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 8, inclusive, answered orally.

EU Battle Groups.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

9 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Defence the type of activities that Irish troops serving in EU battle groups will be involved in; if activities will be confined to intervention in conflict or will also involve disaster relief; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7173/06]

Joe Costello

Question:

21 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Defence the European country which Ireland will be twinned with in regard to partnership arrangements for participation in EU battle groups; the potential number of troops that will be deployed in battle groups; the maximum number of troops that can be deployed at any one time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7172/06]

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

25 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Defence the arrangements that have been made to allow for the participation of Irish troops in EU battle groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7170/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

26 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence if he will make a statement on the negotiations between the Government and the Scandinavian states on EU battle groups. [7421/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

30 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Defence if he has satisfied himself that the Defence Forces will be able to react quickly and decisively as part of an EU battle group under current legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7197/06]

John Gormley

Question:

33 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Defence his plans for Ireland to participate in EU battle groups; the likely partners for Ireland in such a battle group; if these partners also require a UN mandate before their forces can be deployed abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7477/06]

Simon Coveney

Question:

35 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Defence the countries being considered for partnership in the context of Ireland’s participation in EU battle groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7212/06]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

38 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Defence if, as part of Ireland’s participation in EU battle groups, the Defence Forces will be enabled to engage in joint training initiatives with other EU member state forces in preparation for EU battle group participation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7207/06]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

43 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Defence if all other EU member states have already signalled their intention to take part in EU battle groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7209/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

47 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence when Irish troops are likely to participate in training in the context of preparations for EU battle groups; if Army, Naval Service or Air Corps are likely to be involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7419/06]

John Gormley

Question:

49 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Defence the legislation which must come before Dáil Éireann to facilitate Ireland’s participation in EU battle groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7478/06]

Joan Burton

Question:

51 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Defence if new legislation is required to allow for the participation of Irish troops in EU battle groups; if so, when he plans to publish the legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7171/06]

Damien English

Question:

53 Mr. English asked the Minister for Defence if he will reform the triple lock mechanism to ensure that Ireland no longer gives other countries, such as China, a veto over the deployment of contingents of the Defence Forces for service overseas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7195/06]

Bernard Allen

Question:

64 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Defence when legislation relating to Ireland’s participation in EU battle groups will be finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7214/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 21, 25, 26, 30, 33, 35, 38, 43, 47, 49, 51, 53 and 64 together.

The ambition of the EU to be able to respond rapidly to emerging crises has, and continues to be, a key objective of the development of the European security and defence policy, ESDP. The tasks to be carried out under ESDP, the so-called Petersberg Tasks, are defined in the Amsterdam treaty as "humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking." Our participation in ESDP, and in the Petersberg Tasks, has been endorsed and supported directly by the people in the referendum on the Treaty on European Union, TEU, and the subsequent referenda on the Amsterdam and Nice treaties. Our participation in ESDP is also fully in accordance with our traditional support for the UN and our obligations as members of the international community, to respond to crises, events and humanitarian disasters, wherever they may occur.

Ireland supports the development of the EU's rapid response capability in support of UN authorised missions and is positively disposed towards participation in the rapid response elements in this regard. To this end I established the interdepartmental group to examine all issues relating to Ireland's potential participation in an EU-led rapid response capability. The group reported to me in November 2005 and, since then, its report has been considered by the Cabinet sub-committee on European affairs and, informally, by the Government.

On the basis of the study and informal discussions at Government level, I have authorised my officials to open discussions with potential partners on Ireland's participation in a battle group. We will seek, in co-operation with like-minded nations to contribute to the development of the battle group concept and, through this, to remain at the forefront of developments within the international community in supporting international peace support operations. With my recent announcement, 23 of 25 member states have now signalled their intention to participate in battle groups.

My intention would be to identify specific options in relation to participation and then return to Government for a formal decision. In the first instance we intend to talk to Sweden, which is the framework nation for the Nordic battle group. We have identified a range of potential offers ranging from smaller niche capabilities up to an APC mounted light infantry company group of approximately 200 personnel plus support elements. While there have been some preliminary informal discussions with Sweden, regarding potential participation, to date there have been no formal discussions with any EU member state. As such, I am not in a position to state what will come out of these discussions. However, arrangements have now been made for a formal meeting between representatives from the Departments of Defence, and Foreign Affairs, and the Defence Forces of Sweden and Ireland on 10 March in Stockholm to discuss possible Irish participation in the Nordic battle group. As the Deputies will appreciate, the Nordic battle group was organised some time ago and, I understand most of the core elements are already in place, with Sweden contributing the core manoeuvre battalion. In addition, battle groups covering the period out to 2010 have already been announced and, on this basis, I would expect that our contribution in the period to 2010 is likely to be limited. However, this will be a matter for ongoing discussion with other member states over the coming months, in particular, with Finland and Austria with whom we have also had some initial informal exploratory discussions.

There are no plans for the involvement of Naval Service or Air Corps assets although individual members of the Naval Service or Air Corps may be deployed on overseas peace support operations as they have been in the past. Any commitment to a battle group will be met within the context of the overall ceiling of 850 personnel serving overseas at any one time set in the White Paper on Defence.

In the event that we participate in a Nordic battle group we would be the only participant with a legal requirement for a UN mandate. That said, many member states acknowledge that it would be politically desirable, if not a political imperative, to have a UN mandate for any battle group deployment.

I am fully satisfied that our participation in the battle group concept in no way weakens or undermines Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. I have reiterated on many occasions that our participation in peace support operations would continue to require UN authorisation. Participation in battle groups will not diminish this requirement in any way. Ireland's basis for participation in missions undertaken by the EU is grounded in the legitimacy conveyed by the UN Security Council. This will not change. The triple lock of UN, Government and Dáil approval will remain in place.

Participation in a battle group imposes no obligations in relation to international or multilateral defence. Participation of our troops in individual missions will be decided on a case-by-case basis within the framework of our national decision-making process. I would like to stress again that any decision to participate in any mission will be a national sovereign decision.

As part of its study the interdepartmental group recommended changes to current legislation in light of the increasing range of operations where military forces can play a role and the need for increased interoperability and training so as we can be more effective and more efficient once deployed.

It is important to the development of capabilities and the ongoing training of the Defence Forces that they can undertake training overseas and learn from best practice in other countries. While not conclusive, the study raised possible questions as to whether Defence Forces can be sent on such overseas training. This training is essential to the development and maintenance of high standards in the military and our existing peace support operations, where we work alongside many other armies.

I intend to introduce amending legislation to put this issue beyond doubt. Moreover, in light of developments since the Defence Act was amended in 1960 to provide for participation in UN peace support operations, for the avoidance of doubt, I also intend to update the wording in the Act to more closely reflect current practice in the formulation of UN Security Council resolutions endorsing peace support operations. The triple lock requirement of UN, Government and Dáil approval will stand.

I also propose to provide for the participation by Defence Forces personnel in humanitarian operations in response to natural and man-made disasters such as the tsunami in south east Asia or the earthquake in Pakistan. Currently personnel must volunteer for service with a civil undertaking, in the same manner as any ordinary citizens and cannot be deployed at the behest of the Government.

These issues are important and must be addressed. The requirement for this amending legislation arises irrespective of our participation in battle groups. It is my hope, with the co-operation of the Oireachtas which I expect will be readily forthcoming, to have the necessary legislation enacted before the summer recess.

Defence Forces Personnel.

Willie Penrose

Question:

10 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Defence if he has received a report from the chief of staff of the Defence Forces further to his request for an investigation into whether or not some members of the Defence Forces had taken leave or career breaks in order to take up lucrative contracts in Iraq; his views on whether such behaviour is acceptable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7181/06]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

37 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the investigation of the Defence Forces and the report subsequently produced, into the alleged participation of Irish Defence Forces personnel while on career breaks in armed forces or other paid employment in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7481/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 37 together.

I am aware that there were some media reports along these lines last year. The military authorities advise me that they have no knowledge of any serving Permanent Defence Force personnel, who are on career breaks from the Permanent Defence Force being in Iraq. Nonetheless, at the time when these media reports appeared, the military authorities wrote to all personnel who were on career breaks and reminded them of the conditions under which their career breaks had been granted.

I also understand that in July 2004 the deputy chief of staff, support, sent a routine circular to general officers commanding and to formation commanders reminding them of the conditions under which a career break may be granted and that personnel granted a career break may not engage in any activity whatsoever that may bring adverse publicity on the Defence Forces or that may bring the Defence Forces into disrepute.

It must be emphasised that the Defence Forces would act upon any information which indicates that any person was acting in breach of the conditions of the Permanent Defence Force career break leave of absence regulations. A career break may be declared invalid if used for a purpose other than the three categories specified under the schemes, which are leave for domestic responsibilities, further education or travel abroad.

In submitting applications for special leave under the career break schemes, personnel are required to specify the purpose of the career break and the period for which it is being sought. All personnel on career breaks remain subject to military law in accordance with the provisions of sections 118 and 119 of the Defence Act 1954 as appropriate.

All personnel applying for a career break must note that they understand the conditions governing the granting of special leave for career breaks, as specified in Defence Force Regulations and Instructions.

As a condition of their special leave on a career break, personnel are required to undertake to notify the deputy chief of staff, support, of any change of address for correspondence purposes within one month of such change and to respond promptly to any correspondence from the deputy chief of staff, support, concerning their intentions on the expiry of a career break, or on any other matters concerning their career break, and to return to duty on such date as is determined in accordance with the conditions of the respective career break schemes.

Defence Forces Appointments.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

11 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Defence the circumstances surrounding the appointment of a medical professional (details supplied) to minister to troops in Liberia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7210/06]

Billy Timmins

Question:

20 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Defence the arrangements in place for the sharing of facilities between the Defence Fores and other forces in Liberia; the number of troops attended to by a medical professional (details supplied) in Liberia that were not part of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7200/06]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

29 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Defence the number of members of the Defence Forces who received medical treatment from a medical professional (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7205/06]

John Deasy

Question:

57 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Defence the discussions that he has held with any European counterpart with regard to the appointment of a medical professional (details supplied) to attend to the medical needs of troops serving in Liberia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7201/06]

Michael Noonan

Question:

61 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Defence if the agency responsible for recommending a medical professional (details supplied) to work with the Defence Forces in Liberia is still retained for work by the Defence Forces or his Department; if this agency has been responsible for making similar recommendations before or since this appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7203/06]

Joe Sherlock

Question:

70 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence if he will account for the doctor recruited on a contract basis to members of the Defence Forces serving in Liberia who had been struck off the medical register in his home country of South Africa; the investigations he has undertaken regarding the situation following these revelations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7168/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 20, 29, 57, 61 and 70 together.

The background to the engagement of Dr. Lieberthal arises from the Defence Forces policy of providing medical care for personnel serving with large contingents overseas. In the case of missions such as Lebanon and Liberia it is the practice to send medical officers as part of the contingent.

Given the arduous nature of the Liberia mission, with troops undertaking frequent long-term patrols away from base, it was deemed necessary to have two doctors with the battalion. The mission in Liberia is, of its nature, a peace enforcement one. This resulted in a situation whereby medical officers who had been recruited prior to 1993 could not be detailed to serve there and could only be selected to serve there as volunteers. These requirements coupled with a general difficulty in recruiting and retaining doctors in the Defence Forces created a situation whereby the medical officer requirements for the mission could not be fully met among the doctors serving at that time.

Following a tender competition involving a number of agencies, a contract was placed with Medicare Solutions Limited, Unit 15D Oakcroft Road, Chessington, Surrey, England. The contract was initially for a period of three months commencing on 1 June 2004 and was subsequently extended to February 2005. Following a further tender competition, a fresh contract was placed commencing 1 March 2005. During this time Medicare Solutions had supplied a number of other doctors for periods lasting from a few weeks to three months. This contract expired on 31 December 2005. As and from 1 January 2006 the Defence Forces have been in a position to provide doctors from within the medical corps. The services of the agency are therefore no longer required. The procedure for selecting suitable individual doctors was that candidates were identified by the medical corps from the curriculum vitae supplied to the Department by Medicare Solutions which had expressed an interest in working with the Irish military contingent in Liberia.

This selection was made on the basis of the professional qualifications and particular clinical experience of the various applicants as per their individual curriculum vitae. Dr. Lieberthal was selected to replace another previously selected candidate who had decided not to proceed to Liberia at very late notice. There appeared to be nothing whatsoever untoward in the curriculum vitae supplied in respect of Dr. Lieberthal, who was interviewed by telephone by a senior officer of the medical corps.

Dr. Lieberthal was first appointed for a three-month period from 8 December 2004. He was retained in Liberia until 31 December 2005, when the overall contract with Medicare Solutions expired. He worked in a civilian capacity and provided primary military medical care services to troops, that is, largely care of the routine general practitioner type. He also provided a similar level of medical service to the contingent of Swedish military personnel. In this connection Ireland and Sweden provide an integrated quick reaction force to the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL. Both nations are co-located at Camp Clara, Monrovia. They share certain logistical and welfare facilities. This includes the Irish medical facility, which is staffed by both Irish and Swedish medical personnel. The Swedish medical contingent included one doctor.

It was only after the contract had expired that it came to the attention of the military authorities that Dr. Wynne Lieberthal had been struck off the South African medical register by the Health Professions Council of South Africa in July 2004 after their investigation of various charges brought against him under the relevant South African legislation. As the first priority was the welfare of the troops who were attended to by this man the director of the medical corps contacted each person who had served in Liberia during the period in question alerting them to the situation and advising them of the measures the medical corps were putting in place to deal with any concerns they may have.

As a result any Defence Force member treated by the person concerned and who wished to discuss any aspect of his or her treatment with a medical officer was invited to consult his or her local military medical officer or alternatively to contact the special medical hotline established by the Army medical corps. To date there have been six calls to this hotline.

Legal advice is being sought as to the performance of the specialist medical recruitment agency engaged to provide suitably qualified doctors who either had or would be expected to fulfil the requirements of the Irish Medical Council. It would not be appropriate to anticipate the outcome of this advice and possible follow-up action at this stage.

In connection with the overall situation I would like to make the point that arrangements for the engagement of doctors to provide medical cover for Irish troops serving with UNMIL were made under the pressure of having troops deployed in a hostile environment. In particular Dr. Lieberthal was hired as a last minute replacement for another doctor who could not take up duty.

It was preferred but not necessary that doctors engaged for service in Liberia would be registered with the Irish Medical Council. They only had to apply on taking up duty. As such registration is a lengthy process, a number of the doctors engaged finished their tour of duty without being registered. Therefore, the fact that Dr. Lieberthal's application was still being processed at his departure was not considered unusual. It should be pointed out however that in the first instance the person himself should not have commenced work based on falsehoods.

The overall position in relation to the recruitment of medical officers is being urgently reviewed with a view to ensuring that medical services available to contingents serving overseas are of the highest quality.

Defence Forces Personnel.

Dan Neville

Question:

12 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Defence the number of Defence Force personnel currently on service overseas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7204/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

168 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the number of Irish troops likely to be posted overseas in the future on EU or UN missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7584/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 168 together.

Ireland is currently contributing approximately 766 Defence Forces personnel to 19 different missions throughout the world. Full details of all personnel currently serving overseas are listed in the following table.

The main commitments are to the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, with 426 personnel, to the NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo, with 213 personnel and to EUFOR, the EU-led operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 56 personnel. Other personnel are serving as monitors and observers with the United Nations, UN, the European Union, EU, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE. Staff are also deployed at the organisational headquarters of the UN, the EU and NATO.

With regard to future participation by the Defence Forces in UNMIL, our plan is to withdraw the Irish contingent towards the end of this year. The UN itself is due to review the operation in March with a view to downsizing and we will examine the issue further in the context of that review and of our own threat assessment. It had been anticipated that a reorganisation and scaling-down of KFOR would take place in 2004. This had partly commenced when civil disturbances broke out in March 2004 in Kosovo. The phased withdrawal of the Irish contingent was planned as part of this reduction in KFOR presence and was to have been completed by October 2004. However, having regard to the fragility of the peace in Kosovo, and subject to ongoing assessments of the situation on the ground, both myself and the Minister for Foreign Affairs are agreed on the importance of maintaining an Irish presence in the western Balkans in 2006.

There is no plan to alter the Irish contribution to EUFOR's Operation Althea in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the next 12 months. Ireland's commitment under the United Nations stand-by arrangements system, UNSAS, is 850 which represents 10% of the total Army strength. This is the figure set in the White Paper on Defence and is the maximum sustainable commitment that Ireland can make to overseas operations. There are no plans at this time to increase the level of our commitment to UNSAS and any contribution to EU or UN missions will be met within the context of the 850 ceiling.

Ireland receives requests from time to time in relation to participation in various missions and these are considered on a case by case basis. To date in 2006, no such requests have been received from either the United Nations or the EU.

Members of the Permanent Defence Force serving Overseas as of 01 February, 2006

Numbers

1. UN Missions

(i)UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon)

5

(ii)UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation) — Israel, Syria and Lebanon

13

(iii)MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara)

4

(iv)UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo)

4

(v)MONUC (United Nations Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo)

3

(vi)UNOCI (United Nations Mission in Ivory Coast)

2

(vii)UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia) FHQ

7

UNMIL 93rd Inf Bn

419

TOTAL

457

UN Mandated Missions

(viii)EUFOR (EU-led Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina)

56

(ix)KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo)

213

(x)ISAF (International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan)

7

Total number of personnel serving with UN missions

733

2. EU Missions

(i)European Union Monitor Mission (EUMM) to the former Yugoslavia

6

(ii)EU support to UN authorised African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS)

3

(iii)ACEH Monitoring Mission (AMM)

1

TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONNEL SERVING WITH EU MISSIONS

10

3. Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)

(i)OSCE Mission to Bosnia & Herzegovina

1

(ii)OSCE Mission in Montenegro

1

(iii)OSCE Presence in Albania

1

(iv)OSCE Mission in FRY

2

(v)OSCE Mission in Georgia

1

(vi)Staff Officer, Higher Level Planning Group, Vienna

1

Total number of personnel serving OSCE

7

4. Head of Military Staff (Brussels)

1

5. EU Military Staff (Brussels)

4

6. EU Military Staff (New York)

1

7. Liaison Office of Ireland, PfP (Brussels)

2

8. Permanent Representative to EU (Brussels)

3

9. Military Representatives/ Advisers

(i)Military Adviser, Permanent Mission to UN, New York

1

(ii)Military Adviser, Irish Delegation to OSCE, Vienna

1

(iii)Military Representative to Partnership Co-ordination Cell/Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Mons, Belgium

1

10. Appointments — UN HQ (New York)

Officers seconded to DPKO (Department of Peace Keeping Operations)

2

TOTAL NUMBER DEFENCE FORCES PERSONNEL SERVING OVERSEAS

766

Medical Facilities.

Richard Bruton

Question:

13 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Defence the level of capacity at military hospitals or convalescent facilities here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7211/06]

John Deasy

Question:

55 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Defence the level of medical services available to members of the Defence Forces; the number of doctors employed by the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7192/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 55 together.

