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 7, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 8 to 82, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 83 to 91, inclusive, answered orally.

Democratisation Process.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

92 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland supports Kosovo in its bid for independence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18735/07]

Together with our EU partners, Ireland has consistently expressed strong support for the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy, the former Finnish President, Martti Ahtisaari, and his team since they commenced work over a year ago on the challenging and complex issue of Kosovo's final status. Ireland believes that the comprehensive proposal of Special Envoy Ahtisaari provides the most practical basis for a settlement of the Kosovo issue by a new Resolution of the UN Security Council, to replace Security Council Resolution 1244 under which Kosovo has been governed since 1999.

The declared aim of Special Envoy Ahtisaari's Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo status settlement is to define the provisions necessary for a future Kosovo that is viable, sustainable and stable. His recommendation is that Kosovo's status should be independence, supervised by the international community. The proposal includes detailed provisions concerning the promotion and protection of the rights of communities and their members, the effective decentralisation of government, and the preservation and protection of cultural and religious heritage. It also sets out constitutional, economic and security measures, aimed at contributing to the development of a multi-ethnic, democratic and prosperous Kosovo. A key element of the proposed settlement would be the mandate provided for a future international civilian and military presence in Kosovo, to supervise implementation of the Settlement and assist the competent Kosovo authorities in ensuring peace and stability throughout Kosovo.

These detailed proposals are the product of more than twelve months of negotiations involving the parties in Belgrade and Pristina under the chairmanship of the Special Envoy and his team. Following from these discussions, Special Envoy Ahtisaari has been clear in his view that there is no likelihood of agreement between the parties on the status issue itself, and that his comprehensive and balanced proposals therefore represent the only practical basis for Kosovo's final status.

While we would ideally have preferred to see the Kosovo issue resolved on the basis of full agreement between all the parties, we share the Special Envoy's view that his proposal represents the most practicable solution in all of the prevailing historical and political circumstances. We therefore continue to urge intensified efforts within the UN Security Council to agree on a new Resolution which will provide the basis for implementation of this proposal. Once a new Resolution is agreed, the EU will play the lead role in international efforts to support the implementation of the final status settlement. It is likely that Ireland will contribute to the EU role in Kosovo through the involvement of the Garda in the planned ESDP civilian Mission. We will also step up our existing participation in the NATO-led and UN–mandated KFOR force, as we take on from this summer the role of Framework Nation of the Multinational Task Force (Centre), covering the capital Pristina and the surrounding area.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

John Perry

Question:

93 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions taking place between the European Union and Russia following recent statements from Russia that it may aim missiles at targets in Europe once again; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18726/07]

Seán Barrett

Question:

147 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position of the Government with regard to the possible building of a US missile defence shield involving European Union Member States Poland and the Czech Republic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18727/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 147 together.

The recent statements from Russia that it may aim missiles at targets in Europe were part of its reaction to the news that the US intends to deploy elements of a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The European Union does not have an agreed position on missile defence, a matter on which it has no competence. This is a question for decision by individual Member States and a matter more appropriate for discussion within NATO, of which Poland and the Czech Republic are both members. The matter was raised during the recent EU-Russia Summit in Samara by the Russian side which made reference to enormous security implications arising from the US intentions. The Presidency made clear, in response, that it saw the matter as more appropriate to discussion within and with NATO.

Ireland's own position is clear. We share the concerns expressed regarding missile defence systems. We believe that the development of missile defence systems can have many negative consequences, including creating or aggravating missile arms races. The most effective way to tackle missile proliferation and the attendant threats is to engage in serious work in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation. Ireland has always played a very active role in such efforts, particularly within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Further reductions in nuclear arsenals, with the aim of their total elimination, offer the best approach to addressing security concerns in this area. The development of missile defence systems, on the other hand, has the potential to create a destabilising effect in the region and could induce some countries to expand their missile arsenals or to develop new missiles that might better penetrate defences.

We would urge all sides to refrain from inflammatory and threatening language and to engage in constructive dialogue. Despite the harsh rhetoric, there are some hopeful indicators in this regard. President Bush and President Putin spoke in the margins of the recent G8 Summit in Heiligendamm in Germany, and they continued their discussions when President Putin visited Kennebunkport in the US earlier this week and apparently elaborated on his proposal for a shared missile defence system based in Azerbaijan. It is not clear what the next steps may be, but it is positive that the two sides are in discussion. In their joint remarks to the press yesterday, both President Bush and President Putin spoke of the need to expand the dialogue to include European countries and indicated that it might be useful to do so through the NATO-Russia Council.

Diplomatic Representations.

John O'Mahony

Question:

94 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government continues to make representations on behalf of detained pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18697/07]

The Minister deeply regrets the decision of the Burmese regime to renew the detention order on Aung San Suu Kyi for a further year on 26 May. The Government would again call on the Burmese government to rescind this order immediately. Not only would this be a humanitarian gesture to a woman who has spent almost 12 of the last 18 years in detention without charge, it would provide real substance and significance to the regime's professed goal of a return to civilian democratic government in Burma.

Ireland and the EU continue to raise the issue of the situation in Burma in all relevant fora, and to work closely with partners to effectively engage international organisations in addressing the situation in that country.

The then Minister of State, Noel Treacy, TD, raised the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi at the EU-ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Nuremberg on 14-15 March, as well as directly with the Foreign Minister of Burma in a bilateral discussion. Ireland also joined EU partners at the ASEM Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Hamburg on 28-29 May, in the presence of the Burmese Foreign Minister, in forcefully condemning the decision to renew the detention order on Aung San Suu Kyi . Ministers at both meetings called for a lifting of restrictions on political parties and the early release of all those under detention.

Ireland and our EU partners continue to apply a range of sanctions and restrictive measures to Burma, referred to as the EU Common Position. In renewing the Common Position in April, the Council adopted Conclusions clearly stating the EU's deep concern on the lack of progress in the promised transition towards a legitimate civilian government, and calling for the early release of all political prisoners and an end to the military campaign against civilians in conflict areas. We also expressed our concerns about serious violations of human rights, restrictions on domestic human rights organisations and international human rights institutions by the government of Burma. Ireland played a leading role in preparing the draft Conclusions and in gaining agreement for their adoption.

With EU partners, Ireland strongly supports the use of the UN Secretary General's good offices to bring about peaceful political change in Burma. We welcome UNSG Ban Ki-moon's appointment on 22 May of Ibraham Gambari as his Special Adviser on Burma. It is important that the Burmese government co-operate with the Secretary General's good offices mission to make tangible progress on the protection of human rights in that country.

I can assure the Deputy that we will continue to raise this issue with the Burmese authorities on all possible occasions and to ensure that it remains firmly on the international political agenda.

International Criminal Court.

P. J. Sheehan

Question:

95 Deputy P. J. Sheehan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the EU has held recent discussions with the United States regarding recognition of the International Criminal Court by that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18711/07]

The United States maintains what it regards as fundamental concerns in relation to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Although the US signed the Rome Statute in December 2000, in May 2002, it informed the Secretary General of the United Nations that it did not intend to become a party to the Statute, and that accordingly it had no obligations arising from its signature. The objections of the United States to the ICC are based on its view that, because of the independence of the Court's prosecutor, US citizens and in particular its military forces could be subjected to politically motivated prosecutions.

As I have stated previously, while I recognise these concerns, I do not share them and nor are they shared by our EU partners. The jurisdiction of the ICC is complementary to national jurisdictions, meaning that the Court will become involved in a case only where a state with jurisdiction over a crime is unwilling or unable to carry out a genuine investigation or prosecution. The Rome Statute contains strong and carefully drafted safeguards to prevent politically motivated prosecutions.

The EU has been a consistent and strong supporter of the ICC, and has taken a leading role internationally in promoting the Court. The Council of the European Union, in their Conclusions of 30 September 2002, sought to develop a broader dialogue between the European Union and the United States on all matters related to the ICC. The EU remains willing to engage in such dialogue and maintains contact with the US on the matter, most recently, in June of this year, when the Legal Adviser to the United States Secretary of State, Mr John Bellinger III, met with the EU Council Working Group on the International Criminal Court in Brussels. The Group, which comprises representatives from each Member State, was established to help develop and promote EU policy on the ICC.

At the meeting in Brussels, Mr. Bellinger restated the position of the United States towards the ICC. However his visit also provided a useful opportunity to discuss a number of related issues, including co-operation with the Court, the use of the Court's facilities by the Special Court for Sierra Leone and bilateral immunity agreements entered into by the United States, which seek to prevent the surrender of US personnel to the Court. Both sides expressed a willingness to remain in contact on the issue.

EU Treaty.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

96 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of the EU Constitution; if the recently agreed treaty or variation thereof is expected to be put to the people by way of referendum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18768/07]

Leo Varadkar

Question:

100 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to holding a referendum on the newly agreed European Union treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18688/07]

Alan Shatter

Question:

120 Deputy Alan Shatter asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when a referendum on the new EU reform treaty will be held; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18728/07]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

158 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans for the holding of a referendum on the European Constitution; when this will happen. [18656/07]

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

274 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures the Government will take in preparing for the referendum on a new European constitutional treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18807/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

294 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his preferred options in regard to the ratification of the EU Constitution in the aftermath of the recent EU Summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19086/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 96, 100, 120, 158, 274 and 294 together.

Ratification proceedings with regard to the new Reform Treaty are a matter for individual Member States in every case. As far as Ireland is concerned, we will as always in such matters examine in detail the constitutional implications for us of the Reform Treaty. The Government will proceed by consulting the Attorney General and a decision as regards a possible referendum will be taken in that context.

The Reform Treaty meets our overall interest of an effective Union equipped to meet the needs and interests of our citizens and capable of playing an effective role in promoting our values on the world stage. Most importantly also, it will enable the enlarged Union and its entities to function to full effect in the interest of all the Member States and their peoples. The content of the Reform Treaty which, while retaining the overwhelming substance of the EU draft Constitution, will of course require the most careful and thorough explanation to the public.

We are pleased also that the European Council emphasised the crucial importance of reinforcing communication with European citizens, providing full and comprehensive information on the European Union and involving them in a permanent dialogue. As the European Council conclusions note, this will be particularly important during the upcoming IGC and ratification process.

International Agreements.

Joan Burton

Question:

97 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason, that of the original fifteen EU States, Ireland is one of only two to have not signed up to the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture which entered into force on 22 June 2006 and is binding on 34 States; when Ireland will sign up to this convention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18653/07]

On 18 December 2002, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. Ireland, along with other EU partners, fully supported the draft Optional Protocol and worked for its adoption at the UN General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights. The Optional Protocol entered into force on 22 June 2006.

The object of the Protocol is to establish a system of regular visits undertaken both by an independent international body and by national bodies to places of detention with a view to preventing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The international body is to be a subcommittee of the UN Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. At the national level, States Parties are required to maintain, designate or establish one or more bodies for the prevention of torture at the domestic level.

As regards our signature of the Optional Protocol with a view to subsequent ratification, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform informed the Dáil on Tuesday, 8 November 2005, that he would review national legislation to ascertain whether legislative changes would be required before signature and ratification of the Optional Protocol. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has now drafted a memorandum requesting the authority of the Government to arrange for the signature, subject to ratification, of the Optional Protocol. The Department of Foreign Affairs will be making the necessary arrangements for signature as soon as this approval is received. I understand that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform is currently in the process of preparing the necessary legislation to enable ratification to take place.

Decentralisation Programme.

Seán Barrett

Question:

98 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of principal and senior development specialists volunteering for decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18715/07]

Michael Creed

Question:

99 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of development specialists volunteering for decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18710/07]

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

Under the Government's decentralisation programme, the Development Cooperation Directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is Irish Aid's Headquarters, will decentralise to Limerick. This is scheduled to take place in early 2008 on completion of the premises. It will involve the relocation to Limerick of 124 posts. Good progress has been made and personnel have either been assigned to, or identified for, 101 posts or approximately 82% of the 124 posts scheduled to be decentralised. An advance party involving over 50 staff has already decentralised to interim office premises in Limerick.

As regards development specialists, they perform an important role in the business of Irish Aid. The specialists work alongside diplomatic and general service staff, in close contact and co-operation with each business unit within the Division. There are a number of issues to be worked out with regard to the specialist posts which are scheduled to move. Discussions are ongoing at a very senior level with representatives of the specialists, with their union IMPACT and with the Departments of Finance and Foreign Affairs in order to resolve the outstanding issues. Progress has been made and I hope that these discussions can be brought to a successful conclusion at an early date. Until these sensitive discussions are concluded, it would be premature to speculate on the number of specialist posts which might be decentralised to Limerick.

In addition to the development specialist posts at Headquarters, there are 20 development specialists attached to Embassies in our programme countries.

I should point out that almost all of the senior management team for Limerick are in place. In this regard, the Director General of Irish Aid will be decentralising to Limerick. Four Counsellors/ Principal Officers have already decentralised as part of the advance party and a further three Counsellors/Principal Officers in the Directorate will be decentralising. The changeover of the senior management team, just as in other grades, has been implemented in a planned and careful way so as to minimise disruption to the business of the Directorate.

As stated in the Programme for Government, decentralisation is a Government decision and the Government is committed to moving ahead with its implementation.

Question No. 100 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

Middle East Peace Process.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

101 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had an input to efforts towards securing freedom for a person (details supplied) held for over 100 days in the Palestinian territories. [18659/07]

Michael D'Arcy

Question:

166 Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government has raised the continued detention of a person (details supplied) with the Palestinian Authority; the steps the Government and the European Union is taking to secure this person’s release; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18734/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101 and 166 together.

I know that the House will join with me today in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the BBC journalist, Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped by an armed group in Gaza on 12 March 2007.

The EU has condemned the kidnapping and has called for Mr. Johnston's release, as have the International Quartet, the United Nations, the President of the Palestinian Authority, and virtually all senior Palestinian political figures, including the leaders of Hamas.

The Government is following the case closely, through the Representative Office in Ramallah and in consultation with our EU partners. Developments have been considered at the monthly meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council since March. We have assured the British Government of our readiness to assist in any way which might lead to the release of Mr. Johnston. We have also raised his kidnapping regularly in our contacts with the Palestinian Authority and its representatives.

I was shocked by the release of video footage by Mr. Johnston's kidnappers last week, and by further reported threats to his life. It is essential that those holding him in Gaza listen to the voices of the Palestinian people, and the friends of the Palestinian people worldwide, and release Alan Johnston immediately.

Question No. 102 answered with QuestionNo. 90.

Overseas Missions.

Richard Bruton

Question:

103 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the level of security at Irish embassies overseas is under frequent review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18702/07]

My Department regularly reviews the security of Irish missions abroad from the point of view of the safety and protection of both staff and visitors, as well as the security of all official premises and their contents.

In addition, as part of the risk management process within the Department, each of our Missions abroad has a crisis response plan for dealing with emergencies that would threaten the safety of their staff or of Irish citizens within their area of accreditation. The Department's Inspection Unit also reviews the physical security of the Missions and their crisis response plans as part of the programme of inspection visits to our Missions.

Democratisation Process.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

104 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will confirm that the Government retains its commitment to the right of self-determination of the Saharawi people; if the Government of Morocco has made further progress on the future of the region, a proposal which it is committed to preparing; if Ireland at a UN and international level has had input on the process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18676/07]

The Government has consistently supported, and remains fully committed to, the right to self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara. Ireland continues to be active on the issue in discussions at EU level and at the United Nations. The Government strongly supports the continuing engagement of the UN in the search for a political solution in the Western Sahara based on the principle of self-determination.

Following detailed internal consultations, the Government of Morocco has recently brought forward its proposals for the future of the Western Sahara. These set out in general terms a vision of an autonomous Government in the Territory, operating under Moroccan sovereignty. In response the Polisario Front, representing the Saharawi people, has set out its position in favour of the creation of an independent State in close association with Morocco, and with protection for Moroccan vital interests.

Although there is clearly a broad gap between these two competing visions, I regard it as a positive and helpful development that both parties have set out their proposals for the future, and the measures they can envisage to accommodate the concerns of the other side. Ireland has not taken a position on the future of the Territory, be it full independence, autonomy, or integration under Moroccan sovereignty. The important point is that the status of the Territory should be decided in a genuine exercise of self-determination by the people of the Western Sahara.

I am encouraged that, following the publication of the two sets of proposals, representatives of Morocco and the Polisario Front met in New York on 18 June, under the auspices of the United Nations. This was an initial contact, but it undoubtedly represents a positive development following a period of political stalemate. We will continue to encourage the engagement of the parties and the involvement of the UN, including the Personal Representative of the Secretary General, Mr. Van Walsum, with the objective of a just and lasting political settlement for the people of the Western Sahara.

Decentralisation Programme.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

105 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timescale for the decentralisation of Irish Aid; the latest discussions that he has held with interested parties in respect of the move; the steps being taken to preserve the institutional memory of the organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18722/07]

Emmet Stagg

Question:

162 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress being achieved with regard to the ongoing decentralisation to Limerick of Irish Aid; if pursuant to a previous response he believes that full decentralisation will proceed in the second half of 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18675/07]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

163 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of staff members of Irish Aid who have signalled their intention to decentralise; their roles and positions within the organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18723/07]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

277 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when and the way he plans to proceed with decentralisation in his Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18434/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 105, 162, 163 and 277 together.

Under the Government's decentralisation programme, the Development Cooperation Directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is Irish Aid's Headquarters, will decentralise to Limerick. This is scheduled to take place early in 2008 on completion of the premises which are currently under construction. It will involve the relocation to Limerick of 124 posts. Good progress has been made and personnel have either been assigned to, or identified for, 101 posts or approximately 82% of the 124 posts scheduled to be decentralised. An advance party involving over 50 staff has already decentralised to interim office premises in Limerick.

The current staffing position is as follows:

66 posts in Irish Aid are filled by officers who have either already taken part in the advance move or signalled their intention to decentralise to Limerick. The majority of positions filled are in the diplomatic and general service grades at all levels. Importantly, the key posts of Director General, seven Counsellors/Principal Officers (heads of section) and the Financial Controller are filled by personnel who are moving to Limerick.

A further 17 officers who are serving elsewhere in the Department, mostly abroad, are also expected to decentralise to Limerick and will be taking up duty in Irish Aid in advance of the move.

In addition, 18 officers from other Departments who have applied to decentralise to Limerick, most of whom are currently based in provincial locations, will transfer to the Department closer to the date of the move.

As regards development specialists, they perform an important role in the business of Irish Aid. The specialists work alongside diplomatic and general service staff, in close contact and co-operation with each business unit within the Division. There are a number of issues still to be resolved with regard to the specialist posts which are scheduled to move. Discussions are ongoing at a very senior level with representatives of the specialists, with their union IMPACT and with the Departments of Finance and Foreign Affairs in order to resolve the outstanding issues. Progress has been made and I hope that these discussions can be brought to a successful conclusion at an early date.

The transfer of Irish Aid to Limerick presents significant challenges. Risk management issues are being addressed through planning and risk management strategies. This involves adequate handover periods in order to ensure the retention of corporate memory. Appropriate training and induction courses are being provided and will continue to be provided for new staff. Staffing changes have been and continue to be phased in order to facilitate this process.

As stated in the Programme for Government, decentralisation is a Government decision and the Government is committed to moving ahead with its implementation.

Foreign Conflicts.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

106 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the ongoing civil war in Iraq. [18670/07]

Catherine Byrne

Question:

109 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the security and political situation in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18685/07]

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

145 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the ongoing military engagements on the Iraq Turkey border between Turkish forces and Kurdish separatists; the action the European Union proposes to take to end bloodshed; the discussions it may have entered into with the Turkish government; and the action the occupying forces in Iraq have undertaken to take with regard to this issue. [18665/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106, 109 and 145 together.

The Government remains gravely concerned by the horrific violence in Iraq. The violence has effectively stalled the political process and continues to threaten the stability of the region.

There are no simple solutions to the chaos across large areas of Iraq. The situation is now extremely complex, involving many different groups, with diverse motivations, seeking to assert local control or to prevent the Iraqi Government from establishing effective administration. Much of the violence is sectarian in nature, and involves indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Recent attacks have included more massive car bombs against ordinary rush hour commuters in Baghdad, horrific sectarian murders and a further bomb attack on the Shia shrine in Samarra whose partial destruction last year helped provoke the current spiral of violence. It is clear that the objective of many of these attacks is to provoke sectarian retaliation, generate further divisions in Iraqi society and undermine any prospect of a stable and prosperous future for the Iraqi people.

As Deputies are aware, US and Iraqi forces have launched a stepped-up security campaign, particularly in Baghdad and neighbouring provinces. The intention is to secure areas from armed militias and establish firm government control, which inevitably entails an increase in fighting in the short term. It will be some time before a clear judgment can be made as to whether these operations can achieve any lasting success. There are reports that cooperation by local leaders with the Iraqi Government has brought some improvement in security in Anbar Province, which includes most of western Iraq, but it remains to be seen if this can be sustained. Last week's terrible bomb attack in Baghdad, which took the lives of a number of the Sunni leaders involved in this effort, was a stark reminder of the dangers facing Iraqis working to end the violence.

The situation in the northern, Kurdish area of the country has in general been more stable than elsewhere. The separate military campaign by the Turkish Army against the armed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in South Eastern Turkey has raised serious concern about a possible spillover into Northern Iraq, where PKK units maintain bases close to the border. There have been frequent suggestions in recent months that the Turkish Army might launch an attack into Northern Iraq in order to destroy these bases. It is clear that such a move could result in a wider conflict in the Kurdish provinces of Iraq and contribute to further regional instability. So far, although low level clashes along the border have continued, there has been no substantial Turkish incursion. The EU and others have urged Turkey not to launch any such operation, a message which the Government fully endorse.

The Government has emphasised consistently that security operations in Iraq will only succeed in the longer term in the context of a broadly political approach, involving a process of political reconciliation between all communities within a unified Iraq. In particular, it remains essential to work creatively to engage the Sunni community in the political system, especially through the review of provisions of the democratically-approved Constitution for Iraq. It is very disappointing that the campaign of violence and the internal differences within and between the many parties in Iraq's national Government seem to have impeded the bold action the situation surely calls for.

The only way forward for Iraq is through the establishment of shared institutions, the maintenance of the unity of the country and the development of a meaningful regional perspective. Recent meetings of Iraq and its neighbours in the region, and the launch by Iraq and the UN of the International Compact for Iraq, may be important steps in developing a regional approach to resolving this conflict, but it is critical that the pledges made be lived up to. There is a clear obligation on all parties regionally and internationally to co-operate to end this nightmare situation for the Iraqi people.

The principal concern of the Government and our EU partners remains the welfare of the Iraqi people. The EU has provided over €700 million in assistance for reconstruction since 2003. In January, the Government announced a further €3 million in assistance for the victims of the violence, in particular the large numbers who have been forced to flee their homes, and are internally displaced in Iraq or have become refugees abroad. This represents a substantial addition to the €7.9 million already provided by the Government for humanitarian assistance in Iraq. In March we also announced the allocation of a further €100,000 to support the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

107 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the most recent meeting, in April 2007, of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group Plenary meeting in Cape Town, South Africa; the outcome of this meeting; the position Ireland took at the meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18667/07]

The seventeenth Plenary Meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) took place in Cape Town on 19-20 April 2007. The Plenary was preceded by a number of other meetings that week, including the NSG Consultative Group, an information exchange meeting and a meeting of licensing officers.

The deliberations of the NSG are confidential. In general terms, however, these meetings focused on issues concerned with the core objective of the NSG, viz. to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons through the implementation, on a national basis, of export controls on nuclear and nuclear-related material, equipment and technology.

It was of particular importance from Ireland's perspective to receive an update on developments in respect of the US-India deal on nuclear co-operation. This occurred not during the Plenary but during the preceding NSG Consultative Group. The US reported that there remained a number of difficulties in respect of the bilateral agreement currently under negotiation with India. Ireland, together with several other like-minded countries, took the opportunity to seek clarification, both on the current state of play of these bilateral negotiations, and on the likely nature of any future request for the NSG to take a decision on this matter.

Negotiations between India and the US on the substance of their bilateral agreement also took place in Cape Town outside the framework of the NSG Plenary. Discussions have continued between the two sides in the period since then. Our understanding is that efforts to bridge the gaps have not so far proved successful and further discussions have been scheduled for mid-July in Washington.

The discussions in Cape Town confirmed our current sense that the NSG will not be asked to take any decision in respect of nuclear co-operation with India until after the US-Indian bilateral agreement has been finalised and India has concluded a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Negotiations on the latter have not yet commenced, pending the conclusion of the bilateral agreement.

The next NSG Plenary meeting is scheduled to take place in Germany in May 2008.

Emigrant Support Services.

Mary Upton

Question:

108 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recent legislative initiatives in the US Senate to address the issue of undocumented immigrants including Irish citizens; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18649/07]

Kieran O'Donnell

Question:

132 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding the immigration reform proposals under consideration in the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18716/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

159 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in regard to the regularisation of undocumented Irish in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18769/07]

Willie Penrose

Question:

165 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the position pertaining to the regularisation of status for out of status Irish persons in the United States of America; the discussions he has had with American officials; the initiatives and assistance which is being provided by the Irish Embassy in Washington; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18672/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

284 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the outcome of recent discussions he has had with the US authorities with a view to addressing the issue of the undocumented Irish in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19076/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 108, 132, 159, 165 and 284 together.

As Deputies will be aware, efforts in the US Senate to achieve comprehensive immigration reform were not successful in attracting the level of support necessary to ensure its progress at this time. This is undoubtedly a setback for the Irish undocumented and their families here in Ireland. I can assure the House of the Government's determination and resolve to continue to highlight the issue and to work to achieve a satisfactory outcome which will address the needs of our undocumented citizens. This is an issue of the utmost importance and priority for the Government.

On the positive side, there is strong cross-party awareness on Capitol Hill of the Irish dimension to the undocumented issue. Our Ambassador in Washington is extremely active in highlighting our concerns, as are officials of our Consulates across the United States. The Taoiseach and I, and other members of the Oireachtas, have raised this issue on every occasion we met with key figures in the US Administration and on Capitol Hill, and have made known the Government's strong support for measures that would benefit our undocumented citizens.

Our sustained political contacts have been further strengthened by the mobilisation of the Irish community behind the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform — a highly effective organisation which we are pleased to support, including financially.

Deputies are aware that immigration reform is one of the most contentious and high profile political issues in the US. There are strong views on both sides of the argument not only in Congress and the State legislatures but also in business, the trade union movement and US society in general.

On May 17th, a bipartisan coalition of US Senators, including Senator Kennedy, reached what has been characterised as a "grand compromise" on comprehensive immigration reform. Very regrettably however, it did not prove possible to move the bill to a final vote on that occasion.

Subsequently, President Bush went to the Congress on June 12th to meet with Republican Senators. Following that meeting, he announced his support for a $4.4 billion initiative on strengthening border security. The Democratic Leader in the Senate and his Republican counterpart then announced that the reform bill would be brought back to the Senate floor. On 26th June, the Senate voted to proceed with a debate on the bill. I welcomed this as an encouraging advance. However, securing the necessary bipartisan consensus to deliver on this complex and divisive matter always constituted a very considerable challenge, and unfortunately, as we now know, the compromise bill failed to attract sufficient support.

I want to express my thanks and appreciation again to President Bush, and to Senator Kennedy and the many other Senators and Members of the House of Representatives who sought to resolve this complex issue in a balanced and constructive way.

I have asked our Ambassador in Washington for his urgent assessment and overview of the current situation. In the light of this, we will immediately conduct a further thorough review of how best to harness our efforts and resources to try to finally resolve this extremely complex issue.

Question No. 109 answered with QuestionNo. 106.

Rapid Response Initiative.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

110 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to the operation of the voluntary humanitarian corps by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18730/07]

A recruitment campaign was launched across the national media seeking applications to join the Rapid Response Corps in early February 2007.

This first recruitment round was completed on 21 June. I am very pleased with the response received and, more particularly, the depth, breadth and range of experience of the individuals who applied, as well as their willingness and enthusiasm to be involved.

Following a rigorous selection and interview process, sixty-four people have been invited to become members of the Rapid Response Corps in this first recruitment round.

The first group of twenty-four members of the Corps recently completed the compulsory pre-deployment training. The intensive training programme was designed and delivered in co-operation with the Kimmage Development Studies Centre (D-Talk) and the Defence Forces UN School (UNTSI).

This first group is now undergoing pre-departure medical screening and receiving the necessary vaccinations to enable them to be deployed anywhere in the world.

The next training session, at which the remaining members of the Corps will be trained, will take place between 29 August and 5 September.

A formal standby partnership agreement has already been signed with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Similar agreements will shortly be signed with two more partner agencies, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

It is anticipated that members of the Rapid Response Corps will be ready to deploy from the autumn.

Foreign Conflicts.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

111 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of the proposed conflict resolution centre discussed at his recent meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. [18647/07]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

139 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent meeting with Archbishop Desmond Tutu; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18706/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 111 and 139 together.

On Monday 25 June, I had the honour to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town. Archbishop Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his efforts in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He paid a warm tribute to Ireland's support in those years, and also to our continued support to South Africa since 1994, including through the Irish Aid programme. Archbishop Tutu's straightforward and at times outspoken approach to global human rights issues is widely admired.

We had a very interesting and wide-ranging discussion. Archbishop Tutu has taken a broad interest in conflict resolution throughout the world, but especially in Africa. I briefed him on Ireland's particular focus on the tragic situation in Darfur. We discussed the current crisis in Zimbabwe, where African leadership is very much needed, and where South Africa has a particular role to play. We also spoke about South Africa's role in African more generally, and the potential for it to draw on its human rights heritage in using its influence. I thanked Archbishop Tutu for his unceasing efforts to encourage more active African leadership in relation to the crises on the continent.

We discussed some of the development challenges facing Africa, and in particular the fight against HIV/AIDS, in which the Archbishop has a particular interest and involvement through the Tutu Foundation. The Irish Government currently gives the highest priority to addressing the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. South Africa has one of the highest infection rates of any country in the world, and over 20% of Irish Aid's current South African programme is dedicated to supporting HIV/AIDS interventions. In 2006, Irish Aid provided funding of €120,000 to the Tutu Foundation to support its work in this field. I informed the Archbishop of the Government's commitment to increase the Irish contribution to overseas development to reach the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income by 2012. We discussed the important contribution which Non-Governmental Organisations and the private sector can and do make to development in Africa and elsewhere.

Archbishop Tutu raised a number of projects which he is currently pursuing. One of these is the proposed Desmond Tutu Centre for Peace, Reconciliation and Conflict Resolution in Cape Town. The Archbishop described the purpose of this planned centre as providing moral leadership on reconciliation, forgiveness and conflict resolution. Planning for the centre is currently at a preliminary stage. I informed him of Ireland's own plans in the field of conflict resolution through the establishment of a new Conflict Resolution Unit within my Department, which will build on the experience we already have in this field.

Landing Rights.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

112 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is intended that there will be changes to the existing regime and operation of US military flights which stop over at Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18045/07]

Richard Bruton

Question:

141 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether random checks of flights through Shannon should be put in place in order to validate the claims that the airport is never used for rendition flights; if such checks have been carried out to date; if the views of the Human Rights Commission have been sought on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18442/07]

Leo Varadkar

Question:

174 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s policy with regard to the use of Shannon Airport by foreign military or intelligence organisations or contractors of foreign military or intelligence organisations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18441/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 112, 141 and 174 together.

The arrangements for the overflight and landing in Ireland of US military aircraft, and civilian aircraft used to transport troops, have been in place under successive Governments for some fifty years, and there has been no change in policy. Overflight and landing arrangements for US forces in respect of the Iraq conflict were approved by Dáil Éireann on 20 March 2003 after a lengthy debate.

The current use of Shannon airport by aircraft transporting US troops is in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions on Afghanistan and Iraq. In relation to Iraq, UN Security Council Resolutions 1511 and 1546 explicitly call on UN member States to assist the multinational force in Iraq. Subsequent Resolutions have annually renewed the mandate of the multinational force, noting also that they are there at the request of the Government of Iraq.

Separate to this issue, the Government are completely opposed to the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition, as were the previous Government. As the Programme for Government makes clear, we will ensure that all relevant legal instruments are used so that the practice of extraordinary rendition does not occur in this State in any form.

Our concerns in relation to this matter have been made clear to the highest levels of the US Government, including by the Taoiseach to President Bush. The Government received specific assurances from the US authorities, confirmed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that such prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission.

A number of Garda investigations into allegations related to extraordinary rendition have taken place and have found that there is no evidence to support these allegations of illegal activity. I should emphasise that, where the Gardaí have suspicions about a particular aircraft, they have full powers to board and inspect that aircraft. The decision to search a particular aircraft, therefore, if and when warranted in accordance with law, is a matter for An Garda Síochána, and, as the Government have also repeatedly made clear, An Garda Síochána has the powers it needs to investigate all allegations of illegal activity.

I have had detailed correspondence with Dr Maurice Manning, the President of the Irish Human Rights Commission, on all issues related to extraordinary rendition. My officials expect to have further contact with Dr Manning on these matters shortly. I would also note that in their joint statement on extraordinary rendition of 27 June 2006, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists and the Association for the Prevention of Torture do not call for spot checks, but rather for the inspection of aircraft "where there are grounds for believing... [they are] being used to transport detainees". It has always been the Government's position that in such circumstances, An Garda Síochána should exercise their powers of entry and search of an aircraft.

The Programme for Government also notes that we will seek EU and international support to address deficiencies in aspects of the regulation of civil aviation under the 1944 Chicago Convention. In this regard, Ireland has already taken the lead at EU level in raising possible improvements to the regulation of civil aviation and we are in ongoing discussion with fellow-members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation on this issue.

Democratisation Process.

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

113 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if discussions at European level have been held to developments in Kazakhstan, with particular reference to the constitutional changes in the country allowing the incumbent president as many terms in office as he chooses; the EU position on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18663/07]

There has not yet been a discussion of developments in Kazakhstan at political level in the EU but developments there are being followed closely.

On 18 May the Parliament of Kazakhstan approved a series of constitutional changes, among them a provision that the President can be elected for more than two successive terms of five years. This would allow President Nazarbayev, who was re-elected for seven years in December 2005, to continue in office beyond 2012. It appears that other aspects of the constitutional reforms, in the areas of rule of law, more powers for parliament and a greater role for the regions, may have the potential to be positive.

