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 9, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 10 to 31, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 32 to 39, inclusive, answered orally.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

40 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the estimated increase in the cost of welfare claims in 2008 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 2007; his views on these increases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15204/07]

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 such benefits, even if the children are resident in the worker's home country.

Applications for family benefits from EU migrant workers who come to live in Ireland with their families are dealt with under domestic legislation. Entitlement to Child Benefit is based on the applicant satisfying the habitual residence condition and the child being ordinarily resident in Ireland.

Currently there are over 38,000 EU nationals in receipt of Child Benefit for 67,500 children who are resident with them in Ireland. Of these recipients, some 17,400 are UK nationals, with a further 13,800 recipients from the ten States that joined the EU in 2004 and 2,500 families from Romania or Bulgaria.

EU nationals who come to work in Ireland but whose families remain in their home country may have an entitlement to family benefits in Ireland under EU Regulation 1408/71. Before payment of Child Benefit is made for non-resident children 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 have been finalised to date is relatively small. There are approximately 17,000 claims at various stages of processing and awaiting finalisation. The number of claims to Child Benefit and potentially Early Child Supplement in respect of non-resident children of EU nationals has, since the start of 2006, averaged close to 300 per week. However, over the past 4 weeks, the figure dropped to around 200 per week.

Child Benefit is in payment under EU regulations to 721 families, in respect of 1,663 children resident outside of the Republic of Ireland. Some 87% of these children are resident in the UK.

The total child benefit expenditure for EU migrants with non-resident children in respect of 2007 is estimated at €85m or 3.9% of overall child benefit expenditure.

The total cost in 2008 is difficult to estimate but on current trends, the potential accrued cost could be of the order of €130m.

The corresponding figures for early childcare supplement are €17m in respect of 2007 and €30m in respect of 2008.

Pension Provisions.

Bernard Allen

Question:

41 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a backlog of pension claims exists; if so, the details of same; the average waiting time for a claim to be processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15321/07]

My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all of its customers. Applications are processed and decisions on entitlement are issued as expeditiously as possible, having regard to the eligibility conditions that apply. However, from time to time, due to exceptional circumstances, delays in processing claims can arise.

My Department administers State Pension (Non-Contributory) Widows and Orphan Pensions, Invalidity Pensions, Blind Pensions. There are no backlogs on these schemes.

In respect of the State Pension (Transition) and State Pension (Contributory) which my Department also administers, backlogs have arisen for a variety of reasons.

Delays have been incurred in processing claims in recent months, as a result of:

an increase in the numbers of new claims received since the start of the year,

the implementation in September 2006 of a number of scheme enhancements introduced in Budget 2006,

an unusually high level of staff turnover in the areas concerned, and

the implementation of the new Service Delivery Modernisation Programme.

Currently some 2,700 claims where the person has passed the pension age are awaiting decision. There is a delay of 4 weeks approximately in respect of these cases. Some 3,600 claims in respect of foreign applications are awaiting decision. These claims are usually made after pension age has been reached and involve enquires regarding employment in other jurisdictions. A further 2,400 cases in the course of being processed are awaiting further information before a decision can be made. Finally, 2,800 cases have been received in respect of people who have not yet reached pension age.

A number of actions have been taken to eliminate the delays in processing claims. Priority is given to cases where the person has reached or will shortly reach pension age. Additional temporary staff have been assigned to these pensions sections to speed up claim processing. Staff have been redeployed to the areas experiencing delays. Progress is being made in eliminating delays and it is expected that processing times for new claims will to improve.

Personal Public Service Numbers.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

42 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps taken to inform Romanian immigrants about procedures for obtaining PPS numbers following the incidents where immigrants were charged illegally for numbers. [15328/07]

The personal public service number, PPSN, is the individual's unique reference number for accessing services from Government Departments and public bodies.

Children born in Ireland are allocated PPS numbers automatically when their births are registered. In all other cases an application must be made at a local office of my Department. When applying for a PPSN, individuals are asked to complete an application form and to provide documentation to establish their identity and their address. They are usually informed of their PPSN by post within five days.

In early January, following the accession of Romania to the EU, officials of my Department's Local Office at North Cumberland Street, Dublin, became suspicious about the unusually high proportion of citizens of Romania who stated in applications for PPSNs that their Irish address was one or other of a number of hostels in Dublin 1.

When these applicants were interviewed it emerged that they had been given incorrect information and advice about the PPSN allocation system by another Irish-resident Romanian citizen, who also provided them with an interpretation service and who was charging for these services. It also emerged that people were being aided or persuaded to mislead the Department about their actual addresses in Ireland.

The existence of this practice was reported to An Garda Síochána for investigation and any follow-up action they consider appropriate in the event that evidence of a breach or breaches of the law is brought to light.

My Department issued a statement on 29 January in order to prevent further exploitation of citizens of Romania. The statement, which was specifically aimed at Romanian citizens, outlined the process involved in applying for a PPSN and informed them that my Department does not charge for the issue of these numbers. It also confirmed that, where necessary, translation and interpretation services are provided free of charge. A copy of this statement, in the Romanian language, was posted on my Department's website, which is the most conveniently accessible and trusted source of information on these matters. Copies of the statement, in English and in Romanian are displayed in Local Offices of the Department. Arrangements were also made with the Chaplain to the Romanian Community in Dublin to have this information announced at religious services in the city.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Joe Costello

Question:

43 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the percentage of the population regarded as being in consistent poverty; when the 2% target which was set for 2007 in the ten year anti-poverty strategy launched in 1997, will actually be reached; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15190/07]

Information on poverty and deprivation levels is now derived from the annual EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU–SILC). This survey commenced in Ireland in 2003 and is conducted by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The most recent results, for the year 2005, record continuing positive trends in relation to poverty and social exclusion. The overall rate of consistent poverty in 2005 was 7.0 per cent, having reduced from 8.8 per cent in 2003. These results show the continuing impact being made by the greatly increased resources now devoted to social welfare and other social services.

The consistent poverty measure was developed independently by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 1987 using indicators of deprivation based on standards of living at that time. This measure identifies the proportion of people, from those with less than 60 per cent of median income, who are deprived of one or more goods or services considered essential for a basic standard of living. The target set in 2002 was to reduce the numbers of those who are consistently poor to 2 per cent by 2007 and, if possible, to eliminate consistent poverty, as then defined.

Progress in reducing consistent poverty was tracked by the Living in Ireland Survey (LIIS), which was showing steady progress towards meeting the target of reducing consistent poverty to 2 per cent by 2007. However, a major discontinuity occurred with the new EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), introduced from 2003. This survey yielded a substantially higher level of consistent poverty which was contrary to the trends under the Living in Ireland survey. There was no change in policy or in its implementation that could have explained this increase and it is acknowledged by the CSO and the ESRI that it resulted from certain changes in methodology between the surveys.

As a result it is not possible to compare trends in consistent poverty over the periods covered by the two surveys. However, the continuing low levels of unemployment and the substantially increased resources devoted to social welfare and other social services support the view that the downward trend in consistent poverty over the 6 years period from 8.3 per cent in 1994 to 4.1 per cent in 2001, would have continued, and that over the following 6 years up to 2007 the 2 per cent target would have been reached, using the LIIS survey method. What is also clear is that some 250,000 people, including 100,000 children, have been lifted out of deprivation since 1997 as a result of concentrated and targeted measures and supports.

The overall goal of the new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016 (NAPinclusion), launched last February, is to make a decisive impact on consistent poverty. This is underlined by the fact that a new target is being set using an updated set of indicators, which is more realistic and in keeping with living standards today. The new target is to reduce the number of those experiencing consistent poverty to between 2 per cent and 4 per cent by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016, under the revised definition. Progress in achieving the target will also be measured by the EU SILC survey method conducted by the CSO which will facilitate the analysis of trends on an annual basis.

The Government in setting the new poverty reduction target has accepted the advice of the ESRI to use an updated set of deprivation indicators, which focus to a greater degree on items reflecting social inclusion and participation in society. This will see the current measure, based on lacking one or more items from an 8-item index, changing to one based on lacking two or more items from an 11-item index. This revised set of indicators will be used to measure consistent poverty over the course of the new NAPinclusion. The current rate of consistent poverty using the new measure is 7.0 per cent.

Continuing to reduce consistent poverty and eventually eliminating it is one of our primary goals. I am confident that the new NAPinclusion will build on the major achievements of the last decade by putting the measures and resources in place to realise that goal.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

44 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the main findings of the Government’s working group on the rent supplement scheme; the changes he will make to the rent supplement scheme as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15191/07]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

80 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will confirm that a review of the supplementary allowance scheme has revealed significant inconsistencies in the levels of payments made under the scheme between different parts of the country; the steps he will take to ensure greater consistency in the level of payments made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15192/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 44 and 80 together.

The review of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to which the Deputy refers was carried out as part of the Government's Expenditure Review Initiative. Overall the review concluded that the scheme has, over the years, met its objective of guaranteeing that every person in the State has a minimum level of income sufficient to meet their basic day to day needs.

In the case of rent supplement, the report recommends that the implementation of the rental assistance arrangements announced by Government in July 2004 should be pursued. In addition to improving the housing situation for people on low incomes and delivering better value for money, full implementation of these arrangements would allow the rent supplement scheme return to its original objective of being a short-term income support scheme, with fewer than half of the current number of recipients.

The review identified a number of issues relating to the incentives under the rent supplement scheme for those wishing to take up an employment opportunity. In Budget 2007 I specifically addressed this issue when I announced improvements in the additional income disregards for those taking up employment or training, namely, that any person who is on a local authority waiting list for accommodation under the Rental Accommodation Scheme may now return to full-time employment and be considered for a rent supplement payment under the standard means test. This new system replaces the existing special retention arrangements, that where a person is aged 65 or over and his or her combined household income is greater than the rate of supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to his or her circumstances, this no longer leads to a reduction in the amount of rent or mortgage interest supplement payable.

These are significant improvements to the rent supplement scheme. They both simplify the current assessment process and offer clear incentives to those returning to work.

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, an exceptional or urgent needs payment may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which the applicant is unable to meet out of his/her own resources. There is no automatic entitlement to this payment; each application is determined by the Executive based on the particular circumstances of the case.

The review of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme carried out a detailed examination of expenditure and recipient trends for all elements of the scheme. The Group identified variations in the amount of expenditure per thousand of population in respect of exceptional needs payments but considered that such variations were likely to occur as these payments are made on the basis of a person's need and it was reasonable to expect that such needs would not occur uniformly across the country.

The Working Group also examined the average value of exceptional needs payments throughout the country in relation to the various different types of exceptional and urgent needs payments and found variations in the levels of payments that could not be explained by geographical cost factors. Decisions relating to the amount to be paid in respect of any exceptional need a person may have are a matter for the Health Service Executive which administers the scheme on my behalf.

The Executive is obliged, in accordance with the guidelines published by my Department, to maintain up-to-date policies in relation to the implementation of these guidelines, including up-to-date prices for items that are likely to be the subject of applications for ENPs. The Working Group noted that the various areas of the Executive showed some variations in the type of policies, including the level of detail of guidance, the types of payments covered and amount to be paid. While noting this, I am conscious that the discretionary nature of the payments, which is a positive aspect of the scheme, is in itself a contributing factor to the variation in the level of payments. My Department will continue to monitor these payments.

Phil Hogan

Question:

45 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department’s review of the disability allowance scheme has been completed; if so, the findings of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15315/07]

My Department is currently undertaking an examination of the impact of the payment of Disability Allowance from age 16 on retention rates in second level education. Following the outcome of this review, consideration will be given to a further review of other aspects of the scheme.

The current review is part of the implementation of the recommendations of the working group which examined the various State income maintenance payments for people who are ill and people with disabilities under the Government's Expenditure Review Initiative. This working group was chaired by my Department, with membership from the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Finance and the report was published in 2004. Disability Allowance was one of the schemes reviewed in this process and the recommendations arising from this report continue to be implemented.

In this regard a number of significant changes have recently been made to the Disability Allowance scheme which has included extending the eligibility of the scheme, improving employment incentives for people with disabilities and improving the means test.

As part of Budget 2007, people who had entered residential care without an entitlement to Disability Allowance became eligible for full Disability Allowance as a matter of right, subject only to the same conditions as apply to others.

In order to improve the employment incentives for people of working age and, as part of the Social Welfare Budget package, 2006, I introduced a new lower withdrawal rate of Disability Allowance, effective from 1 June 2006.

This change means that, for earnings above €120 and under €350 per week, Disability Allowance is now withdrawn at 50 cents for every euro earned, rather than the previous euro for euro withdrawal. In practice, this means that a single person can earn up to €420 per week before their Disability Allowance fully ceases, compared with the previous amount of €240 per week.

The policy in relation to supporting employment incentives for people with disabilities will continue to be kept under review in my Department and developed in line with the commitments in my Department's disability sectoral plan.

As with other social assistance payments, capital held by a client in receipt of Disability Allowance is assessable for the purpose of the means test. However, I recognise that persons in receipt of Disability Allowance may not have had the opportunity to accumulate savings or other income through participation in employment and that disability may, in some cases, hamper a person's ability to live independently.

I am also aware that in such circumstances, families may wish to make future financial provision for a child or sibling but are concerned that such provision might adversely affect their entitlement to Disability Allowance. Similarly, in cases where a compensation award has been made to a client as a result of accident or injury, they may be concerned about a reduction or loss of payment of DA and secondary benefits.

As part of Budget 2007, I therefore introduced a higher threshold of €50,000 as the capital disregard specifically for the Disability Allowance scheme. This means that a client with disability may hold this amount of capital or provision can be made for the client up to this amount while retaining full payment of Disability Allowance.

Further policy development of the Disability Allowance scheme will be considered in light of the outcome of the current research project and other aspects of the scheme.

Seán Ryan

Question:

46 Mr. S. Ryan 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. [15205/07]

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, also 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.

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 simply to Irish born people living abroad as to do so would be contrary to European legislation which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality. More recently, the European Commission has indicated that to extend the scheme to people in receipt of an Irish pension could also be considered discriminatory.

I have raised the issue with Commissioner Špidla and officials from my Department met with European Commission officials on a number of occasions in an effort to clarify the legal issues involved. I am keeping this issue under review.

Money Advice and Budgeting Service.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

47 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made in regard to his consideration of the research commissioned by the Financial Regulator and the Combat Poverty Agency on the nature and extent of debt incurred by low income families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15196/07]

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

56 Ms Lynch 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. [15197/07]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

65 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he will publish legislation to establish the Money Advice and Budgeting Service on a statutory footing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15303/07]

Damien English

Question:

70 Mr. English asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people employed in the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, full and part time; the locations and job titles of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15304/07]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

75 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 they are being swamped with requests for advice; his views on the increasing levels of personal debt among Irish families and whether the structures and organisation of MABS require reform to cope with these new circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15201/07]

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

82 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress, in regard to his interview (details supplied), that has been made by his Department in regard to the preparation of legislation to make it illegal to charge exorbitant interest rates to low income families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15198/07]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

83 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of Money Advice and Budgeting Service offices; the locations of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15306/07]

Damien English

Question:

90 Mr. English asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people employed by National Traveller Money Advice and Budgeting Service; the number of people who have been assisted by this service each year since it began; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15305/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 47, 56, 65, 70, 75, 82, 83 and 90 together.

The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) provides assistance to people who are over-indebted and need help and advice in coping with debt problems. There are 53 independent companies nationwide employing some 230 money advice staff including Money Advisors, Co-ordinators, and Administrators who deliver the service at a local level.

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. Other 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 National Traveller MABS which employs 4 staff, has a specific remit to provide education and promote awareness about Traveller issues. It does not provide a direct money advice service to people. Instead it supports Travellers in linking into the local MABS network.

Last year, MABS provided services to some 12,500 new clients throughout the country. The number of active cases at the end of the year was some 14,900. The demand for the service can be attributed to the increase in the availability of credit generally and to the quality of the service provided by MABS advisors.

In 2006, €16.4 million was provided to fund the service and in 2007 I have further increased the annual allocation to €17.67 million to assist the MABS in dealing with its workload. The issues that give rise to problems of over-indebtedness 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 people on low incomes encounter in managing their finances. I am particularly concerned about the high level of interest rates currently being charged by some financial institutions, loan companies and by legal moneylenders in situations where people have no alternative sources of credit available to them. My concerns, in this regard, are borne out by the Financial Regulator's Report on the Licensed Moneylending Industry published last week. It shows that moneylenders may be charging interest rates of up to 188%. Most significantly, 71% of people surveyed did not know what interest they were paying on their loans.

I have held discussions with a number of interests including the Irish League of Credit Unions, the Irish Bankers Federation and the Financial Regulator about these issues. The outcome of these consultations, the latest report of the Financial Regulator together with the Combat Poverty Study ‘Financial Exclusion in Ireland' and the 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. They provide a solid evidence base on which to develop the strategies that need to be put in place by both the Government and the providers of payment services such as the banks and credit unions to promote greater financial inclusion in Ireland.

Proposals to establish the MABS on a statutory basis will be considered by the Government in the near future. My intention in this regard is to build on the best features of the MABS model of service to the public and to include measures to address concerns about excessive loan charges for people on low incomes. I want to 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.

I envisage a number of specific actions to address some of the issues that leave people on low incomes vulnerable to high cost credit charges. The regulation of moneylending comes under the Consumer Credit Act, 1995 and the licensing of moneylenders is a statutory responsibility of the Financial Regulator. My view is that the MABS has a key role to play in informing the licensing process in these circumstances. Officials of my Department have been working closely with the Financial Regulator and with the Department of Finance on the detailed arrangements which might be put in place to achieve this.

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. The MABS is highly regarded and successful in meeting the needs of its clients.

I also want to take account of best practice in corporate governance for a customer focused service that provides value for money for the taxpayers' investment and meets the challenges posed by the rapidly changing face of debt in 21st century Ireland. I will arrange to have a schedule of the details of the 53 MABS services placed before the House.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Willie Penrose

Question:

48 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to combat food poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15184/07]

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 10,700 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 real and important 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 was €13.6 million and benefited some 125,000 pupils in some 1,400 schools. I have provided €16.6m for the school meals scheme in 2007 and my Department is actively promoting the scheme to schools that are not already participating.

A 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". The Healthy Food for All Initiative awareness campaign followed on from the Food Poverty and Policy report. My Department is currently involved with that initiative in plans to draw up a best practice code for school meals.

Healthy eating is affected by dietary and nutritional awareness, household attitudes and access to good quality grocery shopping, as well as to the adequacy of social welfare income supports. 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 0.8% over the past 12 months. From December 2001 to date, food and non-alcoholic beverages increased by just 4.1% in aggregate while increases in social welfare payment rates increased by between 61% and 77% in the same period. As overall total inflation amounted to less than 20% in that period there has been a very significant real increase in purchasing power for people on social welfare.

I am satisfied that the policy of providing substantial real increases in primary social insurance and assistance payment rates has been effective in ensuring that those who depend on social welfare income have sufficient income for healthy food.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

49 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will modify, improve or ease the qualification limits for the back to education allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15278/07]

My Department provides a wide range of second chance education opportunities to facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force.

The back to education allowance (BTEA) is one of these second chance education opportunities schemes. It is paid at a standard weekly rate equivalent to the maximum rate of the relevant social welfare payment that qualifies the applicant for participation in the scheme. It essentially replaces their existing social welfare income and in addition an annual €400 cost of education allowance is payable.

To qualify for participation an applicant must, inter alia, be in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment and at least 21 years of age prior to commencing an approved course of study. Persons in receipt of disability related payments may access the scheme at 18 years of age.

Similarly, lone parents and persons in receipt of unemployment payments can qualify at 18 years of age provided they are out of formal education for at least 2 years.

The current scheme is in place since January 1998 and has been subject to review and modification over the years to ensure it continues to support those people who are most distant from the labour market and whose need is greatest.

In the 2005 Budget I reduced the qualifying period for access to the third level option of the scheme from 15 to 12 months and at that time I also increased the annual cost of education allowance, paid to people on BTEA, from €254 to €400.

Following an undertaking to the Dáil and the Social Affairs Committee, I further reduced the qualifying period for access to the third level option to 9 months. This provision applies to persons who are participating in the National Employment Action Plan (NEAP) process where a FÁS Employment Services Officer recommends pursuance of a third level course of study as essential to the enhancement of the individual's employment prospects. This new provision also came into effect from 1 September 2005.

In the 2006 Budget, I announced that time spent in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance from the Health Services Executive or the direct provision system operated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform can count towards the qualifying period for back to education allowance in circumstances where the person establishes an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment prior to commencing an approved course of study. This provision came into effect from 1 September 2006.

In the most recent Budget, I announced that people who are awarded statutory redundancy may access the BTEA scheme immediately provided an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment is established prior to commencing an approved course of study. I also reduced the qualifying period for illness benefit recipients from three to two years. These further improvements to the BTEA scheme will come into effect from the beginning of the new academic year, that is, 1 September 2007.