The military medical services and their facilities exist primarily to maintain the health of the Defence Forces and to support them in operational and overseas activities. The reorganisation of the medical corps, which was effected as part of the Defence Forces review implementation plan in November 1998, redirected the focus of military medical care from a predominantly hospital based service to one in which primary, occupational and field support would continue to be further developed.

The medical corps facilities are as follows: St. Bricin's Military Hospital, Dublin, three military medical facilities, MMF, located in Cork, Athlone and the Curragh and 17 medical centres, one in each of the other permanently occupied military barracks. St. Bricin's Military Hospital and the three military medical facilities have associated infirmaries for the care of living-in personnel, largely recruits and other training course students, who may become injured or ill. There are appointments for a physician as well as X-ray, pharmacy and screening audiometry facilities. Physiotherapy facilities are available at St. Bricin's Military Hospital and the MMF in Cork and the Curragh.

The focus of the military medical service is on primary care, acute trauma management, preventative medical programmes and field medical training. The range of services provided by the medical corps includes: a military occupational medical service; a primary medical care service; a secondary medical care service; a preventive medical service; provision of medicines and dressings; dental services; a field medical service; training; maintenance of medical records; and medico-legal services.

The statistical information in relation to capacity as at 26 May 2005, the latest date for which figures are available, is provided in the following table. The establishment for medical officers — doctors — in the Permanent Defence Force is 47. The current strength of medical officers — doctors — is 21. Two of these medical officers are on leave of absence without pay. Four are serving on a short service commission of which two are serving in Liberia.

The services of civilian general practitioners are regularly engaged to provide primary care when medical officers are not available. The Defence Forces are dependent, in the normal course, on civilian health care facilities for secondary and tertiary hospital services.

Hospital-Medical Facilities as on 26 May 2005

Location

Immediately available bed capacity

Bed night occupancy 2004

ST. BRICIN’S

18

846

MMF CORK

10

50

MMF DFTC

7

98

GRAND TOTAL

35

994

Question No. 14 answered with QuestionNo. 8.

Defence Forces Investigations.

Phil Hogan

Question:

15 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Defence the actions he will take following the publication of the investigation into the death of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7218/06]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

34 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Defence the changes that he will make to internal Defence Force procedures following the publication of the investigation into the death of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7215/06]

Dan Boyle

Question:

48 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence if, following the recent Hurley review of the circumstances surrounding the death of Private Kevin Barrett in 1999 while serving in south Lebanon, the Government will be launching a fresh investigation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7480/06]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

56 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Defence if he will give details of the independent review that was recently published into the way in which the Defence Forces handled certain issues arising from the death of a person (details supplied); the main recommendations that were made by the review; the action he has taken following its publication; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7185/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15, 34, 48 and 56 together.

Private Kevin Barrett died on 18 February 1999 while serving with the 84th Infantry Battalion in Lebanon. His death was the subject of a UN board of inquiry and an Irish contingent board of inquiry as well as a military police investigation. The coroner for north-west Donegal also held an inquest into the death of Private Barrett from 5 to 8 September 2005. The jury in the inquest returned an open verdict.

I met Mrs. Barrett, who was accompanied by her solicitor, on 4 October 2005. During my meeting with Mrs. Barrett, I gave her an undertaking to have the interaction between my Department-Defence Forces and her and Private Barrett's family reviewed by an independent person.

On 28 October 2005, I appointed Mr. Sean Hurley to carry out an independent review of the interaction between the Department of Defence-Defence Forces and parents and family of Private Barrett in the aftermath of his tragic death. I received his report on 2 February 2006.

Mr. Hurley has conducted a very thorough inquiry and has provided a detailed and frank report. It is clear and concise and covers the issues raised with me by Kevin Barrett's family. Mr. Hurley has looked in detail at how the Department and the Defence Forces interacted with the Barrett family after Kevin's death and has identified some clear failings and shortcomings. Copies of the review were provided to the Barrett family and their legal advisers on 3 February 2006 and the full report was published on my Department's website on 6 February 2006.

I accept the recommendations and conclusions contained in the report and I assure the Barrett family that I will act on these. Important lessons have been learnt for the future and errors that have occurred in the handling of this tragic case, outlined by Mr. Hurley, must never be repeated. Mr. Hurley acknowledges that some of these have since been addressed in the new Guidelines for Dealing with Bereaved Families introduced by the Defence Forces in 2001. These guidelines will now be reviewed to include Mr. Hurley's recommendations.

Immediately on receipt of Mr. Hurley's report, I contacted the Garda Commissioner and asked him to provide me with his early views in relation to any possible assistance that the Garda Síochána might be in a position to provide. A Garda officer has since been assigned to the case and is currently examining my Department's and the Defence Forces files in the case with a view to determining whether the gardaí can provide any assistance in the matter.

I want to repeat my apology to the Barrett family for the pain and suffering they endured following Kevin's tragic death. I also want to thank the Barrett family for their patience and co-operation in the preparation of this review. I have asked to meet with the family in the coming weeks, after they have had sufficient time to consider the report.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Denis Naughten

Question:

16 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Defence if there will be an update to the regulations governing minimum height for entry to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7199/06]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

63 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Defence the current height requirements for membership of the Defence Forces; if changes to these requirements are planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7208/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 63 together.

The minimum height requirement for entry to the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve Defence Force is 162.5 cm, 5 ft. 4 in., for both men and women. This limit was set in April 2002 based on the professional advice of the medical corps and the actual experience of training units. The advice at that time was that, having regard to the nature of the job and of the duties of military service and the training exercises undertaken by members of the Defence Forces, persons of shorter stature are more likely to incur back and lower limb injuries. A key element in military life is the need for personnel to maintain a level of fitness for combat readiness. Inherent in this physical requirement is the ability to carry heavy loads and execute physically demanding tasks in training and on operations. The personal load carrying equipment and personal weapon place considerable strain on the musculosketal system. The advice in 2002 was that the recommended height requirement of 162.5 cm, 5 ft. 4 in., for entry is the minimum necessary to meet the demands of military life.

As I indicated to the House on 29 September 2005, that requirement is being kept under constant review. I have asked the military authorities to report to me on it. I will review the height requirement in the light of that report.

Aerial Surveillance.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

17 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Defence his plans to seek repayment from Irish banks for the cost of providing aerial surveillance by the Air Corps; the estimated annual cost accruing to the State from providing this service to banks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7178/06]

The total cost in respect of the provision by the Defence Forces of assistance to the Garda Síochána in protecting movements of cash for the years 2000 to 2004 — the figures for 2005 are currently being collated — was as follows:

Year

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

Total number of escorts

2,285

2,488

2,516

2,335

2,425

Cost of Escorts

€5.7m

€6.57m

€6.87m

€6.5m

€7.5m

Pay accounts for about 54% of the total costs of providing cash escorts. The non-pay costs include security duty allowance, subsistence, transport and aerial surveillance costs. The breakdown of these costs, on average is as follows: security duty allowance — 7%; subsistence — 8%; transport — 28%; aerial surveillance — 3%.

An annual contribution of €2.86 million has been paid by the banks to my Department in respect of the provision of cash escorts. This figure was set by the Department of Finance in the 1995 budget and had not been altered since. The contribution from the banks was designed to part-cover the total costs to the State of providing cash escorts. At that time, the contribution covered approximately 72% of the total cost arising to the Defence Forces. Based on annual costings by the Department, the relative level of the contribution had fallen in real terms over the years to the situation where it was only covering 43% of the total costs.

As the Deputy may be aware, I had a number of discussions with the Irish Bankers' Federation, IBF, in relation to this matter last year, with a view to increasing the level of contribution by the banks in respect of the costs incurred by the Department in the provision of cash escorts. Following detailed and intensive discussions between officials of the IBF, the member banks and the Department, a detailed formal agreement was signed on 11 May 2005.

This agreement, which is for a five year period, provides that the banks will pay the total actual costs incurred by the Defence Forces in the provision of cash escorts. Costs in respect of each 12 month period to end-December, will be paid the following year on or before 1 June. This is to allow for the compilation of returns from the brigades and allocation of costs following the year-end. The first payment under the new system will be paid in June 2006.

I have, at the banks' request, agreed to defer the first payment to that date to meet the banks' budgeting and accounting timeframe. In return for my agreement to this deferral, a transitional payment of €1 million, payable before end 2005, was negotiated as part of the overall agreement. Therefore, in 2005 the banks made their annual payment of €2.86 million plus the additional €1 million making a total contribution of €3.86 million. The costs for the banks in any future year will be determined by the actual costs incurred by the Defence Forces in the provision of the cash escorts in the previous year and thus are not available at this time. The payments by the banks will be paid directly to my Department.

We have now agreed a very open and transparent system for agreeing the costs in respect of the Defence Forces and this should stand the test of time. The agreement resolves the issue of the banks' contribution in respect of cash escort costs for the foreseeable future.

Search and Rescue Service.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

18 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to criticism by Comhairle Fo-Thuinn, the Irish Underwater Council, of the Naval Service’s diving capability following the Rising Sun, Wexford fishing tragedy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7487/06]

I express my condolences and sincere sympathy to the families and friends of those who died as a result of the Rising Sun fishing tragedy. I am aware of the criticism levelled by Comhairle Fo-Thuinn at Naval Service diving capabilities, which is unfounded and unwarranted.

The Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of maritime search-and-rescue services within the Irish search-and-rescue region. The role of the Defence Forces in search and rescue involves the provision of services to civil authorities as and when required.

The Naval Service provided support to the Irish Coast Guard in this search and recovery operation by way of ships and personnel, including 15 divers and a diving officer. A naval ship acted as on-scene commander vessel and enforced the Irish Coast Guard-imposed exclusion zone.

The naval diving section is governed by clear diving rules and regulations which mirror those of other military and commercial professional diving entities. The equipment used by the naval diving section is the most modern available, having been upgraded in 2004. The Naval Service has trained its own divers since 1983 in accordance with international best practice for both military and commercial diving, and in addition Naval Service divers have trained with other navies in various forms of military diving. Furthermore, as Ireland does not have equivalent commercial diving training and accepts the UK qualifications, Naval Service divers are also qualified by the Health and Safety Executive in the UK to dive and supervise all forms of air diving. That training is to ensure that Naval Service diving is up to date with regard to equipment and procedures in use in commercial diving nationwide.

The Naval Service diving section has considerable experience in search and recovery operations and does its utmost to the limit of its resources while remaining cognisant of health and safety requirements. Naval Service professionalism and dedication in such difficult situations are unquestionable, and I am satisfied that the diving capabilities of the Naval Service have not been found wanting.

Defence Forces Property.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

19 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Defence if he continues to hold the view that allowing larger aircraft which could land and, more particularly, take off from Weston is undesirable, as their requisite flight path would compromise the safety of the flight paths currently used by the Air Corps into Baldonnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7149/06]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

50 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Defence if his Department has conducted, is currently conducting, or plans to conduct discussions with the management of Weston Aerodrome and the Irish Aviation Authority regarding a proposed change to the terms of its licence in view of the fact that alterations to flight patterns may impact on operations at Casement Aerodrome; if so, his views on changes from visual to instrument control, and in flight paths and airspace that may result from such a license alteration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7148/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 50 together.

The Irish Aviation Authority, under the aegis of the Department of Transport, is responsible for the safety regulation of Irish airspace. An airspace change proposal submitted to the Irish Aviation Authority by Weston Airport Limited in 2005 includes the use of instrument navigation aids to assist the arrival and departure of aircraft in accordance with instrument flight rules. Use of those landing aids would result in flight paths which would penetrate military airspace. The Irish Aviation Authority has convened a group, in which my Department and the Air Corps are represented, to examine the implications of the airspace change proposal. Discussions are ongoing.

My principal concern regarding Weston Aerodrome is the maintenance of safe and functional airspace in which military flight training and air operations can continue on a 24-hour basis. Changes in operations at Weston will require a risk assessment by the Air Corps to ensure that current levels of safety for military air operations are maintained or improved.

Question No. 20 answered with QuestionNo. 11.
Question No. 21 answered with QuestionNo. 9.

Decentralisation Programme.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

22 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Defence the position with regard to decentralisation in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7190/06]

Billy Timmins

Question:

44 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Defence the number of staff within his Department due to decentralise under Government proposals; the locations to which they will be moving; the position with regard to this decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7189/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 44 together.

The Government decision on decentralisation announced by the Minister for Finance in his Budget Statement on 3 December 2003 provides for the transfer of my Department's Dublin-based Civil Service staff to Newbridge, County Kildare. The number of staff to be relocated to Newbridge is 200.

While the Office of Public Works has identified a suitable site in Newbridge for the Department's new headquarters, negotiations on the acquisition of the site have not yet been completed.

A total of 385 personnel, of whom 64 are currently serving in the Department, have volunteered to relocate to Newbridge.

Question No. 23 answered with QuestionNo. 7.

Defence Forces Strength.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

24 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the strength of the Defence Forces; the extent to which it might be advisable to increase the numbers in view of the likely overseas postings under the aegis of the EU or UN; if he will consider this prospect at this stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7418/06]

Michael Ring

Question:

58 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Defence the strength of the Defence Forces and reserve forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7217/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

169 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence his plans to increase the strength of the Defence Forces in future, having particular regard for obligations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7585/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

170 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the current and future strength of the Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7586/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

173 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the number of women currently serving in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7590/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24, 58, 169, 170 and 173 together.

The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force, comprising 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army. I intend to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. Recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force will continue to maintain the strength at the level set out in the White Paper as required to meet military needs. The Defence Forces continue to have a proactive approach to all aspects of recruiting. The strength of the Permanent Defence Force, the number of female personnel by rank and the strength of the Reserve Defence Force, as advised by the military authorities, is provided in the following tabular statements. The figures provided are as at 31 January 2006.

The White Paper on Defence provides for an allocation of up to 850 Permanent Defence Force personnel to be deployed overseas at any one time through the United Nations stand-by arrangements system, UNSAS. While that may be exceeded for short periods, deployments above that level are not sustainable on an ongoing basis within existing resources. Any commitments to EU or UN missions will be met within that context. There are no plans to increase the numbers serving in the Defence Forces above the levels provided for in the White Paper.

Strength of the Permanent Defence Force

31 January 2006

Lt Gen

Maj Gen

Brig Gen

Col

Lt Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Total Offrs

SM

BQMS

CS

CQMS

SGTS

CPLS

Total NCOS

PTES

Cadets

Total

Army

1

2

6

39

127

337

280

255

1,047

33

42

135

246

1,041

1,555

3,052

4,321

87

8,507

Air Corps

0

0

1

2

14

31

45

39

132

7

4

50

15

132

195

403

294

20

849

Naval Service

0

0

1

2

12

48

37

63

163

6

7

78

15

208

152

466

437

16

1,082

Lt Gen = Lieutenant General

SM = Sergeant Major

Maj Gen = Major General

BQMS = Battalion Quartermaster Sergeant

Brig Gen = Brigadier General

CS = Company Sergeant

Col = Colonel

CQMS = Company Quartermaster Sergeant

Lt Col = Lieutenant Colonel

SGTS = Sergeants

Comdt = Commandant

CPLS = Corporals

Capt = Captain

NCOS = Non-Commissioned Officers

Lt = Lieutenant

PTES = Privates

Strength of Females in the Permanent Defence Force

31 January 2006

Lt Gen

Maj Gen

Brig Gen

Col

Lt Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Total Offrs

SM

BQMS

CS

CQMS

SGTS

CPLS

Total NCOS

PTES

Cadets

Total

Army

0

0

0

0

1

16

38

33

88

0

0

3

1

10

103

117

223

18

446

Air Corps

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

1

3

0

0

1

0

1

11

13

6

1

23

Naval Service

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

11

17

0

0

0

0

0

3

3

37

2

59

Strength of Males in the Permanent Defence Force

31 January 2006

Lt Gen

Maj Gen

Brig Gen

Col

Lt Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Total Offrs

SM

BQMS

CS

CQMS

SGTS

CPLS

Total NCOS

PTES

Cadets

Total

Army

1

2

6

39

126

321

242

222

959

33

42

132

245

1,031

1,452

2,935

4,098

69

8,061

Air Corps

0

0

1

2

14

31

43

38

129

7

4

49

15

131

184

390

288

19

826

Naval Service

0

0

1

2

12

48

31

52

146

6

7

78

15

208

149

463

400

14

1,023

Strength of the Reserve Defence Force

31 January, 2006.

Lt. Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Total Offrs

SM

BQMS

CS

CQMS

SGTS

CPLS

Total NCOS

PTES

Total

Army Reserve

4

108

182

366

660

21

22

117

109

866

1,453

2,588

6,151

9,399

Naval Reserve

0

4

10

12

26

0

4

13

1

23

32

73

275

374

Strength of Males in the Reserve Defence Force

31 January, 2006.

Lt. Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Total Offrs

SM

BQMS

CS

CQMS

SGTS

CPLS

Total NCOS

PTES

Total

Army Reserve

4

108

182

313

607

21

22

116

107

801

1,076

2,143

4,112

6,862

Naval Reserve

0

4

10

10

24

0

4

13

1

22

25

65

187

276

Strength of Females in the Reserve Defence Force

31 January, 2006.

Lt. Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Total Offrs

SM

BQMS

CS

CQMS

SGTS

CPLS

Total NCOS

PTES

Total

Army Reserve

0

0

0

53

53

0

0

1

2

65

377

445

2,039

2,537

Naval Reserve

0

0

0

2

2

0

0

0

0

1

7

8

88

98

Strength of the First Line Reserve

31 January, 2006.

Total Offrs

Total NCOS

PTES

Total

Army

100

16

133

249

Air Corps

24

2

12

38

Naval Service

39

12

44

95

Question No. 25 answered with QuestionNo. 9.
Question No. 26 answered with QuestionNo. 9.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

27 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the €36.5 million contract he signed in December 2005 with Mowag for 15 additional Piranha armoured vehicles for the Defence Forces; the vehicles’ specifications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7485/06]

In December 2005, a contract was signed with Mowag GmbH of Switzerland for the supply of 15 additional Piranha armoured vehicles to the Defence Forces. The company has already provided 65 Piranha APCs to the Defence Forces in recent years. Under the contract, Mowag GmbH will supply 15 vehicles, nine of which will be fitted with a Kongsberg remote weapon station with a 12.7 mm machine gun, and six will be fitted with an Otomelara turret armed with a 30 mm cannon. The 15 vehicles will be used mainly in the surveillance and reconnaissance roles on overseas missions. The contract value is in the region of €36.5 million, including VAT. Deliveries will all take place in 2007. Payments under the contract will extend from December 2005 to January 2008. The signing of the contract is another significant boost for the Defence Forces and a further indicator of my commitment to ensure that Defence Forces personnel are fully equipped with modern equipment, which enhances their safety in carrying out their roles.

Defence Forces Strength.

