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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 Sep 2007

Vol. 638 No. 1

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 103, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 104 to 112, inclusive, answered orally.

Debt Issues.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

113 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made in regard to his consideration of the research commissioned by the Financial Regulator and the Combat Poverty Agency on the nature and extent of debt incurred by low income families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20730/07]

John Perry

Question:

126 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the strategies he will put in place in view of the research commissioned by the Financial Regulator and the Combat Poverty Agency on the nature and extent of debt incurred by low income families, as well as recent findings by the Irish League of Credit Unions, to assist people on low incomes in accessing cheap forms of credit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20779/07]

Phil Hogan

Question:

140 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he will publish legislation to establish the Money Advice and Budgeting Service on a statutory footing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20778/07]

Simon Coveney

Question:

157 Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to fulfil the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government whereby the Money Advice and Budgeting Service will be given a central role in increasing access to affordable credit for low income earners and social welfare customers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20811/07]

Sean Sherlock

Question:

173 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the promised new legislation to place the Money Advice and Budgeting Service on a statutory basis will be published; the principal areas in which it will differ from the Bill published in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20731/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 113, 126, 140, 157 and 173 together.

The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) provides assistance to people who are over-indebted and need help and advice in coping with debt problems. There are 53 independent companies nationwide employing some 230 money advice staff who deliver the service at a local level. Many local voluntary and statutory bodies, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the credit unions work closely with the programme.

Last year, MABS provided services to almost 12,500 new clients throughout the country. To date, this year some 8,300 new clients have approached the service. The number of active cases at the end of August was 18,400. The demand for the service can be attributed to the increase in the availability of credit generally and to the quality of the service provided by MABS advisors. In 2006, €16.4 million was provided to fund the service and in 2007 the annual allocation was increased to €17.67 million to assist the MABS in dealing with its workload.

The issues that give rise to problems of over-indebtedness for people are highly complex as the report of the Combat Poverty Agency for the Financial Regulator on Financial Exclusion in Ireland illustrates. The cost and availability of credit for people on low incomes and the barriers they face in accessing mainstream and cheap forms of credit add to the difficulties people encounter in managing their finances.

I am particularly concerned about the unacceptably high level of interest rates currently being charged by some financial institutions, loan companies and by legal moneylenders in situations where people have no alternative sources of credit available to them. My concerns, in this regard, are borne out by the 2005 UCC Working Paper "Meeting the Credit Needs of Low-Income Groups: Credit Unions versus Moneylenders" and the recent Financial Regulator's Report on the Licensed Money Lending Industry in Ireland.

It shows that moneylenders may be charging interest rates of up to 188%. Most significantly, 71% of people surveyed in the latter report did not know what interest they were paying on their loans.

The issues in this policy area are complex. The regulation of money lending comes under the Consumer Credit Act, 1995 and the licensing of moneylenders is a statutory responsibility of the Financial Regulator. My view is that MABS has a unique and expert contribution to make on behalf of people on low incomes in shaping the strategies that need to be put in place, for example, by the providers of payment services such as the Banks and Credit unions to ensure greater financial inclusion in Ireland. Officials of my Department continue to engage with the Department of Finance on the issues involved. Furthermore they are also consulting with the Financial Regulator and other key interests on the options available to me to strengthen the role of MABS in tackling the barriers which arise for people on low incomes in getting access to the full range of mainstream financial services that is available to the wider community.

In line with the commitment in the Programme for Government, I am developing proposals to establish a new structure for the MABS geared to meet the needs of people with debt difficulties in today's society. Initiatives to improve the situation of people on low incomes in securing access to affordable credit are a priority consideration in my approach to policy. I intend to bring the proposals to the Government as soon as possible in the coming months.

My proposals will build on the best features of the MABS model of service to the public. They involve the continuation of local voluntary involvement in the MABS service, with strong national leadership to ensure a high quality, coordinated budgeting and advice service providing strong and confidential support for its clients.

The proposals take account of the significant developments which have taken place in MABS since legislation on the matter was published in 2002. They take account of best practice in corporate governance for a customer focussed service that provides value for money for the taxpayers investment and meets the challenges posed by the rapidly changing face of debt in 21st century Ireland.

Advocacy Services.

Enda Kenny

Question:

114 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of personal advocates to be recruited for the new personal advocacy service under the Citizens Information Board and where advocates will be located; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20802/07]

John Perry

Question:

137 Deputy John Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if work has begun on establishing a personal advocacy service for people with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20780/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 114 and 137.

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

The development of advocacy services is a priority for my Department and in this regard additional funding of €1.9m has been provided for the Citizens Information Board in 2007 for the development of a personal advocacy service for people with disabilities and for the implementation of the Disability Sectoral Plan. The Personal Advocacy Service will be initially located in Dublin. When the service is well established, it is anticipated that advocates will be located in a number of key highly populated areas around the country. However, it is not possible at this stage to give estimates of the number of advocates to be employed.

An organisational structure has been developed by the Citizens Information Board to meet the needs of the Personal Advocacy Service. Discussions between my Department, the Department of Finance and the Citizens Information Board are ongoing in relation to these structures and the additional staffing resources required for the provision of the service. Temporary accommodation has been identified to facilitate the immediate needs of the service and it is envisaged that the post of Director of the Personal Advocacy Service will be advertised shortly.

In 2004 the Citizens Information Board began the process of engaging the community and voluntary sector in the provision of advocacy services to people with disabilities and also produced advocacy guidelines to inform and guide organizations in the development of advocacy services.

Thirty projects have been funded since 2004 to deliver representative advocacy services to people with disabilities, some of which are cross disability type, with others specifically targeting one particular type of disability. Each of the projects poses different challenges, some requiring more intensive work with smaller caseloads while others have larger caseloads with shorter periods of client contact. This year another 15 projects have been approved for funding. It is envisaged that structures and staffing resources will be in place to enable the new service to be up and running in 2008.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Denis Naughten

Question:

115 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he plans to amend the criteria for eligibility of the fuel allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20792/07]

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

132 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made with regard to the commitment made in the Programme for Government to extend the national fuel allowance scheme to cover eligible carers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20716/07]

Denis Naughten

Question:

153 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people eligible for the fuel allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20791/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 115, 132 and 153 together.

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

The main conditions that apply to the fuel allowance scheme are that a person must be in receipt of a qualifying payment, satisfy a means test and must either be living alone or only with a qualifying dependant. Carers allowance and carers benefit are not qualifying payments at present. The household composition, qualifying payment and means test rules are designed to ascertain the ability of applicant households to meet their normal heating requirements out of their own resources and to ensure that the maximum amount of support is targeted at those most in need of the fuel allowance support. Only one fuel allowance is paid per household.

People who already qualify for means-tested pensions or allowances such as state pension (non-contributory), long-term jobseeker's assistance or one-parent family payment do not have to undergo a further means test to qualify for fuel allowance. The majority of people who receive fuel allowances qualify because they satisfy the relevant means test for their primary weekly payment.

In the case of contributory pensions such as state pension (contributory), state pension (transition) and invalidity pensions, which are not means tested, a person may have a combined household income of up to €100 per week, or savings/investments of up to €58,000, over and above the maximum state pension (contributory) rate and still qualify for fuel allowance. The fuel allowance income limits increase each season in line with the increases in the state pension (contributory) rate.

In Budget 2007, the rate of fuel allowance was increased by €4 from €14 to €18 (€21.90 in designated smokeless areas). The income threshold for eligibility to fuel allowance was also increased by €49 to €100 above the state pension (contributory) rate.

Some 274,000 people benefited from the fuel allowance in 2006 at a cost of €125.1m. As a consequence of the increase in rate and the increase in the income threshold for eligibility as announced in Budget 2007, it is estimated that some 286,200 households will benefit under the scheme at an annual cost of €161.5m. The extension of the national fuel scheme to eligible carers, as set out in the Agreed Programme for Government, will be examined by my Department in the context of the overall package of commitments relating to carers. The additional costs arising from improvements to the scheme will be considered in future Budgetary proposals having regard to overall resources available for social welfare schemes generally.

Pension Provisions.

Liz McManus

Question:

116 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has completed his consideration of the recent report he received from the Pensions Board, entitled, Special Savings for Retirement: Report on Mandatory Pension System; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20735/07]

Seymour Crawford

Question:

118 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to fulfil the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government to ensure women are treated fairly in pension provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20804/07]

Mary Upton

Question:

145 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made with regard to the commitment made in the Programme for Government to ensure that women are treated fairly in the social welfare code; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20715/07]

Enda Kenny

Question:

148 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to fulfil the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government to remove anomalies identified in the pension system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20803/07]

Shane McEntee

Question:

154 Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to facilitate women forced out of employment due to the marriage rule to avail of contributory pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20812/07]

Richard Bruton

Question:

164 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason for the delay in the publication of the Green Paper on Pensions; the date he will publish same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20772/07]

Liz McManus

Question:

169 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he expects that the promised Green Paper on Pensions will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20734/07]

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

571 Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans for long term pension provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19770/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116, 118, 145, 148, 154, 164, 169 and 571 together.

As the House is aware, the Government is committed to producing a Green Paper on pensions policy in accordance with the partnership agreement " Towards 2016". The preparation of the Green Paper follows a period of increased activity in the development of pensions policy, which has seen the publication of two major reports by the Pensions Board — the ‘National Pensions Review' and ‘Special Savings for Retirement'. These two reports built on the earlier report of the Board on the National Pensions Policy Initiative, published in 1998.

The Green Paper will take account of these reports and examine the situation in a much broader way to deal with issues raised in the partnership talks, such as the operation of the funding standard for defined benefit schemes, together with a comprehensive look at issues in relation to social welfare pensions which arise from time to time, both here in the House and in representations which I receive, including questions with regard to the pension entitlements of women.

The purpose of the Green Paper is not to recommend any particular course of action but rather to set out clearly the current situation and the implications, from an economic and social perspective, of various courses of action which have been suggested.

The Green Paper will set out the key issues and challenges now facing the Irish pensions system including: The demographic challenge; Issues in relation to the sustainability of the pensions system; Pensioner incomes and the contribution various elements of the pension system, including the social welfare system, can make to the adequacy of this income; Work flexibility in older age; The roles and relationships of social welfare, private occupational and public service pensions in the future; The role of tax incentives in the current system and their efficiency and effectiveness in supporting Government objectives in the area; The role of annuities and the operation of that market; The role of regulation including the charges levied by pension providers.

The publication of the Green Paper will be followed by a major consultation process aimed at building consensus on the future direction of pensions policy in Ireland. This process will culminate in the Government publishing a framework for long-term pensions policy. The framework will encompass proposals to deal with the various commitments in the Government programme in relation to both supplementary and social welfare pensions.

The publication of the Green Paper was delayed due to the General Election and the subsequent changes in Government. I too was anxious to take time to familiarise myself with the very complex issues involved. This process is now completed and arrangements are being made to publish the Green Paper. I expect to be in a position to confirm a publication date in the very near future.

At a general level, my Department is currently carrying out a technical review of the entire social welfare code to examine its compatibility with the Equal Status Act 2000 (as amended). The review will examine the schemes and services provided for in social welfare legislation and the administrative schemes operated by the Department. It will identify any instances of direct or indirect discrimination, on any of the nine grounds under the Act, including: gender, sexual orientation, marital status and family status that are not justified by a legitimate social policy objective or where the means of achieving that objective are either unnecessary or inappropriate. The findings of this review, and the conclusions in the social welfare pensions area arising from the publication of the Green Paper, will contribute to informed planning and policy making to ensure that the social welfare system reflects the needs and expectations of all citizens and is equitable in meeting those needs.

Question No. 117 answered with QuestionNo. 111.
Question No. 118 answered with QuestionNo. 116.
Question No. 119 answered with QuestionNo. 111.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

120 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of his plans to make significant improvements to the back to school clothing and footwear allowance and the school meals programme; and the dates on which these improvements will be made. [20698/07]

The back to school clothing and footwear allowance (BSCFA) scheme provides a one-off payment to eligible families to assist with the extra costs when their children start school each autumn. The allowance is not intended to meet the full cost of school clothing and footwear but only to provide assistance towards these costs. A person may qualify for payment of an allowance if they are in receipt of a social welfare payment, or Health Service Executive payment, are participating in an approved employment scheme or attending a recognised education and training course and have household income at or below certain set levels. Family Income Supplement is one of the Qualifying payments. Separately, the Department of Education and Science operate a book grant scheme for primary and secondary schools.

The rates of BSCFA have been increased significantly in recent years. From June 2006, the allowance was increased by €40 to €120 in respect of qualified children aged from 2 to 11 years and €190 for those aged from 12 to 22 years. In Budget 2007 , the rate of payment of BSCFA was increased by a further €60 per child for children aged 2 to 11 years old and increased by a further €95 for children aged 12 to 22 — a 50% increase on the previous allowance.

The new rates for 2007 are €180 for children aged 2 to 11 years old and €285 for children aged 12 to 22. Budget 2007 also increased the income limits for BSCFA by €50 to €100 above the state pension (contributory) rate. These improvements provide a considerable boost to families at a time of considerable expense. The annual expenditure on the scheme will increase to €38.1m as a result of these measures.

These improvements in BSCFA are very significant when viewed in the context of clothing and footwear price trends. According to the Consumer Price Index for August 2007, the overall cost of clothing and footwear has fallen by 3.4% over the past twelve months. Since December 2001, clothing and footwear costs have decreased by 21.6%.

I consider the back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme to be an important support for parents at a time of particular financial strain. While the improvements to the scheme in recent years provide a major boost to meeting the financial costs associated with return to school for those who most need assistance, further improvements to the scheme will be considered in the context of the Budget and in the light of resources available to me for improvements in social welfare payments generally.

The school meals programme operated by my Department gives funding towards provision of food services for disadvantaged school children through two schemes. The first is the long-standing statutory urban school meals scheme, currently operated by 36 local authorities. The second is the school meals community (local projects) programme through which funding is provided by my Department to participating schools and voluntary community groups in both urban and rural areas who are running specific school meals projects, including breakfast clubs.

The school meals programme has expanded significantly in recent years to include a large number of disadvantaged school children and this trend will continue throughout 2007 and in future years. The number of meals being provided on a daily basis to disadvantaged children through the school meals local projects scheme has doubled from 89,915 in the school year 2005/2006 to 179,660 in the school year 2006/2007. In 2006, some 1,394 schools with over 145,000 pupils benefited under the scheme and this is expected to increases to 165,000 plus pupils in over 1,800 schools in the 2007/2008 school year.

The Department of Education and Science has identified a total of 875 disadvantaged schools under the recent ‘Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools' (DEIS) action plan. To date, a total of 651 DEIS schools are participating on the scheme, and additional applications are expected.

The school meals programme makes an important contribution to ensuring that school children receive better nutrition and contributes to improved school attendance and quality of learning. All relevant research indicates that there is a strong link between nutritional intake and cognitive ability and that inadequate nutrition impacts negatively on a child's ability to learn and benefit from education. I am satisfied that the additional funding given to the school meals programme in recent years ha s enabled the programme to expand significantly and to assist schools and projects to provide healthy, nutritious food to the most disadvantaged children in our society who, by reason of lack of food, are unable to take full advantage of the educational opportunities presented to them. I will be seeking to make provision in Budget 2008 for further expansion of the school meals scheme, to increase the number of children benefiting.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Willie Penrose

Question:

121 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the percentage of the population regarded as being in consistent poverty; when he expects that the 2% target which was set for 2007 in the ten year anti-poverty strategy launched in 1997 will be reached; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20725/07]

Bernard Allen

Question:

124 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the percentage of the population regarded as being in consistent poverty; his efforts to combat consistent poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20776/07]

Richard Bruton

Question:

128 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of his plan to assist the 290,000 people who, according to The Combat Poverty 2006 Annual Report, are deprived of one or more basic necessities such as adequate food, clothes or heating; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20771/07]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

156 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the recent statement from the Irish Human Rights Commission that the persistence of poverty and deprivation among economic success was contributing to the denial of basic human rights to thousands of people here; the steps he will take to deal with the concerns raised by the IHRC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20710/07]

Dinny McGinley

Question:

161 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason the consistent poverty target in the NAP/Incl 2007 to 2016 is less ambitious than that of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy and Agreed Programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20790/07]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

165 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the recent statement from the acting director of the Combat Poverty Agency that the provision of quality public services is crucial to the tackling of poverty; the steps he will take in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20709/07]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

179 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the fact that 7% of the population, nearly 300,000 people, remain in consistent poverty (details supplied); the action he will take to tackle same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20787/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 121, 124, 128, 156, 161, 165 and 179 together.

Combating poverty and building an inclusive society are key priorities for the Government. The National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAPinclusion) and the social inclusion commitments in the National Development Plan were drawn up in consultation with the social partners and after a wide ranging consultation process with other stakeholders. The NAPinclusion adopts a lifecycle stage approach, in line with Towards 2016, with specific, measurable goals set for each group: children; people of working age; older people and people with disabilities; and their communities. It sets out a demanding and detailed programme of action to meet these goals and targets during the period 2007-2016.

The NAPinclusion builds on the considerable progress achieved in the past decade in tackling poverty and in reducing the number of people experiencing material deprivation in Ireland. The new goal in the NAPinclusion is to reduce the number of those experiencing consistent poverty to between 2 per cent and 4 per cent by 2012, with the aim of eliminating consistent poverty by 2016.

The goal has been set using an updated set of indicators devised by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), which is more realistic and in keeping with living standards today than the indicators considered appropriate for the earlier national anti poverty plans. The new target reflects experience and advice that it may be difficult to bring consistent poverty down to zero, due in part to the subjective and sensitive nature of the survey questions used to identify deprivation. The current rate of consistent poverty in the population using the new measure is 7.0 per cent.

The 2002 National Anti-Poverty Strategy target was to reduce the numbers of those who are consistently poor to 2 per cent by 2007 and, if possible, to eliminate consistent poverty, as then defined. The consistent poverty measure used at that time had been developed by the ESRI in 1987. It identified the proportion of people, from those with less than 60 per cent of median income, who were deprived of one or more goods or services considered essential for a basic standard of living as then defined. A major discontinuity between the Living in Ireland Survey (LIIS), previously used for monitoring progress against the target and the new EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC), introduced from 2003, means that it is not possible to compare trends in consistent poverty between the two surveys. However, continuing low levels of unemployment and the substantial resources devoted to social welfare and other social services, support the view that the downward trend in consistent poverty, from 8.3 per cent in 1994 to 4.1 per cent in 2001, would have continued and the target would have been reached by 2007 using the LIIS survey method. Furthermore, the first three years of EU-SILC data indicate that the overall consistent poverty rate reduced from 8.8 per cent in 2003 to 7.0 per cent in 2005.

The NAPinclusion sets out a wide-ranging and comprehensive programme of actions over the period to 2016 to continue to reduce poverty, achieve the overall consistent poverty goal to ensure that every person has access to income and resources (material, cultural and social) that are regarded as acceptable by Irish society. To this end, the NAPinclusion contains 12 high level strategic goals in key priority areas supported by over 150 more detailed targets and actions. The Plan has a particular focus on the effective delivery and implementation of quality public services for each stage of the lifecycle. Detailed action targets cover the broad spectrum of services including education, health and long-term care, housing, income support, employment supports, early childhood development and care, transport, and sport and culture.

The Government is determined to build on the progress achieved over the past ten years in reducing poverty. The social welfare commitments in the Programme for Government prioritise the objectives of the NAPinclusion. They include; improvements in support for Lone Parents; in the State Pension and the Carers Allowance, in Child Benefit and in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance and the School Meals Programme. Support for the Office for Social Inclusion is a key commitment, in particular, for its work to progress the use of poverty impact assessments by government departments, local authorities and statutory agencies in the development of policies and programmes and the delivery of public services to ensure that the Government's social inclusion agenda is achieved.

The concern expressed by the Irish Human Rights Commission on the impact of poverty on human rights is one that the Government and I share. Ireland, together with many other Member States of the Council of Europe, ratified the European Social Charter which is designed to secure to their populations the social rights specified in the Charter in order to improve their standard of living and their social well being. In 1991 the Council of Europe adopted a Revised Social Charter in order to take account in particular of the fundamental social changes which have occurred since the original text was adopted in 1961. The Revised Social Charter was ratified by Ireland on 4th November 2000 and came into force on 1 January, 2000. One of the main changes included in the Revised Social Charter was the inclusion of a new Article 30 which provides for the right to protection against poverty and exclusion. I am confident that the strategies to combat poverty and social exclusion, including the current NAPinclusion, meet the undertaking required by Article 30 These include taking measures within the framework of an overall and coordinated approach to promote effective access by people experiencing poverty and social exclusion to employment and a range of other key services. Ireland's compliance with these and other obligations under the revised Charter will be monitored on a regular basis by the appropriate Council of Europe institutions.

My plan, in working with Government to deliver the programme over the coming years, is to build on the significant and visible progress already made in reducing poverty and material deprivation and to deliver real improvements in living standards and well-being for the most vulnerable in our society.

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

122 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will revise the formula whereby old age pensions are based on a combination of contributions, EU or non EU, with a view to ensuring that claimants have access to the equivalent of the full rate applicable here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20831/07]

Where a person has social insurance contributions from another EEA country, or a country with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement, these can be combined with Irish social insurance contributions to qualify a person for a pro-rata contributory state pension. The manner in which contributions from EEA countries are to be used is laid down in Regulation (EEC) No 1408/ 71 and the same general principles are applied in the reciprocal agreements Ireland has with a number of other countries.

These Regulations provide that where the conditions required by the legislation of a country for entitlement to old age benefits are satisfied only after counting the contributions made in another country, the first country shall firstly calculate the amount of pension the person would be entitled to if s/he had completed his/her full career of periods of insurance under the legislation of that country.

Then a proportional pension is calculated by multiplying the theoretical amount of pension by the ratio of periods of insurance in that State to the person's full career. The objective of the system is, amongst other things, to ensure that the contributions made in each country are adequately recognised.

Those qualifying for pensions under this system will, more than likely, qualify for a pension from other jurisdictions, some of whose pension arrangements are more advantageous than those which exist here.

It is also, of course, open to a person living in Ireland to apply for a State Pension (Non-Contributory) if their total contributory pension entitlement is very much reduced and they will receive a payment if they satisfy a means test.

Community Welfare Service.

Billy Timmins

Question:

123 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the status of the transfer of community welfare services to his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20793/07]

Willie Penrose

Question:

142 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in regard to proposals that community welfare officers should be transferred from the Health Service Executive to his Department; the position regarding his Department’s discussions on this subject with the trade unions representing the CWOs; if a timetable has been set for implementation of the proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20724/07]

Enda Kenny

Question:

565 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the proposed changes of moving community welfare officers from the Health Service Executive to his Department will take effect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19732/07]

Enda Kenny

Question:

566 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if, when the proposed changes of moving community welfare officers from the Health Service Executive to his Department take effect, community welfare officers involved in political activity will have to cease their political involvement due to the upcoming proposed changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19733/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 123, 142, 565 and 566 together.