I will continue to monitor the scheme but I believe that, overall, the current arrangements provide that my Department's back to education allowance scheme continues to meet its objectives and ensures that limited resources are targeted at those who are most in need.

Pension Provisions.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

50 Ms O’Sullivan 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. [15203/07]

David Stanton

Question:

61 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has received the completed Green Paper on Pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15297/07]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

76 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the promised Green Paper on pensions will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15202/07]

David Stanton

Question:

78 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he expects to publish the Green Paper on pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15296/07]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

99 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he expects to begin the consultation process on the pensions Green Paper; the persons who will be involved in same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15298/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 50, 61, 76, 78 and 99 together.

As the House is aware, the Government is committed to producing a Green Paper on pensions in accordance with the partnership agreement "Towards 2016".

The preparation of the Green Paper follows a period of increased activity in the development of pensions policy which has seen the publication of two major reports by the Pensions Board — the ‘National Pensions Review' and ‘Special Savings for Retirement'. These two reports built on the earlier report of the Board on the National Pensions Policy Initiative (NPPI), published in 1998.

This Green Paper will take account of these reports and examine the situation in a much broader way to deal with issues raised in the partnership talks, such as the operation of the funding standard for defined benefit schemes, together with a comprehensive look at issues in relation to social welfare pensions which arise from time to time, both here in the House and in representations which I receive. The Green Paper will not recommend any particular course of action but rather set out clearly the current situation and the implications, from an economic and social perspective, of various courses of action which have been suggested. The Green Paper will be published when the Government has completed its consideration of the wide range of issues involved.

The publication of the Green Paper will be the initial move in a series of measures which are to culminate in the Government publishing a framework for long-term pensions policy. A consultation process, which will be comprehensive and inclusive, will be decided on when the Green Paper is published.

Social Welfare Code.

Phil Hogan

Question:

51 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress he has made to date in the development of a national carers strategy; the expected publication date of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15314/07]

Seán Crowe

Question:

57 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will provide clarification on the criteria for eligibility regarding the payment equal to half rate carer’s allowance to be introduced in September 2007 in respect of carers in receipt of an existing social welfare payment. [15241/07]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

58 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he proposes reform in relation to payments and supports for carers. [15243/07]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

86 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has examined the findings of a recent survey conducted as part of the Combat Poverty Agency poverty research initiative which looked at the lives of young carers in the Cork region and the lack of support systems in place for this category of carers. [15332/07]

Dan Boyle

Question:

87 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to an anomaly in the code of social welfare law whereby a person can be working up to 15 hours per week and paying a full class A PRSI contribution and still be eligible to receive carer’s allowance and the respite care grant while a person signing on, on PRSI credits, having exhausted their entitlement to unemployment benefit and being a full-time carer but ineligible for the carer’s allowance on account of its means test is deemed ineligible for the respite care grant. [15323/07]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

93 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of the 2003 report of the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs on carers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15195/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

185 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent to which he proposes to further extend the carer’s allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15590/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51, 57, 58, 86, 87, 93 and 185 together.

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.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs "Report on the Position of Full Time Carers" which was published in 2003 makes fifteen recommendations. Some of these relate specifically to my Department and others relate specifically to the Department of Health and Children. The report recommended abolition of the means test for carer's allowance. In line with other social assistance schemes, a means test is applied to the carer's allowance so as to ensure that limited resources are directed to those in greatest need. This means test has been eased significantly over the years, most notably with the disregard of spouse's earnings.

Following Budget 2007, from this month the income disregard for a couple has been set at €640 per week. This ensures that a couple can earn in the region of €36,000 per annum and still receive the maximum rate of carer's allowance and the associated free travel and household benefits. This measure surpasses the "Towards 2016" commitment to ensure that those on average industrial earnings continue to qualify for a full carer's allowance. In addition, I have increased the rates of carer's allowance to €200 per week for those aged under 66 and to €218 per week for those aged over 66.

Another of the recommendations was that where a person is in receipt of a widow or widower's pension and providing someone with full time care and attention, that person should be paid a half rate carer's allowance in addition to his or her pension. In Budget 2007 I was very pleased to introduce fundamental structural reforms in this area which go beyond this recommendation. From September 2007, people in receipt of certain other social welfare payments, who are also providing full time care and attention to a person, will be able to retain t heir main welfare payment and receive another payment, depending on their means, the maximum of which will be the equivalent of a half rate carer's allowance. It is estimated that this measure will benefit approximately 18,000 carers by up to €100 per week at cost of €56.72 million in a full year.

These new arrangements will apply to almost all weekly social welfare payments and to people in receipt of qualified adult allowances. Recipients of jobseeker's allowance or benefit or signing for credits will not be eligible for the new arrangements, given the nature of these payments. This is in line with the arrangements which currently apply to receipt of the respite care grant. The recommended extension of the respite care grant to people in receipt of a social welfare payment other than carer's allowance or benefit and who are providing someone with full time care and attention was implemented in Budget 2005. That improvement went beyond the report's recommendation in that the respite care grant was extended to all full time carers, regardless of means.

One of the fundamental qualifying conditions for carer's allowance, carer's benefit and the respite care grant is that the person be providing full time care and attention to a person who needs such care. However, a person may engage in employment, self employment, training or education outside the home for up to 15 hours per week and still be considered to be providing full time care and attention. Prior to June 2006 this threshold was 10 hours per week. In Budget 2006 I extended the duration of carer's benefit from 15 to 24 months. This is in line with the Joint Committee's recommendation that the 15 month restriction be waived where the person continues to provide care.

The report also recommended the development of a national strategy for carers. I am delighted that one of the key Government commitments in the 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 and there will be appropriate consultation with the social partners. Departments are currently in discussions regarding the best way to advance the process.

I am well aware of the particular difficulties faced by young carers especially in trying to juggle school and caring. I know that the Combat Poverty Agency has funded a study of young carers in Cork under its poverty research initiative. I understand that the study involved interviews with five young carers and four former young carers. However, I have not yet seen the report of those interviews and I understand that it has not yet been published.

The improvements for carers, which I announced in Budget 2007, are further evidence of my commitment to working for, and with, carers to deliver increased benefits, supports, and services for them and their families. In that regard and in line with commitments in "Towards 2016" I will continue to keep the supports for carers available from my Department under review.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Liam Twomey

Question:

52 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the findings of the Combat Poverty Agency research project into mainstreaming social inclusion issues into public policy making as outlined in the publication (details supplied) that just 19% of respondents felt that there was a high degree of involvement of people experiencing poverty in developing anti-poverty policies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15310/07]

Shane McEntee

Question:

71 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the findings of the Combat Poverty Agency research project into mainstreaming social inclusion issues into public policy making as outlined in the publication (details supplied) that just 48% of Irish respondents believed reduction in poverty and social exclusion were high on the Government’s agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15309/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 52 and 71 together.

I welcome the findings of the ‘Evaluation of Mainstreaming Social Inclusion in Europe' study which was led by the Combat Poverty Agency and involved surveys undertaken in nine European countries among policy makers and administrators at central, regional and local levels of Government, social partners and representatives of anti-poverty NGOs. The study found that Ireland is one of the better performing countries and is above the EU average when it comes to integrating poverty and social inclusion objectives into Government policy. It also noted the importance of structures to support social inclusion and found that Ireland is at the forefront by having a Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion chaired by the Taoiseach and dedicated social inclusion units in a number of Government departments, agencies and local authorities.

Building an inclusive society remains a key priority of Government. Ireland's strategic approach to tackling poverty was first introduced in 1997 with the publication of the ten-year National Anti-Poverty Strategy. Much has been achieved since then, including a substantial reduction in unemployment, major increases in the number of two income households and the ending of high emigration together with a major increase in return migration and immigration. These improvements have been assisted by increased resources for social welfare payments, public services and infrastructure such as health, housing, education and disadvantaged communities.

However, not everyone in our society has benefited to the same extent from our recent success and tackling poverty and social exclusion remains a major challenge and a priority for Government. The strategic framework for the next ten years to meet that challenge is set out in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016 (NAPinclusion), launched in February 2007, the social inclusion elements of Towards 2016 and the National Development Plan 2007-2013. The provision in these three strategies clearly show the priority being given to tackling poverty. Using the lifecycle approach, these strategies place the individual at the centre of policy development and delivery with a particular emphasis on the provision of services and activation as means of tackling social exclusion.

The overall poverty reduction goal in the NAPinclusion is to reduce the number of those experiencing consistent poverty to between 2% and 4% by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016. In addition, the NAPinclusion identifies 12 high level strategic goals supported by over 150 targets and actions aimed at addressing long-standing and serious social deficits to achieve the overall objective of reducing consistent poverty.

The study noted that all countries could do more to involve people experiencing poverty in devising and supporting solutions. The Office for Social Inclusion (OSI) located in my Department is acknowledged in the study as undertaking ‘a very valuable co-ordinating and developmental role'. Production of the NAPinclusion, and the social inclusion elements of Towards 2016 and the NDP, was informed by an extensive consultation process involving people experiencing poverty and their representatives. The OSI received 81 written submissions as part of this process and conducted a series of regional and national seminars at which in excess of 500 people attended. The annual Social Inclusion Forum is another important vehicle for providing people experiencing poverty and social exclusion and their representatives with an opportunity to contribute their views and experiences. A priority for consultation in the coming years will be to reach more people experiencing poverty directly in order to obtain their views on what is required to improve and make more effective the supports they receive.

The OSI has also produced new guidelines for Poverty Impact Assessment to enhance the current poverty proofing of policies. These will be an effective tool in ensuring the mainstreaming of poverty and social exclusion in all policy making, by requiring a rigorous assessment of the impact of policies on those who are most vulnerable. Communicating the social inclusion message effectively to all stakeholders and the public generally is a continuing challenge. In addition to further developing meaningful consultation, OSI will, during the period of the NAPinclusion, develop and deliver a strong communications strategy to ensure that the public is kept informed of progress and that there is widespread knowledge and awareness of social inclusion initiatives and investment.

Customer Service.

Dan Boyle

Question:

53 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether the public is receiving adequate customer service in regard to inquiries regarding old age contributory pension entitlements; and if there is a direct telephone line which deals with such valid queries from the public. [15324/07]

My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all of its customers and is particularly concerned that high standards of service are maintained in respect of telephone enquires. Customer telephone enquiries in relation to State Pension Transition/Contributory (SPT/C) entitlements are dealt with by a special contact centre in the Social Welfare Services Office, Sligo. A dedicated team of 10 staff has been assigned to deal with SPT/C enquiries only, and the contact centre is actively monitored to ensure that optimum customer service is maintained. Average call volumes received by the contact centre from SPT/C customers over the first quarter of 2007 have been 1,500 per day (approx.).

There has been a disimprovement in the level of telephone services provided to people enquiring about SPT/C claims in recent months. There are a number of factors which have contributed to this disimprovement. There have been delays in processing of claims as a result of the increase in the number of claims received, enhancements to the schemes in September 2006, high levels of staff turnover and the introduction of a major business reorganisation and the introduction of a new IT system. In addition my Department has engaged in a programme of information to customers regarding changes and enhancements to payments. Three mailshots issued to customers in the period January 2007 to March 2007. A total of 190,000 approx. letters issued. Each of these mailshots resulted in a percentage of customers contacting the Department regarding their pension payments.

As a result the average number of calls per day has dropped from 1,500 in the first quarter of 2007 to 1,030 per day since beginning of April. My Department in its progress towards providing enhanced service to customers is developing a telephone strategy. The strategy aims to raise the profile and importance of telephone contact within the organisation, to enhance customer service through easier access and to improve organisational effectiveness and efficiency.

In the meantime, the management of the SPT/C Contact Centre continues to progress the provision of a quality service to the customer. As part of this approach it is intended to enhance the Interactive Voice Response, which is currently in use on the Sligo LoCall No. 1890 500 000, to make it easier for customers to get through to the correct area. Progress has been made in addressing the issues which gave rise to the high level of calls.

Social Insurance.

Joan Burton

Question:

54 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the implications for the social insurance fund of proposals to cut the main PRSI rate from 4% to 2% and the self employed rate from 3% to 2%; the way it is intended that the shortfall will be made up; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15186/07]

Approximately 76 per cent of workers pay PRSI Class A and Class H at the rate of 4 per cent. A further 11 per cent of workers pay social insurance contributions at the Class S rate. These contributions which are subject to various thresholds, allowances and ceilings, accrue entitlement to a range of benefits and pensions under various social insurance schemes. The current employee PRSI ceiling stands at €48,800 per annum.

A decrease in the employee PRSI rate from 4% to 2% for employments insured at PRSI Class A and Class H would, on its own, cost the Social Insurance Fund some €720 million in a full year. A decrease in the self-employed PRSI rate (Class S) from 3% to 2% is estimated to cost approximately €220 million per annum. Options for additional income to the Fund could include changes in the ceiling on contributions. In this regard, abolition of the ceiling for employees would yield some €295 million.

Legislation provides that the Exchequer is the residual financier of the Fund and Exchequer contributions to cover any shortfall in contributions were the norm for over forty years. However no Exchequer contribution has been required since 1996 as the fund has been in surplus on foot of contributions from employers and workers. Any shortfall in the cost of benefits paid would in the normal way be addressed by exchequer subvention.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

John Deasy

Question:

55 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the efforts his Department is making to reduce the risk of poverty levels among people over 65 years of age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15319/07]

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. I am very pleased to say that we have delivered on the commitment to increase the State pension to €200 per week by 2007. In addition, the state pension (contributory) has been increased in the last Budget by €16 per week to €209.30 per week. 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. For instance, since 1996, and including the budget increases, pensions have increased by almost 119% or about 57% in real terms.

The enhanced state pension (non-contributory) for those over 66 years features significant improvements in the means test by increasing the basic means disregard to €30 per week and an incentive of €200 per week of earnings disregarded for pensioners who may wish to earn extra income in employment. Both of these disregards are doubled for pensioner couples. Other measures of benefit to older people include last year's increase in the over 80 allowance of €3.60 per week, bringing it to €10 per week and this year's increase in the fuel allowance of €4 per week, bringing the allowance to €18 per week, which represents a doubling of the fuel allowance in the last two years.

The household benefits package is available to people living in the State aged 66 to 69 years subject to certain conditions, and to all ages over 70. The electricity/natural gas allowance is of immense benefit to older people who have, in general, greater heating requirements. The value of the natural gas allowance has been increased and the number of free units of electricity increased by 600 units a year to 2,400 units. The household benefits package for a pensioner is currently valued at some €985 per year. The free travel scheme, with time restrictions removed and an enhanced All-Ireland package, is also of considerable benefit to many pensioners.

The 2005 SILC report, published by the CSO, estimates that the level of consistent poverty among older people in 2005 was 3.7% compared to 7% in the population generally. The overall poverty goal in the NAP inclusion is to reduce the number of those experiencing consistent poverty to 2% to 4% by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016. Achievement of this goal is already well advanced in the case of older people.

The forthcoming Green Paper on Pensions will include a discussion of all aspects of our pension system including the contribution that social welfare pensions makes to ensuring an adequate income for older people in retirement which is at the same time sustainable in the long-term. Following publication of the Green Paper, a consultation process will take place to which Government will respond by publishing a framework for future pensions policy.

Question No. 56 answered with QuestionNo. 47.
Questions Nos. 57 and 58 answered with Question No. 51.

Pension Provisions.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

59 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to ensure eligibility for old age pension on foot of self employed contributions where both spouses or partners are directly involved in the running of a small or medium enterprise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15279/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

188 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of spouses of self employed people who do not qualify for an old age pension on foot of self employed contributions despite having jointly owned and run a business during their working life; his views on the discriminatory issue involved; if he proposes to make changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15594/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 and 188 together.

Under social welfare legislation, the social insurance status of spouses working in a family business can vary. Spouses and relatives who are engaged in a business partnership are treated as individual self-employed contributors who are liable to social insurance contributions. These contributions enable them to build up an insurance record in their own right and receive accruing benefits. Alternatively, where a family business is incorporated as a limited company, spouses and assisting relatives involved in the business pay PRSI contributions either as employees or as self-employed contributors depending on whether a contract of service exists.

Otherwise, a person employed directly by his/her spouse is not liable to pay PRSI, being "excepted" under social welfare. The exceptions apply to both men and women in family employments and recognise the practical difficulties in establishing the existence of a genuine employment relationship in such circumstances. Where formal employment relationships are intended between spouses or assisting relatives, the legislation provides the scope necessary, as outlined above, to allow parties enter into formal arrangements for a contract of employment or self-employment whereby PRSI contributions will be payable. Where a spouse has not built up personal entitlement to a contributory pension based on individual social insurance contributions, she or he may be entitled to an increase on their spouses pension as a qualified adult.

With regard to the question of whether this approach is discriminatory, I am satisfied at this stage that this is not so. An EU report referring to the Directive 86/613/EEC on the application of equal treatment between men and women recognises that it is a matter for individual Member-States to decide on the appropriate level of cover for assisting spouses.

The question of discrimination will be further considered in the context of a wide ranging review of the social welfare code. The review, which is currently underway, will seek to examine the compatibility of the code with the Equal Status Act, 2000 (as amended), and to identify any instances of direct or indirect discrimination on any of the nine grounds identified in that Act — including marital status. In instances where differences in treatment are identified, the review will examine whether they are justified by legitimate social policy objectives. The project is being carried out over two phases. Phase I, which involves a scoping exercise aimed at identifying appropriate approaches and methodologies to be undertaken, is now complete. The results from this exercise will form the basis of the Terms of Reference for the main review that is due to follow in Phase II. This is expected to commence in mid-2007.

With regard to number of people who do not qualify for a state pension contributory on the grounds of insufficient self-employment contributions as a co-helping spouse, the Department does not maintain data of this nature. In the meantime, I am satisfied that, under the existing social welfare provisions, where formal employment or partnership relationships are intended between spouses, the legislation provides the scope necessary to allow parties to enter into arrangements that will enable them to gain access to social insurance coverage and accrue entitlement to benefits and pensions accordingly.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

60 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of Irish nationals who have been refused social welfare payments under the two year habitual residence requirement introduced in 2004; the number of persons, other than Irish nationals who have had payments refused on the same grounds; his plans to review or relax the restriction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15194/07]

The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1st of May 2004. It was introduced in the context of the Government's decision to open the Irish labour market to workers from the 10 new EU Member States without the transitional limitations which were imposed at that time by most of the other Member states. The question of what is a person's "habitual residence" is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims.

Decisions to the effect that applicants satisfy the habitual residence condition are made in the majority of cases at claim acceptance stage by Deciding Officers. Statistics are not maintained on cases where the decision is positive. Complex cases that require detailed consideration are examined in dedicated units established for that purpose. For the period from 1 May 2004 to 28 February 2007, the number of these complex cases decided was 48,578. The number of applications decided in respect of Irish citizens was 12,454, of which 1,288 (10%) were disallowed. The number of cases decided in respect of persons other than Irish nationals was 36,124 of which 10,459 (29%) were disallowed.

Each case received for a determination on the Habitual Residence Condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision of a Deciding Officer has the right to appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

A person who fails to satisfy the habitual residence condition and is suffering financial hardship may apply to the Health Service Executive for an Emergency Needs Payment under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. Such payments are not subject to the habitual residence condition. In certain circumstances persons who do not have any means of support may also be assisted to travel back to their home country by the Reception and Integration Agency.

Nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA) who take up employment in the State are protected under the EU Regulations governing social security for migrant workers. Migrant workers from outside the EEA qualify for social insurance benefits in respect of the unexpired part of their work permits if they satisfy the normal qualifying conditions. The habitual residence condition does not apply in these cases. Such workers may also satisfy the habitual residence condition for receipt of social assistance payments and child benefit.

The reason for the introduction of the habitual residence condition in May 2004 was to ensure that persons who have not worked in Ireland or who have not established habitual residence should not avail of assistance schemes or child benefit. The operation of the condition was reviewed by my Department in 2006. Following the review the operational guidelines for the scheme are being revised to ensure consistency in the application of the condition and to take account of the variety of individual situations which can arise.

The habitual residence condition is being operated in a careful manner to ensure that Ireland's social welfare system is protected, while at the same time ensuring that people whose cases are appropriate to the system have access to it when they need it. I have no plans to introduce any changes to the current policy at this time.

Question No. 61 answered with QuestionNo. 50.

Departmental Staff.

Joe Costello

Question:

62 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in regard to proposals that community welfare officers should be transferred from the Health Service Executive to his Department; the position regarding his Department’s discussions on this subject with the trade unions representing the CWOs; if a timetable has been set for the implementation of the proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15189/07]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

63 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in relation to the transfer of community welfare services to his Department. [15244/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 63 together.

In February 2006, as part of the health service reform programme, the Government decided to transfer certain functions and associated staff and other resources from the Health Service Executive to my Department. The functions to be transferred include the administration of the supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme. The transfer of functions is a major project that has implications for important services and also affects, on a personal level, the staff delivering these services and the programme to implement the transfer is being managed in a careful and comprehensive manner. As part of that process the HSE and my Department are engaged in a comprehensive programme to collect information on all elements of the functions currently undertaken by the Community Welfare Service. This information is essential for the successful planning and implementation of the transfer process and to ensure that all aspects of the current service are fully taken into account.

