Adjournment Debate.

Community Pharmacy Services.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Devins, to the House. It has now become a matter of urgency that talks are arranged between the Health Service Executive and representatives of pharmacists who are in dispute over the proposed reduction in the amount paid to pharmacists for drugs they buy from wholesalers and dispense to patients under the State drugs scheme. Neither the Minister of State nor the senior Minister can stand idly by while 3,000 methadone patients are directly affected this week; other vulnerable groups are also at risk.

This problem did not arise without warning. I raised it last week in the Dáil and tabled it for the Adjournment debate twice without succeeding. I also raised it on the Order of Business, as did other Members. The Government and the HSE were well aware that this action would happen, and all Members received letters and representations from community pharmacists. The main point made to us was that there were no meaningful negotiations with pharmacists on this issue.

We now see that the most vulnerable people are directly threatened in terms of their access to services. In particular, methadone patients who need continuity in accessing their methadone must now go to a different centre. There is a real concern that medical card patients in general are at risk if this issue is not resolved.

I stress that there are means of resolving this issue if some kind of independent talks can take place. Talks must take place, whether through the so-called Shipsey process or under the national implementation body, as recommended by the IPU. Disputes are resolved through talks. We saw last weekend that as soon as people sit down together, they can resolve their differences but we cannot leave this issue hanging in the air without resolution.

We need to bring together manufacturers, wholesalers, pharmacists and the HSE because this process is complicated. Essentially, community pharmacists are telling us they will lose money by dispensing drugs. That is the root of the problem but it is the patients at the coalface who are suffering. We need a resolution to this issue and I hope we will hear tonight that talks will be set up and that an independent process will be put in place immediately.

I ask the Minister to intervene immediately before somebody dies. That is the scale of the problem because some people who are denied access to methadone will turn back to heroin. I urged the Minister to intervene in this issue in a letter over two weeks ago, to which I received a cursory reply this morning. I again urge the Minister to intervene and begin talks with the IPU because the HSE, the Minister and the pharmacists who have taken this decision to withdraw the dispensing of methadone are culpable in this matter. They are causing chaos to people who have managed to get their lives back in order to some degree. Over 4,500 people are dependent on methadone dispensed by pharmacists, over 3,000 of whom are in this city. They are now being asked to go to different centres at different times. These people are being exposed to predatory drug dealers while queuing at the 11 centres that have been chosen by the HSE as contingency dispensing clinics. The opening hours of the clinics are not conducive to the treatment because the patients have built up a routine. That is the stability that many of these patients have built into their lives. They have children and cannot always go out in the evening to these new dispensing centres. Their personal lives are now back in chaos. Many of the drug services in this city and throughout the country have managed to help those people put some stability back in their lives yet this House and the Minister have introduced chaos to those lives.

The withdrawal of methadone services must be reversed and the Minister and the HSE must take on that role immediately, not next week or the week after. Otherwise, we will see people dying from overdoses and the like.

I am taking the Adjournment debate on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Mary Harney, Minister for Health and Children.

I welcome this opportunity to inform the Dáil of the current position. The recently announced changes by the Health Service Executive to the wholesaler arrangements for the supply of drugs and medicines to community pharmacists, for dispensing under these schemes, were informed by a comprehensive consultation process when it became clear that the HSE could not negotiate with pharmacists or wholesalers for legal reasons.

Under section 4 of the 2002 Competition Act, the Pharmaceutical Distributors Federation, representing wholesalers, and the Irish Pharmaceutical Union, representing pharmacists, may not collectively negotiate fees, prices or margins on behalf of their members since both bodies constitute undertakings under the Act. Accordingly, it is not possible for the State to negotiate with the PDF or the IPU on fees or margins as such negotiations would place these bodies at risk of prosecution. I have already outlined in detail how the legal issues evolved in recent written replies to several Deputies, and in the Seanad last week.

Following the completion of public consultation by a HSE-led negotiating team and informed by independent economic analysis carried out by Indecon Economic Consultants, new reimbursement arrangements were announced by the HSE on 17 September 2007. The new price arrangements involve revised rates for community and hospital supply. For community supply, the reimbursement rate of cost of drugs and medicines to pharmacy contractors will be reduced from ex-factory price plus 17.66% for wholesale supply, the previous mark-up rate, to ex-factory price plus 8% from 1 January 2008 and 7% from 1 January 2009, the new mark-up rate. For hospital supply, there will be a new interim mark-up rate of 5% for wholesale supply from 1 January 2008, with further discounts for efficient ordering and supply in that sector.

