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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Feb 2008

Vol. 647 No. 1

Written Answers.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 6 to 100, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 101 to 110, inclusive, answered orally.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

111 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is satisfied that the methodology of measuring consistent poverty as used under EU-SILC provides a true measure of the level of consistent poverty here. [5241/08]

People are regarded as being in consistent poverty if their income is below 60 per cent of median income (€202.50 per week for a single person) and they experience deprivation in relation to a list of specific items. The items chosen are based on surveys of what people consider are essential for a basic standard of living in Ireland. The measure, originally developed by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in 1987, has now been adjusted to take account of economic progress and rising living standards in recent years. The adjustment has involved the replacement of the original 8 item deprivation index with an updated index comprising 11 items, which is more reflective of today's standards of living. A person with income below 60 per cent of median income is regarded as being in consistent poverty if he or she experiences deprivation in relation to two out of the 11 items on the updated index, as compared to one out of eight items on the old index. ESRI research has shown that this approach provides a more reliable measurement for consistent poverty compared to the earlier approach.

The Government has accepted the ESRI's advice and the updated index now forms the basis for the overall poverty reduction goal in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAPinclusion) 2007-2016. The goal is to reduce the number of people experiencing consistent poverty, to between 2 per cent and 4 per cent by 2012, with the aim of eliminating it by 2016. The latest results from the EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions, released last November, indicate that the Government is on target to achieve this goal. It showed that, using the new measure, the rate of consistent poverty in the population in 2006 was 6.5 per cent, down from 7.0 per cent in 2005. My priority, in working with Government to deliver the NAPinclusion programme over the coming years, is to build on the progress already achieved and to continue significantly improving living standards and well-being for the most vulnerable people in our society.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Richard Bruton

Question:

112 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason for the substantial waiting time for decisions on the payment of disability allowance, state contributory pension, family income supplement, one parent family and invalidity pension by his Department; if he will reduce this waiting time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5029/08]

Richard Bruton

Question:

114 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason for the substantial waiting time for decisions on the payment of carer’s allowance by his Department; if he will reduce this waiting time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5030/08]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

139 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason for the long delay in processing claims for family income supplement; the target time set down for his Department in relation to processing claims; and the action he is taking to address the significant backlog. [5231/08]

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

143 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way he will improve his Department’s performance in relation to customer service targets particularly in relation to processing times for claims. [5245/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 112, 114, 139 and 143 together.

The Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers. This includes ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are made as quickly as possible. The staff and other resources available to the Department are regularly reviewed having regard to the workload arising and other competing demands. The available resources are then used to discharge the Department's obligations towards its customers and in implementing cost effective controls to prevent and detect fraud and abuse. The Department's management services unit monitors available resources against workload on an ongoing basis with a view to ensuring optimum processing times for claims.

The processing of applications under any of the schemes operated by my Department can require the collection and assessment of a complex range of information in relation to a variety of factors including means, medical condition, domestic and EU contributions and other criteria. This can involve medical assessments of applicants, the verification of information provided through visits by social welfare inspectorate and correspondence and evidence from other EU jurisdictions, all of which add to the processing time required to ensure that the terms of the scheme are correctly administered. In addition the timescales in processing applications for some of the Department's schemes have been influenced by increases in the numbers of claims being submitted.

With regard to the schemes concerned the following is the current position. The number of claims for disability allowance received in 2007 was 20,000 as compared with 17,600 in 2006. The average time to decide a claim in 2007 was 18 weeks. A review of existing processes and procedures for disability allowance claims is currently ongoing with the explicit objective of reducing delays in claim processing. The Department received 18,000 new applications for carers allowance in 2007 compared to 10,700 in 2006. The average time to decide a claim in 2007 was 12 weeks. The large increase in applications received is mainly due to the introduction of the half rate carers allowance payment, which was announced in the December 2006 budget and came into effect from 27th September 2007. A review of existing processes and procedures has been completed by the Department for carers allowance with the explicit objective of reducing delays in claim processing, and improvements are currently being implemented.

The Department received 38,000 new and renewal FIS claims in 2007 compared to 33,000 in 2006. The Department's target for awarding FIS claims is that 70% will be completed in 3 weeks. The average time to award a FIS claim is currently some 12 weeks. A review of existing processes and procedures has been completed by the Department for FIS with the objective of reducing delays in claim processing and improvements are being implemented. There has also been an upward trend in the number of recipients of invalidity pension. The Department received 6,500 new applications in 2006 and 7,000 in 2007. The average time to decide an invalidity pension claim in 2007 was 8 weeks. The Department currently processes new applications for one parent family payment (OFP) at 42 Social Welfare local offices. The average processing time for such claims in 2007 was about 9 weeks.

In 2007, a total of 13,600 new claims for state pension (transition) was received and 12,700 claims were processed. State pension (transition) is payable for a maximum of 1 year between the age of 65 to 66. A total of 26,000 claims for state pension (contributory) were received in 2007, of which 25,000 were processed during the year. While there were delays during 2007, the backlogs have now been cleared and claims are now being processed in a timely manner.

Social Welfare Code.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

113 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his intentions to alter the criteria applying under the habitual residency condition. [5238/08]

I have already described in my answer to Deputy Naughten's question the reasons for the introduction of the habitual residence condition and its application to carer's allowance, so I will confine this answer to its application in general and to other schemes.

The following schemes are subject to this condition:

Jobseeker's Allowance

State Pension (Non-Contributory)

Blind Person's Pension

Widow's and Widower's Non-Contributory Pension

Guardian's Payment (non-contributory)

One Parent Family Payment

Carer's Allowance

Supplementary Welfare Allowance

Disability Allowance, and

Child Benefit

Decisions concerning habitual residence are subject to five factors which have been laid down by the European Court of Justice, and which are now incorporated into our domestic social welfare legislation. The five factors are:

(a) the length and continuity of residence in the State or in any other particular country;

(b) the length and purpose of any absence from the State;

(c) the nature and pattern of the person's employment;

(d) the person's main centre of interest, and

(e) the future intentions of the person concerned as they appear from all the circumstances.

Between the introduction of the Habitual Residence Condition (HRC) in May 2004 and the end of 2007 about 65,000 claims (other than Supplementary Welfare Allowance) involving HRC issues from persons from over 150 countries have been examined by central units within my Department. Some 75% of these (over 48,000) satisfied the habitual residence condition.

Those who are refused an assistance or child benefit payment because they do not satisfy the habitual residence condition are mainly people whose claim to asylum has not yet been decided, others who have not obtained a work permit, or people who have had only a minimal or no attachment to the workforce since coming to Ireland. In the case of families who are in the asylum process, direct provision, funded by the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform is available. I am satisfied that the habitual residence condition is achieving its intended purpose, allowing access to our social welfare schemes to persons who are genuinely and lawfully making Ireland their habitual residence, while preventing unwarranted access by persons who have little or no connection with the State.

Question No. 114 answered with Question No. 112.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

115 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to improve entitlement in relation to back-dated payments. [5243/08]

The legislative provisions relating to late claims for social welfare benefits are set out in Section 241 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005, and in Regulations made under that section. These provisions set out the times within which a person must claim, the disqualifications which apply where a claim is made late, and the circumstances in which the time limits may be extended.

Since 1997 a number of improvements have been made to the provision relating to late claims for social welfare payments. For example, prior to 1997 arrears of state pension contributory claims were limited to either three months or six months before the date of claim. Regulations made in 2000 put on a statutory basis certain extra-statutory provisions that had applied in the case of late claims under certain schemes. All late claims are now determined in accordance with the legislation. The legislation also provides for payment to be made on foot of late claims in the case of a range of other schemes for a period of 6 months prior to the date of claim provided there was good cause for the late claim.

The legislation now also provides for relaxation of the restrictions on backdating late claims under all schemes apart from Unemployment Benefit, Unemployment Assistance and Supplementary Welfare Allowance, and for further payment to be made, up to the level of full retrospection where the circumstances would warrant it, where:

the delay was due to incorrect information having been given by my Department, or

illness or a force majeure prevented a person from claiming earlier or,

the person is dependent on the arrears of payment to relieve financial hardship. It is generally accepted that there is an obligation on people to claim their social welfare entitlements in time.

However, cases will inevitably arise where they fail to do so and the legislative provisions are designed to cater for such situations. I am satisfied that the current provisions strike a reasonable balance between, on the one hand the need to exercise supervision and control of claims and the requirements of sound financial management and control of public expenditure and, on the other hand, the need for appropriate recognition to be given to cases of genuine hardship or difficulty.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

116 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on his Department taking lead responsibility for co-ordinating actions to tackle fuel poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5040/08]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

149 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on proposed developments outlined in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007 to 2016 in respect of funding for the warmer homes schemes and supporting fuel poverty research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5043/08]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

152 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when his Department will examine the impact of energy saving proposals on low income families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5039/08]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

155 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the risk of fuel poverty here rises exponentially when annual household income falls below €30,000 according to Sustainable Energy Ireland, A Review of Fuel Poverty and Low Income Housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5037/08]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

157 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the highest prevalence of fuel poverty is found among lone parents, with one in five of same households unable to afford adequate warmth in their homes; the steps he has taken to address this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5038/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116, 149, 152, 155 and 157 together.

Fuel poverty has been described as the inability to afford adequate warmth in a home, or the inability to achieve adequate warmth because of the energy inefficiency of the home. The primary contributory factor to fuel poverty is the energy efficiency of the private and public housing stock. As such, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government along with Local Authorities, have primary responsibility for this issue. The main role of the social welfare system in relation to this issue is to provide income support where required. Government policy focus is to increase primary weekly social welfare rates significantly in real terms, to enable pensioners and other vulnerable groups to meet their heating and other basic living costs more adequately throughout the year. Substantial progress has been made in this. Since December 2001, overall inflation has increased by 24% while energy product prices have increased by 56%. Increases in social welfare payments have been between 71% and 88% in the same period.

In addition to primary payments, there are a number of social welfare programmes to assist with heating costs specifically — the national fuel allowance scheme, the Household Benefits Package and the special heating needs supplement. These arrangements too have been improved in recent years. As outlined in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007 to 2016, my Department is cooperating with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Sustainable Energy Ireland, Combat Poverty Agency and other organisations in an action research project to improve energy efficiency in selected older dwellings and to monitor the outcomes in terms of improved cost efficiency, household comfort and health levels. This project is effectively a review of the effectiveness of Sustainable Energy Ireland's Warmer Homes Scheme.

In addition to this, in Budget 2006, a grant of €2m was made available to Sustainable Energy Ireland to enable further research to be undertaken into fuel poverty issues and this was used to carry out a research project in Waterford city and county which w ill benefit some 400+ owner occupied households. It is expected that initial reports on these fuel research projects will be available by summer 2008 and these will help to inform Government policy in relation to fuel poverty. Income support is the primary concern of my Department and the issue of thermal inefficiency of housing is beyond its remit. My Department will continue to cooperate with other Departments and agencies on fuel poverty research and I will seek to increase social welfare payments in real terms to enable social welfare recipients to meet heating and other needs.

Social Welfare Code.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

117 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action he has taken in respect of the commitment in the programme for Government to examine the possibility of introducing a paternity benefit. [5239/08]

Responsibility for questions relating to entitlement to paternity leave rests with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The question of a social insurance funded payment for paternity leave would be contingent on an underlying entitlement to statutory parental leave. While male employees are not entitled under Irish law to either paid or unpaid paternity leave, they may be entitled to parental leave. Parental leave entitles both parents who qualify to take a period of up to 14 weeks' unpaid leave from employment in respect of children aged up to eight years of age. There is no provision for a social insurance based payment for periods of parental leave, but employees may be entitled to credited contributions to maintain their social insurance record for the period.

The introduction of paid parental leave or paternity leave would have significant cost implications for employers and/or the Exchequer and the social insurance fund. Any proposals for introducing any such payments would have to be examined with regard to its effect on the sustainability of the social insurance fund and employers' costs in terms of global competitiveness. In the case of paternity leave it would require legislation on the part of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to provide for a statutory entitlement to the leave. Under ‘Towards 2016' the Government is committed to reviewing the level of provision of maternity and paternity leave before the end of 2008.

Denis Naughten

Question:

118 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the plans he has to review the farm assessment procedures within his Department for entitlement to non-contributory payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24834/07]

I understand that the Deputy is concerned in particular about the current arrangements applying in the case of old age pension where a land-holder leases land or is otherwise in possession of land which is fallow or idle. Currently, a Group in my Department is undertaking a review of means testing arrangements generally and I understand that the issue raised by the Deputy is being considered by the Group. While no specific measures in relation to the leasing of land have been introduced in recent years, a wide range of important reforms were announced for non-contributory pensioners, including farmers, in conjunction with the introduction of the State pension (non- contributory) in 2006. These impact on farmer pensioners generally including farmers who have let land or are considering leasing their land. The new pension replaced a range of non-contributory payments for persons aged 66 and over including the old age pension.

All these schemes featured a common means disregard of €7.60 per week, which had not increased since the 1970s. This general disregard was increased to €20 with effect from September 2006 and was subsequently increased to €30 with effect from January 2007. This means that the first €30 per week of all means, including any means from the letting of land, is not taken into account. Budget 2008 provides for an increase of €12 per week (6%) for all non-contributory pensions, bringing the weekly rate of pension to €212 per week with effect from January. In addition, I increased the fuel allowance by 1 week, from 29 to 30 weeks. These measures will be of considerable benefit to many thousands of non-contributory pensioners.

Increases in rates and other improvements in pensions over many years have been among the major achievements of the Government. Since 2002, the level of the State pension non-contributory has increased by over 58% from €134 to €212 following Budget 2008. This improvement has had a marked impact on the living standards of older people enabling them to face the future with a greater sense of security and dignity. The Government is determined to maintain and improve on the progress we have made in improving pensioners' incomes. It is committed to achieving a pension of at least €300 per week by 2012.

Tax and Social Welfare Codes.

Joan Burton

Question:

119 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the arrangements that are in place to collect PPS numbers from landlords who are benefitting from rent supplement payments to their tenants; the arrangements in place to provide this information to the Revenue Commissioners; the number and percentage of such landlords for whom his Department has full PPS details; the number of these that have been passed on to the Revenue Commissioners; if the application form has been amended to capture such details; if the computer hardware and software is in place to retain this data; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5230/08]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

129 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action he is taking to ensure that his Department complies with the provision in the Finance Acts that tax be deducted at the standard rate from rent supplement payments paid directly to non-resident landlords; the extent of his Department’s or tenants’ liabilities for previous years where taxes were not collected; and the way he will ensure that tax is collected. [5233/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 119 and 129 together.

Rent Supplement is administered on my behalf by the community welfare service division of the Health Service Executive (HSE), as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term income support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The tenant makes the application and payment of rent supplement is made to the tenant in most cases. However, as with other social welfare payments, the recipient may nominate an agent to receive payment on their behalf. At present there are 60,000 recipients of rent supplement with 13,000 recipients opting to have payment made direct to a landlord or landlord's agent.

The Revenue Commissioners are interested in rent supplement payments as a means of identifying landlord income. My Department has provided the Revenue Commissioners with details of landlords relating to rent supplement, on an annual basis for many years and in the format requested by them. The information supplied pursuant to Section 888 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, consists of the full address of the tenancy, the name, address and telephone number of the landlord or agent and a statement of all payments arising from each individual tenancy. Section 123 of the Finance Act 2007 requires that my Department and/or the HSE request a PPS No. or other tax reference number from the owner of a premises in respect of which rent supplement is to be paid. The request must be made before payment of rent supplement is made. The landlord is also required to comply with this request before payment of rent supplement is made. The required data must be supplied to the Revenue Commissioners by my Department or advice to the effect that the landlord has not complied with the request for such information.

Senior officials of my Department are holding discussions with the Revenue Commissioners to address issues associated with the collection and recording of landlord PPS or other tax reference numbers. The intention is to put in place procedures which will meet the needs of the Revenue while ensuring that there is no negative impact for the tenant who is an uninvolved third party in this matter. In the interim the Department is amending its computer systems to enable the landlord's PPS number to be recorded electronically.

Records for 2007 show that there were just over 900 landlords living outside of the State where rent supplement is in payment. The value of the payments made to tenants of these landlords was €4.1 million which represents just 1% of total rent supplement expenditure in 2007. In most of these cases, rent supplement is paid to the tenant in Ireland. 149 tenants of 127 landlords living outside of the State had nominated their landlord to receive payment of rent supplement directly. The value of these payments was €940,000 approx. This represents just over 0.24% of annual expenditure on rent supplement. The Department has, however, given details of the landlords in question to the Revenue Commissioners. This information allows the Revenue Commissioners to pursue relevant enquiries as to the tax compliance position of the landlords in question.

Social Welfare Code.

Phil Hogan

Question:

120 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will roll out proposals allocating individual lone parents a trained welfare adviser from his Department to help access support for employment, education and training on a national basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5033/08]

Mary Upton

Question:

128 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he will abolish the cohabitation rule in relation to the one parent family payment. [5244/08]

David Stanton

Question:

135 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, further to Parliamentary Question No. 99 of 31 October 2007, if the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion has received the report on the non-income activation proposals which were carried out in Coolock and in Kilkenny until the end of 2007; the way he will progress the nationwide roll-out of the new lone parents proposals in particular in relation to education, training and labour market activation measures; if a definitive date has been set for same in addition to the publication of necessary legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5264/08]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

138 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether it is the large cost of providing welfare to lone parents that is the main motivation for the reforms to the lone parent payment, as opposed to a desire on the Government’s behalf to help parents re-enter the work force or to tackle poverty in one parent families. [4611/08]

Martin Ferris

Question:

147 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether changes to the equal opportunities child care programme, where it is proposed that only parents dependent on social welfare can avail of places for free, will act as an impediment to lone parents who wish to enter the labour force. [4614/08]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

151 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether moves to oblige lone parents to leave their children when they turn eight and enter the work force or training are discriminatory against single parent families. [4610/08]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

158 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action he will take to deal with the fact that one in five of all families are headed up by lone parents, of which 40 per cent of these families are living in relative poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5032/08]

Willie Penrose

Question:

159 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he will act on the proposals contained in Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents; and the way he will co-ordinate services and address poverty traps associated with some of the proposals. [5237/08]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

167 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if new staff will be taken on in his Department to facilitate the provision of trained welfare advisers to lone parents being moved from welfare to work or if there are existing staff in training to provide the specialised assistance needed. [4613/08]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

171 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he plans to put the relevant infrastructure in place such as affordable and reliable child care places to allow lone parents enter the labour market; and if his attention has been drawn to other Department’s plans in this regard. [4612/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 120, 128, 135, 138, 147, 151, 158, 159, 167 and 171 together.

The Government discussion paper, "Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents," put forward proposals for the expanded availability and range of education and training opportunities for lone parents; the extension of the National Employment Action Plan to focus on lone parents; focused provision of childcare; improved information services for lone parents and the introduction of a new social assistance payment for low income families with young children. The paper also proposed the abolition of the cohabitation rule as a condition for receipt of the proposed social assistance payment. Under the proposals, the contingency of lone parenthood would no longer exist. Instead, a new payment would be made to all parents (living alone or with a partner) with young children on low income.

