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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 14 Nov 2006

Vol. 627 No. 3

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 12, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 13 to 84, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 85 to 90, inclusive, answered orally.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

91 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if public transport operators have been monitoring passenger volumes following the lifting of the free travel pass restrictions; and if extra services will need to be provided to cater for the reform. [37666/06]

Some 600,000 customers are in receipt of the Free Travel scheme, of which 450,000 are aged over 66 years. Some 127,000 are in receipt of an invalidity/disability payment and a further 26,000 are carers. The estimated cost of the scheme for 2006 is €58 million.

The peak time access restrictions (introduced 40 years ago) had applied on all Dublin Bus services and on Bus Éireann city services in Cork and Limerick. Other Bus Éireann services and services from other operators were available on an unrestricted basis to holders of free travel passes.

Restrictions on free travel caused difficulties for people with early morning medical appointments and for people who wished to remain active in the workforce.

At my request my Department held discussions with CIE over recent months to agree arrangements for the implementation of the Government decision in relation to the free travel peak-time restrictions. These discussions resulted in the removal of all peak time access restrictions with effect from 25th September 2006.

The lifting of all travel restrictions at peak times benefits many people, particularly older people and those with disabilities, who are now able to travel in the main cities, and surrounding areas, on public transport services at times that best suit their needs.

The ending of these restrictions removed the need for people to apply for special passes to travel during restricted times. They can now use the standard pass to attend hospital appointments, or educational, rehabilitative and therapeutic courses that are, very often, central to improving their recovery and improving their lifestyles.

Concerns were raised in certain quarters that the lifting of the restrictions would have an impact on the number of people travelling at peak times and the potential difficulties for companies in meeting all the demands for its services at these times. In order to assess the impact of the removal of the restrictions Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus have been monitoring passenger volumes since the removal of the restrictions. Dublin Bus has advised my Department that it has recorded an increase in the number of free travel customers travelling at peak times over the past month or so. Similarly, Bus Éireann has recorded an increase in the numbers of Departmental pass holders travelling in Cork and Limerick cities since the lifting of restrictions on free travel. Numbers have grown as free travel pass holders adjusted their travel patterns.

My Department is assured that any capacity issues arising as a result of additional passengers travelling at peak times will be met through the provision of additional buses as provided for under the Transport 21 initiative. Detailed discussions and arrangements for the implementation of Transport 21 are a matter between the CIE group of companies and the Department of Transport.

Enda Kenny

Question:

92 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to offer all qualified adults, in addition to pensioners, the opportunity to be paid directly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37620/06]

A person who is in receipt of a social welfare payment may claim an increase in respect of a dependent spouse or partner. This increase, known as the Qualified Adult Allowance (QAA), is normally paid as a single amount with the primary payment to the claimant. Provision has existed for many years to split the payment and pay the spouse or partner separately in cases of difficult family circumstances.

In recent years the question of paying the QAA direct to the adult dependant has been raised in a number of reports, the intention being to provide the dependant with a level of economic freedom. Significant changes have been made in the social welfare code, over the years to ensure as many people as possible qualify for a social welfare payment in their own right.

The Qualifying conditions for a pension have been significantly eased, for example through reducing the minimum yearly average of contributions required to qualify for a pension and the introduction of homemaker credits for the benefit of people of working age engaged in home duties.

In the case of the State pensions (non-contributory), the means of the couple are jointly assessed and where both are over the age 66, each receives a pension in his/her own right.

I am aware that, while the situation of people qualifying for pensions in their own right has increased, there is still a large number of adults dependent on their spouses' social welfare payment for support.

In October 2002, my Department introduced arrangements to pay the QAA on request to the spouse or partner of new claimants of State Pension (contributory) or State pension (Transition). Since these arrangements were introduced, some 1,400 couples have indicated their preference to have the QAA paid separately. I am examining the issues involved in extending this arrangement to pensioners generally.

The position regarding people of working age is less straight forward and separate payment may be appropriate for certain schemes. It is open to a dependant spouse or partner to claim unemployed assistance in their own right subject to satisfying means and other conditions.

I am currently closely examining all of the options and implications of paying QAAs separately to working age qualified adults in the light of developments in this area in relation to pensioners.

Pension Provisions.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

93 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take arising from criticism by the Pensions Ombudsman of what he called the theft by employers of pension contributions deducted from employees but not remitted to pension schemes, particularly in the construction sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37604/06]

The Pensions Act 1990 contains a number of provisions relating to the payment of contributions deducted from pension scheme members. Under the Act, employers who deduct pension contributions are required to remit those contributions to the scheme trustees within 21 days following the month in which the deduction was made. Employers are also required to provide employees with regular statements outlining the contributions which have been remitted to the trustees on their behalf.

Employers who deduct pension contributions from employees and who fail to remit these contributions to the scheme trustees are in breach of Section 58A of the Pensions Act. The Pensions Board is the body responsible for monitoring and enforcing the provisions of the Pensions Act and will fully investigate all such cases which are brought to its attention. The primary aim must be to ensure that the contributions are paid so that pension entitlements are not affected. The Board will also consider prosecuting the employers in such cases where there is sufficient evidence available to support such a prosecution.

It is also open to an individual to pursue a complaint of maladministration of the pension scheme through the Office of the Pensions Ombudsman who will investigate and make an appropriate determination which can only be appealed to the High Court. The Pensions Ombudsman has, I understand, referred a number of such cases from the construction sector to the Pensions Board for further investigation and action and these are being examined at present.

Money Advice and Budgeting Service.

Dan Boyle

Question:

94 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if legislation is not imminent in relation to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service; the immediate measures he will put in place that would allow the service to operate more effectively. [37659/06]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

121 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will make a statement on the recently published MABS statistics regarding borrowing by low income families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37588/06]

Richard Bruton

Question:

123 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on extending the remit of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service to include the operation of a special savings scheme for low income households; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37622/06]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

157 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the latest support he has given to the Money Advice and Budgeting Service in view of the concerns expressed by the organisation that it is being swamped with requests for advice; his views on the increasing levels of personal debt among Irish families; his further views on whether the structures and organisation of MABS requires reform to cope with these new circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37603/06]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

164 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the promised new legislation to place the Money Advice and Budgeting Service on a statutory basis will be published; the principal areas in which it will differ from the Bill published in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37593/06]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

171 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has had discussions or plans to have discussions with representatives of the credit union movement with a possible view to providing additional credit options for low income families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37587/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 94, 121, 123, 157, 164 and 171 together.

The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) provides assistance to people who are overindebted and need help and advice in coping with debt problems. There are 52 independent companies nation-wide operating the service with a budget of over €16 million in 2006. Many voluntary and statutory bodies such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Community Welfare Service, Citizens' Information Centres, Centres for the Unemployed and local authorities work closely with the programme. The credit union movement has been a key partner in MABS since its inception and their involvement and support is central to the development and success of the service.

Last year, almost 27,000 people availed of the service as compared with 18,000 in 2001. The growth in demand for the service can be attributed to the increase in the availability of credit generally in the economy and to the quality of the service provided by the MABS advisors. This year, I have increased the allocation from my Department to the MABS Service by in excess of twenty percent to assist the MABS in dealing with this increased workload.

The issues that give rise to problems of over-indebtedness for people are highly complex. The cost and availability of credit for people on low incomes and the barriers they face in accessing mainstream and cheap forms of credit add to the difficulties these people encounter in managing their finances.

I have held discussions with a number of key interests including the Irish League of Credit Unions and the Financial Regulator about these issues. One outcome of these consultations is that research has been initiated by the Financial Regulator with the Combat Poverty Agency to find out more about the nature and the extent of financial exclusion in Ireland and the barriers faced by people on low incomes in accessing a wide range of financial services. The report will be available to the Financial Regulator shortly. The findings of the research, together with the comprehensive statistical data now emerging from the new MABSIS information system will make a significant contribution to our knowledge about the problems of debt in Ireland and the situations that leave people on low incomes vulnerable to high cost credit services.

I plan to bring proposals to the Government before the end of the year to establish a MABS board on a statutory basis while retaining the voluntary input so vital to MABS. The research findings will be considered specifically in this context.

Furthermore, my Department will consult with the Financial Regulator and other key interests on what options are available to me to strengthen the role of MABS in tackling the problems which arise for people on low incomes in getting access to the full range of mainstream financial services that is available to the wider community.

The MABS is highly regarded and respected and it is important that this continues to be the case. I believe the support structure put in place by my Department for the MABS in recent years has worked well for clients of the service, for local management and for the staff.

My proposals for legislation aim to build on the best features of the MABS model of service to the public. The proposals will combine a continuation of local voluntary involvement with strong national leadership and ensure a high quality, coordinated budgeting and advice service for the future, in particular for people on low incomes. The proposals for the new legislation will take account of the very significant developments which have taken place in MABS in recent years. They will be informed by the outcome of consultations and the expert views of key MABS interests including money advisors, MABS voluntary boards of management and other stakeholders such as the credit union movement and the Financial Regulator. The proposals for the legislation will take account of best practice in corporate governance for a customer focused service that provides value for money for the taxpayer's investment and meets the challenges posed by the rapidly changing face of debt in 21st century Ireland.

Social Welfare Information.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

95 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent of information packages on welfare entitlements available in all the foreign languages of the principal migrant communities residing here. [37662/06]

I am very conscious of the increasing number of social welfare customers requiring access to services for whom English is not their first language or where their English is not of a high standard. Every effort is made by my Department to facilitate these customers by providing relevant information in a number of languages on the Department's website and by arranging an interpretation service as necessary.

In 2005, the main Guide to Social Welfare Services (SW4) was made available on my Department's website www.welfare.ie in Arabic, Chinese, French, Polish, Spanish and Russian, in addition to English and Irish. It is currently being translated into Romanian. This is a very extensive guide which provides details on all entitlements available from my Department.

For the majority of migrants their first point of contact with my Department is to request a Personal Public Service (PPS) number. This is a unique personal reference number that is required for transactions between individuals and Government Departments as well as other public bodies specified in the Social Welfare Acts.

When applying for a PPS number, applicants are required to complete an application form and provide documentary photographic evidence of identity and evidence of address. This application form, as well as being available in Irish and English, is available in Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovakian, Slovenian, Spanish and Swedish. The availability of the form in these languages enables applicants from all EU member states, as well as those from China and Russia to complete the PPS number application form in their native language.

An examination of PPS numbers issued in 2005 showed that nationals from these countries comprised just over 85% of the total applications received in 2005. The requirements for additional language options are constantly reviewed.

Officials of my Department and in particular, frontline staff in local offices, make every effort to assist people who have language difficulties or if they need help in completing forms. If there are particular difficulties communicating with an individual an interpreter can be arranged to be available by appointment.

Plans have been prepared for interpreters with proficiency in a number of languages to be present on certain days in Social Welfare Local Offices which provide services to large numbers of customers who experience difficulties communicating with staff. Initially this will be implemented in two offices and the operation of this service will continue to be monitored on an ongoing basis. If it is considered necessary this interpretation service will be extended to other offices as required.

Comhairle, the citizens information board is responsible for the provision of independent information, advice and advocacy in relation to social services. It has funded various initiatives including the production of leaflets in foreign languages by organisations such as the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU). Two such leaflets, Looking for Work in Ireland and Welfare Rights: What you need to know when you become unemployed in Ireland, are available in Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian and Russian.

My Department has also provided funding to the Immigrant Council of Ireland to produce fact-sheets with information on rights and entitlements of immigrants to Ireland. These fact sheets are available in six languages (Arabic, Chinese, French, Romanian, Russian and English). There is a link from the Department website to the Immigrant Council website where these fact sheets are available.

My Department is participating in the Eulisses project. This project will provide a multilingual website, pooling social security information for migrants from national and European sources. This will provide a single internet access point for Europeans who are seeking social security information. Work is ongoing on this website at present and its first phase, dealing with pensions, is expected to be on-line before the end of 2006. My Department will continue to enhance its services in the most appropriate manner to ensure that migrant workers are aware of their rights and entitlements.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Martin Ferris

Question:

96 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on making the family income supplement payment automatic to ensure that all entitled will receive it in view of the poor uptake of the payment by those eligible. [37656/06]

Martin Ferris

Question:

100 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has proposals to reform the family income supplement. [37657/06]

David Stanton

Question:

128 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the percentage of eligible families who are availing of the family income supplement; the reasons for the low take-up rate of FIS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37617/06]

Paul Kehoe

Question:

136 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has carried out research on the working poor; the conclusions of same; the actions he is taking to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37630/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 96, 100, 128 and 136 together.

My Department provides income support to working families in low-income employment in various ways, including earnings disregards and tapered withdrawal of earnings on social assistance (means tested) payments. However, the principal income support from my Department which is targeted specifically for low-income families in employment is provided by the family income supplement scheme (FIS).

FIS is designed to provide support for people on low earnings with child dependants. This preserves the incentive for them to remain in employment in circumstances where they might only be marginally better off than if they were claiming other social welfare payments.

There are currently over 21,400 families in receipt of a weekly FIS payment, which benefits more than 38,000 children. This compares with approximately 17,450 families and 34,000 children in December 2005 and represents an increased take up of 78% since 2002.

Research undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 1997 and based on the results of the Living in Ireland Survey 1994, suggested that fewer than one in three of potentially eligible claimants were actually in receipt of FIS at that time. Since those with a higher entitlement are more likely to avail of the scheme, the take-up in expenditure terms was estimated to be somewhat higher, at between 35% and 38% of potential expenditure.

There are a number of factors that could, in theory, have contributed to low income families not claiming the supplement over recent years. These include the impact of the National Minimum Wage, improved take home pay arising from tax reform and PRSI changes, the increase in the numbers of families where both parties are in employment and undeclared income or black economy activity, which may deter persons on low income from applying for FIS. However, there is no definitive explanation as to why a significant group of people with a potential average entitlement of approximately €113 per week apparently decide not to apply or avail of this employment support.

I am addressing this question in two ways. First, in March 2006 my Department undertook an extensive media and advertising campaign on a nationwide basis which proved successful, with FIS applications increasing significantly compared to the same period last year. In this context, it should be noted that in the course of this year, and particularly following the publicity campaign, the number of applications for family income supplement have substantially increased. For instance, in the quarter ending September this year some 8,200 FIS applications were received, which compares with 6,000 received in the same quarter in 2005, an increase of 36%.

In the second stage, I propose to commission a specific research project to establish the reasons or factors behind the low level of take up, in which the Department, based on administrative data held, would actively engage with this potential FIS population by inviting a sample number of persons with an apparent entitlement, to apply for the payment. In the case of people who do not respond, the Department would try to establish the circumstances and the underlying reasons for not claiming.

This project, which I hope to progress in the coming months, should assist greatly in determining the actual current FIS take up rate, and inform future policy in this area.

Social Welfare and Revenue administrative records do not currently provide sufficient data in relation to either current family composition or current earnings, gross or net, to administer an automatic FIS payment. Such a payment would raise major technical and policy issues.

Pension Provisions.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

97 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the situation whereby many companies with defined benefit pension schemes are unilaterally changing the terms and conditions of those schemes to defined payment schemes; the number of companies who have informed his Department regarding these changes; if he has undertaken to ensure that employees affected by these changes to their pension schemes have been properly informed of the consequences of those changes; the action his Department has taken in relation to this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37606/06]

The provision of occupational pensions in this country is on a voluntary basis and depends on the willingness of employers to contribute to, and maintain schemes for their employees. Traditionally, such schemes were organised on a defined benefit basis. However, in recent years defined benefit provision has been under pressure because of volatility in the stock markets, increasing liabilities arising from demographic pressures, low interest rates, increasing wage costs that translate into higher benefits, and regulatory requirements. New accountancy standards, which make pension liabilities transparent on a company's balance sheet, are also contributing to the pressures under which defined benefit schemes are now operating.

A drift from defined benefit to defined contribution schemes is now apparent, even in cases where firms are very profitable. This is, in my view, a regrettable development. There are no accurate statistics available on the number of schemes that are introducing change as, unless the defined benefit scheme is actually being wound-up, there is no requirement to notify the Pensions Board of alterations to the terms of a pension scheme. However, some commentators suggest that up to 40% of defined benefit schemes may already be closed to new members.

There is no provision within the Pensions Act 1990 for employers to consult with employees in relation to proposed changes to schemes though, in many cases, I understand that this happens as part of the normal industrial relations processes within companies.

The Pensions Act and the associated Regulations provide for a range of information in relation to a scheme to be made available to scheme members so that they can monitor their benefits and the financial soundness of their scheme. Certain basic information, mainly about the contribution and benefit structure of the scheme must be given by the trustees to every member on joining the scheme and to members and other specified persons on request. Material alterations to a scheme must also be drawn to the attention of members.

The Government has committed itself to producing a Green Paper on pensions as part of the new social partnership agreement Towards 2016. The Green Paper will outline the major policy choices, the challenges in this area and the views of the social partners.

Also, as part of the agreement the Pensions Board has been asked to research benefit design options in the occupational pensions area and to examine current design issues in both defined benefit and defined contribution arrangements with a view to producing guidance as to designs which encompass the positive elements of each arrangement while adjusting the costs and risks to the parties involved. It is intended that the Board's report will be published and made widely available as an information guide to all those involved in pension schemes.

It is my intention to produce the Green Paper by the end of March next year. A consultation process will follow this and the Government will respond to these consultations by developing a framework for comprehensively addressing the pensions agenda over the long-term.

Community Development.

Seán Crowe

Question:

98 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will confirm that funding is available to community based education groups, including in RAPID areas, that are providing breakfast clubs and services to young children including children with special educational needs and early school leavers; and the criteria for the funding. [37648/06]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

161 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if and when he will expand the school meals scheme to all schools beginning with those in disadvantaged areas. [37653/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 98 and 161 together.

The school meals programme operated by my Department gives funding towards provision of food services for disadvantaged school children through two schemes.

The first is the long-standing statutory urban school meals scheme, currently operated by 36 local authorities. My Department funds the food costs jointly with these local authorities, who also manage and fund the administration of the scheme.

The second is the school meals community (local projects) programme through which funding is provided by my Department to participating schools and voluntary community groups in both urban and rural areas who are running school meals projects, including breakfast clubs.

In 2004 a decision was taken to extend the School Meals Programme to nursery schools that catered for disadvantaged preschool children. The funding is being made available to community based not for profit groups that provide preschool education (e.g. Montessori and similar type nursery schools) for disadvantaged children. The scheme does not apply to commercial projects. The purpose of funding is to assist disadvantaged children in gaining maximum benefit from preschool educational services.

Many of the schools that are currently receiving funding are in RAPID areas. All applications from schools in RAPID areas are considered for inclusion in the school meals programme.

The Department of Education and Science has recently initiated a new action plan "Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools" (DEIS) which incorporates many of that Department's existing schemes which target educational disadvantage, including schools with the highest concentration of early school leavers. A total of 875 schools were identified as disadvantaged under the DEIS action plan. Of these, 397 schools were already receiving school meal funding. The remaining schools were contacted by my Department in late August and early September 2006 and invited to apply for funding. A total of 150 of these schools have expressed interest in the scheme and their claims are currently being processed.

The school meals programme has been expanding into additional schools each year. Expenditure on the scheme has risen from €4.6m in 2004 to €8.2m in 2005. The expenditure outturn for the scheme for 2006 is expected to be €13.63m. In 2006, the total number of schools availing of funding has increased to 1,389 while the numbers of pupils benefiting has increased to almost 125,000.

The priority for the school meals scheme in the short-term is to ensure that schools designated as disadvantaged under the DEIS scheme avail of funding. Where schools do not respond to initial mail-shots, my Department will consider direct local contact with schools. I have no plans to extend the scheme to all schools because I consider priority should be given to disadvantaged children.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

99 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has received final figures on the number of applications received under the back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme in 2006; the number of applications accepted; the amount paid out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37613/06]

The back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme (BSCFA) operates from the beginning of June to the end of September each year and is administered on behalf of my Department by the Community Welfare division of the Health Service Executive. Applications for the allowance may be made between the beginning of June and the end of September each year.

While the closing date for applications for BSCFA was 30th September 2006, processing and payment of late applications is ongoing. For that reason, final figures in relation to the numbers of applications received and awarded for 2006 are not yet available from the HSE. Current indications are that about 84,700 families with approximately 164,600 children will benefit from the scheme this year at a cost of €25.4m. This is an increase on the 2005 figures when some 76,166 families with 157,254 children benefited at a cost of €16.7m.

This increase can be mainly attributed to improvements in income disregards introduced this year, and the significant level of publicity given to this scheme in the media and through the information services operated by my Department.

A person may qualify for payment of an allowance if they are in receipt of a social welfare payment (including family income supplement), or Health Service Executive payment, are participating in an approved employment scheme or attending a recognised education and training course and have household income at or below certain set levels. In previous years, about 88% of claims where successful.