David Stanton

Question:

28 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Defence if he has carried out, or intends to carry out, a study into the impact of sea-going time on naval personnel retention; the impact on the families of naval personnel; the amount of time spent at sea at present; his plans to reduce that amount of time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7151/06]

The question of retention of personnel in the Naval Service was tackled through reforms introduced through the Defence White Paper of February 2000. Those reforms were the result of a series of earlier studies between 1990 and 1999. The reforms implemented were part of a five-year plan that has just been completed. The plan included the following: restructuring of the Naval Service organisation to ensure that the vast majority of personnel had a "sea to shore" rotation providing periodic posting to shore-based appointments for sea-going personnel; monitoring of each individual's sea-time to ensure they are aware of their own number of sea-going days; a patrol plan which specifies when ships are due to be at sea throughout the year, facilitating planning of personal time by each individual; improved rates of sea-going allowance; and a very effective personnel support system, PSS, that provides support for individuals who may have family welfare problems. In addition, personnel serving on ships have additional leave when serving afloat — 15 days for other ranks and 12 days for junior officers. The impact of sea-going is well understood by naval personnel at all levels. The system for managing sea-going by the individual is working well. The personnel support system offers professional support to personnel who have personal or family difficulties.

The Naval Service endeavours to operate a planned approach to the sea-shore rotation of personnel, based on a two-year period of commitment to sea-going duties, followed by a two-year period ashore subject to the exigencies of the Naval Service. However, where there are shortages of skilled personnel within the Naval Service, it may be necessary for personnel to carry out sea-going duties more frequently.

The reorganisation of the Naval Service was designed to ensure that, when fully implemented, all personnel would spend alternate periods of two years in a shore-based appointment, followed by two years in a ship-based sea-going appointment. In that regard, I should point out that two years in a ship-based sea-going appointment does not imply that people spend two years at sea. On the other hand, some Naval Service personnel are keen to spend more time at sea and, where possible, they are accommodated. Overall, the broad range of strategies adopted by the Naval Service, including continuous recruitment, direct-entry officer schemes, direct-entry technician and internal technician schemes, focuses on achieving sufficient numbers of trained personnel so that the planned approach to sea-shore rotation, based on the two-year cycle, is maintained. That helps to ensure that Naval Service personnel do not spend unduly protracted periods at sea.

I am aware of the difficulties regarding the deployment of certain technical Naval Service personnel, especially engineering staff, engine-room artificers and electrical artificers. The position is that the number of such appointments in the Naval Service was increased following the reorganisation of the Naval Service.

Given the specialist nature of those additional positions, it was not possible to fill them all until such time as personnel had completed the necessary training. It was always accepted that it would take several years for all appointments to be filled by suitably qualified people.

While the increased number of specialist appointments could not all be filled instantly, thus creating some unavoidable transitional difficulties, I am assured by the military authorities that the arrangements now in place to provide suitably trained and qualified personnel should see an early improvement in the situation.

More generally, an annual level of discharge of 129 in 1999 has fallen to a sustainable level of around 60 per annum in the last three years. That figure includes discharges of recruits at an early stage of training and involuntary discharges for reasons such as medical classification. The Permanent Defence Force operates fixed-term contracts for enlistment. Some personnel retire on age grounds or when they have secured a service pension entitlement. Other individuals will decide, for their own reasons, to take up employment elsewhere. The Naval Service establishment is 1,144, and the current strength is 1,082. There is an ongoing intake of recruits. Overall retention in the Naval Service is good.

Question No. 29 answered with QuestionNo. 11.
Question No. 30 answered with QuestionNo. 9.

Defence Forces Investigations.

Jack Wall

Question:

31 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Defence the position concerning the investigation into allegations regarding the misappropriation of funds by two quartermasters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7188/06]

I understand that the military police investigation into this matter will be completed and submitted to the appropriate military authorities within the next few days. Pending completion of, and due consideration being given to the military police report, I do not consider it appropriate to comment any further on the matter.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Pat Breen

Question:

32 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Defence the number of nuclear, chemical and biological suits available to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7216/06]

The Defence Forces have available to them equipment for monitoring and protecting their members in dealing with nuclear, biological or chemical, NBC, threats identified from time to time. They hold an extensive range of modern NBC equipment that meets their current requirements. That range includes approximately 9,500 NBC suits, of which 800 were delivered in January 2006.

Question No. 33 answered with QuestionNo. 9.
Question No. 34 answered with QuestionNo. 15.
Question No. 35 answered with QuestionNo. 9.

Commemorative Events.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

36 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Defence the Government plans to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme later in 2006; if there will be military involvement in any commemoration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7176/06]

I understand that the question of an appropriate commemoration, in July next, of the Battle of the Somme is under consideration at official level in the Department of the Taoiseach.

Question No. 37 answered with QuestionNo. 10.
Question No. 38 answered with QuestionNo. 9.
Question No. 39 answered with QuestionNo. 8.

Defence Forces Property.

Mary Upton

Question:

40 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Defence the position concerning the inquiry into allegations of the theft of diesel by a member of the Defence Forces in Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7187/06]

The military authorities advise that the military police investigation is still ongoing into the alleged larceny of diesel oil from military vehicles in Donegal. While it would be inappropriate to comment on the details of the investigation, it can be confirmed that a member of the Defence Forces has been interviewed in the course of the investigation. As the investigation is continuing and several lines of inquiry remain to be completed, it is not possible to determine when the investigation will be concluded.

Departmental Bodies.

Paul McGrath

Question:

41 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Defence the number of Departments or agencies with responsibility for emergency planning; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7191/06]

The office of emergency planning was established in my Department to promote the co-ordination of emergency planning functions across all Departments and other key public authorities and to oversee the emergency planning process in general.

In pursuing these objectives, I chair the Government task force on emergency planning, which comprises those Ministers as well as, or instead of, those senior officials of Departments and public authorities which make a key contribution to the emergency planning process.

It is the top-level structure giving policy and direction and which co-ordinates and oversees the emergency planning activities of Departments and public authorities. It promotes the best possible use of resources and compatibility between different planning requirements.

An interdepartmental working group on emergency planning comprises officials representing Departments and public authorities with lead or principal support roles in Government emergency plans. The task force charges this working group with carrying out specific studies and developing particular aspects of emergency planning. The working group is the vehicle through which expertise is shared between Departments and public authorities on emergency planning. The working group continues to address emergency planning matters to reduce the potential impacts of emergencies on this State.

The office of emergency planning supports my Department's emergency planning objective and the Government task force on emergency planning. The office chairs the interdepartmental working group on emergency planning. The lead responsibility for specific emergency planning functions remains with the relevant Departments.

Emergency plans are co-ordinated by the various lead Departments at a national level and through the local authorities, including the fire service, the Health Service Executive and the Garda divisions at local and regional levels. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces are: the provision of aid to the civil power, meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána; and assistance to other civil authorities. The various components of the Defence Forces are active in this regard, providing such assistance as is appropriate in specific circumstances. These plans and arrangements are kept under constant review.

The Departments and key public authorities involved have particular responsibilities under a number of strategic areas of Government emergency planning and regularly report on developments and progress at meetings of the task force. The objective of the Government is to ensure that all State bodies can react quickly and efficiently to any large-scale emergency. As chairman of the task force, my approach continues to be that responses must be characterised by effective management of all aspects of emergency planning and by a high level of public confidence in all the response arrangements. Review and refinement arrangements will ensure co-ordination of all those responding so that, should we be unfortunate enough to experience a large-scale emergency, we will be in a position to mount a credible response.

Common Foreign and Defence Policy.

Dan Boyle

Question:

42 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence the agenda of 7 March 2006 meeting of the European Defence Agency; his views on whether Ireland, along with other EU states must spend more on defence research and technology as suggested by Mr. Javiar Solana, head of the European Defence Agency and high representative for the EU’s common foreign and security policy, due to the scale of the challenges the EU faces to transform its military capabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7479/06]

I will attend the meeting of the European Defence Agency steering board in defence ministers' formation in Innsbruck, Austria on 7 March 2006. While the formal agenda for this meeting has not yet issued, among the issues expected to be discussed are: the setting up of the 2006 European Defence Agency's college of auditors to audit the agency's 2005 accounts; discussion of the chief executive's report on current activities and issues; and a review of European defence research and technology on the basis of a memorandum from the agency to the steering board.

The steering board is the principal decision-making body of the agency on which the 24 participating member states are represented. Denmark does not participate under its general opt-out on decisions with defence or military implications. The overall aim of the agency is to support member states in their efforts to improve European defence capabilities in support of European security and defence policy.

I believe the agency is an important forum through which the EU can seek to improve competitiveness and efficiency in the defence equipment sector, which has been notable for fragmentation and duplication. While Ireland is not a major consumer of defence equipment in relative terms, I believe that we should encourage developments which improve market efficiencies or which may yield some economies of scale for equipment procurement for the Defence Forces.

The main focus of the European Defence Agency is not increasing defence expenditure, but rather, obtaining better value for existing spending levels and securing improvements and greater efficiency, particularly in the area of research, technology, manufacturing and procurement. Ireland has advocated that the EU should prioritise the development of qualitative aspects of capability development. I am aware that this view, and a recognition of the need for greater efficiency and effectiveness in defence expenditure, is shared by many of my ministerial colleagues at EU level, at a time when the majority of member states, including Ireland, has no plans to increase their defence spending.

Question No. 43 answered with QuestionNo. 9.
Question No. 44 answered with QuestionNo. 22.

Overseas Missions.

Liz McManus

Question:

45 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Defence the procedures that are used to vet the qualifications and employment records of all non-Defence Forces staff who are employed to work directly with Irish forces serving abroad; if these procedures have recently been reviewed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7177/06]

The only detailed records retained by the Defence Forces on the employment of civilian personnel abroad refer to the civilian doctors supplied by Medicare Solutions Limited for service with the Irish UNMIL contingent in Liberia. Medicare Solutions Limited was the medical agency contracted by the Department of Defence for this purpose. The contract was initially for a period of three months commencing on 1 June 2004 and was subsequently extended. Medicare Solutions Limited supplied a number of civilian doctors for periods lasting from a few weeks to three months. This contract eventually expired on 31 December 2005. As and from 1 January 2006, the Defence Forces have been in a position to provide military medical officers from within the medical corps. The services of an agency are therefore no longer required.

The procedure for selecting suitable individual doctors was that candidates were identified and selected by the medical corps from curricula vitae supplied to the Department by Medicare Solutions Limited, in respect of those doctors on their books who had expressed an interest in working with the Irish military contingent in Liberia. Selection was done on the basis of the professional qualifications and clinical experience of the various applicants, as per their individual curricula vitae.

The Defence Forces have from time to time directly employed some local people in a civilian capacity with missions overseas. These civilians however were in various ancillary occupations such as interpreters, cleaners, etc.

Avian Flu.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

46 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence if the Defence Forces have had a role in advance planning for treating a possible outbreak of avian flu here; if the Defence Forces may be called upon to help secure ports, airports and points of entry here should the virus spread across Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7180/06]

In the case of the spread of the existing avian flu virus to this country, my colleague the Minister for Agriculture and Food who has lead responsibility in this area, continues to reassess the level of risk and to update the contingency arrangements which are in place. Her Department will continue to keep the level of risk under assessment taking account of the most up to date veterinary scientific and ornithological advice available. In the event of an outbreak of the disease in this country the Defence Forces will, of course, provide assistance in a support role as requested subject to the exigencies of the service and within available resources.

Question No. 47 answered with QuestionNo. 9.
Question No. 48 answered with QuestionNo. 15.
Question No. 49 answered with QuestionNo. 9.
Question No. 50 answered with QuestionNo. 19.
Question No. 51 answered with QuestionNo. 9.
Question No. 52 answered with QuestionNo. 6.
Question No. 53 answered with QuestionNo. 9.

United Nations Reform.

Seán Ryan

Question:

54 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Defence if he will expand on comments made at the ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s membership of the United Nations that crucial to UN reform is the need to speed up its decision making process; the specific issues relating to international security to which he was referring; his priorities regarding reform of the UN Security Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7184/06]

The context of my remarks related to the need for the UN to be able to respond rapidly to emerging crises, particularly in the context of the development of battle groups. Significant effort is being invested by EU member states to make available two battle groups on standby each semester to undertake rapid response operations in accordance with the Petersberg Tasks. The UN, which is strongly supportive of the development of rapid response elements by the EU, recognises itself the need to be able to bring these instruments into effect quickly as crises evolve. I am satisfied that, where such crises arise, the necessary political will, will be forthcoming to ensure the UN can respond with appropriate speed and determination.

Question No. 55 answered with QuestionNo. 13.
Question No. 56 answered with QuestionNo. 15.
Question No. 57 answered with QuestionNo. 11.
Question No. 58 answered with QuestionNo. 24.

Hearing Impairment Claims.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

59 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence the efforts he has made to address complaints that have been made against solicitors who may have overcharged clients making Army deafness claims; if he has received representations from claimants on this issue; the estimated number of such cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7183/06]

I wrote to the Law Society of Ireland at the time of the initial queries regarding solicitors' charges in Army hearing loss litigation. In my letter, I asked the Law Society what plans it had to deal with any complaints regarding charging by solicitors in these cases. The Law Society clarified that it was the statutory body responsible for dealing with such complaints and that it had procedures in place in this regard. The society has power to order a solicitor to repay any excessive amount charged and is anxious to investigate any complaints made against solicitors. Since October last, 71 inquiries have been received by my Department from plaintiffs regarding the fees paid to solicitors in respect of Army deafness cases. Generally, these queries refer to the amount of the award or settlement and the costs paid.

As a matter of course, my Department advises the individual of the amount of the settlement or award, and the date on which payment issued. In addition, the amount paid by the State in respect of plaintiff costs, and the date of such payment, are also advised. In responding to inquiries from plaintiffs, we also advise them that they are entitled to obtain details of the costs in their case from their solicitor under the provisions of section 68(6) of the Solicitors (Amendment) Act 1994. These provisions oblige a legal representative to provide a summary of the legal services provided and the amount of expenses incurred in the provision of these legal services as well as details of all charges that have been recovered. We also advise that the Law Society of Ireland is the statutory body entrusted with responsibility to investigate complaints against solicitors by a client and that the Law Society has procedures in place in this regard.

Defence Forces Reserve.

David Stanton

Question:

60 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Defence if and when members of the Reserve Defence Forces will be able to serve overseas; if legislation is required to enable such a provision; if so, the details of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7150/06]

In July 2004 the Reserve Defence Force implementation plan was officially launched. This plan, which will be implemented over the period to end 2009, sets out an ambitious programme of reform and modernisation for the Reserve that will enhance both Reserve Defence Force capabilities and Permanent Defence Force-Reserve Defence Force interoperability. The new reserve organisational structures came into effect on 1 October last and the reserve is organised along similar lines to the Permanent Defence Force. In addition to the reorganisation, other aspects of the plan are also progressing on schedule. The equipment programme is being implemented with the Steyr rifle programme ahead of schedule and the support weapons programme progressing on schedule. The training programme is progressing on schedule with many of the training syllabi revised and approved. Work will continue in this area over the course of the plan.

Although I am satisfied that the implementation process in on schedule to date, further work must be completed in the remaining period of the plan. The reorganised reserve will provide the necessary platform for implementation of other aspects of the plan. The development of the integrated element of the reserve as well as the development of policies to support the selection of suitably qualified reserve personnel for overseas duties, are important elements of the plan that require continued work over the period to end 2009.

Question No. 61 answered with QuestionNo. 11.

Overseas Missions.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

62 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Defence the new tasks and responsibilities that have been given to Irish troops serving in Liberia following the expansion of their operation to provide back-up security for a war crimes court in neighbouring Sierra Leone; his views on whether the political atmosphere in the area is particularly volatile and will expose the troops to some danger; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7182/06]

Michael Ring

Question:

66 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Defence the expected deployment of troops to Liberia for the remainder of 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7196/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 66 together.

Ireland has participated in UNMIL since December 2003 following a decision of the Government on 24 June 2003, and the subsequent approval by Dáil Éireann of the necessary enabling motion. Since then, the UN Security Council has authorised the continuation of UNMIL for successive periods and the Government has approved continued Irish participation.

Ireland, together with an infantry company group from Sweden, provides the quick reaction force, QRF, to the UNMIL force commander. The Irish contingent comprises 426 personnel. The QRF initially acted in a pathfinder role, going into the countryside, stabilising the situation, establishing contacts with local leaders and preparing the ground for the follow on deployment of the larger UN forces. Once this was completed, the QRF became the rapid response element within UNMIL responding to any crises that arose within the area of operations and supporting deployed contingents through long range patrols into the countryside. While it has been a difficult mission, particularly in terms of the operating environment, it is working very well for the Defence Forces.

On 19 September 2005, the UN Security Council, acting under chapter VII of the UN charter unanimously adopted Resolution No. 1626 extending the mandate of UNMIL until 31 March 2006. The resolution further authorised UNMIL to deploy personnel to Sierra Leone to provide a continuing security detail for the special court for Sierra Leone in Freetown; to deploy an adequate number of military personnel to Sierra Leone; and, if and when needed, to evacuate the security detail, as well as officials of the special court for Sierra Leone, in the event of a serious security crisis. The special court is an independent tribunal established jointly by the UN and the Government of Sierra Leone in 2002 to bring to justice those who bear greatest responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Sierra Leone after 30 November 1996, at the height of that country's civil war between 1991 and 2002.

On 11 November 2005, the UN Security Council further extended UNMIL's mandate to include the apprehension, detention and transfer to the special court for Sierra Leone of the former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, in the event of his return to Liberia. In September 2005, the UN requested Ireland's support in expanding the area of operations of UNMIL to include Sierra Leone and in particular to allow Irish troops to be made available for extraction operations should there be a requirement to evacuate the staff and detainees of the special court of Sierra Leone in Freetown. A joint Irish-Swedish reconnaissance team visited UNMIL and Sierra Leone between 9 and 13 November 2005. The purpose of the visit was to assess the situation on the ground, with a view to making a recommendation on supporting the proposed operation. The key issues for consideration by the team were threat analysis, command and control and logistic support. On foot of the reconnaissance report, the chief of staff of the Defence Forces advised that the envisaged operation in Sierra Leone, should it come to pass, was within the Defence Forces competence to perform from within the resources presently deployed in the QRF. The Irish contingent assumed its additional responsibilities in late December 2005 following Dáil approval on 15 December 2005.

UNMIL is providing a permanent guard of 250 personnel of the Mongolian contingent at the special court. In late January 2006, Irish and Swedish troops of the QRF conducted rehearsals of the extraction plan, without difficulties, and with the full support of all the Sierra Leone and UN agencies involved. The political climate in Sierra Leone is assessed as calm. The Secretary General of the UN has indicated that there will be a review of the UNMIL mission in March 2006, and depending on the political and security situation in Liberia at that time, a downsizing schedule for the UNMIL mission will be agreed. From the outset the Government has signalled its intention that Defence Forces involvement in UNMIL would not exceed two to three years in duration and the United Nations has been advised accordingly. The Defence Forces, together with its Swedish partners will, therefore, conclude their service with UNMIL by the end of 2006. The UN has been advised accordingly.

Question No. 63 answered with QuestionNo. 16.
Question No. 64 answered with QuestionNo. 9.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Tom Hayes

Question:

65 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Defence the steps being taken to increase the number of female recruits to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7193/06]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

68 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Defence the strategy being adopted to encourage more women to join the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7198/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 68 together.

The Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women in the Defence Forces — Army, Air Corps, Naval Service — including the Reserve Defence Force and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities. This means women are eligible on the same basis as men for participation in operational and ceremonial activities, for assignment to all military appointments and educational and training courses and for promotion. All female personnel undergo the same training and receive the same military education as their male counterparts. To encourage increased participation by women in the Defence Forces, my predecessor decided in March 1998 to reduce the height requirement for all female recruits to 162.5 cm or 5 ft. 4 ins. This height requirement also applies to male recruits. The Defence Forces actively encourage female applicants, for example, advertising — where possible, all graphical advertisements and booklets produced for the Defence Forces show both male and female personnel and emphasise that all applicants are assessed on an equal basis; recruitment fairs — stands at recruiting fairs are generally staffed by male and female personnel; and visits to schools — when the Defence Forces are invited to give talks at all female or at mixed schools, every effort is made to have a female speaker.

Over the past eight years, the strength of female personnel in the Permanent Defence Force has increased from 244 at the end of 1997 to 528 at the end of January 2006. This constitutes an increase of more than 100% in the number of females serving over this period. On 5 August 2005 I wrote to both the Department of Education and Science and Justice, Equality and Law Reform along with a number of outside organisations seeking their views and recommendations on how more women might be encouraged to enlist in the Defence Forces. All the replies have been received, the last on 17 January 2006 and they are being examined, after which, I propose that officials, both civil and military, of the Department of Defence will meet with representatives of each of the organisations who made submissions as well as the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers and the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association. These meetings will consider the ideas and suggestions to see what, if any, improvements or changes can be made to the programme of recruitment so as to encourage more females to join the Defence Forces.

Question No. 66 answered with QuestionNo. 62.

EU Battle Groups.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

67 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence his views on statements by Finland’s Ministry of Defence highlighting the close link between EU battle groups and NATO. [7420/06]

Most member states of the EU are also members of NATO and only have one set of forces at their disposal, which they can make available both to the EU and EU battle groups and to NATO and the NATO response force. It is reasonable and appropriate for states that are members of both organisations to ensure similar standards, procedures, training regimes, command and control arrangements etc. apply uniformly across both organisations, as it would be extremely difficult to operate two different standards regimes within a single set of forces. In this regard, as is stated on the Finnish Department of Defence website, there is a level of complementarity between the arrangements for the NRF and the EU battle groups. Within the EU battle group concept, it is provided that the battle group on stand-by for a particular semester will be available solely for deployment on EU operations and will not be committed or available for other duties.

Question No. 68 answered with QuestionNo. 65.
Question No. 69 answered with QuestionNo. 7.
Question No. 70 answered with QuestionNo. 11.

Health Services.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

71 Mr. McHugh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure that speech therapy services will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7529/06]

Paddy McHugh

Question:

72 Mr. McHugh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the number of speech therapists covering an area (details supplied) in County Galway has been reduced by 50%; if she will take immediate action to rectify the situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7530/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 72 together.

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

Recruitment Procedures.

Dan Boyle

Question:

73 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to complaints in relation to recruitment procedures with the Safefood agency. [7558/06]

The Food Safety Promotion Board, Safefood, is a North-South Implementation Body established under the Good Friday Agreement. Its remit is to promote awareness and knowledge of food safety issues on an all-island basis.

I am not aware of complaints in relation to recruitment procedures. However, I am advised that Safefood has received two complaints in relation to the appointment of a co-ordinator for a research network on cryptosporidium. The co-ordinator's role attracts a grant of €10,000 per annum for a period of five years to facilitate the setting up and maintenance of the research network but it is not considered by Safefood to be a contract of employment. Both complaints are currently being processed by the appropriate employment equality machinery — one within this jurisdiction and one within Northern Ireland.

Health Service Staff.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

74 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an alleged verbal assault on a member of staff by another member of staff at a hospital (details supplied) will be investigated. [7500/06]

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

Services for People with Disabilities.

Denis Naughten

Question:

75 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if core funding will be provided for community employment positions currently supporting personal social services for people with disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7523/06]

In the estimates for 2006, significant additional funding totalling €100 million has been included for the improvement of health funded support services for people with disabilities. As part of this provision, funding of €10 million has been made available to address core under-funding and core staffing issues in services provided by the voluntary 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.

Health Services.

Damien English

Question:

76 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who are on waiting lists to see consultants at Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan; the length of time each of the patients have been on the waiting list; the estimated time each will be on the list before seeing a consultant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7524/06]

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.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

77 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of general practitioners planned for the Ballymun health centre; the services which will be provided at the centre; if there will be a diabetic specialist clinic; the addiction and mental health services planned, especially for young people in the area; and the cancer screening services which will be provided. [7527/06]

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.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

78 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost thus far of the Ballymun health centre; and the way in which it compares to projected costs. [7528/06]

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.

M. J. Nolan

Question:

79 Mr. Nolan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she proposes to take to resolve the difficulties in the Health Service Executive south-eastern area, where only one chiropodist is currently employed; if her attention has been drawn to the hardship this is causing to medical card patients in particular in the area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7531/06]

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 Ring

Question:

80 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo was assessed and approved for home help; and the position regarding their application. [7532/06]

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.

Avian Flu.

Seán Crowe

Question:

81 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of other countries stockpiling anti-viral drugs to combat a possible pandemic of A1 flu virus, the preparations which have been done by her Department and the Health Service Executive to ensure Ireland could cope with such a pandemic. [7533/06]

Avian influenza, 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, Deputy Coughlan.

The health sector's role in relation to 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 is working 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 are working closely together on pandemic planning on a number of fronts; the influenza pandemic expert group is updating expert guidance and 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: surveillance, health services, public health measures, vaccines and antivirals, etc., communications, laboratories and materials management.

The Department of Health and Children has established a standing inter-departmental committee to consider issues which go beyond the health aspects of an influenza pandemic, for example, border controls and suspension of travel, travel advice, school closures, suspension of other gatherings, 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 main treatment for pandemic influenza is antiviral drugs. Antivirals can shorten the duration of the disease and alleviate symptoms. They are usually not considered effective after 48 hours from the onset of illness. Recommendations for the stockpiling of antivirals are kept under constant review by the influenza pandemic expert group.

An emergency supply of over 45,000 treatment packs of the antiviral drug, Tamiflu®, was purchased in 2004. A further 1 million treatment packs of Tamiflu® are being stockpiled. This quantity is sufficient to treat 25% of the population. Some 600,000 packs have already been delivered and the remaining 400,000 packs will be delivered this year.

Arrangements have also been made to procure a supply of the active pharmaceutical ingredient, oseltamivir phosphate powder, to treat children aged between one and five years of age. It has also been agreed that additional supplies of the other suitable antiviral drug, Relenza®, should be stockpiled. Arrangements for the purchase of this additional stock are being finalised.

The H5N1 vaccine could offer some protection against an H5N1 flu strain. Arrangements are being made to procure a strategic stockpile, which could be used as a first line of defence for priority groups, such as key health care workers and other essential workers, pending manufacture of a vaccine against the exact pandemic flu strain.

Vaccination will be the primary public health intervention in the event of flu pandemic and our plans to deal with a pandemic call for vaccines to be provided to cover the entire population as soon as a vaccine is available. Since pandemics occur when a new flu virus emerges to which people have no immunity, the vaccine can only be manufactured once the new strain emerges. Despite developments which are taking place at international level seeking to expedite the pandemic vaccine production process, it is anticipated that it will take at least four to six months from the time a pandemic flu strain emerges to develop and manufacture a vaccine. The Department of Health and Children is therefore actively pursuing an advanced purchase order for a pandemic strain vaccine.

Civil Registration Service.

Richard Bruton

Question:

82 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to an increase in the fee for photocopying birth, marriage and death certificates; and its adverse impact on people seeking to research family history; and the reason for same. [7535/06]

The administration of the civil registration service, including genealogical and family research is statutorily a matter for an tArd-Chláraitheoir, Registrar-General. I have made inquiries with an tArd-Chláraitheoir and the following is the position.

The Civil Registration Service has been engaged in a major modernisation programme in recent years. This provided for the computerisation of all the historical records, the development of a computerised registration system and major legislative reform. This has been a major investment designed to enhance the service available to the public and to make it more responsive to today's needs.

The primary function of the service is to facilitate the registration of vital events and to provide certified copies of entries in the registers to the public when required. These certificates may be required for a wide variety of purposes, both legal and administrative. The service does not engage in genealogical research but is, of course, aware of the importance of its records to those interested in family history and genealogy.

The increase in fees, which came into effect from 5 December 2005, is the first increase in 19 years and the average increase in respect of certificates is 44%. The increase in respect of a photocopy of an entry in the register, including the search fee, is 57.9%. The cost of living increase as per the consumer price index increased by approximately 68% during that period.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Michael Ring

Question:

83 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a bed was provided to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo in the Galway Regional Hospital on 15 February 2005; if not, when a bed will be provided for them. [7536/06]

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

Finian McGrath

Question:

84 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 on a waiting list; and if they will be given the maximum support. [7541/06]

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

Hospital Staff.

Dan Boyle

Question:

85 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost of non-medical consultants to each hospital for each year since 1997 to date in 2006. [7557/06]

The Deputy's question relates to human resource management issues within the Health Service Executive. As this is a matter for the executive under the Health Act 2004, my Department has requested its parliamentary affairs division to arrange to have this matter investigated and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Procedures.

Michael Lowry

Question:

86 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when hip replacement surgery will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7559/06]

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 case investigated and to reply directly to the Deputy .

Child Care Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

87 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the procedures to be followed to safeguard the well being of a juvenile deemed to be under the influence of older, unrelated persons, in danger of becoming involved in crime, and refusing to accept parental authority or control; if, in such circumstances this person can be referred for education or correction on safety reasons to an appropriate centre; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7581/06]

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.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

88 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of medical cards and doctor-only medical cards issued in Kildare in 2003, 2004 and 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7597/06]

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.

Health Services.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

89 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the evaluation of the provision of front line therapy services by the Health Service Executive as it relates to demand for same; the way in which it is intended to ensure equality of service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7598/06]

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.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

90 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the average waiting time for orthodontic services as provided by the Health Service Executive; the average waiting time for such services as provided by the former health boards in the years 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 across the categories of need; what those categories are; the plans that exist to address the waiting lists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7599/06]

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.

Medical Cards.

John McGuinness

Question:

91 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a medical card will be issued to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if a response will be expedited. [7608/06]

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.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

92 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in the commencement of a further development stage of a project (details supplied) in County Cork; and if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the necessary capital funding was approved in 2004 and it has been suggested that this has been withdrawn by the Health Service Executive, southern area. [7617/06]

The St. Patrick's Hospital, Fermoy, project is included in the HSE capital plan for 2006 as part of the rolling capital programme 2006 to 2010. The capital plan has been approved by the board of the HSE and was recently submitted to the Tánaiste for consideration. The Department is currently in discussions with the HSE on the plan.

Health Services.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

93 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure that the Health Service Executive, south-east region, proposals for cancer services transport are immediately adopted in full and that adequate funding is provided for their implementation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7620/06]

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.

Dan Boyle

Question:

94 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has seen the report of the national diabetes working group; if she will make known its contents; and her views on whether there is geographic inequality in quality of care offered for those living with type one diabetes, especially in the Cork region. [7621/06]

The chief medical officer of the Department, who chaired the national diabetes working group, submitted his report to the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children last summer. The report was forwarded to the chief executive of the Health Service Executive in October 2005. The executive is treating the matter as a priority. It is currently considering the policy guidelines issued by the Department and is putting in place a structure to put the report into action. It is my intention to make a copy of the report available on the Department's website shortly. The report did not identify geographic inequality in the quality of care available to people with type one diabetes in the Cork region.

Traveller Community.

David Stanton

Question:

95 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the further plans she has to improve circumstances of the Traveller community; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7638/06]

Since 1997 over €11 million in ongoing revenue funding has been allocated to Traveller specific health services such as the appointment of designated public health nurses for Travellers and the replication of the primary health care for Traveller project, which established a model for Traveller participation in the development of health services. Funding is allocated through the Traveller health units in each Health Service Executive area. Travellers and Traveller organisations are involved in partnership with Health Service Executive personnel through each Traveller health unit in the development of Traveller health services and in the allocation of resources.

My Department and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland are jointly committed to carrying out a Travellers' all-Ireland health study to develop and extend the information collected in a 1987 study of Travellers' health. The results of this study will inform the development of future health services for Travellers. Tenders for the conduct of this study have been received by my Department and it is expected that the study will commence later this year.

Customs and Excise.

Enda Kenny

Question:

96 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the reason all non-draught alcohol products, bottles, cans, cartons and plastic bottles, do not have a traceable excise stamp carried thereon; his views on the importance of such excise stamps; the reason it has not been possible to do this to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7503/06]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the threat to tax receipts posed by illegal sales of untaxed alcohol products is not currently at such a level as to warrant the introduction of tax stamps. Following detections by Revenue Commissioners' officers, a number of publicans have been successfully prosecuted for such offences in the last few years. However, there is no evidence that this problem is widespread or increasing. Strengthened offence and penalty provisions were introduced in the 2005 Finance Act to deal with such offences.

In addition, representatives of the Irish spirits trade have recently voiced their objections to the introduction of a tax stamps system. For producers and processors there would be the additional cost of installing and maintaining the stamping machinery and technical difficulties leading to reduced efficiency for bottling and other packaging. There would also be a burden for importers who would have to either arrange for the stamps to be affixed in the country of origin, or for stamping and repackaging after importation. At present the costs to the trade would be disproportionate to the risks of illegal sales. It is not proposed to introduce tax stamping for alcohol products at this stage. However, the situation will be kept under review.

Departmental Offices.

Denis Naughten

Question:

97 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance if he has approved the sanction for a temporarydistrict livestock office in Drumshambo, County Leitrim; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7521/06]

On foot of Department of Finance sanction, the Commissioners of Public Works are seeking accommodation in Drumshambo for a temporary district veterinary office, pending the construction of the dedicated offices in the town. Advertisements have been placed in the local and national press inviting offers by 24 February 2006 from interested persons who might have suitable accommodation for lease. All offers received by then will be assessed with reference to suitability and cost.

Broadcasting Legislation

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

98 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has completed the review of the submissions he received regarding the televising of the Ryder Cup free to air; if he will ensure that same will be available directly to RTE viewers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7510/06]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

99 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he intends to amend the Broadcasting (Major Events Coverage) Act 1999 (Designation of Major Events) Order 2003 to include the Ryder Cup and the European Rugby Union Cup in the schedule of events free to air; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7511/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 98 and 99 together.

In December 2005 I announced my intention to commence a review of designated events under section 9 of the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) (Amendment) Act 2003. The purpose of the review is to consider whether the list of events designated in 2003 should be amended. As part of the review I initiated a public consultation process. My Department also wrote to sporting organisations and broadcasters. I have received submissions from event organisers, broadcasters and members of the public via written submission, e-mail and on an Internet forum. A report on the review is being prepared in my Department and I intend to complete the review shortly.

If, following the review, I decide to amend the list of designated events, then, in accordance with the provisions of the Broadcasting (Major Events Television Coverage) Act 1999, I will publish my intention to do so and seek the views of interested parties. This would involve a further formal consultation with event organisers and broadcasters. EU approval would also be required before I could lay an order before both Houses of the Oireachtas to give effect to the designation.

The designation of events as events of major importance to society provides a right of access to qualifying broadcasters, that is, broadcasters who provide near universal coverage, to provide coverage of a designated event on free television services subject to normal commercial considerations for broadcasting rights.

State Agencies.

Martin Ferris

Question:

100 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there have been a number of complaints from ESB customers regarding employees of the company contracted to carry out meter inspections (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7525/06]

The issue of ESB meter inspections is a day-to-day operational matter for the ESB and not one in which I have a function. However, in order to be helpful to the Deputy, I wish to point out that the ESB customer complaints arbitrator, ELCOM, deals with unresolved complaints relating to metering. The arbitrator's recommendations are binding on ESB but are not binding on customers, who can take whatever further action they wish.

Electricity Charges.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

101 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps available to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12 who is not being charged the correct rate per unit of electricity by a landlord, who has installed a slot meter; if there are regulations in place to ensure that the rate per unit charged by a landlord does not exceed the metered amount; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7539/06]

On foot of recent representations made to me on this specific issue, my Department has already referred the matter for investigation to the Commission for Energy Regulation, which is the statutory body responsible for regulation of the electricity market. I am advised that an investigation is under way and the commission will report back to me as soon as possible.

Natural Gas Grid.

Dan Boyle

Question:

102 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the final costs of infrastructure required to bring natural gas to Galway; and the comparison between the end cost and the original projected cost. [7554/06]

Dan Boyle

Question:

103 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the State or EU funds used in developing infrastructure for bringing natural gas to Galway; if such State funding was given directly or in the form of deferred dividend payments from Bord Gáis. [7555/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 103 together.

The cost of this project is a commercial matter for the company. While any capital expenditure by Bord Gáis Éireann is subject to my approval, given with the consent of the Minister for Finance, the actual cost is commercially sensitive information in a liberalised market. BGE financed this project from its own resources and did not receive any State or EU funding. There was no deferral of the annual dividend payment. Consent under section 39A of the Gas Act 1976, as amended, to construct the Galway spur pipeline was issued by the CER in August 2002. Under section 8 of the Gas Acts 1976, as amended by section 11 of the Gas (Amendment) Act 2002, Bord Gáis Éireann can only develop a system for the supply of natural gas that is economically viable.

Emigrant Support Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

104 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the intervention he has made or plans to make in the effort to secure rights of residency for Irish people working in the USA; his assessment of the present views of the US Legislature towards granting long-term residency to persons who have work permits and towards allowing the undocumented workers to regularise their position and be permitted to apply for work permits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7540/06]

The current legislative debate on immigration reform in the US Congress involves differing approaches and strongly held opinions. Some members of Congress, for example, are strongly opposed to any proposals which would allow undocumented people the opportunity to regularise their status. Another point of divergence surrounds discussion of the length of time which bearers of a new category of worker visa, were it to be introduced, might be permitted to remain in the US. Some US legislators argue that the period of residence must be finite while others, such as Senators Kennedy and McCain, believe — as we do — that bearers of such worker visas should have open to them a path to permanent residency. It is clear that achieving the necessary compromise remains a formidable challenge.

The Government will continue to lobby intensively on this issue in the critical period ahead, including over the St. Patrick's Day period, emphasising our support for measures that would allow the undocumented an opportunity to regularise their residency status. In this regard, we will continue to make known our support for the inclusion in any final compromise legislation of the key elements of the approach put forward by Senators Kennedy and McCain.

There is, of course, considerable legal migration by Irish people to the US prompted in part by transfers within US companies but also, increasingly, by the needs of Irish companies establishing a presence in the US. In 2004, over 18,000 non-immigrant worker visas were issued to Irish citizens, with most of these sponsored by their employers. There are possibilities for renewal of certain categories of worker visas.

The network of Irish immigration centres is a valuable resource in providing information and advice on possible options. These centres are located across the US and work closely with the embassy in Washington and with our consulates-general in Boston, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. Their work is strongly supported by the Government, including through substantial annual funding.