One of the proposals in the report was that the upper income limit for the new social assistance payment should be set at €400 per week. This proposal was implemented in Budget 2007 which in effect meant that the upper income limit increased by more than one third in two years. To reiterate the Government's commitment to aiding lone parents this rate will again increase from May to €425 per week. In addition, the report recommended increasing the qualified child increase for recipients of the one-parent family payment. In Budget 2007 the three rates of qualified child increase, which had been maintained at the same levels for a number of years, were combined into a single rate of €22 per week in respect of over 340,000 children of welfare families. This increased to €24 per week in Budget 2008.

The new social assistance payment, under development in my Department, far from being discriminatory, has the long term aim of assisting people to achieve financial independence through supporting them into education, training and ultimately employment — the avenue that is widely agreed to offer the best route out of poverty. Any proposed new payment can only be introduced when the necessary co-ordinated supports and services are put in place on the ground by other Departments and Agencies. Discussions, which are chaired by the Department of An Taoiseach, are ongoing with the relevant Departments and Agencies on key issues including childcare, education, training and activation measures.

My Department, with the co-operation of FÁS, the Office of the Minister for Children and the Department of Education and Science, is currently testing the non-income activation proposals in Coolock, Dublin and in Kilkenny. These tests are focusing on identifying and resolving any practical and administrative issues that may arise in advance of the scheme being introduced. The tests are now expected to run until at least the end of February, with a report then being made to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion. They will allow for operational and logistical co-ordination between the relevant Departments and Agencies to be considered and will facilitate the development of the policy and operational details of the new scheme and accompanying supports, including childcare.

Access to quality, affordable childcare is crucial to ensuring that the new proposals can provide the necessary supports to help lone parents combat the risk of poverty. Although the new social assistance payment for low income parents of young children is still under development in my Department, it is envisaged that it will be a qualifying payment for the purposes of entitlement to the community childcare subvention. At the moment there is no definite date for the nationwide roll out of these reforms, but following the evaluation of the tests it is hoped to move forward with the proposals as soon as possible. I can confirm that there are currently 40 facilitators in my Department promoting participation and social inclusion through activation measures aimed at all people of working age, including lone parents. It is envisaged that an additional 30 Facilitators will be recruited during 2008 to progress and expand the participation programme.

Pension Provisions.

Bernard Allen

Question:

121 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to introduce a special saving incentive account type pension scheme as part of proposals to increase pension coverage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5036/08]

Denis Naughten

Question:

124 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he will take to facilitate women, forced out of employment due to the marriage rule, to avail of contributory pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4018/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 121 and 124 together.

As the House is aware, I published the Green Paper on Pensions on the 17th October which sets out a comprehensive discussion on the issues relating to both social welfare and occupational pensions. The purpose of the Green Paper is not to recommend any particular approach, but rather to facilitate a debate on the issues and possible approaches to future policy. With regard to private and occupational pensions, the Green Paper discusses approaches for the development of the pension system, largely based on the conclusions of the Pensions Board in its two reports published in 2006, the National Pensions Review and Special Savings for Retirement. These discussions are in the context of criteria ranging from coverage and adequacy to competitiveness. The approaches discussed include maintaining the status quo, the use of SSIA type tax incentives in a pensions context, soft mandatory approaches and mandatory provision. A more prominent role for the social welfare pension in improving retirement income is also considered.

Decisions with regard to future pensions policy will be made in the context of the framework that will be developed after the Green Paper consultation process is completed. I expect the consultation process will be completed by end May 2008 and the framework for future policy will be finalised by the end of the year.

Departmental Estimates.

Willie Penrose

Question:

122 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is satisfied that the allocation for jobseekers benefit for 2008 is sufficient to meet demand for the payment in view of the recent large increase in the live register. [5247/08]

The Estimates allocation for jobseekers benefit in 2008 is €614.52 million. This compares to an allocation of €509.31 million in 2007. This year's allocation is based on an underlying live register forecast of an average of 170,000 for the year. Live register forecasts are determined by the Department of Finance. Developments in relation to jobseekers benefit will be closely monitored during the year in the context of the Government's framework for reporting on public expenditure.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

123 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on proposed developments outlined in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007 to 2016 in respect of social welfare payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5042/08]

The main developments proposed in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion (NAPinclusion) 2007 to 2016 in respect of social welfare payments are as follows:

Maintain a minimum payment rate of €200 per week, in 2007 terms, for all social welfare pensions over the course of this Plan and, if possible, having regard to available resources and the Government's commitment in Towards 2016, to enhance this provision. The overall pension structures and system to provide income supports for pensioners will be reviewed in the light of the forthcoming Green Paper on Pensions, to be finalised at end March 2007. This will review all the pillars of pension provision.

The level of the Qualified Adult Allowance for pensioner spouses will be increased to the level of the State Pension (non-contributory) by 2009.

Maintain the relative value of the lowest social welfare rate at least at €185.80, in 2007 terms, over the course of this Plan, subject to available resources.

The scope for further development of income supports for carers will continue to be reviewed. In particular, the aim will be for the level of the Carer's Allowance disregard to keep pace with gross average industrial earnings so that those on average industrial earnings can continue to qualify for the payment.

Maintain the combined value of child income support measures at 33%-35% of the minimum adult social welfare payment rate over the course of this Plan and review child income supports aimed at assisting children in families on low income.

A number of measures introduced in Budget 2008 made significant progress towards achieving the targets outlined above. These measures include:

Pension increases of €14 and €12 for contributory and non-contributory pensions, respectively with effect from January 2008. This brought the maximum rate of payment for the contributory pension to €223.30 per week and the non-contributory maximum rate to €212 per week. These increases ensure that progress is being made to achieve the Government commitment to bring the basic State pension to €300 per week by 2012. This commitment exceeds the target in the NAPinclusion.

An increase of €27 per week for qualified adults aged 66 years of age on State Pension (Contributory), State Pension (Transition) and Invalidity Pension or over. This increase brings the maximum rate payable to €200 per week thereby making major progress towards achieving the commitment in the NAPinclusion.

An increase of €12.00 per week in the personal rate payable to recipients of the various social welfare schemes for persons of working age. This brings the level of the lowest rate of social welfare payment to €197.80 per week, thereby ensuring that the value of this rate was maintained in line with the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government and the NAPinclusion.

The rate of Carer's Allowance was increased by €14 per week to €232 for recipients aged 66 and over and €214.70 for younger carers.

From April 2008, the income disregard for Carer's Allowance will be increased by €12.50 per week for a single person and €25 per week for a couple to €332.50 and €665 respectively thus ensuring people on average industrial earnings will qualify for the payment.

The earnings limit for entitlement to Carer's Benefit will increase by €12.50, from €320 per week to €332.50 per week from April 2008.

The Respite Care Grant was increased by €200 to €1,700 per annum.

Child Benefit was increased by €6 on the Lower Rate and by €8 on the Higher Rate. The 2008 rates are €166 and €203 per month, respectively.

From January 2008, the Qualified Child Increase (QCI) rate increased by €2 to €24 per week.

All weekly Family Income Supplement earnings thresholds were increased by amounts varying from €10 per week to €80 per week depending on family size.

The Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance was increased by €20 per child for the lower rate and €20 per child for the higher rate. New rates are €200 for children aged 2 to 11 years old and €305 for children aged 12 to 22.

I look forward to making further progress in the 2009 Budget towards achieving the ambitious income support targets set out in the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion.

Question No. 124 answered with Question No. 121.

Social Welfare Code.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

125 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the plans he has to extend the number of hours a carer may work and still retain entitlement to carer’s allowance and carer’s benefit. [5232/08]

Supporting and recognising carers in our society is, and has been, a priority of the Government since 1997. Over that period, weekly payment rates to carers have been greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carer's allowance have been significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carer's benefit and the respite care grant have been introduced and extended. One of the fundamental qualifying conditions for carer's allowance, carer's benefit and the respite care grant is that the person provides full-time care and attention to someone who needs such care. The number of hours a person may engage in employment, self employment, training or education outside the home and still be considered to be providing full-time care and attention for the purposes of the schemes was increased from 10 to 15 hours per week in June 2006.

In 2005, the carer's allowance scheme was extended, to accommodate care-sharing situations. Under these arrangements, it is possible for week-on week-off care sharing arrangements to be facilitated. This means that, where two carers are providing care to the same person on alternate weeks, the carer's allowance and the annual respite care grant can be split between them. I will keep the supports for carers available from my Department under review in order to continue to improve the schemes and ensure that commitments in relation to income support are delivered.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

126 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will review the criteria for qualification for respite care grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5227/08]

Supporting and recognising carers in our society is, and has been, a priority of the Government since 1997. Over that period, weekly payment rates to carers have been greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carer's allowance have been significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carer's benefit and the respite care grant have been introduced and extended. In 2005, the respite care grant was extended to all people providing full time care and attention, regardless of their means or social insurance contributions and it was made payable in respect of each care recipient. From June 2007, the level of the grant was increased by €300 per year to €1,500 per year in respect of each person being cared for.

As a result of improvements I provided for in Budget 2008, from June this year the level of grant will increase by a further €200 per year to €1,700 in respect of each care recipient. This is a significant step towards achieving the Government commitment to increasing the level of the grant to €3,000 per year in respect of each care recipient. I will continue to keep the supports for carers available from my Department under review.

Departmental Programmes.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

127 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the document, record and information programme will be fully implemented in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5258/08]

The Document, Record and Information Management (DRIM) programme is a key part of my Department's Modernisation Action Plan. The Department aims to have all documents, records and information easily accessible, usable and managed in a manner that satisfies all stakeholders. The intention is to eliminate paper, in so far as is possible, from both the claim and administrative processes and to capture, store, retrieve and process all files, records, etc. in electronic format.

The DRIM programme will result in significant benefits for customers and staff:

introduce efficient, effective and consistent business processes and practices,

increase productivity, staff motivation and job satisfaction,

enable management, ownership and use of documents, records and information as a corporate resource,

provide management with a more complete view of the operations of the Department,

enable work location changes — decentralisation, localisation, e-working, and mobile working.

This is a comprehensive programme of work and it is expected that it will take a number of years to implement in total and to realise the benefits.

Question No. 128 answered with Question No. 120.
Question No. 129 answered with Question No. 119.

Social Welfare Code.

Mary Upton

Question:

130 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the plans he has to improve the income disregard available to claimants on jobseekers allowance to bring it in line with the proposals for the parental payment contained in Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents. [5235/08]

The Government Discussion Paper on Proposals for Supporting Lone Parents put forward a proposal to introduce a new scheme, Parental Allowance, for all low income families with young children. It was envisaged that those in receipt of Parental Allowance would be able to earn up to €120 per week without affecting their payment and that 40% of the remainder would be assessed as means. It was also proposed that the entitlement to the new payment would continue up to an upper earnings threshold of €400 per week.

Prior to September 2007, the earnings disregards which applied to Jobseeker's Allowance were as follows:

Where a person had one or more qualified child dependant(s) and was working part of the week while claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, means were assessed as 60% of the average net weekly earnings.

Where a person had no qualified child dependants, €12.70 earnings for each day worked was disregarded from the average net weekly earnings, and 60% of the balance assessed against the weekly rate of Jobseeker's Allowance.

With effect from the end of September 2007, €20 earnings for each day worked, up to a maximum of €60 per week, are disregarded from the average net weekly earnings. These new arrangements replaced the previous arrangements including the distinction between persons with and without qualified children. There is no upper income threshold for entitlement. As can be seen, as a result of these changes, the position of all part-time workers in receipt of Jobseeker's Allowance was significantly enhanced. Any further improvement in the means testing arrangements for Jobseeker's Allowance would have to be considered in a Budgetary context.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

131 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he will address the anomalous position of carers over 66 years who are caring for more than one person but who receive a maximum of only approximately €20 more than a person caring for just one person who qualifies for an old age pension and half-rate carer’s allowance. [5242/08]

Supporting and recognising carers in our society is, and has been, a priority of the Government since 1997. Over that period, weekly payment rates to carers have greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carer's allowance have significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carer's benefit and the respite care grant have been introduced and extended. Rates of carer's allowance for those caring for one person have been increased to €214 per week for those aged under 66 and to €232 per week for those aged over 66 since January 2008. Where people are caring for more than one person they receive a higher rate of payment. People aged under 66 who are eligible for the maximum rate of carer's allowance and who are caring for more than one person receive €321 per week. People aged 66 or over in that situation receive €348 per week.

The primary objective of the social welfare system is to provide income support. As a general rule only one weekly social welfare payment is payable to an individual. Persons qualifying for two social welfare payments receive the higher payment to which they are entitled. This had been a cause of particular concern to people in receipt of a social welfare payment when they became carers. Budget 2007 provided for a fundamental reform of the social welfare system for carers in this regard. Under new arrangements which came into effect in September 2007, people in receipt of certain social welfare payments other than carer's allowance or benefit who are providing someone with full time care and attention can now retain their main payment and receive another payment, depending on their means, the maximum of which is equivalent to a half rate carer's allowance. Similarly, people currently in receipt of carer's allowance who may have an underlying eligibility for another social welfare payment, such as state pension (non-contributory) can switch to that other payment and have their personal rate of carer's allowance reduced accordingly. These new arrangements apply to almost all weekly social welfare payments and to people in receipt of qualified adult allowances. To date, almost 7,000 carers have benefited from these new arrangements.

In June 2005, the respite care grant was extended to all people providing full time care and attention regardless of their means or social insurance contributions. Since then the grant has also been paid in respect of each care recipient. Budget 2007 increased the level of the grant by €300 from €1,200 to €1,500 per year in respect of each care recipient. From June 2008 the grant will be increased to €1,700 in respect of each care recipient. I will keep the supports for carers from my Department under review in order to continue to improve the schemes and ensure commitments on income support are delivered.

Registration of Births.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

132 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is satisfied that the registration system for births is robust and free of fraud; the actions his Department has taken to quality assure the current service; if he is satisfied that language skills within the service are adequate and that information provision about the service is adequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5251/08]

The legislative provisions governing the registration of births are contained in the Civil Registration Act 2004. When a birth occurs in the State, it is the duty of the hospital to notify the registrar of the facts of the birth. When a birth takes place other than in a hospital or nursing home, and the birth was attended by a medical practitioner or midwife, it is the duty of that person to notify the registrar of the facts of the birth. This ensures that the facts concerning virtually all births occurring in the State are independently notified. Births which have not occurred in a hospital or nursing home, or which were not attended by a registered medical practitioner or a midwife, are extremely rare. In such cases, every effort is made to independently establish the facts of the birth.

Under section 19 of the 2004 Act, the primary responsibility for registering a birth rests with the parents. When the parents present at the registrar's office to register the birth, the registrar will already be in possession of the independent birth notification. It is only when the parents are dead or cannot be found that another qualified informant may register a birth. When the parents and the registrar are satisfied that the facts to be entered in the register are correct or complete, the parents must sign the register in the presence of the registrar to complete the registration process. At the time of registration, the parents or other qualified informants must present evidence of identity, typically a passport or driving licence. Where parents indicate that they are married, verification of their marital status is made by examination of their marriage certificate. The Personal Public Service Numbers of the parent or parents is required for registration. Section 69 of the 2004 Act provides for offences, which include a failure by a registrar to protect the integrity of the register and a failure by the parents to comply with their statutory obligations under the Act, including the obligation to provide accurate information to the registrar.

These obligations are explained to parents as part of the registration process. If an error or omission has occurred in a registered entry, the Act provides for the correction of errors on the basis of statutory declarations and other independent evidence as to the facts of the matter. On the basis of the foregoing, I am satisfied that all reasonable measures are in place to preserve and protect the integrity of the register of births.

Social Welfare Code.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

133 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to alter the conditions of rent supplement in order that those in receipt of that benefit who are eligible for the rental accommodation scheme can avail of a differential rent scheme while they wait to be offered RAS accommodation. [5236/08]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

168 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on altering the rent allowance payment to facilitate people returning to work and the true costs incurred in doing same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5031/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 133 and 168 together.

The programme for Government includes commitments to reduce long-term reliance on rent supplement. This will be done mainly by keeping the standard means test for rent supplement under review to provide enhanced financial incentives for people taking up employment and providing long-term housing solutions under the rental assistance scheme. Significant changes to the means test were introduced in 2007 specifically to facilitate people returning to work. If a person has additional income in excess of the standard weekly rate of supplementary welfare allowance, the first €75 of such additional income together with 25% of any additional income above €75 is disregarded for means assessment purposes. This improvement in the assessment of means for those with income from employment applies to all rent supplement recipients who are engaged in employment of less than 30 hours per week. It also applies to those returning to full-time employment and accepted as eligible for accommodation under the rental accommodation scheme. These measures ensure that those returning to work or participating in training schemes are better off as a result of taking up such an opportunity. It is estimated that the gross annual cost of this provision is approximately €5.2 million.

I consider that the current eligibility thresholds, income disregards and associated arrangements ensure that people have a financial incentive to take up employment opportunities. It is not necessary to implement a differential rent scheme assessment to ensure they have a financial incentive to take up work. It is preferable that those on rent supplement, who are accepted as eligible for the rental accommodation scheme, must continue to satisfy the qualifying conditions of the rent supplement scheme, in common with other rent supplement recipients. However, when such claimants transfer to the rental accommodation scheme they may avail of the differential rent assessment, where appropriate. I intend to keep the rent supplement scheme under review. My Department will work closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ensure the rental accommodation scheme meets its objective of catering for those on long-term rent supplementation, while enabling rent supplement to return to its original role of a short-term income support.

Social Welfare Fraud.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

134 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the outcome of the fraud and abuse risk assessments undertaken of the four schemes examined in 2007; and the schemes that will be examined in 2008. [5259/08]

Risk management was identified in my Department's 2003 Control Strategy as a key element in the control of fraud and abuse of schemes. The objectives of risk management are to identify those schemes where there is a high risk of fraud and abuse, from internal and external control perspectives, and to identify the high risk areas within schemes. This ensures that control activity is focused on areas of high risk and available resources are targeted effectively. As part of this process, scheme managers determine the extent to which their existing control practices are sufficient to counter the risks of fraud and abuse and following on from this, they prepare action plans to deal with the risks identified. In 2007, risk assessments were completed on illness benefit, widow and widower's pension, disablement benefit, employment support schemes and state pension contributory or transition.

All of these schemes, apart from disablement benefit, were assessed as low risk. In the case of illness benefit, the low risk assessment was validated by a recently completed Fraud and Error Survey which determined a fraud and error rate of 0.4% in expenditure terms. The low risk assessment in the case of state pension, contributory or transition, can be attributed to the new computer system used to administer the scheme, which was introduced in the last two years. Control was one of the key elements taken into account in the design of the new system and the related procedures and processes. Disablement benefit was assessed as medium risk. This was attributed in the main to the stand-alone computer system used to administer the scheme, which is not integrated with the Department's mainstream computer systems.