Budget 2006 provided for a number of improvements to the scheme. These include—

An increase of €40 in BSCFA rates from June 2006

Extension of entitlement to the back to school clothing and footwear allowance to recipients of guardian's (formerly orphan's) payments for the first time, and

An increase in the additional income disregard for entitlement to the scheme from €50 to €100 over the relevant social welfare rate.

These improvements in BSCFA are very significant when viewed in the context of clothing and footwear price trends. According to the Consumer Price Index for September 2006, the overall cost of clothing and footwear has fallen by 1.9% over the past twelve months. Since December 2001, clothing and footwear costs have decreased by 14.5%. I consider the back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme to be an important support for parents at a time of particular financial strain. I am satisfied that the improvements to the scheme implemented this year provide a major boost to meeting the financial costs associated with return to school for those who most need assistance.

Question No. 100 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

Poverty Levels.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

101 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the research his Department has carried out into food poverty levels, in particular amongst children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37642/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

131 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether food poverty is an issue of concern; and the measures he proposes to introduce to eradicate it. [37654/06]

Dinny McGinley

Question:

167 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the efforts he is making to combat food poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37643/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101, 131 and 167 together.

My Department through its various social insurance and assistance schemes provides income supports to people to meet their basic living needs, including food, clothing, heat and light.

Supplements are also payable in certain circumstances for specific needs, for example fuel allowances, rent supplements, living alone allowance for older people or the household benefits package for pensioners, eligible disabled people and carers.

Where people on low incomes have particular medical conditions or dietary requirements, diet supplements are available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare division of the Health Service Executive. It is expected that expenditure on diet supplements will amount to €6 million this year and benefit over 11,200 people.

My Department also provides funding for school meals through two programmes, the urban school meals scheme and the local projects scheme. The urban school meals scheme operates in conjunction with certain local authorities and is co-funded by my Department. The local projects scheme provides funding to secondary, national, pre-schools and community groups in both urban and rural areas who provide school meals.

For families with school-going children, school meals can make a substantial contribution to ensuring that children receive better nutrition. Such services can also contribute to improved school attendance and quality of learning. Expenditure on the schools meals programme for 2006 will be of the order of €13 million and will benefit some 125,000 pupils in almost 1,400 schools in 2006.

In recent years, budgetary increases in social welfare payment rates have consistently exceeded increases in the cost of living. This key policy is the primary focus of Budget allocations to my Department each year, and it has helped ensure that those depending on social welfare experience real improvement in their ability to meet their basic needs, including provision of adequate food, heating, etc.

In this regard, consumer price index information from the Central Statistics Office indicates that the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages has increased by 1.7% over the past 12 months. In the period since December 2001, food and non-alcoholic beverages increased by just 4% in aggregate while increases in social welfare payment rates increased by between 47% and 56% in the same period.

This issue of food poverty is a broad ranging one and is affected by dietary and nutritional awareness, cultural attitudes and access to good quality grocery shopping, as well as to the adequacy of social welfare income supports.

The report entitled "Food Poverty and Policy" published in 2004 by the Combat Poverty Agency, Crosscare and the Society of St Vincent de Paul defined food poverty as "the inability to access a nutritionally adequate diet and the related impacts on health, culture and social participation".

I welcome any debate on food poverty and nutrition generally and I support awareness campaigns such as the Healthy Food for All Initiative, which followed on from the Food Poverty and Policy report. I am particularly interested in research in this area which will help to inform policy on food poverty, income adequacy and healthy eating.

Energy Costs.

Joe Costello

Question:

102 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he intends to respond to the call from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to provide additional assistance for poorer families to cope with rising energy costs, particularly in view of the disclosure that the society had paid out €1m to assist families who had their gas and electricity supplies disconnected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37592/06]

Denis Naughten

Question:

112 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the additional steps he will take to assist households with increasing energy costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37099/06]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

122 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views regarding the concerns raised that the great majority of families on low incomes have not been helped by recent efforts to reduce fuel poverty. [37650/06]

Seán Ryan

Question:

125 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to ensure that those on low incomes or dependent on social welfare payments will be able to meet fuel costs this winter, in view of the increase in the cost of fuels generally and particularly in view of major increases in electricity and gas prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37610/06]

Dan Neville

Question:

134 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will increase the fuel allowance to €25 per week as requested by Age Action Ireland in view of the increase in fuel costs. [37671/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

147 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will substantially increase the free fuel allowance with a view to alleviating the hardship caused by high electricity and gas prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37615/06]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

396 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the measures which he will introduce in Budget 2007 to assist low income families cope with rising energy costs. [33233/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 102, 112, 122, 125, 134, 147 and 396 together.

My Department provides supports to people on certain payments to meet their energy costs through the household benefits package and the national fuel scheme.

Some 340,000 pensioner and other households qualify for electricity or gas allowances through the household benefits package, payable towards their heating, light and cooking costs throughout the year, at an overall cost of €119 million in 2006.

Concerns were raised about the impact of rising energy costs on these people and the Government responded immediately by announcing increases in energy fuel allowances. Currently the Electricity Allowance covers normal standing charges and up to 1,800 units of electricity and the VAT applicable to these charges. The allowance will be increased to cover the new standing charges and the number of units will also increase from 1,800 to 2,400 with effect from January 2007.

From October 1st 2006, the annual value of the Natural Gas Allowance has been increased to €516 per household. This will cover the recent 33.8% increase in Natural Gas and also increase the kilowatt hours per annum from 1,670 to approx 3,600 for each household.

The national fuel scheme assists householders on long-term social welfare or health service executive payments with meeting the cost of their heating needs during the winter season. Fuel allowances are paid for 29 weeks from end-September to mid-April. The allowance represents a contribution towards a person's normal heating expenses. It is not intended to meet those costs in full.

Improvements to the fuel allowance in recent years include an easing of the means test, extending the duration of payment from 26 to 29 weeks and, in Budget 2006, increasing the weekly allowance from €9.00 to €14.00 or from €12.90 to €17.90 in designated smokeless areas. It is estimated that some 274,000 people will benefit in 2006 at an estimated annual cost of €125.1m.

The Government's objective is to ensure that the recipient's total weekly income, including the fuel allowance, is sufficient to meet all of their income needs, including heating costs. Budget resources have been concentrated on providing significant real increases over and above inflation each year in all primary social welfare pension, benefit and assistance rates. This is a more costly approach than increasing fuel allowances as the increase is paid for the full year and not just for the 29 weeks of the winter heating season. This approach delivers a better outcome for pensioners and others by substantially increasing their income in real terms over the whole year, to better assist them in meeting their normal basic living costs, including heating. Since December 2001, the main social welfare rates have increased by between 47% and 56% as against an overall inflation rate increase of 17% over the period. That overall inflation rate of 17% includes the impact of increases in energy costs, which rose by 45% over the period.

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, a special heating supplement may be paid to assist people in certain circumstances that have special heating needs. An application for a heating supplement may be made by contacting the community welfare officer at the local Health Centre.

In the area of fuel poverty, my Department is cooperating with the Combat Poverty Agency, Sustainable Energy Ireland and other organisations in an action research project to improve energy efficiency. In Budget 2006, I made a grant of €2 million to Sustainable Energy Ireland to enable further activity to be undertaken in this area.

Any changes in relation to provision of basic income support, fuel allowance or the household benefits package would have significant cost implications and would have to be considered in the light of the resources available for improvements in social welfare generally.

Budget Submissions.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

103 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the main features of his discussions and conclusions with voluntary and community groups at his pre-Budget forum on 23 October 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37594/06]

Joe Costello

Question:

118 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his response to the pre-budget submission made by the Combat Poverty Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37591/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 103 and 118 together.

On October 23 last, I held a Pre-Budget Forum which was attended by 30 representative organisations which included various community and voluntary groups. Each of the organisations had the opportunity to present their key priorities for consideration in advance of Budget 2007. I would like to thank all those who participated for their contribution to the forum.

I have also received written budget submissions from each of the organisations who attended the Pre-Budget Forum and from a number of other community and voluntary organisations around the country.

The Combat Poverty Agency has also made a Pre-Budget submission to me and I have recently had the opportunity to discuss it with the Board and to hear its proposals first hand. The submissions contain varied proposals on increases in social welfare rates of payment, pensions and allowances as well as enhancements and changes to various schemes. All the submissions have been examined in my Department and will be considered in the context of the forthcoming Budget.

Poverty Levels.

John Gormley

Question:

104 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has accepted the new indicators for consistent poverty levels recently proposed by the ESRI; and if this measure of consistent poverty will be used as a reference for targets set in the forthcoming National Anti-Poverty Strategy. [37664/06]

The ESRI's proposed revision of the original set of indicators used to measure consistent poverty, to take account of the rapid economic progress of recent years and of current living standards, is detailed in its report Reconfiguring the Measurement of Deprivation and Consistent Poverty in Ireland. The report, which I launched last April, is an important source in developing the new National Action Plan on social inclusion which will be published early in the New Year.

The primary objective of the consistent poverty measure is to identify those groups who are most deprived and vulnerable in Irish society in relation to basic living standards and to whom priority should be given across the range of relevant Government policies. It also facilitates the regular monitoring of the progress being achieved by these policies in reducing deprivation. In this regard, the ESRI has updated the original indicators of deprivation used to measure consistent poverty to provide a better reflection of what would be regarded currently in this country as basic living standards. They have found, on the basis of the new revised range of indicators, that the percentage of persons living in consistent poverty would not differ very significantly from the most recent percentage rate based on the original set of indicators. According to the EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) this rate for 2004 was 6.8 per cent. The revised measure also shows that virtually the same categories of people are most at risk of poverty. These include lone parents, households with large numbers of children, those lacking educational qualifications, the unemployed and the ill or disabled.

The findings on poverty levels in the EU-SILC survey, the ESRI report and international comparisons becoming available on poverty will all assist in devising policies that will work towards addressing poverty and social exclusion in our society. To that end the parties to the recent social partnership agreement Towards 2016 agreed on the need to set real and achievable anti-poverty targets and further agreed that the approach to effective poverty measurement should be reviewed in the light of timing difficulties concerning EU-SILC. This work will be carried forward by the Office for Social Inclusion, based in my Department. The Office will be assisted in this work by a Technical Advisory Group which includes technical experts from the social partner pillars and from the ESRI.

National Strategy for Carers.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

105 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will implement a national strategy for carers. [37652/06]

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

One of the key Government commitments in the new national partnership agreement "Towards 2016" is the development of a National Carer's Strategy. This strategy, which will focus on supporting informal and family carers in the community, will be developed by the end of 2007. All relevant departments and agencies will be involved in the strategy and there will be appropriate consultation with the social partners.

In addition, "Towards 2016" commits my Department to leading the development of a structured consultation process to inform future policy in relation to carers. This will involve an annual meeting of carer's representative groups and relevant department and agencies.

I am pleased that the first such meeting will be held on Tuesday 21st November. My officials have been in contact with their counterparts in the relevant departments and agencies in order to finalise arrangements and carer representative groups have been invited to attend.

This consultation meeting will give the representative groups an opportunity to discuss issues of concern to them with all the relevant departments and agencies. It will also provide a good opportunity for all involved to tease out the issues to be covered by the strategy. While social welfare supports for carers will clearly be a key issue, other issues such as access to respite and other services, education, training and employment will also feature strongly.

Co-operation between relevant Government departments and agencies is essential if the provision of services, supports and entitlements for carers is to be fully addressed. I am committed to working for, and with, carers to deliver increased benefits, supports, and services for them and their families. In that regard, I will continue to review the scope for further development of the supports available.

Unemployment Levels.

Phil Hogan

Question:

106 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people who are long-term unemployed; the targets he has set to reduce the amount of people who have been out of the workforce for a long time; the ways he will meet same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37628/06]

According to the latest estimates from the Central Statistics Office there were 29,600 people long-term unemployed in the third quarter of 2006. This represents a long term unemployment rate of 1.4%. The long term unemployment rate fell from 5.5% in September-November 1997 to 1.4% in June-August 2000 and has remained in the range 1.2% to 1.6% since that time. These estimates are based on criteria developed by the ILO and used internationally.

The total number of people on the Live Register at the end of October 2006 was 148,506 of whom; 53,264 are long-term cases, 6,613 of these were in receipt of Jobseekers Benefit, 42,015 were on Jobseekers Allowance and 4,636 were signing on for Credits but not receiving any payment.

The Irish National Employment Action Plan includes a process of systematic engagement of the employment services with unemployed people. Under the plan, people in receipt of Jobseekers Benefit or Jobseekers Allowance who reach various duration thresholds on the Live Register are identified by my Department and referred to FÁS for interview with a view to job placement or offer of training.

Since September 1998 the plan has been progressively extended to all age groups under 55 and with effect from the 1st weekend of July 2006 it has been extended to those aged between 55 and 64 years. In addition a recent Government decision reduced the criteria for selection into the NEAP from 6 months on the Live Register to 3 months. Referral at 3 months has commenced from Monday 16 October 2006. An evaluation of the process recently concluded that the NEAP is an effective labour market measure.

My Department also has a number of other initiatives designed to assist the long term unemployed to return to the active labour force. The back to work allowance was introduced in September 1993 at a time when long term unemployment stood at 8.9%. The scheme proved very effective in helping people who had been long-term unemployed to return to the labour force. There are currently 8,584 participants in the scheme.

My Department also administers the back to education allowance programme. This is a second chance educational opportunities programme designed to encourage and facilitate unemployed people, lone parents and people with disabilities to improve their skills and qualifications with a view to returning to the work force. There were 7,280 participants in the scheme up to end October 2006.

Furthermore I introduced a number of measures the 2006 Budget to assist social welfare recipients including the long-term unemployed return to work. These include a reduction in the periods required to access the Back to Work Scheme. I reduced the period required to access the self employed strand of the scheme from 3 to 2 years for people on unemployment payments and from 5 years to 2 years for the employee strand. Following the changes to eligibility criteria provided for in the Budget which came into effect on 1st March 2006, the numbers of the Back to Work Allowance new applications have been increasing steadily each month. I have also introduced a 50% tapered withdrawal of earnings between €60 and €90 per week for Rent & Mortgage Interest Supplement.

My Department will continue to monitor all of these schemes to ensure their relevance to current labour market conditions and to ensure that they continue to assist those furthest from the labour market to gain a foothold into sustainable employment or self-employment.

Budget Submissions.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

107 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has received the pre-Budget submission from the national one parent family organisation, One Family; his response to the ten steps to equality for all families set out in the submission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37597/06]

I have recently received the Pre-Budget submission from One Family, and also had a presentation at the recent Pre-Budget Forum.

Of the ten areas of concern, entitled "steps to equality for all families" which are set out in the submission, a number, including the issues of adequate incomes for one-parent families, adequate supports for employment and the issue of poverty traps deterring a move off social welfare dependency were covered in the Government discussion paper, "Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents" which I launched in March this year.

That paper put forward proposals for reform of the income support system for all parents on a low income. It also put forward proposals for the expanded availability and range of education and training opportunities for lone parents, the extension of the National Employment Action Plan to focus on lone parents, focused provision of childcare, improved information services for lone parents and the introduction of a new social assistance payment for low income families with young children.

Long-term welfare dependency is not in the best interests of parents, their children or society in general. The proposed new social assistance payment would have the long term aim of assisting lone parents and parents on low incomes to achieve financial independence through supporting them to enter employment — for it is employment that offers the best route out of poverty.

Any proposed new payment cannot be introduced without co-ordinated supports and services being put in place by other Departments and Agencies. This is why the Government has instructed the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion to draw up an implementation plan to progress the non-income recommendations in tandem with the development of the legislation required in my Department to introduce a new payment scheme.

Work on the development of this implementation plan is underway. Issues including access to childcare support, education, training and activation measures are being actively considered by the relevant Departments and Agencies.

As soon as I am convinced that we have reached conclusions that are equitable, with a fully workable implementation strategy, it is my intention to bring forward proposals for legislation.

In the meantime, my officials continue to be in contact with the lone parents' representative groups, whose ongoing support I am grateful for and whose views continue to feed in to the development of the proposals. The proposals in the Pre-Budget submission are being considered in a budgetary context.

Waste Management Charges.

Dan Neville

Question:

108 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will introduce a waiver on waste charges available nationally to all those on low income. [37670/06]

The setting of waste management charges and the introduction of waivers in respect of waste charges is, as stated by my colleague the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, a matter for each local authority.

The introduction of a national social welfare scheme to address the issue is complex given the wide range of charging regimes and cost structures that exist in respect of waste management throughout the State. Charges vary across local authorities and within local authorities where there is more than one provider. In addition, some local authorities already operate waiver schemes. Any system put in place to assist people who rely on private domestic waste collection would have to take account of the different local arrangements.

I am sensitive to the effects of this situation on social welfare recipients and I have asked my Department to explore possible options.

Departmental Schemes.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

109 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made to date with regard to consideration by his Department of a new mortgage support plan; when he expects the consultation period to be complete; if the scheme will be directed specifically towards those currently priced out of the property market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37600/06]

Liz McManus

Question:

119 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the proposals he has for a review of the current rent supplement scheme, especially in view of criticism from the Comptroller and Auditor General of the cost of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37601/06]

Bernard Allen

Question:

140 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of households currently in receipt of rent supplement; the targets he has set for the reduction in the number of households in receipt of rent supplement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37625/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 109, 119 and 140 together.

The Value for Money examination undertaken by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) looked at the rent supplement scheme during the period 2000 to 2005. One of the main issues raised by the C&AG relates to the substantial increase in expenditure on rent supplement over the period of review. As the report notes, it increased from €151m in 2000 to almost €370m in 2005. In the same period, recipient numbers rose from 42,700 to just over 60,000. The report focuses in particular on the increase in the level of rent supplements paid during this period as the main factor giving rise to the increase in expenditure. Other contributing factors include increases in the number of recipients and changes in household composition.

During the period of review my Department took measures to address increases in expenditure. For example in December 2002 limits were set on the amount of rent in respect of which rent supplements are paid. Rent supplement are not paid where rents exceed the maximum levels set other than in exceptional circumstances. The limits were again reviewed in December 2003 and June 2005 and a further review will take place before the end of 2006.

A conclusion arising from the C&AG report, and one I agree with which, is that rent supplementation under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme has, over the years, developed beyond the original objective of providing short-term assistance with accommodation. A significant number of people have now come to rely on rent supplementation for extended periods, including people on local authority housing lists. For this reason, the scheme has to be viewed in the context of overall housing policy, particularly in the case of long-term claimants.

In response to this situation, the Government has introduced new rental assistance arrangements including the rental accommodation scheme (RAS) giving local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the longer-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement for 18 months or more, on a phased implementation basis. When fully operational, local authorities will meet the housing needs of these individuals through a range of approaches including the traditional range of social housing options, the voluntary housing sector and, in particular, a new public / private partnership type rental accommodation scheme.

According to recent information from the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government, to date over 12,000 rent supplement cases have been reviewed, almost 1,900 properties inspected and some 2,000 cases transferred to RAS. An additional 1,500 rent supplement households have also been allocated local authority housing.

I have not set any targets for reductions in the number of households in receipt of rent supplement. The Government's targets in this area relate to increasing the supply of social and affordable housing, including the full implementation of the RAS. When the new rental assistance arrangements have been fully implemented I expect that in excess of 30,000 individuals will have transferred from the rent supplement scheme to the local authorities under RAS and other social housing schemes.

A study has been commissioned from Goodbody Economic Consultants to examine the potential of supplementing home ownership specifically among the client base that comes within the rent supplementation arrangements. The study was aimed at identifying possible viable alternative approaches meeting housing needs for long-term rent supplement recipients. People in this category are primarily dependent on social welfare or health service executive payments and would not be in position to purchase private property at going market rates. The work is nearing completion and I understand that the group are finalising their draft report.

In addition to this current study, a fundamental review of all aspects of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, including the rent supplement scheme has been undertaken as part of my Department's series of Expenditure Reviews. The review process is now completed and following its presentation to Government I would propose to publish a report on the findings of the review in the coming weeks.

Family Support Services.

Ivor Callely

Question:

110 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the range of payments and supports to families where it is clear that the family need additional support particularly in the area of an out of control child; the level of one to one supports available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37097/06]

My Department has no function in providing supports specifically in the case of families with an out of control child. Personal Social Services and Child Welfare are the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children.

The main function of my Department is the provision of income support payments including social insurance payments funded by the Social Insurance Fund, social assistance payments funded by the Vote, the provision of secondary benefits such as free fuel, household benefits package and the payment of universal schemes such as child benefit.

