaction capabilities during the forthcoming election campaign. The Government, for its part, would support a positive response by the EU to this request. It is hoped that a decision on the EU's response will be taken shortly.

It is equally important that neighbouring countries, in particular Uganda and Rwanda, do all they can to end the threat posed by the armed militias in eastern DRC, support completion of the transition in the DRC and improve bilateral relations throughout the region. The regional dimension to the conflict remains crucial and underlines the importance of the Great Lakes Conference process, the second summit of which is now likely to take place in Nairobi later this year. Ireland is an active member of the Group of Friends of the Great Lakes, which supports the conference process, and has contributed €200,000 towards meeting the overall costs of the conference.

Questions Nos. 243 and 244 answered with Question No. 108.
Question No. 245 answered with QuestionNo. 85.

Diplomatic Relations.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

246 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has taken initiatives through the EU or the UN to establish stronger links with the Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7431/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

247 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which greater links have been established between the EU and the Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7432/06]

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

Following the Ukrainian people's choice of democracy and reform in the presidential elections of late 2004, Ireland took steps to strengthen bilateral links with Ukraine through increased contact at political level. My visit to Ukraine in July last year and Foreign Minister Tarasyuk's return visit here on 7-8 February constituted the first exchange of official bilateral visits at Foreign Minister level between our two countries.

I warmly welcome the intensification of EU-Ukraine relations in the same period. In the framework of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, Ireland participated actively in the elaboration of an EU policy that would support Ukraine politically and practically in the work of consolidating democracy and implementing economic reform. The approval on 21 February 2005 of an EU-Ukraine action plan under the European neighbourhood policy — and of a series of related measures to strengthen co-operation with Ukraine — was a significant step forward for both sides. Over its three year period, the action plan is set to foster greater economic integration and closer political co-operation between the EU and Ukraine. So long as Ukraine adheres to the path of political and economic reform, it can count on support and assistance from the European Union in meeting these goals.

Closer links are clearly being established under the action plan. When the EU-Ukraine Summit in Kiev on 1 December reviewed progress in the first year of implementation, leaders welcomed increasingly close co-operation in the area of foreign and security policy, where Ukraine has aligned itself with EU positions on relevant regional and international issues, including at the UN. The EU and Ukraine now work together on a number of regional issues, notably in seeking to advance a solution to the Moldova-Transnistria conflict. The EU values the role Ukraine can play in increasing democracy, security and stability in its own region. It has signed agreements with Ukraine on co-operation in EU-led crisis management operations and on procedures for the exchange of classified information.

Some progress has also been made in promoting difficult economic reforms. At the summit, leaders welcomed the granting of market economic status to Ukraine following the Commission's assessment that Ukraine had met the relevant technical criteria. They signed agreements on civil satellite navigation, Galileo, and aviation, and a memorandum of understanding on co-operation in the field of energy. They welcomed the launch of negotiations for agreements on visa facilitation and readmission, stressing the importance of people-to-people contacts. Importantly, the EU side reconfirmed the goal of promoting deep economic integration between the EU and Ukraine, and looked forward to the early start of negotiations on a free trade area with Ukraine once it had joined the WTO. It stressed the EU's commitment to continue to offer assistance to Ukraine in meeting the necessary requirements. Both sides confirmed their commitment to early consultations on a new enhanced agreement to replace the existing Partnership and Co-operation Agreement which is due to expire in 2008.

The parliamentary elections on 26 March are of crucial importance for the continuation of the process of political and economic reform in Ukraine which will, in turn, have significant implications for the further enhancement of Ukraine's relations with the EU in the future.

Question No. 248 answered with QuestionNo. 74.

International Terrorism.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

249 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had discussions recently with his EU colleagues in the matter of combating terrorism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7434/06]

My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, is primarily responsible for the integrity and security of the State. He oversees the assessments which the Garda Síochána makes and the operational measures which it takes in relation to terrorism. In addition, as a member of the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council, he participates in the taking of decisions and the adoption of measures aimed at dealing with terrorism and the terrorist threat within the European Union.

International terrorism is a phenomenon which carries potentially deadly consequences for the lives of people throughout the whole world and has grave implications for diplomatic relations and the maintenance of international peace and security. As such, it is a subject of serious concern to me and to my colleagues, the ministers of foreign affairs of the member states of the European Union. I have engaged with them regularly on the topic, especially in the course of my role as envoy of the UN Secretary General in advance of the UN world summit in September 2005, as well as through the work of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, of the European Union.

As envoy, I presented the UN Secretary General's plans for UN reform to all of my EU colleagues. I stressed the importance of confronting on a global basis the problems presented by international terrorism, which, if left unresolved, had the capacity to impact negatively on security, development and human rights. In working to seek agreement on the summit outcome, Ireland was particularly committed to developing a global counter-terrorism strategy centred on the development of the so-called "5 Ds" outlined in the Secretary General's address in Madrid in March 2005, namely: dissuading people from resorting to terrorism or supporting it; denying terrorists access to funds and materials; deterring states from sponsoring terrorism; developing state capacity to defend terrorism; and defending human rights.

Together with our EU partners, we are committed to seeking agreement on a comprehensive convention on international terrorism during the 60th General Assembly of the United Nations. Within the EU, developments on terrorism have been dominated by the reaction to the London bombings of 7 July last. On 13 July, the Justice and Home Affairs Council adopted a declaration setting out priority measures aimed at accelerating action against terrorism within the Union's borders.

On 18 July, I participated in a meeting of the GAERC which adopted conclusions addressing the external relations aspects of the EU's campaign against terrorism. The Council emphasised the need to keep counter-terrorism as a focus.

On 18 July, I participated in a meeting of the GAERC which adopted conclusions addressing the external relations aspects of the EU's campaign against terrorism. The Council emphasised the need to keep counter-terrorism as a focus in the Union's foreign policy. In addition to action at the UN level, Ministers stressed their wish to maintain counter-terrorism at the heart of the Union's dialogue with third countries and of stepping up the provision of technical assistance in combating terrorism.

In the months that followed, a number of strategies and documents were developed under the UK Presidency which enhanced the Union's capacity to deal with particular aspects of terrorism. At the GAERC in December 2005, I participated in reaching agreement on three particularly significant measures: a strategy for the external dimension of the EU's area of global freedom, security and justice; a comprehensive EU strategy and action plan on counter-terrorism measures; a detailed EU strategy on combating radicalisation and recruitment to terrorism.

Ministers also considered and agreed a report on the implementation of the EU action plan on combating terrorism over the previous six months. All of these measures were then transmitted by the Council to the European Council, where they were duly adopted by the Heads of State and Government.

In all of these engagements with my EU colleagues and with colleagues outside the European Union, I have stressed that terrorism can never be justified no matter the cause or the reason. At the same time, I have maintained that respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law must be observed at all times in the fight against terrorism. I have also emphasised that it is not enough to look to the security dimension of the fight against terrorism. Political solutions are needed to the underlying problems that give rise to, or can give rise to, terrorism. I will continue to pursue this approach.

Question No. 250 answered with QuestionNo. 85.

Work Permits.

Tom Hayes

Question:

251 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will review a decision to disallow an application for a work permit in respect of a person (details provided) in County Tipperary. [7232/06]

The work permits section of my Department refused an application for a work permit in respect of the named non-EEA national on 7 February 2006, on the grounds that the proposed employee was here on a student visa.