Early parliamentary elections have now been called for 18 August, following which the constitutional changes will come into effect. The quality of these elections, in terms of the OSCE standards for free and fair elections to which Kazakhstan has subscribed, will be important. Ireland will send observers to Kazakhstan to participate in the international election observation mission of the OSCE' s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

Embedding democracy is a protracted and difficult process requiring both political will and sustained commitment. Kazakhstan has yet to experience a democratic leadership succession and it is disappointing that it has acted in a manner which is likely to postpone further any possible change of leadership. When the Irish Ambassador in Moscow who is accredited to Kazakhstan raised the matter at high level in Astana, he was informed that the purpose was to ensure continuing stability in the country in the face of internal ethnic and other strains and to facilitate an orderly succession.

Under the EU Strategy for Central Asia adopted by the June European Council, the EU seeks to develop a new partnership with the region and with each of the five countries of the region, (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Takikistan and Turkmenistan). Encouraging greater commitment in those countries to respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law will be an important dimension of the Strategy, to be advanced through dialogue, sharing of experience and technical cooperation. It is particularly important that progress in democratisation should come to be perceived in the region as enhancing stability rather than potentially threatening it.

Question No. 114 answered with QuestionNo. 88.

International Agreements.

Joan Burton

Question:

115 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland will ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18652/07]

As indicated to the House, most recently on 8 February 2007, the case for ratification of this Convention has been examined by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, which has lead responsibility on the issue.

As previously indicated, the rights of migrant workers and their families are already protected under existing national legislation and under the Irish Constitution, as well as under EU law. In addition, the rights of migrant workers and their families are also addressed by Ireland's commitments under international human rights instruments to which the State is already a party. These international instruments include, for example, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The Convention referred to in the Deputy's question was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1990, and it entered into force on 1 July 2003, following ratification by the requisite number of States, (20). The Convention has been open for signature and ratification since December 1990. However, to date only 37 States have ratified it. No European Union Member State has as yet signed or ratified the Convention, nor has any indicated an intention to do so.

The position essentially is that, in order for Ireland to ratify the Convention, significant changes would have to be made across a wide range of existing legislation, including legislation addressing employment, social welfare provision, education, taxation and electoral law. These changes would also have implications for our EU commitments. The operation of the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK might also possibly be affected.

There are no plans at present to sign or ratify the Convention. However, as with all outstanding ratifications of international human rights instruments, the position regarding the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families will be kept under review.

Arms Trade.

Deirdre Clune

Question:

116 Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to the arms embargo on China; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18714/07]

The EU's position regarding the arms embargo on China was most recently set out in Council Conclusions of 11 December 2006, in which the Council reaffirmed its willingness to carry forward work towards lifting the arms embargo on the basis of the European Council Conclusions of December 2004.

The 2004 Conclusions make clear that any decision should not lead to an increase in arms exports, neither in quantitative nor qualitative terms. Equally, Council stressed in this context the importance of work on the revision and strengthening of the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports, and on the new instrument on measures pertaining to arms exports to post-embargo countries (the "toolbox"). This work has not yet reached an agreed conclusion.

The Government's position was set out by the Taoiseach during his visit to Beijing in January 2005, when he also explained the importance to Ireland and the EU of continued progress in the promotion and protection of human rights in China. We support the lifting of the embargo but we do not wish to see any increase in the quantity or quality of arms exports to China.

The Government continues to examine this issue with our EU partners, in the context of our overall relationship with China, our ongoing commitment to human rights and the broader regional and international context. A decision to lift the embargo will require the unanimous approval of Member States.

As the EU works towards lifting the arms embargo, it has also engaged in a dialogue on the issue at senior official level with key partners, including the US, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Australia.

Question No. 117 answered with QuestionNo. 90.

EU Enlargement.

Enda Kenny

Question:

118 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress being made by Turkey towards the achievement of the Copenhagen criteria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18695/07]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

122 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on discussions being held with third party States with regard to their potential accession to the European Union, notably with Turkey; the progress being made at such talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18669/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 122 together.

Negotiations on EU accession opened with Croatia and Turkey in October 2005. Since then an extensive screening process has been underway. This involves close scrutiny of the compatibility of Turkish and Croatian legislation with that of the EU.

In all, there are 35 negotiating chapters which deal with a range of policy areas. After a chapter has been screened, the EU decides, on the basis of a proposal from the Commission, whether or not the negotiations in that sector should proceed.

At the Intergovernmental Accession Conference in Brussels on 26th June, six further chapters were opened with Croatia. This means that a total of ten chapters are currently open with Croatia. Negotiations with Croatia on two further chapters have been concluded on a provisional basis.

The negotiations with Turkey have made somewhat less progress than those with Croatia. Two new chapters were opened with Turkey at last week's Intergovernmental Accession Conference. This means that three chapters are now open with Turkey. Although discussions took place during the German Presidency on opening a further chapter, the required agreement of all Member States could not be secured in advance of last week's Accession Conference. Benchmarks have been agreed for ten other chapters. These must be achieved before negotiations can begin in these particular areas.

In November 2006, the European Commission published its annual enlargement report on Turkey. This included an assessment of Turkey's progress with regard to the Copenhagen criteria. In November 2006, the European Commission published its annual enlargement report on Turkey. This included an assessment of Turkey's progress with regard to the Copenhagen criteria. The Commission noted that Turkey's reforms had continued during 2006, but at a slower pace. Improvements are needed on freedom of expression, the rights of non-Muslim religious communities, women's rights, trade union rights and on civilian control of the military. Further progress in aligning its legislation with that of the Union is also required, for example in agriculture, taxation, state aid, and the free movement of goods, workers and capital.

The negotiations are complicated by the fact that Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations under the Ankara Protocol which requires it to open its ports and airports to vessels and aircraft from the Republic of Cyprus. On account of Turkey's failure to implement the Protocol, in December 2006 the Council of Ministers agreed that eight specific negotiating chapters cannot be opened, nor will any chapters be provisionally concluded until the Commission verifies that Turkey has fulfilled its commitments under the Ankara Protocol.

In addition to the above, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia became a candidate country in December 2005, but its negotiations have not yet commenced.

Migration Studies.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

119 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the establishment of a chair of Irish migration studies at a suitable location, at home or abroad, in order to function as an archive of migration research, encourage studies of the Irish diaspora, and facilitate a wider understanding of the experience of the Irish abroad over the centuries. [18646/07]

This is an idea which would impact upon a wide range of interested parties, including my Department. In the first instance, however, the funding of academic disciplines in Irish universities, broadly speaking, is a matter for the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education and Science.

In April, I called for a national debate on Ireland's attitude to our Diaspora at a conference on the Diaspora which I hosted in Dublin Castle. The conference provided an opportunity to launch a review of our approach to our community across the globe and, where necessary, reshape our policies in this key area. A centre or a hub for migration studies was among the ideas raised. Participants included representatives of industry, academic bodies, State agencies and public officials.

The Economic and Social Research Institute has carried out research in the area of migration studies, with the focus on return and inward migration more than on Irish emigrants living abroad. Another expert body, the National Economic and Social Council, has also tasked academics to carry out research into the social and economic effects of return and inward migration.

The Irish Abroad Unit in my Department has commenced a series of meetings with the universities to examine ways in which their experience and resources might be utilised by the Government in developing our policy in this area. The Unit will also seek to draw up an audit of any relevant research or work on the diaspora which may have been carried out overseas, including in the United States and Australia. The situation can be further reviewed in light of this work. I would emphasise, however, that the absolute priority focus of the Unit is on the provision of support and services to our vulnerable citizens overseas, especially in Britain but also including the undocumented in the United States.

Question No. 120 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

EU Treaty.

Jack Wall

Question:

121 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position of Ireland in relation to the proposed Treaty of the European Union that is envisaged to replace the formerly proposed European Constitution. [18654/07]

Charles Flanagan

Question:

123 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the recent European Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18693/07]

Jack Wall

Question:

144 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the European Council meeting held in Brussels at which the proposed European Constitution was debated; the position which Ireland took at that forum in relation to a European Union Foreign Minister; the decisions taken at that meeting; and what is to be debated at the next such summit meeting. [18655/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

289 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which the recent EU summit is expected to reaffirm the European project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19081/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 121, 123, 144 and 289 together.

The Government are pleased with the outline of the Reform Treaty that was agreed at last month's European Council meeting. The Reform Treaty will amend the existing Treaties in various ways so as to create a more efficient and effective Union that can better serve Europe's future needs.

Our principal objective going in to these negotiations was to retain the substance and balance of the draft Constitutional Treaty that was agreed in June 2004. This objective was achieved in that the great bulk of the 2004 agreement will be incorporated in the Reform Treaty when it is finalised later this year.

In the wake of the referendum results in France and the Netherlands, it was necessary to make certain changes to what had been agreed in 2004. The changes decided on at the recent European Council included the dropping of the constitutional title and the removal of the reference to the EU flag and anthem, although these will, of course, continue to be widely used throughout the Union. Moreover, the Charter of Fundamental Rights has been taken out of the Treaty, but will retain its legally-binding status. National Parliaments have been given an enhanced role in the Union's legislative process.

There will be an opt-in/opt-out arrangement for the UK in the field of criminal and police co-operation. We will need to decide in the coming months whether or not to join that arrangement. Although the double majority voting system will not come into use until 2014, the overall institutional package from the 2004 agreement has not been reopened. This was a key requirement of ours throughout these negotiations. Ireland also succeeded in getting agreement to include commitments on combating climate change in the new Treaty.

At the European Council, it was also agreed to change the title of "Foreign Minister" to "High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy". The role will encompass also the responsibilities of the current High Representative for CFSP. The new title is certainly more cumbersome than ‘Foreign Minister', but the role and function of the High Representative are unchanged. Our position in these negotiations was to minimise the changes to the previous draft Treaty and this has been achieved.

The next step in the process is an Intergovernmental Conference to be convened under the Portuguese Presidency to look at the technical and legal aspects of the new Treaty. The IGC will commence work in late July and will, hopefully, conclude later this year. This will allow time for Member States to ratify the new Treaty prior to the European Parliament elections in 2009.

The European Council has shown once again that Member States can reconcile their differences and reach agreement even in the most difficult circumstances. The Reform Treaty will create a more effective Union to serve Europe's future needs. The agreement at the June European Council will enable us to put the Union's institutional debate behind us and to concentrate on delivering tangible benefits to our citizens.

Question No. 122 answered with QuestionNo. 118.
Question No. 123 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Departmental Staff.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

124 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of personnel recruited from outside of the Irish Foreign Service; the number recruited from elsewhere in the public service in the past three years; and the number expected to be recruited in 2007, from within the public service, and from outside, for employment in his Department in general and for deployment for positions in Irish Aid in particular. [18651/07]

The Department of Foreign Affairs has recruited a total of 246 staff in the past three years.

The following table sets outs the number of staff recruited by the Department over this period. A significant number of the staff were recruited to fill new posts sanctioned by the Department of Finance for the three Passport Offices and for Irish Aid. In addition, vacancies needed to be filled as a result of staff leaving the Department on retirement, career break, transfer and promotion.

Total number of staff recruited by the Department of Foreign Affairs, including for Irish Aid

Total number of staff recruited from outside of the public service, including for Irish Aid

Total number of staff recruited for Irish Aid

Total number of staff recruited for Irish Aid from outside the public service

2004

88

20

6

5

2005

57

29

9

2006

101

36

24

4

Total

246

85

39

9

The figures in the above table do not include Temporary Clerical Officers who are recruited each year on fixed term contracts for the peak season in the Passport Offices in Dublin, Balbriggan and Cork. Nor do they include interns recruited on short term contracts for the purpose of work experience, as well as short term replacements for staff who avail of term time for the summer school holiday period.

During 2007, the Department continues to recruit staff, mainly through the Central Applications Facility, to fill positions in Irish Aid which is in the process of decentralising to Limerick. The public recruitment campaign for Junior Diplomat (Third Secretary) is also underway at present and the Department expects to make the first appointments from this competition in the early autumn. In addition, the Department is in the process of recruiting additional staff for its Evaluation and Audit Unit.

Emigrant Support Services.

Billy Timmins

Question:

125 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of recommendations of the Task Force on Emigrants that have been implemented to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18717/07]

The Task Force on Policy regarding Emigrants produced a major report which has provided us with a very valuable framework for our current and future activities in this area. The Report, as the Deputy is aware, contains wide-ranging and detailed recommendations which require sustained and phased implementation.

Activities currently in operation are giving effect to well over two thirds of the report's recommendations, and further significant progress is being made. Implementation requires on-going action from all partners, in Government and the voluntary sector.

The establishment and operation of the Irish Abroad Unit within my Department has greatly assisted in strategically directing and driving progress on all areas identified by the Task Force. These advances are very warmly appreciated, and supported, by our communities abroad.

An essential positive development is the very substantial level of funding now made available. In 2007, the unprecedented amount of €15.165 million has been provided for emigrant services. This is 26% greater than last year, and 15-times greater than the allocation some years ago, and is a clear and positive indication of the Government's firm commitment to the welfare of our emigrants.

We have increased our financial support very substantially to the voluntary agencies active in the areas identified as critical by the Task Force. A particular priority for the Government is the ongoing need to support our most vulnerable and marginalised citizens abroad such as our older community in Britain and our undocumented in the United States, as well as the provision of pre-departure services and assistance to emigrants who want to return to Ireland.

In April, I hosted a conference on Ireland's Attitude to our Diaspora. The Chairman of the Task Force, Mr. Paddy O'Hanlon, was the keynote speaker. The conference provided an opportunity, five years on from the publication of the Task Force Report, to launch a review of our approach to our community around the globe and, where necessary, to reshape our policies in this key area. I was particularly pleased that the diverse participation in the conference included a delegation from the United States Congress as well as representatives of industry, academic bodies, State agencies and public officials.

Officers in the Irish Abroad Unit, and in our Embassies, maintain very close and interactive contact with the front-line organisations that support our community abroad. This helps to ensure that the voluntary sector has an effective channel of communication with the Government, and that everything possible gets done to advance the interests and well-being of our emigrant communities. In this way, we are ensuring that our response to identified needs has a very practical effect, and is developed and improved in the light of operational experience.

Question No. 126 answered with QuestionNo. 91.

UN Reform.

Simon Coveney

Question:

127 Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the contact he has had with other EU Governments regarding UN reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18703/07]

A key objective of our foreign policy in the years ahead is to enhance Ireland's role as a model UN partner. That reflects the value we place on the UN as the primary multilateral framework through which we give expression to the values and principles that underlie our foreign policy. The value we accord the United Nations is also reflected in our strong support for the UN reform agenda. We believe that the UN must reform to ensure that it reflects in its structure and operations the wishes and interests of its member states and that it carries out the vital mandates of peace and development as effectively and efficiently as possible.

As the Deputy will be aware, the UN World Summit, held in 2005, agreed a balanced and extensive package of UN reforms. I contributed to the preparation of the Summit in my role as one of the Envoys appointed by Secretary-General Annan to support his recommendations for change, with a particular focus on EU and other European states. Since then I have continued to support the agenda for change. There has been progress in some areas, notably including the establishment of the Peace Building Commission, review of management and mandates and progress towards System Wide Coherence in the development area. Progress has been less satisfactory in other areas, notably Security Council reform and revitalisation of the General Assembly, though I am pleased that work continues on finding avenues for progress on these issues.

Ireland continues to work with its EU partners and other member States on implementation of the Outcome Document of the UN World Summit which, in the context of a series of reports by the Secretary General, forms the reform agenda. The issue of UN reform is regularly discussed within the EU. At the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council last December I discussed this issue with my colleagues and we agreed that the EU would continue to engage actively in constructive dialogue to advance all the reforms agreed at the UN World Summit.

Ireland will continue to press for further progress, while acknowledging that such progress ultimately depends on the political will of the membership as a whole.

Question No. 128 answered with QuestionNo. 90.

Foreign Conflicts.

Pat Breen

Question:

129 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political and security situation in Pakistan following recent violence in that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18707/07]

Following the events in Karachi on 12 May, which resulted in the loss of life of over 40 Pakistanis, the political and security situation in Pakistan is calmer but the situation is likely to remain tense in the lead up to Presidential and legislative elections later this year.

As the Deputy will be aware, the recent outbreak of violence in Karachi occurred when supporters of the suspended Chief Justice, protesting his suspension, clashed with members of a Karachi-based political party, the MQM. The Chief Justice's appeal against his suspension is currently being heard by Pakistan's Supreme Court, which is expected to deliver its judgment next month. Up until then, and if the suspension is upheld, political tensions surrounding this issue are likely to remain.

A number of other issues relating to the status of various political parties and their leaders are likely to give rise to additional political tensions in the months leading up to the elections. The issue of whether military rule can be replaced by a return to civilian government is also a matter of concern. According to the current Constitution, President Musharraf is required to step down as army chief by the end of the year, if he is to remain President. On a bilateral and EU basis, we have made clear our wish to see the military dissociated from the political process and a return to civil, fully democratic, elected government. It is our hope that all political leaders and parties will do all in their power to maintain order and calm among their followers in the pre-election period.

Other issues of concern in relation to the security situation include the activities of Taliban and Al Qaeda supporters and other extremist groups along the border with Afghanistan and in some of the tribal areas.

Extradition Proceedings.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

130 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the concern of British/Irish Rightswatch as to the request of the Federal Republic of Germany for the extradition of an Irish citizen (details supplied) in view of the impact on the person’s health, and the conclusion by the British authorities that there was not sustainable evidence for the charge for which the extradition was sought; if his Department has discussed this matter with the British Home Secretary; and if it is his intention to do so. [18644/07]

The Irish citizen referred to was arrested by the Police Service of Northern Ireland on 20 May 2007 on foot of a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by the Federal Republic of Germany. Following initial hearings on 5 June and 27 June last, the extradition hearing has been adjourned until 22 August. The adjournments are to give the defence time to prepare their case. The person in question is currently on bail.

I am aware of the concerns of British Irish Rights Watch regarding this case.

For those EU Member States which previously allowed for a Governmental role in extradition proceedings, the EAW system alters this role by providing for direct co-operation between judicial authorities. In this case, the Warrant has been addressed to the Belfast Recorder's Court, which is required to determine whether or not to make the relevant order.

The position is that there are provisions in place under this system to protect the fundamental rights of individuals including, therefore, in this case the person sought. It is, of course, for the legal representatives of the individual in question to raise arguments before the Courts concerning possible bars to the making of an EAW order, including health concerns. My officials are closely monitoring the case. However, as the case is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this stage.

Overseas Development Aid.

Billy Timmins

Question:

131 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level of humanitarian aid being provided by Ireland to aid the people in Iraq for 2007; the projected level of aid for 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18690/07]

Terence Flanagan

Question:

171 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the humanitarian situation in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18694/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 131 and 171 together.

The humanitarian situation in Iraq has continued to deteriorate with up to 2 million internally-displaced persons within Iraq and some 2 million seeking refuge outside the country, mostly in Syria and Jordan. Provision of basic services and people's access to services are being severely affected by the current conflict. Access to water and sanitation is limited and many are dependent on food aid. Mortality rates have increased due to the surge in violence but also due to lack of access to adequate health services. Significant numbers of the displaced people are women and children whose husbands or fathers had been killed in the conflict. They are a particularly vulnerable group.

The Government is committed to assisting the vulnerable population in Iraq. Between 2003 and 2006, Ireland made available €7.9 million in emergency and recovery assistance for Iraq. In January of this year, we made an additional pledge of €3 million of which €1.5 million has already been disbursed.

Our assistance is being targeted at agencies working with the growing number of families who have been forced by the violence to flee their homes. Irish Aid has supported the work of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees and the Red Cross in the provision of services to those who have been displaced.

We will continue to play our part in alleviating the suffering of the Iraqi people through trusted partner agencies including the UN, the Red Cross family and Non Government Organisations (NGOs).

Question No. 132 answered with QuestionNo. 108.
Questions Nos. 133 and 134 answered with Question No. 90.
Question No. 135 answered with QuestionNo. 91.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

Terence Flanagan

Question:

136 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty will come up for review once again; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18724/07]

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which came into force in 1970, Review Conferences are held every five years and afford an opportunity to review the implementation of the Treaty in all its aspects. The last such Conference was in 2005 and the next will take place in 2010.

As part of each review cycle, a series of preparatory meetings are also held and there will be a Preparatory Committee meeting in each of the three years leading up to 2010. The first of these has already taken place, in Vienna from 28 April to 9 May 2007. The second meeting will take place in Geneva from 28 April to 9 May 2008. No dates or venue have yet been agreed for the third Preparatory Committee meeting in 2009.

At the Vienna meeting, Ireland had a high profile, playing an active role as co-ordinator of the New Agenda Coalition (NAC) and making two statements on behalf of the group, as well as submitting a NAC working paper on nuclear disarmament for consideration during the review cycle. Ireland also participated actively as a Member State of the European Union and as a member of the G10, a group based in Vienna which focuses mainly on issues related to compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The EU and G10 also submitted several papers during the Preparatory Committee meeting.

While no negotiated outcome or substantive recommendations were required from the Preparatory Committee meeting in Vienna, it did provide an opportunity for a useful and constructive exchange of views across all three pillars of the NPT. Despite some initial difficulties in securing agreement on the agenda, discussions generally took place in a positive atmosphere and our assessment is that we helped lay important foundations for future work in this review cycle.

International Agreements.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

137 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs further to previous parliamentary questions on the topic, when Ireland proposes to ratify the UN Convention on Corruption. [18677/07]

I refer the Deputy to previous replies to similar questions concerning the United Nations Convention against Corruption, most recently on 21 March 2007. The Convention was signed on 9 December 2003 and is awaiting ratification by Ireland.

My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has lead responsibility in this area. His officials have had extensive consultations with the Office of the Attorney General with regard to the legislative changes that may be necessary prior to ratification of the Convention by Ireland. This examination has almost been completed and it can be concluded that about 90% of the provisions in the Convention are already provided for in Irish law and practice. The outstanding provisions, which arise in the criminal law area, will be dealt with through a combination of amending legislation and new statutory provisions, which I understand will be brought forward as soon as possible.

The Second Conference of State Parties to the Convention will take place in Indonesia towards the end of 2007. While it is not envisaged that Ireland will have ratified the Convention at that stage, substantial progress should have been made in implementing the remaining provisions.

Ministerial Travel.

Joe Carey

Question:

138 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his travel plans to the end of 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18705/07]

During the next six months I will have a number of EU-related engagements including meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC), the Informal Meeting of EU Ministers for Foreign Affairs in September and the European Council meeting in December.

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

I also propose to attend the United Nations General Assembly in September. Other overseas engagements are under consideration at present and decisions on these will be taken in due course.

Question No. 139 answered with QuestionNo. 111.

Human Rights Issues.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

140 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on recent meetings Irish authorities have had with Chinese counterparts on the ongoing abuses perpetrated against practitioners of Falun Gong. [18668/07]

Questions relating to the treatment of the Falun Gong — including specific cases — are raised regularly, within the context of the wider situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in China, in the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, as well as in our own bilateral contacts with the Government of China. Discussions in this regard have also taken place at official level in Dublin and in Beijing.

The EU-China Human Rights Dialogue is the agreed formal framework through which the EU raises human rights issues and concerns with China. The Dialogue, the most recent round of which took place in Berlin on 15-16 May, has allowed the EU to engage with China on such issues as freedom of expression, the death penalty, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of religion and minority rights. The EU has used the Dialogue to press its case for Chinese ratification of such international instruments as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and, in that context, reform of the criminal justice system. The EU has also urged China to continue co-operation with, and to implement the recommendations of, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, including in particular the abolition of the "re-education through labour" system. The EU continues to use the Dialogue to raise significant individual human rights cases, including those relating to Falun Gong practitioners. Cases raised during the Dialogue meeting are followed up in subsequent contacts with the Chinese authorities.

Question No. 141 answered with QuestionNo. 112.

Departmental Agencies.

Phil Hogan

Question:

142 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the Irish Aid information and volunteer centre planned for Dublin city centre will be open; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18729/07]

My Department is deeply conscious of the need to raise awareness and increase understanding among the public of the Irish Aid programme. The need has become more apparent in recent years, in light of the Government's commitment to reach the United Nations target of 0.7% of Gross National Product for overseas development assistance by 2012.

One of the key recommendations of the White Paper on Irish Aid, approved by the Government and officially launched in September 2006, was to establish an Irish Aid Public Information and Volunteering Centre. My Department is working closely with the Office of Public Works to get the Centre up and running. I am pleased to say that premises for the Centre have been located on Upper O'Connell Street, Dublin. The construction contract has been tendered by the Office of Public Works and the successful contractor is now on site with structural work due to be completed by mid-October.

It is intended to have the official opening of the Public Information and Volunteering Centre later in the year.

Official Engagements.

Liz McManus

Question:

143 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he plans to attend the opening plenary session of the United Nations in autumn 2007; if he and the Irish delegation have set up bilateral meetings; the subjects he hopes to discuss specifically; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18678/07]

It is customary for Foreign Ministers to attend the opening plenary session of the UN General Assembly in September each year.

I attended the General Assembly last year, and, in addition to delivering the national statement on behalf of Ireland, I met with the outgoing Secretary-General and the new President of the Assembly. I also held a number of bilateral meetings with Ministerial counterparts.

I intend to attend the opening session of the General Assembly again this year. Arrangements for the session have yet to be finalised by the UN Secretariat. Once the arrangements are clear, the Irish Permanent Mission to the UN in New York will start to organise a range of bilateral meetings with other Ministers who will be present in New York at the same time. While the precise subjects for discussion will depend on which of my colleagues it will be possible for me to meet, I expect they will include UN reform, development issues, peace-keeping, Northern Ireland, conflict resolution and particular regional issues. I would also normally take advantage of being in New York to meet a range of US and Irish American contacts.

Question No. 144 answered with QuestionNo. 121.
Question No. 145 answered with QuestionNo. 106.

Decentralisation Programme.

Bernard Allen

Question:

146 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to acquiring a premises for the decentralisation of Irish Aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18719/07]

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is responsible for the provision of office accommodation for the decentralised staff of Irish Aid in Limerick.

An advance party of fifty Irish Aid staff members transferred to temporary accommodation in O'Connell Street, Limerick in May of this year. My Department has been advised by OPW that the permanent accommodation, at present under construction in Henry Street, Limerick, will be completed by the end of the year.

Question No. 147 answered with QuestionNo. 93.

EU Enlargement.

John O'Mahony

Question:

148 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if progress has been made with regard to Croatia’s entry talks to the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18696/07]

Accession negotiations were opened with Croatia on 3 October 2005. Since then an extensive screening process has been underway. This involves examining the compatibility of Croatian legislation with EU law. In all, there are 35 negotiating chapters which deal with a range of policy areas. After a chapter has been screened, the EU decides, on the basis of a proposal from the Commission, whether or not to open negotiations in that area.

At the Intergovernmental Accession Conference in Brussels on 26th June, six further chapters were opened with Croatia. Twelve chapters have now been opened with Croatia. Benchmarks have been agreed for ten further chapters. These must be achieved before negotiations can be opened in these areas.

Negotiations with Croatia have been provisionally closed in two chapters dealing with Science and Research and with Education and Culture. Chapters remain provisionally closed until all the chapters have been concluded, at which time the Council can vote to bring the negotiations formally to a close or it may decide to revisit certain issues.

The European Commission published its annual enlargement report on 8 November 2006. This included an assessment of the progress made by all candidate countries as well as a general paper on the Union's enlargement strategy. In its report, the Commission commended Croatia on the good start made in its accession negotiations. The report also noted that Croatia needs to accelerate its reforms in order to ensure that its rate of progress is maintained.

In December 2006, the General Affairs and External Relations Council stressed the need for Croatia to continue its reform programme, in particular in the areas of judicial and public administration reform, the fight against corruption and economic reform. The need for Croatia to continue its co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and to pay due attention to good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation was also emphasised by the Commission.

Foreign Conflicts.

Michael D'Arcy

Question:

149 Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to the political and humanitarian situation in Liberia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18712/07]

Much has been achieved in Liberia in both the political and humanitarian spheres since the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement brought an end to 14 years of civil war. In particular, since the inauguration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as Africa's first female President at the start of 2006, the Government has made significant progress in driving forward reforms and promoting economic recovery in very difficult circumstances.

The security situation remains fragile. Potentially destabilising factors include ex-combatants who have not benefited from the reintegration programme, individuals who feel their interests are threatened by the Government's reforms, and inter-ethnic land disputes in certain areas, particularly where returning refugees are reclaiming their property. Liberia also remains vulnerable to regional instability and could be affected negatively by any deterioration in the situation in Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire or Sierra Leone.

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), in which an Irish contingent served from its establishment in 2003 until May 2007, plays a crucial role in ensuring sufficient security and stability to allow the Government to implement difficult reforms. The security situation improved significantly over the last four years, but Liberia's reformed police and armed forces will not be able to assume full responsibility for security until 2008 at the earliest.

The trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes began in The Hague in June 2007 under the jurisdiction of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In 2005-2006, Ireland provided €1.5 million to support the work of the court. Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is also working to help the country come to terms with its bloody past.

The current Government has achieved much greater control of Government revenues but life remains very hard for most ordinary Liberians. Unemployment is a particular concern and President Johnson-Sirleaf has made addressing it a top priority. Other areas of focus include reform of the main private sector industries — forestry, iron ore and diamond extraction. Corruption is a major threat to stability, and the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Commission last year was a positive step. Earlier this year, corruption charges were brought against the former Chairman of the Transitional Government, Charles Bryant, and several former Ministers and deputy Ministers. However, as the Liberian Government is well aware, more remains to be done, especially with regard to corruption in the public sector.

The key role played by the Defence Forces during their time with UNMIL in support of stability in Liberia has been matched by support from Irish Aid for the country's development. In April 2007, the Secretaries General of the Departments of Defence and Foreign Affairs paid a joint visit to Liberia, together with the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces. They met with President Johnson-Sirleaf, and assured her of Ireland's continuing commitment to supporting the Liberian people following the departure of the Irish contingent from UNMIL.

Since April 2005, the Irish Aid office in neighbouring Sierra Leone has managed a special recovery programme in Liberia. The programme focuses on increasing stability and delivering improved services, especially in the area of primary health care. Funding of €5 million was initially approved for recovery activities in Liberia this year, but in view of the continuing scale of humanitarian needs in the country, this has been increased to €8 million. This increase was announced at an international donor conference on Liberia which took place in Washington in February 2007. It was warmly welcomed by the Government of Liberia, which is seeking strengthened donor input to assist in rebuilding the country.

Ireland is continuing to explore ways in which we can provide meaningful and sustainable assistance to advance the democratic and peace processes in Liberia.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

John Perry

Question:

150 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level of progress being made in dealing with North Korea and the proliferation of nuclear weaponry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18698/07]

The issue of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula remains an important issue for the security and stability in the East Asia region, as well as for the wider international community. The DPRK's (North Korea) nuclear test last October was a direct contravention of the international objectives of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Ireland continues to support the efforts of the DPRK's neighbours to work constructively to find a diplomatic solution through the Six Party Talks process, involving China, the US, Japan, Russia, as well as North and South Korea. Important progress was made in these talks with agreement on 13 February on a series of measures, including most importantly that the DPRK seal its main reactor at Yongbyon within 60 days and allow the return of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, in return for aid. Every element of the agreement must be fully implemented to further build the trust that will allow the success of the process.

I welcome the fact that IAEA inspectors have been invited back to the DPRK for talks to discuss the shutting down and sealing of the Yongbyon reactor in line with the February agreement, as well as the continued contacts between US and North Korean officials. The issue of the frozen North Korean funds at the Banco Delta Asia, following the bank's blacklisting by the US Treasury over allegations of its involvement in money-laundering and counterfeiting, appears to have been successfully resolved. The DPRK had made the return of these funds a condition for the implementation of its side of the February deal. This should no longer serve as an excuse for further delays. I trust that all sides will maintain the same commitment to the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues, including Japanese kidnapped by the North Koreans in the 1970s and 1980s, as future rounds of the talks proceed.

On the wider issue of preventing the proliferation of nuclear weaponry, Review Conferences of the NPT take place every five years and afford an opportunity to review the implementation of the treaty and all its provisions. The next scheduled NPT Review Conference will take place in 2010 and for which a series of preparatory meetings have begun this year. Regrettably, the last Review Conference, in May of 2005, ended without agreement on how to strengthen the non-proliferation regime. I have constantly made clear that the effective implementation of all aspects of the NPT, including the nuclear weapons states' commitment to disarmament, would serve to strengthen the global non-proliferation context.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Joe McHugh

Question:

151 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the preparations being made to enable Ireland’s participation in EU battlegroups; if he will report on the latest discussions at EU level on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18700/07]

The Battlegroup concept is designed to provide the European Union with the capacity to respond rapidly to emerging crisis situations, within the overall context of the European Union's security and defence policy.

Battlegroups are designed to participate in time-limited missions of 30 days, extendable to a maximum of 120 days, by which time the operation would have concluded, or the Battlegroup been replaced by a larger force. Two Battlegroups have been on standby continuously since January of this year. Developments in relation to Battlegroups are reviewed regularly within the European Union, most recently by Defence Ministers on 14 May. Ireland's participation in the Nordic Battlegroup, which is scheduled to be on standby for the first six months of 2008, was approved by Dáil Éireann on 5 April this year, following earlier consideration by the Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights.

Following Dáil approval, the Minister for Defence exchanged letters with his counterparts in Sweden, as Framework nation, and Norway, Finland and Estonia, notifying them of Ireland's acceptance of the Memorandum of Understanding governing participation in the Battlegroup. He also exchanged letters with the participants and the UK in relation to the use of the Northwood facility in England as Operational Headquarters for the Battlegroup.

Ireland has offered a contingent of up to 100 members of the Defence Forces to the Nordic Battlegroup. The contingent comprises specialists in Explosive Ordnance and Improvised Explosive Device disposal, together with a protection detail. Ireland will also take up a number of posts in both the Force and Operational Headquarters. One officer has deployed to the Force Headquarters in Sweden where he is engaged in preplanning and training for the standby period.

