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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 17 Oct 2006

Vol. 625 No. 4

Written Answers.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 25, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 26 to 107, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 108 to 114, inclusive, answered orally.
Question No. 115 answered with QuestionNo. 113.

Freedom of Information.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

116 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of applications to her Department under freedom of information legislation in the years 2003, 2004, 2005 and to date in 2006; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32885/06]

The number of applications received under the Freedom of Information legislation is as follows:

2003

317

2004

278

2005

210

2006 (to 16/10/06)

172

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

117 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has had contacts with the Environmental Protection Agency regarding field trials of genetically modified crops; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32926/06]

I wish to inform the Deputy that I have had no contacts with the EPA in respect of any GM event. With regard to the application from BASF to the EPA earlier this year to trial a GM blight free potato at a farm in Co Meath my Department responded to the consultation process undertaken by the EPA. I am pleased to note that many of the issues raised by my Department were taken on board in the conditions attached to the subsequent approval by the EPA which is the Competent Authority in this area. Despite the granting of the approval by the EPA, BASF has not commenced trials. The EPA approval will continue to be valid for 2007.

The procedures for the consideration of applications for field trials of genetically modified crops are set out in Part B of EU Directive 2001/18/EC which is transposed into Irish law by the Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 2003. Adjudication of these applications is a function of the independent Environmental Protection Agency, as the Irish competent authority for the purposes of the Directive. The process undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency includes public consultation, agency investigation and assessment of monitoring plans.

The GM area of direct relevance to my Department is that relating to the issue of the coexistence of authorized GM crops alongside non-GM crops. The Commission has decided that co-existence should be addressed at Member State level and has provided a series of Guidelines to assist in dealing with the issues that arise. All Member States, including Ireland, have been engaged in a process of drawing up strategies and best practices to provide for effective coexistence arrangements. Last November I received a Report and Recommendations from an Interdepartmental Group, comprised of representatives of the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Teagasc and the EPA. This Interdepartmental Group examined issues relating to coexistence and developing a national strategy and best practices for coexistence arrangements in Ireland. In drawing up the Report the Group considered submissions from stakeholders.

In December 2005 I arranged for the placing of the Report on my Department's website and invited further observations from all interested parties on the recommendations in the Report. Some 66 submissions were received by the 31 March closing date. I will take into consideration these submissions when I am finalising the coexistence measures which will apply here.

Land Purchase.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

118 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to concerns in the timber industry regarding Coillte’s proposed purchase of a plant (details supplied) in County Tipperary; her Department’s position on the purchase, pending the completion of the Competition Authority’s investigation; her views on whether such a purchase will damage competition in the industry; if she has met Coillte to discuss the proposed purchase; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32921/06]

I am aware that the Irish Timber Council has expressed concerns in relation to the proposed purchase. My colleague, Mary Wallace TD, Minister of State at my Department with responsibility for forestry, met with representatives of the Council recently to discuss these concerns.

My Department's position on this matter is that the plant in question is of strategic significance to the forestry sector as it provides a market for thinnings and sawmill residues and it is important in that context that it remain a fully operational entity.

It is ultimately a matter for the Competition Authority to decide on whether the purchase of the plant will damage competition in the sector and the approval of the Competition Authority is required before any purchase can be concluded. The Competition Authority is carrying out a phase 2 investigation into the purchase and, as part of that process, invited interested parties to make submissions. The Authority has until 22 December 2006 to make a decision on this matter.

The proposed purchase of the plant in question has been the subject of various meetings between Coillte and my Department, and was considered by me, in accordance with the provisions of the Forestry Act, 1988, under which Coillte was established. I have also discussed the matter with senior management of Coillte Teoranta.

Milk Quota.

Paul McGrath

Question:

119 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the distribution and transfer of milk quota; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32716/06]

I recently announced the establishment of a new Milk Quota Trading System to supersede the current Milk Quota Restructuring Scheme. The new system was agreed following extensive consultation with the farm organisations and ICOS and will release larger quantities of quota to active and committed dairy farmers through the combined operation of a market Exchange and a maximum price Priority Pool.

The arrangements for the new scheme were published last week and the detailed rules will be available shortly. Milk producers will be invited to submit applications to sell or purchase quota by 24th November 2006, with the first Exchange being run as soon as possible thereafter. The operation of the system will be reviewed after the first Exchange, and a second Exchange will follow in spring of 2007.

These new arrangements will allow milk producers the opportunity to bid for the amount of quota required to meet the development needs of their farm enterprise at a price that will generate a commercial rate of return. In essence farmers may now decide on the amount of quota they wish to buy or sell and the price at which they are willing to trade quota. Some 70% of the total amount of quota offered for sale will be transacted on the market Exchange and will be sold at the market-clearing price.

In order to cater for certain categories of producers, I have established a Priority Pool, which will allocate quota to farmers whose leases have expired and were not renewed, to successors and to young farmers. The surplus available in the Priority Pool will be allocated to producers with less than 350,000 litres. Some 30% of the total quota offered for sale will be allocated through the Priority Pool at a maximum price of 12 cent per litre. Producers may purchase up to a combined maximum of 60,000 litres from both pools. The new system will continue to operate in each Co-op area, thus maintaining the principle of regional preference or ring fencing within current pools.

I am satisfied that the new Milk Quota Trading system will create a more open market system of transferring milk quota and will allow farmers much greater freedom to make choices about how milk quota should be transferred, affording them far greater scope to decide the volume and price of quota they wish to buy.

National Herd.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

120 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to support and maintain the suckler herd; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32732/06]

The Irish beef industry is worth €1.3 billion in foreign earnings to the national economy annually. Ireland produces over 500,000 tonnes of beef a year and exports over 90% of our production. The sector is very important and its viability is dependent on the quality of production which in turn depends very much on the status of our suckler herd.

I am keenly aware of the challenges facing beef farmers. In our Agri-Vision 2015 Action Plan published earlier this year, I recognised the critical importance of the suckler herd to the Irish beef industry and gave a commitment to considering what measures would be required for the suckler herd specifically in the context of decoupling. My Department is now well advanced in the process of developing proposals for measures to support and maintain the suckler herd. I expect to be in a position to give details of the proposals in the context of the publication of the package of measures in the Rural Development Programme which goes for public consultation in the near future.

Other areas where we are already providing support for the beef sector include funding for the National Beef Quality Assurance Scheme accredited to the internationally recognised EN 45011 Standard and assistance through Teagasc and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation for activities related to cattle breed improvement.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

121 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when the details for REP scheme four will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32878/06]

REPS 4 will form an integral part of Ireland's Rural Development Plan (RDP) 2007 – 2013. A draft of the RDP will issue for public consultation shortly and it is my objective to secure EU Commission approval for the RDP and to roll out REPS 4 at the earliest possible date in 2007.

National Herd.

Jack Wall

Question:

122 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the way in which the costs of implementing a national herd health initiative should be apportioned as between the Government and the other stakeholders in the related industries; and if she will make a statement on when the next national herd health initiative will be completed. [32888/06]

There are a range of diseases which impact on animal health, animal welfare and productivity while a number of them have the potential to affect public health. Many of our competitors have programmes in place to reduce and eradicate some of these diseases and increasingly, authorities in some importing countries are demanding certification that products are derived from animals or herds that are free from specified diseases and/or that there are control programmes in place in the country of origin.

For the foregoing reasons my Department has engaged in preliminary discussions with various interested parties with a view to developing a comprehensive and integrated national approach to control these diseases. As the discussions are on-going final decisions have not yet been made on the detailed arrangements for this initiative. However, it is envisaged that the various stakeholders would play a key role in the delivery of the programme and that activities would be funded by the relevant parties including the State.

Animal Welfare Bodies.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

123 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of animal welfare officers here; the funding provided by her Department to the ISPCA; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32748/06]

My Department has certain statutory responsibility for the welfare and protection of farmed animals. The legislation governing this is the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984 and the European Communities (Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes) Regulations, 2000. In addition there is specific legislation in relation to pigs, calves and laying hens.

Welfare aspects are dealt with generally by officers based in my Department's District Veterinary Offices. These officers deal with the implementation of farm animal welfare legislation as well as having responsibilities in a wide number of other areas related to animal health, disease control etc. Funding is available to deal with emergency care, feeding, transport etc. of welfare compromised farm animals. I am satisfied that the resources available within my Department are sufficient to deal with such cases and to provide a high standard of animal welfare.

In 2004 the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council (FAWAC) developed an Early Warning/Intervention System (EWS) for dealing with animal welfare cases. This involves my Department, Irish Farmers' Association and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals. The objective of the system is to provide a framework within which farm animal welfare problems can be identified before they become critical or overwhelming. The new system allows for concerned individuals to approach their local IFA representatives, their local SPCA or my Department in the knowledge that the matter will thereafter be dealt with in the most effective, timely and sensitive manner.

In addition to the foregoing, my Department makes ex-gratia payments annually to organisations, including the ISPCA, involved in the direct delivery of animal care and welfare services to assist in their on-going work. To date, we have provided a total of €5.97 million to such bodies, some €1.2m of which was paid to 86 organisations in December last to assist them during 2006. ISPCA has benefited from these payments. The headquarters of the Association has received a total of €334,880 to date. That figure does not, of course, include payments to affiliated branches of the organisation at national and local level. Invitations have issued to organisations to apply for an ex-gratia payment in respect of 2007.

The main statutes governing cruelty to animals in this country are the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 and 1965. Responsibility for pursuing complaints under that legislation rests with An Garda Síochána, who may on receipt of a complaint, investigate and bring a prosecution against any person alleged to have committed an act of cruelty against an animal. Officers of my Department are regularly involved in assisting the Gardaí in such cases.

Food Safety Standards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

124 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she is satisfied that the regulations she has introduced on country of origin of beef sold at the catering stage in the food chain have been properly and effectively implemented; if her attention has been drawn to an establishment found to be in breach of these regulations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32868/06]

Regulations governing the provision of country of origin information on beef sold at the catering stage of the food chain were introduced by the Minister for Health and Children earlier this year. Responsibility for enforcement of the Health (Country of Origin of Beef) Regulations 2006 (S.I. 307 of 2006) is with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

There are over 44,000 food businesses in Ireland of which over 29,000 are in the service sector, which includes caterers. These are inspected on a routine basis by the Environmental Health Officers in the Health Service Executive operating under a Service Contract with the FSAI.

In general, the HSE undertake inspections in about two thirds of these premises every year. Inspections focus on compliance with hygiene and food safety requirements. Checks on compliance with the Health (Country of Origin of Beef) Regulations are being incorporated into routine inspections for establishments covered by these Regulations. Any breaches of the regulations should be brought to the attention of the FSAI.

Forestry Industry.

Paul McGrath

Question:

125 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to develop the forestry sector and increase its uptake; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32721/06]

In terms of incentives, the current forestry grant and premium package is without doubt the most attractive that has ever been available. Farmers and land-owners can avail of an establishment grant of 100% of costs, a tax free premium of up to €500 per hectare per annum for 20 years, at present, and under the Single Payment Scheme, farmers can plant up to 50% of their eligible claimed area, without losing any entitlements.

Under the new Rural Development Plan 2007–2013, I intend to bring forward a new Forestry Programme. The detail of the new Rural Development Plan has yet to be finalised, but it will be made available for public consultation shortly.

Earlier this year my Department embarked on a joint initiative with the Irish Forestry Industry Chain (IFIC) under the heading ‘Forests for a Bright Future' to highlight the multifunctional benefits of forestry and to stimulate up-take in the afforestation programme. This promotional campaign is expected to run for at least eighteen months, and is promoting the advantages of forestry, particularly to farmers, with a view to increasing the rate of new planting.

Farm Waste Management.

Michael Ring

Question:

126 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the grant aid which will be made available to small farmers to manage rainwater under the nitrates action plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32771/06]

A revised Farm Waste Management Scheme was launched by my Department on 24 March 2006 as part of the arrangements to enable farmers meet the additional requirements of the Nitrates Directive. The principal changes to the Scheme include—

(a) an increase in the standard grant-rate from 40% to 60%, with 70% being available in the four Zone C counties;

(b) an extension of the Scheme for the first time to sectors such as horses, deer, goats, pigs and poultry, and mushroom compost;

(c) the removal of any minimum income requirements from farming from the Scheme so that all small farmers can participate in the Scheme; and

(d) an increase in the maximum eligible investment from €75,000 to €120,000 per holding.

As the Scheme closes for applications at the end of 2006, I have also arranged that applications will be accepted by my Department as soon as any required planning permission has been applied for to the relevant local authority.

As regards rainwater, the technical specifications for farm buildings operated by my Department for the purposes of the Scheme require the installation of adequate arrangements for the separation of clean and dirty water as part of the conditions of any new investment. In addition, I have added the installation of guttering on existing buildings as a further new eligible item in the terms of the revised Scheme.

Food Safety Standards.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

127 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the opinions expressed by other member states and the Government’s opinion as expressed at the 6 October 2006 meeting of the European Commission’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, Toxicological Safety of the Food Chain section on the issue of the Draft Commission Directive amending Directive 2002/72/EC relating to plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food and Directive 85/572/EEC laying down the list of stimulants to be used for testing migration of constituents of plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food; her views on the question of amending said list; the research here into these matters; and if she will a statement on the matter of regulating plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. [32891/06]

The Food Safety Authority represents Ireland on this issue at the relevant EU meetings. The information requested contains technical details and I am arranging with the FSAI to have it forwarded to the Deputy.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Tom Hayes

Question:

128 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to implement the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food's report on the ERS; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32766/06]

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture published its report on the Early Retirement Schemes in February 2005. The report dealt with a range of issues and I responded to it in detail in September 2005. As I explained in this response, certain of the Committee's recommendations are precluded by the EU Regulations under which the current Scheme and its predecessor are operated.

I saw merit in certain other aspects of the Committee's report, specifically those relating to income limits and in line with the Joint Committee's recommendations, I have recently increased the off-farm income limit for transferees in the current Scheme from €25,400 to €40,000 and have abolished the income limit for transferors. As this Scheme will close to new applications at the end of December the practical effect of any further changes would be very small.

The Committee paid particular attention to two further issues. One was the implication of decoupling for retired farmers who had leased out land and quota to transferees before or during the Single Payment Scheme reference period. I believe we secured the best deal that we could for people in this situation, in spite of the fact that the Commission were unsympathetic at the outset. A specific mandatory category was included in the National Reserve arrangements under the Single Payment Scheme. This category caters for farmers who inherited or otherwise received a holding free of charge or for a nominal amount from a farmer who retired or died before 16 May 2005 where the land in question was leased out to a third party during the reference period. Under these arrangements, where a farm reverted to the retired farmer at the end of a lease without any entitlements, the farmer taking it over will have access to the National Reserve. Retired farmers in the current Scheme who farmed during part or all of the reference period and who hold Single Payment entitlements could activate entitlements and lease them to their transferees. If the transferee did not wish to use the entitlements, a transferor has until 2007 to lease the entitlements with land to another farmer. Once at least 80% of the entitlements have been used by the lessee, the transferor has the option to sell the entitlements with or without land; otherwise he can continue to lease the entitlements with land.

The second issue the Joint Committee focused on was the levels of payment under the two Schemes. In the course of discussions on this issue, the European Commission has pointed out that the rate in the earlier Scheme was set at the maximum amount for co-funding that the Regulation allowed, and that it would not be possible to secure co-funding for an increase in the rate of pension for existing participants in the current Scheme.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Shane McEntee

Question:

129 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the deliberate release of genetically modified crops; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32770/06]

Ireland's national policy on GMO's was officially set out in the October 2000 Report of the Interdepartmental Group on Modern Biotechnology which was endorsed by the Government. The overall conclusion of this report was summarised as ‘a positive acceptance of the potential benefits of biotechnology tempered by a precautionary approach to the potential risks — and to ensure that as far as is possible, the benefits of biotechnology are maximised and the risks minimised without compromising on safety for people and the environment'.

Coupled with this position is the comprehensive set of GM legislation which has been adopted by the European Parliament and the Council over the last five years under the co-decision procedure. This new legislation, which is binding on all Member State, governs the assessment and approval procedures for GM crops, food and feed which ensures that the highest standards are in place to protect the citizens of the Community from a food safety and environmental safety aspect.

I am accordingly satisfied that the current authorisation procedure for the deliberate release of GM crops into the environment is the most stringent in the world. We can be assured that this system, which has at its core a rigorous scientific testing system, will ensure that the environment and the food chain will not be contaminated by authorized GM crops. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the Competent Authority in Ireland responsible for the authorization of GM crops for deliberate release into the environment.

Dairy Industry.

Simon Coveney

Question:

130 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to support dairy incomes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32733/06]

Dan Neville

Question:

151 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had at EU level to protect dairy supports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32755/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 130 and 151 together.

Dairy farmers' incomes are made up of the market price paid for milk and direct income support from the EU. The price paid to milk producers is determined by a number of factors including the international market for dairy products, the product mix and the efficiency of the processor as well as the overall operation of the EU price support mechanisms.

The average price paid to producers from January to August 2006 was 25.9 cent per litre. Added to this each producer receives a dairy premium of 3.6 cent per litre which gives an average return of 29.5 cent per litre in 2006. This is similar to the return to producers in the previous three years.

I am strongly of the view that the EU market management measures must be implemented in a manner which enables the dairy sector remain competitive and thereby continue to develop and support farmers' incomes.

I have continually made this case to the Commission and have argued that that the EU must maintain international market share while the transition to a market-driven dairy sector proceeds. I have maintained pressure on the Commission, most recently during Commissioner Fisher Boel's visit to Ireland, to ensure that a competitive combination of aids and subsidies are in place to support this transition. I have also used every opportunity to gain support for this position among other Member States. Nationally, I strongly believe that if the dairy sector is to maintain a competitive position we must look at increasing the scale of operations at producer and processor level, reducing costs where possible, and encouraging a profitable future.

To support these aims at processor level I have introduced a significant investment package to stimulate necessary investment in the sector and ensure the long-term competitiveness and viability of the dairy industry in Ireland. The Government will contribute €100m by way of grant assistance to the sector.

At producer level I also announced the establishment of a new Milk Quota Trading System which will create a more open market system of transferring quota. The new system will allow farmers much greater freedom to make choices about how milk quota should be transferred, affording them far greater scope to decide the volume and price of quota they wish to buy.

Farm Household Incomes.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

131 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the plans by the EU to reduce compensation made available to farmers for disease outbreaks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32759/06]

Willie Penrose

Question:

175 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the apparent EU proposal to reduce compensation to farmers who have been affected by animal diseases such as BSE, tuberculosis and brucellosis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32879/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 131 and 175 together.

Earlier this year, the Commission produced a draft revision of the Community Guidelines for State Aid in the Agriculture sector for the period 2007 to 2013. The Guidelines will be agreed later in the year within the competence of the Commission following a consultation process with Member States and will then be binding on Member States.

Among the changes proposed by the Commission are the introduction of a threshold of 30% production loss to trigger compensation in respect of losses caused by animal disease and a reduction of aid to 75% (80% in less favoured areas).

I have written to and spoken personally to the Commissioner to express my opposition to these proposals. A number of oral and written submissions to this effect have also been made to the Commission, at senior official level. I have also raised the matter at the Agriculture Council and have the support of a large number of Member States.

I understand that a revised draft of the guidelines is in preparation by the Commission at present. Upon adoption by the College, it will be discussed with Member States at a meeting scheduled for late October. I will continue to oppose these proposals and seek the support of my EU Ministerial colleagues in persuading the Commission to withdraw its proposals.

Food Labelling.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

132 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress made in bringing about an EU level review of the issue of substantial transformation of meat, and poultry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32881/06]

The concept of substantial transformation is the basis used throughout the EU and elsewhere to define the origin of goods as being from the country where the last substantial economic change was made to them. In my view it should not be used to disguise the origin of certain products or to mislead the consumer as to the origin of raw materials.

I have made my concerns in this respect known to the EU Commission both in the context of the review being carried out by them on "Labelling, competitiveness, consumer information, better regulation for the EU" and in the Council of Ministers as well as in bilateral contact with Commissioners Fischer Boel and Kyprianou.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Shane McEntee

Question:

133 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to promote wood energy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32722/06]

Wood biomass is one of the most versatile of renewable energy sources and has the potential to play a major role in Ireland's future energy strategy. Wood energy, in the form of logs, chip and pellet, is renewable, carbon neutral, sustainable and can be produced locally. Solid biomass, mainly in the form of solid wood, is already the largest source of renewable energy in Ireland, accounting for 57% of Ireland's total final renewable energy consumption in 2004.

My Department, working in co-operation with COFORD (the National Council for Forest Research and Development) and Teagasc, actively encourages the development of the wood-energy sector through a range of support measures aimed at creating an effective and efficient supply chain from producer to end user. These measures complement more recent support schemes introduced by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources targeting the user side of the chain through the Pilot Bio-heat Boiler Deployment Programme and the Greener Homes Scheme.

My Department offers 100% grants and attractive premiums for up to 20 years to encourage the establishment of new forests on agricultural land. If we are to secure wood as a sustainable source of energy into the future, we need to ensure a vigorous planting programme. My Department also supports individual projects and initiative which focus specifically on wood-energy. Examples of these include the Clare Wood Energy Farm Forestry project and the Forest Link project in Donegal. My Department is also supporting projects to market solid-wood products to domestic customers and a wood-pellet manufacturing enterprise.

During 2006 COFORD, which is wholly-funded by my Department, has been running a series of thinning and chipping demonstrations across the country under the banner Forest-Energy 2006. The programme is being organised in cooperation with Teagasc, Waterford Institute of Technology, Bord na Móna and the major private forestry companies. In addition, COFORD has put in place a series of workshops on Wood Biomass Harvesting and Supply Chain issues.

In terms of new schemes, my Department is currently examining the introduction of a Wood Biomass Harvesting Machinery Scheme. The purpose of the proposed scheme is to encourage investment in wood biomass processing machinery, such as whole tree chippers and forest residue bundlers. A scheme to encourage the establishment of willow as a short-rotation energy crop is also being designed.

Decentralisation Programme.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

134 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on staffing needs in her Department in the coming years; the progress made on the implementation of the decentralisation plan in her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32927/06]

The introduction of the Single Payment Scheme (SPS), falling disease levels, the introduction of new computer systems and efficiency gains means that staff numbers within my Department are currently on a downward trend. My Department is actively managing the orderly redeployment of staff that become available to other work areas and, in conjunction with Department of Finance, to other Departments. Already this year, over 225 staff have been transferred to other Government Departments, including Office of the Revenue Commissioners, Courts, Departments of Social & Family Affairs, Justice & Law Reform, Education & Science, Transport and Environment & Local Government. My Department is constantly reviewing its operations and has also commenced a comprehensive review of its organisational structure. Future staffing levels will be based on the outcome of these reviews and the need to maintain coherence, efficiency and effectiveness in providing quality services to our clients.

Regarding decentralisation, my Department's Decentralisation Implementation Plan allows for a phased movement to Portlaoise, i.e. the transfer of functions and posts over a number of years. The 2005 and 2006 phases are now substantially complete and planning and preparations are ongoing for 2007 and subsequent phases. In total, there has been an increase of some 180 full-time posts in Portlaoise since early 2004 and there are currently over 400 Department of Agriculture and Food staff in Portlaoise. My Department has taken temporary accommodation in Portlaoise to cater for this increase. The site for the location of the Department's new offices in Portlaoise was approved in 2005 and will provide for the development of a complex to accommodate up to 850 staff, which will also incorporate the existing staff in Portlaoise. The OPW sought applications from developers earlier this year and they estimate that construction will begin in 2007 and will be completed in 2009.

The process of recruitment for Fermoy has begun. My Department is liaising with the OPW regarding specifications for the buildings and identification of sites in both Fermoy and Macroom.

Sugar Beet Industry.

Tom Hayes

Question:

135 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the future utilisation of lands previously used to grow sugar beet; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32750/06]

Following the introduction of the Single Payment Scheme last year, farmers now have the freedom to choose whatever farming enterprise is most appropriate to their circumstances. Under the agreement on reform of the EU sugar regime, the Single Payment Scheme is being extended to cover sugar beet compensation.