Throughout the implementation programme there is and will be direct and extensive consultation with the staff affected by the transfer of functions programme. A communications and consultation strategy has been devised that provides for ongoing dialogue with all stakeholders associated with the programme including all unions involved.

In this regard the health sector National Joint Council (NJC) brings together the relevant trade unions, the HSE and the Department of Health and Children. The NJC meets regularly and it has discussed the transfer of functions. The transfer proposals have also been discussed at meetings with the unions representing staff in my Department. More specifically, a Joint Liaison Group involving the two trade unions who represent community welfare service staff, health sector management and my Department has been established. This group has met on two occasions. A document outlining items for discussion associated with the transfer from HSE was sent to all of the trade unions concerned, including trade unions representing community welfare service staff. Further meetings of the Group have been scheduled.

The industrial relations framework provided for in Towards 2016 is the mechanism where ultimately any industrial relations considerations associated with the transfer will progress. I am satisfied that the considerable level of consultation and engagement by my Department as well as the HSE and Department of Health and Children with the unions concerned will allow for all the issues of concern to be progressed.

The SWA scheme is currently administered by some 700 CWOs and 59 superintendents and supporting clerical and other staff within the Community Welfare Service of the HSE. They provide a service that is flexible, responsive and outcome driven. The transfer of functions will not change this. There will be no loss of flexibility, discretion or personal service on the part of CWOs. The same staff will be administering the schemes and providing the same personal service under the same legislation and guidelines as at present. The existing legislation governing the scheme will largely remain. All of the linkages to other services in the health sector and elsewhere will remain and indeed will be strengthened under the new arrangements. The CWOs will remain community based and will continue to provide key information, advice, advocacy and referral links between agencies following the transfer.

While acknowledging the concerns that those delivering the service may have regarding the transfer programme generally, I am satisfied that this is the correct way forward. The SWA scheme is already funded by my Department and is part of the wider social welfare code. In recent years new types of payments, computer development and modernisation of services enable customers to confidently carry out their business with my Department. The transfer of functions will provide a platform from which to build on this and offers both a challenge and an opportunity for all staff within both the Community Welfare Service and my own Department in developing a model system for supporting those most disadvantaged in society.

Social Welfare Code.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

64 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the new proposals for lone parents. [15245/07]

John Gormley

Question:

73 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the implementation of policy actions on foot of the Government’s Lone Parents Proposals paper published over a year ago. [15330/07]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

84 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if lone parents are included in the National Employment Action Plan; if not, when they will be included; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15301/07]

Gay Mitchell

Question:

97 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 617 of 20 March 2007, the progress the senior officials group on social inclusion has made in relation to the implementation plan of non-income recommendations of the lone parent proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15299/07]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

103 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 617 of 20 March 2007, the progress that has been made in developing legislation to introduce a new payment scheme under the lone parent proposals; when he expects to publish same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15300/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 64, 73, 84, 97 and 103 together.

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 paper also proposed the abolition of the cohabitation rule as a condition for receipt of the proposed social assistance payment.

The social partners agreed under Towards 2016 that extending the National Employment Action Plan referral process to other groups such as lone parents and persons with disabilities with due regard to the need of those groups will be considered as a priority over a three year period. The management of the National Employment Action Plan rests with a tripartite committee comprising the Departments of Social and Family Affairs, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and FAS and the implications of extending it to other groups is under consideration by this committee at present.

The new social assistance payment, under development in my Department, will have the long-term aim of assisting people to achieve financial independence through supporting them to enter employment — the avenue that is widely agreed to offer the best route out of poverty.

Any proposed new payment can only be introduced when the necessary co-ordinated supports and services are 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 continuing. Issues including access to childcare support, education, training and activation measures continue to be discussed with the relevant Departments and Agencies.

To develop the process further, my Department, with the co-operation of FAS, the Office of the Minister for Children and the Department of Education and Science, are to test the proposals in both an urban and rural setting. These tests will focus on identifying and resolving the practical and administrative issues that may arise in advance of the scheme being introduced. This will allow for operational and logistical co-ordination between the relevant departments and agencies to be considered and will facilitate the development of the new scheme.

Question No. 65 answered with QuestionNo. 47.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

66 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details on the uptake of the family income supplement out of the total amount of people eligible. [15246/07]

Enda Kenny

Question:

67 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of recipients of family income supplement; the initiatives he will take in 2007 to improve uptake of the payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15316/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 66 and 67 together.

The Family Income Supplement (FIS) provides income support for employees on low earnings with families. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if he or she were claiming other social welfare payments. There are currently 20,869 people in receipt of FIS. In Budget 2007, I have continued the re-focusing of income thresholds to include additional gains for larger families.

With regard to the level of uptake, it is not possible to estimate from administrative sources the number of families who would be eligible but do not apply for their FIS entitlements. However, research undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 1997, which was 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 the payment at that time. Since those with a higher entitlement are more likely to avail of the scheme, the uptake in expenditure terms was estimated to be somewhat higher, at close to 40% of potential expenditure. Subsequent studies by the ESRI have arrived at similar estimates of uptake.

The reasons for the perceived lack of uptake of FIS have been the subject of significant Parliamentary and other enquires. In response, my Department undertook a nationwide awareness campaign in March 2006 to promote and encourage increased uptake of the scheme for working families on low incomes. This extensive week-long campaign included advertising on TV, on national and local radio and in the national and regional press. A nation-wide poster campaign was also undertaken. As a result, the uptake of FIS was substantially improved.

The second element to address FIS uptake issues is the proposed commissioning of a specific research project to examine factors behind the level of uptake for the scheme.

Tenders to undertake this work have been received by my Department and these are being evaluated. I expect this process to be concluded shortly and the project to commence in the next few weeks.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Richard Bruton

Question:

68 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the programmes and policies his Department will introduce to reduce consistent poverty rates among people of working age with reference to high level goal 2 of his Department’s annual output statement; the target level to which he aims to reduce consistent poverty of this age group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15313/07]

Last month, I presented the first Annual Output Statement for my Department to the Select Committee on Social and Family Affairs as part of its consideration of the 2007 Estimates. In brief, the Annual Output Statement is a top level report linking the Department's financial allocations with the high level goals of the strategy statement and specified business objectives for the year. It also identifies key impact or outcome indicators for each high level strategic goal. In this regard, consistent poverty rates for people of working age are identified as an impact indicator for the goal relating to people of working age.

The relevant high-level goal is as follows:

"To provide income supports and access to relevant services to people of working age who cannot secure an income (or an adequate income) from employment and facilitate them in taking up relevant employment, training, education or development opportunities as appropriate.

A range of key programmes and policies are identified in the Annual Output Statement to achieve this goal. The new National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007–2016 (NAPinclusion) was launched in February with an overall goal to make a decisive impact on consistent poverty. This is underlined by the fact that a new target is being set, using an updated set of indicators, to reduce the number of persons experiencing consistent poverty in the population as a whole, including those of working age, to between 2 per cent and 4 per cent by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016, under the revised definition of consistent poverty. Combating poverty and social inclusion has been a key priority for this Government. We will continue to face these challenges in the years ahead. Significant and visible progress has been made over the last 10 years, not least our success in tackling unemployment levels. I am confident that we can continue to achieve a similar scale of progress in the coming years towards achieving that decisive impact on poverty.

Social Welfare Code.

Liz McManus

Question:

69 Ms McManus 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 the consultation period will 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. [15199/07]

Housing supports in general, including the more recent Rental Accommodation Scheme, are provided by local authorities. However, I am anxious that all avenues are explored to provide financial support for people on long-term rent supplementation who may be in a position to purchase their own home.

In this regard a study overseen by my Department and the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government was 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 to meeting housing needs for long-term rent supplement recipients. These alternative approaches would be in addition or complementary to the range of social housing options currently provided for by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government through local government initiatives. The consultants are finalising their report and their conclusions and recommendations will be considered by officials of both Departments. Since initiating the study, a number of significant developments in relation to the provision of housing for people on low incomes have been announced. These initiatives will be taken into account by officials when reviewing the report.

Some of the initiatives taken include:

allowing for the continuation of rent supplement to qualified persons moving into full-time employment while local authorities are sourcing accommodation under the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS), and

an improvement in the disregards applying to additional income in the assessment of means for rent supplement purposes. At present up to €60 and 50% of additional

income between €60 and €90 is disregarded in the assessment of means for rent supplement purposes. The 2007 Social Welfare and Pensions Act provides that the first €75 of additional household income is disregarded and that 25% of any additional household income, with no upper income limit, can also be disregarded.

Another development includes proposals by the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government to introduce an ‘incremental purchase' scheme for social housing tenants and prospective tenants based on the development of the ‘shared equity' concept whereby tenants would be allowed to use their rental payments to build up an equity stake in a local authority house in an incremental fashion in return for paying a premium on the rent and taking over responsibility for the maintenance of the dwelling. The objective is to make it possible for households with incomes substantially lower than for affordable housing to start on the path to home ownership. This scheme is outlined in the recent Statement on Housing Policy "Delivering Homes and Sustaining Communities".

Question No. 70 answered with QuestionNo. 47.
Question No. 71 answered with QuestionNo. 52.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

72 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the measures he will take to address the concerns raised by the Committee of Public Accounts regarding family doctors who give sick certificates to persons who are later consistently found by Government medical assessors to be capable of work. [15325/07]

The recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Deputy refers is that my Department should keep under close review those GPs who certify persons as incapable for work and who are later consistently found capable by the Department's medical assessors. Medical certifiers, who are in the main general practitioners or hospital doctors, enter into a contract with my Department that requires them to medically examine persons claiming illness or injury benefit and to certify as accurately as possible the specific disease or ailment that renders a person incapable of work. The contract requires them to refuse to issue medical certificates if the person's condition does not justify it. The terms of the GPs' contract with my Department specifies that if a medical certifier fails to abide by the terms of the agreement, penalties may be applied, including termination of contract.

They are also issued with very detailed guidelines which require that the certifier must be satisfied that the patient is incapable of work and that they regularly review each case and ensure that a final certificate is issued, as appropriate, without delay. The guidelines also advise certifiers, in the patient's interest, to consider whether certification and advice to stay off work is the most appropriate way to manage a patient's care as prolonged absence from work may sometimes cause deterioration in a patient's condition. Medical evidence submitted in support of a claim, based on GP certification, is systematically reviewed by medical assessors within my Department. I think it is worth bearing in mind that, in all cases of incapacity, there is scope for individual medical interpretation based on the certifier's perception of the nature of the incapacity and the type of work involved. Thus, when a case is reviewed by the Department's medical assessors, who are independent and impartial in their assessments, the fact that they may express a different opinion to that of the certifier is not an implication that a claimant has been incorrectly certified.

However, if it were to emerge that a disproportionate number of customers certified by any particular certifier were found capable of work by medical assessors, this should be investigated. While no such unusual pattern of certification has come to attention to date, it is accepted that the computer systems must be enhanced to enable a systematic approach to review and monitoring of such possible outcomes. To this end, as part of the recent review of the Medical Review and Assessment function, recommendations were made for the development of new systems include the functionality necessary to enable this to take place. This will underpin a more structured system of review and monitoring of certifiers' performance by my Department.

Question No. 73 answered with QuestionNo. 64.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

74 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the average processing time for a new family income supplement claim; the number of new claims and renewals awaiting decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15322/07]

The Family Income Supplement is designed to provide cash support for employees on low earnings with families. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if he or she were claiming other social welfare payments.

To ensure that families are made aware of these improvements, my Department undertook a nationwide awareness campaign in March 2006 to promote and encourage a greatly increased take up of the Family Income Supplement scheme for working families on low incomes. This extensive week-long campaign included advertising on TV, on national and local radio and in the national and regional press. A nation-wide poster campaign was also undertaken. In addition, the scheme was promoted through my Department's network of Local offices, Citizen Information Centres and Citizens Information Phone service and by the Citizens Information Board (formerly known as Comhairle), the national information support agency. Information was also made available through my Department's website.

I am very pleased with the response so far to the campaign. For example from March to December 2006 my Department received 11,995 new FIS claims; this compares with 6,743 received in the same period in 2005. My Department has received 3,564 new claims so far this year compared with 1,749 for the corresponding period in 2005. The general trend for both new claims and renewals is for numbers to continue to rise. The advertising campaign has resulted in a higher than normal number of claims on hand (ie. 6,823 at end of March 2007) and I would expect a high percentage of these to translate into awards. The increase in the number of claims received regrettably has resulted in delays in claim processing. At present it is taking ten weeks to process a FIS claim.

The increase in the numbers of persons receiving FIS is a positive development, reflecting the success of a range of Government measures which have improved net incomes for the low paid. Overall, the numbers claiming FIS has increased from 14,688 in 1999 to over 23,000 in 2006 during which time expenditure on the support scheme has increased from €31million to €107 million.

Question No. 75 answered with QuestionNo. 47.
Question No. 76 answered with QuestionNo. 50.

National Development Plan.

John Gormley

Question:

77 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has examined the recommendations made by CORI in its socio-economic review 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15329/07]

The CORI review Addressing Inequality, which was published earlier this month, is currently being examined by my Department. The review analyses the current social and economic position in the country under twelve different headings including income, taxation, work, public services, migration, social participation and sustainability. It sets out a wide range of recommendations under each of these headings to ensure economic development, social equity and sustainability in the medium to long term.

Building an inclusive society continues to be the key priority of Government. This is evidenced in the National Partnership Agreement, Towards 2016, which was agreed last year by Government and the social partners, including CORI as a member of the Community and Voluntary pillar. The National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016 (NAPinclusion) which was published earlier this year and the social inclusion elements of the National Development Plan, set out a detailed programme of action and demanding targets for achieving greater social inclusion during the period 2007 to 2016. The preparation of the NAPinclusion involved a wide ranging consultation process with key stakeholders.

We will continue to face the challenges of tackling poverty and social inclusion. Significant and visible progress has been made over the last 10 years and I am confident that we can continue to achieve a similar scale of progress in the coming years towards achieving the fairer Ireland sought by CORI.

Question No. 78 answered with QuestionNo. 50.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

79 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will accept the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission that same sex cohabitants should be treated in the same way as opposite sex cohabitants for social welfare payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15193/07]

The recommendation of the Law Reform Commission arose from one of two important pieces of work which have recently been completed regarding different types of partner relationships and how they should be treated and recognised in Irish society. The first report an ‘Options Paper, presented by the Working Group on Domestic Partnership' to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, focuses on different types of cohabiting relationships, both same and opposite sex, and presents a range of options with regard to giving legal recognition to these relationships. Officials from my Department contributed to the work of this Group. The second report — the ‘Report of the Law Reform Commission on the Rights and Duties of Cohabitants' — makes substantial recommendations for reform of the law concerning cohabitants including both opposite sex or same sex couples who live together. These reports come at a time of wide public debate on the question of according legal status to cohabitants generally, and same sex couples in particular, and will contribute to the informed debate on these important topics.

My own Department is currently carrying out a technical review of the entire social welfare code to examine its compatibility with the Equal Status Act, 2000 (as amended). The review will examine the schemes and services provided for both in social welfare legislation and in the administrative schemes operated by the Department. It will identify any instances of direct or indirect discrimination, on any of the nine grounds under the Act, including: gender, sexual orientation, marital status and family status that are not justified by a legitimate social policy objective or where the means of achieving that objective are either unnecessary or inappropriate. This work, together with the reports I have referred to, will contribute to informed planning and policy making to ensure that the social welfare system reflects the needs and expectations of citizens and is equitable in meeting those needs.

Question No. 80 answered with QuestionNo. 44.

Seán Ryan

Question:

81 Mr. S. Ryan 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 being run by the Revenue Commissioner to promote greater awareness of tax allowances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15206/07]

My Department aims 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 the achievement of this objective. My Department takes a pro-active approach in advertising its schemes and services by using a mix of national and provincial media, information leaflets, factsheets, posters, direct mailshots, advertising on television screens in over 60 Credit Unions nationwide, and by distributing information booklets to health centres throughout the country. National advertising campaigns are undertaken periodically to promote greater awareness of a specific scheme or to highlight changes in schemes and services. During 2006, my Department undertook campaigns on the Family Income Supplement, Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, supports for Carers (Carers Allowance, Carers Benefit, Respite Care Grant), the Department's PRSI information mailing service and budget information.

The first targeted advertising campaign of 2007 has been conducted over the last two months regarding All Ireland Free Travel. The scheme enables citizens aged 66 or over to travel free within Northern Ireland with effect from the 2nd of April, 2007.

LoCall numbers are provided for all campaigns from which the public can get further information or application forms. The campaigns also highlight other sources of information available to the public, including my Department's website (www.welfare.ie) and my Department’s network of Social Welfare Local Offices and the information services available through the network of Citizens Information Centres, including the Citizens Information Phone Service and website facility (www.citizensinformation.ie). The responses to the campaigns have been encouraging and resulted in increases in the number of applications received for the various 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 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.

Questions Nos. 82 and 83 answered with Question No. 47.
Question No. 84 answered with QuestionNo. 64.

Departmental Offices.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

85 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the new Departmental offices in Carrick-on-Shannon have opened; the capacity they have; and the number of members of staff that have been provided with office space there. [15327/07]

As the Deputy is no doubt aware, 220 posts in my Department are due to be relocated to Carrick-on-Shannon under the Government's decentralisation programme.

Having carried out an examination of available accommodation in the town, the Office of Public Works (OPW) decided, in consultation my Department, that an office development then under construction would provide the most suitable solution to the Department's accommodation needs. The "fit out" of this building (which will accommodate up to 186 people) is nearing completion.

Initially, some 130 posts will be relocated to this building with the first group of 47 staff expected to move in over the coming weeks.

The Department is committed to completing the decentralisation programme to Carrick-on-Shannon and will review the position when the initial moves have taken place.

Questions Nos. 86 and 87 answered with Question No. 51.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Catherine Murphy

Question:

88 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason employment offices such as Maynooth do not receive or process smart pass applications but instead insist applicants go to Ballyfermot which is costly and inconvenient; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15133/07]

The all Ireland free travel scheme commenced on 2nd April 2007. The scheme enables pensioners resident here and in Northern Ireland to travel free of charge on all eligible transport services on the island.

The scheme extends the existing cross-border free travel arrangements by allowing pensioners over the age of 66 and resident here to travel free of charge on all bus and rail services in Northern Ireland. Likewise, pensioners in Northern Ireland can travel free of charge on transport services in this State.

Implementation of a single travel pass for all-Ireland free travel, acceptable in both jurisdictions, requires the completion of the Integrated Ticketing project being developed under the auspices of the Department of Transport and subsequent integration with the ticketing systems in operation in Northern Ireland. My Department has on-going engagement with these bodies and projects.

Pending development of the integrated ticket system, my Department engaged with the Department of Regional Development and Translink, the main transport authority in Northern Ireland, to put in place an interim scheme to permit senior residents of both jurisdictions to avail of free travel within the other jurisdiction.

As part of this scheme residents of this jurisdiction wishing to travel in the North can use a travel card similar to the smart pass used by their Northern Ireland counterparts. Customers need to apply for the travel pass in person and supply photographs for authentication at a Social Welfare Local Office rather than a Branch Office such as Maynooth. Local Offices were chosen to administer the scheme as they are considered most suitable for applying the required levels of control. As this is a once-off transaction customers need make only one visit to their Local Office, the smart pass card is posted direct to the customer's home address.

Since the scheme commenced in April there have been more than 11,000 applications received. My Department is still familiarising itself along with our Northern Ireland counterparts are monitoring the operation of the scheme to ensue that the most appropriate and efficient arrangements are in place to deal with applications.

Pension Provisions.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

89 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether the practice of adapting pension rates at budget time is an effective way of dealing with adequate pension provision. [15331/07]

Social welfare pensions are adjusted annually at budget time having regard to commitments or targets set by Government, available resources and economic conditions. In relation to the first, Government commitments for a target rate for pensions of €127 per week achieved in 2002 and, later, for a rate of €200 per week, achieved in the current year, have ensured that not only has the value of pensions been maintained, but they have been improved and enhanced on an ongoing basis.

This system has served pensioners well over the last decade with increases in pensions which are ahead of both inflation and earnings. Over the last 10 years, pensions have increased by 119% or 57% in real terms. This improvement in incomes is very apparent in poverty statistics based on the nationally agreed measure of consistent poverty and more recently in poverty statistics based on relative incomes.

I am aware that there is a view that we should have a formal method for increasing pensions linked to some index such as price movements, earnings or household income growth and this will be discussed in the forthcoming Green Paper on pensions. While this would ensure a degree of certainty in relation to the setting of the pension rates in the future it could, depending on movements in the index chosen, limit the rate at which pensions increase. On balance, the current arrangements appear to best serve the needs of older people, while at the same time providing the flexibility to Government to react to changing economic and budgetary conditions.