Within that remit my Department aims to support and promote families and to attain better outcomes in tackling poverty and achieving a more inclusive society through co-operating, developing and implementing national anti-poverty strategies, and through the provision of income and other support services for people in debt or at risk of experiencing hardship.

My Department also aims to ensure the well being of all children through income support with child rearing costs in general, including those which arise in circumstances of particular need or disadvantage.

The principal child income support is child benefit, a universal payment that is neutral regarding the employment status of the child's parents and does not contribute to poverty traps. While child benefit supports all children it delivers proportionately more assistance to larger families. My Department also administers the early childcare supplement on behalf of the Office of the Minister for Children.

In addition to child benefit support most social welfare payments provide for an increase in respect of qualified children. Family needs are addressed through the provision of increases in respect of dependent adults or children which are payable in addition to the particular personal weekly rate of a social welfare payment.

Finally, the family income supplement scheme gives extra financial support to employees with families, on low pay.

Departmental Schemes.

Ivor Callely

Question:

111 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the level of take-up of the back to work scheme over the past five years; if he is satisfied in relation to the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37098/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

406 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to improve the back to work allowance scheme with particular reference to easing or improving the qualification requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37960/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 111 and 406 together.

The back to work allowance scheme assists the long term unemployed to return to the active labour force. There are two strands to the scheme, the back to work enterprise allowance for self employed and the back to work allowance for employees.

Numbers availing of the back to work allowance scheme have fallen steadily in recent years due to the continued buoyancy of the labour market and the low levels of long term unemployment. Currently, there are some 8,580 participants in the scheme compared to 39,340 in 2002 when it reached its peak.

The number of new entrants on the back to work scheme from 2002 are as follows:

Self-employed

Employee

Total

2002

4,370

5,561

9,931

2003

2,389

3,239

5,628

2004

1,815

2,498

4,313

2005

1,739

1,991

3,730

2006 (to date)

1,774

2,064

3,838

In recognition of the difficulties being experienced by some people returning to the labour force after 3 or 5 years of attachment to the live register, the qualifying period for access to both the employment and self-employment strands of back to work was reduced to 2 years, with effect from March 2006. Furthermore, periods spent in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance or direct provision for persons awaiting refugee status now count towards the qualifying period for access to the back to work allowance scheme. This new condition will apply in circumstances where the person establishes an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment prior to commencing employment.

Following the changes to eligibility criteria provided for in the Budget which came into effect on 1st March 2006, the numbers of the Back to Work Allowance new applications have been increasing steadily each month.

I will continue to monitor the scheme to ensure its relevance to current labour market conditions and to ensure that it continues to assist those furthest from the labour market to gain a foothold into sustainable employment or self-employment.

Question No. 112 answered with QuestionNo. 102.

Migrant Issues.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

113 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the NESC conclusion in the NESC publication Managing Migration in Ireland A Social and Economic Analysis, that the decision to exclude migrants for welfare categories because they were not habitually resident in Ireland was a short term policy which will eventually have to be replaced by one which allows some migrants to establish long term residence in Ireland. [37668/06]

The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social welfare payments with effect from 1st May 2004. It was introduced in the context of the Government's decision to open the Irish labour market to workers from the new EU Member States without the transitional limitations which were being imposed at that time by many of the other Member States.

The effect of the condition is, for the purposes of certain social assistance schemes and child benefit, to distinguish between a person whose habitual residence is elsewhere and a person who has established a habitual residence here. None of the contributory schemes of my Department are affected by the condition, so (for example) jobseeker's benefit and illness benefit are available to all workers who satisfy the contribution and other conditions, regardless of nationality or citizenship.

Furthermore, in the case of workers from EU and EEA countries, EU legislation regarding social security for migrant workers provides that periods of employment in other Member States of the European Economic Area are taken into consideration for the purposes of benefit entitlements.

The habitual residence condition therefore does not create a barrier to migrant workers establishing long-term residence in Ireland. This is demonstrated by the fact that only about 2.5% of the persons from the 10 accession countries to whom PPS numbers have been allocated lodge claims for assistance. In addition 76% of over 43,000 claims which have been examined with particular reference to the habitual residence condition have been allowed.

Of these claims:

39% were by persons from some 130 countries outside the EU 25;

26% were by Irish nationals;

16% were by nationals from the 10 EU accession countries;

11% were by UK nationals; and

8% were by nationals from the other EU Member States.

I am satisfied that the principal effect of the habitual residence condition is to ensure that persons who have not worked in Ireland or who have not established their habitual residence in Ireland cannot take advantage of our assistance schemes or child benefit, and there are no plans to remove this important protection of the Irish social welfare system.

Pension Provisions.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

114 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has completed his consideration of the recent report he received from the Pensions Board, entitled, Special Savings for Retirement Report on Mandatory Pension System; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37605/06]

The Pensions Board in its report on the National Pensions Review, published in January 2006, suggested, amongst other things, a continuation of the existing system of voluntary supplementary pensions provision with improved incentives for participation.

However, no truly voluntary pensions system has delivered the level of coverage rates for which we are aiming, and if we are to achieve our overall targets we may have to consider a more radical approach. I therefore asked the Pensions Board to explore in more detail the ideas for a mandatory or quasi-mandatory system it put forward in its report on the National Pensions Review.

I published this second report, with the consent of the Government, on the 8th August. The report is a technical examination of the practical issues associated with a supplementary pension system. The Pensions Board has not recommended a mandatory supplementary pensions system. It has, instead, examined several options and concluded by giving an outline of what such an arrangement could look like, if a mandatory approach was agreed to be the way forward.

The model put forward for consideration by the Board is aimed at low to middle earners which entails mandatory contributions of 15%, shared between employers, employees and the Exchequer, on earnings between €15,000 and €60,000. This would be backed up by an improved social welfare pension, which would increase from a current level of 33% of Gross Average Industrial Earnings to 40%. A timescale of 10 years was suggested for full implementation.

The two reports produced by the Pensions Board over the last year require serious debate and analysis before we decide finally on the type of retirement we want for our older people and the contribution we will make during our working lives to that future.

In this regard, pensions featured very strongly in the negotiations for Towards 2016 and the final agreement features a number of commitments in this area. As part of the agreement the Government is committed to publishing a Green Paper on pensions outlining the major policy choices, the challenges in this area and the views of the social partners.

I expect to publish this by the end of March next year, and there will then be a consultation process. The Government are committed to responding to the consultations on foot of the paper's publication by developing a framework for comprehensively addressing the pensions agenda over the long-term. The two reports completed by the Pensions Board — The National Pensions Review and their report on mandatory pensions, Special Savings for Retirement — are to be major inputs to the Green Paper.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

115 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if there are proposals to increase the living alone allowance for pensioners. [37651/06]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

390 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the cost of doubling the living alone allowance to €15.40. [37430/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 115 and 390 together.

The living alone increase is an additional payment of €7.70 per week made to people aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments and who are living alone. It is also available to people who are under 66 years of age who are living alone and who receive payments under one of a number of invalidity type schemes. The increase is intended as a contribution towards the additional costs people face when they live alone.

The additional payment is primarily designed to target the increased risk of poverty that older people face if living alone though, as already indicated, it is also payable to those receiving long-term invalidity type payments in recognition of the particular difficulties faced by that group.

At present just over 150,000 people are in receipt of this additional payment. The estimated cost of doubling the payment to €15.40 per week is €61.5 million per annum.

The policy in relation to support for pensioners has been, for many years, to give priority to increasing the personal rates of pension rather than focusing on payments such as the living alone increase. This approach ensures that resources are used to improve the position of all pensioners. Any increases in the payment would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

116 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on linking the rate of carer’s benefit payable to a percentage of former salary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37634/06]

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

Carer's Benefit is a weekly income support payment intended to support people who leave the workforce temporarily to care for someone who is in need of full-time care and attention. As the payment is not intended as an income replacement, it is not paid with reference to the recipient's previous earnings. This is in line with the practice generally for other social welfare payments.

In Budget 2006, I announced the biggest ever increases in the weekly rates of payments to carers. In particular, I increased the rate of carer's benefit to €180.70 per week for people who are caring for one person. People who are caring for more than one person are paid at 150% of the standard rate. I also increased the level of the respite care grant from €1,000 to €1,200 per year from June 2006.

I have also made other improvements to the supports available to carers from my Department. From June this year, I increased the number of hours that a carer may work and still receive carer's allowance, carer's benefit or respite care grant from 10 to 15 hours per week. I also extended the duration of the carer's benefit scheme from 15 months to 2 years. The duration of the associated carer's leave scheme has also been extended to 2 years.

Recommendations involving additional expenditure can only be considered in a budgetary context. However, I am always prepared to consider changes to existing arrangements where these are for the benefit of recipients and financially sustainable within the resources available to me. I will continue to bring forward proposals that recognise the valued and valuable contribution of carers in a tangible way.

Family Support Services.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

117 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department offers parenting courses; if not, his views on the introduction of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37641/06]

Although not offering parenting courses directly, my Department does provide support, via the Family Services Project and the Family Support Agency, to a range of groups and organisations that are involved in the provision of supports and information to parents.

Specifically, the Employment Supports Service in my Department has developed the Family Services Project since its establishment in 1998 with a view to providing a high quality information service on the range of supports available to families. Examples of activities funded under the Family Services Project include parenting projects for very young lone parents, supports programmes for families of disabled persons and family support for Travellers. To date in 2006, over €1.36 million has been expended on some 80 programmes to assist disadvantaged families, 37 of which were parenting programmes.

In addition, the Family Support Agency has statutory responsibility to promote and disseminate information about issues such as parenting and family responsibilities. In 2006, the Agency has responsibility for €28 million of Government funding to support families and has a mission "to promote family and community well being through the provision of appropriate supports and services to families".

A crucial element of that investment is the almost €13 million allocated to the Family Resource Centre programme that seeks to help combat disadvantage by improving the functioning of the family unit. The emphasis in the projects is on the involvement of local communities in developing approaches to tackle the problems they face and on creating successful partnerships between the voluntary and statutory agencies in the area concerned.

The services provided and activities supported by the resource centres are designed to meet the needs of the local community. They include the provision of parenting courses, education and training opportunities for parents and active dissemination of information on a range of issues affecting families and local communities.

Question No. 118 answered with QuestionNo. 103.
Question No. 119 answered with QuestionNo. 109.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

120 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to improve supports for new fathers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37637/06]

The social welfare system is designed to provide a replacement income in the event of a particular contingency arising. The contingencies include lone parenthood, child support, maternity and adoption. The payments involved, while not targeted specifically at fathers of recently born children, could be claimed by them in certain circumstances. In addition, where a man is in receipt of a social welfare payment, he may claim an increase on the payment in respect of a child dependant.

Other measures within the social insurance framework which may support new fathers include the award of credits for periods of statutory leave in the event of adoption, maternity and carers leave, if they are entitled to the leave. There is no provision for the payment of an income support during any period of parental leave, but the period of statutory leave attracts credited contributions to maintain a full PRSI insurance record.

The parameters set out in law under which a father may establish entitlement to a period of statutory maternity, adoptive, carers or parental leave is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

In relation to supports for families generally, the Family Support Agency has a key role in promoting family and community well being through the provision of appropriate supports and services to families. Specifically, the Agency, through the Family and Community Services Resource Centre Programme, supports the involvement of local communities in developing approaches to tackle the problems affecting families on creating successful partnerships between the voluntary and statutory agencies in this regard.

Initiatives supported by Family Resource Centres include parenting courses, information sessions and other measures aimed at enhancing the role of young fathers in the lives of their children.

Question No. 121 answered with QuestionNo. 94.
Question No. 122 answered with QuestionNo. 102.
Question No. 123 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

124 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the intentions he has of commissioning research on the key issues involved in family breakdown in view of the increasing numbers of marriages that are ending in separation and divorce. [37661/06]

The provision of quality research into key family issues is one of the main priorities for the Family Support Agency and indeed the Agency is committed to continuing the innovative work contained in the first phase of the Families Research Programme, which ran from 1999 to 2004.

In June this year, as a precursor to a call for research into selected family themes, I launched a thematic review of the findings of the 14 projects commissioned under the first phase of the Programme. Research has been published into such themes as family formation, issues affecting the first year of marriage, family well-being, marital and relationship counselling and children's experiences of parental separation. The resultant reports are all freely available from the Family Affairs Unit of my Department and can be downloaded from the internet.

One of the key issues identified in the thematic review as needing of further research was the whole area of marriage and relationship stability and family breakdown. Indeed, I have gone on record as suggesting that this should be a priority area for future research.

The Board of the Agency has a sub-group charged with identifying the issues for research under the next phase of the Families Research Programme and a call for original research under a number of themes will be published by the Agency early in the new year. While I do not want to pre-empt the decision of the Board, I have no doubt that the issue mentioned by the Deputy will be to the forefront of any such exercise.

Question No. 125 answered with QuestionNo. 102.

Payment Delivery Services.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

126 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has finalised his discussions on the opinion of the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice regarding the decision of his Department to extend the payment delivery services contract with An Post; the action he will take arising from the decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37612/06]

Following the Government decision in 1999 to extend the An Post contract for the delivery of social welfare payments for a further 3 years a complaint was lodged with the European Commission under the Procurement Services Directive.

The Advocate-General to the European Court of Justice gave an opinion on the case on 14th September 2006 and concurred with the European Commission's view that Ireland breached EU non-discrimination rules by not publicly advertising the payment delivery service. It is expected that the Court will give its judgement within a three to six month period.

Discussions are on-going with the Office of the Attorney General on the legal implications for the Department and on the steps to be taken should the judgement of the Court be in line with the Advocate-General's opinion. It will be necessary to put forward a plan of action for approval by Government once the court decision is known. Pending the judgement, and recognizing the essential payment delivery service which An Post currently provides for my Department, the Company will continue to provide these services.

Child Support.

David Stanton

Question:

127 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on paying all child dependent allowances at the same maximum rate; the cost of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37618/06]

Joan Burton

Question:

130 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to increase the child dependent allowance in budget 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37590/06]

Enda Kenny

Question:

132 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on increasing the child dependent allowance to one-third of the adult social welfare rate; and the cost of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37619/06]

Joan Burton

Question:

139 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has received the promised recommendation from the National and Economic Social Council on the targeting of child poverty through a new payment that is a second tier to the child benefit payment aimed at the least well off children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37589/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 127, 130, 132 and 139 together.

Since 1994, successive Governments have followed the policy of holding the rate of qualified child increases constant while concentrating additional resources for child income support on the child benefit scheme. Child benefit is neutral vis-à-vis the employment status of the child's parents and does not contribute to poverty traps, whereas the loss of qualified child increases by social welfare recipients on taking up employment can act as a disincentive to availing of work opportunities.

As a universal payment, which is not taxable and is not assessed as means for other secondary benefits, child benefit can be more effective than qualified child increases as a child income support mechanism when account is taken of incentive issues.

The Government have invested substantial resources in the child benefit scheme since entering office. Since 1997, expenditure on child benefit has increased from €505.8 million to an estimated €2.05 billion in 2006.

The broad approach over the last ten years in relation to child income support policy was recently commended by the NESC. However the NESC has also raised the question of a new instrument which would target low income families across the welfare-work divide. In this context, the Council was asked to examine the feasibility of merging the family income supplement scheme and child dependant allowance into a second tier child income support. Such a payment would be aimed specifically at targeting child poverty by channelling resources to low-income families without creating significant disincentives to employment.

The final report has not been published to date by NESC. However, while waiting for the structure for the new second tier support to be finalised, a range of other reforms, increased welfare supports and expanded child-centred services are all combining to make significant progress in tackling child poverty. The most recent figures show that at least 100,000 children have been lifted out of deprivation and hardship inside the last decade as a result of targeted measures and supports.

These include, in addition to the substantial increases in each Budget in Child Benefit rates which directly benefit over one million children, increases of from €21 to €282 a week for families on Family Income Supplement which is being claimed by over 21,400 families; the €40 per child increase in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance which benefits some 85,000 families and the €1,000 a year Early Childcare Supplement which benefits over 390,000 children, a third of whom are the children of lone parents.

The cost of increasing all qualified child increases to the highest rate is estimated to be some €50 million, while the cost of increasing all CDAs to one third of the lowest adult social welfare rate would be some €573 million in a full year.

Any change to existing policy, including qualified child increases, will be considered in a budgetary context and in the context of an overall review of targeted child income supports.

Question No. 128 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

John Gormley

Question:

129 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will report on progress which has been made in ending child poverty one year after the End Child Poverty Coalition Campaign called for serious action in this area. [37665/06]

The National Action Plan against poverty and social exclusion details actions across several Government Departments to co-ordinate action across a range of Government services, including income support. The most recent reforms aimed at tackling child poverty include the following: payment of the new €1,000 a year early childcare supplement for all children under 6 years; increases in social welfare payments in real terms and improvements in entitlements; the creation of additional childcare places; and proposed reforms of the schemes for lone parents, and the qualified adults of social welfare beneficiaries, which will be of significant benefit also to their child dependants.

The most significant measure my own Department has taken in recent years to support families with children has been the very substantial real increases in child benefit rates. Between 1997 and 2006, the rate of child benefit rose from €38.09 per month for the first two children and €49.52 for each child thereafter to €150.00 per month for each of the first two children and to €185.00 per month for the third and each subsequent child. Child benefit is paid to over half a million families in respect of approximately 1.1 million children at a cost in 2006 of more than €2 billion. The provision of these increases has been part of the sustained and substantial overall increase in social protection expenditure provided for by this Government.

I held a Pre-Budget Forum in October which was attended by over 30 representative organizations, including several members of the End Child Poverty Coalition. At the forum, organisations presented their key priorities for consideration in advance of Budget 2007. I would like to put on record my appreciation and my thanks to the members of the End Child Poverty Coalition for their contribution to the forum and the valuable work which they and other similar organisations do in representing the interests of the more vulnerable groups in our society. The proposals put forward by these organizations are being considered in the context of the forthcoming Budget.

As I mentioned at the Pre-Budget Forum, I am committed to maintaining the momentum on reforms that directly tackle child poverty, which should have no place in modern, progressive 21st century Ireland. Preparation of a new National Action Plan for Inclusion is currently being coordinated by the Office for Social Inclusion in my Department for launch early in the New Year. Building on the social inclusion provisions in the partnership agreement, Towards 2016, the Plan will adopt a lifecycle approach by assessing the risks which individuals face at each stage of the life cycle and the supports they need to effectively meet these risks. The groups focused on using this approach are Children, People of Working Age, Older People and People with Disabilities. This strategic framework is also being designed to create more coherent and integrated structures that will greatly assist in achieving more effective implementation of the plan. It is also expected to facilitate better and more effective reporting and monitoring across the spectrum of government activity in the area of social inclusion.

Question No. 130 answered with QuestionNo. 127.
Question No. 131 answered with QuestionNo. 101.
Question No. 132 answered with QuestionNo. 127.

Payment Delivery Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

133 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if it is his Department’s policy to encourage people to receive payment via electronic funds transfer; if so, the way this is being done; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37621/06]

My Department's policy is to ensure cost effective arrangements are in place for making payments through a range of payment options and that the service is continually adapted by providing access to new payment services and facilities as they become available. Customers opt for a particular payment method having regard to their own circumstances.

The current range of payment options offered by my Department include payment made directly to the customer's bank or building society account, at post offices by means of a pension order book or by electronic or manual postdraft issued to a customer's designated post office, or by cheque to the home address of the customer.

Currently some 37% of customers receive direct payment to their bank or building society account, 53% of customers receive payment through their local post office and 10% are paid by cheque through the postal system.

It is government policy to facilitate the greater use of electronic payment systems in the economy in the interests of developing a world class payments environment in Ireland. In this context, I have undertaken a strategic review of my Department's payment requirements with the aim of identifying a payment solution for the future which will be flexible, cost-effective, customer focused, manageable and accountable.

The study will take account of the current market offerings in the financial services sector and advances in the card–based technologies with a view to seeing how future needs might best be met. The objective is to ensure that the new system will be cost effective and provide easy access to payments for customers throughout the country.

Question No. 134 answered Question No. 102.

Social Welfare Code.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

135 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has examined the possibility of making alterations to the social insurance system to allow a more flexible approach to retirement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37633/06]

John Perry

Question:

138 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on providing incentives to employers to promote the employment of people of pension age; the implications of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37631/06]

John Perry

Question:

142 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the efforts his Department is making to promote social inclusion of over 65s in particular in relation to access to services and employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37632/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 135, 138 and 142 together.

The National Action Plan for Inclusion is currently being prepared by the Office for Social Inclusion in my Department. This plan will encompass a lifecycle approach within which the key social challenges will be addressed, by assessing the risks which individuals face and the supports available to them at each stage in the life cycle, of which older people are one of the key areas for attention.