The employer was notified in writing of the decision. To date there has been no appeal or further correspondence from the employer on the issue. An individual in possession of a student visa is entitled to work for up to 20 hours per week without the requirement to hold a valid work permit.

Trade Union Practices.

John Cregan

Question:

252 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the situation in relation to a qualified construction worker who finds it difficult to get work due to practices or agreements in the industry; if a report on brick and block laying sectors has been published or is nearing completion; if he can clarify the situation regarding a trade union (details supplied) that prevent him from getting employment; the status or legality of an agreement between the unions and the ten largest contractors; what this person can do to get work since the union will not let him in and employers and contractors will not sign him in; the reason workers can join the union and they cannot. [7286/06]

Article 40.6.1° of the Constitution guarantees liberty for the exercise, subject to public order and morality, of, inter alia, “the right of citizens to form associations and unions”. However, an employer may decide not to recognise a trade union, or to recognise only one trade union and to deal exclusively with that union on issues concerning pay and conditions. Similarly, an employer may decide to recognise several trade unions.

Section 25 of the Industrial Relations Act 1946 provides that the expression "employment agreement" means an agreement relating to the remuneration or the conditions of employment of workers of any class, type or group made between a trade union of workers and an employer or trade union of employers or made at a meeting of a registered joint industrial council, between members of the council representative of workers and members of the council representative of employers.

Under section 27(1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1946 an employment agreement may be registered with the Labour Court. Section 30(1) of the Industrial Relations Act 1946 provides that a registered employment agreement shall apply to every worker to which it is expressed to apply and his employer shall be bound by the agreement.

There has been a registered employment agreement relating to construction industry wages and conditions of employment since 1967. This agreement was varied for the 23rd time in May 2005. The most recent variation of the agreement was made between the Construction Industry Federation and 16 trade unions representing workers in the construction industry.

Clause 10 of the agreement deals with the engagement of sub-contractors. Recent Labour Court recommendations, based on a 2005 High Court decision, are to the effect that the registered employment agreement applies both to workers who provide their services under contracts of service and to workers who provide their services under contracts for service to a sub-contractor. Accordingly, requirements relating to the employment of the appropriate grades of trade union labour must be complied with.

The rules relating to membership of a trade union are an internal matter for that trade union. Normally, the rules will provide for an appeals mechanism relating to expulsion from the trade union and refusal of membership. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions also has an appeals mechanism for certain issues relating to affiliated trade unions.

With regard to the report on the brick and block-laying sector of the construction industry, this is a matter for the national implementation body and I have no function in the matter. However, I understand that the purpose of this report is to consider all of the issues that would contribute to better industrial relations in the sector and that the report is expected to be finalised soon.

Training Programmes.

John Perry

Question:

253 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on removing the condition of being in receipt of a welfare payment to qualify for a FETAC training course which facilitates up-skilling and lifelong learning; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7315/06]

On 11 June 2001, the Further Education and Training Awards Council, FETAC, was set up as a statutory body by the Minister for Education and Science, under the Education and Training Act 1999. This Act is under the remit of the Department of Education and Science.

FÁS, the training body under the aegis of my Department does deliver some FETAC accredited training courses. These are broken into 14 adult training provision categories and five apprenticeship training provision categories. The eligibility conditions of each course are written in the course training specification namely, trainee profile. This varies depending on the nature of each course.

There is not a condition that one should be in receipt of a welfare payment to qualify for a FETAC course delivered by FÁS. In certain courses, however, priority is given to those on the live register.

Industrial Development.

Enda Kenny

Question:

254 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of IDA sponsored jobs lost in the Border midlands and western region each year from 2000 to 2005 and to date in 2006; and the number of new jobs created by the IDA in the Border, midlands and western region over the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7448/06]

IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment, FDI, to Ireland and its regions. The Forfás annual employment survey records jobs gained and lost in companies supported by the industrial development agencies. Data are compiled on an annualised basis and there are no figures available in respect of 2006. The following table shows the number of jobs created and lost in IDA supported companies in the Border, midlands and western, BMW, region in each of the years 2000 to 2005.

I am confident that the strategies and policies being pursued by IDA Ireland, together with the ongoing commitment of Government to regional development will bear fruit in terms of additional sustainable investment and jobs for the people of the BMW region.

Number of IDA supported jobs created and lost in the BMW region in each of the years 2000 to 2005.

Area

IDA Region

Employment Data

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

BMW

BORDER

Jobs Created

1,544

1,026

756

880

640

482

BMW

MIDLANDS

Jobs Created

762

485

489

327

384

644

BMW

WEST

Jobs Created

2,428

926

575

913

858

1,426

BMW

OBJ 1

Jobs Created

4,734

2,437

1,820

2,120

1,882

2,552

BMW

BORDER

Jobs Lost

1,384

2,128

560

1,394

647

925

BMW

MIDLANDS

Jobs Lost

641

727

642

990

457

134

BMW

WEST

Jobs Lost

492

1,013

1,775

821

872

438

BMW

OBJ 1

Jobs Lost

2,517

3,868

2,977

3,205

1,976

1,497

Job Creation.

John Curran

Question:

255 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of new jobs that have been created in Clondalkin for the years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 with the assistance of aid from the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the County Enterprise Board. [7464/06]

A breakdown of employment figures by area within the Dublin region in companies assisted by IDA and Enterprise Ireland is not available. Based on figures supplied to Forfás by IDA and Enterprise Ireland, the following table shows gross full-time jobs created in client companies of these agencies in County Dublin for the years 2002 to 2005.

For county enterprise board assisted companies, regional data are available only on the yearly net increase or decrease in the number of full-time equivalent jobs created. Latest details on the South Dublin County Enterprise Board region, which includes Clondalkin, are set out in the following table.

Year

Net Increase/Decrease

2002

+97

2003

+8

2004

-117

2005

+18

Gross full-time jobs created by EI and IDA in County Dublin 2002-2005

Enterprise Ireland

IDA

2002

4,878

4,902

2003

4,760

3,551

2004*

4,368

6,327

2005*

3,974

6,386

Total

17,980

21,166

*2004/2005 figures are under review and may be subject to adjustment.

Social Welfare Benefits.

John Cregan

Question:

256 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the situation in relation to rent allowance regulations; if he will provide details of phased or reduced rent allowance which remains due to persons when they take up and return to employment; if similar concessions are available to persons in part-time or full-time work but under pressure from rent charges; and if such persons qualify for rent allowance. [7270/06]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of rent supplement to eligible people whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs.

I am very conscious of the need to facilitate persons in receipt of social welfare payments when taking up employment opportunities and to ensure that social welfare supports are structured to support this objective. Several measures have been introduced in recent years to remove disincentives to taking up employment and to assist in the transition from welfare to work. These measures include easing of means tests through income disregards, tapered withdrawal of benefits as earnings increase and employment support schemes such as the back to work programme.

Under standard assessment rules rent supplements are calculated to ensure that an eligible person, after the payment of rent, has an income equal to the rate of basic supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to his or her family circumstances, less a minimum contribution, currently €13, which each recipient is required to pay from his or her own resources. Where a person has an additional income as a result of participation on a training course or in part-time employment the standard means test now provides for a weekly disregard of up to €60 per week of additional income with half of any additional income between €60 and €90 also disregarded for means assessment purposes. For those participating in approved training courses, any lunch or travel allowances that are paid may also be disregarded. In addition certain training courses now provide a child care allowance to participants on certain courses. Budget 2006 provided that these child care allowances are to be treated in the same manner as a lunch or travel allowance and disregarded.