In its examination of the issues involved and in determining the new arrangements, the negotiating team considered a reimbursement level that reflected the market value of pharmaceutical wholesale services, and security and continuity of supply at current levels to patients. The evidence on which the decision is based, following examination of the issues involved, direct consultation and independent economic analysis, all indicates that the State is currently paying a premium for the services in question. It is possible and necessary for revised arrangements to be put in place without a substantial impact on the delivery of such services. Pharmacists' arrangements with wholesalers for the supply of drugs and medicines are private commercial arrangements. The HSE's role is confined to setting the most appropriate reimbursement rates for community pharmacies. The basis for the new reimbursement arrangements was set out in detail by the chief executive officer of the HSE on 17 September 2007.

To address concerns expressed by the IPU on behalf of community pharmacists about the implications of the legal advice on competition law for their right to negotiate fees through the union, a process of dialogue was established, chaired by Bill Shipsey SC, to explore ways in which these concerns could be addressed, having regard to the legal position. A number of meetings have been held, involving both the IPU and the HSE, under the auspices of Mr. Shipsey. At a meeting on 11 October, the IPU informed Mr. Shipsey that it continued to have difficulties, as the trade union representing pharmacists, with the fact that it was precluded from negotiating fees or margins with the HSE on behalf of its members.

The pharmacists' action in withdrawing from supplying methadone to patients is currently mainly in the Dublin area, with a threatened escalation country-wide later. This is the second time in recent years that pharmacists have targeted this scheme in response to unrelated issues, although on the previous occasion the threatened withdrawal of service did not take place. It is completely wrong that certain pharmacists have chosen to target some of our most vulnerable patients, recovering drug users who are stable enough to be treated in the community setting, in this way. As of Monday 15 October, some 140 pharmacists in the Dublin area have withdrawn from the methadone protocol scheme. This action affects approximately 3,000 patients. I am sure Deputies will join me in calling on those pharmacists to withdraw this action.

Since last Monday the HSE has been implementing a contingency plan and made alternative arrangements for the emergency dispensing of methadone to the patients involved in 13 centres. Arrangements have been put in place to enable patients affected by this action to be informed of these alternative arrangements. The HSE's drug helpline is available on a seven days a week basis to provide information for clients about the contingency arrangements. The situation in the rest of the country is being monitored closely and arrangements are ready to be implemented in the event of an escalation of the action nationwide. The contingency arrangements are being overseen by an emergency planning group which is liaising with other agencies as necessary. The HSE has indicated that to date the contingency plan is operating satisfactorily.

In an effort to address concerns on all sides, a meeting has been organised this afternoon with the Irish Pharmaceutical Union and the HSE under the auspices of Mr. Shipsey who, I understand, has put some proposals to both sides.

Animal Feedstuffs.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to speak on this important issue.

While I do not support the full introduction of genetically modified crops for animal feedstuffs or GM foods, I am concerned at the delay within the European Union for approval of feed crops with a GM component which ranges from two and a half years to ten years, as opposed to the US average of 15 months, and which threatens the viability of animal production in Ireland as the sector relies heavily on imported grain. The delay and obstruction of grain and protein supplies are having a detrimental effect on the entire livestock sector in Ireland. Wheat that could be purchased by pig farmers in August 2006 for €130 per tonne now costs a whopping €260 per tonne. Each €10 increase in feed prices increases the cost of production of a kilogramme of pig meat by 4 cent.

The problem is that meat from all over the world, including beef from Brazil, where the foot and mouth contamination poses a serious risk to our farming industry, that is fed genetically modified maize is allowed into Europe. The competitively priced maize, however, is not allowed into EU countries giving non-European imported meat a competitive edge. This double standard is a disgrace, especially as substantial transformation leads to Irish people being conned into thinking they are buying Irish products. According to the Central Statistics Office, 1.3 million kilogrammes of pigmeat were imported into Ireland from outside the European Union last year. Recent reports indicate that 30% of pig producers will exit the sector in the next year. Supply and demand will lead to an inevitable rise in pigmeat prices, similar to that seen in Britain in 1998. Irish meat must secure a stronger footing in the retailers to ensure the national herd can be maintained.