This strategic framework will help to create more coherent and integrated structures and facilitate better and more effective reporting and monitoring across the spectrum of Government activity in the area of social inclusion. It is being designed to systematically overcome difficulties in implementation arising from insufficient coordination and integration.

The current NAP/inclusion already recognises that access to adequate resources is an important requirement for the participation of older people. In this regard, the needs of older people have been, and will remain, a priority for this Government. The Government's strategy in this area is to provide the resources for older people to enable them to play a full role in society through a number of measures like significant increases in pension rates and supports for carers, and by making schemes such as the household benefits package and medical cards available on a much wider basis. For instance, over the last 10 years the rate at which contributory pensions are paid has increased by some 103%, or a real increase of nearly 50%, while household benefits and medical cards are now available on a universal basis for those who are 70 years of age and over.

The Government is committed to reaching a target rate of at least €200 per week for the basic state pension and I expect to progress this commitment in the forthcoming Budget. I will continue to look for opportunities to improve the supports we provide for our older people.

With regard to access to employment, I consider it important that those who wish to continue in employment after normal retirement age should, as far as is possible, be facilitated and supported. Longer working can play an important role in ensuring that our pensions system is sustainable in the future and it can also be beneficial to the individual.

The National Pensions Review, published in January, includes recommendations from the Pensions Board designed to encourage people to continue working after normal retirement age. The measures suggested involve allowing people to defer receiving their social welfare pension and to grant them an actuarially enhanced payment when they do claim. The Pensions Board also considered that if this was combined with allowing those with less than full entitlements to count contributions made after age 65 or 66 in order to improve their contributions record, this would complete the incentives for longer working within the social welfare pensions system. I am in broad agreement with the suggestions and will be seeking to have them introduced as soon as is practical.

However, issues surrounding social welfare payments represent only one aspect of the problem. As I have said before, we require a change in attitudes in relation to longer working from both employers and employees. Employers must seek to retain older employees and create the conditions which will make longer working both attractive and feasible for older workers.

As the House is aware, the Government is committed to publishing a Green Paper on pensions as part of the social partnership agreement Towards 2016.

This will include an examination of the issues surrounding retirement age and the barriers faced by older workers who wish to remain in employment. The Green Paper will be published by the end of March next year and, following a consultation process, the Government will respond later in the year by publishing a framework to address the long-term policy on pensions and related issues.

Question No. 136 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

Family Support Services.

Liz McManus

Question:

137 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he expects to complete his consideration of the proposed new package of reforms of state aid for lone parents; when he expects to bring forward specific proposals; if such proposals will be included in the budget 2007 package; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37602/06]

The Government discussion paper, "Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents," put forward proposals for the expanded availability and range of education and training opportunities for lone parents; the extension of the National Employment Action Plan to focus on lone parents; focused provision of childcare; improved information services for lone parents and the introduction of a new social assistance payment for low income families with young children.

The new social assistance payment, currently being developed by officials in my Department will have the long term aim of assisting people to achieve financial independence through supporting them to enter employment — for it is employment that offers the best route out of poverty.

Any proposed new payment cannot be introduced without co-ordinated supports and services being put in place by other Departments and Agencies. This is why the Government has instructed the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion to draw up an implementation plan to progress the non-income recommendations in tandem with the development of the legislation required in my Department to introduce a new payment scheme.

Work on the development of this implementation plan is under way. Issues including access to childcare support, education, training and activation measures are being discussed with the relevant Departments and Agencies. Although the formal consultation process on the Government discussion paper has concluded, my officials continue to be in contact with lone parents' representative groups, whose views continue to feed in to the development of the proposals.

Once I am convinced that we have reached conclusions that are equitable, with a fully workable implementation strategy, it is my intention to bring forward proposals for legislation.

Question No. 138 answered with QuestionNo. 135.
Question No. 139 answered with QuestionNo. 127.
Question No. 140 answered with QuestionNo. 109.

Tenancy Agreements.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

141 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has undertaken a study to investigate the extent to which landlords are refusing tenancies purely because they are on a social welfare payment; and if this constitutes discrimination. [37663/06]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes rent supplement, is administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare division of the Health Service Executive. The purpose of the scheme is to provide short-term income support, in the form of a weekly or monthly payment, to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

I am aware that some landlords, when advertising their property, state that they are unwilling to accept rent supplement recipients as tenants. I am concerned that landlords would refuse a tenancy purely because someone is on a social welfare payment. The Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004 prohibits discrimination in the provision of accommodation on nine grounds — these are gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community. In addition discriminatory advertising is prohibited under Section 12 of the Equal Status Act 2000. However, the refusal of tenancy by landlords on the grounds that the prospective tenant is a social welfare recipient is not in itself considered discriminatory within the meaning of the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004.

I understand that a review of the grounds for discrimination under the Equal Status Acts is to take place shortly. In this regard, I have asked that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform consult with my Department and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government so that the various issues associated with this matter can be considered as part of the review process.

There is no direct relationship between the State and the landlord under the rent supplement scheme. Entitlement is based on the tenant's income support needs with payment generally made directly to the tenant. The tenant's engagement with the Executive usually takes place after the tenant has reached an agreement with the landlord. As such it is not possible to identify from departmental records if refusal by landlords to accept rent supplement tenants is causing difficulties for those trying to find accommodation.

I would also point out that the amount of accommodation available for rent has increased significantly in recent years and this has had a positive impact on rent levels. Despite recent increases in rent levels the Central Statistics Office Privately Owned Rent Index shows that rent levels for September 2006 were in line with those which applied in August 2002. The fact that there are currently over 60,000 rent supplement recipients, an increase of around 15,000 recipients since 2001, indicates that there are significant numbers of landlords who are willing to accept people in receipt of rent supplement as tenants. 35,000 new rent supplement claims were awarded between January 2006 and October 2006. This suggests those in need of assistance under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme are able to access accommodation.

Question No. 142 answered with QuestionNo. 135.

Pension Provisions.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

143 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the European Commission’s proposed directive to protect the occupational pension rights of EU workers who change jobs or move between member states. [37669/06]

On 20 October 2005, the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Directive on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights. The purpose of the Directive is to facilitate free movement of workers within and between EU member states by removing perceived obstacles to mobility within and between member states which may be caused by present supplementary pension scheme provisions.

The perceived obstacles to mobility relate to the conditions of acquisition of occupational pension rights, the preservation of dormant pension rights, the transferability of acquired occupational pension rights and the provision of information to employees on their pension rights.

In the main, the proposals in the Directive do not create major difficulties for Ireland, as they are already a requirement under the Pensions Act 1990. The Pensions Act provides for transferability of pension rights, the preservation of rights for those who leave a pension scheme and the revaluation of accrued pension rights. These conditions apply whether the person is moving within the State or to another EU member state.

In addition, regulations made under the Pensions Act provide a framework for the disclosure of certain information to members of pension schemes.

At EU level, discussions at the Social Questions Group have been ongoing since November 2005. My Department has primary responsibility for negotiating and transposing the requirements of the Directive. Most member states have raised issues with the Directive and these have been discussed in great detail in the group. Progress to date has been slow, reflecting the very different supplementary pension systems in operation in many member states.

In a number of member states, these systems are presently in transition or new legislation on supplementary pensions schemes is being considered. Indeed some delegations have indicated that, in their member states, no supplementary pension systems exist.

The latest meeting of the Social Questions Group was held yesterday under the Finnish Presidency and discussions will continue next year under the German Presidency.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

144 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether, in the event of the Government increasing the non-contributory pension to €200 in 2007, that this amount is no longer sufficient to ensure that pensioners have sufficient income to live on and participate equally in society. [37655/06]

Since taking office this Government has made the needs of older people a priority with the inclusion of several commitments in the Programme for Government aimed specifically at the group. One of these is a commitment to increase the state pension rate to €200 per week by 2007. In Budget 2006 non-contributory pensioners received an increase of €16 per week (9.6%) bringing the maximum pension to €182.00 per week. Overall, the non-contributory pension has increased by almost 35% since 2002, or in real terms, an increase of about 21%. Pension increases have been well ahead of inflation thus ensuring that not only is the real value of pensions maintained but that they are significantly improved in real terms. I am confident that this trend will be maintained in the coming Budget.

However, increases in pension rates have not been the only way by which I have ensured that pensioners' incomes have increased. Other measures of benefit to older people include an increase in the fuel allowance of €5 per week, bringing the allowance to €14 per week, and an increase in the over 80 allowance of €3.60 per week, bringing it to €10 per week.

In the last two Budgets, I announced a wide range of important measures for non-contributory pensioners. In Budget 2005 the capital allowance increased from €12,697 to €20,000 and in 2006 the basic means disregard increased significantly from €7.60 to €20 per week. Consequent on the increase in the means disregard, a single person with no other means can have up to €36,000 in capital and still qualify for a pension at the maximum rate. These figures are doubled in the case of a pensioner couple. The increase in the means disregard led to some 34,000 non-contributory pensioners having their payments increased by up to €12.50 per week in addition to the budget increases.

As part of the pension reforms, I also announced a specific additional disregard of €100 per week where the non-contributory pensioner is in employment. This new disregard, relating to earnings from employment, is intended as an incentive to facilitate non-contributory pensioners who wish to continue working, or to re-enter the workforce. The effect of this is that the first €100 of weekly earnings from employment is disregarded from the means test and a similar disregard applies to the pensioner's spouse or partner. The disregard will also apply to people under age 66 who are in receipt of a widow/er's non-contributory pension, deserted wife's allowance and prisoner's wife's allowance.

The household benefits package, which comprises telephone allowance, electricity/natural gas allowance and free TV licence is available to people living in the State aged 66 to 69 years subject to certain conditions, and to over 70s.

The electricity/natural gas allowance is of immense benefit to older people who in general have greater heating requirements.

The additional supports, combined with the unprecedented increases in pension rates demonstrate that the needs of older people continue to be a priority for this Government. I will continue to look for opportunities to ensure that we can continue to make progress on improving the level of supports we provide for our older people.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

145 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made in discussions with the EU Commission regarding the possibility of providing free travel passes to Irish pensioners resident abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37611/06]

The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over. All carers in receipt of carer's allowance and carers of people in receipt of constant attendance or prescribed relative's allowance, regardless of their age, receive a free travel pass. It is also available to people under age 66 who are in receipt of certain disability type welfare payments, such as disability allowance, invalidity pension and blind person's pension. People resident in the State who are in receipt of a social security invalidity or disability payment from a country covered by EU Regulations, or from a country with which Ireland has a bilateral social security agreement, and who have been in receipt of this payment for at least 12 months, are also eligible for free travel.

The scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as Luas and services provided by over 80 private transport operators.

The free travel scheme applies to travel within the State and point to point cross-border journeys between here and Northern Ireland. In line with the Government objective to put in place an all Ireland free travel scheme for pensioners resident in all parts of this island, I am committed to improving the North/South element of the current arrangements.

There have been a number of requests and enquiries in relation to the extension of entitlement to free travel in Ireland to Irish born people living outside Ireland, or to those in receipt of pensions from my Department, particularly in the UK, when they return to Ireland for a visit.

I have been advised that it would not be possible to extend entitlement to free travel only to Irish born people living abroad as to do so would be contrary to European legislation which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality. In addition, legal advice also indicates that to extend the free travel scheme to people in receipt of Irish pensions who live outside the State would also be discriminatory under EU law.

However, I am determined to explore all options and I have raised the issue in meetings with the Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs. Also, officials from my Department met with European Commission officials on two occasions in an effort to clarify the legal issues involved. I am keeping this issue under close review and contacts with the European Commission are ongoing.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

146 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the estimated increase in the cost of welfare claims in 2007 arising from the entitlement of EU migrant workers to the new childcare supplement and child benefit; the level of increase in applications for such benefits that has been evident since the beginning of 2006; his views on these increases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37607/06]

EU migrant workers have an entitlement to Child Benefit and other "Family benefits" including Early Childcare Supplement (ECS) under EU Regulation 1408/71. Where a national of an EU State with a family is working in Ireland, the worker is entitled to payment of family benefits, even if the children are resident abroad.

Applications for family benefits from EU migrant workers who come to live in Ireland with their families are dealt with under domestic legislation. Currently just over 31,000 EU nationals are in receipt of Child Benefit for 56,000 children who are resident with them in Ireland. The majority of these recipients, some 16,500, are UK nationals, with a further 10,500 recipients from the ten States that joined the EU in 2004.

The process for establishing entitlement to child benefit for non-resident children is complex as it is necessary to contact the authorities in the country of residence of the children to confirm details and establish what if any family benefits are payable there.

This process can take a number of months to complete and, as a result, the number of claims that has been finalised to date is relatively small. There are approximately 12,000 claims at various stages of processing and awaiting finalisation. The number of claims to child benefit in respect of non-resident children of EU nationals, since the start of 2006, has averaged close to 300 per week. The number of children under 6 years qualifying for ECS is estimated at 40% of this number. Applications of child benefit reached a peak of 400 per week in June but have been reducing somewhat in the months since.

At the start of 2006, 650 families were receiving child benefit under EU regulations 1408/71. Currently 599 such families, with 1,444 children, are receiving Child Benefit. Some 86% of non-resident families are in the UK.

The total child benefit expenditure for EU migrants with non resident children in respect of 2006 is estimated at €36m or 1.8% of overall child benefit expenditure of €2.04 billion. The total cost in 2007 is difficult to estimate but on current trends, the potential accrued cost could be of the order of €80 million. The corresponding figures for early childcare supplement are €8m in respect of 2006 and €17m in respect of 2007.

Question No. 147 answered with QuestionNo. 102.

Pension Provisions.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

148 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people in receipt of dependent parents pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37646/06]

Dependent Parents' Pension is a payment under the Occupational Injuries Scheme. It forms part of the Occupational Injuries death benefit payments. If a person dies because of an accident at work or a prescribed occupational disease or was getting disablement pension assessed at 50% or more at the time of their death and leaves a dependent parent or parents, each parent may get a pension. To qualify, the parent must have been wholly or mainly maintained by the deceased. Because of the expansion of other services this payment has not been claimed for many years. There are currently 4 persons in receipt of dependent parents' pension.

Social Welfare Code.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

149 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to introduce paid paternity leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37636/06]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

389 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the cost of the introduction of four weeks paternity leave where it would be paid at 100% of wages subject to a minimum rate of €216.80 per week and a maximum rate of €309.70 per week. [37429/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 and 389 together.

Paternity leave is generally understood to be a period of leave to which a male worker is entitled following the birth of his child. Employers are not obliged to grant male employees special paternity leave, either paid or unpaid, following the birth of their child. The question of a social insurance funded payment for paternity leave would be contingent on an underlying entitlement to statutory parental leave. In the absence of statutory provisions for entitlement to paternity leave, the question of making a social insurance based payment during such an absence does not arise.

Responsibility for questions relating to entitlement to paternity leave rests with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Under the aegis of his Department, entitlement to paid paternity leave was considered by the working group of social partners which undertook a review of the Parental Leave Act, 1998.

Their report, which was published in 2002, in dealing with the principle of paid paternity leave, states that the group had divergent points of view and could not reach a consensus on the issue. Therefore, no specific proposals for paid parental leave were advanced.

Should a legislative framework for paternity leave be introduced, the cost of the scheme for four weeks paid at 100% of wages subject to a minimum of €216.80 and a maximum rate of €309.70 per week, is estimated at some €74.5m. This is based on an assumption that all fathers would take the leave and 95% of them would be paid at the higher rate.

While male employees are not entitled under Irish law to either paid or unpaid paternity leave, they may be entitled to parental leave. Parental leave entitles both parents who qualify to take a period of up to 14 weeks' unpaid leave from employment in respect of children aged up to eight years of age. There is no provision for a social insurance based payment for periods of parental leave, but employees may be entitled to credited contributions to maintain their social insurance record for the period. Responsibility for the current provisions in relation to parental leave also rests with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

The introduction of paid parental leave or paternity leave would have significant cost implications for employers and/or the Exchequer and the social insurance fund.

Any proposals for introducing any such payments would have to be examined with regard to its effect on the social insurance fund and employers' costs and, in the case of paternity leave, would require legislation to provide for a statutory entitlement to the leave.

Pension Provisions.

Seán Crowe

Question:

150 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if there have been discussions on establishing the right for women to a pension in their own right. [37649/06]

The social welfare system comprises two types of payment, social insurance based schemes, which require those eligible to reach a certain standard in terms of the social insurance contributions paid or credited on their record, and non-contributory payments designed for those without the necessary social insurance record for contributory schemes who can satisfy a means test. Within that basic structure the Government is anxious to ensure that as many people as possible, particularly women, can qualify for a pension in their own right and a number of measures are in place to support this objective.

The social welfare pension rights of those who take time out of the workforce for caring duties are protected by the homemakers scheme which was introduced from 1994. The scheme allows up to 20 years spent caring for children or incapacitated adults to be disregarded when a person's social insurance record is being averaged for pension purposes. However, the scheme will not of itself qualify a person for a pension as the standard qualifying conditions must be satisfied in addition to any benefit which a person derives from the homemakers scheme.

In addition, changes have been made to the qualifying conditions for pension which make it easier for people to qualify for contributory pensions. These include the reduction in the yearly average number of contributions required for pension purposes from 20 to 10 and the introduction of special half rate pensions based on pre-53 insurance contributions. Pro-rata pensions are also available to allow people with mixed rate insurance records to receive a payment. This set of measures is of particular benefit to women who may have less than complete social insurance records due to working in the home. It is estimated that approximately 88% of women aged 65 years of age or over are at present receiving social welfare support, either in their own right or as qualified adults on the pension of their spouse or partner.

With regard to non-contributory pensions, the new enhanced standard state pension (non-contributory) for those over 66 years, which I introduced in September, combines a number of existing pension schemes such as blind pension and widow(er)s pension. It features significant improvements in the means test including increasing the means disregard from €7.60 per week to €20 which gives an additional €12.50 per week to each person and allows a single person, with no other means, to have up to €35,000 in capital and still qualify for a pension at maximum rate, and double this in the case of a pensioner couple. The changes in the means test will also allow some who are currently outside the social welfare pensions system to qualify for a payment.

The Government is committed to producing a Green Paper on pensions as part of the new social partnership agreement Towards 2016 with a view to developing a framework for future pensions policy. This will deal with pensions in general but it will include outstanding issues relating to social welfare pensions, including the position of those who are currently not receiving a social welfare pension. The Green Paper will be published at the end of March next year. A consultation process will then take place and the Government will publish a framework for future pensions policy around October 2007.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

151 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the average amount of time people remain on disability allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37638/06]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

168 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people who are in receipt of disability allowance for a maximum of one year, two years, three years and so forth respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37639/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 151 and 168 together.

Disability allowance is a weekly allowance paid to people with a disability who are aged between 16 and 66 years. The disability must be expected to last for at least one year and the allowance is subject to both a medical examination and a means test.

The person must be suffering from an injury, disease, congenital deformity or physical or mental illness or defect which has continued or may reasonably be expected to continue for a period of a year and where, as a result of that condition, the person is substantially handicapped in undertaking work which would otherwise be suitable having regard to their age, experience and qualifications.

The main reasons for the termination of claims are that the claimant dies or reaches the maximum age for payment. A key goal in my Department's Statement of Strategy is to facilitate return to work and participation in the active labour force with a view to assisting people to become more financially independent. There are a number of specific incentives available within the system to encourage and facilitate people, including people with illness or disabilities, to take-up or return to employment, or to undertake education and training options. Where people go onto the back to work allowance (BTWA) scheme or FÁS vocational training schemes the disability allowance ceases.

People on the BTWA scheme receive a proportion of their disability allowance payment on a sliding scale while on the scheme. In the case of people on FÁS funded vocational training, FÁS pays their social welfare payment in addition to a training bonus and expenses.

In these cases the person has an automatic right to return to disability allowance should their BTWA or FÁS payment stop and they have no employment.

A table showing a breakdown of the total number of people in receipt of disability allowance and the duration they were in receipt of disability allowance or disabled persons maintenance allowance scheme is as follows.

Duration of recipients of disability allowance

Duration (Years)

Number of recipients

1

5,923

2

10,781

3

7,438

4

7,144

5

6,418

6

5,519

7

4,835

8

4,147

9

3,821

10

4,121

11

10,330

12

1,478

13

1,203

14

2,965

15

1,225

16

5,635

Total

82,983

Denis Naughten

Question:

152 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications made to community welfare officers for exceptional or urgent needs payments each year since the year 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37629/06]

Under the supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme, the Health Service Executive (HSE) may make a single payment to help meet essential, once-off, exceptional expenditure, which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their weekly income. These payments are a vital component of the SWA scheme.