Alternatively, under special retention arrangements which have been in place for a number of years, a person is allowed to retain a portion of his or her rent supplement where he or she takes up employment through approved schemes, such as the back to work scheme or community employment scheme. Subject to certain conditions, including a weekly household income limit of €317.43, participants of these approved schemes can retain their rent supplement on a tapered basis for up to four years, namely, 75% in year one, 50% in year two and 25% in years three and four. Back to work allowance and family income supplement, in cases where one or both of these are in payment, are disregarded in the assessment of the €317.43 weekly income limit. PRSI, reasonable travelling expenses and any child care allowances paid to participants on certain courses are also disregarded in the means test.

Participants on these approved employment or training schemes have the option of being assessed under either the standard means assessment or under the special retention arrangements and will be entitled to receive payment under the more favourable option in their case.

A person who has been unemployed for 12 months or more and who moves from a welfare payment to full-time open market employment may retain his or her rent supplement payment, subject to the €317.43 income limit, on the same tapered retention basis as outlined above.

All of these arrangements are designed to ease the transition from welfare to work by providing income support which by its nature is short term. However, I recognise that people on low incomes who have a long-term housing need require a long-term housing solution and the private rented sector does not meet their needs at present. The Government is committed to very significant investment in social and affordable housing which will assist people in this situation. The new rental accommodation scheme being implemented by the local authorities will provide secure, long-term accommodation and reasonable rent charges for people who would otherwise rely on rent supplement on a long-term basis. The measures address the roots of the problems to which the Deputy refers while the rent supplement arrangements I have outlined above ease the position in the meantime.

John Cregan

Question:

257 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the situation regarding extra energy costs on pensioners; his views on the way in which this concern will be addressed; if an estimate of increased VAT per annum on energy can be given on full population and pensioners for home heating or energy; if it is understood that pensioners need more heat due to health grounds or being in the house all day; and if the number of free units to elderly can be increased. [7287/06]

The schemes administered by my Department which assist pensioners with energy costs include the national fuel scheme and the electricity or gas allowance. The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders on long-term social welfare or Health Service Executive payments with meeting the cost of their additional heating needs during the winter season. The fuel allowance is paid for 29 weeks from end-September to mid-April. Budget 2006 provided for an increase in the rate of fuel allowance of €5, from €9 per week to €14 per week, €17.90 in designated smokeless areas.

In order to qualify for the national fuel scheme a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment, satisfy a means test and be living alone or only with certain excepted people. The purpose of these qualifying conditions is to ascertain the ability of applicant households to meet their normal heating requirements out of their resources and to ensure the maximum amount of support is targeted at those most in need of assistance in meeting their heating needs.

The household benefits package, which comprises the electricity or gas allowance, telephone allowance and television licence schemes, is generally available to people living permanently in the State, aged 66 years or over, who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who satisfy a means test.

The weekly means income limit fixed for this purpose is the maximum personal rate of old age contributory pension, which is set at €193.30 for a recipient aged 66 to 79 years, and €203.30 for a recipient aged 80 years or over; plus €38.09; plus any increases for a qualified adult, dependent children, living alone, as appropriate. The make-up of this income limit means that it increases automatically each year on foot of the budget increases in pension rates.

This means that a single pensioner who lives alone can have an equivalent weekly income of €231.39 per week and qualify for the free schemes. A pensioner living with a qualified adult can have an equivalent weekly income of up to €360.19 per week and qualify for the free schemes.

The package is also available to carers and people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. People aged over 70 years of age can qualify regardless of their income or household composition.

The electricity allowance covers normal standing charges and up to 1,800 units of electricity each year. In February 2002, the number of units covered by the allowance increased by 20%, from 1,500 units to 1,800 units. VAT due on this standard allowance is also covered.

The natural gas allowance is an alternative to the electricity allowance for people whose homes are connected to a natural gas supply. For people paying for natural gas on the Bord Gáis standard tariff, from last October, the natural gas allowance covers a credit of up to €59.71 in each two-monthly billing period in winter and a credit of up to €44.68 in each two-monthly billing period in summer.

This increase met the 25.26% increase in natural gas tariffs. Recipients on one of the other tariffs can get an allowance up to this value. Proposals to increase the value of the electricity and gas allowances or to further increase the fuel allowance are kept under review for consideration in a budgetary context.

Michael Ring

Question:

258 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has been refused the unemployment assistance when she made application on 8 February 2006 for a period from 17 December 2005 to date in 2006. [7316/06]

The person concerned is in receipt of unemployment assistance at the maximum weekly rate of €165.80 from 8 February 2006. She had applied to have her claim made retrospective from 17 December 2005. A deciding officer disallowed her retrospective claim on the grounds that she failed to satisfy all the conditions for receipt of unemployment assistance and also that she failed to show that there was good cause for failing to make her claim throughout the period in question.

The deciding officer was aware that the person concerned had made a previous retrospective claim in September 2005 and would have known the importance of making a claim as soon as her employment ceased. It is open to the person concerned to appeal this decision and a form for this purpose has now been issued to her.

Under social welfare legislation decisions regarding claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Michael Lowry

Question:

259 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will remove a spouse's or partner's income in the assessment of means for a payment (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7387/06]

The carer's allowance is a social assistance payment which provides income support to people who are providing certain older people or people with a disability with full-time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit.

In the course of the carer's allowance means test, account is taken of the claimant's own means and, in the case of a couple, the joint means are assessed. In this regard, recipients of carer's allowance are treated in the same way as recipients of all other social assistance payments. This ensures that resources are directed to those in greatest need.

The carer's allowance means test has been eased significantly in the past few years, most notably with the introduction of disregards of spouses' earnings. Provision was made in budget 2006 to increase the income disregard on the carer's allowance means test to €290 per week for a single person and to €580 per week for a couple from April 2006.

This will ensure that a couple with two children can earn up to €32,925 per annum and still receive the maximum rate of carer's allowance. The same couple will be able to earn up to €54,400 and receive the minimum rate of carer's allowance as well as the free travel, the household benefits package and the respite care grant. Complete abolition of the means test would cost an estimated €140 million in a full year.

I am always prepared to consider changes to existing arrangements where these are for the benefit of recipients and financially sustainable within the resources available to me. Recommendations involving additional expenditure will be considered in a budgetary context.

Road Safety.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

260 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport the number of drivers who have been disqualified under the penalty point system for the accumulation of 12 penalty points each year to date since the introduction of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7383/06]

The information requested is being compiled by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government which holds and administers the national driver file and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Air Services.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

261 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Transport the number of Donegal people using the BA flight service from Derry to Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7245/06]

The City of Derry-Dublin PSO route is operated by Loganair. The total number of PSO passengers on the City of Derry-Dublin-City of Derry route in 2005 was 28,772. Data on the geographical origin of passengers travelling are not available.

Road Safety.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

262 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the space saver tyre being fitted in new cars; his views on this practice; if all safety aspects of these tyres have been examined in view of the restrictions on speed and distance associated with them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7293/06]

The regulatory framework for vehicle standards is set at European level through a harmonised system of motor vehicle type-approval. Standards for new cars in the EU are specified in a series of EU type-approval directives for a range of items, including tyres, which are incorporated into a system known as EU whole vehicle type approval, WVTA. WVTA facilitates the achievement of a single market for cars through harmonised safety and environmental standards. New cars must have WVTA in order to be placed on the market in the EU. It is not open to a member state to prohibit the sale or entry-into-service of a car which has EU-WVTA.