The sugar reform agreement also provides for the introduction of aid for diversification measures in the event that sugar beet production completely ceases. This aid, worth almost €44m in Ireland's case, must be drawn down in the framework of a national restructuring programme to be prepared and submitted to the Commission by the end of this year. Under the EU Regulations, payments of the diversification aid would begin in September 2007.

Farmers are showing increasing interest in the potential of energy crop cultivation for biofuel purposes, as was evident at the recent Ploughing Championships. Support to farmers for growing such crops is provided under the Energy Crops Scheme. Under this scheme, aid of €45 is available for energy crops for use in the production of biofuels and electric and thermal energy produced from biomass. At the February Council of Ministers meeting, I called for a review of the premium as it was not proving effective in Ireland and I subsequently raised the matter with the Agriculture Commissioner. The EU Commission has just published a Report on the implementation of the scheme and my Department is currently studying the Report.

The production and utilisation of agricultural products for energy purposes can only be sustained in the longer term if biofuels generate a more favourable return than traditional market outlets. I am confident that the extension in the last Budget of excise relief of €205m which, when fully operational, will support the use and production of 163 million litres of biofuels annually, will help drive additional demand for the production of energy crops. I am working closely with Ministerial colleagues, as part of the Ministerial Taskforce on Bioenergy to prepare an Action Plan to develop Ireland's bioenergy resources to 2020.

EU Directives.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

136 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of the Nitrates Directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32753/06]

The implementation of the Nitrates Directive is a matter, in the first instance, for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations 2006, signed by Minister Roche on 18 July, 2006 give legal effect to Ireland's Action Programme under the Nitrates Directive.

Local authorities and the EPA are designated control authorities for the purposes of the implementation of the regulation. My Department's role is in the context of ensuring that EU cross-compliance requirements under the Single Payment Scheme are met by farmers receiving payment under that Scheme. Compliance with the Nitrates Directive is a statutory management requirement under the Single Payment Scheme.

Animal Health Issues.

Simon Coveney

Question:

137 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to introduce an all-island animal health regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32744/06]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

188 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she intends to take to develop an all Ireland animal health regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32757/06]

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

201 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress made over the past four months on the achievement of the goal of an all-Ireland freedom of movement for farm animals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32872/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 137, 188 and 201 together.

There is already a long history of co-operation between the administrations north and south on animal health issues. The administrations have traditionally shared information at local and national levels on disease control and surveillance issues and have worked together to combat illegal movements of animals and animal products. During the Foot and Mouth disease emergency of 2001 the co-operation and consultation at official, Ministerial and political levels was vital.

The establishment of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) offered an opportunity to build on existing co-operation arrangements and provided a framework for the development of an all-island animal health policy. The main objectives of the Council are to foster co-operation and to devise a common, unified animal health strategy for the island as a whole. This involves the convergence of animal health policies and the development of joint strategies for dealing with animal diseases. The ultimate objectives are to establish a common import regime and equivalent internal arrangements with a view to achieving free movement of animals and animal products within the island.

The programme of work, mandated by the NSMC, has been taken forward by nine working groups at official level. The remit of these groups includes TB and Brucellosis, TSEs (BSE and Scrapie), veterinary medicines, other Zoonoses and animal diseases, disease surveillance, animal welfare, import and export of live animals and animal products, animal identification, traceability and cross-border aspects of fraud.

These working groups meet regularly and their work has focused on three main themes:

Common or equivalent controls at points of entry to the island;

Convergence of internal animal health policies; and

Development of joint strategies for the control of animal disease.

The main achievements to date are the development of a co-ordinated and complementary approach towards import policies and portal controls at points of entry to the island, the convergence of policies in regard to animal identification and Scrapie and the strengthening of co-ordination and co-operation between both administrations on a variety of issues such as T.B, Brucellosis, FMD, BSE Avian Influenza, cross-border fraud, etc. These groups continue to report progress in exchange of information and in implementation of initiatives aimed at policy convergence and the development of a common unified strategy for the island as a whole.

The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council includes representation from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, (DARD). DARD was also represented at recent meetings of the Avian Influenza Advisory Group and will also be represented at future meetings of the Group.

Since the decision at EU level to lift the BSE ban on exports from the United Kingdom from 3 May 2006, arrangements are in place and working well between the two administrations facilitating the trade of cattle from Northern Ireland for slaughter, breeding and production.

The achievement of an all-island animal health strategy involves complex dialogue and negotiation over a range of areas between the Irish, Northern Irish and British authorities. Ultimately, the agreement of the European Union will be required.

Food Safety Standards.

Mary Upton

Question:

138 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when Ireland’s national residue monitoring plans in food of animal origin for 2006 under Council Directive 96/23/EC will be approved by the European Union; and if she will provide this Deputy with a copy of same. [32895/06]

Under Council Directive 96/23, each Member State is required submit an annual Residue Monitoring Plan to the European Commission by 31 March each year. Ireland has complied fully with its obligations in this regard. Ireland's Plan for 2006, having been considered by the appropriate EU technical group on 5 October last, is scheduled for formal EU approval on 18 October.

Animal Health Issues.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

139 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when exempt list for prescription only veterinary medicines will be in place; the person who is advising her on which medicines should be so exempted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32889/06]

An EU Directive on criteria for exempting veterinary medicines from a veterinary prescription requirement was adopted by the relevant EU Standing Committee on 10 October. The Commission has indicated that it intends to have the measure published so as to have legal effect before the end of this year. While decisions on the classification of veterinary medicines are ultimately a matter for the Irish Medicines Board, I am satisfied, on the basis of the technical advice to me from my Department, that the criteria, as adopted, mean that current off-prescription veterinary medicines will not have to be reclassified as prescription only.

This is a very positive outcome to this matter from Ireland's perspective and represents a substantial improvement on the draft criteria which were published by the Commission last February. During the intervening period, my Department had made very strong representations to the Commission for a more flexible approach so that decisions on the appropriate classification of veterinary medicines could be taken by regulatory bodies, such as the IMB, based on a scientific evaluation of the risk benefit profile of individual products. I am pleased that the Commission has taken my views into account.

Land Transfers.

Bernard Allen

Question:

140 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to increase land mobility; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32746/06]

In order to encourage land mobility, and to reduce the costs of land transfer, the Government already has put in place a number of incentives, these include:

An Early Retirement Scheme pension of up to €13,515 for a period of 10 years on farms transferred by gift, sale or lease.

An installation aid grant of €9,520 for young trained farmers.

Capital Gains Tax — Retirement Relief for farmers over 55 years.

A rental income tax exemption of up to €15,000 for farmers over 40 years who lease out land for a period of 7 years or more.

A rental income tax exemption of up to €10,000 for farmers over 40 years who lease out land for a period of 5 to 7 years.

A 90% Agricultural Relief from Capital Acquisitions Tax.

The provision of full Stamp Duty relief for young trained farmers.

Stamp Duty relief for land swaps between two farmers.

These incentives encourage the early transfer of land and improve the overall level of land mobility. This, in turn, helps improve the availability of land to farmers who wish to enter farming or increase their scale of production.

Food Safety Standards.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

141 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her view of Ireland’s relative performance in the European Commission’s country profiles, the documents which summarise the structure and overall inspection system in EU member states’ food and veterinary safety regimes and which summarise the follow-up on the progress following recommendations in the commission’s inspection reports; if she will provide this Deputy with copy of the up to date country profiles for the EU member states; and if she will make a statement on the improvements to Ireland’s food and veterinary safety regime that will be made over the coming twelve months. [32894/06]

The Food and Veterinary Office mission to complete Ireland's country profile is not due until 2007. The Food and Veterinary Office have embarked on a series of missions to Member States with a view to completing a country profile for each Member State. These missions commenced in 2005 when 8 Member States were visited, continued in 2006 during which 10 further Member States were/ will be visited, and will be completed in 2007 with the remaining 7 Member States including Ireland being visited. It is the normal practice for the Food and Veterinary Office to publish profiles of this nature, when complete, on their website.

Under the contract arrangements with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland my Department will continue to implement the regulations of the EU Hygiene Package, which came into effect last January.

Importation Restrictions.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

142 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress made on halting the inappropriate importation of parrots and canaries into the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32870/06]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

168 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to stop the illegal import of exotic birds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32745/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 168 together.

Following the outbreak of avian influenza in late 2003 in south-eastern Asia, the European Commission adopted a series of protection measures in relation to the disease. These measures included, in particular, additional movement controls on birds accompanying their owners coming into the EU from third countries and the prohibition of import into the EU of captive birds from third countries. These restrictions are expected to remain in place at least until the end of 2006.

The provisions of the Commission Decision concerning the movement of birds accompanying their owners, stipulate that the import of exotic birds into the EU from third countries (accompanying their owners) can take place only in the context of a permanent change of residence and is then limited to importations of individual consignments of five or fewer birds. Stringent conditions must be complied with, including pre or post-importation quarantine. Advance notification of all such importations must be given to my Department and, since 1 January 2006, there have been only 6 such consignments notified.

Intra-Community trade in exotic birds is permitted under EU rules, which do not specify a quarantine requirement. Such imports must comply with the requirements of a General Authorisation issued under the European Communities (Diseases of Animals Acts, 1966 and 1979 Orders) (General Authorisations for Imports) Regulations 1985, which provide that the birds must:

come from a holding which has been registered for export by the competent authority of the country of origin in accordance with Article 4 of Council Directive 92/65/EEC;

come from a holding in which Avian Influenza has not been diagnosed in the 30 days preceding the dispatch;

come from a holding and an area not subject to restrictions under Council Directive 92/66/EEC introducing Community measures for the control of Newcastle Disease;

be accompanied by a declaration to this effect completed and signed by the owner of the hobby birds on the day of movement;

in the case of psittacidae, be accompanied by a certificate signed by an official veterinarian of the country of export.

In addition, advance notice is required to be given of the importation and for animal disease control measures, an official notification of the consignment (TRACES) is dispatched from the country of origin to the country of destination.

While my Department undertakes some inspections at points of import, it is precluded, by EU rules, from inspecting all import consignments. However a spot-check regime is in place based on risk assessment for disease purposes.

In the context of avian influenza, my Department has introduced a robust range of precautionary measures and fully implements all EU controls, including those relating to the importation of exotic birds. It should be noted that imports of pet birds from within the EU represent a relatively low risk to Ireland's health status, compared with wild birds whose entry into this country cannot be controlled or certified by competent authorities.

EU Conventions.

Joan Burton

Question:

143 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason the European Convention on the Social Protection of Farmers has not been signed and ratified by Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32866/06]

The European Convention on the Social Protection of Farmers came into force in June 1977 having received the required minimum number of ratifications within the Council of Europe. The majority of Council of Europe Member States have not ratified this Convention. Ireland is satisfied that its provisions are fulfilled through existing national and EU legislation which provide social protection for rural populations similar to that enjoyed by other groups.

Climate Change Strategy.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

144 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department has contributed to the review of the climate change strategy; the form and content of her input; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32917/06]

My Department is represented on the inter-Departmental teams established to oversee implementation of the National Climate Change Strategy and in this context, is contributing in a substantial way to the review of the Strategy which is currently under way. We have identified a range of potential greenhouse gas reduction measures in the agriculture area for consideration in the review. These include improved slurry spreading techniques, support for bio-energy crops, alternative carbon neutral fuel sources, deployment of renewable energy technologies at farm level, improved manure management through the use of new and emerging technologies, optimisation of nitrogen use, minimum tillage systems and the development of forestry. Decoupling of support for agriculture under the Single Payment Scheme will also be a contributory factor in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural sources.

My Department is funding various research projects to assist in identifying sustainable greenhouse gas emission reduction measures. Amongst these are studies focused on reducing methane emissions in ruminants and an examination of nitrous oxide emissions from grasslands. These are in addition to agricultural-related research managed by the EPA.

In the coming weeks, my Department along with the other Departments on the interdepartmental climate change team will be considering the stakeholder submissions received as part of the public consultation process on the review of Ireland's National Climate Change Strategy, which closed on 30 September. The Government intends to publish a revised National Climate Change Strategy before the end of 2006.

Milk Quota.

Dan Neville

Question:

145 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the allocation of milk quota; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32754/06]

I recently announced the establishment of a new Milk Quota Trading System to supersede the current Milk Quota Restructuring Scheme. The new system was agreed following extensive consultation with the farm organisations and ICOS and will release larger quantities of quota to active and committed dairy farmers through the combined operation of a market Exchange and a maximum price Priority Pool.

The arrangements for the new scheme were published last week and the detailed rules will be available shortly. Milk producers will be invited to submit applications to sell or purchase quota by 24th November 2006, with the first Exchange being run as soon as possible thereafter. The operation of the system will be reviewed after the first Exchange, and a second Exchange will follow in spring of 2007.

These new arrangements will allow milk producers the opportunity to bid for the amount of quota required to meet the development needs of their farm enterprise at a price that will generate a commercial rate of return. In essence farmers may now decide on the amount of quota they wish to buy or sell and the price at which they are willing to trade quota. Some 70% of the total amount of quota offered for sale will be transacted on the market Exchange and will be sold at the market-clearing price.

In order to cater for certain categories of producers, I have established a Priority Pool, which will allocate quota to farmers whose leases have expired and were not renewed, to successors and to young farmers. The surplus available in the Priority Pool will be allocated to producers with less than 350,000 litres. Some 30% of the total quota offered for sale will be allocated through the Priority Pool at a maximum price of 12 cent per litre. Producers may purchase up to a combined maximum of 60,000 litres from both pools. The new system will continue to operate in each Co-op area, thus maintaining the principle of regional preference or ring fencing within current pools.

I am satisfied that the new Milk Quota Trading system will create a more open market system of transferring milk quota and will allow farmers much greater freedom to make choices about how milk quota should be transferred, affording them far greater scope to decide the volume and price of quota they wish to buy.

World Trade Negotiations.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

146 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the implications for the agri-food industry here of the breakdown of the Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32875/06]

Michael Noonan

Question:

170 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of the World Trade Organisation talks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32760/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 146 and 170 together.

Intensive negotiations since the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in December 2005 failed to achieve progress and the current round of WTO negotiations were suspended by the WTO Director General at the end of July 2006. It is unclear at this stage when the negotiations will resume although the earliest date for resumption appears to be after the mid-term US Congressional elections in November.

The EU has already made significant contributions to facilitate progress in these negotiations. I believe that when the negotiations resume the onus should be on other WTO negotiating partners to make equivalent contributions. The final agreement must provide the Irish and EU agri-food industry every opportunity to compete on equal terms on world markets and provide an appropriate level of protection for Irish products on EU markets.

I remain committed to securing a new WTO agreement. However I am determined that this will not prevent Ireland from enjoying the benefits of a CAP and EU rural development policy that supports and protects the agriculture and food sector and which underpins the viability of rural communities. Accordingly my overriding objective is to ensure that any new WTO agreement can be accommodated within the terms of the recent CAP reforms and that further reform will not be required.

The current GATT/WTO Uruguay Round Agreement, which sets out the levels of support and protection which may be provided for the agri-food sector, will remain in place until a new agreement is concluded. I will be proceeding with the Agrivision 2015 Action Plan for the development of a modern, efficient, competitive and market-oriented agri-food industry in Ireland.

Sugar Beet Industry.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

147 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on the status of the sugar beet industry here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32922/06]

Greencore Group plc closed its Carlow sugar factory in March 2005. A year later, the company announced its intention to cease sugar production in Ireland completely and to apply for aid under the EU scheme for the restructuring of the sugar industry which was introduced as part of the agreement on reform of the EU sugar regime. Restructuring, in this context, refers to the abandonment of sugar quota production, the dismantling of production facilities and the allocation of restructuring aid to the affected processors, growers and machinery contractors. In May 2006, Greencore closed its remaining sugar factory at Mallow and in July submitted an application for restructuring aid. The application was deemed eligible and approved subject to the outcome of Judicial Review proceedings instituted by Greencore in respect of certain Government decisions relating to implementation of the restructuring aid.

Under the EU regulations, the maximum rate of restructuring aid is available where a sugar quota is renounced and the redundant sugar plant is fully dismantled. However, the regulations also provided an option to apply for a reduced rate of aid (75%) where a sugar plant was to be partially dismantled and used for non-food purposes, such as bioethanol production. A decision on which option to pursue was entirely a matter for the sugar processor concerned. The application submitted by Greencore was for the maximum rate of aid and commits to full dismantling of the Mallow factory. Factories that closed prior to July 2005, such as the Carlow factory, are not covered by the restructuring scheme.

Food Safety Standards.

Liz McManus

Question:

148 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the EU proposal to introduce restrictions on the intra-Community trade, export and import of eggs from salmonella infected flocks of laying hens; the Government’s response to the proposal to apply such restrictions to national trade; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32898/06]

A baseline study of the prevalence of salmonella in table egg flocks, conducted in 2004/5, found significant levels of S. enteritidis and S. typhimurium in some EU countries. These salmonella serovars account for a large proportion of known food-borne outbreaks of salmonellosis in humans. No cases of S. enteritidis or S. typhimurium were found in Ireland in the course of the survey.

Current European legislation requires that, with effect from 2010, eggs may not be sold for direct human consumption if they originate from flocks of unknown health status or that are infected with salmonella or suspected of being so infected. Current legislation also requires that from February 2008 every laying flock be subject to a regime of private and official testing to ascertain salmonella status.

In the light of the worrying outcome to the baseline survey a draft EU proposal has been tabled which would have the effect of bringing forward the restriction on trade in eggs from infected flocks from 2010 to February 2008. The original version of this proposal concerned only intra-Community and third country trade in eggs but the most recent draft of the proposal applies to all placing on the market of eggs (national as well as exports and imports).

I support the proposal and the February 2008 implementation date. Infected eggs pose serious risks to human health and the level of infection in some European countries is unacceptable. The lead-in time between now and 2008 is required in order to allow Member States to draw up control programmes, which have to be approved by the European Commission, and to put in place the extensive monitoring arrangements that will be needed in respect of each flock to underpin the new control regime.

Most EU countries are in favour of the proposal although some are concerned at the high costs involved for the industry and there are also some technical issues concerning testing methods to be resolved. It may also be necessary for the EU to notify the appropriate WTO bodies of this proposal as it concerns international trade.

When implemented, the proposal will contribute to the protection of public health here. Irish egg producers should have no difficulties in meeting the new requirements in view of the excellent salmonella status of our eggs, as evidenced by the findings of the baseline study.

Tuberculosis Incidence.

Ivor Callely

Question:

149 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of animals removed from farms here as tuberculosis reactors for each year 2000 to 2005; the process of the removal of the animal and the manner in which it is transported to the factory; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32902/06]

The number of TB reactors removed for each year from 2000 to 2005 is as follows:

2000

39,847

2001

33,702

2002

28,930

2003

27,978

2004

22,967

2005

25,884

A key objective of the TB scheme is the prompt removal of reactor animals and animals which are deemed to be reactors are removed from the holding for slaughter as soon as possible after valuation of the animals has taken place via the Reactor Collection Service, which is funded by my Department. The speedy removal of reactors is encouraged by the linking of eligibility for full compensation to full co-operation by keepers in the removal of reactors. Hauliers included on a list approved by my Department are engaged to transport the animals and are obliged to comply with relevant legislation governing animal welfare and the transport of cattle. Department staff are normally present on the farm when the animals are removed and there is a permanent Department veterinary presence in the meat factories receiving the animals for slaughter.

Consumer Liaison Panel.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

150 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of the consumer liaison panel; when it is next due to report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32883/06]

The Consumer Liaison Panel was established in January 2002 to strengthen communication between the consumer and my Department. It is a Standing Panel which operates independently of the Department and meets as it considers necessary to liaise on general consumer issues in relation to the activities of the Department and to comment on the flow of information both to and from the public.

The Panel is chaired by Ms Marian Finucane and has representatives of the Consumers' Association of Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Countrywomen's Association, Voluntary and Community Sector Platform, RGDATA and representatives of major food retail outlets.

Since its establishment the Panel has been briefed on Department activities across a wide range of food safety, environmental and agricultural policy issues of direct concern to consumers. The Panel has to-date issued a number of recommendations on such areas as food labelling, food imports and the necessity for consumer input into the CAP reform process. At present it is considering the findings of a report it has commissioned on food prices in Ireland.

As set out in the Agri Vision 2015 Action Plan, the Department will continue to give priority to the role of the consumer and in this regard the Department is committed to reviewing the operation of the Panel.

Question No. 151 answered with QuestionNo. 130.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

152 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has undertaken an economic analysis of the viability of each energy crop in the context of expected market conditions and climactic conditions here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32923/06]

Pat Breen

Question:

163 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will increase the bioenergy payment from €45 per hectare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32736/06]

Martin Ferris

Question:

197 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the best strategy to promote the growing and processing of energy crops. [32915/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

484 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the extent to which her Department has encouraged or assisted farmers who opt for energy crops; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33041/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

491 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans she has to encourage the planting of energy crops; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33048/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 152, 163, 197, 484 and 491 together.

The Government recently published a Green Paper on energy "Towards A Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland", in which they made a firm commitment to promote renewable energy, as part of a coherent energy policy. In this context, a Ministerial Taskforce has been established to prepare a road map to develop Ireland's bioenergy resources to 2020. The viability of particular Energy Crops has been examined in the ‘Bioenergy in Ireland' Report, which was recently published and Teagasc have also conducted trials at their research centre in Oakpark, Carlow. The Taskforce will take these studies into account, in the context of preparing a comprehensive National Bioenergy Action Plan by the end of the year.

On the demand side, I am confident that the recently announced Mineral Oil Tax Relief Scheme valued at €205m will help drive additional demand for the production of energy crops. When fully operational in 2008, it will deliver some 163 million litres of biofuels per year and should result in Ireland achieving 2% market penetration of biofuels.

On the supply side, support to farmers for growing energy crops may only be provided in accordance with EU Regulations. Under the Energy Crops Scheme, aid of €45 per hectare is available for energy crops provided they are intended primarily for use in the production of biofuels and electric and thermal energy produced from biomass. In addition to this scheme, set aside land can be used for a variety of non-food uses including the growing of crops for energy purposes and will therefore qualify to activate set-aside entitlements under the Single Payment Scheme. The EU has agreed that sugar beet will be eligible for aid under the scheme and may also be grown as an energy crop on set aside land. At the February Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting, I called for a review of the energy crop premium as it was not proving effective in Ireland. The EU Commission has just published a Report on implementation of the scheme and my Department is currently studying the Report.

There has been renewed interest among some producers in growing miscanthus and willow as a feedstock for bioenergy purposes. My Department has received a number of proposals for the introduction of establishment grants and these are currently being considered. The introduction of establishment grants will require EU approval.

For the purposes of contributing to the development of policy on biofuels, my Department in conjunction with COFORD and Teagasc has examined the potential of energy crops. Last year, my Department began providing direct funding, on a competitive basis, to support priority research projects in the bioenergy sector. This funding is channelled through the Department's Research Stimulus Fund Programme. Five of the projects selected under the 2005 and 2006 calls for proposals directly relate to biofuels and energy crops and received total grant assistance of some €1.5m. Projects supported under this Programme will complement the research work being done by Teagasc and others in this area.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

153 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she reached a conclusion in her consideration of the observations received in conjunction with the recommendations made in the inter-Departmental or inter-agency working group report on genetically modified organisms coexistence arrangements; if so, the conclusions she has reached; if not, when she will reach such a conclusion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32874/06]

Following my request last December for observations on the recommendations contained in the Interdepartmental Group Report on Coexistence of GM crops and non GM crops in Ireland I received over sixty submissions from the general public. I am currently engaged in the process of considering these submissions in the light of the Recommendations made and I hope to be in a position to bring forward proposed measures by the end of the year.

These proposed measures will then require the introduction of a legislative framework which will require clearance at EU level.

Food Safety Standards.