Against a background of huge domestic sensitivity in the US on the immigration issue, the Deputy can be assured that the overall situation is receiving the most rigorous ongoing monitoring and assessment.

Factories Regulations.

David Stanton

Question:

105 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if SI 203 of 1972, Factories (Woodworking Machinery) Regulations 1972, is still in force; if the statutory instrument has been superseded or amended since 1972; his views on bringing forward a new statutory instrument to reflect the technological advances that have been made in the area of woodworking machinery since 1972; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7633/06]

The Factories (Woodworking Machinery) Regulations 1972, SI 203 of 1972, continue in force unchanged and I have no immediate plans to replace them. However, significant work has already commenced on the rationalisation of occupational health and safety legislation generally. For example, the Health and Safety Authority is currently considering submissions received on foot of the public consultation process for draft updated safety, health and welfare at work — construction — regulations and new draft safety, health and welfare — general application — regulations, which include updated proposals on the use of work equipment generally. I understand from the Health and Safety Authority that there will be requirements on employers concerning the use of all machinery in these new regulations. Such requirements will be based on the principles of hazard identification and risk assessment.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Richard Bruton

Question:

106 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the maximum period of backdated payments which his Department will make where persons were unaware of their entitlements; the reason this date is set at a shorter period than applies in respect of ordinary debts or rights of his Department to pursue overpayments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7504/06]

The legislative provisions on late claims for social welfare payments are set out in section 241 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005 and in statutory instruments. These provisions set out the times within which a person must claim the disqualifications which apply where a claim is made late and the circumstances in which the time limits may be extended. All late claims are determined in accordance with legislation. It is a requirement that persons claim their entitlements within a specific period and if they fail to do so, a statutory disqualification is incurred.

Lack of knowledge by itself is not regarded as a sufficient reason for not claiming in time. The Department publishes information leaflets as widely as possible and advertises changes of legislation in the national press. Information offices are located throughout the country for people to make inquiries as to their entitlements. Information is also available through the wide network of citizens' information centres under the auspices of Comhairle. Decisions on late claims are made by a deciding officer who must consider what is a reasonable level of knowledge to be expected in the particular case and each case is examined on its own merits.

Since 1997, a number of improvements have been made to the provisions relating to late social welfare claims. For instance, prior to 1997, arrears of contributory pension claims were limited to either three months or six months before the date of claim. However, following changes in legislation, arrears can be paid in full on claims made on or after 1 January 1997 for 12 months in the case of old age contributory pension, orphan's contributory allowance, retirement pension and widow's and widower's contributory pension. Where a claim under these schemes is more than 12 months late, the period of backdating may be extended and payment made on a scaled basis.

The legislation also provides for payment to be made on foot of late claims in the case of a range of other schemes for a period of six months prior to the date of claim, provided there was good cause for the late claim. In the case of invalidity pension, backdating up to six months is not dependent on good cause. In the case of child benefit, payment can be made from the date of entitlement where good cause existed for the failure to claim on time.

The legislation now provides for relaxation of the restrictions on backdating late claims under all schemes apart from unemployment benefit, unemployment assistance, farm assist and supplementary welfare allowance. The legislation also provides for further payment to be made, up to the level of full retrospection, where circumstances warrant, where: the delay was due to incorrect information having been given by my Department; illness or force majeure prevented a person from claiming earlier; or the person is dependent on the arrears of payment to relieve financial indebtedness.

Limitations on backdating claims are long-standing features of social welfare provisions both here and in other jurisdictions. These limitations serve a number of purposes, which vary with the nature of the benefit involved.

A common purpose in all schemes is to facilitate financial management. If there were no limitation on backdating, the State could be faced with an accumulated liability in respect of long-delayed claims. Another factor is the need to exercise supervision and control functions concerning entitlement to payment. It is necessary to establish that all conditions governing a scheme were satisfied during the period for which backdating of payment is sought.

Payments which are means-tested are also subject to limitations regarding back-dating, on the basis that need is the fundamental requirement for entitlement and delay in claiming such payments may not be consistent with a need for such support.

The provisions relating to late claims have been subjected to close scrutiny over the years. I am satisfied that the current provisions strike a reasonable balance between, on the one hand, the need to exercise supervision and control of claims, and the requirements of sound financial management and control of public expenditure and, on the other hand, the need for appropriate recognition to be given to cases of genuine hardship or difficulty.

A social welfare overpayment occurs when a person is paid in excess of his or her entitlement. A deciding officer of the department determines the period and amount of the excess payment. It is departmental policy to maximise the recovery of moneys overpaid in order to give due regard to the interests of taxpayers and social insurance contributors who finance social welfare payments. In determining the actual amount to be repaid and the method of recovery, the Department takes into account the circumstances of the person overpaid and the circumstances in which the overpayment occurred. Persons are given the opportunity to give their views on the assessment of the overpayment and the proposed method of recovery. They can also bring to the attention of the Department any facts or circumstances they consider relevant to the recovery of the overpayment. In addition the amount of the overpayment to be repaid may be deferred, suspended, reduced or cancelled depending on the circumstances of the case.

If recovery of an overpayment is to made by making deductions from ongoing social welfare payments, the agreement of the person concerned is first sought if the arrangement for recovery of the overpayment would result in the person's weekly social welfare payment falling below the supplementary welfare allowance rate appropriate to them.

Michael Ring

Question:

107 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo living in County Kildare, will be approved and awarded the rent supplement following their appeal and in view of their circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7505/06]

Rent supplements are available to eligible people through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. Rent supplement is not payable to people in full-time education. However, an exception is made for people who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments on a long-term basis who wish to return to full-time education in order to progress from welfare to work. Neither I nor my Department has any function in determining entitlement in individual cases.

The executive has advised that it has thoroughly examined all information available to it about the circumstances of the person concerned, in considering her application for rent supplement in her college location, and has determined that she is not eligible on the basis that she is a full-time student. It has further advised that this decision has been upheld by the executive's designated appeals officer.

Social Insurance.

John Perry

Question:

108 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has received correspondence (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the circumstances outlined; if the necessary credits will be given for the years they were not allowed to sign; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7631/06]

The Deputy will be aware that the case in question has been a subject of previous correspondence in relation to the person's entitlement to a reduced rate contributory pension. The question at issue at this stage relates to entitlement to credited contributions, retrospectively for periods spent outside the workforce.

PRSI credited contributions are an integral part of the social insurance system. The primary purpose of PRSI credits is to secure social welfare benefits and pensions of insured workers by covering gaps in insurance where workers are not in a position to pay PRSI, such as during periods of unemployment, illness or caring. In order to qualify for social insurance credits a person must have previously worked and paid PRSI at the ordinary or modified rate of contribution, must have paid or credited contributions in the last two contribution years and must show evidence of underlying entitlement to the contingency giving rise to the credited contribution, such as illness, unemployment or maternity. In addition, credited contributions are provided in particular circumstances for periods of studying or training or when undertaking work as a volunteer development worker.

If, at any stage since starting work, a claimant develops a gap of more than two complete tax years in his or her social insurance record, he or she will not be entitled to credits and will need to return to work and pay PRSI contributions for a further 26 weeks before eligibility for credits is restored. Contributions paid at Classes S, J, K or M cannot be used to satisfy this condition.

Separate arrangements have been put in place to protect the long-term social insurance pensions of men and women who spend periods outside the workforce for caring purposes under the homemakers scheme. A scheme providing the option of making voluntary PRSI contributions also exists which allows previously insured workers to maintain their entitlement to long-term benefits such as old age pension.

The range of opportunities available to insured workers to maintain and build a contribution record is quite comprehensive but consistently reinforces the underlying premise that credits are linked to a temporary detachment from the labour force. Previously, as now, quite a number of women who were not in receipt of a social welfare payment, for example because of means, but who can shown an underlying entitlement to that payment were awarded credited contributions. There is no scope to award credited contributions retrospectively in the circumstances outlined.

Traveller Community.

David Stanton

Question:

109 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the further plans he has to improve circumstances of the Traveller community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7640/06]

The national action plan against poverty and social exclusion, NAP/inclusion, which recognises Travellers as a vulnerable group, includes the objective to improve their life experience through the provision of appropriate education, health and housing services and to remove any remaining barriers to their full participation in the work and social life of the country. To that end a number of targets, specifically for travellers, have been set in the plans covering these areas.

My Department, through the office for social inclusion, OSI, has responsibility for overseeing the implementation and co-ordination of the NAP/inclusion process. The next NAP/inclusion, to cover the period 2006-08, is due in September this year. An extensive consultation process has been undertaken, aimed at informing the development of the next NAP/inclusion. This process highlighted the fact that Travellers' issues should remain a priority in the new plan.

The NAP/inclusion consultation process informs policy makers and social partners considering social issues and contributes to the formulation of realistic targets in the next social partnership agreement, NAP/inclusion and national development plan. My Department is represented on the high level group of senior officials which is overseeing progress on Traveller issues. As far as the social welfare system specifically is concerned, my Department has set out in its customer service charter and action plans the commitments, in terms of service delivery, for all customers including those who are members of the Traveller community.

Groups such as Travellers can access services such as the employment support services, including the back to education and the back to work schemes, in the same way as for other members of the community. These supports aim to help people access employment or to enhance their education so as to improve their opportunities for employment and training.

Search and Rescue Service.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

110 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport the strength of the air and sea rescue service; if any augmentation is required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7592/06]

The Irish Coast Guard of my Department manages Ireland's air and sea rescue services and I am satisfied that the arrangements in place compare favourably with best international practice. Search and rescue services are provided through a combination of emergency response services provided by the coast guard and other services provided by a number of charitable and voluntary organisations dedicated to search and rescue.

The principal air and sea rescue resources in Ireland are Coast Guard 24-hour, all-weather helicopters based at Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo Airports, over 50 coast guard units around the coast, RNLI Lifeboats and the community inshore rescue service. The Irish Coast Guard is also assisted, when required, by the Irish Air Corps and the Irish Naval Service. The Irish Coast Guard and its UK equivalent, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, co-operate in air and sea rescue should the need arise.

The Irish Coast Guard co-ordinates air and sea search and rescue operations, including those services provided by charitable and voluntary organisations. It also ensures that appropriate personnel, training, equipment and facilities are in place among its many declared resources. Coast guard rescue co-ordination centres at Dublin, Malin Head and Valentia and a nation-wide communications network are positioned and equipped to receive distress calls and co-ordinate response to incidents around the coastline and sea areas.

Road Network.

Liam Aylward

Question:

111 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the huge number of people who are excluded from using the motorways here due to the lack of service stops; his plans to provide such facilities on all motorways here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7615/06]

Until very recently the length of completed motorways in Ireland was such that only relatively short lengths existed. With new sections of the major interurban routes being opened, the length of continuous motorways is expanding especially on routes such as the M1, the M-N4 and the M-N7. I recently asked the NRA, which has responsibility in the area, to review its stated policy of avoiding the placement of service areas on motorways. It has indicated that the provision of service areas on motorways and dual carriageways at intervals of approximately 50 to 60 km is one of the options under consideration by it.

Road Traffic Offences.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

112 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport if he will provide information to this Deputy within a reasonable time of the minimum and maximum penalty that applies to each road traffic offence. [7622/06]

The road traffic Acts provide for a range of penalties which consist of maximum financial penalties in respect of all offences and terms of imprisonment in respect of certain offences. Unless a penalty is expressly specified in respect of a particular offence in the road traffic Acts, the general penalty applies. This is a maximum fine of €800 for a first offence and a maximum of €1,500 for a second or subsequent offence. Where a third or subsequent offence is committed within any period of 12 consecutive months, the court can impose a maximum fine of €1,500, and-or up to three months imprisonment.

The vast majority of the financial penalties which apply under the road traffic Acts were revised in 2002 and details of the monetary penalty in respect of each statutory provision are set out in section 23 of the Road Traffic Act 2002. The level of fine that may be imposed in any individual case is at the discretion of the courts. Details of monetary penalties set post-2002 are contained in section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 2003, in sections 18, 19, 23, 30 and 34 of the Road Traffic Act 2004 and in section 138 of the Railway Safety Act 2005.

Search and Rescue Service.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

113 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Transport the reason a person from Clare Island, County Mayo, in advanced labour and a patient of Mayo General Hospital, who was airlifted by the Air Corps search and rescue team at 4.45 a.m. on 14 February 2006 did not arrive in Mayo General Hospital until 3.35 p.m. on 15 February 2006 due to current civil aviation law where a helicopter with two or more passengers can only land at an airport and not at a hospital, in this case Sligo Airport, where the woman was then moved by taxi to Mayo General Hospital; his views on whether this is totally unnecessary; if he intends to introduce a change in this law to avoid such a thing happening in the future, which is totally unnecessary and dangerous in emergency cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7495/06]

The Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, has, since its establishment in 1994, been responsible for the regulation of aviation safety, including that of helicopters, in accordance with internationally agreed standards. The authority has informed me that, because the helicopter was carrying passengers as well as the woman in labour it was not permitted to land at an unapproved landing site. When a search and rescue helicopter is only carrying a casualty as well as its crew it is permitted to land at an unapproved site in accordance with international search and rescue regulations. These search and rescue regulations are international safety regulations which adhere to the highest emergency and safety standards and as such the IAA is not in a position to amend them.

Rail Network.

Pat Breen

Question:

114 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Transport further to his failure to address the issue in his response to a submission in Dáil Éireann on 16 February 2006, if the Government intends to subsidise the operations of Iarnród Éireann between Ennis and Galway and subsequent routes on the western rail corridor when it re-opens, similarly to the other subsidised routes on the Iarnród Éireann network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7549/06]

I have recently received proposals from Iarnród Éireann in respect of phase one of the Ennis to Athenry section of the western rail corridor. My Department is currently assessing these proposals and I will be in a position to make a decision on the funding of the capital and current costs of the line following completion of the assessment.

Driving Tests.

Michael Lowry

Question:

115 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Transport if a CPC certificate can be issued to a person who has passed each section of the test separately; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7560/06]

The Chartered Institute of Transport and Logistics in Ireland, CILTI, is the examining body responsible for conducting the certificate of professional competence, CPC, examinations in Ireland.

The CPC examination comprises two papers, a morning and afternoon paper. Each paper is two and a half hours duration. The candidate must receive an overall pass mark of 60%. There is also an additional requirement of having to achieve minimum of 50% in each paper. A special provision exists for candidates who fail to achieve the overall 60% requirement but who achieve 60% or over in either paper one or paper two and who also achieve a minimum 50% in the other paper. Such candidates will be required to resit the failed paper only, provided the failed paper exceeds the 50% minimum requirement.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

116 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Transport when additional driver testers will be appointed in a location (details supplied) in County Cork; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that since January 2006, there was a two week period when no tests were carried out; and if his attention has further been drawn to the significant number of applicants awaiting tests in this area. [7616/06]

There are currently 12 driver testers assigned to the Cork region covering nine driving test centres including Mallow. The level of service at this test centre is generally consistent with service levels in other centres. The allocation of driver testers to test centres is kept under review having regard to the demand for tests.

As part of a package of measures to deal with the backlog of driver testing applications, my Department is in the process of recruiting extra driver testers. A total of seven staff members from the Department of Agriculture and Food have commenced training as driving testers in my Department and, subject to passing the course, will be based in various regional locations around the country, including the Cork region.

My Department is also in the process of recruiting ten driver testers through an open recruitment competition organised by the Public Appointments Service. It is anticipated that successful candidates will commence training in April and will commence testing in June 2006. Occasionally, for operational reasons, some test centres may not have a driver tester assigned during a particular period.

Road Traffic Offences.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

117 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the stance Ireland has taken on the harmonisation across all European states of the blood-alcohol threshold level for driving; the action he has taken to consider lowering the limit here; and if he will reach his conclusion before the end of the current road safety strategy. [7623/06]

While the European Commission has recommended that all EU member states should move to introduce a blood-alcohol limit of 50 mg per 100 ml of blood, there are no legislative proposals at EU level for harmonisation of blood alcohol levels.

The position of the Government on drink driving policy is set out in a comprehensive manner in the road safety strategy 2004-06. This recognises our priority is to improve compliance with the existing 80 mg per 100 ml of blood limit rather than move to new limits. We apply an 80 mg limit with very strict application of driving disqualification. Lower blood-alcohol limits operating in some countries do not necessarily attract such strict penalties.

The statistics indicate that those detected for drink driving have blood-alcohol levels well in excess of the legal limit. Some 89% of blood and urine specimens and 81% of breath specimens analysed in 2003 by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety were above the alcohol limit for driving. However, it is more worrying that over half of those who failed blood or urine tests and almost one third of those who failed breath tests had alcohol contents at least twice as high as the legal limit. The limit, therefore, is being ignored by a core number of drivers who refuse to obey the law.

I will introduce legislation during the current Dáil session for the purpose of extending the basis for which a roadside breath test can be requested. The question of reducing the limit will be kept under review but the priority at present is to increase the chances of being breathalysed and heighten the deterrent effect.

Proposed Legislation.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

118 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the changes in law he intends making in respect of mandatory retesting for drivers convicted under a drink-driving offence; the way in which and when he proposes to legislate for same; the drink-driving offences which the proposal will apply to; the other road traffic offences which the proposal will apply to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7625/06]

I am considering the matter raised by the Deputy in the context of revisions to road safety legislation generally, which I intend to bring to Government shortly.

Road Traffic Offences.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

119 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the amount accruing to his Department in 2005 from penalties imposed under section 22 of the Road Traffic Act 1994; the number of cases this represents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7626/06]

The total value of receipts to the Department of Transport in 2005 from penalties imposed under section 22 of the Road Traffic Act 1994 was €57,103. Data on the number of cases this amount represents would be available from the Courts Service.

Road Safety.

David Stanton

Question:

120 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Transport his plans to encourage more additional training of drivers in order to reduce the number of road accidents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7635/06]

The road safety strategy 2004-06 stated that compulsory initial practical training for motorcyclists would be introduced. A working group comprising motorcycle interests has been considering the appropriate standards that will apply in this area and the standards that instructors must comply with. Overseeing the introduction of such training will be the responsibility of the proposed road safety authority. Primary legislation is necessary to facilitate the introduction of compulsory initial practical training for motorcyclists and the necessary amendment to the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2004 will be brought forward as soon as practicable.

In order to ensure that a high standard of instruction is available to drivers proposals developed by my Department for the regulation and quality assurance of driving instruction will involve a test of the competence of individual driving instructors. A working group comprising representatives of my Department and of instruction interests has formulated the design of the standards that a driving instructor must meet. The standard will set out criteria for entry to the driving instructor profession and the three part exam comprising a written exam, a practical driving test and a test of instructional capability that instructors will have to pass in order to be registered.

Responsibility for implementing the standard of driving instruction and establishing a register of driving instructors will be with the proposed road safety authority. I am considering what arrangements will be put in place to oversee implementation of the standard in the context of the establishment of the authority. As part of this process the standard referred to above will form the basis for a consultation document to be issued in the next few months which will set out the requirements that driving instructors will have to comply with in order to be registered.

National Drugs Strategy.