Those who qualify are normally in receipt of a social welfare or HSE payment. Examples of the main types of needs that are met under this provision are:

assistance towards the purchase of household appliances, bedding, clothing & child related items such as cots and prams

household repair and maintenance, rent deposits and rent/mortgage interest arrears

clothing (includes adult clothing and child clothing)

funeral & burial expenses

illness — including confinement costs & hospital requirements

travel costs

financial hardship

The principal consideration in making a single payment of SWA to address a particular need is that the need to be met must be ‘exceptional'. An exceptional needs payment should be a single payment to meet an unforeseen and/or special need which cannot be met from a client's basic income.

In addition to the payment of ENPs, SWA legislation also provides for assistance in the form of an Urgent Needs Payment. In certain circumstances, this payment can be made to persons who would not normally be entitled to SWA. Examples of situations where such assistance may be provided would be in the aftermath of flooding or fire where the immediate needs, such as food, clothing, fuel, household goods and perhaps shelter of the people affected, may be met by a UNP in cash or in kind.

The discretionary elements of SWA i.e. ENPs, UNPs and other supplements remain a key support for disadvantaged persons who are at risk.

A tabular statement outlining the number of exceptional needs and urgent need payments made and the annual expenditure on these payments from the end of 2000 is as follows.

Exceptional Needs & Urgent Needs Payments Expenditure and Number of Payments 2001-October 2006

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006 (*)

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

Expenditure

Exceptional Needs

23,922,000

40,911,000

51,875,000

55,254,000

51,186,000

56,373,000

49,123,000

Urgent Needs

121,000

159,000

320,000

178,000

142,000

140,000

123,000

Total

24,043,000

41,070,000

52,195,000

55,432,000

51,328,000

56,513,000

49,246,000

Payments Made

Exceptional Needs

*

217,815

240,116

243,297

222,014

227,976

181,501

Urgent Needs

*

677

1,126

497

494

445

365

Total

*

218,492

241,242

243,794

222,508

228,421

181,866

* Breakdown of payments made in 2000 is not available.

Social Insurance.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

153 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on altering the two year rule which prevents a person who has no social insurance benefits for more than two years from accessing benefits until they have made 26 contributions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37635/06]

Regulations provide that where no employment contributions have been paid or credited in respect of an insured person for any two complete consecutive social insurance contribution years, an employment contribution shall not be credited to such person unless, since the end of the second of the said contribution years, twenty-six employment contributions have been paid in respect of such person.

While the contributions requirements differ across benefit schemes, in general a worker is required to have a minimum number of paid contributions over their working life and a minimum number of paid or credited contributions in the relevant tax year. The threshold of contribution conditions required to establish eligibility for a range of benefits provides alternative tests within each scheme to make it easier for people to establish an entitlement.

There is a general principle in the social insurance system that there should be a reasonable link between the amount that persons pay into the system over their potential working lifetime and their subsequent access to income replacement benefits and pensions.

This rationale is a key underpinning of the contributory principle and the ‘pay-as-you-go' nature of the PRSI system.

A range of mechanisms exist currently to enable those who are out of the workforce to maintain their insurance contribution record. These include

the voluntary PRSI contribution scheme,

the homemakers scheme and

awarding credited contributions The voluntary PRSI contribution scheme, the homemaker's scheme, and the award of credited contributions will not of themselves, establish entitlement to a social welfare benefit or pension but will assist towards it.

The range of opportunities available currently to assist workers take time out of the workforce for caring purposes is comprehensive. My department constantly monitors the need for amendments or modifications to existing provisions to ensure the social insurance system continues to meet social protection needs in a changing work and social environment.

Social Welfare Information.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

154 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on a national advertising campaign to promote greater awareness of social welfare entitlements, similar to the campaign now being run by the Revenue Commissioners to promote greater awareness of tax allowances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37614/06]

The objective of my Department's information policy is to ensure that all citizens are made aware of their rights and entitlements and that they are kept informed of changes and improvements in schemes and services as they occur. The provision of information in a clear and accessible manner is an essential element in achieving this objective.

My Department takes a pro-active approach in advertising its schemes and services, by using an appropriate mix of national and provincial media, information leaflets, fact sheets, posters, direct mailshots, advertising on television screens in over 60 Credit Unions nationwide and the distribution of information booklets to health centres throughout the country. Selective use is made of LoCall and Freephone services to provide information on new schemes and services at particular times of the year.

In addition, national advertising campaigns are undertaken periodically to promote greater awareness of a specific scheme or to highlight changes in schemes and services. Three such campaigns have been undertaken to date in 2006 as follows:

In March, my Department undertook a nationwide awareness campaign to promote and encourage take up of the Family Income Supplement (FIS) scheme. An extensive week-long campaign included advertising on television, on national and local radio and in national and regional newspapers.

In August, the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance was advertised in national and regional newspapers.

During the last week of September, an information campaign was conducted on television, on national and local radio and in national and regional newspapers to raise public awareness of the Carer's Allowance, Carer's Benefit and the Respite Care Grant, schemes designed to provide supports for carers.

A LoCall helpline was provided for all three campaigns. In addition to the LoCall number, the campaigns also highlight other sources of information available to the public, including my Department's network of Social Welfare Local Offices, Citizens Information Centres and my Department's website. The response to the campaigns have been encouraging and resulted in increases in the number of applications received for these schemes.

In view of the range of services available from my Department it would not be possible to highlight all of them in a single advertising campaign. Therefore, nationwide advertising campaigns are designed to highlight specific schemes and services. Targeted advertising campaigns focusing on specific schemes and services will continue to be a key priority for me in the drive to ensure that citizens are aware of and claim their social welfare entitlements.

Social Welfare Fraud.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

155 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of Operation Gull aimed at curbing cross-Border social welfare fraud; if the operation has now been concluded, or if it is ongoing. [37608/06]

Operation Gull is a joint control exercise undertaken periodically at Airports and Ports in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain and the operations involve personnel from the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), and the United Kingdom Immigration Service. My Department, through its assignment of Social Welfare Inspectors to the GNIB, participates in these exercises.

A Social Welfare Inspector was assigned to the GNIB in July 2004 to assist my Department and the Bureau in the investigation of social welfare fraud and breaches of the Immigration Acts, to provide information and intelligence and to promote the benefits of a multi-agency approach to immigration and employment law enforcement. A second inspector was assigned to the Bureau in August, 2006.

My Department's records show that the work of the Social Welfare Inspectors assigned to the GNIB resulted in the termination of 234 social welfare claims in 2004 which achieved savings of €1.46 million, the termination of 591 social welfare claims in 2005 which achieved savings of €2.47 million and the termination of 543 social welfare claims in 2006 (to end October) which achieved savings of €2.88 million. However, separate figures are not available for Operation Gull.

I am satisfied that assigning Social Welfare Inspectors to the GNIB has proved beneficial for both organisations and that Operation Gull is an example of the benefits of inter agency and international co-operation. My Department will continue to support such operations in every possible way.

Social Welfare Code.

Willie Penrose

Question:

156 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his priorities for the forthcoming Estimates, budget and Social Welfare Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37586/06]

The 2007 estimates for social welfare spending will be published on Thursday next and will represent the cost of implementing existing levels of services in the various programmes and services provided by my Department and its agencies.

Normally, improvements in social welfare schemes and services are introduced by way of the Budget. In this regard, I will be developing Budget proposals in relation to the various issues within my own area of responsibility, having regard to:

Government commitments relating to weekly rates of payment;

improving the position of our older people;

taking a decisive step forward towards the elimination of poverty, and especially child poverty.

the development of a programme of supports and opportunities for those parenting alone who, with their children, are in danger of falling into a cycle of deprivation and marginalisation.

improving income supports to, and recognition of carers who perform a valued and valuable service for the whole of society.

ensuring that this Budget reflects, and underpins with financial supports, the evolving new social agenda that I am pursuing and that has at its core a social welfare support system that is active instead of passive and that assists people to live with dignity and enables them to make a valuable contribution towards society, and

the views expressed at the recent Pre-Budget Forum at which 30 welfare organizations made submissions to me about the issues they wished to see pursued in the Budget.

Immediately following Budget Day, I will bring forward a Social Welfare Bill to provide for any increases in the weekly payment rates and any changes to the PRSI provisions or other amendments which would be scheduled to come into effect from January 2007.

Budget 2007 provisions requiring a legislative basis and scheduled to take effect after January 2007 and any other non-budget related legislative amendments will be provided for under a second Bill to be progressed through the Oireachtas in early 2007.

Question No. 157 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard Allen

Question:

158 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications his Department has received for separate payments each year in the past five years; the number of payments that are currently being paid in this way; the circumstances in which this payment option applies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37626/06]

A person in receipt of a social welfare payment is entitled to claim an increase in respect of an adult or child dependant. Usually any such increase is paid as a single payment with the personal rate to claimant. However a spouse or partner can seek to have a portion of the payment paid direct to him/her. This usually arises in circumstances where there are domestic difficulties. When an application for a separate payment is received consideration is also given as to whether it would be more advantageous for the person to claim another payment in his/her own right.

There are various arrangements for making separate payments as follows:

The general position is that the payment of any increase in respect of a qualified adult dependant may be made to the dependant on request. The claimant would continue to receive the appropriate personal rate. Payment of an increase for child dependants is made to the children's guardian.

Where a qualified adult is living with the claimant, a separate payment can be made to that qualified adult, equalling half the total amount due. That is to say half the personal rate (including over 80 allowance where applicable), half the increase for a qualified adult, and half of any increase payable in respect of any child dependants can be paid to the qualified adult.

The number of recipients of separate payments in 2006 (at 31 October) is 1,445. The numbers of such payments for the previous 5 years are set out in appendix 1.

Appendix 1

Scheme Name

Number of Separate Payments

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

31/10/06

State Pension (contributory)

143

144

168

170

149

139

State Pension (non-contributory)

28

25

22

20

23

22

State Pension (Transition)

166

192

203

215

201

187

Jobseekers Allowance

871

833

806

794

770

740

Jobseekers Benefit

40

48

39

27

29

22

Disability Allowance

0

0

0

0

129

159

Invalidity Pension

172

176

149

129

130

147

Disablement/Unemployability Supplement

1

2

2

2

2

2

Illness Benefit

44

37

38

34

35

27

Totals

1,465

1,457

1,427

1,391

1,468

1,445

In addition to paying separate payments in situations of domestic difficulties my Department has arrangements in place to pay the qualified adult allowance directly to the spouse or partner of new applicants to State Pension (Transition), (formerly known as Retirement Pension) and State Pension (Contributory), (formerly known as Old Age (Contributory) Pension). These arrangements apply where the couple apply for separate payments and, there is no need to prove cause for having payments made directly to the qualified adult. Since these arrangements were implemented in 2002, some 1,400 couples have indicated their preference to have the increase for the qualified adult paid directly to the spouse. This represents almost 8% of the relevant pension claims awarded with an increase for a qualified adult since October 2002.

In the case of the State Pension (non-contributory), where the couple are both aged 66 or over, each person is entitled to receive a pension in their own right subject to satisfying a means test.

Social Inclusion.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

159 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he plans to publish the promised new two year social inclusion action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37598/06]

In line with a commitment in the social partnership agreement Towards 2016, a new National Action Plan for Inclusion is currently being prepared by the Office for Social Inclusion in my Department. The Plan is expected to be launched early in the New Year and is being prepared in tandem with and will complement the forthcoming National Development Plan 2007-2013, which will contain a specific chapter on social inclusion. In keeping with the approach taken in the original 1997 National Anti-Poverty Strategy the new plan will adopt a strategic approach reflecting the complex nature of poverty, which is multi-faceted in its causes and effects and, as a consequence, requires a multi-policy response.

These strategies will build on the lifecycle approach in Towards 2016, by assessing the risks which individuals face at each stage of the lifecycle and the supports they need to meet these risks. The groups focussed on using this approach are Children, People of Working Age, Older People and People with Disabilities. This strategic framework is also being designed to create more coherent and integrated structures to achieve more effective implementation. It will also facilitate better and more effective reporting and monitoring across the spectrum of government activity in the area of social inclusion.

In the ten years since the first NAPS, much has been achieved in Ireland towards the EU aim of making a decisive impact on poverty. Much has also been learned, both from our own experience in Ireland and from that of other Member States, on how more effective, coordinated implementation of strategies can be achieved. Full account is being taken of what has been learned in developing the new Plan and the arrangements for its implementation.

The multi-faceted nature of poverty and social inclusion requires action across a range of Government policies on employment, social welfare, education, health, housing, disability, equality and less directly in other policy areas. Achieving satisfactory outcomes requires institutional arrangements encompassing Government, senior Departmental officials, social partners, key State Agencies, local authorities, community and voluntary groups and the general public. The Office for Social Inclusion works closely with these bodies to ensure effective implementation of the National Action Plan targets. Arising from a commitment in Towards 2016, the Office will have wider responsibilities in relation to oversight of social inclusion policies.

My aim and that of the Government is to continue to build not just a prosperous but a fair society in Ireland, which values and supports its people and particularly its most vulnerable. I am determined to ensure that this Plan and its implementation, in full consultation with all the stakeholders at national, regional and local levels, will make a major contribution to building the type of society we aspire to by making a decisive impact on poverty.

Migrant Issues.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

160 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will verify the accuracy of the claim made by NESC in its recent publication Managing Migration in Ireland A Social and Economic Analysis, that it is expected that migrants have contributed more in taxes and social insurance contributions than they have received in welfare payments in recent years. [37667/06]

I am aware of the report by the International Organisation for Migration for the National Economic and Social Council of Ireland. The conclusions of the report refer to a number of studies which have found that on average migrants tend to pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their lifetime. One example to support this statement is a study undertaken in the United Kingdom, when by 2003-2004 immigrants accounted for 10 per cent of government tax receipts and only 9.1 per cent of government spending. The report does not refer to any studies undertaken in this State and I am not aware of any such studies at present.

I am not in a position to confirm that the amount of tax and PRSI paid by migrant workers in the State is greater than the value of state-funded payments and services from which they have benefited or will benefit in the future. However, there is every reason to believe that the net financial gain experienced in the UK is replicated here. For example, over 277,000 Personal Public Service Numbers (PPSNs) were issued between May 2004 and September 2006 to nationals of the ten states that joined the EU in 2004. Social welfare claims, other than child benefit and family income supplement claims, were subsequently received from fewer than 2% of the people concerned. The taxes and PRSI contributions paid by these 277,000 migrants would certainly have exceeded the value of social welfare payments paid to those among them who subsequently claimed a social welfare payment.

Spending on health, education and social welfare accounts for about three quarters of gross current spending. Because migrant workers have relatively low rates of recourse to those services, compared to the population in general, it is highly probable that migrants have contributed more in taxes and PRSI contributions than they will have received in State payments and services.

Question No. 161 answered with QuestionNo. 98.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Dan Boyle

Question:

162 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason for his decision not to challenge the findings of the Equality Authority in relation to an initial decision of his Department to refuse payment to a homosexual man caring for an ill partner; and the reason this does not constitute a precedent. [37658/06]

Dan Boyle

Question:

375 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will explain his decision not to challenge the findings of the Equality Authority in relation to an initial decision of his Department to refuse payment to a homosexual man caring for an ill partner; and the reason this does not constitute a precedent. [37772/06]

I propose to take Question Nos. 162 and 375 together.

In the case referred to by the Deputy, a claim was made for a Qualified Adult Allowance (QAA) on an Invalidity Pension in respect of the claimant's partner. The application for a QAA was refused as social welfare legislation does not provide for the payment of the QAA to same-sex partners. The decision to disallow payment of the QAA was appealed to the Social Welfare Appeals Office and the appeal was disallowed in July 2005.

My Department was advised in May 2006 by the Equality Tribunal that the Equality Authority had referred a complaint under the Equal Status Acts to the Tribunal. The Equality Authority, on behalf of the complainant, submitted that in not paying the QAA, the Department was discriminating under the Equal Status Acts on three of the prohibited grounds namely gender, marital status and sexual orientation. Having considered the issues, and in particular the complainant's personal circumstances, I decided, with the consent of the Government, that an ex-gratia payment should be made in this case provided the standard criteria were met. Because of the particular circumstances involved I saw this as a situation that needed to be dealt with in this way, while at the same time being mindful of not creating any legal precedent.

At the same time, I and indeed the Government recognise that this case raises broader policy and societal issues. In this regard considerable work is currently being carried out. In my own Department a review of the entire social welfare code is being undertaken to examine its compatibility with the Equal Status Act (2000), as amended.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have established a Working Group with a view to presenting an Options Paper on Domestic Partnership to the Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform. The consideration of various options for providing recognition for same sex couples is a central part of the work of this group, which is due to be completed later this year. Officials from my Department are contributing to the work of this Group.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

163 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a press statement issued by his Department on 1 October 2006 said that the weekly fuel allowance had been increased by €5 and that the increase commenced from 25 September 2006 when this increase had come into effect following Budget 2006; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many people were misled by his statement into believing that there had been another increase of €5; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37595/06]

Budget 2006 provided for an increase of €5 in the weekly rate of fuel allowance. At the time, my Department provided details of this by way of a press release outlining all of the Budget improvements in social welfare payments. As the fuel allowance is paid on a seasonal basis, from end of September to mid April of the following year, the most recent release was aimed at reminding the public of rates applying for the new season.

I should point out that the press release not only dealt with the increase in the fuel allowance, and the date from which it applied, but also provided updated information on increases in the domestic gas allowances from 1st October and on the scale and value of increases and improvements from 1st January 2007 in the electricity allowance.

At a time when there was considerable anxiety over the effects of fuel and energy increases on vulnerable welfare customers, the press release outlined the full extent of increases and supports being introduced so as to ease concerns over Winter heating costs and to protect those on welfare.

The press release was part of my ongoing commitment to the significant increasing of awareness of welfare schemes through the dispensing of regular information through the media and through nationwide television, radio and print media awareness campaigns. These campaigns are designed to ensure the maximum take-up of entitlements to support schemes. These combined media and information campaigns have proven very successful.

As the 1st October press release was part of this ongoing information and awareness campaign process I do not consider it to have been in any way misleading.

Question No. 164 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

Phil Hogan

Question:

165 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the impact that maternity leave has on women’s occupational pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37627/06]

Under the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004, a woman may be entitled to statutory minimum maternity leave of 22 weeks. Membership of an occupational pension scheme must continue while she is on statutory maternity leave. A member of a defined benefit scheme will continue to accrue pensionable service during the period of this statutory leave. If the employer pays the woman during the statutory maternity leave, she may be required to continue paying employee contributions to the scheme, as appropriate.

If a woman takes additional maternity leave above the statutory minimum and is paid by her employer during this period, her membership of the pension scheme will also continue. However, if she takes additional unpaid maternity leave, then whether or not she continues to accrue retirement benefit depends on the rules of the particular scheme.

Social Welfare Code.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

166 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the discussions he has had regarding the needs of young carers; the plans he has to increase supports to meet the needs of young carers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37647/06]

I have examined "Caring Before Their Time? Research and Policy Perspectives on Young Carers" by Barnardos and The Children's Research Centre, which was published in September 2004. I was particularly struck by the fact that of the estimated 3,000 young carers who are providing some care, there are over 300 carers between the ages of 15 and 17 years of age who are providing full-time care. It is clear that this group needs appropriate supports.

The report considers that further research should be undertaken on numbers of young carers, the supports available to them, their needs and the impact of their caring role on their education and general development. The report recommends that care supports should be provided where families rely on young carers to enable them to participate fully in their studies, social life and social contacts with their peers. It also recommends that policy relating to young carers should be a matter for the Department of Health and Children with services being delivered by the Health Service Executive. This is in accordance with my own views on the subject.

I recognise that special help, advice and support is essential for young carers who are often caring for a parent and, in particular, that services must be put in place to support the household and to ensure that young carers remain at school. These include the services of home helps, public health nurses and home care packages generally, which are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children.

The report of the Long-Term Care working group is being considered by the Government. This Group was established by the Minister for Health and Children and by myself in January 2005 to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care. It comprises senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and my own Department. My officials have brought the issue of young carers to the attention of the working group.

Supports for carers from my own Department include the respite care grant and the carers's allowance. The respite care grant, which is an annual payment for carers who look after certain people in need of full-time care and attention, is payable from age 16. The payment is made regardless of the carer's means but it is subject to certain qualifying conditions. I increased the grant from €1,000 to €1,200 per year from June 2006. Carer's allowance, which provides income support to people who are providing certain older people or people with a disability with full time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit, is payable from age 18.

I am always prepared to consider changes to existing arrangements where these are for the benefit of recipients and financially sustainable within the resources available to me. I will continue to review the issues raised by Barnardos and The Children's Research Centre and other bodies representing carers and I will continue to strive to bring forward proposals that recognise the valued and valuable contribution of all carers in a tangible way.