Mary Upton

Question:

154 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on providing the United States of America’s Food Safety and Inspection Service with Ireland’s 2006 national residue monitoring plan; if she has received a request for same directly from the US Government; if so, the Government’s response to that request; if she has received the equivalent residue monitoring plan from the US Government; if so, if she will provide this Deputy with a copy; if not, if she will request it from the relevant US authorities or cause it to be requested from them in order to provide this Deputy with a copy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32897/06]

The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USA annually request a copy of Ireland's national residue monitoring plan and a copy of the 2006 plan was provided to FSIS on 4th April 2006.

Third Countries wishing to export animal products to the EU are required under EU law to satisfy the European Commission that their legislation and control regimes provide equivalent guarantees to those in the EU. To meet this requirement, Third Countries are required to furnish the Commission with details of residue-monitoring plans and results for approval by the European Commission. The Commission, through the Food and Veterinary Office, carries out regular inspections in third countries to verify the residue monitoring regimes in place. Third Countries must also furnish the Commission with details of legislation, drug approvals and inspection regimes. I will arrange for a copy of the US residue-monitoring plan for 2006 to be provided to the Deputy when available.

Forestry Industry.

John Gormley

Question:

155 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the forestry planting rates for the past 15 years; if these are meeting existing targets; the reason for the fall-off in planting in recent years; her plans to ensure that the Government’s existing target is met and exceeded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32924/06]

Since 1991 some 228,159 hectares of new forestry have been planted, an average planting rate of 15,000 hectares a year. The current planting target of 20,000 hectares per annum, including public planting of 5,000 hectares per annum was set in 1996.

The reasons why the annual planting target has not been met are complex. In the first place, public planting ceased almost completely in the late 1990s, because of a Court of Justice ruling which found that Coillte Teoranta was ineligible for afforestation supports. In more recent years, a combination of high land prices, competing land-use options and uncertainty about future agricultural scenarios has led to a reluctance on the part of many farmers to commit their land to forestry.

In terms of incentives, the current forestry grant and premium package including advice from Teagasc is without doubt the most attractive that has ever been available. Farmers and land-owners can avail of an establishment grant of 100% of costs, a tax free premium of up to €500 per hectare per annum for 20 years, at present, and under the Single Payment Scheme, farmers can plant up to 50% of their eligible claimed area, without losing any entitlements.

Under the new Rural Development Plan 2007–2013, I intend to bring forward a new Forestry Programme. The detail of the new Rural Development Plan and its forestry component has yet to be finalised, but it will be made available for public consultation shortly.

Earlier this year my Department embarked on a joint initiative with the Irish Forestry Industry Chain (IFIC) under the heading ‘Forests for a Bright Future' to highlight the multifunctional benefits of forestry and to stimulate up-take in the afforestation programme. This promotional campaign is expected to run for at least eighteen months, and is promoting the advantages of forestry, particularly to farmers, with a view to increasing the rate of new planting.

Animal Diseases.

Denis Naughten

Question:

156 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food further to Parliamentary Question No. 377 of 27 June 2006 regarding equine infectious anaemia; if she will furnish a response to the issues raised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32934/06]

Further to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 377 of 27 June 2006, the investigation referred to in my reply is still ongoing. This investigation is comprehensive and thorough and, pending its completion, it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further.

Sheep Industry.

Joe Costello

Question:

157 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress made to date in the implementation of the sheep industry development strategy recommendations; if a dedicated executive resource has been appointed; if so, what it consists of; if not, when it will be appointed and what it shall consist of; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32867/06]

The Sheep Industry Development Strategy Group issued its report in June 2006. This is a comprehensive study of the sheep industry which sets out a Development Plan for the industry contained in 37 recommendations. I decided that the best way to implement these recommendations was to set up an implementation body comprised of representatives of all sectors in the industry, including the relevant state bodies. It is chaired by Mr. John Malone, former Secretary General of my Department, who was also the author of the Strategy Group report. My Department is also providing administrative back up and I have informed the implementation body that I will provide whatever other assistance I can to help it pursue its objectives for the betterment of the industry. The implementation body held its inaugural meeting on 25th July and has continued its work since then.

Milk Quota.

Michael Ring

Question:

158 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the abolition of milk quota; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32740/06]

As the Deputy will be aware the current milk quota arrangements were extended until the end of the 2014/2015 milk quota year as part of the 2003 Luxembourg Agreement on the reform of the CAP. While a review will take place in 2008, any further proposals for reform are a matter for the EU Commission, and the Council will make decisions on such proposals. Should the Commission come forward with further proposals in the milk sector I will participate fully in the Council to ensure that the best interests of the Irish dairy sector are protected.

Food Safety Standards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

159 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the Government’s response to the three questions submitted by the European Commission to the UK authorities on 12 July 2006 on practices in the dairy sector in the UK and which were then submitted to other EU member states for response; her view of the divergence of opinion (details supplied) between the European Commission and the UK authorities subsequent to the exposure of the findings of a UK Food Standards Agency inspection mission carried out on 9 June 2006 in a UK dairy establishment, which is suspected of placing on the Community market large volume of cheese and cheese curd made from raw material unfit for human consumption; her further views on whether there are implications arising from this exposure for Irish consumers and for industrial concerns here; if her attention has been drawn to establishments here which might be processing distressed milk into cheese curd or cheese cleaning; if her further attention has been drawn to Irish companies participating in the trade of waste, contaminated cheese, reclaim milk from milk collectors and milk-processing establishments industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32896/06]

In accordance with the opinion of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCOFCAH), the EU Commission, on 13th October 2006 adopted a Decision addressed to Member States prohibiting the placing on the market of all curd cheese manufactured by Bowland Dairy Products Limited, a UK based company. The Decision also required that Member States shall trace, detain and dispose of all remaining quantities of curd cheese of that origin. Ireland supported the proposal of the Commission and is complying fully with the Decision.

Authorised officers of my Department have identified and traced all products covered by the Decision. These products were either returned to the consigner prior to the Decision of the Commission or have otherwise been detained. Arrangements for the disposal of these products are being made. I can also confirm that there are no establishments in Ireland processing distressed milk into cheese, cheese curd or any other dairy product, nor is reclaim milk used in the milk processing industry in Ireland.

The Deputy asked how the Irish authorities responded to the three questions posed by the Commission to Member States generally. In response, Ireland confirmed that the use of milk, which has reacted positively to a screening test for the detection of antibiotics, is not allowed in the manufacture of cheese or other dairy products. Secondly, the use of milk mixed with water and possibly detergents, which has come from the cleaning of the piping system, is not allowed in the manufacture of a product for human consumption. Thirdly, cheese from which mould has been removed is permitted in the manufacture of processed cheese under strict conditions. These are that the operation must take place in an approved establishment under the control of my Department and such products must be tested to the standards that apply to all cheese for human consumption before being used in processing. My Department is maintaining regular contact with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in this matter.

Animal Welfare Bodies.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

160 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of animal welfare officers here; the steps she is taking to ensure good animal welfare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32749/06]

My Department has certain statutory responsibility for the welfare and protection of farmed animals. The legislation governing this is the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984 and the European Communities (Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes) Regulations, 2000. In addition there is specific legislation in relation to pigs, calves and laying hens.

Welfare matters are dealt with generally by officers based in my Department's District Veterinary Offices. These officers deal with the implementation of farm animal welfare legislation as well as having responsibilities in a wide number of other areas related to animal health, disease control etc. Funding is available to deal with emergency care, feeding, transport etc. of welfare compromised farm animals. I am satisfied that the resources available within my Department are sufficient to deal with such cases and to provide a high standard of animal welfare.

In 2004 the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council (FAWAC) developed an Early Warning/Intervention System (EWS) for dealing with animal welfare cases. This involves my Department, Irish Farmers' Association and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals. The objective of the system is to provide a framework within which farm animal welfare problems can be identified before they become critical or overwhelming. The new system allows for concerned individuals to approach their local IFA representatives, their local SPCA or my Department in the knowledge that the matter will thereafter be dealt with in the most effective, timely and sensitive manner.

In addition to the foregoing, my Department makes ex gratia payments annually to organisations, involved in the direct delivery of animal care and welfare services to assist in their on-going work. To date, we have provided a total of €5.97 million to such bodies, some €1.2m of which was paid to 86 organisations in December last to assist them during 2006. A provision of €1.1m for this purpose is included in my Department's Estimates for 2006 and invitations have issued to organisations to apply for an ex gratia payment in respect of 2007.

The main statutes governing cruelty to animals in this country are the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 and 1965. Responsibility for pursuing complaints under that legislation rests with An Garda Síochána, who may on receipt of a complaint, investigate and bring a prosecution against any person alleged to have committed an act of cruelty against an animal. Officers of my Department are regularly involved in assisting the Gardaí in such cases.

EU Conventions.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

161 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress made on plans to ratify the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals since the inter-departmental co-ordination meeting on 5 May 2006 of the Council of Europe, which apparently discussed the matter of ratification of Council of Europe conventions and the responsibility of Departments in that regard; her views on signing and ratifying that convention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32864/06]

My Department has statutory responsibility for the welfare and protection of animals kept for farming purposes only and it does not extend to animals kept as pets. I understand that the matter relating to ratification of Council of Europe Conventions and the responsibility of Departments in that regard are still under consideration.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Liz McManus

Question:

162 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has considered the future economic advantage to the economy here if Ireland was a genetically modified organism production free area in the context of a world where few such nation states could so be described; if she will commission an evaluation study to determine the answer to this question as a follow-up to its Economic Evaluation of a GM Free Country an Irish Case Study carried out by Teagasc, which did not consider a scenario in which 100% of crop and livestock producers did not adopt GMO technology and did not consider a scenario in which a market price premium and demand increase might reasonably be inferred in the absence of many other GMO free production zones worldwide for GMO production free countries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32871/06]

Ireland cannot unilaterally declare itself as a GM free region and as a consequence prohibit the cultivation and use of authorised GM crops and products within the country. EU legislation on GMOs which has been adopted by the European Parliament and the Council under the co-decision procedure is binding on all member states. As outlined to the House on previous occasions, the only way regions can remain GM production free is if there is a voluntary agreement among all land owners in that particular region to desist from the growing of GM crops or if, on the basis of accepted scientific evidence, the cultivation of a particular GM crop can affect the environment or human and animal health.

Furthermore, the Irish feed industry imports from outside the EU significant quantities of feed ingredients, such as maize and soya, which are required for animal production here. Much of these imports are sourced from GM crops which have been authorized for marketing within the Community.

The issues surrounding GM and non-GM farm production will continue to be monitored by my Department in consultation with the relevant stakeholders and further studies may be necessary in light of a changing market situation, alternative land uses and other factors.

Question No. 163 answered with QuestionNo. 152.

Food Safety Standards.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

164 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress made by the Brazilian authorities in producing and implementing an action plan or action plans to address the deficiencies in Brazil’s animal health and public health control systems, traceability and certification procedures which the EU’s Food and Veterinary Office found during its visits to Brazil in the second half of 2005; if Brazil provided, by the 11 July 2006 deadline, an action plan for addressing identified deficiencies in its residue’s monitoring system, as well as the 2006 residue monitoring plan, and the 2005 report on the implementation of its previous residue monitoring plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32876/06]

An EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) inspection to evaluate animal health and public health control systems, traceability and certification procedures in place in Brazil was carried out in September of last year. In December the FVO completed a second mission that year to evaluate the control of residues and contaminants in live animals and animal products, including controls on veterinary medical products in that country. The FVO recently published its findings following a period of consultation with the Brazilian competent authorities. These reports, as well as all previous FVO reports on inspection of third countries' controls for export, may be accessed from the EU Commission's website.

The reports comment on the structure, organisation and tasks of the Brazilian Competent Authorities and have listed a number of recommendations to the authorities to address deficiencies recorded in the course of the FVO audits. The Commission has confirmed to my Department that the action plans in question have been received.

Brazil provided information on residue monitoring in June 2006. This is the subject of ongoing discussions at the Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCOFCAH) on which my Department is represented.

A corrective action plan was received from the Brazilian Authorities in August this year and following assessment, measures in relation to beef, horsemeat and aquaculture were deemed acceptable. The Commission has already taken action against Brazil because of its poor performance on residue levels in certain products and some products have been withdrawn from Brazil's Residue Plan for export to the EU, including eggs and egg products, milk and milk products, pig meat, ovine and caprine meat and honey.

The Commission indicated to Ireland that a further FVO mission to Brazil is being planned to take place in the first quarter of 2007. On traceability the Commission has taken into account the fact that the animal health mission concluded that traceability was guaranteed now for exports.

I have taken every opportunity to remind the Commission of the importance of having the same standards, particularly in relation to all exporting countries, including Brazil, and my Department will continue to closely monitor the position.

Food Labelling.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

165 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Department of Health and Children on the enforcement of country of origin labelling within the catering trade; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32773/06]

John Deasy

Question:

174 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on the enforcement on the food labelling laws in view of their report to her Department of breaches in the law under her jurisdiction following an investigation of 90 food businesses completed in 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32742/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

182 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on the enforcement on the food labelling laws; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32772/06]

Bernard Allen

Question:

216 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on its report into breaches of food labelling laws of 90 food businesses completed in 2004; the action her Department has taken following the reporting of breaches in the legislation under it’s control; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32743/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 165, 174, 182 and 216 together.

The enforcement of food labelling regulations is centralised in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) who ensure that the appropriate controls are carried out by the relevant official agencies. The official agencies include the Health Service Executive, my Department, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs and the local authorities.

My Department is in touch with officials of the FSAI on an ongoing basis and regular meetings are held to discuss a wide range of issues. Any issues, which arise in relation to the enforcement of food legislation, including enforcement of labelling legislation, are discussed where necessary, in this context. Prior to the recent introduction of labelling regulations extending the beef regulations to the catering sector, my Department held a number of meetings with the FSAI in relation to appropriate enforcement procedures, which are carried out by Environmental Health Officers.

As I indicated in replies to similar questions on the 27th June 2006 my Department received the elements of the FSAI report that referred specifically to plants that came within its remit. These related to 11 premises and were all minor breaches. My Department, to the satisfaction of the FSAI, addressed the issues identified by the FSAI audit.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

166 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to extend country of origin labelling in the catering trade to lamb, pigmeat and chicken; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32726/06]

I am glad to say that regulations were introduced in June 2006 (operational from 3 July) to extend ‘country of origin' information requirements on beef at retail level to the catering sector. The enabling legislation passed by the Oireachtas in March of this year, under which these regulations were made, also facilitates the extension of country of origin labelling to all meats. However, because different origin labelling requirements apply to other meats in the retail sector under current EU legislation and there are also different systems of traceability as well as some import/export complexities, it is not as straightforward as it is for beef. The European Commission has opposed Member States introducing legislation in this area that is in excess of common EU requirements. Nonetheless, my Department is at present in the process of drafting new regulations to require operators in the retail and catering sectors to provide country of origin information on poultrymeat, pigmeat and sheepmeat. It is my intention to submit these regulations, when they are finalised, to the European Commission for approval as required by EU legislation.

Of course, the preferred way forward is that the Commission would progress the question of country of origin labelling of all meat at EU level. I wrote earlier this year to the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection on this subject. I also raised the issue in the Agriculture Council some months ago and will continue to take every opportunity to press for progress on this matter. I also raised the issue with Commissioner Fischer Boel during her recent visit to Ireland and was pleased with her own positive views on the need for an EU origin label.

I am also glad to inform the Deputy that the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission undertook a consultative process on a wide range of issues in this area earlier this year, under a document entitled ‘Labelling: Competitiveness, Consumer Information and Better Regulation for the EU'. I arranged for my Department to make a submission on food labelling and country of origin labelling of meat in particular to the Department of Health and Children, who co-ordinated the Irish contribution to this process. In the meantime, my Department will continue its work on the drafting of national measures.

Alternative Energy Projects.

John Perry

Question:

167 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures she intends to take to promote alternative renewable energy from agriculture; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32763/06]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

190 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to develop an alternative energy sector based on agricultural land; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32764/06]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

206 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action she is taking to develop the biofuel sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32719/06]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

217 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to develop the biofuel sector; the discussions she has had with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32768/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 167, 190, 206 and 217 together.

In the recently published Green Paper on a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland, the Government made a firm commitment to promote the renewable energy sector in Ireland. Overall responsibility in this area rests with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, who is leading a cross-Departmental, cross–agency approach in developing and implementing renewable energy policy. As part of this strategy, a Ministerial Taskforce has been established to prepare a road map to develop Ireland's bioenergy resources to 2020. I am working closely with Ministerial colleagues, as part of this Taskforce, to prepare a comprehensive National Bioenergy Action Plan by the end of this year.

I believe that agriculture and forestry have an important role to play in this area, as they provide many of the raw materials with potential uses as renewable energy resources. Biofuels is one element in the development of renewable energy. Agriculture and forestry has the potential to be the source of many feedstocks for biofuels. For example, oilseed rape, wheat and sugar beet can be used for the manufacture of liquid transport biofuels, while forestry by products and other farming and food by-products such as meat and bone meal and tallow, can be used for energy/heat generation. Tallow can also be used for biodiesel production. Other energy crops such as short rotation coppice and miscanthus can be used for heat and electricity generation.

Support to farmers for the growing of energy crops may only be granted in accordance with EU regulations. Currently, such support is provided by way of the Energy Crops Scheme, which was introduced under the reform of the CAP. Under this scheme, energy crops may qualify for aid of €45 per hectare provided they are intended primarily for use in the production of biofuels and electric and thermal energy produced from biomass. In addition to this scheme, set aside land can be used for a variety of non-food uses including the growing of crops for energy purposes and will therefore qualify to activate set-aside entitlements under the Single Payment Scheme. The EU Commission has recently published a Report on the implementation of the scheme, which my Department is examining.

Developing an indigenous biofuels industry is a core component of Government policy to improve sustainability. I am confident that the extension in the last Budget of excise relief of €205m which, when fully operational, will support the use and production of 163 million litres of biofuels annually, will help drive additional demand for the production of energy crops.

Wood biomass has the potential to play a major role in Ireland's National bio-energy strategy. It can be used for a variety of energy uses such as generating electricity, heat or as combined heat and power (CHP). I believe that the exploitation of the wood resource especially pulpwood, sawmill residues and harvestable forest residues offers enormous potential and could contribute significantly to our energy and heat requirements. Ireland has an excellent growing climate and an ongoing supply of raw material for wood fuel.

The Forest Service and COFORD are actively encouraging the development of the wood energy sector in Ireland through support schemes, primarily aimed at developing an effective and efficient supply chain from forest grower to end user. The Forest Service is currently examining the introduction of a Wood Biomass Harvesting Machinery Scheme to support investment in wood biomass processing machinery, such as whole tree chippers and forest residue bundlers. We are directly promoting the use of wood biomass by the installation of a wood heating system at the Department's offices at Johnstown Castle.

Short rotation coppice and miscanthus have considerable potential for heat/electricity generation. The production of these crops is relatively undeveloped in Ireland due to high initial establishment costs and lack of economies of scale. My Department has received a number of proposals for the introduction of establishment grants for miscanthus and these are also being considered.

Meanwhile my Department in conjunction with Teagasc and COFORD has examined the potential of energy crops, wood biomass and farming and food by products. Last year, we began providing direct funding, on a competitive basis, to support priority research projects in relation to biofuels. This funding is channelled through the Department's Research Stimulus Fund Programme. Five projects directly relating to biofuels and energy crops have been awarded total grant assistance of some €1.5m.

Several by-products of the farming and food processing industries such as meat and bone meal, tallow, animal manures and food by-products can be recovered and used in various ways as biofuels. There are significant opportunities for the use of animal by-products as biofuels some of which are being considered actively. Commercial realities are driving these proposals. The disposal of by-products imposes a cost on industry and it makes economic sense to offset this cost by realising the potential of the by-products as an energy source. Tallow is used at present as a biofuel in thermal boilers in rendering plants and larger meat export plants to provide energy. A recent EU Regulation provides for the conversion of tallow to biodiesel. Some rendering plants are considering building biodiesel plants for this purpose using various combinations of tallow, recovered vegetable oil and rapeseed oil.

With the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2003, farmers now have the freedom to exploit new opportunities, including agricultural production for non-food uses. I believe the development of this sector presents a new opportunity for farmers and rural communities. It will help stimulate diversification of farm incomes, generate sustainable employment and contribute to the development of rural economies. We are at the early stages of development, but significant progress is already being made. The development of bioenergy is and will continue to be a priority for Government.

Question No. 168 answered with QuestionNo. 142.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Billy Timmins

Question:

169 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will implement the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food report on the farm retirement scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32723/06]

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture and Food published its report on the Early Retirement Schemes in February 2005. The report dealt with a range of issues and I responded to it in detail in September 2005. As I explained in this response, certain of the Committee's recommendations are precluded by the EU Regulations under which the current Scheme and its predecessor are operated.

I saw some merit in other aspects of the Committee's report, specifically those relating to income limits and in line with the Joint Committee's recommendations, I have recently increased the off-farm income limit for transferees in the current Scheme from €25,400 to €40,000 and have abolished the income limit for transferors. As this Scheme will close to new applications at the end of December the practical effect of any further changes would be very small.

The Committee paid particular attention to two further issues. One was the implication of decoupling for retired farmers who had leased out land and quota to transferees before or during the Single Payment Scheme reference period. I believe we secured the best deal that we could for people in this situation, in spite of the reluctance of the Commission at the outset. A specific mandatory category was included in the National Reserve arrangements under the Single Payment Scheme. This category caters for farmers who inherited or otherwise received a holding free of charge or for a nominal amount from a farmer who retired or died before 16 May 2005 where the land in question was leased out to a third party during the reference period. Under these arrangements, where a farm reverted to the retired farmer at the end of a lease without any entitlements, the farmer taking it over will have access to the National Reserve. Retired farmers in the current Scheme who farmed during part or all of the reference period and who hold Single Payment entitlements could activate entitlements and lease them to their transferees. If the transferee did not wish to use the entitlements, a transferor has until 2007 to lease the entitlements with land to another farmer. Once at least 80% of the entitlements have been used by the lessee, the transferor has the option to sell the entitlements with or without land; otherwise he can continue to lease the entitlements with land.

The second issue the Joint Committee focused on was the levels of payment under the two Schemes. In the course of discussions on this issue, the European Commission has pointed out that the rate in the earlier Scheme was set at the maximum amount for co-funding that the Regulation allowed, and that it would not be possible to secure co-funding for an increase in the rate of pension for existing participants in the current Scheme.

Question No. 170 answered with QuestionNo. 146.

EU Directives.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

171 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of the proposals for derogations under the Nitrates Directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32724/06]

Ireland's action programme under the Nitrates Directive was given legal effect by the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations 2006, which were signed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on 18 July, 2006.

Consideration of Ireland's proposals for a derogation to allow certain farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare per annum is at an advanced stage in the European Commission. Officials from my Department and the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government made a presentation regarding our derogation proposals to the EU Nitrates Committee on 19 September, 2006. Questions were subsequently received from member States and these have been responded to in writing by Ireland. A further meeting of the Committee was held yesterday and I am hopeful that a positive Commission proposal on our request will be presented for approval at the November Committee meeting.

Environmental Policy.

Dan Boyle

Question:

172 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department has analysed the impact of climate change on agriculture here; the action she intends to take on the basis of available information to support Irish agriculture through this change; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32918/06]

Climate change has serious implications not just for agriculture but for all sectors of the economy. The Government is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol and the National Climate Change Strategy published in 2000 sets the framework for Ireland to achieve its targets under the protocol, that is, to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 13% above 1990 levels over the commitment period of 2008-2012. The target set for agriculture to reduce emissions is 10% below the projected "business as usual" levels for 2010.

In reaching this target the decoupling of direct payments from production is significant, as it is expected to lead to a fall in livestock numbers, which will lead to a reduction in methane emissions. This development has already been facilitated by a number of initiatives prior to decoupling such as the Extensification Premium, the change in the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme from an animal to an area basis and stock restrictions linked to Commonage Framework Plans.

The improved management of organic manures and reduced usage of chemical fertilizers are other necessary contributors to greenhouse gas reduction and they continue to be encouraged by increasing participation rates in REPS. The introduction of the Nitrates Regulations this year will further assist the process and our growing forestry sector has a significant role to play in terms of carbon sequestration.

