Written Answers.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 9, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 10 to 81, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 82 to 87, inclusive, answered orally.

Ministerial Appointments.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

88 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the way consuls are appointed; if any consul has been replaced since 1 January 2007; and if so, the reason for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25008/07]

I understand the Deputy is referring to the appointment of Honorary Consuls rather than to the Consul positions filled at full time Consulates in the normal way by career civil servants who are transferred abroad for a temporary period.

When deciding where Honorary Consuls of Ireland are to be appointed, I have regard to whether such appointments are justified by the need to provide for the welfare of Irish citizens, both resident and visiting, or by the prospects of developing trade and economic relations with the country or region concerned.

Persons who are appointed as Honorary Consuls are generally experienced professional or business people who are well established, have good high-level contacts in Government and business circles in that country or region and have centrally-located offices suitable for use as a Consulate.

When it is considered that an appointment as Honorary Consul may be justified, suitable candidates who would be willing to undertake the duties involved are identified, usually by the Irish Embassy accredited to the country concerned. The matter is then submitted for my consideration.

If it is decided that a particular appointment as Honorary Consul should be made, it is necessary to seek the agreement of the relevant Foreign Ministry. When that agreement is received, the nominee is formally offered the position for an initial period of three years which may subsequently be extended by mutual agreement.

At present, Ireland has a total of 87 Honorary Consuls and Honorary Consuls General. As the Deputy will appreciate, from time to time, those who are appointed may resign, or their services may no longer be required if, for example, an Embassy of Ireland is established in the same location and takes over the role of providing Consular Services.

Since 1 January 2007, the process of appointing Honorary Consuls has been completed in three cases: Hong Kong; Agadir, Morocco; and Harare, Zimbabwe. In Hong Kong, the previous appointee resigned after many years of much appreciated service. In Agadir and Harare, the appointments are of our first Honorary Consuls in those locations and were made primarily to meet the consular needs of Irish citizens.

Our Honorary Consuls are not full-time officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs but are honorary appointees who undertake, in addition to their own occupations, to do invaluable work on behalf of Ireland. In particular, the dedicated and personal consular services that they provide to Irish citizens who find themselves in difficulty are greatly valued.

Human Rights Issues.

John Deasy

Question:

89 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he has taken or can take to raise concern about the possible violation of the Iranian people’s fundamental human rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25005/07]

Inevitably, perhaps, international attention in relation to Iran has focused recently on the nuclear issue and on developments in neighbouring Iraq. The Government believes it is important that we do not lose sight of the human rights situation in Iran, on which we have very serious concerns.

After a period in which gradual progress was evident in the overall human rights situation, the past few years have witnessed a serious and sustained erosion of human rights protections in Iran. Moderate and reformist political voices have been suppressed, and freedom of expression has been severely curtailed by actions against media outlets and individual journalists.

Against this background of reassertion of State control, a wide range of other human rights issues has also shown a marked deterioration. These include the increased use of the death penalty, including executions of minors and in some isolated cases recourse to the particularly barbaric practice of execution by stoning. There has been a notable increase in intolerance of expression of identity by national minorities, and active harassment of minority communities, including the Baha'i community. Trade unions and women's groups have been suppressed and there has been a sustained campaign against NGOs and human rights defenders. Indeed groups and individuals in Iran are now being targeted by the authorities because they have been in contact with western Embassies.

I have been seriously concerned by these developments, and I raised them very directly in my meeting with Foreign Minister Mottaki in New York on 1 October. The Government and our EU partners make frequent representations to the Iranian authorities about specific cases and issues, and about the broader principles of human rights. In recent years we have co-sponsored a Resolution at the UN General Assembly on the human rights situation in Iran, along with Canada and others. We will do so again this year.

Regrettably, Iran has shown little interest in tackling these issues. A formal Human Rights Dialogue between the EU and Iran is now effectively in abeyance. The last meeting was held under the Irish EU Presidency in 2004, and it seems clear that Iran is not now willing to engage in the dialogue.

The Government and our EU partners will continue to use every opportunity to draw attention to, and where possible to uphold, the fundamental rights of the Iranian people.

EU Treaties.

James Bannon

Question:

90 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason the Government chose to avail of an opt out in the areas of criminal procedure and police co-operation in the EU Reform Treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25014/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

103 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his proposals for opting out of certain aspects of the revised EU Treaty; the beneficial impact or otherwise of such action with particular reference to mutual recognition of the need for cooperation between all Member States on particular issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25041/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

322 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the full extent to any opt out positions in the context of the European Reform Treaty; the extent to which such positions are expected to affect cooperation with other Member States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25474/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 90, 103 and 322 together.

Agreement on further Treaty provisions in the area of freedom, security and justice is one of the key features of the new Reform Treaty which was agreed to by the Taoiseach and his fellow Heads of State and Government at the informal European Council in Lisbon last week. These provisions will strengthen the Union's ability to combat cross border crime, including illegal immigration and the trafficking of people, arms and drugs which affect all Member States.

Ireland is fully committed to ensuring the effectiveness of EU cooperation against cross border crime. The House will recall that we were instrumental in forging agreement on the Constitutional Treaty and would have been happy to have ratified and implemented that Treaty, including its key elements in the justice and home affairs area. As was explained in the House last week, we must also take account, however, of the changes reflected in the Reform Treaty. These changes arise from the British decision to seek opt-in/opt-out arrangements in the areas of judicial criminal law cooperation and police cooperation.

As was explained in the House, the common law system is quite different from those of our European partners. Under the Constitutional Treaty, it was considered that the combined weight of Ireland and Britain would have been effective in shaping EU measures so as to take account of the specific character of our legal system. Under the Reform Treaty, however, we could have found ourselves, as one of a small handful of Member States with a common law tradition, at a disadvantage and unable to shape proposals in a direction palatable to us.

Faced with this situation, and after carefully weighing up all of the arguments, the Government decided to join the new opt-in/opt-out arrangement on criminal law and police cooperation. We were only willing to avail of these new arrangements because they enable us to opt in on a case-by-case basis. This is what we intend to do. We have the particular intention of participating in measures in the field of police cooperation. Accordingly, we have made a strong Declaration to be attached to the Reform Treaty underlining our firm intention to join with our EU Partners whenever possible. We have also decided that these new arrangements will not apply to measures concerning the freezing of terrorist assets.

On foot of these arrangements, we will be able to contribute to EU cooperation in this important area while, at the same time, ensuring the necessary protections for our legal system. Furthermore, as justice, freedom and security is a relatively new area of EU activity, we have decided to review our participation in these particular opt-in/opt-out arrangements after three years. This will give us time to consider the evolution of EU policy in this area and to assess further the implications of cooperation in the new policy areas for our legal system.

Middle East Peace Process.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

91 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will advance the proposal that a permanent secretariat be established in order to advance proposals for peace in the Middle East such as the road map for peace and other initiatives by the quartet and others. [24981/07]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

108 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland supports the establishment of a Palestinian State; and the steps that can be taken to assist in the achievement of this objective. [24904/07]

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

138 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Irish Government’s position in relation to the recent decision by the Israeli Government to appropriate the land of four Palestinian villages for the purpose of building new settlements and a new highway which will cut east Jerusalem off from the West Bank, in view of the fact that such actions are in flagrant breach of the agreement that the 1967 borders will not be changed except by agreement and is also in breach of the prohibition on building new settlements on Palestinian lands. [24999/07]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

315 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recent statement by UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Mr. John Dugard, that the UN should withdraw from the US dominated international quartet, in view of that body’s failure to respect Palestinian human rights and that the EU should also consider withdrawing from the quartet unless it drops its unconditional backing for Israeli positions. [25269/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

318 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will outline and report on the developing situation in relation to the Middle East with particular reference to the Israeli-Palestinian situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25470/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 91, 108, 138, 315 and 318 together.

Ireland is a long-standing and active proponent of the establishment of an independent Palestinian State. The Government has argued strongly within the EU and internationally that a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East is more urgently needed now than at any time in the past sixty years. It must be based on a peaceful, lasting and just two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There is now a real opportunity for progress. At our meetings in Luxembourg and Lisbon last week, EU Foreign Ministers reviewed progress in the dialogue between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the preparations for the international meeting in the U.S. in November. We believe that the current opportunity must be grasped in order to restore credibility and momentum to the peace process. The EU has stated that concrete results must be achieved, leading to meaningful final status negotiations. These will have to address and resolve the most sensitive and difficult issues at the heart of the conflict.

The EU has a crucial role to play, working directly with the parties and as an active member of the international Quartet. The EU and its Member States have been the strongest supporters of the Palestinian people. Total EU assistance this year will amount to over €800 million. Irish assistance will increase to over €7 million. We will work for the success of the major international donors conference for Palestine which will be held in Paris before the end of the year. The EU is determined to provide all necessary political and humanitarian support to the establishment of an independent Palestinian State, and the building of democratic institutions and a viable economy.

I have seen the recent comments of the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights. The Government greatly values his work in the human rights field. However, I do not believe that it is productive at this point in the political process to enter into a debate on possible withdrawal from the Quartet by the UN or anyone else. It is no secret that we have been among those Member States which have sought to strengthen the Quartet, and the EU's voice in it. The Quartet will have a crucial role to play in the period ahead, on the Palestinian track and with Arab States working to develop the historic opportunity offered by the Arab Peace Initiative. Depending on developments, it may be that a proposal for a permanent secretariat could usefully be considered, in order to add focus to the work of the Quartet and the various international envoys active in the region. We would judge any such proposal on the contribution it can make to the achievement of the strategic objective of a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the meantime, the EU continues to make it clear that all parties must meet their obligations under international law. We remain deeply concerned at violence in the region, the continued expansion of settlements and the construction of the security barrier on occupied land. These and other practices in the Occupied Territories are contrary to international law and threaten the achievement of a viable settlement. The EU has explicitly raised with the Israeli Government the reported decision on the expropriation of Palestinian land near the major settlement bloc East of Jerusalem. I also raised the issue of settlement expansion and the plans for the E1 corridor East of Jerusalem in the most direct terms with the Israeli Foreign Minister when I met her earlier this year. We will continue to raise our concerns on these issues with the Israeli authorities.

International Conventions.

Liz McManus

Question:

92 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s position in relation to enacting universal jurisdiction; and if it accepts that it is the duty of every State to exercise its criminal jurisdiction over those responsible for international crimes in order to ensure that their national courts are able to investigate and prosecute anyone suspected of committing the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and extraordinary rendition in order to ensure that their country cannot be used as a safe haven to evade justice by those perpetrating such acts. [24997/07]

The exercise of universal jurisdiction involves the prosecution by the State of a person in Ireland for a crime committed anywhere and regardless of that person's nationality. As it is an exception to the general principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states, it requires the sanction of international law.

Under Irish law, universal jurisdiction may be exercised in relation to certain war crimes and torture. War crimes constituting grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their First Additional Protocol of 1977 may be prosecuted under the Geneva Conventions Acts 1962 and 1998. Torture, pursuant to the United Nations Convention Against Torture of 1984, may be prosecuted under the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention Against Torture) Act 2000.

As regards genocide, the Genocide Convention of 1948 does not provide for the exercise of universal jurisdiction and it is Ireland's view that, as of yet, there is no clear rule of customary international law that provides for the exercise of universal jurisdiction in respect of genocide.

Likewise, as regards crimes against humanity, there is no international agreement that provides for the exercise of universal jurisdiction and it is Ireland's view that, as of yet, there is no clear rule of customary international law that provides for the exercise of universal jurisdiction in respect of these crimes.

On the other hand, it was for the very reason of ensuring that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole do not go unpunished that the international community, by adopting the Rome Statute, created the International Criminal Court. Ireland has been a consistent and strong supporter of the ICC, recognising it as an essential means for bringing to justice those responsible for the most serious international crimes. With the exception of a referral by the UN Security Council, however, the jurisdiction of the ICC is limited to crimes committed by the nationals of States Parties, or committed on the territory of States Parties. Accordingly, until such time as adherence to the Rome Statute is itself universal, the jurisdiction of the Court will be limited. To this end, together with our EU partners, Ireland seeks to advance the universal reach of the Court by promoting the universal ratification of the Rome Statute.

No international agreement provides for the exercise of universal jurisdiction in relation to extrajudicial executions, nor has it become a crime subject to universal jurisdiction under customary international law. It will be of interest to note, however, that the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances, which was signed by Ireland in March of this year, provides for the prosecution by a state of an alleged offender present in its territory, unless it extradites or surrenders him or her to another state or surrenders him or her to an international criminal tribunal. This Convention, which opened for signature in February 2007, has not yet been ratified by any state and so has not yet entered into force.

There is no agreed definition of "extraordinary rendition" in international law, nor is there any international agreement providing for the exercise of universal jurisdiction in relation to "extraordinary rendition". However, the unlawful deprivation of liberty on Irish territory is, of course, a crime under Irish law. The Government is completely opposed to the practice of extraordinary rendition. Our concerns in this matter have been made clear to the highest levels of the US Government, including by the Taoiseach to President Bush. The Government has received specific assurances from the US authorities, confirmed by Secretary of State Rice that prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission.

Freedom of Expression.

Mary Upton

Question:

93 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position of the Government in relation to the reports of the rights to free expression and dissemination of information in Pakistan being persistently undermined through the arrest of editors and reporters from local and regional newspapers on charges of sedition. [24998/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

321 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has satisfied himself regarding the application of the normal democratic principles in Pakistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25473/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 321 together.

The Government is aware of, and concerned about, problems in Pakistan relating, amongst other things, to freedom of expression, the dissemination of information, and the ill-treatment of editors and reporters.

These problems have been well documented within Pakistan itself by the Pakistani media and by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its annual report for 2006, and internationally by respected international bodies such as Reporters Without Borders, FIDH (the International Federation of Human Rights Organisations) and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists. The issues highlighted include various forms of restrictions on press freedom, restrictions on access to information, pressures from government and other sources, as well as threats to media professionals from all levels of government and extremist elements. A number of cases of killings of media figures, physical attacks, imprisonment, disappearances and various forms of intimidation have been reported.

Any obstacles to freedom of expression, and the media, are a source of concern. Nevertheless, despite the very real obstacles to freedom of expression, there is a highly impressive, strong, vibrant and independent media in Pakistan, which speaks out very openly on all aspects of Pakistani life and politics. We have seen the highly vocal and independent media at work over recent months, covering the suspension of the Chief Justice, subsequent and ongoing events in the Supreme Court, the Presidential election campaign and the return to Pakistan of opposition leaders. This is an enormous tribute to the commitment, professionalism and courage of those involved in the media in Pakistan and very encouraging for the future of democracy in Pakistan.

As regards the democratic process more generally, Pakistan is hopefully on a course back to democracy. But the road to democracy, stability and economic and social development will not be an easy one. Though democratic party politics and traditions are reasonably well established in urban and some other areas, near-feudal conditions exist in some of the more remote rural and tribal areas. Corruption at various levels is also a serious problem, affecting almost every aspect of life, including the political system. And, particularly threatening in the parliamentary electoral campaign, is the subversion and havoc that militants and extremists can create. In addition to an alarming escalation of daily attacks on the military and authorities in border and tribal areas, we have witnessed such events such as the siege at the Red Mosque in Islamabad some months ago and, last week, the appalling massacre that greeted Benazir Bhutto's return to her country. Although such militancy is shared by only a small percentage of Pakistan's population, the ability of the terrorists and radicals to inflict devastating damage is deeply troubling.

While the road back to democracy will undoubtedly a very difficult one, there are, nevertheless, some positive developments worth highlighting: President Musharraf has made a commitment to withdraw from a military role and has nominated a successor as Army Chief of Staff, which increases hopes that here will be an end to military rule in the coming months. The political parties and the public are intensely engaged in what will clearly be a hotly-contested election campaign, while the Pakistan Elections Commission has been working to put systems in place to ensure that these elections are free and fair.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

Alan Shatter

Question:

94 Deputy Alan Shatter asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the fact that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon capability; the nature of his concern; the action taken to date by this State as a member of the European Union and at the United Nations to address this issue; and his views on whether EU and United Nations action to date is adequate. [25043/07]

The Government and our EU partners share the widespread concern at Iran's refusal to comply with its international obligations in respect of its nuclear programme. Aspects of that programme, together with Iran's pursuit of long-range missile technology, have given rise to serious concern that it is seeking to develop a nuclear weapons capability. The Government shares the clear view of Iran's neighbours that this would pose serious dangers in an already volatile region. We have consistently expressed our strong views in opposition to the presence of any nuclear weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction, in the Middle East.

The EU is firmly committed to the search for a diplomatic solution, and is working in close cooperation with the United States, Russia and China. As part of the effort to persuade Iran to meet its obligations, the EU presented a substantial package of proposals for improved relations in June 2006. It is very regrettable that Iran has so far refused to accept this offer as a basis for negotiations, but the package remains on the table.

The UN Security Council has three times issued a clear demand that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment activities, most recently in Security Council Resolution 1747 of 24 March 2007. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has reported that Iran continues to ignore the demands of the Security Council, and a range of UN sanctions have been imposed on the nuclear and military sectors. We have welcomed the Agreement reached in August between Iran and the IAEA to resolve all questions on Iran's past nuclear activities, but this can be no substitute for compliance with the international obligations clearly identified by the UN Security Council.

I have outlined the Government's position directly to the Iranian authorities, most recently during my meeting with Foreign Minister Mottaki in New York on 1 October. I emphasised the firm and united support of the EU behind the approach being articulated by High Representative Solana and the group of Member States referred to as the "EU3" — France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with the Foreign Ministers of Russia, China and the U.S., the EU3 have asked High Representative Solana to meet again with Iran's chief negotiator, to lay the foundation for future negotiations. They stated on 28 September that if these contacts and the efforts of the IAEA have not shown a positive outcome in November, they would proceed with a further Security Council Resolution, imposing wider sanctions.

At the General Affairs and External Relations Council which I attended in Luxembourg last week, it was agreed that the EU will consider what additional measures it might take in order to support the UN process and the shared objectives of the international community.

International Agreements.

Andrew Doyle

Question:

95 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the plans he has to seek to be a signatory to the Antarctica Treaty 1959; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25020/07]

The Antarctic Treaty opened for signature on 1 December, 1959 in Washington DC and came into force in 1961. The stated aim of the Treaty is to ensure "in the interests of all mankind that Antarctica shall continue forever to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and shall not become the scene or object of international discord."

In particular the Treaty sought to prohibit nuclear testing and radioactive waste disposal, and to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica. It also provided that no new claims to territorial sovereignty or enlargement of standing claims would be made by States parties.

Today, the Antarctic Treaty system comprises the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection (‘the Madrid Protocol'), the 1972 convention for the Conservation of the Antarctic Seals and the 1980 Convention on the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

While the Treaty has been in operation since 1961, only 46, or fewer than one quarter of UN Member States, are States Parties.

Over the years, many of those who have chosen not to accede have argued that the Antarctic should be declared part of the common heritage of mankind and thus be treated in a manner comparable to Outer Space or the International Sea Bed Area and therefore beyond the limits of national jurisdiction. Some have called for a UN agreement to which all Member States would subscribe as the best means to ensure full accountability for actions undertaken in, affecting and concerning Antarctica. Ireland has traditionally been sympathetic to this view.

However, we are aware of the immense difficulties which would arise in seeking to negotiate a new Treaty. We have also noted that UN General Assembly Resolutions of 2002 and 2005 welcomed the practice whereby the Antarctic Treaty consultative parties regularly provide the UN Secretary General with information on their consultative meetings and their activities in Antarctica.

In all the circumstances, the Government intends to re-examine the issue, which is of relevance to a number of Government Departments. I have accordingly asked officials in my Department to study the issues involved in accession, with a view to initiating broader interdepartmental consultation on this question.

Human Rights Issues.

Joan Burton

Question:

96 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the answer he has given to the representations made to him regarding the continuing abuse by Government forces in Zimbabwe of political opponents and the widely reported arbitrary detentions and beatings. [24996/07]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

100 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the initiatives the Irish Government and the European Union proposes to take to address the human and institutional crisis that has arisen in Zimbabwe; the contact the Irish Government or the European Union has had with South Africa and other neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe; and the conclusions which have flown from such contacts. [24995/07]

Seán Barrett

Question:

110 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he will take to highlight the violations of human rights in Zimbabwe and the suffering of its citizens as a result of the collapsing economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22326/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 96, 100 and 110 together.

I continue to be gravely concerned at the deterioration in the situation in Zimbabwe. Efforts by the Government of Zimbabwe to tackle hyper-inflation by imposing fixed prices by force have led to severe shortages in urban areas. In rural areas, millions are likely to need food aid as a result of crop failures, exacerbated by government policies. Opposition activists, including Morgan Tsvangarai, the leader of the largest faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), were seriously ill-treated in police detention in March 2007, and hundreds of lower-profile activists have been severely beaten in custody since then. Presidential and parliamentary elections are due to take place in March 2008, and the focus of international efforts must now be on pushing for a level playing field for these elections, so as to allow the people of Zimbabwe to decide who they think can best lead their country out of its current economic and political crisis.

Ireland and the EU strongly believe that African leadership is the key to improving the situation in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe's neighbours are best placed to encourage progress towards economic and political stability, and adherence to those human rights standards on which Africa seeks to base its future development. We support the mandate given to President Mbeki by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to facilitate dialogue between the government and opposition in Zimbabwe. Talks between the two sides have been ongoing for several months, and the Government and both MDC factions have agreed to certain constitutional changes. However, international observers are concerned that these alone will not be enough to ensure free and fair elections in Zimbabwe next year. Ireland and the European Union are awaiting the outcome of the SADC/Mbeki initiative, which is expected early next month, and of the review being undertaken by SADC Finance Ministers of Zimbabwe's economy. When EU Foreign Ministers discussed the situation in Zimbabwe on 15 October, we agreed that we may need to engage further in follow-up to the SADC initiative once it is completed next month. We stand ready to respond substantively to any positive change in Zimbabwe.

The EU operates an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and a targeted visa ban against Zimbabwean leaders but does not have economic sanctions against the country, nor is there any intention to do so. The EU is a major provider of aid to the Zimbabwean people, and this commitment to their welfare will remain in spite of government actions. The EU consistently uses political contacts with countries in the region to highlight concerns about Zimbabwe. Representatives of the local EU Presidency in each of the SADC countries have this year expressed to their host governments the concern of the EU and its Member States over the developments in Zimbabwe. The Presidency Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs attended the SADC Summit in August 2007 and had talks with key figures. Zimbabwe was discussed at the EU-South Africa Troika which took place in South Africa on 10 October, and the EU expressed readiness to respond appropriately to tangible results from the SADC initiative and President Mbeki's mediation. No matter who represents Zimbabwe at the EU-Africa Summit in December, Ireland has made clear that we believe human rights and governance issues must be discussed, including as they affect Zimbabwe.

The situation in Zimbabwe is a matter of significant concern here in Ireland, and Ireland is among those EU Member States which have most strongly condemned human rights abuses and urged political and economic reform in Zimbabwe. The Embassy of Ireland in Pretoria monitors allegations of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe on an ongoing basis, and raises issues of concern with the Zimbabwean government at every available opportunity. The Irish Ambassador to South Africa most recently met Zimbabwean officials during a visit to Harare in September 2007. The Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs raised Ireland's concerns with Zimbabwean officials in Harare in June, and also had talks on Zimbabwe with South African officials in Pretoria. Ireland's Embassies in the region have highlighted our concerns about developments in Zimbabwe where possible. In particular, the Embassy of Ireland in Pretoria regularly discusses the situation in Zimbabwe with South African officials and Ministers. Ireland has also supported EU action to raise Zimbabwe in the appropriate UN human rights bodies.

The Irish Government, through Irish Aid, provides assistance for Zimbabwe for humanitarian purposes and for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. Irish Aid works in partnership with NGOs, missionaries and international organisations and does not provide funding to the Zimbabwean Government. Irish Aid funding for Zimbabwe amounted to €10.4 million in 2006 and €8 million so far this year. These programmes have a direct and positive effect on the lives of thousands of poor Zimbabwean people, and we are committed to continuing this assistance and expanding it when circumstances allow.

Irish Emigrants.

Charles Flanagan

Question:

97 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the links he has with Irish emigrants in the USA; if he provides funding to them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25018/07]

James Bannon

Question:

117 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the links he has with Irish emigrants in Britain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25012/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 97 and 117 together.

Maintaining and strengthening links with Irish communities overseas is a key priority of my Department. An essential and positive development in the provision of services to Irish emigrants is the very substantial level of funding now available. In 2007, the unprecedented amount of €15.165 million has been provided for emigrant services, 26% greater than last year.

Grants are extended to groups in the voluntary sector who provide advice and support for Irish people abroad. Priority continues to be given to groups that support our most vulnerable and marginalised, such as our older community in Britain and undocumented Irish in the United States.

The interests of the Irish in the United States are an important priority for the Government, with the issue of the undocumented Irish being an area of particular concern. In all of our dealings with key figures in the US Administration and Legislature, we emphasise our strong support for measures that would enable the undocumented Irish to regularise their status and have open to them a path to permanent residence. Our Embassy in Washington and Consulates across the US are extremely active, on an ongoing basis, in highlighting our concerns. Close contact is also maintained with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), which also receives financial support. I, of course, availed of my recent visit to the United States to meet with ILIR, and also with a group of our undocumented citizens in New York.

My recent visit to the United States also provided me with the opportunity to discuss the situation with senior members of the Administration and with some of the key central players in Congress. While they all emphasised the extremely difficult environment at present for making progress on immigration reform in Congress, I was pleased that they were very willing to work with us in exploring further possible ways for resolving the position of our undocumented citizens. This work will now be pursued by the Ambassador and his staff in Washington and will be reviewed by me on an on-going basis.