Question No. 90 answered with QuestionNo. 47.

Denis Naughten

Question:

91 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to facilitate women forced out of employment due to the marriage rule to avail of contributory pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15131/07]

The social welfare pension entitlements of those who take time out of the workforce for caring duties are protected by the homemaker's scheme, which was introduced in and took effect 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. The standard qualifying conditions, which require a person to enter insurance 10 years before pension age, pay a minimum of 260 contributions at the correct rate and achieve a yearly average of at least 10 contributions on their record from the time they enter insurance until they reach pension age, must also be satisfied.

Women who left the workforce through the operation of the marriage bar were, in the main, public servants who were never insured for social welfare pension purposes. A person whose only contributions were at the modified rate paid by public servants up until 1995 will not benefit from the homemaker's scheme as such contributions did not include cover for contributory pensions. Accordingly, any loss of pension rights in their case relates more to their occupational position rather than social welfare pension entitlements.

It is estimated that there are some 47,000 people who are not receiving a social welfare pension payment in their own right, or as a qualified adult on the pension of their spouse or partner. These include people affected by the marriage bar, public servants in general, self-employed people who were close to retirement or had retired before 1988, when the self-employed were brought within the social insurance system, together with their spouses.

The issues in relation to this group will be discussed in the forthcoming Green Paper on pensions. Decisions regarding pension provision for them will be made in the context of the framework for long-term pensions policy which will be developed after the Green Paper has been published and a consultation process has been completed.

Family Support Services.

Shane McEntee

Question:

92 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, further to Parliamentary Question No. 36 of 1 March 2007, if the parenting courses offered by his Department and agencies under his Department are available to all members of the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15308/07]

My Department does not provide parenting courses directly. The funding provided by my Department to groups and organisations under the Family Services Project (FSP) and the Special Projects Fund is used to support projects run by third parties to assist welfare recipients and members of their families. The type of projects supported include family support programmes and personal development programmes, the majority of which incorporate a parenting element and projects aimed at improving employability through education and training and personal development.

In 2006 over 400 projects or individuals were assisted through the Family Services Project (FSP) at a total cost of €2.2 million. The overall objective of the FSP is to provide a high quality information service on the range of supports available to families from state agencies and the community & voluntary sector with a particular emphasis on the agencies and services available locally.

The Special Projects Fund is used to provide grants to projects run by third parties to assist welfare recipients as well as members of their families improve their employability through education, training and personal development. My Department sees the Special Projects Fund as a means of supporting innovative responses to increasing employability and tackling social inclusion. There was €2.8 million available under the Special Projects Fund in 2006 and over 160 projects were funded.

The funds are administered by Facilitators based in my Department's Local Offices who work in conjunction with local Voluntary and Community groups and also with statutory organisations. They are operated in a manner that enables a quick response to identified customer needs.

My Department's role in this area is to increase the capacity of those in the most difficult circumstances by improving their self-esteem and personal and family situations through the training, developmental and educational opportunities made available. In 2007 over €5.6 million is being made available in this area.

The Family Support Agency, which comes under the remit of my Department, has statutory responsibility to promote and disseminate information about issues such as parenting and family responsibilities. In 2007, the Agency has been allocated €35.339 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 this will be the investment of over €18 million in the Family Resource Centre programme which 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.

All services provided by Family Resource Centres are designed to meet the requirements of those deemed as most in need by the voluntary boards of the FRCs themselves.

Question No. 93 answered with QuestionNo. 51.

Social Welfare Code.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

94 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the main review in the audit of the welfare code to ensure its compatibility with the Equal Status Act 2000 has gone to tender; if an applicant has been selected to carry out the review; and the timeframe for same. [15326/07]

The purpose of the review of the social welfare code, which is currently being undertaken in my Department, is to examine its compatibility with the Equal Status Act, 2000 (as amended). The review will examine the schemes and services provided for in social welfare legislation and in the administrative schemes operated by the Department. It will identify any instances of direct or indirect discrimination, on any of the nine grounds under the Act, that are not justified by a legitimate social policy objective or where the means of achieving that objective are either unnecessary or inappropriate.

A decision was taken that the review would take place in two phases. Phase 1 involved the undertaking of a scoping exercise to establish the most appropriate approach and methodology to carrying out the main review, which would be robust and verifiable. Phase 1 is completed and the request for tender for the main review (Phase 2) was prepared using the material produced in Phase 1.

The request for tender for the main review issued on 17th April 2007. It was placed on the Government e-tender website and in the Official Journal of the European Union. The closing date for receipt of tenders is 28th May 2007, in accordance with EU regulations. It is expected that the contract will be awarded in June 2007, with the appointed consultant to commence work no later than October 2007. Tenderers have been requested to indicate their timeframe for delivery of the review in their response to the request for tender.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

95 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether the practice of back paying the early childcare supplement in April for the period 1 January to 30 March adds to the financial burden of families when it comes to having to budget for the cost of childcare; and the total amount of payments made in this period. [15334/07]

My Department administers payment of the Early Childcare Supplement (ECS) on behalf of the Office of the Minister for Children. The ECS is intended to help families meet the costs of childcare. The supplement is paid every three months, in arrears, in respect of children under 6 years of age who qualify for child benefit.

The ECS commenced in April 2006 and three payments issued to eligible parents in August, October and December 2006. In 2007, some 290,000 families received an ECS payment with total expenditure in the current year a mounting to €101.9m. Some 13,000 families qualified for the supplement for the first time since January 2007.

The ECS is paid to the person with whom the child resides for the majority of the relevant quarter. As children may move between households it is necessary to establish a child's residency pattern in any quarter to identify to whom the ECS payment is due. Payment of the supplement is made to the person who received child benefit payment for the majority of the quarter. As these facts have to be established before payment issues it is necessary to pay ECS in arrears.

The introduction of the ECS has been well received by customers. I am satisfied that the scheme is currently operating satisfactorily.

Enda Kenny

Question:

96 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of households in receipt of rent supplement; the number who have been in receipt of the payment for more than 18 months; the number whose cases have been reviewed under the rental accommodation scheme to date; the number allocated housing to date under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15317/07]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes rent supplement, is administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare division of the Health Service Executive.

Rent supplement 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 supplement 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 introduced new rental assistance arrangements which include the rental accommodation scheme (RAS). This gives local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the longer-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement for 18 months or more. This new approach is being implemented on a phased basis.

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.

Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government have advised that the rental assistance arrangements are now being implemented in all local authority areas with some 20,000 cases reviewed. That Department has also advised that at the end of March 2007 local authorities had accommodated a total of 6,119 rent supplement cases with a long-term housing need. This includes 2,249 transfers to accommodation provided by the voluntary sector, 1,200 transfers to accommodation rented by local authorities in the private rented sector and 2,670 transfers to local authority housing.

At 13th April 2007, there were 59,012 tenants in receipt of a rent supplement payment of which approximately 32,000 have been in receipt of a payment for 18 months or more.

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 the rental accommodation scheme or other social housing schemes. This will enable the rent supplement scheme to revert to its original objective, namely that of a short term income support scheme.

Question No. 97 answered with QuestionNo. 64.

Pension Provisions.

Joan Burton

Question:

98 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has satisfied himself that there are adequate resources in the Social Insurance Fund to fund the proposed increase in pensions to at least €300 per week; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15187/07]

It is estimated that the cost of applying an increase to €300 to contributory pensions, which are financed through the Social Insurance Fund, would be €1,495 million. Increasing the value of all social welfare pensions to €300 is estimated to cost €2,019 million in a full year, including the cost of increasing payments to qualified adults to maintain their current proportionate relationship to the personal weekly rates of payment. References to increasing welfare pensions to €300 per week indicated that any such increase would be achieved over a number of years and not in a single year.

Traditionally social insurance spending has been funded on a tripartite basis through contributions from employers and employees and the exchequer, which, under legislation, is the residual financier of the Fund where annual shortfalls arise. However, no exchequer contribution to the SIF has been required since 1996 as the Fund has, since then, been in surplus each year on foot of contributions from employers and workers.

In 2006 the annual surplus was some €670m and, based on provisional returns available at present, it is expected to be in excess of €600m at the end of 2007. The accumulated surplus at the end of 2006 was almost €3,100m and is projected to be €3,700m at end of 2007. Therefore, at present the SIF has sufficient resources to provide for these increases.

The Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005, requires that an actuarial review of the longer-term financial condition of the social insurance fund be undertaken at five-year intervals. The first actuarial review was published in October, 2002, and reflected the position of the Social Insurance Fund at the end of 2000. The second actuarial review will be considered by Government shortly prior to submission to the Oireachtas and publication.

Question No. 99 answered with QuestionNo. 50.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

100 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the recent claim made by a group (details supplied), that the rent supplement scheme is forcing the poorest and most vulnerable tenants to live in grossly degrading conditions in substandard bedsits; his response to their claims; his plans for a review of the scheme in view of the points raised by the organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15188/07]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes rent supplement, is administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare division of the Health Service Executive (HSE). The purpose of the scheme is to provide short-term income support 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. Eligibility is in general confined to those who are in receipt of a social welfare or HSE payment. There are currently over 59,000 tenants benefiting from assistance under the rent supplement scheme.

As the Deputy is aware, the current social partnership agreement, Towards 2016, contains a commitment that standards regulations in the private rented sector will be updated and effectively enforced. While responsibility for enforcing housing standards regulation is a matter for the local authorities, I consider that the accommodation occupied by rent supplement tenants should at least meet these housing standards regulations. In this regard, having consulted with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government I introduced regulations in October 2006 and primary legislation in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2007 that allows the Health Service Executive to refuse rent supplement where it has been notified by a housing authority regarding the non-compliance with housing standards prescribed in regulations made under Section 18 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions Act) 1992.

I believe that these changes will support the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government's Action Programme on private rented standards which involves a range of measures to promote further improvement in private rented accommodation standards, including more effective enforcement.

Where such a notification is received from a housing authority in respect of an existing tenant on rent supplement it is recommended that the Executive would discuss the situation with the tenant and take whatever action it decides is necessary in the best interests of the tenant.

For example, the tenant may transfer to alternative accommodation either with the support of rent supplement or under the local authority's rental accommodation scheme. Once the existing tenant has moved out of the sub-standard accommodation, rent supplement will not be paid in respect of that accommodation. For example, the tenant may transfer to alternative accommodation either with the support of rent supplement or under the local authority's rental accommodation scheme. Once the existing tenant has moved out of the sub-standard accommodation, rent supplement will not be paid in respect of that accommodation unless and until it has upgraded to fully comply with standard regulations. I am satisfied that this approach addresses the issue of rent supplement being paid in respect of sub-standard accommodation in a manner that maximises the support provided to tenants in this situation. The other main point made by the group to which the Deputy refers is that the maximum rent limits which apply in the scheme should be increased.

Rent supplements are subject to a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant for rent supplement may incur. The current limits were introduced in January 2007, for 18 month period, following an extensive review of limits. The purpose of the review was to ensure that the new rent limits reflect realistic market conditions throughout the country, to enable the different categories of eligible tenant households to secure and retain basic suitable rented accommodation to meet their respective needs.

The review entailed a broad consultation process, taking account of prevailing rent levels in the private rental sector generally, including an analysis of the "Private Rented Index" produced by the Central Statistics Office. The Department consulted with Health Service Executive, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) including an analysis of actual rents paid by over 90,000 tenants as notified to the PRTB. In addition the Department contacted various voluntary bodies that have an interest in this area for their views on any changes, either upward or downward, of any individual rent level.

This review resulted in upward adjustments in rent limits in 13 counties in respect of one adult households. It also increased rent limits for other family sizes. There was no reduction in rent limits. I consider that the current limits are reasonable and that no useful purpose would be served by increasing them as it would only lead to a general increase in rents charged.

Employment Action Plan.

John Deasy

Question:

101 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of unemployed people referred to the National Employment Action Plan since the scheme began; the number who have entered employment as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15318/07]

The National Employment Action Plan (NEAP) was introduced on a phased basis in September 1998 when the Department began referring all persons under 25 who were six months on the Live Register to FÁS for interview with a view to job placement or offer of training. As the NEAP progressed, the programme was extended to include other groups crossing nominated thresholds of employment. Currently persons aged 18 and under 64 years who are approaching three months on the Live Register are identified by the Department of Social and Family Affairs and referred to FÁS.

Over the period September 1998 to December 2006, 287,000 recipients of unemployment payments have been referred under the NEAP. While outcome data on the number of persons referred in 1998 and 1999 is not available the Department does have details of persons referred over the period 2000 to 2006.

Of the total (255,680) referred during the period 2000 to 2006 171,111 or 67% were interviewed by FÁS. Some people sign off prior to interview by FÁS. Of the 171,111 interviewed by FÁS between 2000 and 2006 50,874 or 30% were placed in employment, training or education. I do not have a breakdown of the number placed in employment for these years. However over the last 4 year FÁS interviewed 117, 682, overall 31,401 or 27% of those interviewed were placed in employment, training or education and of that 14 % or 16,549 were placed in employment.

People remain on the live register while engaged with FÁS under the NEAP until they take up offers of employment or training. If they do not attend for interview with FÁS, or having engaged with FÁS decline offers of employment or training, their cases are referred back to the social welfare local office for review to determine if they continue to satisfy the conditions for receipt of unemployment payments. I consider that National Employment Action Plan has played an important role in assisting unemployed persons enter or return to the labour force.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard Allen

Question:

102 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the ESRI have concluded their research into a second tier child income support payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15320/07]

My Department administers a number of supports for low-income families with children. The principal support is child benefit, a universal payment which is neutral vis-a-vis the employment status of the child's parents and does not contribute to poverty traps. A second support is the qualified child increase, paid with weekly social welfare payments. In addition, weekly support is provided to families at work on low pay, through the family income supplement (FIS) scheme.

In the context of an overall review of targeted child income support payments, the National Economic and Social Council was asked to examine the feasibility of merging the family income supplement with the qualified child increase and possibly including other child supports such as the back to school clothing and footwear allowance, resulting in a single second tier child income support.

There have been a range of improvements introduced in respect of child income support in recent years, including increases in child benefit and increased income thresholds for family income supplement. As research has shown that poverty is more likely to be concentrated in larger families, recent Budget measures, while significantly increasing all FIS payments, have concentrated additional resources on larger, low-income families. As a result, the disincentives associated with losing the qualified child increases on moving from welfare to work are less relevant than in the past.

Despite a significant increase in the number of FIS claims, there remains a perception that the level of FIS take up is low. To address this issue, it is proposed to commission a specific research project to examine factors behind the level of take up for the scheme. Tenders to undertake this work have been received by my Department and are being evaluated. I expect this process to be concluded shortly and the project to commence in the near future.

In addition, the three rates of qualified child increase, which had been maintained at the same levels for a number of years, were combined in Budget 2007 into a single high rate of €22 per week in respect of over 340,000 children of welfare families. For those previously on the lower rates of €16.80 and €19.30 per child per week, this represents a substantial improvement, particularly when taken with child benefit and other increases, without significantly worsening the associated disincentive effects. When received, the results of the FIS project and the final draft of the NESC report will contribute usefully to the further development of second-tier income support for children in low-income families.

Question No. 103 answered with QuestionNo. 64.

Advocacy Services.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

104 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 15 of 1 March 2007, the expected number of personal advocates who will be employed in the new personal advocacy service under the Citizens Information Board; the locations of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15307/07]

The introduction of a personal advocacy service is provided for in the Citizens Information Act, 2007. The Act has as its primary purpose the amendment of the Comhairle Act, 2000, to assign additional and enhanced functions to the Citizens Information Board, formerly Comhairle, which operates under the aegis of my Department, to enable it to introduce a personal advocacy service to individuals, in particular those with a disability. The service will assist the individuals concerned in identifying and understanding their needs and options and assist them in securing their entitlements to social services. Social services are broadly defined and include health, social welfare, education, family support, housing, taxation, citizenship, consumer matters, employment and training, equality, asylum and immigration.

The development of advocacy services remains a priority for my Department and in this regard additional funding of €1.9m has been provided for the Citizens Information Board in 2007 for the development of a personal advocacy service for people with disabilities and for the implementation of the Disability Sectoral Plan.

The Personal Advocacy Service will be initially located in Dublin. When the service is well established, it is anticipated that advocates will be located in a number of key highly populated areas around the country. However, it is not possible at this stage to give estimates of the number of advocates to be employed.

An organisational structure is currently been developed by the Board to meet the needs of the Personal Advocacy Service. In addition, negotiations and discussions between my Department, the Department of Finance and the Board are ongoing in relation to these structures and the staffing resources required for the provision of the service. It is envisaged that structures and staffing resources will be in place to enable the new service to be up and running in early 2008.

Garda Strength.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

105 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of community Gardaí assigned to each Garda division. [15397/07]

I am 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 13,178 following the attestation of 273 new members on Wednesday 14 March, 2007. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) on 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,476 (or over 23%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The combined strength (all ranks), of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training on 14 March, 2007 was 14,258. Furthermore, I should say that on 19 December, 2006, as part of a package of anti-crime measures, the Government approved the continuation of the existing Garda recruitment programme to achieve a total Garda strength of 15,000. The accelerated intake of approximately 1,100 new recruits per annum into the Garda College will continue until this target is met. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.4 billion, an 11% increase on 2006.

Community Policing is a central feature of current policing policy and members of Community policing units are encouraged to engage with the local communities where they are assigned. Current policing policy is predicated on the prevention of public order offences; the prevention of crime including crimes of violence against persons and property and the maintenance of an environment conducive to the improvement of quality of life of the residents. This strategy is, and will continue to be, central to the delivery of a quality policing service. All Gardaí have a responsibility, inter alia, to be involved in Community Policing issues as they arise.

I am further informed by the Garda authorities that the total strength of dedicated community gardaí as at 31 March 2007 is set out in the table below. The Deputy will appreciate that, as with any large organisation, on any given day, the overall strength of the organisation may fluctuate due, for example, to retirements, resignations etc.

Division

31/03/2007

Carlow/Kildare

3

Cavan/Monaghan

1

Clare

4

Cork City

26

Cork North

2

Cork West

1

DMR East

59

DMR NC

68

DMR North

57

DMR SC

38

DMR South

46

DMR West

80

Donegal

18

Galway West

17

Kerry

3

Laois/Offaly

2

Limerick

42

Longford/Westmeath

12

Louth/Meath

14

Mayo

Roscommon/Galway East

Sligo/Leitrim

5

Tipperary

10

Waterford/Kilkenny

21

Wexford/Wicklow

It is the responsibility of the Divisional Officer to allocate personnel within their Division. Garda personnel assigned throughout the country, together with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy, are continually monitored and reviewed. Such monitoring ensures that optimum use is made of garda resources, and the best possible Garda service is provided to the general public.

Prison Building Programme.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

106 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of sites for the Thornton Hall Prison project proposed or submitted to the Irish Prison Service in response to the advertisement of February 2004, after the evaluation process began; the persons who submitted those sites; and the dates on which the submissions were received by the Irish Prison Service. [15418/07]

The advertisement placed in February 2004 seeking expressions of interest in relation to sites for a new prison development, sought submissions by February 23rd. The Prison Service received submissions concerning six sites subsequent to that date, as shown in the table below.

Date Submitted

Party who made submission

25 February 2004

William Harvey

27 February 2004

Alanis Limited

2 March 2004

Cova Properties Ltd. (two sites)

14 September 2004

Dillon Auctioneers

20 December 2004

Dillon Auctioneers

I should mention that the Office of Public Works also received proposals regarding potential sites which they brought to the attention of the Selection Committee as appropriate. The last such proposal was received from a Mr Rutledge in a letter dated 10 January 2005 and brought to the attention of the Committee on 18 January 2005.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

107 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to an exchange regarding a possible conflict of interest regarding an agent and advisor to the expert committee as reflected in the minutes of the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee held on 26 October 2006; if he will confirm the specific steps that were taken by the parties concerned or other parties after the matter was raised; if all of the parties involved were made aware that a person (details supplied) who acted in the role of advisor to the vendor of Thornton Hall, has a family connection to the vendor, and to the agent in question who acted as negotiator on behalf of the State and that this person accompanied the vendor to meetings during which the sale of Thornton Hall was negotiated, with the agent also present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15419/07]

When the individual who acted in an advisory capacity to the Site Selection Committee became aware that the vendor of Thornton was a brother in law of a second cousin, he immediately advised the Office of Public Works and the Irish Prison Service of that relationship and the individuals concerned. The Site Selection Committee were advised fully of the matter at their next meeting on 18 January 2005 and decided that the connection was so remote that it would not prejudice his continued involvement. This is recorded in the minutes of the 7th meeting of the Committee which were published on the Department's website on 3 February 2005. I am not in a position to inform the House on what steps were taken by the vendor or parties associated with the vendor.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

108 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the methodology used to assess and evaluate the archaeology of the Thornton Hall site prior to its purchase and what was identified; the measures recommended; and the measures that will be taken. [15420/07]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

109 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the methodology used to assess and evaluate the flora and fauna of the Thornton Hall site prior to its purchase; the species that were identified; the measures recommended; and the measures that will be taken. [15421/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 108 and 109 together.