My Department is funding various research projects to assist in identifying sustainable greenhouse gas emission reduction measures. Amongst these are studies focused on reducing methane emissions in ruminants and an examination of nitrous oxide emissions from grasslands. These are in addition to agricultural-related research by the EPA.

A review of the National Climate Change Strategy is currently under way and as part of the inter-Departmental team established to oversee implementation of the Strategy, my Department is contributing in a substantial way to the review. We have identified a range of potential greenhouse gas reduction measures in the agriculture area for consideration in the review. These include improved slurry spreading techniques, support for bio-energy crops, alternative carbon neutral fuel sources, deployment of renewable energy technologies at farm level, improved manure management through the use of new and emerging technologies, optimisation of nitrogen use, minimum tillage systems and forestry development.

As regards the likely impact of changes to climate on Irish agriculture, I am aware that both increased precipitation and water shortages are major issues for agriculture worldwide and it has been suggested that such changes in our own climate may have both positive and negative long-term effects on Irish agriculture. My Department is aware of and monitors the ongoing research programme on climate change in Ireland and its likely impact. We will continue to monitor this research closely so as to identify what areas of agriculture are vulnerable to climate change and how farming systems are likely to be adapted in response.

Organic Farming.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

173 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the acreage covered by organic production; the way in which she intends to multiply that figure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32920/06]

While the organic sector in Ireland is small by European standards, it is growing. The total area in conversion or with full organic status rose by nearly 5,000 hectares to 35,266 hectares in 2005, an increase of some 15% on 2004. That figure has increased further to 36,412 hectares this year. This represents 0.8% of the total utilisable agricultural area. The National Steering Group for the Organic Sector has advised that a target of 3% of the land area under organic production by 2010 is achievable. I am fully supportive of this goal.

My Department already provides substantial financial supports for organic producers, through the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) and the Scheme of Grant Aid for the development of the organic sector. Since REPS began in 1994, it has delivered some €37 million to the sector. The new Rural Development Programme for the period 2007-2013 will build on the success of REPS by including measures designed particularly to encourage development in the organic tillage and horticulture areas. It is proposed, for example, to allow organic farmers to obtain organic support payments without having to be in the REP Scheme.

Lack of technical expertise has been recognised as a barrier to progress in both the organic tillage and horticultural areas. To address this information deficit, my Department, in conjunction with Teagasc, arranged this year to bring in two specialist agronomists, on a pilot basis, from the UK. Through farm visits and workshops, they shared their experiences with producers and this has been of immense value.

Another successful initiative has been the demonstration farm programme. It continued during 2006 and a total of 13 farms were used throughout the country to promote organic farming systems. My Department will continue to expand and improve this programme which is a major instrument in encouraging conventional growers to switch to organic.

Substantial progress has also been made on the implementation of the recommendations in the Organic Development Committee report, published in 2002. The three additional structures recommended are now into their second three-year terms. The National Steering Group advises me on all policy issues relating to the sector. The Steering Group is supported by two sub-Groups, the Partnership Expert Working Group and the Organic Market Development Group. The Partnership Expert Working Group is responsible for training, education, advice and research. The Organic Market Development Group has overall responsibility for developing a national marketing strategy for organic food.

The development at production level cannot happen in isolation. It needs a market to support it. The most recent initiative in this regard is the three-year Organic Marketing Plan, produced by Bord Bia, in consultation with the Organic Market Development Group. The objective of the plan is to develop the organic sector in Ireland for existing suppliers and new entrants. Included in the plan is National Organic Week which this year runs from November 6th to 12th.

Question No. 174 answered with QuestionNo. 165.
Question No. 175 answered with QuestionNo. 131.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Ivor Callely

Question:

176 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the benefits that have accrued under the REPs scheme; the issues of concern that have been brought to her attention under the scheme; the funding allocated for REPs scheme for the years 2000 to 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32903/06]

REPS has delivered benefits in agricultural, environmental and socio-economic terms. This is evidenced in more efficient management practices, increased biodiversity and reductions in fertilizer usage and increased viability on family farms.

Almost €2 billion has been paid directly to farmers since REPS was introduced in 1994 of which approximately €1.22 billion was paid in the 2000 to 2005 period. These payments have made a significant contribution to the rural economy.

In drafting proposals for REPS 4, I am conscious of the need to provide more options and supplementary measures to give farmers a better choice and make it easier for them to construct a set of undertakings to match their particular circumstances, I also intend to make provision for intensive farmers who avail of the derogation being negotiated under the Nitrates Directive to join REPS. These farmers have not been able to join previous REP schemes.

Proposals for REPS 4 are, of course, subject to EU Commission approval.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

177 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has seen the final report of the World Trade Organisation Disputes Panel on the claims by the US, Argentina and Canada that the de facto moratorium on the approval of genetically modified products within the EU constituted an economic barrier to trade; if she has seen the final report, her views on same; if she will provide this Deputy with this report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32873/06]

I wish to inform the Deputy that I have just recently received the final report of the World Trade Organisation Disputes Panel on the claims by the US, Argentina and Canada that the de facto moratorium on the approval of genetically modified products within the EU constituted an economic barrier to trade.

The report was distributed to the public on 29 September last and is now available on the internet at http://www.wto.org/english/news e/news06e/291re.htm.

From my initial examination of the Report I do not have any difficulty with the critique presented by the EU Commission which stated that:

the WTO Panel ruling does not affect the EU legislation and policy on GMOs;

despite the claims of the complainants, the violation findings made by the Report are mostly limited to procedural obligations; for example, alleged undue delays in processing some applications for approval of GMOs in the past;

since the WTO Panel was established in 2003, 10 authorisation decisions have been adopted. More than 30 applications are currently being examined. This confirms that the EU system for GM approval authorisations is functioning in application of EU law; and

the EU is currently reflecting on the next steps at the WTO level on the basis of a careful analysis of the final panel report.

I look forward to this more detailed analysis which is now being prepared by the Commission.

EU Directives.

John Deasy

Question:

178 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of the animal medicine exemption rules at EU level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32738/06]

John Perry

Question:

180 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of her application to the EU commission for an exemption list under the animal remedies regulations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32747/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 178 and 180 together.

EU Directive 2004/28, which was transposed into Irish law last November, included a provision that all veterinary medicines for food producing animals should only be supplied on the basis of a veterinary prescription, unless exempted from this requirement under criteria to be drawn up at EU level before 1 January 2007. My Department was instrumental in securing the insertion of the latter provision into the Directive.

An EU Directive on the exemption criteria was adopted by the relevant EU Standing Committee on 10 October. While decisions on the classification of veterinary medicines are ultimately a matter for the Irish Medicines Board, I am satisfied that the exemption criteria, as adopted, mean that current off-prescription veterinary medicines will not have to be reclassified as prescription only. This is a very positive outcome to this matter from Ireland's perspective and represents a substantial improvement on the draft criteria which were published by the Commission last February. During the intervening period, my Department had made very strong representations to the Commission for a more flexible approach so that decisions on the appropriate classification of veterinary medicines could be taken by regulatory bodies, such as the IMB, based on a scientific evaluation of the risk benefit profile of individual products. I am pleased that the Commission has taken my views into account.

As the criteria will not require any current off-prescription medicines to be made prescription only, farmers will continue to get these medicines on the same basis as at present and it will not now be necessary to amend the existing regulations to extend the range of prescribers. This represents a more favourable outcome to subjecting the medicines concerned to the increased restrictions, which would be necessitated by any form of prescription regime, even if additional categories were to be allowed to prescribe.

Jack Wall

Question:

179 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to ensure the ban on animal medicine advertising; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32890/06]

The ban on the advertising of prescription only medicines derives from EU Directive 2004/28 and has been transposed into Irish law via the Animal Remedies Regulations 2005. My Department has written to all relevant companies in the veterinary medicines sector in Ireland drawing their attention to the advertising ban and to the penalties for which they are liable for failure to comply with it.

I should point out that, since the advertising ban is restricted to prescription only veterinary medicines, the impact of the ban will be substantially reduced as a result of the favourable outcome which I have secured on the exemption issue.

Question No. 180 answered with QuestionNo. 178.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Willie Penrose

Question:

181 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on advocating changes to the carbon credit payment system and increasing establishment grants for biomass crops in order to further incentivise biomass fuel crop production here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32880/06]

The management of carbon credits is in the first instance, the responsibility of the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Government will use carbon credits for the sole purpose of achieving compliance with Ireland's commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to limit its greenhouse gas emissions to 13% above 1990 levels.

Under the EU burden sharing arrangements Ireland will have the benefit of approximately 63 million allowances per annum, each of which must be surrendered by the State in lieu of one tonne of CO2 emissions during the 2008-2012 period. This assigned amount represents our level of emissions in 1990 plus 13%. Current projections for the 2008-2012 period show that average annual emissions will be approximately 70 million tonnes in the absence of further measures to reduce them.

The gap of 7m tonnes between projected emissions and available allowances will be closed through: measures to reduce emissions throughout the economy, in addition to those set out in the National Climate Change Strategy and those introduced subsequently; emissions reductions, or the purchase of carbon allowances, by installations participating in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme; and the purchase of additional allowances or credits.

The Government has stated its intention to purchase up to a maximum of 3.607 million allowances or credits per annum over the Kyoto Protocol commitment period 2008-2012. The National Treasury Management Agency will purchase additional allowances or credits on behalf of the State. Under the Kyoto protocol, there is no "carbon credit payment system", in Ireland and there are no plans to introduce one.

With regard to establishment grants for biomass crops such as short rotation coppice and miscanthus, these crops have considerable potential for heat/electricity generation. There has been renewed interest among some producers in growing these crops, however, production is relatively undeveloped due to the substantial initial establishment costs. My Department has received a number of proposals for the introduction of establishment grants and these are currently being considered.

Support to farmers for growing energy crops is available under the Energy Crops Scheme introduced by Council Regulation 1782/2003. Under this scheme, aid of €45 per hectare is available, where the crops are intended for use in the production of biofuels and electric and thermal energy produced from biomass. The EU Commission has recently published a Report on implementation of this scheme and has proposed an amendment to the scheme allowing the possibility of payment of national aid towards establishment costs of multiannual crops. This Proposal is being considered at working group level in Brussels. In addition to this scheme, set aside land can be used for a variety of non-food uses including the growing of crops for energy purposes and will therefore qualify to activate set-aside entitlements under the Single Payment Scheme.

Energy crops are still a relatively new field and the economics are marginal compared to conventional crop tillage. Generally speaking the main constraint is poor profitability for growers and others in the sector. A Ministerial Task force has recently been established to bring forward measures to develop the bioenergy sector in Ireland. The Task force will prepare a comprehensive National Bioenergy Action Plan by end 2006.

Question No. 182 answered with QuestionNo. 165.

Bovine Diseases.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

183 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures she is taking to eradicate tuberculosis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32739/06]

The overall national strategy for dealing with TB includes a comprehensive range of measures, including the mandatory annual testing of all cattle in the national herd, the early removal of reactors, a wildlife programme, the use of the gamma interferon test as an adjunct to the tuberculin test in problem herds and the depopulation of infected herds in some cases. In addition, my Department provides advice to farmers in relation to bio-security against TB infection such as maintaining satisfactory stock-proof boundary fencing, avoiding contact with other herds and exercising care in buying cattle.

The present eradication programme is scientifically based and is kept under on-going review, as evidenced by the changes that have occurred in recent times. Recent changes include a more focused contiguous herd testing policy and greater use of the ancillary gamma interferon blood test in target herds. On the technology side, new and enhanced computer systems have been developed including an individual animal identification and passport system, a computerised movement monitoring system (CMMS) and an animal health computer system (AHCS).

In addition, given the role of wildlife, the current scheme contains a significant wildlife strategy aimed at removing badgers in adjacent areas where they are implicated in tuberculosis breakdowns. The wildlife strategy is implemented under licence from and in co-operation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

These measures have improved the effectiveness of the programme as evidenced by a significant reduction in the disease from 4.2 reactors per thousand animals tested in 1998 to 2.9 in 2005. The 2005 TB eradication programme was completed with 97% of the 123,322 cattle herds tested within the twelve-month period when some 9 million tests were carried out.

My Department will continue to monitor and review the effectiveness and efficiency of the programme on an on-going basis with a view to the eventual eradication of the disease. In this context, notwithstanding the fact that the existing wildlife strategy has contributed to a reduction in the incidence of bovine TB, it is accepted that the development of a vaccine for badgers is a prerequisite if eradication of tuberculosis from the cattle population is to be achieved.

My Department plans to commence a large-scale field trial of BCG in badgers in the near future to test the efficacy of a vaccine. However, any vaccine will not be available in the immediate future and the existing strategy will remain in place for some time. In the meantime, the existing programme, updated as appropriate in light of developments, will remain in place.

Energy Resources.

Enda Kenny

Question:

184 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the role of her Department in the Government Green Paper on Energy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32720/06]

My Department participated in a number of interdepartmental committees lead by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources on the development of bioenergy prior to the publication of the Green Paper ‘Towards a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland'. My Department was subsequently in frequent contact with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in relation to the development of bioenergy from an agriculture perspective. Indeed, I also discussed the issue directly with my colleague Minister Dempsey. I therefore welcome publication of the Green Paper, which has set a number of ambitious targets to develop Ireland's renewable energy resources to 2020.

As indicated in the Green Paper, a Ministerial Task force has been established to prepare a road map to develop Ireland's bioenergy resources to 2020. I am working closely with my Ministerial colleagues, as part of this Task force, in the preparation of a comprehensive National Bioenergy Action Plan by the end of this year. This will ensure a cohesive approach to the development of this sector across Government Departments, state agencies and relevant stakeholders.

Milk Prices.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

185 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the drop in milk prices paid to the producer; if this is being passed on to the consumer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32904/06]

While the price of milk paid to dairy farmers is a commercial matter between milk producers and milk purchasers for which I have no direct responsibility, I am aware that market prices have been reducing in recent months.

Prices paid to milk producers are determined by a combination of the international market for dairy products, the product mix and the efficiency of the processor as well as the overall operation of the EU price support mechanisms. The Mid Term Reform of CAP provided that the intervention prices of milk products would reduce in the period 2004-2007 and these reductions would be compensated by the introduction of a direct premium payment. This compensation amounts to €180 million or 3.6 cent/litre in 2006 and added to the market price has maintained an average return similar to the aggregate price return of the past three years.

My Department has no function in regard to the retail price of milk or milk products. This price is related to general competition matters and to the functioning of the market at retail level.

Dairy Industry.

David Stanton

Question:

186 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the proposals she has to support the modernisation of the dairy processing industry to help improve efficiency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32929/06]

Phil Hogan

Question:

189 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the restructuring of the dairy industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32741/06]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

211 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to ensure that the new dairy processing scheme is maximised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32737/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 186, 189 and 211 together.

In July of this year I launched a dairy processing sector investment package amounting to some €300 million over the next three years. The investment includes some €100 million of Government grant assistance. The objective of the Dairy Processing Investment Fund is to support Capital Investment related to the processing of dairy products. It will stimulate the necessary investment in the dairy sector to ensure the long-term competitiveness and viability of the dairy industry in Ireland.

Enterprise Ireland will manage this scheme and implement the Fund. They will play a key role, together with my Department, in the evaluation of the suitability of investment projects submitted for grant assistance.

The key eligibility criteria are that support will be provided for Annex 1 dairy projects with a minimum level of investment of €5m. Subject to these restrictions, it is my intention that each project will be fully evaluated for support on its merits. I should point out that the closing date for submission of applications which should be submitted to Enterprise Ireland has been extended to 23 November 2006.

I firmly believe that with commitment, innovation and investment from the Irish dairy industry, the Fund will go a long way toward the development of a modern, competitive, market focussed and highly efficient food sector in Ireland, as envisaged in the AgriVision 2015 Action Plan.

EU Directives.

David Stanton

Question:

187 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the advice and information that she has given to farmers regarding the implementation of the Nitrates Directive on farms; her views on holding information meetings on the issue; her further plans in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32928/06]

Regulations giving legal effect to the action programme under the Nitrates Directive came into effect on 1 February, 2006. Following de facto deferral of certain elements of these Regulations to allow for the submission of revised scientific advice by Teagasc, new amended Regulations entitled the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations 2006 were introduced on 18 July 2006.

My Department has participated with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in lengthy consultations with the farming bodies through the development of these Regulations. A detailed advertisement was placed in the press in February 2006 to provide information to farmers and a cross-compliance information booklet which issued to all farmers from my Department in August last provided further details in relation to the nitrates rules.

My Department, in association with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, is currently preparing a handbook for all farmers which will explain in clear terms all elements of the Nitrates regulations. The handbook, along with a copy of the Regulations, will issue to farmers next month in advance of the holding of information meetings by my Department and Teagasc at various venues around the country to explain the requirements of the regulations.

Question No. 188 answered with QuestionNo. 137.
Question No. 189 answered with QuestionNo. 186.
Question No. 190 answered with QuestionNo. 167.

Damien English

Question:

191 Mr. English asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her role to date on the implementation of the nitrates action plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32751/06]

The implementation of the Nitrates Action Plan is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The regulations to give legal effect to the action plan were signed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on 18 July, 2006 and replaced regulations introduced in December, 2005.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government engaged in an extensive consultation process with all stakeholders, including my Department, on the action programme prior to the introduction of the regulations. My Department was actively involved in framing revisions to the original regulations, which introduced greater flexibility and addressed some concerns raised by farmers. My Department is now playing a lead role in presenting Ireland's derogation request to the EU Nitrates Committee. The derogation request, which would allow certain farmers to operate, under appropriate controls and conditions, up to a level of 250kg of organic nitrogen per hectare per annum is at an advanced stage of consideration by the European Commission.

In addition, a number of commitments relating to the Nitrates Directive in the form of improvements to the Farm Waste Management Scheme and the Dairy Hygiene Scheme and substantially increased REPS payments (REPS 3) have been delivered. Furthermore a new Farm Waste Management Scheme designed specifically to assist farmers meet the requirements of the Nitrates Directive was introduced in March, 2006.

My Department is involved in delivering the necessary information to farmers on the requirements of the Nitrates Regulations. A detailed advertisement was placed in the press in February last. An information booklet on cross-compliance was issued to all farmers in August, 2006 and this provided further details in relation to the Nitrates rules.

My officials, in association with officials in the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, are now finalising a handbook which will explain to farmers in clear terms the various Nitrates requirements. The handbook, along with a copy of the regulations, will be issued to farmers shortly. Information meetings for farmers involving my Department and Teagasc are being arranged for various venues around the country to coincide with the issue of the handbook.

Food Industry.

Richard Bruton

Question:

192 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of meetings of the Food Agency Co-Operation Council in 2004, 2005 and to date in 2006; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32765/06]

The Food Agency Co-operation Council met on 20 occasions between 2000 and 2003 to promote co-operation between the State Agencies involved in the food industry. Since 2004 the food development agencies directly concerned with the National Development Plan 2000-2006 have met periodically to assess progress under the Plan. Two meetings were held in 2004 and one each in 2005 and 2006 while my Department was examining future arrangements in the light of changes in the CAP and the 2015 Agri-Vision Report.

Arising from this, the Agri-Vision 2015 Plan of Action, which I launched earlier this year, included the establishment of a high level group of CEOs of food agencies, chaired at Ministerial level. The inaugural meeting of the Agency CEO Group, which subsumes and replaces the Food Agency Co-operation Council, took place on 18 July 2006.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Liam Twomey

Question:

193 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans her Department has to evaluate the economic implications of the use of genetically modified organisms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32762/06]

I wish to inform the Deputy that I have no plans at present to commission any further evaluations on the economic implications of the use of genetically modified organisms other than the study carried out by Teagasc earlier this year. He will recall that Teagasc, at my request, carried out an evaluation of the possible national economic implications for the Agri-Food industry from the use of GMOs in crop and livestock production. Teagasc based their study on the following scenarios:

(i) The economic implications of only allowing the importation into Ireland of certified GM-free soyabean and maize livestock feed ingredients; and

(ii) The economic implications of GM-free crop cultivation in Ireland.

In the first scenario the study showed that substantial additional costs would be placed on the livestock sector, particularly on specialist dairy and beef farmers, if they were to use certified GM free soya and maize only in feedingstuffs. In the second scenario the study examined five hypothetical GM crops which could be grown here — herbicide tolerant sugar beet, Septoria resistant winter wheat, Fusarium resistant winter wheat, Rhyncosporium resistant spring barley and blight resistant potatoes. This study showed that increased profits could be generated for growers of these crops compared to their conventional equivalent. However, the study showed that there is a significant cost in relation to Identity Preservation for conventional growers in a coexistence arrangement.

Animal Diseases.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

194 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on Ireland’s comparative position with other EU countries in respect of the incidence, detection, treatment and preventative regime of mastitis, IBR, BVD and Johnes disease; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32887/06]

Statistics on the comparative positions of member States in relation to the diseases, etc. referred to are not available.

My Department is in ongoing discussion with the relevant interests in industry, veterinary sector and other interested parties in relation to establishing a herd health initiative which would involve the development of a national integrated approach to non-regulated diseases such as Johnes, B.V.D and Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis, etc.

Food Safety Standards.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

195 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the information in relation to on-going work regarding residues in food of animal origin which was imparted to the Government at the 6 October 2006 meeting of the European Commission’s Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, Toxicological Safety of the Food Chain section; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32892/06]

At the meeting of the EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health SCOFCAH on 6 October 2006 the Commission informed the Committee that the provisions of Regulation 96/23 on measures to monitor certain substances and residues in live animals and animal products are not in line with the basic principles of the Control Regulation (882/2004). The matter has been under consideration for some time and it has now been decided to go forward with two new texts — one establishing maximum residue levels and a separate text for the controls. My Department will continue to monitor progress and to participate fully in discussions at EU level on this matter.

Milk Tests.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

196 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to provide for independent milk testing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32715/06]

Pat Breen

Question:

214 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to provide for independent milk testing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32729/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 196 and 214 together.

My Department already conducts regular checks on the results of butter fat testing carried out by milk processors. It also checks the calibration of the instruments used in milk processing establishments for measuring the fat and protein levels in milk collected from producers. My Department also monitors the instrument used in measuring somatic cell levels in milk delivered to processors.

In addition my Department conducts random administrative checks to ensure that the results of butter fat and protein tests are correctly transcribed into the calculation of the milk price paid to the producer. Any further development of an independent milk testing is a matter for the industry itself.

Question No. 197 answered with QuestionNo. 152.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

198 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the release of genetically modified crops; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32769/06]

Ireland's national policy on GMOs was officially set out in the October 2000 Report of the Interdepartmental Group on Modern Biotechnology which was endorsed by the Government. The overall conclusion of this report was summarised as ‘a positive acceptance of the potential benefits of biotechnology tempered by a precautionary approach to the potential risks — and to ensure that as far as is possible, the benefits of biotechnology are maximised and the risks minimised without compromising on safety for people and the environment'.

Coupled with this position is the comprehensive set of GM legislation which has been adopted by the European Parliament and the Council over the last five years under the co-decision procedure. This new legislation, which is binding on all Member State, governs the assessment and approval procedures for GM crops, food and feed which ensures that the highest standards are in place to protect the citizens of the Community from a food safety and environmental safety aspect.

I am accordingly satisfied that the current authorisation procedure for the deliberate release of GM crops into the environment is the most stringent in the world. We can be assured that this system, which has at its core a rigorous scientific testing system, will ensure that the environment and the food chain will not be contaminated by authorized GM crops. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the Competent Authority in Ireland responsible for the authorization of GM crops for deliberate release into the environment.

Infectious Diseases.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

199 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding Ireland’s preparedness for an avian influenza outbreak in poultry flock here; if she has satisfied herself that Ireland is ready for the birds’ migration season; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32899/06]

My Department has developed comprehensive contingency arrangements to deal with any case of avian influenza in wild birds or any outbreak in poultry. These arrangements are kept under constant review with a view to updating them to take account of any new developments that arise. To that end, we are conscious of and particularly vigilant during the autumn/winter migratory season, during which the risk of the introduction of the disease increases. I have recently signed a number of Statutory Instruments to ensure that we have at our immediate disposal the necessary legislative powers to deal effectively with any case/outbreak of avian ‘flu. In addition, my Department is continuing to maintain close contact with those other State and non-State agencies on whose assistance we might rely, e.g. An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, the Civil Defence and the Farm Relief Service. We have, at all times, received the full support and commitment of all those agencies whose assistance we have requested.