Enda Kenny

Question:

121 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the amount which has been spent in tackling drug abuse by each regional drug task forces since their establishment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7534/06]

Ten regional drugs task forces, RDTFs, have been established covering all parts of the country that are not already serviced by one of the 14 local drugs task forces. The RDTFs work in a partnership manner, similar to the local drugs task forces, and are made up of nominees from State agencies working in the region, the community and voluntary sectors and elected public representatives.

Following the assessment of regional plans submitted by the RDTFs, approvals were granted in September 2005 and allocations totalling just under €5 million on an annual basis, exclusive of a contribution towards administrative costs, were made to the ten regional drugs task forces. Work on the implementation of the projects identified in these plans then commenced. To date a total of €659,120 has been drawn down by the RDTFs. Details of the allocations and spend of the ten RDTFs are set as follows. I am satisfied with the rate of progress being made by the RDTFs so far and I expect that the full €5 million allocated will be expended this year.

Regional Drugs Task Force

Allocation (Excluding Administration)

Total Draw Down to 20/2/06

South East

665,000

362,500

Southern

565,000

53,200

East Coast (Greater Dublin area)

760,000

12,500

South West (Greater Dublin area)

735,000

30,000

Northern Area (Greater Dublin area)

509,000

30,000

North Eastern

410,000

30,000

Mid-Western

421,700

55,000

Western

340,000

30,000

Midland

320,000

0

North West

271,760

55,920

Total

4,997,460

659,120

Grant Payments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

122 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of grant applications submitted or received in his Department from locally based community groups here in the past 12 months; the type of projects he supported, if sporting, cultural, technological or others; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7561/06]

My Department offers a wide range of schemes, which support locally based community groups. Due to the diverse nature of these activities a detailed breakdown of the number of grant applications submitted or received in my Department from locally based community groups in the past 12 months is not readily available. However, if the Deputy would like information on a particular scheme, I would be glad to seek to provide such details to him.

Traveller Community.

David Stanton

Question:

123 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the further plans he has to improve circumstances of the Traveller community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7636/06]

My Department funds a number of projects which provide Traveller support and aim to improve the circumstances of the Traveller community. The details are given in the following table.

Travellers are one of a number of target groups that benefit under the community development programme. While a significant number of the 185 projects within the programme would identify Travellers among beneficiaries of their activities, services, 20 projects specifically focus on providing Traveller support. Training courses, support groups, provision of information, work experience, and child care provision are examples of the type of supports typically made available.

The local development social inclusion programme, LDSIP, aims to counter disadvantage and to promote equality and social and economic inclusion through the provision of funding and support to local partnerships. Area partnerships and community partnerships across the country run programmes and courses that specifically target the Traveller community under the LDSIP. These include projects that meet the needs of Traveller men concerning stabling, training and economics of their horses and also acts as a forum for development work with Traveller men; primary health care training, preparing Traveller women to be health promotion workers in their community and also works with Traveller men, through training; dedicated homework clubs for and youth workers for Traveller children; projects that aim to provide family support and educational opportunities for Travellers; and active citizen initiatives. Also, Navan Travellers workshop, a community partnership set up with a primary focus on the Traveller community, received €168,000 through LDSIP in 2005.

My Department is also represented on the high level group on Travellers' issues, whose report is due to be published shortly. The Department will play its part in the implementation of the recommendations of this report. Traveller-specific groups funded under community and local development programme 2005.

Project

Funded under

2005 Core Budget

2005 Once off Grants

Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project (Labre Park)

CDP

64,500

0

Blanchardstown Travellers

CDP

86,500

Bray Travellers Dev. Network

CDP

94,460

5,500

Clondalkin Travellers CDP

CDP

100,700

Cork Traveller Visibility Group

CDP

96,200

167,418

Donegal Travellers

CDP

100,000

4,500

Galway Travellers CDP

CDP

106,900

43,200

Kerry Travellers CDP

CDP

114,400

9,000

Limerick Travellers CDP

CDP

96,900

National Traveller Women’s Forum

CDP

86,400

0

Northside Travellers CDP

CDP

93,800

0

Pavee Point Specialist Support Agency

CDP

160,967

0

Southside Travellers Action Group

CDP

80,500

3,000

St. Margaret’s Traveller Centre

CDP

79,000

10,380

TACCTIC

CDP

50,700

Tallaght Travellers CDP

CDP

102,800

Tipperary Travellers

CDP

70,500

Tullamore Travellers CDP

CDP

108,040

2,700

Waterford Travellers

CDP

102,200

18,520

Wicklow Travellers

CDP

95,100

7,000

West Cork (Clonakilty) Travellers CFG

CDP

53,000

13,500

Navan Travellers Workshops Ltd

LDSIP

168,000

N/A

Traveller Placement Programme

CDP

58,690

TOTAL CDP

2,170,257

284,718

CDP = Community Development Programme.

LDSIP = Local Development Social Inclusion Programme.

Funding scheme to support the role of federations, networks and umbrella bodies in the community and voluntary sector is as follows: National Traveller Women's Forum, €141,000 over three years 2003-06, €47,000 per annum. Programme of support to national anti-poverty networks is as follows: Irish Traveller Movement, €300,440 over two years 2005-06, €150,220 per annum. Training and supports scheme is as follows: The National Association of Travellers Centres, €105,000 over three years 2003-06, €35,000 per annum, Exchange House Travellers Service, €60,000 over three years 2003-06, €20,000 per annum.

The social economy programme transferred to my Department on 1 January 2006. I have renamed this programme the community services programme to reflect the fact that I intend to change the nature of the programme from a labour market training scheme to a scheme to provide support for essential community services. I have secured an additional €5 million to fund new projects in 2006. Projects to support the economic integration of Travellers will be eligible to apply to apply for this funding.

Question No. 124 withdrawn.

Poultry Industry.

Dan Neville

Question:

125 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department at any time compensated for the slaughter of poultry following an outbreak of mycoplasma gallisepticum. [7563/06]

My Department has not previously paid compensation following an outbreak of mycoplasma gallisepticum. Compensation is normally paid only where my Department requires the compulsory slaughter of a herd or flock, which it does not in the case of an outbreak of mycoplasma gallisepticum. When this particular disease is detected in the commercial poultry industry, it is normal practice for the producer to have the flock slaughtered on a voluntary basis at their own expense.

Sugar Beet Sector.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

126 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food further to CAP reform in respect of the EU sugar regime, which she negotiated, the extent to which Irish beet growers are likely to have sufficient quota for viability; if such can be used for biofuel production; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7564/06]

Decisions on the future of sugar beet growing in Ireland for sugar production are a matter for Irish Sugar Limited and the growers concerned, having regard to all relevant factors including the reformed EU sugar regime. The new regime provides for compensation arrangements, including restructuring aid in the event of a decision to cease sugar production. To qualify under the restructuring scheme, the sugar processor would have to renounce the sugar quota and close a sugar factory. To be eligible for the maximum rate of restructuring aid, the factory being closed would have to be fully dismantled. Definitive arrangements for the operations of the restructuring scheme must await adoption of the Commission's implementing rules.

The question of establishing a biofuel manufacturing enterprise based on sugar beet would similarly be a matter for commercial decision for interested parties. There is no quantitative restriction on the growing of sugar beet for biofuel production purposes. The budget announcement by the Minister for Finance of a major extension of excise relief on pilot biofuel projects should encourage the production of crops for the manufacture of liquid biofuels.

The Commission intends to include sugar beet among the crops eligible under the energy crops scheme. As part of the EU strategy for biofuels, it is intended to review the operation of the energy crops scheme during the coming year and in that context I will be seeking to have the scheme made more attractive for farmers.

Grant Payments.

John McGuinness

Question:

127 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the farm payments made to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary will be reviewed; if the correct acreage is being used; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7607/06]

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 76.95 entitlements during the reference period, the application received from him on 13 May 2005, declared a total of 68.18 hectares. Therefore, the payments which issued to the person named represent the full sum due, based on the hectares declared.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

128 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if an application under the EU single farm payment where a person (details supplied) in County Cork has lost a percentage of their payment by not consolidating their entitlements will be examined; and if they can now consolidate their entitlements and receive the full payment. [7618/06]

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 67.10 entitlements during the reference period, the application received from him on 13 May 2005, declared a total of 56.66 hectares. Therefore, the payment of €22,074.77, which issued to the person named on 1 December 2005, represented the full sum due, based on the hectares declared.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

129 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when payment will be approved and issued in respect of the EU single farm payment scheme on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [7619/06]

The person named submitted an application under the single payment scheme on 11 May 2005. The person named also applied to have his entitlements consolidated under the single payment scheme. This application has been processed and payment will issue shortly.

Milk Quota.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

130 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the procedure for a milk producer who has extra milk quota that is required for use by a local cheese manufacturer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7629/06]

A producer may sell milk to a registered milk purchaser provided some or all of the quota has been assigned to that purchaser. If the cheese manufacturer is a registered milk purchaser, the producer can transfer unused quota to it from the existing milk purchaser, by submitting the appropriate notifications to both concerns and then commencing deliveries. Generally deliveries may not commence until the start of the second quarter after the quarter in which the notifications are sent. This notification process may be waived with my approval.

If the cheese manufacturer is not a registered cheese maker, no producer can sell milk directly to it. In this case the cheese manufacturer may wish to consider registering as a milk purchaser under the milk quota regulations and should contact my Department in this regard.

Residency Permits.

Michael Noonan

Question:

131 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will issue a travel document to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick to enable them to travel to London to obtain a passport from the embassy there in respect of their application for permission to remain here on the basis of parentage of an Irish born child; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7513/06]

The applicant in question applied for permission to remain in Ireland, on the basis of being the parent of an Irish born child, born before 1 January 2005, in accordance with the revised arrangements announced by me on 15 January 2005. The application is under review and I will notify the Deputy as soon as the application has been processed to a conclusion.

Road Traffic Offences.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

132 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of people who have been prosecuted each year from 2000 to date in 2006 for driving a small public service vehicle or taxi without the required licence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7542/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the number of people who have been prosecuted each year from 2000 to 2005 for driving a small public service vehicle or taxi without the required licence is set out in the following table. A number of detections in 2005 will result in prosecutions in 2006. Statistics for 2006 are not yet available.

Year

Numbers Prosecuted

2001

46

2002

99

2003

68

2004

63

2005*

27

* Statistics are provisional, operational and liable to change.

Registration of Title.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

133 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to a land registry application for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7546/06]

I wish to inform the Deputy that I have requested the Land Registry to contact her directly concerning the current position of the application in question.

Public Order Offences.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

134 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the serious disruption to public order in Leixlip village, County Kildare on weekend nights into the early hours of the morning which is exacerbated by the late opening of take aways and restaurants on the Main Street, which keeps youngsters hanging around the village after night clubs have closed; if the Garda Síochána locally intends to take action with a view to limiting such opening hours; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7550/06]

Strong provisions are in place to combat anti-social and unlawful behaviour. The primary basis for the law regarding public order offences is the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, which modernised the law in this regard. Furthermore, because of my concerns about the abuse of alcohol and its contribution to public order offending and broader social problems, I brought forward tough new provisions to deal with alcohol abuse and its effect on public order in the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003. One of the provisions of the Act is to broaden the application of the temporary closure order penalty, which was originally introduced to combat underage drinking, to cover also convictions for a series of offences, such as a licensee supplying intoxicating liquor to drunken persons and permitting disorderly conduct on the licensed premises.

The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 has also been enacted, the main purpose of which is to provide the Garda Síochána with additional powers to deal with late night street violence and anti-social conduct attributable to excessive drinking. It does this by providing for the closure of premises such as pubs, off-licences, late night clubs and food premises where there is disorder or noise on or close to the premises, as well as the making of exclusion orders on individuals convicted of a range of public order offences, in addition to any penalty they might receive under the 1994 Public Order Act. Operation Encounter, an ongoing operation introduced by the Garda Commissioner in 2002, addresses public disorder and anti-social behaviour by targeting offences under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994 and the Intoxicating Liquor Acts 1988 and 2003.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that local Garda management is aware of the ongoing anti-social behaviour problems in Leixlip village at weekends. The Garda authorities have recently served notices under section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2003 on the owners of two fast food outlets in the area. The local authority also has the power to introduce by-laws restricting the consumption of alcohol on the street.

In addition to regular patrols, a Garda van is deployed every Saturday night specifically tasked with tackling the problems outlined by the Deputy. This enforcement activity by local Garda personnel is supplemented by the divisional task force and traffic corps personnel as well as the district patrol car and detective unit.

I am also informed by the Garda authorities, which are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength, all ranks, of Leixlip Garda station at 31 December 1997 and 31 December 2005 was 11 and 25, respectively. This represents an increase of 14, or 127%, in the number of gardaí allocated to Leixlip Garda station during this period. Levels are constantly monitored and reviewed to meet the policing needs of the area. Local Garda management is satisfied with the current personnel levels in Leixlip.

Deportation Orders.

Willie Penrose

Question:

135 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he will take to ensure that an application for residency status by a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath which is based on humanitarian considerations and the fact that the person has been married since the application was made, is immediately dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7551/06]

The person concerned arrived in the State on 10 December 1998 and claimed asylum. His claim for refugee status was considered under the process then applicable and was refused by the asylum division of my Department. He was notified of the decision on 1 March 2000. His subsequent appeal was refused by the Office of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and he was notified of this recommendation by letter on 14 November 2000.

In accordance with section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 the person concerned was also informed on 14 November 2000 that the Minister proposed to make a deportation order in respect of him. He was, in accordance with the Act, given the options of making representations within 15 working days setting out the reasons he should not be deported but be allowed to remain temporarily in the State; leaving the State before the order was made; or consenting to the making of a deportation order. Representations setting out reasons he should not be deported were subsequently received. I expect the case file in this matter to be submitted to me shortly for decision. This decision will be taken having regard to considerations specified in section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended. These considerations include matters relating to the common good, the person's family and domestic circumstances as well as humanitarian considerations. Consideration will also be given to the prohibition of refoulement which is contained in section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996, as amended.

Visa Applications.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

136 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Question No. 444 of 7 February 2006 if a person (details supplied) can stay here indefinitely; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7569/06]

The immigration division of my Department has recently written to the person concerned requesting documentation in support of the application. When all the documentation is received the application will be considered and a decision will be made.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

137 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Question No. 226 of 16 February 2006 the administrative procedures in place for a non-EEA national applying for family reunification; the sections in which these procedures are listed in his Department’s freedom of information booklet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7570/06]

The procedures for non-EEA workers applying for family reunification are outlined on my Department's website. These procedures can be found under the visa section as only visa-required family members are currently obliged to apply in advance for family reunification. The spouses and minor dependent children of non-EEA workers who are not visa-required are permitted to come to Ireland without visas. However, the sponsor or primary migrant must demonstrate that he or she is in a position to support the family members when registering with the Garda national immigration bureau. As the provisions for family reunification for migrant workers have been adopted quite recently, they do not appear in the current 2004 edition of the Department's section 16 reference book. The section 16 reference book is due to be updated in 2007.

Road Traffic Offences.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

138 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of bus drivers, public and private, prosecuted for breaking the speed limits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7571/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that enforcement of speed limits is conducted across all Garda divisions with a view to ensuring compliance by all drivers. I am further informed that statistics are not compiled in such a way as to distinguish between bus drivers and other categories of drivers prosecuted for exceeding speed limits and would require an unjustifiable deployment of Garda time and resources to compile.

Liquor Licensing Laws.

Tony Gregory

Question:

139 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if fines for restaurants which sell alcohol without a licence are outdated and ineffective; his plans to update the law in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7573/06]

The Government legislative programme published on 25 January last makes provision for publication of a Sale of Alcohol Bill in 2006 which will update and streamline the law relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol. The Bill will repeal the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2004, as well as the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2004, and replace them with provisions more suited to modern conditions. It will also provide for increased penalties for the offence of selling intoxicating liquor without a licence or doing so at any place which is not licensed.

Residency Permits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

140 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the residential status of a person (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7574/06]

The person concerned arrived in the State on 16 April 2004 and applied for asylum. Her application was refused following consideration of her 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, she was informed by letter dated 9 August 2005 that the Minister proposed to make a deportation order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons she 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.

Her 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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

141 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the residential and health status of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7575/06]

The person concerned arrived in the State on 04 October 2003 and applied for asylum. Her application was refused following consideration of her 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, she was informed by letter dated 23 March 2005 that it was proposed to make a deportation order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons she 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.

Her 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.

Visas Applications.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

142 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 180 of 9 February 2006, the procedure to be followed in an application for a visa in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; if their passport required for this and submitted with a previous application will be returned to facilitate a new application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7576/06]

The mother of the person in question, accompanied by two children then aged six months and three years, arrived in the State in January 1998 and made an application for asylum. The father, accompanied by a then five year old child, arrived the following April 1998 and made an application for asylum. The mother gave birth in the State in February 1999 and they sought permission to remain on that basis. Permission to reside based solely on their parentage of an Irish born child was granted in August 1999. In July 2003 a visa application was made on behalf of the person in question, a now 16 year old female, to enable her join the family in the State, but this application was unsuccessful.

Following the decision of the Supreme Court in the cases of L & O, the separate procedure which then existed to enable persons to apply to reside in the State on the sole basis of parentage of an Irish born child ended in February 2003. The Government also decided that the general policy of allowing such parents to be joined in the State by other family members would no longer apply. Accordingly, the immigration division of my Department does not generally approve visas in respect of such visa applications.

As stated in my reply to the Deputy's Parliamentary Question No. 180 of 9 February 2006, it is open to the person concerned to submit a new application for a visa. However under Government policy as outlined above it cannot be assumed that a visa would be granted. Any new application would need to clearly show special circumstances over and above those of others in a similar situation which would warrant a special concession in this case. Arrangements are being made to ensure the safe return of the passport to the appropriate address.

Residency Permits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

143 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the procedure to be followed in order to obtain a national passport in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7577/06]

The applicant in question applied for permission to remain in Ireland, on the basis of being the parent of an Irish born child, born before 1 January 2005, in accordance with the revised arrangements announced by me on 15 January 2005. The applicant made her application on 9 March 2005 and was given temporary permission to remain on an exceptional basis, for a period of one year until 24 January 2007, to enable the acquisition of a valid passport.

In order to obtain a national passport, the applicant will need to apply for a travel document and a re-entry visa to the immigration division of my Department in Burgh Quay. In addition, the applicant will require documentation from the Angolan Embassy abroad indicating that a appointment has been made for her to process her application for a passport.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

144 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the residential status of a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7578/06]

The person in question is currently the dependant of her mother who has temporary permission to remain in the State. The permission was granted to the applicant's mother on the basis of her being the parent of an Irish-born child born before 1 January 2005 under the revised arrangements announced by me on 15 January 2005. The person in question is the older sibling of an Irish-born child and is covered by her mother's temporary permission to remain until her 16th birthday. When she reaches 16 years of age, she will have no status in Ireland unless she registers with the Garda national immigration bureau in accordance with the provisions of the Immigration Act 2004.