In a broader context, my Department is working very closely with community organisations that assist the vulnerable Irish in the US. This year, over €1 million was made available to assist them in their crucial work.

Equally, the needs of the Irish community in Britain, in particular older people and those at risk of social exclusion, are a key priority for us. In 2006, the Government approved grants to over 140 groups throughout Britain amounting to €10.13 million. So far in 2007, grant allocations of €9.9 million have been announced, with further grants currently under active consideration. I met with members of most of these groups in London on 8th October when I announced this year's grants.

In addition to the very significant funding directed to Irish community groups that support our older emigrants, last year I introduced a new initiative based on the "Christmas Box" tradition, which provided additional small grants of £1,000 to £5,000 for a number of Irish clubs and associations around Britain to support their Christmas gatherings and I hope, funds permitting, to do the same again this year.

The Government is also conscious of the entitlements of some of our older Irish emigrants to Irish contributory pensions. In 2000, as Minister for Social, Family and Community Affairs, I established the pension scheme for people with pre-1953 pension contributions. Under this scheme, some €60.6 million was paid out last year to over 11,500 pensioners in Britain who benefit from this initiative.

Additional funding has also made possible support for GAA developments in Britain and North America. Over many years, GAA clubs throughout the world have helped their members and supporters to maintain and enhance their links with Ireland. Very importantly also, they help to sustain a strong sense of community and promote Irish heritage and cultural activities among our people overseas and their families.

Human Rights Issues.

Liz McManus

Question:

98 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is willing to call on the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mr. Luis Moreno Ocampo, to prioritise the investigation and prosecution of gross and systematic incidents of sexual violence in the eastern regions of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as part of the ICC’s ongoing investigation into the situation in the DRC, both in order to bring an end to the widespread perception of impunity for sexual violence prevalent in the DRC and also to reform the international community’s ambivalent and apathetic attitude to the issue of rape and sexual violence in conflict situations. [24976/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

329 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the ongoing situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25481/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 98 and 329 together.

The renewed conflict in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) poses a threat to the transition process in the country and needs to be addressed urgently. A number of armed militias are preying on the population in North and South Kivu, and attempts by government troops to resolve the situation by force risk visiting further suffering on the people of the region. The EU has urged the Congolese authorities to seek a negotiated solution.

My EU colleagues and I again discussed the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this month. Following our discussion, the EU issued a Declaration urging an end to the violence in the east of the DRC and expressing its deep concern in particular over the systematic sexual violence which has become routine in this conflict. The EU expressed support for Congolese Government efforts to develop a national action plan based on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and armed conflict.

Ultimately, an end to the conflict, followed by the creation of stability and the establishment of the rule of law in eastern DR Congo, will be crucial to ending these horrifying and brutal crimes against women. First, the Congolese Government will need to work towards a political solution, in co-operation with neighbouring countries, including Rwanda. I welcome in this regard the recent meeting between the DRC and Rwandan Foreign Ministers. Security sector reform, demobilisation and disarmament, and ending impunity and establishing an effective, fair and transparent system of justice are also urgently required.

The European Union, including Ireland, is fully committed to helping the Congolese government to tackle these problems. On the ground, the EUPOL DR Congo mission is assisting in police reform, and the EUSEC DR Congo mission is offering guidance on army integration and other security issues. Ireland has provided approximately €15 million for emergency purposes in the DRC since 2005, including almost €8 million so far this year. In 2006, Ireland provided €500,000 to support demobilisation and disarmament in the wider Great Lakes region. Establishing stability and justice will be a slow process, but the EU is committed to providing assistance in the long term.

Although progress is frustratingly slow, there is growing international recognition of the seriousness of rape and sexual violence in conflict situations. Since the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in 1993, structures have been established which can begin to combat impunity for these and other serious crimes, starting with the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on violence against women in 1994. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 of 2000 called for special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, emphasised the need to end impunity for such crimes, and urged the inclusion of women in peace processes and post-conflict rehabilitation.

The Rome Statute, which in 2002 established the International Criminal Court (ICC), includes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and other acts of gender based violence in its definition of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The entry into force of the Rome Statute has provided the international community with a permanent basis on which to act in relation to sexual violence in conflict situations. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of four country situations where the ICC has currently decided to act, and the first person to be arrested by the ICC was a Congolese national, who was arrested in 2006 in connection with the use of child soldiers. Just last week, a second individual, Germain Katanga, was arrested in Kinshasa and flown to the Hague to face charges of murder, sexual enslavement and recruiting children as soldiers.

The Rome Statute provides that the Office of the Prosecutor shall act independently, and must not seek or act on instructions from any external source, including from states. It would therefore not be appropriate for me to call directly on the Prosecutor to act on a specific issue. However, the Office of the Prosecutor has actively engaged in a dialogue with States Parties, intergovernmental organisations and NGOs on the development of its overall prosecution policy. Ireland closely monitors the reports of the Prosecutor to the Assembly of States Parties to the ICC and to the UN Security Council.

Overseas Development Aid.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

99 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the amount of aid given to organisations in Nepal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25027/07]

Assistance to development organisations operating in Nepal has totalled €2.6 million since 2004, as follows:

2004 €448,468

2005 €596,620

2006 €600,533

2007 €988,041

The funding has been provided under a number of different schemes, including funding for missionary organisations, volunteer programmes, and funding for long-term development under the Civil Society Fund in the areas of human rights, health, education and livelihood support. Funds were also allocated for emergency assistance dealing with flooding. In 2005, €200,000 was made available as a contribution to the establishment of a field office of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question No. 100 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

Asylum Applications.

Denis Naughten

Question:

101 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he is taking to address the problems forcing persons to seek asylum within the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25034/07]

I would like to direct the Deputy to my reply to Priority Question No. 86 which was as follows.

The problems that force people to seek asylum within the EU and elsewhere are many and all too common. They have to be addressed by the international community with all the instruments and resources at its disposal. All human rights violations must be condemned wherever they occur. Those responsible for persecution cannot be allowed to operate with impunity.

Persecution and conflict flourish in situations of extreme poverty and where climate change has had a disastrous impact on living conditions. These closely related factors present a complex challenge requiring a range of policy responses. Given that the great majority of the world's asylum seekers come from developing countries, it is important that the EU and other countries consider ways to support third countries in finding solutions to their problems.

Ireland, bilaterally, and in co-operation with its EU and UN partners, consistently follows a multi-faceted approach to the causes which have forced people to flee. This begins with our advocacy of the protection of human rights and continues through efforts to ensure conflict resolution, and the encouragement of policies aimed at poverty reduction, sustainable development and economic growth. The Irish Aid programme in particular is firmly focused on these objectives.

At EU level, the European Commission published last June a Green Paper on the future of the Common European Asylum System. The Green Paper, which Ireland welcomes, recognises many of the key challenges faced by Member States in relation to the operation of their asylum policies and procedures, and the need for increased co-operation on approaches at EU level so as to prevent ‘asylum shopping' while at the same time ensuring that those individuals who are in genuine need of protection receive this protection as soon as possible.

I believe that the vast majority of people have no wish to uproot themselves from their communities, frequently leaving their families behind, to undertake an often dangerous journey to an unknown and uncertain destination. If people are provided with a minimum level of economic opportunity, and the security provided by a functioning accountable Government and basic public services, they will, I believe, choose to stay in their own countries, towns and villages.

Ministerial Meetings.

Michael D'Arcy

Question:

102 Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions he had with the Secretary of State of the USA on his recent visit there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25017/07]

On 3 October, I met with the US Secretary of State, Dr Condoleezza Rice, in Washington DC. My meeting provided an opportunity to discuss a number of issues of current international concern, including the planned conference in the US next month on the Middle East as well as Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Following on from meetings I had earlier that week in New York, including with UN Secretary General Ban and the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Lam Akol, and on which I briefed the Secretary, we also discussed the situations in Burma and Darfur. In discussing Darfur, I also briefed Secretary Rice on the new EU ESDP mission to Chad and the Central African Republic and of Ireland's intention to participate, subject to final Government decision and Dáil approval.

Secretary Rice and I also discussed the issue of conflict resolution and the establishment of a dedicated unit within my Department to develop Ireland's profile and expertise in this area. Secretary Rice expressed support for our efforts and the close cooperation being forged with the United Nations in developing the future work programme of the Conflict Resolution Unit.

The Government's complete opposition to extraordinary rendition, and the importance in this regard of the assurances we have received from the US authorities, including from Secretary Rice herself, were also recalled.

We also discussed recent very positive developments in Northern Ireland and I expressed the Government's appreciation of the US Administration's ongoing support and involvement. I emphasised the importance of economic success to underpin political progress in Northern Ireland and briefed on the potential benefits of North/South co-operation to contribute to economic growth and prosperity on the island of Ireland.

During the meeting, I emphasised my concern about the situation facing the undocumented Irish in the United States following the failure of efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the US Congress earlier this year. During the meeting, I emphasised my concern about the situation facing the undocumented Irish in the United States following the failure of efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the US Congress earlier this year. I made clear the Government's determination to explore possible alternative options, including bilateral arrangements. While recognising the present very difficult environment for immigration reform in Congress, we agreed to explore further the potential for resolving the position of our undocumented citizens. This work will now be actively taken forward by the Ambassador and his staff in Washington.

I also raised the case of an Irish citizen who was killed recently while serving with the United States Armed Forces in Afghanistan and requested that the full circumstances surrounding her death be made available to the family.

Question No. 103 answered with Question 90.

Human Rights Issues.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

104 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the very serious, extensive and fundamental breaches of human rights involved he will indicate his view on the request to the Federal Government of India to address the continued impunity which it is suggested is maintained by those involved in massacres, rapes and other widespread violations in Gujarat in 2002. [24993/07]

I very much share the concerns expressed by Deputy Sherlock about the killings and serious human rights abuses which occurred in Gujarat in 2002, and the strong evidence which exists to suggest that some individuals within the State Government of Gujarat were involved.

In view of very deep concerns in this regard, and particularly in light of the strong evidence of involvement by the State authorities in the violence and rights abuses which took place, the EU agreed, shortly after these events in 2002, to refrain from any high-level EU visits to the State of Gujarat and from all direct contacts with Chief Minister Modi or his Ministers and reaffirmed this position in 2006. It was also decided that members of the Gujarat Government should not be facilitated in relation to any official visits to EU Member States. This remains our position.

The EU, individually and collectively, avails of all suitable opportunities to raise with the Indian Government a variety of areas of concern in relation to human rights and rights of minorities, including our concerns about the situation in Gujarat. The central Government in New Delhi is indeed aware of the situation and of the EU's concerns in this regard. Our concerns relate not only to the specific events of 2002 but also to the evidence of continuing discrimination and impunity in Gujarat.

State Elections will be taking place in Gujarat in December this year and we will be monitoring developments there closely, particularly to gauge if the outcome to those elections will enhance the prospects of further investigation of the events of 2002 and the bringing to justice of those who perpetrated the violence and abuses which took place at that time.

Jack Wall

Question:

105 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Irish Government’s view in relation to the importance of ending the denial of the Armenian genocide and vindication of the human rights of those within Turkey who wish to discuss this issue. [24979/07]

Relations between Turkey and Armenia are complicated by a number of outstanding issues. The major dispute between the two countries centres on the different interpretations of events during the First World War which resulted in the tragic deaths of very large numbers of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Government has proposed the establishment of a commission, composed of eminent academics, to investigate and determine the facts of this tragic episode in their shared history. While it has not been possible to move forward on the basis of this proposal, we would encourage both sides to explore ways to make progress on this most sensitive issue.

The Government's concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey are raised on a regular basis in our contacts with the Turkish Government and its representatives, and in cooperation with our partners in the EU. In recent years Turkey has made significant progress in the adoption of wide-ranging political and legal reforms. Important human rights reforms have been introduced and legislation enacted aimed at strengthening the enforcement of human rights, including the cultural rights of all citizens. At my recent meeting with Foreign Minister Babacan, en marge of the UN General Assembly, I emphasised the need for further progress on the reform agenda.

I am aware of recent reports of the conviction and jailing of journalists in Turkey for offences under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which apparently relate to their publication of particular views concerning the historical events referred to above. Ireland and our EU partners have made clear to Turkey our views on the need for further reform of the Turkish Penal Code to ensure full respect for freedom of expression, and we will continue to do so. In this context, I am pleased to note recent reports that the Turkish Government is considering revision of Article 301 of the Penal Code.

International Conventions.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

106 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when he will ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22328/07]

Willie Penrose

Question:

128 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when Ireland will ratify the international instruments in relation to the prohibition on trafficking. [24980/07]

Leo Varadkar

Question:

129 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when he will ratify the UN Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons especially women and children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22327/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106, 128 and 129 together.

Legislation creating offences connected with human trafficking was published by my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, on 9th October, 2007.

It is also the intention of the Minster for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to include provisions in the forthcoming Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill which will strengthen the protections available to victims of human trafficking. In particular, it is his intention to provide the necessary framework within which a victim of trafficking can remain in the State while they recover from their ordeal. It is intended that this will also give the victim the opportunity to escape the influence of those who engage in human trafficking. In addition, this interval will allow the victim time to come to a decision on whether he or she wishes to participate in any criminal proceedings in the matter. In such circumstances, a further period of residence in the State is to be provided for so to enable this to occur.

On enactment of these pieces of legislation, which I understand are being treated as an urgent priority within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Ireland will be in a position to ratify the international instruments on trafficking in persons.

Question No. 107 answered with QuestionNo. 87.
Question No. 108 answered with QuestionNo. 91.

Overseas Development Aid.

Pat Breen

Question:

109 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the amount of aid given to organisations in Sudan; the way this funding to used; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25024/07]

There has been a sharp deterioration in 2007 in the security and humanitarian situation in Sudan, particularly Darfur. The current crisis represents a significant challenge to efforts to help the people of Sudan. Humanitarian access remains very difficult for aid workers in their efforts to reach those most in need. The security situation within some of the camps remains very volatile.

In 2006 and to date in 2007, Ireland has provided funding of approximately €32.5 million to support humanitarian operations and longer-term development engagement in Sudan. The objective is to save lives and help rebuild livelihoods of some of the most marginalised and poor people in Sudan.

So far in 2007, we have provided a little over €10 million in life saving humanitarian support. This includes €3 million to the Common Humanitarian Fund for Sudan. This is a mechanism which places funds at the disposal of the Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan in order that assistance can be rapidly deployed to those most in need. Funding has also been provided to organisations such as Concern, GOAL, Trócaire, Oxfam, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) for their humanitarian operations.

In relation to longer-term development work, the Government has provided in 2007 funding of approximately €5.8 million to three Irish Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) — Concern, GOAL and Trócaire — as part of our Multi Annual Partnership Scheme (MAPS). These programmes focus on health, education, nutrition and HIV/AIDS, water, sanitation and food security.

Assistance amounting to €2 million has also been provided to the African Peace Facility in order to support the African Union's peacekeeping efforts in Sudan.

In addition to the provision of funding, Ireland has disbursed essential, non-food relief supplies — tarpaulins for temporary shelter and mosquito nets — from our emergency stockpile in Brindisi, Italy to Kassala, northern Sudan. These supplies were delivered as part of the Government's Rapid Response Initiative and were provided to GOAL to assist in its emergency operations following serious flooding in that region.

I believe there is an urgent need for a full, rapid and successful deployment of the joint UN-AU Mission, UNAMID, to succeed the African Union Mission in Sudan. I urge the Government of Sudan to cooperate fully with the UN and AU on deployment of UNAMID and all parties to cease attacks on civilians and obstruction of humanitarian access.

It is in the context of Ireland's concern for the vulnerable of this region that the Government has decided in principle to contribute personnel to the planned European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, which will assist the many thousands of people in these countries displaced by the Darfur crisis.

My colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D., intends, subject to security considerations, to travel to the region next month in order to reiterate the priority Ireland attaches to assisting all the people of Sudan and the region to achieve peace and development.

I will continue to keep the evolving humanitarian crisis in Sudan under review, providing funding to save lives, while encouraging and supporting all efforts to forge the political solution, which is absolutely essential to bring about security, stability and human development.

Question No. 110 answered with QuestionNo. 96.
Question No. 111 answered with QuestionNo. 87.

Foreign Conflicts.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

112 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the reported killing in the Central African Republic by Government troops of civilians since June 2005; and if in the context of the deployment of Irish Troops in Chad he will make a statement on the regional implication of such actions. [24992/07]

The security, humanitarian and human rights challenges in the Central African Republic (CAR) remain immense, with a clear need for international support. In recent years, an already difficult situation has been exacerbated by the activities of criminal gangs, armed rebellions in the north-west and the north-east and the spill-over of instability from Darfur and Chad. However, there has been some recent political progress, with President Bozize's government initialling a peace deal with four rebel groups earlier this month.

In May 2007 the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into grave crimes, including mass killings and rape, that have occurred in the country in the context of the conflict between the Government and rebel forces. While the investigation will focus primarily on the period 2002-2003, it will also follow ongoing abuses. A number of reports of the UN Secretary General have highlighted concerns about the excessive use of force by some elements of the armed forces of the Central African Republic, which have further undermined the humanitarian situation and increased displacement in rebel areas in the north of the country. There is a clear need for reform and strengthening of the armed forces and police of the Central African Republic to allow them to provide security and achieve improved human rights protection standards. Recent UN reports have also described the conflict in the border areas between Darfur, Chad, and the CAR as a threat to overall peace and security in the region.

In response to this situation, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1778 of 25 September 2007, authorising the establishment of a multi-dimensional mission to provide security and protection for refugees and the displaced, allow for refugee returns and facilitate humanitarian assistance in Chad and the Central African Republic. The multi-dimensional presence is mandated to contribute to a more secure environment through monitoring, promotion and protection of human rights, and to support efforts to strengthen the capacity of both the CAR and Chadian governments in meeting international human rights standards. A specific police training element, totalling more than 300 personnel, will form part of the mission.

Resolution 1778 also authorised the European Union to establish an operation to provide the military element of the mission for a period of one year. The General Affairs and External Relations Council which I attended on 15 October approved a Joint Action establishing EUFOR TCHAD/RCA, a bridging military operation for the multi-dimensional mission, which is to work alongside UN Civilian and Police elements and reformed elements of Chadian police. EUFOR TCHAD/RCA's primary focus will be on protection for civilians in danger, particularly refugees and displaced persons, in eastern Chad and north-eastern CAR, facilitating humanitarian access and protection of UN personnel.

Ireland fully supports the deployment of EUFOR TCHAD/RCA as a means of addressing the serious security and humanitarian situation obtaining in both eastern Chad and northern-eastern CAR, as well as the broader regional dimension arising from the Darfur crisis. As Deputies are aware, Lt Gen Pat Nash has been appointed Operations Commander of the mission. Officers from the Defence Forces returned last week from a reconnaissance visit to the mission area, and will make recommendations prior to any Government decision to seek Dáil approval for a significant deployment of Irish troops to serve with EUFOR TCHAD/RCA. This will undoubtedly be a challenging mission which will need to be conducted in a balanced, impartial and independent manner but which should equally contribute to improving overall security and respect for human rights in this fragile region.

Ireland also has an established record of providing humanitarian assistance to the people of the Central African Republic. Since 2006, Irish Aid has provided over €3.8 million to support the work of UN agencies on the ground.

Human Rights Issues.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

113 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he or his colleagues in the European Union are concerned or intend making a statement on the widespread concern by Human Rights Organisations and Human Rights Watch in particular over Colombian President Uribe’s interference in the Supreme Courts investigation into links between politicians and paramilitaries, and what they suggest are his repeated attacks on the Court itself and which constitute a threat to judicial independence. [24986/07]

Together with our European Union partners, Ireland is closely monitoring developments in regard to Supreme Court investigations in connection with the alleged association of members of Congress and Government officials with paramilitary groups in Colombia. Any association between elected representatives and officials and paramilitary groups is a matter of serious concern in itself, and also has the capacity further to destabilise the Colombian peace process, the success of which is essential for that country's future development. The question of how the European Union can most effectively influence developments in a positive direction is kept under careful review. Any interference with judicial independence would clearly be a matter of the most serious concern.

Question No. 114 answered with QuestionNo. 87.

International Agreements.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

115 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the United Nations instruments awaiting ratification that will be ratified in the current Dáil term and which he expects to have ratified in the lifetime of this Government. [24975/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, there is a large number of international agreements within the UN framework, covering a very wide range of subjects and falling within the functional responsibility of a number of Departments.

A list of the international agreements within the UN framework which have been signed but not ratified by Ireland (apart from those which have been superseded by subsequent agreements) is as follows, indicating the lead Government Department with responsibility in each case. I have asked my officials to check with each of the relevant Departments concerning their current plans for ratification of these instruments, and I will communicate this information separately to the Deputy as soon as possible.

UN Agreements signed but not yet ratified by Ireland

No.

Title:

Date of Signature:

Department responsible:

1

Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes

18 April 1961

DFA

2

Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes

24 April 1963

DFA

3

Agreement concerning the Adoption of Uniform Conditions for Periodical Technical Inspections of Wheeled Vehicles and the Reciprocal Recognition of such Inspections

13 November 1997

Transport

4

Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Persistent Organic Pollutants

24 June 1998

Environment & Local Government

5

Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution on Heavy Metals

24 June 1998

Environment & Local Government

6

Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making, and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters

25 June 1998

Environment & Local Government

7

Protocol to the 1979 Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution to abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground Level Ozone

1 December 1999

Environment & Local Government

8

Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography

7 September 2000

D/JELR

9

UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime

13 December 2000

D/JELR

10

Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime

13 December 2000

D/JELR

11

Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime

13 December 2000

D/JELR

12

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants

23 May 2001

Environment & Local Government

13

Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment to the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context

21 May 2003

Environment & Local Government

14

Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers

21 May 2003

Environment & Local Government

15

UN Convention against Corruption

9 December 2003

D/JELR

16

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

15 September 2005

D/JELR

17

The International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances

29 March 2007

D/JELR

18

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

30 March 2007

D/JELR

19

Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

2 October 2007

D/JELR

Human Rights Issues.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

116 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will express to the Chinese Government, the Irish Government’s concern at attempts to suppress dissent and introduce restrictions of movement of dissidents within China in preparation of an atmosphere for international presence on the occasion of the Olympic Games. [24987/07]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

309 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the way it is proposed to reassert the opposition of the Irish people to human rights violations in China especially in the context of the forthcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. [24863/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116 and 309 together.

My Department has already been involved in constructive discussions with the Chinese Government on the implications of the Olympic Games in Beijing next year. We have highlighted the opportunities which China's hosting of the Games present, in terms of show-casing the country and its many achievements. In that context, we have stressed that the international spotlight will be on China at that time, including on a range of international questions and on issues of human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. We have reiterated the great importance that the Government attaches to these issues, and our hope that every effort possible will be made to facilitate freedom of movement and expression, including the right to peaceful protest, in the run-up to — and during — the Games.

I welcome the decision by the Chinese authorities at the beginning of this year to lift temporarily some restrictions on foreign journalists working in China. A useful legacy of the Games would be if this easing of restrictions were made permanent and extended to all journalists working in China. This, I believe, would allow for a deeper and wider understanding of China and its development.

I am concerned by reports that the Chinese authorities may introduce restrictions on certain groups in China during the games. Whilst security issues are of course a key concern for the organisers, it is not clear that these would justify such measures.

On a more general level, concerns regarding the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in China are raised on a regular basis in our own bilateral contacts with the Government of China. Discussions in this regard take place at official level in Dublin and in Beijing and I myself raised my concerns in this regard when I met (then) Foreign Minister Li in Beijing last year.

Such issues are also discussed on a regular basis in the context of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, which is the agreed formal framework through which the EU raises human rights issues with China. The Dialogue, the most recent round of which took place in Beijing last week, has allowed the EU to engage with China on such issues as freedom of expression, the death penalty, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of religion and minority rights. The EU has used the Dialogue to press its case for Chinese ratification of such international instruments as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and for reform of the criminal justice system. The EU has also urged China to continue cooperation with, and to implement the recommendations of, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, including in particular the abolition of the "re-education through labour" system. The EU continues to use the Dialogue to raise significant individual human rights cases. These cases are followed up in subsequent contacts with the Chinese authorities.

Question No. 117 answered with QuestionNo. 97.

Nuclear Issues.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

118 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the next meeting of the Nuclear Supplies Group will take place; and the agenda for discussion. [24983/07]

The next Plenary Meeting of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) is scheduled to take place in Germany in early 2008. There will be a meeting of the NSG Consultative Group in Vienna from 14-16 November this year. This is the standing inter-sessional working body of the NSG, tasked to hold consultations on issues associated with the Guidelines on Nuclear Supply and related issues.

The agenda for the November meeting includes consideration of technical developments with implications for export controls, outreach to other States, UN Security Council sanctions, and the question of NSG relations with India. Participating Governments will be invited to share information on discussions with India on possible civil nuclear cooperation with that country but it is not expected that the NSG will be asked to take any decision in the matter, in particular given recent indications that the Government of India has decided to delay pursuing implementation of its agreement with the United States. As the Deputy will be aware, we have considerable reservations about the proposed agreement and have been actively seeking clarifications across a range of issues of concern.

Humanitarian Emergencies.

John Deasy

Question:

119 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of personnel in the rapid response unit; the role they have; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25007/07]

The Rapid Response Corps is a key component of the Government's Rapid Response Initiative. This Initiative is designed to enhance Ireland's overall response to humanitarian emergencies. The Rapid Response Corps consists of a roster of highly-skilled individuals who can deploy at short notice to emergency situations.