Question No. 135 answered with Question No. 120.

Social Welfare Code.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

136 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on allowing distance learning training courses and HETAC courses to be included on the approved list for the back to education allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5044/08]

Attendance at approved full-time educational courses provides opportunity for personal development and progression to employment for those dependent on income support. The existing arrangements applying to the back to education allowance scheme, which excludes distance learning courses, are best suited to meeting the objective of the scheme, which is to enhance the employability skills of vulnerable groups who are distant from the labour market. The back to education allowance scheme already caters for third level courses attracting HETEC accreditation. Participants on the back to education allowance scheme are paid at a standard weekly rate equivalent to the maximum personal rate of the relevant social welfare payment that qualifies them for participation in the scheme. Participants are also paid an annual cost of education allowance, which is currently €400. For the 2008-09 academic year, this allowance will be €500.

There are two strands to the scheme, a second level option and third level option. Under the second level option, a person may attend a second level course of study at any community, comprehensive, secondary, or vocational school. The course being pursued must be a full-time day course of study that leads to a certificate that is recognised by the Department of Education and Science or validated by the Further Education Training and Awards Council. The Third level option allows a person to attend an approved third level course of study at any recognised university or third level institution. The course must be a full-time day course of study which is an approved course recognised by the Department of Education and Science for the Higher Education Grant Scheme, the Vocational Education Committee's Scholarship Scheme, the Third Level Maintenance Grant Scheme for Trainees or validated by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council.

The numbers availing of the back to education scheme are at an all-time high and currently exceed 8,000. I have no plans to extend the scheme to include distance learning courses within the scheme. I will continue to monitor the scheme but I believe that, overall, the current arrangements as provided by my Department's back to education allowance scheme are adequate and ensure that resources are targeted at those who are most in need.

Departmental Bodies.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

137 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent to which the personal advocacy service is now in place; and the reason for the delay. [5261/08]

The introduction of a personal advocacy service was provided for in the Citizens Information Act 2007. An organisational structure has been developed by the Citizens Information Board to meet the needs of the Personal Advocacy Service. The post of Director of the Personal Advocacy Service was advertised in December 2007. The Board is currently working through the recruitment process. It is envisaged that appropriate structures and staffing resources will be in place shortly. The new service is still on target to be up and running in 2008.

Question No. 138 answered with Question No. 120.
Question No. 139 answered with Question No. 112.

Social Welfare Code.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

140 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action he has taken in the past year to help low income families. [4616/08]

Budget 2008 announced in December 2007, made provision for further improvements in social welfare schemes for low income families and children. It provided for an increase of €12, or 6.5%, per week in the personal rate payable to recipients of the various social welfare schemes for persons of working age. This brought the level of the lowest rate of social welfare payment to €197.80 per week, thereby ensuring that the value of the rate is maintained in line with the commitment in the Agreed Programme for Government and the national action plan for social inclusion. The weekly rates of Qualified Adult Payment for most working age schemes was increased by €8 per week, or 6.5%. The budget provides for an increase from May 2008 in the upper income threshold for One Parent Family Payment from €400 to €425 a week. Some €148 million, or €194 million when the Early Childcare Supplement is included, has been provided to improve the range of supports for children.

There will be increases in Child Benefit of €6 for the first two children and €8 for the third and subsequent children. There will be an additional €2 per week in the Qualified Child Increase, formerly called the Child Dependent Allowance, which is paid to all social welfare recipients with children. The thresholds for Family Income Supplement will increase by €10 per week for each child which will result in payments increasing by €6 a week per child. These improvements will benefit some 26,500 existing lower income families in employment and entitle a further 2,700 families to the payment. There will be improvements in the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance and an increase of €100 per child in the level of the Early Childcare Supplement which is paid to families with children under the age of six.

The impact of these measures is best illustrated by way of an example. In the case of a social welfare-dependent family with three children, one of them under six years of age and another over 12 years of age, the combined value of child support payments to that family will increase by €718 in a full year, bringing their total child income support to over €12,000 next year. This equates to an income support payment of €77 per child per week and represents an increase of over 6% in the value of their current payments. In addition, I increased the Widowed Parent Grant by €2,000 to €6,000. This is an important measure for the families concerned, giving them a financial boost at a time of bereavement and great personal loss, which frequently is compounded by economic uncertainty and concerns about the future. I was also pleased to have been able to assist the Family Support Agency to improve the range of services they support including in the area of bereavement and family counselling. Finally, additional funding is being provided for the School Meals Programme, which was greatly expanded last year to the benefit of some 175,000 pupils in 1,800 schools.

Total expenditure this year will rise to €32 million and the priority is to expand the scheme to a further tranche of schools covered by the Department of Education's "Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools" action plan. The improvements announced in Budget 2008 fully protect and enhance the position of all social welfare recipients, including low income families with children.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

141 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on making provisions available to widows and widowers who have experienced a decrease in social welfare payments since the death of their spouses but not in their outgoings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5045/08]

The social welfare system includes a number of provisions to provide additional support to widows and widowers in the immediate aftermath of a bereavement. The scheme of six weeks payment after death ensures that, if a person in receipt of a social welfare payment dies, the social welfare paid to the surviving spouse or partner is maintained at the same level for six weeks after the death of the person. The widowed parent grant, introduced in 2000, also provides additional assistance at this time to those with children and is paid in addition to the usual after-death payments such as the bereavement grant, which is currently €850. The widowed parent grant was increased by €2,000 to €6,000 in the last Budget in recognition of the particular difficulties faced by widows and widowers with children on the death of a spouse. Once the transitional payments already outlined are paid, surviving spouses are eligible for a range of social welfare supports. The contributory widow or widower pension is available to those who satisfy the necessary PRSI contribution conditions, either on their own record or that of the deceased spouse. Those qualifying for this benefit are not subject to a means test.

People without the necessary PRSI contributions can get the one-parent family payment if they have qualifying children. Widows or widowers without dependant children who do not qualify for the contributory payment may, if they are under 66 years of age, qualify for the widow or widower non-contributory pension, or the State non-contributory pension if they are over 66 years of age. The State non-contributory pension features a basic means disregard of €30 per week with a specific additional earnings disregard of €200 per week if the pensioner is in employment. The earnings disregard also applies to widows or widowers under the age of 66 who are in receipt of the widow or widower non-contributory pension. The household benefits package, which comprises the electricity and gas allowance, telephone allowance and television licence schemes, is generally available to people living permanently in the State, aged 66 or over, who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who fulfil a means test. The schemes are available on a universal basis to those aged 70 years and over. Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of the household benefit package or free travel retain that entitlement. This measure is in place to ensure that households who have this entitlement do not lose it on the death of a spouse.

Widowed persons are also entitled to the fuel allowance, back to school clothing and footwear allowance and other secondary benefits on the same basis as other social welfare recipients. Under the terms of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, an exceptional needs payment may be made to help meet an essential, once-off cost which an applicant is unable to meet out of his or her own resources. Eligible people are normally in receipt of a social welfare payment, including the widow or widower pension, or a HSE payment. I will continue to keep the adequacy of supports available to widowed people under review.

Pension Provisions.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

142 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action he will take to address the anomalous position of recipients of State pension, transition, who under the terms of the benefit are effectively precluded from taking up employment but may do so as soon as they reach 66 years. [5252/08]

The state pension (transition) was introduced in 1970 when it was known as the retirement pension. It was designed to bridge the gap between the standard social welfare pension age, which at that time was 70 years of age, and retirement at age 65. A key qualifying condition for the scheme is that a person has to be retired in order to qualify for a payment. Retirement was defined as not engaging in insurable employment, which today means earning less than €38 per week. The social welfare pension age was reduced over a period of years until it reached 66 years of age, which means that the retirement condition is now only effective for a year.

I consider it important that those who wish to continue in employment after normal retirement age should, as far as is possible, be facilitated and supported. Longer working can play an important role in ensuring that our pensions system is sustainable in the future and it can also be beneficial to the individual. The retirement condition associated with the state pension (transition) is only one aspect of a much broader agenda which will need to be addressed if we are to create the conditions where people can continue in employment past what we now regard as normal retirement age. As the House is aware, I published the Green Paper on Pensions on 17 October. It includes an examination of all the issues surrounding retirement age, the barriers faced by older workers who wish to remain in employment and the incentives in this regard which can be considered. A consultation process on the Green Paper is under way and will remain open until mid-2008. The Government will respond to the process by publishing a framework for future pensions policy. I expect that to happen towards the end of the year.

Question No. 143 answered with Question No. 112.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

144 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action he has taken to address the high number of decisions which are not upheld by the appeals office for payments where medical criteria were relied upon. [5246/08]

A claimant who is dissatisfied with the decision of a Deciding Officer of my Department, including a decision based on medical criteria, may appeal it to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. In addition to affording customers the right of appeal, all customers who receive an adverse decision are advised of their right to have their claim reviewed by a Deciding Officer where new facts or fresh evidence comes to light. These procedures can enable a speedy resolution of the appeal as the Deciding Officer may make a revised decision on foot of the new evidence received. A requirement of confirmation of medical eligibility is critical in processing and maintaining Illness Benefit, Invalidity Pension, Disability Allowance, Occupational Injuries Benefit and Carers schemes.

The latest year for which appeals statistics are available, 2006, show that some 6,900 appeals were lodged in relation to these schemes, although some of these may have been in relation to non-medical conditions. It should be noted that this represents only a proportion of cases disallowed as many people do not appeal adverse decisions. Of the 6,900, almost 2,250 were revised by a Deciding Officer before proceeding to appeal. In many of these cases, the claimant had obtained additional medical evidence from their GP or consultant which formed the basis for a revised decision. In relation to the balance of cases, some 4,660, appeals were allowed in 1,523 cases, 113 appeals were partially allowed, 1,679 appeals were disallowed and 1,344 were withdrawn.

In cases which do proceed to the Social Welfare Appeals Office and where medical issues are involved, Appeals Officers, as well as taking account of reports from Medical Assessors of my Department, must also take account of medical reports furnished by the appellant and any other evidence including evidence adduced at an oral hearing where appellants have the opportunity to explain how they are affected by their condition. In total, 22% of decisions appealed in 2006 in relation to illness, disability or carer schemes were not upheld by the Appeals Office in 2006. This is consistent with the 20.5% of decisions not upheld by the Appeals Office in 2006 in relation to all schemes including those which have no medical criteria.

Social Welfare Code.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

145 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the continued justification for not back dating payments for waiting days in respect of claimants whose claims extend beyond the first number of days for disability or injury benefit and unemployment payments; the discussions he or his Department has had with social partners about reforming the waiting day rule; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5228/08]

Waiting days have been a feature of the jobseeker's payments and illness benefit schemes since their inception. They are a feature of social security schemes in many countries. The application of a three-day waiting period avoids the disproportionately high administrative costs involved in processing large numbers of claims of a short duration. The waiting day rule is not applied in every case. For example, a "period of interruption of employment" exists where a person is unemployed or sick for any three days (consecutive or not) within six days. If a person is subject to intermittent periods of unemployment it would clearly be unreasonable to impose the three waiting days for each such jobseeker's benefit claim.

Accordingly, legislation enables, by means of a "linking rule" the aggregation of periods of unemployment so that the wait only applies to the first days of the aggregate period of interruption of employment. Specifically, this linking rule provides that any two such periods of unemployment not separated by more than 26 weeks are treated as one such period. Consequently, where a person had a previous claim within the linking period, a payment may be made from the first day of the later claim. The same principle applies in the case of jobseeker's allowance but the linking period is longer — 52 weeks instead of 26 weeks. In addition, linking rules apply in a variety of ways across schemes, for example when a person claims illness benefit immediately, following a jobseeker's benefit claim. I emphasise that people who need financial support are not left without such support during waiting days. A person who has no other income may claim supplementary welfare allowance in respect of the days in question. I have no plans at present to reform the waiting days rule.

Question No. 146 answered with Question No. 106.
Question No. 147 answered with Question No. 120.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

148 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to extend entitlement to free travel. [5229/08]

The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over. All carers in receipt of carer's allowance and carers of people in receipt of constant attendance or prescribed relative's allowance, regardless of their age, receive a free travel pass. It is also available to people under age 66 who are in receipt of certain disability type welfare payments, such as disability allowance, invalidity pension and blind person's pension. There have been significant improvements to the scheme in recent years. In September 2006, all peak-time restrictions were removed so that pass holders can now travel free on participating services at any time.

In spring 2007, the all-Ireland free travel scheme was introduced. This scheme is based on a reciprocal agreement between my Department and the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland, which operates the Northern Ireland concessionary fares scheme. Under the scheme, free travel pass holders age 66 or over can travel free on services operating within Northern Ireland and senior smart pass holders from Northern Ireland can travel free on participating services here. Any further extension of the scheme could only be considered in a budgetary context.

Question No. 149 answered with Question No. 116.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

150 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made in relation to recovery of unpaid maintenance to recipients of one-parent family payment by absent parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5240/08]

Applicants for one-parent family payment are required to make efforts to seek adequate maintenance from their former spouses, or, in the case of unmarried applicants, the other parent of their child, and must satisfy the Department that they have made reasonable attempts to obtain such maintenance. Similarly, under the Liability to Maintain the Family provisions of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005, absent parents have a responsibility to support their children and this is pursued by my Department where the absent parent is not making sufficient effort to provide adequate support.

In every case where a one-parent family payment is awarded, the case is referred to the maintenance recovery unit of my Department. Where appropriate, that unit then seeks to trace the other parent, referred to as the liable relative, to ascertain whether he or she is in a financial position to contribute towards the cost of the one-parent family payment. The follow-up activity takes place within 2 or 3 weeks of the award of payment. Liable relatives earning more than €18,000 are assessed with maintenance liability. Certain categories of liable relative are not pursued due to personal circumstances such as age or allegation of violence or because they have low incomes, such as those earning less than €18,000 or those in receipt of a social welfare payment. All liable relatives assessed with maintenance are notified by my Department and are issued with a Determination Order setting out the amount of contribution assessed. Decisions on the amount assessed can be appealed by liable relatives to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. During 2007, Determination Orders were issued in 1,842, or 16%, of the 11,528 cases examined.

Question No. 151 answered with Question No. 120.
Question No. 152 answered with Question No. 116.

Social Welfare Code.

Phil Hogan

Question:

153 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will further raise the existing caps on rent supplementation to reflect real market costs to increase access to the private rented sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35259/07]

Rent supplement, which is administered on my behalf by the Health Service Executive as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, is subject to a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant may incur. Rent limits are set at levels that enable different eligible household types to secure and retain basic suitable rented accommodation, having regard to the different rental market conditions that prevail in various parts of the State. The objective is to ensure that rent supplement is not paid in respect of overly expensive accommodation having regard to the size of the household.

Setting maximum rent limits higher than are justified by the open market would have a distorting effect on the rental market, leading to a more general rise in rent levels. This in turn would worsen the affordability of rental accommodation unnecessarily, with particular negative impact for those tenants on lower incomes, including people in low wage employment. In January 2007, a review was completed of the maximum levels of rent which a person may incur and still be eligible to receive rent supplement. The purpose of the review was to inform the process of setting new limits, applicable from January 2007 until 30 June 2008.

The review included consultation with the HSE, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Central Statistics Office, the Private Residential Tenancies Board and voluntary agencies working in this area. This process ensures that the new rent limits reflect realistic market conditions throughout the country. Arising from the review, rent limits were adjusted upwards, from January 2007, for a number of household types in 14 counties. Notwithstanding existing rent limits, the Health Service Executive may exceed these limits in certain circumstances — for example, if there is special housing need related to exceptional circumstances. The discretionary power ensures that individuals with particular needs can be accommodated within the scheme and specifically protects against homelessness. I intend to have rent limits reviewed this year with a view to implementing any revision found to be necessary, from 1 July 2008. A consultative approach will be used to conduct this review.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

154 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the review of guardian’s payment carried out by his Department has been completed; and the main conclusions reached. [5255/08]

The Guardians' payment schemes allow for the provision of a weekly allowance to a guardian of a child who has either been orphaned or whose parents have deserted and failed to provide for the child. The review of the Guardians' payment within my Department commenced in late 2006 and involved a detailed analysis of a large sample of guardians' payment files. Statistics recovered from the review gave an interesting perspective to the types of families supported by the scheme. The review suggested that almost 86% of the recipients of guardians' payments were relatives of the children for whom payment was claimed.

In half the cases surveyed, the mother of the child was deceased. This figure for fathers was almost 30%. In addition, the review suggested the involvement of HSE social workers in some 40% of cases, with ongoing HSE involvement in approximately 27% of cases. Some 60% of claims were determined within two months of application. Issues emerging from the review are being discussed in my Department and with the relevant officials from other Departments. It is my hope that proposals for improving the scheme will be forthcoming later this year.

Question No. 155 answered with Question No. 116.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

156 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is satisfied that the test of the habitual residence condition is being applied evenly and consistently. [5254/08]

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

Under Social Welfare legislation, decisions in relation to all aspects of claims are made by statutorily appointed Deciding Officers. Each case received for a determination on the Habitual Residence Condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the legislation and guidelines to the circumstances of each case. Decisions on Supplementary Welfare Allowance are made by Community Welfare Officers from the Health Service Executive. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision on a case has the right to request a review of that decision and/or appeal to the independent Social Welfare Appeals Office.

While decisions to the effect that applicants satisfy the habitual residence condition can be made in the vast majority — over 90% — of cases at claim acceptance stage on the basis of answers given on the primary claim forms, complex cases are examined in more detail. Claims involving complex HRC issues are assessed and decided in all scheme areas within my Department by a small number of deciding officers who are experienced and fully familiar with the issues involved for each scheme in regard to the habitual residence condition. I am satisfied that this arrangement contributes greatly to accuracy and consistency in the decision-making process. Arising from a review of the operation of the habitual residence condition which was carried out in 2006, revised and expanded guidelines for claims decisions staff on the application of the habitual residence condition are nearing completion, in consultation with management in the various scheme areas.

Following final clearance, the revised guidelines will be made available to all relevant staff and published on the Department's website, www.welfare.ie. As an additional support, and to maintain standards of accuracy and consistency, on completion of the revised habitual residence condition guidelines, arrangements will be made to provide training and/or briefings as appropriate to decisions staff within my Department and within the Health Service Executive.

Question No. 157 answered with Question No. 116.
Questions Nos. 158 and 159 answered with Question No. 120.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

160 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding each of the reviews of the Combat Poverty Agency; and the outcome and main recommendations of each. [5249/08]

The reviews of the work of the Combat Poverty Agency are at different stages of progression. The review of the Agency's Research Programme, initiated in May 2007 by the Agency and the Office for Social Inclusion of the Department, is being carried out by Goodbody Economic Consultants. It will, inter alia, assess the activities, output and outcomes of the research programme; review the programme’s contribution to research on poverty; benchmark the Agency’s research programme against best practice in the design and implementation of similar social research programmes in Ireland and internationally; and advise on the future direction of the research programme, particularly with regard to the most effective allocation and optimum use of research resources within the Agency and in collaboration with other organisations. A steering committee comprising representatives of the Combat Poverty Agency, the Office for Social Inclusion, relevant Government Departments and Goodbody Economic Consultants is overseeing the work. The review is nearing completion and I expect the report will be made available to the Board and to the Department shortly.