In February 2006 as part of its reform of the Health Sector, the Government decided that the administration of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme (SWA), as well as certain other functions, would be transferred to my Department. The SWA scheme is currently administered by the Community Welfare Service division of the Health Service Executive on behalf of my Department. Some 1,000 staff, including approximately 700 Community Welfare Officers are engaged in this process.

Project personnel have been appointed on a full-time basis both in this Department and the HSE and detailed implementation planning for the transfer is well advanced. Enabling provision has been made in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2007 for a number of technical amendments to existing SWA legislation to facilitate the transfer process. These provisions will be brought into force by way of Commencement Order once CWS staff have transferred to my Department.

A change of this magnitude involves a considerable range of issues to be dealt with. In that regard officials from my Department, the Department of Health and Children and the HSE have been engaged in consultation with the unions representing the Community Welfare Service staff. These discussions are now being facilitated by an independent chairperson who was appointed in July 2007. His initial task is to agree a framework which will allow for detailed meaningful discussions to take place between the parties on the specific issues involved. The intention is that these intensive discussions will take place in the coming months and the chairperson will issue a report outlining progress. Any issues that are unresolved at that stage will be dealt with in accordance with the appropriate industrial relations procedures.

It is proposed that the transfer take place in two phases. In the first instance it is envisaged that the Community Welfare Service will transfer to a new branch in my Department with a separate management structure reporting at senior level in the Department. For this phase staff transferring will become Departmental grade civil servants i.e. a grade which is unique to one Department.

Civil Servants above clerical level are not permitted to engage in any form of political activity. This is set out in the official Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour drawn up by the Minister for Finance in accordance with the Standards in Public Office Act, 2001. These restrictions are necessary to ensure public confidence in the political impartiality of the Civil Service. Community Welfare Officers and other HSE staff above clerical level will have to cease any political involvement in which they may be engaged as soon as they transfer to my Department.

The envisaged first phase is an interim arrangement pending full integration of the staff into the Department as general service grade civil servants. Subject to agreement being reached with the unions it is proposed that the initial transfer will take place as soon as is practical in 2008. It is proposed that full integration will take place within three years of the transfer of community welfare staff to the Department. There will be full consultation with all staff, including staff in my own Department in relation to all aspects of the transfer.

The transfer of the Community Welfare Service to my Department represents a major organisational change and a key priority will be to ensure that the provision of a quality service to the public is maintained during the transitional period. Within the income support system there will always be a need for a safety net including exceptional or emergency payments for those who are unable to meet their immediate needs. This function and the discretionary element of the SWA scheme, as currently applied by the CWOs within the CWS, will not be removed.

I look forward to the community welfare staff transferring to my Department forming a central part of an integrated and more and customer focussed service for those members of our society who are most in need.

Question No. 124 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Mortgage Support.

Dan Neville

Question:

125 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to fulfil the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government to urgently examine the development of a mortgage support system for people on low incomes in order to reduce long-term reliance on rent supplement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20809/07]

Joan Burton

Question:

168 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the main findings of the Government’s working group on the rent supplement scheme; the changes he will make to the rent supplement scheme as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20726/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 125 and 168 together.

The purpose of rent supplement, administered under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, is to provide short-term income support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

In recent years, a significant number of people have come to rely on rent supplements for extended periods, including people on local authority housing waiting lists. The numbers claiming the supplement has grown considerably from 42,683 in 2000 to just under 60,000 at the end of December 2006. At the end of August 2007 some 58,675 people were in receipt of a supplement. The scheme has also witnessed an increase in the duration of entitlement with over 32,000 recipients now getting a supplement for 18 months or more.

One of the measures introduced to address this is the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) which among other things gives local authorities specific responsibility for meeting the long-term housing needs of people receiving rent supplement for eighteen months or more.

These individual needs are met through a range of approaches including the traditional range of social housing options, the voluntary housing sector, and in particular, a new public/private partnership arrangement to provide rental housing for households with long-term housing needs.

Latest figures from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government indicate that to date, local authorities have transferred some 4,840 rent supplement cases to RAS units. 2,677 of these are in the voluntary and co-operative housing sector and 2,163 are in private rental accommodation. The Housing authorities have also transferred a further 3,792 recipients to other social housing options. The objective under RAS is that local authorities will have completed the transfer of rent supplement recipients with long-term housing needs to their care by the end of 2009.

Budget 2007 provided for improvements in the qualifying conditions for rent supplement which will support the transfer to RAS of rent supplement tenants who wish to take up full-time employment. Under the new measures, introduced in June of this year, rent supplement may continue to be paid to a person who engages in full time employment, subject to their satisfying the standard means testing conditions, where they have been accepted as having a long-term housing need under RAS.

Budget 2007 measures also provided for improvements in the disregards that apply to assessing additional income for rent supplement purposes. From June the first €75 of additional income, that is, income above the standard rate of supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to a person's circumstances, is disregarded for rent supplement purposes, with any additional income above €75 is assessed at 75%. These measures are positive steps in assisting tenants in achieving a long-term housing solution for their needs while also increasing the financial return from employment for those returning to work or moving to full-time employment.

A review of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme was carried out as part of the Government's Expenditure Review Initiative series of Programme Evaluation. The resulting report was published in November 2006 and included an examination of the rent supplement scheme. The report recommended that RAS should be vigorously pursued to address housing needs of people in long term supplementation. In addition to improving the housing situation for people on low incomes and delivering better value for money for exchequer, full implementation of these arrangements would allow the rent supplement scheme return to its original objective of being a short-term income support scheme, with fewer than half of the current number of recipients.

The report also identified a number of issues relating to the incentives under the rent supplement scheme for those wishing to take up an employment opportunity. As I have already outlined, Budget 2007 has now addressed these issues.

I am conscious that the rent supplement scheme has become a form of social housing in its own right and for this reason, I am anxious that all avenues are explored as regards ways of providing support for those on long-term rent supplementation particularly as regards their securing home ownership. Any further changes to the rent supplement scheme including the question of mortgage support needs to be considered in the context of overall housing policy, which comes within the remit of my colleague the Minister for the Environment Heritage and Local Government. That Department already provides a range of housing supports through local government initiatives, including RAS. Any further initiatives in relation to mortgage support will be framed by that Department in the context of its "delivering homes — sustaining communities" strategy published earlier this year.

I intend to keep the rent supplement scheme under review and my Department will be working closely with the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government in ensuring that RAS meets its objective of enabling rent supplement to return to its original role of a short-term income support.

Question No. 126 answered with QuestionNo. 113.

Budget Issues.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

127 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his priorities for budget 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20723/07]

Improvements in social welfare schemes and services are introduced by way of the Budget. In this regard, I will be developing Budget proposals in relation to the various issues within my own area of responsibility, having regard to a wide range of factors. My priorities will be to make progress in achieving the commitments contained in the Agreed Programme for Government, the Social Partnership Agreement "Towards 2016" and the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016.

The Agreed Programme for Government contains a range of important commitments for pensioners, carers, children and others relying on welfare payments including commitments to:

Increase the basic State pension by around 50% to at least €300 per week by 2012.

Complete the scheme introduced in Budget 2007 to provide a personal pension payment for pensioner spouses in receipt of the Qualified Adult Allowance which will be set at the level of a full rate Non-Contributory State Pension.

Continue to maintain the value of the lowest rate of social welfare payments as agreed in Towards 2016 and the National Action Plan on Social Inclusion.

Further increase eligibility for the Carers' Allowance.

Double the non-means-tested Respite Care Grant to €3,000 per person cared for.

Increase the rate of the Child Benefit

Implement significant improvements to the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance and the School Meals Programme.

These are significant and wide ranging commitments. I look forward to implementing them over forthcoming Budgets having regard to available resources and the wider Government agenda.

Question No. 128 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Pension Provisions.

Shane McEntee

Question:

129 Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of working and non-working men respectively who have personal or occupational pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20813/07]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

151 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of working and non working women respectively who have personal or occupational pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20781/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 and 151 together.

According to CSO statistics for Q2 2007 there are about 2,194,000 in the workforce including 1,255,000 males and 939,000 females. The most recent statistics available in relation to pensions coverage relate to Q4 2005 and suggest that 58.3% of males and 50.6% of females have a supplementary pension. On that basis, we can estimate that there are about 731,000 males and 475,000 females in the workforce covered by a pension with 524,000 and 464,000 respectively without coverage. There are no statistics available in relation to pensions coverage for those who are not in the workforce.

Male workers continue to have a higher coverage rate than their female counterparts. However the gap between males and females reduced from 11% in the first quarter of 2002 to 7.7% in the fourth quarter of 2005. Increased coverage rates were evident across all age categories over the same four year period. Workers in the 35 to 44 age group continued to have the highest pension coverage at just over 65%, followed closely by those aged 45 to 54 at 64.0%. The pension coverage rate for those in employment aged 30 to 65, which increased from 57.8% to 61.8%, in the period in question is still somewhat below the 70% target suggested in the National Pensions Review.

Social Welfare Code.

Pat Breen

Question:

130 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he will receive the National Economic and Social Council report on the feasibility of merging the family income supplement with the qualified child increase and other child supports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20798/07]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

147 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the status of his plans to merge the family income supplement and the child dependent allowance into a second tier child income support payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20782/07]

Dan Neville

Question:

149 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to fulfil the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government to amalgamate the qualified child allowances and family income supplements in order to develop a second tier of income support targeted at the poorest families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20808/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 130, 147 and 149 together.

The merging of family income supplement and qualified child increases provides an opportunity to further target income support at the poorest families. However, the issues involved are complex and there are technical and policy challenges to be overcome.

Under the terms of an earlier Social Partnership agreement 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, resulting in a single second tier child income support. Such a payment would be aimed specifically at targeting child poverty by channelling resources to low-income families without creating significant disincentives to employment.

This commitment to examining such a change was subsequently embodied in the current social partnership agreement ‘Toward 2016'. NESC research on the subject is expected to be available soon. The Council's analysis of these issues will, when received, be of assistance in informing the future direction of child income support policy.

The importance of targeted income support to families and children continues to be a high priority for this Government and the significantly improved and targeted measures announced in Budget 2007 represent substantial improvements in this area.

Family income supplement income thresholds were raised in Budget 2007, increasing the weekly payments of almost all existing FIS recipients by €9 for a one child family, to €111 for a family with eight or more children. Research has shown that poverty is more likely to be concentrated in larger families and this improvement continues the re-focusing of thresholds towards larger families which started in Budget 2006, thereby further targeting resources at low-income households.

In Budget 2007 all three qualified child increase rates which had remained unchanged since 1994 were increased to a single rate of €22 per week. In addition, the annual back to school clothing and footwear allowance, which provides income support for the poorest families at a particularly difficult time of the year, was increased by €60 for children aged 2 to 11, and by €95 for children aged 12 to 22, bringing the rates of payment to €180 and €285 respectively.

These changes represent a more selective approach to child income support through targeting children in poorer households while at the same time limiting the extent to which employment incentives are worsened. Maintaining this balance will remain a priority in consideration of future policy changes in this area.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

131 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will provide the estimated increase in the cost of welfare claims in 2008 arising from the entitlement of EU migrant workers to the new childcare supplement and child benefit; the level of increase in applications for such benefits that has been evident since the beginning of 2007; his views on these increases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20736/07]

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

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

Currently there are over 43,700 EU nationals in receipt of Child Benefit for 75,400 children who are resident with them in Ireland. Of these recipients, some 17,300 are UK nationals, some 10,100 are from Poland, with a further 11,300 recipients from the other States that joined the EU in 2004.

EU nationals who come to work in Ireland but whose families remain in their home country may have an entitlement to Family Benefits in Ireland under EU Regulation 1408/71. Before payment of Child Benefit is made for non-resident children it is necessary to contact the authorities in the country of residence of the children to confirm details and establish what if any family benefits are payable there. This process can take a number of months to complete and, as a result, the number of claims that has been finalised to date is relatively small. The number of claims to Child Benefit in respect of non resident children of EU nationals averaged 300 per week in 2006 of which some 40% would also have had on entitlement to the Early Childcare Supplement. To date in 2007 the average is 220 per week, with the average over the last 2 months being 160 claims per week.

Child Benefit is currently in payment under EU regulations to 1280 families, in respect of 2985 children resident outside of the Republic of Ireland. Some 45% of these children are resident in UK with a further 40% resident in Poland.

The total child benefit expenditure for EU migrants with non resident children in respect of 2008 based on continuing average intake 220 per week is estimated at €114m or 5.2% of overall child benefit expenditure. The corresponding figures for early childcare supplement in respect of 2008, is €23m.

It is not possible to accurately predict how many of these cases will be put into payment as many of the claimants leave the country before their claims can be processed. The ongoing levels of immigration and the number of workers returning to their countries will impact on the levels of benefit to be paid.

Question No. 132 answered with QuestionNo. 115.
Questions Nos. 133 and 134 answered with Question No. 111.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

135 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether the State non-contributory pension personal rate of €200 per week is adequate for an adult when taking into account the cost of living. [20691/07]

One of the key objectives of the 2007 social welfare package was to protect and enhance the value of weekly rates of payment for pensioners in relative terms by giving increases which were well in excess of the projected rate of inflation for this year. The State Pension Non-Contributory was increased by €18 per week or 9.9% in the Budget. This level of increase was more than double the expected increase in the cost of living this year. The increase also met the Government's objective of bringing the rate of the basic State pension to €200 per week.

In considering the level of support available for pensioners, account must also be taken of other benefits available for pensioners, including the Household Benefits Package, Fuel Allowances, the Over-80 Allowance and, for pensioners living alone, the Living Alone Allowance.

As and from last January, the number of free units of electricity and gas paid under the Household Benefits Scheme increased by 600 units a year to 2,400 units, thereby protecting pensioners from the impact of increased electricity charges.

Also from January, the fuel allowance was increased by €4 per week to €18. This means that this allowance has doubled since January 2006. By any standards, the levels of increases and other improvements announced in the 2007 Estimates and Budget were exceptional and a further demonstration of this Government's commitment to pensioners in our society by delivering social welfare increases which are well in excess of inflation.

The new Agreed Programme for Government includes a commitment to further enhance income support for pensioners including a commitment to increase the rate of the basic State pension to €300 by 2012. I look forward to progressing this and other commitments for pensioners in a Budgetary context, having regard to available resources and the wider Government agenda.

Social Welfare Code.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

136 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the promise to cut the main PRSI rate from 4% to 2% and the self-employed rate from 3% to 2% will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20719/07]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

141 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the estimated cost to the social insurance fund over the next five years, in terms of revenue foregone, of the planned cut in the main PRSI rate from 4% to 2% and the self-employed rate from 3% to 2%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20720/07]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

610 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the amount in view of the fact that it has been indicated in the Programme for Government that the shortfall in revenue in the Social Insurance Fund resulting from the proposed cuts in PRSI rates will be made up by the Exchequer, that it is projected that the Exchequer will have to make up. [17254/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 136, 141 and 610 together.

Approximately 76 per cent of workers pay PRSI Class A and Class H at the rate of 4 per cent; their employers pay 10.75%. A further 11 per cent of workers pay social insurance contributions at the Class S rate. These contributions which are subject to various thresholds, allowances and ceilings, accrue entitlement to a range of benefits and pensions under various social insurance schemes. The current employee PRSI ceiling stands at €48,800 per annum.

It is estimated that a decrease in the employee PRSI rate from 4% to 2% would reduce Social Insurance Fund income by some €720 million in a full year. The abolition of the PRSI ceiling for ordinary employees would yield some €295 million in additional contribution income. A decrease in the self-employed PRSI rate (Class S) from 3% to 2% is estimated to cost approximately €220 million in a full year. Of course if introduced as a package, the combination of measures would give rise to a compound effect.

The effect over a five year period would be dependant on the sequencing of any changes to the PRSI rates. Clearly however, any reductions to PRSI rates would have the effect of reducing corresponding contributions to the Social Insurance Fund.

Traditionally social insurance spending has been funded on a tripartite basis with contributions coming from the exchequer, employers and employees. It should be noted that legislation provides that the Exchequer is the residual financier of the Fund and that Exchequer contributions to cover any shortfall in contributions were the norm for over forty years. No Exchequer contribution has been required since 1996 as the fund has been in surplus on foot of contributions from employers and workers. Any future shortfall in the cost of benefits paid would in the normal way be addressed by exchequer subvention.

Changes in PRSI contribution rates are considered in a budgetary context and any such changes would be announced in future budgets.

Question No. 137 answered with QuestionNo. 114.

Social Welfare Expenditure.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

138 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the rate of public social expenditure here in comparison to that of the other EU countries; the EU average respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20788/07]

Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the EU, publishes comparisons of social protection expenditure as a percentage of GDP across the EU. This encompasses not only social welfare expenditure but also expenditure in areas such as health care, social housing, employment support programmes and other social inclusion programmes. The latest such statistics were published on 24 July 2007 and cover developments up to and including 2004. No comparable figures are yet available for 2005 or 2006.

When examining such data, it is important to remember that gross expenditure measures do not take account of social charges or taxes which may be levied on benefits after they are paid, nor do they include transfers made by means of tax concessions, as opposed to direct cash payments. For example, tax relief on contributions towards occupational and private pensions, which are an important feature of Ireland's pension system, is not counted as expenditure.

The EUROSTAT release draws attention to the fact the EU average masks major national differences in the structure of social protection funding, partly related to differing levels of wealth between countries, and also reflects differences in social protection systems, demographic trends, unemployment rates and other social, institutional and economic factors.

The level of expenditure is also significantly influenced by the age profile of the population. Ireland, currently with the youngest population in the EU, needs to spend less on pensions and healthcare/care of the elderly than most other member states.

In 2004, social protection expenditure accounted for 27.3% of GDP in the EU-25 countries. The corresponding ratio for Ireland was 17% — up almost 3 percentage points from 2000 (14.1%). Eurostat acknowledges that the very significant growth in GDP means that the large real increases in benefit rates and child income support introduced in recent years is somewhat masked. It further notes that the level of expenditure in Ireland is also significantly influenced by the lower proportion of pensioners and the reliance on private pension provision to supplement the State pensions and lower spending on unemployment benefits in the light of sustained low unemployment figures.

The fact is that under this Government there has been a sustained and substantial increase in social protection expenditure. The EUROSTAT report states that the increase in Ireland's per capita expenditure (7.8% per annum and the second highest of all EU countries, behind Hungary) from 2000 to 2004 in comparison to that of the EU as a whole (2.2% per annum), was "particularly marked". Moreover, it should be noted that social welfare expenditure will have increased substantially during the three year period from 2005 to 2007, Following the improvements announced in the 2007 Budget, overall spending on social welfare in Ireland in 2007 will be over EUR 15.316 billion — an increase of more than 13% from 2006. This is the highest ever spend on social welfare, and represents expenditure of nearly two and a half times the social welfare budget of EUR 6.2 billion in 1999.

This Government will continue to address the scope for further improvements in Ireland's social protection infrastructure, guided by the new National Anti Poverty Strategy, and the National Development Programme while at the same time continuing to take the measures necessary to maintain economic growth and competitiveness and thereby generate the resources for further social investment.

Social Insurance Fund.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

139 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he will publish the second actuarial review of the social insurance fund, provided for under the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005; the main findings of the review; when the review will be laid before Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20717/07]

The second Actuarial Review of the Social Insurance Fund, which is required under Section 10 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005, is being finalised. This is in accordance with the requirement that such reviews be carried-out at five-yearly intervals and be completed not later than five years after the date of completion of the previous review. The first Actuarial Review was published in 2002, and reflected the position of the Fund at the end of 2000.

The second Actuarial Review was completed by Mercer Human Resources Consulting in June, 2007. It was received by Government in July, 2007, and is currently under consideration. Under legislation it must be laid before the Oireachtas by early December, 2007; however it is anticipated that this will happen well in advance of this date.

The Social Insurance Fund provides insured contributors with pension benefits upon retirement — as a result of old age or incapacity — as well as a range of shorter term social welfare benefits. The Fund covers nearly all employees and the self-employed in Ireland — although some contributors are only covered for a limited range of benefits.

The current review was carried out by independent consultants who examined the financial condition and sustainability of the Fund at the end of 2005 — when SIF expenditure was €5.6 billion, income to the Fund was €6.1 billion and some 2.8 million persons were contributing into it.

In line with the Terms of Reference provided to the consultants the review covers the period from 2006 to 2061 and investigates the impact of increasing benefit rates and contribution limits in line with prices and with earnings.

In addition, the effects of adjusting the retirement age are explored, as are the potential financial impact on the social insurance system of a number of possible future developments. The review does not provide recommendations for policy action but rather attempts to illustrate likely trends over the period to 2061. The review was overseen by a steering committee comprised of officials from my own Department along with others from the Departments of Finance and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Economic assumptions relating to the period of the review were agreed between the steering committee and the consultants — who also engaged an independent economist to assist in this process. Migration projections, based on the projections of the Central Statistics Office, were also developed in a similar fashion.

It is anticipated that the review will play an important role in the ongoing consideration of social insurance contribution rates, payments and possible future Exchequer subventions to the Fund.

Question No. 140 answered with QuestionNo. 113.
Question No. 141 answered with QuestionNo. 136.
Question No. 142 answered with QuestionNo. 123.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

143 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people in receipt of the carer’s allowance, carer’s benefit and the respite care grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20774/07]

Support of carers has been a priority of Government since 1997. Payments to carers have been greatly improved over that period and qualifying conditions for carers allowance have been significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended, and new schemes such as carers benefit and the respite care payment have been introduced. The further development of support for carers continues to be a priority.

There are now 30,652 persons in receipt of Carer's Allowance. The number of persons in receipt of carer's allowance has increased by 9,326 since December 2003. 1,904 persons are currently in receipt of Carer's Benefit. To date 7,227 persons have been awarded the Respite Care Grant for 2007.

Following from enhancements in Budget 2007, from tomorrow people receiving a social welfare payment and providing care to a person needing full –time assistance may apply for a reduced rate Carers Allowance.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

144 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to increase the rate of the living alone allowance. [20692/07]

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

The policy in relation to support for pensioners has been, for many years, to give priority to increasing the personal rates of pension rather than supplements like the living alone increase. The objective is to use resources to improve the position of all pensioners to the fullest extent possible rather than focusing on particular groups. This approach was continued in Budget 2007 with increases of up to €16 and €18 per week granted on personal rates. The policy is subject to review and I will consider the position in the context of the next budget.