The campaign to recruit members to this roster was launched in February 2007. Following a rigorous selection and interview process, 64 individuals were invited to become members of the Corps of whom 52 are now ready to deploy if needed. This group has completed its compulsory pre-departure training and checks.

The role of the Corps is to make highly-skilled and experienced professionals available, on a volunteer basis, to key humanitarian partner agencies at short notice to assist in their humanitarian response efforts. Individual members of the Corps are on standby and can be deployed, when requested, for periods of approximately three months.

Ireland can now provide essential expertise — individuals with humanitarian, logistics, information technology, engineering, environmental, public information and public health skills — to our key humanitarian partner agencies. These are the specific skills which are needed internationally to address humanitarian crises.

Question No. 120 answered with QuestionNo. 87.

Human Rights Issues.

Willie Penrose

Question:

121 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he and the Government are in favour of establishing a regime of inspection of such civilian and military traffic in order to among other purposes, ensure Irish compliance with its international human rights and humanitarian law obligations. [25002/07]

I assume that the Deputy is referring to the issue of extraordinary rendition, which has been raised on many occasions in this House. As I have made clear repeatedly, the Government are completely opposed to the practice of the extraordinary rendition of prisoners. Our concerns in relation to this matter have been made clear to the highest levels of the US Government, including by the Taoiseach to President Bush. The Government have received specific assurances from the US authorities, confirmed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that such prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission. My most recent meeting with Secretary Rice on 3rd October provided a further opportunity to recall the Government's complete opposition to extraordinary rendition, and the importance in this regard of the assurances we have received from the US authorities.

As I have also made clear on previous occasions, the Government is satisfied that it is in full compliance with its international obligations in this respect.

I am not aware that there have been any allegations that military aircraft transiting Irish airports have been involved in extraordinary rendition. By virtue of sovereign immunity, and subject to the commonly-accepted practice of nations, military aircraft are not subject to search when they visit Irish airports. In relation to civil aircraft (which is the relevant category in this regard), where the Garda Síochána reasonably suspects that an offence is being committed, statutory powers of entry of aircraft and arrest are available. As I have previously informed the House, the decision to search a particular aircraft, if and when warranted in accordance with the law, would be a matter for the Garda Síochána.

To date, where complaints of alleged unlawful activity concerning the use of Irish airports have been made to the Garda Síochána, Garda investigations have ensued and, where appropriate, files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In all these cases, no further action was found to be warranted, owing to a lack of any evidence of any unlawful activity. Finally, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have confirmed that every support and assistance is being provided to the Garda Síochána To date, where complaints of alleged unlawful activity concerning the use of Irish airports have been made to the Garda Síochána, Garda investigations have ensued and, where appropriate, files have been submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In all these cases, no further action was found to be warranted, owing to a lack of any evidence of any unlawful activity. Finally, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform have confirmed that every support and assistance is being provided to the Garda Síochána to ensure Ireland's compliance with international law in respect of the use of Irish airports.

Mary Upton

Question:

122 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the right to water as a basic human right in the context of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and related instruments. [24977/07]

Irish Aid, the Government's official development programme, recognises adequate water and sanitation both as a fundamental right and as essential for social and economic development. We believe that adequate water and sanitation are prerequisites to the achievement of other basic rights, such as the right to health or to the achievement of equal rights for women and children, who currently bear the bulk of the burden associated with the lack of water and sanitation.

The right to water as a basic human right is not explicit in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Articles 22 and 25 cover social, cultural and economic rights and the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being. I believe that access to water and sanitation is a vital component of that standard of living.

The provision of adequate and safe water and sanitation remains a key part of the Government's aid programme. In 2006, Irish Aid invested approximately €20 million in a wide range of activities in the sector. This work will continue as our programme expands.

Asylum Applications.

Denis Naughten

Question:

123 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the establishment of transit and processing centres for migrants and asylum seekers outside the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25035/07]

In recent years, a number of new approaches have been suggested for the processing of mixed flows of migrants and asylum seekers that wish to enter the EU. These proposals include the establishment of transit and processing centres outside of the EU.

While there may be good reasons for these proposed centres, such as the provision of better levels of protection than are currently available and the harmonisation of asylum processing, such proposals raise many practical concerns and legal questions. These include issues such as who would be responsible for the running of the centres; who would they cater for; how would refugee status be determined; what happens after refugee status has been determined. Ireland has no plans to establish any migrant or asylum processing centres outside the State.

Human Rights Issues.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

124 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the need to promote and protect human rights internationally by controlling more effectively the conditions under which military and security transfers take place, particularly in the context of armed conflict, he will support calls for measures to unequivocally prohibit mercenary activity of any kind by Irish citizens in an armed conflict. [24994/07]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the use by States of private military/private security companies (PMCs/PSCs) in situations of armed conflict. I am advised that both the staff of private military/private security companies and any State hiring them have responsibilities under international humanitarian law. An Irish citizen working for such a company would be bound by international humanitarian law and would, for example, have individual criminal responsibility for any war crimes committed.

The use of mercenaries is not as such prohibited under customary general international law or under any broadly ratified international treaty. International humanitarian law does not prohibit mercenaries, but rather focuses on their status if captured. Article 47 of the First Additional Protocol of 1977 to the Geneva Convention provides that "a mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war", i.e. that a mercenary is not entitled to the privileged treatment of a prisoner of war. However, the Protocol's criteria for the definition of a mercenary make it apparent how problematic it can be to distinguish between categories of military forces.

The question of any illegal activity by private military/security companies within the State would be a matter for the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána. While I would be open to considering any broadly-based international effort to clarify or regulate the complex issues involved, I do not believe that any blanket prohibition of the type proposed is likely to be practicable.

Freedom of Expression.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

125 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position of the Government in relation to the reported crackdown in Egypt on journalists and dissidents in the exercise of freedom of expression and the recent dissolution of a human rights organisation. [24989/07]

Ireland and Egypt have enjoyed very good relations for many years. The Government was particularly pleased to welcome President Mubarak to Dublin last December on the first ever visit by an Egyptian Head of State. I am in regular contact with the Egyptian Foreign Minister. We greatly value the positive role played by Egypt regionally, especially in relation to the Middle East Peace Process and the efforts to resolve the crisis in Darfur. We work in particularly close partnership as members of the New Agenda Coalition for a world free of nuclear weapons.

In our contacts with the Egyptian Government, we regularly raise human rights issues. We have welcomed the moves in recent years to introduce a greater degree of political pluralism in Egypt and to improve the protection of human rights. The EU has developed a strong institutional framework for its relations with Egypt, which is based on a joint commitment to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The EU-Egypt Action Plan, which was agreed earlier this year under the European Neighbourhood Policy, devotes particular attention to the promotion of these basic values. The EU has made it clear that we are ready to contribute to Egypt's efforts by providing support and technical assistance. Through our Embassy in Cairo, the Government also supports the work of a range of Egyptian human rights organisations.

Against this background, I have been disappointed, and concerned, by recent reports of action against a number of journalists and human rights organisations. There is a widespread concern that the authorities have moved to limit the freedom of expression which is essential to the development of a democratic society.

The concerns which we and our EU partners share at these developments, and other reported human rights abuses, will be specifically addressed in the political dialogue sub-committee established under the EU-Egypt Action Plan. The first meeting of the group will take place in the coming months. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the human rights situation in Egypt through our Embassy in Cairo and in cooperation with our EU partners. We will also continue to raise issues of concern with the Egyptian Government.

Overseas Development Aid.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

126 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on purchasing a transport aircraft for the Air Corps as part of the overseas aid programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24703/07]

There are no plans, at this time, to purchase a transport aircraft for the Air Corps as part of Ireland's overseas aid programme. Such a purchase is unlikely to be a cost effective use of Irish Aid funding.

The current position is that the transportation of Ireland's supplies of essential, non-food relief items — which are stockpiled at the UN's humanitarian response base in Brindisi, Italy and at the Curragh Camp, Co. Kildare — is undertaken in accordance with a formal agreement between my Department and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) signed in October 2006.

I visited the Brindisi emergency warehouse on 19 July and, since that time, there have been shipments comprising Ireland's essential supplies to meet humanitarian needs following natural disasters in Pakistan, Sudan, Peru, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Mali.

Our shipments have, in most cases, been joint operations with other donor countries likeNorway and Italy. They have been undertaken as part of our agreement with the WFP. For such joint operations, packing lists, aircraft space and flight costs have been shared with the other donors. They have proven to be both an efficient and cost effective way of providing essential supplies to those people in real need in humanitarian emergencies.

While a review of Ireland's stockpiling process will be undertaken towards the end of 2008, it is my intention, at least until that time, to continue to transport our essential relief supplies in accordance with our agreement with the WFP.

International Conventions.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

127 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, following the damning report of the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture regarding the conditions in Irish prisons, and more particularly its conclusions on the lack of sanitation, adequate space and basic safety from violence for inmates and staff in Mountjoy, Limerick Prison and St. Patrick’s Institution, Ireland is in breach of its international obligations under the Convention Against Torture, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention on the Prevention of Torture; and if he will raise with his Government colleagues in general, and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in particular the issues of non-compliance that arise. [25001/07]

The report of the visit to Ireland one year ago by the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe was published along with the response of the Government on 10 October. My Department participated in an Inter-Departmental Committee on the preparation of the visit chaired by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I am pleased with the statement at the beginning of the CPT report that the degree of co-operation received during the visit from the Irish authorities was very good, both at central and local level. The issues raised by the Deputy arising from the report are matters for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and I will draw them to his attention.

Questions Nos. 128 and 129 answered with Question No. 106.

Human Rights Issues.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

130 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is in a position to comment on the recently published Human Rights Watch report Criminal Politics: Violence, Godfathers and Corruption in Nigeria, and the crisis of governance, lack of transparency and other matters referred to in the report; and if it is his Departments’s position that it can recommend to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform that Nigeria is a country to which refugees can be returned with the assurance of all protections under international law. [24990/07]

"Criminal Politics: Violence, ‘Godfathers' and Corruption in Nigeria", Human Right Watch's report of 11 October 2007, addresses a number of genuine challenges faced in Nigeria. More needs to be done to address corruption and human rights standards in Nigeria and the conduct of Nigeria's April 2007 elections was a disappointment. These elections, as noted in the report of the EU Election Observation Mission, were marked by many irregularities and by violent incidents that led to numerous deaths and they failed to reach a significantly higher standard that the previous round of elections held in 2004.

It is important to recognise, however, that Nigeria is in a process of transition from a long and traumatic period of military rule that ended only about eight years ago. Nigeria's human rights record has improved considerably since 1999. During the period in office of former President Obasanjo, a Human Rights Violations Investigation Panel was set up to investigate all gross human rights violations dating back to 1966 while plans were also announced for establishment of Human Rights Steering and Coordination Committees. The Obasanjo Government also took significant steps to address corruption, including arresting or removing many senior officials and politicians who were found to have committed abuses.

Simultaneously, great strides have been made in economic reform and establishing sustainable growth, while Nigeria has played a leadership role in advancing the cause of peace both regionally in West Africa and in Africa as a whole. President Obasanjo was a most effective President of the African Union (AU) between 2004 and 2006. Nigeria is also a major troop contributor to AU and UN missions and will provide the Force Commander for the hybrid African Union-UN mission currently being deployed in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Since his inauguration earlier this year, President Yar'Adua has publicly acknowledged that there were flaws in the 2007 electoral process and has established an Electoral Reform Panel to come up with recommendations to try to deal with some of these flaws. The Human Right Watch report of October 2007 also notes that President Yar'Adua is known for his personal probity and has already demonstrated a commitment to transparency, not least by declaring the value of his private assets in July 2007. President Yar'Adua has also committed to reforming a range of national institutions including the police force.

Alongside other international partners, the European Union and Ireland are committed to working with Nigeria on areas of mutual concern and supporting Nigeria's efforts to achieve further reform and learn lessons from the 2007 elections. Political dialogue between the EU and Nigeria under article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement will play an important role in this engagement. This dialogue between the Union and both Government and opposition figures has covered areas including democratisation, constitutional and economic reform, human rights, international relations and trade. It was initiated under the Irish Presidency of the European Union in 2004, and Ireland and our European partners are committed to using it to the greatest possible effect.

With regard to the second part of the Deputy's question, my Department continues to monitor closely the human rights situation in Nigeria and responds to requests for information from other Government Departments as they arise.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

131 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent report by Humans Rights Watch in relation to the violation of ethnic Nepalese children’s rights in contrary to convention on the rights of the child in Bhutan. [24988/07]

I am deeply concerned by the situation of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal, as well as the wider issue of the situation of ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan itself. Of particular concern is the situation of tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalese children expelled from Bhutan who have been left stateless and condemned to grow up in limbo in refugee camps in the region. In this context, I greatly welcome the report by Human Rights Watch in May on the issue of Bhutanese refugees and its subsequent submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in September.

The situation of the Bhutanese refugees has its origins in the policies of the Government of Bhutan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which resulted in the expulsion of tens of thousands of people from the south of the country to Nepal. These refugees are of Nepalese descent and Hindu, unlike the northern Bhutanese who are predominantly Buddhist. Since that time, up to 103,000 refugees have been confined to seven refugee camps in south-eastern Nepal administered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This protracted refugee situation remains a source of regional tension.

Many of the refugees were forced to sign so-called "voluntary migration certificates" when they were expelled, effectively forfeiting their rights to Bhutanese citizenship under the country's citizenship laws.

Although Bhutan and Nepal agreed in 1993 to set up a high level committee at foreign minister level to work towards a settlement of the refugee issue, little progress has been made. In 2001, the two sides agreed a joint process to verify the nationality of refugees. However, work has been concentrated on only one of the seven camps and the UNHCR has been excluded from the process. There have not yet been any repatriations.

Together with our EU partners, Ireland continues to call upon the governments of both Bhutan and Nepal to invite the UNHCR to participate fully in monitoring a verification and appeals process for the Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Ireland urges all parties to work together to find a prompt, viable solution to this situation, which might include voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement. I would equally urge the government of Bhutan to do its utmost to protect the civil, economic and cultural rights of ethnic Nepalese in Bhutan.

Question No. 132 answered with QuestionNo. 87.

UN Conventions.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

133 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government expects to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption in the current Dáil period or in the lifetime of the current Government. [24982/07]

The United Nations Convention against Corruption was adopted by the UN General Assembly in October 2003 and was signed on behalf of Ireland, when it opened for signature in December 2003. The Convention entered into force on 14 December 2005.

The Convention is a very broad and comprehensive treaty which provides internationally-recognised measures to prevent and combat corruption. It also seeks to support and facilitate international co-operation and technical assistance in the prevention of, and fight against, corruption, including asset recovery. More generally, it aims to promote integrity, accountability and proper management of public affairs and public property.

My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, is currently examining the Convention. His Department has also undertaken consultations with other Departments and Agencies. While the majority of its provisions are catered for in existing laws, it will be necessary to harmonise some aspects of Irish legislation with the criminal justice provisions of the Convention. The Government intends to bring forward the required additional legislation as part of the Criminal Justice (Mutual Assistance) Bill and the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill.

The Government is also examining the Convention's provisions relating to asset recovery, judicial and prosecution services and anti-corruption institutions with a view to determining if any other action will be required before Ireland can ratify this Convention.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Joe Costello

Question:

134 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the proposals he envisages in advance of the referendum on the European treaty to address the issue of the accountability deficit in relation to European Union decision making in general and CFSP in particular. [24985/07]

A key purpose of the new Reform Treaty is to enhance the democratic legitimacy of the Union. With this aim in mind, the Treaty provides for a stronger role for the European Parliament by extending the number of areas of EU legislation to be decided by co-decision between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers.

The Houses of the Oireachtas and other national Parliaments throughout the Union currently receive Commission proposals directly from the Commission itself. The Reform Treaty will strengthen current subsidiarity arrangements by giving national Parliaments longer to respond to Commission proposals and by increasing the onus on the Commission to take their reasoned opinions into account. This so-called "yellow card" system is a positive development which will enhance accountability and democratic legitimacy within the Union.

Our own European Union (Scrutiny) Act has operated successfully for over five years in providing a national framework for parliamentary oversight of proposed EU measures. In relation to CFSP measures, the Scrutiny Act applies to proposed Joint Actions and proposed Common Positions. My Department takes the lead on these issues and informs the Oireachtas as to the content, purpose and the national implications of all such measures.

56 such proposals were scrutinised in detail in 2006. In view of the specific nature of CFSP proposals, the Department from time to time has recourse to the provisions for confidentiality and urgency which are provided for in the Act.

I also meet regularly with the Joint Committee on European Affairs, in advance of each meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, in order to brief members on items to be discussed, the majority of which usually relate to CFSP issues.

I particularly welcome the proposed new Joint Committee on European Scrutiny with which my Department and I will fully co-operate so as to ensure that the 30th Dáil continues to have its voice fully heard in relation to European affairs and EU legislation.

Human Rights Issues.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

135 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recent report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on sexual violence in southern Darfur; and if he will support the calls by the High Commissioner, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International that more must be done by the Sudanese Government and by UN-AU forces to provide effective protection for women and children at risk of sexual violence. [24978/07]

Since 2003, gender based violence targeted at women and girls has been a consistent feature of the conflict in Darfur. I have noted with concern the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights' (UNHCHR) recent report on the human rights situation in the Sudan which has helped to highlight further this terrible abuse and to identify means by which it may be addressed. The report documents clearly appalling acts of sexual violence which are still being committed across Darfur on an ongoing basis. The evidence of involvement by members of the Popular Defence Forces (a branch of the Government of Sudan's military) in such attacks and the failure of many of these reported crimes to be properly investigated, despite evidence presented to the local authorities, is particularly disturbing. It is incumbent on the Government of Sudan to respond to the detailed recommendations which the UNHCHR has made in her report. I also welcome the efforts which both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have made to highlight and urge effective action to address the issue of gender-based violence in Darfur.

The Government has repeatedly called on the Sudanese Government, rebel factions and all parties to end all abuse of civilians, and in particular women and children. I emphasised this point when I met recently with the Sudanese Foreign Minister in New York and urged his Government's full co-operation in facilitating the full and rapid deployment of the joint UN-AU hybrid mission for Darfur (UNAMID). I also highlighted the importance of UNAMID's rapid deployment for improving security in Darfur in my address to the UN General Assembly on 2 October. UNAMID, authorised by UN Security Council Resolution 1769 in succession to the AU Mission, AMIS, is specifically mandated to protect civilians and strengthen local capacities to combat impunity and to ensure adequate human rights in Darfur.

Ireland has also been active at EU and UN level in highlighting the need for effective action to tackle gender based violence in Darfur. Ireland was instrumental in securing agreement at the General Affairs and External Relations Council which I attended on 15 October on the EU's willingness to consider, if required, further measures, notably in the UN framework, to ensure the protection of civilians in Darfur. Ireland has also been active within the UN Human Rights Council in highlighting this issue, most recently in an address to the Council on 24 September which condemned the use of rape and gender based violence as a tool of intimidation and urged the Government of Sudan to end the culture of impunity which exists in Darfur.

Ireland has also supported the efforts of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) to protect the most vulnerable people in Darfur. The Government has provided €5 million in assistance to support the work of AMIS, much of which has been used for the recruitment of humanitarian and human rights monitors and the construction of protective police posts in camps for the internally displaced. Nationally, Irish Aid has funded specific gender based violence response programmes in Darfur. Irish Aid is also one of the founding Members of the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence, which was established in 2004 in response to the appalling levels of gender based violence in Darfur and among its activities promotes training on gender based violence for military personnel.

Joan Burton

Question:

136 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will condemn the use of lethal injection as a method of execution in view of the current US Supreme Court cases addressing lethal injections potential status as cruel and unusual punishment in view of the fact that the combination of drugs used have been banned for use by the American Veterinary Association as being unacceptably cruel; if he will remind the Governments of the United States, China, Guatemala and the Philippines of their customary obligations under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and call on them to abolish the death penalty, but failing this at the very least to introduce an immediate moratorium on the use of lethal injection as a method of execution. [24991/07]

Ireland, along with our EU partners, considers that the death penalty, by whatever means it is carried out, constitutes cruel and inhuman punishment and a violation of the right to life. We are committed to its abolition throughout the world. To this end, the EU is currently drafting a resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, with a view to its abolition, to be tabled at the United Nations General Assembly in the coming weeks.

UN Conventions.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

137 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the present position in relation to Irish rights in regard to the Law of the Sea as far as Rockall is concerned. [25003/07]

During the 1960s and 1970s the issue of Rockall was a source of some legal and political controversy in both Ireland and the United Kingdom. Much of that controversy arose from fears at the time that jurisdiction over Rockall and similar rocks and skerries was thought to be central in supporting claims to the mineral rights in the adjacent seabed and to fishing rights in the surrounding seas.

However, during the course of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which took place from 1973 to 1982, the Irish delegation worked hard to establish a satisfactory legal regime applicable to islands. This effort was completely successful. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was adopted at Montego Bay at the conclusion of the Conference on 10 December 1982, provides at Article 121, paragraph 3 that: "Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf."

Rockall is such a rock and Article 121(3) applies to it. Ireland ratified the Convention on 21 June 1996. The United Kingdom acceded to the Convention on 25 July 1997. It is accordingly accepted by both States that Rockall cannot be used as a basis for delimiting their respective continental shelves or fisheries zones. While the United Kingdom continues to claim jurisdiction over Rockall, this claim is not accepted by Ireland. Each country remains aware of the position of the other.

Following adoption of the Law of the Sea Convention, Rockall was not a factor in the subsequent negotiations between Ireland and the UK on delimitation of the continental shelf between the two countries, which concluded in agreement in 1988. The UK also later withdrew its claim to a 200 nautical mile exclusive fisheries zone measured from Rockall when it acceded to the Convention in 1997.

In a wider context, Iceland and Denmark (on behalf of the Faroe Islands) both make claims to the continental shelf that overlaps that area in the North East Atlantic in respect of which Ireland and the UK reached agreement in 1988. The four countries have met regularly since 2002 in an effort to resolve the issues arising from overlapping claims, most recently at the end of September in Reykjavik. A further session will take place in Denmark next month. The issue of ownership of the rock of Rockall has been of no significance in these discussions.

Question No. 138 answered with QuestionNo. 91.

Census of Population.

Richard Bruton

Question:

139 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach the number of persons aged fifteen and over living in Dublin classified by means of travel to work as revealed by Census 1996, Census 2002 and Census 2007. [24694/07]

Richard Bruton

Question:

140 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach the number of persons living in Dublin classified by means of travel to school or college as revealed by Census 1996, Census 2002 and Census 2006. [24695/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 139 and 140 together.

The following table contains the relevant Census of Population data for the years 1996 and 2002 for ‘Persons usually resident in Dublin County, classified by their means of travel to Work, School or College'. The information for 2006 is due to be published on 15th November 2007.

Persons usually resident (and present in their usual residence on census night) in Dublin County, classified by means of travel to Work, School or College, Census 2002

Means of travel

Motor car

County of Usual Residence

Total

On foot

Bicycle

Bus, minibus or coach

Train or DART

Motor cycle or scooter

Driver

Passenger

Lorry or van

Other means

Work mainly at or from home

Not stated

School Children Aged 05 -12

Dublin City

40,640

19,653

632

4,226

83

0

0

12,478

65

80

521

2,902

South Dublin

27,188

12,369

275

2,240

1

0

0

10,668

43

65

376

1,151

Dublin-Fingal

22,725

9,463

318

2,003

65

0

0

9750

31

35

286

774

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

19,453

5,282

351

1,044

168

0

0

12,070

25

55

163

295

Students Aged 13-18

Dublin City

27,485

12,998

2,212

6,553

523

104

82

3,560

14

33

351

1,055

South Dublin

20,143

8,966

1,288

5,254

19

164

120

3,417

18

31

458

408

Dublin-Fingal

16,653

6,255

684

4,655

1,140

64

98

3,346

10

22

116

263

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

14,268

3,243

1,259

3,624

1,079

117

164

4,547

13

17

87

118

Students Aged 19 +

Dublin City

21,480

7,139

2,316

7,555

1,181

261

1,493

421

12

21

348

733

South Dublin

7,420

654

556

4,046

52

218

1,139

505

7

6

93

144

Dublin-Fingal

6,913

307

92

2,623

2,288

77

908

406

8

5

86

113

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

9,637

1,381

865

3,697

1,251

232

1,465

542

7

12

107

78

School Children and Students

Total County Dublin

234,005

87,710

10,848

47,520

7,850

1,237

5,469

61,710

253

382

2992

8,034

Workers Aged 15 +

Dublin City

210,657

43,966

12,100

39,167

7,671

3,420

76,342

7,924

6,051

454

5,059

8,503

South Dublin

106,499

7,335

3,107

16,317

191

2,459

61,757

6,423

5,468

192

1,960

1,290

Dublin-Fingal

88,425

5,435

1,393

8,599

8,185

1,217

51,065

4,802

4,069

198

2,199

1,263

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

78,383

5,921

2,711

8,824

5,979

1,374

45,163

2,794

2,258

135

2,731

493

Workers Aged 15 +

Total County Dublin

483,964

62,657

19,311

72,907

22,026

8,470

234,327

21,943

17,846

979

11,949

11,549

Persons usually resident (and present in their usual residence on census night) in Dublin County, classified by means of travel to Work, School or College, Census 1996

Means of travel

Motor car

County of Usual Residence

Total

On foot

Bicycle

Bus, minibus or coach

Train or DART

Motor cycle or scooter

Driver

Passenger

Lorry or van

Other means

Work mainly at or from home

Not stated

School Children Aged 05-12

Dublin City

45,783

23,839

641

6,574

82

9,025

150

488

4,984

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

20,801

6,640

366

1,589

219

10,941

90

154

802

Fingal

24,888

12,532

343

2,948

88

7,231

91

266

1,389

South Dublin

32,182

18,738

290

3,938

6

6,969

209

375

1,657

Students Aged 13-18

Dublin City

33,520

16,273

3,724

7,359

602

13

42

2,942

85

301

2,179

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

17,147

3,826

2,303

4,113

1,263

32

77

4,785

51

302

395

Fingal

18,631

6,855

954

5,956

1,202

5

30

2,933

51

138

507

South Dublin

25,066

11,807

2,092

7,306

19

21

51

2,742

103

229

696

Students Aged 19 +

Dublin City

18,435

5,549

3,621

5,155

992

113

786

439

40

382

1,358

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

8,710

1,241

1,555

2,633

1,271

93

757

680

21

245

214

Fingal

4,604

114

112

2,045

1,472

23

285

332

19

21

181

South Dublin

5,043

350

771

2,846

44

70

339

361

11

74

177

School Children and Students

Total County Dublin

254,810

107,764

16,772

52,462

7,260

370

2,367

49,380

921

2,975

14,539

Workers Aged 15 +

Dublin City

177,153

29,850

13,945

36,876

6,220

2,080

61,598

8,987

4,213

6,164

7,220

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

73,872

4,647

2,989

7,458

5,441

718

41,964

4,080

1,647

3,824

1,104

Fingal

64,250

3,560

1,650

7,518

4,915

599

34,667

4,978

2,439

2,922

1,002

South Dublin

81,571

5,764

3,666

15,372

155

1,186

41,655

6,277

3,272

2,935

1,289

Workers Aged 15 +

Total County Dublin

396,846

43,821

22,250

67,224

16,731

4,583

179,884

24,322

11,571

15,845

10,615

Departmental Reports.