The surveys undertaken prior to the acquisition of the site included physical inspection by staff of the Irish Prison Service and the adviser retained by OPW; aerial photographs; an engineering, planning and technical survey and a desktop check was made for listed sites and monuments.

These preliminary examinations in relation to both archaeology and flora and fauna on the site were carried out on behalf of the site selection committee prior to the purchase of the site. These indicated no apparent significant issues under either heading. The planning procedure for the proposed prison development will, when it commences, provide full details of comprehensive studies and analyses of the site's flora and fauna and archaeological features (including the methodologies employed) as well as the measures required, if any, to address any issues arising as a result of the development.

I am glad to inform the Deputy that, in accordance with assurances I have previously given the House, there are no recorded national monuments on the site. In addition, the comprehensive surveys undertaken to date have not revealed any archaeological/flora and fauna impediments to the proposed development.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

110 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when funding will be sanctioned from his Department for the installation of closed circuit television in Ballina town, County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15426/07]

I launched the Community Based CCTV Scheme in June 2005 in response to the demonstrated demand from local communities across Ireland for the provision of CCTV systems. This Scheme is designed to provide financial assistance to qualifying local organisations towards meeting the capital costs associated with the establishment of local community CCTV systems. Pobal has been engaged to administer the Scheme on behalf of my Department. Grant aid funding of up to €100,000 is available from my Department with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs providing matching funding for successful applications from RAPID areas. Pre-development grants up to €5,000 are also available.

In the first round of the Scheme 24 successful groups, including Ballina CCTV Steering Committee-Ballina Chamber, received pre-development grants totalling €115,665 which were paid in 2006. Pobal invited these groups to submit substantive proposals by 31 January 2007. Twenty groups, including Ballina CCTV Steering Committee-Ballina Chamber, submitted proposals and to date 11 groups have been approved to receive grants totalling in excess of €1 million, again to be matched in RAPID areas by the funding from the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The final amounts involved will be determined subject to the finalisation of contracts.

I am informed by Pobal that the application received from Ballina CCTV Steering Committee-Ballina Chamber for development funding is currently being appraised and it expects to make a recommendation on this proposal to the Project Board (a Board composed of representatives from Department of Environment, Heritage & Local Government, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Chamber of Commerce Ireland, Gardaí, Pobal and my Department) in the coming weeks.

Domestic Violence Legislation.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

111 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views, in relation to the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and its reference to the time period necessary for cohabiting persons to be living together, which currently is six out of the previous nine months, in order to seek a barring order against a violent partner, on reducing such a time limit taking into consideration the increasing number of couples cohabiting in recent years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15498/07]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 76 of 4 April 2007. The position is as set out therein.

Sentencing Policy.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

112 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in view of the recent suspended sentence awarded to a rapist from Ennis, County Clare, mandatory sentences need to be introduced for such crimes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15508/07]

The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot comment on individual cases. The Courts are, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and members of the Executive are precluded from intervening. The traditional approach to sentencing is for the Oireachtas to lay down the maximum penalty and for a court having considered all the circumstances of the case to impose an appropriate penalty up to that maximum. This approach reflects the doctrine of the separation of powers. The Executive lays down the possible punishment range but it is for the Courts to decide the punishment to be applied to the offender taking account of the seriousness of the crime and all the circumstances of the case and of the offender.

As I have previously stated my preference, in regard to sentencing policy, lies in the development of an effective sentencing jurisprudence from the courts themselves and that collectively and individually the independence of the judiciary is an important value which is enhanced rather than damaged by collective measures taken by the judiciary to ensure consistency, rationality and coherence in sentencing. A very significant step in the area of sentencing was the decision by the Board of the Courts Service to establish a Steering Committee to plan for and provide a sentencing information system. The Committee, which is composed of four members of the Judiciary and an academic expert, reviewed systems of this nature around the world and decided to establish a pilot project in the Circuit Court in Dublin. Two researchers have begun to collect and collate information on sentencing outcomes in cases on indictment in designated courts in accordance with criteria specified by the Committee.

The Criminal Justice Act, 1993 provides that the Director of Public Prosecutions may, where it appears to him that a sentence imposed on indictment is unduly lenient, apply to the Court of Criminal Appeal to review the sentence. The Director of Public Prosecutions is, of course, totally independent in the carrying out of his functions.

Sexual Offences.

Dermot Fitzpatrick

Question:

113 Dr. Fitzpatrick asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the provisions in place to ensure all sex offenders living in the State are on the Sex Offenders Register even though they may not have been charged or prosecuted in the State; the overall action he has taken to protect citizens from predatory sex offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15509/07]

The Sex Offenders Act, 2001 sets out the obligations on persons convicted of a range of sexual offences. A convicted sex offender must notify his/her name(s), date of birth and current home address to the Garda Síochána within seven days of the conviction for the sexual offence concerned or, where the offender is sentenced to imprisonment, from the date of full release from prison.

Thereafter, the offender must notify the Gardaí of any change of name or address within seven days of that change. Notification of any address where the offender spends either as much as seven days or two or more periods amounting to seven days in any twelve month period must also be given to the Gardaí. If the offender intends to leave the State for a period of seven days or more s/he must inform the Gardaí of this fact and the address at which s/he intends to stay and also notify the Gardaí of his/her return. If s/he did not intend to stay away for more than seven days but did, s/he must inform the Gardaí within a further seven days.

The provisions of the Act extend to any sex offenders entering this jurisdiction from abroad who have an obligation to register in their own countries. Section 13 of the Act provides that a person convicted outside the State of an offence that would constitute an offence in this jurisdiction for which the person would be subject to the notification requirements of the Act and who enters the State, must comply with these requirements within seven days. The Act makes it mandatory for a convicted sex offender to inform their employer or future employer of their conviction if their job entails having unsupervised access to children. The Act also allows for a Chief Superintendent of An Garda Síochána to request the court to make a sex offender order, whereby a sex offender can be prohibited from behaving in a particular way, where such behaviour is perceived by the court as having a potential danger to the welfare of children. It should be noted that Garda clearance is now required for potential employees in a number of occupations which entail access to, or authority over, children.

The Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit of An Garda Síochána monitor and manage the notification provisions. There are nominated Garda Inspectors in each Garda Division who have responsibility for the monitoring of persons subject to the requirements of the Act in their Division. As soon as the Domestic Violence and Assault Investigation Unit is advised by a relevant authority, such as the Irish Prison Service, the Courts Service or a foreign law enforcement agency, of the impending release or movement of sex offenders into their area this information is immediately passed to the nominated Inspectors, who are advised of information relevant to their Division. Any child protection issues arising are advised to the relevant health services authorities, as provided for under the Children First guidelines.

There is a very good co-operation in the sharing of information between An Garda Síochána and other law enforcement agencies. Last November I signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Ireland and the UK to assist in the sharing of information on sex offenders. The MoU is part of the work undertaken following the Intergovernmental Agreement on North/South Co-operation on Criminal Justice Matters signed on behalf of the Irish and British Governments in July 2005. In addition, under the Agreement, a Registered Sex Offender Advisory Group has been established consisting of representatives of An Garda Síochána, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, my Department and the Northern Ireland Office. As part of its work, this Group evaluates the potential for sharing information, examining the registration criteria in both jurisdictions for sex offenders and identifying areas for further co-operation.

Based on five years experience in the operation of the Act, I am proposing a series of changes to the Act with the aim of strengthening the protection it offers to the community. These will include raising the penalty for failure to register from 12 months to five years imprisonment, thus making it an arrestable offence, and giving probation officers power to prosecute offenders who fail to comply with the terms of a post release supervision order.

Visa Applications.

Billy Timmins

Question:

114 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to a person from the Philippines who is working in England and wants to come here to visit their sister who is married to an Irishman and living here; the way they can apply for a holiday visa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15510/07]

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 Irish Passport & Visa Office in London, which is located at 106 Brompton Road, London SW3 1JJ.

Garda Investigations.

Finian McGrath

Question:

115 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding the case of a person (details supplied) who was seriously assaulted in 2006. [15517/07]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the incident referred to by the Deputy which in fact occurred in 2003 remains under active investigation and regular contact is maintained with the injured party.

Asylum Applications.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

116 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding a family reunification application by a person (details supplied) in County Galway; when the application will be finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15541/07]

I understand from the Immigration Division of my Department that a decision has been reached in relation to the application in question. The refugee will be informed of the decision shortly.

Residency Permits.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

117 Mr. Deenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a decision will be made on the application for a stamp 4 by a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15565/07]

An application for residency in the State on the basis of marriage to an Irish national was received from the person in question in October 2006. Applications of this kind, in fairness to all other such applications, are dealt with in strict chronological order and currently take approximately ten to twelve months to process. It should be noted that marriage to an Irish national does not confer an automatic right of residence in the State.

Asylum Applications.

John Cregan

Question:

118 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of applicants, families and individuals, granted asylum or the right to remain in the country since 1992 to date in 2007; the terms and conditions specified in the standard approval; and the number of cases since 1992 where the grant was subsequently withdrawn due to criminal convictions and so on. [15572/07]

The information requested by the Deputy in relation to the number of asylum applications granted during the period 1992 to 2007 is outlined in Table 1. I would point out that I have been advised by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner that it compiles statistics based on individual applications and not on a family basis.

Table 1 — Number of applicants granted refugee status at first instance and at appeal stage from 1992 to 2007(31/03)*

Year

No. of asylum applications granted at first instance

No. of persons granted refugee status at appeal stage

1992

4

0

1993

1

0

1994

2

0

1995

21

0

1996

27

0

1997

197

4

1998

128

40

1999

166

351

2000

211

394

2001

459

482

2002

894

1,099

2003

345

832

2004

430

708

2005

455

511

2006

397

251

2007(31/03)

101

32

Total

3,838

4,704

*Cases after 20 November 2000 were processed by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

In regard to Leave to Remain, the present statutory position is governed by section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 as amended. An application for leave to remain in the State in these circumstances arises where a non-national is served with a notice of intent to deport under section 3 (3) (a) of the Immigration Act, 1999. A person served with such a notice of intent to deport is afforded three options, viz. to leave the State voluntarily; to consent to the making of a Deportation Order; or to make representations in writing within 15 working days setting out reasons as to why a Deportation Order should not be made and why temporary Leave to Remain in the State be granted instead.

In determining whether to make a deportation order or grant temporary leave to remain in the State, I must have regard to the eleven factors set out in Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended, and Section 5 (Prohibition of Refoulement) of the Refugee Act, 1996, as amended. The number of persons granted leave to remain in the context of the deportation process is set out in Table 2.

Table 2 — Leave to remain granted in the context of the deportation process

Year

No. of Persons

2000

19

2001

77

2002

158

2003

86

2004

207

2005

137

2006

162

2007 (31/03)

398

Total

1,244

Leave to remain is also granted for other reasons. For example, under the revised arrangements introduced in January 2005 for the processing of applications from the non-national parents of Irish born children, some 17,000 applicants were granted leave to remain.

In relation to terms and conditions, applicants for asylum who obtain refugee status have rights and entitlements as set out in section 3 of the Refugee Act, 1996, which include the entitlement to reside in the state, to work, to carry on a business, trade or profession and to have access to education and training as well as access to medical care and social welfare benefits as those to which Irish citizens are entitled. Persons with refugee status are also entitled to apply for family reunification in accordance with section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996. Individuals granted refugee status are also informed of the circumstances under which a declaration as a refugee may be revoked as set out in section 21 of the Refugee Act, 1996.

Persons who are granted leave to remain following consideration of their case under section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 are required to: obey the laws of the State, not become involved in criminal activity, make every effort to become economically viable in the State by engaging in employment, business or a profession and take all steps (such as participation in training or language courses) to enable them to engage in employment, business or a profession. The conditions under which permission to remain is granted under the IBC Scheme are the same as those for persons granted leave to remain with an additional condition which requires the applicant to accept that the granting of permission to remain does not confer any entitlement or legitimate expectation on any other person, whether related to the applicant or not, to enter the State.

Since 2001 some 8 grants of refugee status have been revoked. Figures are not available in relation to grants of permission to remain which have been withdrawn. Under the IBC/05 Scheme, I am advised that less than 0.01% of those granted leave to remain subsequently had their grants revoked due to non-compliance with the criteria of the scheme.

Visa Applications.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

119 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will consider the application of a person (details supplied) to stay in Ireland in view of their circumstances. [15587/07]

The person concerned was granted a C visit visa to enter the State for a period of three months. It now appears that he is seeking an extension of his permission to remain in the State. An examination of the papers in relation to the case indicates that the person concerned sought an extension of his C Visit Visa with the Immigration Division of my Department and was refused. A wrap-around information sheet accompanies every visa application form. That sheet makes it clear to the applicant that, in general, persons granted visas for particular purposes are not permitted to remain in the State for any purpose other than that for which the visa was granted.

Every visa applicant is required to state on the application form the dates on which he or she proposes to enter and leave Ireland. He or she is also required to declare that the information supplied is correct and complete. A C Visa is granted for visits of less than 90 days. As a consequence it is not the general policy to extend permission to remain to persons who are admitted initially for a period of 90 days or less on a C visa, save in very exceptional and unforeseen circumstances. The person concerned must leave and reapply from outside the State. Should he wish to return, he should include in his new visa application the purpose and duration of his intended stay.

Prison Building Programme.

Joe Higgins

Question:

120 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, with reference to the evidence given by the Public Works Commissioner, before the Public Accounts Committee on 26 October 2006, the cost of supply of electricity to each site short listed for the planned new prison development in north County Dublin was estimated as part of the evaluation of these sites; and if he will disclose these estimates for each site and any observations connected with them. [15636/07]

A preliminary estimate of the cost of supplying electricity to each short-listed site was provided to the site selection committee as part of the technical study carried out on each of these sites. The estimated costs involved in each case amounted to €1.5 million for a 10kV supply and €3 million for a 38kV supply. It should be noted that these estimates were prepared in 2004 and early 2005, were preliminary in nature and should be treated as such.

Tax Code.

Joan Burton

Question:

121 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance if there are proposals for maintenance work on listed buildings that are over 400 years old to be tax free; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15539/07]

Maintenance work on listed buildings that are over 400 years old can qualify for tax relief in certain circumstances which are outlined below. Where such a building is used or occupied for the purposes of a trade or profession any sums expended on the repair of the building can be claimed as a deduction for tax purposes in computing the profits or gains of the particular trade or profession. Section 81 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997 provides the statutory basis for such deductions. Where such a building is used as a rented residential property the cost of maintenance, repairs, insurance and management of the premises borne by the landlord may be deducted as an expense from the rental income received in respect of the building for tax purposes. Expenses under this heading must be of a non-capital nature. Section 97 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997 sets out the rules for computing rental income and the deductions which may be made in arriving at that income. In addition, interest on borrowed money employed in the purchase, improvement or repair of the premises can also be set off against the rental income from the premises.

Owners of listed buildings that are over 400 years old may be in a position to claim relief under Section 482 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997. That section provides relief from income tax/corporation tax to the owner/occupier of an approved building/ in the State for expenditure incurred on the repair, maintenance or restoration of the building/garden. An approved building is defined as a building within the State which is determined by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to be a building which is intrinsically of significant scientific, historical, architectural or aesthetic interest and by Revenue to be a building to which reasonable access is afforded to the public, or which is in use as a "tourist accommodation facility" (ie a guest house) for at least six months in any calendar year. On the issue of reasonable public access, Revenue must be satisfied that various minimum requirements are met. In the case of a guest house, it must be registered or listed by Fáilte Ireland and must be in use as a guest house for at least 6 months of the year, 4 months of which must be in the period 1 May-30 September. There are no plans to extend the scope of the reliefs outlined above.

Joan Burton

Question:

122 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance if there are proposals to amend the arrangements regarding stamp duty on credit cards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15540/07]

All stamp duties, including the stamp duties on financial cards, are reviewed in the context of the annual budget and Finance Bill.

Drainage Schemes.

Tony Gregory

Question:

123 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance when the Office of Public Works will complete the works to the river wall along East Wall Road, Dublin 3; the works involved; and if dredging of this section of the river will be considered. [15568/07]

The consultants undertaking the design of the works on the River Tolka have undertaken a new survey of river wall along East Wall Road. When their report has been received by Dublin City Council and the Office of Public Works further action will be considered.

As I have previously informed the Deputy, the River Tolka Flooding Study Report, from which all the works have been undertaken, did not contain any recommendations for dredging the channel in this area.

National Monuments.

Jack Wall

Question:

124 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance the caretaking procedures in place in relation to a historic monument (details supplied) in County Kildare; the procedures in relation to unauthorised actions at the monument; the procedures to be followed for a person making a report of such unauthorised actions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15569/07]

The caretaker, engaged for the site referred to by the Deputy, is required to be an occasional presence on site, carry out inspections, report damage to the Kilkenny National Monument Depot, keep the site clean and tidy and, open the site in the morning and close it in the evening. The caretaker is not required to accompany visitors on the site.

If unauthorised actions occur at the monument, the caretaker is obliged to contact and inform the Kilkenny National Monuments Depot. If a member of the public is aware of any unauthorised actions occurring at the site then he or she can also contact and inform the Depot. The Depot will then consider this information and take appropriate action.

Urban Renewal Schemes.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

125 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance the reason for the delay in making a small portion of land (details supplied) in County Cork available for the redevelopment of a playground. [15583/07]

As part of a wider current scheme of maintenance and improvements at Doneraile Court and Park, the Office of Public Works has investigated the possibility of providing a new playground, subject to design and landscape impact considerations. An appropriate design scheme has recently been completed and it is intended to discuss this with the local playground committee prior to submission to the Local Authority.

Pension Provisions.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

126 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance the reason for the delay in paying pension and payments due in respect of a deceased person (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the costs incurred by this person’s widow and family since their sudden death; and if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that this person’s widow has not received payment since their spouse’s death in January 2007. [15584/07]

Payment of Spouse's pension is dependant on submission of fully completed application form and declaration. The declaration by the person entitled to the pension is a statutory requirement under subsection 5(1) of the Appropriation Act 1962.

In the particular case referred to by the Deputy, my Department was notified of the deceased person's death on 5 February 2007. The necessary forms issued on 8 February 2007 and were not received back until 13 April 2007. Unfortunately, the Pensions Declaration Form was not signed and had to be returned to the applicant for completion. As soon as the completed document is returned to my Department an interim advance payment will issue immediately. All arrears due to the applicant will then be processed without delay.

Child Care Services.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

127 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children if a grant will be approved for a centre (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15511/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, I have responsibility for the Equal Opportunities Child Care Programme 2000-2006 (EOCP) and the National Child Care Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP), which are being implemented by the Office of the Minister for Children.

I understand that the Child Care Directorate of my Office has recently issued approval to the Group in question for €1 million in respect of their capital grant application under the NCIP. The Group has also been approved a total of €644,361 in staffing grant assistance under the EOCP for the period to 31 December 2007.

Health Services.

Jack Wall

Question:

128 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the position of the appeal by a person (details supplied) in County Kildare against the decision of the community welfare officer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15543/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

129 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will arrange for a person (details supplied) in County Cork to be granted an appointment for a spinal MRI scan. [15386/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall Vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

130 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children if a blue card will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; if she will guarantee the immediate awarding of the medical card; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15393/07]

Men, women and children who contracted Hepatitis C through the administration within the State of blood or blood products are entitled to a Health Amendment Act Card (Blue Card). The eligibility requirements for the Card are a positive diagnosis for Hepatitis C based on a positive Hepatitis C test result, that is a positive ELISA, RIBA, or PCR test result at any time since the administration of the blood or blood product, or if the person displayed symptoms of acute infection by reference to the presence of jaundice or raised alamine aminotransferase (ALT) levels, not later than 16 weeks after the person was administered Anti-D.

In addition, persons who receive an award in accordance with the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Acts 1997 to 2006 are entitled to receive a Health Amendment Act Card. The determination of eligibility for a Health Amendment Act Card or a medical card is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. My Department has asked the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Health Service Executive to examine the case referred to by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Child Care Services.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

131 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children when the necessary staff funding will be awarded to a committee (details supplied) in County Mayo to establish this essential service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15395/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, I have responsibility for the Equal Opportunities Child Care Programme 2000-2006 (EOCP) and the National Child Care Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP), which are being implemented by the Office of the Minister for Children.

As part of the process of closing the EOCP, the final date for reaching contract stage, for Groups applying for funding under this programme, was 31 December 2006. As the Deputy will be aware, the EOCP is co-funded by the European Union and timescales agreed with the Commission must be observed as financial penalties will accrue to the State if they are not.