Question No. 145 answered with QuestionNo. 116.

Social Welfare Code.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

146 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to remove the habitual residency clause from the conditions applicable to payment of child benefit as it would be in the best interests of children. [20695/07]

Child benefit may be paid in respect of every child under the age of 16 years, who is ordinarily resident in the State. Payment can be extended to the 19th birthday if the child is in education, or incapable of self-support. The benefit is paid to the qualified person with whom the child resides and the qualified person must satisfy the Habitual Residence Condition.

The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1 May 2004. It was introduced in the context of the Government's decision to open the Irish labour market to workers from the 10 new EU Member States, without the transitional limitations which were imposed at that time by most of the other Member States. The effect of the condition is that a person whose habitual residence is elsewhere is not paid social welfare payments on arrival in Ireland.

EU Regulations provide that EEA nationals who are migrant workers, i.e. who are employed or self-employed in this country, or who are receiving Irish Jobseeker's benefit since being in employment here, are entitled to payment of family benefits in respect of their families who reside in another Member State. Under these Regulations the family members are treated as if they are habitually resident in Ireland for the purpose of child benefit.

Between January and the end of August 2007, a total of 28,542 decisions were made on new child benefit claims. Of these 3,430 (12%) required particular examination of the habitual residence condition. 90% of these satisfied the condition and only 341 (10%) were refused as this condition was not satisfied. In effect just over 1% of the total number of decisions on new child benefit claims failed to satisfy the habitual residence conditions.

Those who are refused child benefit are mainly persons whose claim to asylum has not yet been decided, others who have not obtained a work permit, or persons who have had only a minimal or no attachment to the workforce since coming to Ireland.

I am satisfied that the habitual residence condition is achieving its intended purpose, allowing access to our social welfare schemes to persons who are genuinely and lawfully making Ireland their habitual residence, while preventing unwarranted access by persons who have little or no connection with the State.

Question No. 147 answered with QuestionNo. 130.
Question No. 148 answered with QuestionNo. 116.
Question No. 149 answered with QuestionNo. 130.

Joan Burton

Question:

150 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will accept the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission that same sex cohabitants should be treated in the same way as opposite sex cohabitants for social welfare payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20727/07]

The recommendation of the Law Reform Commission arose from one of two important pieces of work regarding different types of partner relationships and how they should be treated and recognised in Irish society. The first report an ‘Options Paper, presented by the Working Group on Domestic Partnership to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, focuses on different types of cohabiting relationships, both same and opposite sex, and presents a range of options with regard to giving legal recognition to these relationships. Officials from my Department contributed to the work of this Group.

The second report — the ‘Report of the Law Reform Commission on the Rights and Duties of Cohabitants' — makes substantial recommendations for reform of the law concerning cohabitants including both opposite sex or same sex couples who live together.

These reports come at a time of wide public debate on the question of according legal status to cohabitants generally, and same sex couples in particular, and will contribute to the informed debate on these important topics.

My own Department is currently carrying out a technical review of the entire social welfare code to examine its compatibility with the Equal Status Act 2000 (as amended). The review will examine the schemes and services provided for both in social welfare legislation and the administrative schemes operated by the Department. It will identify any instances of direct or indirect discrimination, on any of the nine grounds under the Act, including: gender, sexual orientation, marital status and family status that are not justified by a legitimate social policy objective or where the means of achieving that objective are either unnecessary or inappropriate.

This work, together with the reports I have referred to, will contribute to informed planning and policy making to ensure that the social welfare system reflects the needs and expectations of citizens and is equitable in meeting those needs.

Question No. 151 answered with QuestionNo. 129.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

152 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of children that benefited from the back to school clothing and footwear allowance in 2007; if he will extend the duration within which people can apply for this allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20773/07]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

155 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications for payments under the back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme in 2007; the way this compares with 2006; if has satisfied himself with the level of take up under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20713/07]

Jack Wall

Question:

613 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the amount of back to school allowance paid out by his Department; the amount not claimed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21068/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 152, 155 and 613 together.

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

As the BSCFA scheme will be running to the end of September, final figures in relation to the numbers of applications received and awarded for 2007 are not yet available from the HSE. Current indications are that more than 82,000 families with 174,000 children will benefit from the scheme this year at a cost of some €38m. This is an increase on the 2006 figures when 78,750 families with 161,450 children benefited at a cost of €23.5m. This increase can be mainly attributed to improvements in income disregards introduced this year and the significant level of publicity given to this scheme in the media and through the information services operated by my Department. The Department has increased its publicity in this area to ensure that as many families as possible are aware of the scheme.

Applications for the allowance may be made between the beginning of June and the end of September each year. In dealing with the large volume of applications received, the Health Service Executive deploys additional staffing resources for the duration of the scheme during the June to September period. This period was designated as it is the time that parents are preparing and budgeting for back to school expenditure. As the principal objective of the scheme is to assist eligible families with the extra costs when their children start school each autumn, the most practical time to implement the scheme is in the lead up to each new academic year.

The HSE may under the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme make exceptional needs payments in the case of late BSCFA applications. Accordingly, I have no plans to extend the period of application beyond September.

Question No. 153 answered with QuestionNo. 115.
Question No. 154 answered with QuestionNo. 116.
Question No. 155 answered with QuestionNo. 152.
Question No. 156 answered with QuestionNo. 121.
Question No. 157 answered with QuestionNo. 113.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

158 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to address the concerns highlighted in the Annual Report of the Social Welfare Appeals Office that inadequate information and explanations had been given to customers who had unsuccessful claims and the failure by some deciding officers and social welfare inspectors to attend oral appeals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20712/07]

The report to which the Deputy refers was produced by the Social Welfare Appeals Office (SWAO) of my Department in accordance with legislative requirements. It contains details of the activities of the office in 2006 as well as commentary on other issues which arose during the year. As I previously stated on 29 June 2007, I welcome the continued commitment of the SWAO to provide an accessible and independent review mechanism for people who wish to appeal against decisions made by my Department. My Department makes every effort to deliver entitlements to people in accordance with the legislation.

However, considering that in 2006 my Department made over one million payments per week that benefit more than 1.5 million people, and received 1.75 million claims for statutory social welfare schemes, it is understandable that there will be some people who will not agree with decisions made on their entitlements. The number of appeals received (13,800), when viewed in the context of the number of claims received, less than 1% of all new claims, is small. In 2006, slightly more appeals were processed than were received and of the 14,006 appeals finalised, favourable decisions were made in 6,439 cases.

The report highlights that 46% of appeals had a successful outcome for the appellant. It refers to the fact that of the 6,439 favourable decisions on appeal cases, almost half of these decisions (3,199) were in fact revised decisions made by statutorily appointed Deciding Officers of my Department, who reviewed the claim following the initial disallowance. These revised decisions arose as a result, in many cases, of new facts or fresh evidence produced by the claimant after the original decision on his /her claim. In such cases an Appeals Officer decision was not necessary. In addition, it should be noted that of the 9,100 appeals decided by Appeals Officers, a total of 5,860 (64%) upheld the original decision of the Deciding Officer.

Customers whose claims are disallowed or who are disqualified from payment or awarded social welfare at a reduced rate are informed that if they have any new fact or evidence that has a bearing on their case, they should send it in the first instance to the Deciding Officer for re-examination and, if appropriate, for revision of the decision. They are informed that this right is in addition to their right of appeal to the SWAO. They can seek a Deciding Officer review before making an appeal or can do both concurrently. The right of appeal to the SWAO remains an option if the review by the Deciding Officer is not fruitful.

The success of the Deciding Officer review process has been highlighted in a number of annual reports of the SWAO. In the Annual Report 2002, for example, the contribution which the Deciding Officer Review process made in reducing the overall number of appeals that were received in the SWAO was noted. The 2005 Annual Report also highlighted the success of this strategy.

The role of the statutorily appointed Deciding Officer is to decide entitlement to statutory social welfare schemes and insurability of employment in accordance with the legislation. To assist Deciding Officers in their role, guidelines relating to all aspects of decision-making and Social Welfare legislation are issued and regularly updated by my Department. In addition, training is provided to Deciding Officers on their statutory obligations and the application of principles of natural justice and fair procedures.

The need for transparency in the decision-making process by Deciding Officers is also provided for in legislation. Regulations provide that decisions on social welfare claims must be set out in writing and, where the decision is unfavourable, the reasons for the decision must also be recorded and included in the notification to the person concerned. Therefore, when a Deciding Officer has reached a decision, which is unfavourable to the claimant, s/he must give the grounds for the decision, that is, the statutory condition which is not fulfilled; and the reason why the grounds are not met.

In its guidelines and training, the Department incorporates instructions relating to Appeal procedures. Deciding Officers and Social Welfare Inspectors are advised to attend, or arrange for a representative from the area to attend, an oral hearing when so requested by the Appeals Officer.

My Department has regular meetings with the Social Welfare Appeals Office to discuss matters of interest and concern. These ongoing discussions are referred to in the Annual Report. Arising from such discussions, guidelines, procedures and practices are reviewed and changed where necessary. The conditions of entitlement are kept under review and my Department has been involved in various reviews of schemes as part of its annual business plans.

Social Inclusion.

Pat Breen

Question:

159 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his view on the recommendations made by CORI in its socio-economic review 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20797/07]

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

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

The new Agreed Programme for Government builds on these programmes and contains important commitments in relation to pensioners, carers, children and others relying on social welfare incomes.

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

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

160 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the statement by the Combat Poverty Agency in its annual report that over one in ten children are living in consistent poverty, that Ireland’s level of child poverty remains high by European standards and that Ireland has a relatively low level of service provision for families and children; the measure he will take to alleviate child poverty in view of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20789/07]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

182 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the recent annual report of the Combat Poverty Agency and particularly the finding that Ireland has the third highest level of child poverty in the EU; the steps he will take to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20708/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 160 and 182 together.

The annual report of the Combat Poverty Agency for 2006 which I launched on 4 September, 2007 contains details of the progress made by the Agency on its strategic plan ‘Working for a Poverty-Free Ireland'. It contains inter alia details of its findings in relation to child poverty and it highlights the importance of services such as health, education and services for families in tackling poverty and promoting social inclusion.

The reduction and eventual elimination of child poverty is a top priority for the Government. It is at the core of the strategic process to combat poverty and social exclusion and this is reflected in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAPinclusion) and the social inclusion commitments in the National Development Plan (NDP). This strategic process was developed in consultation with the social partners and after wide ranging consultation with other stakeholders. The NAPinclusion adopts a lifecycle approach, in line with Towards 2016 . The purpose is to promote a coordinated and integrated approach to dealing with the specific needs of each lifecycle group across all relevant policies and among the institutions at both national and local levels responsible for implementing these policies. Specific measurable goals are set for each group.

State support for children and their families is essential, especially in the case young couples in the early stages of their working lives when earnings are lower and outgoings higher than is the case at later stages of the lifecycle. Four of the twelve high level goals in the NAPinclusion, therefore, focus on providing significant real increases in income supports for children and on targeted education initiatives. Children growing up in low income or jobless households are the most vulnerable to poverty. Care of children can create obstacles to accessing employment, especially employment that is full time and well paid. The most vulnerable groups in this regard are lone parents and larger families with 3 or more children. The most effective approach is to remove the obstacles to employment and create real incentives that will enable these parents to achieve a satisfactory work/life balance. This approach requires facilitating both care for children and employment participation that provides a decent income. The NAPinclusion provides in the case of the Working Age lifecycle for a case management approach that will put the necessary supports in place to enable parents in vulnerable situations to overcome obstacles to achieving this work/life balance. It requires, in particular, appropriate income support, child care services, and education and training, all of which are being provided for in the NAPinclusion and the NDP.

The Combat Poverty Agency report compares child poverty rates across Europe using the relative income poverty or ‘at risk of poverty' measure, which is used extensively for international comparisons. However, the limitations of this poverty indicator, based just on income, are now recognised internationally. There is a consensus emerging that it should be complemented by an indicator that measures non financial material deprivation. It is considered that this approach would provide a clearer and more accurate measure of actual poverty and the vulnerable groups who are experiencing it. A recent OECD Study is one of the first to provide international comparisons of the proportion of households experiencing non financial material deprivation and some of the findings are included in its 2006 edition of Society at a Glance. It uses a much wider series of deprivation indicators than that used, for example, for the consistent poverty indicator in Ireland and is not confined, as in Ireland, to those classified as a t risk of poverty.

It shows nevertheless that the levels of material deprivation in Ireland across virtually all the various indicators are below and, in some cases, well below the average for OECD countries. Virtually all countries with low levels of deprivation also shown to have high levels of GDP per capita and Ireland is among that group of countries. This underlines the key importance of economic growth and the high levels of employment it creates in reducing poverty.

Significant progress has been made in reducing child poverty over the past decade. The latest EU-SILC survey shows the proportion of children in consistent poverty has reduced from 12.2 per cent in 2003 to 10.2 per cent in 2005. The Government is determined to build on this progress. The social welfare commitments in the Programme for Government prioritise the objectives of the NAPinclusion. They include; improvements in support for Lone Parents; in the State Pension and the Carers Allowance, in Child Benefit and in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance and the School Meals Programme. Support for the Office for Social Inclusion is a key commitment, in particular, for its work to progress the use of poverty impact assessments by government departments, local authorities and statutory agencies in the development of policies and programmes and the delivery of services to ensure that the Government's social inclusion agenda is achieved. My plans, in working with Government to deliver the programme over the coming years, are to build on the significant and visible progress already made in reducing child poverty. This will be a key part of the commitment in the NAPinclusion to reduce consistent poverty to between 4% and 2% by 2012, with the aim of eliminating it by 2016. It will involve, in particular, delivering real improvements in living standards and well-being for the most vulnerable in our society, especially our children.

Question No. 161 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Retirement Age.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

162 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to fulfil the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government to introduce phased retirement which allows workers a greater say in their retirement age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20805/07]

It is important that those who wish to continue in employment after normal retirement age should, as far as is possible, be facilitated and supported. Longer working can play an important role in ensuring that our pensions system is sustainable in the future and can be beneficial to the individual. The Green Paper on pensions will include an examination of the issues surrounding retirement age and the barriers faced by older workers who wish to remain in employment.

In the context of the Green Paper on pensions and the Agreed Programme for Government, I will be seeking to introduce flexibilities into the social welfare pensions and social insurance systems to encourage and facilitate longer working.

However, changes to social welfare pensions represent only one aspect of the responses which will be needed in this area.

In order for changes in the pensions area to have an impact we require a change in attitudes in relation to longer working from both employers and employees. At the workplace level employers must seek to retain older employees and create the working conditions which will make longer working both attractive and feasible for older workers.

These issues, together with the question of allowing employees choices in relation to the age at which they retire, are matters for my colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Billy Timmins

Question:

163 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of the new social assistance payment for lone parents which is under development in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20794/07]

A recommendation for the introduction of a new social assistance payment was included in the Government discussion paper, "Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents." The discussion paper also put forward proposals for the expanded availability and range of education and training opportunities for lone parents; the extension of the National Employment Action Plan to focus on lone parents; focused provision of childcare and improved information services for lone parents. It also proposed the abolition of the cohabitation rule as a condition for receipt of the proposed social assistance payment.

The proposal for the new social assistance payment arose from a review of the One-parent Family Payment (OFP) carried out in my Department. This review focused on the effectiveness of current income support arrangements with due regard to:

the needs of lone parents and their children,

the desire to avoid long term dependency on social welfare income support and

the appropriateness of the current scheme in light of the changing external environmental in which it is operating.

The new payment which is proposed for lone parents and other low income families will replace the current one payment family payment and the qualified adult allowance in social assistance. The details of the scheme and how it might operate are being addressed by a working group in my Department. Proposals being examined include time limiting payments, possibly up to the time the youngest child reaches 8 years of age.

Other issues being examined include an activation programme which would involve engagement by a facilitator with the customer from an early stage, to examine and identify their education and skill needs.

Parents not in employment when the child reaches age 8 will be entitled to apply for job seekers allowance, back to work allowance or back to education allowance.

A test of the non-income and activation elements of the proposal is due to commence shortly. Decisions regarding the new payment scheme will follow completion of this test.

Question No. 164 answered with QuestionNo. 116.
Question No. 165 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Social Welfare Offices.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

166 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will confirm that arrangements are being put in place to retain the social welfare branch office in Dunmanway; and the arrangements being put in hand in this regard. [20558/07]

My Department delivers a front-line service to its customers through a network of 59 Local Offices and 66 Branch Offices countrywide. The services provided from these offices include jobseekers payments, One-parent Family Payment and a customer information service. The 59 Local Offices are staffed by departmental staff. The 66 Branch Offices are run by branch managers who are employed under a contract for service by the Department to administer certain Social Welfare services to members of the public in their catchment area.

Due to the sad and untimely death of the Branch Manager in Dunmanway an arrangement had to be put in place immediately to ensure continuity of service to customers. The number of customers involved include approximately 230 in receipt of a jobseekers payment and a further 120 on farm assist, back to work and pre-retirement allowance. These customers are being facilitated by neighbouring local offices and branch offices closest to where they live.

In keeping with normal procedures when a branch office post becomes vacant, a review of the delivery of social welfare services in the area served by the branch office is undertaken to determine the most effective way of providing these services in the future. The review in respect of Dunmanway is expected to be completed in a month or so.

Young Carers.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

167 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of carers under the age of 18; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20785/07]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

175 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to assist carers under the age of the age of 18; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20784/07]

David Stanton

Question:

616 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 4 of 11 May 2006, if the senior officials group on long term care have examined the issues faced by young carers; the action that has been taken or is planned to be taken as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21122/07]

David Stanton

Question:

617 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 4 of 11 May 2006, if his Department has begun research or has commissioned research to be undertaken on the issue of young carers; if not, when his Department will undertake such research; if so, the areas which will be examined; when he expects this research to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21124/07]

David Stanton

Question:

618 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Parliamentary Question Nos 19, 46 and 68 of 9 February 2006, if his Department has completed its consideration of Barnardos’ research on young carers; if not, when he expects it to be completed; if so, the details of the findings of same; the action he will to take as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21125/07]

David Stanton

Question:

619 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs further to Parliamentary Question Nos 19, 46 and 68 of 9 February 2006, if he has examined the possibility of extending the carers allowance to young carers aged 16 and 17; the details of decisions taken as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21126/07]

David Stanton

Question:

620 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action she is taking to improve the situation of young carers by means of providing supports, services and assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21129/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 167, 175, 616 to 620, inclusive, together.

According to Census 2002 almost 3,000 people between the ages of 15 and 17 are providing unpaid care in the home of which over 2,600 or 89% are still in formal education. Over 300 people aged in that age group provide over 4 hours of care per day with over 200 young people provide a minimum of 43 hours of care per week.

My Department provides income support to carers by way of carer's allowance, carer's benefit and the respite care grant. The respite care grant, which is an annual payment for carers who look after certain people in need of full-time care and attention, is payable from age 16. The payment is made regardless of the carer's means or social insurance contributions but it is subject to certain qualifying conditions. From June 2007 the value of the grant was increased from €1,200 to €1,500 per year in respect of each care recipient. Carer's allowance, which provides income support to people who are providing certain older people or people with a disability with full time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit, is payable from age 18.

My officials have examined the report "Caring Before Their Time? Research and Policy Perspectives on Young Carers" which was published by Barnardos and the Children's Research Centre. I accept that special help, advice and support is essential for young carers in particular and that services must be put in place to support the household and to ensure that young carers remain at school. These include the services of home helps, public health nurses and home care packages generally, which are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children. Recent Budgets have provided for a significant increase in the funding of these services. Indeed, one of the recommendations of that report was that policy relating to young carers should be a matter for the Department of Health and Children with services being delivered by the Health Service Executive.

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

The national partnership agreement "Towards 2016" includes a commitment to a study of the extent to which children undertake inappropriate care roles in order to establish the extent and degree to which this issue arises and the levels of impact it has on the lives of children concerned. This commitment to further research is in line with the recommendations of the Barnardos report. Based on the outcome of this study and an analysis of the issues identified, a programme of in-home supports will be developed to alleviate specific problem areas identified for children. It is intended that all relevant Departments will be involved in this study. My Department which does not have the lead role with regard to this research will engage with it as appropriate.

I am always prepared to consider changes to existing arrangements where these are for the benefit of recipients and financially sustainable within the resources available to me. However, I consider that it is through the provision of health and education services rather than income that we can best support young carers.

Question No. 168 answered with QuestionNo. 125.
Question No. 169 answered with QuestionNo. 116.

Social Welfare Schemes.

Simon Coveney

Question:

170 Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to fulfil the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government to urgently examine the introduction of free travel for Irish citizens of pension age particularly those resident in the UK when visiting Ireland and press the European Commission to examine a similar EU wide scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20810/07]

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

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

Legal advice indicates that it would not be possible to extend entitlement to free travel simply to Irish born people living abroad as to do so would be contrary to European legislation which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality. More recently, the European Commission has indicated that to extend the scheme to people in receipt of an Irish pension could also be considered discriminatory.

My predecessor Minister Brennan raised this issue with Commissioner Špidla last year and officials from my Department met with European Commission officials on a number of occasions in an effort to clarify the legal issues involved.

I will keep this issue under review in order to determine how best to advance our Programme for Government commitments.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

171 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people in receipt of the family income supplement; the status of his Department’s research project to examine factors behind the low level of uptake for the scheme; when this research project will be concluded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20795/07]

The Family Income Supplement (FIS) provides income support for employees on low earnings with families. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if he or she were claiming other social welfare payments. Improvements introduced as part of Budget 2007 continued the re-focusing of income thresholds to provide additional gains for larger families. There are currently some 20,250 people in receipt of FIS.

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

The second element to address FIS take up issues is the commissioning of research to examine factors behind the level of take up for the scheme. A procurement process was initiated for consultancy assistance with this project but following a review a new procurement process has been initiated. A request for tender (RFT) for consultancy assistance is being finalized by my Department and is expected to issue during the month of October via the e tenders website.

Question No. 172 answered with QuestionNo. 111.
Question No. 173 answered with QuestionNo. 113.

Legislative Programme.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

174 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his legislative priorities for the 30th Dáil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20722/07]

Martin Ferris

Question:

186 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of legislation he plans to introduce in the next Dáil year; and the dates of same. [20694/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 174 and 186 together.

My immediate plans entail the progression of two legislative initiatives over the coming months. These are the Social Welfare Bill 2007, and the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2008.

Immediately following the Budget Statement by the Minister for Finance in early December, I will introduce the Social Welfare Bill 2007 to the House. This Bill will provide for the implementation of Budget increases in social welfare payments, any amendments to PRSI, consequent on Budget 2008, and any other changes to the Social Welfare Code which would, in the normal course, be scheduled to take effect from January, 2008.