Neither the Minister of State nor the European Union can allow this inequitable situation to continue. There is an urgent need for country of origin labelling and approved animal feed to be allowed into Europe. Serious food price inflation is inevitable here and across Europe if the Government does not take a stand and tackle the inequity in the meat industry. Already an increase in Irish pork prices of 30% is necessary if pig farmers are to stay in business.

On 27 September the Minister of State abstained in a crucial vote at the EU Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels but he was actively in favour of the EU proposal in June and had the full support of the IFA. This U-turn has damaged Ireland's credibility in Brussels and assurances given by the Minister of State in June now count for nothing. Irish pig production which is worth over €400 million to the economy and directly employs 7,000 people now faces a wipe-out, with producers losing at least €15 on every pig sold. Our poultry industry will be handed over to Brazil and Thailand, while winter beef finishers face crippling feeding costs and will be forced to leave their sheds empty. Winter milk product will also be hit hard.

The Government is guilty of hypocrisy and double standards in failing to support an EU proposal to accept scientifically approved maize and corn gluten for circulation in the European Union with no consideration for the damage it is doing to Ireland's livestock industry, especially pigmeat and poultry producers.

The IFA has proposed that the Government should immediately press the European Commission to approve maize, gluten and soya bean imports from the United States. The Minister of State has indicated his concern for the survival of the pig industry and acknowledged that the extremely high feed costs facing Irish producers are a major contributor to their losses. A direct cash injection to Bord Bia by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to mount an extensive promotion campaign to lift demand for and consumption of Irish pigmeat is now essential, together with an assurance that the money will only be used to support brands and processors using 100% Irish pigmeat. The IFA has proposed a series of measures to facilitate and encourage the use of pig manure on REPS and tillage farms. The interpretation of the nitrates regulations by the Department is placing an unnecessary cost burden on pig producers, while at the same time favouring imported chemical fertilisers. New round-up ready varieties of grain and soya bean are being developed and planted in all major animal feed exporting countries. Without official approval for such crops, our farmers face a serious and uncompetitive situation with the odds stacked against them. I would welcome a favourable reply from the Minister of State.

I thank Deputy Bannon for raising this issue. I presume it has a lot to do with the fact that pig producers will be in Dublin tomorrow.

Timing is everything.

Many from my own county will be coming also. I hope to meet them for a chat.

It had better be a good reply.

I reassure Deputies that the viability of animal production in Ireland does not rest solely on the speed with which the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, assesses applications from biotechnology companies to place on the EU market feed materials derived from genetically modified crops. We are fortunate to have so much animal feed coming from our green fields. Over 80% of ruminant livestock feed intake comes from grass based inputs. Compound feeds make up the remainder of ruminant feed, as well as all of the nutritional diets for pig and poultry.

Because Ireland has a deficit in protein feed ingredients we must import about 80,000 tonnes of maize by-products and 500,000 tonnes of soya. This is less than 5% of the total feed intake by farmed animals in Ireland. The majority of these imported protein ingredients come from authorised GM crops grown in the United States and South America which have been subjected to the stringent assessment process required by EU legislation. The EFSA is a central player in that authorisation process. Prior to 2007, the authorisation process and the EFSA's role in that process had little negative impact on the availability of animal feed, as there were adequate supplies available from non-GM or authorised GM crops. It was only in the last 12 months and in the light of increased global demand for feed and biofuel, allied to poor weather conditions, that the lack of synchronisation between the GM authorisation process in the European Union and the United States became a factor in feed supply.

I am confident that the recent relaxation of the setaside rules by the EU Council of Ministers which was fully supported by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, should lead to improved market conditions for cereal growers. I hope we will have more favourable weather conditions for cereal growing in 2008.

There is no doubt that the lack of synchronisation in the GM authorisation processes used in the United States and the European Union has presented problems for feed importers in Ireland. Notwithstanding this, we all accept that the rules governing the marketing and use of GM crops for animal feed within the Community are set down in EU legislation that has been adopted jointly by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. This legislation which is binding on all member states dictates that only GM events subjected to the necessary health and environmental safety assessment by the EFSA and authorised under the relevant legislation can be placed on the market within the European Union. This legislation was introduced in response to the concerns expressed by EU consumers about the safety of GM produce. The new legislation which is considered to be among the most stringent in the world governs the assessment and approval procedures for GM crops, food and feed. It also ensures the highest possible standards are in place to protect the citizens of the Community from a food safety and environmental safety aspect.