Deportation Orders.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

145 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if consideration has been given to the threat of persecution, torture, or other life-threatening conditions in the event of deportation in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 2; if extended residency will be offered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7593/06]

The person concerned arrived in the State on 16 April 2003 and applied for asylum. Her application was refused following consideration of her 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, she was informed by letter dated 14 November 2005 that the Minister proposed to make a deportation order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons she 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.

Her 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.

Missing Persons.

Liam Twomey

Question:

146 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason a helpline for families of missing persons is not established on a permanent basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7606/06]

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 585 on 21 February 2006.

Registration of Title.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

147 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the arrangements which are in place to make current maps available in the Land Registry office in either hard or digital formats; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7611/06]

I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that the register of titles managed by the Land Registry currently covers about 2.4 million parcels of land. The boundaries of these titles are marked and maintained by the Land Registry on map sheets published by Ordnance Survey Ireland. Since the organisation was established in 1892, these Land Registry maps, now numbering about 32,000 active sheets, have been kept exclusively in paper format.

I am also informed that these Land Registry map sheets are available for inspection within the public offices of the Land Registry between the statutory public office hours of 10.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m., Monday to Friday, excluding public holidays, on payment of a fee of €2.50, as prescribed by land registration fees order.

I am further informed that maintaining and providing access to these unique maps in paper format carries certain limitations and overheads and a programme is currently underway to convert the entire map base into digital maps. Contracts to digitise the existing paper map record and to build a new computer system for storing, maintaining and processing the new digital maps were awarded in June 2005. The development, testing and implementation of the new computerised digital mapping system is now nearing completion and the projected "go live" date is 28 April 2006. At that stage, customers of the Land Registry who subscribe to the office's on-line system known as the electronic access service, EAS, will, for the first time, be able to view the Land Registry maps for the entire country on-line and conduct electronic inspections and associated index inquiries. Access will also be provided for customers who visit the public offices operated by the Land Registry.

This project also includes a programme to digitise each of the registered boundaries of the 2.4 million or so parcels of land registered in the Land Registry. This is a considerable undertaking, which will take an estimated five years to complete. However, the work is already well underway and the first county — Westmeath — is expected to be complete by 28 April 2006.

The Land Registry also maintains maps of individual registered land parcels known as "filed plans". Originally, these documents were maintained as paper records only. However, as a result of a major programme of computerisation between 2001 and 2004, these documents were converted into electronic format and have, since then, been available to customers of the Land Registry who use the EAS. It is also possible to order official copies of these filed plans and other Land Registry records on-line through the EAS, by post and through attendance at the public offices.

Juvenile Offenders.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

148 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason a project (details supplied) in Dublin 11 was closed; the alternative options which exist with regard to facilities offering educational assessments in view of this closure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7612/06]

I can inform the Deputy that the project, the subject of this parliamentary question, was a community-based day assessment service which offered an assessment service to young people from Finglas, Ballymun and surrounding areas. My Department, through the probation and welfare service, commenced funding the project on 1 January 2004, at an annual cost of €400,000. Prior to that date, funding was provided by the Department of Education and Science from the children at risk fund.

My Department agreed to commence funding the project on condition, inter alia, that the project would be a pilot for day centres, provided for under the Children Act 2001; referrals to the project would be from the courts; and the project would work to its full capacity, that is, five young people in attendance at any given time.

It was anticipated that this project would become a pilot day centre as provided for under the Children Act 2001. However, in order to meet the day centre requirement of the Children Act, a number of changes were required to the existing services being provided by the project. Unfortunately, I am informed that the project was unable to meet those requirements. I am further informed that since January 2004 until its closure in December 2005, the project only dealt with six referrals of young people who were before the courts.

I am advised that at a meeting held on 2 December 2005, the board of management concluded that the project was no longer viable and that the company would cease trading on 8 December 2005. I should also point out that the board of management of the project requested that the substantial funding which had been invested in the project by my Department be utilised in the future to provide alternative programmes for the same target group within the catchment area. I am glad to say that the probation and welfare service is currently in discussion with a locally based project regarding the provision of a service under the terms of the Children Act 2001.

I am also advised by the Department of Education and Science that all schools in Dublin 11 have access to educational psychological assessments for their pupils, either directly through the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, of the Department of Education and Science or through the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA, that is administered by NEPS. Vocational schools in that area have access to the psychological service provided by the City of Dublin VEC.

A small number of schools in Dublin 11 do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them. In those cases, schools may avail of the SCPA, whereby the school can have an assessment carried out by a member of the panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS and NEPS will pay the psychologists fees directly for this assessment. Details of this process and the conditions that apply to the scheme are available on that Department's website.

I am further advised that NEPS provides assistance to all school communities that experience critical incidents, regardless of whether or not they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them. Also, in respect of all schools, NEPS processes applications for reasonable accommodation in certificate examinations for the State Examinations Commission.

Crime Prevention.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

149 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the powers afforded to gardaí to stop and search for knives; and the statutory basis for same. [7624/06]

The Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 governs the possession of offensive weapons including knives. Under the Act, it is an offence to have any knife, or any article which has a blade or which is sharply pointed, in any public place; to be in possession of a knife, or any weapon of offence, while on any premises as a trespasser; to produce, in a manner likely to intimidate another person, any article capable of inflicting serious injury in the course of committing an offence or in the course of a dispute or a fight.

A member of the Garda Síochána may arrest, without warrant, any person who is, or whom the garda, with reasonable cause, suspects to be, in the act of committing any such offence. In so far as the offence of possessing a knife, or any bladed or sharply pointed article, in any public place is concerned, it shall be a defence for a person to prove that he or she had good reason or lawful authority for having the article in their possession.

Where a number of people are congregated in a public place and a breach of the peace is occurring, or a member of the Garda Síochána believes is likely to occur, a garda may search, without warrant, any person suspected of possessing a knife, or any bladed or sharply pointed article. Furthermore, a garda may search any one of a number of persons present even if he or she has no reason to suspect that any particular person present possesses a knife or other offensive weapon. A person found guilty of the illegal possession of a knife or other offensive weapon may be fined up to €1,270 and imprisoned for up to five years.

Higher Education Grants.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

150 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount which has been set aside for 2006 to commence implementing the McIvor report on further education; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7596/06]

The Government's support for this important sector is clear from the fact that we have increased the number of PLC places by 60% since 1996-97. Indeed, the number of PLC places approved for 2005-6 is up by more than 1,600 on the 2004-05 level. The number of approved places in the sector now stands at 30,188. Government support for the sector is evident not only in the expansion of approved places and teachers, but also in the introduction of maintenance grants for students with effect from September 1998. Tuition fees for PLC courses are waived. The PLC maintenance grant scheme operates on the same basis as in higher education. There were nearly 8,000 PLC grant holders in 2005 and they received some €23 million in direct support. PLC students are included in the calculation of non-pay budgets issued to schools in respect of running costs. A supplemental non-pay grant towards running costs specifically for PLC schools is also payable. This amounted to €5.5 million in 2005. It is evident that Government commitment to the sector, by reference to the resources applied in teachers' pay, non-pay running costs, student support and certification costs, is very significant.

The McIvor report contains 21 over-arching recommendations, incorporating 91 sub-recommendations. It has been estimated, in consultation with management and staff interests, that the recommendations for staffing would involve at a minimum the creation of at least 800 new posts at a cost of over €48 million. This level of additional provision cannot be considered in isolation from other areas of education. It must be recognised that PLC provision is only one aspect of my Department's overall strategy in the field of further and adult education.

In their consideration of the needs of the PLC sector into the future, my officials have been examining, inter alia, the non-teaching educational tasks particular to PLC teachers, the demands on the management side and the challenges presented by the variation in size of PLC providers. Future decisions on funding in this area will be taken in the light of the prevailing priorities and the totality of demands for resources across the system. When their deliberations have been completed further discussions with the relevant stakeholders will be necessary.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Michael Ring

Question:

151 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if, in view of Ireland’s aim to cherish equally the children of the nation, the reason 77 children in a classroom in a school in a Gaeltacht area would merit four teachers but in a non-Gaeltacht area the same scenario would result in three teachers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7496/06]

The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by applying the enrolment of the school on 30 September of the previous school year to a staffing schedule which is issued annually to all primary schools. Under current arrangements the enrolment figure required for the appointment of a mainstream class teacher in a Gaeltacht school is the same as that which applies in the case of an ordinary primary school. However the figure required for the retention of a mainstream class teacher in a Gaeltacht school is lower in the case of posts up to and including the 12th mainstream teacher, relative to ordinary primary schools.

I am aware of the unique position of primary schools situated in Gaeltacht areas and of the particular problems that they experience as a result of losing teaching posts. This retention policy has applied to Gaeltacht schools since the 1999-2000 school year. Officials in my Department are preparing the revised staffing schedule for the 2006-07 school year and this will be issued to the boards of management of all primary schools shortly.

School Curriculum.

Enda Kenny

Question:

152 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science when she expects her review of the senior cycle Irish curriculum to be complete; and when she expects that this will be published. [7497/06]

As the Deputy will be aware from previous replies, I have asked the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, to prioritise a review of Irish as part of its work on developing proposals for senior cycle reform and to make recommendations to me as soon as possible.

Enda Kenny

Question:

153 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science if, in view of reply to Parliamentary Question No. 521 of 7 February 2006 and taking into account the worthwhile and valuable aspiration of having more males enter primary teaching, and taking into account her co-ordinated promotion campaign, the way in which she proposes to address the fundamental issue of the failure of a sufficient number of young males to achieve a minimum C mark in higher level Irish; the extra tuition she proposes for leaving certificate classes in order to achieve same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7498/06]

As the Deputy is aware, I have already stated that the senior cycle Irish curriculum will be reviewed as a matter of priority, with a view to ensuring that students achieve greater competence in both oral and written Irish and making learning the language more enjoyable for all students, male and female, at both ordinary and higher level. The review will examine the syllabus content and assessment methods and make recommendations in respect of these. The NCCA is also examining the Irish syllabuses for the junior certificate as part of its review of junior cycle.

It is my belief that both curriculum and assessment are powerful levers for improving students' interest levels in individual subjects and in raising their levels of achievement. It is not my intention to propose extra tuition time for leaving certificate Irish.

Special Educational Needs.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

154 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science if an application for home tuition for a person (details supplied) in County Carlow has been received by her Department; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that both the principal of the school they were attending and a psychiatrist have both recommended home tuition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7499/06]

An application for a home tuition grant for the pupil in question was received in my Department recently. The application is currently being considered and a decision will be conveyed to the parents as quickly as possible.

School Enrolments.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

155 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children who attend schools here from the ages of four to 18; the breakdown of these figures into primary and secondary school numbers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7526/06]

A total of 455,196 pupils between four and 18, inclusive, attended primary schools in the 2004-05 school year. A further 313,760 pupils between these ages attended post-primary schools, including 7,599 on PLC courses. These figures include both aided and non-aided schools.

Institutes of Technology.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

156 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on fact that two third level science programmes (details supplied) will be delivered at Dundalk Institute of Technology in the academic year 2006-07; the way in which Dundalk Institute of Technology, which has received delegation of authority from HETAC to validate its own courses, can allow such a deception of leaving certificate students and their parents given that these courses have not been processed through the institute’s own academic quality assurance procedures; if the circumstances will be addressed where current food science students at Dundalk Institute of Technology, who were recruited, in the current academic year, to what they were told was a bachelor of science in food and health but who find they are attending a certificate in food science whose exact title is a matter of debate and whose content is not validated; the steps she will take to assure current and future students of Dundalk Institute of Technology that programmes and courses offered by the institute will in future be validated by faithful application of the institute’s own academic quality assurance procedures. [7537/06]

The institutes of technology are statutory bodies established under the Regional Technical Colleges Acts 1992 to 2001. Under these Acts, the governance and day-to-day activities of the institutes are matters for which the governing bodies and management staff are responsible.

Under the provisions of the Qualifications (Education and Training) Act 1999, institutes may seek delegated authority from the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, HETAC, allowing them to validate and make awards in their own right in line with HETAC policy, criteria and procedures. In September 2004, Dundalk Institute of Technology was awarded delegated authority from HETAC to make awards up to and including level 9 on the national framework of qualifications. In accordance with HETAC's delegation of authority, the institute validates all programmes through the established academic quality assurance procedures.

My Department has sought clarification from Dundalk Institute of Technology on the issues raised. I understand the two programmes in question are being validated through the institute's own academic quality assurance procedures and in accordance with the delegation of authority granted by HETAC. In the event of either or both of these programmes not being validated by June 2006, the institute will inform prospective students and advise them of their right to exercise a change of mind option.

I understand the position in regard to students who commenced their studies in food science in the current academic year is that they were offered places on a higher certificate course with the possibility of progressing to add-on ordinary and honours bachelor degrees. I further understand they were informed that an ab initio degree in food science is in the process of being validated and that they would have the option of transferring to this degree course if and when it is validated and approved.

My Department will liaise with the institutes of technology in the coming weeks regarding the approval of their operational programmes and budgets for the next two academic years, 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Schools Building Projects.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

157 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the development of a community school (details supplied) in County Cork. [7544/06]

Before committing significant capital resources to the planned new school, it is essential to confirm that the provision of a new second level school in the area is absolutely warranted. In order to consider the matter thoroughly, a review of second level education provision in the area is under way. This review is being carried out in consultation with the school authorities, which will take into account factors such as current and projected pupil numbers at the school, the likely impact of housing developments and existing provision in the general area. A decision will then be taken on how best to provide for current and emerging needs and, if necessary, site acquisition will be initiated.

Special Educational Needs.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

158 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science if she intends to expand the role of the special educational needs organiser beyond organising educational supports to one of evaluating the application of those supports; if, in the absence of such plans, she will consider such an expansion of the special educational needs organiser’s role; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7594/06]

The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, became operational with effect from 1 January 2005. The functions of the NCSE, as set out in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 are: to disseminate to schools, parents and such other persons as the council considers appropriate information relating to best practice, nationally and internationally, concerning the education of children with special educational needs; in consultation with schools, health boards and such other persons as the council considers appropriate, to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services to children with special educational needs; in consultation with schools and such persons as the council considers appropriate, to plan for the integration of education for students with special educational needs with education for students generally; to make available to the parents of children with special educational needs information in regard to their entitlements and the entitlements of their children; to ensure the progress of students with special educational needs is monitored and that it is reviewed at regular intervals; to assess and review the resources required in regard to educational provision for children with special educational needs; to ensure a continuum of special educational provision is available as required in regard to each type of disability; to review generally the provision made for adults with disabilities to avail of higher education and adult and continuing education, rehabilitation and training, and to publish reports on the results of such reviews, which may include recommendations as to the manner in which such provision could be improved; to advise all educational institutions concerning best practice in respect of the education of adults who have disabilities; to advise the Minister in regard to any matter relating to the education of children and others with disabilities; to consult with such voluntary bodies as the council considers appropriate, being bodies whose objects relate to the promotion of the interests of, or the provision of support services to, persons with disabilities, for the purposes of ensuring their knowledge and expertise can inform the development of policy by the council and the planning and provision of support services; and to conduct and commission research on matters relevant to the functions of the council and, as it considers appropriate, to publish in such form and manner as the council thinks fit the findings arising out of such research.

More than 70 special educational needs organisers, SENOs, have been employed by the council since September 2004. They have been deployed on a nationwide basis, with at least one SENO being deployed in each county. The role of the SENO is as provided for in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. While many sections of the Act have already commenced, the remaining sections relate mainly to the statutory assessment and education plan process for which the Act provides. These cannot come into effect without the NCSE having an opportunity to present an implementation report to my Department, which it must do before 1 October 2006. The council is currently engaged in a consultative process with a view to the submission of the implementation report.

Early Childhood Education.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

159 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science the value she places on pre-school education in the context of the education system; if she intends moving towards a situation where there is a guaranteed school place for every pre-school child; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7595/06]

Early education covers the period from birth to six years. At present, almost all five year olds and half of four year olds attend junior infant and senior infant classes in primary schools. Outside of junior classes in primary schools, my Department's main role in the area of early childhood education focuses on pre-school provision for children from disadvantaged areas, Traveller children and those with special needs.

The bulk of pre-school places are financed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which has provided unprecedented levels of funding for child care in recent years. The Department of Health and Children also provides grants to child care groups, including community groups in areas of social and economic disadvantage.

A Government decision was made in December 2005 to establish an office of the Minister for children. The decision to establish the office of the Minister for children will bring together the relevant staff working on the range of functions in the Departments of Health and Children, Justice Equality and Law Reform, and Education and Science, to maximise the co-ordination of policies for children and young persons. A new early years education policy unit has been established in my Department and it will be co-located in the office of the Minister for children in accordance with the Government decision. Decisions of a policy nature relating to early childhood education will now be pursued as part of the overall strategic policy framework developed by the office of the Minister for children.

The new action plan for educational inclusion — delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS — which I launched in May 2005, aims to concentrate early childhood education actions on those children, aged from three up to school enrolment, who will subsequently attend the 150 urban or town primary schools participating in the new school support programme and identified as serving the most disadvantaged communities. The identification process is nearing completion and we anticipate being in a position to issue an invitation to selected schools to participate in the new integrated school support programme shortly.

The Department of Education and Science will work in partnership with other Departments and agencies to complement and add value to existing child care programmes in disadvantaged communities, with a view to ensuring the overall care and education needs of the children concerned are met in an integrated way. A strong emphasis will be placed on adding value to the work of other providers by embedding quality early learning within child care provision.

The Early Start programme is a pre-school intervention programme targeted at three to four year old children in areas of social disadvantage. With this programme, young children can experience an educational programme to enhance their overall development, help prevent school failure and offset the effects of social disadvantage. The Early Start pre-school project was established in 40 primary schools in designated areas of urban disadvantage in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Drogheda and Dundalk.

My Department currently funds 46 pre-schools for Traveller children with 48 pre-school classes. In the special needs sector, there are currently 15 pre-school classes for children with autism located throughout the country. In addition to this, 12 stand-alone autism facilities that provide an applied behavioural analysis, ABA, model of response to children with autism cater for a number of children of pre-school age. My Department has also sanctioned the establishment of a pre-school for six children with hearing impairment on a pilot basis. In addition, the Department provides a home tuition grant to a number of pre-school children with autism.

Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme.

Tony Gregory

Question:

160 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of students in post-leaving certificate courses and in dispersed VTOS in the 2004-05 school year and the 2005/2006 school year. [7603/06]

Vocational training opportunity scheme, VTOS, students are organised in either core groups or as dispersed students in post-leaving certificate, PLC, programmes. In the academic year 2004-2005, 28,588 PLC places were approved. This figure includes 1,517 dispersed VTOS students. In the academic year 2005-2006, 30, 188 places were approved. This figure includes 1,605 dispersed VTOS students.

Irish Language.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

161 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the procedures and regulations which underpin the current elections of parents, teachers and patrons’ representatives to the new board of An Chomhairle Oideachais Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta; if they have been approved and by whom; if they can be publicly obtained; and the locations where they are available. [7604/06]

The council of an chomhairle is composed of a chairperson and 22 members drawn from representative bodies involved in Irish language education. Membership of the council was agreed in 2001 following consultations with relevant representative groups, including gaelscoileanna, Eagraíocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta and Comhdáil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge.