The type-approval requirements for tyres, which are set down in Directive 92/23/EEC as last amended by Directive 2005/11/EC, includes specifications for space saver wheels. The Road Traffic (Construction and Use of Vehicles) Regulations 2003, which specify in-service standards for vehicles in Ireland, require that a space saver wheel display a notice indicating that it is for temporary use only, it must be replaced by a normal wheel as soon as possible, and that a vehicle fitted with such a wheel should not be driven in excess of 80 km/h.

Taxi Regulations.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

263 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Transport the price paid for the premises purchased to house the taxi regulator; if rent has been paid on these premises; the amount of rent which has been paid in each calendar year to date; the date on which the property was purchased or first rented; the cost of refurbishment; the staff capacity of the premises; the number of staff who are currently based in the premises; the cost for each of maintenance, security, insurance and other miscellaneous outgoings in relation to the property for each year from the date of purchase or first rental including the first partial year to end 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7309/06]

The Commission for Taxi Regulation was established as an independent body under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 with effect from 1 September 2004. Under the provisions of the 2003 Act, the commission may, for the purposes of providing premises necessary for the performance of its functions, purchase, lease, equip and maintain offices and premises with the consent of the Ministers for Transport and Finance. In accordance with these provisions, and with the consent of the Department of Finance, sanction was given on 26 October 2004 to the commission to lease, equip and maintain a property at 35 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin 2. The property is held on a 35-year lease from April 1989 and the commission took possession of the lease from 15 December 2004 to April 2024. Rent payments to date are as follows.

Calendar year

Period covered

Rent

2004

15-31 December

10,862

2005

1 January-31 December

170,000

2006

1 January-31 March

42,500

It is understood from the commission that refurbishment costs in 2005 totalled €239,260, and related to the need for a major upgrading of the building that addressed in particular public access, appropriate electrical and telecommunications cabling, and general refurbishment necessary to meet building and other regulations in relation to its use as a public building.

The commission has a current approved staffing complement of 11, consisting of ten staff and the Commissioner for Taxi Regulation. The premises has capacity for some eight additional staff which will be required when the commission takes on the full role envisaged for it under the Taxi Regulation Act 2003.

It is understood from the commission that the cost of maintenance, security and insurance for the period from 15 December 2004 to end 2005 was as follows: maintenance, €2,305; security, €3,975; insurance, €20,490.

In 2004 and 2005, the costs incurred by the Commission for Taxi Regulation were supported by financial assistance from the Vote of the Department of Transport. Since 1 January 2006, the commission is financially independent of the Department. Accordingly, future costs attributed to the operation of the commission, including those in relation to maintenance, security, insurance and other miscellaneous outgoings, are matters for its determination. Information in relation to such matters may be obtained directly from the commission.

Driving Licences.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

264 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Transport if an application for a road freight carriers licence for a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be considered on the grounds that this person's C2 certificate is valid to 20 December 2006; and if his attention has been drawn to the urgency for this company to obtain the licence. [7340/06]

Mr. Buckley's amended application was received in my Department on 10 February 2006 and is currently being processed. My Department's customer service charter commits to issuing licences within ten working days. Mr. Buckley's licence is expected to be issued within this timeframe.

Driving Tests.

Michael Lowry

Question:

265 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Transport the number of driving testers currently employed by his Department; the number of vacancies at present; the optimum number of driving testers required to eliminate the year long wait for a driving test; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7370/06]

The current authorised complement of driver testers in my Department, excluding the chief tester and supervisors, is 119. The Public Appointments Service is currently in the process of running a competition to recruit ten testers on a fixed term contract to fill all existing vacancies.

Based on the average number of test applications currently being received the current complement of driver testers is sufficient to deal with the underlying demand. However an exceptional increase in applications in 2003 resulted in a temporary backlog and temporary measures to address this backlog have been developed in consultation with the Department of Finance. These include recruitment of additional contract testers, a bonus scheme for driver testers and the outsourcing of 40,000 tests. The proposed measures have been the subject of a very recent arbitration hearing, the outcome of which will inform future consideration of the resources necessary to deal with the backlog.

Great Southern Hotels Group.

Noel Grealish

Question:

266 Mr. Grealish asked the Minister for Transport the Government’s position regarding staff of the Great Southern Hotels who want to keep the hotel in public ownership; the plans the Government have to accommodate or compensate the workers if the hotels are sold; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7390/06]

In the view of the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, the orderly disposal of the GSH hotels, offers the best opportunity for the hotels to reach their full potential in the niche markets to which they are best suited. I share the view of the DAA that this decision is ultimately in the best interests of GSH, its employees and the communities and interests they serve.

The Great Southern Hotel Group has now retained advisers to examine all aspects of the proposed disposal of the hotels. I understand that early meetings will be arranged with staff and unions to engage on the difficulties being faced by GSH and the implications of the decision to dispose of the hotels. A programme will also be put in place to minimise the impact of the decision on the day-to-day business of the hotels. I met trade union representatives recently to discuss their concerns relating to the future of the hotels. I understand that the unions will now meet with the DAA and their advisers to discuss the situation and the way forward.

Road Network.

Finian McGrath

Question:

267 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding the recent flooding in the port tunnel and the damage to people’s homes. [7445/06]

The planning, design and implementation of national road improvement projects, including the Dublin Port tunnel, is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, and the local authorities concerned, in this case, Dublin City Council. I understand from Dublin City Council that the recent leaks are part and parcel of the issues that arise on large engineering projects such as the tunnel. If remedial measures are called for at any stage, the contractor is required to implement them at its own expense.

I also understand from Dublin City Council that contrary to the impression that may have been created, the leaks have no safety implications, either for the workers on the tunnel, for the structural integrity of the project or for the buildings and houses above the tunnel. Measures to remedy the leaks are ongoing with the support of specialist sub-contractors and are expected to be completed within weeks.

Road Traffic Offences.

John Curran

Question:

268 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Transport if he intends to include the offence for the breach of a three tonne restriction on the penalty point system; and if so, when this is likely to happen. [7472/06]

Provisions for imposition of a weight restriction on large vehicles entering a road are set out in article 17 of the Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations 1997, SI 182 of 1997. It is a matter for each local authority to determine if, and where, such restrictions should apply in its area. The restriction does not apply where it is necessary for a vehicle to enter a road solely for the purpose of gaining access or egress from premises accessible only from that road.

The offence of contravening article 17 is not scheduled in the Road Traffic Act 2002 to be a penalty point offence and it is not intended to include it on the penalty point system. However, it is one of the offences to which I propose to extend the fixed charge system in April.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Michael Ring

Question:

269 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when CLÁR funding will be provided to Mayo County Council in order that a group water scheme can be completed. [7227/06]

I refer the Deputy to my previous answer of 25 January 2006 on this issue. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Mayo County Council are continuing their assessment of the application received for CLÁR funding in respect of Shraheen-Aughnagower group water scheme.

Mayo County Council has been asked to consider the possibility of linking the Shraheen-Aughnagower group water scheme with the Lough Mask regional water supply scheme — extension Shrah to Westport, which was approved by my colleague, Deputy Roche, to commence construction in 2006. This was done with the objective of finding the most cost-effective resolution to the current difficulties which are mainly due to high unit costs. A decision on the application will be made as soon as possible.