Question No. 167 answered with QuestionNo. 101.
Question No. 168 answered with QuestionNo. 151.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Liam Twomey

Question:

169 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the mechanisms in place for a person who falls ill with a serious illness such as cancer but who does not have enough credits for full sickness benefit; the steps he has taken to protect these persons from financial hardship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37672/06]

My Department administers a number of illness and disability payments including illness benefit, invalidity pension and disability allowance.

In the first instance, entitlement to these payments is subject to the applicant satisfying the medical criteria which apply and which are prescribed in legislation. In addition, certain PRSI contribution conditions must be met in the case of illness benefit and invalidity pension, while a means test must be passed in the case of disability allowance.

Disability allowance is a weekly allowance paid to people with a disability who are aged between 16 and 66 years. The disability must be expected to last for at least one year and the allowance is subject to both a medical examination and a means test. The means test involved is based on the persons own means and that of their spouse/partner. It is an alternative for people who have insufficient contributions to qualify for either illness benefit or invalidity pension as there are no contribution conditions.

If any person finds themselves in financial hardship they may have recourse to supplementary welfare allowance which is administered by the local health service executive on behalf of my Department. Full details of this allowance may be obtained from the Community Welfare Officers based at the person's local health centre.

The purpose of the SWA scheme is to ensure that every person in the State has a guaranteed minimum amount of income to meet his or her needs, and those of any dependants. This ensures that no person has to suffer hardship because of a lack of income to meet basic day to day needs. Entitlement is subject to a means test that takes into account the full household circumstances.

Social Welfare Code.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

170 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on altering the means assessment process for farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37645/06]

Farm assist is a means-tested scheme providing weekly income support to low-income farmers. For the purpose of determining the rate of farm assist payable, deductions are allowed from net income in respect of qualified children, with the balance assessed at 70%. In this regard, the means test is more favourable than the scheme's predecessor, the unemployment assistance scheme for small-holders.

In addition, income from the Rural Environment Protection Scheme is assessed separately, with the first €2,539 and 50% of the balance disregarded. 40% of net pay from insurable employment and €20,000 of capital are also disregarded.

Currently, 7,492 Farm Assist cases are in payment, receiving an average weekly payment of €178.79.

The assessment of means for the purpose of qualifying for farm assist is designed to reflect the actual net income, which is calculated as gross income less any expenses necessarily incurred, from farming. Income and expenditure figures for the preceding year are generally used as an indicator of the expected position in the following year. In computing income, account is taken of the value of sales of milk, livestock, crops and subsidy payments such as headage payments. All expenses actually and necessarily incurred are deducted from this. These include the cost of fertilisers, repairs to farm building and fences, the cost of replacing farm machinery, use of hired labour other than family members, the cost of electricity and transport used for farming purposes, veterinary expenses, purchases of fodder and animal feed, rent of land, crop sprays etc.

The aim of the assessment is to use the previous year's income to accurately reflect farm income in the following twelve months, having regard to the size and type of farm, the quality of land and taking into account any significant anticipated changes.

In addition, account is taken of any exceptional circumstances so as to ensure that the assessment accurately reflects the current situation. This flexibility in the method of assessment was demonstrated some years ago when exceptional circumstances were taken into account during the foot and mouth crisis.

The farmer is given a copy of the report on the sources of income and expenses and is also given details of how the Deciding Officer has calculated the means and how this determines the rate of Farm Assist payable. Any farmer who is dissatisfied with the rate of means assessed may apply for a review or may appeal the assessment to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

Any future changes in Farm Assist means assessments would have to be considered in a budgetary context and in light of competing priorities.

Question No. 171 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

172 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on raising the rate of maternity benefit payable to bring it in line with the minimum wage; the cost of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37624/06]

John Perry

Question:

391 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will raise the level of minimum maternity benefit to bring it in line with at least minimum wage in view of the fact that the current minimum maternity benefit stands at nearly €3 less per hour than the minimum wage (details supplied). [37507/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 172 and 391 together.

Establishing a cost associated with aligning maternity benefit to the minimum wage would depend on the parameters used. It is estimated, on the basis of a rate of €298.65 per week for all maternity benefit claimants, that it would cost an estimated €38 million. This assumes a 39-hour week at the existing minimum hourly rate of wages. The proposals above would be a departure from the existing arrangements — envisaging a fixed rate for maternity benefit linked to the minimum wage rather than an earnings-related payment subject to a minimum and maximum rate.

Entitlement to maternity benefit for employees is contingent on entitlement to maternity leave — legislation for which is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Where women have accrued the requisite number of contributions required to establish entitlement and they are certified by their employers as entitled to statutory maternity leave, maternity benefit is paid during their absence from work.

Maternity benefit has been increased significantly over the past five years in terms of both duration and the amount payable. Maternity benefit is now paid at a rate €265.60 over 22 weeks — or €5,843 for the duration. This represents an increase of 90 per cent over a period where average industrial earnings increased by just 67 per cent. Most recently, Budget 2006 provided for paid maternity leave — and thus maternity benefit payments — to be extended from 18 to 22 weeks. These additional four weeks of maternity leave became effective on 1 March last and will assist some 10,800 women each week. The full year cost of this extension to the social insurance fund will be €32.5 m.

Further improvements in the duration of maternity benefit payments are planned for 2007. An additional four-week extension will be implemented in 2007 — bringing the total period of paid maternity leave and benefit to 26 weeks. Taken together, the full year cost of the 2006 and 2007 extensions will be €64m from the social insurance fund. Any additional improvements in the maternity benefit scheme would have to be examined in the context of the wider fiscal environment and the strategy which we have adopted in relation to social insurance contributions

I am satisfied that the rates and duration of maternity benefit in Ireland represent a reasonable response to the income needs of women on maternity leave and can be favourably compared internationally. While there are no immediate plans to extend the period for which maternity benefit is paid, this issue is being kept under review.

Live Register.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

173 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the unemployment statistics and figures within County Donegal and especially within the Milford electoral area for the past ten years. [37401/06]

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 October 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 are set out in the table below

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

148,506

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

8,153

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

724

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

482

Live Register Buncrana 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

1,590

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

484

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

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

733

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

1,173

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

787

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

2,180

* Last returns by Donegal Control Office were for June 1998.
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.

National Statistics.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

174 Ms Shortall asked the Taoiseach further to Parliamentary Question No. 159 of 7 November 2006 if he will provide a breakdown of the figures given for injury and poisoning in each of the years and each of the age groups and in both sexes. [37690/06]

The information requested by the Deputy is given in the following tables.

The deaths have been classified by the External causes of Injury and Poisoning. Deaths are coded according to the Ninth Revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases, Injuries and Causes of Death (I.C.D.9).

External Causes of Injury and Poisoning

Age

Sex

Transport Accidents

Accidental Falls

Accidental Poisoning

Suicide

Homicide

Events of Undetermined Intent

Other External Causes

Total External Causes

Under 5

Female

1

0

0

0

0

1

4

6

Male

4

0

0

0

0

0

3

7

Total

5

0

0

0

0

1

7

13

5-9

Female

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

2

Male

1

0

0

0

0

0

4

5

Total

2

0

0

0

0

0

5

7

10-14

Female

1

0

0

1

0

0

1

3

Male

2

2

0

1

0

0

3

8

Total

3

2

0

2

0

0

4

11

15-19

Female

5

0

0

5

1

0

1

12

Male

19

2

2

31

3

1

8

66

Total

24

2

2

36

4

1

9

78

20-24

Female

5

1

1

5

2

2

3

19

Male

37

4

6

52

3

3

10

115

Total

42

5

7

57

5

5

13

134

25-29

Female

6

0

3

8

0

2

0

19

Male

28

4

4

40

3

7

8

94

Total

34

4

7

48

3

9

8

113

30-34

Female

2

2

1

9

0

1

3

18

Male

22

3

9

37

2

7

8

88

Total

24

5

10

46

2

8

11

106

35-39

Female

3

1

3

11

0

3

3

24

Male

12

5

7

35

2

2

6

69

Total

15

6

10

46

2

5

9

93

40-44

Female

4

2

2

9

0

1

2

20

Male

16

5

8

43

4

6

13

95

Total

20

7

10

52

4

7

15

115

45-49

Female

3

2

2

10

0

1

3

21

Male

9

11

4

30

1

3

14

72

Total

12

13

6

40

1

4

17

93

50-54

Female

5

0

3

16

0

3

4

31

Male

14

9

2

23

1

4

11

64

Total

19

9

5

39

1

7

15

95

55-59

Female

4

2

3

6

1

0

2

18

Male

12

11

1

27

0

2

8

61

Total

16

13

4

33

1

2

10

79

60-64

Female

2

6

1

11

0

1

5

26

Male

9

3

2

17

0

3

8

42

Total

11

9

3

28

0

4

13

68

65-69

Female

5

4

0

5

1

0

3

18

Male

7

10

1

6

0

0

13

37

Total

12

14

1

11

1

0

16

55

70-74

Female

4

9

1

2

0

1

4

21

Male

5

15

0

8

0

2

7

37

Total

9

24

1

10

0

3

11

58

75-79

Female

6

13

1

3

0

0

7

30

Male

7

10

2

4

0

0

6

29

Total

13

23

3

7

0

0

13

59

80-84

Female

3

52

2

0

0

0

8

65

Male

7

24

0

2

0

1

4

38

Total

10

76

2

2

0

1

12

103

85 and over

Female

4

62

0

0

0

0

7

73

Male

2

23

1

0

0

2

2

30

Total

6

85

1

0

0

2

9

103

All ages

Female

64

156

23

101

5

16

61

426

Male

213

141

49

356

19

43

136

957

Total

277

297

72

457

24

59

197

1383

Deaths for Year 2005 External Causes of Injury and Poisoning

Age

Sex

Transport Accidents

Accidental Falls

Accidental Poisoning

Suicide

Homicide

Events of Undetermined Intent

Other External Causes

Total External Causes

Under 5

Female

1

0

0

0

0

1

5

7

Male

3

0

1

0

0

0

2

6

Total

4

0

1

0

0

1

7

13

5-9

Female

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

2

Male

1

0

0

0

0

1

4

6

Total

2

0

0

0

0

1

5

8

10-14

Female

2

0

0

1

0

0

0

3

Male

2

0

1

2

0

0

2

7

Total

4

0

1

3

0

0

2

10

15-19

Female

9

0

0

4

0

0

2

15

Male

30

0

5

22

0

2

10

69

Total

39

0

5

26

0

2

12

84

20-24

Female

8

1

2

7

0

1

1

20

Male

37

2

16

47

2

10

7

121

Total

45

3

18

54

2

11

8

141

25-29

Female

4

0

2

8

0

1

2

17

Male

30

2

8

37

3

13

8

101

Total

34

2

10

45

3

14

10

118

30-34

Female

8

0

1

10

1

2

3

25

Male

21

6

10

39

2

6

10

94

Total

29

6

11

49

3

8

13

119

35-39

Female

7

0

2

4

0

1

5

19

Male

11

5

13

34

1

7

9

80

Total

18

5

15

38

1

8

14

99

40-44

Female

5

1

3

10

0

4

1

24

Male

9

6

3

42

2

5

6

73

Total

14

7

6

52

2

9

7

97

45-49

Female

2

3

3

4

0

2

3

17

Male

12

9

7

39

0

1

12

80

Total

14

12

10

43

0

3

15

97

50-54

Female

8

2

6

6

1

5

6

34

Male

9

9

5

31

0

4

10

68

Total

17

11

11

37

1

9

16

102

55-59

Female

3

3

3

8

0

1

2

20

Male

10

11

1

18

1

5

11

57

Total

13

14

4

26

1

6

13

77

60-64

Female

2

3

2

4

0

2

5

18

Male

10

9

4

14

0

6

6

49

Total

12

12

6

18

0

8

11

67

65-69

Female

5

1

1

8

1

1

5

22

Male

3

11

2

13

0

2

8

39

Total

8

12

3

21

1

3

13

61

70-74

Female

8

4

1

0

0

0

10

23

Male

9

18

2

8

0

1

14

52

Total

17

22

3

8

0

1

24

75

75-79

Female

2

11

1

2

0

2

6

24

Male

4

18

3

4

0

0

13

42

Total

6

29

4

6

0

2

19

66

80-84

Female

7

36

0

0

0

2

8

53

Male

5

23

1

2

0

2

8

41

Total

12

59

1

2

0

4

16

94

85 and over

Female

0

73

0

2

0

1

3

79

Male

3

45

0

1

0

0

5

54

Total

3

118

0

3

0

1

8

133

All ages

Female

82

138

27

78

3

26

68

422

Male

209

174

82

353

11

65

145

1039

Total

291

312

109

431

14

91

213

1461

EU Directives.

Bernard Allen

Question:

175 Mr. Allen asked the Taoiseach the number of EU directives awaiting transposition in his Department; the date by which these directives are to be, or were to be, transposed into Irish law; the number of such EU directives which are overdue for transposition; when he expects that overdue directives will be transposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37871/06]

The Department of the Taoiseach has no Directives awaiting transposition.

My Department does however have a role in monitoring the transposition of EU Directives. Minister of State, Deputy Noel Treacy chairs an Interdepartmental Coordinating Committee on European Union Affairs. The Committee keeps under review, and works to ensure coherence on, the full range of issues on the EU's agenda. The Committee has a particular focus on the correct and timely transposition of EU legislation.

Equal Opportunities.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

176 Mr. Connolly asked the Taoiseach the criteria for persons with disabilities for seeking employment opportunities within his Department; the application procedures that apply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37884/06]

The Deputy will be aware that the Minister for Finance has responsibility in Government for policy in relation to the employment of people with disabilities in the civil service.

My Department and the Bodies under its aegis are committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all staff. In addition to complying with the provisions of the Disability Act 2005, we follow the guidelines set out in the Code of Practice for the Employment of People with Disabilities in the Civil Service. Recruitment to my Department is done through the Public Appointments Service. Promotion, training and all other benefits and opportunities are decided on the grounds of ability, qualifications and other relevant objective criteria.

The Department also actively participates in positive action programmes such as the Willing Able and Mentoring Programme under the aegis of the Department of Finance.

I would like to point out to the Deputy that my Department currently exceeds the 3% requirement relating to the employment of people with disabilities as recommended in the Disability Act 2005. The Department's offices are compatible with the needs of persons with disabilities.

The Deputy will know that the definition of a person with a disability under the Disability Act 2005 is as follows: "disability", in relation to a person, means a substantial restriction in the capacity of the person to carry on a profession, business or occupation in the State or to participate in social or cultural life in the State by reason of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual impairment.

Training Programmes.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

177 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if the Office of the Attorney General has plans to establish a training programme for parliamentary draftspeople. [37924/06]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

178 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach the position regarding filling vacancies for parliamentary draftspersons in the Office of the Attorney General. [37925/06]

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

I refer to the Deputy to my reply to Written Question No. 221 from Deputy Gormley on 27 September. I then stated that "there is a formal training programme for new drafters with heavy emphasis on practical experience".

The Plan was drawn up in 2002 and continues to be implemented since then to ensure that new drafters entering the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government would receive consistent and extensive training to enable them to continue the high standard of legal drafting work provided by the Office to the Government.

In relation to the filling of vacancies, I also dealt with that issue in the reply referred to above, when I stated that "The Office intends to run another recruitment competition early in the New Year when the pool of eligible experienced candidates will have increased". Since the reply, an extra Contract Drafter has joined the Office but that addition will be offset in a few weeks when an existing Contract Drafter will leave having completed her term with the Office.

Departmental Correspondence.

Dan Boyle

Question:

179 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has received correspondence from a person (details supplied) in County Cork; if his attention has been drawn to the contents of this letter; and if a response will be forthcoming. [37381/06]

I am informed that there is no record in my Department of any recent correspondence directly from the person to whom the Deputy refers.

However I can confirm that he has instituted legal proceedings against the State in relation to certain matters and these proceedings are being dealt with in the usual way through the Chief State Solicitors Office.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings.

Finian McGrath

Question:

180 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will ensure that the remaining funds in the Remembrance Commission are spent on the long-term care of the survivors of the Dublin and Monaghan Bombings 1974 and the victims of other atrocities. [37501/06]

Following Government approval, I established the Remembrance Commission in 2003 for a period of three years. The Commission disburses ex gratia payments under the provisions of the Amended Scheme of Acknowledgement, Remembrance and Assistance for Victims in this Jurisdiction of the Conflict in Northern Ireland, including for victims of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The Government also approved the expenditure of up to €9 million over the lifetime of the Commission. The work of the Commission is continuing.

I am currently preparing proposals on the future of the Commission and Fund, which I expect to submit to Government shortly.

Citizenship Applications.

Willie Penrose

Question:

181 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding a Canadian citizen who marries an Irish citizen and is living here; the impact of same upon the status of the Canadian citizen following such a marriage and if the Canadian citizen can work here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37809/06]

Marriage to an Irish national by a non EU national does not grant any automatic right to reside in the State. However, if a non EU national spouse of an Irish national was already legally resident in the State prior to the marriage then he or she can make a request to the local Registration Officer for a change of their immigration status to reflect their marriage to that Irish national.

If, however, the non EU national has no legal status in the State at the time of the marriage, he or she may make an application to the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service of my Department seeking permission to reside in the State on that basis. It is a fundamental requirement that a non EU national seeking residency in the State on the sole basis of marriage to an Irish national resides in the same household and in a family unit with that Irish national. Consideration of such applications will involve the provision of documentary evidence to support the application and may also involve an interview by the Immigration Authorities of either or both parties.

It has always been the case that non EU nationals could not enter employment pending the outcome of an application for residency, unless of course they have a valid work permit. If a non EU national is granted permission to reside in the State on the sole basis of marriage to an Irish national he or she is permitted to work in the State without the requirement of a work permit and to operate a business in the State without seeking further permission.

Richard Bruton

Question:

182 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason for the delay in advancing the application for citizenship for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 who has had a work permit since November 2000; and the evidence required from the applicant to confirm the fulfilment of the five year requirement. [37368/06]

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 22 September 2005.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation provided certain statutory conditions are fulfilled. One of these conditions is that the applicant has had a period of one year's continuous residency in the State immediately before the date of the application and, during the eight years immediately preceding that period, has had a total residence in the State amounting to four years.

In the context of determining if an applicant meets the residence requirement for naturalisation, certain periods of residence in the State must be excluded. These include periods of residence in respect of which an applicant does not have permission to remain in the State, periods granted for the purposes of study and periods granted for the purposes of seeking recognition as a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Act, 1996.

An examination of the file of the person concerned revealed that she did not have 5 years reckonable residency in the State at the time of application, nor did she have one years' continuous reckonable residency immediately prior to lodging her application She was informed of this determination on 10 October 2005

It is open to the applicant to lodge a new application if and when she is in a position to meet the statutory requirements applicable at the time.

Further information and the necessary application forms may be obtained from my Department's website (www.justice.ie) or by telephoning the Citizenship Section helpline on Tuesdays or Thursdays between 10:00 am to 12:30 pm at Lo-call 1890 551 500 or (01) 6167700.

Garda Reserve.

Richard Bruton

Question:

183 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of persons who applied to join the Garda Reserve from the Dublin 24 area; the number recruited and in training from this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37394/06]

Up to 19 September 2006, 6,661 applications for the Garda Reserve had been received, of which 1,922 were in respect of persons resident in Dublin City and County. A breakdown by postal district is not available.

As of today a total of 7,174 applications has been received nationally, however, a county-by-county breakdown of the additional applications is not yet available.

Richard Bruton

Question:

184 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Garda reserve recruits currently being trained in the Dublin area; the Garda stations in Dublin that will have Garda Reserves attached; when those reserves will become available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37395/06]

Up to 19 September, 2006 a total of 1,922 persons have applied to join the Garda Reserve force from Dublin City and County areas.

There are currently 24 Garda Reserve trainees from the first intake in the first stage of training in the Dublin area. 13 are assigned to the DMR South Central attached to Pearse Street Garda Station and 11 Garda Reserve trainees are assigned to the DMR North Central attached to Store Street Garda Station. The current group of Garda Reserve trainees will complete their training on the 16th December and will become available for deployment.

Garda Deployment.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

185 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Gardaí including rank and the number assigned to each duty at the concerts held in Marley Park during summer 2006; and the ratio of Gardaí to concert goers. [37396/06]

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 induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 has resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. 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 there were five concerts held in Marley Park during the Summer of 2006, with an estimated attendance at each concert of over 15,000. I have also been informed that there were 2 Inspectors, 9 Sergeants and 73 Gardaí deployed at each concert under the command of a Superintendent. The estimated ratio of Gardaí to concert-goers was in the order of 1 Garda per 176 patrons.