The Group in question submitted an EOCP staffing grant application to Pobal, which is engaged to assess EOCP and NCIP grants on behalf of my Office, in October 2006. Final information required to complete the assessment was received by Pobal from the Group on 6 December 2006. As it was not possible at that stage for the application to be brought through the assessment and appraisal process and to contract stage by 31 December 2006, it was recommended by the Programme Appraisal Committee that the Group's application under that Programme be declined and that the application be considered in the context of the forthcoming NCIP staffing grant scheme.

As the Deputy will be aware, every effort is being made to facilitate a seamless transition between the EOCP and NCIP and, in this context, I agreed to review the position for Groups such as the one referred to by the Deputy who will be in a position to open later this year but are not eligible for staffing grant funding under the EOCP. I am pleased to say that interim arrangements in respect of the period September-December 2007 have been put in place and the Group's application for staffing grant assistance can now be reconsidered. I understand that officials in my Office were recently in contact with the Group to this effect.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

132 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made in having a person (details supplied) in County Cork admitted to hospital for surgery under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. [15402/07]

As the Deputy's question relates to the operation of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, my Department has asked the Chief Executive of the Fund to reply directly to the Deputy in relation to the information requested.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

133 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist in expediting a decision in respect of an application for nursing home subvention by a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [15404/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

134 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will examine an application for nursing home subvention by a person (details supplied) in County Cork with a view to having maximum subvention and enhanced subvention approved in view of the person’s circumstances; and if she will assist in having a long term care bed provided at this person’s community hospital. [15412/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

135 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate an application by a person (details supplied) in County Cork in respect of a primary health certificate which was refused on the grounds that they do not have a disability but was deemed unfit to join the Navy on the grounds of their disability; and if she will arrange for the person to be re-examined. [15413/07]

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

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

136 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist in having a person (details supplied) in County Cork admitted to a hospital for cardiac surgery. [15414/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall Vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

137 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist in having the home help hours for a person (details supplied) in County Cork increased owing to their ongoing deterioration in sight. [15415/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Jack Wall

Question:

138 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children when persons (details supplied) in County Carlow will receive their appointments for consultants in relation to their hearing difficulties in view of the fact that they were referred in September 2006 for such an appointment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15417/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall Vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

139 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will provide funding or direct the Health Service Executive to provide funding to ensure the upgrading of Ballycroy Health Centre when the HSE will take steps to ensure that the people of Ballycroy, County Mayo have an adequate health service and health centre sufficient for the needs of the people in the area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15428/07]

The Primary Care Strategy aims to develop services in the community to give people direct access to integrated multi-disciplinary teams of general practitioners, nurses, home helps,physiotherapists, occupational therapists and others.

It has been estimated that up to 95% of people's health and social services needs can be properly met within a primary care setting and the establishment of new Primary Care Teams can contribute greatly to enhancing community based health services.

The provision of the appropriate infrastructure for the effective functioning of the teams is being considered by the HSE, having regard to a number of factors. These include the type and configuration of the services involved, the mixed public/private nature of our health system, the suitability of existing infrastructure and the capital requirements of the health services generally over the coming years.

As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for Primary Care services, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Community Care.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

140 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the resident capacity of the community nursing unit in Swinford, County Mayo; the number of residents there; the annual cost per resident for the year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15436/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

141 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the resident capacity of the community nursing unit in Belmullet, County Mayo; the number of residents there; the annual cost per resident for the year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15437/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

142 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the resident capacity of a community nursing unit (details supplied) in County Mayo; the number of residents there; the annual cost per resident for the year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15438/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

143 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the resident capacity of a community nursing unit (details supplied) in County Mayo; the number of residents there; the annual cost per resident for the year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15439/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

144 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the resident capacity of a community nursing unit (details supplied) in County Mayo; the number of residents there; the annual cost per resident for the year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15440/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

145 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the resident capacity of the community nursing unit in Achill, County Mayo; the number of residents there; the annual cost per resident for the year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15441/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 140 to 145, inclusive, together.

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular cases raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Ambulance Service.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

146 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children when a dedicated HEMS service will be available throughout Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15442/07]

A Service Level Agreement for the provision of air ambulance services by the Air Corps was signed in September 2005. The signatories to the agreement are the Departments of Health and Children, Defence, the Health Service Executive, the Defence Forces and the Air Corps.

The agreement sets out the range of services to be provided by the Air Corps, specifically:-

Inter-hospital transfer for spinal and serious injury and illness;

Air Transport of neonates requiring immediate medical intervention in Ireland;

Air Transport of patients requiring emergency organ transplant in the UK;

Air Transport of Organ Harvest Teams within Ireland; and

Air Transport of patients from offshore islands to mainland hospitals where the Coast Guard service is not available.

A Steering Group comprising representation from each of the signatories to the Service Level Agreement was established. The Group is monitoring the operation of the agreement and will amend, if necessary, the provisions of the agreement to take account of service developments, including the new fleet replacement programme currently being put in place by the Air Corps. The Air Corps introduced two new EC 135 helicopters into service in 2006 and intend to introduce a further six AB 139 helicopters into service (4 in 2007 and 2 in 2008). Each of the new helicopters has a specific air ambulance capability. The new fleet will also have a far greater flying capacity than was previously available.

Currently, patients requiring transfer by air ambulance to St James's, Beaumont or the Mater Hospitals are flown to Casement Aerodrome (Baldonnell), the Phoenix Park or Dublin Airport. They are then transported by a ground ambulance to the appropriate hospital.

Health Services.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

147 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children when the Health Service Executive interservices review group on patient transport services to define the criteria for the eligibility for non emergency patient transport will be concluded; the date this review was established; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15443/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall Vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular issue raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Staff.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

148 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children when the post of social worker with responsibility for the elderly will be established; her views on whether this should be initiated immediately and not only dependent on service priorities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15444/07]

Over 120,000 people work full-time or part-time in our public health services. In recent years, the Government's ongoing high level of investment in health has achieved and maintained significant increases in the numbers of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals employed in the public health services. The Government has also invested heavily in the education and training of such personnel in order to secure a good supply of graduates to provide for the healthcare needs of the population into the future.

Subject to overall parameters set by Government, the Health Service Executive has the responsibility for determining the composition of its staffing complement. In that regard, it is a matter for the Executive to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of its Annual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. The Executive is the appropriate body to consider the matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Community Care.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

149 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount it costs to run the community nursing home unit in Achill, County Mayo with a breakdown of the staff costs on an annual basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15445/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

150 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount it costs to run the community nursing home unit in Swinford, County Mayo with a breakdown of the staff costs on an annual basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15446/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

151 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount it costs to run the community nursing home unit in Belmullet, County Mayo with a breakdown of the staff costs on an annual basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15447/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

152 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount it costs to run a community nursing home unit (details supplied) in County Mayo with a breakdown of the staff costs on an annual basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15448/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

153 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount it costs to run a community nursing home unit (details supplied) in County Mayo with a breakdown of the staff costs on an annual basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15449/07]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

154 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount it costs to run a community nursing home unit (details supplied) in County Mayo with a breakdown of the staff costs on an annual basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15450/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 to 154, inclusive, together.

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular cases raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

155 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children when his Department will take responsibility for the provision of transport for a wide range of people which will include patients with social needs as stated in Parliamentary Question No. 274 of 3 April 2007 from the Department of Health and Children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15453/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall Vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular issue raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Disabled Drivers.

Bernard Allen

Question:

156 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork had their application refused for a disabled drivers and disabled passengers grant towards a mechanical car. [15495/07]

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

Health Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

157 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the status of the development of a new health centre in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon; the cost of the project; when the project will be approved; the reason it has not been sanctioned to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15496/07]

The Primary Care Strategy aims to develop services in the community to give people direct access to integrated multi-disciplinary teams of general practitioners, nurses, home helps, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and others.

It has been estimated that up to 95% of people's health and social services needs can be properly met within a primary care setting and the establishment of new Primary Care Teams can contribute greatly to enhancing community based health services.

The provision of the appropriate infrastructure for the effective functioning of the teams is being considered by the HSE, having regard to a number of factors. These include the type and configuration of the services involved, the mixed public/private nature of our health system, the suitability of existing infrastructure and the capital requirements of the health services generally over the coming years.

As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for Primary Care services, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

158 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason nothing was done regarding the case of persons (details supplied); the role of the consultant anaesthetist; and if she will clarify the matter. [15515/07]

My Department understands that a reply in relation to this case, which was the subject of a previous question by the Deputy on 7th March last, was issued by the Health Service Executive on 19th April 2007.

Care of the Elderly.

Finian McGrath

Question:

159 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the home-care elderly packages available for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 when they are released from hospital. [15516/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

160 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will make additional resources available to ensure that children with Down’s syndrome in Galway are provided with adequate speech and language and physiotherapy services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15530/07]

Paddy McHugh

Question:

161 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will put in place an advisory service for parents of children with Down’s syndrome in Galway specifically in relation to advice on speech and language and physiotherapy services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15531/07]

Paddy McHugh

Question:

162 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Health and Children if she is satisfied with the level of service available to children with Down’s syndrome in Galway specifically if adequate speech and language services are available to such children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15532/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 160 to 162, inclusive, together.

As the Deputy may be aware, a sum of €75m for revenue purposes was provided to the Health Service Executive for Disability Services in the 2007 Budget. This sum incorporates the 2007 element of the Government's multi-annual investment programme for the National Disability Strategy. This Strategy is committed to enhancing the level and range of multi-disciplinary support services to adults and children with an intellectual, physical and sensory disability and those with autism.

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

Ambulance Service.

Enda Kenny

Question:

163 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the number of rheumatology patients particularly in the west and north Mayo area who have no access to an ambulance service to travel for rheumatology clinics in Galway; if her attention has further been drawn to the difficulty that this causes for patients particularly with lower limb rheumatoid arthritic conditions; her proposals to improve this position; her views on including this category of patient with other categories who are approved for ambulance transport to clinics including oncology, dialysis, transplant patients and so on; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15537/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall Vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular issue raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Staff.

Phil Hogan

Question:

164 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Health and Children when an appointment of a lactation consultant will be granted to St. Luke’s Hospital/Community; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15544/07]

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

Pharmacy Regulations.

Phil Hogan

Question:

165 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Health and Children if it is proposed that Irish pharmacists are afforded the same rights of establishment in other EU countries as pharmacists from other jurisdiction have here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15546/07]

Many EU States continue to operate some form of restriction on entry to the pharmacy profession, and under EU Directive 85/433/EEC they are within their rights to do so. The initiative for the removal of these restrictions rests with the EU Commission and I would support any moves which the Commission may make in this regard.

With respect to Ireland, the Pharmacy Act 2007 will remove the restriction on pharmacists educated in other EU or EEA countries from owning, managing or supervising a pharmacy in Ireland that is less than three years old — the derogation under Article 2.2 of Council Directive 85/433/EEC. My motivation in removing this "derogation" was to facilitate the many Irish pharmacy graduates who, because of the shortage of pharmacy undergraduate places available in the State, went abroad to train. On their return these graduates found that they were at a disadvantage to their Irish trained colleagues in not being able to establish a new pharmacy business, having instead to confine themselves to ones which had already been in operation for at least 3 years, a situation that was clearly unfair and unsustainable.

Hospital Staff.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

166 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Health and Children when a neurologist will be appointed for the north west; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15548/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular issue raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Pharmacy Regulations.

John Perry

Question:

167 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will clarify the directive she has issued in relation to correspondence (details supplied); if she will address the issues raised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15549/07]

My Department and the HSE have been reviewing the pharmaceutical supply chain, with a view to seeking value for money in the State's drugs bill in order to better fund existing and innovative therapies without compromising continuity of supply or patient safety. The review of the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) and the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of Ireland (APMI) Agreements, with the proprietary and generic supplier representative bodies, was completed in mid-2006 and the new agreements are in place.

Following completion of the manufacturer agreements and in line with the process agreed by the Cabinet Committee on Health, the State entered talks with the wholesaler representative body, the Pharmaceutical Distributor's Federation (PDF). As wholesale margins are not addressed in the new IPHA and APMI Agreements, the State intended to negotiate direct formal arrangements with the wholesale sector, to address the cost of wholesale supply to hospital and community through fair, transparent and accountable cost structures. In particular, the State wished to examine the high margin, relative to the EU, for wholesale supply to community pharmacy and the wholesalers' claim that they supply hospitals at a loss.

Early in discussions, PDF refused to negotiate a new margin for community supply, based on its own legal advice. Subsequent advice to the HSE, confirmed by the Attorney General's office and Senior Counsel engaged by the Attorney General, indicated that, under section 4 of the 2002 Competition Act, PDF as an association of undertakings may not collectively negotiate fees, prices or margins on behalf of its members. Given this position, and the fact that the Irish Pharmaceutical Union is also an association of undertakings, it is not possible for the State to negotiate with PDF or the IPU on fees or margins and such negotiations place these bodies at risk of prosecution.

The State had intended to address the review of community pharmacy, and in particular how to improve value for money and transparency and fairness in relation to service provision, through negotiation with the IPU, as it had in the past. This is no longer possible for fees, although contractual matters other than fees may be negotiated. Accordingly, the negotiating team re-examined, in light of the legal position arising from the wholesaler legal advice, how best to address the review of pharmacy contractor services. Following consultation with the IPU, a procedure was agreed to examine available options for advancing contractual negotiations in compliance with Irish and EU competition law. This process, chaired by Mr Bill Shipsey, SC, has commenced.

The State continues to recognise the IPU as the representative body for its members, but negotiations with the Union must comply with the law. The legal issues that emerged during the wholesale sector review were raised by the wholesaler representatives. Once the State became aware of these issues, it was no longer possible to continue as intended. There is, and will continue to be, ongoing dialogue with the IPU as the representative body for pharmacists, within the constraints of the competition legislation and the negotiating team will consider, in the context of competition law and in particular the relevant Competition Authority guidelines, all available options for advancing the process agreed by the Cabinet Committee on Health. I am satisfied that the Cabinet Committee process for review of the supply of drugs to the State is progressing effectively, within the constraints of relevant legislation.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Pat Breen

Question:

168 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when the increase in subvention for a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be put in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15577/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Pat Breen

Question:

169 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when an application under the housing aid for the elderly will be processed for persons (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15578/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive (HSE) under the Health Act 2004 and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall vote. The HSE's responsibility includes the operation of the Housing Aid Scheme for the Elderly, on behalf of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

170 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Wexford will be called for their appointment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15579/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall Vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Adoption Services.

Bernard Allen

Question:

171 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will make a statement on a situation in Cork where the Health Service Executive have given notice to three temporary social workers who are part of the adoption and fostering team in view of the fact that the reasons given were budgetary constraints and that this will be a devastating blow to a large number of prospective adoptive applicants waiting to be assessed where the present situation is that there is a two and a half year waiting list. [15631/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE) under the Health Act 2004. My understanding is that there has been no change in the staffing levels in the adoption area in Cork. However, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

The Government has allocated additional funding to the HSE in recent years to assist in tackling intercountry adoption waiting times. The HSE has been assessing the provision of services in the context of moving from the health board system to a single executive. It has acknowledged that there is a divergence in the provision of services and is committed to addressing those differences.

The Deputy will be aware that demands for assessment for intercountry adoption are continuously increasing. It should be noted that consequent on the increased number of children coming from abroad, there is also a new and increasing demand for post-adoption reports for sending countries. These are also being undertaken by HSE social work staff.

In a number of areas, the HSE have increased capacity through contract arrangements with non-statutory agencies with appropriate expertise. I have asked my officials to meet with the HSE to explore these and other strategies to increase capacity across the country.

Health Service Allowances.

Bernard Allen

Question:

172 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork has been refused domiciliary care allowance for their daughter, despite the fact that the child has been diagnosed with a number of psychological disorders which require special attention from the parents. [15632/07]

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

Bernard Allen

Question:

173 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork has been told that their daughter has been certified as being no longer eligible for domiciliary care allowance and that payment will cease from 1 May 2007. [15633/07]

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

Hospital Staff.

Enda Kenny

Question:

174 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who have graduated through hospital attendants positions to qualified carers in hospital situations; when it is intended to remunerate these persons at their new level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15634/07]

Over 120,000 people work full-time or part-time in our public health services. In recent years, the Government's ongoing high level of investment in health has achieved and maintained significant increases in the number of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals employed in the public health services. The Government has also invested heavily in the education and training of such personnel in order to secure a good supply of graduates to provide for the healthcare needs of the population into the future.

Subject to overall parameters set by Government, the Health Service Executive has the responsibility for determining the composition of its staffing complement. In that regard, it is a matter for the Executive to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of the Actual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. The Executive is the appropriate body to consider the matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued to the Deputy.

Enda Kenny

Question:

175 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there has been no audiologist in Galway for the past six years; her proposals or plans to have one provided; the statistics involved for those who are waiting for this service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15635/07]

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

Salmon Hardship Scheme.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

176 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department will compensate the fish merchants who have made their living from the purchasing of salmon; his views on whether these businesses are essentially finished due to the stopping of drift net fishing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15427/07]

The Salmon Hardship Scheme, which was published earlier this year, is intended to provide a measure of relief to each individual fisherman in line with the level of hardship likely to be experienced based on the recent catch history of commercial fishing licence holders. Payments under the hardship scheme are available to all those who held a commercial salmon fishing licence in 2006.

The Government is also putting in place a fund of €5 million towards a community support scheme, the focus of which should primarily be those communities where commercial salmon fishing has been a well-established activity and where its withdrawal demonstrably impacts on the economic and social fabric of the area. Details are being finalised at present with a view to the publication of details of that scheme in the coming weeks. There is no scheme for direct payments in cases of the type covered in the question.

Sports Capital Programme.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

177 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the reason a group (details supplied) in County Louth was unsuccessful in its recent application for sport and fitness equipment and outdoor pursuit equipment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15628/07]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

178 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the reason a group (details supplied) in County Louth was unsuccessful in its recent application under the sports capital programme for sport and fitness equipment in view of the fact that Donegal VEC received funding in 2006 under this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15629/07]

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

The sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. All applications under the 2007 sports capital programme were evaluated by my Department in accordance with the assessment criteria for the programme published in the guidelines, terms and conditions document which accompanied the application form for the programme. Following completion of the evaluation of the applications received by my Department under the programme, I announced the provisional grant allocations on the 5th April last.

The application in question was unsuccessful and a letter advising the organisation together with a copy of the assessment carried out on the application, including any specific reasons for the application being unsuccessful, will be issued to the organisation in the very near future.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

179 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the grant aid available in establishing a wind turbine business; and if he will confirm the regulations relevant to such an establishment. [15403/07]

The issue of wind turbines generally is a matter for Sustainable Energy Ireland which is under the aegis of the Department of Communications Marine and Natural Resources, and not one in which I am directly involved. However, Enterprise Ireland inform me that they can support the establishment of a business to make wind turbines subject to the normal commercial requirements of E.I. grant aid, i.e. that the business is economically and commercially viable and export orientated. However, if the question relates to the establishment of wind farms, E.I. is not in a situation to support such a development.

Work Permits.

Liam Aylward

Question:

180 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress to date on the application for an employment permit by a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [15575/07]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department has informed me that this application was received in the Section on the 3rd of April 2007 and it is currently being dealt with.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

181 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will arrange for an appeal in respect of an SWA application by a person (details supplied) in County Cork to be accepted by the southern Health Service Executive; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this appeal was lodged by this Deputy’s office in January 2007. [15602/07]

Under the terms of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive (HSE), an exceptional needs payment (ENP) may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which the applicant is unable to meet out of his/her own resources. There is no automatic entitlement to this payment. Each application is determined by the Executive based on the particular circumstances of the case.

There is a statutory right of appeal against any decision made on an application for supplementary welfare allowance. The time allowed for acceptance of appeals is normally 21 days after the notification of a decision to the claimant. However, there is discretion to accept an appeal after this time has elapsed.

The Southern Area of the Executive have advised that the person concerned was refused an exceptional needs payments in September 2006. An appeal was lodged in February 2007 but there were problems in locating a record of the claim, and on 18 April 2007, the HSE Appeals Office advised the claimant that as so much time had passed since the refusal of the ENP, a new means and needs assessment would need to be carried out in respect of exceptional needs. The person concerned was advised to contact her local Community Welfare Office for assessment for an exceptional needs payment.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Ring

Question:

182 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of appeals officers currently working in the Social Welfare Appeals Office giving details of the number for each grade of personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15390/07]

There are currently 18 Appeals Officers serving in the Social Welfare Appeals Office, all of whom are Assistant Principal Officers.

Pension Provisions.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

183 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will consider making the old age State pension of a person (details supplied) in County Cork payable on a Thursday instead of Friday as they have no transport to the post office to collect their payment and do not have a bank account. [15582/07]

I introduced legislation (under the Social Welfare Law Reform and Pension Act 2006) whereby all persons in receipt of State Pension (Transition) would transfer automatically to the State Pension (Contributory) on attaining age 66. State Pension (Transition) is paid on a Thursday and State Pension (Contributory) is paid on Friday. The change was implemented from January 2007 for customers receiving payment by electronic fund transfer. Customers paid by personal payable order were transferred to State Pension Contributory from 30th March 2007. An additional one day's payment was included in the first order in their new book.