Community Development.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

270 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on whether there is an urgent need to appoint a full-time development officer for Sherkin Island particularly in view of the accreditation of a third level arts course with Dublin Institute of Technology which will require a full-time co-ordinator on the island; and if he will make the necessary arrangements therefor. [7228/06]

The Deputy will be aware that funding to the Sherkin Island Development Society under my Department's community development programme was discontinued in 2004. He will also be aware that a process is currently underway to achieve simplified local delivery structures with improved coverage and levels of service locally. Any future community development supports and associated resources from my Department for Sherkin Island will be considered in light of the outcome of this process.

Irish Language.

Enda Kenny

Question:

271 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if further to Parliamentary Question No. 94 of 30 November 2005 he has received advice from Fóram na Gaeilge on the advisability of preparing a 20 year strategic plan with realistic goals for the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7303/06]

As the Deputy is aware, Fóram na Gaeilge was established to advise inter alia on the advisability of preparing a 20-year strategic plan with realistic goals for the Irish language in the State. It was within this context that the views of the fóram in relation to the development of an Irish language plan and related short-term priority issues were sought in 2005.

As I have already outlined to the House, the need for the provision of a clear statement on the part of the Government in relation to the Irish language and its importance as a whole has emerged as a key issue on foot of the views provided within the fóram and considerable work is now in hand in relation to this matter. I hope to be in a position to elaborate further and to make specific proposals on this matter in the near future.

Dormant Accounts Fund.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

272 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if a school (details supplied) in County Mayo is eligible to apply for funds under the dormant accounts fund scheme; if he will take into account that this is a registered charity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7304/06]

The Deputy will be aware that disbursements from the dormant accounts fund are designed to assist three broad categories of persons, those who are socially or economically disadvantaged, those who are educationally disadvantaged and persons with a disability. The Government has approved the allocation of €60 million from the dormant accounts fund in 2006, of which €24 million will be allocated towards projects tackling economic and social disadvantage, €18 million towards projects tackling educational disadvantage and €18 million towards projects assisting persons with a disability.

After consulting with the appropriate Ministers and having obtained the approval of Government, I announced details on 4 January 2006 concerning the allocation of €24 million in 2006 for the purpose of supporting programmes and types of projects tackling social and economic disadvantage. Details of the announcement are available on the website of my Department at www.pobail.ie.

With regard to the educational disadvantage category the consultation process required under the legislation is not yet completed. It is anticipated that a further announcement will be made shortly in relation to the allocation of the €18 million already referred to above when work ongoing in the Department of Education and Science is completed.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

273 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if it intended to introduce new rules governing the disbursement of moneys from the dormant accounts fund; if so, when such new rules will be introduced; the consultations planned on such rules; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7423/06]

As the Deputy will be aware, decisions on the disbursement of dormant accounts funds were previously a matter for the dormant accounts fund disbursements board which was established under the Dormant Accounts Acts. On 1 September 2005, the Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Act 2005 came into force, which provides for significant changes to the disbursement of funds from dormant accounts and for a reconstituted board.

Under this new legislation, the Minister is required to consult with appropriate Ministers for the purpose of developing a proposal for submission to Government for approval. This proposal will include the programmes and types of projects concerning which applications for disbursements will be invited, as well as the criteria to be applied in assessing applications made in response to the invitation.

On 4 January, having consulted with the appropriate Ministers and having obtained the approval of Government, I announced details of the allocation of €24 million this year for the purpose of supporting programmes and types of projects tackling social and economic disadvantage.

Under these new arrangements, applications will be received and assessed against published criteria by or on behalf of public bodies and the results of such assessments submitted to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The Minister will then submit the results of the assessments to the Government for approval.

Further announcements will be made shortly on funding for educational disadvantage and persons with a disability when ongoing work in the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Children is completed and specific measures are submitted to Government for consideration.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Question:

274 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason dairy premium did not issue to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo in their single farm payment; and when this payment will issue for them. [7225/06]

The person named submitted applications for consideration in respect of the inheritance and new entrant measures of the single payment scheme. Following processing of the applications, his application to have his entitlements established as a new entrant during the 2000 to 2002 reference period could not be accepted as he commenced farming in 2004. However, the application to transfer entitlements by way of inheritance was successful and the entitlements were transferred to the person named.

Payment in respect of the scheme issued to the applicant on 1 December 2005 and a supplementary payment reflecting the decoupled 2005 dairy premium will issue to him shortly.

Registration of Title.

Michael Ring

Question:

275 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a plot of land will be resurveyed by the Irish Land Commission as the absence of the map for the land is causing serious delay to a land registry dealing application for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [7226/06]

I answered this question for the Deputy on 25 January 2006 in Parliamentary Question No. 1002. The position as conveyed then has not changed.

Importation of Birds.

Mary Upton

Question:

276 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the responsibilities of her Department in relation to monitoring the import of caged or exotic birds here; the controls that are in place at ports and airports to monitor the movement of such birds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7235/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

277 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the additional resources which have been put in place to address the risks arising from the import of caged or exotic birds as they relate to avian flu; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7236/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

278 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will provide a list of the registered importers of caged or exotic birds here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7237/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

279 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the quarantine facilities in place for import of caged birds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7238/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

280 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the imports of caged birds here since the extended controls were applied in relation to avian flu; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7239/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

281 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of inspectors employed to check the import of caged-exotic birds here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7240/06]

Mary Upton

Question:

282 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps her Department has taken to ensure that caged-exotic birds are not illegally imported here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7241/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 276 to 282, inclusive, together.

My Department is responsible for regulating the legal importation of caged or exotic birds and has inspectors based at all official border inspection posts, BIPs. In addition, the customs authorities have overall responsibility for the enforcement of import controls.

All authorised importations of caged or exotic birds are required to be notified in advance to the relevant BIP or competent authority, as appropriate. All imports from third countries are inspected and intra-Community consignments are subject to regular random veterinary inspections as the primary checks are carried out in the country of origin. Inspections include an examination for any sign of illness or disease as well as confirmation that relevant documentation and health certification is in order.

In view of the spread of the H5N1 virus, controls on the importation of poultry, caged and exotic birds have been extended. Bans have been placed on the importation of live birds and specified poultry products from third countries, or in some cases regions of countries, affected by outbreaks of H5N1 avian influenza. In addition, controls are in place on movements of poultry and other birds from protection and surveillance zones within the member states where avian influenza has been confirmed.

The European Commission has also introduced a ban on the importation of captive birds into the Community and strict controls are now applied to imports of pet birds from third countries and, in fact, may now be imported only through Dublin and Shannon airports. Additional inspectors are currently being assigned to Dublin Airport. In addition to their duties concerning caged-exotic birds, inspectors at the BIPs are involved in monitoring imports of other live animals and animal products.

Inspection staff at the BIPs are kept informed of developments in the legislation in force regarding the importation of caged and exotic birds by prompt issuance of information and are fully briefed on the documentation which is to accompany all consignments of live birds.

While it is a requirement for all importers of live animals, including birds, to be registered with the Department, there is no separate registration for importers of caged or exotic birds. The Deputy will be aware that I have introduced legislation requiring the registration with my Department of all individuals and companies that keep poultry and all those who own, handle or trade in domestic poultry or other captive birds. To date, in excess of 7,000 registrations have been made.

The Department of Agriculture and Food has an approved quarantine premises for the purpose of exotic or caged birds imported from third countries. The construction of this facility was supervised by a senior veterinarian of my Department and complies with the conditions for quarantine facilities and centres for birds laid down in annex B of Commission Decision 2000/666/EEC of 16 October 2000.