I am satisfied that my Department is adequately prepared to deal with any case/outbreak of avian flu which may arise here in the coming months.

Grant Payments.

Damien English

Question:

200 Mr. English asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department applies interest on outstanding payments due to farmers, where there has been an underpayment caused by a Departmental error; the interest rate charged in such circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32470/06]

My Department's policy is to make all payments due to farmers on an accurate and timely basis. The record in this regard is excellent and the statistics in the most recent Annual Report (2005), show that the vast majority of payments to farmers, well over 90% for many schemes, were made in accordance with the targets laid down in the Charter of Rights for Farmers.

In the exercise of its functions as paying agency for EU Funds, including co-funded schemes, my Department is bound by rules laid down at EU level. The EU regulations laying down terms and conditions of these schemes do not include provision for the payment of interest by paying agencies.

My Department does apply the Prompt Payment of Accounts Act, 1997 and the regulations on combating late payment in commercial transactions. However, these provisions apply to the supply of goods and services, and do not apply to the grant and other schemes administered by my Department.

Question No. 201 answered with QuestionNo. 137.

Food Industry.

John Gormley

Question:

202 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her Department’s role in the implementation of the recommendations of the Taskforce on Obesity; if she has satisfied herself in relation to progress in implementing these recommendations; if she is further satisfied regarding the results to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32925/06]

My Department's role in the implementation of the Report of the National Taskforce on Obesity relates to the recommendations directed to my Department viz.

The Department of Agriculture and Food together with the Department of Health and Children should promote the implementation of evidence-based healthy eating interventions,

and

The Department of Agriculture and Food should review policies in partnership with other government departments to promote access to healthy food. Such policies should encompass positive discrimination in the provision of grants and funding to local industry in favour of healthy products.

The Scientific Study on Children's Diet, which was co-funded by my Department and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, was the first study to benchmark dietary intakes of a nationally representative sample of Irish children. The work was carried out by researchers in Trinity College, Dublin and University College, Cork who surveyed 600 children aged 5-12 years from primary schools throughout Ireland during 2003 and 2004 and collected information on diet, physical activity and body measurements on each child as well as lifestyle information for both the children and their parents. This is the first comprehensive scientific evaluation of dietary intake in children in Ireland and provides direction for the dietary strategies that need to be established to prevent obesity in Irish children.

The Scientific Study identified inadequate consumption of milk, fresh meat and fruit and vegetables among the young. Last August I launched a new school milk scheme. The new revamped scheme has a broader range of milk products on offer including flavoured milk, low-fat and fortified options and with the improved packaging will I believe encourage more milk consumption among schoolchildren.

A pilot measure to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption has commenced its second year in operation and on completion will be introduced to 120 primary schools. Managed by An Bord Bia, the programme, which is funded jointly by the EU Commission, my Department and WPI, a trade body, aims to increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables by primary school children in school and at home. It was developed by the University of Wales, Bangor and is based on positive role models (the Food Dudes characters), repeated tasting and rewards. Studies show that it can deliver long-lasting results across the primary age range, regardless of gender, school size, geographic and socio-economic factors. It is designed to enable children enjoy healthy diets, and to create a healthy eating culture within schools. It is a three-year programme. The results of the first year have been very encouraging.

As regards the recommendation that my Department's policies should encompass positive discrimination in the provision of grants and funding to local industry in favour of healthy products, subsidising prices is a form of state aid that is not permissible under EU state-aid rules. Discrimination between products could also result in a challenge on competition grounds at national or EU level. I will, however, look at all the possibilities open to me in this area within legal constraints including state aid rules. The Plan of Action, which I launched earlier this year to implement the 2015 Agri-Vision Report, sets out a series of measures to maintain high standards of food safety, quality and traceability at all levels.

Animal Welfare.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

203 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of vehicles engaged in the transport of animals which have been inspected since March 2004; the number of commercial consignments of dogs which have been examined since that date; the number of commercial consignments of dogs which have departed the Republic of Ireland; the countries they have gone to since that date; the number of certifications to ensure compliance with the provisions of EU and national legislation in respect of animals transported from Ireland which have been issued since that date; the number of animals covered by such certificates; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32865/06]

There are currently 112 vehicles approved by my Department to transport live animals. The vehicles comply with the provisions of Council Directive 91/628/EEC on the protection of animals during transport as transposed by the European Communities (Protection of Animals during Transport) Regulations 2006 — SI No. 267 of 2006.

All dogs, including commercial dogs, going to other EU Member States (other than the U.K.), must be accompanied by an EU Pet Passport. The private veterinary practitioner provides the certification on the passports, including details of vaccinations and, where relevant, clinical examination for fitness to travel. Under the system in place, private veterinary practitioners do not provide information on exports to my Department. Until replaced by the EU Pet Passport system private veterinary practitioners examined dogs for commercial export and produced relevant documentation, on foot of which a Department Veterinary Inspector issued final veterinary certification.

The EU Pet Passport system does not apply in respect of commercial consignments to the UK and vice versa due to the common rabies-free status of both territories. Nevertheless, commercial consignments transiting ports or airports are liable to random welfare inspections.

The information regarding the number of certifications to ensure compliance with the provisions of EU and national legislation in respect of animals transported from Ireland which have been issued since March 2004 and the number of animals covered by such certificates is being compiled.

Animal Diseases.

Joan Burton

Question:

204 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on whether the outbreak of swinefever here might negatively affect Ireland’s export market; the steps she is taking to ensure best practice in animal health is being followed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32886/06]

There are currently no cases of Classical Swine Fever in this country. In the event of an outbreak, my Department would apply measures to contain and eradicate the disease in line with national and EU legislation.

Veterinary Inspection Service.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

205 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the frequency of visits by inspectors from her Department to registered user establishments licensed for animal experiments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32916/06]

The protection of animals used for experimental or other scientific purposes is regulated under EU and national legislation (respectively Council Directive 86/609/EEC and the European Communities (Amendment to Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876) Regulations, 1994) which legislation falls within the remit of the Minister for Health and Children.

Question No. 206 answered with QuestionNo. 167.

EU Directives.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

207 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of the application for a derogation to the Nitrates Directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32758/06]

Ireland's action programme under the Nitrates Directive was given legal effect by the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations 2006, which were signed by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on 18 July, 2006.

Consideration of Ireland's proposals for a derogation to allow certain farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250kg of organic nitrogen per hectare per annum is at an advanced stage in the European Commission. Officials from my Department and the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government made a presentation regarding our derogation proposals to the EU Nitrates Committee on 19 September, 2006. Questions were subsequently received from member States and these have been responded to in writing by Ireland. A further meeting of the Committee was held yesterday and I am hopeful that a positive Commission proposal on our request will be presented for approval at the November Committee meeting.

Veterinary Services.

Billy Timmins

Question:

208 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to provide a countrywide and weekend veterinary service for the issue of prescriptions for animal remedies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32761/06]

The Deputy will be aware that veterinary practices are primarily commercial entities and their locations are driven by commercial realities. However, insofar as State involvement is concerned, I can point to a number of recent measures which will alleviate difficulties which may arise in certain parts of the country. Under the new Veterinary Practice Act 2005, effective from 1 January 2006, there is a provision which for the first time enables the Veterinary Council to recognise qualifications from applicants in Third Countries generally. This, taken with the enlargement of the EU, will make for improved availability of practitioners to meet shortfalls that may arise on the supply side. Furthermore, the Animal Remedies Regulations 2005, which I signed into law on 17 November 2005, contain a number of measures which facilitate veterinary practitioners and their farmer clients to avoid difficulties in this area. These include changes to the prescribing rules in terms of the ending of the requirement to clinically examine an animal prior to writing a prescription and the extended validity period of prescriptions. The Regulations also include a provision, which in a genuine emergency situation and subject to appropriate safeguards, allows a pharmacist to supply a prescription medicine in advance of receiving a written prescription. Finally, I understand that Udarás na Gaeltachta provides funding to subsidise veterinary practices in remote areas in consultation with the local farming community.

Grant Payments.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

209 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will provide grant aid to support handling, drying and storage facilities for grain farmers to facilitate farm to farm trading; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32756/06]

Under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, the Department operated the Scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of On-Farm Grain Storage for two rounds of the scheme in 2001 and 2002. The aim of the scheme was to improve the quality and safety of grain and to relieve pressure on commercial intake points at harvest time by developing on-farm storage and handling facilities.

The Department is currently examining whether a similar scheme should be introduced under the new 2007-13 Rural Development Plan. Any such scheme would be subject to compliance with State Aid Guidelines which are being finalised in the EU Commission at present.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

210 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has considered extending the deadline for applications to REP scheme three for a month beyond the 13 October 2006 deadline; if so, the outcome of this consideration; if not, her views on doing so; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32877/06]

REPS 3 is provided for under the current Rural Development Programme that finishes on 31 December 2006 and currently over 3,000 new REPS applications have to be processed by that date. In addition REPS 2 participants with anniversary dates from 1 September to 1 December 2006 inclusive who apply to join REPS 3 under the "fast track" transitional arrangements which I introduced must be processed. Over 4,000 annual applications for REPS payments will also have to be dealt with, as they fall due, before the end of the year. The same staff that are responsible for processing all REPS applications also administer the on farm investment schemes.

I have already extended the original deadline for the receipt of REPS 3 applications to 13 October. To ensure that all applications as outlined above are dealt with and payments made in a timely manner, an extension beyond that date is not possible.

Question No. 211 answered with QuestionNo. 186.

Animal Identification Scheme.

Seán Ryan

Question:

212 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of tenders received for the contract for supply of cattle tags; if she is satisfied that having one supplier is appropriate; the number of tenders received for supply of sheep tags; the number of suppliers of sheep tags; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32882/06]

Eight tenders were received in the recent competition for the supply of bovine animal identification tags and birth registration documents. I am satisfied that having one supplier of cattle tags in the Irish context is appropriate because the overall solution offered by the company selected was deemed to be significantly superior to the alternatives offered in the tender process. The position with sheep is that there are nine approved suppliers of sheep tags who were approved as suppliers having met specific criteria.

Live Exports.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

213 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action she has taken subsequent to receiving a petition signed by over 12,000 people seeking to end the export of Irish horses for slaughter during the first half of 2006; the number of such horses that have been exported to the United Kingdom and other EU countries during each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32869/06]

Trade in horses between EU Member States is provided for under EU legislation which establishes the health conditions and health certification to be applied to such animals for trade purposes. The prevention of a trade that is specifically provided for in EU legislation would be contrary to the fundamental principles of the EU and could be construed as an unlawful barrier to trade. Ireland does not certify horses specifically for slaughter as health certificates do not distinguish this as a purpose of export. All export certificates that are issued by the Department are in respect of animals for breeding, racing, jumping /sport use.

Furthermore, Ireland is party to a tripartite agreement with the UK and France for trade in horses. This permits trade in all horses with the UK and in registered horses to France without health certification, on the basis of equivalent health status in the equine sector in these countries. Because of this, it is not possible to be sure of the ultimate destinations of such horses exported to the UK or France. Such horses must, however, be individually identified by a passport or a current signed marking sheet.

General welfare rules apply to the export of horses. All consignments of certified horses and a random sample of tripartite horses exported are subjected to a welfare check by veterinary inspectors and ports to ensure that they are fit for the journey intended and a certificate is issue.

Details in relation to exports of horses for which statistics are kept are as follows:

2001

4,764

2002

2,837

2003

2,588

2004

2,025

2005

1,917

The significantly higher figure for 2001 is due to the fact that the tripartite agreement was suspended for the duration of the foot and mouth crisis and all horses travelling to the UK and France had to be certified in the same way as horses going to other European countries.

Question No. 214 answered with QuestionNo. 196.

EU Directives.

Denis Naughten

Question:

215 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the inspection regime which will apply to the enforcement of the Nitrates Directive; the level of on-farm inspection anticipated by her officials; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32935/06]

The implementation of the Nitrates Directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The control authorities designated for the purposes of implementation of the European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations 2006 are the local authorities and the Environmental Protection Agency.

My Department's role is in the context of EU cross-compliance inspections required under the Single Payment Scheme. These inspections will address the various statutory management requirements, including compliance with the requirements of the Nitrates Directive, on farm holdings in receipt of payment under the Single Payment Scheme. EU regulations generally require that 1% of farm holdings are selected for cross-compliance inspection annually.

Question No. 216 answered with QuestionNo. 165.
Question No. 217 answered with QuestionNo. 167.

Food Labelling.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

218 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the plans to establish an all island food label; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32752/06]

I am supportive of initiatives to promote food on all-island basis where this is of mutual benefit and leads to closer economic co-operation. The development of an all-island animal health policy is a necessary prerequisite to the establishment of an all-island food label. The development of the animal health policy is being actively pursued in the context of North/South cooperation. In addition an all-island food label would require negotiation between the relevant authorities regarding its status and conditions for use and general acceptance from consumers and buy-in by producers and processors island-wide.

In the meantime a Memorandum of Agreement was finalised between Bord Bia and Invest Northern Ireland (INI) to provide for structured ongoing co-operation in food promotion at International Trade Fairs, retail promotions on the UK market, co-operation on developing the speciality sector on an all island basis and market research and intelligence.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

219 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when will she introduce REP scheme four; if there will be special provision to compensate farmers who allow access onto their lands for walkers and those visiting archeological sites, fishing and so on; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32906/06]

REPS 4 will form an integral part of Ireland's Rural Development Plan (RDP) 2007-2013. A draft of the RDP will issue for public consultation shortly and it is my objective to secure EU Commission approval for the RDP and to roll out REPS 4 at the earliest possible date in 2007. The EU regulation governing agri-environment schemes does not allow for the inclusion of payments in REPS 4 for recreational activities such as those referred to by the Deputy.

Grant Payments.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

220 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to address the burden of cross compliance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32734/06]

Cross compliance involves two key elements:

A requirement for farmers to comply with 18 statutory management requirements (SMRs) set down in EU legislation on the environment, food safety, animal health, welfare and plant health,

A requirement to maintain the farm in good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC).

If an applicant is found to be non-compliant sanctions are provided for in the governing EU regulations and those sanctions will be applied to the applicants Single Payment. The rate of on-farm inspection required for cross-compliance is 1% of those farmers to whom the Statutory Management Requirements or GAEC apply. However at least 5% of producers must be inspected under the Bovine Animal Identification and Registration requirements as this level is prescribed under the relevant Regulations.

In the context of discussions with the farm bodies my Department has adopted a weighting system and has invested a significant amount of time and resources (both administrative and IT) in developing this system for cross-compliance inspections where due account has to be taken of infringements of the cross-compliance requirements which are, on their own, inadvertent and minor in nature, do not result from negligence of the farmer and are capable of occurring in practical farming situations. In such circumstances a certain level of tolerance is applied while, at the same time, the farmer is notified of the infringement.

In implementing the Single Payment Scheme, the policy of the Department is to minimise the number of inspection visits and to move towards a situation where, in most cases, all eligibility and cross-compliance checks will be carried out during a single farm visit. The Department is committed to ensuring the maximum level of integration of inspections across all areas including inspections under the Disadvantaged Areas' Compensatory Allowance Scheme. On this basis my Department estimates that, in all, over 8,000 farmers will be inspected annually under the Single Payment Scheme. This represents more than 50% reduction in the number of inspections when compared to the old coupled regime.

My Department is in constant contact with the EU Commission with a view to the need for further simplification and with particular reference to advance notice of inspections and tolerances.

Animal Identification Scheme.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

221 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her Department has considered the use of electronic tagging for sheep and cattle; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [32884/06]

Under Council Regulation (EC) No. 21/2004, which established a harmonized system of identification for sheep, obligatory electronic sheep identification is to be introduced throughout the EU from the 1st of January 2008. This date is, however, subject to further Council discussions and amendment if necessary. Ireland is fully participating in all working groups on electronic identification of sheep, both at formal EU level and informally with other EU Member States. We are actively involved in examining all aspects of electronic identification in preparation for future discussions on this issue.

My Department continues to look at developments in the market in relation to bovine eartags, including electronic tagging, to ensure that the tag most suited to the needs of Irish farming is available. The suitability of the current tag and that recently selected for use in the Irish bovine identification system was determined by reference to a range of criteria designed to select an effective and secure identification and traceability system so that customers and consumers of Irish beef can be assured of the traceability of the product.

Unemployment Levels.

Seán Crowe

Question:

222 Mr. Crowe asked the Taoiseach the unemployment statistics and figures within County Donegal, particularly within the Milford electoral area for the past ten years. [33035/06]

The exact information as requested by the Deputy is not available. Statistics on employment and unemployment are compiled, at a regional level, from the Quarterly National Household Survey. There are eight regions in the State; Border, Midland, West, Dublin, Mid-East, Mid-West, South-East and South-West. Sub-regional statistics, of the kind requested by the Deputy, are not available from the Quarterly National Household Survey.

However, the Live Register series gives a monthly breakdown of the number of people claiming Unemployment Assistance, Unemployment Benefit and other registrants as registered with the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Figures are published for each county and each Local Social Welfare Office. A breakdown by postal district is not available. The most recent information available is for September 2006.

The Live Register figures for all the Local/ Branch Offices in Co. Donegal for each month from 1997 to date are set out in the following table.

Live Register totals for State, County Donegal and Co. Donegal Local Offices, 1997 to date

Live Register State total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

268,890

264,310

262,414

255,463

248,114

254,863

259,041

258,473

249,328

243,961

239,960

247,730

254,379

1998

246,527

241,771

234,782

231,327

223,941

228,937

232,813

230,494

219,174

212,459

207,174

215,752

227,096

1999

214,014

207,611

201,234

196,548

192,230

195,519

200,559

198,670

186,183

177,945

171,786

176,539

193,237

2000

176,162

172,093

163,489

161,796

152,871

156,753

159,914

159,026

144,932

139,189

136,962

141,586

155,398

2001

142,071

139,515

135,885

136,561

133,691

140,865

147,101

149,439

140,550

141,835

147,121

152,406

142,253

2002

159,960

162,337

162,252

156,237

154,944

164,277

172,098

173,563

161,432

157,706

158,636

166,142

162,465

2003

170,701

171,394

168,059

170,940

166,105

177,852

185,447

185,953

170,822

166,552

164,541

170,604

172,414

2004

174,529

173,127

168,880

164,660

161,972

168,952

177,501

175,816

160,466

155,476

151,966

158,816

166,013

2005

160,543

158,649

157,675

151,619

150,826

159,300

168,509

169,393

153,335

149,644

150,073

155,833

157,117

2006

160,139

159,617

155,543

154,566

152,560

163,059

168,946

169,614

152,307

Live Register County Donegal total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

12,670

12,737

12,548

12,344

12,273

12,719

12,943

13,001

12,742

12,313

12,365

12,927

12,632

1998

12,719

12,512

12,109

12,282

12,086

12,549

12,634

12,565

12,094

11,772

11,469

13,485

12,356

1999

12,144

11,966

11,623

11,501

11,469

11,907

12,293

12,224

11,971

11,532

11,431

11,699

11,813

2000

11,642

11,413

10,980

10,830

10,365

10,652

10,705

10,622

10,003

9,862

9,837

10,088

10,583

2001

10,160

10,008

9,969

9,861

9,856

10,263

10,441

10,297

9,620

9,558

9,549

9,896

9,957

2002

10,182

10,133

10,108

9,729

9,899

10,364

10,605

10,499

9,663

9,355

9,418

9,897

9,988

2003

10,048

10,013

9,964

10,111

9,882

10,680

10,907

10,931

10,187

9,975

9,923

10,149

10,231

2004

10,331

10,246

10,037

9,662

9,576

10,146

10,473

10,374

9,432

9,079

9,088

9,440

9,824

2005

9,590

9,304

9,073

8,846

8,790

9,103

9,516

9,508

8,586

8,322

8,202

8,637

8,956

2006

8,780

8,744

8,501

8,498

8,407

9,002

9,318

9,351

8,340

Live Register Ballybofey Local Office total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

1,717

1,670

1,628

1,628

1,641

1,710

1,736

1,755

1,712

1,705

1,691

1,675

1,689

1998

1,735

1,656

1,616

1,617

1,564

1,622

1,631

1,646

1,609

1,572

1,545

1,718

1,628

1999

1,592

1,632

1,585

1,558

1,536

1,591

1,598

1,569

1,627

1,597

1,565

1,553

1,584

2000

1,526

1,437

1,337

1,302

1,269

1,288

1,300

1,282

1,202

1,172

1,172

1,154

1,287

2001

1,141

1,185

1,124

1,083

1,134

1,125

1,117

1,080

997

1,015

1,007

1,031

1,087

2002

1,040

1,039

1,019

966

955

1,005

1,034

1,039

953

950

974

968

995

2003

967

975

978

938

905

975

995

983

923

900

850

866

938

2004

890

877

830

812

784

856

924

902

807

767

763

789

833

2005

801

783

775

718

703

710

756

770

708

687

698

729

737

2006

735

740

730

705

722

808

831

879

759

Live Register Ballyshannon Local Office total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

857

844

851

789

782

788

772

775

796

788

804

827

806

1998

806

810

770

741

725

734

740

743

742

712

740

738

750

1999

774

770

756

737

717

710

721

701

700

683

682

697

721

2000

696

677

612

595

572

562

567

545

546

529

542

558

583

2001

580

557

567

547

524

527

511

514

476

513

560

570

537

2002

602

601

588

571

549

534

558

537

542

525

562

566

561

2003

570

569

556

540

514

522

506

502

494

494

541

569

531

2004

588

572

549

501

479

490

487

467

439

477

505

534

507

2005

559

521

499

479

465

453

443

442

434

441

464

487

474

2006

498

511

484

478

458

448

463

476

450

Live Register Buncranna Local Office total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

2,421

2,406

2,391

2,403

2,344

2,401

2,443

2,475

2,347

2,316

2,343

2,424

2,393

1998

2,439

2,394

2,342

2,323

2,254

2,366

2,436

2,403

2,302

2,240

2,154

3,058

2,393

1999

2,274

2,199

2,087

2,033

2,029

2,198

2,309

2,298

2,201

2,074

2,008

2,041

2,146

2000

2,019

2,082

2,032

2,069

1,919

2,011

2,051

2,024

1,893

1,865

1,965

2,004

1,995

2001

2,030

1,984

1,963

1,924

1,913

2,038

2,111

2,036

1,853

1,780

1,751

1,862

1,937

2002

1,890

1,879

1,892

1,849

1,816

1,918

1,982

1,941

1,760

1,725

1,670

1,814

1,845

2003

1,876

1,864

1,794

1,833

1,832

1,948

2,005

1,978

1,827

1,811

1,764

1,817

1,862

2004

1,821

1,866

1,795

1,708

1,714

1,838

1,964

1,942

1,743

1,703

1,649

1,713

1,788

2005

1,754

1,689

1,696

1,613

1,634

1,717

1,810

1,814

1,617

1,520

1,479

1,555

1,658

2006

1,573

1,585

1,511

1,578

1,584

1,792

1,843

1,825

1,647

Live Register Donegal Town Local Office total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

677

696

683

664

648

654

659

692

650

632

622

630

659

1998

650

647

634

642

601

620

670

669

643

639

632

677

644

1999

679

657

630

631

636

632

623

653

606

604

602

610

630

2000

602

579

558

526

504

533

534

535

517

526

529

524

539

2001

545

530

529

524

527

544

558

546

525

522

550

556

538

2002

582

569

566

564

554

556

577

579

535

515

535

552

557

2003

554

551

543

542

515

547

569

579

512

503

498

509

535

2004

519

498

503

468

438

461

487

489

438

434

434

448

468

2005

476

463

433

428

409

445

462

468

399

383

390

421

431

2006

437

441

430

422

419

452

494

486

423

Live Register Donegal Control Office total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