Richard Bruton

Question:

141 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach if his output statement has been published on his Department’s website; and the date on which it was put up on the website. [24746/07]

My Department's Output Statement was completed and was circulated to the Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service on 4 April last. It has been publicly available in response to requests thereafter and it has now been published on the website in association with the Department of the Taoiseach Annual Report.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

142 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Taoiseach if tenders were sought in regard to the study of the public service commissioned by him from the OECD; if he is satisfied that all Department of Finance and EU requirements regarding public procurement were met when awarding the contract; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24830/07]

Last December, the Government approved the initiation of a major Review by the OECD of the Irish Public Service. The objectives of this Review are to benchmark the Public Service in Ireland against other comparable countries and secondly, to make recommendations as to future directions for Public Service reform. This required a holistic, system-wide assessment of the Public Service which the OECD are uniquely positioned to undertake in terms of peer review benefits/capabilities, in-house expertise, access to extensive information databases, specialist knowledge and the level of engagement by the Governments and administrations of the 30 member states.

Against this background, it was considered that the OECD was best placed to undertake a review of this nature. Similar reviews by the OECD in the economic and regulatory areas are well established and highly regarded instruments. The Public Governance and Territorial Development Committee of the OECD, who are undertaking the Review, has also established similar peer review processes in the areas of HRM, ICT and in the area of ethics in public service, which are available to the member states.

Given that this is the first whole of Public Service Review undertaken by the OECD, the work is very extensive and requires developing new approaches and working methods. This offers the OECD the opportunity to develop a new tool kit of use to all OECD member states. In this regard, I understand that a number of countries are closely monitoring the progress of the Review.

In light of the developmental aspect of the Review, in terms of advancing the science of public management, the Government agreed to make an additional contribution towards the work of the OECD. This approach is entirely in keeping with the OECD's status as an international organisation funded by member state contributions and by additional voluntary contributions towards projects in which countries have a particular interest. Accordingly, the question of seeking tenders and the requirements regarding public procurement did not arise.

Planning Issues.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

143 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach the number of new houses and new apartments which received planning permission from Fingal County Council, and Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála for the years 2002 to 2006 and to date in 2007. [24610/07]

The number of new houses and apartments for which planning permission has been granted by Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council in each year from 2002 to the second quarter of 2007 are set out in the two tables. The figures incorporate* planning permissions granted by An Bord Pleanála in respect of the Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council areas.

Planning Permissions Granted by Dublin City Council for new houses and apartments, 2002-2007

All Houses

Of which Multi-Development Houses

Of which One-Off Houses

Apartments

Number of Permissions

Number of Units

Number of Permissions

Number of Units

Number of Permissions

Number of Units

Number of Permissions

Number of Units

2002

Q 1

62

95

14

47

48

48

48

619

Q 2

67

114

13

60

54

54

48

575

Q 3

65

96

15

46

50

50

64

717

Q 4

58

635

12

589

46

46

44

993

Year

252

940

54

742

198

198

204

2,904

2003

Q 1

82

105

11

34

71

71

49

799

Q 2

81

919

12

850

69

69

58

3,081

Q 3

117

325

23

231

94

94

54

1,524

Q 4

105

137

15

47

90

90

58

1,593

Year

385

1,486

61

1,162

324

324

219

6,997

2004

Q 1

107

488

19

400

88

88

56

2,953

Q 2

99

225

16

142

83

83

61

1,488

Q 3

124

223

21

120

103

103

64

1,456

Q 4

97

1,118

16

1,037

81

81

64

3,809

Year

427

2,054

72

1,699

355

355

245

9,706

2005

Q 1

74

122

19

67

55

55

49

1,779

Q 2

107

122

11

26

96

96

51

839

Q 3

108

157

26

75

82

82

53

1,216

Q 4

83

261

17

195

66

66

50

948

Year

372

662

73

363

299

299

203

4,782

2006

Q 1

113

187

26

100

87

87

51

1,323

Q 2

95

133

17

55

78

78

41

684

Q 3

102

178

25

101

77

77

34

1,500

Q 4

87

158

19

90

68

68

30

937

Year

397

656

87

346

310

310

156

4,444

2007

Q 1

113

176

19

82

94

94

44

496

Q 2

131

339

34

242

97

97

42

885

*The CSO does not separately identify permissions granted by An Bord Pleanála.

Ministerial Travel.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

144 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Taoiseach if his Department has a policy with regard to frequent flyer points accrued by Ministers or civil servants; if these must be signed over to his Department or if they can be retained by the individual concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24902/07]

In line with the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour, issued in accordance with Department of Finance circular 26/2004, benefits from this scheme may be retained by individual civil servants in recognition of the fact that official travel is disruptive to personal and family life. The use of frequent flyer schemes by Ministers in my Department is consistent with this policy.

Departmental Expenditure.

Brian Hayes

Question:

145 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Taoiseach the amount of money spent on paper and stationery in 2007: the amount of this money spent on recycled paper; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25148/07]

My Department has spent €156,700 on stationery in 2007 to date, of which €32,000 was spent on paper. Over 96% of paper purchased by my Department is recycled paper.

Construction Industry.

Damien English

Question:

146 Deputy Damien English asked the Taoiseach the number of people employed in the construction industry in County Meath in the years 2002 and 2006; if he expects this trend to continue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25189/07]

The information requested by the Deputy is contained in the table. Persons aged 15 years and over at work in Construction in County Meath for Census 2002 and 2006.

Census Year

Persons

2002

7,298

2006

11,010

Marriage Registrations.

Damien English

Question:

147 Deputy Damien English asked the Taoiseach the number of notifications of marriage received to date in 2007, with a breakdown of this figure for each county registrar. [25194/07]

Provisional figures for the number of marriages registered in the first 3 quarters of 2007 are given in the table. The table also shows provisional figures for the number of marriages registered in the corresponding quarters of 2006.

2006

2007

Quarter 1

3,267

3,399

Quarter 2

5,094

5,452

Quarter 3

8,341

8,698

Quarter 4

5,139

A breakdown of these figures for each county registrar is not yet available.

Garda Stations.

Tony Gregory

Question:

148 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the special provision for access for persons with disabilities available at the Garda stations at Mountjoy, Dublin 7 andFitzgibbon Street, Dublin 1; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24962/07]

It is planned to undertake a full refurbishment of Fitzgibbon Street Garda Station. When the refurbishment works are being carried out Mountjoy Garda Station will be used as a temporary District Headquarters. The refurbishment works at Fitzgibbon Street will address any deficiencies in access for persons with disabilities that may currently exist there. In regard to Mountjoy Garda Station the position concerning access for persons with disabilities will be examined.

Tax Code.

Brian Hayes

Question:

149 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if, in view of the Government’s encouragement and support to passengers who choose public transport, with the imposition of a car parking charge at railway stations which could lead to a potential 25% increase in commuting costs, he has considered introducing an annual parking ticket that could be brought into the tax saver system affording commuters the same tax breaks that they get for their tickets themselves; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25162/07]

The policy objective underlying the existing arrangements covering bus and rail passes is to encourage taxpayers to use public transport when travelling to and from work and, thus, contribute to the easing of traffic congestion and to the improvement of the environment. The extension of the scheme to include car parking costs would involve additional loss of tax revenue and it is not clear that it would contribute significantly to a reduction in traffic congestion.

Decentralisation Programme.

Damien English

Question:

150 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of civil servants and other public servants who have relocated from Dublin to Meath under the decentralisation programme to date; and the estimated number who will have relocated by the end of 2007. [25190/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that as part of the overall decentralisation programme it is intended to move approximately one hundred (100) staff to Navan. To date, seventy-nine (79) staff based in Dublin have accepted offers. It is expected that Revenue will be a position to move to Navan in the first quarter of 2008. I am informed by the Office of Public Works that it is intended to move three hundred and thirty (330) of its headquarter staff to Trim under the decentralisation programme. The building for the OPW staff is due for completion in the first quarter of 2009. No OPW staff are due to relocate to Trim between now and the end of 2007.

Departmental Properties.

Joe Costello

Question:

151 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will transfer the lands at Mountjoy Prison to the Mater Hospital when the prison closes in order that the hospital can acquire much needed space for development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25282/07]

The Commissioners of Public Works have appointed a multi-disciplinary Design Team, in order to seek full Planning Permission for the re-development of the Mountjoy Prison site. On foot of preliminary consultations with the Health Service Executive, the Commissioner's Design Team is currently exploring possible options for accommodating some non-core activities of the Mater Hospital on the Mountjoy Prison site.

Tax Code.

Damien English

Question:

152 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he has plans to reintroduce the living over the shop scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24713/07]

In Budget 2006 I announced that the existing Living Over the Shop Scheme was to terminate on 31 July 2008 subject to transitional arrangements for existing pipeline projects for expenditure incurred during the period 1 August 2006 to 31 July 2008. The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government are currently conducting a review of the need for the introduction of a new Living Over the Shop Scheme in Gateway towns and cities. The reintroduction of the scheme in a more focused way will be considered in the light of this review.

Departmental Reports.

Richard Bruton

Question:

153 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if his output statement has been published on his Department’s website; and the date on which it was put up on the website. [24741/07]

The Annual Output Statement for 2007 for the Finance Group of Votes was published on my Department's website on 11th July last. It can be accessed on www.finance.gov.ie under "Financial and Economic Information".

Garda Stations.

Dan Neville

Question:

154 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position regarding the proposed new Garda station at Kilfinane, County Limerick; and the stage the proposal is at. [24769/07]

A Sketch Scheme for the new station will be forwarded to An Garda Síochána for approval by the end of this year. The planning process under Part 9 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 (as amended) will then follow on receipt of this approval.

Site Acquisitions.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

155 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works has ever used a compulsory purchase order to acquire land for a school or education use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24789/07]

The Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland (OPW) have no legislative powers to acquire land for education use by compulsory purchase order.

Tax Code.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

156 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the amount it would cost to make the personal and PAYE income tax credits refundable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24790/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent estimated cost of making the main personal and PAYE tax credits refundable when they are unused is broadly in the region of €2.7 billion annually. This estimate relates only to the cost of extending refundable tax credits to all those on Revenue's tax files. If a refundable tax credit system were to be introduced, one would have to consider those who are not on the tax files, for example, those who are of employable age but not working, including those on social welfare. If such categories were eligible this would increase the cost significantly. Apart from the issue of cost, there would be a range of other policy and practical issues arising in introducing such a system. I have no plans to introduce such a scheme at the present time.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Ring

Question:

157 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will ascertain from the Office of Public Works when people in certain positions within the Office of Public Works will be paid the extra money; the reason they are not getting paid currently; and the reason this matter has not been resolved to date within the Office of Public Works. [24849/07]

From my enquiries I am not aware that there are monies owing to State Industrial staff members of the Office of Public Works. However, if the Deputy can provide additional detail, then I shall be happy to look further into the matter.

Ministerial Travel.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

158 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if his Department has a policy with regard to frequent flyer points accrued by Ministers or civil servants; if these must be signed over to his Department or if they can be retained by the individual concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24897/07]

The policy of my Department in relation to frequent flyers points accrued is governed by the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour. Section 16.2 of the code which deals with the receipt of gifts by civil servants states "that benefits under frequent flier schemes may be retained by individual civil servants in recognition of the fact that official travel is disruptive to personal and family life.''

Tax Code.

Tony Gregory

Question:

159 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance his views on a reduction in VAT and VRT on disability friendly taxis in view of the huge cost involved and the 75% reduction in the number of such taxis in recent times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24963/07]

The position is that the application of VAT to goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. Passenger transport is exempt from VAT under the EU VAT Directive. This means that taxis cannot charge VAT on the services they supply and cannot recover VAT on the goods and services that they purchase. Essentially, only VAT registered businesses which charge VAT are able to recover VAT. VAT Refund Orders have in the past been used in a limited way to provide refunds of VAT on certain aids and appliances for the disabled and on medical equipment donated voluntarily to hospitals. However, under EU law, it is no longer possible to introduce new schemes to refund VAT on the purchase of goods or services by non VAT registered persons.

In relation to Vehicle Registration Tax (VRT), I have no plans to reduce or eliminate VRT on taxis. In this regard, it should be recognised that tax reliefs have proved at times to be a blunt, inflexible and expensive means of providing assistance and achieving policy aims which might be more effectively achieved through regulatory or direct expenditure means. VRT on vehicles helps to broaden the tax base and provides an important source of Exchequer revenue. I am asked regularly to introduce tax reliefs for one purpose or another, but to accede to all such requests would lead to an immediate narrowing of the tax base.

Damien English

Question:

160 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the plans he has to remove the stamp duty on financial cards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25045/07]

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

Damien English

Question:

161 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance his plans to cap the number of financial cards per person on which stamp duty must be paid, to one ATM card, debit card or combined card and one credit card or charge card per person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25046/07]

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

Tax Yield.

Damien English

Question:

162 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the amount of money raised by stamp duty on financial cards for each of the years 2004 to date in 2007 with a breakdown for each year showing the amount raised by type of card in tabular readable form. [25047/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the net receipt from stamp duty on financial cards from 2004 to end September 2007, broken down both by year and type of card is as shown in the table.

Card Type

2004

2005

2006

2007*

€m

€m

€m

€m

Credit/Charge

59.0

63.8

67.8

72.4

ATM

21.1

22.4

18.0

11.3

Debit

2.4

3.3

0.6

0

Combined (ATM/Debit)

11.8

12.2

17.7

15.2

Totals

94.2

101.6

104.0

98.8

*To end September.

Any apparent discrepancies in totals are due to rounding.

Tax Code.

Damien English

Question:

163 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the plans he has to remove VAT from solar panels for houses and from the cost of installation of solar panels. [25052/07]

The Deputy will be aware that the Programme for Government contains a commitment to examine the scope within EU law for reducing the VAT rate on environmental goods and services generally from the standard VAT rate of 21 per cent to the reduced rate of 13.5 per cent. This and other measures under the Programme for Government clearly demonstrate the Government's commitment to addressing the environmental challenges which we face.

As regards the specific point in relation to solar panels, the position is that the VAT treatment of goods and services is governed by EU 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 or installation of solar panels. 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 such systems. The sale of solar panels products is therefore chargeable at the standard VAT rate of 21%.

However, I understand that since solar panels are more likely to be supplied and installed under a single contract, the reduced rate of VAT of 13.5 per cent may apply to the entire contract subject to what is referred to as the ‘two-thirds' rule. Under this rule, the reduced rate of VAT applies if the VAT-exclusive cost of the goods to the supplier does not exceed two-thirds of the overall VAT-exclusive charge made to the customer in respect of the supply and installation of these goods.

The reduced rate of VAT also applies where new premises are sold with energy systems already installed as the price paid for a premises (which is liable to the reduced rate of VAT of 13.5 per cent) is deemed to include all fixtures. In addition, where solar panels are purchased by VAT registered commercial enterprises, any VAT charged may be reclaimed by them, insofar as the equipment in question is used for business purposes.

Damien English

Question:

164 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he has given additional thought to introducing a tax break scheme that would encourage the provision of community facilities by individuals or business entities for voluntary community groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25053/07]

I have no plans to introduce any further tax breaks along the lines suggested by the Deputy. However, as the Deputy may be aware, Section 848A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides tax relief on donations made by either individuals or corporate bodies to eligible charities and other approved bodies including first and second level schools and third level institutions including universities. An eligible charity is any charity in the State which has been granted exemption from tax for a period of not less than two years and which is authorised by the Revenue Commissioners for the purpose of the scheme.

In addition, Section 847A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides tax relief for donations to certain sports bodies for the funding of capital projects. Eligibility for the relief centres on two key criteria; the sports body must be an Approved Sports Body and the donation must be for the purposes of an Approved Project. To be regarded as an Approved Sports Body, it must obtain two separate statements from the Revenue Commissioners:

a valid tax clearance certificate, and

a statement that, in accordance with section 235 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, the body is exempt from tax because it is established solely for the purpose of promoting athletic or amateur games or sports and its income is applied solely for that purpose.

Approved Projects are capital projects approved for the purpose of the scheme by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. The approval verifies that the claim is made in respect of genuine sports capital projects.

The types of projects which are eligible to be approved are as follows:

the purchase, construction or refurbishment of a building to be used for sporting or recreational activities,

the purchase of land for such activities,

the purchase of permanently based sports equipment (excluding personal equipment), and

the improvement of pitches and playing surfaces etc.

The estimated aggregate cost of the project must not exceed €40 million. The minimum qualifying donation for relief purposes to an eligible charity or an approved project is €250 per annum and there is no upper limit on the amount which can be donated. The relief on the donation will be at an individual's marginal rate of tax.

The arrangements for allowing tax relief on donations depend on whether the donor is a PAYE taxpayer or an individual on self-assessment or a company. For a PAYE taxpayer, the relief is given at the donor's marginal rate of income tax and is given on a grossed-up basis to the sports body. In the case of a donation made by an individual who is self-assessed, the individual claims the relief and there is no grossing-up arrangement. Similarly, in the case of companies, they can claim deductions for donations as if they were a trading expense.

Tax Investigations.

Damien English

Question:

165 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of unauthorised used car dealers in County Meath that the Revenue Commissioners are going to audit as part of the investigation into the industry. [25068/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that from time to time, they initiate a number of projects aimed at tackling tax evasion in specific sectors. One such project, which is ongoing and is expected to extend into 2008, involves the targeting of unauthorised trading in vehicles. Revenue are not in a position at this stage to say how many unauthorised used car dealers in County Meath will be identified as a result of this project — the numbers of cases to be targeted in each geographic area will depend on local intelligence and risk-based selection criteria. However, I am advised that since the project started, Revenue have so far identified 72 instances of unauthorised vehicle dealing nationwide, including 5 identified in County Meath.

Tax Code.

Finian McGrath

Question:

166 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will review the tax policy in order to ensure more support for families in budget 2008. [25104/07]

The Budget is six weeks away. It has been the practice of successive Ministers for Finance not to comment on tax changes which may or may not be included in the annual Budget in the run up to that Budget and I do not propose to depart from that approach.

Departmental Expenditure.

Brian Hayes

Question:

167 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the amount of money spent on paper and stationery in 2007: the amount of this money spent on recycled paper; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25143/07]

Since 1 January 2007 my Department has spent €80,846.90 on paper and stationery items such as envelopes, note pads, ruled paper, folders etc. Some €12,710.14 of this relates to expenditure on recycled paper and envelopes.

Departmental Properties.

Damien English

Question:

168 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the list of premises that the State is renting or leasing in County Meath; the amount of ground rents paid for each of these premises; the persons to whom these ground rents are paid and the amount paid in each case; and if he will provide the information in tabular readable form. [25187/07]

Details of the properties that are leased by the Office of Public Works in County Meath plus the Landlord details are set out in tables 1 and 2.

Table 1: Properties Leased by the Office of Public Works in County Meath

Lease Code

Name

Address

Annual Rent

LSE0416

Kells Social Welfare Office

Headfort Place, Kells, Co. Meath

7,923.17

LSE0563

Navan VRT Commons Road

Commons Road, Navan, Co. Meath

30,550.00

LSE0564

Navan Education Office

7 Trimgate Street, Navan, Co. Meath

45,710.57

LSE0586

Oldcastle Garda Station

The Square, Oldcastle, Co. Meath

69.84

LSE0732

Trim Social Welfare Office

Town Hall, Trim, Co. Meath

1,587.17

LSE0968

Navan Social Welfare Office

Kennedy Road, Navan, Co. Meath

224,562.20

LSE1017

Navan Education Office

7 Trimgate Street, Navan, Co. Meath

6,600.00

LSE1048

Trim NCSE

Mill Street, Trim, Co. Meath

87,645.60

LSE1066

Navan NEPS Office

43 Cannon Row, Navan, Co. Meath

55,000.00

LSE1068

Navan VEC Abbey Road Carpark

Abbey Road, Navan, Co. Meath

6,000.00

LSE1072

Navan Wildlife Office

Unit 4, Navan Enterprise Centre, Navan, Co. Meath

16,954.00

LSE1162

Navan Gov Off Athlumney

Athlumney, Navan, Co. Meath

575,000.00

LSE1250

Navan VEC Abbey Road Carpark

Abbey Road, Navan, Co. Meath

7,000.00

LSE1264

Navan Education Office

Beechmount Shopping Centre, Navan, Co. Meath

60,000.00

LSE1272

Scurlockstown Temporary Agriculture Office

Unit 1, Scurlockstown Business Park, Trim, Co. Meath

67,752.06

LSE1279

Navan Car Park (Pairc Tailtean)

Brews Hill, Navan, Co. Meath

5,000.00

Table 2: Landlord Details associated with Properties Leased by the Office of Public Works in County Meath

Lease Code

Landlord Name

Address

LSE0416

Con Sweeney

Headfort Place, Ceannanus Mor, Co. Meath

LSE0563

W J Murphy

C/O P Smith & Co Solrs, Church View, Navan, Co. Meath

LSE0564

MKF Enterprises

Copse Lodge, Bellinter, Navan, Co. Meath

LSE0586

James Naper

Loughcrew, Oldcastle, Co. Meath

LSE0732

Trim U D C

Town Hall, Trim, Co. Meath

LSE0968

John Cusack

Echo Gate, Dublin Road, Trim, Co. Meath

LSE1017

Mel O’Rourke

International Mushrooms, Beechmount Industrial Estate, Navan, Co. Meath

LSE1048

Meath Co Council

County Hall, Navan, Co. Meath

LSE1066

John & Joseph Smyth

Ardsallagh, Navan, Co. Meath

LSE1072

Navan Enterprise Centre

Limekilnhill, Trim Road, Navan, Co. Meath

LSE1162

James Ring and Gerry O’Connor

Newgate, Navan, Co. Meath

LSE1250, LSE1068

County Meath Vec

Abbey Road, Navan, Co. Meath

LSE1264

Geveney Trading Ltd

C/O Midland Contractors, Cortown, Kells, Co. Meath

LSE1272

Adrian Hilliard

21 Cluain Ri, Trim, Co. Meath

LSE1279

Coiste Na Mi

Cumann Luthchleas Gael, Pairc Tailteann, Brews Hill, Navan, Co. Meath

Tax Yield.

Damien English

Question:

169 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of residential property sales in County Meath which were the subject of stamp duty in each of the past five years; and the aggregate duty raised. [25188/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that statistics on Stamp Duty transactions are not compiled by reference to the address of the property purchased and, accordingly, it is not possible to provide the information requested.

Tax Collection.

Damien English

Question:

170 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of PAYE employees that have claimed tax relief on refuse collection fees paid to private collectors with a breakdown for each regional tax office. [25192/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent year for which the necessary detailed information on claimants for tax relief in relation to service charges is the income tax year 2004. In that year an estimated number of 180,215 claimants on the PAYE tax record availed of the tax relief for service charges, but it is not possible to distinguish between the numbers claiming for payments made to Local Authorities and to private contractors.

This figure relates to the number of income earners in a position to absorb the tax relief either partly or fully, but does not include the numbers of qualifying claimants who, because of the operation of other deductions and reliefs, have their taxable income reduced to nil or have their tax liability reduced to nil by the impact of other tax credits. Accordingly, potential claimants for the tax relief for service charges whose tax liability has been reduced to nil in this way are not included in the numbers given in this reply. A breakdown of the total number of claimants by reference to each tax region is in the table.

Service Charges paid to Local Authorities and Private Contractors.

Tax Region

Claimants

Dublin

64,815

Border Midlands West

33,767

East and South East

42,629

South West

38,940

Large Cases Division

41

Unallocated

23

Total

180,215

The information is based on income returns on Revenue records at the time the data was compiled for analytical purposes, representing about 96 per cent of all returns expected. A married couple which has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

Damien English

Question:

171 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of PAYE employees in the State with a breakdown for each regional tax office. [25193/07]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that on the basis of P35 returns filed by employers for the income tax year 2004, the latest year for which the necessary detailed statistics are available, some 1,740,412 income earners in the State were identified as being active on the PAYE record. A breakdown by reference to each tax region is shown in the table.