The second Bill, the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2008 will provide for any residual amendments to the Social Welfare schemes consequent on the Budget 2008 which are not provided for in the Social Welfare Bill 2007, and any additional measures requiring a basis in legislation. This Bill will also provide for any amendments to the Pensions Act 1990, which are required in relation to occupational pensions and personal retirement savings accounts, as a result of the on-going consultation between the Department and the Pensions Board. This Bill is provisionally scheduled for publication early in 2008.

It is also my intention to submit a Memorandum to Government, seeking permission to draft legislation to enact the proposals contained in the Government discussion paper on "Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents". The purpose of this Bill will be to provide for the introduction of a new means-tested payment for lone parent and other families on low incomes, which will replace the One-Parent Family Payment.

Question No. 175 answered with QuestionNo. 167.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

176 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to fulfil the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government to extend the amount those in receipt of the State non-contributory pension are allowed to earn without it affecting their pension entitlement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20806/07]

A disregard of €100 per week of earnings from employment was introduced at the end of September 2006 for the purposes of the State Pension Non-Contributory. To further encourage State pensioners to participate in the workplace, the disregard was doubled, from €100 to €200 per week with effect from January 2007.

While labour force participation by people aged 55-64 years is increasing in Ireland and is the sixth highest of the twenty seven EU countries, participation by people over 65 years has been declining over many years. I would expect that the doubling of the disregard should act as a further incentive to pensioners to return or remain in the workforce. It should also help address the concerns of pensioners about reductions in pensions and benefits, along with affording them the opportunity to increase their weekly income and standard of living. An Agreed Programme for Government contains a commitment to further extend the amount those in receipt of the State Non-Contributory Pension are allowed to earn without it affecting their pension entitlement. I look forward to progressing this commitment in a Budgetary context, having regard to available resources.

Social Welfare Code.

Joe Costello

Question:

177 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of Irish nationals who have been refused social welfare payments under the two year habitual residence requirement introduced in 2004; the number of persons, other than Irish nationals who have had payments refused on the same grounds; if he has plans to review or relax the restriction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20728/07]

The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1st of May 2004.

The basis for the restriction is the applicant's habitual residence. The restriction is not based on citizenship, nationality, immigration status or any other factor. The question of what is a person's "habitual residence" is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims.

Decisions to the effect that applicants satisfy the habitual residence condition are made in the majority of cases at claim acceptance stage by Deciding Officers at local level throughout the country. Complex cases that require detailed consideration are sent to a central section in Dublin or are examined in dedicated units in the scheme areas.

For the period from 1 May 2004 to 31 July 2007, the number of habitual residence complex cases decided was 56,366. The number of applications decided in respect of Irish citizens was 14,358, of which 1,387 (10%) were disallowed. The number of cases decided in respect of persons other than Irish nationals was 42,008 of which 12,505 (30%) were disallowed.

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

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

The habitual residence condition is being operated in a careful manner to ensure that Ireland's social welfare system is protected, while at the same time ensuring that people whose cases are appropriate to the system have access to it when they need it.

The reason for the introduction of the habitual residence condition in May 2004 was to ensure that persons who have not worked in Ireland or who have not established habitual residence in Ireland should not avail of assistance schemes or child benefit.

The operation of the condition was reviewed by my Department in 2006 and it is not proposed to introduce any changes to the current policy in this regard as the original reason for the policy is still valid.

Social Insurance Fund.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

178 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is satisfied that there are adequate resources in the social insurance fund to fund the proposed increase in pensions to at least €300 per week; if he will provide an indication of the anticipated level of increase in Budget 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20721/07]

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to ‘Increase the basic State pension by around 50% to at least €300 per week by 2012'. Changes to pension rates are considered in a budgetary context and will be announced in the forthcoming budget. It is estimated that the cost of increasing contributory pensions, which are financed through the Social Insurance Fund, to €300 would be €1,705 million in a full year. The exact effect of such an increase on the Social Insurance Fund would be contingent on the sequencing of changes to pension rates of the period to 2012 but, in the short term, the Fund has sufficient resources to provide for such an increase. However, over the medium term such a change would have the effect of eroding the current surplus of the Social Insurance Fund.

Question No. 179 answered with QuestionNo. 121.

Social Welfare Schemes.

Martin Ferris

Question:

180 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to make the warmer homes schemes piloted by Waterford local authorities a permanent initiative throughout the State; the date on which he plans to initiate this scheme; and when a decision will be made. [20693/07]

The Warmer Homes Scheme is operated by Sustainable Energy Ireland and matters relating to that scheme are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The aim of the national fuel scheme, administered by my Department, is to assist householders on long-term social welfare or health service executive payments with meeting the cost of their additional heating needs during the winter season. It is estimated that some 286,200 households will benefit under the scheme in 2007 at an annual cost of €161.5m.

Given the significant annual cost of the fuel allowance, Budget 2006 provided for a grant of €2m to Sustainable Energy Ireland for fuel poverty research. The rationale was that while my Department was making payments to people to meet their heating needs through primary social welfare payments and the Fuel Allowance scheme, the benefit of these payments was considerably offset where people were living in poorly insulated homes. The budget grant was intended to complement the Fuel Poverty Action Research Project which is being carried out in Cork and Donegal in a joint operation funded entirely by Combat Poverty Agency and Sustainable Energy Ireland.

Sustainable Energy Ireland are using the €2m grant to undertake a project for owner occupied dwellings in Waterford city and county. The work being carried out includes both insulation and heating measures (a "whole house" approach) and is broader in approach than their current Warmer Homes Scheme which provides insulation only. The grant is to cover the cost of setting up the project, arranging for remedial work to be carried out on approximately 460 houses, conducting research surveys, analysing the resultant data and submission of a formal report. The report will, among other things, assess the impact of the work undertaken in individual homes at a point twelve months after the work is undertaken. As the remedial work stage is now being completed, the report will be compiled towards the end of 2008.

The grant of €2m to SEI is a once-off payment for research purposes. Any expansion of this initiative would have to be considered in the context of the budget and in the light of the eventual research results from the project.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

181 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when a decision will be made on the application by a person (details supplied) in County Kerry for carer’s allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20270/07]

The person concerned has been awarded Carer's Allowance in respect of two care recipients with effect from 22 February 2007. She has also qualified for the Respite Care Grant for 2007 of €3,000. The person concerned has qualified for a free travel pass and her entitlement to the Household Benefits package will be assessed on receipt of a completed application form; a form is being forwarded directly to her.

The Carers payment will be lodged to her nominated bank account on 27 September 2007. Arrears of allowance due will issue shortly after this date.

This person had previously been refused carer's allowance on the grounds that, having examined all the medical evidence submitted in the case, the Department's Chief Medical Adviser expressed the opinion that the care recipients were not so disabled as to require full time care and attention as prescribed in regulations. However, following the receipt of an appeal the case was reviewed and Carers Allowance was awarded. Under Social Welfare legislation, decisions in relation to claims must be made by Deciding Officers and Appeals Officers. These Officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Question No. 182 answered with QuestionNo. 160.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

183 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to combat food poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20718/07]

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

Supplements are also payable in certain circumstances for specific needs, for example fuel allowances, rent supplements, living alone allowance for older people or the household benefits package for pensioners, eligible disabled people and carers. Where people on low incomes have particular medical conditions or dietary requirements, diet supplements are available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare division of the Health Service Executive. It is expected that expenditure on diet supplements will amount to €5.5 million this year and benefit over 10,000 people.

My Department also provides funding for school meals through two programmes, the urban school meals scheme and the local projects scheme. The urban school meals scheme operates in conjunction with certain local authorities and is co-funded by my Department.

The local projects scheme provides funding to secondary, national, pre-schools and community groups in both urban and rural areas who provide school meals.

For families with school-going children, school meals can make a real and important contribution to ensuring that children receive better nutrition. Such services can also contribute to improved school attendance and quality of learning. Expenditure on the schools meals programme for 2006 was €13.6 million and benefited some 125,000 pupils in approx 1,400 schools in 2006. Expenditure on the scheme in 2007 will exceed €20m benefiting over 165,000 pupils in over 1,800 schools. The number of meals being provided on a daily basis to disadvantaged children through the school meals local projects scheme doubled from 89,915 in the school year 2005/2006 to 179,660 in the school year 2006/2007.

A report entitled "Food Poverty and Policy" published in 2004 by the Combat Poverty Agency, Crosscare and the Society of St Vincent de Paul defined food poverty as "the inability to access a nutritionally adequate diet and the related impacts on health, culture and social participation". The Healthy Food for All Initiative awareness campaign followed a report entitled "Food Poverty and Policy" published in 2004 by the Combat Poverty Agency, Crosscare and the Society of St Vincent de Paul defined food poverty as "the inability to access a nutritionally adequate diet and the related impacts on health, culture and social participation". The Healthy Food for All Initiative awareness campaign followed on from the Food Poverty and Policy report. My Department is currently involved with the Healthy Food for All Initiative in plans to draw up a best practice code for school meals.

Healthy eating is affected by dietary and nutritional awareness, cultural attitudes and access to good quality grocery shopping, as well as to the adequacy of social welfare income supports. In recent years, budgetary increases in social welfare payment rates have consistently exceeded increases in the cost of living. This key policy is the primary focus of Budget allocations to my Department each year, and it has helped ensure that those depending on social welfare experience real improvement in their ability to meet their basic needs, including provision of adequate food, heating, etc.

In this regard, consumer price index information from the Central Statistics Office indicates that the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages has increased by 2.7% over the past 12 months. From December 2001 to date, food and non-alcoholic beverages increased by just 6.6% in aggregate while increases in social welfare payment rates increased by between 61% and 77% in the same period. As overall total inflation for the main categories of beneficiaries amounted to less than 23% in that period, there has been a very significant real increase in purchasing power for people on social welfare.

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

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

184 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the average time it takes to process a new family income supplement claim; the number of new claims and renewals awaiting decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20796/07]

The Family Income Supplement (FIS) scheme is designed to provide cash support for employees on low earnings with families. Entitlement to FIS is based on an applicant satisfying a means test and on certification of employment by the employer. My Department has consistently publicised the scheme in order to maximise uptake by qualified families. Following significant improvements in the qualifying 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, combined with the improvements in the income limits, resulted in a strong upward trend in the level of new claims. There are currently 20,247 people in receipt of FIS payment.

Family Income Supplement is paid for 52 weeks provided a person continues to meet the qualifying conditions but a claim for renewal may then be made. The upward trend in new claims is also reflected in renewals. This has resulted in an increase in the number of claims to be processed in my Department. To date in 2007, my Department has received 26,898 new and renewal FIS claims and has decided a total of 20,916 cases. At 14/09/2007 there were 10,604 claims awaiting decision; 4,317 new claims and 6,287 renewal claims. The average time it takes to award a FIS claim or renewal in 2007 (up to end of August) is 14.52 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. Measures have been taken to improve claim processing times for FIS: A review of existing processes and procedures has been completed by my Department 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; The ongoing staffing requirement was recently reviewed in the light of the current volumes of claims and renewals.

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.

Tax and Social Welfare Codes.

Mary Upton

Question:

185 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made with regard to the commitment made in the Programme for Government to integrate the tax and social welfare systems fully to allow for more efficient data and money transfer mechanisms and provide for a fully integrated PPS system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20714/07]

My Department has taken a lead role over the years in developing and implementing identity management policies and procedures based on the use of the Personal Public Services (PPS) number. This number was previously known as the Revenue and Social Insurance (RSI) number. The name was changed to indicate the broadening of its role to one which supports delivery of a broader range of public services but it is also still used for its original core purpose of providing a common identifier for the Revenue Commissioners and this Department.

As well as facilitating wider-scale exchange of information, the PPS number also has a role in the development of on-line services for individuals. My Department provides identity related services to a number of agencies in accordance with legislation. Building on these services, the Department constructed Public Service Identity (PSI) services to assist agencies in basic on-line identity management. The initial deployment of PSI services, through the Reach agency, supports the registration and authentication functions of the Revenue Commissioners PAYE on-line services.

The overall Government strategy is to realise the potential of the Information Society through innovation and modernisation of public services. As part of this, the Standard Authentication Framework Environment programme, co-chaired by my Department and the Department of Finance, builds on PSI Services to provide the basis for a consistent set of registration and authentication services for customer interaction with public services. The Revenue Commissioners are also participating in this programme of work and we will continue to develop PSI and other relevant services in conjunction with them.

My Department and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners are currently engaged in finalising a renewed Memorandum of Understanding between our organisations concerning co-operation and mutual assistance. The objective of the proposed revised Memorandum is:

to provide a basis for the continuance, enhancement and expansion of the existing administrative and operational arrangements

to better reflect the missions, modern operating realities and totality of the relationship between the two organisations

to recognise the growing interdependencies between the two organisations in achieving the delivery of services to the highest standard

to strengthen liaison structures with a view to monitoring service delivery and control aspects.

It is expected that the Memorandum will be finalised before the end of the year.

My Department will of course continue to explore on the basis of these significant ongoing developments how greater data and money transfer efficiencies could be realised in the future.

Question No. 186 answered with QuestionNo. 174.

Refurbishment Projects.

Tony Gregory

Question:

187 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance his plans to refurbish the Custom House, Dublin 1 in view of its current condition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20274/07]

The Commissioners of Public Works consider that the Custom House is in good condition. The Commissioners have undertaken a series of minor building projects which have been completed in the recent past. Other projects are under way. These include the provision of disabled access, toilet & shower facilities, the installation of closed circuit TV cameras and the installation if air conditioning in the computer suite.

Disabled Drivers.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

188 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position regarding the appeal of an application for a primary medical certificate in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20287/07]

I understand that the person concerned has applied for the tax concessions under the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme and that she has been unsuccessful at first instance and on appeal to the Medical Board of Appeal for the Scheme.

I have no direct responsibility for the day-to-day operation of the Medical Board of Appeal for the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme. Queries regarding individual cases may be addressed to the Secretary of the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal, c/o the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin or alternatively by telephone at 01 2355279.

Money Lending Regulation.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

189 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the recently published wish of the Financial Regulator to monitor and regulate lenders in the sub-prime market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20397/07]

I am aware of the Financial Regulator's concerns that some lending activities (including those of some sub-prime lenders) fall outside the scope of the Consumer Protection Code and therefore some borrowers do not benefit from the additional safeguards which that Code provides. I have already indicated my intention to bring forward legislation to ensure that all consumer lending can be brought within the ambit of the Code.

I have initiated consultation with interested parties on proposals which my Department has developed in consultation with the Financial Regulator. A consultation paper setting out these proposals has been circulated to interested parties and is published on the Department's website site. The object of these proposals is to establish a regulatory regime for non-deposit taking lenders which would enable application of the Code to the relevant activities of firms in that the sector and provide also for the supervisory regime required under the EU 3rd Money Laundering Directive. The paper can be found on the Department of Finance website at the link below: http://www.finance.gov.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=5016

In view of the priority of addressing the consumer protection aspects of this issue, I expect that the necessary legislation can be dealt with in the Autumn Oireachtas Session.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

190 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the finding of the Financial Regulator’s recent report on licensed money lenders where there are charges of as much as 180% APR; if he shares the view expressed by the Financial Regulator that these are socially beneficial companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20398/07]

I am aware of the Financial Regulator's recently published review of the licensed moneylending industry. The purpose of this review was to gain a greater understanding of the industry and to determine whether it is appropriate, necessary and reasonable to change current regulatory policies.

It is not my function or that of the Financial Regulator to endorse any type of credit provider as being socially beneficial. Responsible use of credit clearly can have advantages for consumers in terms of their lifestyles but the decisions can only be made on an individual basis in the light of the consumer's needs and means. The Financial Regulator recommends that consumers take on the right type of credit for the right purpose.

The Financial Regulator provides information about the different forms of credit available to consumers, including credit cards, overdrafts, hire purchase, personal loans and money lending. The Financial Regulator also recommends a number of steps that borrowers should take including shopping around for the cheapest loan, reading all loan agreements, reviewing their debts from time to time and not taking on more debt than they can afford. Borrowers should immediately get in touch with the lender if they have any difficulty in meeting repayments, or contact their local MABS centre.

I strongly endorse these recommendations. In particular, I would urge all consumers to shop around for credit, to examine the scope to borrow from community based lenders such as credit unions, and to avail of the more detailed information which is available through the Financial Regulator's publications, help-line (Lo call 1890 77 77 77) and website: http://www.itsyourmoney.ie.

Garda Stations.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

191 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if building work on the new Leixlip Garda Station, Leixlip, County Kildare is on schedule; and the expected opening date for the new station. [21037/07]

The construction of the new Garda Station in Leixlip, Co. Kildare is progressing well and is due for completion in Autumn 2008.

Tax Code.

Denis Naughten

Question:

192 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance his plans to remove the €125-€250 threshold for pensioners claiming tax relief in respect of medical expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19718/07]

James Bannon

Question:

197 Deputy James Bannon asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the reason pensioners are required to pay income tax on medical expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19818/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 192 and 197 together.

In relation to Deputy Bannon's question, neither pensioners, nor any other taxpayers, pay tax on medical expenses; moreover, full relief against tax payable is now available at the marginal rate applicable in relation to the tax year 2007 and subsequent years.

The de minimis amounts referred to by Deputy Naughten were abolished for all taxpayers by section 9 of the Finance Act 2007 as was the requirement that there be a defined relationship between the taxpayer and the subject of the claim.

Full details of the tax relief in respect of health expenses is contained in Revenue's Explanatory Leaflet IT 6 Health/Medical Expenses Relief available on Revenue's website www.revenue.ie which will shortly be updated to take account of the changes brought about by the provision of section 9 of the Finance Act 2007 outlined above.

Finian McGrath

Question:

193 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will assist a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if he will provide the maximum support in resolving this issue. [19750/07]

The essential point at issue here appears to be the tax treatment of the reimbursement of the cost of travel and taxi fares in respect of travel between home and work.

It is a long established principle of tax case law that the expenses of travelling from home to work and work to home are not expenses of travelling necessarily incurred by an employee in the performance of the duties of his/her office or employment and hence are not tax deductible. It follows from this that where the employer reimburses (directly or indirectly) the cost of travel between home and work, such reimbursement is taxable. Revenue has the same obligations as any other employer and is accordingly legally obliged to deduct tax under PAYE in respect of the cost of taxi fares paid or reimbursed and of car expenses paid.

For the sake of completeness, it should be noted that Revenue guidelines provide that the charge to tax does not arise in exceptional circumstances, e.g. where an employee is on-call to deal with certain emergencies and is called out only on an exceptional basis, or where an employee is required to work very late on an occasional basis. However, this exception could not be extended to reimbursement of expenses for travel between home and work, which is rostered, predictable and occurs on a regular basis.

Tom Hayes

Question:

194 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if and when changes will be made to existing DIRT regulations, particularly with regard to retired citizens with small savings; and his proposals in relation to this regulation in the future. [19803/07]

The position has been that individuals aged 65 years or over and individuals who are permanently incapacitated by reason of mental or physical infirmity from maintaining themselves, can claim a refund from DIRT where the income of the individual (inclusive of the deposit interest) is below the appropriate income exemption limit for tax purposes. In the 2007 tax year the exemption limit for a single person aged 65 or over is €19,000 per annum, and in the case of a married couple, the exemption limit is €38,000. A partial refund may be due to such individuals whose income (inclusive of the deposit interest) does not greatly exceed the appropriate income exemption limit.

The Deputy may wish to be aware that changes have recently been made in this regard to simplify arrangements considerably. The Finance Act 2007 introduced new arrangements which allow account holders whose total income does not exceed the exemption limit and are either aged 65 years of age or over or permanent incapacitated, to have any interest earned on money on deposit credited to their savings account by their Financial Institution without deduction of DIRT. Appropriate declaration forms, which are available from Financial Institutions, must be completed by the account holder and submitted to the relevant Financial Institutions to benefit from these arrangements.

Finian McGrath

Question:

195 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if assistance and advice will be given to persons (details supplied) in Dublin 5 regarding their stamp duty query. [19804/07]

The Finance (No. 2) Act 2007 introduced 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.

The Programme for Government 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 Act is drafted to provide for exemption for deeds executed on or after 31 March 2007.

It is customary that changes such as this are introduced with immediate effect to minimise disruption and provide certainty in the market.

Question No. 196 withdrawn.
Question No. 197 answered with QuestionNo. 192.

Michael Noonan

Question:

198 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will introduce an amendment to Section 11 192B-(1) of the Finance Act 2005 to remove the anomaly which at present discriminates between the tax treatment of host carers as against the tax treatment of foster parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19829/07]

I assume that what the Deputy has in mind in this case is to extend the tax exemption which applies to foster care payments to payments relating to other areas of caring such as care for those with a disability, the elderly or infirm.

The position is that children who are 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.

The main focus of the tax exemption for foster care payments in section 192 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, as amended, is to help underpin the system of foster care services for children in support of the policy objectives set out in the National Children's Strategy (2000) and the Report of the Working Group on Foster Care (2001). The exemption is limited therefore to payments in respect of the care of foster children or former foster children.

I have no plans to extend this tax exemption to other areas.

Recycling Facilities.

Alan Shatter

Question:

199 Deputy Alan Shatter asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will transfer a bottle bank (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19845/07]

The site in question which was originally part of St. Enda's Park, was acquired by the Local Authority from Senator Margaret Pearse prior to the transfer of St. Enda's Park to the Office of Public Works. My Office is in discussions with the Local Authority about the feasibility of transferring ownership of it to the State, for the purpose of re-integrating this tract of ground into St. Enda's Park. Responsibility for the bottle bank lies with the Local Authority.

Tax Code.

Bernard Allen

Question:

200 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork had their application for a refund of VAT charges on aids and appliances for use by disabled persons under the VAT refund scheme rejected. [19871/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that The Value Added Tax (Refund Of Tax) (No. 15) Order 1981 allows for VAT paid on qualifying goods to be refunded where the goods are purchased for the use of disabled persons suffering a specified degree of disablement. Qualifying goods are defined as "goods other than mechanically propelled road vehicles which are aids or appliances, including parts and accessories, specially adapted for use by disabled persons and includes goods which, although not so specially constructed or adapted might reasonably be treated as so constructed or adapted having regard to the particular disablement of that person".

The person concerned made an application to the Revenue Commissioners for a refund of VAT incurred on the provision of a gas fired central heating system complete with radiators for his home. The Revenue Commissioners consider that it would not be reasonable to treat a gas fired central heating system as being specially constructed or adapted having regard to a person with the specific health condition concerned and therefore regret that they are unable to grant this application.

Disabled Drivers.