In line with a commitment in Towards 2016, a review of the Combat Poverty Agency's programmes that facilitate the participation of the community and voluntary sector and people experiencing poverty in the policy-making process has been in progress over the period 2006 and 2007. Some aspects of that review remain to be considered further before it is finalised. The review of the Combat Poverty Agency, which the Government decided will be undertaken by the Department, commenced in December 2007. The review forms part of the Department's Value for Money and Policy Review Initiative programme for 2006-08 and, when completed, will include recommendations on the future role and functions of the Agency. Mr. Niall Callan, formerly Secretary General of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, is the Chairperson of the Steering Committee. The membership of the Steering Committee, which is overseeing the task, comprises senior officials from my Department, other relevant Government Departments and the Combat Poverty Agency. I expect that this review will be completed in mid-2008.

National Carers Strategy.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

161 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he expects to publish a national carers strategy. [5260/08]

The development of a national carer's strategy is a key Government commitment in the national partnership agreement, Towards 2016, and the Programme for Government. A working group, chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach, has begun work on developing the strategy. My Department provides the secretariat to the working group which also includes representatives of the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and Enterprise, Trade and Employment as well as FÁS and the Health Service Executive. The expertise of other Departments and Government bodies will be called on as particular issues arise. It is intended to hold consultations with the social partners and carer representative groups. Submissions will also be invited from the public and it is planned to publish a request for submissions in the coming weeks. It is intended to publish the strategy later this year.

Question No. 162 answered with Question No. 106.

Social Welfare Code.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

163 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on a report by the Irish Human Rights Commission, A Report on an Enquiry into the Impact of Certain provisions of Social Welfare Legislation on the Self Employed, November 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5041/08]

The case reported on by the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) involves a couple who were over 56 years of age in 1988 when compulsory social insurance for the self-employed was introduced and who could not, therefore, satisfy one of the basic requirements for pension as they did not commence paying insurance 10 years before pension age. As the Deputy may be aware, a special pension paid at half the personal rate and requiring the payment of at least 260 contributions was introduced in 1999 to cater for such people. The IHRC recommended that a reduced benefit should also be paid to people who, because of advanced age, could not satisfy the conditions for this special pension. This would be a significant departure from the principles underpinning qualification for pensions, and other benefits, which require that a minimum level of contributions should be made before a person can qualify for a payment.

In its conclusions on the provisions relating to the special pension for the self employed, the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) placed particular emphasis on Article 29(5) of the European Code of Social Security. This section deals with the situation where the beneficiary, because of his advanced age at the moment the pension scheme enters into force, is unable to fulfil the qualifying conditions. In such circumstances, the Code provides for the payment of a reduced pension "under prescribed conditions" to be determined in national legislation.

Accordingly, the views of the ILO Committee of Experts, which examines annual national reports on compliance with the European Code of Social Security on behalf of the Council of Europe, were sought on the conclusions of the IHRC report, and in particular whether the provisions of the Code require the payment of a pension in the circumstances, regardless of how few contributions have been paid by the person involved. The ILO Committee has recently been in touch with the Department in this regard and has indicated that Article 29(5) applies only to pension schemes "conditional upon a minimum period of contribution or employment", which, by definition, do not require pension to be paid in all cases, regardless of how few contributions have been paid by the person concerned. This response indicates that the Department's position in this matter is likely to be upheld. The report of the ILO Committee will be reviewed at the beginning of April by a Council of Europe Governmental Committee of Experts on Social Security tasked with the interpretation of the Code. The IHRC have been informed of the up to date position.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joan Burton

Question:

164 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the decentralisation programme in his Department and its agencies; and the parts of the programme that have now been cancelled. [5248/08]

Under the Government's decentralisation programme for the civil and public service, some 1,210 posts comprising the Department's headquarter sections and the Social Welfare Appeals Office are relocating to 6 locations — Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon, Donegal, Buncrana, Carrickmacross and Drogheda. In addition, the Combat Poverty Agency and Citizens Information Board are scheduled to relocate to Monaghan and Drogheda, respectively, under the programme. To date, 177 posts have relocated from the Department's Dublin Offices to Carrick-on-Shannon and Sligo. A further 32 posts will decentralise during 2008 — 27 posts to Carrick-on-Shannon and 5 posts to Sligo.

In addition, the Department has decentralised offices in Longford, Sligo, Letterkenny, Waterford, Dundalk and Roscommon and some 170 employees have transferred to these offices and other offices of the Department, to fill vacancies created by the current decentralisation programme. Furthermore, a total of 206 employees of the Department have transferred to other Government Departments for the purposes of their decentralisation programme. The Office of Public Works (OPW) is charged with securing accommodation for the decentralisation programme. The current indicative timeframe, available to the Department, for the remainder of the programme is as follows:

Buncrana — End 2009

Carrickmacross — 2010

Donegal — 2010

Drogheda HQ — 2011

Drogheda ISD — No indicative timeframe

The Combat Poverty Agency and the Citizen's Information Board are committed to decentralising to Monaghan and Drogheda respectively. At this time, there is no indicative date for the transfer of the Combat Poverty Agency to Monaghan. The indicative timeframe for the relocation of the Citizen's Information Board to Drogheda is 2011. My Department has not cancelled any part of its decentralisation programme.

Social Welfare Payment System.

Liz McManus

Question:

165 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in relation to the tendering process and timetable with regard to the social welfare contract in relation to An Post; the implications of the recent EU ruling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35618/07]

In 1992, my Department and An Post entered into a five year contract for the delivery of social welfare payments. This contract was renewed in 1997 for a further three years to the end of 1999. The Government's decision in 1999, to extend the Department's contractual arrangements with An Post, gave rise to a procurement complaint being lodged with the European Commission in 2000. The complaint was subsequently referred to the European Court of Justice by the European Commission.

On the 13th November 2007 the European Court of Justice ruled that "in entrusting the provision of social benefit payment services to An Post without undertaking any prior advertising, Ireland has not failed to fulfil its obligations under Articles 43 EC and 49 EC and the general principles of Community law in connection with a contract for the supply of such services". My Department is awaiting advice from the Attorney General on the implications of the Judgement for the current arrangements with An Post and the delivery of payment services. In the meantime the current arrangements with An Post for the delivery of social welfare payments will remain in place. An Post and my Department have been partners in the delivery of social welfare payments since the foundation of the State. I am confident that An Post and its network of local post offices will continue to play a significant role in the delivery of social welfare payments.

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

166 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on easing or improving the means test applied by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5226/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

278 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to revise or liberalise the various means tests operated by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5542/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 166 and 278 together.

Last September, I was pleased to introduce two reforms of the social welfare means testing system. The new arrangements enable recipients of Jobseeker's Allowance, as well as their spouses or partners, to retain more of their social welfare payment if either or both engage in employment. The overall aim of these reforms is to encourage spouses and partners to move into employment or to move beyond long-term part-time employment. The new measures are designed to be progressive, particularly for women, who currently are the majority of ‘qualified adults' in our social welfare system. Under the previous system there was no incentive for qualified adults to earn more than €100 per week. Under the new arrangements, a qualified adult will always be better off if they choose to earn more.

The second improvement relates to recipients of Jobseeker's Allowance who take up part-time employment, be they single or one of a couple. All part-time workers on Jobseeker's Allowance gained under the new arrangements. Budget 2008 provided for the following improvements to means testing arrangements:

The upper income threshold for One Parent Family Payment will increase by €25 a week to €425 a week in May next.

Also from May 2008, social insurance contributions, Health contributions, superannuation contributions and trade union subscriptions will be disregarded for the purpose of assessment of earnings for One Parent Family Payment. This measure brings the arrangements for One Parent Family payment into line with other social assistance schemes.

In assessing an applicant's means for Jobseeker's Allowance and Supplementary Allowance purposes, account is taken of the value of any benefit and privilege enjoyed, such as that of free board and lodging in the family home. From April 2008, a single reformed method for assessing Benefit and Privilege from parent's income will be introduced, which will ensure that people living in low to middle income families will either no longer be assessed or be assessed at a reduced value.

The upper ceiling for entitlement to tapered Qualified Adult payments for Jobseeker's Benefit, Illness Benefit, Injury Benefit, Health & Safety Benefit, State Pension Contributory, the State Pension Transition and Invalidity Pension was increased by €20, from €280 to €300 per week, with effect from January 2008,

All weekly Family Income Supplement earnings thresholds were increased by amounts varying from €10 per week to €80 per week depending on family size.

From April 2008, the income disregard for Carer's Allowance will be increased by €12.50 per week for a single person and €25 per week for a couple to €332.50 and €665 respectively.

From April 2008, the earnings limit for entitlement to Carer's Benefit will increase by €12.50, from €320 per week to €332.50 per week.

Any further improvements to means testing arrangements would have to be considered in a Budgetary context and in the light of available resources.

Question No. 167 answered with Question No. 120.
Question No. 168 answered with Question No. 133.

Data Protection.

Liz McManus

Question:

169 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the review by the Data Protection Commissioner to improve data security procedures in his Department has been finalised; and the new measures that have been adopted as a result. [5250/08]

The Data Protection Commissioner notified my Department in late October 2007 that he intended to undertake a focussed audit of the Department's procedures for processing personal data. This audit commenced in late January 2008 and has not yet been finalised.

Social Welfare Fraud.

Joe Costello

Question:

170 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the work in his Department to reduce overpayments and fraud; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5253/08]

The prevention of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system is an integral part of the day-to-day work of the Department. A key objective of the Department's control strategy is to ensure that we pay the right person the right amount of money at the right time. Over 600 staff at local, regional and national level are engaged on a full or part-time basis on work related to the control of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system. A four pronged approach has been adopted by the Department to meet this objective, namely prevention of fraud and error at the initial claim stage, early detection through effective review of claims in payment, measures to deter fraud and the pursuit and recovery of overpayments.

Systematic risk analysis is a key element of the Department's control strategy. This entails the identification, by scheme managers, of areas of high risk of fraud and abuse in the schemes for which they are responsible and putting in place appropriate measures to address them in a systematic way. The purpose of this approach is to ensure that review activity is targeted in the most effective manner. The Department carries out surveys of the levels of fraud and error as part of its control strategy to identify the types of claims which should be prioritised for review purposes. Controls are exercised at both the initial claim stage and at subsequent stages during the claim life-cycle. Claims are reviewed on a regular and targeted basis. During 2007, some 345,000 reviews of entitlements were carried out by staff in the Department. The records of some 4,760 employers were inspected to ensure compliance with the Department's regulations and in particular to prevent and detect abuses of the system.

The Department has a dedicated section dealing with identity fraud in PPS No. allocations. The staff in this section receives training in the area of document fraud from a number of sources, including the relevant issuing authorities, via their embassies, and from the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB). This section operates a full time help desk facility for front line staff and provides training and support to them in dealing with document fraud issues. I am committed to ensuring that social welfare payments are available to those who are entitled to them. I am also determined to ensure that abuse of the system is prevented and is dealt with effectively when detected. In this regard the control programme of the Department is carefully monitored and the various measures are continuously refined to ensure that they remain effective.

Question No. 171 answered with Question No. 120.

Departmental Bodies.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

172 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Taoiseach the date of establishment of Irish-American Economics Advisory Board; if this body is still in existence; the purpose and role of this body; the number of members of the board of this body; the number of whom are appointed by his Department; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the amount of financial support provided by the Government to this committee for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5376/08]

The establishment of the Ireland America Economic Advisory Board was approved by the then Government in late 1992 and was a recognition by the Government of the Irish-American presence in leadership positions of many top US corporations. The purpose of the Board is to engage with corporate leaders in America to promote Ireland as an investment location. The Board has provided a structure through which the thinking of the most senior and successful leaders of corporate Irish-America can be conveyed directly, and at the highest level, to Government. The Board also constitutes an important resource upon which the Government can draw, as required, for strategic investment advice.

I have regular meetings with the Board, usually in the US, where we exchange information and views on the US and Irish economies and I brief them on political developments in Northern Ireland. I am responsible for appointing the Board which is currently comprised of 42 members. The Board members give voluntarily of their time. Travel, subsistence and all other costs associated with the Board's activities, are covered by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The expenditure for the last five years in this regard is as follows:

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€18,673

€27,421

€6,986

€21,765

€4,443

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

173 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach if he will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under his Department which are due to decentralise showing in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5308/08]

The Deputy will be aware that there are no proposals to decentralise my Department or any of the bodies under its aegis and accordingly the information sought regarding offices does not apply.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

174 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by him as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6021/08]

There have been no full-time specialists procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management in my Department.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

175 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the date of establishment of the programme for peace and reconciliation; if this body is still in existence; the purpose and role of this body; the number of members of the board of this body; the number of whom are appointed by his Department; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the amount of financial support provided by the Government to this committee for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5374/08]

The Deputy may be referring to the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). The SEUPB was established in December 1999 as one of six North South Implementation Bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement. Its primary role is to manage two cross border European Union programmes, the PEACE programme and the Ireland/Northern Ireland/Scotland INTERREG programme. The Peace and Reconciliation Programme has been in existence since 1995, predating the existence of the SEUPB. The operating costs of the SEUPB are met by the Department of Finance (DOF) and the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) in Northern Ireland, who are officially the Sponsor Departments of that Body. Administration costs are, in the main, apportioned 50/50.

The Body reports to the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC). The NSMC appoints the Chief Executive Office of the Body and the Chief Executive is directly answerable to the NSMC for the Body's use of any resources made available to it. The SEUPB has no board. The DoF contribution to SEUPB administration costs for each of the five previous years are as follows:

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

€1.32m

€1.28m

€1.32m

€1.12m

€1.27m

The provision for 2008 is €1.835m.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

176 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under his Department which are due to decentralise showing in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5303/08]

As requested by the Deputy the following tables show the progress made by my Department and the agencies under the aegis of my Department which are due to decentralise.

Department of Finance.

Locations

Tullamore

Kildare

Number of posts* to be decentralised

130

Up to 30

Number who have moved

124

0

Number assigned but not yet moved

1

26

Number assigned who are new recruits

12

4

As my Department has retained a substantial number of posts in Dublin, the necessity to compulsorily re- assign staff in my Department who did not wish to decentralise to other posts in Dublin did not arise. However, it should be noted that a number of re-assignments to other Departments did take place on a voluntary basis.

Revenue Commissioners.

Locations

Newcastle West (temporary Accommodation)

Kilrush

Listowel

Athy

Navan

Kildare

Assigned within Dublin

Number of posts* to be decentralised

50

50

50

250

Up to 100

380

Number who have moved

48

57

51

44

0

0

Number assigned but not yet moved

3

0

0

2

81

0

Number assigned who are new recruits

0

2

7

0

0

0

Number who have opted to stay in Dublin assigned to posts in Dublin

169

Office of Public Works.

Locations

Trim

Claremorris

Kanturk

Number of posts* to be decentralised

333

142

88

Number who have moved

0

23

0

Number assigned but not yet moved

212

9

2

Number assigned who are new recruits

45

0

0

Number who have opted to stay in Dublin assigned to posts in Dublin

18

0

0

Public Appointments Service and the Valuation Office.

Locations

Public Appointments Service (Youghal)

Valuation Office (Youghal)

Number of posts* to be decentralised

100

100

Number who have moved

0

0

Number assigned but not yet moved

10

14

Number assigned who are new recruits

1

10

Number who have opted to stay in Dublin assigned to posts in Dublin

0

0

*Please note: The number in Line 1 of each table refers to numbers of posts; the number in Lines 2 to 5 of each table refers to numbers of people.

Richard Bruton

Question:

177 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the location and floor area of all buildings acquired under the decentralisation programme; the staff in occupation in each building; and the number of buildings in Dublin that have been released. [5310/08]

The information requested is detailed as follows.

The location and floor area of all buildings acquired under the decentralisation programme are shown in the following table.

Location

Area Sq M

Athy

1,269

Ballina

972

Carlow

1,806

Carrick on Shannon

3,716

Cavan

478

Claremorris

798

Clonakilty

1,152

Clonakilty

870

Dundalk

503

Furbo

223

Killarney

1,115

Kilrush

585

Limerick

854

Listowel

1,140

Longford

5,342

Loughrea

808

Naas

608

Navan

2,744

Navan

2,671

Newcastle West

492

Portarlington

547

Portlaoise

1,324

Portlaoise

1,479

Roscrea

542

Sligo

1,500

Sligo

146

Thurles

1,236

Thurles

393

Tipperary

502

Trim

382

Tubbercurry

753

Tullamore

3,391

Wexford

581

The Department of Finance has advised that details of the most recent information available on staff, moved and due to move by the end of 2007, to decentralised locations are set out in the table below. The Department of Finance has advised that details in relation to the precise numbers occupying specific buildings are a matter for individual Departments and in the time available, it has not been possible to confirm the position with them. However, the most recent details on staff moved and due to move to decentralised locations to the end of 2007 are set out in the table below. Details in relation to moves since the beginning of 2008 are being collated by the Department of Finance at present.

Location

Organisation

Staff Moved

Portlaoise

Dept. of Agriculture Fisheries and Food

250

Tipperary

Dept. of Justice, Equality and Law Reform — Private Security Agency

24

Na Forbacha

Dept. of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

10

Sligo

Dept. of Social and Family Affairs

66

Clifden

Pobal

25

Limerick (Newcastle West advance party)

Revenue Commissioners

45

Limerick

Dept. of Foreign Affairs

55

Tullamore

Dept. of Finance

122

Tubbercurry (Knock advance party)

Dept. of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

73

Thurles

Garda HQ — Garda Vetting Office

34

Thurles

Garda HQ — Fixed Charge Processing Section

31

Clonakilty

Dept. of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

79

Clonakilty

Sea Food Protection Authority

22

Cavan

Dept. of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

39

Portarlington

Data Protection Commissioner

22

Kilkenny (Thomastown Advance Party)

Health and Safety Authority

28

Killarney

Dept. of Arts, Sports and Tourism

68

Roscommon

Property Registration Authority — Land Registry

68

Athlone

Dept. of Education and Science

30

Birr

FAS

14

Dundalk

Sustainable Energy Ireland

2

Naas

Irish Auditing & Accounting Supervisory Authority

8

Carrick-on-Shannon

Dept. of Social and Family Affairs

106

Ballina

Road Safety Authority

60

Loughrea

Road Safety Authority/Dept. of Transport

50

Wexford (Advance Party)

Dept. of Environment, Heritage and Local Government

39

Roscrea

Equality Authority

5

Kilrush

Revenue Commissioners

57

Longford

Irish Prison Service

141

Carlow

Dept. of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

97

Listowel

Revenue Commissioners

52

Cork

HIQA

14

Claremorris

Office of Public Works

22

Athy (advance party)

Revenue Commissioners

42

Cumulative Total

1,800

Organisations due to move by end 2007

Location

Organisation

Staff Moved

Ballina

Road Safety Authority

2

Carrick-on-Shannon

Dept. of Social and Family Affairs

12

Claremorris

Office of Public Works

2

Clonakilty

Dept. of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

4

Roscommon

Property Registration Authority — Land Registry

6

Dundalk

Sustainable Energy Ireland

17

Roscrea

Equality Authority

15

Shannon

Enterprise Ireland (incl. 40 existing Shannon Development Staff)

60

Tullamore

Dept. of Finance

1

Thurles

Garda HQ — Fixed Charge Processing Section

21

Cavan

Dept. of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

8

Cork

HIQA

10

Cumulative Total

1,958

Details of the buildings released in Dublin are shown in the following table.