For customers who are unable to collect their payment on a Friday, arrangements can be made for collection on any day of the week thereafter excluding Sunday.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

184 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the extent to which inflation has eroded the value of the recent social welfare budget increases; his proposals to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15589/07]

One of the key objectives of the 2007 social welfare package was to protect and enhance the value of all weekly rates of payment in relative terms by giving increases which are well in excess of the projected rate of inflation (4.1%) for this year. In Budget 2007: i. Contributory State pensions were increased by €16 per week, or 8.3%, with proportionate increases being given to those on reduced rates of payment; ii. The State Pension Non-Contributory was increased by €18 per week or 9.9%. This means that the Government has now achieved its commitment to bring the rate of the basic State pension to €200 per week; iii. The lowest rates of social welfare payments increased by €20 per week, or 12.1%. This increase brings the lowest rates of payment to €185.80 per week, thereby ensuring that the Government commitment on the lowest rates of payment is fully achieved.

Recipients with children also benefited from the increase in the child dependant allowances to €22 per week (an increase of up to 23.6% for certain recipients) and the €10 per month increase in Child Benefit rates. In addition, the fuel allowance was increased by €4 per week to €18. This means that this allowance has doubled over the last two Budgets.

By any standards, the levels of increases and other improvements announced in the Budget were exceptional and a further demonstration of this Government's ongoing commitment to the most vulnerable in our society by delivering social welfare increases which are well in excess of inflation.

Question No. 185 answered with QuestionNo. 51.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

186 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to modify the back to education allowance with a view to ensuring easier access to the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15591/07]

The back to education allowance (BTEA) is a second chance education opportunities scheme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force. It is paid at a standard weekly rate equivalent to the maximum rate of the relevant social welfare payment that qualifies the applicant for participation in the scheme. It essentially replaces their existing social welfare income and in addition an annual €400 cost of education allowance is payable.

To qualify for participation an applicant must, inter alia, be in receipt of a relevant social welfare payment and must be at least 21 years of age prior to commencing an approved course of study. People in receipt of disability related payments may access the scheme at 18 years of age. Similarly, lone parents and people in receipt of unemployment payments can qualify at 18 years of age provided they are out of formal education for at least 2 years.

The current scheme is in place since January 1998 and has been subject to review and modification over the years to ensure it continues to support those people who are most distant from the labour market and whose need is greatest. In the 2005 Budget I reduced the qualifying period for access to the third level option of the scheme from 15 to 12 months and at that time, I also increased the annual cost of education allowance, paid to people on BTEA, from €254 to €400.

Following an undertaking to the Dáil and the Social Affairs Committee, I further reduced the qualifying period for access to the third level option to 9 months. This condition applies to persons who are participating in the National Employment Action Plan (NEAP) process and where a FÁS Employment Services Officer recommends pursuance of a third level course of study as essential to the enhancement of the individuals employment prospects. This new condition also came into effect from 1 September 2005.

In the 2006 Budget, I announced that time spent in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance from the Health Service Executive or the direct provision system operated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform can count towards the qualifying period for back to education allowance in circumstances where the person establishes an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment prior to commencing an approved course of study. This provision came into effect from 1 September 2006.

In the most recent Budget, I announced that people who are awarded Statutory Redundancy may access the BTEA scheme immediately provided an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment is established prior to commencing an approved course of study. I also reduced the qualifying period for illness benefit recipients from three to two years. These further improvements to the BTEA scheme will come into effect from the beginning of the new academic year, i.e. 1 September 2007.

I will continue to monitor the scheme but I believe that, overall, the current arrangements ensure that my Department's back to education allowance scheme continues to support those people who are most distant from the labour market and whose need is greatest.

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

187 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the costs of paying a full old age pension to current recipients of an adult dependent allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15592/07]

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 this group. These included a commitment to raise the qualified adult increase for the spouses and partners (age 66 or over) of contributory pensioners to the level of the state pension (non-contributory). Spouses and partners of non-contributory pensioners may receive a pension in their own right at age 66.

To this end, Budget 2007 provided for an increase of €23.70 per week in the qualified adult payment where the qualified adult is aged 66 or over, bringing it up to a maximum rate of €173 per week. This measure benefited some 35,500 couples. It is my intention to complete the process of aligning the rates in question within three years. Based on current rates of payment, it will cost €47 million to fulfil this commitment.

Question No. 188 answered with QuestionNo. 59.

Pension Provisions.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

189 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has investigated or examined provisions made by other jurisdictions for their missionaries who continue to live abroad on retirement with specific reference to payments of old age pension; the extent to which similar provisions will be made for Irish missionaries in such circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15595/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

190 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has further examined the position of Irish missionaries retired, but while continuing to live abroad fail to qualify for contributory or non-contributory old age pension; if he has come to conclusions on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15596/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 189 and 190 together.

My Department operates two main types of pension scheme — contributory and non-contributory payments. Contributory payments are paid on the basis of social insurance contributions made over a person's working life. Missionaries who have made sufficient social insurance contributions can qualify for the state pension (contributory). These pensions are payable abroad and so missionaries who qualify and who choose to settle overseas can receive a payment. Non-contributory pensions are only payable where a person is resident in this country.

The question of paying pensions to missionaries who remain abroad was first raised in the context of a submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs by the Irish Missionary Union. Officials of my Department made a presentation to the Committee on the issue. Following that presentation, the Chairperson of the Committee decided to establish a working group to look at the issues raised in more detail.

The Department prepared a report on the issues in question in consultation with the Department of Foreign Affairs and submitted this to the Committee on the 13th March 2007. The report includes information on social security arrangements made by a number of other countries in relation to volunteer development workers and missionaries.

I look forward to receiving the views of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs when it has considered the report prepared by my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs. Proposals can then be developed further in consultation with Irish Aid and the development agencies in Ireland.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

191 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if it is intended to increase, expand or extend the free schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15597/07]

The household benefits package, which comprises the electricity/gas allowance, telephone allowance and free television licence schemes, is generally available to people living in the State, aged 66 years or over, who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who satisfy a means test. The package is also available to carers and people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the household benefit package or free travel retain that entitlement. This measure is in place to ensure that households who have this entitlement do not lose it on the death of a spouse.

People aged over 70 years of age can qualify for the household benefits package regardless of their income or household composition. Those aged under 70 must live alone or only with certain excepted people in order to qualify. Excepted people for the purposes of the scheme include qualified adults, dependent children under age 18 or under age 22 if in full time education, people who are so incapacitated as to require constant care and attention for at least 12 months, people who would qualify for the allowance in their own right, people who are providing constant care and attention to any member of the household who is so incapacitated as to require constant care and attention for at least 12 months.

In recognition of recent increases in the price of natural gas and electricity, I have provided for significant increases to the gas and electricity allowances. I provided for the number of units of electricity covered by the scheme to increase from 1,800 to 2,400 with effect from January 2007. I also made provision for an equivalent increase in the natural gas allowance which came into effect in October 2006. These allowances also cover increased standing charges and the associated VAT.

The telephone allowance provides a payment towards telephone service costs. It is applied as a cash credit on recipient's telephone bills. The value of the allowance is set at €20.41 per month (€24.70 including VAT) or €40.82 for those who are billed on a 2-monthly basis (€49.40 including VAT).

In Budget 2007 I provided for the telephone allowance to be extended to cover mobile phones. Under this new arrangement, which takes effect from this month, customers have the choice to opt either for a direct credit to a telephone company for their landline as at present or for a cash payment in respect of their mobile phone.

A range of proposals have been made to extend the coverage of the household benefits package of free schemes. These proposals are kept under review in the context of the objectives of the scheme and budgetary resources.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

192 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has carried out an evaluation of the extra household running costs incurred by widows and widowers with young families; his proposals to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15598/07]

Widows and widowers can qualify for one of a number of different schemes depending on their particular circumstances. The contributory widow(er)'s pension is available to those who satisfy the necessary PRSI contribution conditions, either on their own record or that of the deceased spouse. Those qualifying for this benefit are not subject to a means test.

Those without the necessary PRSI contributions can, if they have qualifying children, receive the one-parent family payment. This is a means tested payment which comprises an earnings disregard, which is designed to assist with the extra costs those with children face in trying to access training or employment. Up to €146.50 of earnings per week is completely disregarded, while earnings in excess of that and up to €375 per week are assessed at 50%. In addition, people whose earnings have risen above €375 per week may be entitled to half of their payment for up to 26 weeks. This upper threshold will increase to €400 per week next month.

The widowed parent grant, introduced in 2000, also provides additional assistance following a bereavement to those with children and is paid in addition to the usual after death payments such as the bereavement grant, currently €850. I was pleased to increase the grant by €1,300 to €4,000 in the last Budget in recognition of the particular difficulties faced by widows and widowers with children on the death of a spouse.

One of the key objectives of the 2007 social welfare package was to protect and enhance the value of all weekly rates of payment, including the rate of widow's and widower's pensions, in relative terms by giving increases which are well in excess of projected inflation for this year. Younger widows and widowers benefited from the €20 per week increase, or 12.1%, in the weekly rates of payment for persons of working age, including the widow/er's non-contributory pension (aged under 66) and the one parent family payment. This increase brings the rates of payment for widows and widowers to €185.80 per week for non-contributory payments, and €191.30 for contributory payments.

Increases in the rates of child benefit assist those widowed with children. Since 1997, the monthly rates of child benefit have been increased significantly in accordance with Government commitments. Following Budget 2007 the rates of child benefit were increased to €160.00 per month for each of the first and second children and €195.00 per month for the third and subsequent children. Furthermore, children under 6 years of age also qualify for the annual €1,000 early child care supplement (ECS) announced in Budget 2006. In addition, widows and widowers with children also benefited from the increase in the child dependant allowances to €22 per week.

Widowed persons are also entitled to the fuel allowance, back to school clothing and footwear allowance and other secondary benefits on the same basis as other social welfare recipients. The level of increases and other improvements announced in the Budget were exceptional and a further demonstration of this Government's ongoing commitment to the most vulnerable in our society.

I will continue to keep the range and adequacy of the supports provided under review. As the House will be aware, I launched a Government discussion paper "Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents" last year. This discussion paper proposes replacing the one parent family payment with a new social assistance payment and puts forward a range of proposals for the expanded availability and range of education, training and employment supports for lone parents. The new social assistance payment is being developed by my Department and the Government have asked the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion to progress the non-income recommendations in the report.

Road Safety.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

193 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the concern regarding the apparently retrospective nature of sentences under the Road Traffic Act 2006 resulting from the wording of the order signed by him on 5 March 2007; if he will take action in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15499/07]

On 1 March 2007 I signed the Road Traffic Act 2006 (Commencement) Order 2007 (S.I. No. 86 of 2007). The Order brings into operation, with effect from 5 March 2007, sections 6, 7 and 18 of the Road Traffic Act 2006. Sections 6 and 18 have no retrospective application whereas section 7 applies to a disqualification order that "has been made, whether before or after the commencement of Section 7" and has a retrospective effect.

Rural Transport Services.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

194 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Transport the status of an expression of interest submitted to his Department by North Galway Transport Advisory Committee to provide a rural transport service to north east Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15533/07]

Paddy McHugh

Question:

195 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Transport if approval will be given to provide a rural transport service to cover the north east Galway region to enable elderly people with no transportation of their own to be provided with transport to local towns and services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15534/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 194 and 195 together.

Last February, I announced the arrangements for a new Rural Transport Programme (RTP) which is being administered by Pobal on behalf of my Department. This new Programme builds on the success of the pilot Rural Transport Initiative (2000-2006) and puts it on a permanent mainstreamed basis with significantly increased funding. The provision of transport for older people and people with disabilities is a core feature of the new programme and all thirty-four of the currently funded groups provide these services.

Pobal are co-ordinating a facilitated process to ensure national coverage for the RTP. The aim of this process is to make recommendations with respect to the optimum formal structural arrangements to manage the RTP at local level into the future and to achieve national coverage. I understand that consultants have been contracted by Pobal to carry out work in that regard, which will be undertaken on a phased basis.

Once the areas that currently have coverage within the RTP are agreed, the consultants will be examining areas where there are gaps in coverage. I am advised that it is likely that work in the Galway and Roscommon areas will be initiated in May. Pobal advise that all expressions of interest received with respect to this area, including that from the North Galway Transport Advisory Committee, are held on file and will be considered. Pobal also advise that some funding has been reserved within the Programme specifically for new areas.

Community Development.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

196 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will provide funding under the CLÁR and Rapid programmes for the transport of people in County Mayo with urgent hospital appointments who have no means of transport; if funding for the upgrading of Ballycroy Health Centre which is in a CLÁR area will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15424/07]

There is no measure under the CLÁR Programme to provide for the transport of people with urgent hospital appointments who have no means of transport. CLÁR provides funding for capital projects only and not for day-to-day operational matters.

My Department is currently holding discussions with the Health Service Executive (HSE) regarding the implementation of the next round of CLÁR's co-funded Health measure for 2007-2009.

In relation to the upgrading of the Ballycroy Health Centre, the project should be submitted for consideration to the HSE, Western Region, Merlin Park Regional Hospital, Galway. In this context, the Deputy should note that the HSE are responsible for the identification and selection projects in CLÁR areas to be included under the proposed measure for 2007-2009.

My Department does not have any input into the selection of the projects to be funded under the measure.

There are no designated RAPID areas in County Mayo.

Harbours and Piers.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

197 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on whether there is need for the extension of Mulranny Pier, County Mayo; if he will provide the necessary funding, in view of the need to upgrade this piece of infrastructure as it is a valuable asset to the area and its surrounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15425/07]

Further to previous replies to the Deputy in relation to this matter, my Department has not received an application for funding for this pier. However, I understand that officials in Mayo County Council have indicated that an application for funding has been made to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources since January 2007.

Charities Legislation.

Pat Carey

Question:

198 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if there is provision in the Charities Bill which will protect the interests of bona fide charities who depend on door collections of clothing and so on from those which, on the fact of it, do not appear to have clear objectives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15547/07]

A key provision of the Charities Bill 2007 is the establishment and maintenance of a register of charities which will be accessible to the public. Registration will be mandatory for all charities operating within the State, irrespective of where the charity is based. It will be an offence for a body not on the register to claim that it is a charity or to operate or fund-raise in the State. In order to be registered, a body will have to supply key information about its existing and proposed activities with its application.

In addition, it is proposed to have agreed codes of good practice in relation to actual fund-raising and collections generally. Work on these agreed codes has already advanced significantly, in cooperation with the charities sector. The Bill also envisages the introduction of statutory codes should the voluntary approach prove ineffective.

Departmental Staff.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

199 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of extra staff she has relocated to the Farm Development Offices to deal with the new grant application; her views on whether without full approval clearly stating the actual grant moneys payable for each grant application it would be difficult, and in some cases impossible, for young farmers to obtain bridging finance; if she will assure this Deputy that the necessary staff will be relocated as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15408/07]

I am aware of the difficulties caused by the massive increase in applications under the Farm Waste Management Scheme and recently introduced revised procedures in order to speed up the process of issuing approvals under the Scheme. These include the streamlining of administrative procedures for the approval of applications and the release to applicants of the newly revised Standard Costings used to assess the financial implications of proposed investments carried out under the Scheme. As a result, the number of approvals issued to farmers to commence work under the Scheme has increased significantly in recent weeks. The staffing levels in the local AES offices of my Department are also reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that the necessary staffing resources are in place to ensure delivery of the Scheme.

The revised Standard Costings used to calculate the level of grants under the Farm Waste Management Scheme are now available on my Department's web-site. Farmers, together with their advisers, are therefore in a position to determine the level of grant likely to be available for proposed works.

Milk Quota.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

200 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position in relation to the second offer for milk quota restructuring; if she has satisfied herself that the new system is working in favour of the farmers in the north east and west where few other farm enterprises are viable; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15409/07]

Earlier today I announced the aggregate results of the second stage of the 2007/08 Milk Quota Trading Scheme and I am pleased to say that overall the second scheme has built on the success of the first. A near 100 per cent increase in the volume of quota traded through the exchange demonstrates that the scheme is meeting the requirements of most milk producers in a time of change for the sector. I am pleased that the volume of quota made available to priority categories such as young farmers and small farmers has increased by more than 30 per cent.

A total of just over 177 million litres of milk quota was offered for sale, with almost 124 million litres traded. Of this total, 86.2 million litres was sold on the exchange at prices ranging from 9 to 28 cent per litre, and 37.5 million litres was sold through the priority pool at the maximum price of 12 cent per litre, with the exception of two Co-ops where the priority pool quota was sold at exchange prices of 9 and 11 cent.

My Department will now undertake a thorough analysis of the Milk Quota Trading Scheme's first year results, and a comprehensive review of the scheme will be carried out in consultation with the main farming organisations and ICOS before the detailed arrangements for quota trading in the 2008/2009 milk quota year are agreed.

Grant Payments.

Enda Kenny

Question:

201 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is entitled to payment for 2006 and 2007 in respect of being appointed as a keeper of animals pending transfer of property; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15492/07]

The person concerned applied to my Department's Castlebar office to become registered as a Herdkeeper and Herdowner in June 2005. The herd was previously registered in the name of the person's mother, who is deceased since 7th March 1997. The person was registered as a herdkeeper on the 8th July 2005 and was advised by letter on the same date that proof of ownership of the lands was required if he wished to register an interest in the herd as herdowner. The required documentation has not yet been received.

The person named has submitted an application requesting consideration in respect of the Inheritance measure of the Single Payment Scheme. The person named was notified on 14 September 2005 and 19 October 2006 that his application could not be processed until he registered as a herdowner. To date he has failed to be registered as a herdowner.

Forestry Industry.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

202 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding an appeal by a person (details supplied) in County Galway of a decision by Coillte not to purchase 21 hectares of forestry. [15519/07]

As far as I can ascertain, this question relates to an appeal lodged by Coillte, on behalf of the individual, against a decision refusing approval for afforestation rather than the purchase of the land. The appeal was received in the Appeals Unit of the Forest Service of my Department on 10 January 2007 and is currently being processed. I understand that the area will be re-inspected within the next two weeks.

Grant Payments.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

203 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding an application for the single farm payment in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15523/07]

The position is that an application for the Transfer of Entitlements under the 2006 Single Payment Scheme to the person named was submitted on the 15th May 2006.

During processing of the application it was necessary for an official of my Department to write to the person named on the 4th October 2006 and on the 8th November 2006 to request specific documentation relating to the application. The requested documentation was received on the 11th April 2007 and the application is now fully processed.

The person named also made an application under the Consolidation measure of the Single Payment Scheme. This application has been processed and payment will issue shortly.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

204 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will investigate the application for a maintenance grant in respect of an alarm maintenance course by a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [15388/07]

The Maintenance Grant Scheme for Students attending Post Leaving Certificate courses is administered by the Vocational Education Committees on behalf of my Department.

An application for grant assistance, by the candidate referred to by the Deputy, will be assessed with reference to the terms of my Department's Maintenance Grant Scheme for Students Attending Post Leaving Certificate Courses 2006. I wish to draw your attention to Clause 3.2 of the PLC Scheme, it states the following:

"Candidates are ineligible if they already hold a FETAC Level 5 qualification (formerly known as a FETAC (NCVA) Level 2 qualification), a FETAC Level 6 qualification (formerly known as a FETAC (NCVA) Level 3 qualification) or a third level qualification at Level 6 or higher. However, notwithstanding this condition candidates who already hold a qualification no higher than FETAC Level 5 (formerly known as a FETAC (NCVA) Level 2) and are now pursuing a course that offers progression may be deemed eligible for grant aid."

Under this provision, students holding a qualification no higher than a FETAC Level 5 may be considered for grant assistance in respect of an approved PLC course which offers progression.

My Department understands that the candidate referred to by the Deputy has a FÁS qualification, equivalent to FETAC level 6, and is currently pursuing a course at FETAC level 5 at St. Johns College. I regret that under the above provisions of the PLC Scheme the candidate in question is ineligible to receive any funding for the current course as it does not offer progression from the qualification already held.

Schools Building Projects.

John Deasy

Question:

205 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the proposal for a new building for a school (details supplied) in County Waterford; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that they have waited over five months for a preliminary site visit and the appointment of a design team; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15396/07]

I can confirm that the Department is in receipt of an application for a new school building from the management authority of the school to which the Deputy refers.

This application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale works and was assigned a band 2 rating.

Progress on the proposed works is being considered in the context of the multiannual school building and modernisation programme.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

206 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science when consideration will be given to the application for funding from a school (details supplied) in Dublin 12 to build a sports hall for use by the pupils of the school. [15398/07]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

226 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Science if there are plans to replace the prefab classrooms at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 12; and, if so, when same will take place. [15630/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 206 and 226 together.

I can confirm to the Deputy that a revised application for capital funding was recently received from the management authority of the school to which he refers.