The council is composed of: one chairperson nominated by the Minister; three nominees of Eagraíocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta; three nominees of gaelscoileanna; two nominees of teachers — one each from a Gaeltacht school and a gaelscoil; two nominees of parents — one each from a Gaeltacht school and a gaelscoil; two nominees of school management — one each from a Gaeltacht school and a gaelscoil; four nominees of teacher unions — two each from primary and post-primary school; two nominees of the Minister; one nominee of Foras na Gaeilge; one nominee of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge; and two members co-opted by an chomhairle, such members to have a particular knowledge of and expertise in the study and research of the Irish language.

With regard to the nominations of teachers, parents and school management, it was agreed with my Department that the nominations would be a matter for gaelscoileanna and Eagraíocht na Scoileanna Gaeltachta, subject to the proviso that the elected persons would be members of a board of management of a gaelscoil or Gaeltacht school.

The first four-year term of office of the chomhairle is due to end on 11 March 2006. It was agreed at the autumn 2005 meeting of the chomhairle, at the request of two organisations, that the nominations for future elections in regard to the parent, teacher and management representatives of Gaeltacht schools and gaelscoileanna would be organised directly by the chomhairle. A document outlining a five-stage process was approved at the board meeting of 24 November 2005 and is accessible at www.cogg.ie.

These rules were prepared by a sub-committee and later approved by the board of the chomhairle but, as the election progressed, it emerged they were not sufficiently detailed to deal with a number of issues which subsequently arose. Given that there has not been sufficient time for these specific issues to be discussed and agreed in advance of the election, I have agreed to extend the term of office of the current board for a further period as an exceptional matter. This will allow time for the chomhairle to engage in detailed discussions with the relevant interests to allow for the election procedures to be specified in greater detail and agreed with the parties concerned.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

162 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the main findings of the study involving the Institiúid Teangeolaíochta and the Educational Research Unit in Drumcondra Dublin into the standard of Irish in primary school; if she intends to publish the study in full; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7605/06]

The Deputy refers to the report, Irish in Primary Schools: National Trends in Achievement (1985-2002) by Dr. John Harris. Arrangements for the publication of the report by my Department are ongoing since the receipt of the final report at the latter end of 2005. The Deputy will understand that I cannot comment on a report that is not yet published. I expect to be in a position to outline the timescale for publication shortly.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

163 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of students both primary and post-primary who are exempted from studying Irish by her Department currently; if she will provide similar figures for the past five years; and the reasons for same. [7628/06]

Details of the number of exemptions from Irish granted at primary level are not readily available in the format requested by the Deputy. In the period October 1998 to December 2005 the number of exemptions granted from the study of Irish at primary level was 10,117. Of these, 83% were granted to pupils who had assessed learning difficulties. Some 9% were granted to pupils on the basis that their primary education up to 11 years of age was received in Northern Ireland or outside Ireland and 8% were granted on the basis that they were pupils from abroad who had no understanding of English when enrolled and who would be required to study one language only, Irish or English.

In the school year 2004-05 there were 19,327 post-primary students with an exemption from the study of Irish. The total number of new exemptions granted at post-primary level in each of the last five years is as follows: year 2000-01- 4,332; year 2001-02 — 4,451; year 2002-03 — 5,296; year 2003-04 — 6,550; and year 2004-05 — 6,588. Virtually all of the exemptions in this period are attributable to the two categories of assessed learning difficulty or students from abroad without English proficiency.

Health and Safety Regulations.

David Stanton

Question:

164 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on the main findings of the recently published Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools; the action that she has taken or intends to take as a result of the publication of this review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7632/06]

The provision of a safe learning and working environment for both students and school staff is the fundamental responsibility of the school management authorities. In 2004 my Department working with the State Claims Agency decided to assess existing safety standards in schools and provide a structured approach, including the provision of funding, to address any deficiencies identified. The Review of Occupational Health and Safety in the Technologies in Post-Primary Schools was published in December 2005 and addressed potential and actual issues in a large number of areas, including room design and size, fire safety, machinery safety, training and the need for appropriate signage.

The review provides valuable guidance to school management authorities and also serves as a reference document for schools to assist them in monitoring progress and in planning for further health and safety improvements. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that I allocated €25 million in funding to address the key safety issues in specialist technology rooms of which €20 million was issued to schools in 2005 with the balance of €5 million due to be paid this year. This funding will enable schools to either purchase new equipment or to upgrade existing equipment as appropriate in respect of the technology subjects and to provide adequate safety signage and personal protection equipment.

Defence Forces Property.

Dan Boyle

Question:

165 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence the remaining property owned by his Department in Crosshaven in view of the imminent transfer of property at Fort Camden, Crosshaven, County Cork set to be completed; and the future plans his Department has for that property. [7553/06]

Fort Camden, Crosshaven, comprising 41 acres approximately, has been disposed of by my Department to Cork County Council for amenity purposes. The legal formalities attendant on the transfer of the property are nearing completion. The former coastguard station, Crosshaven, is vested in the Minister for Finance. The disposal of that property, which comprises 3.5 acres approximately and includes four houses formerly used as married quarters for members of the Defence Forces, is being undertaken by the Office of Public Works.

Question No. 166 answered with QuestionNo. 6.

Defence Forces Training.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

167 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if special training will be required for Irish troops participating in EU battlegroups; the nature of such training; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7583/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

174 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if Irish troops serving on EU missions will require an upgrade of military equipment or training; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7591/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 167 and 174 together.

Significant investment has been made in Defence Forces equipment in recent years to provide them with the most modern equipment to undertake the tasks assigned to them by Government. The upgrading of their equipment, which is continuing, is designed to ensure that the Defence Forces have the necessary equipment to undertake specific roles, including supporting Chapter VII missions under the charter of the UN, involving robust peacekeeping and peace-making.

I do not envisage the Defence Forces buying any particular equipment in the context of its possible participation in battlegroups. Participation in battlegroups will not involve increased investment in the Defence Forces to acquire additional capabilities which are not central or key to our primary taskings in peace support operations, defence of the sovereign territory and support to the civil power and the civil authorities, as set out in the White Paper on Defence. Any offer to a battlegroup will be in the context of these capabilities.

In terms of training, some level of joint training with other battlegroup elements will be an imperative. The extent of any such joint training, any additional training requirements and whether training will extend to exercising is a matter for decision by battlegroup participants.

Question No. 168 answered with QuestionNo. 12.
Questions Nos. 169 and 170 answered with Question No. 24.

Naval Service Missions.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

171 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he expects the Naval Service to participate in EU missions associated with proposed battlegroups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7587/06]

Naval Service assets are not offered as part of Ireland's commitment under the United Nations standby arrangements system, nor are they offered as part of our headline goal commitments. There are no plans for the involvement of Naval Service assets in overseas missions, although individual members of the Naval Service may be deployed on overseas peace support operations, as they have been in the past. Moreover, any commitment to a battlegroup will be met within the context of the overall ceiling of 850 personnel serving overseas at any one time as set out in the White Paper on Defence.

Departmental Expenditure.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

172 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the full extent of moneys realised from rent or disposal of military installation since 1998; the amount of such or extra funds spent on upgrading the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7589/06]

The Government, on 15 July 1998, approved a programme of evacuation and sale of six barracks considered surplus to military requirements. The barracks in question were located at Ballincollig, Fermoy, Castleblayney, Naas, Kildare and Islandbridge, Dublin. The value of sales and disposals completed to date in respect of the six barracks the subject of the July 1998 Government decision, together with additional military property which was surplus to military requirements, is in the region of €90 million.

The increased level of expenditure on equipment for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service was made possible by the Government's decision that pay savings arising from the reorganisation of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper of 2000, along with proceeds from the sale of surplus properties, would be reallocated for investment in modern facilities and equipment.

Investment in new equipment for the Defence Forces is provided for under various subheads of the Defence Vote relating to defensive equipment, mechanical transport, aircraft, ships and naval stores, engineering, communications and information technology equipment, etc. All elements of the Defence Forces, the Army, Air Corps, Naval Service and the Reserve have benefited from the investment in new equipment.

Over the past six years, in excess of €200 million has been expended on the purchase of 65 armoured personnel carriers and the Javelin missile system for the Army, new patrol vessels for the Naval Service and new trainer aircraft for the Air Corps.

The programme of investment is continuing. Early last year, I signed contracts for six new helicopters for the Air Corps costing over €60 million, two of which have already been delivered and are in operational service. Planning is well under way on the replacement programme for the next Naval Service ships to reach the end of their economic life. A contract was signed in December 2005 for an additional 15 armoured vehicles from Mowag in Switzerland at a cost of €36.5 million. The 15 APCs will be delivered in 2007.

A tender competition for the replacement of the existing FN 9mm Browning automatic pistol is now in train. It is expected that an order will be placed in the first quarter of 2006. In addition an order has been placed for the provision of 400 general purpose machine guns for delivery this year.

There are also ongoing acquisitions of modern equipment for use by soldiers on operational duties. A tender competition was held in 2005 for the provision of body armour for the individual soldier. An order has now been placed for 6,000 units for delivery this year. In addition, a separate tender competition for helmets was also held in 2005 for the acquisition of 12,000 helmets. An order has now been placed for the helmets, which will also be delivered this year. A tender competition will also be held shortly for an individual load carrying system for soldiers and it is expected that this system will also be available by the end of this year.

Side by side with the investment in equipment there has been an unprecedented level of expenditure on infrastructure in the Defence Forces in recent years, also made possible by the Government's decision. Almost €200 million has been spent between 1999 and 2005 on the capital investment programme for the upgrade of barracks to provide the Defence Forces with modern accommodation, operational, training and recreational facilities. This year's Estimate for my Department includes €21.8 million for such capital works.

It is evident that massive steps have been taken in recent years to modernise Defence Forces equipment and infrastructure and that substantial efforts are continuing on both fronts. The continuation of investment in infrastructure and equipment for the Defence Forces remains a top priority for me.

Question No. 173 answered with QuestionNo. 24.
Question No. 174 answered with QuestionNo. 167.

Recycling Policy.

John Deasy

Question:

175 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that all of the output of recyclable material from the south east materials recovery facility in Dungarvan, County Waterford is being sent abroad to be processed; his views on whether the processing of this material locally in Dungarvan could generate much needed employment in an unemployment black spot; his proposals to encourage re-processing industries to establish facilities in the Dungarvan area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7501/06]

It is understood that the waste in question goes both to European and Asian outlets for recovery. The general situation in Ireland is that we are substantially reliant on foreign based materials recycling infrastructure, which accounted for 73.8% of recycled waste in 2004.

It should be noted that clean segregated materials are a sought after resource which are freely traded under EU and international law. The Environmental Protection Agency stated in the National Waste Report 2004 that, "the export of recyclable waste materials is a trade that cannot be inhibited by member states". The OECD Decision of C(92)39 Final on the control of trans-boundary movements of wastes destined for recovery operations notes that the recovery of valuable materials and energy from wastes is an integral part of the international economic system and that well established markets exist for, and can contribute to, the collection and processing of such materials within member countries.

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

Property Disposals.

Michael Noonan

Question:

176 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he is holding an inquiry into the disposal by Limerick City Council of a portion of the Peoples’ Park in Limerick to a developer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7512/06]

Under section 211 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, land acquired by a local authority may be sold, leased or exchanged. Section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001 provides for notification of any proposed disposal of land by a local authority to the elected members of that authority, who may resolve that the disposal should not be carried out or that it should be carried out in accordance with terms specified in the resolution. This notification was made to Limerick city councillors in the case referred to in the question in March 2004.

A local authority is required to obtain the consent of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to a proposed land disposal only in cases where the price or rent involved is not the best reasonably obtainable. The local government auditor, in the context of the accounts of Limerick City Council for the year ended 31 December 2004, has scrutinised the value obtained from this land disposal and requested Limerick City Council to get an independent market valuation on this site. The auditor's report for 2004 notes the conclusion of that independent valuation that the price paid by the developer for the 0.44 acre site in 2002 was the full market value, having regard to the exceptional price achieved on the open market for a larger and superior shaped site adjoining the subject property.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

177 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if money has been allocated during the current year for the Duleek and Donore, County Meath sewerage schemes; if the money has been paid over; if he has been advised by Meath County Council as to when the work will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7519/06]

Duleek and Donore are elements of the Meath grouped towns and villages sewerage scheme which is included in my Department's water services investment programme 2005-07 to commence construction this year at an estimated cost of €30.75 million. I have now approved a revised design review report, which will enable Meath County Council to finalise contract documents for the scheme. Once these have been approved by my Department, the council may proceed to seek tenders for carrying out the works.

Local Authority Funding.

Denis Naughten

Question:

178 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will provide additional funding in 2006 to Roscommon County Council to upgrade cul-de-sac roads under the local improvement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7520/06]

The total 2006 allocation for the local improvements scheme is €25 million, which is double the initial 2005 allocation for this scheme. Details of allocations to individual county councils under the scheme will be announced shortly.

The administration of the scheme in its own functional area is a matter for the relevant county council. Each council has responsibility for decisions regarding eligibility and subsequent selection and prioritisation of schemes, subject to the terms of my Department's local improvements scheme memorandum, which issued in February 2002, and circulars which have issued from my Department regarding the scheme.

Private Rented Accommodation.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

179 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the steps available to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12 who is not being charged the correct rate per unit of electricity by a landlord, who has installed a slot meter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7538/06]

Under section 16(a) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, a tenant is obliged to pay the rent and other agreed charges relating to the tenancy. If a tenant considers that the charges being imposed by a landlord are higher than what was agreed, it is open to him or her to refer a dispute to the Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, for a determination of the matter under Part 6 of the 2004 Act. The PRTB may be contacted at Canal House, Canal Road, Ranelagh, Dublin 6 and its phone number is 01 8882960.

Local Authority Housing.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

180 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position in regard to an application for sheltered housing by an association (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7547/06]

Following the receipt of documentation requested from Donegal County Council, which is responsible for the detailed administration of the voluntary housing schemes in their area, further clarification has been sought from the council and is awaited. When this is to hand the application will be further considered by my Department and the council will be advised of the outcome as soon as possible.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Dan Boyle

Question:

181 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if any 2005 funding for the disabled persons grant scheme has been returned to his Department from any local authority; and if so, the amount of such return of funding. [7556/06]

An allocation of €74.5 million was made available to local authorities for expenditure on the disabled persons and essential repairs grants schemes in 2005. When data in regard to their expenditure on the schemes have been received from all local authorities, the data will be published in the annual housing statistic bulletin for 2005.

Local Authority Housing.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

182 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if there is a restriction on the number of local authority housing waiting lists on which an applicant may be included; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7600/06]

There are no restrictions on the number of local authorities to which a housing applicant may apply to be housed. Section 9 (5) of the Housing Act 1988 allows a local authority to include on its waiting list persons who are living outside their functional area and who in the opinion of the local authority are in need of housing.

Planning Issues.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

183 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the responsibilities which he intends should not be shifted from local authorities to private management companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7601/06]

My Department issued a circular letter on 25 January 2006 reminding local authorities of their obligations under section 180 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to begin the procedures to take in charge the public services of housing estates once these are completed to a satisfactory standard, where they are requested to do so by the developer or a majority of the residents of the housing development. The circular letter also clearly stated that the existence of a management company to maintain elements of common buildings, carry out landscaping, etc., must not impact upon the decision by the authority to take in charge roads and related infrastructure where a request to do so is made.

The position remains that once housing developments are taken in charge, it is the local authority's responsibility to maintain public infrastructure such as roads, footpaths, sewers, water mains and public lighting.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

184 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of unauthorised developments reported to local authorities in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005; the percentage of same which resulted in court actions, judgments and convictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7602/06]

The report, Service Indicators in Local Authorities 2004, showed that 10,176 complaints regarding unauthorised developments were investigated by planning authorities. As this was the first national report on service indicators, no comparable information is available in respect of 2003.

In my Department's annual planning statistics, which are based on information returned by planning authorities, the number of prosecutions and convictions for unauthorised development in 2003 and 2004 is as set out in the following table.

2003

2004

No. of prosecutions for unauthorised development

916

1,562

No. of convictions

196

158

It should be noted that the figure for convictions is not directly relatable to the figure for complaints or prosecutions, as judgments may be given in a particular year in respect of complaints or prosecutions initiated in a previous year and complaints or prosecutions initiated in a particular year may not decided until a subsequent year.

It should also be noted that the number of complaints received by a planning authority in regard to unauthorised developments may be resolved through the issuing of warning letters or enforcement notices; only a small number of cases require to be prosecuted through the courts. I expect that the 2005 figures will be available by July 2006.

Traveller Community.

David Stanton

Question:

185 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the further plans he has to improve circumstances of the Traveller community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7637/06]

My Department's responsibilities in regard to Travellers are to ensure that there is an adequate legislative and financial framework in place within which local authorities, relevant voluntary bodies, and Travellers may provide or be assisted in the provision, management and maintenance of accommodation for Travellers.

The legislative framework is provided by the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, which requires that all relevant local authorities prepare, adopt and implement programmes for the accommodation of Travellers. The full cost of works associated with the construction of new Traveller-specific accommodation and the refurbishment, to modern standards, of existing Traveller-specific accommodation is funded by my Department.

Under the first programmes, which covered the period 2000 to 2004, considerable progress was made in improving the accommodation position of Travellers. An additional 1,371 families were accommodated in permanent accommodation by or with the assistance of local authorities; the number of families on unauthorised sites was reduced from 1,207 at the start of the programmes to 601 at the end of 2004. During the course of these programmes a total of €130 million was provided by my Department to local authorities for the provision and refurbishment of Traveller specific accommodation. This is in addition to expenditure on standard local authority accommodation in which Travellers are also accommodated.

Currently, local authorities are in the process of implementing their second programmes for the period 2005 to 2008. A total of €37 million was provided to local authorities in 2005 for the provision of new Traveller-specific accommodation and the refurbishment to of existing Traveller-specific accommodation. I will shortly be in a position to announce the funding available for 2006. Figures from the local authority annual count of Traveller families, which provide one measure of progress under the programmes, are being compiled in my Department and will be published shortly. I expect these will show that progress in the provision of accommodation for Travellers is continuing.

In addition to this full and comprehensive package of measures already in place I required local authorities, when adopting their 2005 to 2008 programmes, to specify annual targets for the provision of accommodation for Travellers. Progress towards meeting these targets will be closely monitored by the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee and each local authority's progress will be measured against them on an annual basis. I expect a comprehensive report from that committee on these in due course.

In addition to providing the capital cost of Traveller accommodation, my Department also recoups 90% of the costs incurred by local authorities in employing social workers and housing welfare officers working with Travellers. Financial support is also provided to local authorities towards the costs of management and maintenance of Traveller-specific accommodation. Expenditure in this area has amounted to over €27 million since 2000. A study is currently under way to highlight issues arising in regard to the management and maintenance of Traveller-specific accommodation, with a view to assisting local authorities to improve their activities in this area.

My Department continues to take an active part in the high level group on Travellers, which is working to ensure that there is improved co-ordination in the delivery of all services, including accommodation, to Travellers.