Properties in Dublin released / sold

14-16 Lord Edward St.

26-27 Eden Quay

72-76 St. Stephen’s Green

Chantilly, Rathmichael, Co. Dublin

Faculty Building, Shelbourne Road

Former Vet College, Shelbourne Road

Gardiner St.

Lad Lane

Land Adjacent to RHK

Parnell Square West

St. Johns Road

Public Service Contracts.

Richard Bruton

Question:

178 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of formalised contract reviews for large projects over €30 million by Department; and the number audited by his Department. [5311/08]

The responsibility for contract reviews for large projects over €30 million rests with the Sponsoring Department and I would refer the Deputy to the Departments concerned for further information. In relation to my Department, my Department does not have any capital projects over €30 million. The formalised contract reviews are liable to review by the Central Expenditure Evaluation Unit in my Department which may undertake direct spot checks of capital projects to verify compliance with the various aspects of the VFM framework. To date spot checks of 23 projects have been undertaken including 10 projects costing more than €30 million. Most of these spot checks focus on the appraisal or the appraisal and planning stages but two of the spot checks of major capital projects also covered issues relating to management and reporting of project implementation.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

179 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by him as part of the improved value from capital projects. [5312/08]

Sustaining Progress allowed for the procurement of scarce ICT skills by way of open recruitment. The Department of Finance availed of those provisions to recruit 4 such people on a full-time basis. Also on a number of occasions, some key individuals with specialist ICT and procurement skills and knowledge have been seconded to my Department from other parts of the public service to work on major public service-wide ICT projects. My Department has also established, following value for money proposals put forward by me in October 2005, a peer review system for all major or complex ICT projects in the Civil Service.

These reviews cover all parts of a project lifecycle from the development of the business case, through analysis, design, procurement, development and implementation. A panel of peer reviewers is in place that includes individuals with relevant experience and knowledge from the civil and public service, both serving and retired, the third-level education sector and the ICT industry. In addition to the above, 2 posts of Expenditure Evaluator in my Department have been filled through open recruitment.

Richard Bruton

Question:

180 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he has received confirmation from all Government Departments that an identifiable project manager with single individual responsibility for each major information technology and capital project has been put in place; if he requires notice of substantial deviation from the project schedule; and the notifications which he has received from Departments and the projects involved. [5313/08]

Responsibility for appointing project managers is a matter for the sponsoring Department. Confirmation that they comply with this and other aspects of the Capital Appraisal Guidelines is included in their Annual Capital Report which is submitted to my Department. All of these reports are expected to be submitted to my Department over the next few weeks.

Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Richard Bruton

Question:

181 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if the use of compulsory purchase orders powers has increased since his advice to Departments on this matter in 2005; the details of the increase; if he has secured faster release of lands and a more cost effective price for all forms of public infrastructure; and the savings secured. [5314/08]

In my address to the Dublin Chambers of Commerce on 20th October 2005 on Value for Money, I noted that pro-active use of existing compulsory purchase order powers in appropriate circumstances could facilitate the faster release of lands at a cost effective price for all forms of public infrastructure and that I would be directing Government Departments to this effect. As regards details of how individual Government Departments have used Compulsory Purchase Order powers since that time, I would refer the Deputy those Departments for specific details.

In relation to my own Department, the compulsory purchase powers would arise in connection with the Government's Flood Relief programme. The Commissioners of Public Works have confirmed that the exercise of these powers has not been an impediment to the progress of the programme, and consequently, there has been no change in the manner of their use since 2005.

Departmental Performance Tables.

Richard Bruton

Question:

182 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will provide the performance table for Government Departments and State agencies regarding the extent of project outcomes versus budget on contracts as promised in his new arrangements for capital projects introduced in 2005. [5315/08]

The Performance Table for Government Departments and State Agencies of project outcomes against budget on contract was published for the first time in the 2007 Public Capital Programme and it will feature in the 2008 edition which is due to be published on 21st February next.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

183 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he has assessed the implications of the recommendation of the decentralisation implementation group that his Department should free up local recruitment where necessary and initiate where appropriate arrangements to fill gaps by promotion; if he will act on this recommendation; and the number of posts and the cost involved. [5316/08]

The recommendations of the Decentralisation Implementation Group, including those in relation to the filling of posts by recruitment and promotion as raised by the Deputy, have been accepted by Government and are currently being followed up by my Department. The filling of vacancies by local recruitment is under way following an open recruitment competition for Clerical Officers which was held in November 2007. Candidates were asked to indicate regional locations in which they would be prepared to serve. The first stage of this process, a written test, has been completed, and the final stage, involving interviews, is currently in progress. Panels of successful candidates to whom offers of appointment will be made to posts in a variety of locations are expected to be available shortly. Successful candidates will be appointed to both existing regional offices and to newly decentralising offices, where there are no remaining Central Application Facility applicants for that grade and location. Arrangements are also being put in place to recruit Executive Officers on a similar basis and it is expected that a competition will be advertised before the end of this month.

It is expected that the majority of unfilled posts will be filled through the normal transfer arrangements under the Central Applications Facility. However, where posts remain unfilled, offers of promotion are being made in accordance with existing arrangements whereby all interdepartmental promotions are offered on the basis that the promoted officer will serve in a decentralised location. With regard to internal promotions, where a Department or Office is decentralising in its entirety, 100% of internal promotions within 52 weeks of the move to the new location are made on the basis that the officer will serve in the new location and, where an organisation is moving in part, 50% of all promotions include a decentralisation condition in the 52-week period prior to the move taking place. The arrangements for filling remaining promotional gaps will be the subject of discussion with the relevant staff unions on an individual organisation basis.

My Department is undertaking a review of the promotion arrangements currently in operation under the Decentralisation Programme and proposals on the formulation of a promotion policy to meet the ongoing needs of Departments and Offices, at local and regional level, is currently being discussed with the staff unions at General Council. It is not possible to quantify the number of posts or costs at this stage as the final position will only be known when the assignment of those volunteers on the Central Applications Facility is complete for each location.

John O'Mahony

Question:

184 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the situation regarding the decentralisation programme under way in his Department to Claremorris, County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5322/08]

The Office of Public Works (OPW) commenced operations in the OPW advance office in Claremorris in September 2007. There are 29 staff currently in place out of the 142 posts to be transferred to this location. OPW has acquired the site for their permanent offices in Claremorris and it is expected that this building will be ready for occupation in 2009.

Departmental Bodies.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

185 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the date of establishment of the committee on top level appointments in the Civil Service; if this group is still in existence; the purpose and role of this group; the number of members of the board of this group; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this group for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5354/08]

The Top Level Appointments Committee (TLAC) was established on 3 January 1984.

Role of TLAC

The Committee's role is to recommend candidates to Ministers and Government for the most senior positions in the Civil Service at Assistant Secretary level and upwards. Subject to certain exclusions, TLAC deals with all posts at or above the level of Assistant Secretary or equivalent across the Civil Service. The Government is the appointing authority for posts at Secretary General level. In accordance with a decision of the Government, TLAC recommends up to three candidates, if found suitable, for posts at this level. The Government appoints the Secretary General from among the recommended candidates. In the case of posts below Secretary General level, e.g. Assistant Secretary posts, the appropriate Minister is the appointing authority. One candidate is recommended by TLAC to the Minister for appointment.

Membership of TLAC

The Taoiseach appoints the members of TLAC in consultation with the Minister for Finance. There are normally five members on the Committee, as follows:

Secretary General, Public Service Management and Development, Department of Finance (ex officio),

Secretary General to the Government, Department of the Taoiseach (ex officio),

A private sector member, appointed for a three year term, and

Two other Secretaries General, appointed for three year terms

One other Secretary General, where not already a member and where a post in his/her Department is being filled. Where the post being filled is below Secretary General level he/she is present as an observer but where his/her successor is being appointed he/she is a full member.

The expenditure of TLAC over the last five years was as follows:

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€11,398.38

€14,550.23

€16,913.26

€14,436.27

€22,695.09

TLAC Procedures and Practices

The Deputy should be aware that the TLAC Procedures and Practices are set out in detail, in a handbook that is available on my Department's Website at http://www.finance.gov.ie/documents/ publications/other/tlacproc.pdf

Leo Varadkar

Question:

186 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of board members of An Post National Lottery Company who are appointed by his Department; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5355/08]

In accordance with the National Lottery Act, 1986, all seven board members, including the Chairman, are appointed by the Minister for Finance. Four of the directors, including the Chairman, are nominated for appointment by An Post while three are both nominated and appointed by the Minister for Finance.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

187 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the date of establishment of customs consultative committee; if this group is still in existence; the purpose and role of this group; the number of members of the board of this group; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this group for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5356/08]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the Customs Consultative Committee was established in 1994. It continues to meet about four times each year. The Committee's overall objective is to provide a two-way forum for Revenue and trade representative organisations to consult and exchange views on issues affecting the Customs treatment of imports and exports and, in particular, such issues arising at EU level. The Committee has been particularly beneficial in ensuring that changes in Community Customs Law, and Customs systems put in place by Revenue (such as the new Automated Entry Processing system introduced last year), facilitate legitimate trade to the greatest extent possible.

The organisations that participate in the work of the Committee are those whose members have regular and direct dealings with Customs. Participation is strictly in a representative role only and the members of the Committee effectively act as a conduit between Revenue and the members of their organisations that use the various Customs systems. As well as Revenue officials, the Committee is currently made up of representatives of twelve organisations. Each organisation has nominated their own representative to take part, on a representative basis, in the work of the Committee and neither myself, nor my Department, have any role in appointing members to the Committee.

There is no expenditure associated with this Committee other than the normal travel and subsistence expenses incurred by Revenue officials attending meetings of the Committee and minor incidentals associated with the running of meetings. In consultation with the members of the Committee, and as part of the normal process of ensuring that the contribution of the Committee remains relevant and beneficial, it was recently decided to carry out a review of the operation of the Committee and its membership.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

188 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the date of establishment of Irish Telecommunications Investment PLC; if this company is still in existence; the purpose and role of this company; the number of members of the board of this company; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the level of equity held by the Department within this company; the level of financing provided by the Government to this company for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5357/08]

Irish Telecommunications Investment Limited, ITI for short, was established as a wholly-owned state company by the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs on 1 April 1981 to obtain funds to help finance the telecommunications development programme. Legislation at the time empowered the Minister for Finance to guarantee borrowings by the company within statutory limits and to hold shares in the company. After the establishment of Telecom Éireann in 1984, Irish Telecommunications Investment plc ("ITI") was a financing and treasury subsidiary of that company and was privatised along with the rest of the Group in 1999.

The Minister for Finance has no links with the company and does not hold an equity stake. There are no guarantees of the Minister for Finance outstanding in respect of ITI's borrowings. All loans in respect of which the Minister had extended guarantees were repaid by 2003. Neither the Department of Finance nor the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources provided financing to ITI during the last five years. The size of, and appointments to, its board area a matter for eircom.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

189 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the date of establishment of Sealúchais Árachais Teoranta; if this company is still in existence; the purpose and role of this company; the number of members of the board of this company; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the level of equity held by the Department within this company; the level of financing provided by the Government to this company for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5358/08]

Sealuchais Árachais Teoranta (SAT), a statutory company under the Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1985 acts as a non-trading holding company for Icarom plc (formerly the Insurance Corporation of Ireland) which is under administration. The two Directors of the company are officials of my Department. Under the provisions of the Insurance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1985 I can appoint up to five Directors. Both Directors hold in trust for the Minister for Finance, the issued share capital in the company of one Ordinary Share of Euro 1.27 each.

No financing is provided by the Government to the company. Since the transfer of responsibility for the company to my Department from the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment in 2004, fees of Euro 8,810 have been incurred by my Department in respect of registered office and company secretarial services to meet company law requirements. The Deputy may wish to note that Section 12 of the Markets in Financial Instruments and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 2007 provides for the shares held by SAT in Icarom to be transferred to the Minister for Finance and for the winding up of SAT in accordance with the Companies Acts.

Customs and Excise Service.

Charles Flanagan

Question:

190 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the customs and excise systems in place at private airports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5379/08]

It is taken that the Deputy is referring to the airports other than the three main airports at Dublin, Cork and Shannon. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the Customs controls in place at these airports are risk-based and are carried out by mobile Customs enforcement staff. Attendance is selective and targeted and is based on analysis and evaluation of national and international seizure trends, traffic frequency, routes and other risk indicators. Attendance can also be as a result of specific intelligence. Flights with origins and destinations with a high-risk rating would attract particular interest. These attendances cover the full range of flight times and are kept under constant review, in particular to take account of emerging smuggling trends and any traffic increases at these airports.

These attendances primarily involve controls against the smuggling of prohibited items such as drugs and the smuggling of excisable products. The attendances also involve work in connection with the clearance of aircraft and passengers arriving from third countries, spot checks on EU flights, the verification of fuel drawback claims, the verification of end-use authorisations, clearance of aircraft under transfer of residence, and checks on private aircraft to ensure compliance with import procedures.

It is important to note by way of context that the operating environment for Customs has been shaped to a significant degree by the introduction of the Internal Market and the related principles of freedom of movement within the EU. Of specific relevance are the abolition of routine and systematic Customs checks on goods and passengers moving within any part of the EU and the elimination of Customs controls on the baggage of intra-Community passengers, other than for anti-smuggling checks. This is particularly relevant in the case of the airports outside of Dublin, Cork and Shannon, where passenger traffic is predominantly intra-Community. In fact some of the smaller airports have no international flights. In this context, Revenue's approach has of necessity been to balance the freedom of movement principle in regard to people and goods with the need to control smuggling and enforce prohibitions and restrictions. Revenue is satisfied that, having regard to the context set out above, the risk-based approach at these airports remains valid and their operations are on par with, and may even exceed, those of many other EU Member States.

Tax Code.

Joan Burton

Question:

191 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the number of people and accounts liable to paying DIRT for each of the years 2002 to 2007; the number who received refunds; the amount of same; the number of people he estimates may be entitled to refunds; the number who claim; if his Department is making arrangements to encourage people entitled to refunds to claim them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5389/08]

Up to 2006, DIRT was deducted from a customer's deposit interest regardless of whether or not the customer was actually liable to tax. At the end of the year some account holders, provided they met certain conditions, were entitled to claim a refund from Revenue of any DIRT deducted during the year.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the statutory return of DIRT filed by the financial institutions does not require details of the number of accounts subject to DIRT and Revenue has no solid basis on which to estimate the numbers entitled to refunds. However, the number of people claiming refunds and the amounts for the years 2002 — 2007 is summarised in the table hereunder. This may not include some taxpayers whose DIRT refunds were processed as part of a self-assessment tax return.

Year

Amount of DIRT Repaid

Number of repayments

€m

2002

11.27

1,155

2003

9.71

1,440

2004

2.11

1,003

2005

2.32

971

2006

1.19

883

2007

2.20

920

The Finance Act 2007 introduced a new scheme to allow the operation of DIRT exempt savings accounts subject to two conditions: (1) the account holder must be aged 65 years of age or over or be permanently incapacitated and (2) their total income must not exceed the relevant exemption threshold, i.e. the exemption limit for an elderly couple in 2008 is €20,000 (for an individual) or €40,000 (for a married couple); the limit available to permanently incapacitated individuals depends on their circumstances. Provisional figures show that in 2007 some 47,218 such accounts were operated. These figures will increase as the remaining financial institutions file returns for 2007.

Revenue widely publicised these changes. An Information Leaflet (DE1) giving comprehensive information for qualifying taxpayers on how to have interest credited to their savings accounts without deduction of DIRT was made available at Revenue offices. Information on DIRT exemption was also included on the Revenue website at www.revenue.ie. Application forms and information leaflets were also made available at most financial institutions.

In 2007 Revenue arranged for an information leaflet to be issued to social welfare customers in receipt of state and other pensions. Approximately 100,000 leaflets were issued in this way. Revenue will continue to publicise the facility offered by the accounts through appropriate channels, including contact with representative bodies, other Government Departments and agencies, and relevant advertising.

State Property.

Dara Calleary

Question:

192 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he has identified alternative uses for the spare capacity at the Government buildings in Ballina arising from the establishment of the Road Safety Authority. [5393/08]

The vacant space in Ballina Government offices is currently being assessed for suitability as interim public office accommodation for the Department of Social and Family Affairs in Ballina.

Passport Applications.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

193 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if his Department has a record of the identity of the person on whose behalf an official telephoned a person (details supplied) regarding a passport application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5532/08]

My Department does not retain information on passport applications.

Community Pharmacy Services.

Joe McHugh

Question:

194 Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason pharmacists have not signed up to the full pharmaceutical contract issued by the Health Service Executive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5737/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

195 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps she has taken to resolve the dispute between the Health Service Executive and the pharmacists; if her attention has been drawn to the intransigence of the HSE on the issue; if she will instruct the HSE to engage in direct discussions with the pharmacists with a view to early resolution; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5780/08]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

196 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Health and Children if she has set up the promised independent body to review and make representations on the remuneration for pharmacists, dentists and general practitioners; when it is expected that this independent body will report back; if she will provide an undertaking not to change the remuneration terms to the pharmacists until this independent body gives its report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5826/08]

Michael Ring

Question:

202 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will request the Health Service Executive to postpone change in the way pharmacists are paid until after the independent body has heard and evaluated the arguments from all sides and has made its recommendations. [5468/08]

Finian McGrath

Question:

213 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will work hard to resolve the Irish Pharmaceutical Union and the Health Service Executive dispute as a matter of urgency. [5646/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 194 to 196, inclusive, 202 and 213 together.

In view of the issues arising under competition law, I agreed to the establishment, by the HSE, of a process under Mr Bill Shipsey SC to address concerns by the Irish Pharmaceutical Union (IPU), on behalf of community pharmacists, about the implications of legal advice on competition law on the right of the IPU to negotiate fees or margins on their behalf with the HSE. At a meeting between the HSE and the IPU under Mr Shipsey SC on 5 December 2007, a proposal was outlined to the IPU to (i) address their immediate concerns regarding the alleged impact of the proposed revised wholesaler arrangements on GMS-dependent pharmacies and (ii) to provide a basis upon which discussions on a new substantive contract could commence.