Regular contact takes place between respective militaries, Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs on issues arising in relation to the Battlegroup. In May, the Minister for Defence, with his Nordic counterparts, took part in Sweden in an exercise designed to explore the political and policy decision-making procedures in the participating member States. Military training exercises involving all the participants in the Nordic Battlegroup are scheduled to take place in Sweden in the autumn.

It should be stressed that any deployment of the Battlegroup would be the result of a unanimous decision of the Council of the European Union. Furthermore, any deployment of the Irish contingent of the Nordic Battlegroup would of course be subject to the requirements of the ‘triple-lock' of Government decision. should be stressed that any deployment of the Battlegroup would be the result of a unanimous decision of the Council of the European Union. Furthermore, any deployment of the Irish contingent of the Nordic Battlegroup would of course be subject to the requirements of the ‘triple-lock' of Government decision, Dáil approval, and UN authorisation.

Middle East Peace Process.

Dan Neville

Question:

152 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has discussed the situation in the Middle East with the putative envoy to the region, Mr. Tony Blair; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18733/07]

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

275 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions he has had with his counterparts in the European Union, as a partner in the Quartet, in relation to the appointment of former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair to a major diplomatic post charged with advancing the Middle Eastern peace process. [18798/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 152 and 275 together.

On 27 June, following detailed consultation between High Representative Solana and the Foreign Minister of Germany, representing the European Union, the US Secretary of State, the Foreign Minister of Russia and the UN Secretary General, the members of the Middle East Quartet announced the appointment of Tony Blair as Quartet Representative.

The Taoiseach has already assured Tony Blair of our full support for his efforts in the Middle East. I personally also warmly welcome his appointment. His mandate is focused on Palestinian economic and institutional development. More broadly, however, the continuing crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories underlines the absolute necessity of restoring a credible political process which holds out to the Israeli and the Palestinian people the realistic prospect of a just, peaceful and lasting negotiated settlement. I welcome the emphasis which Mr. Blair has placed on the need for urgent progress towards the achievement of a viable two-State solution. I believe that the appointment of Tony Blair has the potential to add further impetus to efforts by the EU to revive the Middle East Peace Process, in cooperation with the parties, with neighbouring Arab States and with our international partners in the Quartet.

Overseas Development Aid.

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

153 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures he has taken to ensure that the Government meets the commitment it has made under the Millennium Development Goals to achieve a target of overseas development aid of 0.7% by 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18770/07]

Tom Sheahan

Question:

173 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level of overseas aid which is projected for each of the next three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18709/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 153 and 173 together.

The Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, announced at the UN Millennium Review Summit in New York on 14 September 2005 that the Government will reach the target of spending 0.7% of GNP on Official Development Assistance by 2012. We have agreed a number of steps along the way to achieving the target. Firstly, we have an interim target of 0.5% of GNP in 2007. The 2007 Estimates allocations reflect this commitment. Secondly, aid spending is expected to reach 0.6% in 2010. The Government has provided a total allocation of almost €730 million in Vote 29, International Cooperation, for 2007. This represents an increase of €131 million on the 2006 level of funding. A further €85 million has been allocated to overseas development through other Government Departments, bringing the total allocation in 2007 to almost €815 million. This allocation is the highest in the history of the programme and, as mentioned, meets the Government's interim target of spending 0.5% of GNP on Overseas Development Assistance. Over the coming years we will continue progress towards our next milestone target of reaching 0.6% of GNP by 2010. These steps emphasise our commitment to the developing world and ensure that we will continue to be one of the most generous donors on a per capita basis, when compared to our EU partners and other OECD countries. They also demonstrate that Ireland is well on track to fulfilling our commitment to meet the UN target of 0.7% by 2012.

Human Rights Issues.

Bernard Allen

Question:

154 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political situation in Zimbabwe; the steps being taken at national and European level to protest the suppression of the opposition in that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18701/07]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

172 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in Zimbabwe; if officials of his Department or of the Government met Mr. Morgan Tsvangarai, leader of the main opposition party in that country during his recent visit to the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18671/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 154 and 172 together.

The political, economic and human rights situation in Zimbabwe is a matter of very serious concern. Inflation is currently estimated at over 3700%, the highest in the world. Unemployment has risen to 80%. Life expectancy has virtually been halved in the past two decades, from 60 years to 33 years. Opposition activists, including Morgan Tsvangarai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), were seriously ill-treated in police detention in March 2007, and it is thought that many lower-profile activists are suffering similar treatment on an ongoing basis. Presidential and parliamentary elections are due to take place in March 2008, and the focus of international efforts must now be to ensure that there is a level playing field for these elections. This would allow the people of Zimbabwe to make the decision on who they think can best lead their country out of its current economic and political crisis.

Events in Zimbabwe were discussed at a Summit meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Tanzania on 28-29 March. The SADC Summit gave President Mbeki of South Africa and President Kikwete of Tanzania a mandate to facilitate dialogue between the government and opposition in Zimbabwe. I welcome the fact that a number of meetings between the two sides have taken place during May and June, chaired by South Africa.

Ireland and the European Union support this initiative. We strongly believe that African leadership is the key to improving the situation in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's neighbours, who are themselves most affected by the overspill of the country's problems, are best placed to encourage progress towards stable economic and political development, and adherence to those human rights standards on which Africa seeks to base its future development. Ireland and the European Union will expect to see concrete progress from this initiative before too long, and I look forward to the outcome of the SADC Summit on 12 August in this regard.

In April 2007, EU Foreign Ministers condemned the violent repression of the opposition the previous month; welcomed the SADC initiative; and urged a broad inclusive national dialogue, which is essential to lay the basis for genuine reform and national reconciliation. As a mark of the EU's concern, representative of the EU Presidency in each of the SADC countries expressed to their host governments the concern of the EU and its Member States about the developments in Zimbabwe in March. The EU has a targeted visa ban against Zimbabwean leaders, but does not have economic sanctions against the country. The EU is still a major provider of aid to the Zimbabwean people, and this commitment to their welfare will remain in spite of government actions.

Ireland is among those EU Member States which have most strongly condemned human rights abuses and urged political and economic reform in Zimbabwe. I made a public statement condemning the March 2007 violence, and I subsequently asked the Irish Ambassador in Pretoria to travel to Harare to convey our concerns directly to the Zimbabwean authorities. The Embassy of Ireland in Pretoria monitors allegations of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe on an ongoing basis, and raises issues of concern with the Zimbabwean government at every available opportunity. The Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs also raised Ireland's concerns with Zimbabwean officials during a visit to Harare in June and also encouraged full and active participation in the South African initiative. He also availed of the opportunity to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe with senior representatives of the MDC.

I am acutely conscious of the suffering caused by the dire economic situation in Zimbabwe, and of the need to provide support directly to the ordinary people there. In 2007, Irish Aid will allocate €3 million to local NGOs to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Zimbabwe, and a further €2 million to NGOs and civil society organisations involved in long-term development work in the country. Economic decline over the past decade and drought in 2006-7 have taken their toll, and a recent UN/WFP assessment has warned that two million Zimbabweans may face serious food shortages later this year, possibly rising to over 4 million people by early 2008. In response, Irish Aid has provided €2.4 million in emergency funding through UN organisations in Zimbabwe so far this year. Since 2005, Irish Aid has provided over €9 million in Emergency & Recovery funding for Zimbabwe.

I am aware that a delegation of the Save Zimbabwe Coalition, including opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai, visited Europe earlier this month. They had meetings in Brussels and London, and with the EU Presidency in Berlin. The delegation did not visit Dublin on this occasion.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

Willie Penrose

Question:

155 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on discussions ongoing between the European Union and Iran with regard to nuclear development in the latter. [18673/07]

Dinny McGinley

Question:

170 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to EU talks with Iran regarding nuclear capability in that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18699/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 155 and 170 together.

The Government and our EU partners share the widespread international concern that Iran has still not complied with its international obligations in respect of its nuclear programme. On 23 May, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported for the third time that Iran had ignored the demands of the UN Security Council to suspend its uranium enrichment programme, as set out most recently in Security Council Resolution 1747 of 24 March 2007. The Security Council is now considering what further measures might be adopted under the UN Charter in order to achieve Iran's compliance with its international obligations. The most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Affairs Council, which I attended in Luxembourg on 18 June, reaffirmed the commitment of the EU to finding a diplomatic solution which addresses these concerns. The Council also strongly supported the approach of the UN Security Council, and its determination to adopt further measures.

Deputies will recall that the EU, in cooperation with China, Russia and the United States, has presented a generous set of proposals to Iran, emphasising the potential for greatly improved relations if Iran took clear action to address the issues which have raised concern about the nature of its nuclear programme. The offer from the EU included significant technology transfer to provide Iran with a modern civil nuclear capacity. It is regrettable that Iran does not appear so far to have given these wide-ranging proposals the serious consideration they deserve.

The EU High Representative, Javier Solana, has remained in regular contact with Iranian negotiators, most recently through a meeting in Lisbon on 24 June. While the atmosphere of these discussions has been cordial and positive, they have not yet produced an indication of the serious engagement on the Iranian side which would allow substantive negotiations to commence. The Government strongly supports the continuing efforts of High Representative Solana. We will continue to encourage the Iranian authorities to engage constructively in discussions with him and to seize the opportunity available for a negotiated, diplomatic solution.

Question No. 156 answered with QuestionNo. 91.
Question No. 157 answered with QuestionNo. 88.
Question No. 158 answered with QuestionNo. 96.
Question No. 159 answered with QuestionNo. 108.
Question No. 160 answered with QuestionNo. 90.

Overseas Development Aid.

Liz McManus

Question:

161 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to a humanitarian crisis in Karachi in Pakistan and in parts of India where due to bad weather conditions hundreds have perished following storms; if Ireland has pledged aid and assistance to the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18679/07]

The recent storms in Pakistan and India have severely affected some of the most vulnerable communities in the region. It is estimated that hundreds of people may have been killed and thousands have lost their homes as well as their livelihoods.

The worst-affected areas have been in and around Karachi. The Pakistani Red Crescent Society has been active in its response and is providing support to people affected by the storm. Medical teams are working on the ground and have already distributed food and other supplies. Ireland provides substantial support to the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) to build the capacity and response of national societies in emergencies.

In the last twelve months, Ireland has provided €2m to the IFRC specifically to enable them to respond effectively to individual emergencies, such as the current one in Karachi. These funds are allocated on the basis of need.

As the Deputy will be aware, the United Nations has a special Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), established with assistance from Ireland, to enable the UN humanitarian agencies to respond rapidly to emergencies. This year Ireland doubled its contribution to this Fund to €20 million, making Ireland one of the largest donors to the Fund.

Ireland relies on the expertise of our partner humanitarian organisations, such as UN agencies and Non Governmental Organisations, to advise of the needs on the ground. We remain ready to respond to this advice. To date, the Governments of Pakistan and India have not requested international assistance to support their national and local relief efforts.

I can assure the Deputy that Irish Aid will continue to keep in touch with the situation on the ground and will respond flexibly to any developments.

Questions Nos. 162 and 163 answered with Question No. 105.

Foreign Conflicts.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

164 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the situation in Somalia; the position adopted on the country by the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18666/07]

Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991. A Transitional Federal Government (TFG) representing a range of clans was established in Nairobi in 2004 with UN and EU support, but was unable to make a significant impact on the ground. Public discontent with over a decade of anarchy led to increased support for the United Islamic Courts (UIC) movement, which enforced sharia law in areas of southern Somalia from mid-2006. However, Islamic extremists gained influence within the UIC, and threatened a jihad against Ethiopia. In December 2006, a joint military operation by the Transitional Federal Government and Ethiopian troops led to the collapse of the UIC. In February 2007, the UN gave the African Union the mandate it had asked for to send a peace support force (AMISOM) to the country. The first AMISOM troops, from Uganda, were deployed in March.

The security situation in Somalia deteriorated in March, with clashes taking place between the Transitional Federal Government security forces on the one hand, and clan militias and Islamists on the other. Several hundred thousand people were displaced from Mogadishu as a result of this violence. There was an improvement in the security situation from late April, but urban conflict continues, including inter-clan violence. On 22 June, a curfew was imposed in Mogadishu in response to this violence.

A planned National Reconciliation Congress (NRC) has been postponed until mid-July, to allow further time for preparations and for a necessary stabilisation of the security situation. The EU sees the Congress as an opportunity for the TFG to draw in new elements to increase its public support and credibility. There have been indications that some members of the United Islamic Courts may be invited to take part in the NRC. It will be in the TFG's interest to build its own legitimacy on a firmer foundation byinvolving as many actors as possible in the Congress.

The EU is continuing to urge the TFG to talk to moderate Islamists, civil society, women, business people and clan leaders. The European Commission has been working closely with TFG officials, including giving practical training on ceasefires, and has provided initial funding of €2 million for the National Reconciliation Congress. EU Foreign Ministers last discussed the situation in Somalia in May 2007. We encouraged all parties to work towards a comprehensive ceasefire, emphasising that the conflict can only be settled by political means. We called for an inclusive, meaningful and consensual dialogue involving all sections of Somali society, and noted our readiness to support the National Reconciliation Congress, financially or otherwise. We welcomed contacts between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Ethiopia and the Hawiye clan leadership committee. Finally, we reaffirmed the EU's support for the work of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

On humanitarian access, where Ireland has particular concerns, my EU colleagues and I reiterated the obligation of all parties to comply with international humanitarian law and urged the Somali authorities to do their utmost to remove any obstacle to the free movement of aid workers into and throughout the country

Ireland supports the EU position that in the absence of dialogue, a purely ‘security' approach to Somalia's problems is not likely to be effective. Ireland is a significant humanitarian donor to Somalia, and we have given €4.88 million in humanitarian assistance so far in 2007. In addition to providing an early response to the UN's consolidated appeal for Somalia in February 2007, we are funding recovery and reconstruction activities by NGO partners, including Irish NGOs, in post-conflict areas of Somalia. Irish Aid responded to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people by fighting in Mogadishu in March and April with further funding to our partner agencies. In view of the fragility of the situation, I am continuing to keep the humanitarian situation in Somalia under close review.

Question No. 165 answered with QuestionNo. 108.
Question No. 166 answered with QuestionNo. 101.

Michael Creed

Question:

167 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political and security situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18686/07]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

176 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the present situation in Afghanistan. [18645/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 167 and 176 together.

Some significant progress has been achieved in democratic reforms in Afghanistan, as well as in the administrative and justice systems, since 2001. With international assistance, the reform process is continuing across all sectors. The goal of the international community, in cooperation with the Afghan government, remains to extend legitimate government, the rule of law and the benefits of government to all parts of Afghanistan.

At the same time, there is deep concern about the security situation in Afghanistan. Insurgent activity remains high, shifting from direct confrontation to greater use of improvised explosive devices, kidnappings and suicide attacks. Equally, the Taliban continue to seek to spread their influence, and the conflict, into new areas. Moreover, concerns remain regarding increased drug production, the need to tackle corruption, and the weakness of the rule of law and of Afghan institutions.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has expanded to try and meet this threat. With some recent successes, ISAF believes that the insurgency can be contained.

Security and stability in Afghanistan cannot, of course, be achieved by military means alone. Long-term success depends on a comprehensive approach, encompassing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, raising living standards and improving governance and the rule of law. Recent ISAF operations have focussed on providing a security environment to facilitate reconstruction efforts and development. A further key challenge, not only for Afghanistan, but also for its neighbours and the wider international community, is the need to combat the narcotics trade from Afghanistan, which provides 92% of the world's heroin. In a further key challenge, not only for Afghanistan, but also for its neighbours and the wider international community, is the need to combat the narcotics trade from Afghanistan, which provides 92% of the world's heroin. Increased production presents a real danger, as it helps finance the insurgency and also fosters corruption.

There is strong EU engagement with Afghanistan. The ESDP mission on policing for Afghanistan, which was approved by the Council last February, is continuing its preparations for work on the ground. The mission will improve coordination in the international community's efforts to assist police reform and capacity building. Bilaterally, Ireland has contributed more than €31 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan since 2000, covering areas such as reconstruction, drugs programmes, mine clearance, drought and flood relief, criminal law and criminal justice support. Seven members of the Irish Defence Forces currently serve in non-combat roles with ISAF, based in Kabul.

Economic and Monetary Union.

David Stanton

Question:

168 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the planned expansion in the number of countries within the European Union using the Euro currency over the coming twelve month period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18731/07]

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

281 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding reports that further members of the EU are to join and become full members of the Euro common currency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18959/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 168 and 281 together.

The most recent European Council agreed the accession of Cyprus and Malta to the euro area from January 2008. This will bring to 15 the number of countries having the euro as their currency. It means that from next year a majority of EU Member States will belong to the euro area.

This agreement at the European Council followed a positive assessment of the economies of Cyprus and Malta by both the European Commission and the European Central Bank, in their reports published on 16th May 2007. The European Parliament gave its agreement on 20th June. This latest development will benefit the many Irish people who travel to Cyprus and Malta each year. Ireland looks forward to other Member States adopting the euro as soon as they are ready to do so.

Official Engagements.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

169 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has held discussions with his incoming counterpart in the reshuffled British Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18658/07]

Mr David Miliband M.P. was appointed Foreign Secretary last Thursday by the new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. I have written to the new Foreign Secretary congratulating him on his appointment and I look forward to working closely with him on the many challenging issues facing our two countries in Europe and in the wider world. I expect to meet the Foreign Secretary in the near future.

Question No. 170 answered with QuestionNo. 155.
Question No. 171 answered with QuestionNo. 131.
Question No. 172 answered with QuestionNo. 154.
Question No. 173 answered with QuestionNo. 153.
Question No. 174 answered with QuestionNo. 112.
Question No. 175 answered with QuestionNo. 88.
Question No. 176 answered with QuestionNo. 167.

Human Rights Issues.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

177 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has raised with the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China the recent Amnesty report which suggests the mistreatment of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18650/07]

I am very concerned by the case the Deputy refers to, including reports of his mistreatment in custody. Ireland, together with EU partners, continues to follow this case closely. It has been repeatedly raised with the Chinese authorities through the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, including at the most recent round in Berlin on 15 May. The EU made clear its deep concern over actions against defence lawyers advocating human rights and contesting abuses of power and corruption, and about the continued harassment of the family of the individual in question. Ireland has also raised this case bilaterally with the Chinese authorities.

The EU continues to make clear to the Chinese authorities its view that in all cases due process should be respected, and the legal rights of defendants protected under Chinese law and on the basis of international standards. In this regard, the EU is also urging China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Illegal Immigrants.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

178 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the ongoing tragedy of persons seeking to leave Africa in favour of life in Europe, many of whom seek to reach the European Union involving dangerous journeys to, amongst others, the Canary Islands and Malta; and the proposals the Irish Government have made at EU level with regard to regularising the status of such persons and to improve their situation and in particular to ensure that these dangerous sailings at which high numbers of those travelling have perished will be halted. [18664/07]

The issue to which the Deputy refers is one of considerable concern within the EU. The harrowing scenes we have witnessed recently clearly demonstrate the need to make rapid progress in developing a comprehensive European migration policy. This policy must take into account development issues, legal migration, integration, border control, readmission and the fight against illegal migration.

Ireland has consistently supported a strengthening of dialogue and cooperation on migration issues with other regions, including North and Sub-Saharan Africa. The European Council, at its meeting in Brussels on 21-22 June 2007, underlined the importance of closer cooperation with third countries in managing migration flows. There is an urgent need for specific partnerships with third countries aimed at developing a more coherent migration policy. These partnerships need to combine measures aimed at facilitating legal migration opportunities — while respecting Member States' competences, including on the regularisation of status issue, and the specific needs of their labour markets — with measures designed to fight illegal migration, protect refugees and tackle the root causes of migration.

There is considerable sympathy for the plight of those who come to Europe in open boats at great risk to their lives. This human tragedy is a further reason why development policies must play an important part in our response to illegal migration, and in helping to ensure that these extremely hazardous journeys, with their tragic consequences for many of those travelling, are no longer with us. Specifically in relation to Malta, I am pleased to say that Ireland was one of five Member States who accepted a number of programme refugees who landed in Malta in the past 18 months.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

179 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Taoiseach when and the way he plans to proceed with decentralisation in his Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18438/07]

The Deputy will be aware that there are no proposals to decentralise my Department. Thirty-seven staff currently serving in my Department have applied through the Central Applications Facility to relocate under the Decentralisation Programme and 14 former members of staff have already been assigned to decentralised posts. Arrangements are in place to ensure that the decentralisation of staff does not impact negatively on the quality of the services provided by the Department.

International Agreements.

Finian McGrath

Question:

180 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Taoiseach if Ireland has reserved their right to join in the protocol negotiated by the former British Prime Minister Mr. Tony Blair on the Charter of Fundamental Rights which states the charter does not extend the field of application of Union law beyond the powers of the Union or establish any new power or task for the Union, or modify powers and tasks as defined by the treaties and continues for the avoidance of doubt nothing in the charter creates justifiable rights applicable to the UK except in so far as the UK has provided for such rights in its national law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18546/07]

The Irish Government has supported the Charter of Fundamental Rights throughout the negotiations on the Constitutional Treaty and would have been happy to have it retained in the Reform Treaty. Unfortunately, it was not possible to secure a consensus on this. It will, however, have the same legal value as the treaties and apply to all areas embraced by the European Union and where Member States apply European Law.

At the behest of the United Kingdom, a protocol on the Charter was introduced at a very late stage in the negotiations relating to its scope and application. I considered it necessary and prudent to seek an opportunity to study the implications of the protocol. While we continue to examine the technical implications, in our view, the text of the Charter itself and the wording to be included in the Treaty adequately define the scope and application of the Charter.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

181 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May, 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to an including 1 January, 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18833/07]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

182 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which he envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19039/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 181 and 182 together.

I have made no appointments to State Boards, bodies or committees since 24 May, 2007. Appointments in respect of the independent members of the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) are in the process of being finalised. Following the recent General Election, the membership of the Oireachtas Strand of the National Economic and Social Forum (NESF) will be reviewed and reappointed. Vacancies in respect of State Boards, bodies, committees or other like entities will be filled as they arise.

Computerisation Programme.

Bernard Allen

Question:

183 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Taoiseach the progress made on remedying problems with the on-line Irish Statute Book; the amount expended on this project to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19109/07]

The Office of the Attorney General requested legal publishing experts, Thomson Roundhall Ltd., to provide a solution to the "section hyperlink data error" in the electronic Irish Statute Book (eISB). This work began on the 25 April, 2007. The project involved the checking of legislation from 1922 to 1998 to find and correct instances of the error. The majority of this checking could be carried out programmatically but there was a large body of legislation that needed to be manually checked by consulting the hard copy Acts and Statutory Instruments. The project is currently in the quality control phase and the Office expects it to be completed by mid-July 2007. The Office will then proceed to re-publish the data to the on-line eISB and remove the relevant website disclaimer. The cost of this project is €61,150 excluding VAT. The Office also incurred costs of €10,587.50, including VAT, for the provision of a costs and feasibility study on the "section hyperlink data error" in February 2007.

Departmental Appointments.

Bernard Allen

Question:

184 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Taoiseach if he will report on staffing arrangements in the Attorney General’s Office and, in particular, the amounts paid each year to each contract drafter who was utilised by the office in the past five years. [19110/07]

Since I replied to Parliamentary Question No. 12 on this matter from Deputy Joe Higgins on 20 March, 2007, a number of competitions have been advanced. Four Advisory Counsel Grade III are to take up duty on dates between 9 July and mid-September with a further 3 on dates to be arranged. 5 Legal Researchers have taken up duty with another 1 to take up duty later in July, 1 Higher Executive Officer has taken up duty as has 1 Executive Officer, 3 Clerical Officers, a Research Librarian and a Graduate Trainee Librarian. An Executive Officer, a Staff Officer and 2 Clerical Officers are scheduled to take up duty on various dates over the next 6 weeks.

Competitions for Assistant Parliamentary Counsel and Advisory Counsel are being organised in conjunction with the Public Appointments Service. A competition for Research Assistants is also in train.

The amounts paid in respect of contract drafters are set out in the following Schedule.

Schedule: engagement of contract drafters 2002 to 2007 (to date)

Please note that annual information is presented and that all the contract drafters may not have been engaged at the same time during the year.

During 2002, the Office retained four contract drafters and paid amounts of €65,468, €68,755, €72,373 and €137,095.

During 2003, the Office retained five contract drafters and paid amounts of €10,158, €69,528, €73,772, €91,390 and €142,270.

During 2004, the Office retained six contract drafters and paid amounts of €35,951, €73,807, €81,206, €96,178, €121,682 and €137,762.

During 2005, the Office retained seven contract drafters and paid amounts of €1,293, €41,675, €87,668, €114,680, €131,822, €136,462 and €154,668.

During 2006, the Office retained eight contract drafters and paid amounts of €15,548, €61,839, €74,536, €92,600, €99,324, €115,904, €144,911 and €168,526.

During 2007, to the end of May, the Office retained six contract drafters and paid amounts of €47,315, €59,436, €63,606, €68,023, €64,300 and €69,967.

Bernard Allen

Question:

185 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Taoiseach the number of political advisers or assistants appointed by the Attorney General; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19111/07]

No such appointments have been made as yet. The Attorney General does, however, propose to appoint a Special Assistant and a Personal Assistant.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

186 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance when and the way he plans to proceed with decentralisation in his Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18433/07]

I would like to confirm that my Department is proceeding with the Decentralisation Programme as agreed by Government. Following the announcement all necessary resources including staffing were made available in my Department to ensure the success implementation of the programme.

It might be helpful if I was to give a brief update on the progress of the programme within my Department and within the agencies under the aegis of my Department.

Department of Finance — The official opening of my Department's new offices in Tullamore took place on the 6th of October, 2006. The new offices in the Central Business Park in Tullamore is a modern, state of the art building comprising of three floors, with a total floor area of approximately 3400 sq metres on a site of 2.8 acres. My Department together with the Officer of Public Works (OPW) is currently examining possibilities for permanent accommodation in Kildare to accommodate circa 30 ICT posts, which will also be moved under the decentralisation programme. Pending the identification of a suitable permanent accommodation solution, interim accommodation options in County Kildare are being examined, with a view to having an advance move commenced later this year.

Revenue Commissioners — As part of the decentralisation programme it is intended that Revenue will decentralise 50 posts to Newcastlewest, 50 posts to Kilrush, 50 posts to Listowel, 250 posts to Athy, 100 posts to Navan and 380 posts to Kildare.

Newcastle West — The decentralising staff have moved to temporary accommodation in Estuary House, Limerick. A site for the new decentralised offices in Newcastle West was purchased by the OPW from Limerick County Council in 2005. A preferred tenderer has been chosen and planning permission has been obtained. Revenue are ready to occupy the building in Newcastle West as soon as it becomes available.

Kilrush — Suitable accommodation has been identified by the OPW in Kilrush. The networking, telephony installations and other preparations are all completed and once legal issues are resolved Revenue will be in a position to occupy the building immediately.

Listowel — The OPW have signed a lease for the premises in Listowel and the fit-out of these premises is underway. After the formal handover of the building to OPW, Revenue will be in a position to complete their networking and telephony installations and the building will be furnished ready for occupation.

Athy — The OPW are in advanced negotiations for a premises in Athy that will accommodate an advance party of 75-80 Revenue staff. The premises is expected to be available towards the end of the year.

Navan — A building has been identified in Navan to accommodate 100 staff of the Meath District Division of the Revenue Commissioners. It is expected that the building will be ready for occupation by Revenue by the end of the year.

Kildare — One hundred and sixteen (116) people have indicated an interest in decentralising to Kildare with Revenue. The Office of Public Works are in the process of identifying a suitable location.

Office of Public Works — As part of the decentralisation programme it is intended that OPW will decentralise 330 posts to Trim (future OPW HQ); 150 posts to Claremorris and 100 posts to Kanturk. To date four hundred and two (402) staff have applied for places in Trim under the CAF process, one hundred and eighty five (185) staff have applied for places in Claremorris and one hundred (100) staff applied for places in Kanturk.

The OPW has acquired the site in Trim and the Contractor/Developer will move on site shortly. The current target for completion of the Trim project is Q4 2008. It is proposed to manage the move to Claremorris in two phases. The first phase deals with the setting up of an advance office for up to forty (40) staff in Claremorris, where OPW has identified suitable accommodation. It is expected that the accommodation will be ready for occupation in late August 2007. The second phase of this project will be the construction of a permanent office for up to one hundred and fifty (150) staff. A site has been acquired and the indicative timeframe for the completion of the construction is early 2009.

Acquisition of a suitable site in Kanturk is well advanced and the indicative timeframe at this stage for the completion of the construction of the Kanturk office is the end of 2008.

Valuation Office and the Public Appointments Service (PAS) to Youghal, Co. Cork — As part of the overall decentralisation programme, it is intended that 100 posts of the Public Appointments Service (PAS) and 100 posts of the Valuation Office will decentralised to Youghal, Co. Cork. I am informed by PAS and the Valuation Office that the number of people who have indicated their desire to decentralise to Youghal with these offices is 100 and 28 respectively. In accordance with the indicative timescale set out in the report from the Decentralisation Implementation Group both offices are working towards decentralising to Youghal in mid 2009.

While neither the Valuation Office or PAS are on the early-movers list, the Office of Public Works (OPW) have agreed terms to acquire a local authority site in Youghal from Cork County Council. The legal formalities are being pursued by the Chief State Solicitors Office in consultation with Cork County Council's legal team.

Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI) to Dungarvan, Co. Waterford — The OSI will decentralise 200 of its Dublin based Headquarters posts to Dungarvan. The OSI has a presence in six regional offices where a further 100 staff are located in: Kilkenny, Cork, Ennis, Tuam, Sligo and Longford. These offices will not be relocating to Dungarvan. Applications to decentralise with OSI have been made by forty nine (49) civil and public servants as well as sixteen (16) existing OSI staff based in Dublin. In addition, sixty three (63 OSI staff have been assigned to Dungarvan as a result of recruitment or promotions under the decentralisation programme since its commencement in December 2003. Arrangements for decentralisation are proceeding in accordance with the OSI implementation plan and a site has been acquired in Dungarvan by the Office of Public Works (OPW).

Hospitals Building Programme.

Joan Burton

Question:

187 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if an existing hospital which is not established by the State or any State authority or agency but which provides services to public patients pursuant to an agreement with the Health Service Executive under the Health Acts would be regarded as a private hospital for the purposes of Section 64 of the Finance Act 2001 and so entitled to avail of capital allowances in new construction projects; if not, the basis for distinction between those existing hospitals and new hospitals to which that section has been or may be applied in view of the fact that it is envisaged that the HSE will enter contracts for the purchase of services from both types of hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18472/07]

Capital allowances are available in respect of capital expenditure incurred on the construction or refurbishment of a private hospital which falls within the definition of a qualifying hospital set out in section 268 (2A) of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 which was inserted by the Finance Act 2001 provision referred to by the Deputy. The scheme of capital allowances came into effect in May 2002. Whether the expenditure is incurred on the construction of a new hospital or on the extension or refurbishment of an existing hospital is not an issue once the hospital meets the requirements set out in the definition.

To be a qualifying hospital, a private hospital must meet certain capacity requirements. It must have an operating theatre or theatres and related diagnostic and therapeutic facilities and must be able to provide a range of specified services. It must also give an undertaking to the Health Service Executive to make available at least 20% of its capacity to public patients awaiting in-patient or out-patient hospital services at a fee rate of not more than 90% of that which would be charged to private patients. Capital expenditure incurred on the construction, extension or refurbishment of a private hospital may be written off over seven years at the rate of 15% per annum for the first six years and 10% in year 7.

Tax Code.

John Perry

Question:

188 Deputy John Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if, with regard to the recent announcement on refund of stamp duty paid up to 30 March 2007, there will be concessions or special considerations for a person who purchased a property and deeds notified on 23 March; his views on a situation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18473/07]

The recently published Finance (No. 2) Bill 2007 introduces an exemption from stamp duty for first-time buyers in accordance with the commitments made in the Programme for Government to bring about immediate change to the stamp duty code for first-time buyers.

This provides that deeds presented by first-time buyers to the Revenue Commissioners on or after 30 April 2007 will be exempt from stamp duty. As a deed must be presented to the Revenue Commissioners within 30 days of execution, the Bill is drafted to provide for exemption for deeds executed on or after 31 March 2007. I have no plans to make any further changes in this regard.

Decentralisation Programme.

Dan Neville

Question:

189 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position regarding the decentralisation of a Government Department to Newcastle West, County Limerick. [18527/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a site for the new decentralised offices in Newcastle West was purchased by the Office of Public Works (OPW) from Limerick County Council in 2005. Following due process a preferred tenderer was identified and a planning application was lodged with Limerick County Council which was granted on 26 March 2007. Working drawing and other documents are being prepared and on completion OPW anticipates being in a position to place the contract. I am advised by Revenue that OPW are not in a position to advise of a likely completion date at this time. Revenue, however, are ready to occupy the building as soon as it becomes available.

Tax Code.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

190 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance his views on amending the proposed legislation on stamp duty and to back date the tax rebate for first-time buyers to 6 December 2006 when stamp duty changes were ruled out causing many buyers to proceed to purchase their homes and now fail to qualify for the new relief. [18539/07]

The Finance (No. 2) Bill 2007 introduces an exemption from stamp duty for first-time buyers in accordance with the commitments made in the Programme for Government to bring about immediate change to the stamp duty code for first-time buyers. This provides that deeds presented by first-time buyers to the Revenue Commissioners on or after 30 April 2007 will be exempt from stamp duty. As a deed must be presented to the Revenue Commissioners within 30 days of execution, the Bill is drafted to provide for exemption for deeds executed on or after 31 March 2007. I have no plans to make any further changes in this regard.

Bobby Aylward

Question:

191 Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will arrange payment of VAT due to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [18565/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that in line with normal practice, the VAT refunds in question are being withheld pending the submission of returns under other tax heads and the discharging of any consequential tax liability. On receipt of these returns this matter will be dealt with.

Disabled Drivers.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

192 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the status of an application under the disabled drivers and passengers tax concession scheme applied for by a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18636/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that based on the information supplied they have been unable to trace any claim by the named person under the Disabled Drivers and the Disabled Passengers [Tax Concessions] Regulations 1994. A claim under the above regulations can only be considered by the Revenue Commissioners from a person who has qualified for a Primary Medical Certificate which is issued by the Senior Area Medical Officer of their local Health Service Executive administrative area. If the Primary Medical Certificate has been refused in this case, the named person may appeal the refusal to the Medical Board of Appeal, National Rehabilitation Hospital, Rochestown Avenue, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin.