8

8

8

8

14

14

14

14

15

12

12

12

12

1998

12

11

11

11

11

9

0

0

0

0

0

1999

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2000

0

0

0

0

0

Live Register Dunfanaghy Local Office total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

1,073

1,054

1,012

977

943

998

1,003

990

981

1,001

1,051

1,092

1,015

1998

1,056

1,022

970

970

914

929

946

946

918

904

924

978

956

1999

917

910

858

856

830

838

903

893

887

864

932

970

888

2000

964

941

888

864

808

814

811

830

810

833

880

921

864

2001

932

936

901

872

845

854

882

903

891

901

941

992

904

2002

1,008

1,022

995

924

946

1,032

994

988

938

913

996

1,064

985

2003

1,079

1,089

1,024

1,016

964

1,049

1,047

1,051

1,014

1,024

1,077

1,094

1,044

2004

1,091

1,069

1,006

964

942

968

965

968

936

903

975

990

981

2005

954

934

878

836

822

840

858

838

775

764

794

836

844

2006

845

821

765

731

711

758

776

783

741

Live Register Dungloe Local Office total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

1,728

1,712

1,742

1,706

1,665

1,723

1,782

1,838

1,782

1,717

1,723

1,819

1,745

1998

1,780

1,753

1,705

1,759

1,756

1,800

1,769

1,757

1,652

1,641

1,574

1,819

1,730

1999

1,711

1,671

1,621

1,602

1,647

1,701

1,806

1,743

1,662

1,636

1,696

1,785

1,690

2000

1,731

1,712

1,647

1,608

1,563

1,582

1,540

1,549

1,443

1,449

1,429

1,477

1,561

2001

1,426

1,404

1,468

1,475

1,446

1,519

1,565

1,564

1,482

1,495

1,553

1,675

1,506

2002

1,614

1,585

1,520

1,507

1,615

1,625

1,661

1,629

1,546

1,461

1,484

1,606

1,571

2003

1,566

1,544

1,573

1,608

1,556

1,742

1,793

1,789

1,673

1,614

1,599

1,617

1,640

2004

1,633

1,573

1,561

1,498

1,516

1,569

1,589

1,589

1,476

1,427

1,457

1,479

1,531

2005

1,455

1,436

1,432

1,416

1,409

1,458

1,521

1,506

1,348

1,322

1,309

1,368

1,415

2006

1,361

1,337

1,286

1,269

1,258

1,317

1,357

1,368

1,214

Live Register Killybegs Local Office total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

1,040

1,333

1,301

1,234

1,357

1,381

1,410

1,270

1,341

1,073

1,121

1,375

1,270

1998

1,101

1,122

1,062

1,230

1,349

1,414

1,365

1,351

1,305

1,154

1,060

1,213

1,227

1999

1,292

1,251

1,236

1,244

1,262

1,292

1,230

1,249

1,217

1,091

1,054

1,138

1,213

2000

1,189

1,127

1,127

1,124

1,143

1,169

1,179

1,170

1,063

1,042

889

963

1,099

2001

1,025

874

1,031

1,043

1,077

1,112

1,099

1,078

979

961

860

823

997

2002

964

927

1,004

979

1,061

1,086

1,085

1,065

953

875

776

845

968

2003

927

838

967

1,056

1,059

1,114

1,083

1,039

985

854

832

834

966

2004

900

940

1,015

1,030

1,086

1,120

1,109

1,089

1,001

866

839

954

996

2005

1,009

905

870

941

954

985

1,026

1,004

936

885

825

895

936

2006

940

895

967

983

972

981

969

932

847

Live Register Letterkenny Local Office total

Persons

Year

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average

1997

3,149

3,014

2,932

2,935

2,879

3,050

3,124

3,192

3,118

3,069

2,998

3,073

3,044

1998

3,140

3,097

2,999

2,989

2,912

3,055

3,077

3,050

2,923

2,910

2,840

3,284

3,023

1999

2,905

2,876

2,850

2,840

2,812

2,945

3,103

3,118

3,071

2,983

2,892

2,905

2,942

2000

2,915

2,858

2,779

2,742

2,587

2,693

2,723

2,687

2,529

2,446

2,431

2,487

2,656

2001

2,481

2,538

2,386

2,393

2,390

2,544

2,598

2,576

2,417

2,371

2,327

2,387

2,451

2002

2,482

2,511

2,524

2,369

2,403

2,608

2,714

2,721

2,436

2,391

2,421

2,482

2,505

2003

2,509

2,583

2,529

2,578

2,537

2,783

2,909

3,010

2,759

2,775

2,762

2,843

2,715

2004

2,889

2,851

2,778

2,681

2,617

2,844

2,948

2,928

2,592

2,502

2,466

2,533

2,719

2005

2,582

2,573

2,490

2,415

2,394

2,495

2,640

2,666

2,369

2,320

2,243

2,346

2,461

2006

2,391

2,414

2,328

2,332

2,283

2,446

2,585

2,602

2,259

Source: Live Register Series, Central Statistics Office.

It should be noted that—

[a] the Live Register is not a definitive measure of unemployment as it includes part-time workers, seasonal and casual workers entitled to Unemployment Assistance or Benefit. Statistics on unemployment are measured at regional level by the Quarterly National Household Survey.

[b] the exact area covered by each Local Office is not limited to the immediate locality of the particular office. For instance, in the Tallaght Local Office there may be registered, persons from the Blessington area.

Planning Issues.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

223 Mr. Durkan asked the Taoiseach the number of housing units in respect of which planning permission has been granted throughout County Kildare in each year from 2000 to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33392/06]

The following table shows the number of planning permissions granted for houses and apartments in County Kildare and the corresponding number of housing units, in each quarter since 2000.

Planning Permissions Granted for Houses and Apartments in County Kildare, Q1 2000 to Q2 2006

Period

Houses

Apartments

Total Dwellings

Number Permissions

Number Units

Number Permissions

Number Units

Number Permissions

Number Units

2000

Q 1

*

734

*

233

250

967

Q 2

*

617

*

145

234

762

Q 3

320

1,325

16

99

336

1,424

Q 4

218

962

16

176

234

1,138

Year

1,358*

3,638

653

1,358

4,291

2001

Q 1

184

683

16

113

200

796

Q 2

187

1,241

20

331

207

1,572

Q 3

197

427

18

243

215

670

Q 4

211

555

12

164

223

719

Year

779

2,906

66

851

845

3,757

2002

Q 1

139

468

15

119

154

587

Q 2

140

341

11

217

151

558

Q 3

145

518

22

96

167

614

Q 4

103

181

12

50

115

231

Year

527

1,508

60

482

587

1,990

2003

Q 1

117

197

16

269

133

466

Q 2

109

553

11

85

120

638

Q 3

123

491

22

372

145

863

Q 4

154

283

13

186

167

469

Year

503

1,524

62

912

565

2,436

2004

Q 1

139

535

12

496

151

1,031

Q 2

164

632

13

102

177

734

Q 3

157

1,469

22

375

179

1,844

Q 4

129

474

15

199

144

673

Year

589

3,110

62

1,172

651

4,282

2005

Q 1

130

991

11

314

141

1,305

Q 2

170

1,088

23

414

193

1,502

Q 3

162

507

12

86

174

593

Q 4

129

448

17

163

146

611

Year

591

3,034

63

977

654

4,011

2006

Q 1

128

525

14

38

142

563

Q 2

126

743

11

176

137

919

*Detailed information on Permissions for Houses and Apartments are not available for Q1 and Q2 2000.

The Planning Permissions series is published by the CSO and gives a quarterly breakdown of the number of planning permissions granted. Figures are published for each county and each planning authority. Only final grants of permission or approvals are covered, i.e. only works which involve construction.

The following permissions are excluded since they do not entail construction per se:

Changes of a technical and business nature as distinct from a building or structural nature;

Outline permission;

Retention of an existing building;

Changes to existing plan;

Bye-law permission;

Refusals — permissions subsequently granted on appeal by An Bord Pleanála are included.

The most recently published planning permissions data is for the second quarter of 2006.

Industrial Relations.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

224 Ms Shortall asked the Taoiseach the number of times since 1987 that civil servants have been forced to obtain an Order from the Courts enforcing or associated with enforcing their contractual rights and entitlements; the additional cost to the Exchequer over and above that which would have prevailed had the State recognised and honoured the contractual rights and entitlements involved in the first instance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32862/06]

There have been no such instances in the case of my Department.

Drugs in Prisons.

Enda Kenny

Question:

225 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the drug treatment facilities which exist in Mountjoy Prison; if there is a dedicated detoxification unit available in the prison; the number of prisoners who can be facilitated within this unit; the number of prisoners currently being treated in this unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32601/06]

The new Irish Prison Service Drugs Policy & Strategy, entitled Keeping Drugs Out of Prisons, was launched on 2 May last. This new policy fulfils the commitment in the Programme for Government to publish a plan to end heroin use in Irish prisons as well as my own commitment to achieving a drug-free prison system. Working to fulfil these commitments will involve the implementation of stringent measures to prevent drugs from getting into prisons while, at the same time, continuing to invest in services within prisons to reduce the demand for illicit drugs in the prisoner population as well as meeting prisoners’ treatment and rehabilitative needs.

Drug rehabilitation programmes for prisoners involve a significant multidimensional input by a diverse range of general and specialist services provided both by the Irish Prison Service and visiting statutory and non-statutory organisations. Measures to reduce the demand for drugs within the prison system include education, treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicted offenders. These programmes and interventions are delivered on an individual and coordinated basis by the Prison Healthcare Teams, Psychology Service, Probation Service, Prison Education Service and prison officers.

Particular initiatives put in place include Drug Free Areas, Drug Misuse Awareness Programmes, Support Programmes and appropriate health interventions, Substitution Therapies, Vaccination Programmes and treatment for viral illnesses. In addition, the Irish Prison Service provides prisoners with a range of opportunities to encourage them to aspire to a substance-free lifestyle, before and after release, thereby reducing demand for illicit substances. An important aim of the new Policy & Strategy is the operation of all treatment programmes within a coherent policy framework, understood and supported by all agencies involved in drug treatment within the prison system, with the ultimate aim being to provide access to drug treatment and rehabilitation programmes for all prisoners who wish to avail of them.

On any given day there is a significant number of prisoners in receipt of methadone maintenance in Mountjoy Prison. This figure fluctuates, generally around 200, but as recently as mid -September reached 283. The Medical Unit in the Prison is part used as a Drug Treatment Facility and can accommodate 9 prisoners. In addition to this, there is accommodation on F3 & F4 Landings for a number of offenders to undertake detoxification. While undergoing detoxification, the offenders are under the care of a Prison Doctor and an Addiction Psychiatrist.

Over 400 offenders have completed Mountjoy Prison's Drug Treatment Programme. This is a 6 week course involving detoxification, and where necessary, intensive counselling and psychological support for participants. A maximum of 9 offenders can be accommodated on this programme at any given time. There are currently a total of 6 offenders participating in the Programme, 3 having dropped out.

The present drug treatment programmes are currently being expanded and enhanced with the further recruitment of a psychologist, nurses and addiction counsellors as well as other staff, all of whom will be dedicated to working solely in the drug treatment area. In this context, advertisements for the provision of addiction counselling services have recently been issued.

Drug Courts.

Enda Kenny

Question:

226 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the Drugs Court operates in all parts in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32602/06]

Earlier this year, the Pilot Drug Treatment Court, currently operating in the North inner city, was placed on a permanent footing. It will be extended on a phased basis to the wider Dublin area in consultation with the other agencies involved in supporting the Court. The President of the District Court has assigned a Judge of the Dublin Metropolitan District Court to the Drug Treatment Court on a permanent basis. The effect of this is to bring the Drug Treatment Court in closer contact with the other courts in the Dublin Metropolitan District from which the clients of the Drug Treatment Court are referred.

I am satisfied that the Court is providing a very worthwhile and innovative service and I will continue to provide it with every support.

Garda Deployment.

Richard Bruton

Question:

227 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that it is common practice within the Garda that persons who are working within specialist units, who seek promotion, are required to leave their specialist unit and return to general policing on acceptance of promotion; and if he will review this practice in order to encourage the retention of specialist experience within these units. [32641/06]

Regulation 17 of the Garda Síochána (Promotion) Regulations 2006 was carried over from the 1987 Promotion Regulations at the request of An Garda Síochána. This regulation provides that, other than in certain technical sections, a member who is promoted to a rank not above inspector shall within three months be assigned to uniformed police duty and remain on such assignment for at least a year. It is my understanding that Garda Management want members of An Garda Síochána to have a broad range of experience in policing management, and this is achieved by ensuring movement within the system upon promotion. Garda Management is satisfied that this rotation of personnel is mutually beneficial to both the members concerned and the organisation.

Citizenship Applications.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

228 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the case of a person (details supplied) on whose behalf application for Irish citizenship was made on 18 December 1962, indication was given as to whether the person or persons sponsoring the application were relatives or had the permission of the child’s mother; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32678/06]

As was advised to the Deputy in a written reply to a Parliamentary Question on 1 December 2004, all of the Department's records on this matter were supplied to the individual concerned in June 2003, on foot of a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

On the basis of the information contained in those records — which cover the period 1961 to 1963 — there is no evidence to suggest that the persons sponsoring the application for naturalisation were relatives of the child. While there is information on file to the effect that the child's natural parents had ceded parental responsibility to a UK based adoption society, there is no direct evidence from the parents or adoption society to support that contention.

Visa Applications.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

229 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position of an application for a visa by a person (details supplied); if delays have been encountered in this application; when this application will be processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32679/06]

My Department has no record of a current visa application in respect of the person in question.

Residency Permits.

Pat Breen

Question:

230 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of an application regarding residency for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32680/06]

There is no provision for the granting of permanent residency in Irish Immigration legislation. However, the proposed Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill will, for the first time, make statutory provision for a status of long term resident. An application for long term residency from the persons referred to by the Deputy was received on the 3rd July 2006.

The position in relation to granting long term residency is as follows: Persons who have been legally resident in the State for over five years on the basis of work permit/work authorisation/work visa conditions may apply to the Immigration Division of my Department for a five year residency extension. In that context they may also apply to be exempt from employment permit requirements. The dependants of the aforementioned, who have been legally resident in the State for over five years may also apply for long term residency. This particular long term permission does not exempt the person from employment permit requirements. Time spent in the State on student conditions cannot be counted towards long term residency.

I understand that applications received in April 2006 are currently being dealt with. As soon as a decision is made on the case, both the Deputy and the persons concerned will be notified.

Garda Operations.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

231 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his Department or the gardaí are aware of the circumstances of a person (details supplied) in County Offaly; if the person in question is known to the gardaí; if the gardaí have received a request from the Health Service Executive in regard to the situation; if the Gardaí have offered information to the Health Service Executive regarding the desirability of the situation; if action is proposed or likely in the event of the continuation of these circumstances or their replication elsewhere; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32681/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the matter referred to is primarily an issue for the Health Service Executive regarding child care concerns. I am further informed that local Garda management is liaising closely with the Health Services Executive in relation to this matter.

I am assured that any breach of the criminal law reported to the Gardaí in relation to this matter will be fully investigated by the Garda authorities.

Casino Regulation.

Joe Costello

Question:

232 Mr. Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his proposals for the regulation of casinos; if his attention has been drawn to proposals to provide casino type activities in betting shops; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32696/06]

On 14 August 2006 I announced that the Government had agreed to my proposals for the establishment of a Committee (the Casino Regulation Committee) to report on the possibilities for a legislative basis for the strict regulation of casino-style operations in the State.

The Casino Regulation Committee will report to the Government on: the possibilities for a legislative basis for the strict regulation of casino-style operations in the State; the form of regulation, the functions and powers of any regulatory body, the licensing system, codes of practice, investigation of complaints, entry and inspection, appeals against decisions, the nature and type of offences, Internet gambling etc.; the role of local authorities; and the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force.

The Committee comprises representatives from the Department of Finance, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, the Revenue Commissioners, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Mr Michael McGrath, a barrister with experience in the licensing area has been appointed chairman of the Committee.

On 18 August 2006 the Committee advertised in the national newspapers inviting submissions from interested parties, groups or individuals in relation to the regulation of casinos. It was open to all persons to make a submission (in writing or by email) to the Secretary of the Casino Regulation Committee. The closing date for submissions was Friday 15 September, 2006. These submissions are currently being reviewed by the Committee and will form part of their report to the Government. The original deadline for the Committee report was the end of October but the Committee have requested a longer period of time in which to conclude their deliberations and draft their report and I have agreed that this time should be made available to them. I therefore expect to receive their report in late November or December.

I am aware of some proposals to introduce casino type activities, such as fixed odds betting terminals, FOBTs, in betting shops. I am opposed to the introduction of such activities into the betting shop environment.

Garda Stations.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

233 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the situation regarding Dunmanway Garda Station; and if he will sanction additional Gardaí for the town. [32701/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 12,762 on Friday, 8 September, 2006, following the attestation of 249 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,060 (or 19%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

I have been further informed that the personnel strength (all ranks) of Dunmanway Garda station as at 31 December, 1997 and 16 October, 2006 was 4 and 7, respectively. This represents an increase of 3 (or 75%) in the number of Gardaí allocated to Dunmanway Garda Station during that period.

It is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

Garda management state that there are plans to refurbish and extend the existing Garda station at Dunmanway and I am informed that the Office of Public Works is finalising the acquisition of land to the rear of the station to enable the planned development works.

I should add that the current recruitment drive to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members, in line with the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of this year. The first three groups of newly attested Gardaí under this accelerated recruitment programme came on stream in March, June and September of this year and the fourth such group will become fully attested members of the Force later this year. Further tranches of approximately 275 newly attested Gardaí will follow every 90 days thereafter until the programme is complete. The Garda Commissioner will now be drawing up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources, and in this context the needs of Dunmanway Garda station will be given the fullest consideration.

Visa Applications.

John McGuinness

Question:

234 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason for refusal in the case of a person (details supplied) who applied for a visa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32712/06]

The application referred to by the Deputy was received in the Visa Office on 2 August 2006. The decision of the Visa Officer to refuse this application was taken on 19 September 2006.

The application was refused because the financial evidence provided was deemed insufficient and incomplete; no clear link between the applicant and the reference was established; the applicant had previously been refused a visa by the UK authorities; there were inconsistencies between the information supplied by the applicant and the information supplied by the reference; and because the Visa Officer could not be satisfied, on the basis of the documentation supplied, that the applicant had demonstrated a sufficient obligation to return home following the visit.

It is open to the applicant to appeal the decision; however, to date, no appeal has been received. All appeals must be submitted within two months of the initial refusal decision.

Garda Stations.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

235 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the provision of a new Garda station for the rapidly growing Ballycullen area of south Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32784/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 12,762 on Friday, 8 September, 2006, following the attestation of 249 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,060 (or 19%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

I have been further informed that, at present, the Ballycullen area of Dublin is policed by both Tallaght and Rathfarnham Garda Stations. The personnel strength (all ranks) of Tallaght Garda Station as at 31 December, 1997 and 17 October, 2006 was 133 and 173, respectively, representing an increase of 40 (or 30%) in the number of Gardaí allocated to the station during that period. The personnel strength (all ranks) of Rathfarnham Garda Station as at 31 December, 1997 and 17 October, 2006 was 63 and 69, respectively, representing an increase of 6 (or 9.5%) in the number of Gardaí allocated to the station during that period.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that there are no plans at the present time to provide a new Garda Station in the Ballycullen area of South Dublin.

It is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

I should add that the current recruitment drive to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members, in line with the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of this year. The first three groups of newly attested Gardaí under this accelerated recruitment programme came on stream in March, June and September of this year and the fourth such group will become fully attested members of the Force later this year. Further tranches of approximately 275 newly attested Gardaí will follow every 90 days thereafter until the programme is complete. The Garda Commissioner will now be drawing up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources, and in this context the needs of the Ballycullen area of South Dublin will be given the fullest consideration.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

236 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if there are plans to upgrade or replace the Garda station in Stepaside and to increase the number of Gardaí stationed there to reflect the increase in population in the Stepaside area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32785/06]

There are plans to undertake a development project at Stepaside Garda Station under the Garda Building Programme. Projects are progressed under the Garda Building Programme on the basis of agreed priorities. This is achieved by consensus and with the cooperation and commitment of all concerned — the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Garda authorities and Representative Associations and the Office of Public Works from whose Vote the capital works for Garda properties are funded. As with all such projects within the Garda Building Programme, Stepaside will be progressed as quickly as overall priorities and resources allow.

It is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

I should add that the current recruitment drive to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members, in line with the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of this year. The first three groups of newly attested Gardaí under this accelerated recruitment programme came on stream in March, June and September of this year and the fourth such group will become fully attested members of the Force later this year. Further tranches of approximately 275 newly attested Gardaí will follow every 90 days thereafter until the programme is complete. The Garda Commissioner will now be drawing up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources, and in this context the needs of the Garda station referred to by the Deputy will be given the fullest consideration.

Prisoner Releases.

Pat Breen

Question:

237 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a prisoner (details supplied) will be eligible for early release; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32786/06]

The person referred to by the Deputy is serving two sentences of 6 years and one sentence of 3 years, all to run concurrently, in the Midlands Prison, Portlaoise and is due for release with normal remission on 9 February, 2008.

On 26 November, 2002 at Limerick Circuit Court the prisoner was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment on each of 23 counts of Buggery contrary to common law as provided for in section 61 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and 3 years imprisonment on 24 counts of Indecent Assault contrary to common law as provided for in section 62 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. These sentences are to run concurrently from 11 November, 2002.

In addition at Clare Circuit Court on 2 November, 2004 the same person was sentenced to 6 years imprisonment on 1 count of Buggery contrary to common law as provided for in section 61 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and 6 years imprisonment on 1 count of Indecent Assault contrary to common law as provided for in section 62 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. These sentences are to run concurrently and commenced on 11 November, 2003.

In view of the very serious nature of these offences, I am not prepared to authorise any form of early release in this case.

Garda Deployment.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

238 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí stationed in each of the Stepaside, Dundrum and Rathfarnham Garda stations each year from 2002 to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32787/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 12,762 on Friday, 8 September, 2006, following the attestation of 249 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,060 (or 19%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

I have been informed that the Garda stations at Stepaside, Dundrum and Rathfarnham form part of the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) and the personnel strength (all ranks) of the DMR as at 31 December, 1997 and as at 16 October, 2006 was 3399 and 4048, respectively. This represents an increase of 649 (or 19%) in the number of Gardaí assigned to the DMR during that period. The detailed information sought by the Deputy is being assembled and I will communicate with the Deputy.

In addition, I would point out to the Deputy that the DMR's resources are further augmented by a number of Garda National Units such as the Garda National Drugs Unit, the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and other specialised units.

It is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

I should add that the current recruitment drive to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members, in line with the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of this year. The first three groups of newly attested Gardaí under this accelerated recruitment programme came on stream in March, June and September of this year and the fourth such group will become fully attested members of the Force later this year. Further tranches of approximately 275 newly attested Gardaí will follow every 90 days thereafter until the programme is complete. The Garda Commissioner will now be drawing up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources, and in this context the needs of the Garda stations referred to by the Deputy will be given the fullest consideration.

Citizenship Applications.

Pat Breen

Question:

239 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if an application for a certificate of naturalisation will be expedited for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32822/06]

I have considered this matter on foot of representations made by the Deputy on behalf of the person in question and I wish to advise him that I do not consider it appropriate to expedite the application.

An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy's question was received in the Citizenship section of my Department on 8 June 2006.

Applications received in the second half of 2004 are currently being processed and there are approximately 8,500 applications awaiting processing before that of the person in question. It is likely that the processing of the application will commence in the second half of 2008.

I will inform the Deputy and the person concerned when I have reached a decision on the application.