The IPU was not prepared to accept this proposal from the HSE and, accordingly, no further discussions have taken place under Mr Shipsey's aegis since then. Notwithstanding the failure to reach agreement, the HSE has offered a draft interim contract to pharmacists to address their main concerns regarding the alleged impact of the proposed revised wholesaler arrangements on GMS-dependent pharmacies. I am informed that the HSE intends to implement the deferred revised wholesaler arrangements from 1st March 2008.

The Executive also held preliminary discussions with the IPU and other parties on the development of a new substantive pharmacy contract. The details of the draft interim contract, and the HSE's other intentions in this regard, were set out in a letter to individual community pharmacists on 2nd January 2008. In response to the HSE offer of an interim contract, my Department understands that preliminary interest has been expressed by both pharmacy chains and individual pharmacists in the new interim contract. However definite information on possible take-up has not been provided by the HSE.

In the light of the legal position previously outlined in the House, and after further consultation with the Attorney General, the other relevant Departments and the HSE on the best way of progressing the development of a new contract with pharmacists in compliance with competition law, my Department is working to develop appropriate arrangements for the development of contracts and for the setting of the fees payable in respect of contracts with private sector undertakings for the provision of health services on behalf of the HSE. These arrangements may include the establishment of an independent body which would consider the nature of the service to be provided and all other relevant factors in each case and make recommendations to the Government in relation to the fees it considers appropriate. The composition of such a body, its terms of reference and the timescale for its work are amongst the matters to be considered in this regard. In line with the legal advice received, the HSE may enter into discussions with community pharmacists on the non-fee aspects of their contract, with a view to developing a new substantive pharmacy contract.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

197 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under her Department which are due to decentralise showing in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5305/08]

As the Deputy will be aware my Department is not one of the Departments scheduled for decentralisation under the Government's Decentralisation Programme. To date fifty-one civil servants have transferred to decentralising Departments from my Department. Further details in respect of the transfer of these officers is available from the decentralising Departments and I understand that the Deputy has also tabled questions to the relevant Ministers.

Hospital Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

198 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for physiotherapy in a Dublin hospital. [5395/08]

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

Health Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

199 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the waiting time for an audiology appointment in County Roscommon; the steps she is taking to address this backlog; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5397/08]

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.

Catherine Byrne

Question:

200 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of methadone clinics in Dublin city; the location of each clinic; the number of clients receiving methadone treatment at each of these clinics; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5407/08]

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.

Vaccination Programme.

John Curran

Question:

201 Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Health and Children the procedures to be put in place in view of the fact that there was no BCG vaccine available between October 2007 and March 2008 to ensure that all those who should have received vaccines during the period will receive them without further delay; and the length of time she expects it will take to clear the backlog of those who did not receive their vaccines during this period. [5434/08]

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.

Question No. 202 answered with Question No. 194.

Medicinal Products.

Joe Costello

Question:

203 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Health and Children if a drug (details supplied) has been taken off the market here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5481/08]

This drug which is used in the treatment of diabetes was authorised in the European Union by the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) in 2000. I am advised by the Irish Medicines Board that it is currently available on the Irish market.

Alcohol Abuse.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

204 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children, further to her reply to Parliamentary Question No. 316 of 30 January 2008, the reason for her refusal to establish an office to cohesively and centrally address the issue of alcohol here. [5489/08]

As I indicated in my reply to the Deputy on 30 January last I have no plans to establish such an Office. However, I want to assure the Deputy that issues relating to the abuse of alcohol are being actively pursued by this Government. Arising from concerns in relation to the effect that alcohol consumption is having on public order, my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has established an Alcohol Advisory Group to advise him in relation to the measures that might be taken to address concerns in relation to the sale and promotion of alcohol products. The Alcohol Advisory Group is expected to report by the 31st March, 2008.

In July 2005, a Working Group on Alcohol was established to help mobilise the stakeholders through social partnership to achieve a targeted and measurable reduction in alcohol misuse. It was comprised of the social partners, relevant Government Departments, Gardaí, National Drugs Strategy Team and Health Service Executive. It examined the issues of underage drinking, drink driving and high risk drinking. The Working Group's Report was published in June 2006. An Implementation Group was established in November 2006 to monitor and report on progress on the implementation of the recommended actions. The Implementation Group is expected to report early in 2008.

The Mid-Term Review of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 contained the recommendation that a working group be established to explore the potential for better co-ordination between alcohol and drug policies. A cross-Departmental and cross sectoral Working Group was established and its work is ongoing. The Group is expected to report later this year. The outcome of the deliberations of these Groups will help inform future policy development in the area of alcohol.

Medical Cards.

Jack Wall

Question:

205 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the position of an application for a medical card by a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5499/08]

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. The assessment of eligibility to medical cards is statutorily a matter for the Health Service Executive (HSE) and, with the exception of persons aged over 70, who have an automatic entitlement to a medical card, is determined following an examination of the means of the applicant and his/her dependants. In 2005, the GP visit card was introduced as a graduated benefit so that people on 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 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.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Willie Penrose

Question:

206 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will take steps to ensure that a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath is afforded a psychological report, as same is required to enable the person to get a classroom assistant as they are under the care of the early intervention team for a period of time and the facility of this report was promised to the family of the person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5534/08]

As part of the Multi-Annual Investment Programme 2006-2009 under the Disability Strategy, the Government provided the Health Service Executive with an additional €75m in both 2006 and 2007. This funding included moneys to provide new and enhanced services for people with disabilities, to implement Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005, which came into effect on June 1st 2007 for the under 5's and also for the continuation of the implementation of the transfer of persons with intellectual disability from psychiatric hospitals and other inappropriate placements. The Government is also honouring its promise in relation to the Multi-Annual Investment Programme for people with disabilities, with a further €50m investment which was announced in the 2008 Budget.

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 these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Mental Health Services.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

207 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health and Children when, 20 years after it was first promised, a psychiatric unit will be built in the grounds of Beaumont Hospital; and when patients will be transferred from St. Ita’s Hospital to this unit. [5554/08]

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

Services for People with Disabilities.

David Stanton

Question:

208 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of people here who have a residual disability as a result of a stroke or an acquired brain injury; the types of residual disability that these people are affected by and a percentage breakdown of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5576/08]

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 Statistics.

David Stanton

Question:

209 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of people affected by stroke here each year; the breakdown of same per age bracket (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5577/08]

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.

Medical Cards.

Jack Wall

Question:

210 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to an application for a medical card for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5626/08]

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. The assessment of eligibility to medical cards is statutorily a matter for the Health Service Executive (HSE) and, with the exception of persons aged over 70, who have an automatic entitlement to a medical card, is determined following an examination of the means of the applicant and his/her dependants. In 2005, the GP visit card was introduced as a graduated benefit so that people on 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 consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has therefore requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to address this matter and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

211 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if a person (detail supplied) in County Cavan will be supported. [5627/08]

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

Finian McGrath

Question:

212 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if the proposals on cystic fibrosis by a person (details supplied) will be supported. [5629/08]

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

Question No. 213 answered with Question No. 194.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Finian McGrath

Question:

214 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9. [5647/08]

As part of the Multi-Annual Investment Programme 2006-2009 under the Disability Strategy, the Government provided the Health Service Executive with an additional €75m in both 2006 and 2007. This funding included monies to provide new and enhanced services for people with disabilities, to implement Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005, which came into effect on June 1st 2007 for the under 5's and also for the continuation of the implementation of the transfer of persons with intellectual disability from psychiatric hospitals and other inappropriate placements. The Government is also honouring its promise in relation to the Multi-Annual Investment Programme for people with disabilities, with a further €50m investment which was announced in the 2008 Budget.

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 these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

215 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [5648/08]

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.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Finian McGrath

Question:

216 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3. [5649/08]

The Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006 provides a clear legal framework to repay recoverable health charges for publicly funded long-term residential care. All those fully eligible persons who were wrongly charged and are alive will have their charges repaid in full. The estates of all those fully eligible persons who were wrongly charged for publicly funded long term residential care and died since 9 December 1998 will have the charges repaid in full. The scheme does not allow for repayments to the estates of those who died prior to that date.

Recoverable health charges are charges which were imposed on persons with full eligibility under the Health (Charges for In-patient Services) Regulations 1976 as amended in 1987 or charges for in-patient services only, raised under the Institutional Assistance Regulations 1954 as amended in 1965. The health repayment scheme does not provide for repayment to individuals in private nursing homes who entered these under the Nursing Home Subvention Scheme. There is no intention to extend the parameters of the health repayment scheme.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

217 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by her as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6018/08]

My Department has not procured any full-time specialists through open recruitment in information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management and no IT procurement specialists have been seconded involving my Department and the private sector. My Department has the necessary skills in these areas that reflects its current policy and evaluation roles. The Health Service Executive is responsible for most of the capital projects undertaken in the public health sector. 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.

Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Richard Bruton

Question:

218 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if the use of compulsory purchase orders powers has increased since the advice of the Minister for Finance to Departments on this matter in 2005; the details of the increase; if she has secured faster release of lands and a more cost effective price for all forms of public infrastructure; and the savings secured. [6134/08]

The Health Service Executive have compulsory acquisition order powers under the Health Act, 1947 as amended. Responsibility for the planning and management of capital projects in the health sector including decisions in relation to the use of compulsory purchase orders 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.

Aviation Security.

Charles Flanagan

Question:

219 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Transport the security measures in place at private airports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5380/08]

Aviation security at EU airports is governed by EU Regulation 2320/2002 and a series of supplementary implementing regulations. All of the Irish airports with regular commercial flights are required to comply with those regulations. Small airports, which only handle private and corporate flights, are not required under the EU Regulation to have the extensive security requirements of large airports, such as baggage X-ray equipment or passenger screening equipment, where the costs or operational implications would be disproportionate to the security risk. My Department, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, keeps all aspects of aviation security under continuous review.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

220 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Transport if he will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under his Department which are due to decentralise showing in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5309/08]

Following is the information requested by the Deputy.

Agency/Section

Decentralised Location

No. of Posts to Decentralise

No. of staff who have moved to the new location

No. of staff assigned but who have not moved

No. of new recruits assigned

No. who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts

National Roads Authority

Ballinasloe

90

0

0

0

0

Irish Aviation Authority

Shannon

100

0

0

0

0

Railway Safety Commission

Ballinasloe

20

0

0

0

0

Bus Eireann

Mitchelstown

200

0

0

0

0

Maritime Functions

Drogheda

To be confirmed

0

0

0

0

Departmental Bodies.

Dara Calleary

Question:

221 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Transport the number of staff employed by the Road Safety Authority; the future plans for employment by the RSA with a breakdown of location of staff across the country. [5394/08]

The number of staff employed by the Road Safety Authority is 309. The future plans for employment by the Authority, including a breakdown of such staff across the country, are matters for the Road Safety Authority.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

222 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Transport if his Department or agencies of his Department have a holding in a company (details supplied); if so, the level of such a holding; the number of board members of this company, the number of whom are appointed by himself; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the level of financing provided by the Government to this company for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5608/08]

The answer to the Deputy's question is no.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

223 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Transport the date of establishment of a company (details supplied); if this company is still in existence; the purpose and role of this company; the number of members of the board of this company; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the level of equity held by the Department within this company; the level of financing provided by the Government to this company for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5610/08]

Halamar Developments Limited was incorporated on 10 September 1997 and the entire share capital of the company was acquired by Aer Rianta cpt (now Dublin Airport Authority) on 21 December 1998. Halamar Developments is still in existence and operates as a land holding company. There are only two directors of the company, both of whom are DAA executives, and they were appointed by the board of the DAA with the consent of the Minister for Transport in accordance with the provisions of the State Airports Act 2004. As the company is a wholly owned subsidiary of DAA, no shares in Halamar are held by the Minister for Transport or the Minister for Finance. The Exchequer does not provide any funding to the DAA or its subsidiaries and therefore Exchequer funding does not arise in this case.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

224 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Transport the date of establishment of the public transport forum; if this forum is still in existence; the purpose and role of this forum; the number of members of the board of this forum; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this forum for each of the past five years. [5611/08]

The Public Transport Partnership Forum (PTPF) was established in June 2000 under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness and meets on a regular basis. The purpose of the Forum is to provide an opportunity for consultation between the Social Partners on public transport matters and for development of ideas for the improvement of the sector.

Membership is drawn from nominees from Government Departments, State Agencies, and from the Social Partnership Pillars (Employers, Trade Unions, Farmers and the Community and Voluntary sectors). The Government Departments represented are the Departments of An Taoiseach and Finance, while my Department provides the chair and secretariat to the Forum. All other members are nominated by their particular Pillars, for example, the farming representatives are from the IFA, the ICMSA, Macra na Feirme and ICOS. The costs of the Forum over the past five years were as follows:

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€2,790

€3,465

€4,924

€1,275

€1,831

Leo Varadkar

Question:

225 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Transport the date of establishment of the national civil aviation security committee; if this committee is still in existence; the purpose and role of this committee; the number of members of the board of this committee; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this committee for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5612/08]

The National Civil Aviation Security Committee (NCASC) was constituted in 1974 and continues in existence. The last meeting of the Committee was held on 31 July 2007. Its terms of reference are to advise the Government and the civil aviation industry of security policy for civil aviation, to recommend and review the effectiveness of security measures and to provide for co-ordination of the various interests involved. The Committee comprises representatives of Government Departments, State Airports Authorities, airlines, An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, Customs and Excise, An Post, Irish Aviation Authority, the Irish Airline Pilots' Association and the Regional Airports. The Committee is chaired by a senior official of my Department. The Committee does not have a board nor does it incur expenditure in carrying out its remit.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

226 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Transport the date of establishment of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety; if this body is still in existence; the purpose and role of this body; the number of members of the board of this body; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this body for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5613/08]

The Medical Bureau of Road Safety was established in November 1968 under Part V of the Road Traffic Act, 1968 and is still in existence. The Bureau's principal function is to carry out analyses, for their alcohol content and/or the presence of drugs, of specimens of blood and urine, provided for the Gardaí by people suspected of driving while intoxicated. The Bureau issues certificates in respect of the results of these analyses, which may be used as evidence in prosecutions for such offences. The Board of the bureau currently has its full complement of 5 members, including the Chairperson, appointed by me.

The table sets out the expenditure by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety on an annual basis, since 2003.

Year

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

Expenditure

2.067

2.337

3.283

9.408

6.478

Leo Varadkar

Question:

227 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Transport the date of establishment of the National Safety Council; if this council is still in existence; the purpose and role of this council; the number of members of the board of this council; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed by; the expenditure of this council for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5614/08]

The National Safety Council was established on 22 December 1987 and dissolved on 10 October 2007. The table below sets out the expenditure by the National Safety Council on an annual basis, since 2003.

Year

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€m

€m

€m

€m

€m

Expenditure

3.967

5.197

6.593

6.180

N/A

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

228 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Transport the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by him as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6022/08]

Capital project evaluation and management is the responsibility of the various transport implementing agencies and the role of my Department is principally one of oversight and monitoring.

My Department has not recruited to its complement of full time staff any specialists in the area of information technology procurement or project evaluation or management and there has not been the secondment of IT procurement specialists between my Department and the public and private sectors. My Department has, however, engaged the services of independent consultants to assist it in discharging its responsibilities.

Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Richard Bruton

Question:

229 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Transport if the use of compulsory purchase orders powers has increased since the advice of the Minister for Finance to Departments on this matter in 2005; the details of the increase; if he has secured faster release of lands and a more cost effective price for all forms of public infrastructure; and the savings secured. [6137/08]

The agencies under the aegis of my Department seek all appropriate mechanisms to secure the acquisition of lands and property associated with infrastructure projects at the earliest possible dates in order to achieve cost effective prices. Compulsory purchase powers are included in all statutory approvals processes in relation to road and rail construction and the implementing agencies make use of these powers whenever necessary. The number of statutory approval processes for transport projects has grown over the last two years because of the increased investment under Transport 21.

The amount paid for individual plots of land or property is a matter for negotiation, and, ultimately, in the absence of agreement, can be determined by referral to the Land Values Reference Committee of the High Court, for the appointment of a property arbitrator, who will convene a hearing into the matter and issue a binding award to the local authority and claimant. This situation has not changed since 2005.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

230 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under his Department which are due to decentralise showing in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5304/08]

Under the Government's decentralisation programme, the Development Cooperation Directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is Irish Aid's Headquarters, will decentralise to Limerick. Good progress has been made and personnel have either been assigned to, or identified for, 103 posts or approximately 83% of the 124 posts scheduled to be decentralised. An advance party staff has already decentralised to interim office premises in Limerick, with 55 officers being in place at the end of December 2007. A further 21 officers have taken up duty in the Irish Aid offices in Dublin. It is expected that the remaining staff of Irish Aid, including these 21, will transfer to Limerick in June 2008, on completion and fit-out of the permanent accommodation.

Of the 76 officers who are already in Limerick or will move in June, five are new recruits to the Civil Service. Nine Dublin-based officers of this Department have transferred to posts in other Government Departments in Dublin. In addition, a number of officers serving in Irish Aid at the time the decentralisation programme was announced have transferred to posts in other areas of the Department. Due to the nature of the Department's work, many of these transfers would have taken place in the normal course of events. The above information is conveyed in tabular format:

Decentralisation of Irish Aid to Limerick as at end December 2007

Number of posts to be decentralised

124

Number of officers already transferred to Irish Aid Limerick

55

Number of officers in situ Irish Aid Dublin (due to move in June 2008)

21

Number of new recruits to the Civil Service in Irish Aid, Dublin or Limerick

5

Number of officers transferred to Dublin-based posts in other Government Departments

9

Departmental Bodies.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

231 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the date of establishment of Atlantic corridor project; if this body is still in existence; the purpose and role of this body; the number of members of the board of this body; the number of whom are appointed by the his Department; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed by; the amount of financial support provided by the Government to this committee for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5329/08]

The Atlantic Corridor project is a transatlantic, cross-border initiative designed to encourage the economic and social advancement of the regions of the participating partners. These are: Atlantic Corridor, USA, Inc, the Niagara Economic and Tourism Corporation, the Atlantic Corridor, Northern Ireland (covering the area of the Lower Bann), and Atlantic Corridor, Ireland (covering the Midlands). The Atlantic Corridor was established by agreement between the four parties in November 2000. Since then Atlantic Corridor Ireland (ACI) has signed two new partnership agreements, with the city of Mesa, Arizona and the Atlanta, Georgia branch of the Irish Chamber of Commerce in the USA.