Foster Care.

Michael Creed

Question:

193 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the anomalous situation vis-à-vis host carers as opposed to foster parents as defined under the Placement of Children in Foster Care Regulations 1995 regarding the treatment by the Revenue Commissioners of payments received by these people in respect of care provided for people with disabilities; and if he will correct this anomaly as a matter of urgency. [18811/07]

Foster care payments are exempt by virtue of section 192B of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. This measure was introduced by section 11 of the Finance Act 2005. Children in foster care are in the care of the State under the Child Care Act 1991. Foster carers undertake to care for foster children on the State's behalf and as such are a unique group in unique circumstances.

However, I would also point out to the Deputy that Budget 2006 introduced a scheme, which is provided for in the Finance Act 2006, whereby a person who provides childcare services for up to three children who are not their own in their own home could earn up to €10,000 per annum from the minding activity free of income tax. This amount was increased to €15,000 per annum in Budget and Finance Bill 2007. "Childcare services" are defined as "any form of childminding services or supervised activities to care for minors, whether or not provided on a regular basis".

This scheme of tax relief for childminders is likely to be of benefit to host carer families in respect of care provided for children with disabilities. In fact, the enabling legislative provisions for this in the Finance Act 2006 were designed having regard, among other things, to the type of care provided by host carers as mentioned by the Deputy. To the extent that payments are received by host families in respect of care for adults with disabilities, such payments are not currently subject to an income tax exemption.

Decentralisation Programme.

Michael Creed

Question:

194 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if, regarding the operation of the central applications facility for civil and public servants wishing to avail of the decentralisation programme and normal transfers within the Civil and Public Service, he will ensure that detailed information is available to applicants regarding their application via the number of applications ahead of a particular applicant and the estimated time when the applicant can expect a satisfactory outcome to their application. [18812/07]

I am informed by the Public Appointments Service (PAS) that they launched the Central Applications Facility on 12 May 2004 to provide an on-line application facility for civil and public servants interested in registering an interest in the Governments Decentralisation Programme. The site is accessed through www.publicjobs.ie.

From this facility the PAS produces reports and statistics for the Decentralisation Implementation Group DIG), the Department of Finance and decentralising organisations. In addition to these reports, when organisations have a requirement to fill a specific decentralising vacancy, the PAS conducts the necessary trawl of the database of potentially interested people in accordance with the agreed protocols.

Each organisation holds their own list of both internal staff and staff external to their organisation wishing to move to their particular locations. These lists are compiled in accordance with the protocols agreed by the Department of Finance and the relevant staff unions/ associations. Should a person require information on their status on such lists, the recommended channel is a direct approach to the relevant decentralisation unit or the HR unit of that organisation.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

195 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May, 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to an including 1 January, 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18828/07]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

197 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which he envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19034/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 195 and 197 together.

In the period since 24th May 2007 no appointments were made to bodies under the aegis of my Department. The following table lists the current vacancies and vacancies due to arise on bodies under aegis of my Department up to and including the 1st January 2008.

Name of Body

No. of current Vacancies

Number of new vacancies due to arise in the period up to the 1 January 2008

State Claims Agency Policy Committee

2

None

Value for Money and Policy Review Central Steering Committee

None

1

Decentralisation Implementation Group

1

None

National Treasury Management Agency Advisory Committee

1

None

Public Appointments Service

None

8

Arbitration Board for the Civil Service, Gardaí, Defence Forces and Teachers

None

4

Civil Service Adjudicator

None

1

Financial Services Consultative Panel

1

None

An Post National Lottery Company

None

2

National Development Finance Agency

None

4

Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal

4

None

General Medical Services Scheme.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

196 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway has not received the appropriate level of reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by them for the years 1999 to 2002 inclusive; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the applicant was not aware that there was a deadline for such claims and that as a result of a very tragic fatal accident to a family member the medical expenses for the family rose sharply in the following years as a direct result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18910/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that Section 17 of the Finance Act 2003 introduced new repayment provisions whereby a claim for repayment must be made within four years from the end of the period to which the claim relates. This four year time limit came into effect on 1 January 2005 where a claim is made on or after 1 January 2005 the overall time limit is reduced to four years. The change to the repayment deadline was announced in the budget speech in December 2002 and the measure received an amount of publicity at that time. Reminders of the change were advertised by Revenue in the national press in October and November 2004 and there was also considerable media comment about the change around that time.

In the case referred to by the Deputy, repayment claims in respect of the years 1997/98, 1999/00, 2000/01, 2001 and 2002 were submitted on 14 February 2007. Unfortunately, these claims cannot be processed as they were filed outside the statutory time limit. A repayment claim in respect of medical expenses for 2003 has been received within the time limit and will be processed without delay. Medical expenses have already been allowed for 2004 on foot of the taxpayer's tax return for that year and, likewise, any further claims in respect of 2005 or 2006 can be processed in conjunction with the taxpayer's returns for those years.

Question No. 197 answered with QuestionNo. 195.

Tax Code.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

198 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance when a tax clearance certificate will be made available to a person (details supplied) in County Cork to qualify for a farm payment under pollution control. [19059/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the person named has not applied for a tax clearance certificate. While it appears that she may qualify for tax clearance, Revenue requires the completion of an application form TC1 to progress the matter.The person concerned should contact Ms Kathyrn O'Connor, South West Region, Sullivan's Quay, Cork, telephone 021 4325475. Ms O'Connor will explain the necessary procedures involved.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jack Wall

Question:

199 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position of the transfer of a section of the information technology section of his Department to Kildare Town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19115/07]

My Department, together with the Office of Public Works, is examining possibilities for permanent accommodation in Kildare for circa 30 posts as part of the Government's decentralisation programme. Pending the identification of a suitable permanent accommodation solution, interim accommodation options in County Kildare are being examined, with a view to having an advance move commenced later this year.

Jack Wall

Question:

200 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position of the transfer of an advance section of personnel to Athy from the revenue section of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19116/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the Office of Public Works are in advanced negotiations for a five year lease on a premises in Athy that will accommodate 75-80 Revenue staff. The premises is expected to be available towards the end of the year.

Health Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

201 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children when sexual assault treatment centres will be set up and functioning across the country. [18424/07]

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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

202 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist persons (details supplied) in Dublin 5; and if she will ensure that they are receiving all of their benefits. [18503/07]

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.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

203 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24 is desperately in need of speech therapy in their existing special school; if she will ensure that this school is enabled to provide such speech therapy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18559/07]

As the Deputy may be aware, an additional 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.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

204 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children when and the way she plans to proceed with decentralisation in her Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18435/07]

My Department is not one of the Departments earmarked for decentralisation under Civil Service Decentralisation Programme. The General Register Office, currently located at Government Offices, Convent Road, Roscommon is the only section of my Department located outside of Dublin following an earlier decentralisation programme.

Health Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

205 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 446 of 24 April 2007, when a decision will be made on a submission by the Health Service Executive west to develop eight community support beds for palliative care as part of the Capital Plan 2007 to 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18452/07]

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. The HSE included these eight community support beds in its Capital Plan 2007-2011. The developments proposed by the HSE for 2007 were approved by my Department in March. However, the community support beds project was not included by the HSE in the proposed developments for advancement in 2007. It is therefore a matter for the HSE to progress this particular proposal in the context of its overall capital priorities, in line with overall resources available.

Hospital Services.

Mary Upton

Question:

206 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 is being transferred from St. James’s Hospital to a nursing home outside of Dublin, against the express wishes of their spouse and family. [18454/07]

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 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.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Richard Bruton

Question:

207 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if she has assessed the capacity and the requirements for residential places and for respite places in a centre (details supplied), the service provider for persons with a disability in north County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18458/07]

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.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

208 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason health maintaining products such as cod liver oil and quinine tablets are not covered on the medical card as their preventative benefits are proven; and her views on introducing a more prevention oriented approach to the GMS scheme. [18459/07]

There is a common list of reimbursable medicines for the General Medical Services and Drug Payment schemes. This list is reviewed and amended monthly, as new products become available and deletions are notified. For an item to be reimbursed, it must comply with published criteria, including authorisation status as appropriate, price and, in certain cases, the intended use of the product. In addition, the product should ordinarily be supplied to the public only by medical prescription and should not be advertised or promoted to the public. Products are considered for reimbursement on application by a supplier.

Cod liver oil and quinine tablets are not currently reimbursable through the state schemes. Any application by a supplier to these products included on the common list will be considered in the usual way.

People who experience undue financial hardship in obtaining any particular product should contact the local area office of the Health Service Executive.

Hospital Services.

Niall Blaney

Question:

209 Deputy Niall Blaney asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal to facilitate a heart procedure as soon as possible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18462/07]

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

Health Repayment Scheme.

Michael Ring

Question:

210 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be refunded the money owed to them under the national repayment scheme. [18465/07]

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the Repayment Scheme and the information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Executive. 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.

Health Services.

Niall Blaney

Question:

211 Deputy Niall Blaney asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18468/07]

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

Michael Ring

Question:

212 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for physiotherapy; and the steps she will take to ensure that persons over eighty years of age do not have to wait up to six months for physiotherapy. [18485/07]

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.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

213 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason there is no dental service at Portiuncula Hospital for children attending national school; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that sixth class students leaving the local national schools may now not have screening carried out due to the lack of this service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18486/07]

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.

Child Care Services.

Dan Neville

Question:

214 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children the grant aid awarded to a facility (details supplied) in County Limerick. [18501/07]

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

The Group in question has been approved €18,623 in capital grant assistance under the EOCP to date. They have also been approved a total of €215,865 in staffing grant assistance under the EOCP, including €80,700 for the period to 31 December 2007. The Group requested a review of their current level of staffing grant support and this was undertaken by Pobal, who administer the grants on behalf of the Office of the Minister for Children. Following this review, the Group's request was considered by the Programme Appraisal Committee (PAC), which did not recommend additional funding for the Group, as their current level staffing grant is deemed appropriate for the level of service being provided. The Secretary General of the Department concurred with the PAC's recommendation and his decision had been communicated to the Group by the Childcare Directorate of my Office.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

215 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to persons (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [18504/07]

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. The Executive is, therefore, 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 Service Staff.

Niall Blaney

Question:

216 Deputy Niall Blaney asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene on behalf of four paramedics (details supplied) who were employed on whole time equivalent positions with the ambulance service, Letterkenny General Hospital, County Donegal as their employment will cease on 1 July 2007. [18515/07]

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.

Health Repayment Scheme.

Dan Neville

Question:

217 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding payments under the national repayment scheme. [18528/07]

The health repayment scheme was launched in August 2006 and is administered by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in conjunction with the appointed Scheme Administrator KPMG/McCann Fitzgerald.

The position at 15th June, 2007 was that 3,200 offers of repayment, with a value of approximately €60m, have been issued by the scheme administrator. Arising from these offers approximately 1,800 repayments with a value of approximately €38m have been made to date.

The rate of repayment is lower than had been projected. I understand from the HSE that this is due to a number of factors including the legal and technical requirements, a high level of deficiencies in the application forms submitted to the scheme administrator and complexities in the operation of the probate process.

In accordance with the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006, priority has been given to repaying living applicants as they were most immediately affected. However, repayments to estates have now commenced.

A dedicated website, an information phone line and an e-mail facility have been established by the scheme administrator to assist the public in accessing claim forms and general information on the scheme. The information line operates between the hours of 9.00 am and 6.00 pm Monday to Friday. The helpline has dealt with over 50,000 queries to date.

The HSE is monitoring the operation of the repayment scheme and has agreed a range of initiatives with the scheme administrator to speed up the repayment process. The closing date for receipt of applications is 31st December 2007 and I have been informed by the HSE that final repayments should be made by mid 2008.

Medical Cards.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

218 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will grant medical cards to sufferers of post polio syndrome in view of the fact that it is a serious and costly condition for this limited number of sufferers. [18540/07]

At present, medical cards are granted primarily on the basis of means and individual circumstances. Under the Health Act, 2004, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. Persons aged seventy years and over are automatically entitled to a medical card, irrespective of means. The HSE has discretion, in cases of exceptional need, to provide assistance to individuals where undue hardship would otherwise be caused.

Medical cards are made available to persons and their dependants who would otherwise experience undue hardship in meeting the cost of General Practitioner (GP) services. In 2005 the GP visit card was introduced as a graduated benefit so that people on lower incomes who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP. In June 2006 I agreed with the HSE to raise the assessment guidelines for GP visit cards and these are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards. For Medical Card and GP Visit Card applications, the HSE now considers an applicant's income after tax and PRSI are deducted, rather than total income. Allowances are also made for expenses on childcare, rent and mortgage costs and the cost of travel to work.

I have no plans to provide for the granting of medical cards to any particular group as a whole. However, my Department is currently reviewing all legislation relating to eligibility for health and personal social services with a view to making the system as fair and transparent as possible.

Hospital Services.

Pat Breen

Question:

219 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason surgery was cancelled twice for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18542/07]

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

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Pat Breen

Question:

220 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason persons (details supplied) in County Clare were refused the housing aid for the elderly scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18543/07]

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.

Hospital Services.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

221 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Health and Children if there are plans to provide an arthritis clinic in Wexford General Hospital in order that patients from Wexford do not have to travel to Waterford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18545/07]

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.

Child Care Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

222 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the funding available to help equip play-schools; the sources of possible funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18547/07]

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

The NCIP came into effect from 1 January 2006, with an allocation of €575 million for the 5 year period of 2006-2010. This Programme aims to provide a proactive response to the development of quality childcare supports and services, which are grounded in an understanding of local needs. It is building on the success of the EOCP and incorporates among its key objectives: increasing the supply and improving the quality of early childhood care and education services. Services eligible for support include those providing care for babies, full-day care, part-time, sessional playschool and other pre-school places, school age childcare including "wrap around" childcare places, and childminding. Special consideration is given to supporting services which provide a range of these services.

Eligibility for capital grant funding under the NCIP is assessed under a number of criteria; chiefly the nature and extent of the need locally for the service proposed, the applicant's capacity to deliver the project proposed and value for money. To comply with the criteria, services, including playschool and other pre-school services, are expected to operate for minimum periods per day. All proposals are expected to demonstrate how they will increase the supply of quality childcare and community-based projects are expected to demonstrate a focus on disadvantage. The maximum capital grants available under the scheme for the building or expansion of childcare facilities are €1.2 million per facility for community-based not for profit providers and €100,000 per facility for private providers (subject to a maximum of 75% of the total cost) and a maximum of €500,000 for multiple services in different catchment areas. In addition, a small grant scheme is available for Parent and Toddler Groups.

Following a review of the operation of the Programme to date, and in the context of the Value for Money Review of the EOCP, revised guidelines for the assessment of capital applications were introduced in April this year. These include provision for grant funding of up to €5,000 per additional place for short-time sessional playgroups and similar services which do not meet the minimum operating periods required under the main grant schemes. Subject to the programme criteria, grant aid is also available to assist in the renovation and equipment of existing services, including playschools. To apply for NCIP funding applicants should contact their local City or County Childcare Committee (CCC) who will provide advice and assistance in the completion of applications.

Hospital Staff.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

223 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Health and Children if there are plans to appoint a diabetic consultant to Letterkenny General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18582/07]

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 question 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.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

224 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children when a decision will be made on an application for the nursing home subvention by a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18637/07]

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.

Health Services.

Jack Wall

Question:

225 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will receive an appointment date for a hearing aid; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18643/07]

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.

Palliative Care Services.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

226 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children the uniform funding available for hospices here; if there are plans to increase the number of hospices around the country; if there are proposals to increase funding to existing hospices; her views on the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18681/07]

The report of the National Advisory Committee on Palliative Care was published in October 2001. The Report made a number of recommendations for the future development of palliative care services in Ireland.

The Department, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the voluntary sector are actively involved in planning for the development of palliative care services in line with the recommendations of the report of the National Advisory Committee on Palliative Care (2001).

Funding is being provided for the development of such services on an incremental basis in line with the recommendations in the report and in the context of available resources and workforce planning across the health service. A Baseline Study (launched March 2006) was undertaken by the Irish Hospice Foundation, supported by the Health Service Executive and the Atlantic Philanthropies. The Study tracks services on a regional basis against the recommendations of the Report of the National Advisory Committee.

The Baseline Study indicated that there are regional variances across the country in the provision of hospice/specialist palliative care services. The Department is committed to working with the HSE and other key stakeholders to address the issues raised in the Baseline Study and to develop palliative care services throughout Ireland.

Additional funding of €13 million (€9m in 2006, €4m in 2007) was provided by the Government for palliative care in Budget 2006. A further €5 million is being allocated under Budget 2007 to develop services. This funding is being used to improve palliative care services in consultation with the newly established HSE Regional Development Committees and in line with the recommendations made in the report of the National Advisory Committee.

As outlined in Towards 2016, the Government is committed to further developing palliative care throughout Ireland with particular reference to the Baseline Study on the provision of Hospice/Specialist Palliative Care Services.

In 2007, the Department will be working with the HSE on developing a paediatric palliative care policy in line with the Report. The HSE, which is now charged with the operational responsibility for delivery of healthcare services, is also committed to a number of further initiatives this year including rolling out the Minimum Data-Set for Palliative Care Services and agreeing a framework for National Standards for Palliative Care with the relevant stakeholders.

James Bannon

Question:

227 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children when a dedicated palliative care unit at a centre (details supplied) will be put in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18754/07]

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.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Michael Creed

Question:

228 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps she proposes to enable patients to access private orthodontic treatment at an affordable price in view of the long waiting lists for public orthodontic treatment. [18813/07]

The new Programme of Government contains a commitment that Orthodontic cases can be referred to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) by creating an orthodontic fund to treat children who have been waiting the longest for treatment. Officials from my Department will examine the steps involved in advancing this issue while also having discussions with the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Health Service Report.

Michael Creed

Question:

229 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Health and Children if she has received a copy of the Health Service Executive Cystic Fibrosis Working Group report; the timescale for the implementation of its recommendations; and if she will publish the report. [18814/07]

I have not seen the report referred to by the Deputy. The Health Service Executive established a Working Group to undertake a detailed review of cystic fibrosis services. The Group was asked to review the current configuration and delivery of services to persons with cystic fibrosis in Ireland. I understand that the Group has completed its work.

The publication of the report and the time scale for the implementation of its recommendations are a matter for the Executive. Therefore, 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.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

230 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Health and Children the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to and including 1 January 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18830/07]

The information requested by the Deputy is presently being compiled by my Department and will be forwarded to him as soon as it is finalised.

Health Repayment Scheme.

James Bannon

Question:

231 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children the timeframe for payments to vulnerable client groups under the health repayment scheme there will now be, in view of the additional resources put in place be the HSE for this purpose; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18838/07]

The health repayment scheme was launched in August 2006 and is administered by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in conjunction with the appointed Scheme Administrator KPMG/McCann Fitzgerald.

The position at 15th June, 2007 was that 3,200 offers of repayment, with a value of approximately €60m have been issued by the scheme administrator. Arising from these offers approximately 1,800 repayments with a value of approximately €38m have been made to date.

This rate of repayment is lower than had been projected. I understand from the HSE that this is due to a number of factors including the legal and technical requirements, a high level of deficiencies in the application forms submitted to the scheme administrator and complexities in the operation of the probate process.

In accordance with the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006, priority has been given to repaying living applicants as they were most immediately affected. However, the repayments to estates has now commenced. In relation to elderly widows or widowers of deceased persons and the priority that should be given to their claims, the HSE has put additional resources in place to encourage both the completion of application forms for clients in vulnerable client groups and to ensure these claims (in particular where there is an elderly spouse who could benefit) are processed as quickly as possible. The timeframe for the processing of these applications will depend on the individual circumstances pertaining to each application. Some applications will take longer to progress than others depending on the complexity of the application, the amount of information provided on the application form and the availability of records for the relevant periods of care.

A dedicated website www.repay.ie, an information phone line 1890 886 886 and an e-mail facility queries@repay.ie have been established by the scheme administrator to assist the public in accessing claim forms and general information on the scheme. The information line operates between the hours of 9.00 am and 6.00 pm Monday to Friday. The helpline has dealt with 50,161 queries to date.

The HSE is monitoring the operation of the repayment scheme and has agreed a range of initiatives with the scheme administrator to speed up the repayment process. The closing date for receipt of applications is 31st December 2007 and I have been informed by the HSE that final repayments should be made by mid 2008.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Niall Collins

Question:

232 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health and Children when the provision of orthodontic treatment for public patients will be made available by the National Treatment Purchase Fund; and the number of persons on the public waiting list for orthodontic treatment in County Limerick. [18841/07]

The new Programme of Government contains a commitment that orthodontic cases can be referred to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) by creating an orthodontic fund to treat children who have been waiting the longest for treatment. Officials from my Department will examine the steps involved in advancing this issue while also having discussions with the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

In regard to the Deputy's question about the number of persons on the public waiting list for orthodontic treatment in County Limerick, the position is that the management and delivery of health and personal social services 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.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

233 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate the reduction of opening hours at a dental clinic (details supplied) in County Cork. [18880/07]

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 Repayment Scheme.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

234 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason for the ongoing delay in having nursing home charges refunded to persons (details supplied) in County Cork. [18895/07]

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the Repayment Scheme and the information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Executive.

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.

Hospital Services.

Jack Wall

Question:

235 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will receive an earlier appointment date for an outpatient’s clinic at Tallaght General Hospital, in view of the fact that their medical condition has deteriorated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18896/07]

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.

Ambulance Service.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

236 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway has to pay €60 for a taxi to attend a clinic at the Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe in view of the fact that they are on a fixed income; the reason the Health Service Executive cannot supply transport for this elderly person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18911/07]

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.

Health Repayment Scheme.

Michael Creed

Question:

237 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will have their estate credited in respect of nursing home charges which were illegally charged. [18918/07]

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the Repayment Scheme and the information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Executive.

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.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

238 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when physiotherapy will be available for the residents of a community nursing home (details supplied) in County Mayo. [18931/07]

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.

Mental Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

239 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if an interdepartmental working group will be established to drive and coordinate action by all Departments whose role A Vision for Change mentions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18932/07]

The Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy, "A Vision for Change", which was launched in January 2006, provides a framework for action to develop a modern, high quality mental health services for a seven to ten year period. The Government has accepted the Report as the basis for the future development of our mental health services.

An independent Monitoring Group was established in March 2006, to monitor and assess progress by the Health Service Executive, government departments and other agencies in implementing the recommendations set out in the Report. The Monitoring Group's first annual report was published in May 2007.

My Department has been in contact with other government departments in relation to the implementation of the recommendations which fall under their responsibility and has reported to the independent Monitoring Group.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

240 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when persons (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive authorisation from the Health Service Executive in order that they can go and have their eyes tested. [18933/07]

The ophthalmic scheme operated by the Health Service Executive, under Section 67 of the Health Act 1970, provides for a sight test and spectacles, free of charge, once every two years for adult medical card holders and dependants not covered by the relevant child health service.

As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for the provision of these services, it 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.

Áine Brady

Question:

241 Deputy Áine Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children the arrangements in place for the provision of speech therapy and language services in the Kildare region; if the services available are satisfactory for the population of County Kildare; her proposals to reduce the waiting lists in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18935/07]

As the Deputy may be aware, an additional 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.

Hospital Services.

Joe Carey

Question:

242 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the mammography unit at Ennis General Hospital has not been operational since October 2006; if she will provide the necessary funding and support to re-establish the service at Ennis General Hospital as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18944/07]

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 respond directly to the Deputy in relation to the matters raised.

Ambulance Service.

Joe Carey

Question:

243 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure that a 24 hour ambulance service will be provided for the people of east Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18945/07]

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 Services.

John Deasy

Question:

244 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a new dialysis unit provided at Rivertown, Tramore, County Waterford catering for holidaymakers has no staff to operate it; if she will provide funding for the staffing of this unit; when the unit will become operational; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18954/07]

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 Repayment Scheme.

Michael Lowry

Question:

245 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Health and Children when payment will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; the reason for a delay in payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19015/07]

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the Repayment Scheme and the information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Executive.

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.

Health Services.

Michael Lowry

Question:

246 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Health and Children when an appointment will be given to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19016/07]

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

Appointments to State Boards.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

247 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which she envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19036/07]

The information requested by the Deputy is presently being compiled by my Department and will be forwarded to him as soon as it is finalised.

Stem Cell Research.

Alan Shatter

Question:

248 Deputy Alan Shatter asked the Minister for Health and Children the policy of the Government with regard to the undertaking within the State of stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research; her views on whether such research provides the potential for curing various illnesses and conditions such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease and spinal cord injury; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19048/07]

At present there is no legislation in Ireland governing the intervention in the natural process of creating human life; instead, medical practice is governed by guidelines issued by the Medical Council. These provide that the creation of new forms of life for experimental purposes or the deliberate and intentional destruction of in vitro human life already formed is professional misconduct.

I am advised that, whereas stem cell research holds potential for the treatment of illnesses such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease, and spinal cord injury, scientific research using embryonic stem cells is still at a very early stage.

The legal, ethical and medical appropriateness of any research that would involve the use of cells from embryos will be among the matters examined in the context of the development of an appropriate regulatory framework for Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) services in Ireland.

In March 2000 the then Minister for Health and Children established the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction (CAHR). Its terms of reference were:

"To prepare a report on the possible approaches to the regulation of all aspects of assisted human reproduction and the social, ethical and legal factors to be taken into account in determining public policy in this area."

The CAHR was comprised largely of persons with expert knowledge spanning medical, scientific, social and legal domains. This expertise was a prerequisite to a precise examination of the issues concerned.

The Commission published its report in May 2005. Its report was the first step in determining a policy response to AHR and it made 40 recommendations on AHR services in Ireland.

The Government decided to refer the report to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children so that the Committee could consider and report in due course on its views of the recommendations of the Commission. The Committee was considered an appropriate forum in which to subject the report to structured democratic and political analysis and scrutiny.

In the meantime, cognisant of the amount of work required, I have instructed my Department to begin work on the development of an appropriate regulatory framework. As part of the analysis of the complex issues involved in Assisted Human Reproduction, the views of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, along with any judgement of the Supreme Court in the RvR Frozen Embryo case will be taken into account.

Independent Hospital Review.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

249 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Health and Children when she will publish the report and findings into the allegations of mistreatment of patients in St. Mary’s Geriatric Hospital, Phoenix Park; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19055/07]

I understand that the independent review in relation to St Mary's Hospital has been completed but the Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the report has not yet been finalised. Publication of the report and findings will be a matter for that body. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider this matter. 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:

250 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the situation regarding a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [19060/07]

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.

Health Service Staff.

Michael Ring

Question:

251 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when two permanent GMS posts in an area (details supplied) in County Mayo will be filled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19066/07]

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.

Willie Penrose

Question:

252 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Health and Children the level of grant aid available for digital hearing aids for people who are hard of hearing; if this is available through the Health Service Executive; the amount thereof; if there are circumstances whereby a person who is on a low income or in receipt of social welfare payments, would be awarded additional moneys to obtain the digital aids, which would lead to a significant improvement in the quality of life for such persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19102/07]

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.

Chris Andrews

Question:

253 Deputy Chris Andrews asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in Dublin 4 will be found a nursing home close to their spouse and their home; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19129/07]

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.

Seán Connick

Question:

254 Deputy Seán Connick asked the Minister for Health and Children the allocation and amount of funding for a centre (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if funding has been provided for the installation of a lift, the construction of a new day room and the refurbishment of the ground floor of the new Haughton Hospital in New Ross, County Wexford. [19134/07]

This Government is committed to a sustained high level of investment in healthcare which will enable the completion and commissioning of numerous new facilities in both the acute and the Primary, Community and Continuing Care sectors.

Responsibility for the planning and management of capital projects in the health sector which include the matters referred to in the Deputy's question are a matter for the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004.

Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Billy Timmins

Question:

255 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; if in view of the circumstances suitable residential care whereby they would also be in a postilion to continue to attend St. Aidan’s with their friends who have similar needs could be allocated as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19144/07]

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. The Executive is, therefore, 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.

Public Transport.

James Bannon

Question:

256 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if he will put in place a dedicated bus for the transport of patients, in view of the decision of Bus Éireann to discontinue the buses which service Mullingar and Tullamore Hospitals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18746/07]

The provision of a bus service on a specific route by Bus Éireann is a day to day operational matter for the company. Where Bus Éireann ceases to provide a service, it is open to any private bus operator to apply to my Department for a licence under the Road Transport Act, 1932. Currently, my Department has no application from a private bus operator to provide a bus service between Mullingar and Tullamore Hospital.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

257 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine when and the way he plans to proceed with decentralisation in his Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18439/07]

Decentralisation of Departmental staff to Loughrea has been fully implemented. The proposed decentralization of maritime safety posts to Drogheda will be fully implemented in accordance with Department of Finance guidelines as soon as a suitable site has been acquired by the OPW there.

Rail Services.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

258 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine his views on the introduction of a financial support scheme for the rail freight sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18490/07]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

260 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the Government’s policy on supporting rail freight; and if his Department will be including the Green Party’s manifesto commitment to introduce a rail freight subsidy on a per tonne basis for materials that are transferred from existing road freight onto rail fright as part of the Programme for Government. [18512/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 258 and 260 together.

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Dáil Questions Nos. 57, 72 and 144 which I answered on Thursday last.

Public Transport.

James Reilly

Question:

259 Deputy James Reilly asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if he will examine the possibility of providing a bus service for the people of north Dublin to Beaumont Hospital as currently access is difficult for those who have to depend on public transport. [18511/07]

Private bus operators seeking to operate public bus services on a specific route are entitled to do so in accordance with the provision of the Road Transport Act, 1932. In the case of Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann, the initiation or alteration of an existing bus service is subject to compliance with the necessary regulatory requirement of giving advance notice to my Department and to compliance with the provisions of section 25 of the Transport Act 1958 concerning competition with licensed private operators. My Department has not received any applications from private bus operators or notifications from Dublin Bus for a bus service as referred to by the Deputy.

Question No. 260 answered with QuestionNo. 258.

Light Rail Project.

Joe Costello

Question:

261 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if he will meet a group (details supplied) in Dublin 9; if he will ensure that the RPA chooses a route that maximises the use of green space in the Drumcondra area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18579/07]

The Railway Procurement Agency has been mandated by the Government to procure and implement Metro North. The RPA continues to engage extensively with residents in the area (including Residents for Realignment) in exploring mechanisms for addressing their concerns. Any meeting to be held on these issues is a matter for the RPA.

Following a very extensive public consultation process last year, the RPA Board decided on the preferred route for Metro North and it was announced in October 2006. Metro North will have 15 stops, including ones at Griffith Avenue and Drumcondra.

Work is at present underway on the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement and the documentation required to support an application to An Bord Pleanála for a Railway Order. A Railway Order is the legal permission needed to build and operate Metro North. The authority to make a final decision on the alignment of Metro North rests with An Bord Pleanála, through this Railway Order process. The terms of this statutory planning process also allow considerable opportunity for the public to comment on, and indeed object to the detailed plans for the project.

The RPA continues to engage extensively with residents in the area in exploring mechanisms for addressing their concerns and to this end has written on a number of occasions to all householders whose properties are located close to the proposed tunnel alignment.

The RPA has received many, and sometimes irreconcilable requests, from residents relating to the tunnel alignment. As a result, RPA is considering a number of options for an alternative tunnel alignment between the Drumcondra and DCU stop locations, which would potentially help to address the residents concerns. However, it also has to have regard to construction, cost and operational issues when looking at alternatives.

It is also important to note that solving one person's problem may only create a problem for somebody else and that whichever route is chosen will pass beneath houses, businesses and other buildings. The views of other communities and stakeholders along the full Metro North line who are supportive of the project moving ahead as soon as possible also needs to be considered.

When the options for alternative alignments have been further developed, RPA will write to all affected residents again enclosing details of the options and seeking comments on them. These comments will feed into the overall environmental assessment of the options so that the detailed tunnel alignment for this portion of Metro North can be finalised and the project can be moved towards construction.

RPA will also ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place to address any potential damage to property caused by tunnelling. The RPA have informed me that modern tunnel construction methods make it unlikely that any structural damage will occur. Finally, the RPA has agreed to provide funding for independent technical advice for residents who may be affected by tunnelling works along the route, subject to agreement on the detailed arrangements for this. It is important that the residents' representatives engage directly with the RPA to agree these arrangements, which must also respect public financial and procurement requirements.

Road Safety.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

262 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the danger to children attending a school (details supplied) in County Galway due to its situation on the N63 road and that there have been many close encounters whereby small children could have lost their lives; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the parents, teachers and local community require the assistance of a traffic warden at special times of the day; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18631/07]

The default speed limit that applies under the Road Traffic Act 2004 to a national road such as the N63 route is 100 km/h. Power to apply a lower special speed limit of 80, 60 or 50 km/h in lieu of that statutory default speed limit at any location on the N63 route is vested in the elected members of Galway county council through the making of special speed limit by-laws under section 9 of the Road Traffic Act 2004.

The exercise of that power to revise a speed limit is subject to consultation with the Garda Síochána and, in the case of a national road, to obtaining the consent of the National Roads Authority. In addition to the power to apply a special speed limit that applies on a 24-hour basis all year round as is the standard practice, the 2004 Act introduced a more flexible policy whereby the county council can apply a special periodic speed limit to operate during specific periods of the day such as for example, on a road in the vicinity of a school premises during the periods of time that school children are entering or leaving school. In late 2005 I prescribed, as an alternative to standard speed limit signs, an electronic format of a regulatory periodic speed limit sign for use in such circumstances.

The decision as to whether or not to deploy a school warden service at any particular location to stop traffic and enable schoolchildren to cross the public road in safety, is a matter for the local authority subject to the consent of the Garda Síochána. The engagement of a school warden service is a function reserved to the elected members of the council under section 96 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. The selection of the speed control measure or a combination of measures that would be optimum to address road safety needs at any location is a matter to be identified and determined at local level in consultation with the Garda Síochána and the National Roads Authority.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

263 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to and including 1 January 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18834/07]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

270 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which he envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19040/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 263 and 270 together.