It is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel for such events on a priority basis in accordance with policing requirements identified in connection with those events. These 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.

Crime Prevention.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

186 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of arrests at the concerts in Marley Park during summer 2006; the reasons for those arrests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37397/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that there were five concerts held in Marley Park last summer with an estimated attendance of over 15,000 people at each concert. At these concerts there were 24 arrests for drunkenness and 5 arrests for possession of drugs for sale or supply. In addition, there were 65 detections in relation to the drug offence of simple possession.

Garda Deployment.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

187 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Gardaí including rank and the number assigned to each duty at the concerts held at the Point Depot on 3, 4 and 5 November 2006; and the ratio of Gardaí to concert goers. [37398/06]

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 induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 has resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. 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 on Friday 3 November, 2006 there were six Gardaí detailed for duty at the Point Depot, where there were approximately 6,500 patrons in attendance. The estimated ratio of Gardaí to concert-goers was 1:1,083.

I have also been informed that on Saturday 4 November, 2006 there were 1 Inspector, 3 Sergeants and 19 Gardaí detailed for duty at the Point Depot, where there were approximately 8,500 patrons in attendance. The estimated ratio of Gardaí to concert-goers was 1:369.

Garda management also inform me that on Sunday 5 November, 2006 there were seven Gardaí detailed for duty at the Point Depot, where there were approximately 8,500 patrons in attendance. The estimated ratio of Gardaí to concerts-goers was 1:1,214.

It is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel for such events on a priority basis in accordance with policing requirements identified in connection with those events. These 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 Operations.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

188 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of arrests at the concerts in the Point Depot on 3, 4 and 5 November 2006; the reasons for those arrests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37399/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that there were 17 arrests made at the concerts at the location concerned on 3, 4 and 5 November, 2006.

I am further informed that one person was arrested for theft, five persons for offences contrary to the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, one person for drunkenness and ten people were detained for the purposes of searches under section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977 and 1984.

Citizenship Applications.

Denis Naughten

Question:

189 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 110 of 2 November 2006, the status of an application for citizenship by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 16; when the application will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37423/06]

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 18 October 2006.

Applications received in the second half of 2004 are currently being processed and there are approximately 11,000 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.

Garda Stations.

John Perry

Question:

190 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the instructions he has given to the Office of Public Works for the provision of a new Garda station in Sligo with up to date facilities; if a site has been identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37424/06]

There are plans to update and extend the facilities at Sligo Garda Station. In order to explore all options, the Garda authorities have identified a number of sites that may be suitable and this information has been forwarded to the Office of Public Works. The acquisition of sites, where required, is primarily a matter for OPW and when their report on the sites mentioned above is to hand, consideration will then be given to how best to progress this project.

I should add that as with all projects on the Garda Building Programme progress is dependent on overall agreed priorities. The Garda Building Programme is progressed and prioritised, with the cooperation and commitment of all concerned — my Department, the Garda authorities and Representative Associations and the Office of Public Works from whose Vote such capital works are funded.

John Perry

Question:

191 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the accommodation attached to Coolaney Garda station will be refurbished; the works that will be carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37425/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities they have requested from the Office of Public Works a feasibility study and to update estimates previously prepared for the cost to refurbish the official accommodation at Coolaney Garda Station. On receipt of the report from the OPW, consideration will be given to how best to proceed with this project.

Garda Investigations.

Enda Kenny

Question:

192 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his position in regard to action he has taken in respect of a matter (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37484/06]

Two of the persons in question presented themselves, with their solicitors, to Garda stations in Dublin. Neither was arrested and both were interviewed on a voluntary basis. The third person was arrested by the Garda Síochána and was subsequently released without charge.

The Garda investigation into matters relating to the persons concerned remains ongoing, and enquiries have been conducted by the Garda Síochána in the other jurisdiction in question. Moreover, following the receipt of papers relating to extradition from the authorities in that jurisdiction, those authorities have been requested, via diplomatic channels, to respond to specific queries. A response is currently awaited.

The Transfer of Execution of Sentences Act 2005 gives effect in Irish law to the 1997 Additional Protocol to the 1983 Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons (in particular, Article 2 of the Protocol) and to the corresponding provisions in Chapter 5 of Title III to the Schengen Convention. In essence, the 2005 Act provides an alternative to extradition in so far as it allows the sentenced person to serve the sentence in his/her ‘home' State. The arrangements under the 2005 Act can operate only with states that are Party to the relevant international instruments, and the State from which the persons returned is not at present such a Party.

Asylum Applications.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

193 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to an application for leave to remain here in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37485/06]

The person concerned arrived in the State on 13 January 2004 and applied for asylum. His application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and on appeal by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended, he was informed by letter dated 27 October 2005, that the Minister proposed to make a deportation order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State; leaving the State before an order is made or consenting to the making of a deportation order. Representations have been received on behalf of the person concerned.

The person's case file, including all representations submitted, will be considered under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended, and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996, (Prohibition of Refoulement) as amended. I expect the file to be passed to me for decision in due course.

Citizenship Applications.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

194 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to an application for naturalisation in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37486/06]

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 1 February 2006.

Applications received in the second half of 2004 are currently being processed and there are approximately 6,000 applications awaiting processing before that of the person in question. It is likely that the processing of the application will commence in the first half of 2008.

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

Crime Levels.

John Deasy

Question:

195 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of headline offences recorded and detected, with a breakdown for each of the 10 headline categories, in the Waterford City, Tramore and Dungarvan Garda districts in each quarter since the beginning of 2003 up to the third quarter of 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37513/06]

Headline crime statistics for the years 2003 to 2005 for the Garda Division of Waterford/Kilkenny, which includes the Garda Districts of Waterford City, Tramore and Dungarvan, are contained in the relevant Garda Annual Reports. These reports are available in the Oireachtas Library. Headline crime statistics have not yet been published in the manner requested by the Deputy.

Visa Applications.

John Curran

Question:

196 Mr. Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a visa will be issued to a person (details supplied) in County Dublin. [37514/06]

The non-EU national referred to by the Deputy lodged a residence application on the basis that she is the spouse of an EU citizen. She has recently been informed that she does not qualify for residence on the basis sought.

I understand that the EU citizen is also the holder of an Irish passport and she has been informed that her residence application will receive further consideration on that basis.

Garda Deployment.

Billy Timmins

Question:

197 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the additional cost to the Exchequer to date as a result of the increased Garda presence at Shannon Airport, County Clare, since Garda security was increased there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37529/06]

The detailed information requested by the Deputy is currently being compiled by the Garda authorities. I will be in contact with the Deputy when the information is to hand.

Billy Timmins

Question:

198 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the additional number of gardaí that are on duty at Shannon Airport since security was enhanced there; the numbers required to facilitate this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37531/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, which 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 induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 has resulted in a combined strength, of both attested gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. 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 of Shannon Garda Station as at 13 November, 2006 was 91 (all ranks). This includes 1 Inspector, 4 Sergeants and 40 Probationer Gardaí who have been assigned to Shannon Garda Station as a consequence of the enhanced Security Measures at Shannon Airport. The additional Inspector and 4 Sergeants are temporarily transferred to Shannon and rotated on a monthly basis. The 40 Probationer Gardaí are allocated from the Garda College on a three monthly basis. Garda management state that the Security Operation is continually reviewed and staffed accordingly.

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 Strength.

Billy Timmins

Question:

199 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of fully trained gardaí as of 7 November 2006. [37533/06]

Billy Timmins

Question:

200 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the estimate of the number of fully trained gardaí that will be in place for 31 January, 28 February, 31 March, 30 April and 31 May 2007. [37534/06]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

213 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of full time members of An Garda Síochána as of the latest date from which figures are available. [37830/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 199, 200 and 213 together.

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 induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 has resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. 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 An Garda Síochána as at 7 November, 2006 was 12,707. A further group of approximately 275 new members will be attested to the Force later this week on Thursday 16 November 2006. Taking account of anticipated retirements, the personnel strength all ranks at the end of 2006 will be approximately 12,935.

During 2007, further classes of 275 each quarter will become attested members of the Force with attestations in March, June, September and November. Further tranches of approximately 275 newly attested Gardaí will follow every 90 days until the programme is complete. Month to month projections of the strength of the Force in the early stages of 2007 are dependent on the levels of retirements during those months. However, taking account of projected retirements for 2007, it is projected that net strength of the Force will again increase by approximately 700 members to over 13,600 by the end of 2007 with a combined strength of both unattested trainees and attested members at approximately 14,700.

Deportation Orders.

Seán Haughey

Question:

201 Mr. Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will grant permission to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 to remain here on humanitarian grounds in view of the fact that they have completed their leaving certificate and nursing degree and have a job offer in a hospital; if he will provide the history of the case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37553/06]

The applicant applied for asylum on 8 February 2000. His application for asylum was refused and a Deportation Order was made on 27 May 2002. He was notified of this by registered letter on 21 June 2002.

The applicant instituted Judicial Review proceedings on 8 July 2002 challenging the Deportation Order made in respect of him. These proceedings were settled on 30 August 2004. The applicant was invited to make representations in relation to an application to revoke the Deportation Order. Representations were forwarded to my Department on 24 September 2004. These representations were considered, along with subsequent representations from the applicant's solicitors, and a decision to re-affirm the Deportation Order was made on 2 October 2006. The applicant was notified of this decision by registered post on 10 October 2006.

The applicant instituted further Judicial Review proceedings on 24 October 2006 challenging the affirmation of the Deportation Order. These proceedings are ongoing and accordingly, as the matter is sub-judice, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.

Visa Applications.

John Perry

Question:

202 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has received correspondences (details supplied); if the person will have to furnish all the relevant data each time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37683/06]

The correspondences referred to by the Deputy have been received by my Department. Applicants are obliged to submit full documentation with each visa application to enable the Visa Office have the most current documentation available in considering the application. Applicants needing to travel to Ireland on a regular basis are advised to apply for a multiple entry visa.

John Perry

Question:

203 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps that have to be taken for a person from Thailand who wishes to apply for a visa to come to Ireland for 3 weeks holidays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37698/06]

Comprehensive information on making a visa application is available on my Department's website (www.justice.ie). The person in question is advised to submit the application to the Honorary Consul in Thailand, who is located at, 28th Floor, Q House Lumpini Building, 1, South Satharon Road, Tungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120, Thailand.

Garda Stations.

Denis Naughten

Question:

204 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Garda Stations in the Roscommon East Galway division which have living quarters which do not have a Garda residing in the station; the steps he is taking to encourage the occupancy of such stations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37699/06]

Denis Naughten

Question:

207 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Garda stations in the Sligo Leitrim division which have living quarters which do not have a Garda residing in the station; the steps he is taking to encourage the occupancy of such stations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37702/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 204 and 207 together.

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 induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 has resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. 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 there are 10 Garda residential stations in the Roscommon/ Galway East Division and 10 Garda residential stations in the Sligo/Leitrim Division where the residential accommodation is currently unoccupied. Local Garda Management and Garda Human Resource Management actively seek suitable candidates to reside in all habitable residential accommodation attached to Garda Stations.

I should add that it is also 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.

Denis Naughten

Question:

205 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number and location of Garda stations in the Roscommon East Galway division which require refurbishment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37700/06]

I have been advised by the Garda authorities that the following stations are scheduled for refurbishment/replacement on the various Garda Building Programmes. A new station is currently under construction at Castlerea with a planned completion date of January next. Refurbishment works are also planned for Boyle, Ballinasloe, Roscommon, Strokestown and Clonark stations. In addition, it is proposed to provide smaller standard stations at Elphin, Kilconnell, Ballintubber, Athleague, Ballyforan and Cootehill stations.

As with all projects on the Garda Building Programmes progress is dependent on overall agreed priorities, with cooperation and commitment of all concerned — my Department, the Garda authorities and the Representative Association and the Office of Public Works from whose Vote such capital works are funded.

Denis Naughten

Question:

206 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number and locations of Garda stations in the Roscommon East Galway division which do not have access to a fax machine; the corresponding number and location of stations without access to the PULSE system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37701/06]

Denis Naughten

Question:

209 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number and location of Garda stations in the Sligo Leitrim Division which do not have access to a fax machine; the corresponding number and location of stations without access to the PULSE system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37704/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 206 and 209 together.

The information requested in relation to access to fax machines and PULSE in the Sligo/Leitrim and Roscommon/East Galway divisions of An Garda Síochána is being collated and I will respond to the Deputy directly with it shortly.

Question No. 207 answered with QuestionNo. 204.

Denis Naughten

Question:

208 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number and locations of Garda stations in the Sligo Leitrim division which require refurbishment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37703/06]

I have been advised by the Garda authorities that the following stations are scheduled for refurbishment/ replacement on the various Garda Building Programmes. There are plans to build a new Garda station at Ballymote, Co. Sligo. The Office of Public Works has brought this project to planning stage and it plans to invite tenders for the construction works in February 2007. There are also plans to update and extend the facilities at Sligo Garda Station. In order to explore all options, the Garda authorities have identified a number of sites that may be suitable and this information has been forwarded to the Office of Public Works. There are also plans to build a smaller standard station at Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim.

I should add that as with all projects on the Garda Building Programmes progress is dependent on overall agreed priorities. The Garda Building Programme is progressed and prioritised, with the cooperation and commitment of all concerned — my Department, the Garda authorities and Representative Associations and the Office of Public Works from whose Vote such capital works are funded.

Question No. 209 answered with QuestionNo. 206.

Garda Equipment.

Denis Naughten

Question:

210 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí authorised to carry a firearm; the corresponding figures for 1997 and 2002; the relevant figures by Garda division; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37705/06]

The information sought by the Deputy is being compiled and I will communicate with him shortly.

Garda Operations.

Finian McGrath

Question:

211 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position on policing near a venue (details supplied) in Dublin 3 and if he will ensure that local residents are protected on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday 9.00 p.m. to 3.00 a.m.; and to work with local residents on this matter. [37717/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that Gardaí from Raheny and Clontarf Garda Stations police the area referred to. The Gardaí maintain regular contact with the management of the premises referred to, in order to address any public order issues which may arise.

I am also informed that additional Gardaí are deployed in this area during the times referred to, particularly at weekends and when events are being held. Current policing plans in the area are predicated on the prevention of anti-social behaviour and public disorder, 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. Garda units are directed to pay particular attention to areas where local youths tend to congregate. This strategy will continue to be central to the delivery of a policing service to the area in question.

David Stanton

Question:

212 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position with regard to the implementation of anti social behaviour orders; the resources being allocated to facilitate same; the training that is being undertaken by An Garda Síochána, and in particular senior Garda, in order to prepare them to carry out their functions in relation to ASBOs; the further training or guidance that is being promised to the Judiciary on the making of a behaviour order, on attaching conditions to an order and on the sanctions appropriate to be imposed on a breach; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37829/06]

I wish to refer the Deputy to my response to Parliamentary Question No. 235 of 1 November, 2006. As I set out in that reply, the Criminal Justice Act, 2006 empowers a senior member of the Garda Síochána to apply to the District Court by way of a civil procedure for an order which will prohibit an adult from behaving in an anti-social manner.

Separate provision is being made in relation to young people. The Act introduces provisions for behaviour orders for children aged 12 to 18 years into the Children Act, 2001 and the protections of that Act will apply. There will be a series of incremental stages, with parental involvement, preceding an application for a behaviour order. These include a warning, a good behaviour contract and referral to the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme. Only after these stages can a behaviour order be sought through the courts.

The relevant provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 will be commenced following consultations between my Department, the Office of the Minister for Children and the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána. The purpose of this is to ensure that these provisions will commence as soon as the Commissioner has made the necessary internal arrangements to ensure the smooth introduction of these new procedures. Work by the Garda Síochána is under way in consultation with my Department to draw up the necessary procedures, including provision for Garda training, to implement.

Insofar as the resources available to the Gardaí to carry out these and other functions are concerned, the position is that these have been increased significantly in recent years. 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 induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 has resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

In the case of the Judiciary, who are independent in the exercise of their functions under the law and the Constitution, the Deputy should note that the provision of training and education is a matter for the Judicial Studies Institute which was established by the Chief Justice in 1996 for this purpose. My role in this regard is to support the Institute through funding made available in the Courts Vote which is administered by the Courts Service.

Question No. 213 answered with QuestionNo. 199.

Garda Remuneration.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

214 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the basic pay payable to a full time member of An Garda Síochána and a student Garda just recruited. [37831/06]

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 induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 has resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. 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 pay scale applicable to a trainee Garda from 1 June, 2006 is €183.42 per week. I have also been informed that the Pay scales in respect of members of An Garda Síochána, up to and including Chief Superintendent rank, with effect from 1 June, 2006, are as set out in the following tables:

Garda Pay Scales from 1/06/2006

Class A, recruited after 6 April, 1995

Rank

Years

From

To

Garda

On attestation

24,551

After 22 weeks

26,990

1-17 yrs.

28,485

44,116

Sergeant

On Appointment

44,543

1-12 yrs.

45,629

51,291

Inspector

On Appointment

51,571

1-6 yrs.

52,452

57,225

Superintendent

On Appointment

70,808

1-4 yrs.

73,357

79,958

LSI (after 3 yrs. on max.)

82,956

Chief Superintendent

On Appointment

85,321

1-3 yrs.

89,233

99,956

LSI (after 3 yrs. on max.)

102,633

Class B, recruited before 6 April, 1995

Rank

Years

From

To

Garda

On Attestation

23,737

After 22 weeks

26,099

1-17 yrs

27,540

42,656

Sergeant

On Appointment

43,071

1-12 yrs

44,117

49,593

Inspector

On Appointment

49,863

1-6 yrs

50,717

55,331

Superintendent

On Appointment

68,466

1-4 yrs

70,931

77,312

LSI (after 3 yrs on max)

80,213

Chief Superintendent

On Appointment

82,499

1-3 yrs

86,281

96,648

LSI (after 3 yrs on max)

99,239

Finally, I should say that the figures quoted above relate to basic pay scales and do not include the range of different allowances that are payable to members of various ranks of An Garda Síochána.

Departmental Transport.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

215 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 193 of 7 November 2006, if he will provide a breakdown of spending on fuel for Garda vehicles per fuel supplier (details supplied) for each of the past five years. [37833/06]

I am informed by the Garda Authorities that the information available in respect of to date in 2006 and for the previous two years is set out in the following table:

Year

Texaco

ESSO

Statoil

Imprest

2004

364,926

729,863

4,507

5,273,438

2005

751,192

919,141

2,056,516

4,237,965

2006 year to date

1,397,441

1,324,873

2,901,100

1,023,920

I am further informed that the fuel expenditure from imprest accounts has reduced with the advent of central billing; however, some stations still buy the fuel locally through an Imprest Account. Records of fuel spending from imprest accounts are maintained at Divisional/District offices. A detailed breakdown of spending for Shell and for the years 2002 and 2003 is not readily available.

Prison Accommodation.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

216 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to a previous parliamentary question asking if it was acceptable that Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council will be forced to purchase Shanganagh castle back from the private developers for public use at a greatly inflated cost, that in 2003 Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council expressly stated that it had no interest in the remaining 6.33 acres including Shanganagh Castle if he will confirm if council has expressed interest in the site to him since 2003. [37834/06]

As I stated in Parliamentary Questions Nos. 241 & 242 of Tuesday 24 October, 2006, officials from the Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council including the County Manager recently requested access to carry out an inspection of the property and this was facilitated. While the officials expressed a general interest in the property no formal request or offer to purchase the property was received from the Council.

Probation and Welfare Service.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

217 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the situation regarding the implementation of the strategy for a new look Probation Service outlined by him in his press statement of 26 June 2006 including if a Young Persons Probation Division has been established and an outline of its work thus far and the outcome of the proposed examination of the capacity to make greater use of restorative justice and any steps taken on foot of that examination. [37836/06]

I can advise the Deputy that following an open competition a new Director was appointed to the Probation Service in September, 2005. To support the Director and strengthen the management of the Service, a new senior management structure for the Service has now been put in place comprising, 3 Deputy Directors and 2 Assistant Deputy Directors. The services of an Accountant have been engaged in recent weeks and further work is ongoing to enhance the IT expertise available to the Service.

A Young Persons Probation Division (YPP) has been established within the Probation Service with dedicated staff assigned to Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Limerick. The YPP Interim Strategy 2006-2007 is due to be launched later this month by my colleague, Mr. Brian Lenihan T.D., Minister for Children. Since its establishment, YPP is delivering on the relevant sections of the Children Act, 2001 already commenced which include, family conferencing, supervision of offenders on Community Service Orders and on Probation Orders. In addition, the YPP team also prepares assessments and reports on young offenders for the Courts. A number of other initiatives are being progressed by the YPP team, these include: a review of the three Probation residences for young male offenders, which is currently under way — I am advised by Management of the Service that this review will be complete by the end of this year; development of programmes to allow for implementation of the Training and Activities Order as provided for under the Children Act, 2001; expansion of the mentoring project to Cork and Waterford; provision of parenting training programmes which will allow for the implementation of the Parental Supervision Order.