Bernard Allen

Question:

201 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the reason the appeal made by a person (details supplied) in County Cork for the primary cert for a disabled driver was refused; and the further reason the independent appeal lodged against the decision to refuse in November 2006 has not been adjudicated upon. [19889/07]

The initial application under the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme is made to the Senior Medical Officer for the relevant local Health Services Executive (HSE) administrative area and therefore falls under the remit of the HSE.

I understand from the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal that shortly after receiving an appeal against the decision of the Senior Medical Officer, a request for an appointment locally, in Cork, was made. As there are no arrangements for a clinic in Cork, at present, an appointment in Dublin, for the person concerned, is being made.

Decentralisation Programme.

Finian McGrath

Question:

202 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position in relation to State agencies and decentralisation; and the role of the staff on this matter. [19948/07]

When the Decentralisation Programme was announced in December 2003 the Programme included the intention to relocate 30 State Agencies to locations outside of Dublin. The Sector represents just over 20% of the overall Government's decentralisation programme.

The Government has always recognised that this aspect of the programme presents different challenges from that of the Civil Service. I remain confident that through dialogue and negotiation, progress can be advanced.

The Labour Court recommendation in relation to the dispute between FÁS and SIPTU provides a renewed opportunity for both unions and management to address the relevant issues. As part of their recommendation, the Court states that it believes that the stated policy of effecting decentralisation on a voluntary basis could best be achieved if individuals who are unwilling to relocate are provided with realistic alternative career options, which take account of the proprietary rights and legitimate expectations which they have accrued in their current employments. The Court goes on to say that it believes that the appropriate authorities should address the issues arising in the broader context of decentralisation of non-commercial State Bodies overall. This aspect of the Labour Court finding is very much in line with the previously expressed view of the Decentralisation Implementation Group.

In relation to the state bodies generally, it is now a matter, in the first instance, for each body together with its parent Department, to manage their approach to implementation taking account of the implications of the Labour Court recommendation.

My Department has written to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to establish how progress can be made on this aspect of the Labour Court recommendation.

I have also made it clear that recruitment of staff to FÁS Headquarters and to other State Agencies for new decentralised locations will continue in line with the Government's policy on decentralisation. Already this policy has assisted in approximately 25% of staff now being in place for the new locations across the State Agencies.

The existing arrangements in the Civil Service in relation to promotions will not be affected by the Labour Court recommendation in the FÁS case. It is the Government's view that the recommendation is firmly rooted in the context of the State Agencies and has no implications for the Decentralisation Programme in the Civil Service. There are detailed arrangements in place to discuss any staff concerns in the Civil Service with staff representatives. The key forum in this regard is the General Council Subcommittee on Decentralisation which meets monthly.

Tax Code.

Michael Creed

Question:

203 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will review the provisions of the Finance Bill 2007 wherein a person who provides child care services for up to three children and who are not in their own home could earn up to €15,000 per annum before entering the tax bracket but a person who is providing this care to adults receives no such tax exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19963/07]

The position is that a special income tax exemption was introduced in Budget 2006 for those minding up to three children, who are not their own, in the minder's own home. Under the scheme, the relief may apply provided the earnings from such childcare do not exceed €15,000 per annum.

The rationale for the scheme was to encourage stay-at-home parents or those working part-time to provide childcare services on a small scale. It was one element in a suite of measures adopted by the Government in recent years to address the issue of childcare. Apart from the significant increases in Child Benefit, the relevant support measures included the Early Childcare Supplement of €1,000 per annum for each child up to his or her sixth birthday, a new five-year National Childcare Investment Programme which aims to fund an additional 50,000 childcare places by 2010, as well as extending paid and unpaid maternity leave. I have no plans to extend the tax exemption scheme as suggested by the Deputy.

Tax Rebates.

Sean Fleming

Question:

204 Deputy Seán Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of claims for repayment of tax since 1 January 2005 that have been rejected due to the fact that they were outside the four year time limit; the amount of money involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19987/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that statistics are not readily available which would enable the information requested by the Deputy to be provided.

While it might be possible for Revenue to extract the data from their computer systems, this would require the writing of suitable programmes which would impinge on the timeframe for other developments designed to streamline and simplify the tax administration system. The Revenue Commissioners believe this would be disproportionate. Revenue do believe however that the number of claims rejected because of the four year limit would not be significant having regard to the volume of claims received and accepted annually.

Tax Code.

John Curran

Question:

205 Deputy John Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance his views on removing VAT to cars being converted from petrol to biofuels. [19992/07]

The position is that the VAT regime and indeed the rating of all goods and services are subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. While we can retain the zero rating provisions which were in existence on 1 January 1991, we cannot introduce any new ones. Therefore, it is not possible to apply a zero rate to the supply of cars converted from petrol to biofuels.

In addition, while a reduced rate can be applied to certain goods and services, there is no mechanism which would allow for the reduced rating of alternative fuel consumption systems for cars. The VAT Directive does not make any distinction between different types of fuels or methods of production of energy. The supply of all fuel consumption systems, including environmentally friendly ones, is therefore chargeable at the standard VAT rate of 21%. Any change in the standard rate would apply to the sale of all fuel consumption systems and indeed products at the standard VAT rate. A reduction in the standard VAT of 1% would cost the Exchequer in excess of €440 million and have little or no effect on price.

However, under the VAT system, VAT registered businesses can claim a deduction for fuel, other than petrol, e.g. diesel, LPG or bio-fuels. In addition, VAT on the conversion of a vehicle is allowable as a deduction provided the conversion is an expense suffered in the course or furtherance of business and used for a taxable activity.

I would draw the Deputy's attention to the significant measures in other tax areas, provided for in Finance Act 2006, which have served to promote biofuels in Ireland.

The excise relief scheme for biofuels, which received the necessary EU State Aid approval, commenced in November 2006 and:

provides for excise relief on up to 163 million litres of biofuels per annum;

costs over €200m over 5 years;

when fully operational, will result in CO2 savings of over 250,000 tonnes per annum;

will contribute towards meeting a target of 5.75% transport fuel market penetration by biofuels by 2009;

will help reduce our dependency on conventional fossil fuels, and

will stimulate activity in the agricultural sector.

As a complementary measure, I provided in Finance Act 2006 for a 50% VRT relief to promote new flexible fuel vehicles (cars designed to operate on biofuels) for an initial period of two years.

The Deputy may also wish to note that there are additional non-fiscal measures that can be used to promote biofuels and reach the targets referred to. To provide further market certainty and encourage biofuel projects of scale, in March 2007, the Government announced its intention to move to a Biofuels Obligation by 2009, with targets for market penetration for biofuels of 5.75% in 2009 and 10% by 2020. This measure is included in the Programme for Government in conjunction with a commitment to work with our EU partners to require biofuels used in transport to comply with an environmental certification system which incorporates sustainability criteria in terms of biofuel production.

Flood Relief.

Pat Breen

Question:

206 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 199 of 27 June 2007, if an environmental assessment of potential options has been carried out by the Office of Public Works to alleviate flooding in the Clonlara area, County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20030/07]

An environmental impact assessment commissioned by the Commissioners of Public Works is being prepared at present. The assessment will be completed upon receipt of data in relation to the impact of a proposed solution on water levels in the channel, which is currently being generated by the ESB. It is expected that the report will be referred to the National Parks and Wildlife Service and other relevant stakeholders during October.

Garda Stations.

Pat Breen

Question:

207 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance when Crusheen Garda Station, County Clare will re-open; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20034/07]

Having reached agreement on terms and conditions, the Commissioners of Public Works are currently finalising all legal matters with the Landlord relating to the Lease Agreement for Crusheen Garda Station, Co. Clare.

Every effort to progress this matter is being made by the Commissioners.

Flood Relief.

Michael Ring

Question:

208 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will instruct the Office of Public Works to examine the possibility of future flooding of a river in County Mayo as a result of an unauthorised development by a person (details supplied); if the OPW will carry out a hydrological report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20051/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

209 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will ascertain from the Office of Public Works the instances of development in which a hydrological report is required; if the Office of Public Works have recourse on the development due to the alternation in the flood plain if a hydrological report is recommended but not carried out prior to a development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20052/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

210 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the recommendation of the Office of Public Works and the correspondence between them and a local authority in relation to an unauthorised development on a river (details supplied) in County Mayo. [20053/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

211 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will instruct the Office of Public Works to carry out flood measures at a location (details supplied) in County Mayo which flooded in 2006; if the OPW engineers will clarify if an unauthorised development which has taken place on that river has had an effect on the flood plain and the likelihood of that river flooding again; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20054/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

212 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works have taken action in relation to a development bordering a river (details supplied) in County Mayo; and the position regarding this matter. [20055/07]

Dara Calleary

Question:

232 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works have received submissions from Mayo County Council in relation to flooding issues in Crossmolina, County Mayo; and if so, the status of that submission. [20855/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 208 to 212, inclusive, and 232 together.

The flooding of the River Deel in Crossmolina is being jointly examined by Mayo County Council and the Office of Public Works with a view to providing a viable solution to the problem in the area.

Mayo County Council are currently undertaking minor mitigating works and when these are completed, a detailed survey will be undertaken with a view to identifying a scheme to provide greater flood protection to Crossmolina.

As indicated in my previous responses to the House in this matter, Mayo County Council sought a hydrological analysis of the impact of the development in question from the developer. The Council requested details of any data available to the OPW in relation to the condition of the channel. The Commissioners replied on 2nd April, 2007 and I understand that a copy of this correspondence was forwarded to the Deputy.

A hydrological report is required in instances when the level of information available from a conveyance perspective is insufficient in determining the effects a development will have on the flood risk of its surroundings. In relation to the particular development, insufficient information is available to the OPW on its impact.

The imposition and enforcement of planning requirements is a matter for the local authority.

Michael Ring

Question:

213 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will ascertain from the Office of Public Works the works that will be carried out to alleviate the flooding problem for persons (details supplied) in County Mayo; if preventative works will be carried out to ensure that the flooding does not reoccur in 2007; and the discussions that have taken place in this regard. [20056/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

214 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position in the Office of Public Works in relation to finding a resolution to the flooding problem in south Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20057/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 213 and 214 together.

Following heavy and persistent rain in December and January last, flooding occurred at a number of locations in South Mayo. The main areas affected were Clyard and Thomastown, Kilmaine, the Neale and Hollymount.

The Office of Public Works is currently working with Mayo County Council and other relevant bodies to devise solutions to the flood risk in these areas.

With regard to Kilmaine, it was agreed, following contact between the OPW, Mayo County Council, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Western Regional Fisheries Board, that overflow channels from Clyard and Thomastown turloughs would be run into a scheduled OPW channel of the Corrib-Headford Drainage Scheme to reduce flood risk. The Clyard link has been excavated by OPW maintenance staff and it is expected that the Thomastown work will be completed by the end of October, 2007.

In the case of the Neale, no solution to the flooding problem has been identified to date. All surface water drainage in the area affected is by way of underground channels and there are no rivers or streams near enough to divert flood waters to. The OPW has commissioned a topographical aerial survey of the area to provide information towards a possible solution and this will be carried out as soon as weather conditions permit. Mayo County Council have engaged an expert hydrogeologist to advise on underground flows and to possibly identify linkages between the various turloughs in the Neale area. It is not possible to know at this stage when a viable solution will be found.

I understand that a number of houses in the Hollymount area, including the property of the family referred to, were at risk due to the flooding, and roads were also flooded at a number of locations. While this Office has identified a possible route to divert waters into a scheme channel, further survey works are required to determine the feasibility and cost effectiveness of such a solution. This Office is actively engaged with Mayo County Council in gathering information and data. Any resultant proposal will have to be referred to both the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Western Regional Fisheries Board for consideration from an environmental perspective.

In addition to the specific actions above, it is understood that Mayo County Council are pursuing the possibility of undertaking road-raising works at various locations throughout Mayo.

Departmental Properties.

Michael Ring

Question:

215 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position in relation to a proposed situation (details supplied) in County Mayo. [20114/07]

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is currently populating the advance office in Co. Mayo with some 30 posts.

OPW has acquired the site for permanent offices in Co. Mayo and it is expected that this building will be ready for occupation in 2009.

The permanent building will be procured on a design build basis. OPW are currently assessing the expressions of interest received and it is expected that tenders will be invited shortly. Following assessment of the tenders, a preferred bidder will then be nominated who will then proceed with the planning application.

Drug Seizures.

Tony Gregory

Question:

216 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will take steps to ensure that when significant drug seizures are made in transit through Dublin Port, the Gardaí are enabled to follow up the destination of the drugs and apprehend those involved before such seizures are made public. [20125/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a framework for co-operation between the Customs and Excise Service of the Revenue Commissioners and the Garda Síochána with respect to drugs law enforcement is contained in a Memorandum of Understanding that was agreed and endorsed by Ministerial approval by the parent departments of both agencies in January 1996. The memorandum also provided for the signing in May 1996 of Operational Guidelines implementing the Government decision for the Customs and Excise Service and the Garda Síochána, in consultation with the Naval Service, to operate a Joint Task Force to deal with intelligence-driven drug smuggling operations and "controlled deliveries." In October 2000, the signing and implementation of an Operational Protocol for co-operation between the three agencies further developed this framework.

Under this framework the Customs & Excise Service and the Garda Síochána support and co-operate fully with each other in connection with the interdiction of illegal drugs intended to be smuggled into the State.

I am also advised that where Customs and Excise seize any smuggled or illegally imported controlled drugs, including those made by Officers at Dublin Port, they promptly inform and engage with the Garda Síochána before any further action is taken or any announcement about the seizure is made.

Tax Incentive Schemes.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

217 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will confirm receipt of representations regarding Section 469 TCA; and if he will include within the definition of hospital, as he is empowered to do, an institute which would meet the requirements of persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20126/07]

I can confirm that I have received representations regarding the health expenses relief scheme as provided for by section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.

The matter to which the Deputy refers is currently being considered, in consultation with the Department of Health and Children, in accordance with the provisions of the legislation.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

218 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he has plans to ease the burden on farmers in the farm retirement scheme who lease their holdings to relatives and are not able to avail of the tax exemption associated with a qualifying lease that could be entered into with a non-relative, entitling them to a €20,000 exemption for a lease of 10 years or more; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20141/07]

Under Section 664 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, there is an exemption from income tax on leasing of land in respect of the first €12,000 of annual leasing income where the leasing is for a period of not less than 5 years, in respect of €15,000 where the leasing is for a period of not less than 7 years and in respect of €20,000 where the leasing is for a period of not less than 10 years. The exemptions are available to lessors of agricultural land aged 40 years or over or to those who are permanently incapacitated by mental or physical infirmity from carrying on farming.

These tax exemptions apply only in respect of leases to qualifying lessees. In this context, "qualifying lessee" specifically excludes from the scope of the relief any leases made between closely connected relatives. A person is connected with an individual if that person is the individual's husband or wife, or is a relative, or the husband or wife of a relative of the individual or of the individual's husband or wife. A relative in this context is defined as meaning brother, sister, ancestor or lineal descendant.

This restriction covering leasing to closely connected relatives is a standard anti-avoidance measure and such measures are common throughout the tax code. It should also be noted that there are already very generous stamp duty and capital acquisitions tax reliefs available in the case of permanent transfers of land between family members, such as by gift or sale.

Departmental Properties.

Brian Hayes

Question:

219 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the dealings between his Department, the property section and the Chief State Solicitor in connection with a case (details supplied); the expected timeframe as to when he will take possession of these lands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20145/07]

The Minister has agreed to waive his interest (if any) in the property adjacent to 55 Carrigmore Park in favour of the Applicant. The Chief State Solicitor's Office are awaiting documentation from the Property Registration Authority and on receipt of this the Deed of Waiver will be processed.

Remedial Works.

Pat Breen

Question:

220 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will meet a delegation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20171/07]

While the Commissioners of Public Works have responsibility for maintaining some embankments in this area the structures referred to in the question form part of the estates managed by the Public Trustee, an official of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food. However, in this instance I have instructed my officials to carry out a study to ascertain the feasibility and cost of the required repairs relative to the benefits that would accrue from them, and their environmental impacts. Any works would have to be acceptable under these criteria and would have to be considered in the context of the extensive demands on the funds available to my office for works of this type in other areas. It would be premature to meet the landowners pending the completion of this study.

Taxation Policy.

Finian McGrath

Question:

221 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if the EU Commission are using an underhand tactic to destroy tax competition in Europe and if the Commission is attempting to take control of taxation. [20208/07]

It is not my role to explain the views of the EU Commission on tax matters, and the Deputy does not specify exactly what he has in mind. However, I can say that Ireland remains firmly committed to the tax policies which have been so supportive of our economic development in recent years. I have made it clear to the Commission and other Member States that Ireland does not agree with certain measures being developed by the Commission, in particular in the area of corporation tax. Ireland is not alone in this view.

In this context, I should note that the EC Treaty, Articles 93 and 94, specifically provide that any taxation proposals from the Commission require the unanimous agreement of the Council of Ministers. This unanimity principle is underpinned in the draft Reform Treaty. Accordingly, there is no question of the Commission being empowered to take control of taxation policy within the EU.

Tax Collection.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

222 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the stamp duty breakdown and calculations accruing to the Exchequer arising from decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20282/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that information held on Revenue records on stamp duty yields from property transactions does not distinguish between transactions related to decentralisation and others.

The information requested by the Deputy is accordingly not available.

EU Funding.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

223 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he plans to hold meetings with representatives of the Cross Border Corridor Groups along with his counterpart in the North, Mr. Peter Robinson, to discuss their concerns regarding the role they will play in administering the new round of structural funds under Interreg IVA. [20385/07]

During the summer, I received representations from representatives of the cross border Partnerships outlining concerns about their role in the new Ireland/Northern Ireland/Western Scotland INTERREG IVA programme. Representations were also made to Mr Peter Robinson, Minister for Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland. My Department and the Department of Finance & Personnel in Northern Ireland asked the Programme's Managing Authority, the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) to produce a full report on the issues raised. In reply I indicated my expectation that the capacity and experience of the Partnerships will place them in an ideal position to enable them to gain a significant share of Programme funds in the new round.

We also asked that a meeting be arranged between all five Partnerships and officials from the SEUPB, the Department of Finance and Personnel and my Department. This took place on 14 September and I asked my officials to reiterate then my clear intention that the Partnerships would continue to have a significant role in INTERREG IVA. I understand that a comprehensive discussion on the role and practical arrangements for the new Programme took place at that meeting and that the Partnerships were reassured as regards their role.

I have asked the SEUPB and my officials to continue to fully engage with the Partnerships and all those involved in the new Programme to help ensure a smooth rollout as early as possible before the end of 2007.

Decentralisation Programme.

Niall Collins

Question:

224 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position regarding a report on the decentralisation of Revenue staff to Newcastle West County Limerick including the expected commencement date and if as the staff have indicated temporary accommodation will be provided in the interim in order that the staff commence in Newcastle West as soon as possible. [20438/07]

A site for the new decentralised office 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. Planning approval was granted on 26 March 2007.

The preferred tenderer is now engaged in the final stages of the tendering process and on receipt of satisfactory documentation, the OPW anticipates being in a position to place the contract. Revenue is ready to occupy the building in Newcastle West as soon as it becomes available. Given the stage that the tendering process is at, it would be impractical at this stage to enter into a lease for temporary accommodation in Newcastle West.

Tax Code.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

225 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of applications that have been received for tax relief under the tax relief scheme for the refurbishment of rented residential accommodation since 2001 to date in 2007; the amount of relief granted by the Exchequer for these years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20575/07]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the tax relief for the refurbishment of rented residential accommodation as introduced on a countrywide basis by section 63 of the Finance Act 2001. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that claims for this tax relief are aggregated in tax returns with claims made in respect of other rental expenses and are not separately identifiable.

The information requested by the Deputy is accordingly not available.

Tax Incentive Schemes.

Bernard Allen

Question:

226 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he proposes to designate Cork docklands for targeted development incentives; and if he has considered the proposal submitted by Cork City Council as a result of the Cork Docklands Economic Study. [20586/07]

My Department has received a copy of the submission by Cork City Council advocating the designation of Cork Docklands for targeted development incentives. The submission contains proposals for a range of new tax incentives targeted at the development of the Cork Docklands. These proposals, like all proposals for new tax or expenditure measures, will fall to be considered in the context of the ongoing development of budgetary and economic policy.

Tax Code.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

227 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance his views on changes in the current tax regime which affect cohabiting couples who are unfairly treated by the current system, especially in view of figures which clearly indicate that cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family unit in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20603/07]

Generally speaking, the tax system treats members of cohabiting couples as separate and unconnected individuals. Each partner is a separate entity for tax purposes and credits and bands and reliefs cannot be transferred from one partner to the other. There are no special favourable tax arrangements for cohabiting couples with dependent children.

The Working Group Examining the Treatment of Married, Cohabiting and One-Parent Families under the Tax and Social Welfare Codes, which reported in August 1999, was sympathetic, in principle, to changes in the tax legislation to address the issues raised relating to cohabiting couples and reported that the options that it set out should be considered further. However, it acknowledged in relation to the tax treatment of cohabiting couples that a key issue is whether tax law should proceed ahead of changes in the general law.

There are a number of recent reports which will help to inform the Government's deliberations in this general area including:

the Tenth Progress Report of the Oireachtas All-Party Committee on the Constitution entitled ‘The Family' which was published in early 2006;

the Options Paper presented to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in November 2006 by the Working Group on Domestic Partnership (the Colley Group); and

the Report of the Law Reform Commission on the rights and duties of cohabitants which was published in December 2006.

I would also point out that An Agreed Programme for Government contains the following provision in relation to civil partnerships:

"This Government is committed to full equality for all in our society. Taking account of the options paper prepared by the Colley Group and the pending Supreme Court case, we will legislate for Civil Partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of the Government."

I have previously indicated to the House that I would view as problematic and unwise a situation where changes in the tax code relating to the treatment of couples would set a headline in advance of developments in other relevant areas of public policy such as in the area of legal recognition of relationships other than married relationships. I am still of that view.

Coastal Patrol Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

228 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of vessels in use by the Revenue Customs Services to patrol the coastline; the plans there are in view of the recent drug haul off the west coast to increase the number of vessels for use by the Revenue Customs Services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20648/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they work very closely with other Agencies in limiting and attempting to prevent the importation of drugs into the State. In the control of coastal smuggling, the co-operation of the Navy, the Garda Síochána, fishermen's organisations, harbour authorities and of coastal communities is hugely valuable. The Customs responsibility is for the coast itself and coastal waters.

As part of its strategy, Revenue purchased a 23 metre cutter, the RCC Suirbhéir, with full sea-going capability. This vessel began active work in 2005, with a specially trained and highly skilled crew of Revenue officials. Since then, it has proved its usefulness in patrolling coastal waters, drug seizures and building stronger ties with coastal communities. It has taken part in several operations, including international operations to track and investigate suspicious vessels. Its role was crucial recently in the recovery of drugs at Dunlough Bay in Cork, and off the Galway coast.