The table below outlines the existing and anticipated vacancies on State boards and other bodies under my aegis for the period in question. I will give due consideration to filling any particular vacancy as and when that vacancy arises and taking account of the particular circumstances prevailing at the time.

Body

Number of Appointments made since 24 May 2007

Number of Vacancies

Number of Vacancies anticipated to arise up to including 1st January 2008

Irish Aviation Authority

0

2

0

The Railway Safety Commission

0

0

0

Córas Iompair Éireann

0

2

0

Bus Átha Cliath

2

2

2 (Worker Directors)

Bus Éireann

0

1

2 (Worker Directors)

Iarnród Éireann

1

0

6 (Including 2 Worker Directors)

Railway Procurement Agency

0

1

1*1

Dublin Transportation Office

0

0

0

Advisory Council to the Commission for Taxi Regulation

0

2

0

Advisory Council on Rail Safety

0

0

0

Port of Cork Company

5

0

2 Employee Directors

Dublin Port Company

6

0

2 Employee Directors

Drogheda Port Company

3

0

0

Dun Laoghaire Harbour Co.

6

0

1 Employee Director

Galway Harbour Company

7

0

0

Dundalk Harbour Company

7

0

0

Wicklow Port Company

8

0

0

New Ross Port Company

4

3

0

National Roads Authority

0

0*2

0

Road Safety Authority

0

0

0*3

Medical Bureau of Road Safety

1

0

0

Marine Casualty Investigation Board

3

3

3

Dublin Airport Authority (DAA)

None

0

0

Cork Airport Authority (CAA)

None

0

5

Shannon Airport Authority (SAA)

None

3

2

*1This vacancy is reserved for an RPA staff member who is elected by the Agency Staff.

*2Under the Roads Act 1993, the NRA Board must have a minimum of 10 members and is limited to a maximum of 14 members. Thus, the Minister can, if he wishes appoint two more people to the Board.

*3No vacancies at present but potential to appoint 2 more ordinary board members at Minister's discretion.

Public Transport.

Niall Collins

Question:

264 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine his plans to provide a regular bus service linking the growing population centre of Patrickswell in County Limerick to Limerick City. [18844/07]

The provision of a public bus service on a specific route by a private bus requires a licence under the provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932. In the case of Bus Éireann, the initiation or alteration of a bus service is subject to compliance with a Ministerial requirement to give advance notice to my Department and to compliance with the provisions of section 25 of the Transport Act 1958 concerning competition with licensed private operators.

It is an operational matter for the private bus operators themselves to apply for a licence or in the case of Bus Éireann to notify my Department of their intention to provide public bus services. Once a licence has issued or a notification has been formally noted it is a matter for the transport provider itself to advertise and promote the service. Currently, my Department has no applications from private bus operators or notifications from Bus Éireann for bus passenger services between Patrickswell and Limerick City.

Rail Network.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

265 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the position regarding development of Cork to Midleton railway line; the cost of the project; the number of stages in the contract; and his further plans for the development. [18857/07]

The Cork to Midleton Rail Project involves the reopening of the railway line between Glounthaune to Midleton with new stations at Carrigtwohill and Midleton. The Railway Order for the Glounthaune to Midleton project was signed on 5 April 2007. Construction is expected to commence this Summer and is due to be completed in 2008 with the first commuter trains expected to enter service on the line in early 2009.

The detailed programming of the implementation of the Midleton rail line is a matter for Iarnród Éireann. I do not consider it prudent to release commercially sensitive information in relation to the cost of individual projects within Transport 21 until public procurement processes are complete. The Glounthaune to Midleton project is part of the Cork Commuter Rail Project that also involves the construction of new stations at Blarney, Kilbarry and Dunkettle along the Cork-Mallow line. The project will allow increased frequency on the Cork-Cobh line with further through operations to Mallow. Park and ride facilities will also be provided at stations along the route.

Driving Tests.

Joe McHugh

Question:

266 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the proposals in place to provide a more rigorous training course for learning to drive a heavy goods vehicle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18892/07]

Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (S.I. No. 477 of 2006) the Road Safety Authority has responsibility for the oversight of the operation of the driver licensing system including the preparation of proposals for regulatory provisions relating to driver licensing and testing.

Vehicle Standards.

John Cregan

Question:

267 Deputy John Cregan asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if he will confirm that a low loader trailer (details supplied), towed by a tractor of 24 tonnes, for the purpose of moving excavation machinery from one job to another, is legal as per the Road Traffic Act 2006; the type of road tax required on such tractors; the type of diesel to be used by such tractors; the correct procedure for weighing such loads, that is, with or without the tractor attached; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that trailers as outlined in correspondence are being manufactured and purchased by agricultural contractors and others; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18905/07]

Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (S.I. No. 477 of 2006) the Road Safety Authority has responsibility for matters relating to vehicle standards. The regulations governing issues relating to the road tax regime and the taxing of vehicles and trailers by reference to weight related thresholds that the Deputy is referring to are, at present, matters for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The regulation in relation to the use of various types of diesel fuel by specified classes of vehicles being used for agricultural or other purposes is a matter for the Minister for Finance.

Decentralisation Programme.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

268 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the position regarding an application for a transfer under decentralisation by a person (details supplied) in County Galway to his Department in Loughrea; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the person has not received any communication from his Department in relation to this transfer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18917/07]

The position regarding the transfer of any officer under decentralization is confidential in nature. In keeping with the normal procedure, the reason for the transfer not being granted was forwarded to the Personnel Officer of this person's Department. My Department has requested that the reason be conveyed to the person in question.

Marine Inspections.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

269 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the action he will take as regards a ship (details supplied) currently detained in New Ross; the number of marine inspectors employed by his Department; the number of spot-check inspections carried out annually; his plans to strengthen the inspection and invigilation of ships operating in Irish ports and waters; and his plans to work with our EU partner states to address the problems associated with vessels operating under flags of convenience and on strengthening EU wide regulations on pay and working conditions for maritime workers. [18938/07]

The mentioned ship MV Lilian is registered in Belize. The responsibility for the safety, rates of pay and living and working conditions on board this ship rests with the ship operator/ship owner and the flag state Belize. As a second line of defence my Department carries out port state control on such foreign flagged ships operating in and out of Ireland. Port State Control Officers from my Department inspected this ship in New Ross on the 15th of May, 2007. Several deficiencies were noted and as these posed significant risk to the safety of the crew the ship was detained. In accordance with international law it is now the responsibility of the flag state Belize to re-inspect the ship and to invite the Port State Control Officers of this Department to re-inspect it when all deficiencies have been rectified.

There are 21 marine surveyors in my Department who carry out such inspections. Annually we are obliged by EU Directive 1995/21, as amended, and the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control, PMoU, to inspect 25% of foreign flagged ships visiting Ireland, our annual target in 2007 is 400 such inspections. The EU and the Paris MoU are developing a new inspection regime to improve the inspection process and to improve targeting and strengthen the port state control regime.

Ireland has an excellent relationship with our EU partners as well as others regarding such inspections. Ireland is a founding member of the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control and currently Chairs the Paris MoU. There are 27 member states of the Paris MoU including all EU maritime states as well as Canada, Russian Federation, Iceland, Norway and Croatia.

Ireland attended the International Maritime Labour Conference in 2006 and voted in favour of the new Consolidated Maritime Labour Convention of the International Maritime Organization, which will strengthen the requirements for living and working conditions on board ships.

Question No. 270 answered with QuestionNo. 263.

Integrated Ticketing System.

Billy Timmins

Question:

271 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the position in relation to the introduction of a combined ticket that can be used on the LUAS, DART and Dublin Bus; if same will be introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19046/07]

A number of magnetic strip integrated tickets which allow transfer between Bus and Dart, Bus and Luas, and Luas and Dart are currently in place. Within the context of Transport 21, a far wider integrated ticketing scheme is to be in place within the Greater Dublin Area, based on smartcard technology.

An Integrated Ticketing Project Board was established last year to take forward this project, comprising the Chief Executive Officers of the RPA and CIE companies, a representative of private bus operators and a senior official from my Department under an independent chairperson. The Project Board was given the responsibility of delivering the smartcard technology required to deliver an integrated smart card ticketing system within an agreed specification, timeline and budget.

The Board has submitted a comprehensive proposal for the delivery of the project. The proposal puts the expected capital cost of the integrated ticketing system at €49.6 million. On the 1st June, my Department wrote to the Chairman of the Project Board authorising him to proceed with the implementation of the project along the lines proposed by the Board.

The Chairman has since informed me that the procurement process to secure a supplier for the back office systems is underway. The tender notice was recently placed in the Official Journal of the European Union. Currently, smartcard ticketing systems are in place on both Luas and Mortons services. Both Iarnrod Eireann and Dublin Bus also intend to introduce their own interim smartcard systems in the near term. These will enable both users and operators to familiarise themselves with the use and flexibility of smartcard systems. The next stage then is to roll-out the proposed integrated ticketing system within the Greater Dublin Area. All of the current smartcard schemes are designed to migrate to this integrated smartcard system at the appropriate time.

This roll-out will commence within 27 months on the services of Dublin Bus, Luas and Morton's. It will be extended to Iarnrod Eireann Dart and Commuter rail services within the following year. Bus Eireann has agreed to commence a trial project on one of its commuter routes. Full roll-out will be completed within four years. The Board also confirmed to me that a range of multi operator products will be available on all smart cards. In addition, an electronic purse similar to "pay as you go" for mobile phones will also be available.

Light Rail Project.

Alan Shatter

Question:

272 Deputy Alan Shatter asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if it is agreed Government policy to provide a LUAS rail system to Knocklyon, Rathfarnham and Ballyboden in Dublin; the action being taken by him to provide such service; and the date for the opening of such service. [19047/07]

Transport 21 provides a very large funding commitment for the delivery of an extensive rail based public transport network in the Greater Dublin Area in the period up to 2015. This network is based on the Dublin Transportation Office strategy "A Platform for Change".

Transport 21 includes funding for feasibility studies on those elements of the strategy "A Platform for Change" which are not included in Transport 21 and this includes the proposed Luas line from the city centre to Dundrum via Rathfarnham and Terenure. It was announced, on 30 January last, that the RPA would commence work on the Rathfarnham feasibility study in April. Preliminary work has commenced on this feasibility study and I understand from the RPA that the feasibility study will take a number of months to complete.

While Transport 21 involves a very large commitment of financial resources, those resources are also finite. It has therefore been necessary to prioritise the investments to be made over the ten year period. There is no financial provision in Transport 21 for the construction of a Luas line to serve the Rathfarnham area.

Rail Network.

Willie Penrose

Question:

273 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the recent feasibility study has shown that it would be economical and extremely positive and prudent to reopen the railway station at Killucan, County Westmeath as same would accommodate a high usage by the increased populations in the Killucan, Rathnure, Kinnegad, Delvin, Tyrrellspass, Milltownpass, Rochfordbridge and Coralstown areas; if he will make contact with Iarnród Éireann with a view to progressing same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19127/07]

I understand that the report the Deputy is referring to was sent by Westmeath County Council to Iarnród Eireann on 1 June which is currently examining the report.

Question No. 274 answered with QuestionNo. 96.
Question No. 275 answered with QuestionNo. 152.

Diplomatic Relations.

Finian McGrath

Question:

276 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland has changed its traditional position of a constructive relationship with Cuba; and if he will support the German position which wants to create a positive environment by re-establishing dialogue with the Cuban Government. [18401/07]

There has been no change in Ireland's policy towards Cuba. The European Union's 1996 Common Position on Cuba remains the basis of both the European Union's and Ireland's approach to relations with that country. The overriding objective of Ireland and our European Union partners in our relations with Cuba is to encourage, but not to enforce by external coercion, a process of transition to pluralist democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Common Position was most recently reviewed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18 June 2007, at which I participated. The Council's Conclusions deplored the fact that the human rights situation in Cuba has not fundamentally changed, and noted that the Cuban Government continues to deny its citizens internationally recognised civil, political and economic rights and freedoms. The Council's Conclusions recognised the right of Cuban citizens to decide independently about their future.

While the European Union will continue to pursue its dialogue with Cuba's civil society and to offer to all sectors of society practical support towards peaceful change in Cuba, the Council also emphasised the Union's willingness to resume a comprehensive and open political dialogue with the Cuban authorities on all areas of mutual interest. In order to sound out the potential for such a dialogue, which should take place on a reciprocal and non-discriminatory basis, the Council decided to invite a Cuban delegation to Brussels.

I support the balanced approach adopted in the Council's Conclusions, which is in accordance with the principles of the Common Position. And I welcome, in particular, the decision taken to invite a Cuban delegation to Brussels in the interest of establishing an open political dialogue with the Cuban authorities.

Question No. 277 answered with QuestionNo. 105.
Question No. 278 answered with QuestionNo. 90.

EU Enlargement.

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

279 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the accession of Serbia to the European Union in view of Serbia’s failure to recognise the full independence of Bosnia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18808/07]

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia recognized the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign independent State as part of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded on December 14, 1995. As a successor state to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Serbia continues to recognise the full independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

At the EU-Western Balkans Summit at Thessaloniki in 2003, European Union leaders reiterated the European perspective of the countries of the Western Balkans, and reaffirmed that the future of these countries lies within the EU, once they have fulfilled all of the requirements necessary for membership. The Thessaloniki Summit also confirmed the Stabilisation and Association process as the framework for further integration of the countries of the Western Balkans, preparatory in each case to a future accession process.

In October 2005, the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) authorised the Commission to open negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia. These negotiations were subsequently suspended between 3 May 2006 and 13 June 2007 due to Serbia's failure to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY). At the GAERC meeting of 18 June last, EU Foreign Ministers welcomed a renewed commitment on the part of Serbia to cooperate with ICTY — as evidenced by the arrest of two ICTY indictees — and endorsed the Commission's decision to reopen SAA negotiations. The pace and conclusion of these negotiations will depend in particular on Serbia's progress in developing the necessary legislative framework and administrative capacity to implement its obligations under the Agreement, and on full co-operation with ICTY.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

280 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to and including 1 January 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18829/07]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

283 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which he envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19035/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 280 and 283 together.

No appointments have been made to State boards, bodies, committees or other like entities under the aegis of the Department of Foreign Affairs in the period 24 May to date. Vacancies are due to arise in the following bodies over the next six months:

The terms of office of the current Development Education Advisory Committee (DEAC) expired on 30 June 2007. Appointments for a new committee are currently under consideration. The size of the Committee normally varies between 12 and 16 members. The function of the Committee is to offer policy advice to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and to the responsible Minister of State on development education and on ways of increasing knowledge and understanding of development issues in Ireland.

The terms of office of the current Díon Committee will expire in September and consideration will be given in due course to appointments to a new Committee. The Committee was established in 1984 and is based in the Embassy of Ireland in London. Its function is to advise the Minister for Foreign Affairs on applications for funding from organisations that support our emigrants in Britain, as well as on issues of interest and concern to the Irish community. The current Committee comprises six members in addition to the Chair and Secretary, both of whom are serving officials at the Embassy of Ireland in London.

Question No. 281 answered with QuestionNo. 168.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

282 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recent reports that the Northern Ireland Prosecutions Office does not intend to initiate charges against any member of the police or the security forces for their implication in the murder of the late Pat Finucane. [18960/07]

It is disappointing that the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland found that there is insufficient evidence at this time for further prosecutions arising out of the third Stevens report into alleged collusion between loyalist paramilitaries and the security forces.

The announcement that there will be no further prosecutions does not address the serious underlying issues arising from the murder of Pat Finucane in 1989, or allay the widely-held concerns regarding this case. Indeed, the findings only add weight to the family's case for a full and independent inquiry into the murder. This remains the Government's position.

Both the British and Irish Governments committed to an inquiry at the Weston Park talks in 2001. However, the Government fully understand and share the concerns of the family regarding the UK Inquiries Act (2005), under which the British Government would intend to hold an inquiry. We have made this position clear to the British Government directly on a number of occasions.

Ireland has also raised the case at appropriate international fora including the UN and Council of Europe, and will continue to do so. The Government will also remain in close touch with the Finucane family as we follow developments in this case.

Question No. 283 answered with QuestionNo. 280.
Question No. 284 answered with QuestionNo. 108.

Debt Relief.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

285 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which international agreements in regard to debt write off to the poorer countries have been honoured following the various agreements in this regard in the past five years; if he will identify the areas as yet not delivered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19077/07]

Increasing efforts are being made to tackle the problem of debt owed by developing countries to the International Financial Institutions, in particular the World Bank, African Development Bank and IMF. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative was introduced in 1996 and strengthened and enhanced in 1999. It sought the reduction of the debt burden of qualifying countries to sustainable levels but did not entail cancellation.

The Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI), agreed by the G8 Countries at Gleneagles in July 2005 and which came into effect on 1 July last year, goes further. It is a commitment to the cancellation of the multilateral debt owed, again to the International Financial Institutions, of many of the poorest and most indebted countries in the world. Most of these countries are in Africa. For the first time, the most powerful countries acknowledged that many poor countries need 100% debt relief if they are to address the development needs of their people seriously. This is an important basis from which we can continue to work, using either or both of the two initiatives above, for a complete and sustainable solution to the debt problem facing poor countries.

The MDRI, though it is as stated above separate from the HIPC Initiative, is linked to it operationally. To qualify for HIPC debt relief, a country must establish a track record of reform and sound policies. Under the MDRI, cancellation of eligible debts to the World Bank is granted to countries which have completed the HIPC Initiative process, i.e. have already been judged as qualified to receive debt relief.

As of April 2007, 30 countries of the 40 defined heavily indebted poor countries had received debt relief from the World Bank and IMF under the HIPC Initiative, amounting to US$41.9 billion. Twenty-two of these countries have also received MDRI debt relief from the World Bank, IMF and African Development Bank amounting to a further US$19.3 billion. The IMF has also granted debt relief to two non-HIPCs (Cambodia and Tajikistan) with very low per capita income.

It should be stressed that, while both the HIPC and MDRI agreements relate to multilateral debt owed to the International Financial Institutions, considerable amounts of bilateral debt — which are not subject to these agreements — have also been cancelled by creditor countries in recent years.

Ireland has been strongly supportive of the full implementation of debt relief and, where appropriate, cancellation. In addition to an earlier contribution of €30m towards the costs of implementation of the HIPC Initiative, we were the first country to pay its full share of the costs of the MDRI — €58.6m out of the approximately US$37 billion total cost. We will remain actively engaged in ensuring that international commitments to dealing with the debt burden on developing countries are met.

Questions Nos. 286 and 287 answered with Question No. 90.

Overseas Development Aid.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

288 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he expects to motivate the international community to address the ongoing issues in the Horn of Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19080/07]

The situation in the ecologically and politically fragile region of the Horn of Africa is a high priority for Ireland, the EU and the United Nations. The problems faced by the countries of the region include the ongoing conflicts in Darfur and Somalia; a prolonged stalemate in the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace process; and the need to rebuild southern Sudan following decades of civil war. At a regional level, there are major development challenges such as recurrent food security problems, environmental degradation, severe infrastructural weaknesses and poor governance. These issues are being addressed through a combination of political initiatives, peace-keeping operations, and emergency, humanitarian and development assistance.

The UN Security Council regularly discusses Horn of Africa issues, and the UN Secretary General has described the crisis in Darfur as his top priority. UN agencies such as UNICEF, WFP, UNHCR and UNDP are working to address the humanitarian and development needs of the region. There are currently two UN peacekeeping missions in the Horn of Africa — UNMEE on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border and UNMIS in Sudan. The UN and African Union are working together to try to get negotiations started between the parties to the Darfur Peace Agreement and non-signatory rebel groups. Meanwhile, there have been encouraging indications that Sudan may accept the deployment of a UN-AU hybrid force in Darfur.

I have set out the situations regarding Sudan and Somalia in some detail in my replies to PQs numbers 86, 90 and 164. The EU is one of the Witnesses of the 2000 Algiers Peace Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The European Commission's October 2006 Communication on ‘EU partnership for peace, security and development in the Horn of Africa' sets out a comprehensive approach to conflict prevention in the region. In 2004, the last year for which there are complete figures, total European Commission development aid to the six Horn of Africa countries amounted to over €240 million. The European Commission intends to make over €60 million available for security, reconciliation and governance in Somalia in the coming months.

Addressing the problems of the Horn of Africa, and especially in Darfur, is a priority for me personally. I travelled to Sudan and to Ethiopia in July 2006 to see the situation on the ground for myself. In my contacts with the Sudanese Foreign Minister then, and again in September 2006, I highlighted the need for meaningful action to bring peace and security to Darfur, and to protect the delivery of humanitarian aid to the vulnerable. In recent contacts with Egypt, South Africa, the Arab League, the UN and the US, I have urged them to use their influence with the Sudanese Government for the same purpose.

Ireland also supports the development of the Horn of Africa region through our aid programme. Ethiopia is one of Irish Aid's priority countries, and Irish bilateral aid to Ethiopia was about €30 million in 2006, focused at improving the lives of the rural poor. Total Irish Aid emergency and humanitarian funding to the Horn of Africa since 2004 comes to nearly €48 million. This includes over €20 million for Darfur.

Question No. 289 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

290 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his most recent proposals in the context of motivating the international community towards addressing the AIDS issue in Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19082/07]

HIV/AIDS continues to be the single biggest obstacle to reducing poverty and to attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Current statistics from the United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) indicate that, in 2006, almost 40 million people were living with the HIV virus. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the worst-affected region in the world and is now home to over 25 million adults and children living with HIV. Infection rates are increasing in other regions also, with some countries in Eastern Europe and central Asia recording the highest rates of new infections worldwide.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is impeding development and leading to an increase in poverty. It generally affects the most productive and economically-active members of society and serves to further disadvantage those people most vulnerable to infection — such as migrant workers, women and adolescents.

Responding to the global problem of HIV/AIDS is a key priority for the Government. This commitment is very clearly outlined in the White Paper on Irish Aid, which was published last September. Following the commitment made by the Taoiseach in his speech to the United Nations in September 2005, funding for HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases has doubled to over €100 million in 2007. These funds are directed at programmes at international, regional and country level, to provide increased access to HIV prevention, treatment and care services.

Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, earlier this year confirmed that Ireland is one of the leaders in the global response to HIV/AIDS. He commended, in particular, Ireland's leadership in tackling HIV-related stigma and discrimination through the ‘Stamp out Stigma Campaign' which was launched by the Taoiseach on World AIDS Day, December 1st 2006.

Ireland continues to promote the need for leadership and engagement at the highest political level internationally, in order to reverse the trend of this pandemic. Ireland is leading by example in strongly supporting global efforts to address HIV/AIDS and its impact. Ireland's support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM) is one such example, with contributions over the period 2002-2007 amounting to €80 million.

Significant achievements are being made though the programmes of the Global Fund with over 700,000 men, women and children now accessing HIV treatment and many more people having access to essential HIV prevention and care services.

Earlier this year, Ireland signed a new cooperation agreement with UNAIDS. Under the terms of this agreement, Ireland will commit €30 million over the next five years and cooperate with UNAIDS in strengthening global leadership and improving the effectiveness of comprehensive HIV programmes at country level.

In countries such as Tanzania, Ethiopia and Zambia, Ireland works with governments and non governmental organisations (NGOs) to strengthen national responses and improve access to essential HIV services. In Mozambique and Lesotho, and in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, Ireland has increased levels of assistance to improve the accessibility of HIV treatment in rural areas — in particular to benefit women and children.

Ireland will continue to work with the international community in advocating for a sustained and resourced global response to HIV/AIDS, strengthened leadership at all levels, and improved coordination of resources for effective HIV/AIDS prevention and control.

Diplomatic Relations.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

291 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he can influence and improve relations between Russia and the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19083/07]

EU- Russia relations have entered a difficult period. There are disputes between Russia and a number of EU Member States, specifically the UK, Poland and the Baltic States. A series of incidents, most notably the murders of journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Moscow and former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London, have raised concerns about developments in Russia. In a number of important respects, notably media freedoms and space for dissent, the human rights situation appears to be deteriorating. It has not been possible to reach consensus on a negotiating mandate for a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Russia is nevertheless an indispensable partner for the European Union, not just in the economic field where there is a growing interdependence but, importantly, in relation to countries in the region which are now our common neighbours, and at the international level where the EU and Russia are able to work together constructively on issues such as the Middle East, Iran and North Korea.

Ireland fully shares the concern at EU level both at the difficult state of EU- Russia relations and at the developments which have contributed to it. The extent to which the EU can expect to influence trends in Russia, and the implications this has for EU- Russia relations, is a recurring topic in discussions with my EU colleagues. For my part, I see significant challenges in the relationship but I agree that the EU must continue to work to improve it. As happened under the recent Finnish and German Presidencies, the Union at all levels has to devote ongoing attention to Russia and to work steadily on improving relations.

In relative terms, Ireland's bilateral relationship with Russia is, for geographical and historical reasons, quite modest and our role in internal EU debate reflects this. Nevertheless, within the EU I personally, and my officials, have worked to support a balanced approach which takes account of areas both of agreement and of disagreement with Russia. We have also strongly argued for EU solidarity and cohesion.

Questions Nos. 292 and 293 answered with Question No. 88.
Question No. 294 answered with Question No. 96.

European Security and Defence Policy.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

295 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is satisfied regarding the extent of Ireland’s participation in European defence and security measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19087/07]

Ireland continues to play an active role in the development and implementation of European Security and Defence Policy. Along with our EU partners, we undertake regular reviews of ESDP missions and capabilities, including at the European Council last month, and at the joint meeting of Foreign and Defence Ministers in May.

Members of the Defence Forces are currently participating in ESDP missions in Bosnia Herzegovina and in support to the African Union mission in Sudan. Defence Forces personnel have recently served with the EU missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (in support of the UN), and in Aceh (overseeing the peace and disarmament process there). Members of an Garda Síochána are currently serving with the EU Police Mission in Bosnia Herzegovina.

In addition, Ireland is making a contingent of up to 100 members of the Defence Forces available to the Nordic EU Battlegroup, which will be on standby for crisis management missions requiring rapid deployment, for the first six months of next year.

Overall deployments of Defence Forces personnel on overseas UN-authorised missions — whether UN-, EU-, or Nato-led — are kept under constant review within the context of the overall commitment of up to 850 personnel on overseas duties at any given time, as specified in the White Paper on Defence.

The Government also keeps under review the numbers of Gardaí who are serving in overseas civilian missions. In this regard, the question of a Garda contribution to the expected EU rule of law mission to Kosovo is under active consideration.

Human Rights Issues.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

296 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the African countries wherein it is alleged that the most serious human rights abuses are taking place; the steps he has taken or proposes to take through the UN or EU with a view of addressing these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19088/07]

Unfortunately, no part of the world is totally free from human rights abuses. As has been made clear on previous occasions, it is not the policy of the government to draw up any kind of "league table" of countries deemed guilty of the worst human rights abuses. Ireland closely monitors developments in the human rights situation throughout the world and where the situation warrants, we make known our concerns to the Governments in question, either bilaterally, through the EU, or through action at the UN General Assembly or the UN Human Rights Council.

The risk of human rights violations is greater where political, economic and administrative systems are weak. Development is essential to allow people the full enjoyment of their human rights, and Africa lies at the heart of Ireland's development co-operation programme. Irish Aid supports specific actions designed to promote human rights, including by strengthening government systems and in-country human rights institutions, in particular through legal training. Irish Aid has a specific focus on governance in several programme countries.

The link between security and human rights protection is a key concern in many parts of Africa. Where state authorities do not exist, or do not have the will or capacity to enforce the rule of law, people are extremely vulnerable to serious human rights violations, with little prospect of redress. Some of our most serious human rights concerns relate to countries which are currently suffering from conflict, or which have recently emerged from conflict, such as Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sustained efforts are required to restore the kind of stability within which human rights can be protected. Ireland supports the work of the UN Peacebuilding Commission in this regard, as well as the considerable efforts of the European Union. On a national basis, Ireland also promotes security and stability in Africa through our support for development cooperation and through our participation in peacekeeping, most recently as part of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) from 2003-2007.

The EU, in its political dialogue with African countries under Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement, regularly raises issues which arise in the development of democracy and the need for protection and promotion of human rights. The EU also pursues human rights issues when appropriate through the UN General Assembly and UN Human Rights Council. Ireland is fully associated with EU statements on human rights in these bodies. We actively supported the UN Human Rights Council's consensus resolution on Darfur, which was adopted in March 2007. Ireland and the EU have also made statements of concern about Zimbabwe at the Human Rights Council this year.

Together with our EU partners, Ireland has been a consistent and strong supporter of the International Criminal Court, recognising it as an essential means to combating impunity for the most serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law. The Court's Prosecutor has opened investigations in relation to four situations, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Uganda, the Central African Republic and the Darfur region of Sudan, and we will continue to monitor this work closely.

In addition to the United Nations and European Union, the African Union also has an important and growing role to play in the protection of human rights in Africa. The aims of the African Union include the promotion of peace, security, and democracy on the continent, as well as the promotion and protection of human rights, in accordance with the African Charter on Human and People's Rights. The emergence of African standards in this area is a very welcome development. The African Union is an important strategic partner for Ireland and the European Union and for the international community generally.

We will continue to proactively address human rights challenges in the course of our work in support of peace, security and development for all of the people of Africa.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

297 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when and the way he plans to proceed with decentralisation in his Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18431/07]

My Department has been making good progress in regard to the relocation of 250 posts to Carlow under the Government's Decentralisation Programme.

The following business units/Offices of my Department have been selected as part of the Decentralisation Programme and will be relocated in the new decentralised office: Companies Registration Office/Registry of Friendly Societies; National Employment Rights Authority (NERA); Work Permits; Redundancy Payments Section; Insolvency Payments Section. As of 2 July 2007, the total number of posts in Business Units decentralising to Carlow is 288.

In order to accommodate staff who wish to move earlier than the projected building completion date of the permanent office, officials of my Department, in consultation with the Department of Finance and the OPW, as well as decentralising staff and Business Units, are finalising arrangements for an advanced move to Carlow. Approximately 100 staff, i.e. 63 staff from NERA and 33 staff from a division within the CRO, along with a small number of support staff, are scheduled to decentralise to Carlow with effect from Monday 30th July 2007.

With regard to the permanent office, the OPW completed the purchase of a site in Carlow town centre late in 2005. On the 31st May 2006, the OPW sought expressions of interest from developers of new office accommodation and car parking for the Department on this site. This is part of a major PPP project, which also involves the provision of office accommodation for the Department of Agriculture and Food in Portlaoise and the Department of Education and Science in Mullingar. The project will be procured on a Design/Build/Finance/Maintain basis and a single contract will be placed covering the three buildings. Financial advice is being provided to the OPW by the National Development Finance Agency.

The OPW has advised my Department that an evaluation of the Expressions of Interest was completed in February 2007, and a short-list of developers/contractors was identified from whom tenders have been invited. Tenders are due to be returned to the OPW by the end of July. When selected, it will be a matter for the preferred tenderer to secure satisfactory planning permission in respect of each of the locations. On receipt of these permissions, the preferred tenderer will be instructed to prepare working drawings, specifications and Bills of Quantities with a view to a contract being placed and construction work commencing on the three sites.

The OPW has advised that, all going well, construction of the permanent office is expected at this stage to be complete in late 2009. The remaining staff will relocate to Carlow at that point.

Labour Inspectorate.

Richard Bruton

Question:

298 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he is satisfied that all contractors in the construction sector are paying established pay rates to non-Irish workers; and the level of inspections and prosecution in these sectors in this regard. [18457/07]

The pay and conditions of workers in the Construction Industry are governed by Registered Employment Agreements (REAs) that are enforceable in accordance with the Industrial Relations Acts 1946 to 2004. The Labour Inspectorate of the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) has authority to undertake inspections and associated enquiries to determine compliance with a range of employment rights legislation.

A trade union, an association of employers or an individual employer may complain to the Labour Court that a particular employer is not complying with these Registered Employment Agreements. If, after investigating a complaint, the Court is satisfied that the employer is in breach of a Registered Employment Agreement it may by order direct compliance with the agreement. Failure to comply with such an order is an offence punishable by a fine.

All employees have the same employment rights regardless of the employee's nationality. The Registered Employment Agreements, which set out pay and conditions for workers in the constructions sector, apply to non-Irish national employees in the same way as they apply to Irish workers.

Ensuring compliance with employment rights legislation is a key priority for Government and the social partners. The Deputy will be aware that a major package of measures was agreed by the parties to Towards 2016, the Social Partnership Agreement, to provide for enhanced public confidence in the system of employment rights compliance. New legislation will be published this year to provide for enhanced employment rights measures including the establishment of the National Employment Rights Authority. In addition, the number of Labour Inspectors is to be trebled as part of the initiative to increase the staffing resources of the Employment Rights Bodies generally.

Almost 230 inspections or visits were undertaken in the Construction Sector during 2006 in relation to compliance with the Registered Employment Agreements. A similar level of inspections in that sector was carried out under other employment rights legislation such as the Organisation of Working Time Act and the Payment of Wages Act.

The primary objective of the Labour Inspectorate in the case of the breaches detected was to seek compliance and rectification of any breaches identified, including redress for the individual/s concerned and payment of any arrears due to employees. In this regard the Inspectorate, in 2006, recovered, over all sectors, from some 349 employers, arrears of pay amounting to a total of almost €1.4 million. Prosecutions were initiated in 2006 against 24 employers in respect of breaches of employment rights legislation while prosecutions brought before the Courts in 2006 resulted in the imposition by the Courts of fines against 8 employers amounting to a total of €33,351.

The Labour Inspectorate is currently undertaking an intensive and targeted employment rights compliance and inspection campaign within the Construction Industry. Almost 300 construction companies have been contacted to date and almost 400 inspections undertaken both in company premises and on construction sites. Joint investigations with the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social and Family Affairs have also been undertaken and the three organisations are cooperating closely and exchanging information emanating from their respective independent construction inspections.

Corporate Enforcement.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

299 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress of the enquiry being conducted by the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, (details supplied). [18549/07]

I have no function in relation to investigations undertaken under the Company Law Enforcement Act, 2001 by the Director of Corporate Enforcement. Under the Act, the Director is an independent statutory office-holder. Section 12(5) of the Act provides that the Director shall be independent in the performance of his or her functions.

Work Permits.