Equality Issues.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

240 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount of disability awareness training employees in his Department have had, individually and as a team; and his views on whether it would be feasible to put together a team, under the 3% quota, to carry out presentations on disability awareness around the country. [32823/06]

Prior to the publication of the Disability Act 2005 my Department had commenced a process of training in-house staff to provide disability awareness training across the Department. However, having given the matter further consideration it has been decided to seek outside service providers who are specialists in this type of training and who have the capacity and capability to provide a comprehensive training programme for the entire Department including all of its agencies. It is intended to have a service provider in place by the end of 2006 with a view to full roll-out in January 2007. As part of this roll-out the service provider will provide training in all of the regional offices of this Department.

It should be noted that Part 5 of the Disability Act 2005 requires public bodies to achieve a 3% target level in the employment of persons with disabilities. It also sets out structures for monitoring and supporting compliance with the target, giving the National Disability Authority a specific role in this regard. The National Disability Authority is planning a series of seminars for key staff in public bodies during November to build awareness and support the implementation of these requirements. My Department will, where necessary, liaise with the Authority in relation to the provision of our training programme, particularly in relation to standards and suitability.

Legal Aid Service.

Billy Timmins

Question:

241 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the waiting time for free legal aid in each county at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32846/06]

I can inform the Deputy that the present position with respect to waiting times at the Legal Aid Board's law centres is that legal services are being provided to all eligible persons well within the target maximum period of four months. In fact, the waiting time is two months or less at more than two thirds of all law centres and is no more than three months in all other centres. The following table gives the maximum current waiting times for each law centre at the end of September, 2006.

Maximum current waiting times at the end of September, 2006.

Law Centre

Months

Athlone

1

Blanchardstown

2

Brunswick Street

1

Castlebar

1

Cavan

1

Clondalkin

3

Dundalk

0

Ennis

2

Finglas

2

Galway

2

Gardiner Street

3

Kilkenny

3

Letterkenny

3

Limerick

1

Longford

0

Monaghan

1

Navan

2

Nenagh

3

Newbridge

2

Ormond Quay

2

Cork Popes Quay

2

Portlaoise

3

Sligo

1

Cork South Mall

3

Tallaght

1

Tralee

3

Tullamore

3

Waterford

2

Wexford

2

Wicklow

2

Industrial Relations.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

242 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of times since 1987 that civil servants have been forced to obtain an Order from the Courts enforcing or associated with enforcing their contractual rights and entitlements; the additional cost to the Exchequer over and above that which would have prevailed had the State recognised and honoured the contractual rights and entitlements involved in the first instance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32860/06]

I assume that the Deputy refers to civil servants employed in my Department since 1987. I am not aware of any instances of civil servants in my Department having been forced to obtain an Order from the Courts enforcing or associated with enforcing their contractual rights and entitlements during the period concerned. However, given that the question relates to a period of almost 20 years, it is not possible to be fully certain with this information without recourse to unwarranted use of resources or more extensive research than time available permits. In the event that any such cases subsequently come to my attention I will inform the Deputy.

Visa Applications.

John Curran

Question:

243 Mr. Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if it is possible for a person (details supplied) to make an application from within this country to have their visa changed from a business visa to a study visa or must they return to Nigeria to make such an application. [32913/06]

The person concerned was granted a C Business visa to enter the State for a period of three months. Supporting documentation submitted with the visa application indicated that the purpose of his journey was to source equipment for a business. C Visas are granted for visits of less than 90 days. As a consequence it is not the general policy to extend permission to remain to persons who are admitted initially for a period of 90 days or less on a C Visa, save in very exceptional and unforeseen circumstances.

It is not possible, therefore, for the person concerned to change his permission to remain to that of student conditions. He must leave and apply for the appropriate visa from outside the State should he wish to return. He should include in his new visa application the purpose and duration of his intended stay.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

John McGuinness

Question:

244 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made in providing closed circuit television system in Kilkenny city; and the time frame for completing the project. [32979/06]

As the Deputy is aware, Kilkenny is one of 17 areas set to receive a Garda CCTV system under the Garda CCTV Programme. The Garda authorities are currently finalising a detailed Request for Tender (RFT) for the outsourced service provision of 14 of these Garda CCTV systems in the following towns: Athlone, Carlow, Castlebar, Clonmel, Drogheda, Dungarvan, Ennis, Kilkenny, Kinsale, Mullingar, Portlaoise, Sligo, Tallaght and Waterford. The aforementioned locations are listed in alphabetical order.

As I have indicated previously, I am anxious to accelerate the implementation of this CCTV programme and reduce as far as possible the workload of the Garda Síochána in this regard. Garda Management and my Department are currently in consultation with the Department of Finance with a view to proceeding as quickly as possible with the procurement process to contract outsourced service providers for the development, installation and management of these CCTV systems, including Kilkenny. This is now the subject of a "peer review" process organised by the Department of Finance. Following the successful conclusion of this review it is intended to issue the Request for Tender.

In the meantime the Garda authorities published a request for tender document (RFT) for the installation of three Garda CCTV Systems in Ballyfermot, Clondalkin and Tullamore on the Government's procurement website etenders.gov.ie on 13 October 2006. The closing date for receipt of tenders is 22 November 2006.

I understand that under this tender process the Garda authorities propose, as a pilot project, to seek proposals which use wireless CCTV technology for the installation of these 3 CCTV systems. This innovative technology will allow CCTV cameras to be redeployed as necessary to meet changing policing requirements.

Citizenship Applications.

John McGuinness

Question:

245 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of a application for naturalisation by a person (details supplied) in County Offaly. [32980/06]

An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy's question was received in the Citizenship section of my Department on 4th April 2005.

I understand that the processing of the application is almost complete and that the case file will be submitted to me for a decision in the near future.

I will advise the Deputy and the person in question once I have reached a decision on the application.

Garda Deployment.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

246 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Gardaí stationed and the number of vehicles available in Lusk, Rush, Skerries, Swords, Garristown, Balbriggan and Malahide Garda stations for each year from 2002 to date in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32981/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 12,762 on Friday, 8 September, 2006, following the attestation of 249 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,060 (or 19%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

I have been further informed that the personnel strength (all ranks) in each of the Lusk, Rush, Skerries, Swords, Garristown, Balbriggan and Malahide Garda stations as at 31 December, 2002-2005, inclusively, and as at 16 October, 2006, was as set out in the following table:

Stations

31/12/02

31/12/03

31/12/04

31/12/05

16/10/06

Lusk

4

4

4

4

4

Rush

4

5

5

6

7

Skerries

10

10

11

10

11

Swords

57

56

68

65

66

Garristown

3

3

3

3

3

Balbriggan

35

32

34

32

33

Malahide

43

40

40

40

45

This represents an increase of 13 members or 8% over the period in question.

The number of Garda vehicles available 2002-2006 was as set out in the following table:

Station

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

Balbriggan

5

5

5

5

5

DMR – Malahide

4

2

4

5

5

DMR – Swords

6

7

7

7

6

Garristown

1

1

1

1

1

Lusk

1

1

1

1

1

Rush

1

1

1

1

1

Skerries

1

1

1

1

1

Totals

19

18

20

21

20

It is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

I should add that the current recruitment drive to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members, in line with the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of this year. The first three groups of newly attested Gardaí under this accelerated recruitment programme came on stream in March, June and September of this year and the fourth such group will become fully attested members of the Force later this year. Further tranches of approximately 275 newly attested Gardaí will follow every 90 days thereafter until the programme is complete. The Garda Commissioner will now be drawing up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources, and in this context the needs of the Garda stations referred to by the Deputy will be given the fullest consideration.

Crime Levels.

John Gormley

Question:

247 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the increase in the number of break-ins around the Northumberland Place area of Dublin; the steps the Gardaí have taken to deal with this issue; if there are any closed circuit television cameras located in the area; if there are plans to locate CCTV cameras there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32982/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the area referred to is patrolled by uniformed and plain-clothes Gardaí from Irishtown Garda Station, including the District Drug Unit, Detective Unit, Garda Mountain Bike Unit and the Community Policing Unit. I am further informed that in addition to regular mobile and foot patrols the area is patrolled by the Divisional Crime Task Force and Traffic Unit to ensure that a concentrated visible presence is maintained in the area concerned.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that there is no increase in the number of recorded burglaries in the area. However, current policing policy in the area concerned is predicated on the prevention of crime, including crimes of violence against persons and property, and the maintenance of an environment conducive to the improvement of quality of life of the residents. This strategy is, and will continue to be, central to the delivery of a policing service to the area in question.

A Crime Prevention Officer is available to advise on good practice in matters relating to crime prevention and reduction. Also, security reviews and audits will be conducted on request.

I understand that there are no Garda closed circuit camera system in the area concerned and An Garda Síochána is not aware of plans for its introduction. Furthermore, the CCTV Advisory Committee has not received an application for a Garda CCTV scheme for the area.

Criminal Assets.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

248 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to the Twelfth Report of the Independent Monitoring Commission and its confirmation that some members of the IRA remain involved in serious criminal activity, the efforts being made by the Criminal Assets Bureau specifically to target members of paramilitary organisations that are benefiting from the proceeds of crime; his views on the establishment of one all-Ireland assets recovery agency to target all loyalist and republican organisations that continue to involve themselves in criminality, including cross-border smuggling of fuel, alcohol, money, cigarettes and other goods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32986/06]

With regard to individual members of PIRA or any other organisation who remain involved in criminality, the Government has made it perfectly clear that such individuals will be pursued with the full rigour of the law.

The Deputy will understand that I am not in a position to go into detail about individuals who are being or may, in the future, be investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau. What is clear is that the Criminal Assets Bureau currently in operation in this jurisdiction is regarded by many, both nationally and internationally, as an excellent model for tackling those who seek to profit from crime and the Bureau pursues relentlessly the proceeds of crime, including crime which involves members of paramilitary organisations.

There is already a considerable amount of co-operation between the Bureau and the Assets Recovery Agency in Belfast and London. Investigations have been carried out in conjunction with UK Customs, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Assets Recovery Agency as well as with the Revenue Commissioners. Operations have led to prosecutions and resulted in the forfeiture of assets and the breaking up of a number of organised crime gangs involved in illegal cross border activity. The joint CAB/ARA operation conducted along the border earlier this year, which targeted the activities of a well-known member of the Provisional IRA, and which resulted in the freezing of assets of significant value, provides an excellent example of the efficiency and willingness with which these two bodies cooperate.

This Government will continue to push forward the North/South agenda, including in the area of police cooperation.

While proposals for an all-Ireland assets recovery agency would raise constitutional issues, the Government will continue to promote closer cooperation between the two jurisdictions in all areas where it will prove beneficial to the people of this island.

Asylum Applications.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

249 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding the application for asylum of persons (details supplied); the stage their applications have reached; the prospects for their being granted asylum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33002/06]

It is not the practice to comment in detail on individual asylum applications.

As the Deputy will be aware, applications for refugee status in the State are determined by an independent process comprising the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which make recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted.

A final decision on each of these cases will be made upon receipt of the recommendation or decision of the relevant determination authority.

Missing Persons.

John McGuinness

Question:

250 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he intends to restore funding to the missing persons helpline; his views on the submission made to his Department by the Missing in Ireland Support Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33011/06]

Funding of €110,000 in respect of a National Missing Persons Helpline, made available by my Department in 2002 and 2003, was channelled through the Victim Support organisation an independent, non-governmental organisation with charitable status. This funding was in addition to the ongoing funding that the organisation received for the provision of services to victims of crime. This funding was provided subject to the conditions that no funding beyond the year 2003 should be implied and audited accounts should be provided to my Department on a calendar year basis. To date, no audited accounts have been received in my Department.

The Missing Persons Helpline operated from the headquarters of Victim Support alongside Victims Support's own helpline for victims of crime. The conditions under which the Department provided funding did not include any requirements concerning the operational activities of the Helpline, such as the strategy of the Helpline. Any decision relating to the operation of the Helpline were made by Victim Support which managed the operation of the Helpline in conjunction with the Helpline itself.

As a matter of good practice in the handling of public money, my Department required that an independent evaluation of the Helpline should be undertaken after the first year of its operation and submitted to my Department. The operational details in relation to the evaluator and costings were a matter for Victim Support.

In March 2005, I decided that continued funding of the Victim Support organisation could no longer be justified due to serious concerns in relation to governance, accountability for public funds and poor service levels, after a lengthy period of instability within the organisation. I understand that Victim Support closed down its headquarters operation during 2005 and that a number of staff were made redundant, including the person employed to operate the Missing Persons Helpline. My Department had no role in the decision of Victim Support to make a number of its staff redundant, other than to insist that statutory requirements (notice, holiday pay, etc.) be met and that the interests of the staff be protected.

Also in March 2005, I established a new Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime to devise an appropriate support framework for victims of crime into the future and to disburse funding for victim support measures. The Commission is entirely independent in its decision making and examines each application on its merits. The Commission received an application from Missing in Ireland Support Service for €71,600 to establish, staff and operate a helpline for missing persons. After careful consideration of the application the Commission decided to offer funding of €25,000. However, this offer was rejected by the Missing in Ireland Support Service. It should be borne in mind in this context that the Commission is charged with funding support services for victims of crime, and that, while some persons who are missing are crime victims, most are not.

The Garda Síochána are continuously monitoring international developments in relation to investigations of missing persons in order to ensure that best practice is followed. If their professional judgement is that some change in the existing legislation, protocols or structures would be of assistance in improving investigations, this would be considered by me.

A proposal for funding to restore the National Missing Persons Helpline has been submitted to my Department and officials are currently examining the proposal.

Citizenship Applications.

John Perry

Question:

251 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when applications (details supplied) will be processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33018/06]

Applications for certificates of naturalisation from the persons referred to in the Deputy's question was received in the Citizenship section of my Department on 11 July 2006.

Applications received in the second half of 2004 are currently being processed and there are approximately 9,500 applications awaiting processing before those of the persons in question. It is likely that the processing of the applications of the persons in question will commence in the second half of 2008. I will inform the Deputy and the persons concerned when I have reached a decision on the applications.

Crime Prevention.

Liz McManus

Question:

252 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he is taking to combat violence against women; the measures he is taking in order to provide adequate care and protection for women here who are victims of violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33024/06]

Violence against Women is a multifaceted issue requiring a multifaceted response from a number of Government Departments and Agencies. In the first instance, violence against women is a crime and, as such, must be processed in accordance with the criminal justice system, the policy for which is a responsibility of my Department. My Department also funds awareness raising initiatives which are delivered in the main by the Non-governmental Organisations which are active in the sector and it makes funding available for perpetrator programmes, again largely delivered by non-governmental Organisations which work with the perpetrators of this crime and with the victims in an effort to reduce repeat offending. It also makes some funding available for relevant research.

The victims of violence against women frequently require health care and personal social services which are delivered through or funded by the Health Service Executive. In addition the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government makes funding available for emergency accommodation and refuges for the victims of violence against women. The Department of Education and Science, the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs via community groups, and the Department of Social and Family Affairs, via the Family Support Agency also have an involvement in responding to the problem of violence against women.

The Minister of State with responsibility for Equality within my Department chairs a multi-sectoral National Steering Committee on Violence against Women which co-ordinates the response across all sectors, in accordance with the recommendations of the Report of the Task Force on Violence against Women which reported in 1997. This Committee brings together the Government Departments and agencies charged with responding to the issue as well as representatives from a wide range of non-governmental organisations working with women who have suffered violence.

The work of the National Steering Committee is currently under review and a new Strategic Work Plan is being formulated to advance the work in the light of the achievements to date and our increased knowledge of the issues. I expect that review to be completed later this year.

Disability Support Services.

John Deasy

Question:

253 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that funding has been withdrawn from the People with Disabilities in Ireland Office in Dungarvan, County Waterford which has been in operation since 2002 and is to be replaced by a new PWDI office in Waterford City; if his attention has further been drawn to the difficulties this will pose for people with disabilities in west Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33075/06]

My Department has funded People with Disabilities in Ireland Ltd. and its predecessor organisation since 1996; in 2005, this funding ran to €1,309,000. People with Disabilities in Ireland Ltd (PwDI) is an independent registered company, with responsibility for its own structure, premises, and organisation. While my Department has no direct role in relation to operational matters such as the Deputy is referring to, I understand that a separate source of funding, not related to my Department, was utilised to support the operation of the Dungarvan office since 2001, and that this funding will no longer be available from the end of this year. I am informed that PwDI will examine every option that may be available in considering the feasibility of maintaining a service in Dungarvan. I understand also that the intention is that the overall service in the Waterford Network will be enhanced as a result of the opening of a new service in Waterford city.

Garda Deployment.

Liam Twomey

Question:

254 Dr. Twomey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Gardaí who were appointed in County Wexford in 1997 and in 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33125/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 12,762 on Friday, 8 September, 2006, following the attestation of 249 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,060 (or 19%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

I have been further informed that Garda Divisional boundaries do not always correlate with County boundaries. The personnel strength (all ranks) of the Wexford/ Wicklow Garda Division as at 31 December, 1997 was 269. The personnel strength (all ranks) of the Wexford/ Wicklow Garda Division as at 16 October, 2006 was 339. This represents an increase of 70 (or 26%) in the number of Gardaí allocated to the Wexford/ Wicklow Garda Division between 31 December, 1997 and 16 October, 2006.

In addition, I would point out to the Deputy that the Wexford/ Wicklow Divisions resources are further augmented by a number of Garda National Units such as the Garda National Drugs Unit, the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and other specialised units.

It is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

I should add that the current recruitment drive to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 members, in line with the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government, is fully on target. This will lead to a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,000 by the end of this year. The first three groups of newly attested Gardaí under this accelerated recruitment programme came on stream in March, June and September of this year and the fourth such group will become fully attested members of the Force later this year. Further tranches of approximately 275 newly attested Gardaí will follow every 90 days thereafter until the programme is complete. The Garda Commissioner will now be drawing up plans on how best to distribute and manage these additional resources, and in this context the needs of County Wexford will be given the fullest consideration.

Courts Service.

Seán Ryan

Question:

255 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether it is virtually impossible to secure the services of a person from one of the bodies referred to in the schedule of S.I. No. 337 of 2005 Civil Liabilities and Courts Act 2004 (Section 40 (3)) Regulations 2005 to be present at family law cases, for research purposes; if this was what was intended in the regulations; and if so, the reason it has not been implemented. [33126/06]

I wish to inform the Deputy that the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004 (Section 40(3)) Regulations 2005 (S.I. No. 337 of 2005) specify the classes of persons entitled to apply to attend family law proceedings for the purposes of drawing up and publishing reports. Three classes of persons are specified, namely mediators, researchers and persons engaged by the Courts Service to produce such reports.

To date, I have approved several persons engaged in family law research on the nomination of bodies specified in the Regulations and, in view of recent enquiries made to my Department, I expect to receive further nominations shortly. I can also inform the Deputy that the Courts Service has recently engaged a Family Court Recorder on a one year pilot basis.

Garda Communications.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

256 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 227 of 10 October 2006, the Garda stations which have and which do not currently have e-mail facilities. [33187/06]

It is a matter solely for the management authorities in An Garda Síochána to decide on policy for the provision of e-mail facilities within the organisation.

As outlined in my response to Parliamentary Question No 227 of 10th October, I am advised by the Garda authorities that their approach to roll-out of Email services is based on operational requirements with facilities currently available to all Gardaí of Superintendent rank and above. Access is also provided to other individual members of An Garda Síochána where required, based on operational needs. Accordingly, as outlined in that reply, the roll-out is not done on a station by station basis.

I am advised by the Garda Authorities that email facilities as per the rollout plan are available at all networked stations and at other locations including Garda HQ, specialist units, immigration and ports of entry, the Garda College and the Garda Information Services Centre in Castlebar. The Garda stations, including Divisional, District Offices and larger stations where officers have Email facilities, total 242 and are listed as follows. There are a total of 703 Garda stations.

Abbeyfeale

Abbeyleix

Achill Sound

Anglesea Street

Ardee

Arklow

Ashbourne

Ashford

Askeaton

Athboy

Athenry

Athlone

Athy

Aughrim

Avoca

Bailieboro

Balbriggan

Ballaghadereen

Ballina

Ballinamore

Ballinasloe

Ballincollig

Ballinrobe

Ballybofey

Ballyconnell

Ballycullane

Ballyfermot

Ballyhaunis

Ballyheigue

Ballymote

Ballymun

Ballyshannon

Baltinglass

Banagher

Bandon

Bantry

Barrack St.

Belmullet

Birr

Bishopstown

Blackrock, Co. Cork

Blackrock, Co. Dublin

Blanchardstown

Blarney

Blessington

Boyle

Bray

Bridewell Cork

Bridewell Dublin

Bruff

Bunbeg

Bunclody

Buncrana

Bundoran

Burnfoot

Buttevant

Cabinteely

Cabra

Caherciveen

Cahir

Carlow

Carndonagh

Carraroe (An Cheathrú Rua)

Carrickmacross

Carrick-on-Shannon

Carrick-on-Suir

Carrigaline

Carrigtwohill

Cashel

Casletbar

Castleblaney

Castlecomer

Castleconnell

Castleisland

Castlerea

Casltetownbere

Cavan

Celbridge

Charleville

Clara

Claremorris

Clifden

Clonakilty

Clondalkin

Clones

Clonmel

Clontarf

Cobh

Coolock

Cootehill

Corofin (Co. Galway)

Crossmolina

Crumlin

Dalkey

Dingle

Donegal Town

Donnybrook

Douglas

Drogheda

Dún Laoghaire

Dunboyne

Duncannon

Dundalk

Dundrum

Dunfanaghy

Dungarven

Dungloe

Dunleer

Dunmanway

Dunshaughlin

Edenderry

Edgeworthstown

Elfin

Enfield

Ennis

Enniscorthy

Enniskerry

Ennistymon

Falcarragh

Fermoy

Finglas

Fitzgibbon St.

O’Connell St. Dublin

Galway

Glanmire

Glenties

Gorey

Gort

Granard

Greystones

Gurranabraher

Harcourt Terrace

Henry St.

Howth

Irishtown

Kanturk

Kells

Kenmare

Kevin Street

Kildare

Kilkenny

Killaloe

Killarney

Kill O’Grange

Killorglin

Killybegs

Kilmacthomas

Kilmainham

Kilrush

Kiltimagh

Kinnegad

Kinsale

Lahinch

Laytown

Leixlip

Letterkenny

Lifford

Lisdoonvarna

Listowel

Longford

Loughrea

Lucan

Macroom

Malahide

Mallow

Mallow Road

Manorhamilton

Mayfield

Maynooth

Mayorstone Park

Midleton

Milford Donegal

Millstreet, Cork

Michelstown

Moate

Mohill

Monaghan

Monasterevin

Mountbellew

Mountjoy

Muinebheag

Mullingar

Naas

Navan

Nenagh

New Ross

Newbridge

Newcastle West

Newtownmountkennedy

Oldcastle

Omeath

Oughterard

Passage West

Pearse St.

Portarlington

Portlaoise

Portumna

Raheny

Rathcoole

Rathdrum

Rathfarnham

Rathmines

Rochfortbridge

Ronanstown

Roscommon

Roscrea

Roxboro Road

Salthill

Santry

Scariff

Shankill

Shannon

Sixmilebridge

Skerries

Skibbereen

Sligo

Stepaside

Store St.

Strokestown

Sundrive Road

Swinford

Swords

Tallaght

Templemore

Terenure

Thomastown

Thurles

Tipperary

Togher

Tralee

Tramore

Trim

Tuam

Tubbercurry

Tullamore

Tullow

Watercourse Road

Waterford

Westport

Wexfordl

Whitehal

Wicklow

Youghal

Crime Levels.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

257 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will report on the number of persons prosecuted for the purchase and supply of alcohol to minors for each of the past five years per Garda division. [33188/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the following table provides the number of proceedings commenced and convictions recorded for the offence of providing intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 years, contrary to section 32, Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988. The figures provided are broken down by Garda Division for the years 2001 to 2005.

Proceedings Commenced and Convictions Recorded for an Offence under section 32 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988, by Garda Division for the Years 2001 to 2005.