In addition to this legislation, the Community also established the EFSA. This authority, an independent science based body made up of specialists from a range of relevant disciplines, provides EU citizens with independent assessment, advice and communication of any risk associated with GM produce or food safety matter.

The speed with which the European Union authorises GM products will be an issue because US agriculture sees new GM crops being cultivated each year. It is obvious that delays caused by the necessary assessment process carried out by the EFSA can contribute significantly to this lack of synchronisation which, in turn, is a contributory factor to the difficulties in securing feed supplies at reasonably economic prices. It should be acknowledged, however, that some of the delays accredited to the EFSA are as a result of the absence and subsequent procurement of data from the applicant for which the applicant can only be held responsible. A tighter timeframe between the two authorisation processes would significantly reduce the possibility of unauthorised GM events admixing in consignments, particularly maize by-products, being exported to Europe and would also allow European pig producers to source whole GM maize as a substitute for costly wheat.

The Minister has welcomed recent statements from the EFSA indicating it recognises that a problem has arisen and that it is engaging with the US authorities to identify ways of minimising the time lag between both processes, as the Deputy has sought. The Minister fully supports any development that will lead to a more effective, efficient and speedier EU GM authorisation process and will do what she can to push that synchronisation process along at EU level. We will also seek ways in which there will be less reliance on imported feed. In this regard it should be noted that the current high cereal prices will have the effect of encouraging increased local production both here and throughout the rest of the European Union generally.

Schools Language Policy.

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil ard-mheas agam don Ghaeilge. Fuaireas mo chuid oideachais ina iomlán trí Gaeilge i gColáiste Íosagáin, Baile Bhúirne. Bhíos ann mar bhí an rogha ag mo thuismitheoirí mise a chur go Baile Bhúirne nó aon scoil eile. Bhí ard-mheas acu agus agamsa, áfach, don Ghaeilge agus sin an fáth go ndeachaigh mé go scoil lán-Gaelach i mBaile Bhúirne. An fadhb atá ann anois ná nach bhfuil aon rogha ag tuismitheoiríó Chorca Dhuibhne oideachas a fháil dá leanaí ach i bPobalscoil Corca Dhuibhne. Níl rogha acu ach oideachas lán-Gaelach. Níl an díospóireacht seo ar siúl i dtaobh Gaeilge nó Béarla, ach i dtaobh oideachas agus rogha.

Since the beginning of the year children at Pobailscoil Corca Dhuibhne have been taught solely through the medium of Irish. This system caters for students with a full command of written and spoken Irish, but the vast majority of students living in the area are not fluent enough to adhere to this strict regime. In March 2007 a survey was carried out by teachers at the CBS school in Dingle in which pupils were asked if they had answered questions on their mock exam papers through Irish or English and the reasons for their choice. Of 33 junior certificate students surveyed, 26 had answered through English and seven through Irish. In the case of leaving certificate students, all 21 surveyed had answered through English. This survey was not sanctioned by the school but the results were distributed in the presence of Department of Education and Science facilitator, Mr. Austin Corcoran. The Department is now fully aware of the enforcement of the all-Irish policy, since the Children's Ombudsman, the Equality Tribunal and parents contacted it with their concerns. Parents see this as an educational matter and are extremely concerned for the welfare of their children.

While Pobailscoil Corca Dhuibhne is located in a Gaeltacht area, the fact remains that Dingle is as cosmopolitan a town as any other in the country. Some 30 nationalities are represented there. Annascaul is in the catchment area of Pobailscoil Corca Dhuibhne, where children in national schools have been taught totally through the medium of English. This all-Irish policy should be reviewed. There is discrimination against students in the catchment area of the school. Parents are worried because their children are coming home from school distressed. It has never happened before that 160 students went on strike and protested and 240 students signed a petition asking that Irish and English be used in the school.

There is a myth that the two schools which amalgamated taught only through Irish. That is incorrect. When the fine new school was built parents and students expected that it would continue to be bilingual. In September when the children returned to school they discovered that the teaching was all through Irish. If there was an alternative one could consider that but the only alternative is for those who are not blás as Gaeilge to go to Tralee which is 31 miles from Dingle town and 50 miles from Dún Chaoin. The Minister cannot offer that as an alternative to the parents and children of Pobalschoil Corca Dhuibhne catchment area.