Grant Payments.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

283 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason payment of the EU single farm payment has not issued to a person (details supplied) in County Cork; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that they were advised that a 100% penalty has been imposed on them as one plot was included on the person's application and another application; and if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that this error was rectified and that the plot is in the ownership of this person who resides in a disadvantaged area and that the penalty should not be applied. [7290/06]

An application under the 2005 single payment scheme was received from the person named on 5 May 2005. During processing of the application, it was found that the person named had claimed a portion of a parcel, which had also been claimed by another scheme applicant. My Department wrote to both applicants and, in response, the person named indicated that he did not have the right to claim the portion of the parcel in question.

Under EU rules governing the single payment scheme, where an applicant is found to have over-declared his or her forage area, a 100% penalty is applied, where the level of over-declaration is greater than 20% of the available forage area. My Department is writing to the person named advising him of the decision in this case. It will be open to the person named to appeal this decision to the agriculture appeals office.

Joe Walsh

Question:

284 Mr. Walsh asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if decisions have been made regarding people who have consolidation problems with the single farm payment. [7310/06]

When the implementing regulations underpinning the single payment scheme were being negotiated, my Department was instrumental in ensuring that provision was made for farmers fully to utilise their entitlements and benefit from the full single payment. The provisions catered for farmers, who in certain specified circumstances declared a number of hectares for the purposes of the single payment scheme, which was less than the number of entitlements granted to them. The circumstances involved covered a reduction in the number of hectares farmed due to the afforestation of lands, lands sold under a compulsory purchase order, or lands lost due to the expiry of a lease or rental agreement.

Following the inclusion of these provisions in article 42.5 of Council Regulation, EC, No. 1782/2003 and article 7 of Commission Regulation, EC, No. 795/2004, as amended, my Department introduced a programme for the consolidation of entitlements in certain specified circumstances. Approximately 12,800 applications to consolidate entitlements were submitted by farmers under this programme. To date, in excess of 97% of these applications have been fully processed. Any problems identified during the processing of these applications are communicated to the applicant and each case is further processed immediately on receipt of the applicant's reply.

It has come to light that some farmers who did not receive the full amount of the single payment granted to them, failed to avail of the programme for the consolidation of entitlements. Such farmers are being advised to write to my Department setting out the circumstances of their cases. It is intended that all such cases will be examined by my Department in the near future.

Noxious Weeds.

Pat Breen

Question:

285 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures which are being taken to tackle the growing problem of the invasive species, Japanese knotweed, in rural areas of County Clare and other parts of the country; the budget available for eradication measures; if her Department is liaising with local authorities on eradication measures; her views on listing same on the Noxious Weeds Act 1936 in view of the fact that it is listed on the global invasive species database as one of the world’s 100 worst invasive alien species and is also listed on the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7311/06]

The Noxious Weeds Act 1936 was introduced to deal with specific weeds which posed a threat to farm productivity. Japanese knotweed, Reynoutria japonica, has not been classified as a noxious weed under the Noxious Weeds Act 1936 on the basis that it has no agricultural significance and is not harmful to animals or crops. Accordingly I have no plans to list it under the Noxious Weeds Act. Invasive species are the responsibility of the national parks and wildlife services and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Grant Payments.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

286 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding an application for the single payment in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7355/06]

As the herd number in question was in the joint names of the person named and his brother during the reference years, a duly completed application form is required in order to allow the transfer of the entitlements established to the person named. Following receipt of the form in question, my Department has written to the transferor. The transfer process will shortly be completed. The person named applied to have entitlements consolidated under the single payment scheme. This application will be processed as soon as the transfer of entitlements is completed.

Willie Penrose

Question:

287 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, in view of the reply to Parliamentary Question No. 445 of 31 January 2006, the reason a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath, who on 8 November 2005 submitted comprehensive details concerning their medical condition, which constituted a force majeure, has not received a reply thereto; the steps she will take to have this correspondence of 8 November 2005 to an official in her Department immediately dealt with; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7356/06]

As this is a very complex case, I have arranged for a senior official of my Department to make immediate direct contact with the person named with a view to outlining the options available.

Animal Diseases.

Michael Lowry

Question:

288 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if a ban will be implemented on imported meat from countries suffering from outbreaks of foot and mouth disease; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7377/06]

In accordance with the principles of harmonisation of the internal market the EU operates as a single entity with regard to international trade. The European Commission therefore introduces safeguard measures that have EU-wide application limiting or banning the export of animal products from third countries where the conditions of an animal disease outbreak could seriously affect production and trade in animal products in the EU, or where there is risk to human health.

Measures for adoption by the Community restricting imports for human or animal health reasons are discussed and agreed at meetings of the standing committee on animal health and the food chain where senior veterinarians from all member states attend. In the application of such measures the Community will apply the regionalisation principle that can allow trade to continue from non-affected regions. This principle is fundamental to membership of the world Organisation of Animal Health, OIE, to which all members of the EU subscribe. It will be recalled that regionalisation was applied to trade here during the FMD outbreak in 2001. In practice, it means that where there is a disease outbreak, restrictions on trade are applied to products from the affected region while trade can continue from other unaffected parts of this country or region. Approval to import into the EU is suspended for the infected regions of the third country until the disease risk has been eliminated. Controls are operated by EU approved border inspection posts where all animal products being imported from third countries must be submitted for veterinary checks.

The Food and Veterinary Office of the EU, the FVO, assesses the production and hygiene controls in operation in third countries before they are approved to trade with the EU in animal products. It also carries out inspections to ensure that countries and their establishments meet hygiene and health standards equivalent to those operating within the EU. Where the FVO considers that public health requirements are not being met, an establishment may be removed from the EU approved list. The FVO also monitors the control measures adopted by approved third countries in the case of outbreak of animal disease.

Following confirmation of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease on a farm in the Eldorado district of Mato Grosso do Sul in the southern part of Brazil, the European Commission immediately introduced proposals at the EU standing committee on the food chain and animal health,SCoFCAH, to suspend imports of de-boned and matured beef from the regions of Mato Grosso do Sul, Parana, and also Sao Paulo. Accordingly beef produced in the affected regions from cattle slaughtered since 29 September 2005 may not be traded.

In relation to the foot and mouth outbreak in the Corrientes region of Argentina, the standing committee at its meeting last week adopted a Commission proposal to regionalise the outbreak area and introduced a ban on imports of meats from the affected region with effect from 4 February 2006.

Food Labelling.

Michael Lowry

Question:

289 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for legislation imposing country of origin labelling on all meat, fish and food produce sold here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7378/06]

The enforcement of all food labelling regulations has been centralised in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, in accordance with one of the recommendations of the food labelling group. This work is carried out through a number service contracts between the FSAI and other Departments and agencies including my own Department. The Department of Health and Children is responsible for general food labelling regulations, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has responsibility for the labelling of fish and my Department is responsible for the labelling of specific food products including beef and poultry meat at processing plants.

An enabling provision to allow for the extension of existing comprehensive beef labelling regulations to include a requirement for information on the country of origin of beef to be provided to the consumer at the point of choice, by establishments in the retail, restaurant and catering sectors, including food business operators, is at present before the Oireachtas by way of a proposed amendment to section 54 of the 1947 Health Act through the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. My Department is well advanced in drafting the consequential beef regulations which will be required and is currently in consultation with the Department of Health and Children and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on the details, including enforcement. While the regulations will then have to be submitted for EU approval, it is hoped that this process will not delay the making of the final regulations. In the meantime, the representative bodies for hotels, restaurants and pubs have agreed to recommend to their members to provide the information on a voluntary basis.