Michael Noonan

Question:

300 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a decision will be made on an application for a renewal of a work permit for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18683/07]

The Employment Permit section of my Department informs me that, to date, no renewal work permit application has been received in the section.

Michael Creed

Question:

301 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a work permit will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [18809/07]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department informs me that a work permit was issued recently in this case.

Michael Creed

Question:

302 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a work permit will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [18810/07]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department informs me that an application was received in the section on 9 May 2007 and that it will be dealt with in the near future.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

303 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May, 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to and including 1 January, 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18826/07]

Labour Relations Commission: No appointments were made since 24 May 2007 to date. 6 rights commissioner vacancies exist. Those selected to fill these vacancies have been notified and arrangements regarding their appointments are being finalised. 1 rights commissioner vacancy is anticipated to arise up to and including 1 January 2008. No vacancies exist on the board of the Labour Relations Commission and none are anticipated up to and including 1 January 2008.

Labour Court: Two ordinary members will be appointed to the Labour Court.

Agricultural Joint Labour Committee (JLC) — Six names will be proposed for appointment by the Labour Court to vacancies in the Agricultural JLC.

Employment Appeals Tribunal: An appointment to the Vice-Chairs panel of the Employment Appeals Tribunal was made on 13th June to fill a vacancy arising from the resignation of one of the Vice-Chairs. There is currently one vacancy on the employer's panel of the Employment Appeals Tribunal and I am awaiting a nomination from IBEC to fill this vacancy. No further vacancies on the Employment Appeals Tribunal are anticipated to arise before 1 January, 2008.

Health & Safety Authority: No appointments to the Board of the Health and Safety Authority have been made since 24 May, 2007. No vacancies currently exist on the Board of the Health and Safety Authority. In the period to 1 January, 2008, the Board of the Authority comes up for renewal of its three year term. The Board is appointed by the Minister and consists of 11 ordinary members and a Chairman. Of these 12, the Chairman and 5 persons are appointed directly by the Minister and the balance, 6, are appointed by the Minister on the nominations of organisations representative of employers and employees.

National Competitiveness Council (NCC): The terms of reference of the NCC stipulate that four Members shall retire on May 31st each year. Three existing members were reappointed on 31st May 2007. There is one vacancy on the Council.

Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA): In the period 24 May, 2007 to date, one appointment has been made to the Board of the Irish Auditing & Accounting Supervisory Authority, viz: the appointment of Mr Brendan Kennedy on the nomination of The Pensions Board, pursuant to Section 11 (2) of the Companies (Auditing and Accounting) Act, 2003. One vacancy is anticipated to arise in the period up to 1 January, 2008.

IDA Ireland: There have been no appointments to the Board of IDA in the period 24 May to date in 2007. There are no vacancies on the Board of IDA at present. Two members are due to retire from the IDA Board at the end of December 2007.

Enterprise Ireland: The full complement of the Board of Enterprise Ireland is twelve members. Since 24th May 2007 there has been one vacancy on the Enterprise board and a replacement has been appointed with effect from 15th June 2007 leaving no remaining vacancies at the present time on the Board of Enterprise Ireland. Following the next meeting of the EI Board scheduled to take place on 11th July 2007 there will be one vacancy with a possibility of a second to be confirmed up to and including 1st January, 2008.

Three vacancies have arisen on the Crafts Council of Ireland following its AGM, which was held recently on 19th June 2007 and I will review this position shortly. No other vacancies are anticipated to arise on the Crafts Council of Ireland up to and including 1st January 2008.

Shannon Development: No appointments have been made to the Board of Shannon Development since 24 May 2007 to date. No vacancies exist on the Board of Shannon Development at present and none are expected to arise by 1 January 2008.

Forfás: The legislation dictates that the Director General of SFI must be on the board of Forfás. Accordingly the incoming Director General of SFI was appointed to the board of Forfás on taking up appointment on 2nd July 2007. One-fifth of the board of Forfás, effectively two members, retire on 1st January of each year.

FÁS Board: No appointments have been made and no vacancies are anticipated.

InterTrade Ireland: There were no appointments made to the Board of InterTrade Ireland since 24 May, 2007. No southern nominated vacancy exists. I will under the auspices of the North South Ministerial Council make six appointments to the board of InterTrade Ireland, the all island trade and business development body no later than 12th December 2007, when the term of the current board expires.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI): No new appointments have been made to the board of SFI since 24th May 2007. The Director General of SFI is an ex officio member of the SFI board under the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act 2003. The new Director General became a member of the board when he took up his position at SFI on 2 July 2007. Under the terms of the Act establishing SFI, each year the two longest serving members of the board resign from their positions. Two members of the board have tendered their resignations effective from 25th July 2007. The question of filling these vacancies will be dealt with when they arise. I do not anticipate that any further vacancies will arise on the board of SFI for the balance of 2007.

National Consumer Agency: Mr. Pat Desmond was appointed a member of the National Consumer Agency effective from the 18th June 2007.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

304 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the gymnasium (details supplied) in County Wicklow satisfies current health and safety legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18845/07]

The Health and Safety Authority which is responsible for the enforcement of occupational safety, health and welfare legislation has informed the Department that it has not received any complaint or been notified of any kind of incident at the place of work in question.

Complaints about health and safety concerns at any place of work should be addressed to the Authority, which may be contacted at The Metropolitan Building, James Joyce Street, Dublin 1, Telephone 1890 289 389 or by email at wcu@hsa.ie.

Work Permits.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

305 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the status of the work permit for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; and when a decision will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18849/07]

The Employment Permit Section of my Department informs me that a work permit application was received in the office on 23 April 2007 and that it will be dealt with in the near future.

Industrial Development.

Richard Bruton

Question:

306 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the amount of space which currently lies vacant in locations under the supervision of IDA or Enterprise Ireland nationally and within Dublin 17; and the estimated rent foregone by this vacant space. [18901/07]

The Management of the IDA property portfolio is a day to day operational matter for the Agency and is not one in which I have a function.

As part of their marketing strategy IDA Ireland always has a range of buildings available for promotion to clients throughout the country. I understand from the Agency that nationally there is a total of 47,227 sq.metres of vacant space in properties which are either owned or rented by IDA Ireland. None of these properties are located in Dublin 17.

The rent charged to its clients by IDA Ireland is commercially sensitive information and it would not be appropriate for me to give any indication of the rents foregone by the Agency by reason of having such properties unoccupied. I understand from Enterprise Ireland that that Agency has no space under its supervision lying vacant at present.

Work Permits.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

307 Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a citizen of Belarus who has resided in Ireland since 2003, whose work permit expired on 6 June 2006 and who married an Irish citizen on 15 June 2007, is required to obtain a further work permit in order to resume employment here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18922/07]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department has informed me that a work permit is not required for an employee married to an Irish citizen. The person concerned may regularize their residential status by contacting the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Equal Opportunities Employment.

Denis Naughten

Question:

308 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will continue to make funding available to EQUAL Ireland after 2007 to secure a degree year for the students on the higher certificate in workplace and community studies currently accredited by Sligo IT which is currently funded through the European Social Fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18925/07]

The EQUAL Programme is funded by the European Social Fund and seeks to identify and address fundamental forms of discrimination and inequality in the labour market through the development of new and innovative policies and practices initiated by EQUAL Development Partnerships. The Programme started in 2000 and ends in 2007. EQUAL has been delivered in two Rounds. In total up to 75% of the costs of 21 projects were funded under Round 1 of the Programme and 22 projects under Round 2.

EQUAL Ireland Development Partnership has received funding of €872,932 under Round 1 and EQUAL Ireland Life Long Learning (Workplace and Community) Project has been allocated funding of €1,075,140 and additional funding of €241,908 under Round 2 of the EQUAL Community Initiative. While EQUAL projects are continuing to operate until the end of 2007, there is no further funding available from the European Social Fund for new projects or activity beyond 2007. Commitments must have been entered into by the end of 2006 to be admissible for funding under the rules covering EQUAL.

I would therefore suggest that the promoters of EQUAL Ireland engage with the relevant State Agencies, including those which have to date contributed to the costs of this project directly, to ascertain whether funds are available to continue with this project.

Job Creation.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

309 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. further to Parliamentary Question 390 of 26 June 2007, the strategies and programmes of the development agencies currently in place in or on behalf of the Waterford constituency in regard to the development of productive and sustainable employment for the people of the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18980/07]

A key element of IDA Ireland's strategy for Waterford is to progress the development of a knowledge-based economy so that the County and particularly the Gateway of Waterford can compete both nationally and internationally for quality and sustainable foreign direct investment. The Agency recognises that significant progress has taken place in recent years and a number of major infrastructural projects will help to strengthen its position.

In terms of job creation, Enterprise Ireland and the County Enterprise Boards focus on the creation of new jobs through supporting entrepreneurs setting up new companies, the retention and creation of new jobs in existing companies and in enhancing innovation capability.

These Agencies have a range of client services and financial products in place to respond to the needs of existing and new client companies.

IDA Ireland aims to provide world-class property solutions of scale together with supporting infrastructure in the Waterford City area in the County town of Dungarvan. The Agency is working with local development partner agencies in Co. Waterford to advance critical infrastructure, both hard and soft, which will contribute to a sustainable business environment for the long term. IDA Ireland is also working closely with FÁS and third level educational institutes in the region so that the skill sets necessary to attract high value-added employment to the County are being identified and developed.

Since the beginning of 2004 Enterprise Ireland has approved over €6.35m and made payments of over €4.78m to its client companies in the County in support of development projects in areas such as R&D, Capability Building and Process Development. Enterprise Ireland also offers a range of services including business and marketing advice and mentoring, as well as incubation space.

In addition the Waterford County and City Enterprise Boards provide assistance to small enterprises employing less than 10 people by providing employment and capital grants as well as grants for feasibility studies. The Boards provide soft supports such as business advice, management and E-commerce training.

The National Spatial Strategy Gateways have the potential to accelerate growth in their regions. I am confident that strategic local planning, prudent national and local investment in the provision of key infrastructure, a dynamic and innovative role for the private sector and local leadership can deliver this growth for the people of Waterford and its region.

Work Permits.

Michael Lowry

Question:

310 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a work permit will be sanctioned for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19009/07]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department informs me that an application was received in the section on 9 May 2007 and that it will be dealt with in the near future.

Michael Lowry

Question:

311 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a work permit will be sanctioned for a person (details supplied). [19010/07]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department informs me that an application was received in the section on 6 May 2007 and that it will be dealt with in the near future.

Michael Lowry

Question:

312 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a work permit will be sanctioned for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19011/07]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department informs me that an application was received in the section on 16 May 2007 and that it will be dealt with in the near future.

Michael Lowry

Question:

313 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a work permit will be sanctioned for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19012/07]

The Employment Permit Section of my Department informs me that an application was received in the section on 16 May 2007 and that it will be dealt with in the near future.

Michael Lowry

Question:

314 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a work permit will be sanctioned for a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19013/07]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department has informed me that an application was received on 21 March 2007. This application was refused on 21 June 2007 on the basis that the position the employer seeks to fill is ineligible for a work permit. The employer was notified of this decision in writing and of their right to appeal. To date no such appeal has been received.

Michael Lowry

Question:

315 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a work permit will be sanctioned for a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19014/07]

The Employment Permit Section of my Department informs me that an application was received in the section on 16 April 2007 and that it will be dealt with in the near future.

Appointments to State Boards.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

316 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which he envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19032/07]

Labour Relations Commission: It is anticipated that 7 rights commissioners will be appointed during the period 1 July to 31 December 2007. Currently there are 6 vacancies. Those selected to fill these vacancies have been notified and arrangements regarding their appointments are being finalised.

Labour Court: two ordinary members will be appointed to the Labour Court.

Agricultural Joint Labour Committee (JLC): Six names will be proposed for appointment by the Labour Court to vacancies in the Agricultural JLC.

Employment Appeals Tribunal: I expect to make one appointment to the employer's panel of the Employment Appeals Tribunal upon receipt of a nomination that has been requested from IBEC.

Health and Safety Authority: In December 2007 the Board of the Health and Safety Authority ends its three year term. The Board is appointed by the Minister and consists of 11 ordinary members and a Chairman. Of these 12, the Chairman and 5 persons are appointed directly by the Minister and the balance, 6, are appointed by the Minister on the nominations of organisations representative of employers and employees.

Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA): One vacancy is anticipated to arise in the period up to 1 January, 2008.

IDA Ireland: At present there are no vacancies on the Board of IDA Ireland and none are expected to occur before the end of December 2007.

Enterprise Ireland: The full complement of the Board of Enterprise Ireland is twelve members. Since 24th May 2007 there has been one vacancy on the Enterprise board and a replacement has been appointed with effect from 15th June 2007 leaving no remaining vacancies at the present time on the Board of Enterprise Ireland.

Following the next meeting of the EI Board scheduled to take place on 11th July 2007 there will be one vacancy with a possibility of a second to be confirmed up to and including 1st January, 2008.

Three vacancies have arisen on the Crafts Council of Ireland following its AGM, which was held recently on 19th June 2007 and I will review this position shortly. No other vacancies are anticipated to arise on the Crafts Council of Ireland up to and including 1st January 2008.

Shannon Development: No appointments are expected to be made to the Board of Shannon Development in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007.

Forfás: The legislation dictates that the Director General of SFI must be on the board of Forfás. Accordingly the incoming Director General of SFI was appointed to the board of Forfás on taking up appointment on 2 July 2007.

InterTradeIreland: I will under the auspices of the North South Ministerial Council make six appointments to the board of InterTrade Ireland, the all island trade and business development body no later than 12 December 2007.

FÁS Board: No appointments are envisaged.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI): No new appointments have been made to the board of SFI since 24th May 2007. The Director General of SFI is an ex officio member of the SFI board under the Industrial Development (Science Foundation Ireland) Act 2003. The new Director General became a member of the board when he took up his position at SFI on 2 July 2007.

Under the terms of the Act establishing SFI, each year the two longest serving members of the board resign from their positions. Two members of the board have tendered their resignations effective from 25th July 2007. The question of filling these vacancies will be dealt with when they arise. I do not anticipate that any further vacancies will arise on the board of SFI for the balance of 2007.

Semi-State Bodies.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

317 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the names and addresses of each vice-chairperson of a body (details supplied); and the gross fees and expenses paid to each individual vice-chairperson over the three year period up to 29 January 2007. [19058/07]

I would refer the Deputy to Question No. 383 of 26 June 2007, which gave information as to the amounts paid to the vice-chairpersons of the body concerned over the three year period up to 29 January 2007.

There is an obligation under Data Protection legislation to protect personal information that an organisation holds on individuals. Accordingly, I do not propose to release the names and addresses of the individuals concerned taking into account this Department's responsibilities under Data Protection legislation.

Vice-Chairpersons are paid a per diem fee and paid expenses (travel and subsistence) in line with Department of Finance regulations.

Sports Capital Programme.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

318 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will grant approval of a sports capital project for tax relief purposes for a club (details supplied) in County Cork. [18878/07]

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

322 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will reconsider an application for approval of a sports capital project for tax relief purposes by a club (details supplied) in County Cork. [18873/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 318 and 322 together.

All applications for approval of sports capital projects for tax relief purposes under section 847A Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, have to be submitted to my Department for certification.

An application for approval was received from the club in question by my Department and on examination of the proposed project it was found that it was not of a sports capital nature and did not have a sufficient sports element to be approved for tax relief purposes. My Department has advised the club accordingly.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

319 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when and the way he plans to proceed with decentralisation in his Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18426/07]

As the Deputy is aware, my Department was designated under the Government's Decentralisation Programme as one of the "early mover" Departments. It is intended that the entire Department (excluding the National Archives which will remain in Dublin) will relocate to Killarney.

Following a tendering process, the Office of Public Works selected PJ Hegarty and Sons to develop the permanent building for the Department's headquarters in Killarney. The construction of the new building in Killarney commenced in May this year and the anticipated completion date is September 2008. Allowing for fit out the premises should be ready for occupation late in 2008.

Currently an advance group of 49 members of staff has been relocated to temporary accommodation at Fossa, Killarney. My Department is now planning to transfer a further group of 21 staff to Fossa later this month. The temporary premises is capable of accommodating up to 70 staff.

It is intended that the remainder of the staff in the Department will transfer to Killarney on the availability of the permanent accommodation.

Any resources that are required will be made available but to date my Department has managed to progress the project within existing resources.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Frank Feighan

Question:

320 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his plans for the installation of a swimming pool and leisure centre in Ballaghadereen, County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18448/07]

On 27 April 2007, Roscommon County Council submitted to my Department a revised Feasibility Study relating to a proposed public swimming pool in Ballaghaderreen. The Feasibility Study is under consideration at present, in consultation with my Department's technical advisors, the Office of Public Works.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

321 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May, 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to an including 1 January, 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18823/07]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

326 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which he envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19027/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 321 and 326 together.

On 28 May 2007 four members were reappointed to the National Tourism Development Authority. The following is the list of current vacancies and vacancies that are due to arise in the period referred to by the Deputies on the Boards of the key bodies under the aegis of my Department.

Name of Board / Body

Number of Vacancies/ Appointments

Date

Board of the National Library of Ireland

1

Current

National Sports Campus Development Authority

1

Current

Board of Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland

1

Current

Board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art

1

Current

Board of the National Museum of Ireland

1

2nd July 2007

Board of Governors and Guardians of the National Gallery of Ireland

3

9th July 2007

Irish Sports Council

3

20th September 2007

National Archives Advisory Council

12

20th November 2007

Horse Racing Ireland Board

3

17th December 2007

In appointing persons to the Boards of key bodies under the aegis of my Department, I intend to follow the guidelines set out in the Cabinet Handbook regarding eligibility, transparency and gender balance.

Question No. 322 answered with QuestionNo. 318.

Sports Capital Programme.

Margaret Conlon

Question:

323 Deputy Margaret Conlon asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position in relation to grant approval for the synthetic surfacing of a pitch (details supplied). [18949/07]

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. Allocations under the 2007 Sports Capital Programme totalling €85 million were announced in April last, including a provisional allocation to the club in question of €80,000 towards an all-weather synthetic playing pitch. My Department wrote to the club on April 24th 2007 verifying the amount of the provisional allocation and the purpose for which it was being allocated and detailing the various requirements in order for the grant to be formally approved and ultimately drawn down.

Following receipt of that letter, a representative of the club was in contact with my Department seeking verification that the allocation would cover resurfacing of a pitch. My officials confirmed that this was the case. If the club has any further queries at any stage of the grant approval or drawdown processes, it should contact the Sports Unit of my Department.

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

324 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will endeavour to secure funding required by Dublin City Council for the compulsory purchase of a field (details supplied) in Dublin 6 in order to provide a public amenity including a park with sporting facilities. [19024/07]

The sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, is the primary means of providing Government funding for sports facilities. Applications for funding under the programme must be directly related to the provision of sport and recreational sport facilities and be of a capital nature, which, for the purpose of the programme, is defined as: expenditure on the improvement or construction of an asset and includes any costs directly incurred in this process; and purchase of permanently based sports equipment, i.e. it is securely housed, and will remain in use for 5 years or more.

The sports capital programme does not assist in the purchase of sites or premises. Should the local authority purchase the field in question, it is open to it to apply for funding under my Department's sports capital programme towards the provision of sporting facilities to be contained in the field.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

325 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the funding that has been or will be made available for the renovation of the public swimming pool in Rathmines, Dublin 6; and the length of time it will take for the funding to be made available. [19025/07]

The construction or refurbishment of public swimming pools is grant aided under the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme which is administered by my Department. The current round of the programme closed to applications on 31 July 2000 and no application was made in respect of a public swimming pool in Rathmines before that closing date. Consequently no funds have been committed to that project. The priority since then has been to progress the 57 projects under the programme. To date, 23 have been completed, 18 are under construction and the remainder are at various stages in the programme.

My Department is completing the Expenditure Review of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme at present. The Review is examining, among other things, how the programme has worked to date and what changes, if any, are required to ensure its effective and efficient delivery.

Thereafter, following consideration of the recommendations in the Review, it is my intention to launch a new round of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme. When the programme is re-opened, it will be open to all local authorities including Dublin City Council on behalf of Rathmines, to submit applications under the terms that will apply.

Question No. 326 answered with QuestionNo. 321.

Deirdre Clune

Question:

327 Deputy Deirdre Clune asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he is in a position to reopen the local authority swimming pool programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19133/07]

My Department is completing an Expenditure Review of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme at present and on its completion it will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and published. The Review is examining, among other things, how the programme has worked to date and what changes, if any, are required to ensure its effective and efficient delivery. Thereafter, following consideration of the recommendations in the Review, it is my intention to launch a new round of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pat Breen

Question:

328 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Clare has been refused rent supplement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18981/07]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a rent supplement to assist eligible people who are unable to provide for their immediate accommodation needs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

The Executive has advised that they have no record of an application for rent supplement from the person concerned. If the person concerned wishes to make an application for rent supplement then they should contact the local community welfare officer who will advise them of their entitlements.

Pension Provisions.

Joe Costello

Question:

329 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will respond to correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19159/07]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

334 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals in regard to entitlement to a contributory old age pension for people who give up their careers to look after relatives in the home and in the community (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18759/07]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

336 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the proposals he has in regard to entitlement to contributory old age pension for pensioners who volunteer their services to the community (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18860/07]

Richard Bruton

Question:

339 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether persons who are full-time carers or who work full-time in a voluntary capacity in community care services should be given a credit for the purpose of qualifying for a contributory old age pension. [18904/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 329, 334, 336 and 339 together.

The PRSI system is designed to provide income protection to employees and the self employed in insurable employment, with entitlement to benefits based on a person experiencing certain contingencies and satisfying prescribed contribution conditions.

Insurable employment is employment which involves earnings from €38 per week and so the accumulation of contributions is relatively easy under the Irish system.

While the link between employment and self-employment is an essential aspect of the system, nevertheless, a number of arrangements are in place to protect the position of those who leave the workforce to care for children or adults needing care and assistance.

The social welfare pension rights 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. Those carers who receive carer's allowance or benefit can, subject to conditions, receive credited social insurance contributions. There is also a system of voluntary contributions in place which allows people who have left the workforce to continue to make social insurance contributions.

Overall, the range of options available under the system to deal with caring issues, the availability of the voluntary contributions system and the very low level of earnings qualifying for social insurance contributions make it easy for someone to maintain an adequate social insurance record. A number of years ago my Department met representatives of the international organisation referred to in the submissions forwarded by the Deputies to discuss the social insurance position of its volunteers. I understand that there were difficulties in reconciling the ethos of the organisation in question with the requirements of the social insurance system and that the organisation was planning to consider alternative ways of meeting the pension needs of the volunteers.

As the Deputies are aware, the Government is committed to publishing a Green Paper on pensions under Towards 2016. The discussion in the Green Paper will, amongst other things, deal with the question, in the wider sense, of those who do not at present qualify for any support, contributory or non-contributory, under the social welfare pensions system and will set out the implications of making provision for these people.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

330 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when and the way he plans to proceed with decentralisation in his Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18437/07]

Under the Government decentralisation programme, this Department is due to decentralise all of its Dublin based headquarters sections, comprising some 1,210 staff, to six locations — Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon, Drogheda, Buncrana, Donegal and Carrickmacross.

To date, under the decentralisation programme, 66 posts have relocated to Sligo and 62 posts to Carrick-on-Shannon. A further 68 posts will move to Carrick-on-Shannon over the coming months. All of the posts were filled by applicants on the Central Application Facility (CAF).

In their most recent report to the Minister for Finance, the Decentralisation Implementation Group has given the following indicative timescales for the Department's other locations — Carrickmacross end of 2008; Drogheda, Donegal Town and Buncrana in 2009. The Office of Public Works (OPW) has been charged with securing accommodation in the decentralised locations.

The resources for the decentralisation programme will be within the Department's Administrative Budget. The Department is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the programme.

Pension Provisions.

Richard Bruton

Question:

331 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will, over the course of the term of this Government, introduce pension concessions for persons excluded from pension due to the fact that the scheme for disregarding years spent in home-caring only came into effect in 1994 and did not apply retrospectively. [18460/07]

The social welfare pension rights 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.

The question of backdating the homemaker's scheme gives rise to difficult and complex issues, not least of which is the position of other groups excluded from social insurance cover over the years and who do not qualify for contributory pensions. In general, changes to insurability of employment are not backdated and the same principle was applied to the homemaker's scheme when it was introduced in 1994.

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. In this context, the Government is committed to producing a Green Paper on pensions in accordance with the partnership agreement Towards 2016. Decisions regarding pension provision for people who do not currently qualify for a social welfare pension 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.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Question:

332 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications for family income support lodged with his Department and awaiting a decision at present; the average processing time for FIS applications; his plans to reduce the average processing time for such applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18530/07]

The Family Income Supplement (FIS) is an income support for employees on low earnings with families. There are some 21,055 people in receipt of a weekly FIS payment with a current average weekly value of over €139.

Entitlement to FIS is based on an applicant satisfying a means test and on certification of employment by the employer. My Department has publicised the scheme regularly in order to maximise uptake by qualified families. Following significant increases in the income limits in the 2006 budget, my Department undertook a week-long nationwide awareness campaign in March of that year to encourage increased take up of the scheme.

This campaign, combined with the improvements in the income limits, resulted in a strong upward trend in the level of new claims. During 2006 some 13,608 new claims were received. This compared with 7,781 in 2005 — an increase of 75%.

Family Income Supplement is paid for 52 weeks, provided a person continues to meet the qualifying conditions, and a claim for renewal may then be made. The volume of claims for renewals has increased in line with the upward trend in new claims. Renewals to 23rd June 2007 are 12,278 compared to 9,889 received in the same period in 2006. This increase of 24% has resulted in an increase in the number of claims on hand.

To date in 2007, my Department has received 19,039 new and renewal FIS claims and has decided a total of 15,309 cases. At 23/6/07 there were 8,005 claims awaiting decision. These were comprised of 3,371 new claims and 4,634 renewal claims. The average time it takes to award a FIS claim or renewal in 2007 (up to the end of May) is 10-16 weeks.

My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers. This includes ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are issued as expeditiously as possible having regard to the eligibility conditions which apply. Accordingly measures have been introduced to directly address the timeliness of claim processing for FIS:

A review of existing processes and procedures has been undertaken with the explicit objective of reducing delays in claim processing;

Priority is being given to claims where a claim is being renewed to ensure continuity of payment;

Additional resources have been assigned specifically to improve delivery of service and the ongoing staffing requirement is under review.

These measures will, over time, lead to more efficient processing and reduce the number of claims on hand. The position will be closely monitored and kept under review by my Department.

Social Welfare Code.

David Stanton

Question:

333 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, further to Parliamentary Question No. 416 of 26 June 2007, the date in which the National Economic and Social Council was asked to examine the feasibility of merging the family income supplement with qualified child increases and possibly including other child supports such as the back to school clothing and footwear scheme resulting in a single second tier child income support; if he has received communication from NESC to indicate when this feasibility study will be completed; if so, the details of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18757/07]

Since 2004, when the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) was asked to examine the feasibility of merging the family income supplement with qualified child increases and possibly including other child supports such as the back to school clothing and footwear allowance, there have been significant improvements in the area of child income supports to low-income families, many of which were outlined in my previous reply.

In addition, annual child benefit increases and the introduction of the early childcare supplement in 2006 in respect of all children up to six years of age have increased the overall level of child income support to all qualifying families, and proportionately more in the case of low-income families.

NESC is continuing its examination in the light of recent improvements in the area of child income support and its final report will take account of these changes. The report, when received, will assist in future deliberations in this area.

Question No. 334 answered with QuestionNo. 329.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

335 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May, 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to an including 1 January, 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18832/07]

The five statutory agencies operating under the aegis of my Department are the Pensions Board, the Combat Poverty Agency, the Citizens Information Board (formerly Comhairle), the Family Support Agency and the Social Welfare Tribunal. In addition the Pensions Ombudsman comes under the remit of my Department.

No appointments have been made to any of the above Boards from 24th May 2007 to date.

There are two vacancies on the Board of the Combat Poverty Agency at present. It is anticipated that between now and 1 January 2008 a further two vacancies will arise on the Board of the Combat Poverty Agency; two vacancies will arise on the Citizens Information Board and one vacancy will arise on the Social Welfare Tribunal.

Question No. 336 answered with QuestionNo. 329.

Pension Provisions.

David Stanton

Question:

337 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 114 of 26 June 2007 if work on the Green Paper on Pensions has been completed; if not, when the Green Paper will be finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18869/07]

The Government is committed to producing a Green Paper on pensions in accordance with the partnership agreement "Towards 2016". A draft has been completed by my Department in co-operation with the Departments of the Taoiseach, Finance, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and the Pensions Board and this was submitted to the Government in April for its consideration.

The development of an adequate and sustainable pension system is one of the major issues facing the country with serious implications for both the economic future of the country and the well-being of older people. Accordingly, it is important that the matter receive careful and detailed consideration. It is my intention to progress the Green Paper to finalisation as soon as I have completed my own consideration of the current draft.

Tax and Social Welfare Codes.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

338 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to amend the self-employed PRSI contribution scheme in view of the concerns raised by self employed people who can not obtain illness benefit (details supplied). [18883/07]

Self-employed (Class S) contributors are entitled to the following payments:

Widow's/Widower's (Contributory) Pension;

Orphan's (Contributory) Allowance;

Old Age (Contributory) Pension;

Maternity Benefit;

Adoptive Benefit, and

Bereavement Grant.

When Class S was introduced for self-employed persons in 1988, coverage for both short-term insurance-based payments such as disability benefit and for illness was excluded on the grounds that it would prove too administratively/ legally complex and costly to implement.

The range of benefits to which different groups of workers may establish entitlement reflects the risks associated with the nature of their work and this is in turn reflected in the rate of contributions payable. Self-employed individuals pay Class S contributions at a rate of 3% and are eligible for a narrower range of benefits than employees who, together with their employers, are liable for a total contribution of 14.05% under PRSI Class A. Self-employed workers who do not qualify for an insurance-based benefit may claim supplementary welfare allowance, which is subject to a means test.

Question No. 339 answered with QuestionNo. 329.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Question:

340 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if persons (details supplied) in County Mayo were compensated. [18934/07]

The supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme, which is administered by the Community Welfare Division of the Health Service Executive (HSE), is designed to provide immediate and flexible assistance for those in need who do not qualify for payment under other State schemes.

Under the legislation governing the scheme, the Health Service Executive (HSE) may make an exceptional needs payment to people on social welfare or health board payments. This is a once-off payment to meet an unforeseen or special need that cannot be met from a person's basic income.

Assistance in the form of an Urgent Needs Payment (UNP) can be also made to people who would not normally be entitled to SWA, to assist, for example in cases of flood damage, with immediate needs, such as food, clothing, fuel, household goods and perhaps shelter. Assistance can be provided in cash or in kind.

The Executive has advised that following flood damage to their residence in December 2006 the people concerned provided the Executive with an estimate of damages to their property in April 2007. Arising from this, the local Community Welfare Service subsequently requested expenditure details and repair costs incurred as a result of the damage suffered due to the flooding in order that their application could be determined. The Executive has advised that to date the additional information has not been provided. The Executive further advise that if the requested information is provided the case will be further examined.

Pension Provisions.

John Deasy

Question:

341 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will continue awarding higher budget increases to non contributory pensioners; his views on whether this discriminates against those in receipt of contributory pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18956/07]

Over the period since 1997, the Government has made the needs of older people a priority with the inclusion of several commitments in successive programmes for Government aimed specifically at the group. This included achieving the commitment to increase the basic State pension to €200 per week by 2007 in the last Budget. Increases in both contributory and non-contributory pensions have been well ahead of inflation over the period since 1997 thus ensuring that not only was the real value of pensions maintained but that they were significantly improved in real terms.

Looking ahead, there are three main commitments in the new programme for Government relating to weekly rates of income support for pensioners. These are:

To increase the basic State pension by around 50% to at least €300 per week by 2012;

To provide a personal pension payment, set at the level of a full rate State pension (non-contributory), for pensioner spouses in receipt of the qualified adult increase; and

To extend the age allowance to qualified adults over 80 years of age.

The level of increases in weekly rates of pensions required to progress these commitments will be considered in the context of future Budgets. My priority will be to continue the Government's policy of ensuring that every older person, be they contributory or non-contributory pensioners, has access to an income which is sufficient to sustain an acceptable standard of living.

David Stanton

Question:

342 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 32 of 25 April 2007, if his Department has received the views of the International Labour Organisation Committee of Experts on the way in which the Irish Human Rights Commission has interpreted the European Code of Social Security and European Convention of Human Rights when they reported that these articles have not been entirely respected in relation to a decision by his Department to deny the old age contributory pension to a self employed married couple who had paid PRSI; if not, when he expects to receive the views of the Committee of Experts; if he has received such views, the action he will take on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18982/07]

The Department makes annual reports on compliance with the European Code of Social Security to the Council of Europe, summarising changes to the social welfare system. These reports are then referred to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Committee of Experts for their examination. The Department's 1999 report included details of the self-employed provisions which are now the subject of the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) investigation. At that time the ILO Committee confirmed that Ireland met its obligations.

Accordingly, as an initial step in its review of the IHRC report, my Department has asked the ILO Committee of Experts for its views on the way in which the IHRC has interpreted the relevant articles. An informal opinion received from the ILO Secretariat suggests that the Code does not require payment of a pension no matter how few contributions have been paid. My Department is seeking a formal review of the situation in the context of our annual report which will be submitted in August. While my Department will press for an early opinion, I understand that it is likely that it will take a number of months to receive. The position will then be re-examined in light of the views received.

Appointments to State Boards.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

343 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which he envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19038/07]

The five statutory agencies operating under the aegis of my Department are the Pensions Board, the Combat Poverty Agency, the Citizens Information Board (formerly Comhairle), the Family Support Agency and the Social Welfare Tribunal. In addition the Pensions Ombudsman comes under the remit of my Department.

In the period 1st July to 31st December 2007 I will be in a position to make four appointments to the Combat Poverty Agency Board, two appointments to the Citizens Information Board and one appointment to the Social Welfare Tribunal.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Willie Penrose

Question:

344 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in relation to an application for rent supplement by a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19107/07]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a rent supplement to assist eligible people who are unable to provide for their immediate accommodation needs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

Rent supplements are subject to a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant for rent supplement may incur. These rent limits are set at levels that enable the different categories of eligible tenant households to secure and retain basic suitable rented accommodation, having regard to the different rental market conditions that prevail in various parts of the State.