If this continues the Minister says that anyone who wants to move into the Gaeltacht area of Corca Dhuibhne must stop at Annascaul. If they or their children are not proficient in Irish they must stop there and go to school in Tralee. I listened to the Minister for Education and Science on "Questions and Answers" last night when she used the words "inclusion" and "discrimination". In this case there is discrimination against the students of the catchment area of Pobalscoil Corca Dhuibhne. I ask the Minister to sort this out for the students and the parents there and if necessary to meet those involved.

I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin. Scoileanna Lán-Gaeilge receives almost 40% extra in per capita funding and each school has one additional teaching post in its overall allocation. An additional allowance of €3,068 is also paid to teachers who teach through Irish in Gaeltacht schools.

Providing textbooks and teaching materials in Irish is a core function of An Comhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta. Funding for an comhairle for this purpose has been increased significantly and further expansion of its services is in train.

A co-ordinating committee has also recently been established which represents an comhairle, Foras na Gaeilge and Udarás na Gaeltachta and which reports jointly to the Departments of Education and Science and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. This committee works co-operatively in developing plans to extend the range of teaching and learning materials for Gaeltacht and all-Irish schools.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs also funds a scéim na gcúntóirí teanga to strengthen Irish as a spoken language among young people in the Gaeltacht and to guide the linguistic behaviour of school children towards the use of Irish. Under this scheme, fluent Irish speakers are sent to Gaeltacht schools where they assist children who do not have Irish as their first language or who require further help.

A total of 113 Gaeltacht schools, including primary and post-primary schools, benefit from the scheme. It assists children who do not have sufficient Irish to develop their fluency in an enjoyable way through play, games, drama, rhymes and songs. Last summer a separate scheme, scéim na gcampaí samhraidh, provided a course to support second level students attending all-Irish education in the Gaeltacht.

Pobalscoil Corca Dhuibhne is an amalgamation of two existing schools, Meanscoil na Toirbhite and Meanscoil na mBraithre Chríostaí. In 1989 the managements of Meanscoil na Toirbhite and Meanscoil na mBraithre Chríostaí proposed to amalgamate the two schools into a single co-educational voluntary secondary school. In March 1998, the management authorities sought departmental approval to change the status of the proposed school to a community school. Approval was given in early 1999 for the change of status following consultations between trustees, boards of management, staff and parents of the two schools and the school was to be a community school under County Kerry VEC.

Both schools which amalgamated to form the new community school were classified as Scoileanna Lán-Gaeilge. Pobalscoil Corca Dhuibnne has the same classification as a scoil lán-Gaeilge. In the context of the amalgamation, the issue of the language of tuition of a number of pupils arises from the reaffirmation, by the board of management of Pobalscoil Corca Dhuibhne, of the characteristic spirit of the new school as an all-Irish Gaeltacht school in which the language of tuition is exclusively Irish. No party to the discussions of the amalgamation raised this issue with the Department of Education and Science.

The Department first became aware of this as an issue of concern for some students and parents when a parent contacted it in July. In August, the Department wrote to the board of management of the new community school requesting that it bring forward proposals to ensure that students could complete their post-primary education without substantially altering the conditions of tuition under which they had hitherto been enrolled. Since the school reopened in September, the Department has received representations from several parents concerned about the situation. Some parents have made representations in support of the board of management's position.

In September, the Department wrote to the trustees of the school requesting their direct involvement with the board of management in developing definitive proposals as to how students who have been taught, at least partially, through English can continue to receive instruction in a way that does not substantially disadvantage them. It was pointed out that such proposals would need to involve a commitment that those students already enrolled should be facilitated in completing their post-primary education in the manner in which they have been taught to date.

These students could be strongly encouraged to engage with the Irish language supports already outlined by the board but, as students already enrolled in the school, they have a legitimate expectation that they will continue to be taught in the manner in which they have been to date. I urge all parties to work together in a constructive manner to find a solution to this issue. My Department has been in regular contact with the trustees and at a senior level is involved in active dialogue with them in seeking a resolution to the current impasse.

I wish to ask a short supplementary question.

The Deputy has no facility to ask a supplementary question.

The question was what direction has the Minister given.

The Deputy is out of order.

Nothing in this response answers my question.

I must call the next item.

What about the students with special needs, with dyslexia, who have been taught through English? How will they be taught in Pobalscoil Corca Dhuibhne?

I have to call the next item.

Local Authority Housing.