While the proposed enabling legislation currently before the Oireachtas will facilitate the extension of country of origin labelling to all meats, because of different traceability systems and some import-export complexities, it is not as straightforward as it is for beef. As with beef, EU approval would also be required. Notwithstanding these issues, I intend to pursue the matter of country of origin labelling at EU and national level.

Grant Payments.

Michael Lowry

Question:

290 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason for refusal of a payment to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; if she will reconsider their application on grounds supplied; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7379/06]

The eligibility period for the hardship grant runs from 1 November to 30 April. This scheme is designed to alleviate the additional feed costs incurred by some owner-keepers whose holdings are restricted during this period on foot of a herd re-test and where animals are retained and fed during periods of restriction. An essential condition for eligibility is that the holding of the applicant applying continues to be restricted following a full herd re-test.

The holding of the person concerned was restricted on 27 September 2005 following the disclosure of a reactor in a re-test on an inconclusive reactor on 20 September 2005. However, since his holding was de-restricted following a full herd re-test on 6 December 2005 he did not fulfil the conditions of the scheme.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

291 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan can expect to be awarded their dairy premium; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7399/06]

An application under the 2005 single payment scheme was received from the persons named on 15 May 2005. Payment of €2,439.43 in respect of the standard entitlements, issued on 3 February 2006. Payment in respect of the dairy premium will issue to the persons named shortly.

Farm Waste Management.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

292 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding farmers disposing of agricultural plastic from silage covers and so on; if there is a company to take this away; if so, the name of the company; if her Department contracted the company to dispose of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7400/06]

The disposal of waste materials generally is covered by the Waste Management Acts 1996 to 2005, which apply to all sectors of society including the agricultural sector, and is a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Under the Waste Management (Farm Plastics) Regulations 2001, manufacturers and importers of farm plastics — silage bale wrap and sheeting — are required to take steps to recover farm plastics waste which they have placed on the market, or alternatively to contribute to, and participate in, compliance schemes to recover the waste in question. The Irish Farm Film Producers Group, IFFPG, is currently the sole approved body in Ireland for the purposes of implementing a compliance scheme for the recovery of farm plastics waste. My Department has no involvement in the running of the scheme.

Grant Payments.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

293 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will arrange to have a problem with a parcel of land rectified with a view to having the EU single payment scheme awarded to a person (details supplied); and if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the maps were returned on two occasions since September 2005 with the new boundaries marked. [7402/06]

An application under the 2005 single payment scheme was received from the person named on 12 May 2005. During processing of the application, the area of one of the parcels was found to be less than declared. Following direct contact with the person named by an official of my Department, the matter has been satisfactorily resolved. Payment in full will shortly issue to the person named.

Milk Quota.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

294 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on permitting a person (details supplied) in County Cork to retain their milk quota and continue to lease same. [7403/06]

A person may lease his or her quota with the associated dairying lands to a close relative as defined in the milk quota regulations. A person may temporarily lease his or her entire milk quota without land only where they have applied for and received my approval to do so. Such approval is granted where the inability to make milk deliveries is due to force majeure, or in other duly justified cases, temporarily affecting the production capacity of that producer. No application for such approval was received in my Department from the named person for the 2005-06 quota year.

As both the application period for approvals has expired and the temporary leasing scheme for 2005-06 is now completed, the named person may not temporarily lease his quota for 2005-06. He may wish to consider applying for such approval when the temporary leasing scheme for the 2006-07 year is announced later in the spring and his case would be examined.

Where no deliveries have been recorded against a milk quota for two consecutive years, that quota may be added to the national reserve, although where the absence of deliveries is due to force majeure or in other duly justified cases the quota is not added to the reserve. When quota is added to the reserve, it is available for reallocation to the producer, or his or her successor, if he or she resumes deliveries within two years. Where a person sells his or her entire quota into a restructuring scheme, that person’s successor has priority access to purchase an equivalent amount of quota from a subsequent scheme provided he or she takes over the holding and satisfies certain conditions.

Animal Medicines.

Denis Naughten

Question:

295 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the exemption list submitted to the EU Commission under the new animal medicine rules will be published; when she expects to have a decision from the Commission on the exemption; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7405/06]

On 9 February last the European Commission began a public consultation phase on the criteria for exempting categories of medicines from the general mandatory rule under the relevant EU legislation that all medicines for food producing animals should be brought under veterinary prescription control. The Deputy will recall that the provision for exemptions was introduced in response to concerns from Ireland and a small number of other member states when the relevant directive was being finalised. The draft exemption criteria, which are not yet formal Commission proposals, are available on the Commission's DG enterprise website and the consultation period lasts until 17 March next.

While my Department is currently examining the document, a preliminary analysis indicates that, as drafted, the criteria would place severe restrictions on the range of medicines which could remain "off prescription". My Department had already made a preliminary submission to the Commission on the issue in March of last year and a further submission will be made by my Department with a view to having the draft criteria adapted to better reflect the risk-benefit profile of products and to facilitate decisions in this regard to be taken on a scientific basis. It is, of course, open to other stakeholders to engage with the EU Commission under the public consultation process and I would encourage them to do so.

Given that this is a European Commission procedure, it is difficult to predict a precise timeline for decisions. However, in view of the likely stages to be gone through following the end of the public consultative phase — initial discussion with member states scheduled for the end of March, formulation of a formal Commission proposal, submission to the Commission standing committee procedure and so on — the process will take some time to complete.

As I have already stated publicly, I will review the national distribution arrangements in consultation with stakeholders in light of the outcome of the exemption criteria and, in particular, to consider whether persons other than vets should be permitted to prescribe veterinary medicines. My intention is to complete the consultative process in time to permit decisions on this issue to be taken well in advance of the 1 January 2007 deadline provided for in the EU legislation.

Grant Payments.

Joe Walsh

Question:

296 Mr. Walsh asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if payment of the single farm payment will be arranged for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [7440/06]

An application under the 2005 single payment scheme was received from the person named on 13 May 2005. During processing of the application, the area of one of the parcels was found to be less than declared. An official from my Department has been in direct contact with the person named with a view to resolving this matter.

Food Labelling.

John Deasy

Question:

297 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures she proposes to ensure the enforcement of food labelling and traceability regulations in the food processing, retailing and catering sectors; her views on whether the failure to carry out such enforcement undermines the stringent traceability regime implemented by the farming sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7451/06]

Stringent traceability systems are implemented by my Department in respect of animal products produced in Ireland enabling the agri-food sector to provide assurances sought on domestic and export markets. Any breaches of food labelling requirements would be a matter of concern and for this reason the enforcement of all food labelling regulations has been centralised in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI. This is carried out through a number service contracts between the FSAI and other Departments and agencies, including my Department.

An enabling provision to allow for the extension of existing comprehensive beef labelling regulations to include a requirement for information on the country of origin of beef to be provided to the consumer at the point of choice, by establishments in the retail, restaurant and catering sectors, including food business operators, is before the Oireachtas by way of a proposed amendment to section 54 of the Health Act 1947 through the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005.

My Department is well advanced in drafting the consequential beef regulations that will be required and is in consultation with the Department of Health and Children and the FSAI on the details, including enforcement. While the regulations must then be submitted for EU approval, it is hoped this process will not delay the making of the final regulations. In the meantime, the representative bodies for hotels, restaurants and pubs have agreed to recommend to their members to provide the information on a voluntary basis.