The Executive has advised that the person concerned applied for a rent supplement in January 2007 but was refused as her rent was in excess of the rent limit for her family size. The Executive has further advised that the person's circumstances have since changed and she has also appealed the decision to refuse her rent supplement to the Executive's Appeals Office. The Executive's Appeals Officer allowed her appeal in view of her changed circumstances and the Executive was notified of the decision on 26th June. Arrangements are now being made to have rent supplement put into payment.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

345 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when and the way he plans to proceed with decentralisation in his Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18428/07]

My Department has been considering the implications of the An Bord Pleanála decision with the Office of Public Works, with a view to identifying the options available and I expect to have recommendations for action shortly.

In the meantime, I want to repeat what I said publicly and in response to a Dáil question on 27 June: the policy of decentralisation is unchanged and I remain fully committed to the decentralisation of the Department's headquarters to Co. Mayo.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

346 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May, 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to an including 1 January, 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18822/07]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

351 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which he envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19029/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 346 and 351 together.

A table details the appointments made to State Boards, Bodies, and Committees in the period 24 May 2007 to 3 July 2007.

The table also provides details of current vacancies on Boards, and the anticipated vacancies which will be due to be filled before 1 January 2008.

State Board / Body / Committee

Appointments in period 24/05/2007-03/07/2007

Anticipated Vacancies up to and including 1 January 2008

Commissioners of Charitable Donations & Bequests in Ireland

Currently 1 Vacancy

Dormant Accounts Board

Currently 4 Vacancies

Pobal

4 appointments effective from 18 June 2007

Foras na Gaeilge

The Board expires on 12 December 2007, when 16 vacancies will be due to be filled

Ulster-Scots Agency

The Board expires on 12 December 2007, when 8 vacancies will be due to be filled

Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge

The Board expires on 31 December 2007, when 12 vacancies will be due to be filled

In addition to the appointments detailed above, it is anticipated that further appointments to local development structures will be made arising from the joint ministerial initiative on the review of local and community development structures.

Community Development.

Tom Hayes

Question:

347 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the position regarding the case of a group (details supplied) in County Tipperary who have applied for assistance under the community services programme; and if their application will be successful. [18847/07]

The Project to which the Deputy refers is currently funded under the Community Services Programme and has recently had its contract extended to allow the Department time to appraise its business plan for the period 2007-2009.

Youth Services.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

348 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the grant aid available from his Department in respect of youth services (details supplied) in County Cork. [18872/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department provides funding for a wide range of youth services, through a number of schemes and programmes. Each of the schemes and grant programmes operated by my Department are governed by rules and eligibility criteria, which projects have to meet in order to qualify for funding.

With regard to the specific project referred to by the Deputy, elements of such a project may be eligible for funding under my Department's Programme of Grants for Locally Based Community and Voluntary Organisations, the Local Development Social Inclusion Programme and the Young Peoples Facilities and Services Fund. Funding may also be accessed from the Dormant Accounts Fund.

Detailed information in respect of the programmes and schemes outlined above can be found on my Department's website at www.pobail.ie.

Community Development.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

349 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway has not been offered a place on the rural social scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18908/07]

All of the 2,600 places currently available on the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) have now been taken up. Implementing Bodies are, however, forming waiting lists for their areas, which will be used to fill vacancies on the Scheme as and when they arise.

I understand that the person referred to by the Deputy is currently on Galway Rural Development Company's waiting list. I also understand that the person was offered a position some time ago but did not accept it as the location was not suitable.

Dan Neville

Question:

350 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Limerick was charged for the 24 hour monitoring service. [18926/07]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 269 of 27 June 2007.

Question No. 351 answered with QuestionNo. 346.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

352 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs when a person (details supplied) in County Galway will be offered a place on the rural social scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19067/07]

All of the 2,600 places currently available on the Rural Social Scheme (RSS) have now been taken up. Implementing Bodies are, however, forming waiting lists for their areas, which will be used to fill vacancies as and when they arise.

I understand that the person referred to by the Deputy first applied for the RSS in late March 2007. He was subsequently awarded a qualifying Social Welfare payment (Farm Assist) in June 2007. His application is currently being assessed by Galway Rural Development Company Ltd. and, if deemed suitable, he will be placed on its waiting list of suitable eligible applicants from which vacancies will be filled in the future.

National Drugs Strategy.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

353 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reason FÁS have not been successful in ensuring a representative of FÁS management in Ballyfermot is in attendance and can address issues at the Ballyfermot Drugs Taskforce on an ongoing basis as per the National Drugs Strategy.; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19140/07]

While I understand that FÁS representatives are actively engaged with the National Drugs Strategy structures and are making a significant contribution to the on-going implementation of the Strategy, I am aware that particular difficulties have arisen with regard to attendance by FÁS representatives at the Ballyfermot Local Drugs Task Force (LDTF) meetings. However, steps are being taken by FÁS and the LDTF to resolve matters. I understand that, on the completion of internal restructuring, FÁS management will meet again with the LDTF Co-ordinator and Chairperson to set out the parameters of FÁS engagement going forward. In the interim, FÁS local personnel are available to deal with any queries that arise.

Generally, where any issues regarding the levels of attendance at Drugs Task Forces meetings arise, they are addressed, in the first instance, at Task Force level. A mechanism is also in place to refer matters to the National Drugs Strategy Team, where necessary.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

354 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she has received correspondence from a group (details supplied) regarding the proposed offshore wind farm in Dundalk Bay; the consideration she is giving to the submission which was made to her; if she will amend the foreshore legislation; if such an amendment will have been enacted prior to any decision in respect of the proposed wind farm in Dundalk Bay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18581/07]

The two month public consultation period relating to the receipt of a Foreshore Lease application for the construction of an offshore wind farm in Dundalk Bay ended on Friday, 29 June 2007. Due consideration will be given to all submissions, including any received from the above mentioned group.

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources Statement of Strategy 2005 — 2007 indicates that procedures will be developed for enhanced co-ordination and cooperation between public bodies on management of the coastal zone. This is in response to the increasing demands and pressures on coastal areas and their resources, and the fact that a wide range of public bodies and agencies have roles to play in managing and regulating various aspects and dimensions of the coastal zone. A consolidation and streamlining of the Foreshore Acts is proposed in this regard.

It is also intended to commission a consultancy on the future development of coastal zone management in Ireland, which will assist in a strategic review of the legislative framework, structures and procedures that are in place to manage the State-owned foreshore.

I am not in a position to state whether the legislative changes will be enacted prior to a formal decision being made on the above case.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

355 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when and the way she plans to proceed with decentralisation in her Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18425/07]

The Government decision on the decentralisation of my Department is that the headquarters will move to Portlaoise (involving some 600 staff); the local offices in Cork city will move to Fermoy (involving up to 100 staff); and the laboratories in Cork and Limerick will move to Macroom (again involving up to 100 staff).

My Department's Decentralisation Implementation plan provides for a phased movement to Portlaoise i.e. the transfer of functions and posts over a number of years. The 2005 and 2006 phases of Decentralisation are now complete and planning and preparation are ongoing for the remainder of 2007 and subsequent phases. In total there has been an increase of some 200 full-time posts in Portlaoise since early 2004 and there are currently over 400 Department of Agriculture and Food staff in Portlaoise. Implementation plans for Fermoy and Macroom are also in place and the recruitment process for Fermoy has begun. Initially there were 73 applicants for the 100 posts advertised for Fermoy and 74 for the 100 posts advertised for Macroom.

To cater for the increase in staff numbers, my Department has taken temporary accommodation in Portlaoise. This is now fully occupied and the OPW are sourcing additional space to cater for further advance moves. The site for the location of my Department's new offices in Portlaoise was approved in 2005. The OPW's current estimate is that construction will begin in 2007 and will be completed in 2009. My Department is also liaising with the OPW regarding specifications for the offices and identification of sites in Fermoy and Macroom.

Afforestation Programme.

Michael Ring

Question:

356 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the person within her Department who is dealing with a matter (details supplied); the person who will make a decision on same; and when a decision will be made in this matter. [18440/07]

Following an inspection of this case by the Forestry Inspectorate of my Department in February of this year, it was recommended by the Inspectorate that prosecution be pursued under the Forestry Act 1946 as the felling took place without a licence. The decision to prosecute in this case was taken on 24 May 2007.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Michael Ring

Question:

357 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will investigate a situation of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo who was accepted on to REP scheme three and then at a later date their application was terminated from the scheme. [18470/07]

The person named applied to join REPS 3 and submitted an agri-environmental plan, prepared by an approved planner, which was accepted on the basis of the information provided. It subsequently came to light, however, that the land incorporated into his REPS plan was the subject of a grazing agreement — and not a lease, as stated on the REPS plan. The person named was therefore ineligible for payment under the scheme, as a valid lease or ownership documentation is required under REPS terms and conditions. In the circumstances, my Department had no option but to seek a refund of the amount he had received.

Grant Payments.

John Perry

Question:

358 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if all documentation has been received from a person (details supplied) in relation to the registration of ownership of entitlements to allow for the release of the single farm payment to the other third party; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18474/07]

The position is that an application for the Transfer of Entitlements by way of lease under the 2006 Single Payment Scheme from the first and second persons named to the third person named was submitted on 5 April 2006. During processing of the Transfer application it was found that the entitlements concerned were not yet registered in the name of the first and second persons named.

The entitlements must firstly be transferred by inheritance to the first and second persons named. An application to transfer the entitlements to the first and second persons named was submitted on 27 June 2007. Following examination of this application an official of my Department made direct contact with the first and second persons named requesting further information.

Upon receipt of the outstanding information my Department will process the inheritance application. Arrangements can then be made to transfer the entitlements by way of lease to the third person named.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Dan Neville

Question:

359 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position regarding payment of REP scheme to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [18526/07]

Payment dated 8 May 2007 has issued to the person named.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Dan Neville

Question:

360 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position regarding payment of the farm retirement scheme to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [18535/07]

Payment of the Early Retirement pension to the person named has recently commenced. Arrears of pension backdated to 28 December 2006, the date of valid application, were included with the first payment.

Grant Payments.

David Stanton

Question:

361 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will ensure that outstanding payments under the EU single payment scheme are made to a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18584/07]

An application under the 2006 Single Payment Scheme was received from the person named on 9 May 2006. The person named had established 13.32 standard entitlements during the Reference Period, with a unit value of €459.30. The advance payment in respect of these entitlements issued on 16 October and the balancing payment issued on 1 December 2006. Further moneys are now due to the person named following the reform of the Sugar Beet regime and arrangements are being made to issue the outstanding amount of €4,413.64 without delay.

Phil Hogan

Question:

362 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when a REP scheme payment will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18629/07]

Payment dated 28 June 2007 has issued to the person named.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

363 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when she will introduce REP scheme four; if people who completed their REP scheme three programme as far back as December 2006 will retrospectively be accommodated in REP scheme four; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18633/07]

REPS 4 will form part of the new Rural Development Programme for the period from 2007 to 2013. The draft Programme was sent to the European Commission in late December 2006. Since then, my officials have responded to a substantial number of queries and requests for clarification from their counterparts in the Commission services. I am hopeful that this process is coming to a conclusion and that approval for the new Scheme can be obtained within a reasonably short period. Individual five-year contracts, which form the basis for payment, will run from the date on which a farmer is accepted into REPS 4.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

364 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to and including 1 January 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18820/07]

The following table sets out appointments made since 24 May 2007, current vacancies and anticipated vacancies up to and including 1 January 2008.

Name of Body

Appointments 24 May to date

Current Vacancies

Vacancies due to arise up to Jan ‘08

Bord Bia

None

None

2

Teagasc

1

None

3

Coillte

None

2

1

COFORD

None

1

1

Irish National Stud

None

None

2

Veterinary Council

None

None

4

Irish Horse Board

None

1

None

Consumer Liaison Panel

None

3

None

Poisons Council*

None

2

None

*Nominees of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

In accordance with EU legislation, I will be required to establish a Monitoring Committee following approval of Ireland's Rural Development Programme.

Grant Payments.

John Perry

Question:

365 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when the REP scheme payment for a person (details supplied) in County Sligo will be released; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18865/07]

The application for payment in this case was received on 21 June 2007 and is being processed in line with the targets agreed with the farming bodies.

Fisheries Protection.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

366 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will give further consideration to payment of adequate compensation for fishermen in view of the ban on the use of drift nets. [18874/07]

Until such time as functions are transferred officially from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources I am unable to answer this question. However arrangements will be made to contact the Deputy with the information once the transfers are complete.

Grant Payments.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

367 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if grant-aid is available from her Department to persons (details supplied) in County Cork to purchase tonnage for fishing purposes. [18875/07]

Regulations governing grant-aiding the introduction of fishing vessels into the Irish fishing fleet are determined at EU level. The regulations do not allow, as a general principle, for the grant aiding of tonnage, or the purchase of new or replacement vessels.

However, grant aid support is available to assist young fishermen to establish themselves in the industry for the first time. This scheme is administered by BIM and is currently open. Under the terms of the scheme young fishermen (under 35 years of age at the time of application) who have not previously owned or part-owned any fishing vessel and are acquiring for the first time a second-hand whitefish vessel can avail of grant aid involving 10% of acquisition costs or an amount not exceeding €50,000, whichever is the lower.

Tom Hayes

Question:

368 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary, who has appealed the decision not to allow payment under the single payment scheme, due to a delay in submitting their area aid application in 2005. [18888/07]

An official of my Department has been in direct contact with the person named and, on receipt of the outstanding required documentation from the person named, the case will be further examined with a view to having this matter satisfactorily addressed.

John Perry

Question:

369 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, with regard to the new installation aid scheme which allows for extensive production in some cases, consideration is being given to allowing applicants such as a person (details supplied) who applied under the old scheme, to qualify under the new scheme but by operating an extensive enterprise and thus a more environmentally friendly energy efficient business; if she will make a favourable decision as they are under time pressure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18894/07]

The Young Farmers' Installation Scheme (YFIS) applies to young farmers set up in farming for the first time on or after 1 January 2007. An applicant set up in farming for the first time under a previous installation aid scheme is ineligible to apply for grant aid under YFIS. However, farmers set up in farming between 1 May-31 December 2006 under the Installation Aid Scheme are eligible to apply for the higher rate of grant under certain conditions.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

370 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway has not received their REP scheme payment under REP 3; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18907/07]

The person named incurred a 100% penalty (€14,317.64) following a REPS inspection. He was notified in writing of the amount of the penalty, and was told that it would be recovered by deductions from REPS and other scheme payments. For this reason a payment of €7,010, which would have been due to the person named, was withheld and offset against his debt. My Department has no option but to pursue debts in these circumstances, but my officials will consider sympathetically any proposals about alternative methods of repayment that the person named may wish to make.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

371 Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason an application under the national reserve entitlement which was submitted eight months ago by a person (details supplied) in County Wexford has not been finalised; when this applicant will receive payment of their entitlement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18921/07]

The person named applied to be considered for an allocation of entitlements under Categories A and D of the 2005 National Reserve. Category A caters for farmers who inherited land or received land free of charge or for a nominal sum from a farmer who had retired or died by 16 May 2005 and who had leased out his/her holding to a third party during the reference period 2000 to 2002. Category D caters for farmers who inherited or purchased land and who commenced farming after 31 December, 2002 or who commenced farming in 2002 but who received no direct payments in respect of that scheme year.

The person named did not submit all the required documentation with his original application but this information has since been received and it has been established that he now qualifies under both Category A and D of the 2005 National Reserve.

The regulations governing the single payment scheme National Reserve stipulate that an applicant who is found to be eligible under more than one category in the Reserve may only receive an allocation of entitlements under whichever category is most beneficial to him/her. In this instance Category D is regarded as the most beneficial and the person named has been duly allocated under this Category. A letter outlining my Department's decision has issued to the person named and relevant payment due will issue soon.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

372 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the status of the application for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford and if a decision will be made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18924/07]

The person concerned is an applicant for grant aid under the Dairy Hygiene Scheme. Further details in respect of the completed works were requested from the applicant on 29 June 2007.

Johnny Brady

Question:

373 Deputy Johnny Brady asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will approve a range of agricultural schemes and programmes under the National Development Plan 2007 to 2013; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18936/07]

The measures targeted at the agri-food sector under the National Development Plan, which also encompass those in the Rural Development Plan, are spread over four sub-programmes focusing on competitiveness, the environment, the food industry and agri-food research. The overall package totals €8.7 billion over the period of the Plan, of which €2.1 billion will be funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

The agri-food schemes and programmes in the National Development Plan, including REPS, Disadvantaged Areas, Forestry and others, have already been approved by me, and I have recently announced the launch of the Early Retirement and Installation Aid Schemes. I am actively pursuing the approval of the European Commission for the co-funded Rural Development Plan, which covers many of these schemes, and this process is at an advanced stage. Commission approval is also being sought in respect of the fully state-aided measures in the NDP, which require sanction at EU level.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

374 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when a decision will be made on the appeal against the decision of her Department to refuse single payment entitlements to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry under the 2005 national reserve; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18957/07]

As outlined in a previous reply to the Deputy, the person named submitted an application for an allocation of entitlements from the 2005 Single Payment Scheme National Reserve under Category C. Category C caters for farmers who sold their milk quota into the Milk Quota Restructuring Scheme and converted their enterprise to a farming sector for which a direct payment under Livestock Premia and/or Arable Aid Schemes would have been payable during the reference period 2000 to 2002.

The father of the person named sold his milk quota in April 2004 and ceased farming. He leased his farm and any associated Single Payment entitlements to the person named in March 2004. As the person named was neither an active milk producer nor the owner of a milk quota he did not therefore satisfy the criteria for Category C. The person named submitted an appeal against this decision and provided additional documentation in support of his appeal. In all such cases, the procedure is that all contentions put forward in support of an appeal are first of all reviewed within my Department to see whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant any change to the original decision. In this case the documentation was examined by my Department but did not provide grounds for a change to the original decision.

This case was forwarded to the Independent Single Payments Appeals Committee who upheld my Departments decision. However, the person named has requested a review of the decision taken by the Independent Appeals Committee. His request will be put before the next meeting of this Committee and following this meeting the Committee will contact him directly.

The person named also applied for consideration under the 2006 National Reserve under Categories A and B. However, he did not provide sufficient documentation to allow my Department to finalise his application. My Department has been in touch with him and is awaiting the receipt of the required documentation in order to fully process his application. Following processing the person named will be notified directly of the outcome of his 2006 National Reserve application.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Michael Lowry

Question:

375 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when an early retirement pension will be granted to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19003/07]

Additional documentation was sought from the applicant in this case. This has been received and is being examined, and he will be notified of the outcome shortly.

Afforestation Programme.

Michael Lowry

Question:

376 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary was refused an application for afforestation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19005/07]

Afforestation grant-aid approval issued to the person in question on 21 May 2007.

Grant Payments.

Michael Lowry

Question:

377 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if entitlements will be granted to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; her views on correspondence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19006/07]

The person named submitted an application for an allocation of entitlements from the 2006 Single Payment Scheme National Reserve under Category A. Category A caters for farmers who inherit, lease or receive land free of charge or for a nominal amount from a farmer who had retired or died by 16 May 2005 and where the land was leased out by the original owner during the reference period 2000 to 2002.

The person named has been deemed unsuccessful under this category as the land on which the application was based was leased out by the applicant during the reference period 2000 to 2002 and not by the original owner as required by the conditions governing the National Reserve. A letter outlining my Department's decision issued to the person named on 11 June 2007. The person named submitted an appeal against this decision on 27 June 2007 and also submitted new evidence in support of his appeal. The case was subsequently reviewed but it was considered that the new evidence submitted did not provide grounds for a change to the original decision.

This case has now been forwarded to the Independent Single Payments Appeals Committee who will carry out a full review of the case. The Independent Single Payments Appeals Committee will correspond directly with the person named following the outcome of their review.

John Perry

Question:

378 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food further to Parliamentary Question No. 780 of 24 April 2007, when a decision will be made on the review of the 2006 single payment scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Sligo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19019/07]

The position is that an application under the Single Payment Scheme/ Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 15 May 2006. As part of the control procedures, the application was randomly selected for a Satellite Inspection. The results of the Satellite Inspection indicated that there was a discrepancy in the area claimed by the applicant. As a result of this discrepancy it was necessary to issue a request for a Ground Eligibility Inspection to be completed.

The ground eligibility inspection was undertaken on 14 November 2006. During the course of the inspection discrepancies were found with a number of parcels. As a result of these discrepancies the claimed area of 35.65ha was reduced to 25.58ha. The person named was informed of these findings on 6 December 2006. If the total Standard area found is not sufficient to support the number of entitlements held the penalties will be applied as per Article 50/51/53 of Commission Regulation (EC) No. 796/2004 and per the Terms and Conditions of the scheme. In this case the number of entitlements held by the person named is 55.8. As the difference between the area declared and the area found is more than 20%, under EU Regulations, no payment will issue.

The person named requested a review of this decision on 9 February 2007. The reviewer concluded that the declaration of a forestry plot on the application was a genuine error and agreed to remove the plot from the application. This reduced the difference between the area declared and the area found to 9.38% which, under EU Regulations, resulted in the difference being doubled and a total area of 20.94 Ha being put forward to payment. This payment is currently being processed and will issue shortly.

The person named was informed of this decision on 27 April 2007 and of his right to appeal the decision to the independent Agriculture Appeals Office. To date, no appeal has been lodged.

Appointments to State Boards.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

379 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of appointments to State boards, State bodies or other like entities which she envisages making or nominating in the period 1 July to 31 December 2007; the board, body or entity involved in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19026/07]

The information is contained in the following table.

Name of Body

No. Appointments Envisaged

Bord Bia

2

Teagasc

3

Coillte

3

COFORD

2

Irish National Stud

2

Veterinary Council

4

Irish Horse Board

1

Consumer Liaison Panel

3

Poisons Council*

2

*Nominees of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Proposed Legislation.

Willie Penrose

Question:

380 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the new animal welfare legislation planned as part of the Programme for Government; if this includes provisions to deal with all animals including dogs and cats; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19101/07]

The Programme for Government provides inter alia for consolidation of responsibility for the welfare of all animals (including non-farm animals) within my Department, promotion of the highest standards of animal welfare at all levels of the food production chain, review and consolidation where necessary of all legislation governing the welfare of non-farm animals and introduction of a comprehensive Animal Welfare Bill, updating existing legislation, to ensure that the welfare of animals is properly protected and that the penalties for offenders are increased significantly.

All of the foregoing are being pursued and the preparation of the required legislation to implement the commitments is proceeding within my Department.

Grant Payments.

Billy Timmins

Question:

381 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position in relation to a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow who is still waiting to be granted the single payment under consolidation; if this will be granted as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19147/07]

The person named made an application for the consolidation of his entitlements under the 2006 Single Payment Scheme. The person named established 122.27 standard entitlements and was also allocated 11.39 National Reserve entitlements with effect from the 2005 Scheme year. The person named declared 68.76 eligible hectares. A letter has issued to the person named explaining the requirements of the consolidation process. The applicant was informed that it will be necessary for him to surrender 7.53 standard entitlements to the National Reserve in order to be eligible to consolidate his entitlements. Alternatively, the applicant can return the National Reserve allocation.

The person named has been requested to confirm whether or not he wishes to proceed with surrender of the 7.53 entitlements. My Department will process the consolidation application on receipt of this confirmation.

Youth Services.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

382 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the grant aid available from her Department in respect of youth services (details supplied) in County Cork. [18870/07]

The Youth Affairs Section of my Department provides grant-in-aid for a number of youth work programmes and initiatives designed to ensure the provision of non-formal educational opportunities for young people. Grant aid is made available for youth projects and services in Co. Cork under the Special Projects for Youth Scheme, the Local Youth Club Grant Scheme and for a Youth Information Centre in West Cork.

There are six (6) Special Projects in Co. Cork in receipt of funding under the Special Projects for Youth Scheme:

Project

2007 Grant

Riverstown Youth Project

109,696

SKY Project (Mitchelstown/Charleville areas)

113,478

Summer Recreation Project

17,788

Beara Peninsula Project

117,740

Cobh Youth Services Project

103,845

Fermoy/Mallow/Midleton Projects (Up-graded to 2 workers in 2007)

218,320

Total

680,867

In addition, the West Cork YMCA Youth Information Centre has been allocated a grant of €66,074 in 2007. The 2007 allocation to Co. Cork VEC in respect of the Local Youth Club Grant Scheme has not yet been finalised. Funding amounting to €59,943.50 was made available in 2006 to the VEC under this scheme.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

383 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science when and the way she plans to proceed with decentralisation in her Department; the way it will be implemented; the resources that will be made available; the extent to which it will be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18430/07]

Four hundred (400) Dublin based posts in my Department will relocate under the programme of decentralisation. One hundred posts (100) will relocate to Athlone and 300 posts will relocate to Mullingar. These posts will relocate when office accommodation is ready for occupation in Athlone and Mullingar respectively.

The provision of accommodation under the programme of decentralisation falls within the remit of the Office of Public Works (OPW). The OPW has indicated to the Decentralisation Implementation Group that it anticipates that new office accommodation will be ready in Athlone next year and that it should be ready in Mullingar sometime in 2009.

As the accommodation element of the programme will be managed by the OPW, the main element of the preparation to be made by my Department is the assignment of volunteers to decentralise to posts in which they will decentralise, along with arranging the transfer out to other offices/departments of those officers currently working with my Department who wish to remain in Dublin. Approximately 43% of posts scheduled to relocate to Athlone are now held by officers who will relocate with their posts and 36% of posts to relocate to Mullingar are held by officers who will decentralise with their posts. All of the information available to my Department suggests that it will be possible to fill all of the relocating posts in the decentralised locations. I expect that these percentages will rise incrementally over the coming year/years. An incremental movement of staff is necessary, if my Department is to continue to deliver services during this period of transition. However, a number of posts will be filled very close to the date of actual relocation in order to avoid requiring volunteers who are currently based outside of Dublin having to spend a significant length of time in Dublin in advance of moving to their location of choice.

My Department is managing the implementation of decentralisation within its existing resources.

School Staffing.

Tom Hayes

Question:

384 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will reconsider a decision to reduce teacher staffing levels for the coming school year at a school (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [18444/07]

The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30th September of the previous school year. The actual number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule which is issued to all primary schools each year.

Data submitted to the Department by the Board of Management of the school referred to by the Deputy indicates that the enrolment in the school on 30th September 2005 was 83 pupils. In accordance with the staffing schedule (Circular 0023/2006), which is available on the Department's website at www.education.ie, the mainstream staffing in the school for the 2006/07 school year is a Principal and 3 mainstream class teachers.

The enrolment in the school on 30th September 2006 was 72 pupils. In accordance with the staffing schedule (Circular 0020/2007), which is available on the Department's website at www.education.ie and a hard copy of which has issued to all primary schools, the mainstream staffing in the school for the 2007/08 school year will be a Principal and 2 mainstream class teachers.

Within the terms of the staffing arrangements for primary schools there is provision for additional posts, referred to as developing school posts, to be assigned to schools on the basis of projected enrolments for the next school year. Under these arrangements, a developing school post may be sanctioned provisionally where the projected enrolment at 30th September of the school year in question equals or exceeds a specified figure. If the specified figure is not achieved on 30th September, sanction for the post is withdrawn.

It is open to the Board of Management to submit an appeal under certain criteria to an independent Appeal Board which was established to adjudicate on appeals on mainstream staffing allocations in primary schools. Details of the criteria and application dates for appeal are contained in the staffing schedule. They are also available in Circular 0024/2007 (Appeal Board for Mainstream Staffing in Primary Schools) which is available on my Department's website. Hard copies of this circular have issued to primary schools.

The school referred to by the Deputy lodged an appeal with the Primary Staffing Appeal Board. This appeal was heard at the Appeal Board meeting on the 22 May, 2007 and was refused.

The Appeal Board operates independently of the Minister and the Department and its decision is final.

The Board of Management of the school was notified in writing of the decision of the Appeal Board on 24th May, 2007.

I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the operations of the Independent Appeal Board.

Vocational Education Committees.

Frank Feighan

Question:

385 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the progress of the new VEC college in County Leitrim; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18449/07]

The tendering process for the proposed new VEC College in question is now complete. The tender report is currently being examined by my Department's technical staff. When this examination is complete it is expected that my Department will be in a position to issue an instruction to the VEC to accept the tender and proceed to construction.

Schools Building Projects.

Billy Timmins

Question:

386 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to an application for an extension for a school (details supplied) in County Wicklow; if sanction will be given as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18453/07]

An application for major capital funding has been received from the school to which the Deputy refers. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale projects and assigned a band 2 rating. Progress on the project is being considered in the context of the multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

School Staffing.

Denis Naughten

Question:

387 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question Nos. 405 of 22 November 2006 and 291 of 21 March 2007, the position in relation to same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18455/07]

The review of the one teacher schools is ongoing.

The Deputy should be aware that, as an exceptional matter, my Department has approved the appointment, or retention where appropriate, of a mainstream teacher in addition to the Principal for the 2007/08 school year in the schools which have projected that the appropriate number of pupils required (12) for such appointment or retention would be achieved at end September, 2007. This approval is based on the required enrolment figure (12) being achieved on the 30th September 2007.

The position of the schools which did not qualify for this concession is being considered in the context of the reports which have been submitted by my Department's Inspectors in relation to them.

Special Educational Needs.

Richard Bruton

Question:

388 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has revised her view of the role of behavioural analysis in the teaching of children in the autistic spectrum; if she will introduce criteria for the recognition and mainstreaming ABA schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18456/07]

My Department's position remains that as each child with autism is unique, they should have access to a range of different approaches to meet their individual needs. Applied Behavioural Analysis, or ABA, is one of the methods used in special classes for children with autism. The issue of contention is whether ABA should be the only method used in some settings.

Advice received from international experts on autism, NEPS and the Inspectorate inform my Department's view that a range of approaches should be used, rather than just one. An analysis of research — including the report of the Irish Task Force on Autism — supports this approach too, while Autism societies in other countries also caution against relying on just one method.

By enabling children in special classes to have access to a range of methods, including ABA, we are doing what we are advised is the best interests of such children.

It should be noted that teachers in special schools were using ABA principles more than 25 years ago. ABA involves the systematic application, at any time during the child's day, of behavioural principles to modify behaviour. The effectiveness of behavioural interventions to improve the performance of children with autism and to ameliorate behavioural difficulties has been recognized for decades. The use of ABA as part of the range of interventions is particularly useful for addressing behavioural issues. My Department, therefore, does support the use of ABA and training is provided for teachers in its use. However, we do not accept — based on research, advice and best practice — that it should be the only method used. While ABA helps to improve behaviour, other methods, such as TEACCH and PECS are just as important in developing children's communication and speech skills. It is important that children have access to a range of methods so that their broader needs can be met.

Children in special classes have the benefit of fully-qualified teachers who are trained in educating and developing children generally and who have access to additional training in autism-specific approaches, including ABA. The level of such training available to teachers has improved dramatically in recent years and is a major priority for my Department.

Children in special classes also have the option, where possible and appropriate, of full or partial integration into mainstream classes and of interaction with other pupils.

Approximately 200 autism-specific classes have now been approved around the country, while more are being set up all the time. There are a maximum of 6 children in each special class with a teacher and at least 2 Special Needs Assistants. Extra assistants are provided where the children need them. A child can have their own SNA if they need one.

The Deputy may be aware that the Programme for Government contains a specific commitment in relation to the 12 pilot ABA centres that were established in the absence of this network of special classes in our schools.

The Government is committed to long term funding for these 12 pilots, subject to agreement on standards that will enable my department to support them as primary schools for children with autism. Areas in which standards need to be agreed include the professional qualifications of the staff and the educational programme available to the children.

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that, since the launch of the Programme for Government, my officials have met with the advocacy group for the pilot centres concerned to progress the implementation of this commitment. This follows on from previous discussions with the group on this matter.

In terms of autism provision in other locations, we will continue to work to ensure that all children can have access to a broad programme, with provision for ABA as appropriate, in special classes.

Schools Building Projects.

Denis Naughten

Question:

389 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will approve funding for an application by a school (details supplied) in County Roscommon under the dormant accounts small scale capital grant scheme; when she will announce her Department’s decision on the successful projects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18463/07]

The closing date for receipt of applications under the Dormant Accounts/ RAPID Leverage Fund Small Scale Capital Grants Scheme for schools was 1st March. The scheme covers the improvement of existing facilities (‘non new-builds') and the development of new facilities (‘new-builds') in four areas: (i) Outdoor Play Facilities; (ii) Libraries; (iii) Parent Rooms; and (iv) Dining Areas. Schools were asked to list their proposals under the four areas in terms of priorities from 1 to 4.

The scheme was very heavily over-subscribed in terms of numbers of applications and the amount of funding sought by applicants. This has meant that the original time-frame for the assessment of applications has been somewhat delayed and there is insufficient funding to cover these applications. As a result, a phased approach to applications is being implemented which divides the assessment of proposals into ‘new-builds' and ‘non new-builds'; this approach was notified on 14th June to the schools which applied under the scheme.

Phase 1 of this process involved an assessment of all ‘new-build' and ‘non new-build' applications for Outdoor Play Facilities which were identified by the schools as either Priority 1, 2 or 3 — lower priorities are not being assessed because there is insufficient funding available. Subject to Government Approval, which is based on these assessments, the Department should be in a position to advise schools about the success of their applications for Outdoor Play Facilities within the next two weeks.

All proposals in respect of Libraries, Parent Rooms and Dining Areas involving ‘new-builds' will be considered for funding under the Schools Building and Modernisation Programme. The assessment and approval of the ‘non new-build' proposals for Libraries, Parent Rooms and Dining Areas is currently in progress and schools will be notified about their applications in due course.

The school referred to by the Deputy has applied for a grant of €175,000 towards the provision of Library facilities ('New-Build') under the Scheme.

School Transport.

Michael Ring

Question:

390 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the location of the pick up point in relation to school transport for a child (details supplied) in County Mayo; and the exact distance from the pick up point to the child’s home. [18464/07]

My Department has been advised by Bus Éireann that the pupil referred to by the Deputy, in the details supplied, resides 1.45 kilometres from Derassa Cross which is the pick up point in question.