The application will be assessed under the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. Once this assessment has been completed and the project has been assigned a band rating under the prioritisation criteria, progress on the proposed project will be considered under the multi-annual school Building and Modernisation Programme.

Special Educational Needs.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

207 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science the support her Department has provided to a person (details supplied) in County Cavan towards home tuition; if the failure to provide such help will be taken into account in their leaving certificate results; her views on whether a person such as this deserves recognition and support at such a difficult time in a young life; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15407/07]

The home tuition scheme provides funding to parents to facilitate the provision of education at home for children who, for a number of reasons such as chronic illness, are unable to attend school. The scheme was extended in recent years to facilitate tuition for children awaiting a suitable educational placement.

I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department has no record of receiving an application for home tuition in respect of the pupil in question. Details of my Department's home tuition scheme together with an application form may be accessed on my Department's website www.education.ie.

My officials have forwarded your query relating to Leaving Certificate results to the State Examinations Commission for direct reply.

Schools Building Projects.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

208 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress towards the restructuring of the model school in Monaghan; if money has been allocated towards same; her views on whether there is an urgent need for this project to go ahead; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15410/07]

The building project for the School referred to by the Deputy is at an early stage of architectural planning and has been approved to proceed to tender and construction as indicated in my announcement of 25 April 2006.

A Stage 3 submission was received in my Department in February 2007 and is currently being examined by my Department's Technical Staff. In due course a meeting will be arranged with the School Authorities and their Design Team in order to evaluate the documentation. Once the stage 3 is approved, the project will proceed to advanced design and subsequently to tender and construction.

Higher Education Grants.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

209 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will give consideration to students who are studying a four year graduate entry programme at UCD termed medicine special entry and who wish to qualify for the higher education grant as they are currently not considered eligible for this scheme. [15411/07]

Under the terms of my Department's Higher Education Grants Scheme, maintenance grants are not payable to candidates who already hold an undergraduate degree and are pursuing a second undergraduate degree. Similarly tuition fees, under the Free Fees Initiative, are not payable in respect of a second period of college attendance on a course at the same level. These restrictions apply to every student who already holds a qualification at the same level, irrespective of where that qualification was obtained or whether or not funding was previously awarded. Clause 7.6 of the Higher Education Grant Scheme refers in this regard.

Section 473A, Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997 provides for tax relief, at the standard rate of tax, for tuition fees paid in respect of approved full/part-time courses in both private and publicly funded third level Colleges and Universities in the State and any other E.U. Member State. Further details and conditions in relation to this tax relief are available from the local Revenue Commissioners Office.

School Staffing.

Enda Kenny

Question:

210 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will confirm that she informed the INTO national congress in Cork in 2007 that she will train 4,000 primary teachers in the next three years; the training schedule for each training college to meet this requirement; the cost involved; the proposed building programme to be provided to meet the demand for teaching space inside the three years involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15422/07]

At the INTO annual conference I referred to the fact that the Taoiseach, in his Ard Fheis address, committed that, back in Government, we will put 4,000 more primary teachers in place over the next five years.

I also explained to the INTO, approximately half of these teachers will be needed to respond to increases in the number of pupils over the next five years, while the remainder would be required to reduce the staffing schedule. In recent years a significant number of additional teachers have been allocated to primary schools and this has been factored in to training needs and capital requirements.

Enda Kenny

Question:

211 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science her proposals to train primary teachers for the years 2007/2008, 2008/2009, 2010/2011, 2011/2012 and 2012/2013; the overall number to be trained by 2013 in view of the fact that 4,000 are to be trained by 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15423/07]

The level of student intake to the Colleges of Education is determined annually by my Department and it takes account of the supply of, and demand for, primary teachers.

The number of students expected to graduate from the 2006/2007 academic year, from the Colleges of Education are as follows:

Colleges of Education

Number

Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines

33

Colaiste Mhuire, Marino

162

Froebel College of Education, Blackrock

85

St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra

495

Mary Immaculate College, Limerick

508

In addition to the above it is estimated that there will be in the region of 500 graduates from the Hibernia College.

The intake into the Colleges of Education in future years will continue to be kept under review by my Department to ensure that there is an adequate supply of teachers.

Special Educational Needs.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

212 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason within the BED teacher training programme there is no specific autism training available to trainee teachers; her views on whether this is essential; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15429/07]

The existing pre-service teacher training programmes in the Colleges of Education (primary teacher training) include specific elements aimed at enabling all student teachers to recognise and deal with children with special educational needs, including pupils with Autism.

My Department holds ongoing discussions with the Colleges of Education to ensure that appropriate responses are made at pre-service level in relation to the continuing needs of all trainee teachers to acquire knowledge of, and familiarity with, the needs of pupils with special educational needs, including Autism.

I would like to point out that my Department has developed a strategy to meet the continuing professional development of teachers working with pupils with special educational needs. This strategy has resulted in a major expansion in the range of post-graduate professional development programmes for teachers. These programmes, which are available annually, include the "Masters in Special Educational Needs (MSEN)", "Combined Post-Graduate Diploma Programme of Continuous Professional Development for Teachers involved in Learning Support and Special Education" and the "Graduate Certificate Course in the Education of Pupils with Autism". It is a central feature of all these courses that teachers are given the necessary skills and expertise to recognise Autism as well as providing the training to meet the needs of students with autism and special educational needs in general.

Ongoing support in the area of Special Educational Needs is provided by the Special Education Support Service (SESS). The SESS was established as part of the Department's overall strategy on continuing professional development of teachers working with pupils with special educational needs, and it undertakes a number of approaches to address the training needs with a view to enhancing the teaching and learning for children with special educational needs. The SESS provides a dedicated support team of expert teachers delivering a range of supports to schools through seminar delivery and individual school visits. In 2006, over 4,000 training places were funded by the SESS to enable teachers to access a range of autism training. The recognition of Autistic Spectrum Disorders forms an integral part of all supports provided by the SESS. This support and training in the recognition of Autism informs training across the educational spectrum, both in mainstream and special schools.

Youth Services.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

213 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science when she will provide the continuation of funds for a project (details supplied) in County Mayo; if her attention has been drawn to the importance of this to the area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15430/07]

The Youth Affairs Section of my Department received a request for funding under the Special Projects for Youth Scheme on behalf of the Ballinrobe Youth Development Project. It was not possible to accede to this request due to the high level of existing commitments in the youth sector and the large number of new applications received this year, eighty three (83) in total.

Having regard also to the finances available in 2007 and the year-on-year costs of sanctioning new projects it was decided to sanction a maximum of three (3) new one-worker projects. The projects selected were Remember Us Youth Project, Co. Dublin, Belvedere Youth Project, Dublin City and the Curragh Youth Project, Co. Kildare.

Schools Building Projects.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

214 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science when the necessary funds will be awarded to a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; if he will act immediately; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15431/07]

The school referred to by the Deputy originally applied for an extension and refurbishment to provide for improved ancillary accommodation. The project proposed initially did not include additional mainstream classrooms and having regard to competing demands on the building programme the application was at that time afforded a lower priority rating.

The school submitted an application under the Small Schools Scheme 2007 for additional accommodation including mainstream classrooms. On 5 March 2007, I announced details of the schools to receive funding under this Scheme. Due to the volume of applications received in the Department it was not possible to allocate funding to all proposed projects and the school referred to by the Deputy was not successful in this instance.

The Department recently received an appeal from the school in relation to the initial decision which will be considered further.

Third Level Education.

Michael Noonan

Question:

215 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has plans for the introduction of distance learning undergraduate degree courses here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15494/07]

Distance learning programmes at undergraduate level are already provided in a range of higher-education institutions. In 2006, there were 1,696 students enrolled in these programmes, studying a wide range of disciplines, in the university sector. Distance education programmes are also available in a number of institutes of technology. Decisions on course delivery methods are matters for individual higher education institutions and I support the continued development of varied and flexible programmes focused on the needs of learners.

Special Educational Needs.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

216 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science if access to a special needs assistant will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford who has dyspraxic tendencies and is difficult to engage in learning activities in the classroom; if the contents of the school based psychological report on this child have been considered by her Department in the context of this child’s special needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15501/07]

The Deputy will be aware that the National Council for Special Education, through the local special educational needs organiser (SENO), is responsible for processing applications from schools for special needs supports for children with special educational needs. The SENO is also a focal point of contact for parents and schools.

I am informed that the local SENO has arranged to meet the school authorities and the child's parents within the coming days to discuss the child's needs.

Enda Kenny

Question:

217 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has received an application for the provision of an autistic unit at Newport, County Mayo from a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that this is the only school in the area with an autism class; if she has examined the proposal that has been submitted; when she will issue approval for the provision of a permanent building; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15502/07]

The need for an autistic unit has been determined and an application for capital funding for additional accommodation, including an autistic unit, has been received from the school to which the Deputy refers. This application is being assessed with reference to factors such as current and projected enrolments at the school, the likely impact of ongoing and proposed housing developments and the existing provision in the general area.

When this assessment is complete, a decision will be taken on how best to provide for the current and emerging accommodation needs at the school. I am pleased to advise the Deputy that applications from schools for additional accommodation for units for children with autism are being given priority within the building programme and I have arranged for one of my officials to contact the school in question to advise them of the position.

In accordance with the prioritisation criteria for school building projects agreed with the Education Partners, projects involving the provision of specialist accommodation urgently required for children with special needs such as autism are afforded a Band 1 priority by the Department.

Youthreach Programme.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

218 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the length of time the Youthreach project has been on a pilot basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15503/07]

The Youthreach Programme is an Inter-Departmental initiative launched in 1988, which provides two years integrated education, training and work experience to young people aged 15-20 years who are at least six months in the labour market and who have left school early without any qualifications or vocational training. The programme is funded by my Department and delivered in out-of-school centres and is managed by Vocational Education Committees (VECs). There are a total of 90 Youthreach Centres managed by the VEC sector throughout the country.

Overall, there are about 6,500 places available nationally at present, 3,250 of which are in the VEC sector and the remainder are in Community Training Centres under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Social Partnership Agreement 2006-2015, "Towards 2016", provides a commitment to increase places on the Youthreach programme in my Department by 1,000 by the end of 2009. The Estimates for 2007 included funding for 400 of those new places to be provided this year and I have recently announced the allocation of those 400 new places. This brings the overall total number of places available in the VEC sector to over 3,600.

Youthreach is not regarded as a pilot programme. The continued operation of the programme in a particular area is based on the continued need for an alternative provision to mainstream schooling to cater for early school leavers. Basic skills training, practical work training and general education are features of the programme. The application of new technology is integrated into all aspects of programme content. The programme lays a strong emphasis on personal development, and on the core skills of literacy/numeracy, communications and IT, along with a choice of vocational options, such as Catering, Hairdressing, Computers, Woodwork, Photography, Video, Sports, Art and Craft and a work experience programme.

My Department is currently also in the process of rolling out an initiative on a pilot basis in twenty centres to meet the special educational needs of students attending Youthreach. Expenditure on the programme in 2006 by my Department was close to €52 million. In addition, the Department provides funding to VECs annually to assist towards the child care expenses of participants in Youthreach.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

Finian McGrath

Question:

219 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a teacher (details supplied) in Dublin 22 was paid below the proper rate; and if she will resolve this matter. [15514/07]

I take it that the Deputy is referring to pay arrears that may be due to part-time teachers in the context of the Protection of Employees (Part-time Work) Act, 2001.

I wish to advise the Deputy that my Department is working towards the implementation of a system that will facilitate the processing of claims for payment of the part-time teachers concerned, including the teacher referred to by the Deputy.

My Department is anxious to accelerate the rate of progress on this matter as quickly as possible and will be in contact with schools in due course.

Special Educational Needs.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

220 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Education and Science if she is satisfied with the level of service available to children with Down’s syndrome in Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15528/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department provides a range of teaching and care supports for children of school-going age with special educational needs, including children with Down Syndrome. The precise level of support is determined by the special educational needs of the particular child.

Children with Down Syndrome are entitled to additional provision in school, either under the terms of the general allocation system of teaching supports if the educational psychological assessment places the child in the high incidence disability category or through an allocation of additional resources if the child is assessed as being within the low incidence category of special need, as defined by my Department's circular.

In circumstances where a Down Syndrome child has other associated needs and would fall into the low incidence disability category, this would automatically attract additional resource teaching support. Such applications are made to the local special educational needs organiser by the school. Special need assistant (SNA) support is provided specifically to address the care needs of pupils with special educational needs. The nature and level of support provided is based on the assessed needs of the individual child having regard to the criteria set out in my Department's circulars. The provision of speech and language services is a matter for the Health Service Executive (HSE) and funding is provided to the HSE for such purposes.

I am satisfied that the mechanisms are in place to provide appropriate resources for children with special needs in our schools, including those with Down Syndrome.

Employment Opportunities.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

221 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Education and Science the employment opportunities available to graduates of the speech and language therapy course at NUIG in view of the fact that the graduates are unable to obtain employment while senior speech and language therapists are being recruited internationally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15529/07]

My Department does not have responsibility for employment opportunities for graduates in speech and language therapies. However, graduates in these disciplines are of particular importance to the education sector and my Department has been in contact with the Department of Health and Children and the Health Services Executive to press the case for additional employment opportunities.

Schools Building Projects.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

222 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science the position of a school (details supplied) in County Dublin on her Department’s school building programme; if this school will be progressed over 2007; when this school will be in a position to proceed to construction stage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15535/07]

I can confirm to the Deputy that the Department is in receipt of an application to establish a new school in County Dublin. This application is being assessed. The applicant will be informed of the outcome as soon as possible.

Home Tuition.

Phil Hogan

Question:

223 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason for the delay in paying out the necessary allowances to persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15545/07]

I understand the Deputy is referring to the payment of a home tuition grant as part of the 2006 July Education Programme.

I wish to assure the Deputy that every effort is made to process all claims for payment as speedily as possible.

With regard to the specific case referred to by the Deputy, I can confirm that 40 hours home based tuition for the month of July 2006 was sanctioned for the child in question on the 14th June, 2006. A claim for payment was received from the family on 16th August, 2006. My Department's records confirm that payment issued on 15th September, 2006.

School Placement.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

224 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when a school placement will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15588/07]

The compulsory school starting age in a National School is 6 years of age.

Enrolment in individual schools is the responsibility of the managerial authority of those schools and my Department does not seek to intervene in decisions made by schools in such matters. My Department's main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking places. This may result, however, in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.

It is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of schools that are not in a position to admit all pupils seeking entry to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act. In this regard a board of management may find it necessary to restrict enrolment to children from a particular area or a particular age group or, occasionally, on the basis of some other criterion. In formulating an admissions policy a school must, however, ensure it is lawful. In particular, it must act in accordance with section 7 of the Equal Status Act 2000.

Where a Board of Management refuses to enrol a student in a school, the parent of the student or, where the student has reached 18 years of age, the student himself or herself, following the conclusion of any appeal procedures at school level, has a statutory entitlement under section 29 of the Education Act to appeal that decision to the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science. A committee is established to hear the appeal with hearings conducted with a minimum of formality. In most cases appeals must be dealt with within 30 days. Where appropriate, the Secretary General may give whatever directions to the Board of Management that are considered necessary to remedy the matter complained of.

Details on appealing decisions on enrolment under section 29 of the Education Act are available on my Department's website at www.education.ie.

Vocational Education Committees.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

225 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on reviewing the status of the 12 directors of vocational educational committee recognised outdoor pursuit centres nationwide, who are seeking a pay increase but are having difficulties obtaining same due to their classification as grade six administrators, despite partaking in work which exceeds this grade; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15604/07]

The Teachers Union of Ireland referred a pay claim on behalf of the Directors of Outdoor Education Centres to the Labour Relations Commission. Currently, VEC staff, including the Directors of these Centres, do not have access to the Labour Relations Commission or the Labour Court. However, the Department agreed to attend a Labour Relations Commission conciliation conference on the issue on an ad-hoc basis. Such a conference was held on 21 March 2007 at which no agreement could be reached.

Steps are currently being taken to amend the Industrial Relations Act, 1990, which would allow VEC staff, including the Directors of these centres, access to the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court.

Question No. 226 answered with QuestionNo. 206.

Planning Issues.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

227 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on establishing a local planning monitoring group within each local authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15432/07]

I am not clear what type of monitoring group is envisaged by the Deputy. Section 48 of the Local Government Act 2001 provides that each city and county council must establish strategic policy committees (SPCs), comprising elected members and sectoral interests, to consider the formulation, development, monitoring and review of policy relating to local authority functions, including planning, and to advise the council on those matters.

Traffic Calming Measures.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

228 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the dangerous situation at a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; if he is unable to solve these matters will he instruct the local authority to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15433/07]

Improvements to non-national roads, including the provision of traffic calming measures, are matters for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State grants provided by my Department.

In 2007, the total grant allocation by my Department to Mayo County Council for non-national roads is €31,625,821. This includes a Discretionary Improvement grant allocation of €1,651,000. Local authorities may, at their discretion, fund various eligible works on non-national roads from this discretionary grant allocation, including traffic management and traffic calming measures.

A Low Cost Safety Improvement Works scheme of grants for non-national roads was introduced by my Department in 2000 as an extension of the scheme operated on national roads under the auspices of the National Roads Authority (NRA). The NRA assesses applications for grant assistance under the non-national roads scheme on behalf of my Department. The criteria for grant approval are based on accident data, inspection of sites, locations showing demonstrable hazard and discussions between the local authority and the NRA. Applications were invited from local authorities in 2006 for consideration for grant assistance in 2007 under this scheme. In 2007, my Department has allocated over €7.86 million to local authorities in respect of Low Cost Safety Improvement Works on non-national roads and Mayo County Council received a grant allocation of €233,000. The Council did not, however, include works at Glencastle National School. It is open to Mayo County Council to submit an application, for eligible works, for consideration for funding under this scheme in 2008 when my Department invites applications later in the year. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be considered for funding under the scheme is a matter for the Council.

Legislation governing the application of speed limits to public roads is contained in the Road Traffic Acts. Roads authorities have responsibility, under the Road Traffic Acts, for the application of speed limits to, and the provision of speed limit signs on, roads. My Department has no function in the matter.

Farm Waste Management.

Tom Hayes

Question:

229 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if there are developments in the extension of the scheme for the disposal of silage wrap under which farmers in south Tipperary would benefit, as the present situation is causing a lot of problems. [15507/07]

To address the issue of accumulated backlogs of farm plastic, designated facilities are being provided on a temporary, once-off basis by local authorities where farmers may deposit stockpiled farm film plastic and silage wrap. These special arrangements operated on a pilot basis in the first instance in counties Clare, Galway, Mayo, Offaly and Waterford during June and July of last year. The service was provided free to the farmer and funding to assist the local authorities is being made available from my Department through the Environment Fund.

The collections were well supported by farmers in the counties participating in the pilot phase, leading to large quantities of plastic being deposited at designated sites. A significant finding from the pilot scheme was that it is not possible to operate collections in a large number of counties at the same time due to capacity constraints on the part of recovery operators. Accordingly, it was necessary to roll out the scheme to other areas on a staggered basis. Arising from a comprehensive examination of the information available, I approved further collections of waste silage / bale wrap by Carlow, Leitrim, Longford, North Tipperary, Roscommon and Wicklow County Councils which concluded in January of this year. It is estimated that in excess of 15,000 tonnes of plastics were recovered by the eleven local authorities that have operated collections to date.

Following a review of the outcome of the second round of collections, I have recently announced that collections of waste silage / bale wrap will now be put in place in a further 18 county council areas over the next 6 months. When the final phase is completed, collections will have taken place in all 29 county council areas. This arrangement allows for phased collections while at the same time creating certainty in the minds of farmers as to when their backlog will be cleared. It also allows local authorities and local farming organisations sufficient notice to agree and put in place the necessary arrangements for collections in their areas.

The collections are now being rolled out as follows:

Dates

Counties

Phase One

Currently being implemented

Donegal, Cork (West), Cavan, Sligo, Kilkenny, South Tipperary, Meath

Phase Two

June\July 2007

Kerry, Limerick, Cork (East), Westmeath, Monaghan, Wexford, Laois

Phase Three

September\October 2007

Fingal, South Dublin, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Kildare, Louth

The dates and locations of collections in South Tipperary are a matter for the local authority but I understand that South Tipperary County Council is currently putting in place the necessary arrangements and that collections will take place in May.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

230 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to extend the Tuam town sewerage scheme to Birmingham Road, Tuam, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15524/07]

I recently approved Galway County Council's proposal to invite tenders for Stage 2 of the Tuam Town Drainage Scheme which is being funded under my Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2005-2007.

The scheme, as approved, does not provide for the wastewater collection network being extended to the Bermingham Road. However, I understand that Galway County Council has such an extension under consideration and any proposals the Council may submit to my Department in this regard will be dealt with as quickly as possible.

Departmental Correspondence.

Pat Breen

Question:

231 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when an application will be processed for a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15576/07]

Following receipt of the papers referred to in the Question, a number of queries were raised by the Chief State Solicitor's Office. My Department is seeking to progress the clarification of these as quickly as possible.