Grant Payments.

Paul McGrath

Question:

298 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath has received a payment under the single payment scheme which has been reduced by €500 per annum; the reason for this reduction; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7475/06]

Under EU legislation, in order to draw down his or her full single payment, an applicant must declare an eligible hectare to accompany each entitlement. This requirement was set out clearly in the documentation supplied to farmers on a number of occasions.

While the person named had established 25.42 entitlements during the reference period, the application received from the person on 6 May 2005 declared a total of 20.30 eligible hectares. Therefore, the payment, which issued on 1 December 2005, represented the full amount due based on the hectares declared. If the person named declares sufficient land on his 2006 single payment application, he will be in a position to claim full entitlements.

Garda Operations.

Paul McGrath

Question:

299 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the situation that prevails when a person seeks Garda clearance for employment purposes; the system that operates for members of the public who need Garda clearance to take up employment; the average processing time for Garda clearance to be obtained; his plans to improve this system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7243/06]

Paul McGrath

Question:

300 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the situation that prevails when a member of the public seeks Garda clearance for personal reference purposes; the step-by-step procedure that needs to be followed; the average waiting time for processing these applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7244/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 299 and 300 together.

The Garda central vetting unit, GCVU, was established in 2002 and currently processes vetting requests in respect of, inter alia, prospective full-time employees of the Health Service Executive and certain agencies funded by the Health Service Executive as well as in respect of selected employments in other sectors. The unit currently deals with approximately 150,000 requests per annum and the average processing time for an application is currently approximately four weeks. A vetting application may be made only by the recruiting organisation and not by the prospective employee. Similarly, the product of the vetting process is disclosed only to the recruiting organisation.

In 2004 an interagency working group on Garda vetting reported with a clear and focused strategy for enhancing national vetting arrangements. This strategy provides for an expansion of the GCVU's vetting service to all organisations that recruit persons having substantial unsupervised access to children and vulnerable adults. The implementation of the strategy is being overseen by key stakeholders in an implementation group on Garda vetting. Preparations are at an advanced stage for the extension of vetting services and, to facilitate this, an additional 17 staff have been provided to the GCVU to more than double its numbers from 13 to 30.

There are no plans to make the vetting services of the GCVU available to the generality of employments or employees or for personal reference purposes. However, pursuant to the Data Protection Acts 1988 to 2003, individuals may apply to the GCVU for disclosure of their personal data. Such applications must be made in writing and should be accompanied by two forms of identification and a cheque or postal order for the fee payable of €6.35. Disclosures of this nature should not be construed as a Garda vetting, Garda clearance, character check, character reference or any cognate construct of same.

For certain categories of person dealing with non-national authorities the Garda Síochána provides a record of criminal convictions in the form of a police certificate. These may be obtained in respect of applicants seeking non-national visas, including those seeking non-national residence, to establish or register businesses in other member states of the European Union and non-national consular services, including those seeking non-national adoptions. Applications for police certificates may be made to the Garda superintendent in charge of the Garda district where the applicant normally resides or where the applicant normally resided in respect of persons now living abroad.

Asylum Applications.

John McGuinness

Question:

301 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a decision in the case of persons (details supplied) in Dublin 15 who have applied to remain here will be expedited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7259/06]

The persons concerned arrived in the State separately on 27 April 2000 and 8 August 2000 and applied for asylum. Their applications were refused following consideration of their case files by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Subsequently, in accordance with section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended, they were informed by letters dated 31 October 2002 that the Minister proposed to make deportation orders in respect of them. They were given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons they should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State, leaving the State before orders are made or consenting to the making of deportation orders.

Their case files, including all representations submitted, will be considered under section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended, and section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996, prohibition of refoulement. I expect the files to be passed to me for decision in due course.

Road Traffic Offences.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

302 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the penalties that exist for persons who abandon cars in public places; the number of individuals prosecuted for this offence each year from 2000 to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7275/06]

The Waste Management Act 1996 prohibits the abandonment of vehicles on any land. The Act provides on summary conviction for a fine not exceeding €1,900 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both or, on indictment, for a fine not exceeding €12.7 million or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or both. Continuing offences carry a daily additional fine of up to €250 on summary conviction or €127,000 a day on conviction on indictment. I am informed that local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency are charged with primary responsibility for the enforcement of the Act. There were no prosecutions recorded between the years 2000 to 2006.

Asylum Applications.

Pat Breen

Question:

303 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of an application for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7276/06]

The person concerned arrived in the State on 09 January 2000 and applied for asylum. His application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Subsequently, in accordance with section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended, he was informed by letter dated 22 August 2005 that the Minister proposed to make a deportation order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State, leaving the State before an order is made or consenting to the making of a deportation order.

His case file, including all representations submitted, will be considered under section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended, and section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996, prohibition of refoulement. I expect the file to be passed to me for decision in due course.

Taxi Regulations.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

304 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of taxi drivers in each of the past five years who appealed against a decision of the Garda Síochána not to renew or accept their application on the basis that they were unfit to be a taxi driver; the number of these appeals that were successful; the number that failed, and the number pending. [7277/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the information requested is not readily available and is currently being researched. I will be in touch with the Deputy when the information is to hand.

Prisoner Transfers.

Jack Wall

Question:

305 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare can be transferred to the Midlands Prison on compassionate grounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7294/06]

The person was transferred to the Midlands Prison on 16 February 2006.

Garda Deployment.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

306 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí stationed in the Fermoy division during 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7295/06]

I presume that the Deputy is referring to the Fermoy district in Cork north division. I have been informed by the Garda authorities which are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength of all ranks of the Fermoy district as at 31 December 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 was as set out in the following table.

Personnel Strength — Fermoy District

1997

2000

2002

2003

2004

2005

63

74

71

73

69

71

It is the responsibility of the divisional officer for the Cork north division to allocate personnel within the division. In this regard, I have been further informed by the Garda authorities that the personnel strength of all ranks of the Cork north division as at 31 December 1997, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 was as set out in the following table.

Personnel Strength — Cork North Division

1997

2000

2002

2003

2004

2005

209

244

247

245

243

248

The allocation of such resources throughout the division is determined by a number of factors including demographics, administrative functions, crime trends and other operational policing needs. Garda management will continue to appraise the policing and administrative strategy employed in the Cork north division with a view to ensuring that an effective Garda service is maintained.

I should also say that the timeframe for achieving the target strength of 14,000 members of the Garda Síochána in line with the commitment in the agreed programme for Government remains as when I announced the Government approval in October 2004 for my proposals to achieve this objective. The phased increase in the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 will lead to a combined strength of both attested gardaí and recruits in training of 14,000 by the end of this year. As part of the accelerated recruitment campaign to facilitate this process, 1,125 Garda recruits were inducted to the Garda college during 2005. The college will induct 1,100 recruits this year and a further 1,100 in 2007 by way of intakes to the Garda college of approximately 275 recruits every quarter. This project is fully on target and will be achieved. The Garda Commissioner will draw up plans for the distribution of these additional resources and the needs of the Fermoy district will be fully considered within the overall context of the needs of Garda districts throughout the country.

Crime Levels.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

307 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of crimes detected across all headings in Bailieboro Garda division during 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7296/06]

The introduction of the PULSE computer system by the Garda Síochána in 1999 has led to more complete and comprehensive recording of crimes reported than was previously the case. Consequently, t