Furthermore, I can advise the Deputy that I have approved funding for a Day Centre in Cork. The YPP team are currently arranging recruitment of staff for that centre. I have also approved funding for the development of additional programmes to meet the requirements of the Training and Activities programme Order.

I wish to further advise the Deputy proposals for the establishment of a working group to review restorative justice nationally and internationally were recently received from the Probation Service. The proposals are currently being considered and I hope to be in a position to announce details shortly.

International Agreements.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

218 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he remains committed to retaining the unanimity requirement for EU decisions in the field of police and judicial co-operation. [37837/06]

The question of making changes in the decision-making process under Title VI of the Treaty on European Union (police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters) was raised by the European Commission in its Communication entitled ‘Implementing the Hague Programme — the way forward' which was published on 28 June 2006.

The matter was subsequently discussed at the Informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Tampere on 21-22 September. At that meeting, I expressed Ireland's concern at the issues which arise, in particular the possibility that such a change would undermine the Constitutional Treaty. Ireland's position in this respect remains unchanged. I should add that there would appear to be little support amongst Member States for a change in the decision-making process as suggested by the Commission.

EU Directives.

Bernard Allen

Question:

219 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of EU directives awaiting transposition in his Department; the date by which these directives are to be, or were to be, transposed into Irish law; the number of such EU directives which are overdue for transposition; when he expects that overdue directives will be transposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37869/06]

The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following table. I would also like to point out that there are no Directives currently overdue for transposition in my Department.

EU Measure

Transposition date

Current position

1

Council Directive 2004/82/EC of 29 April 2004 on the obligation of carriers to communicate passenger data

05/09/2006

The transposition deadline is 6 September 2006. However this date does not apply to Ireland as this is a Schengen-related measure and therefore the deadline only applies to Schengen Member States. The Immigration and Residence Bill will, in the main, provide the legislative vehicle for implementing the provisions of this Directive. Drafting of this Bill is at an advanced stage.

2

Council Directive 2005/7/EC of 12 October 2005 relating to the specific admission procedure for third-country nationals for the purpose of scientific research

12/10/2007

This Directive is not due to be transposed for some time. Work is under way to allow for its transposition into legislation.

3

Council Directive 2005/85/CE of 1 December 2005, relating to the minimum standards concerning the procedure for granting and withdrawal of refugee status in the Member States

1/12/20071/12/2008 (Article 15)

This Directive is not due to be transposed for some time. Work is under way to allow for its transposition into legislation.

4

Council Directive 2004/113/EC of 13 December 2004 implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services

21/12/2007

This Directive is not due to be transposed for some time. Work is under way to allow for its transposition into legislation.

5

Council Directive 2002/90/EC defining the facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence

5/12/2004

The transposition date does not apply to Ireland as this is a Schengen-related measure and therefore the deadline only applies to Schengen Member States. The legislative changes required to transpose this Directive will be brought forward by means of the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill which is expected to be published in early 2007.

6

Council Directive 2001/40/EC of 28 May 2001 on the mutual recognition of decisions on the expulsion of third country nationals

Original Deadline: 2/12/2002 (no longer relevant)

The transposition date does not apply to Ireland as this is a Schengen-related measure and therefore the deadline only applies to Schengen Member States. Due to difficulties in Member States in implementing this Directive, the instrument is due to be repealed by the draft Council Directive on common standards on procedures in Member States for returning illegally staying third country nationals. Discussions on this instrument are ongoing at Council working group level.

7

Directive 2006/24/EC of 15 March 2006 of the European Parliament and Council on the retention of data generated or processed in connection with the provision of publicly available electronic communications services or of public communications networks and amending Directive 2002/58/EC.

17/9/2007

Ireland has challenged the legal base of this Directive before the European Court of Justice. Proceedings are currently ongoing in relation to this case.

Juvenile Offenders.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

220 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the report published by UCD in October 2006 the nature and impact of joy-riding in Priorswood Report to the Priorswood Task Force on Joy-riding and the report’s recommendation that a new national forum be established to facilitate the sharing of information and best practice amongst a network of organisations concerned with joy-riding which would facilitate the development of co-ordinated approaches; and if he will make funding available for such a forum through his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37875/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

221 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will arrange for an audit of the economic and social costs of joy-riding to be undertaken in line with the recommendation of the report published by UCD in October 2006 the nature and impact of joy-riding in Priorswood: Report to the Priorswood Task Force on Joy-riding. [37876/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

222 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will arrange for a sustained evaluation of the motor project in Priorswood and other motor projects assessing their implementation and effect in line with the recommendation of the report published by UCD in October 2006 the nature and impact of joy-riding in Priorswood: Report to the Priorswood Task Force on Joy-riding. [37877/06]

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

There is no record of the report referred to by the Deputy being received in my Department to date. However, I would be happy to have the matters raised in the report and its recommendations considered by my Department should such a report be received.

European Arrest Warrants.

Seán Crowe

Question:

223 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the case of a person (details supplied) who was found guilty of dangerous driving causing death in view of his role as the central authority for the transmission and reception of extradition requests and the necessary supporting documents under the Extradition (European Union Conventions) Act 2001; if his attention has been drawn further to the legal and families concerns in relation to this case, in which an extradition was arranged on the basis of only one charge of dangerous driving where the offender had also been driving without a licence, tax and insurance and had absconded from custody; the reason the extradition request referred to dangerous driving only; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37913/06]

The Deputy is referring to the case of a person whose surrender was sought from the United Kingdom under the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 as amended. This person was surrendered to the Irish authorities in July 2006.

The initiation of outgoing requests for extradition under the Extradition Act 1965 as amended and under the European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 as amended is a matter for the Garda Síochána in consultation with the Director of Public Prosecutions and neither I as Minister nor my Department have any role in the initiation procedure.

UN Conventions.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

224 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the Government will ratify the separate protocols to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. [37914/06]

The Criminal Law (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill 2006 which has been approved by Government and is currently being drafted in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel provides the necessary legislative changes that will allow for the ratification by Ireland of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Garda Deployment.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

225 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the hours of opening of the Garda National Immigration Bureau Offices in different locations; if it is possible to deal with exceptional or emergency situations at Garda General Offices; if not, the reason same is not possible; if he has received representations on the inconvenience caused by such arrangements; if he has evaluated such; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37915/06]

The Immigration Act, 2004 defines ‘registration officer' as the officer in charge of the Garda National Immigration Bureau in the Dublin Metropolitan Area or the Superintendent of the Garda Síochána in a Garda Síochána District outside that Area.

Pursuant to section 9 of the Immigration Act, 2004, a non-national is required to furnish to the registration officer for the District in which he or she is resident, the particulars set out in the Second Schedule, Immigration Act, 2004.

In the Dublin Metropolitan Region the registration of non-nationals is undertaken by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) at a Registration Office situated at 13/14 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2. This Office is open from Monday to Thursday, inclusive, from 8am to 10pm, on Friday from 8am to 4pm and subject to demand on Saturdays, which in the months of October and November, 2006 opened each Saturday from 10am to 3pm (with the exception of the bank holiday weekend), for the purpose of accommodating the number of non-national students who have received a permission to be in the State for study purposes, in the current academic year.

Outside the Dublin Metropolitan Region the registration of non-nationals is undertaken by the Garda Síochána at Garda Síochána stations. The times at which the registration of non-nationals takes place is a matter for the Registration Officer (Garda Superintendent) of each Garda Síochána District. Emergency situations are dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Visa Applications.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

226 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the Government can give a satisfactory answer as to what Government policy, as described by his Department in correspondence with a person’s solicitors is preventing since 2002, the case of a person (details supplied) application for their children to join them here as applied for under the family reunification scheme. [37916/06]

The general policy of the Government is not to grant family reunification to persons who have permission to remain in the State on the basis of parentage of an Irish born child. However, any such applications are examined on a case by case basis, having regard to the individual family circumstances. It is open to the applicants to submit fresh applications which will be considered anew.

Departmental Staff.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

227 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason he has failed to furnish the information as requested in Parliamentary Question No. 288 of 24 October 2006 and No. 184 of 7 November 2006 as to the date when the review on the issue of additional juvenile liaison officers was completed; the number of such additional officers recommended in the review; and if he will provide this information. [37917/06]

As I informed the Deputy in response to Parliamentary Question No. 184 of 7 November, 2006, the appointment of additional Juvenile Liaison Officers is currently under consideration.

Citizenship Applications.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

228 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether there is a case for separately dealing with applications for post-nuptial naturalisation and processing them efficiently and quickly; and if he will make arrangements accordingly. [37918/06]

Citizenship on the basis of marriage to an Irish citizen, until recently, could be acquired in one of two ways. Section 8 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (INCA) provided that spouses of Irish citizens, who were citizens other than by naturalisation could claim citizenship as of right once they had been married for three years by making a declaration of post-nuptial citizenship. There was no residence requirement under this section. Spouses of Irish citizens, who had gained their citizenship by naturalisation themselves, were required to apply for naturalisation and comply with the normal statutory conditions for naturalisation contained in section 15 of INCA, namely residence in the State, being of full age and of good character and having an intention to reside permanently in the State after naturalisation.

Under an amendment to the INCA in 2001 post-nuptial citizenship was phased out over a three year period from the commencement of the Act on 29th November 2002 by a specific provision in Section 15A of the INCA. This provided, inter alia, for a three year rather than a five year residence requirement and a three year subsisting marriage requirement, both of which I am entitled to waive in cases where the applicant shows that they may suffer serious consequences in respect of their bodily integrity or liberty if not granted Irish citizenship.

In the interests of fairness to all concerned, it is the practice of the Citizenship Division of my Department to process cases in chronological order based upon the date of receipt of the application. As the conditions for naturalisation for the spouses of Irish citizens are generally the same as those for other applicants for naturalisation, I see no reason to deviate from the present practice in their case.

The only areas where the above practice is not observed involve applications by persons with refugee status or where the application is made on behalf of a minor. In the case of applicants with refugee status the Government has obligations under the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 28 July 1951. Accordingly every effort is made to ensure that applications from such applicants are dealt with as quickly as possible, having regard to the general volume of applications. Where applications made on behalf of minors are concerned, these generally require less processing than standard adult applications so it is usually possible to finalise them more quickly

Ministerial Transport.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

229 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the traffic accidents involving ministerial cars in the year 2005 and to date in 2006, including the circumstances of each such accident, the time, date and location; the Ministers such vehicles were allocated to at the time of the accident; and if such Minister was present at the said time. [37919/06]

I regret that it has not been possible in the time available for replying to Parliamentary Questions to compile the information requested by the Deputy. I will contact the Deputy again when the information is to hand.

Visa Applications.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

230 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will expedite the holiday visa of a person (details supplied) who wishes to visit Dublin for Christmas. [37920/06]

The application referred to by the Deputy was received in the Dublin Visa Office on 27th October, 2006 and is awaiting examination by a Visa Officer. A decision in respect of the application in question will be made in the near future.

Garda Transport.

John Dennehy

Question:

231 Mr. Dennehy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if all new Garda patrol cars will be fitted with mobile phone hands free kits to facilitate use of phones in the course of duty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38002/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that there are no plans at this time to fit hands free kits to official vehicles to facilitate the use of mobile phones while driving. It is contrary to the Garda Commissioner's policy for officers to operate a mobile phone while driving.

Citizenship Applications.

Tom Hayes

Question:

232 Mr. Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork who applied for naturalisation and whose application was forwarded for review as they fulfilled the requirements for time in the State. [38003/06]

I refer the Deputy to my response to Parliamentary Question No. 203 of 7 December 2005. As I explained to the Deputy at that time, the person in question did not satisfy the statutory residency conditions, as set out in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956 as amended. This was because a substantial period of the applicant's time in the State, prior to lodging his application for a certificate of naturalisation in January 2004, was for the purpose of study. Consequently, he was deemed ineligible to apply at that time and was advised of this on 5 April 2006.

I understand that the legal representatives of the individual concerned recently contacted the Citizenship section of my Department regarding the issue of their client's residency in the State. However, they failed to provide any new information in support of their client's contention that he satisfied the residency requirements at the time of his previous application. My Department's position on the matter was subsequently outlined to the legal representatives in a letter dated 13 September 2006.

It will be open to the person in question to submit a fresh application once he satisfies the statutory conditions applicable at that time.

Garda Transport.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

233 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of mountain bikes available to An Garda Síochána; his views on whether, particularly in the context of community policing and otherwise, there is a need for more of them; the average cost to purchase same; and if he has proposals to provide more of them. [38239/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that the Garda Mountain Bike Unit (GMBU) was established in June, 2001. It commenced in two locations, Tallaght and Raheny. Eleven bikes were initially issued to each location. I have been further informed that, at present, there are 180 mountain bikes in use throughout the country. Plans are now in place to further increase the numbers in the GMBU. The Garda authorities have recently taken delivery of an additional 80 bikes which will be allocated on a nationwide basis. There is a contract in place for the on-going supply of mountain bikes to the Garda organisation. I am also informed that the average cost of a mountain bike is €700. All members allocated to mountain bike duties are provided with specialist clothing for that purpose.

Garda management state that Mountain Bike Units are engaged in mainstream policing, in conjunction with Community Policing Units, concentrating on areas such as parks and laneways, which are more easily accessed by such transport and supplement beat and other mobile patrols. The Mountain Bike Units have been very successful in tackling anti-social disorderly behaviour in parks and estates. They work well in conjunction with other Units due to their ability to respond quickly and effectively and provide a high visibility presence.

Decentralisation Programme.

Seamus Healy

Question:

234 Mr. Healy asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the decentralisation of a section of his Department to Tipperary Town, including completion of site purchase, appointment of building contractors, commencement of building works and target date for completion of building work and target date for the actual transfer of staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37835/06]

I am pleased to confirm that contracts for the purchase of a suitable site for the proposed decentralisation of sections of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) to Tipperary town have been signed by the Office of Public Works (OPW). An advertisement was placed by the Office of Public Works (OPW) in the national newspapers and the OJEU on Friday 13th October 2006 seeking Expressions of Interest from experienced developers/contractors who wish to be considered in connection with the provision of office accommodation. Expressions of Interest are due to be received by Monday 20th November 2006. This will be followed by a short-listing 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 Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

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. A construction period of approximately 20 months is envisaged. As the site acquisition and building work progresses, staff will be moved into the relevant sections in the Department.

Tax Code.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

235 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the additional cost to the Exchequer of keeping those on the minimum wage out of the tax net if the minimum wage was increased to €9.30 per hour from 1 January 2007. [37417/06]

An increase to €9.30 per hour is equivalent to €18,860 on an annualised basis assuming a 39 hour working week. By reference to the pre-Budget 2007 Income Tax Ready Reckoner prepared by the Revenue Commissioners, which is available on my Department's website, it is estimated that the full year costs to the Exchequer of ensuring that no tax is paid by employees earning such an amount on a 39 hour week basis would be in the region of €915 million in a full year if done through an increase in the Employee (PAYE) credit, or if the personal credit were used, about €1,330 million in a full year. If the Personal and Employee credits each bore half the required increase, the full year cost would be approximately €1,120 million. These figures are provisional, are likely to be revised and are rounded to the nearest €5 million.

Budget Submissions.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

236 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance his views on the Budget 2007 submission by a group (details supplied) to Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37436/06]

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.

Paul McGrath

Question:

237 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will comment on a newspaper report (details supplied) regarding liability for stamp duty; and the legislative basis for this situation. [37437/06]

As the Deputy will be aware, taxpayer confidentiality requires that a Minister for Finance does not answer a Parliamentary Question about the tax affairs of an individual or company, other than when the Deputy is asking the question on behalf of the individual or company. In this instance, it is not the case, and in the circumstances, I regret I cannot comment on the tax affairs of any taxpayer. However, by way of general comment, the rates of stamp duty that are applicable to various instruments are set out in Schedule 1 to Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999. Historically, different rates of ad valorem stamp duty have applied to instruments transferring real property and stocks/marketable securities (viz. mainly shares). The rate of duty on the transfers of shares has remained at 1% since 1951, while the rate of duty on the transfer of real property has varied over the intervening years. The current rates for transfer of non-residential property are as follows:

Aggregate Consideration

Rate of Duty

Up to €10,000

Exempt

€10,001 to €20,000

1%

€20,001 to €30,000

2%

€30,001 to €40,000

3%

€40,001 to €70,000

4%

€70,001 to €80,000

5%

€80,001 to €100,000

6%

€100,001 to €120,000

7%

€120,001 to €150,000

8%

Over €150,000

9%

Non-Residential Property is basically any property other than residential property, stocks or marketable securities or policies of insurance. It includes (but is not limited to) sites, offices, factories, other business premises, shops, public houses, land and goodwill attaching to a business.

Public Works Projects.

Enda Kenny

Question:

238 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the number of properly equipped vessels at his disposal to clean lakes of excessive growth and weeds; the programme he has in place to have action taken in this regard for 2007; the areas and extent of work to be carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37475/06]

The Commissioners of Public Works currently operate four vessels for removal of aquatic vegetation in connection with maintenance of arterial drainage schemes. These boats are used to remove vegetation in lakes that impedes the free flow of water to and from maintainable channels. They are not designed to carry out work in an open lake situation. Three of the boats are used in the West Region on the Corrib and Moy drainage schemes and one is deployed on the Kilmore scheme in Wexford. The precise areas where the boats will operate in 2007 will be decided in the context of the work programme for that year which is currently being drawn up.

Tax Code.

Enda Kenny

Question:

239 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the extent of loss of revenue generation in this jurisdiction due to the different rate of VAT applicable in Northern Ireland on renewable energy products; his views on whether this variation is a source of loss of job investment and economic return for companies attempting to compete with this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37476/06]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that it is not possible to furnish figures for the VAT take on renewable energy products, as the information furnished on VAT returns does not require the yield from particular goods or sectors of trade to be identified.

In terms of the scope for reducing VAT rate on renewable energy products the position is that the VAT rating of goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. The supply of all fuel products used for home heating and light are therefore subject to the reduced VAT rate of 13.5% under Article 28 (2e) of the Sixth VAT Directive. This means that Member States had the option of maintaining, at a reduced rate of not less than 12%, any items not listed in Annex H of the Sixth VAT Directive, provided these items carried a reduced rate on 1 January 1991. Ireland is one of only eight Member States that apply a reduced or parked rate to the supply of fuel products used for home heating and light. In Ireland the parked VAT rate equates to our reduced rate of 13.5%.

The sale of renewable energy systems is chargeable at the standard VAT rate of 21%. However, where the systems are supplied and installed as a single contract, the total charge may be liable to VAT at 13.5 per cent provided the VAT-exclusive cost of the goods to the supplier does not exceed two-thirds of the total VAT-exclusive charge to the customer. In terms of impact on business in the border region, it should also be noted that such supplies are treated as a deductible credit for business.

In relation to domestic use of renewable energy products, I would point out that my colleague Mr. Noel Dempsey, T.D., Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, recently launched a grant aid scheme of up to €27m for domestic renewable heat technologies. The scheme was agreed in last year's Budget and is part of a multi-annual finance package of €65m for renewable energy that also includes grants for a range of renewable heat, electricity and transport initiatives. The "Greener Homes" scheme allows individual householders, for the first time ever, to obtain grants for the installation of renewable technologies including wood pellet stoves and boilers, solar panels and geothermal heat pumps. Grant aid of €1,100 to €6,500 is being provided depending on the individual technology used.

The scheme is being rolled out over a five year period, and will potentially support the conversion to renewable energy in up to 10,100 homes. By its final year, it is expected to save energy equivalent to 54,000 barrels of oil per annum and 23,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum. This is equivalent to meeting 100% of the heating needs of 7,100 homes from renewable energy, or removing 6,700 cars from the road.

Tom Hayes

Question:

240 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Finance if stamp duty is refunded on a second hand house, which is owner occupied for five years or more. [37491/06]

Stamp duty is a duty imposed on a conveyance or transfer of certain property and the liability to that duty arises at the time the conveyance or transfer is made. The most common charge to stamp duty which affects individuals is the stamp duty which arises on the conveyance of residential property i.e. houses and apartments. The amount of stamp duty payable depends on: the market value of the property; whether it is or is not second-hand; and whether the purchaser is a first-time buyer, owner-occupier or investor. Stamp duty on second-hand houses is charged to duty at the rates set out in the following Table — i.e. there are different rates for first-time buyers and others.

Purchase Price

Full Rate

First time buyer rate