Schools Building Projects.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

391 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans in the school building programme to increase capacity in south east Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18483/07]

The Department is taking steps to increase school capacity in the area referred to by the Deputy, with a number of building projects to provide additional accommodation being planned for some of the existing schools.

Site Acquisitions.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

392 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made in acquiring a site for a gaelscoil (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18484/07]

The Office of Public Works (OPW), which acts generally on behalf of my Department on the acquisition of sites for schools, is actively seeking a site for this school. Negotiations on the acquisition of a suitable site are underway at present.

Schools Building Projects.

Pat Breen

Question:

393 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science when a school (details supplied) in County Clare will be facilitated with two temporary prefabricated classrooms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18495/07]

The management authority of the school referred to by the Deputy has submitted an application for the provision of temporary accommodation to provide accommodation for resource and special needs and to replace an existing prefabricated classroom that is currently being used for Art. Approval has been given to the school authority to rent a resource room to provide resource and special needs accommodation. In respect of the proposed replacement prefab, my Department is examining the documentation supporting the application.

Pat Breen

Question:

394 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding a school (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18496/07]

The school referred to by the Deputy is one of 27 new schools to be provided under my Department's Public Private Partnership Programme (PPP) 2006 to 2010. I have already announced the first two bundles of school projects comprising of 4 schools in bundle 1 and 6 schools in Bundle 2.

The make up of further school bundles in my Department's PPP school building programme will be determined by my Department in consultation with the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA). The issues to be considered in the timing and bundling of these schools include site availability for each school, outline planning permission being secured, geographical spread and the estimated total cost of the proposed school bundle.

A site for the school mentioned by the Deputy is currently being pursued by my Department. I intend announcing further PPP project bundles during the year and the school referred to by the Deputy will be considered in this context and in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria.

Pat Breen

Question:

395 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science when a technical visit will take place for a school (details supplied) in County Clare; when a decision will be made regarding the new school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18497/07]

An application for an extension has been received from the school to which the Deputy refers. A re-assessment of projected enrolments, demographic trends and housing developments in the area is required in order to assist in determining the long term projected enrolment for the school on which the school's long term accommodation needs will be based. In order to determine how best to provide for the school's accommodation needs into the future, it also in due course be necessary to have a technical assessment of existing school buildings and site carried out. The outcome of this technical assessment will help to determine whether or not the proposed project will be an extension of existing buildings on the current school site or a new school on a new greenfield site.

Pat Breen

Question:

396 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress on an extension for a school (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18498/07]

An application for capital funding has been received from the school to which the Deputy refers. The management authority of the school has recently submitted additional information in support of their need for additional accommodation. This information will be examined with reference to factors such as current and projected enrolments at the school, the likely impact of ongoing and proposed housing developments and 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. The proposed project will be considered in the context of the multi annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Dan Neville

Question:

397 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science the position with regard to the construction of a new community college (details supplied) in County Limerick. [18499/07]

A schedule of overall accommodation for a projected long-term enrolment of 800 has been drawn up and notified to the School Authorities. Once the schedule of overall accommodation has been agreed and the acquisition of the site is finalised, the project will be progressed in the context of the School Building and Modernisation Programme.

School Staffing.

James Reilly

Question:

398 Deputy James Reilly asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will be appointing additional resource teachers to the national schools in Rush, Oldtown and Balbriggan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18508/07]

I wish to advise the Deputy that Circular 0034/2007 issued from my Department in April of this year advising primary schools of the arrangements that apply to the retention of existing resource teaching posts and to the creation of additional posts for the 2007/08 school year.

Schools will be aware that they must have a minimum of 22 resource teaching hours to apply for an additional resource teaching post. In such cases, schools must complete and return Form LSRT 1 that issued with the circular. A separate form is required for each post.

My Department has received a significant volume of application forms from schools for the 2007/08 school year. These applications are currently being processed and it is intended to respond to the primary schools including those in the areas referred to by the Deputy as soon as possible in advance of the commencement of the new school year.

Schools Building Projects.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

399 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the locations of schools to be completed under public private partnership; when the schools are due to begin; when they will be opened; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18516/07]

In September 2005 I announced funding of €300 million for an Education PPP Programme comprising of 23 new post-primary schools and 4 new primary schools under a major expansion of the Government's Public Private Partnership Programme from 2006 to 2010.

Work commenced immediately on identifying the projects to go into bundles for procurement. The first bundle of schools announced in November 2005 comprises of Banagher College-Colaiste na Sionna, Gallen Community School, Ferbane, Scoil Chriost Ri, Portlaoise and St Mary's CBS, Portlaoise. 2,700 pupil places will be provided when these schools are completed. This bundle completed pre-procurement and was handed over to the National Development Finance Agency in September 2006. The NDFA, in consultation with my Department have responsibility for the procurement process. The pre-qualification of bidders was completed in December 2006 and three short-listed bidders were selected on 22nd December 2006. The Invitation to Tender issued on 15th March 2007 and completed tenders are to be returned on 13th July 2007.

I announced the 2nd bundle of primary/post-primary projects in November 2006 and pre procurement work is ongoing on this bundle. This bundle comprises Bantry Community College and Gaelscoil Bheanntrai, Co. Cork, Kildare Town Community School, Abbeyfeale Community College, Athboy Community School and Wicklow Town Community College. This bundle will provide in excess of 4,200 pupil places when completed. Work on this bundle including schedules of accommodation, outline planning permission and stakeholder consultation has already commenced and it is anticipated that it will be offered to the market in late 2007 subject to planning issues being completed.

It is anticipated that construction of bundle 1 will commence in late 2007 with a view to completion in early 2009, while construction of bundle 2 is likely to commence in 2008 with completion expected in early 2010. Sites are currently being identified for the remaining schools and subject to the availability of these sites I intend announcing additional primary/post primary bundles during the coming year which will complete this Education PPP Programme.

The Schools remaining in my Departments PPP programme are:

County

School

Clare

Ennistymon

Cork

Skibbereen Community School

Donegal

Colaiste Ailigh, Letterkenny

Dublin

Balbriggan Post Primary

Galway

Colaiste Na Coirbe, Galway city

Galway

Vocational school and National School Doughiska/Ardaun

Kildare

St Pauls Secondary School, Monasterevan

Limerick

Doon/Cappamore Secondary School

Meath

Eureka Secondary School, Kells

Wexford

Gorey Post Primary School

Wicklow

Colaiste Raithin Bray and NS Bray

Waterford

Tramore Community School

School Closures.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

400 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans for students attending a school (details supplied) in County Galway which is closing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18517/07]

On the 16 May 2007, I announced the provision of a new second level school for the Kinvara area. This decision was and remains subject to the Trustees of Seamount College accepting first year students each year in that school until the end of the 2011/2012 school year.

As part of this announcement, I indicated that I had instructed my officials to enter into discussions with the Trustees on the proposals. Department officials subsequently met the Trustees to discuss these proposals and recent correspondence has been exchanged.

Schools Building Projects.

Shane McEntee

Question:

401 Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Education and Science when a decision will be made on the application to her Department to build an all purpose room at a school (details supplied) in Carlanstown, County Meath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18522/07]

I can confirm to the Deputy that the Department is in receipt of an application for an all-purpose room from the school to which he refers.

The application is currently being assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. When this assessment has been completed, the project will be assigned a band rating and progress will be considered in the context of the multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

School Transport.

Pat Breen

Question:

402 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a school bus can not be re-routed for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18523/07]

Primary school transport routes are planned so that, as far as possible, no eligible child will have more than 2.4 kilometres to travel to a pick-up point. Pupils living off the main route of a service are generally expected to make their own way, or to be brought to convenient pick-up points along the main route. Home pick-ups were never envisaged as being part of the School Transport Scheme.

Bus Éireann, which are responsible for the operation of the school transport scheme, on behalf of my Department, have advised that the pupil referred to by the Deputy, in the details supplied, resides 0.6 kilometres from the existing pick up point.

The family concerned should liaise with their local Bus Éireann office regarding the availability of a payable extension to the current service.

Schools Building Projects.

Dan Neville

Question:

403 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the provision of an extension to a school (details supplied) in County Limerick. [18524/07]

An application was received in the Department, under the Small Schools Scheme 2007, from the school referred to by the Deputy. 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. However, it is open to the school authority to apply for funding under the 2008 scheme, details of which will be announced later this year.

Languages Programme.

Jack Wall

Question:

404 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science the colleges that offer an English course that is acceptable for a student visa under the guidelines of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; the length of time this course should be; the English qualification the person should have when this course is finished; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18537/07]

My Department operates an Internationalisation Register which lists the programmes approved for the purpose of access to employment by students who are citizens from outside the EU/EEA and Switzerland. This is published on my Department's website (www.education.ie) along with an Information Note setting out the criteria for inclusion on the Register. Programmes are required to be of a minimum duration of 15 hours per week and at least 25 weeks duration. In the English language sector, programmes which meet these duration criteria, are recognised under the quality assurance and inspection scheme of the Advisory Council of English Language Schools (ACELS), and which lead to recognised English language proficiency tests, are eligible for inclusion on the Register. The language proficiency tests which are recognised for this purpose are listed in the Information Note.

For courses other than language courses, the programmes are required to meet the minimum duration criteria, and lead to an award which is validated by FETAC, HETAC, DIT or a recognised university, or by a professional body with a function in Irish law, or by a national awarding body from another country which has a status in law or is otherwise recognised as having authority to make awards which have national recognition in their host jurisdiction. Programmes published as full time programmes of an least one year's duration leading to HETAC, FETAC, DIT or university awards are deemed to meet the duration criteria.

The Department of Education and Science does not stipulate specific language proficiency levels which should be reached on completion of a programme as students enter Ireland to study for a variety of reasons, e.g to learn English ab initio, to learn English in order to access a third level programme, or to English in order to prepare for a specific employment. In general, third level colleges, which determine their own admission criteria, generally require a minimum proficiency score of 4.5, 5.0 and 6.0 respectively on the International English Language Testing System or equivalent for entry to higher education programmes leading to awards at Level 6, 7 and 8 or higher in the national framework of qualifications.

It is intended that the criteria for inclusion of programmes on the Register will be further strengthened, after consultation with stakeholders, when Education Ireland is established. Education Ireland will promote and market Ireland as a quality venue for international education, will develop and ensure compliance with quality standards and a code of practice for pastoral care of students, and will subsume the functions of the Advisory Council for English Language Schools and responsibility for the Internationalisation Register.

In exceptional cases, where difficulties have occurred, the Department reserves to right to impose specific additional conditions on a provider. In such cases, this can include a requirement that admission to a specific programme should be confined to students who reach a minimum language proficiency level prior to entry. This has been done where the programme in question is targeted to meet a specific objective, such as access to a particular employment, and is designed to ensure that students have a reasonable opportunity to complete the programme successfully and meet their objectives within the timeframe of the programme.

Home-School Liaison Scheme.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

405 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will appoint wholetime home-school liaison officers to schools in RAPID areas; her views on the need for such posts to provide supports for schools, pupils and families in these areas; and if she will make provision for a home school liaison officer in a school (details supplied) in County Louth. [18548/07]

Under DEIS, (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools), the action plan for educational inclusion, which is currently being implemented by my Department, 80 additional posts have been allocated in order to extend Home School Community Liaison services to all 338 urban/town primary and 203 second level schools participating in DEIS that do not currently have a HSCL service, in addition to the 370 local coordinators already in place. To facilitate local HSCL co-ordinators working with the families of disadvantaged children, for the first time posts are being shared across the two sectors — primary and post-primary level.

I have also given a commitment to schools not selected to participate in DEIS but already in the HSCL Scheme, that they will continue to receive HSCL services after 2006/2007. HSCL services will be provided to some 652 schools in total (282 second level and 370 primary schools) for the duration of the DEIS action plan.

DEIS provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated School Support Programme. DEIS will bring together, and build upon, a number of existing interventions in schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage.

The process of identifying primary and second-level schools for participation in DEIS was managed by the Educational Research Centre (ERC) on behalf of my Department and supported by quality assurance work co-ordinated through the Department's Regional Offices and the Inspectorate.

In the case of second-level schools, the Department supplied the ERC with centrally-held data from the Post-Primary Pupils and State Examinations Commission databases. Based on an analysis of these data, the variables used to determine eligibility for inclusion in the School Support Programme were as follows:

Medical card data for Junior Certificate candidates (including Junior Certificate School Programme candidates)

Junior Certificate retention rates by school

Junior Certificate exam results aggregated to school level (expressed as an OPS — "Overall Performance Scale" — score).

This was based on each student's performance in the seven subjects in which s/he performed best. Leaving Certificate retention rates by school.

A review mechanism was put in place to address the concerns of schools that did not qualify for inclusion in DEIS but regarded themselves as having a level of disadvantage which was of a scale sufficient to warrant their inclusion in the programme. The review process operated under the direction of an independent person, charged with ensuring that all relevant identification processes and procedures were properly followed in the case of schools applying for a review.

An application for review was received from the school referred to by the Deputy, but it was not among those schools recommended for inclusion in the programme.

Schools that did not qualify for inclusion in the DEIS programme will continue to be supported in their efforts to deal with educational disadvantage among their students.

Grant Applications.

Dan Neville

Question:

406 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the application by a school (details supplied) for funding from the dormant accounts fund. [18550/07]

The closing date for receipt of applications under the Dormant Accounts/RAPID Leverage Fund Small Scale Capital Grants Scheme for schools was 1st March. The scheme covers the improvement of existing facilities (‘non new-builds') and the development of new facilities (‘new-builds') in four areas: (i) Outdoor Play Facilities; (ii) Libraries; (iii) Parent Rooms; and (iv) Dining Areas. Schools were asked to list their proposals under the four areas in terms of priorities from 1 to 4.

The scheme was very heavily over-subscribed in terms of numbers of applications and the amount of funding sought by applicants. This has meant that the original time-frame for the assessment of applications has been somewhat delayed and there is insufficient funding to cover these applications. As a result, a phased approach to applications is being implemented which divides the assessment of proposals into ‘new-builds' and ‘non new-builds'; this approach was notified on 14th June to the schools which applied under the scheme.

Phase 1 of this process involved an assessment of all ‘new-build' and ‘non new-build' applications for Outdoor Play Facilities which were identified by the schools as either Priority 1, 2 or 3 — lower priorities are not being assessed because there is insufficient funding available. Subject to Government Approval, which is based on these assessments, the Department should be in a position to advise schools about the success of their applications for Outdoor Play Facilities within the next two weeks.

All proposals in respect of Libraries, Parent Rooms and Dining Areas involving ‘new-builds' will be considered for funding under the Schools Building and Modernisation Programme. The assessment and approval of the ‘non new-build' proposals for Libraries, Parent Rooms and Dining Areas is currently in progress and schools will be notified about their applications in due course.

In relation to the school referred to by the Deputy, it should be noted that the school applied for the following under the scheme:

Dining Room (New build): €175,000 — Priority 1 (plus Catering Equipment €5000)

Library facilities (New Build): €175,000 — Priority 2

Parent Room (New Build): €150,000 — Priority 3

Outdoor Play Areas (New Build): €20,000 — Priority 4

Schools Building Projects.

Shane McEntee

Question:

407 Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Education and Science her proposals and the time-frame to meet the current and future needs of a school (details supplied) in County Meath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18561/07]

I can confirm to the Deputy that the Department is in receipt of an application for major capital funding from the school to which he refers.

The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale projects and was assigned a band 2 rating. Officials recently carried out a technical assessment of the school building and site to assess its suitability to cater for the long-term needs of the school. Further progress in the matter will be considered once the technical report becomes available.

Special Educational Needs.

Bobby Aylward

Question:

408 Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will review the resource teaching hours approved for a child (details supplied) in County Kilkenny with a view to having the number of hours increased considerably in view of the child’s speech and language difficulties. [18575/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, the National Council for Special Education is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers, for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants to schools to support children with special needs. I have arranged for the details supplied by the Deputy to be forwarded to the NCSE for their attention and direct reply.

All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie.

The NCSE will review a decision taken by a special educational needs organiser (SENO) on foot of a request from a school or parents/ guardians, when accompanied by relevant additional information, which may not have been to hand at the time of the decision. The NCSE has outlined this process in its Circular 01/05.

The provision of therapy services including speech and language therapy is a matter for the Health Services Executive (HSE) and funding is provided to the HSE for such purposes.

Schools Building Projects.

David Stanton

Question:

409 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made in providing an extension to a school (details supplied) in County Cork; her further plans in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18585/07]

Officials in the Department have completed a technical visit of the school referred to by the Deputy and are in the process of drawing up a detailed accommodation brief for this project. The project will be considered further in the context of the School Building and Modernisation Programme.

School Staffing.

John Curran

Question:

410 Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Education and Science if an appeal by a school (details supplied) in Dublin 22 for an additional teacher will be dealt with favourably and as a matter of urgency. [18625/07]

The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30th September of the previous school year. The actual number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule which is issued to all primary schools each year.

Data submitted to the Department by the Board of Management of the school referred to by the Deputy indicates that the enrolment in the school on 30th September 2005 was 270 pupils. In accordance with the staffing schedule (Circular 0023/2006), which is available on the Department's website at www.education.ie, the mainstream staffing in the school for the 2006/07 school year is a Principal and 10 mainstream class teachers.

The enrolment in the school on 30th September 2006 was 282 pupils. In accordance with the staffing schedule (Circular 0020/2007), which is available on the Department's website at www.education.ie and a hard copy of which has issued to all primary schools, the mainstream staffing in the school for the 2007/08 school year will be a Principal and 10 mainstream class teachers.

Within the terms of the staffing arrangements for primary schools there is provision for additional posts, referred to as developing school posts, to be assigned to schools on the basis of projected enrolments for the next school year. Under these arrangements, a developing school post may be sanctioned provisionally where the projected enrolment at 30th September of the school year in question equals or exceeds a specified figure. If the specified figure is not achieved on 30th September, sanction for the post is withdrawn.

It is open to the Board of Management to submit an appeal under certain criteria to an independent Appeal Board which was established to adjudicate on appeals on mainstream staffing allocations in primary schools. Details of the criteria and application dates for appeal are contained in the staffing schedule. They are also available in Circular 0024/2007 (Appeal Board for Mainstream Staffing in Primary Schools) which is available on my Department's website. Hard copies of this circular have issued to primary schools.

The school referred to by the Deputy have lodged an appeal with the Primary Staffing Appeal Board. This appeal will be heard at the Appeal Board meeting on the 3 July, 2007. The Appeal Board operates independently of the Minister and the Department and its decision is final.

I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the operations of the Independent Appeal Board.

Special Educational Needs.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

411 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Education and Science if there are specific places retained for dyslexic students who want to pursue a career in nursing, who have performed well in the leaving certificate but who are some points adrift of the eligibility threshold; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18634/07]

My Department aims to achieve greater equity of participation of students with disabilities at all levels of education in Ireland and, to this end, supports the provision of assistance to students with a specific learning disability, such as dyslexia, to access and participate in higher education.

Ten higher education institutions, eight with schools of nursing, collaborate in the operation of a supplementary admissions process to assess the supports required for students with disabilities, including consideration for admission on the basis of reduced points.

A review of this scheme by the UCC disability office in 2006 found that, in 2005, over 570 students with a disability were admitted to the ten institutions through the supplementary admissions process, including 50 students to health science disciplines such as nursing. On average, over 54% of students with a disability admitted through this scheme had a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia.

School Accommodation.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

412 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if provisions have been made for a national school (details supplied) in County Laois, if the lease of its current site expires; if there are plans to find a permanent location for the school; her views on the situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18680/07]

The Department is aware of the need to provide permanent accommodation for the school to which the Deputy refers and it is examining accommodation options in this regard with a view to providing the school with a permanent home as soon as possible. The Department understands that the school has a three year lease for its current premises and that there is one year to run on this lease.

Schools Refurbishment.

James Bannon

Question:

413 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of primary and secondary schools in County Westmeath in which essential extensions, repairs or renovations are pending but not completed, including the date of application and progress to date for each applicant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18737/07]

The information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. However if the Deputy wishes to enquire about a particular school, the School Planning Section of the Department will be happy to provide the information.

James Bannon

Question:

414 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of primary and secondary schools in County Longford in which essential extensions, repairs or renovations are pending but not completed, including the date of application and progress to date for each applicant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18738/07]

The information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. However if the Deputy wishes to enquire about any school in particular, the School Planning Section of the Department will be happy to provide the information.

Schools Building Projects.

James Bannon

Question:

415 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of schools in County Longford waiting for approval for new school buildings; the names of the schools; the date of application in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18739/07]

The information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. However if the Deputy wishes to enquire about a particular school, the School Planning Section of the Department will be happy to provide the information.

James Bannon

Question:

416 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of schools in County Westmeath waiting for approval for new school buildings; the names of the schools; the date of application in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18740/07]

The information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. However if the Deputy wishes to enquire about a particular school, the School Planning Section of the Department will be happy to provide the information.

Special Educational Needs.

James Bannon

Question:

417 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Education and Science the schools throughout the country specifically designated for the education of autistic children; the number of those schools that provide ABA education; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18741/07]

The Deputy is aware that children on the autistic spectrum need access to individualised education programmes which draw on a range of interventions, including ABA. Advice received from international experts on autism, NEPS and the Inspectorate informs my Department's view that a range of approaches should be used, rather than just one. An analysis of research — including the report of the Irish Task Force on Autism — supports this approach too, while autism societies in other countries also caution against relying on just one method.

By enabling children in special autism-specific classes to have access to a range of methods, including ABA, my Department is doing what we are advised is in the best interests of such children. In addition, children in special classes have the benefit of fully-qualified teachers who are trained in educating and developing children generally and who have access to additional training in autism-specific approaches, including ABA. The level of such training available to teachers has improved dramatically in recent years and is a major priority for the Government. Children in special classes also have the option, where possible and appropriate, of full or partial integration into mainstream classes and of interaction with other pupils. Approximately 200 autism-specific classes have now been approved around the country.

School Curriculum.

James Bannon

Question:

418 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will initiate plans to include driving lessons and driving theory in the curriculum of all second level schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18743/07]

I have no plans to introduce driver education, in the form of driving lessons, in schools, and this is not the norm within the EU.

Nonetheless, I do believe that schools have a role to play both in teaching students about road safety issues and in helping them to develop the attitudes necessary to promote safe behaviour on the roads. As such, the development of a Road Safety programme for use in Transition Year is at an advanced stage. This work is being undertaken by the Road Safety Authority in co-operation with my Department and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and is due for piloting in a number of second-level schools in the first term of the 2007/2008 school year.

The Road Safety Programme for Transition Year will provide a structured approach towards the development of responsible attitudes towards road safety and driver education and will build on the knowledge gained from current Social Personal and Health Education programmes (SPHE). Covering areas such as seat belt use, hazard perception and driver attitudes towards alcohol and drug use the Transition Year Road Safety Programme will also prepare students for the Driver Theory Test. The Road Safety Authority has also obtained input from the Gardai, NCT centres and Bus Eireann in the delivery of this programme.

In April 2007, the Streetwise programme for junior cycle pupils was launched covering key road safety issues. This has been piloted successfully in schools and will be available for live implementation in 07/08. The Transition Year Programme currently being finalised will build further on this development.

In addition, the Social Personal and Health Education programme, which is mandatory in primary schools and at junior cycle level, provides a framework under which the generic values and skills which underpin responsible decision-making, and respect for the rights and safety of others, can be developed and promoted among students. SPHE has a specific personal safety strand within the programme, and this provides a mechanism through which road safety issues for all can be best dealt with in an age appropriate way.

Specific materials for teaching young people about road safety have also been given to schools. At the start of the 2001/02 school year the National Safety Council, with assistance from my Department, distributed copies of Staying Alive — a road safety resource for Transition Year and the Senior Cycle — to all second level schools. This pack contained a wide range of learning opportunities and activities on topics such as personal responsibility and decision-making, environmental issues and risks and rules for road users. A CD-ROM with additional material downloaded from the Internet was included in the pack along with copies of the Rules of the Road. In the preparation of the Staying Alive resources material, views were sought from a range of organisations with interests in the promotion of road safety. Prior to its issue to second level schools, the material was piloted in 20 schools and the response from teachers in those schools was very positive. This is also supplemented by Garda visits to primary and second level schools during which the themes of crime, road safety, personal safety and substance abuse are explored as part of the SPHE programme. There were some 1900 school visits in 2005.

So, not only is there a curricular framework in place already in which the importance of road safety can be taught to our young people, but this is supplemented by specific teaching materials and by a comprehensive programme of Garda visits to schools.

My Department will continue to work with the Road Safety Authority to strengthen the role of schools in promoting road safety even further.

Schools Building Projects.

James Bannon

Question:

419 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Education and Science if the planning application for a new school (details supplied) in County Westmeath will be approved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18744/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, I gave approval last November for the commencement of architectural planning for a large scale project at the school to which the Deputy refers. The school authority is currently finalising the purchase of an additional piece of land to enable this. The project will be progressed when the site acquisition has been completed.

Higher Education Grants.

James Bannon

Question:

420 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans for increasing third level maintenance grants for the year 2007/2008 in view of their present subsistence level. [18745/07]

I am pleased to be able to inform the Deputy that I have secured approval for a 10% increase in the standard rate of student grant with effect from September next. This very substantial increase, at twice the rate of inflation, will benefit over 56,000 students who receive a maintenance grant to attend higher and further education.

This will mean an increase in the maximum rate of ordinary grant to €3,420 for 2007/08 and students who qualify will also have the student service charge paid on their behalf.

In addition, over 12,500 students in receipt of the "Special Rate" of maintenance grant will benefit from an even more substantial increase of over 14%, with the maximum rate for 2007/08 increasing to €6,690.

In parallel with these significant rate increases, the annual income thresholds to qualify for student grants will also be increased with effect from the coming September. The annual income thresholds for the ordinary rate of maintenance grant are being increased by 3.5%, while the threshold for the special rate of maintenance grant is being increased by 7.8% to €18,055.

Financial barriers have long being recognised as a major disincentive for many students who wish to access third level education. This significant increase in the ordinary rate of maintenance grant, at twice the level of inflation, will make the third level option more affordable for a broad range of students and their families. In approving an even higher increase in the special rate of maintenance grant, I am further targeting that support at those most in need, to encourage access to further and higher education for everyone.

This Government's continued commitment to supporting high rates of participation in third level education at all levels of society will ensure that Ireland continues to attract and maintain investment in high quality jobs and that the fruits of the economy can be enjoyed by all.

The revised 2007/08 student grant schemes have already issued to the awarding bodies, the Local Authorities and the Vocational Education Committees. This year, the schemes have been made available a month earlier than in 2006, facilitating a substantial level of service improvement for students.

The new schemes can be accessed and/or downloaded from the "Students & Trainees" section of the Department's website at www.education.ie.

Appointments to State Boards.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

421 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Education and Science the appointments to State boards, bodies or committees made since 24 May, 2007 to date in 2007; the State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case; the State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to an including 1 January, 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case. [18825/07]

The information requested by the deputy is detailed in the tables below.

Appointments from 24 May 2007 to date, 28 June 2007

State Board/ Body

No. of Appointments

National Council for Curriculum Assessment (NCCA)

1

National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI)

1

Further Education & Training Awards Council (FETAC)

1

Higher Education & Training Awards Council (HETAC)

1

The State boards, bodies or committees on which vacancies exist; the number of vacancies in each case

State Board/ Body

No. of Vacancies

The Grangegorman Development Agency

1

The New Schools Advisory Appeals Committee

3

Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering & Technology

1

Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS)

9

Leargas

1

Educational Disadvantage Committee

19

The State boards, bodies or committees in which vacancies are anticipated to arise up to and including 1 January, 2008; and the number of vacancies in each case

State Board/ Body

No. of Vacancies

Higher Education Authority

1

The National Education Welfare Board

1

The Grangegorman Development Agency

1

The Teaching Council

1

Education Ireland

10

The Monitoring Committee in respect of the implementation of Part 5 of the Disability Act 2005

6

Special Educational Needs.

Richard Bruton

Question:

422 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will make arrangements to provide special resource teaching for a child (details supplied) in Dublin 3 whose report shows they have the necessary deviation from normal performance to warrant intervention. [18840/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, the National Council for Special Education is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers, for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants to schools to support children with special needs. I have arranged for the details supplied by the Deputy to be forwarded to the NCSE for their attention and direct reply.

All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie.

School Closures.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

423 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the primary school that a student [details supplied] in County Offaly will attend following the closure of a national school in September 2007; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18843/07]

The school to which the Deputy refers closed because there were insufficient numbers enrolled to keep it viable. There is another primary school in the area with capacity to cater for the pupils that would otherwise have attended the closed school.

School Accommodation.

Dan Neville

Question:

424 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regrading the appeal of school (details supplied) in County Limerick under the small schools scheme. [18853/07]

The school submitted an application under the Small Schools Scheme 2007 for additional accommodation. 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. It is open to the school authority to apply for funding under the 2008 scheme, details of which will be announced later this year.

School Staffing.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

425 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will sanction the appointment of an additional teacher from September 2007 to a national school (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18859/07]

The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30th September of the previous school year. The actual number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule which is issued to all primary schools each year.

Data submitted to the Department by the Board of Management of the school referred to by the Deputy indicates that the enrolment in the school on 30th September 2005 was 190 pupils. In accordance with the staffing schedule (Circular 0023/2006), which is available on the Department's website at www.education.ie, the mainstream staffing in the school for the 2006/07 school year is a Principal and 7 mainstream class teachers.

The enrolment in the school on 30th September 2006 was 199 pupils. In accordance with the staffing schedule (Circular 0020/2007), which is available on the Department's website at www.education.ie and a hard copy of which has issued to all primary schools, the mainstream staffing in the school for the 2007/08 school year will be a Principal and 7 mainstream class teachers.

Within the terms of the staffing arrangements for primary schools there is provision for additional posts, referred to as developing school posts, to be assigned to schools on the basis of projected enrolments for the next school year. Under these arrangements, a developing school post may be sanctioned provisionally where the projected enrolment at 30th September of the school year in question equals or exceeds a specified figure. If the specified figure is not achieved on 30th September, sanction for the post is withdrawn.

It is open to the Board of Management to submit an appeal under certain criteria to an independent Appeal Board which was established to adjudicate on appeals on mainstream staffing allocations in primary schools. Details of the criteria and application dates for appeal are contained in the staffing schedule. They are also available in Circular 0024/2007 (Appeal Board for Mainstream Staffing in Primary Schools) which is available on the Department's website. Hard copies of this circular have issued to primary schools.

The school referred to by the Deputy lodged an appeal with the Primary Staffing Appeal Board. This appeal was heard at the Appeal Board meeting on the 22 May, 2007 and was refused.

The Appeal Board operates independently of the Minister and the Department and its decision is final.

The Board of Management of the school was notified in writing of the decision of the Appeal Board on 24th May, 2007.

I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in the operations of the Independent Appeal Board.

Special Educational Needs.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

426 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of special needs assistants employed in post-primary schools on 1 January 2007; the number of SNA’s employed in post-primary schools on 23 May 2007; the total number of SNA’s employed in post-primary schools on 21 June 2007; the reasons for changes in these numbers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18861/07]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

427 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of special needs assistants employed in primary schools on 1 January 2007; the total number of SNA’s employed in primary schools on 23 May 2007; the total number of SNAs employed in primary schools on 21 June 2007; the reasons for changes in these figures; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18862/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 426 and 427 together.

The National Council for Special Education, through the local Special Educational Needs Organisers, is responsible for processing applications for special educational needs supports from primary and post primary schools. Special Need Assistant (SNA) support is provided specifically to address the care needs of pupils with special educational needs.

The dates for which the information requested by the Deputy is available are as follows:—

31 December 2006

Post-primary SNAs 1,416

Primary SNAs 6,974

31 March 2007

Post-primary SNAs 1,416

Primary SNAs 7,230

The information for the 30th June 2007 is being compiled and the details will be forwarded direct to the Deputy.

The increase in SNA numbers is due to the allocation of additional posts as part of the automatic response to special needs.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

428 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science if, in view of her reply to Parliamentary Question No 478 of 26 June 2007 on class size she will supply the information her Department has on the number of children in class sizes of under 20, 20 to 29, 30 to 39 and 40 or over on a county basis in tabular form; the number of schools that have still not supplied the relevant information to her Department and the counties in which those schools are situated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18863/07]

Information in relation to class size is based on the annual census of primary schools. All schools have now returned their census forms to the Department. Data processing, validating and finalisation of the census for the current school-year (2006/07) is nearing completion. As usual, information on class size for each county for the academic year 2006/07 will be made available after it has been finalised.

Teaching Qualifications.

John Perry

Question:

429 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 494 of 4 October 2005, if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a person (details supplied) in County Sligo took up a level 8 higher diploma in NUIG as advised in her reply; if she will ensure that the application is approved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18866/07]

I presume the Deputy is referring to an application for a place on a Post-Graduate programme for primary teacher training that is provided by a private college.

As I pointed out in my last response in relation to this issue, the college referred to by the Deputy is a privately-owned institution providing a privately-run course which has been accredited by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC). In order for the course to secure HETAC accreditation, the college in question complied with HETAC's quality assurance and validation requirements. The Graduate Diploma conferred at the end of this course is recognised by my Department for the purposes of primary teaching.

If the student in question now meets the required criteria, as published by my Department, (which include an approved level 8 third level degree), and which are common to all Colleges of Education that provide teacher training, it is her responsibility to apply to the college in question for a place on the course.

I do not have a function in the selection process and cannot intervene in this, or any individual case.

School Staffing.

Michael Ring

Question:

430 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science when a third remedial teacher for travellers will be appointed to a school (details supplied) in County Mayo. [18867/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

438 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science when a third remedial teacher for travellers will be appointed to a school (details supplied) in County Mayo. [18930/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 430 and 438 together.

As the Deputy may be aware, the school in question currently has the support of two resource teachers (RTTs) for traveller pupils. I can confirm that an application for a third RTT has been received in my Department and this is currently being considered. A decision will be conveyed to the school authorities as soon as this process has been completed.

School Accommodation.

David Stanton

Question:

431 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 549 of 26 June 2007 if her Department has held meetings with Cork County Council or with Midleton Town Council to ascertain the extent of development foreseen and indic