Tax Region

Income earners

Dublin

575,752

Border Midlands West

393,505

East and South East

409,238

South West

361,220

Large Cases Division

160

Unallocated

537

Total

1,740,412

The information is based on income returns on Revenue records at the time the data were compiled for analytical purposes, representing about 96 per cent of all returns expected. A married couple which has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

Flood Relief.

Damien English

Question:

172 Deputy Damien English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position regarding the proposed programme of flood alleviation at Mornington, County Meath; the role of the Office of Public Works therein; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25196/07]

The Office of Public Works appointed Consultants to prepare the relevant documentation to bring a proposed flood relief scheme for Mornington to Public Exhibition. Final drafts of an Addendum to the original Preliminary Report, Cost Benefit Analysis, Environmental Impact Assessment and Drawings are currently being examined by OPW officials and on completion of this examination a meeting will be arranged to discuss the way forward. It is anticipated that the flood relief scheme will be placed on Public Exhibition early in 2008.

Departmental Properties.

Dara Calleary

Question:

173 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the position regarding his Department’s plans for a vacant public building (details supplied) in County Mayo. [25207/07]

It is proposed to construct new premises on the Old Garda Station site to accommodate the Department of Social and Family Affairs Local Office and Social Welfare Inspectorate. The Project is currently at the initial stages of planning.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

174 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the way the rates of stamp duty applying here and in Northern Ireland compare in respect of different taxable transactions including on stock and shares, on investor purchases of land, commercial and residential property, on financial instruments and on residential sales by owner occupiers. [25304/07]

I would draw to your attention that the stamp duty rates applicable in Northern Ireland are those that apply in the UK. In this respect, I will compare the stamp duty regimes of Ireland and the UK. I would point out, however, that I cannot possess comprehensive knowledge of the tax codes of other jurisdictions.

As stamp duty has been in existence since the 17th Century, the same stamp duty regime would have originally applied to both Ireland and the UK. However, under existing arrangements there are some differences between the two regimes. Both countries apply stamp duty on property and shares; however, in the UK stamp duty on property (stamp duty land tax) is applied to a transaction and not the stamped document giving rise to a transaction, which is still the case in Ireland. The various stamp duties currently applicable in Ireland and the UK are as follows:

Ireland applies a 1% rate of stamp duty on share transactions. In the UK the rate of stamp duty on shares (stamp duty reserve tax) is 0.5%.

Ireland applies fixed stamp duties on ATM cards, debit cards, cards with combined ATM and debit functions, credit card accounts and cheques; the rates of which are outlined as follows. There is no UK equivalent to these stamp duties.

Stamp Duty

Rate

Cheques

15c

ATM Cards

€10

Laser Cards

€10

Combined ATM and Debit Cards

€20

Credit Card Account

€40

In Ireland stamp duty liability on property can vary according to the category of purchaser, where different systems apply to first-time buyers, other owner occupying purchasers, and investors. This is not the case in the UK, where the same rates and thresholds apply to both investors and owner-occupiers.

In addition, both Ireland and the UK make a number of distinctions within the overall category of property. In Ireland, stamp duty application differs between residential and non-residential property, and between new and second-hand residential property. In the UK, a more favourable lower threshold is applied to residential property in set disadvantaged areas (including set areas in Northern Ireland) and to non-residential property.

As the Irish stamp duty code provides relief for more circumstances than the UK code, the Irish regime is more complex than that in the UK. Taking these distinctions into account, the stamp duty land tax and stamp duty applicable to property in the UK and Ireland, respectively, is as follows:

UK Stamp Duty Land Tax on All Property

Non-residential property Residential property in disadvantaged areas

All other Residential property

Rate of duty

Up to £150,000

Up to £125,000

0%

Over £150,000 to £250,000

Over £125,000 to £250,000

1%

Over £250,000 to £500,000

Over £250,000 to £500,000

3%

Over £500,000

Over £500,000

4%

Irish Stamp Duty Rates on Non-Residential Property

Thresholds

Rate of duty

Up to €10,000

Exempt

€10,001 to €20,000

1%

€20,001 to €30,000

2%

€30,001 to €40,000

3%

€40,001 to €70,000

4%

€70,001 to €80,000

5%

€80,001 to €100,000

6%

€100,001 to €120,000

7%

€120,001 to €150,000

8%

Over €150,000

9%

Irish Stamp Duty Rates on Residential Property

Thresholds

First-time owner-occupiers of All residential property Other owner-occupiers of New property under 125m2

Other owner-occupiers of New property over 125m2* and of All Second-hand property Investors of All residential Property**

Up to €127,000

Nil

Nil

€127,001 — €190,500

Nil

3%

€190,501 — €254,000

Nil

4%

€254,001 — €317,500

Nil

5%

€317,501 — €381,000

Nil

6%

€381,001 — €635,000

Nil

7.5%

Over €635,000

Nil

9%

*On new properties, stamp duty is charged on site value or 25% of property value excluding VAT.

**On new properties, stamp duty is charged on the full property value excluding VAT.

In relation to the differences in stamp duty on residential property in both countries, it should be noted that Ireland, unlike the UK, does not impose additional taxation on property. In addition, the Irish system applies a much more generous system to first-time buyers and owner-occupiers of new property. Furthermore, the OECD has reported that Ireland "has some of the most generous tax provisions for owner-occupied housing" as we are the only country to allow tax relief on rent, mortgage interest payments and capital gains while not applying a property tax. In this respect, property owners in general are treated very favourably under the Irish tax code.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

175 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of self-employed and proprietary directors who are eligible for income tax; the estimated cost of extending the PAYE allowance to these people. [25344/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the number of income earners who are self-employed or proprietary directors and expected to be on the income tax record in 2008 is projected at 239,000 and 110,900 respectively. The number given for the self-employed relates to income earners whose main source of income is from non-PAYE sources.

The cost to the Exchequer of extending the PAYE credit to the self employed and proprietary directors and is estimated at €610 million in a full year. The cost of abolishing the PAYE credit and increasing the personal credit is estimated at €750 million in a full year. The additional cost would arise because the personal credit is transferable between spouses.

The figures are estimates from the Revenue tax forecasting model using actual data for the year 2004 adjusted as necessary to take account of actual and projected income and employment growth in subsequent years and are rounded to the nearest hundred. A married couple who has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

Willie Penrose

Question:

176 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will extend the TAK saver scheme in Budget 2008 to enable the purchase by employers of bicycles and electrical bicycles for the transportation of their employees to work which would have significant benefits for all concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25404/07]

There are no plans to extend the scheme referred to by the Deputy to include the purchase by employers of bicycles and electrical bicycles for their employees to travel to work.

There is provision in the existing Benefit-in-Kind arrangements to allow an employer to provide an employee with a small benefit to a value not exceeding €250 in any one year without applying PAYE and PRSI to that benefit. The purchase by an employer of a bicycle for an employee could be covered by this provision, subject to the €250 limit on the value of any such benefits.

Decentralisation Programme.

Niall Collins

Question:

177 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if a construction contract has been agreed and signed for the provision of a new Revenue office in Newcastle West, County Limerick; the completion date and value of the contract; and when the staff expect to commence there. [25435/07]

I am advised by the Commissioner of Public Works that a contract was placed on 12th October 2007 with Frank McGrath Construction Ltd in the sum of €2,862,100.00 inclusive of V.A.T. (two million eight hundred and sixty two thousand and one hundred Euro inclusive of VAT) for the provision of a new Revenue office in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick. It is anticipated that the building will be completed and ready for occupation by the end of 2008.

Proposed Legislation.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

178 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he intends introducing legislation dealing with the issues of betting exchanges here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25436/07]

Under current betting legislation, betting exchanges are not deemed bookmakers. They differ from bookmakers in that they facilitate the matching of bets between outside parties unlike a bookmaker who takes the bet and the associated risk involved. Bets entered into or accepted through an exchange are not liable to betting duty.

Education Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

179 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps she has taken to implement Recommendation No. 5 of the Joint Committee on Education and Science second report on the provision of education services in a multi ethnic/multi cultural society; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24813/07]

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.

Violence Against Women.

Damien English

Question:

180 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans she has to provide additional funding for groups that front-line violence against women; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25054/07]

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

Child Care Provision.

Brian Hayes

Question:

181 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children the measures in place to track the average cost of childcare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25099/07]

Brian Hayes

Question:

183 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children the measures in place to track the average cost of childcare here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25124/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 181 and 183 together.

There is a variety of childcare services in Ireland including centre-based and home-based care. The fees in the latter sector are harder to gauge. However, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) Quarterly National Household Survey measures the average weekly prices in the Childcare sector as a whole and provides a useful source of data.

The most recent figures published by the CSO in 2005 show the average hourly cost of childcare when provided by a paid relative to be €3.05, when provided by a paid carer to be €4.06 and when provided in a Crèche/montessori school to be €4.82. The Survey indicated that the overall average hourly rate of childcare for pre-school children in 2005 was €4.15 per hour which would amount to €166 for a forty hour week.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Enda Kenny

Question:

182 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children if the domiciliary care allowance is available to children who have been diagnosed on the autistic spectrum; the criteria required to qualify; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25120/07]

Domiciliary Care Allowance may be paid, as the Deputy is aware, in respect of eligible children from birth to the age of 16 who have a severe disability requiring continual or continuous attention which is substantially in excess of that normally required by a child of the same age. Eligibility is determined primarily by reference to the degree of additional care and attention required rather than to the type of disability involved.

Question No. 183 answered with QuestionNo. 181.

Child Care Provision.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

184 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason the Government has proposed a new approach to funding for playschools; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the playschool movement has been extremely successful, both in big urban areas and in small rural communities and that because of smaller numbers becoming eligible for playschools based on receipt of social welfare or other welfare payments many small rural playschools will find it impossible to survive financially; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25278/07]

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.

With the closure of the EOCP in December 2007, to continue to support community childcare services to provide affordable childcare to disadvantaged parents, the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme (CCSS) is being introduced from January 2008 under the Exchequer funded National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP), the successor programme to the EOCP. The CCSS has been allocated €153 million over the next 3 years, representing a 16% increase in funding over the EOCP staffing scheme, and will continue to support community childcare services to provide reduced childcare fees for disadvantaged parents, complementing the universal supports in place for all parents. Under the new scheme, it will be possible to ensure that the level of grant aid which individual services qualify for will reflect the actual level of service they provide and the profile of the parents benefiting from their service. As part of their application for funding under the new scheme, services will be required to ask parents using their services to complete a simple declaration form which will be included in a return to my Office and on which basis the level of subvention for each service will be determined. The subvention received by services will, in turn, 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 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 new scheme has clear advantages over its predecessor. There is an increase in the level of funding available under it, and a majority of services will benefit from the changes it introduces. Existing EOCP staffing grant recipients who enter the new scheme will continue to be funded at their current levels until July 2008. My Office has engaged in a series of meetings with existing grant recipients to outline to them the details of the new scheme and to gather feedback from the services themselves. A meeting with representatives of the City and County Childcare Committees has also taken place.

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.

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. As signalled when I announced the new scheme in July this year, the transitional period between now and 1 July 2008 will also be used to monitor and review the impact it will have on individual groups, on the basis of the more detailed and comprehensive data which is due to be received from applicants in November. If appropriate, any adjustments necessary to the scheme to secure the best outcomes for childcare services and for disadvantaged parents and their children will be considered on the basis of this data and well in advance of the commencement of the new funding levels in July 2008.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Dan Neville

Question:

185 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children if, with regard to the concern expressed by pharmacists throughout Limerick west in relation to proposed reduction in the wholesale margin, she will desist from introducing her proposals until an independent impact assessment is conducted to establish the full implications of this measure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25546/07]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

253 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the hardship being caused to many people as a result of the decision by some pharmacists to cease to operate the drug purchase scheme; the plans the Health Service Executive has to solve this impasse; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25298/07]

Andrew Doyle

Question:

262 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason for the breakdown in negotiations with the pharmacists here regarding the introduction of the new reimbursement scheme. [25311/07]

Andrew Doyle

Question:

263 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Health and Children the action she is taking to communicate and negotiate with the pharmacists over the issue of reimbursement. [25312/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 185, 253, 262 and 263 together.

Pharmacists have not withdrawn from the GMS and community drug schemes and I would not accept that there is any basis for community pharmacists threatening to withdraw from these schemes.

In the Dublin area and also in the HSE North East some 180 pharmacists have withdrawn from supplying methadone to patients with threatened escalation countrywide 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.

Since Monday 15th October the HSE has been implementing a contingency plan for the 3000 patients affected and has made alternative arrangements for the emergency dispensing of methadone to the patients involved in 13 centres in the Greater Dublin area. A contingency plan is also being implemented in the HSE North East. Arrangements have been put in place to enable patients affected by the pharmacists' action to be informed of these alternative arrangements. The HSE's Drug Helpline is available on a seven day week basis to provide information to clients in relation to 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 HSE have indicated that to date the contingency plan is operating satisfactorily.

In regard to the changes recently announced by the HSE to reimbursement prices for drugs and medicines under the GMS and community drugs schemes, the main wholesaler companies have recently confirmed to the HSE they will charge community pharmacists the same price for these drugs and medicines as pharmacists will be reimbursed by the HSE for these products.

All the evidence available to the joint HSE/Department of Health and Children team dealing with this issue indicated that the State was paying a premium for this service and that the new arrangements will save the HSE about €100m in 2008.

The impact of the new arrangements on the incomes of pharmacists will depend on the extent of the discounts which individual pharmacists were getting from wholesalers under the previous arrangements. I am advised that large urban pharmacies and chains typically got discounts of up to 12% whereas small and rural pharmacies got discounts of 2-3%.

I have previously outlined in detail to the Oireachtas the legal reasons why it is not possible for the HSE to negotiate with the IPU on fees, prices or margins for their members. A detailed, fair and transparent consultation process, including independent economic analysis and public consultation, informed the final determination of the new reimbursement arrangements. The evidence available to the HSE indicates that the impact on individual pharmacies will not be detrimental, having regard to the totality of fees and mark-ups under the GMS and community drugs schemes.

A process of dialogue was established, chaired by Bill Shipsey SC, to explore ways in which concerns raised by the IPU about the implications of this legal advice might be addressed. At a meeting on 11 October, the IPU maintained that it has a fundamental right as a trade union to fully represent its members on all issues. It appears, therefore, that the Union does not accept the legal position under competition law regarding negotiation on fees.

In an effort to resolve the present impasse arising from the unilateral withdrawal of methadone services by some pharmacists' Mr Shipsey issued a statement on 19th October expressing confidence that the process of dialogue could be resumed, if these services could be restored. On foot of Mr. Shipsey's intervention, on 21st October the President of the Irish Pharmaceutical Union called on its members who have ceased providing this service, to resume service as soon as possible.

I strongly welcome both interventions and would urge all community pharmacists concerned to resume dispensing methadone as soon as possible. As soon as this is achieved it will be possible for renewed engagement to take place between the Irish Pharmaceutical Union and the HSE under the auspices of Mr. Shipsey.

The HSE contingency plan in relation to methadone dispensing will remain in operation for the present until such time as the HSE are satisfied that the necessary patient transfer controls to enable the safe return of patients to the community pharmacists, are in place. This is expected to take place within the next two days.

Health Services.

Ulick Burke

Question:

186 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of children awaiting assessment for speech and language therapy in the Health Service Executive west; the number of children awaiting such services in HSE west following assessment of need; the number receiving speech therapy in HSE west; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24693/07]

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 Service Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

187 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the proposed recruitment of two psychologists for a service (details supplied) in County Dublin has been blocked by the Health Service Executive ban on recruitment; if alternative arrangements will be made to proceed with this recruitment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24701/07]

The current recruitment pause is a temporary measure initiated as part of the Health Service Executive financial break-even plan. It will be reviewed at the end of October 2007. Of course, in any instance where a critical or essential vacancy arises it may be filled through redeployment of existing staff by the Line Manager or re-assignment of responsibilities based on assessment of priority need.

Notwithstanding this, it has been recognised that there are some circumstances where appointment of staff may be necessary in frontline services. Accordingly, a process has been put in place to evaluate, monitor and approve requests for derogation from the general recruitment pause. A small group has been established including a representative of the National Hospitals Office, PCCC and other Directorates and this group will meet weekly to consider such applications.

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

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

Ambulance Service.

Michael Ring

Question:

188 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when the ambulance section of the Health Service Executive will fill in a form for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [24710/07]

The Deputy's question relates to a human resource issue within the Health Service Executive. As this is a matter for the 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.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

189 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if patient transport will be provided to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo for their hospital appointment on 24 October 2007. [24711/07]

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

Medical Cards.

Damien English

Question:

190 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of people whose medical cards were replaced with general practitioner visit cards since December 2006 with a breakdown of this information on a Health Service Executive regional basis in tabular form. [24712/07]

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.

As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for these benefits, it is the appropriate body to arrange to address this matter and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Damien English

Question:

191 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of people admitted to the hospital services for drink related emergency cases for each of the years 2002 to date in 2007 with a breakdown for each Health Service Executive region in tabular readable form. [24714/07]

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

Health Services.

John Cregan

Question:

192 Deputy John Cregan asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in a neurological appointment being provided for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24723/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to 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 this case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Mental Health Policy.

Enda Kenny

Question:

193 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children if an inter Departmental working group will be established to co-ordinate action by all Government Departments in respect of the vision for change dealing with national mental health policy framework; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24724/07]

The Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy, "A Vision for Change", which was launched in January 2006, provides a framework for action to develop 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 mental health services.

I have been given responsibility for mental health and disability issues in the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Education and Science. It is likely that the proposed new office of the Minister for Disability and Mental Health will oversee the role of interdepartmental cooperation on the implementation of "A Vision for Change".

Hospital Staff.

Enda Kenny

Question:

194 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who have graduated through hospital attendants positions to qualified carers in hospital situations; when it is intended to remunerate these persons at their new level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24725/07]

Nearly 130,000 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 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 to the Deputy.

Departmental Reports.

Richard Bruton

Question:

195 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if her output statement has been published on her Department’s website; and the date on which it was put up on the website. [24743/07]

The Department of Health and Children's Annual Output Statement was finalised and published on the departmental website, www.dohc.ie, in March 2007.

Child Care Provision.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

196 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will reconsider her decision to introduce a new scheme for funding community childcare facilities as in its present form the new scheme will lead to the closure of many community childcare facilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24750/07]

Mary O'Rourke

Question:

220 Deputy Mary O’Rourke asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the recent changed guidelines on childcare funding which have issued have led to widespread disquiet and concern; if she will rethink these guidelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24969/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 196 and 220 together.

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.

With the closure of the EOCP in December 2007, to continue to support community childcare services to provide affordable childcare to disadvantaged parents, the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme (CCSS) is being introduced from January 2008 under the Exchequer funded National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP), the successor programme to the EOCP. The CCSS has been allocated €153 million over the next 3 years, representing a 16% increase in funding over the EOCP staffing scheme, and will continue to support community childcare services to provide reduced childcare fees for disadvantaged parents, complementing the universal supports in place for all parents. Under the new scheme, it will be possible to ensure that the level of grant aid which individual services qualify for will reflect the actual level of service they provide and the profile of the parents benefiting from their service. As part of their application for funding under the new scheme, services will be required to ask parents using their services to complete a simple declaration form which will be included in a return to my Office and on which basis the level of subvention for each service will be determined. The subvention received by services will, in turn, 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 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 new scheme has clear advantages over its predecessor. There is an increase in the level of funding available under it, and a majority of services will benefit from the changes it introduces. Existing EOCP staffing grant recipients who enter the new scheme will continue to be funded at their current levels until July 2008. My Office has engaged in a series of meetings with existing grant recipients to outline to them the details of the new scheme and to gather feedback from the services themselves. A meeting with representatives of the City and County Childcare Committees has also taken place.

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. As signalled when I announced the new scheme in July this year, the transitional period between now and 1 July 2008 will also be used to monitor and review the impact it will have on individual groups, on the basis of the more detailed and comprehensive data which is due to be received from applicants in November. If appropriate, any adjustments necessary to the scheme to secure the best outcomes for childcare services and for disadvantaged parents and their children will be considered on the basis of this data and well in advance of the commencement of the new funding levels in July 2008.

Community Pharmacy Services.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

197 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Health and Children the way community pharmacists are remunerated for the methadone maintenance scheme; the amount of money paid to pharmacists participating in the scheme; the number of pharmacies involved in the scheme; the number of clients involved in the scheme; the average number of weekly visits made by clients to pharmacies to receive methadone; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24766/07]

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 arrange to have the specific matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

198 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount of money paid to pharmacists in professional fees for each of the past five years; the international comparisons available to the public; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24767/07]

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 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.

Medical Cards.

James Bannon

Question:

199 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath who has had a medical card since 1999 has lost same despite ongoing health problems; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24796/07]

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.

Hospital Accommodation.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

200 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on whether the relocation of female psychiatric patients currently on St. Bernadette’s ward in St. Conall’s Hospital in Letterkenny to the male St. Kieran’s ward is appropriate and that having only a nurse’s station separating both groups in a ward originally designed for one gender may lead to health and safety issues; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24800/07]

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. 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.

Ambulance Service.

Áine Brady

Question:

201 Deputy Áine Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children when the new ambulance base will be in operation at Maynooth, County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24807/07]

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

Misuse of Drugs Act.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

202 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a young woman collapsed and was hospitalised during the summer 2007 having consumed pills containing the substance benzlpiperazine, a substance recently banned in Britain, which are available over the counter in up to 30 shops here; and if she will make the necessary provisions to prohibit the sale of such pills. [24815/07]

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and the Regulations made thereunder regulate and control the import, export, production, supply and possession of a range of named narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances listed in the schedules to the Act. Substances are scheduled under the Act in accordance with the Department's obligations under international conventions and/or where there is evidence that the substances are being misused and are causing a level of harm to public health in Ireland which could merit the criminalisation of their sale and use. The Act also limits packaging and labelling of controlled drugs. The list of scheduled substances is kept under review on an ongoing basis. In particular the Department reviews any evidence that substances are being abused and are causing significant harm to public health.

BZP is not currently a scheduled substance under Misuse of Drugs legislation, but its status is under advanced review. A specific risk assessment procedure for new psychoactive substances carried out by the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has found that the use of BZP can lead to medical problems even if long term effects of the substance are still unknown.

The European Commission has, therefore, decided to ask the Council of Ministers to place BZP under control in accordance with the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. If the Council adopts the Commission's proposal, Member States must act as soon as possible, but no later than one year from the date of the decision, to introduce control measures and criminal sanctions. For Ireland, the introduction of national measures will involve declaring BZP to be a controlled substance under Irish Misuse of Drugs legislation and adding it to the schedule of controlled substances in accordance with that legislation.

Health Services.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

203 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on funding a dedicated nursing service to respond to cardiac patients who need advice, a service which was previously funded by a private source; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24820/07]

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.

Hospital Accommodation.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

204 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children when the plan to transfer a number of patients in St. Joseph’s Hospital, Limerick to Ashley Lodge will be implemented; if and the reason patients have instead been transferred from unit three to unit ten; the overall plans for patients currently in St. Joseph’s Hospital, Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24821/07]

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. 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.

Health Service Staff.

Áine Brady

Question:

205 Deputy Áine Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children the percentage of people employed by all the health boards who were solely providing an administrative role; the number of people employed by the Health Service Executive at present; the percentage of those employed who are solely providing an administrative role; the way the average here compares to other European countries such as the UK, France or Germany; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24826/07]

Almost 130,000 people work full-time or part-time in our public health services. Under Part 10 of the Health Act 2004, the health boards were dissolved and their functions and employees transferred to the Health Service Executive. 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 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 to the Deputy.

The Department of Health and Children does not hold data on the percentage of staff employed in a purely administrative role in the health services in other European countries. Therefore, it is not possible to determine the way the average here compares to countries such as the UK, France or Germany. However, the Deputy may wish to note that HSE has commissioned an independent study to examine such issues as the number of clerical/administration staff, the proportion of such staff engaged in front-line services, comparisons with other jurisdictions, comparisons with non-healthcare settings and resource issues.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Áine Brady

Question:

206 Deputy Áine Brady asked the Minister for Health and Children the enhanced facilities that Naas Hospital will have after completion of phase three; when the project is set for completion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24827/07]

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

Health Services.

Frank Feighan

Question:

207 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Health and Children the way cutbacks will affect the cardiac rehabilitation services in Sligo General Hospital in relation to County Leitrim; if she will ensure that the service is maintained; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24841/07]

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

Jack Wall

Question:

208 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will have a hip replacement operation carried out; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24846/07]

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.

Michael Ring

Question:

209 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for an appointment. [24847/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to 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 this case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Food Safety Regulations.

Michael Creed

Question:

210 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Health and Children the level of compliance in the restaurant and catering sector regarding beef labelling; the number of inspections that have been carried out; the number of staff dedicated to this purpose; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24877/07]

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is responsible for enforcing food law, including the Health (Country of Origin of Beef) Regulations 2006 (S.I No. 307 of 2006) which were amended in February 2007. These regulations are enforced by Environmental Health Officers of the Health Service Executive (HSE) on foot of a service contract with the FSAI. Some 400 Environmental Health Officers work on the enforcement of food legislation.

As the beef labelling regulations are relatively new, arrangements for recording specific checks for compliance are not yet finalised but the HSE and the FSAI are currently examining this issue with a view to ensuring that this information will be collected in 2008 and subsequent years.