I thank the Acting Chairman and the Ceann Comhairle and his staff for allowing me to raise this subject on the Adjournment. I compliment the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, on coming into the House to reply to my query. I wish him well in his new ministerial office. I have no doubt that his previous knowledge of local authorities will stand him in good stead. What a pity more people will not come from that quarter in the future.

The matter I wish to raise concerns site development costs amounting to around €130,000 for the subsidised private sites at Easton Mews, Leixlip, County Kildare which were previously the subject of a contract between the voluntary housing group Respond and the current Easton Mews construction company on foot of a provision made by Kildare County Council wherein a decision was made that the Easton Mews development costs would be met by Respond directly or through a figure retained by the council for this purpose. I want to know if the Minister of State will outline the relevant details of the contract or arrangement entered into by Kildare County Council, Respond and the construction company, including the terms of any agreements, contracts or indentures that might in any way affect the development costs to the purchasers of the serviced sites at Easton Mews. This is part of a scheme, whereby the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government encourages people on local authority housing lists to avail of private sites at a cost. It includes clawbacks and other obstacles to ensure houses go to the proper people.

Respond decided to develop the whole site. Some 122 houses are within its responsibility, having been built by the same builder in accordance with its wishes. The builder also contracted to construct 27 houses on private sites. Despite the fact that the sites were originally sold to the recipients at a cost of €15,000 per site, it now transpires that an extra cost of €5,000 is about to be imposed upon them. This is a huge burden on persons on a council housing list. They also have to meet additional costs such as legal fees, apart from the fact that they have borrowed the maximum amount by way of a shared ownership, annuity or even private loan.

This scheme of houses is very modern in terms of fuel efficiency. It is a highly rated development. Kildare county councillors are adamant that a sum of money was set aside to cover the development cost of the site. On behalf of the site recipients, the quantity surveyor set out the costs involved and what precisely had to be done. I have been informed by the local authority that a submission was made to the Department in the past few days. This is a very serious issue. If the submission has been forwarded to the Minister's office for approval, I urge him to approve it forthwith. To the local authority €130,000 is a small amount, but it is huge to the 27 recipients who are now at the stage where they cannot move forwards or backwards, unless the Minister gives approval.

I apologise to Deputy Durkan for any unintended confusion caused last week. Disallowance was sought based on my Department's understanding that this was a contractual issue between the voluntary body and builder concerned. The Department was not aware at the time of the mixed-tenure nature of the development.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I take the opportunity to acknowledge the significant contribution being made by the voluntary and co-operative housing sector in delivering on social housing need. To date, some 20,000 units of accommodation have been provided by the sector to meet the needs of low income families and special needs groups. The development in Leixlip, County Kildare, comprises 61 social units and 45 voluntary units, of which 17 are funded under the capital assistance scheme and 28 under the loan subsidy scheme. There are a further 27 private sites, subsidised under my Department's low cost sites scheme, while the development also includes the provision of some community facilities.

The voluntary housing body, Respond, was engaged to develop the scheme on behalf of Kildare County Council. The individuals allocated the 27 private sites grouped together to form Easton Mews Limited in order to develop the sites. The contractor for the whole development, including the development of the private sites, is MDY Construction Limited. The current approved funding is over €17 million, comprising approximately €9.3 million for the social housing, €6.6 million for the voluntary housing and €1.2 million for the private sites.

The contract between Respond and the contractor is substantially complete at this stage. The footpaths and the final surface dressing of access roads were the last items to be provided under the contract and the final account for the completed scheme is being examined by Respond. At this point, the outstanding matters relate to the apportionment of the final account costs between the different elements of the development.

My Department's role in the implementation of voluntary housing projects relates primarily to the provision of funds for individual projects. There is over €500,000 of approved funding available for recoupment from my Department for the voluntary development on receipt of the appropriate claims from Kildare County Council. The administration of the scheme and the certification that individual projects meet the terms of the scheme are the responsibility of the relevant local authority. The terms of the contract between the voluntary housing body and the chosen contractor are matters for the parties themselves. My Department is not privy either to these terms or any provisions in the contract regarding site development works or access roads. Therefore, I am not in a position to give details of the contractual arrangements in this case.

On 2 October 2007 Kildare County Council submitted a revised budget application seeking additional funding in respect of the 27 private sites. This application is being examined by the Department and the authority has been asked to clarify a number of matters. The application will be dealt with as soon as possible on receipt of the clarification sought.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 October 2007.