The RCC Suirbhéir provides critical support to Customs activity, as does other equipment, such as the container scanner based at Dublin. Their effectiveness however, depends on support, especially in the form of intelligence, from their Revenue colleagues, from other agencies (including international counterparts) and from members of the public. In the case of the RCC Suirbhéir, its greatest value is in providing a rapid and effective response when suspicious activity is reported.

Revenue is currently engaged in preparing a new Statement of Strategy for 2008-2010 and will also be reviewing its strategy in relation to smuggling, especially drug smuggling. This review will include investigation of the most effective methods of monitoring coastal traffic, using the most modern available methods. Consideration of the acquisition of new marine craft, whether of the same type as the existing cutter, or of different types for specific purposes, will be an intrinsic part of that review. The experience of the past two years, including recent drug finds, will of course be taken into account.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

229 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he has costed a proposal whereby the stamp duty paid by first time buyers in the past would be treated as a credit against the liabilities for stamp duty going forward; the expected cost of the proposal; if he has asked the Revenue Commissioners to undertake a study of this form of relief; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20656/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for Government 2007-2105 provided that the Government would "Legislate immediately to abolish stamp duty for all first-time buyers and make this change retrospective for all deeds presented for stamping to the Revenue Commissioners on or after 30th April 2007".

The Finance (No 2) Act 2007, which was enacted prior to the summer adjournment dealt with this commitment.

I have no plans for any further changes in stamp duty.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

230 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of claimants who availed of rent relief for 2004, 2005 and 2006; and the cost of the tax relief for these years. [20824/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent year for which complete information on cost to the Exchequer and numbers of claimants for tax relief in relation to claims for rent paid in private tenancies is for the income tax year 2004.

In that year an estimated 118,500 claimants availed of the tax relief for rent paid in private tenancies at an estimated total cost to the Exchequer of €33 million.

Departmental Offices.

Dara Calleary

Question:

231 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the plans the Office of Public Works have for the vacant space in the Government offices in Ballina, County Mayo which has arisen owing to the establishment of the Road Safety Authority. [20854/07]

The Commissioners of Public Works are currently considering alternative State uses for the space to be vacated by the Road Safety Authority when the staff currently based in the Government Offices in Ballina move to their new offices.

Question No. 232 answered with QuestionNo. 208.

Decentralisation Programme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

233 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the timetable for construction, and completion of the decentralisation of the Property Registration Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20875/07]

Tenders for the provision of office accommodation for the Property Registration Authority in Roscommon are due in October 2007. Following evaluation of the tenders it is expected that a Preferred Tenderer will be selected by December 2007 who will then be instructed to apply for planning permission. On receipt of satisfactory planning permission, the OPW will request the Preferred Tenderer to submit working drawings and a Bill of Quantities with a view to a contract being placed and work commencing on site at the earliest possible date. It is anticipated that the building will be completed in 2009.

Garda Stations.

Tom Hayes

Question:

234 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position regarding the future of Dundrum Garda Station; and if a decision has been made in the matter. [20934/07]

The Commissioners of Public Works are involved in ongoing discussions with the Department of Justice, Equality & Law Reform and the Garda Authorities in relation to a proposed Rural Garda Station Programme. Dundrum Garda Station, Co. Tipperary will be included in this programme.

Financial Services Regulation.

Niall Collins

Question:

235 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the level of protection or guarantee afforded to credit union savings in comparison to savings in other financial institutions and banks here. [20953/07]

The Irish League of Credit Unions, (ILCU), has since 1989, operated a savings protection scheme, (SPS), for credit unions. The SPS aims to protect the individual savings of members by ensuring that credit unions are financially and administratively sound and provides for savings protection for each individual credit union member up to a maximum of €12,700. It is important to note that no member of a credit union has experienced any loss of shares and deposits and no credit union has become insolvent. The SPS has only been called upon in a very limited number of cases, and it has never been necessary to make savings protection payments to individual credit union members.

The design and operation of the SPS for credit unions is consistent with the specific regulatory approach adopted for credit unions under the Credit Union Act 1997. However in line with changes in the regulatory environment for financial services generally, the need for modernisation of the organisational structure and governance arrangements for the credit union SPS has become evident over time.

Earlier this year the Registrar of Credit Unions commenced a structured series of meetings with the ILCU to examine certain SPS reform proposals put forward by them. The Registrar of Credit Unions has advised that these discussions identified common ground with regard to how savings protection based on the ILCU's proposal should work. I understand that, since the conclusion of these discussions at the end of March, ILCU have been consulting with their membership and it is expected that they will revert to the Financial Regulator shortly.

The Deposit Guarantee Scheme applicable to Irish licensed banks and building societies provides for payments, up to a maximum of 90% of the aggregate deposits held by that depositor, subject to a maximum compensation payment of €20,000, in circumstances where a bank or building society is unable to repay deposits due to its financial condition.

Site Acquisitions.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

236 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if the contract has been signed for the purchase of the site for the new national school for Kill, County Kildare in view of the fact that the matters subject to planning permission have been resolved satisfactorily. [20999/07]

A meeting between OPW Technical Staff and the Vendor is to take place on Wednesday 26th September to address access to services in accordance with the grant of planning; the conveyancing process will then proceed in the normal manner.

Denis Naughten

Question:

237 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if the purchase of the site for a school (details supplied) in County Leitrim has been completed; if all funds have been handed over to the vendors; the purchase price of the site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21083/07]

The CSSO are currently awaiting Closing Documents from the Vendor's Solicitor in respect of this purchase. Once the Closing Documents have been received and are in order the Sale will be finalised.

Tax Incentive Schemes.

David Stanton

Question:

238 Deputy David Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the criteria for the selection of approved hospitals and nursing homes as per Section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 and as detailed on the Revenue Commissioners website; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21114/07]

The position is that, in accordance with the provisions of section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, "hospital" means:—

(a) any institution which is provided and maintained by the Health Service Executive for the provision of services pursuant to the Health Acts 1947 to 2004,

(b) any institution in which services are provided on behalf of the Health Service Executive pursuant to the Health Acts 1947 to 2004,

(c) any hospital, nursing home, maternity home or other institution approved of for the purposes of this section by the Minister for Finance after consultation with the Minister for Health and Children.

Once an institution falls within the definition of "hospital" as set out above, health expenses in respect of maintenance or treatment in that institution may qualify for tax relief. As regards (c) above, the legislation provides that, consultation with the Minister for Health and Children must take place before an institution may be approved of for the purpose of section 469.

Child Care Services.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

239 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of staffing grant aid for a childcare centre (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19776/07]

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 a total of €391,367 in staffing grant assistance under the EOCP, including €174,500 for the period to 31 December 2007. The Government recently approved the new NCIP Community Childcare Subvention Scheme 2008 — 2010, which will commence in January 2008 and will be open to community-based not for profit childcare services. To facilitate a smooth transition for childcare services in receipt of staffing support funding in 2007 to the new Scheme, and subject to compliance with reporting/contractual requirements and audit/verification recommendations, there will be a transitional period in the first half of 2008 during which existing staffing grant beneficiaries, including the Group in question, will be able to avail of grant funding at their existing 2007 level. The level of funding from thereon will be dependent on the profile of the parents using the facility, and the level of service being provided, with grant levels calculated on an annual basis and provision for re-appraisal and upward revision where the circumstances of a service materially change. The Group was informed of the position in July when details of the new Scheme were announced.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Tom Sheahan

Question:

240 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Kerry is entitled to an increased sum under the nursing home subvention scheme. [19796/07]

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(s) investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Tom Sheahan

Question:

241 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Kerry is entitled to subvention towards the cost of the nursing home in which they are residing. [19797/07]

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(s) investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Asylum Support Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

242 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of separated children seeking asylum who have been provided with accommodation by the State; the nature of this accommodation; and the person who supervises and supports the provision of this accommodation to ensure that it is appropriate to the needs of these children and ensures that these children are not subject to exploitation. [19995/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and social services which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Office 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.

Richard Bruton

Question:

243 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the details of the flow of children in and out of State provided accommodation for separated children seeking asylum over the past twelve months; the destination of children who have been discharged from State care; and the extent to which children go missing. [19997/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and social services which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Office 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.

Civil Registrations.

Michael Ring

Question:

244 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if a proposed marriage of persons (details supplied) in County Mayo will be allowed to proceed based on the information regarding an Australian divorce which has been submitted to the Civil Registration Service. [20074/07]

An tArd Chlaraitheoir, the Registrar General, is the person with statutory responsibility for the administration of the civil registration system in Ireland, including marriages. I have made enquiries with an tArd Chlaraitheoir and the position is as follows.

Where either party to a proposed marriage, which is to be solemnised in the state, has been previously married and obtained a divorce in another jurisdiction, it is necessary for that divorce to be recognised under Irish law before the marriage can proceed.

The legislation governing recognition of foreign divorces is the Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act, 1986: Section 5 of that Act provides that a divorce shall be recognised if granted in the country where either spouse is domiciled. It also provides that, where neither spouse is domiciled in the State, a divorce shall be recognised if, although not granted in the country where either spouse is domiciled, it is recognised in the country or countries where the spouses are domiciled.

With regard to the case referred to in the Deputy's question, the matter of the domicile of either of the parties to the divorce obtained in Australia in 1998 at the time proceedings were initiated, is of critical importance. The Registrar General has recently been furnished with additional documentation in relation to the domicile question and the matter is being given further consideration.

Health Service Allowances.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

245 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when mobility allowance will be awarded to persons (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20369/07]

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.

James Bannon

Question:

246 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will provide additional funding for a group (details supplied) in County Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20665/07]

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 recently been approved €48,215 additional capital grant assistance under the EOCP. I understand the Childcare Directorate of my Office has informed the Group of this decision. This brings the total capital grant assistance approved for this Group to €1,047,580 under the EOCP.

Niall Collins

Question:

247 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health and Children the level of funding for both capital and current expenditure provided to projects (details supplied) in County Limerick. [20762/07]

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 following are the total figures for capital and staffing grant assistance approved to date for the Groups referred to, listed in the order in which they appear in the details supplied with the question.

Group 1 Capital — €1.2 million, Staffing — €48,875

Group 2 Capital — €1.4 million, Staffing — none approved to date

Group 3 Capital — €1,570,800 Staffing — €376,733

Group 4 Capital — €525,009 Staffing — €160,000

These grants are subject to contractual arrangements being met with Pobal, the agency engaged to administer the grants. All grants were approved under the EOCP.

John Deasy

Question:

248 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the huge implications of the proposed changes in the funding for community childcare groups whereby the funding will no longer be paid in the form of a staffing grant but will be based on the number of disadvantaged children attending which will discriminate against rural groups with less numbers of disadvantaged children; if she will re-examine the scheme with a view to restoring grant aid in its present form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21144/07]

The main supports the Government makes available to parents to assist them with their childcare costs are Child Benefit and the Early Childcare Supplement. The latter payment, which is in recognition of the higher childcare costs of pre-school children, is the responsibility of my Office, and it alone amounts to expenditure of over €400m in a full year. These payments are universal and benefit all parents, regardless of their income, labour market status or the type of childcare they choose and regardless of whether they live in urban or rural areas. In addition to these universal supports, Government childcare policy has also recognised the need to target additional supports towards disadvantaged families.

Under the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006 (EOCP), which is co-funded under the EU Social Fund (ESF), targeted support was provided through the staffing support grant scheme whereby community based not-for-profit childcare providers with a strong focus on disadvantage were awarded grant aid towards their staffing costs to allow them to operate reduced fees to disadvantaged parents. Funding under this scheme was originally awarded for a limited period during which services were expected to move towards sustainability. This funding was subsequently continued to the end of 2007, where it was considered necessary to enable services to continue to make their services accessible to disadvantaged parents. This continuation funding was subject to the condition that tiered fee structures were implemented by the services in question.

As signalled at the launch of the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP), the successor programme to the EOCP, a new scheme to support community childcare services with a focus on disadvantage will be introduced on 1 January 2008 and will continue to complement the universal supports in place for all parents. The Community Childcare Subvention Scheme (CCSS) has been allocated €153 million over the next 3 years representing a 16% increase in funding over the EOCP staffing scheme. Under the new scheme, services will be grant aided according to the service they provide and the profile of the parents benefiting from their service. In turn, the subvention received by the services will be reflected in the reduced fees for parents who qualify as disadvantaged under the scheme.

In practice, this will mean that parents with children in such services and in receipt of most social welfare payments (or participating in a scheme such as Community Employment which demonstrates an underlying entitlement to same) will see a €80 weekly subvention in respect of full daycare (with pro-rata reductions in respect of shorter hour services). Parents in receipt of Family Income Supplement (FIS), will see a €30 weekly subvention in respect of full daycare (with pro-rata reductions). A further subvention of €30 per week will be paid where the subvented child is a baby, in recognition of the higher costs associated with the care of children aged under 1 year. Parents who do not qualify under either of these categories will be charged the cost price for their childcare service, however, as community not-for-profit services will, generally, have availed of capital grant aid under the EOCP or NCIP removing the requirement to cover rent and/or a mortgage, and as the services are run on a not-for-profit basis, this should still be significantly below the market price.

It is considered that the new scheme will provide an effective framework for the continued targeting of additional resources towards disadvantaged parents and their children while continuing to support community childcare services generally. The scheme has been informed by and takes account of a number of enhancements recommended by the report of the Value for Money Review of the EOCP. These include the fact that the subvention to services will be more responsive to the level of service provided as well as the degree of parental disadvantage supported and the ceiling for funding, which existed under the previous scheme, is being removed. Account will also be taken of all of the operational costs of the service rather than staffing costs alone. Services, including full-time, part-time and sessional ones, which at present are, in some cases, inaccessibly priced for disadvantaged parents, will be available to them at more appropriate rates under the new scheme.

The Community Childcare Subvention Scheme will not discriminate against rural services and the number of parents in rural areas supported by the new scheme is not expected to be lower than in urban areas. Per capita, the majority of the social welfare benefits which are referenced by the new schemes are availed of by more people outside the Dublin area than in it and parents in receipt of Farm Assist will attract the higher level of subvention. Data available from EOCP grant applications also suggests that the costs of running a rural service, and therefore the costs charged to parents, are lower than those for services in urban areas.

Given the advantages of the new scheme, the increase in the level of funding available under it, and given that a majority of services will benefit from the changes it introduces, I do not propose that the Government row back on its commitment to increase these supports for disadvantaged parents, which would be the effect of what the Deputy proposes. Transitional arrangements have been made under which existing grant recipients will continue to be funded at their current levels until 1st July 2008. This is to ensure that existing childcare services are facilitated to adjust to the new scheme, including making any adjustments necessary to their fee structures. I have also signalled that the more detailed and comprehensive data which will be generated by the new scheme will be monitored by officials in my Office over the coming months and, if appropriate, any adjustments necessary to secure the best outcomes for childcare services and for disadvantaged parents and their children will be considered at that time.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

249 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure that dental services and facilities for the disabled are improved in 2007. [19720/07]

On the 25th September last, I was very pleased to announce the research and development of a new National Oral Health Policy. This new oral health strategy, the first such strategy in thirteen years, will be undertaken by the Department of Health and Children, in conjunction with the HSE. The development of this new national strategy will allow a critical examination of the many challenges and issues currently facing the dental sector in Ireland.

In developing this policy, it is intended to examine some of the following areas:

A revised regulatory regime for the dental sector in Ireland culminating in a new Dentists Act.

The integration of oral health in the wider health care delivery system to include enhance synergies with health promotion, children's health, primary care partnerships, disability services, long stay care and services for older people.

Competition issues as raised by the Competition Authority in its report/s on the dental profession in Ireland.

Manpower planning, specialization and skills-mix including the recognition and future expansion of role of auxiliary dental professions and the identification of appropriate training needs.

Examining the possibility of stream-lining the existing state-funded dental schemes.

Service delivery issues such as orthodontic services, and special needs dentistry.

In the context of the development of this new oral health policy I am committed to examining the level of services available to existing groups within our society including people with disabilities.

It is expected that the new National Oral Health Policy report will be available in Summer 2008.

Finian McGrath

Question:

250 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure that organisations (details supplied) are supported in 2007. [19721/07]

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.

Question No. 251 withdrawn.

Medical Cards.

Tony Gregory

Question:

252 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in forwarding documentation from the Health Service Executive Rathdown Road to the Medical Cards Appeals Office in respect of a medical card appeal by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7. [19723/07]

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.

Mental Health Services.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

253 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the proposals to fully implement the 2006 national mental health policy framework, A Vision for Change; the status of the policy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19724/07]

Finian McGrath

Question:

306 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding improvements in the Mental Health Services in 2007; and the plans for same for 2008. [19988/07]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

369 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made on recommendations contained in A Vision for Change; if Budget 2008 will include provision for significantly increased resources for the mental health services, reflecting the economic and social benefits of investing in prevention and more effective interventions in mental health. [20456/07]

Seán Barrett

Question:

439 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will provide a timeframe for the investment of significantly increased resources for mental health services with particular reference to prevention and more effective intervention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20950/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 253, 306, 369 and 439 together.

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 Report represents Government policy and is 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.

Implementation of the individual recommendations of "A Vision for Change", is a matter primarily for the HSE. In July 2006, the HSE established an implementation group to ensure that mental health services develop in a synchronised and consistent manner across the country and resource service managers and clinicians in making the recommendations in "A Vision for Change" a reality. The HSE intend to publish their implementation plan by the Autumn which is to include a timed and prioritised set of short, medium and longer term goals. In acknowledging the need to provide a dedicated and coordinated response to "A Vision for Change", the HSE appointed a full time Project Manager to progress the implementation plan.

Since 1997, significant additional revenue funding has been invested in mental health services. Approximately €1 billion will be spent on mental health services in 2007. This includes an additional €51 million which was allocated in 2006 and 2007 for the development of our mental health services in line with "A Vision for Change". The estimated cost of implementation of "A Vision for Change" is approximately €150 million.

Future funding will be considered in the context of the estimates process for 2008 and subsequent years.

Drugs Payment Scheme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

254 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children her plans to relieve pensioners over the age of 65, who do not have a medical card, from the cost of prescription medication in view of the financial burden many older people are faced with; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19725/07]

The Drugs Payments Scheme, which protects against excessive medicines costs, is available to non-medical card holders. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €85 per calendar month, or approximately €20 per week, towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme is available to all age groups, is easy to use and significantly reduces the cost burden for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines.

There are no plans to make further provision towards the costs of drugs and medicines for persons over 65, additional to the Drugs Payment Scheme.

Health Contributions.

Denis Naughten

Question:

255 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on abolishing the 2% health levy for people over the age of 65 in view of the financial burden pensioners are faced with; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19726/07]

James Bannon

Question:

273 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on the abolition of the two per cent health levy for persons over 65 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19813/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 255 and 273 together.

The Health Contribution was introduced by virtue of the Health Contributions Act 1979 and came into effect on the 6th April of that year. The contributions are levied on income at a percentage rate set in pursuance of the Health Contributions Act and are paid over to the Minister for Health and Children in respect of the Vote for the Health Service Executive. The current rate of contribution is 2% of gross income up to €1925 per week or €100,100 per annum and 2.5 % on the balance of income in excess of those amounts in a contribution year. Subject to exemptions, the rate of contribution is applicable to all persons over the age of sixteen with reckonable income, earnings or emoluments.

The exemptions, as outlined in Section 11 of the Act, are those whose income does not exceed €480 per week, those who are fully eligible for health services as set out in Section 45 of the Health Act 1970 (i.e. medical cardholders in this State, including those workers covered under EC Regulation 1408/71), recipients of a Social Welfare Widow's/Widower's Pension, One-parent Family Payment or Deserted Wife's Benefit/Allowance, as well as those in receipt of a Widow'/Widower's pension acquired under the social security legislation of an EU member State.

When the primary legislation was enacted no upper age limit applied to the health contribution. However, as the Deputy is aware, following the announcement in Budget 2001, full eligibility for health services under Section 45 of the Health Act was granted to those aged 70 and over, effectively placing an upper age limit of 69 years on liability to pay health contributions.

There are no current proposals to alter any of these exemptions or to provide an exemption from paying health contributions to those aged between 65 and 69.

Driving Licences.

Denis Naughten

Question:

256 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on including the cost associated with obtaining a doctor’s letter to renew a driving licence for pensioners over 70, within the benefits of the medical card in view of the financial burden older people are faced with; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19727/07]

James Bannon

Question:

275 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on whether it is equitable that persons over 70 years of age have to obtain a letter from their doctor to renew their driving licence but same is not covered by a medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19815/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 256 and 275 together.

The law provides that persons aged 70 years or more are required to undergo a medical review for driving licence renewal purposes. As you will be aware, this requirement is one which is determined by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and is therefore outside the responsibility of my Department.

In making arrangements for the provision of publicly funded GP services, under the General Medical Services (GMS) Scheme, an agreement was negotiated between the Department of Health and Children and the GP representative body, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO). The provisions of this agreement took the form of the current GMS GP Capitation Contract. This contract is a treatment-based contract and gives effect to the statutory requirement to provide GP medical and surgical services without charge to eligible persons; this includes persons aged 70 and over, who are automatically entitled to a medical card. The contract stipulates that the fees paid to GMS GPs are not made in respect of certain certificates which may be required, for example, "under the Social Welfare Acts or for the purposes of insurance or assurance policies or for the issue of driving licences". As these non-treatment type services are outside the scope of the GMS GP contract, it is a matter between the GP and the person seeking the particular service to agree a fee.

While certificates for various applications are provided by medical practitioners, they are not a medical treatment service and are not considered a core aspect of public health service provision.

Medical Cards.

Denis Naughten

Question:

257 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on extending chiropody services available under the medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19728/07]

There is no statutory obligation on the Health Service Executive (HSE) to provide chiropody services to GMS patients; however in practice arrangements are made to provide these services. Before the establishment of the HSE the nature of the arrangements for chiropody and the level of service provided was a matter for individual health boards and so a degree of variation in practice developed over time. Priority is usually given to certain groups of people, including people who are medical card holders aged 65 years and over. In several regions the service is provided by private chiropodists by arrangement with the HSE.

My Department is currently preparing legislation to clarify and update existing legislation on eligibility for health and personal social services. The Bill will define specific health and personal services more clearly; define who should be eligible for what services; set out clear criteria for eligibility; establish when and in what circumstances charges may be made and provide for an appeals framework.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

258 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will make BreastCheck available to women over the age of 65; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19729/07]

James Bannon

Question:

276 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children when she plans to make breast checks available for women over 65 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19816/07]

Pat Breen

Question:

368 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when mobile breast screening will be made available to the women of County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20446/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 258, 276 and 368 together.