The Deputy may wish to note that these Regulations do not relate to food safety but rather to consumer information.

Departmental Transport.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

211 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Health and Children if her Department has a policy with regard to frequent flyer points accrued by Ministers or civil servants; if these must be signed over to her Department or if they can be retained by the individual concerned; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24899/07]

This matter is governed by the Department of Finance foreign travel rules.

Health Services.

Michael D'Arcy

Question:

212 Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Health and Children when speech therapy services will be made available for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24910/07]

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

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

Cancer Screening Programme.

Brendan Kenneally

Question:

213 Deputy Brendan Kenneally asked the Minister for Health and Children if funding is in place in respect of the recently announced cancer control programme; the amount of funding available in 2007 and 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24912/07]

Finian McGrath

Question:

236 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if the decision to have eight cancer centres here is Government policy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25215/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 213 and 236 together.

The implementation of the National Cancer Control Programme is a major priority for me and for this Government. I fully support the appointment by the Health Service Executive (HSE) of Prof. Tom Keane as Interim National Cancer Control Director. The delivery of cancer services on a programmatic basis will serve to ensure equity of access to services and equality of patient outcome irrespective of geography.

The recent decisions of the HSE to designate four managed cancer control networks and eight cancer centres will be implemented on a managed and phased basis. A detailed transitional plan will be put in place to facilitate the progressive, gradual and carefully managed transfer of services over the next two years or so. The HSE plans to have completed 50% of the transition of services to cancer centres by end 2008 and 80-90% by end 2009.

Prof. Keane and the HSE have emphasised the importance of mobilising existing resources and redirecting them to achieve the National Cancer Control Programme objectives. An additional €20.5m was allocated to the HSE this year for cancer control. This is an increase of 74% on the comparable 2006 investment and includes €3.5m to support the initial implementation of the National Cancer Control Programme. Further investment in cancer control will be based on the reform programme now being implemented by the HSE.

Adoption Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

214 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to delays and waiting lists for assessments regarding inter country adoptions; if her attention has been drawn the hardship caused by the delay to those who are waiting to adopt; and his proposals in this regard. [24920/07]

I am aware that many prospective adoptive parents are concerned about the waiting times for an assessment. I appreciate the frustration the waiting list causes to those who are anxious to adopt, and who are more than willing to participate fully in the necessary assessment procedures.

As the Deputy may be aware, requests for assessment for intercountry adoption are continuously increasing. The recent study on intercountry adoption, undertaken by the Children's Research Centre in Trinity College, revealed that Ireland has one of the highest rates for foreign adoption in Europe. In addition, as a result of the increased number of children coming from abroad, a new and increasing demand for post-adoption reports from sending countries has been created. Both assessments and post-placement reports are being undertaken by HSE social work staff.

The HSE has been assessing the provision of services in the context of moving from the health board system to a single executive. It has acknowledged that there is a divergence in the provision of services and is committed to addressing those differences. The HSE is currently conducting a review of the intercountry adoption service. They will examine inconsistencies, processes and options. I anticipate that this review will take several weeks to complete, after which the HSE will submit their proposals to streamline and improve this service.

In a number of areas, the HSE has improved waiting times by contracting assessments out to non-statutory agencies with appropriate expertise. Officials from my Office are currently engaged in discussions with the HSE to discuss the effectiveness of this approach. I have instructed my officials to maintain this positive dialogue with the HSE and to explore these and other strategies to increase capacity right across the country in order to tackle the lengthy waiting times. I would like to assure the Deputy of my attention to this issue.

Hospital Staff.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

215 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a shortage of gynaecological consultants in Cork and that this is causing serious difficulties for expectant mothers in the south west; and the immediate steps proposed to deal with the situation. [24921/07]

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

Adoption Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

216 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the reasons for the suspension of inter country adoptions from certain countries; the countries on the suspension list; and the reason therefore in each case. [24922/07]

Adoption in Ireland is regulated by the Adoption Board which is an independent, statutory body. The Board must make decisions regarding adoptions in line with its assessment of the situation in each country, and its responsibility to ensure that all activities are undertaken with the best interests of the child as a paramount consideration.

The Adoption Board has discontinued the issuing of declarations of eligibility and suitability in respect of the adoption of children from Guatemala. There are a number of documents already in the public domain regarding concerns over the trafficking of children from Guatemala. These reports cover a long period of time in which the issue of trafficking and sale of children in the context of international adoption has continued to be raised.

I should point out that a number of other countries entered reservations regarding Guatemala's accession to the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. These countries include Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. These reservations date from 2003 and remain extant. This means that these countries do not accept that procedures in Guatemala reach Hague Standards regarding intercountry adoption, and therefore, have objected to or suspended acceptance of Guatemala's accession to the Convention and will not treat them as party to the Convention. This effectively means that these countries have a ban on adoptions from Guatemala.

I am of the view that the position taken by the Adoption Board is reasonable and measured in light of the long-standing and continuing concerns in relation to Guatemala which have shown little sign of improvement, despite international comment and support, over the last ten years.

The Adoption Board is also currently examining the adoption laws of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Republic of Rwanda to determine if they meet the requirements for recognition in Ireland. This examination was undertaken as part of the preparations to ratify the Hague Convention, and it has highlighted a number of important legal issues which require further investigation. In the circumstances, and in order to protect the adoption process, the Adoption Board has decided, as a precautionary measure, to suspend the granting of Declarations of Eligibility and Suitability in respect of these two countries until the investigations are complete. I have been assured by the Board that this issue is being dealt with as a matter of priority. I feel that the Board's decision is an appropriate one in the circumstances.

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

217 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when an ultra sound or scan will be carried out for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24937/07]

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.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Ring

Question:

218 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when funding approved for a group (details supplied) in County Mayo will issue to them. [24959/07]

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 an interim NCIP staffing grant of €31,200 for the period to 31 December 2007. I understand from enquiries made that Pobal, who manage the day to day operation of the EOCP and NCIP on behalf of my Office, have last week instructed the transfer of the Group's first staffing payment of €23,400.

Health Services.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

219 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress which has been made in resolving the dispute which has seen dentists withdrawing from the dental service treatment scheme; the contingencies that have been put in place to ensure that medical card patients receive the dental treatment to which they are entitled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24967/07]

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.

Question No. 220 answered with QuestionNo. 196.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Damien English

Question:

221 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made in the provision of the proposed regional hospital for the north east. [25061/07]

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

Health Services.

Damien English

Question:

222 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will increase the funding available to the Health Service Executive north eastern region in order to prioritise autism assessments for pre-school children in County Meath; the numbers waiting for this service; if she will increase the staff numbers in order to clear existing back logs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25062/07]

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 and puts the policy of mainstreaming of public services for people with disabilities, which was adopted by Government in 2000, on a legal footing. 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 with a disability, including those with autism, 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.

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

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

Damien English

Question:

223 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of clients in each Health Service Executive area waiting for methadone treatment for each clinic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25063/07]

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 arrange to have the specific matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Damien English

Question:

224 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of clients in each Health Service Executive area being treated at each methadone clinic; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25064/07]

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 arrange to have the specific matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Finian McGrath

Question:

225 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the best advice in order to assist a group (details supplied). [25102/07]

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. 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:

226 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will address an issue (details supplied). [25103/07]

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

Medical cards are made available to persons and their dependants who would otherwise experience undue hardship in meeting the cost of General Practitioner (GP) services. In 2005 the GP visit card was introduced as a graduated benefit so that people on lower incomes who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP. In June 2006 I agreed with the HSE to raise the assessment guidelines for GP visit cards and these are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards. For Medical Card and GP Visit Card applications, the HSE now considers an applicant's income after tax and PRSI are deducted, rather than total income. Allowances are also made for expenses on childcare, rent and mortgage costs and the cost of travel to work. Application forms are available from the HSE, which can be contacted on its National Information Line on lo-call 1850 24 1850 or visit the HSE website at www.hse.ie.

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

In relation to services for people suffering from eating disorders, the Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy, entitled "A Vision for Change", which was launched in January 2006, acknowledges gaps in the current provision of services for people with eating disorders and makes several recommendations for the further improvement of these services. "A Vision for Change" provides a framework for action to develop a modern, high quality mental health service over a 7 to 10 year implementation timeframe.

Recommendations include support for health promotion initiatives that encourage greater community and family awareness of eating disorders, the further development of primary and community care services and the provision of a full multidisciplinary team in a National Centre for Eating Disorders for complex cases that cannot be managed by local child and adolescent community mental health teams.

Additional funding of €750,000 was allocated to the Health Service Executive in 2007 for the further development of designated eating disorder services and commissioning of services from agencies. Funding is also provided to Bodywhys, which provides a national helpline, regional support groups, email support and a dedicated website (www.bodywhys.ie).

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

227 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 will be assisted. [25105/07]

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.

Courts Service.

Mary O'Rourke

Question:

228 Deputy Mary O’Rourke asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the Registrar of Wards of Court is unable to apply for redress for these wards of court and that no claims can be processed due to the prohibitive clauses in the conditions for application; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that the deadline for such applications is 31 December 2007. [25116/07]

The Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006 provides that applications for repayments to Wards of Court can be made by the Registrar of the Wards of Court or the relevant County Registrar as the Circuit Court has concurrent jurisdiction in wardship matters.

The scheme administrator, the Health Service Executive and officials from my Department met with the Registrar of the Wards of Court in advance of the submission of applications on behalf of Wards of Court, to provide whatever assistance possible with the application process.

The scheme administrator is working in conjunction with the Registrar of the Wards of Court to ensure that the application process is as simple as possible.

The HSE has informed my Department that 200 applications on behalf of Wards of Court have been received to date and are currently being processed by the Scheme Administrator.

Departmental Expenditure.

Mary O'Rourke

Question:

229 Deputy Mary O’Rourke asked the Minister for Health and Children if she read the Health Service Executive publication, Health Matters; how often this magazine is published; the cost of each edition; the persons who receive it; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25117/07]

Health Matters is the national staff magazine of the Health Service Executive. It is issued on a quarterly basis and to date there have been eight issues.

I have requested the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy in relation to the other issues raised.

Health Services.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

230 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress of the roll out of the sexual assault treatment units; the status on the units; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25127/07]

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

Charles Flanagan

Question:

231 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Question No. 259 of 26 September 2007, the factors that inform a cost benefit analysis in the context of facilities for patients with terminal illnesses whose life expectancy is dramatically reduced due to inadequate treatment facilities here. [25128/07]

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

Departmental Expenditure.

Brian Hayes

Question:

232 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount of money spent on paper and stationery in 2007: the amount of this money spent on recycled paper; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25145/07]

My Department has spent € 57,757 (VAT included ) on paper and stationery to date in 2007. All the paper and stationery purchased was recycled material.

Health Services.

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

233 Deputy Darragh O’Brien asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare. [25204/07]

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.

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

234 Deputy Darragh O’Brien asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin. [25205/07]

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.

Lucinda Creighton

Question:

235 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate the circumstances of the death of a person (details supplied) and in particular the delays caused by technical problems with the ambulance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25214/07]

My Dept has been advised that, in accordance with the statutory complaints procedure, the National Ambulance Service of the Health Service Executive (HSE) has commenced an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the sad events of 26th May this year.

As operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services, including the National Ambulance Service is a matter for the HSE, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 236 answered with QuestionNo. 213.

Finian McGrath

Question:

237 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans in place with regard to oncology services in Sligo General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25220/07]

Finian McGrath

Question:

238 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans in place with regard to chemotherapy services in Sligo General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25221/07]

Finian McGrath

Question:

239 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans in place for radiation oncology services in Sligo General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25222/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 237 to 239, inclusive, together.

The implementation of the National Cancer Control Programme is a major priority for me and for this Government. I fully support the appointment by the Health Service Executive (HSE) of Prof. Tom Keane as Interim National Cancer Control Director. The delivery of cancer services on a programmatic basis will serve to ensure equity of access to services and equality of patient outcome irrespective of geography. The decisions of the HSE in relation to four managed cancer control networks and eight cancer centres will be implemented on a managed and phased basis. The HSE plans to have completed 50% of the transition of services to the cancer centres by end 2008 and 80-90% by end 2009.

The HSE has designated University College Hospital Galway (UCHG) and Limerick Regional Hospital as the two cancer centres in the Managed Cancer Control Network for the HSE Western Region which includes Sligo. The designation of cancer centres aims to ensure that patients receive the highest quality care while at the same time allowing local access to services, where appropriate. Where diagnosis and treatment planning is directed and managed by multi-disciplinary teams based at the cancer centres, then much of the treatment (other than surgery) can be delivered in local hospitals, such as Sligo General Hospital.

Patients from Sligo who require radiation oncology are referred to the Radiation Oncology Department at UCHG for treatment. The Department and the HSE have been working closely on the examination of procurement options in order to expedite the delivery of the National Plan for Radiation Oncology. I have been assured that the HSE will have in place radiation oncology capacity to meet the needs of the population by 2010. After 2010 the HSE will continue to increase capacity to ensure that these needs continue to be met.

Hospital Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

240 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if the agreements and regulations will allow the collocated private hospital to provide oncology services and in particular breast care oncology services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25223/07]

The collocation initiative is designed to ensure that private beds in public hospitals are freed up for the use of public patients by having collocated private hospital beds built on public hospital sites. In service terms, this means that collocated hospitals will provide a full range of acute services to private patients, subject to limited exceptions, such as national specialties and services that require minimum caseloads and adherence to other standards to ensure patient safety and quality. In these exceptional cases, the public hospital system will continue to provide such services to private as well as public patients. In respect of cancer services specifically, in line with the National Cancer Control Strategy, I would expect that these will only be provided in centres that meet minimum standards, such as the recently approved National Quality Assurance Standards for Symptomatic Breast Disease Services, irrespective of whether these centres are publicly or privately financed and managed.

Health Services.

Niall Blaney

Question:

241 Deputy Niall Blaney asked the Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive have plans to fund the life-start programme in Milford, County Donegal which is currently in a disadvantaged area and would have very low spend per head of capita; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25224/07]

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.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Margaret Conlon

Question:

242 Deputy Margaret Conlon asked the Minister for Health and Children the expected time-frame for the full roll out of BreastCheck on a nationwide basis and its availability to women over 65; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25231/07]

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. 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. BreastCheck has confirmed that the roll-out will commence later this month and will take around 27 months to complete. The Programme is designed to offer repeat screening within an interval of 21-27 months.

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 focussed 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.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Bernard Allen

Question:

243 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate a situation where the health repayment scheme in Tralee is sending letters to applicants under the certificate of entitlement to extract a grant of representation without signing those letters; if she deems this to be inappropriate; and if she will investigate the situation of a letter sent to a person (details supplied) in County Cork with no personal signature on the letter and no explanation as to what the applicant family should do next in order to claim what they are entitled to. [25242/07]

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 Home Subventions.

Richard Bruton

Question:

244 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will confirm that all arrangements are in place to introduce the new uniform nursing home support scheme as promised on 1 January 2008 despite newspaper reports to the contrary; and the way assets other than the family home will be treated in ascertaining eligibility for support under this scheme. [25252/07]

The Department is currently working on the Bill for the new nursing home support scheme — A Fair Deal. It is our intention to have the legislation in place by 1 January 2008 and the scheme effective from that date.

The legislation will deal with a range of issues including the one raised by the Deputy. The Government will be considering these issues in due course.

Health Service Staff.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

245 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Health and Children when she will ensure that the salaries and allowance of Health Service Executive management teams be made available in the same way as the HSE have published the payments to chemists and general practitioners; if she will ensure that every effort is made to minimise management and administration costs in order that patient care would be a priority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25258/07]

Nearly 130,000 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 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 to the Deputy.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Joe McHugh

Question:

246 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason persons (details supplied) are being refused payment under the nursing home repayment scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25264/07]

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.

Grant Payments.

Pat Breen

Question:

247 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Clare was refused a grant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25267/07]

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

Health Services.

Willie Penrose

Question:

248 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the waiting list in the Dunboyne area, County Meath for young people who are waiting access to speech therapy and that the Health Service Executive in May 2007 commenced the process of hiring a second speech therapist for this area but same can not now be proceeded with in view of the embargo upon recruitment recently imposed upon the HSE; and if in the context of a young child (details supplied) in County Meath, steps can be taken to ensure the necessary speech therapy is provided at this point in time. [25270/07]

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

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

Health Service Staff.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

249 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Galway was deemed to be an employee of the Western Health Board from 1990 to 2002 in their role as supervisor over a community employment scheme at Toghermore Training Centre, Tuam, County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25275/07]

Under Part 10 of the Health Act 2004, the health boards were dissolved and their functions and employees transferred to the Health Service Executive. 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.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

250 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason the domiciliary care allowance has been withdrawn from a person (details supplied) in County Galway; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that three other brothers of the applicant are in receipt of such a payment and that this low income family has to pay for the services of an outside teacher; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25276/07]

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

Services for People with Disabilities.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

251 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children if a site will be made available for the supply of services to the mentally handicapped at St. Bridget’s Hospital, Ballinasloe, County Galway in the event that the property is sold; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25277/07]

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. 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.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

252 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans in place for the use of the hydrotherapy pool at Our Lady’s Hospital Manorhamilton, County Leitrim in view of the relocation of rheumatology services to Sligo General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25287/07]

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

Question No. 253 answered with QuestionNo. 185.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Michael Ring

Question:

254 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive their payment under the health repayment scheme. [25300/07]

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:

255 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a full reply has not issued in respect of Parliamentary Question No. 317 of 26 September 2007 for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [25301/07]

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.

The Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive have informed my Department that a reply has issued to the Deputy on 16th October 2007.

Michael Ring

Question:

256 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a full reply has not issued in respect of Parliamentary Question No. 319 of 26 September 2007 for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [25302/07]

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.

The Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive have informed my Department that a reply has issued to the Deputy on 18th October 2007.

Michael Ring

Question:

257 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive payment on their claim under the health repayment scheme. [25303/07]

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.

Ambulance Service.

Andrew Doyle

Question:

258 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of personnel in the ambulance services; the number on leave; and the number of vacancies. [25307/07]

Nearly 130,000 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 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 to the Deputy.

Infection Control.

Andrew Doyle

Question:

259 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of patients in St. Colmcille’s Hospital who have contracted MRSA or C. difficile each year since 1997 to date in 2007. [25308/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the HSE 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.

Andrew Doyle

Question:

260 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Health and Children if budget cutbacks have affected the infection control service in St. Columcille’s Hospital. [25309/07]

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

Hospitals Building Programme.

Andrew Doyle

Question:

261 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans in place to redevelop St. Columcille’s Hospital as was the case in Naas General and James Connolly Memorial Hospitals during the ERHA area board management structure. [25310/07]

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

Questions Nos. 262 and 263 answered with Question No. 185.

Health Services.

Seán Connick

Question:

264 Deputy Seán Connick asked the Minister for Health and Children if funding will be provided for an increase in occupational therapy services in County Wexford. [25325/07]

Seán Connick

Question:

265 Deputy Seán Connick asked the Minister for Health and Children if funding will be provided for an increase in speech therapy services in County Wexford. [25326/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 264 and 265 together.

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

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

Health Service Staff.

Seán Connick

Question:

266 Deputy Seán Connick asked the Minister for Health and Children if a review of staff security will be undertaken in psychiatric units. [25327/07]

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. 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.

Child Care Provision.

P. J. Sheehan

Question:

267 Deputy P. J. Sheehan asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will examine the concerns of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25336/07]

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.

With the closure of the EOCP in December 2007, to continue to support community childcare services to provide affordable childcare to disadvantaged parents, the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme (CCSS) is being introduced from January 2008 under the Exchequer funded National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP), the successor programme to the EOCP. The CCSS has been allocated €153 million over the next 3 years, representing a 16% increase in funding over the EOCP staffing scheme, and will continue to support community childcare services to provide reduced childcare fees for disadvantaged parents, complementing the universal supports in place for all parents. Under the new scheme, it will be possible to ensure that the level of grant aid which individual services qualify for will reflect the actual level of service they provide and the profile of the parents benefiting from their service. As part of their application for funding under the new scheme, services will be required to ask parents using their services to complete a simple declaration form which will be included in a return to my Office and on which basis the level of subvention for each service will be determined. The subvention received by services will, in turn, 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 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 new scheme has clear advantages over its predecessor. There is an increase in the level of funding available under it, and a majority of services will benefit from the changes it introduces. Existing EOCP staffing grant recipients who enter the new scheme will continue to be funded at their current levels until July 2008. My Office has engaged in a series of meetings with existing grant recipients to outline to them the details of the new scheme and to gather feedback from the services themselves. A meeting with representatives of the City and County Childcare Committees has also taken place.

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.

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. As signalled when I announced the new scheme in July this year, the transitional period between now and 1 July 2008 will also be used to monitor and review the impact it will have on individual groups, on the basis of the more detailed and comprehensive data which is due to be received from applicants in November. If appropriate, any adjustments necessary to the scheme to secure the best outcomes for childcare services and for disadvantaged parents and their children will be considered on the basis of this data and well in advance of the commencement of the new funding levels in July 2008.

Health Services.

Jackie Healy-Rae

Question:

268 Deputy Jackie Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Health and Children the cuts being planned for services in Kerry General Hospital; the cuts in services already in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25361/07]

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

Willie Penrose

Question:

269 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Health and Children the precise health facilities and ancillary health developments that will be put in place at Loosan, Athlone, County Westmeath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25407/07]

The Government's sustained high level of investment in healthcare has enabled the completion and commissioning of numerous new facilities in both the acute and the non-acute sectors. This year, overall capital funding of €546 million has been provided to the Health Service Executive.

Responsibility for the planning and management of capital projects in the health sector, including the developments referred to in the Deputy's question are a matter for the Health Services Executive under the Health Act 2004.

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

Niall Collins

Question:

270 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health and Children the range and level of services provided through home care packages; and the application procedure and qualifying criteria. [25409/07]

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.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Pat Breen

Question:

271 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when an application under the housing aid for the elderly will be processed for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25433/07]

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.

Community Development.

Michael McGrath

Question:

272 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the funding supports available in his Department for community groups wishing to build a children’s playground. [25439/07]

Ready, Steady Play: A National Play Policy, which was published in 2004, provides a framework for the development of public play facilities in Ireland with the overall aim of ensuring that children have access to a range of quality play opportunities to enrich their childhood. While the Office of the Minister for Children has an overall role in supporting implementation of the Play Policy, individual Departments retain responsibility for implementation of actions falling within their remit. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has lead responsibility in relation to the provision of funding to local authorities for playgrounds.

The Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the HSE have co-funded the development of new playgrounds or refurbishment of existing playgrounds in RAPID areas since 2004. A new scheme for 2008 was announced in July of this year with €3m available. Local Authorities will consult with each RAPID Area Implementation Team to agree the precise nature and location of the playgrounds to be funded. When the 2008 scheme finishes a total of €12m will have been provided for the funding of playgrounds in RAPID areas since 2004.

Departmental Schemes.

Michael McGrath

Question:

273 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if her Department has a grant scheme or funding source to which an adoption support group (details supplied) may apply for financial assistance. [25440/07]

This group are eligible to apply for National Lottery Funding. Application forms are available from the Finance Unit in the Department of Health and Children.

Health Services.

Billy Timmins

Question:

274 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; if they will be seen as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25452/07]

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.

Motor Vehicle Registration.

Richard Bruton

Question:

275 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Transport the number of vehicles registered for use on roads in Counties Dublin, Wicklow, Meath and Kildare in 1996, 2002 and 2006 distinguishing cars, motor cycles and goods vehicles and classifying them by broad capacity categories. [24696/07]

The tabular statements set out the details requested by the Deputy.

Table 1: Number of Private Cars by Engine Capacity in Counties Dublin, Wicklow, Meath and Kildare in 1996, 2002 and 2006.

Number of Private Cars by Engine Capacity

ENGINE CAPACITY (CUBIC CENTIMETRES)

Year

County

Up to 900

901-1000

1001-1100

1101-1200

1201-1300

1301-1400

1401-1500

1501-1600

1601-1700

1701-1800

1801-1900

1901-2000

2001-2500

2501 and over

Total

2006

Kildare

341

7,280

400

6,417

6,405

20,669

2,485

11,412

293

4,872

5,266

8,541

2,910

2,248

79,539

Meath

234

5,792

321

5,441

5,327

18,154

2,399

9,846

307

4,196

5,822

8,009

2,624

1,941

70,413

Wicklow

435

5,499

290

3,979

5,041

14,153

1,770

7,702

195

3,514

3,383

6,346

2,239

1,937

56,483

Dublin

3,097

48,315

2,796

33,804

45,579

116,703

16,506

70,070

1,263

36,536

18,478

47,202

15,614

14,989

470,952

Total (All counties)

8,989

167,774

9,488

125,190

156,675

481,809

58,104

260,134

9,217

107,569

117,929

183,860

52,645

39,478

1,778,861

2002

Kildare

458

7,394

343

5,282

6,324

16,511

1,933

7,759

390

3,095

3,652

6,652

1,643

969

62,405

Meath

317

5,646

297

4,404

5,016

13,384

1,443

6,205

406

2,283

3,769

6,245

1,529

802

51,746

Wicklow

640

5,745

256

3,522

4,630

11,079

1,225

5,341

274

2,150

2,206

4,656

1,338

770

43,832

Dublin

4,490

51,511

2,275

31,590

45,186

99,795

13,945

51,098

1,195

25,143

13,916

41,588

10,898

7,871

400,501

Total (All Counties)

12,412

169,397

8,410

119,009

156,236

382,826

42,096

192,986

12,639

73,305

77,951

150,391

32,359

17,891

1,447,908

1996

Kildare

418

7,106

729

4,592

4,920

6,764

1,101

5,373

761

2,393

1,465

4,178

765

359

40,924

Meath

362

5,669

526

3,627

3,916

5,209

861

4,846

780

1,897

1,528

3,703

700

263

33,887

Wicklow

627

5,710

626

3,631

3,691

4,665

785

3,978

577

1,668

881

2,883

619

326

30,667

Dublin

5,136

58,273

5,358

34,147

35,674

52,295

9,373

35,938

2,703

17,065

6,203

29,341

5,750

3,685

300,941

Total (All Counties)

11,821

180,538

17,451

123,035

140,369

166,017

26,726

157,142

18,883

57,891

31,676

101,297

16,858

7,679

1,057,383

Table 2: Number of Goods Vehicles by Unladen Weight in Counties Dublin, Wicklow, Meath and Kildare in 1996, 2002 and 2006.