Atlantic Corridor Ireland has a 10 member Board of Directors. Directors are appointed by an AGM of the Offaly Regeneration Company Ltd, which is the implementing agency for Atlantic Corridor Ireland. It is a registered company, with no share capital. Atlantic Corridor is its sole activity. Government funding to ACI for each of the past five years has been as follows:

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€170,000

€176,000

€176,000

€250,000

€250,000

Audited accounts are provided to the Department of Foreign Affairs. Since its inception ACI has actively promoted the development of the region in terms of business and education through North –South cooperation and international linkages.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

232 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the date of establishment of advisory committee on cultural relations; if this body is still in existence; the purpose and role of this body; the number of members of the board of this body; the number of whom are appointed by his Department; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the amount of financial support provided by the Government to this committee for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5375/08]

The Cultural Relations Committee was established in 1949 to advise the Minister for Foreign (then External) Affairs on support for cultural projects, ‘with a view to the enhancement of Ireland's image and reputation abroad, and the promotion of friendly relations and of mutual knowledge and understanding with other countries'. In 2001 agreement was reached between the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Minister for Foreign Affairs that responsibility for the Cultural Relations Committee would transfer to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaelteacht and the Islands. In 2002, a Government decision transferred the Committee to the Department of Arts Sport and Tourism. The Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism established Culture Ireland in February 2005, replacing the Cultural Relations Committee.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

233 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by him as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6017/08]

The nature and scale of capital projects being undertaken by my Department has not required it to engage any full time specialists in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management. As my Department has a full-time procurement management officer, there has not to date been a business need to second IT procurement specialists from the private sector.

Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Richard Bruton

Question:

234 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the use of compulsory purchase orders powers has increased since the advice of the Minister for Finance to Departments on this matter in 2005; the details of the increase; if he has secured faster release of lands and a more cost effective price for all forms of public infrastructure; and the savings secured. [6133/08]

The management of the business of my Department does not require it to use compulsory purchase orders.

Departmental Properties.

Simon Coveney

Question:

235 Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding the development of a site (details supplied) in Cork, particularly on the extension of naval facilities at the site; and if these are an impediment to progress on the project. [5557/08]

The Secretary General of my Department has held meetings with his counterparts in the Department of Environment Heritage and Local Government, the OPW and the County Manager to identify the needs of Departments and State bodies insofar as the ISPAT site is concerned. Considerable progress has been made in addressing a range of development issues associated with the former ISPAT site at Haulbowline including:

technical constraints;

site boundary issues;

identification of zoning issues; and

other regulatory matters.

In addition, stock has now been taken of the results of site investigations, the status of current works on the site, the identification of issues requiring ongoing management and the identification of possible constraints to the remediation and redevelopment of the site. The requirements of the Naval Service at Haulbowline are being taken into account in considering development options.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

236 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under his Department which are due to decentralise showing in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5301/08]

My Department is required to relocate a minimum of 250 posts to Carlow under the Government's Decentralisation Programme and this is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009. In order to accommodate staff who wished to move earlier than the projected building completion date of late 2009, officials of my Department, in consultation with the Department of Finance and the OPW, as well as decentralising staff and Business Units, opened an advance office in Carlow on July 30th 2007. The number of posts in this decentralised advance office at the end of 2007 was 97.

The number of posts in Business Units decentralising to Carlow is 288. At the end of 2007 my Department had 22 staff in non-decentralising units due to decentralise in the substantive move scheduled for 2009, with a further 38 Carlow-bound applicants yet to be assigned from other Departments, as well as the 97 officers already decentralised to Carlow and the officers in decentralising units in the table. The specific information requested by the Deputy is set out in the table.

End 2007

Total No. of Posts to be decentralised

The No. of posts who have moved to new location

The No. of decentralising staff assigned to decentralised post but have not moved

No. of staff assigned who are new recruits

The No. who have opted to stay in Dublin and have been assigned to other posts within Dublin

Work Permits

31

0

4

3

0

National Employment Rights Authority

63

66

0

0

0

Redundancy

23

0

9

5

0

Insolvency

8

0

1

0

0

Companies Registration Office and Registrar of Friendly Societies

153

31

12

5

0

Corporate Services — Support Staff

10

2

0

0

0

Agency Decentralisation

Under the Government Decentralisation Programme, announced in December 2003, six of the Agencies under the aegis of my Department are due to decentralise or have already been decentralised. The following is the position on progress at the end of 2007:

End 2007

Total No. of Posts to be decentralised

The No. of posts who have moved to new location

The No. of staff assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved

No. of staff assigned who are new recruits

The No. who have opted to stay in Dublin and have been assigned to other posts within Dublin

FÁS

383

21 includes 12 new recruits

43

43 (+ 12 already in place)

0

NSAI

132

0

11

0

0

Enterprise Ireland

292

0

0

0

0

HSA

110

25 to interim office in Kilkenny

30

48 (including 18 in interim office in Kilkenny)

0

Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA)

In the case of IAASA, a decision was made prior to its establishment that it would be located in Naas, Co Kildare. Having been established in December, 2005 it moved to new offices at Naas, in January 2006. All IAASA staff have been based in its offices in Naas since its establishment. IAASA has an authorised staffing level of 15, 9 of whom are in situ. An open recruitment campaign is currently under way to fill a number of the Authority's professional staff vacancies. Any member of the public (including civil/public servants wishing to relocate), with the required qualifications, may apply for these posts.

National Consumer Agency (NCA)

The National Consumer Agency (NCA) was formally established on 1st May 2007 and inherited the functions of the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs (ODCA). The Agency will have a headquarters in Cork City. The Department of Finance has granted sanction for an overall complement of 80 members of staff. It is expected that there will be a high percentage of staff turnover as many of the existing staff, who formerly worked in ODCA and are on secondment from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, return to the Department. Decentralisation plans will be progressed in the coming months with a view to the Agency relocating to Cork in the course of 2009.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

237 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the date of establishment of FÁS International Consulting Limited; if this company is still in existence; the purpose and role of this company; the number of members of the board of this company; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the level of equity held by the Department within this company; the level of financing provided by the Government to this company for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5330/08]

FÁS International Consulting Limited (FICL) was established as a wholly owned subsidiary of FÁS in 1988 in accordance with the provisions of the Labour Services Act. Its purpose was to promote and carry out training and consultancy work in human resource development and related areas for the overseas market. The Articles of Association were registered on 22 September 1988. No equity was held by the Department. Following an in-depth review of its own operations in 2001, FÁS put in place a new strategy in 2002.

A detailed review of the operation of FICL was also undertaken. Arising from this, it was agreed to close the FICL operation. Accordingly, FICL ceased operating in 2003 and the assets and liabilities were transferred to FÁS. Under the Memorandum and Articles of the Company, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment appointed all of the members of the Board of Directors, following consultation with the Chairman of FÁS. Contracts and assignments by the company were primarily funded by the European Union and no funding was voted by the Oireachtas for the Company.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

238 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the date of establishment of Irish National Accreditation Board; the purpose and role of this board; the number of members of the board; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the amount of funding provided by the Government to this board for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5331/08]

The Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) was established in 1985 to accredit calibration and testing laboratories. INAB was subsequently established as a Committee of Forfás under Section 10 of the Industrial Development act, 1993 as amended by Section 46 of the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act. 1998. The Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) is the sole national body with responsibility for accreditation in accordance with the relevant International Organisation for Standardisation ISO 17000 series of standards and guides and the harmonised EN 45000 series of European standards. INAB provides accreditation of laboratories, certification and inspection bodies, attestors and attestation bodies and is the statutory body responsible for GLP (Good Laboratory Practice) and EMAS (European Eco-Management and Audit Schemes).

The Board is comprised of not more than 12 members (unpaid) representative of State, industry and sectoral activities for which accreditation is provided. As a Committee of Forfás, established under the relevant legislation, all appointments to the Board of the INAB are made by the Forfás Board. Direct costs in relation to staff salaries, travel expenses and specialist services for INAB activities are set out hereunder together with details of income received in respect of accreditation services, which are charged at commercial rates. INAB operates as a department within Forfás and as such indirect costs relating to accommodation and support services are met from within Forfas resources and it is not possible to provide a detailed breakdown of same.

Irish National Accreditation Board — Funding 2003-2007

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€,000

€,000

€,000

€,000

€,000

Direct Costs

1,101

921

1,256

1,304

1,578

Income from Accreditation Services

777

742

767

950

1,123

Direct Funding Provided

324

179

489

354

455

The single European Market is of fundamental importance to Ireland, as more than 65% of our total exports are sold to Europe. The INAB is part of the European network of accreditation bodies and plays a pivotal role in guaranteeing the access of Irish products and services to the EU market. This co-operation with other accreditation bodies in Europe and globally through Multilateral Agreements (MLAs) means that Irish organisations' certificates are recognised both nationally and internationally, providing both the organisations and their customers with confidence in the product or service being offered. Ensuring that accredited certificates and test results produced here are acceptable throughout the European Economic Area, eliminates the need for multiple assessments when goods cross frontiers; giving Irish industry the best competitive advantage possible, in what is an ever-expanding and aggressive marketplace.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

239 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the date of establishment of Nítrigin Éireann Teoranta; if this company is still in existence; the purpose and role of this company; the number of members of the board of this company; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the level of equity held by his Department within this company; the level of finance provided by the Government to this company for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5332/08]

Nítrigin Éireann Teoranta (NET) was established in 1961 to manufacture nitrogenous fertiliser. Since 1987 on the formation of Irish Fertilizer Industries Limited (IFI), a joint venture with ICI, NET acted as a holding company. More recently NET's primary role since the liquidation of IFI in 2002 had been to monitor the progress of that liquidation in the context of NET's claims on the liquidation. Following the pay out of the last substantial dividend to unsecured creditors during 2007 by the liquidator of IFI, it became clear that there would be no funds remaining in the liquidation to meet any liabilities to NET. NET and ICI had previously agreed that any liabilities to them should be subordinated in favour of other unsecured creditors. As overall unsecured creditors of IFI received 47.5% of their claims, there was no longer any meaningful role for NET. As a consequence of this, measures were taken on 20 December 2007 to wind up NET as a members voluntary liquidation i.e. a solvent liquidation. The liquidator is currently carrying out the liquidation process.

At the time of liquidation, there were three Board Members. In accordance with the Memorandum and Articles of Association of the Company, these had been appointed by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment after consultation with the Minister for Finance. All three were current or former civil service staff who received no remuneration for their role. There was no equity value in NET at the time of liquidation. Allocations paid to NET from my Department's Vote over the last five years were as follows:

Year

Payments (€000s)

2007

Nil

2006

Nil

2005

€300

2004

€150

2003

Nil

Leo Varadkar

Question:

240 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the date of establishment of Skillsnet Limited; the purpose and role of this company; the number of members of the board of this company; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the level of equity held by his Department within this company; the level of finance provided by the Government to this company for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5333/08]

Skillnets Limited was established in 1999 to encourage and support enterprise-led training, to enhance the capacity and employability of workers, to contribute to increased productivity and profitability and to assist in developing a more competitive business environment. Under a Mandate and Funding Agreement agreed with my Department, Skillnets Limited operates the Training Networks Program. It supports enterprises with common training and development objectives to achieve them by committing to dedicated networks that facilitate knowledge acquisition and allow for economies of scale to be realized.

The Board of Skillnets Limited is comprised of 13 members nominated as follows:

The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment 3

IBEC 4 (including the Chairperson)

ICTU 3

CIF 1

SFA 1

Chambers Ireland 1

The company at an Annual General Meeting makes appointments to the Board by reference to the memorandum and articles of association of Skillnets Limited. Skillnets Limited is exclusively funded from the National Training Fund and, given its mandate and mission, equity holdings do not arise either on the part of my Department or on the part of any other entity. The following are the levels of funding provide through my Department and from the National Training Fund in the period in question:

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

€05.00 million

€07.50 million

€08.50 million

€13.50 million

€26.50 million

Separately, Skillnets Services Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Skillnets Limited. It too has been resourced from the National Training Fund to administer the ACCEL Program on behalf of my Department. ACCEL also facilitates training for those in employment. The contract for its delivery was awarded to Skillnets Services Limited following a public call for tenders. That was necessary, as the European Social Fund will substantially co-finance the ACCEL budget. Through my Department €6.30 million and €10.30 million have respectively been advanced in 2006 and 2007 from the National Training Fund (NTF) to Skillnets Services Limited to support approved ACCEL training projects. In addition, Skillnets Services Limited has to date been paid a total of €1.70 million in professional fees for the management of ACCEL. This funding is also sourced from the NTF. The ACCEL program will end this year as planned from the outset.

The Training Networks Program had progressively been refined and expanded since its inception. Focus now is on providing quality training in SMEs that is identified and needed by participating companies. Increasingly, training delivered is being certified to standards defined in the National Framework of qualifications. In addition, and in line with the focus of the National Skills Strategy and Towards 2016, particular attention is being given to, and enhanced incentives are available for, the training and development of lower skilled workers.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

241 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the date of establishment of the expert group on future skills needs; if this group is still in existence; the purpose and role of this group; the number of members of the board of this group; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this group for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5334/08]

The Government established the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (EGFSN) in 1997 to provide advice on Ireland's future skills requirements and make recommendations as to how those needs could be met. The mandate of the EGFSN was formalised in 2001. The EGFSN is an independent advisory body appointed by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in consultation with the Minister for Education and Science and reports jointly to both Ministers. The group is broadly representative of social partnership, with members from enterprise, academia, Government Departments, employer and employee groupings. The EGFSN operates under the auspices of Forfás which provide research and secretariat support to it. The current mandate of the Group runs from 2007 to 2009.

The work of the EGFSN is undertaken at two levels: economy wide and sector specific. The early work of the Group focused on sector level skills forecasting. Sectors examined to date include ICT, Biotechnology, Food Processing, and Engineering; more recently, the work of the Group broadened to look at horizontal skills issues facing enterprise across all sectors including: management development; the need for researchers; in-company training; and careers and labour market information and dissemination. The mandate of the National Training Advisory Committee (NTAC) was merged with that of the EGFSN in 2004, so that the EGFSN, as well as forecasting skills needs also has responsibility for advising on the wider enterprise training strategy.

The work of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs has been central to forecasting Ireland's future skills requirements and identifying the appropriate strategies to meet them. In particular, the Expert Group published the National Skills Strategy last year, which outlined strategic objectives for Ireland from a skills perspective for the period to 2020. There are currently twenty-one members of the Expert Group, which I appointed. My colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, nominated five of these members. Over the last five years the expenditure of the Expert Group has been as follows:

Year

Expenditure

€000

2003

473

2004

324

2005

525

2006

560

2007

522

Leo Varadkar

Question:

242 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the date of establishment of the national framework committee for work/life balance; if this committee is still in existence; the purpose and role of this committee; the number of members of the board of this committee; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this committee for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5335/08]

The National Framework Committee for Family Friendly Policies was established by the Social Partners in 2000 under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. The Committee was continued and renamed in 2003 as the National Framework Committee for Work Life Balance Policies under Sustaining Progress. The remit of the Framework Committee has been continued under the current national partnership agreement, Towards 2016. The Committee is charged with supporting and facilitating the development of family friendly policies at the level of the enterprise through the development of a package of practical measures that can be applied. Examples of such policies that may be found at enterprise level include, flexi-time, part-time working, annualised hours, teleworking, term time, work sharing, job sharing and other various additional leave options either paid or unpaid.

There are eight organisations represented on the Committee. These are: IBEC, ICTU, the Equality Authority, the Departments Social and Family Affairs, an Taoiseach, Finance, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Enterprise, Trade and Employment. My Department provides the chairperson and the secretariat for the Committee. None of the Committee members is personally appointed by me. It is a matter for each of the bodies participating on the Committee as to who should represent them and, in practice different people may attend from time to time depending on the issues being discussed. The Committee has undertaken the following expenditure in the past five years, all of which has been in respect of funding activities supported by the Committee:

Year

Expenditure

2003

350,000

2004

259,000

2005

105,000

2006

258,000

2007

219,000

Community Employment Schemes.

Niall Blaney

Question:

243 Deputy Niall Blaney asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on abolishing capping on community, employment schemes in view of the fact that participants wish to be treated in a similar fashion to those in the rural social scheme where there are no limits on time spent on schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5388/08]

Community Employment (CE) is an active labour market programme designed to provide eligible long term unemployed people and other disadvantaged persons with an opportunity to engage in useful work within their communities on a fixed term basis. The programme helps unemployed people to progress to the open labour market by breaking their experience of unemployment through a return to work routine and assists them in enhancing/developing both their technical and personal skills.

To cater for older workers in particular, in November 2004 I revised the 3 year CE capping to allow those of 55 years of age and over to avail of a 6-year period on CE (based on participation since 3rd April, 2000). Subsequently, the participation limit for persons eligible for CE based on a Social Welfare disability linked payment was increased by 1 year. These measures were introduced in recognition of the fact that older participants and people with disabilities may find it more difficult to progress into the open labour market. I am informed that the primary purpose of the Rural Social Scheme, under the aegis of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, is to provide income support to low-income farmers and fishermen and to provide certain services of benefit to local communities.

The aim of CE still remains as an active labour market programme with the emphasis on progression into employment. The programme is managed within this context, with consideration to the availability of resources and the needs of participants and the community. However, it should be remembered that, in so far as participants remain on CE, they are precluding someone else from benefiting from the programme. FÁS makes every effort to ensure that differing levels of demand between neighbouring schemes are equalised. FÁS also operates the programme flexibly as far as possible to ensure the continuation of community projects. In conclusion then, I would say that this Government will continue to support the positive role of CE in meeting the needs of long-term unemployed persons while at the same time providing essential services to communities. In this regard, we are keeping the operation of the Scheme under constant review.

Job Creation.

Tom Hayes

Question:

244 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Industrial Development Authority plans for job creation in Carrick-on-Suir; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5475/08]

Tom Hayes

Question:

245 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Industrial Development Authority plans for job creation in Cahir; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5476/08]

Tom Hayes

Question:

246 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Industrial Development Authority plans for job creation in Clonmel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5477/08]

Tom Hayes

Question:

247 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Industrial Development Authority plans for job creation in Mullinahone; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5478/08]

Tom Hayes

Question:

248 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Industrial Development Authority plans for job creation in Fethard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5479/08]

Tom Hayes

Question:

255 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Industrial Development Authority plans for job creation in Tipperary town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5632/08]

Tom Hayes

Question:

256 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Industrial Development Authority plans for job creation in Cashel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5633/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 255 and 256 together.

IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment (FDI) to Ireland and its regions. The marketing of individual areas for new or expansion FDI investments and jobs is a day-to-day operational matter for the Agency. While I may give general policy directives to the Agency, I am precluded under the Industrial Development Acts from giving directives regarding individual undertakings or from giving preference to one area over others.

In line with the National Spatial Strategy, IDA Ireland is focused on advancing the economic development of South Tipperary as part of the wider South East Region, comprising the counties of Tipperary South, Waterford, Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny. IDA's strategy for achieving a better regional distribution of overseas mobile investment is to work in partnership with other stakeholders to present companies with credible alternatives that go as far as possible towards meeting their demands for critical mass in terms of population, skills and infrastructure. In line with this strategy, and in agreement with South Tipperary County Development Board, IDA Ireland's strategy for South Tipperary is to concentrate future economic development in Clonmel and to develop the town as a first-class location for overseas investment.