I am committed to ensuring that the BreastCheck service is rolled out to the remaining regions in the country as quickly as possible. I have allocated additional revenue funding of €8 million to the National Cancer Screening Service for this year to meet the additional costs involved. The full complement of 111 staff for roll-out has been approved. BreastCheck appointed the Clinical Directors for the South and West last November and has also appointed four Consultant Radiologists, two Consultant Surgeons and two Consultant Histopathologists, all with a special interest in breast disease. The recruitment of Radiographers and other staff is underway.

I have also made available an additional €26.7m capital funding for the construction of two new clinical units and the provision of seven additional mobile units and state of the art digital equipment. The static units at University College Hospital Galway and the South Infirmary/Victoria Hospital in Cork are due to be completed in late Autumn and BreastCheck has confirmed that the programme will commence national roll-out in October.

The BreastCheck clinical unit in the Western Area at University College Hospital Galway will have three associated mobile units. BreastCheck has already commenced screening in the West, with the provision last May of a mobile unit at Roscommon County Hospital. The expansion of the BreastCheck programme to the Western region will cover counties Clare, Galway, Sligo, Roscommon, Donegal, Mayo, Leitrim, and Tipperary North Riding. There are approximately 58,000 women in the target age group in these counties. Screening in individual counties will be dictated by BreastCheck's management and operational considerations.

The expert advice from BreastCheck and from the National Cancer Forum, as contained in its National Strategy for Cancer Control, is that following the national extension of the current programme, the upper age limit should be extended to women aged 69 years. The priority of BreastCheck is to screen women who have not yet been screened and accordingly it is fully focused at present on the commencement of the first round of screening in the West and South. I will consider extending the age limit as recommended when the national roll-out of the programme is sufficiently developed and it is assured that a quality service is being delivered. Any woman irrespective of her age who has immediate concerns or symptoms should contact her GP who, where appropriate, will refer her to the symptomatic services in her area.

Hospital Services.

Charles Flanagan

Question:

259 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps that have been taken to provide isolation units for cystic fibrosis patients of St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin in line with international best practice; and the action that will be taken to improve cystic fibrosis care here in the next six months. [19742/07]

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 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.

National Lottery Funding.

Finian McGrath

Question:

260 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist a group (details supplied) as a matter of priority. [19751/07]

My Department received an application for a grant from the Health and Children allocation of National Lottery funds from the organisation referred to.

There is a protocol in my Department for processing applications for National Lottery grants. Following assessment, evaluation and recommendation, applications are considered in the context of the recommendation and the overall level of funds available to me. This application is one of many under consideration for a grant from my Department and the organisation in question will be informed as soon as a decision has been made.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

261 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist persons (details supplied). [19752/07]

Finian McGrath

Question:

300 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied). [19920/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 261 and 300 together.

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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

262 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will provide the maximum support on an issue (details supplied); and if she will work with the team in order to improve the service. [19753/07]

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.

Health and Social Care Professionals.

Finian McGrath

Question:

263 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist a group (details supplied). [19754/07]

Dan Neville

Question:

271 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding registration of hypnotherapists in accordance with the Health and Social Care Professional Act 2005. [19809/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 263 and 271 together.

I established the Health and Social Care Professionals Council (HSCP Council) in March of this year, under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005, to put in place a regulatory system for the 12 health and social care professions included in the Act. The HSCP Council has overall responsibility for the system and are working to put in place an organisational structure and establish registration boards for the 12 professions.

The Act provides a framework to guide future decisions on the protection of additional titles, however, I understand that the priority for the HSCP Council is to put the regulatory structures in place for the professions designated in the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

264 Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress to date with regard to improving conditions in accident and emergency departments; her plans for the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19762/07]

Improving the delivery of Accident and Emergency services continues to be the Government's top priority in health. The new Programme for Government contains a number of additional measures which will build on the progress made to date and which are designed to bring about further improvements in the quality and accessibility of A & E services. These are:

To increase the number of A & E consultants available around the clock in A & E departments;

To further develop chest pain and respiratory clinics; and

To establish a national network of Local Injury Clinics.

The over-riding objectives are to reduce the numbers waiting for admission, the time spent waiting for admission, and the turnaround time for those who can be treated in A & E and do not require admission.

The Health Service Executive's activity statistics continue to indicate significant reductions in the number of patients awaiting admission as compared with the previous year. Over the first eight months of 2007, the average number of patients awaiting admission each day was 95. This compares with an average of 173 patients over the first eight months of 2006. This represents an average reduction of 45%. There has also been a significant reduction in the number of hospitals reporting incidences of patients waiting unnecessarily long times for admission.

The majority of the hospitals which had been identified as experiencing difficulties in relation to the delivery of Emergency Department services have for some time been meeting initial performance targets set by the HSE. The HSE has indicated that it will introduce revised performance targets in October.

The report of the HSE's Emergency Department Task Force recommended that the issues in Emergency Departments be examined on a whole-hospital and whole-system basis. It identified the requirement for hospital-specific initiatives as well as the development of national responses in relation to key structural issues.

A key requirement is the development of strong internal management control processes at hospital and community levels to ensure that capacity is fully optimised and that measures designed to unlock capacity are supported by strong controls which enable an appropriate balancing between emergency and elective workloads.

My Department is assured by the HSE that a series of additional measures are being put in place to ensure the delivery of an improved service for patients and to reduce pressure on A & E departments. These include a number of hospital avoidance measures such as:

the expansion of the Hospital in the Home scheme to the Dublin Academic Teaching Hospitals;

the Rapid Access Clinic for the elderly at the Smithfield Centre in Dublin;

the development of Community Intervention Teams;

the roll-out of more primary care team;

the expansion of out-of-hours GP services; and

the expansion of community diagnostic services.

Measures being taken to improve and optimise acute hospital capacity and capability include the development of:

Seven new Community Nursing Units in Dublin;- Additional long-stay beds outside of Dublin;

Additional Admission Lounges;

Acute Medical Assessment Units at Navan and Naas;

Acute Medical Admission Units at Beaumont, Sligo and Tallaght; and

Enhanced diagnostic capability in hospitals.

Medical Cards.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

265 Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Health and Children the policies she has put in place to extend medical card coverage; her plans for the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19763/07]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

416 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on aligning the medical card income guidelines with social welfare budget increases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20842/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 265 and 416 together.

Changes to the medical card assessment guidelines are made from time to time, primarily to ensure that people whose general circumstances have not changed can maintain their entitlement. Such periodic adjustments have not involved a linkage with the social welfare system. Under the current assessment arrangements, persons whose sole income is derived from Department of Social and Family Affairs payments or HSE payments, even if these exceed the assessment guidelines, qualify for a medical card.

My Department and the HSE monitor the number of medical cards and GP visit cards on an ongoing basis and the need for changes to the guidelines is kept under review, having regard to factors such as changes in income levels generally, the nature of typical household outgoings and also changes to the various social welfare schemes.

Since the beginning of 2005 I have introduced a number of significant changes to the manner in which the assessment for medical cards and GP visit cards is undertaken. The assessment guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29%. Applications are now considered on the basis of income net of tax and PRSI and allowance is made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work. In June 2006, I agreed with the Health Service Executive (HSE) a further adjustment to the assessment guidelines for GP visit cards and these are now 50% higher than those used in respect of medical cards.

Between January 2005 and September 2007 a net additional 188,308 people have qualified for access to GP services free of charge. This figure comprises an additional 114,723 people with a medical card and a further 73,585 people with a GP visit card.

The Programme for Government commits to the following:

Indexing the income thresholds for medical cards to increases in the average industrial wage;

Implementation of an annual publicity campaign and making applications easier so as to increase uptake amongst those who are eligible for Medical Cards and GP Visit Cards;

Doubling of the income limit eligibility of parents of children under 6 years of age, and trebling them for parents of children under 18 years of age with an intellectual disability.

My Department is at present considering the steps required to enable these commitments to be implemented.

My Department is also examining the steps necessary to give effect to the Towards 2016 commitment to review the eligibility criteria for the assessment of medical cards in the context of medical, social and economic/financial need with a view to clarifying entitlement to a medical card.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

266 Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Health and Children the policies she has put in place to improve disability services nationwide; her plans for the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19765/07]

The Government is committed to providing a high quality service to all people with a disability as illustrated by the substantial investment in the disability sector over the last number of years.

As part of this commitment the National Disability Strategy was launched in September 2004. It provides for a framework of new supports for people with disabilities. The Strategy builds on a strong equality framework, which is reflected in several pieces of equality legislation. It puts the policy of mainstreaming of public services for people with disabilities, which was adopted by Government in 2000, on a legal footing. The main elements of the Strategy are:

The Disability Act, 2005;

The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004;

Six Outline Sectoral Plans published by Government Departments;

The Citizens Information Act, 2007.

Funding of Multi-Annual Investment Programme (2006-2009): An integral part of the National Disability Strategy is the Multi-Annual Investment Programme, MAIP, announced in the 2005 Budget, which provides for an additional €900m to support the development of high priority disability services over the period 2006 to 2009. The programme covers both current and capital spending. These commitments include the development of new residential, respite and day places for persons with intellectual disability and autism and the development of new residential places and extra hours of home support and personal assistance for persons with physical and/or sensory disabilities in each of the years covered by the programme.

In 2007 additional funding amounting to €75m was provided to meet costs associated with the 2007 element of the Multi-Annual Investment Programme and in particular to enhance the multi-disciplinary support services for people with disabilities. This is in line with the Government's commitment to build capacity within the health services to deliver on the various legislative provisions contained in the National Disability Strategy.

The MAIP provides that, by the end of 2009, 1290 new residential places, 430 new respite places, and 2,540 new day places will have been commissioned for intellectual disability services and those with autism. In the same period 380 new residential places and 1,200,000 extra hours of home support and personal assistance will be provided for people with physical and sensory disabilities.

In addition, an extra €2m is being provided each year of the programme to cover the cost of additional staffing needs in order to transfer about 600 persons with intellectual disability / autism from psychiatric hospitals and other inappropriate placements.

Disability Act 2005: The Disability Act 2005 is a central element of the National Disability Strategy. The Act is a positive measure designed to advance and underpin participation by people with disabilities in everyday life.

Part 2 of the Act commenced for children aged under 5 years with effect from 1st June 2007 and provides for an independent assessment of need for such persons and for a formal statement of the services that will be provided to them arising from the assessment. This prioritisation reflects the importance of intervention early in life, which can have a significant impact on the disabling effects of a condition or impairment. Part 2 will be commenced in respect of children aged 5-18 in tandem with the implementation of the EPSEN Act. The statutory requirements of Part 2 of the Disability Act will be extended to adults as soon as possible but no later than 2011.

In the meantime, services for adults with a disability will continue to be developed over the next number of years. The primary focus of many of the elements of the Multi-Annual Investment Programme is on meeting the identified needs of adults with disabilities. Enhancements in multi-disciplinary support services for both adults and children will also be put in place progressively over the coming years. In advance of the commencement of the Act for all age groups, the HSE will be promoting the practice of assessment of individual needs and the provision of service statements for all service users, as capacity permits.

Care of the Elderly.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

267 Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Health and Children the polices she has put in place to improve health services for older people; her plans for the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19766/07]

Government Policy: Government policy in relation to older people is to support people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible and, where this is not possible, to support access to quality long-term residential care. This policy approach is renewed and developed in the latest partnership agreement, Towards 2016.

Services for Older People are a priority for the Government. This is reflected in the funding committed to services for older people in Budgets 2006 and 2007. In 2006, the Government funded the largest ever expansion in services for older people with a full year cost of €150m. In 2007 a full year package of €255m has been allocated for services for older people. This gives a total of over €400m added to services for older people over two years.

Significant new community-based initiatives have been provided in recent times to support older people. In 2006 a total of 2,000 extra Home Care Packages were provided at a full year cost of €55m (prior to this date only 1,100 packages had been in operation on a pilot basis). A further €55m made available in 2007 will allow new packages to benefit some 4,000 people.

In relation to the Home-Help service, an extra €18m was provided in Budget 2007 to enable the HSE fund some 780,000 additional home helps hours this year.

Additional funding provided by the Government this year will also allow for a further 1,100 day places per week in Day Care centres around the country, and enhancement of the Meals-on Wheels services.

The Fair Deal: The new nursing home care support scheme a Fair Deal starts in January 2008. It will provide uniform financial support for individuals in private and public nursing home beds. The new scheme involves a co-payment arrangement between the individual and the State. At the time of receipt of care, the individual will contribute 80% of disposable income towards the cost of care. In addition, a capped contribution towards care costs based on an individual's asset wealth will be payable at the time of settlement of the individual's estate. The Heads of a Bill are currently being drafted and will be brought before Government in the coming weeks.

Standards: The Health Act, 2007 provides for the registration and inspection of all nursing homes — public, private and voluntary. Inspections will be carried out by the Social Services Inspectorate, part of Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA). The existing inspection and registration systems for residential services will be replaced by a strengthened and expanded system and the Act strengthens and modernises the registration and de-registration process.

Statutory responsibility is given to the Chief Inspector of Social Services for inspecting and registering children's residential centres, residential centres for people with disabilities and residential centres for older people, including private nursing homes. Residential Centres will be inspected against standards set by HIQA.

Improvements to Subvention: From 1st January 2007 there are no longer three separate rates for subvention. Persons who apply may receive any amount up to a maximum of €300 per week. Additional funding of €55 million was provided for this purpose in Budget 2007.

In addition to the increased rate of basic subvention, additional funding of €30 million has been made available in 2007 for enhanced subvention. This is a supplementary subvention, paid by the HSE, to a person in or entering private long-term care. The amount of enhanced subvention paid is at the discretion of the HSE and varies according to the cost of care.

The additional enhanced subvention funding will be used (i) to develop a consistency between the payment of subvention during 2007 and the new nursing home support scheme for 2008, and (ii) to work towards equalisation of the level of support paid to people in different areas (taking local prices and a person's means into account).

Palliative Care: The provision of a world class palliative care service, remains a priority of this Government and is reflected in the significant development in services and policy in recent years. As outlined in Towards 2016, the Government is committed to further developing palliative care throughout Ireland with particular reference to the 2001 Report of the National Advisory Committee on Palliative Care.

Funding of €18 million has been provided in 2006 and 2007 to develop palliative care services. This funding is being used to improve services in consultation with the newly established Regional Development Committees and in line with the recommendations made in the report of the National Advisory Committee.

The Department of Health and Children has convened a working group to develop a policy for children's palliative care, and a draft policy will be ready by the end of 2007.

Dementia: The Action Plan for Dementia, published in 1999, describes a model of best practice for the provision and planning of dementia care in Ireland. There is a complementary link between Government policy in the area of the care of older people and care for people with dementia. Both policies stress the need to provide support in dignity and independence, through the provision of appropriate services to the people concerned and their carers. The Government is fully committed to providing such support and service improvement, including the expansion of community and residential care services for people with dementia.

Elder Abuse: The Government continues to attach priority to combating elder abuse, and the HSE has recruited 26 of the 32 senior case workers needed to give effect to policy in this area. Elder abuse officers have been appointed in two of the four HSE regions and elder abuse steering groups have also been set up in each of the regions.

Programme for Government: The Government's commitment to older people is set out in the new Programme for Government. A new National Positive Ageing Strategy will be developed in conjunction with the recognised voluntary groups in this area and will include:

The development of operational plans by Government Departments clearly setting out objectives relating to older people.

Joined up thinking on initiatives serving older people.

Ongoing mechanisms to monitor progress and identify challenges.

Liaising with recognised voluntary groups in the area.

And giving consideration to the appointment of an Ombudsman for Older People.

The Department of Health and Children is currently considering the mechanisms to develop the new Strategy for Positive Ageing and details will be announced when this work is finalised.

Hospital Services.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

268 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist in having an admission appointment arranged for a person (details supplied) in County Cork who needs a hip replacement operation. [19772/07]

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.

Patients waiting more than three months on a surgical waiting list may qualify for treatment under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. It is open to the person in question or anyone acting on their behalf to contact the Fund directly in relation to their case.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Finian McGrath

Question:

269 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will support a group (details supplied) in County Limerick in their efforts that funding should be transferred to the Health Service Executive disability units for the delivery of health related services as many disability groups are dependent on FÁS community employment schemes. [19800/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal 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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

270 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist persons (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [19805/07]

Finian McGrath

Question:

301 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if persons (details supplied) in Dublin 5 will be assisted. [19923/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 270 and 301 together.

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

Question No. 271 answered with QuestionNo. 263.

Health Service Staff.

James Bannon

Question:

272 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will make funding available for a Health Service Executive residence (details supplied) in County Longford to enable level D patients to live in their own communities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19811/07]

James Bannon

Question:

385 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children the current and projected staffing levels for a Health Service Executive residence (details supplied) in County Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20579/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 272 and 385 together.

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.

Question No. 273 answered with QuestionNo. 255.

Drugs Payment Scheme.

James Bannon

Question:

274 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on the abolition of the payment of €85 per month for prescription drugs for persons over 65 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19814/07]

There are currently no plans to revise the eligibility requirements for the Drugs Payment Scheme.

Question No. 275 answered with QuestionNo. 256.
Question No. 276 answered with QuestionNo. 258.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

277 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if advice and support will be given to a group (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [19831/07]

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

Services for People with Disabilities.

Finian McGrath

Question:

278 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if advice will be given to persons (details supplied) in County Dublin. [19832/07]

As the Deputy may be aware, additional funding of €75m for revenue purposes was provided to the Health Service Executive for Disability Services in the 2007 Budget. This amount 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 including the provision of additional residential, respite and day care places 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.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

279 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if advice and assistance will be given to persons (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [19834/07]

Finian McGrath

Question:

288 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to persons (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [19856/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 279 and 288 together.

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 Executive, therefore, is the appropriate body to consider the particular matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Finian McGrath

Question:

280 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [19838/07]

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 moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the income guidelines for GP visit cards. These are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

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

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

281 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to persons (details supplied) in Dublin 9. [19839/07]

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.

Communications Masts.

Finian McGrath

Question:

282 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the safety of masts in residential areas and their implications for health safety. [19840/07]

The consensus of scientific opinion to date regarding possible adverse health effects from electromagnetic fields (EMF) exposure from mobile phone masts is that there is no evidence of a causal relationship between such exposure and ill health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has assessed the many reviews carried out in this area and has indicated that exposures below the limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in their 1998 Guidelines do not produce any known adverse health effects. These guidelines are based on a careful analysis of all peer-reviewed scientific literature and include thermal and non-thermal effects.

In 1999, the European Community introduced recommendations on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields, based on the ICNIRP guidelines. Ireland complies with these recommendations. The Commission for Communication Regulations (COMREG) monitors compliance with regard to telecommunication masts.

The Deputy may wish to note that approval for the erection of a mobile phone mast in a particular area is a matter for the local planning authority. Guidelines for Planning Authorities in relation to Telecommunications Antennae and Support Structures are a matter for my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Research is ongoing in relation to this issue and my Department will continue to monitor developments concerning the possible health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields.

Health Service Expenditure.

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

283 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on the statement of the chief executive officer of the Health Services Executive, Professor Drumm, that the health services are very well resourced (details supplied); the reason the HSE’s budgetary position in April 2007 showed a deficit of almost €200 million; her views on whether expenditure by the HSE is out of control; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19848/07]

The Revised Estimates Volume 2007 provides €13,431 million for day to day spending by the Health Service Executive which is an increase of 10.6% over the underlying 2006 provision. This substantial increase in funding means in my view that the HSE is being well resourced and in particular it comes in the wake of substantial year on year increases for some time now.

At the end of August the HSE was over its planned budget by €222 million on its Vote. In order to deal with this the HSE has put in place a ‘Breakeven Plan' which consists of a number of corrective measures to ensure a balanced budget at year end. Accordingly, HSE Management has decided that:

All recruitment be suspended for September after which the situation will be reviewed.

All ‘non frontline' expenditure be critically reviewed.

The intention is that these measures will not impact on ‘front line' services which will be maintained in line with the National Service Plan and provision is made that where critical or essential vacancies arise, they may be filled by re-deployment of existing staff.

It should be noted that to date this year, the HSE has exceeded the service targets which were set out in its Service Plan and has treated substantially more people than in the same period last year.

The HSE are ensuring that patient care is not compromised and that it continues to maintain and improve the high level of service being provided.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Finian McGrath

Question:

284 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist young blind people under the age of 18 in obtaining guide dogs. [19851/07]

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.

Áine Brady

Question:

285 Deputy Áine Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive will include a product (details supplied) for use in skin burn cases in the GMS card scheme. [19853/07]

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.

Dermatox is not currently reimbursable through the state schemes. Any application by a supplier to have Dermatox 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.

Ambulance Service.

Áine Brady

Question:

286 Deputy Áine Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children when the Health Service Executive will provide training via the ambulance service to first responders in the north Kildare area covering the areas of Cologherinkoe, Cadamstown, Broadford, Newtown and Derrinturn. [19854/07]

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 / 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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

287 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3. [19855/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal services, which are the responsiblility 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.

Question No. 288 answered with QuestionNo. 279.

Health Services.

Tom Hayes

Question:

289 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children if the shortage of physiotherapy services in County Tipperary will be addressed. [19858/07]

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

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

Services for People with Disabilities.

Áine Brady

Question:

290 Deputy Áine Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans the Health Service Executive Dublin mid-Leinster region have to reduce the waiting list for assessment in speech and language therapy (details supplied). [19859/07]

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 including therapy 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.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

291 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children if funding will be made available to an organisation (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19862/07]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

292 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children if a grant will be approved to an organisation (details supplied) in County Kerry to provide an occupational therapist for people with intellectual disabilities as the Health Service Executive does not have a remit for this essential service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19863/07]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

380 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans her Department has to provide residential and respite services for people with Downs syndrome in Kerry as the service providers cannot meet the demand due to the inadequate levels of funding from the Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20564/07]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

381 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will provide the necessary funding to the Health Service Executive to put in place a team of therapists for adults with Downs syndrome to include speech therapist, psychologist, physiotherapist, social worker, dietician, behavioural therapist and clinical nurse specialist, as these services are not available to the majority of adults with Downs syndrome in Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20565/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 291, 292, 380 and 381 together.

As the Deputy may be aware, additional funding of €75m for revenue purposes was provided to the Health Service Executive for Disability Services in the 2007 Budget. This amount 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 questions relate to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Finian McGrath

Question:

293 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3 will be assisted. [19869/07]

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 moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the income guidelines for GP visit cards. These are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

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

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

294 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) will be assisted. [19870/07]

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.