Number of Goods Vehicles by Unladen Weight in each Licensing Authority Area

Unladen Weight Expressed in Kilograms

Electric

Year

County

Up to 1270

Exc. 1270

Up to 813

814-1016

1017-1270

1271-1524

1525-2032

2033-4064

4065-8128

8129-9144

9145-10160

10161-11176

11177-12192

12193 and over

Total

2006

Kildare

1

0

93

175

2,741

1,660

5,664

2,008

516

94

125

213

272

550

14,112

Meath

0

0

49

257

2,863

1,737

5,859

1,673

529

105

112

248

235

577

14,244

Wicklow

0

0

54

171

1,448

1,298

3,752

1,643

270

56

60

105

107

255

9,219

Dublin

1

0

624

545

10,483

7,731

24,465

7,862

2,681

769

677

689

621

1,953

59,101

Total (All Counties)

2

0

2,244

6,319

64,321

43,814

127,597

37,377

11,546

2,659

2,802

3,987

4,761

11,175

318,604

2002

Kildare

0

0

77

379

2,074

1,627

3,388

1,112

464

118

124

187

192

308

10,050

Meath

0

0

81

486

2,102

1,610

3,279

800

492

81

116

191

134

257

9,629

Wicklow

0

0

75

332

1,193

1,368

2,476

796

288

51

80

99

78

135

6,971

Dublin

2

0

324

1,732

10,180

6,979

17,262

4,760

2,984

668

726

640

534

1,276

48,067

Total (All Counties)

3

1

2,340

14,074

49,670

41,117

75,848

19,118

11,295

2,361

2,908

3,793

3,503

7,038

233,069

1996

Kildare

0

0

153

808

611

1,371

1191

367

363

77

125

168

111

130

5,475

Meath

0

1

185

975

618

1,300

1100

320

326

63

85

102

84

96

5,255

Wicklow

0

0

187

694

522

1022

980

269

249

39

54

75

55

54

4,200

Dublin

5

9

1,157

4,435

4,739

7,923

6,221

2,535

2,792

559

569

442

330

687

32,403

Total (All Counties)

7

34

5,010

26,403

18,245

35,498

29,193

9,256

10,135

1,859

2,580

2,871

2,458

3,052

146,601

Table 3: Number of Motor Cycles by Engine Capacity in Counties Dublin, Wicklow, Meath and Kildare in 1996, 2002 and 2006.

Number of Motor Cycles by Engine Capacity in each Licensing Authority

Year

County

Up to 75 c.c.

76 c.c. up to 150 c.c.

151 c.c. up to 250 c.c.

Over 250 c.c.

Total

2006

Kildare

142

178

111

1,367

1,798

Meath

91

116

83

1,114

1,404

Wicklow

136

174

98

1,122

1,530

Dublin

2,489

2,655

919

6,949

13,012

Total (All Counties)

4,918

5,538

2,309

22,162

34,927

2002

Kildare

357

287

98

922

1,664

Meath

164

157

67

601

989

Wicklow

262

212

114

777

1,365

Dublin

3,950

2,858

892

5,132

12,832

Total (All Counties)

8,530

7,213

2,425

14,979

33,147

1996

Kildare

214

366

75

296

951

Meath

125

249

56

198

628

Wicklow

138

329

90

299

856

Dublin

2,296

2,962

733

1609

7,600

Total (All Counties)

6,313

9,680

2,062

5,792

23,847

Departmental Projects.

Dan Neville

Question:

276 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Transport if he will report on the Government’s policy towards the mid-west region; and when he will sanction on the delivery of vital infrastructural projects such as key road and rail upgrades. [24697/07]

One of the main factors influencing the prioritisation of projects for Transport 21 and the National Development Plan was the need to support the Government's National Spatial Strategy objectives. Consistent with this approach, a number of national road and public transport projects, which contribute to the development of the mid-west region, were identified for implementation. They include:

M/N7 Dublin to Limerick which is one of the major interurban routes and is due for completion by 2010.

N18 Ennis to Galway is part of the Atlantic Road Corridor, which will link Donegal and Waterford via Limerick. A decision was taken in the National Development Plan to accelerate construction of this corridor and construction on the N18 project will begin in 2008, 3 years ahead of schedule.

N21 is currently being upgraded in stages between Adare and Tralee.

Western Rail Corridor which will connect Ennis to Claremorris. Work has begun on Phase 1 between Ennis and Athenry, which facilitates the introduction of a Limerick-Galway service.

Bus Eireann have ordered 160 additional new buses to enhance existing non-commercial services and provide additional city and commuter services throughout the country. These new buses will gradually enter service in Limerick and other cities.

With the acquisition of a new fleet of Intercity railcars, Iarnród Eireann will enhance its services to the mid-west region. The new railcars will be gradually introduced into service from November 2007.

Light Rail Project.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

277 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport his views on allocating funding not now required for some years for the LUAS Line BX to the construction for a LUAS line for Rathfarnham; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24700/07]

Dublin City Council is currently undertaking a traffic modelling exercise as part of its examination of revised traffic management arrangements in the city centre, which will be required for the delivery of the Luas city centre link (line BX), the further extension to Liffey Junction (line D) and also Metro North.

In addition, the RPA is considering ways of streamlining and combining construction works on these projects in order to minimise the impact on the city centre.

Following completion of further detailed design work and subject to a satisfactory outcome to the city centre traffic management planning work, the RPA plans to submit a Railway Order application for Luas Line BX to An Bord Pleanála next year. Decisions on a construction timetable for Luas Line Bx will be taken by the RPA in light of the outcome of the planning process.

I understand that the RPA commenced work on examining the feasibility of a Luas line to Rathfarnham in April this year. The Agency has been progressing the study since that date and are confident that they will be in a position to make an initial view in relation to the feasibility of a Rathfarnham Luas Line available to my Department by the end of the year.

It would, therefore, be premature to consider any reallocation of funding pending the outcome of the planning process on Luas Line Bx and the feasibility study on the Rathfarnham line.

Departmental Reports.

Richard Bruton

Question:

278 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Transport if his output statement has been published on his Department’s website; and the date on which it was put up on the website. [24747/07]

While the output statement has not been published on my Department's website, the financial data from the output statement relating to 2006 was included in the Department of Transport 2006 Annual Report which was published on the Department's website on 11 June 2007.

Rural Transport Services.

James Bannon

Question:

279 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Transport the steps he is taking to rectify the lack of satisfactory rural transport in County Westmeath; the reason the rural transport group is failing to provide a satisfactory transport infrastructure particularly for elderly and infirm people wishing to access hospitals and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24798/07]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 221 of 10 October 2007.

Airline Charges.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

280 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to the failure of airlines to refund taxes paid on flights which have been cancelled by consumers; what happens to this revenue; and if there is a process in place to address same. [24869/07]

Taxes, which are imposed by Government, should be differentiated from charges, which are imposed by airports, airlines or other agencies. There are no Government taxes levied on flights out of Ireland. However, I am aware that other countries, including the United Kingdom, impose these taxes.

Different airlines have different policies on refunds with regard to taxes and charges and some airlines impose an administration charge in respect of an application for a refund.

Essentially this is a consumer issue and would be a matter for the National Consumer Agency, a body which is within the remit of my colleague the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment.

Road Safety.

Michael Creed

Question:

281 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Transport if his Department will provide funding for the provision of flashing amber lights on the road immediately outside all schools as is currently provided for in CLÁR areas by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. [24870/07]

The provision of road traffic signs, including the flashing amber warning lights in the vicinity of schools, is a matter to be determined by each road authority under section 95 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961.

I have no proposals to mirror the CLÁR programme on national and non-national roads throughout the country. It is a matter for individual road authorities to determine what warning traffic signs are desirable to be provided at any location and to assign funding for their signing programme.

Departmental Travel.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

282 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Transport if his Department has a policy with regard to frequent flyer points accrued by Ministers or civil servants; if these must be signed over to his Department or if they can be retained by the individual concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24903/07]

Frequent flyer points can be retained by Departmental Officers in accordance with the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour.

Road Network.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

283 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport the estimated travel time by road to Shannon Airport from Dublin; when that time will be reduced and by what amount; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24941/07]

As Minister for Transport I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme element of Transport 21. The implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Act, 1993 in conjunction with the relevant local authorities concerned.

As you are aware, the NRA is currently concentrating its efforts, in line with Government policy on the Major Interurban routes including the N7 Dublin to Limerick which are on target to be completed by 2010. I understand from the NRA that the approximate expected journey time on the N7 Limerick to Dublin in 2010 will be 2 hours and 30 minutes. This time is approximate and is based on average speed of 100kph-120kph.

Light Rail Project.

Brian Hayes

Question:

284 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding his plans to expand the LUAS into the Broadstone, Constitution Hill areas of Dublin 7; the extent to which this has been co-ordinated with the Grangegorman Development Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25040/07]

I understand that the Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) maintains a close working relationship with the Grangegorman Development Agency on the development of Luas Line D. The Chief Executive Officer of the RPA made a presentation to the Board of the Grangegorman Development Agency in May of this year outlining the role that Luas Line D would play in accessibility needs for the planned major campus development. I understand the Grangegorman Development Agency is strongly supportive of Luas Line D and the associated need for Line BX.

Dublin City Council is currently undertaking a traffic modelling exercise as part of its examination of revised traffic management arrangements in the city centre, which will be required for the delivery of the Luas city centre link (line BX), the further extension to Liffey Junction (line D) and also Metro North.

In addition, the RPA is considering ways of streamlining and combining construction works on these projects in order to minimise the impact on the city centre.

Following completion of further detailed design work and subject to a satisfactory outcome to the city centre traffic management planning work, the RPA plans to submit a Railway Order application for Luas Line BX to An Bord Pleanála next year. This will influence the timing of Luas Line D, the route for which will be decided having regard to the route of Line BX.

Motor Vehicle Registration.

Damien English

Question:

285 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Transport the plans he has to make it an obligation for insurance companies to notify his Department that vehicles involved in accidents are written off; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25065/07]

The arrangements covering the treatment and notification of write-offs of vehicles are currently being examined by the RSA, the Garda Síochána, the Revenue Commissioners who are responsible for the registration of vehicles and my Department in its role in relation to the National Vehicle and Driver File (NVDF). This examination will be concluded as soon as possible and any recommendations arising therefrom will be considered.

Road Traffic Offences.

Damien English

Question:

286 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Transport his views on the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland’s estimate that uninsured drivers kill 20 people each year and leave a further 2,000 others seriously injured; the plans he or his Department have to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25067/07]

The figure quoted by the Deputy is an estimate by the Motor Insurers' Bureau of Ireland based on the Insurance Industry's claim that 6% of motor vehicles are currently uninsured.

Any level of uninsured driving is a matter of concern to me. Several steps have been taken in recent years to reduce the level of uninsured driving. The Garda Traffic Corps has been substantially expanded to improve compliance with all road traffic legislation including motor insurance requirements. Legislation has also been put in place to extend the powers of the Gardaí to permit the seizure of all uninsured vehicles. In addition, since the introduction of the Penalty Points system, 6,539 persons have received penalty points for uninsured driving up to the end of September 2007.

Public Transport.

Enda Kenny

Question:

287 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Transport the circumstances surrounding reports that his Department instructed Dublin Bus to remove three buses from the 25X morning service serving Lucan, County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25121/07]

The initiation or alteration of a bus service by Dublin Bus is subject to compliance with the necessary regulatory requirement of giving advance notice to my Department and to compliance with section 25 of the Transport Act, 1958 concerning competition with licensed private operators.

My Department wrote to Dublin Bus on 4th October, 2007 in relation to three additional Route 25X departures which the Company was operating from the Newcastle Road, Lucan Area. My Department had not been notified of these three additional departures and therefore Dublin Bus was requested to cease operation of the three services until they have been regularised.

To date, no notification has been received in my Department for these three services. My Department has advised Dublin Bus that proposals for additional services from Adamstown, which will serve the Lucan area, will require my consent under section 25 of the Transport Act 1958 and a further proposal to introduce three additional Route 25X Lucan services which differ from the services as referred to by the Deputy is currently the subject of correspondence between my Department and Dublin Bus.

Enda Kenny

Question:

288 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding integrated ticketing for Dublin; the cost to date of all feasibility studies and planning exercises by the Railway Procurement Agency and all other bodies under his Department’s aegis currently or previously investigating integrated ticketing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25122/07]

The position in relation to the Integrated Ticketing project was set out in my response to Parliamentary Question Numbers 66 and 109 on 18th October, 2007.

Since the inception of the project in 2002 €11.9 million has been spent on the project to date. This expenditure encompasses project management, design and development costs and operator contributions. The Railway Procurement Agency advises that this expenditure included €0.2 million on consultancy.

Enda Kenny

Question:

289 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Transport the conditions surrounding the granting of licences to private bus operators; his future plans in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25123/07]

The Road Transport Act, 1932 provides the statutory basis for regulating the provision of public bus services by private bus operators in Ireland.

Section 11 of that Act establishes provisions relating specifically to the grant of Annual Road Passenger Licences. The criteria for the determination of applications is set out in subsections (3) of that section and provides that:—

The service is required in the public interest having regard to the passenger road services and other forms of passenger transport available to the public on or in the neighbourhood of the route of the proposed service,

Whether the service is sufficient in terms of frequency and duration to meet the requirements of the public,

Whether the applicant has the organisation and equipment necessary to carry out the service.

It is a condition of all Annual Passenger Licences that the Licensee is responsible for ensuring compliance with all conditions attached to the licence which includes adhering to the timetable and any restrictions placed on the licence in respect of pick-up and set-down of passengers.

The Programme for Government includes a commitment to improve bus services under Transport 21 by reforming bus licensing to facilitate the optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all market participants. The new licensing regime will be designed in a manner consistent with the recently adopted new EU Regulation on Public Service Obligations in the transport sector.

While it is not possible at this time to indicate a precise time as to when the legislative proposals on regulatory reform of the bus market will be published, applications and notifications from bus operators will continue to be processed under the provisions of the Road Transport Act, 1932, as amended.

Departmental Expenditure.

Brian Hayes

Question:

290 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Transport the amount of money spent on paper and stationery in 2007: the amount of this money spent on recycled paper; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25149/07]

The total amount spent by my Department on all office consumables, including paper, in the period January to end of September 2007 was €82,116.43. (Of this amount some €15,407.94 was spent on paper supplies.) With the exception of specialized paper supplies that are occasionally required, the bulk of the paper used by my Department is purchased under the central contract arrangement agreed by the O.P.W. In this regard, the type of paper concerned is recycled and made from post-consumer office waste paper.

Public Transport.

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

291 Deputy Darragh O’Brien asked the Minister for Transport when a high frequency bus service from Swords via the Port Tunnel to the city centre will start in view of the fact that the licence has been granted for a private operator to operate; and the exact route it will serve. [25163/07]

On the 3rd October, 2007, my Department issued a licence in accordance with the Road Transport Act, 1932 to a private bus operator for bus passenger services between Swords and Custom House Quay, via The Port Tunnel.

It is a condition of the licence that the services are in operation in their entirety within 4 months from the date of issue of the licence. While it is a matter for the operator concerned to introduce the services within the timeframe, my Department understands that the operator proposes to commence operations within a matter of weeks.

Road Traffic Offences.

Margaret Conlon

Question:

292 Deputy Margaret Conlon asked the Minister for Transport the steps he proposes to take to ensure persons holding a driving licence from outside this State who are guilty of a road offence can have penalty points attached to their licence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25168/07]

I am conscious that enforcing penalties for road traffic offences on foreign registered drivers raises many legal, organisational and procedural issues, which make it very difficult for any one State to enforce such penalties. For that reason, my Department is pursuing this question at the European, British/Irish and North/South levels where mutual recognition and cross border enforcement possibilities are under consideration.

All drivers are subject to road traffic law and it is a matter for An Garda Síochána to enforce the law. As foreign licence holders do not have an Irish driving licence record, penalty points incurred in this State are recorded against that person on a separate record in the National Driver File. The realisation of fines and penalties imposed by the Courts is a matter for the Courts Service.

Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (S.I. No. 477 of 2006) the Road Safety Authority has responsibility for ensuring that penalty points are endorsed on a licence record. Data in relation to penalty points is held on the National Driver File.

Driving Licences.

Margaret Conlon

Question:

293 Deputy Margaret Conlon asked the Minister for Transport his plans to amend the system of provisional driving licences. [25169/07]

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

At my request the Road Safety Authority has examined the driver licensing system, so as to identify what further reforms might be introduced in the interests of road safety and have developed proposals for a Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) System and details of their proposals will be contained in their Road Safety Strategy which will be published shortly.

Road Traffic Offences.

Margaret Conlon

Question:

294 Deputy Margaret Conlon asked the Minister for Transport if, as part of his new proposed legislation for mandatory alcohol levels testing at the scene of road traffic accidents, he will introduce mandatory drug testing at the scene of road traffic accidents. [25171/07]

My Department proposes to engage with the Office of the Attorney General to establish how the current legislation can be amended to achieve roadside testing of drivers involved in serious accidents subject to overriding medical circumstances.

With regard to the introduction of a comprehensive drug roadside testing programme for drivers, the Road Traffic Acts already provide that a member of the Garda Síochána may, where he or she is of the opinion that a person in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place is under the influence of a drug or drugs to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of that vehicle, require that person to go to a Garda station and further require that person submit to a blood test or to provide a urine sample.

There is no feasible basis yet in Ireland or in Europe for the introduction of a preliminary roadside test for drugs as testing devices are still in the prototype stages. However, my Department with the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, is keeping abreast of developments in this area. When suitable technology becomes available, measures applied to the roadside testing of drivers for alcohol will be applied in relation to drugs.

Road Network.

Damien English

Question:

295 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Transport if his Department will provide outline plans for the proposed outer orbital road for the greater Dublin region. [25184/07]

I would refer the Deputy to Questions Nos. 8, 45 and 71 put to me on Thursday last in this connection. The position is unchanged.

As Minister for Transport I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme element of Transport 21. The implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority (NRA) under the Roads Act, 1993 in conjunction with the relevant local authorities concerned.

Both Transport 21 and the National Development Plan committed the NRA to carrying out a feasibility study on the Orbital Route. Earlier this year, the NRA completed an updated feasibility study which built on an earlier 2001 study, looking in particular at the costs and benefits of such a route. The updated NRA study finds that there is merit in constructing an Orbital Route linking Drogheda/Navan/Naas.

As part of the study various possible route corridors were examined in detail. A corridor linking Drogheda to Navan to Naas was identified as the optimum route having regard to the policy objectives set out in the various policy documents on the route.

Neither Transport 21 nor the National Development Plan provide any funding for the scheme to be brought through planning/ preliminary design or to construction in the period to 2015. The study is currently under detailed consideration within my Department.

Public Transport.

Damien English

Question:

296 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Transport the number of passenger journeys that have taken place on public transport originating from each of the towns Kells, Trim, Navan and Athboy to Dublin for each of the years 2002 to date in 2007 in tabular readable form. [25185/07]

Bus Éireann states that the exact numbers carried on these corridors is commercially sensitive. However, the company informs me that passenger numbers have increased by the following percentages:

Kells/Navan Corridor passenger numbers have grown by 2% to 3% per annum since 2002.

Athboy/Trim Corridor passenger numbers have grown by 3% to 4% per annum since 2002.

My Department has also licensed two private operators to provide bus services between Navan and Dublin. The operators in question are Sillan Tours Limited and McGeehan Coaches. The number of passengers carried is a commercial matter for the companies.

Damien English

Question:

297 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Transport if he will permit and fund the purchase of additional buses, not replacement buses, for Bus Éireann to provide additional routes from Meath to Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25186/07]

In September 2006 my predecessor announced expenditure of €50 million on 160 (69 additional and 91 replacement) buses for Bus Eireann as part of Transport 21. Another €23 million was approved earlier this year for the purchase of a further 75 replacement buses in 2008. The deployment of the buses are a matter for the company.

Port Development.

Brian Hayes

Question:

298 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Transport if he will make a statement on a planning application (details supplied) in County Louth; and if it is aligned to the National Spatial Strategy. [25202/07]

In 2005/2006 my Department commissioned a unitised port capacity study. Seven ports around the country made submissions as part of that study, including one from Greenore Port. In its submission Greenore Port outlined a proposal to develop the port, including a new quay. Decisions regarding the progress of the proposal are a commercial matter for Greenore Port.

My Department has recently sought progress reports from the seven ports. Greenore has reported that a formal planning application for its proposal has not yet been made.

The National Spatial Strategy identifies strategic merit in relieving pressure on Dublin Port through targeted interventions in building up port capacity elsewhere.

The capacity study concluded that all the proposals made were generally consistent with the objectives of the National Spatial Strategy. All the proposals are located in or close to the five main gateways and six of the seven are outside Dublin city. In the case of Greenore, it is located close to the gateway town of Dundalk.

Rail Network.

Peter Power

Question:

299 Deputy Peter Power asked the Minister for Transport the position with regard to the proposed Shannon to Limerick rail link; when the steering group is expected to report to him; the last estimated cost his Department believed the creation of a link would cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25230/07]

Transport 21 does not provide for the construction of a rail link between Limerick and Shannon Airport. The feasibility study carried out on behalf of Iarnród Éireann with input from a steering group representative of local interests concluded that the economic case for the rail link is poor.

I understand from Iarnród Éireann that the feasibility study indicated there would be significant capital expenditure for the rail link, ranging from €245 million for a very minimal service to €633 million for a 25 minute journey to Limerick and a 65 minute journey to Galway, in addition to an ongoing increase in subvention. Iarnród Éireann has no plans to undertake any further work on the proposal at this stage.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

300 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Transport the progress being made by his Department to obtain statistics in respect of carbon emissions from aviation in respect of aircraft flying to and from Ireland; the information regarding aviation emissions currently available to his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25273/07]

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is the lead Department on this issue. Figures for carbon emissions from aviation can be obtained from the following websites:The Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.ieSustainable Energy Ireland: http://www.sei.ie

Airport Security.

Pat Breen

Question:

301 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Transport if the extension of the US customs and border protection facility is on target for Shannon Airport; if the facility will be operational for the Summer of 2008; if not, the date in 2008 the facility will be up and running; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25274/07]

For some time my Department has been in discussions with the U.S authorities on the introduction of full pre-clearance facilities for U.S. bound passengers at Dublin and Shannon Airports.

Currently my officials are in contact with a number of other Departments on certain aspects of these discussions. When introduced, the operation of these facilities would be subject to an Inter-Governmental treaty to be concluded between the two countries. At this stage, prior to receiving the formal U.S. proposals for this agreement, I am not in a position to be definitive about the date when the facilities can be introduced.

Rail Network.

Joe Costello

Question:

302 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Transport the Government’s proposals for development of the Broadstone railway line; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25284/07]

Transport 21 provides for the development of a Luas line from St Stephen's Green to Liffey Junction, using the old Broadstone Railway alignment. This is consistent with the long-term transportation strategy for the Greater Dublin Area in the "Dublin Transportation Initiative" (1995) and in the Dublin Transportation Office's strategy "A Platform for Change" (2001), both of which envisaged the old Broadstone alignment being used for Luas or Metro services.

A formal proposal has recently been received by my Department from Iarnród Éireann in relation to an alternative use of the Broadstone alignment for suburban rail services.

My Department has engaged consultants Booz, Allen and Hamilton to review the transport case put forward by Iarnród Éireann for the use of the Broadstone alignment.

Road Safety.

Andrew Doyle

Question:

303 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Transport if he will ascertain from the Road Safety Authority, the budget commitment for road safety and bicycles in schools. [25313/07]

The total budget allocation for the Road Safety Authority (RSA) for 2007 was €31,124,000 to cover all matters including RSA safety awareness and educational campaigns. Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (S.I. No 477 of 2006) it is a matter for the Road Safety Authority to determine how they allocate their expenditure on specific road safety measures.

Conflict Resolution.

Billy Timmins

Question:

304 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the structure of the Centre for Conflict Resolution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25426/07]

As is set out in the Programme for Government, the Government are committed to making increased Irish engagement in international conflict resolution an important new dimension of Irish foreign policy, building on our experience of the Northern Ireland peace process, the Irish Aid programme, which already includes support for a range of conflict-related activities, and our strong tradition of peacekeeping.

I have therefore established a Conflict Resolution Unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Headed by a Counsellor, it is based in the Political Division of the Department, where it will draw from our experience of engagement with the United Nations and the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy. The Unit will work in close co-operation with the Department's Anglo-Irish Division, with Irish Aid, and with relevant Missions overseas.

For the past number of months, the Unit has been engaged in intensive analysis of international experience and best practice in this very complex area and in developing contacts with key players in the United Nations, other international organisations, and relevant experts both governmental and non-governmental. I am also anxious that the Unit work with and further develop Irish expertise both in academic institutions and in civil society. In this regard and in line with the Programme for Government, among the initiatives to which the Unit will give priority will be the establishment of an Irish academic centre for conflict resolution.