Division

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

Proceedings Commenced

Convictions

Proceedings Commenced

Convictions

Proceedings Commenced

Convictions

Proceedings Commenced

Convictions

Proceedings Commenced

Convictions

Mayo

5

2

13

8

20

16

19

14

11

5

Clare

2

0

4

2

4

1

8

2

0

0

Kerry

5

0

2

1

4

3

1

1

1

0

Donegal

4

1

8

8

6

1

7

6

1

0

Limerick

1

0

8

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

Cork City

3

1

9

4

15

4

10

3

9

9

Cork West

4

0

5

3

0

0

1

1

3

2

Tipperary

4

0

5

2

4

2

4

1

1

1

Cork North

7

4

6

3

5

4

4

1

4

4

Galway West

6

3

2

1

6

3

4

3

0

0

Louth / Meath

2

0

2

2

5

2

4

2

0

0

Laois / Offaly

3

2

3

0

7

3

6

3

1

0

Sligo / Leitrim

2

0

0

0

0

0

4

0

1

1

Carlow / Kildare

7

2

3

0

9

1

12

6

1

1

Cavan / Monaghan

2

0

3

1

5

1

5

1

8

2

D.M.R Eastern

4

1

1

0

4

4

2

1

1

0

D.M.R Western

1

0

0

0

1

1

3

1

1

1

D.M.R Northern

4

0

5

1

1

0

2

1

1

1

D.M.R Southern

1

0

7

4

12

2

4

1

2

1

Wexford / Wicklow

1

0

3

1

3

2

3

0

0

0

Longford / Westmeath

0

0

0

0

2

0

2

0

0

0

Waterford / Kilkenny

5

4

5

5

2

1

2

2

5

2

D.M.R North Central

1

1

0

0

2

0

0

0

0

0

D.M.R South Central

0

0

0

0

4

0

1

0

0

0

Roscommon / Galway (East)

3

3

3

0

4

3

8

6

10

3

Total

77

24

97

47

126

54

116

56

61

33

Crime Prevention.

John Curran

Question:

258 Mr. Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number and types of weapons surrendered to date under the weapons amnesty. [33210/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that in the first five weeks of the Weapons Amnesty, up to the 9th October, 2006, a total of 236 firearms and offensive weapons, together with a quantity of ammunition, have been surrendered to Garda Stations throughout the country as follows:

Description

Number Surrendered

Shotguns

40

Rifles

30

Musket

1

Pellet Guns

8

Starting Pistols

10

Air Pistols / Rifles / Guns

45

Crossbows

10

Pistols / Revolvers / Handguns

29

Assorted Knives

40

Swords

5

Replica firearms

12

Stun Gun

1

.177 Repeater

1

Grenade

1

Mace Spray

1

Erma Gas Gun

1

Theatre Pistol

1

Total

236

The amnesty runs up to the 31st October, 2006 and I am confident that weapons will continue to be surrendered while the amnesty lasts.

Visa Applications.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

259 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the extension of a visa will be offered to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 16; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33211/06]

The person concerned was granted a C visit visa to enter the State for a period of three months. It now appears that she is seeking an extension of her permission to remain in the State.

A wrap-around information sheet accompanies every visa application form. That sheet makes it clear to the applicant that, in general, persons granted visas for particular purposes are not permitted to remain in the State for any purpose other than that for which the visa was granted.

Every visa applicant is required to state on the application form the dates on which he or she proposes to enter and leave Ireland. He or she is also required to declare that the information supplied is correct and complete.

A C Visa is granted for visits of less than 90 days. As a consequence it is not the general policy to extend permission to remain to persons who are admitted initially for a period of 90 days or less on a C Visa, save in very exceptional and unforeseen circumstances.

The person concerned must leave and reapply from outside the State should she wish to return. She should include in her new visa application the purpose and duration of her intended stay.

Child Protection.

Liz O'Donnell

Question:

260 Ms O’Donnell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps that have been taken to protect children in view of reports that a convicted paedophile (details supplied) is living here having been deported from the US on completion of their sentence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33280/06]

I am informed that the person referred to has complied with the obligations placed on him under the provisions of the Sex Offenders Act, 2001. I am further informed that the Garda authorities are aware of the current whereabouts of the person referred to and are continuing to monitor the situation. Any breach of the criminal law, or threat thereof, will be investigated by the Garda authorities and appropriate measures taken.

Joint Policing Committees.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

261 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will confirm that a police forum will be established for the Tallaght region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33394/06]

Section 36 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 provides for the establishment of a joint policing committee in each local authority administrative area. The purpose of these committees is to provide a forum where a local authority and the senior Garda officers responsible for the policing of that area, with the participation of Oireachtas members and community interests, can consult, discuss and make recommendations on matters affecting the policing of the area.

The joint policing committees are being established by local authorities and the Garda Commissioner in accordance with guidelines which have been issued by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform after consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

In view of the innovative nature of the committees and the number which will be established, the Minister decided, following consultation with his colleagues the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, to pilot the committees in 22 local authority areas for a limited period.

When the Minister issued the guidelines for these pilot committees in June 2006 he was anxious to strike in the guidelines the right balance between inclusiveness and effectiveness in the size and composition of the committees. With regard to membership of the committees by local authority members, the guidelines provide either for all local authority members to be members of a committee or for representation of each political grouping on the local authority, depending on the size of the local authority.

Under the provisions of the Act, the joint policing committee can establish, in consultation with the local Garda superintendent, local policing fora to discuss and make recommendations to the broader committee on matters affecting their neighbourhood. Supplemental guidelines for the local policing fora will be made at a later date.

In accordance with the National Drugs Strategy, priority will be given to establishing local policing fora in all Local Drugs Task Force areas and other areas experiencing problems of drugs misuse.

Customs Service.

Joe Costello

Question:

262 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Finance if he will review the operation of private aerodromes and private aircraft to ensure that all flights to and from the State are subject to customs checks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32695/06]

The Customs Service of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners has primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs at importation. It has particular responsibility for implementing import controls at points of entry to the State, specifically at ports and airports, including licensed airfields, and on the land frontier. The control of licensed airfields in the State is carried out by customs enforcement teams. Those are dedicated anti-smuggling teams that focus on the smuggling of prohibited drugs and fiscal products.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that best practice in customs administration worldwide shows that the development of information and intelligence is critical to the detection of drug smuggling. In Ireland, this has become very important since the completion of the Single Market in 1993, based as it is on the free movement of goods and people within the Community. Because Intra-Community travellers have the right of free movement, Revenue has no power to stop them except on the basis of a suspicion, normally grounded in specific intelligence.

The Revenue's Customs Service is continuously engaged in the analysis and evaluation of seizure trends, routes and smuggling risks and consequential resource deployment. All Customs Service operations are risk focused, and staff are deployed to combat areas of greatest risk. Revenue constantly reviews staffing levels and structures to ensure that resources are matched to risk. The level of activity at licensed aerodromes is constantly monitored from a risk perspective.

In light of concerns raised following the Belgian drugs seizure, I am advised that the Revenue Commissioners are reviewing the approval conditions attached to licensed aerodromes including an examination of the risks attached to the operation of, and procedures attaching to these aerodromes. This review has just commenced with the clear intention of having it completed as quickly as possible.

Enda Kenny

Question:

263 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the action he intends to take following the recent drug seizure from aircraft which initiated its flight at Weston Airport; if new customs procedures will be introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32838/06]

The Customs Service of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners has primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs at importation. It has particular responsibility for implementing import controls at points of entry to the State, specifically at ports and airports, including licensed airfields, and on the land frontier. The control of licensed airfields in the State is carried out by customs enforcement teams. Those are dedicated anti-smuggling teams that focus on the smuggling of prohibited drugs and fiscal products.

The Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me as Minister for Finance to comment in detail on the specific operation that resulted in the seizure of a reported 50kg. of heroin in Belgium a number of weeks ago. The fact that three Irish nationals were arrested, and that the aircraft, detained by the Belgian authorities had departed from, and is based at, Weston Aerodrome are of major concern to the Revenue Commissioners.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners best practice in customs administration worldwide shows that the development of information and intelligence is critical to the detection of drug smuggling. In Ireland, this has become very important since the completion of the Single Market in 1993, based as it is on the free movement of goods and people within the Community. Because Intra-Community travellers have the right of free movement, Revenue has no power to stop them except on the basis of a suspicion, normally grounded in specific intelligence.

The Revenue's Customs Service is continuously engaged in the analysis and evaluation of seizure trends, routes and smuggling risks and consequential resource deployment. All Customs Service operations are risk focused, and staff are deployed to combat areas of greatest risk. Revenue constantly reviews staffing levels and structures to ensure that resources are matched to risk. The level of activity at licensed aerodromes is constantly monitored from a risk perspective.

For example, in 2004 officers attached to the Dublin Enforcement District carried out 12 planned and six unplanned visits to Weston. During 2005, ten planned and six unplanned; and to-date in 2006, 12 planned and three unplanned visits have been made to Weston. I am assured by the Revenue Commissioners that the monitoring of licensed aerodromes in the State by the Revenue Customs Service is in line with international standards.

In light of concerns raised following the Belgian drugs seizure, I am advised that the Revenue Commissioners are reviewing the approval conditions attached to licensed aerodromes including an examination of the risks attached to the operation of, and procedures attaching to these aerodromes. This review has just commenced with the clear intention of having it completed as quickly as possible.

Garda Stations.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

264 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance when it is planned to begin construction work on the Central Garda Vetting Unit in Thurles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32841/06]

Temporary accommodation for 40 staff has been provided in Thurles for the Garda Vetting Unit.

An advertisement was placed by the Office of Public Works (OPW) in the national newspapers and the OJEU on Friday 13 October 2006 seeking Expressions of Interest from experienced developers/contractors who wish to be considered in connection with the provision of permanent office accommodation for An Garda Síochána in Thurles. Expressions of Interest are due to be received by Monday 20 November 2006. This will be followed by a shortlisting of suitable candidates from whom tenders will be invited on a design/build basis. The OPW is currently finalising the brief of accommodation requirements with the Garda authorities.

Evaluation of tenders is expected to result in the selection of a preferred tenderer. On completion of the planning process, the OPW will instruct the preferred tenderer to submit working drawings and a Bill of Quantities with a view to a contract being placed and work commencing on site at the earliest possible date.

Site Acquisitions.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

265 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance the concerns the Chief State Solicitor has expressed with regard to the proposed purchase by the Office of Public Works of a site for a school (details supplied) in County Meath; the measures that will be taken to resolve this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32914/06]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

275 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance if there are outstanding legal issues to be resolved with regard to the purchase by the Office of Public Works of a site for a school (details supplied) in County Meath; if so, the issues outstanding; his plans to resolve the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32912/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 265 and 275 together.

The Commissioners of Public Works, on behalf of the Department of Education and Science, have agreed in principle to the purchase of an identified site. The title is currently being examined by the Chief State Solicitor.

Tax Clearance Certificates.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

266 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance if a replacement P60 will be issued for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32599/06]

I am advised by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners that they do not issue forms P60. These are issued by a person's employer. The person in question should request a duplicate copy of the original P60 from her employer.

Decentralisation Programme.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

267 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if applications are being accepted for Dublin based civil servants who wish to transfer Departments in order to remain in Dublin; if so, if these applications are limited by grade; if so, the grades of the vacancies which exist; if not, the options such civil servants will have open to them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32606/06]

The primary mechanism for placing civil servants who are in posts which are due to decentralise but wish to remain in Dublin is by way of bilateral transfer. As staff who have applied to decentralise continue to be transferred into decentralising organisations, the posts they vacate become available to those wishing to remain in Dublin. To date, in excess of 2000 staff have been assigned to decentralising posts.

In addition, my Department has been in discussions with the civil service unions on further arrangements to facilitate the placement of Dublin based staff. The objective of these arrangements is to provide to the Public Appointments Service details of staff who wish to remain in Dublin at each grade level so that a proportion of vacancies arising in Dublin based posts may be filled by those staff. Progress in this priority area is being monitored in co-operation with Departments and the relevant unions, to ensure that they are operating efficiently. The aim is to achieve a close alignment between the assignment of staff to Dublin posts and the readiness of Departments to release staff at particular grade levels.

Budget Submissions.

Jack Wall

Question:

268 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance his views on correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32634/06]

I have received a pre-Budget submission from the organisation concerned. Its contents will be considered in the context of the forthcoming Budget and Finance Bill. As Deputies are aware it would not be appropriate for me to comment in advance of the Budget on possible Budget decisions.

Tax Code.

Joe Walsh

Question:

269 Mr. Walsh asked the Minister for Finance his views on exempting registered charities from VAT; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32670/06]

The position is that charities and non-profit groups engaged in non-commercial activity are exempt from VAT under the EU Sixth VAT Directive, with which Irish VAT law must comply. This means they do not charge VAT on the services they provide and cannot recover VAT incurred on goods and services that they purchase. Essentially only VAT registered businesses which charge VAT are able to recover VAT.

Ministerial Orders have been used in a limited way to provide refunds of VAT on certain aids and appliances for the disabled and on medical equipment donated voluntarily to hospitals. These orders are focused and are designed to target specific circumstances. However, under EU law, it would not be possible to introduce new schemes within the VAT Act 1972 to relieve charities from the obligation to pay VAT on goods and services that they purchase.

I would add that the tax code currently provides exemption for charities from Income Tax, Corporation Tax, Capital Gains Tax, Deposit Interest Retention Tax, Capital Acquisitions Tax, Stamp Duty, Probate Tax and Dividend Withholding Tax. Moreover, charities also benefit significantly from the uniform scheme of tax relief for donations, which was introduced in the Finance Act 2001 and which, for the first time, allowed tax relief on personal donations to domestic charities and other approved bodies. The relief is based on the taxpayer's marginal rate which for an individual donor could be as high as 42%. In the case of donations from the PAYE sector the relief is given directly to the charities.

Decentralisation Programme.

Dan Neville

Question:

270 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding provision of offices for decentralisation of Revenue Commissioners to Newcastle West, County Limerick. [32812/06]

I am advised by the Commissioners of Public Works, that a planning application for the new offices for the Revenue Commissioners in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, is expected to be lodged with Limerick County Council shortly.

On receipt of a satisfactory planning permission, the Commissioners of Public Works will instruct the preferred tenderer to submit working drawings and a bill of quantities with a view to a contract being placed and work commencing on the site.

Site Acquisitions.

Enda Kenny

Question:

271 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works has contacted South Dublin County Council with regard to a new site for a school (details supplied) in Dublin 22; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32813/06]

On instruction by the Department of Education & Science on 25th October 2005, the Commissioners of Public Works suspended action on acquiring a site for the school in question in Clondalkin as the Department's own planning section were exploring other options. The Department has informed the OPW that they are actively looking at proposals regarding an alternative site for the school.

National Parks.

Tony Gregory

Question:

272 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works intend to consult local elected representatives on traffic changes in the Phoenix Park; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32843/06]

The advertisement placed by the Commissioners of Public Works in the media on 15th April 2006, announced the appointment of a firm of consultants, Messrs. Faber Maunsell, to undertake a comprehensive traffic management study for the Phoenix Park.

The advertisement also confirmed that the study would include extensive public consultation and this took place in the weeks following the advertisement. To further facilitate this process, the closing date for receipt of submissions was extended.

26 submissions in all were received from the public, including a few from elected representatives. In addition, stakeholders in the Phoenix Park, the Local Authorities, the Garda Authorities and the Dublin Transportation Office were consulted. Further contact with these bodies is planned.

In formulating the study therefore, the consultants took a wide range of views into account and a firm of environmental consultants, Messrs. ERM, were also engaged to assess the proposed measures contained in the Study, from an environmental perspective, a vital consideration in the context of this National Historic Park.

As confirmed in my reply dated 10th October 2006, to another question from the deputy on the same issue, a number of presentations were held on the 10th and 11th October 2006 on completion of the Study, including Residents Associations on the perimeter of the Park, the complete study is now available to view on the OPW website.

While I am satisfied that wide ranging consultation has already taken place and that all interested parties have been afforded an opportunity to contribute to the process, I will be happy, nevertheless, to accept any further submissions that local elected representatives may wish to make on the completed study. This should be done by the end of October 2006 at the latest.

Tax Code.

Tony Gregory

Question:

273 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance his views on tax incentives for family owner-occupier purchasers of apartments in areas of the inner city where apartments are currently being purchased exclusively by investors; if he will liaise with Dublin City Council on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32844/06]

In general, matters relating to housing and housing policy are a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the first instance. However, I would like to point out that the following tax incentives/reliefs are available to all owner occupiers when purchasing their homes irrespective of location or property type:

Mortgage interest relief with larger relief for first-time buyers;

Stamp duty exemption and relief for new houses bought by owner-occupiers;

Stamp duty relief for second-hand houses bought and occupied by first-time buyers;

Capital gains tax exemption for a person's principal private residence;

Dwelling house exemption for CAT purposes.

In addition, special tax incentives may still be available for the purchase of properties in certain designated areas under the urban, town and rural renewal schemes. In Budget 2006, following a major review, I announced the termination of a number of schemes including the urban renewal schemes. However, because of transitional provisions announced at the time owner occupiers may still be able to benefit from the urban renewal scheme in a limited number of developments which were already in the pipeline at the time the relief was terminated.

In such cases the owner occupier will still be able to avail of a tax allowance of 100% for expenditure on refurbishment of residential premises, available at 10% per annum for 10 years; 50% allowance for new-build construction expenditure, i.e. 5% per annum over 10 years against all income. Investors in properties located in urban renewal areas can obtain 100% relief only against Irish rental income for the construction or refurbishment of (or the conversion of a property into) rented residential accommodation.

Industrial Relations.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

274 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the number of times since 1987 that civil servants have been forced to obtain an order from the courts enforcing or associated with enforcing their contractual rights and entitlements; the additional cost to the Exchequer over and above that which would have prevailed had the State recognised and honoured the contractual rights and entitlements involved in the first instance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32857/06]

There have been no occasions in my Department since 1987 that civil servants have been forced to obtain an Order from the Courts enforcing or associated with enforcing their contractual rights and entitlements.

Most civil servants are ‘office holders', who hold office ‘at the will and pleasure of the Government', under section 5 of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956. The terms and conditions of civil servants are set and varied by the Minister for Finance under Section 17 of the 1956 Act rather than by a contract.

Question No. 275 answered with QuestionNo. 265.

Tax Code.

Noel Grealish

Question:

276 Mr. Grealish asked the Minister for Finance his views on making works carried out through essential repairs grants and disabled persons’ grants exempt from VAT (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32961/06]

The position is that the rate of VAT that applies to a particular good or service is determined by the nature of the good or service, and not by the status of the customer. The VAT rating of goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. There is no provision in European VAT law that would allow for a reduction or exemption from VAT on repairs for certain categories of consumer.

However, under VAT (Refund of Tax) (No. 15) Order, 1981 it is possible for individuals to obtain repayment of VAT expended on certain goods and appliances which assist persons with a disability overcome that disability. It is possible that certain repairs or adaptations may be eligible for a VAT refund under this scheme. Further information on VAT (Refund of Tax) (No. 15) Order, 1981 is available from VAT Refunds Section, The Revenue Commissioners, Government Buildings, Kilrush Road, Ennis, Co. Clare (tel. no. — 065-6849000). That office would be glad to answer any queries and provide the necessary application forms where required.

Architectural Heritage.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

277 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance if further restoration work will be carried out on Carrigafoyle Castle, Ballylongford, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32962/06]

A programme of conservation and structural consolidation works was carried out over the period 2001-2005 at a cost of €850,000. These works have facilitated safe public access and enhanced the visitor experience. Further conservation of the Castle is not envisaged at this stage.

Tax Code.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

278 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance the proposals he has to amend Section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 as sought by the Dyslexia Association of Ireland (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32963/06]

Michael Ring

Question:

285 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Finance if he will amend Section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32993/06]

Finian McGrath

Question:

287 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will examine the option of an amendment to Section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 in order for the cost of specific tuition for people with dyslexia to qualify for tax relief under the heading of health expenses. [33021/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 278, 285 and 287 together.

I am aware of the extra expense that can arise for parents who have children with dyslexia.

In recent years, the Government has increased significantly the supports available through the direct expenditure system for children with disabilities, including those with dyslexia.

As with many areas where State support may be required, the question arises as to whether such support may be more effectively provided through the direct expenditure route rather than through the tax system. One advantage of the former mechanism is that the support may be better targeted at those in need, irrespective of family income, whereas support through the tax system can only benefit those whose incomes are high enough to benefit from tax relief.

I have no plans to extend tax relief to cover expenses incurred by parents who have children with dyslexia. However, this matter, like any other, can be raised by the Deputies at Finance Bill time.

Government Expenditure.

Ivor Callely

Question:

279 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Finance the total Government current spending; the total capital spend; the total tax revenue for each tax year from 2000 to 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32964/06]

Total Current and Capital spending and total tax revenue on an Exchequer basis over the period 2000-2005 are as follows:

€m

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

Current

Voted Current Expenditure

16,710

20,404

23,314

25,452

27,179

29,601

Non-Voted Current Expenditure (Central Fund)

3,924

3,605

2,812

3,295

3,584

3,895

Total Current Expenditure

20,634

24,009

26,126

28,747

30,764

33,496

Capital

Voted Capital Expenditure

3,874

4,904

5,509

5,290

5,368

5,867

Non-Voted Capital Expenditure

121

145

324

285

184

660

National Pension Reserve Fund

2,533

972

1,035

1,103

1,177

1,320

Total Capital Expenditure

6,528

6,020

6,868

6,678

6,729

7,847

Tax Revenue

27072

27925

29294

32103

35581

39254

Source: Finance Accounts.

Pension Provisions.

Ivor Callely

Question:

280 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Finance the progress made to implement the Commission on Public Service Pension Report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32965/06]

I am pleased to say that substantial progress has been made in implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Public Service Pensions as endorsed by Government. In 2001, the Government accepted the thrust of the Commission's Report and the period since then has been marked by the progressive implementation, in consultation with the public service unions, of individual Commission recommendations.

A milestone in this process was reached in March 2004, when the Commission's key cost-containment proposal, the raising of pension age from 60 to 65 years for new entrants to the public service, was implemented via the enactment of the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004. This change is expected to lead to net savings of around €300 million per year (in constant 2006 pay terms) in about 40 years' time. The measure is well suited to Ireland's demographic position in term of timing, insofar as the savings which it will generate will become substantial in about twenty years time and will rise thereafter until about mid-century, and in so doing will keep in step with the anticipated significant increase in our dependency ratio and the related rise in occupational pension costs.

In September 2004, following discussions with ICTU, Government ratified an agreed approach to the remaining Commission recommendations. The key feature of the Government decision was the immediate authorisation for implementation of the following six Commission recommendations directed at modernising pension provision:

1. Introduction of cost-neutral early retirement: A facility to allow public servants to retire early (from age 50/55, as appropriate) with immediate payment of pension and lump sum, actuarially reduced to reflect the earlier payment.

2. Revised integration formula: New method of integrating social insurance and public service pensions to boost retirement income of lower-paid staff.

3. Integration "pro rata": A more favourable integration method ("pro rata" integration as opposed to "full" integration) to be used in calculating the pension entitlements of part-time public servants.

4. Notional added years: Existing schemes to be replaced for new entrants by a single "transitional" scheme (to be reviewed in 2015), the main impact of the change being to reduce gross awards from 10 to 5 years.

5. Compound interest rate: The rate on pension-related repayments such as marriage gratuity to be cut from 6% to 4%.

6. Reckoning of allowances for pension purposes: Calculation to be based on "the best three consecutive years in the ten years preceding retirement" instead of being restricted to the last three years of service only.

Five of these six reforms have been implemented (only the last, reckoning of allowances for pension purposes, is outstanding), by means of Department of Finance circulars issued to date.

As also provided for in the September 2004 Government decision, other Commission recommendations are being considered further, including, in particular:

1. Changes to Spouses' and Children's Schemes: The proposed Commission changes include the extension of benefits to non-spousal partners. The feasibility of implementing the changes is currently being examined by a management/union Working Group, whose work is at an advanced stage.

2. SPEARS: The Commission recommended the introduction of SPEARS; a single AVC-type pensions savings scheme for the entire public service. This is the subject of ongoing management-union discussion.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.