Hospital Services.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

295 Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on the establishment of dedicated, separate cystic fibrosis units in public general hospitals; the number of such units currently in place and their locations; if she will provide details of such further units as are proposed; the status of such proposals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19872/07]

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 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.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

296 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of applications under the nursing home repayment scheme that have been rejected on the grounds that the patient died prior to the cut-off date of 9 December 1998. [19888/07]

The Health Service Executive which has responsibility for administering the health repayment scheme has informed my Department that to date 962 applications have been rejected on the basis that the patient died prior to the 9th December 1998.

Suicide Incidence.

Finian McGrath

Question:

297 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate the statistic that over 30% of teenage suicides are committed by gays and lesbians and that one of every three transgenders commits suicide; and if she will draw up an action plan to assist these people. [19908/07]

Mortality data, including principal causes of death, is collected by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) through the death registration system. Data on the sexual orientation of the deceased is not recorded by the CSO. I am not aware of the basis for the statistic quoted by the Deputy.

"Reach Out" — the National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention, which was published in September 2005, recommends the development of supports and information / education resources to improve mental health and well-being and reduce any increased risk of suicidal behaviour among marginalised groups.

The National Office for Suicide Prevention (NOSP) was established by the Health Service Executive to oversee the implementation of the strategy and to coordinate suicide prevention activities across the State, consult widely in relation to the planning of future initiatives and ensure best practice in suicide prevention.

The NOSP has provided funding to the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN) to determine the risk of suicidal behaviour and mental health needs of the gay and lesbian community. NOSP also provides funding to BelongTo Youth Project, a national gay lesbian youth organisation, to fund a suicide prevention project worker.

Medical Cards.

Finian McGrath

Question:

298 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if persons (details supplied) in Dublin 17 will be assisted. [19914/07]

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 moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the income guidelines for GP visit cards. These are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

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

Finian McGrath

Question:

299 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if persons (details supplied) in Dublin 5 will be assisted. [19915/07]

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 moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the income guidelines for GP visit cards. These are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

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

Question No. 300 answered with QuestionNo. 261.
Question No. 301 answered with QuestionNo. 270.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

302 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if persons (details supplied) in Dublin 9 will be assisted. [19925/07]

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 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.

Ambulance Service.

Joan Burton

Question:

303 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to the issuing of anti-stab vests for paramedics and ambulance personnel; and if her attention has been drawn to the fears of crews subject to attack and the view that they should be provided with such protection. [19927/07]

Tony Gregory

Question:

307 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Health and Children if anti-stab vests will be made available to ambulance personnel as requested by their representative organisation. [20007/07]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

328 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children if her Department will examine the feasibility of providing anti-stab vests for fire brigade and ambulance personnel in view of attacks on these personnel; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20097/07]

Tony Gregory

Question:

359 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will authorise the issuing of anti-stab vests to frontline paramedics as requested by the Association of Ambulance Personnel in view of attacks on paramedics. [20383/07]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

360 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Health and Children her proposals to ensure that anti-stab vests are issued to front line paramedics who require such protection within the increasingly more aggressive society here where the number of ambulance crews being subject to physical attacks is rising; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20399/07]

Niall Collins

Question:

366 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health and Children if she and the Health Service Executive will provide anti-stab vests to ambulance personnel in view of the fact that security personnel in the Mid Western Regional Hospital are wearing anti-stab vests. [20443/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 303, 307, 328, 359, 360 and 366 together.

Under the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personnel social services. This includes responsibility for paramedics and ambulance personnel.

My Department has therefore requested the HSE to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy in relation to the provision of anti-stab vests to paramedic and ambulance staff and to reply directly to him.

Health Services.

Catherine Byrne

Question:

304 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Health and Children if she plans to provide funding for low income families to access speech and language therapy for their children who require same; the support systems currently in place for such families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19947/07]

As the Deputy may be aware, my Department's policy in relation to assistance for low income families in order to access health services is the provision of medical cards. Medical cards are provided for persons who, in the opinion of the Health Service Executive, are unable without undue hardship to arrange general practitioner, medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants. A medical card allows a person, access to a range of health services, free of charge.

The current system of eligibility divides the population into those with full eligibility (medical card holders) and those with limited eligibility (all others). Other than for persons aged 70 years and over who have full eligibility regardless of means, entitlement to a medical card is determined by reference to undue hardship measured in the first instance by means. The Executive has discretion to grant a card in cases where income guidelines are exceeded.

Those with full eligibility receive all services free of charge, with the exception of a co-payment in respect of long-stay institutional care and home help services. Speech and Language therapy, whether provided in the out-patient department of a public hospital or through a public health clinic is, under the current legislation, free of charge to all, irrespective of whether the person has full or limited eligibility. If a person decides to access speech and language therapy in a private capacity, they move outside the public system, and any fee charged is a private contractual arrangement between the patient and the therapist.

If the Deputy is referring to an individual case, the relevant details should be forwarded to the Health Service Executive who, under the Health Act 2004 have responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services including the provision of speech and language therapy.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Tom Hayes

Question:

305 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children when nursing home charges will be repaid to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [19952/07]

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.

Question No. 306 answered with QuestionNo. 253.
Question No. 307 answered with QuestionNo. 303

Health Services.

Richard Bruton

Question:

308 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of separated children here seeking asylum who are accommodated by the Health Service Executive; the estimated cost of this accommodation and the social work and other care support provided to these children; and if an assessment has been carried out of the level of service and its capacity to meet the needs of these children. [20008/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and social services which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Office 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 Homes Repayment Scheme.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

309 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children when repayment of nursing home charges will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if her attention has been drawn to the fact that despite raising this matter on a number of occasions, the position has not been made available. [20009/07]

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.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

310 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children if she has made or will make representations to the Health Service Executive in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; if she has ascertained the status of this case; if the HSE intends to close the case. [20012/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and social services which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Office 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. In view of the reply which has issued to Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, the Minister has requested that the HSE reply directly to the deputy as a matter of urgency.

Pat Breen

Question:

311 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20025/07]

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.

Pat Breen

Question:

312 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when funding will be made available for home help in County Clare (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20027/07]

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 matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Pat Breen

Question:

313 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will review an application for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20028/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

314 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for dental treatment; and if this treatment will be carried out in Castlebar. [20058/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

315 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason an appointment for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has been postponed four months to January 2008. [20059/07]

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:

316 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will carry out a complete audit into the way that children are assessed and deemed eligible or otherwise by the Health Service Executive for orthodontic treatment; her plans to review the 1985 guidelines to ensure that the same severity index is used to determine the need for treatment in order that patients with malocclusion will receive treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20060/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

373 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will review the 1985 guidelines with regard to orthodontic treatment for children, particularly in view of the numbers of children being refused treatment despite their need for it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20505/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 316 and 373 together.

The Orthodontic Review Group, established by the HSE in 2006, finalised its report this year. One of the recommendations contained in the report relates to the guidelines issued in 1985. The Review Group made a unanimous recommendation to the HSE to replace these guidelines with new assessment criteria based on Index of Orthodontic Treatment Need (IOTN). The national implementation of the proposed guidelines will ensure equity of access to treatment for all patients deemed eligible. The Review Group's report has been approved by the HSE's Management Team.

Michael Ring

Question:

317 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive payment under the health repayment scheme. [20061/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

318 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a unit (details supplied) in County Galway will be operational; the reason it was removed from use; and the steps that have been taken or need to be taken to ensure that the equipment is put back in use. [20062/07]

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 question raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Michael Ring

Question:

319 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive payment under the health repayment scheme. [20063/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

320 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of vehicles currently available, within the Health Service Executive, for the west region for WESTDOC; the number and type of vehicle, year of manufacture, number of drivers employed and so on; the annual cost of this service for 2006 and to date in 2007; the number of staff employed in relation to the WESTDOC service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20064/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

321 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the funding allocated and the amount spent in relation to the provision of transport for people attending hospital appointments in County Mayo in each of the past five years. [20065/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

330 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the alternative plans that have been put in place to accommodate persons (details supplied). [20129/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

331 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason the Health Service Executive west has changed its policies in relation to a service (details supplied). [20130/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

332 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason the Health Service Executive west are no longer transporting people (details supplied). [20131/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

342 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the action that will be taken regarding people (details supplied) in relation to their travel arrangements to hospital appointments. [20190/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 321, 330 to 332, inclusive, and 342 together.

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/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.

Michael Ring

Question:

322 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the position between the Irish Dental Association members and the Health Service Executive regarding the dental treatment service scheme; the progress made in resolving this dispute; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20066/07]

Michael Ring

Question:

329 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person who holds a medical card can no longer access dental treatment through the family dentist; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20115/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 322 and 329 together.

The Dental Treatment Service Scheme (DTSS) provides for a range of dental services for adult medical card holders from participating dentists holding contracts with the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The DTSS Review Group was established in May 2006 to undertake a comprehensive review of Primary Care Oral Health Services provided under the DTSS. Represented on the Review Group are the HSE, the Health Service Employers Agency, the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the Department of Finance and the Irish Dental Association (IDA). The Group is chaired by Mr Finbar Flood.

Since the Group was established, a legal issue has arisen with regard to the Competition Act 2002 as it relates to the negotiation of professional fees. The issues involved are complex and my officials are working with the Attorney General's office to clarify the way forward.

The existing contractual arrangements with private dental practitioners under the DTSS for provision of dental services to eligible patients remain in place although I am aware that some dentists have indicated that they wish to resign from this scheme. It should be noted that dentists withdrawing from the scheme are obliged to work a three months notice period.

If an eligible patient cannot access the services of a dentist because the dentist has resigned from the DTSS, that patient may approach any dentist within the Scheme for treatment.

Michael Ring

Question:

323 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive payment under the health repayment scheme. [20067/07]

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.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Michael Ring

Question:

324 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of claims verified for the repayment of nursing home charges to date; the number of claims received to date; the number of those claims that relate to living persons; the number that relate to the estates of deceased persons; the average repayment to date; the amount paid out; and the number who have subsequently appealed the repayment figure. [20068/07]

The Health Service Executive which has responsibility for administering the health repayment scheme has informed my Department that over 29,000 applications have been received with 11,000 applications on behalf of living claimants and 18,000 applications in respect of the estates of deceased persons. As of 14 September 2007 offers of repayment totalling €112m have been issued in some 5,900 cases. Repayments totalling €66.6m have been made to almost 3,300 applicants. The average repayment is approximately €20,000. The Appeals Office established under the scheme has indicated that 254 notices of intention to appeal the amount of repayment offered have been received.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

325 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when an occupational therapy appointment will be arranged for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [20069/07]

As the Deputy may be aware, additional funding of €75m for revenue purposes was provided to the Health Service Executive for Disability Services in the 2007 Budget. This amount 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 including therapy 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.

Michael Ring

Question:

326 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive payment under the health repayment scheme. [20090/07]

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.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

327 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if an appointment for a hip replacement will be arranged for a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [20096/07]

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.

Patients waiting more than three months on a surgical waiting list may qualify for treatment under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. It is open to the person in question or anyone acting on their behalf to contact the Fund directly in relation to their case.

Question No. 328 answered with QuestionNo. 303
Question No. 329 answered with QuestionNo. 322
Questions Nos. 330 to 332, inclusive, answered with Question No.321.

Michael Ring

Question:

333 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the outcome of the case of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [20134/07]

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.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Pat Breen

Question:

334 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when a refund will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Clare in respect of nursing home charges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20149/07]

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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

335 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 4 will be assisted. [20170/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

336 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be provided with a long stay bed. [20174/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

337 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be provided with a bed in Belmullet District Hospital. [20175/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

338 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be transferred to a long stay bed. [20176/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

339 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if day care will be provided to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if they will be assessed for day care as soon as possible. [20177/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

340 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if a long stay bed will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [20178/07]

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.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

341 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Health and Children the situation regarding the recruitment of home help assistance; if vacancies are filled when home helpers retire; if the embargo on the recruitment of staff is affecting the recruitment of home help assistance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20187/07]

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.

Question No. 342 answered with QuestionNo. 321

Services for People with Disabilities.

Finian McGrath

Question:

343 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to persons (details supplied) in Dublin 17; and if a long-term care plan will be put in place. [20193/07]

As the Deputy may be aware, additional funding of €75m for revenue purposes was provided to the Health Service Executive for Disability Services in the 2007 Budget. This amount 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, including the provision of additional respite places, 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.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

344 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure that a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 is seen by an occupational therapist urgently; and if they will be given the maximum support. [20195/07]

As the Deputy may be aware, additional funding of €75m for revenue purposes was provided to the Health Service Executive for Disability Services in the 2007 Budget. This amount 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 including occupational therapy 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.

National Lottery Funding.

Jack Wall

Question:

345 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding an application for funding by a group (details supplied) in County Kildare under the National Lottery funds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20230/07]

My Department received an application for a grant from the Health and Children allocation of National Lottery funds from the organisation referred to.

There is a protocol in my Department for processing applications for National Lottery grants. Following assessment, evaluation and recommendation, applications are considered in the context of the recommendation and the overall level of funds available to me. This application is one of many under consideration for a grant from my Department and the organisation in question will be informed as soon as a decision has been made.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

346 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will arrange a re-assessment for orthodontic treatment for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [20258/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

347 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason home help is not being provided to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and the further reason their application has not been approved. [20259/07]

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

Jack Wall

Question:

348 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will receive an appointment date for assessment at the day hospital, in Naas General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20273/07]

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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

349 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding improvements at a facility (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if the maximum support will be given in 2007 and 2008. [20275/07]

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.

Medical Cards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

350 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will issue in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Waterford in view of the fact that all documents requested has been submitted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20283/07]

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 moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the income guidelines for GP visit cards. These are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

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

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

351 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if provision will be made for orthodontic treatment for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20284/07]

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.

Medical Cards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

352 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will issue to persons (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20285/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

355 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if and when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20289/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 352 and 355 together.

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 moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the income guidelines for GP visit cards. These are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

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

Health Service Staff.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

353 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if an increase in home help hours will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20286/07]

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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

354 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if a mobility allowance will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20288/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal 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.

Question No. 355 answered with QuestionNo. 352.

Medical Cards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

356 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will be renewed in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20290/07]

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 moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the income guidelines for GP visit cards. These are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

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

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

357 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20292/07]

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 moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the income guidelines for GP visit cards. These are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

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

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

358 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to the medical card application by a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20293/07]

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 moderate and lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed a further adjustment to the income guidelines for GP visit cards. These are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

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

Questions Nos. 359 and No. 360 answered with Question No. 303.

Tony Gregory

Question:

361 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Health and Children if tablets (details supplied) will be placed on the medical card list as they are used on a widespread basis mainly by elderly people for failing eyesight. [20405/07]

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.

Ocuvite tablets are not currently reimbursable through the state schemes. Any application by a supplier to have Ocuvite tablets included on the common list will be considered in the usual way.

Health Service Staff.

Tom Hayes

Question:

362 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children the length of time the freeze on recruitment in the Health Service Executive will last; and if the operating theatre and six surgical beds closed due to the freeze in Clonmel will be promptly re-opened. [20416/07]

The HSE National Management Team has developed a financial break-even plan aimed at remaining within its Vote for 2007. The plan includes a pause in recruitment for an initial period of one month beginning on 5 September. The position is due to be reviewed by the HSE on 1 October in the light of the financial situation then pertaining. Other features of this plan include

cancelling all foreign travel for the remainder of the year

cancelling all domestic hotel bookings for the remainder of the year, and

reviewing all non front-line expenditure to ensure that it is authorized at an appropriately senior level.

There are over 120,000 people working in the public health system and the temporary pause in recruitment must be viewed in that context. I share the concern of the HSE to ensure that patient care is not affected during the recruitment suspension. It is the HSE's clear intention that these measures, which involve 200-300 posts, will not impact on ‘front line' services and it has made provision for critical or essential vacancies to be filled by re-deployment of existing staff.

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

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

363 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3 will be assisted. [20417/07]

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.

Tom Hayes

Question:

364 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children the way Health Service Executive recruitment freeze will impact on Cashel hospital. [20419/07]

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 / 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.

Niall Collins

Question:

365 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health and Children if a general practitioner (details supplied) in County Limerick can continue their GMS work with the Health Service Executive after their 70th birthday. [20439/07]

Under the General Medical Services (GMS) scheme general practitioners hold one of two contract types, i.e. the Fee per Item contract (first introduced in 1972) or the Capitation contract (effective from 1989). These contracts reflect the agreed outcome of negotiations between my Department and the GP representative body, the Irish Medical Organisation.

Both contract types contain provisions which were agreed between the parties on a range of issues, including retirement age. The terms of the Capitation contract, which was agreed between the parties, provide that GPs who entered into contracts on the date of its commencement could hold the contract up to age 70 and that all subsequent GP contractors could hold the contract up to age 65. General Practitioners may, subject to continued registration with the Medical Council, continue to practice and to treat private patients following retirement from the GMS scheme.A review of the contractual arrangements for the provision of services under the GMS scheme and other publicly funded schemes is being undertaken at present. In this context, I have asked my Department, in conjunction with the HSE, to review the current arrangements regarding the age at which GPs must retire from the GMS scheme.

Question No. 366 answered with QuestionNo. 303.

Health Services.

Pat Breen

Question:

367 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps she will take to provide emergency funding and resources to alleviate the current crisis at Ennis General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20445/07]

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.

Question No. 368 answered with QuestionNo. 258.
Question No. 369 answered with QuestionNo. 253.

Niall Collins

Question:

370 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health and Children her plans for infrastructural projects (details supplied). [20457/07]

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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

371 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to a service (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if they will be supported. [20479/07]

As the Deputy may be aware the implementation of the findings of the Harmond Wolfe Report was subject to the availability of exchequer funding. In this regard additional funding of €10million was provided in the 2006 Budget and €5million was provided in the 2007 Budget to address core under funding and core staffing issues in services for people with disabilities provided by the voluntary sector.

As the allocation of funding is a matter for the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Michael Ring

Question:

372 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if home help will be restored to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo to five mornings a week for at least the next three months. [20483/07]

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.

Question No. 373 answered with QuestionNo. 316.

Michael Ring

Question:

374 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will arrange a reassessment of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo for orthodontic treatment, in view of the fact they have been advised that they need a brace and their family are not in a financial position to afford the treatment needed. [20506/07]

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.

Tobacco Control Legislation.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

375 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of compliance tests carried out on retail premises by the Office of Tobacco Control; the number of prosecutions initiated against retail premises for the sale of tobacco to persons aged under 18 in respect of each county for the past two years for which figures are available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20511/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the enforcement of tobacco control legislation. The enforcement of the prohibition on the sale of tobacco products to persons under 18 years of age is the responsibility of the environmental health service of the Health Service Executive. 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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

376 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if a one to one carer will be offered to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20527/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal 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 Breen

Question:

377 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when measures will be put in place for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20545/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

378 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be provided with transport for their hospital appointments. [20546/07]

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 / 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.

Michael Ring

Question:

379 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be paid under the health repayment scheme in view of the fact that they have submitted all the necessary information to support the claim; and if the claim will be dealt with as quickly as possible.. [20562/07]

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.

Questions Nos. 380 and No. 381, inclusive, answered with Question No. 291.

Hospital Services.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

382 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children if she has received correspondence from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 regarding an unacceptable level of patient care in the Mater Hospital; her response to date; and the actions she proposes to take to rectify the situation. [20571/07]

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.

Correspondence from the person concerned was received by my Department and referred to the HSE for investigation. My Department is advised that the correspondence was forwarded to the Mater Hospital and that a comprehensive reply will be issued to the person concerned shortly.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

383 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the fact that applications for the health repayment scheme have been received by the Health Service Executive and the information for the country is scanned, the information will be released to the representatives of the family that have made applications. [20577/07]

The Health Service Executive (HSE) which administers the health repayment scheme has informed the Department that the scheme administrator has scanned records in 345 institutions to date. A dedicated website www.repay.ie, and 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 to access general information on the scheme.

When a valid application has been processed the scheme administrator issues a letter of offer to the claimant which includes a breakdown by year of the maintenance charges which are to be repaid together with the amount of interest due by reference to the consumer price index. Under Data Protection legislation information relating to individual claims cannot be provided to third parties and in this regard, all enquiries in relation to individual claims should be made by the applicant concerned.

Michael Ring

Question:

384 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be given an occupational therapy appointment. [20578/07]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal 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.

Question No. 385 answered with QuestionNo. 272

Michael Ring

Question:

386 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate the case of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [20591/07]

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

Health Service Staff.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

387 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children the measures put in place for the recruitment drive of permanent midwives for the maternity unit, at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise; her views on same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20610/07]

The numbers of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals employed in the public health system have increased significantly in recent years, in tandem with the high level of investment in the development in new services. In December 2006, a revised employment ceiling for the health service of 108,000 expressed in whole time equivalents was sanctioned, representing an increase of 10,450 over the previous approved ceiling. There has also been a substantial expansion of training places available at undergraduate level across a range of healthcare professions in order to ensure an ongoing supply of personnel in sufficient numbers for our health services into the future.

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

Health Services.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

388 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of maternity units that are able to offer epidurals on a 24 hour seven day a week basis; the number not able to offer this; the hours that it is available at these units; her views on same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20611/07]

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 issue raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Staff.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

389 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children the recommended staffing levels in a maternity unit, proportional to its sizes; her views on same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20612/07]

The HSE has recently commissioned a comprehensive review of maternity and gynaecology services in the Greater Dublin Area. This review will include an evaluation of current capacity, usage and deployment of consultants, midwives, beds, neonatal care, theatres, outreach clinics, home care, emergency facilities, diagnostics, gynaecology and other services provided. An independent report will be produced which will make recommendations on the optimal configuration of primary, community and hospital services for safe, sustainable, cost effective and high quality maternity services.

My Department has not issued guidelines on the nursing and midwifery complements for maternity hospitals. Subject to overall parameters set by Government the Health Service Executive has the responsibility for determining the composition of its staffing complement. In this regard, it is a matter for the HSE to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of its Annual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. The Executive is the appropriate body to consider the matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

390 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children the staffing levels at each of the maternity units here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20613/07]

The numbers of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals employed in the public health system have increased significantly in recent years, in tandem with the high level of investment in the development in new services. In December 2006, a revised employment ceiling for the health service of 108,000 expressed in whole time equivalents was sanctioned, representing an increase of 10,450 over the previous approved ceiling.

There has also been a substantial expansion of training places available at undergraduate level across a range of healthcare professions in order to ensure an ongoing supply of personnel in sufficient numbers for our health services into the future.

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

Hospital Staff.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

391 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children if the recommendations of an independent review of the maternity unit at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, in 2006, to significantly increase staffing levels, including midwives, support and clerical staff, have been taken on board; her views on the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20614/07]