The Unit will also work to identify opportunities, particularly in the context of our development co-operation programme, for Ireland to play a concrete role in specific peace-making and peace-building activities. Of their nature, such opportunities are not easily predictable.

Both at home and in my contacts with international partners, including recently with the United Nations Secretary General and senior officials at the UN, there has been a warm welcome for Ireland's commitment to increased engagement in conflict resolution. Of necessity, building up our capacity will be a gradual process. I would like finally to say that I am very appreciative of the wide support for this initiative which has been expressed, including of course in this House.

Rapid Response Corps.

Billy Timmins

Question:

305 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the personnel involved in the Emergency Response Unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25427/07]

The Rapid Response Corps is one element of the Rapid Response Initiative, which is itself a key component of the Government's White Paper on Irish Aid of September 2006. The overall aim is to save lives by a more effective response to humanitarian crises.

The Rapid Response Corps is a roster of highly-skilled individuals who can deploy, on a voluntary basis, at short notice to emergency situations.

The campaign to recruit members to this roster was launched in February 2007 and, following a rigorous selection and interview process, 64 people were successful. Of those, 52 are now ready to deploy if requested, having completed their pre-departure training and preparation.

Members of the Corps are individual volunteers with humanitarian, logistics, information technology, engineering, environmental, public information and public health skills, all of which are needed internationally to address humanitarian crises. They are on standby to deploy to Ireland's key humanitarian partner agencies at short notice and for periods of approximately three months to assist in their humanitarian response efforts.

The members of the Corps range in age from 26 to 65. More than half are public sector workers, with the remainder variously private sector employees, self employed, mature students or retired. Several have military experience, with one serving member of the Permanent Defence Forces. All are willing and enthusiastic volunteers with a great depth, breadth and range of experience.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Billy Timmins

Question:

306 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the recent discussions he has had with respect to the situation in Kosovo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25428/07]

The issue of Kosovo's final status remains high on the EU's foreign policy agenda and is the subject of regular discussions at Foreign Minister level, most recently at the General Affairs and External Relations Council of 15 October last. It is my intention to visit Pristina and Belgrade next month to discuss the situation with key political figures there, and assess the situation further.

Together with our EU partners, Ireland has consistently expressed strong support for the work of the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari. In March, Special Envoy Ahtisaari brought forward a Comprehensive Proposal. He recommended that Kosovo's status should be independence, supervised by the international community. The proposal includes detailed provisions concerning the promotion and protection of the rights of communities and their members. It also sets out constitutional, economic and security measures, aimed at contributing to the development of a multi-ethnic, democratic and prosperous Kosovo. A key element of the proposed settlement would be a continuing international civilian and military presence in Kosovo.

Ireland welcomed this proposal, as providing the most practical basis for a settlement of the Kosovo issue by a new Resolution of the UN Security Council, to replace Security Council Resolution 1244 under which Kosovo has been governed since 1999. Regrettably however, intensive efforts within the UN Security Council to agree on a new Resolution ended in failure. In late July, the Contact Group (US, Russia, UK, France, Germany, Italy and the EU Council) established a Troika to facilitate a further four months of direct talks between Belgrade and Pristina. No agreement has yet been found, and the Troika is due to report to the UN Secretary General on the outcome of these talks on 10 December.

Ireland strongly supports the Troika-led process and we hope that these talks may yet produce an agreed way forward. In the event of failure, however, we recognise that difficult choices will need to be made which deal with the reality of the situation on the ground and safeguard the future stability and security of Kosovo and the Balkan region as a whole. Since August, we have increased our commitment to KFOR to 270 troops, following our assumption of command of Task Force Centre, which covers the capital Pristina and the surrounding area. While we will face a more complex and uncertain political and legal environment in the event that there is no agreement on final status, we very much hope to be in a position to maintain our presence in KFOR, to consider contributing members of the Garda to an ESDP Mission and also to support the future economic development of Kosovo.

Diplomatic Relations.

Billy Timmins

Question:

307 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the dealings Ireland has with Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25429/07]

Ireland has diplomatic relations with Zimbabwe on a non-resident basis. The Irish Ambassador in Pretoria is accredited to Zimbabwe, and the Zimbabwean Ambassador in London is accredited to Ireland. Our bilateral ties reflect the friendship which Ireland holds for the Zimbabwean people, and our shared historical experience. These ties also give us an opportunity to discuss issues of concern as they arise. The situation in Zimbabwe is a matter of significant concern here in Ireland and to me personally, and Ireland is among those EU Member States which have most strongly condemned human rights abuses and urged political and economic reform in Zimbabwe.

The Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs raised Ireland's concerns about the failed political and economic policies of President Mugabe's Government with Zimbabwean officials in Harare in June 2007, and also had talks on with senior members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The Irish Ambassador accredited to Zimbabwe has regularly expressed to Zimbabwean interlocutors the Irish Government's deep concern about the situation there. He most recently met Zimbabwean officials during a visit to Harare in September 2007. The Embassy of Ireland in Pretoria monitors allegations of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and raises issues of concern in relation to human rights and governance with the Zimbabwean Government at all levels and at every available opportunity.

There have been no political-level visits exchanged between the two countries in recent years. In accordance with the EU Common Position on Zimbabwe, Member States are obliged to prevent the entry into their territories of named persons, including senior Zimbabwean politicians and President Mugabe himself.

The Irish Government, through Irish Aid, provides assistance for humanitarian purposes and for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe. These programmes have a direct and positive effect on the lives of thousands of poor Zimbabwean people. Irish Aid works in partnership with missionaries, NGOs — including Concern, Goal and Trócaire, and local civil society organisations –and international organisations. Ireland does not provide funding to the Zimbabwean Government. Total Irish Aid funding to the people of Zimbabwe since the start of 2006 amounts to €18.4 million, covering areas such food relief, school feeding programmes, support to those displaced by government urban clearance programmes, healthcare provision, home-based care for those living with HIV/AIDS, human rights and gender equality.

The Embassy of Ireland in Pretoria estimates that there are now approximately three thousand Irish citizens resident in Zimbabwe. Staff from the Embassy meet with members of the Irish community, Irish religious, and Irish NGOs during their regular visits to the country. In 2006, Emigrant Services funding of €20,000 was given to two Irish community organisations in Zimbabwe, to cover the costs of organising Irish community events and the alleviation of some of the most acute welfare problems affecting sick and elderly Irish citizens. I have nominated Mr. Gary Killilea to act as Ireland's Honorary Consul in Zimbabwe. His appointment will facilitate better access to consular advice and documentation for all Irish citizens resident there.

Trade between Ireland and Zimbabwe is at an extremely low level, amounting to only €2.2 million in 2006. An important element in this total was Irish exports of medical and pharmaceutical products. I am not aware of any Irish companies active in the Zimbabwean market, and I would not expect this situation to change in the foreseeable future.

Departmental Reports.

Richard Bruton

Question:

308 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his output statement has been published on his Department’s website; and the date on which it was put up on the website. [24742/07]

The Department's Annual Output Statement 2007 was placed in the public domain by being formally presented to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on 27 March 2007. The Committee warmly welcomed the presentation of this first Output Statement and stated that it was a "detailed and comprehensive statement that will be a useful reference for members".

In the light of the interest reflected in the Deputy's question, the Output Statement was placed on the Department's website ( www.dfa.ie ) on 18 October 2007. It can now be viewed on the "Publications" page, along with the Department's Annual Report for 2006.

Question No. 309 answered with QuestionNo. 116.

Departmental Travel.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

310 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department has a policy with regard to frequent flyer points accrued by Ministers or civil servants; if these must be signed over to his Department or if they can be retained by the individual concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24898/07]

The policy of my Department, on the issue of frequent flyer points, is in line with the guidelines set out in the Civil Service Code of Standards and Behaviour (Circular 26 of 2004) which provide that:

". . . benefits under frequent flier schemes may be retained by individual civil servants in recognition of the fact that official travel is disruptive to personal and family life" (Paragraph 16.2 of Circular 20/2004).

Departmental Statistics.

Joe Costello

Question:

311 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of Irish citizens permanently residing here who have died in each EU country in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24907/07]

All Irish citizens, whether resident in Ireland or abroad, are entitled to seek consular assistance from my Department. As a result, statistics on deaths abroad of Irish citizens are not broken down on a residency in Ireland or overseas basis. Moreover, the assistance of the Department is on many occasions not sought by the next of kin when a death occurs abroad, particularly in the case of Great Britain.

I am setting out as follows the aggregate breakdown by EU country (other than Great Britain) of the number of deaths abroad during the period 2002 to the present where the Department's assistance was requested. This shows that assistance was sought in some 571 such cases.

Country

Number

Austria

8

Belgium

8

Bulgaria

6

Cyprus

22

Czech Republic

3

Denmark

12

Estonia

0

Finland

4

France

34

Germany

26

Greece

23

Hungary

1

Italy

39

Latvia

1

Lithuania

0

Luxembourg

0

Malta

3

Netherlands

17

Poland

9

Portugal

23

Romania

1

Slovakia

2

Slovenia

0

Spain

322

Sweden

7

Total

571

Diplomatic Relations.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

312 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the view of Ireland regarding the present legal status of Taiwan under international law; and his views on its current application for UN membership and associated bodies. [24918/07]

In common with most Member States of the UN, and all EU partners, Ireland adheres to a ‘one-China policy', recognising the government of the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China. The joint communiqué issued in 1979 on the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ireland and the People's Republic of China reaffirmed the ‘one-China policy'. Ireland does not maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Ireland opposes efforts by the authorities in Taiwan to apply for UN membership under the name of Taiwan as incompatible with the ‘one-China policy'. In its Resolution 2758 of 25 October 1971, the United Nations General Assembly recognised the Government of the People's Republic of China as the sole representative of China.

However, with our EU partners, Ireland continues to be active in seeking to ensure Taiwan's meaningful participation in international technical bodies, for example the World Health Organisation (WHO), to ensure there is no geographical gap in the important work that they carry out.

Departmental Funding.

Joe Costello

Question:

313 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a fund available for dealing with the costs of the families of Irish Citizens who have died in unexpected or tragic circumstances while temporarily visiting or residing in EU Member States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24919/07]

Over the past decade, the number of Irish citizens travelling abroad has increased dramatically. Irish citizens are now to be found in a wider range of locations than ever before and the number of visits abroad by Irish residents in 2006 was almost 7 million. Since becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have attached a high priority to the consular service we provide to our citizens who encounter difficulties while abroad and have introduced a number of practical measures to improve this service.

In situations where a death of an Irish citizen occurs abroad, my Department offers all possible assistance and support including, where necessary, with autopsies, death certificates, liaising with undertakers and airlines.

My Department, of course, strongly advises intending travellers abroad to take out adequate travel insurance prior to travel. Failure to take out insurance can lead to considerable financial and logistical difficulties for the traveller and his/her family should problems arise. In the great majority of cases, the cost of repatriation of remains is covered by the families in question. When necessary, the Department is authorised to provide financial assistance locally, on a cost recoverable basis. In addition, in some very exceptional circumstances, including natural disasters, the repatriation of remains can be undertaken at State expense.

I am very pleased to report that in the overwhelming number of cases, citizens indicate that they are extremely appreciative of the quality of the support and advice they receive from the Department and our missions overseas in these, often tragic, circumstances.

Departmental Expenditure.

Brian Hayes

Question:

314 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the amount of money spent on paper and stationery in 2007: the amount of this money spent on recycled paper; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25144/07]

A total amount of €226,977.33 was spent by the Department on paper and stationery from 1 January 2007 to date: this includes €153,477.33 on paper and paper-based stationery items, of which an amount of €84,309 was spent on recycled paper.

Question No. 315 answered with QuestionNo. 91.

Cross-Border Projects.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

316 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the Government’s announcement that work will commence in the near future to reopen the two cross-Border bridges along the Monaghan border outside Glaslough, discussion has taken place with the people who live along the road to the old Annaroe Bridge regarding the need to re-open this bridge in view of the fact that the railway bridge at the other end of this road has limited access; if the capital cost of same will be used for more beneficial cross border projects; the cost relating to the restructuring of Annaroe Bridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25360/07]

The Government is committed to ensuring that all border crossings closed by the British authorities on grounds of security in the 1970s are reopened as part of the wider process of security normalisation in Northern Ireland, and in order to facilitate regional economic development.

Of the 104 closed cross-border roads in 1994, only the crossings at Annaghroe and Knockaginney have yet to be reopened. Agreement was reached earlier this year with the Northern Ireland authorities to re-open the two roads, including the construction of the two bridges.

The Minister for Transport has given a commitment to fund the replacement of the two bridges and the approach roads in County Monaghan. The combined estimated cost of replacing both bridges is £2 million sterling and that of the approach roads in County Monaghan €340,000. The Northern Ireland Roads Service has also agreed to improve the approach roads in Northern Ireland, which are estimated to cost in the region of £200,000 Sterling.

Following a public tendering process, Monaghan County Council is now proceeding to appoint consultants to develop the design and co-ordinate the consultation process.

It is envisaged that there will be an extensive public consultation process on possible designs, including meetings in suitable locations both in Monaghan and Northern Ireland. Subject to the outcome of the consultation process, work should commence in mid 2008.

Foreign Conflicts.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

317 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he and his colleagues at EU or UN level have addressed the issue of war, genocide and starvation in the various African countries which have been the subject of concern; the degree to which agreement can or has been reached and action taken or expected to be taken on foot of such discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25469/07]

The main focus of Ireland's programme of development assistance is on Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. Our objective is to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in developing countries, through assisting in bringing about positive and lasting changes in their lives.

There is undoubtedly a clear inter-relationship between poverty, food security and conflict. The reduction of poverty, hunger and conflict in Africa is one of the most important tasks of the international community in the 21st century. Conflict has many causes and many manifestations. However, it is nurtured, fed and strengthened by poverty, inequality and exclusion.

It is the case that most wars occur in poor countries and the causes and effects of conflict are exacerbated by poverty. Food security is undermined by the effects of conflict and instability. Furthermore, conflict and war impact on the most vulnerable in an affected society, particularly women and children.

Ireland responds to the problems of conflict and food security through several channels. We do so by delivering development support directly through our Embassies in a number of African countries, and indirectly using experienced and effective non-governmental organisations (NGOs), UN agencies and other international organisations such as the Red Cross. Our aim is to address the root causes of instability and hunger.

The launch of the Government's Hunger Task Force and the establishment in the Department of a Conflict Resolution Unit, are clear and practical manifestations of our resolve to do more in these areas, which directly affect the lives of millions throughout the developing world.

Through our membership of the European Union and the United Nations, Ireland is a strong advocate for the developing world and for international peace and security. African leadership is also crucial in this field, and the African Union is a partner of growing importance for us.

I warmly welcome the very recent adoption by the UN Security Council of Resolution 1778, which authorises the deployment of a multi-dimensional international presence in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic (CAR). This Resolution is a significant achievement of the international community and an example of good cooperation between the UN and the EU. Most importantly, it will be to the benefit of the 230,000 refugees from Darfur living in camps in Eastern Chad and the 180,000 people from Chad who are displaced by violence in the region. The forces are comprised of a UN mission, a Chadian police force trained by the UN, and a European Union military operation, part of which it is intended will be a contingent from the Irish Defence Forces, subject to the necessary Government and Dáil approval.

I believe that Ireland's comprehensive and inclusive approach to the challenges of poverty, conflict and food insecurity stands the best chance of facilitating real and positive change in the lives of millions of people living in Africa.

Question No. 318 answered with QuestionNo. 91.
Questions Nos. 319 and 320 answered with Question No. 87.
Question No. 321 answered with QuestionNo. 93.
Question No. 322 answered with QuestionNo. 90.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

323 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide an appraisal of the ongoing situation in Sudan; the extent to which the international community can assist; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25475/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

330 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the ongoing situation in Darfur; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25482/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 323 and 330 together.

The Government continues to be gravely concerned about the crisis in Darfur and its broader ramifications for Sudan as a whole and the region. We are pursuing all avenues to support international efforts to address the grave humanitarian, political and security challenges confronting Sudan.

Recent weeks have seen an upsurge in violence in Darfur in advance of the start of UN and African Union-mediated peace talks between the Government of Sudan and rebel factions in Sirte, Libya on 27 October. Ten members of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) were killed, reportedly by rebel factions, in Haskanita, Southern Sudan at the end of September following which the town was subsequently burnt down by Government forces. Government forces, alongside militia groups, have also been implicated in a major attack on the town of Muhajiriya on 8 October. These incidents have resulted in many dozens of civilian deaths and significant displacement. The overall operating environment for UN agencies and NGOs is becoming steadily more difficult and has resulted, in some cases, in the withdrawal of humanitarian personnel.

The deteriorating humanitarian and security situation and the related urgent need for full, rapid and successful deployment of the joint UN-AU Mission, UNAMID, to succeed AMIS, were points which I emphasised when I met with the then Sudanese Foreign Minister, Lam Akol, in New York on 2 October. I particularly urged on the Foreign Minister the need for Sudan to cooperate fully with the UN and AU on deployment of UNAMID and to cease all offensive operations in Darfur. I also informed Foreign Minister Akol and UNSG Ban, with whom I separately discussed the situation in Sudan/Darfur, of the Government's decision in principle to contribute personnel to the planned ESDP mission in Chad and the Central African Republic which will assist the many thousands of people in these countries displaced by the Darfur crisis.

Ireland continues to make a strong contribution to international efforts to alleviate the human tragedy of Darfur. Since the start of 2006, Irish Aid has provided a total of approximately €32.5 million to support humanitarian operations and longer term development engagement in Sudan. The importance of ensuring humanitarian access and the necessity to consider possible further measures against those impeding such access, as well as the need for improved security, or political progress in Darfur were points which I also made when addressing the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 15 October and which were reflected at Ireland's request in the agreed Conclusions.

Ultimately, the resolution of the Darfur crisis requires a political settlement. I would urge all parties to the conflict to engage constructively in the forthcoming peace talks in Sirte and to be aware that the international community will not hesitate to take further measures against those who turn their face against, and refuse to participate in, this vital opportunity for peace. The UN and AU Envoys are to be commended for their efforts in organising the Sirte talks. I indicated when I met UNSG Ban and addressed the General Assembly on 2 October that Ireland intends to contribute to the Trust Fund which the SG has established in support of the current peace process.

The prospects for political progress in Darfur are not being assisted by the difficulties now besetting implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the north and south in Sudan and which has led to the withdrawal from participation in the national unity government by the southern SPLM party. The CPA represents a template for promoting peace and development throughout Sudan and its full implementation remains crucial. Discussions are continuing between the SPLM and the NCP, the two coalition parties, to resolve the current impasse.

It remains my intention, subject to security considerations, to travel to Sudan and Darfur next month in order to review the situation on the ground and reiterate the priority Ireland attaches to advancing peace and development in this tragic region.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

324 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding the ongoing situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25476/07]

The reform process in Afghanistan is continuing. The goal of the international community, in cooperation with the Afghan government, remains to extend legitimate government, the rule of law and the benefits of government to all parts of Afghanistan though addressing issues such as infrastructure, counter narcotics programmes and training for the army and police forces. It is important that the international community maintains its commitment to the people of Afghanistan and supports the Afghan authorities' own development efforts. Though very much a long-term project, the economy appears to be improving somewhat.

The security situation remains a cause of serious concern. There is slow progress in reducing the Taliban-led insurgency and insurgents continue to impose high levels of casualties, particularly on the Afghan security forces. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) remains dependent on the ability of Afghan security forces — both the army and police — to maintain effective control of areas cleared by operations. It is therefore essential that the Afghan security forces are further developed to ensure the country's security. Counter-narcotics remains key to security in Afghanistan and it is one of the areas on which the international community is focused. Levels of drug production in some parts of Afghanistan remain very high.

Cross-border insurgency remains a problem. I hope that initiatives like the Pakistan-Afghanistan Peace Jirga, which took place in Kabul on 9-12 August 2007, are carried forward. Afghanistan and Pakistan have to work together if they are to address the security situation inside both their countries.

Security and stability cannot be achieved by military means alone. Long-term success depends on a comprehensive approach addressing governance and the delivery of humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. Ireland is playing its part in this through supporting strong EU engagement with Afghanistan, as well as bilaterally.

The European Union's ESDP mission on policing for Afghanistan was approved by the Council last February and was launched on 17 June 2007. It is designed to improve coordination in the international community's efforts to assist police reform and capacity building. Bilaterally, Ireland has contributed more than €31 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan since 2000, covering areas such as reconstruction, drugs programmes, mine clearance, drought and flood relief, and criminal law and criminal justice support. Seven members of the Irish Defence Forces currently serve in non-combat roles with ISAF, based in Kabul.

EU Enlargement.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

325 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which discussions are taking place in the matter of EU enlargement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25477/07]

Negotiations on EU accession opened with Croatia and Turkey in October 2005. This launched a complex and lengthy negotiation process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand. An extensive analytical examination has been underway which involves close scrutiny of the compatibility of Turkish and Croatian legislation with that of the EU.

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

At an Intergovernmental Accession Conference in Brussels on 12 October, two further chapters were opened with Croatia. This means that a total of fourteen chapters have been opened with Croatia.

The negotiations with Turkey have made somewhat less progress than those with Croatia. To date, four chapters have been opened with Turkey. Benchmarks have been agreed for thirteen other chapters. These benchmarks must be achieved before negotiations can begin in these particular areas.

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

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

The European Commission is due to publish its annual report on Enlargement in November. This will include an assessment of the progress made by all Candidate and potential Candidate countries in meeting the requirements of EU membership. The Commission's report will inform the ongoing discussions on enlargement in the relevant EU fora.

Overseas Development Aid.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

326 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has fully satisfied himself that development aid and funding in respect of all African States is actually being received by those for whom it was intended; if there are particular exceptions to such principles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25478/07]

The fundamental objective of Ireland's overseas aid programme is to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in developing countries, in particular in Africa, through assisting in bringing about positive and lasting changes in their lives.

To achieve this change, Irish Aid devises programmes — in close consultation with national governments and other key stakeholders — which support national poverty reduction plans and which target the poorest and most vulnerable people in developing countries. These programmes include mechanisms which allow Irish Aid to monitor their implementation for efficiency and effectiveness in meeting the needs of those for whom they are intended.

It is a fact that in some of the countries where Irish Aid works, there are concerns surrounding governance issues including corruption. These concerns are symptomatic of the level of under-development which exists. However, Irish Aid includes strategies in its programmes to promote, enhance and support good governance, as it is recognised that without it sustainable development cannot be achieved.

In addition, Irish Aid has in place rigorous accounting and audit controls, which are essential to ensuring a transparent, effective and high-quality programme. Its programmes are regularly audited and evaluated by independent audit firms, by Irish Aid's Evaluation and Audit Unit and by the independent Audit Committee of the Department. Programmes are evaluated to ensure that funds are used for the purposes intended and in respect of outcomes and value for money.

I am satisfied that the methods used by Irish Aid in devising its strategies, combined with its audit and evaluation systems, serve to protect the funding provided, in accordance with international best practice and highest standards in this area.

Human Rights Issues.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

327 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he directly or through the aegis of the UN or EU he has examined the situation in the various African countries from whence refugees have fled in the past five years; the extent to which the situation has been normalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25479/07]

Refugee movements have many causes, including human rights abuses, conflicts and poverty. It is commonly accepted that the targeted eradication of poverty is an effective means of reducing migratory pressures from less developed countries to the developed world, thereby ensuring that migration can be effectively managed to the benefit of both sending and receiving countries.

My Department monitors the situation in Irish Aid partner countries with a particular emphasis on the impact of migration on sustainable development. Ireland participates in the global debate on population movements, including refugee movements, through a number of fora. At the EU level, the ongoing EU-Africa Dialogue on Migration and Development provides an opportunity for European and African governments to work towards greater cooperation in managing migratory flows to the benefit of all. Ireland has also played an active role in the High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development, held in New York in late 2006, the Global Forum on Migration and Development, the first meeting of which was held in Brussels in July of this year, and the Inter-Governmental Consultations on Asylum, Refugee and Migration Policies. The issue of the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in wider migration flows is increasingly a focus of attention in the migration debate internationally. My Department liaises closely with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in these and similar fora.

Issues relating more specifically to refugees are dealt with in the context of Ireland's ongoing relationship with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to which Ireland is a major contributor of funding. Over US$24 million have been provided to date in 2007, making Ireland the 11th largest donor to UNHCR. Both core funding and funding for specific operations are provided. UNHCR operations in the following African countries have received funding in 2007: Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Sudan. Funding has also been provided in 2007 for regional operations in the Great Lakes Region (GLR) and West Africa. Regular contact with UNHCR in Geneva is maintained through the Permanent Mission to the United Nations, as well as through direct dialogue at the headquarters level. Regular contact is also maintained with the UNHCR representative in Ireland. Ireland is a member of the Standing Committee and Executive Committee of UNHCR.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

328 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the most commonly known African countries wherein human rights and other abuses occur on a regular basis; the extent to which he and the international community can positively influence these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25480/07]

As has been made clear in reply to previous questions, it is not the policy of the Government to draw up any kind of "league table" of countries in relation to human rights abuses. Ireland closely monitors developments in the human rights situation throughout the world and where the situation warrants, we make known our concerns to the Governments in question, either bilaterally, through the EU, or through action at the UN General Assembly or the UN Human Rights Council.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Question No. 329 answered with QuestionNo. 98.
Question No. 330 answered with QuestionNo. 323.

Debt Relief.