Currently, there are 12 IDA Ireland supported companies in South Tipperary, employing over 2,000 people. The key industry sector for South Tipperary is Life Sciences. In marketing South Tipperary for new foreign direct investment, IDA Ireland is focused on attracting overseas companies in the services and knowledge based industries, including advanced manufacturing. Recent key wins for the County have been Cordis and Alza in Cashel. The Agency is also investing in the provision of world class property solutions with supporting infrastructure. The future development of Ballingrane Estate in Clonmel, incorporating an IDA business park and the Tipperary Institute, will be a key asset in the quest for further overseas investment.

In addition, the Agency works closely with the educational institutions in the region to ensure that the skill-sets necessary to attract high value–added employment to the County are being developed, and with FÁS to ensure that the needs of industry, in the areas of training and up-skilling, are being met. I am satisfied that policies being pursued by the Agency, together with the roll out of the National Development Plan, will continue to bear fruit in terms of the provision of continued investment and job creation for the people of South Tipperary and the region as a whole.

Company Closures.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

249 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will intervene to assist former employees of a company (details supplied); if to date any redundancy or other payments have been paid to employees; and if not, the steps his Department is taking to assist former employees. [5498/08]

The Statutory Redundancy Payments Scheme is operated by my Department strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967-2007. There is no record in my Department of any statutory redundancy claims or payments having been made to date on behalf of the employees of the company mentioned.

The Insolvency Payments Scheme, operated under the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act, 1984, and administered by my Department, provides for the payment of certain wage-related entitlements where an employee's employment is terminated as a result of the employer's insolvency. These entitlements include arrears of wages, sick pay, holiday pay, minimum notice, etc. However, claims under the Scheme can only be processed if a company is formally insolvent within the definition of the Act and a relevant officer normally a receiver or liquidator has been appointed and certifies the claims. To date, my Department has not received any claims under the Scheme.

Where a company has ceased trading but is still solvent and has not paid an employee in full, the employee may refer a complaint against that company to a Rights Commissioner. In accordance with the Payment of Wages Act 1991 non-payment of wages properly payable by an employer to an employee on any occasion will be regarded as an unlawful deduction from wages unless the deficiency or non-payment is attributable to an error of computation. A complaint to the Rights Commissioner Service may be made by giving them notice of it in writing on the appropriate form. The form is available from the Rights Commissioner Service or from Information Services in the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA). Such a complaint must be made within a period of 6 months beginning on the date of the contravention to which the complaint relates. If the Rights Commissioner is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances s/he may decide to extend the period for up to a further 6 months.

Industrial Relations.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

250 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his Department agreed with the decision of the State to concede in the High Court case taken by a group (details supplied) challenging the fixing by the Labour Court of minimum wage levels for certain industries; if his Department has made an assessment of the outcome of this case for workers in the hotel sector and in the 16 other sectors covered by joint labour committees; the action he will be taking to ensure that existing procedures for the setting of wages are not open to legal challenges which would have dire consequences for vulnerable low paid workers. [5561/08]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

251 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on whether the decision of the State to concede in the High Court case taken by a group (details supplied) challenging the fixing by the Labour Court of minimum wage levels for certain industries, will have implications for upcoming pay talks. [5562/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 250 and 251 together.

I have noted the decision reached in the High Court on 7 February to quash the Employment Regulation Order, relating to minimum remuneration of workers, made by the Labour Court on foot of proposals from the Hotel Joint Labour Committee on 5 November 2007, and to remit the matter back to that Committee. The implications of the issues raised during the course of the Hearing will require consideration by the Committee, the Labour Court and by my Department. The pay element of Towards 2016 falls to be reviewed in the coming weeks. I have no doubt that the issues which arose in this case will be of interest to the parties to the Agreement. However, I would like to assure Deputies of the government's ongoing commitment to ensuring that there are adequate systems and processes in place to underpin employment standards.

Employment Rights.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

252 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if his attention has been drawn to the situation where a company (details supplied) is refusing to allow workers from south of the Border to join a union and is therefore depriving its staff of collective bargaining rights; and if he will do anything about it. [5563/08]

Under Article 40.6.1 of the Constitution, the State guarantees liberty for the exercise, subject to public order and morality, of, inter alia, "the right of citizens to form associations and unions". In this case, I understand that the company does not object to its workers joining a trade union, but the company has refused to recognise the trade union for collective bargaining purposes. It has been established in a number of legal cases that the constitutional guarantee of the freedom of association does not guarantee workers the right to have their union recognised for the purpose of collective bargaining

The system of industrial relations in Ireland is essentially voluntary in nature. In line with this voluntarist approach, a High Level Group comprising representatives from IBEC, ICTU, and various Government Departments and agencies and chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach was established under Partnership 2000 to consider proposals submitted by ICTU on the recognition of unions and the right to bargain. This Group recommended that two distinct procedures be put in place for the resolution of disputes where negotiation arrangements are not in place and collective bargaining does not exist — a voluntary procedure and a legislative fall back procedure.

These recommendations were implemented through the Industrial Relations Act 1990 (Code of Practice on Voluntary Dispute Resolution) (Declaration) Order 2000 (Statutory Instrument No. 145 of 2000) and the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001. These measures were improved by the introduction of the Industrial Relations Act 1990 (Enhanced Code of Practice on Voluntary Dispute Resolution) (Declaration) Order 2004 (S.I. No. 76 of 2004), the Industrial Relations Act 1990 (Code of Practice on Victimisation) (Declaration) Order 2004 (S.I. No. 139 of 2004) and the Industrial Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004. I understand that the trade union involved has availed of the dispute resolution facilities available under the voluntary procedure and that the Labour Relations Commission continues to be in contact with the parties. I hope that their efforts are successful.

Grant Payments.

Denis Naughten

Question:

253 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, further to Parliamentary Question No. 234 of 28 September 2006, the grant aid returned to his Department by the company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5566/08]

I am informed by Enterprise Ireland that the company in question has not returned any grant aid to the agency. Discussions are ongoing but have been complicated by a fire at the Glanbia plant in Edenderry last year and the current proposed management buy out of the Glanbia Pork Division. Notwithstanding this, I understand that progress is being made in the negotiations and it is expected that a conclusion will be reached in due course. This conclusion is expected to take account of a very significant investment which is being undertaken by the company in its Pork Division in Ireland. I should point out that payment and repayment of grants are day-to-day operational matters for the Industrial Development agencies and I do not have any role in these day-to-day matters.

Denis Naughten

Question:

254 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the grant aid paid to a company (details supplied) in County Roscommon in the past ten years; the steps which are being taken to recover this funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5567/08]

Payment and repayment of grants are day-to-day operational matters for the Industrial Development agencies. While I do not have any role in the day-to-day operations of the agencies, I understand from Enterprise Ireland that in this particular case the company received approximately €370,000 in grant aid over the past ten years. There is no contingent liability on this grant aid according to the agency.

Questions Nos. 255 and 256 answered with Question No. 244.

Industrial Development.

Tom Hayes

Question:

257 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps he is taking to support enterprise development in County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5634/08]

The Enterprise Development Agencies under the aegis of my Department, Enterprise Ireland, the County Enterprise Boards, IDA Ireland and Shannon Development are responsible for growing indigenous enterprises and attracting and growing foreign direct investment. Shannon Development's role is in the mid-west region, including North Tipperary, includes the provision of tailored property solution for both FDI and indigenous industry. My Department has put in place a range of strategies, programmes and financial incentives to promote economic and enterprise development that will support sustainable employment throughout the country.

Enterprise Ireland continues to foster job creation in Tipperary, through supporting entrepreneurs setting up new High Potential Start-Up companies, the retention and creation of new jobs in existing companies and in enhancing the innovation capability of Ireland at a national and regional level through support of research in companies and third level institutions. According to the Forfás Employment Survey 2006, the number of people employed in Enterprise Ireland companies in Tipperary is 5,498 in approximately 146 companies. In the past year, Enterprise Ireland has approved funding of over €16.8m and made payments of over €4m for client companies in Tipperary to assist them with development projects.

The development of community based enterprise centres is another crucial part of the drive to create new regional enterprise. Enterprise Ireland has assisted the formation of Community Enterprise Centres in Clonmel, Carick-on-Suir, and Tipperary Town. A total of €702,547 has been approved by EI for these projects. In addition, €337,000 has been approved for the construction of the North Tipperary Food Enterprise Centre. On 24th January, I launched a revised and simplified Research and Development Grant Scheme which will make €500m available to companies across all sectors. The new scheme will see job creation agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, invest more than €500m which will be used to support R&D and continue to secure jobs in all parts of the country. In addition, on 6th February, I announced details of Enterprise Ireland's €60 million Growth Fund. This fund is geared specifically towards eligible SME clients of Enterprise Ireland. Up to €650,000 is available to support an applicant's business plans that increase their company's productivity and export potential as well as boosting their leadership and management capabilities.

The role of the Tipperary North and South County Enterprise Boards (CEBs) is to provide support for small businesses with 10 employees or fewer in the start-up and expansion phases, to promote and develop indigenous micro-enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity and entrepreneurship at local level throughout County Tipperary. Since the Boards' inception in 1993, Tipperary North and South CEBs have approved over €10.2 m in grant assistance to 890 clients. This intervention has assisted in the creation of 1,335 jobs in the county. During 2008 both CEBs will continue to support enterprise development in Tipperary through the provision of both direct and indirect assistance and will ensure that available funds are targeted to maximise entrepreneurial development at county level.

A central goal for IDA Ireland is the achievement of balanced regional development. In addition, the Agency works closely with the educational institutions in the region to ensure that the skill-sets necessary to attract high value-added employment to the County are being developed, and with FÁS to ensure that the needs of industry, in the areas of training and up-skilling, are being met. IDA is also working with Shannon Development in ensuring the availability of suitable property solutions for potential investors throughout the Mid West. The development of Tipperary Technology Park and the Archerstown sites in Thurles are important elements in this strategy.

For IDA Ireland purposes County Tipperary is divided in two, Tipperary North which is part of the Mid West Region and Tipperary South which is part of the South West Region. IDA Ireland Midwest region consists of Counties Clare, Limerick, North Tipperary and North Kerry, whereas, South Tipperary is part of the wider South East Region, comprising the counties of Tipperary South, Waterford, Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny. The number of people employed in IDA Ireland supported companies in Tipperary is 2,583 in approximately 16 companies.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

258 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by him as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6015/08]

My Department has not, so far, recruited any IT specialists through an open recruitment process nor seconded IT procurement specialists from the private sector.

Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Richard Bruton

Question:

259 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the use of compulsory purchase orders powers has increased since the advice of the Minister for Finance to Departments on this matter in 2005; the details of the increase; if he has secured faster release of lands and a more cost effective price for all forms of public infrastructure; and the savings secured. [6131/08]

My Department does not use compulsory purchase orders to acquire land or property in order to facilitate public infrastructure projects and, therefore, the information sought by the Deputy is not relevant to my Department.

Departmental Bodies.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

260 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the date of establishment of Council of National Cultural Institutions; if this council is still in existence; the purpose and role of this council; the number of members of the board of this council; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this council for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5606/08]

The Council of National Cultural Institutions (CNCI) was established on a non-statutory basis by the then Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands in July 1998. It was placed on a statutory footing under the Heritage Fund Act, 2001 and continues to fulfil both its statutory and non-statutory roles. The CNCI, in its non-statutory role, is a forum for the Directors and Chief Executives of the National Cultural Institutions to share ideas and experiences and to report to the Minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism on arts, culture and heritage matters and in relation to professional, operational, institutional and other related issues. It addresses areas of co-operation between individual Institutions and also explores the opportunities for North/South and international dialogues.

The Heritage Fund Act, 2001 sets out the statutory functions of the CNCI. These are to make recommendations to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism regarding (a) acceptance of gifts of money, land, and property for the benefit of the Heritage Fund and (b) payments from the Heritage Fund. As I indicated in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 31505/07 a review of the governance and operation of the Heritage Fund has been carried out by my Department and the findings of the review are being considered at present. The statutory role of the CNCI will be considered in the light of that review. Section 9 of the Heritage Fund Act, 2001, stipulates the membership of the Council in respect of its statutory functions. There are ten members: the Directors or Chief Executives of the National Archives of Ireland; the National Library of Ireland; the National Museum of Ireland; the National Gallery of Ireland; the Irish Museum of Modern Art; the National Concert Hall; the Arts Council; the Heritage Council; the Abbey Theatre and the Chester Beatty Library.

The Director of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork is a member of the CNCI in respect of its non-statutory functions. As the Crawford Gallery Cork was designated a National Cultural Institution after the enactment of the Heritage Fund Act 2001, its Director is not included in the CNCI membership laid down in that Act. The expenditure of the CNCI over the past five years is as follows:

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€92,849.56

€104,943.39

€90,977.85

€76,770.13

€143,891.82

Leo Varadkar

Question:

261 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the date of establishment of the tourism action plan implementation group; if this group is still in existence; the purpose and role of this group; the number of members of the board of this group; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this group for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5607/08]

The Tourism Action Plan Implementation Group was established by my predecessor in January 2004 and its work concluded in January 2006 on completion of its third and final progress report. The purpose of the group was to review and report progress on the implementation of the Report of the Tourism Policy Review Group "New Horizons for Irish Tourism: An Agenda for Action". My predecessor appointed all of the seven members of the group. During its term of office the group published three implementation reports which are available on the publications page of my Department's website (www.dast.gov.ie/publications/ list_publications.html). Costs associated with the group — which were limited — were paid out of the Department's normal administration budget.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

262 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under his Department which are due to decentralise showing in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5296/08]

The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following tabular statement.

Number of Departmental posts to move to Killarney by the end of 2008.

131

Number of Departmental posts decentralised at December 2007

70

Numbers of staff assigned to decentralising posts but have not moved.

16

The number of staff assigned that are new recruits to the Department i.e. recruited directly by the Department

2

Number of Departmental staff who have opted to remain in Dublin who have been re-assigned to posts in Dublin

51

Posts in agencies under the aegis of my Department due to decentralise.

Under discussion

Tourism Promotion.

John O'Mahony

Question:

263 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the initiatives his Department is taking, both in sport and tourism, to develop walkways and to promote walking holidays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5318/08]

The National Trails Office (NTO) established in the Irish Sports Council, has responsibility for coordinating the implementation of the Irish Trails Strategy, a cross-sectoral initiative that seeks to enhance the health, well being and quality of life of all Irish residents and attract many more visitors from around the world. The NTO developed the Strategy with the aim of creating and maintaining a world-class trails network that is safe, accessible and easy to use. The NTO works with guidance from the National Trails Advisory Council, which includes representatives from a range of State and other bodies.

In relation to tourism, in accordance with the provisions of subsection (1) of section 8 of the National Tourism Development Authority Act, 2003, it is a day to day matter for Fáilte Ireland to encourage, promote and support either inside or outside the State (a) the development of tourism traffic within and to the State and (b) the development and marketing of tourist facilities and services within the State. Details of Fáilte Ireland's initiatives in relation to the development and promotion of walking facilities and walking holidays are set out in its website www.failteireland.ie.

Arts Funding.

John O'Mahony

Question:

264 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the supports available to develop a school of music; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5320/08]

It is not clear whether the proposed school of music is a commercial or not-for-profit organisation. My Department provides capital funding for arts and culture infrastructural projects and normally funds only not-for-profit and voluntary organisations. While Government support for the Arts is generally channelled through the Arts Council, which is a statutorily independent body, under the Arts Act, 2003, and is independent in its day-to-day operations, I understand it does not fund amateur organisations. Funding for the Arts Council has increased by almost 72% from €47.67 million in 2002 to €82.102 million in 2008.

In relation to capital funding my Department has taken a more direct role and to date some €130m has been provided for the development of arts and culture infrastructural projects nationwide. I expect to announce another round of Capital Arts Grants in 2008. It is open to any non-commercial organisation to apply for funding under this scheme.

Pat Breen

Question:

265 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has plans to make additional funding available to art venues nationally for the ongoing annual running costs of such facilities; if so, if he will consider an increase in funding for a venue (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5469/08]

Government support for the arts is generally channelled through the Arts Council, which is a statutorily independent body, under the Arts Act, 2003, and is independent in its day-to-day operations, including in relation to its funding decisions. The provision of funding for the organisation referred to by the Deputy is the responsibility of the Arts Council. I have no role in relation to its funding decisions and my Department does not provide ongoing revenue support to arts organisations funded by the Arts Council. Funding for the Arts Council has increased by almost 72% from €47.67 million in 2002 to €82.102 million in 2008. These are significant amounts of money in any context and have transformed and increased access to the arts and allowed the Arts Council to support a wide range of artists and arts organisations nationwide.

Departmental Bodies.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

266 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the date of establishment of a company (details supplied); if this company is still in existence; the purpose and role of this company; the number of members of the board of this company; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the level of equity held by the Department within this company; the level of financing provided by the Government to this company for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5601/08]

The company referred to in the Parliamentary Question ceased to exist from midnight on 31 January 2006. It was replaced with immediate effect by a new company called Abbey Theatre Amharclann na Mainistreach (the "Abbey Theatre"). The main purpose of this company is to continue the tradition of the Abbey Theatre as the national theatre of Ireland for the purpose of acting and producing plays in Irish and/or English, written by Irish authors or on Irish subjects, and such dramatic works of international authors as would tend to educate and interest the Irish public in the higher aspects of dramatic art. There are eleven members of the board of directors, three of whom are appointed by the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. A selection committee comprising the Chair of the company, an independent person from the artistic or cultural sector appointed by the Minister and a person appointed by the Arts Council appoints the remaining eight members.

My Department does not hold equity in this company. Under new arrangements put in place with the establishment of The Abbey Theatre/Amharchlann na Mainistreach the Arts Council provides the company with ongoing revenue support and agreed a three-year funding concord amounting to a €25.7m grant for the period 2006 — 2008. The Arts Council also provided the theatre with capital funding of €1,024,000 in 2006 and my Department provided capital funding of €650,000 and €88,000 in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

267 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the date of establishment of a company (detail supplied); if this company is still in existence; the purpose and role of this company; the number of members of the board of this company; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the level of equity held by the Department within this company; the level of financing provided by the Government to this company for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5602/08]

Irish Genealogy Limited (IGL) was registered with the Companies Registration Office in September 1993 and continues to operate. The main objects for which the company was established were: (a) to provide information on the genealogical and settlement patterns of areas in the island of Ireland; to stimulate education about the heritage and the environment of the island; to foster and encourage genealogical and other research; to increase knowledge about the island of Ireland and its peoples throughout the world; and to further these objects by promoting and developing in the island of Ireland a genealogical service for those seeking information on their Irish ancestry — all of these services to benefit and assist in the development of local communities and in the development of tourism and (b) to market these services at home and overseas.

A review of the role of IGL took place as part of the Review of the Church Birth, Marriage and Death Records Computerisation Project, which was carried out by an Advisory Group established by my Department in 2006. IGL amended its Memorandum and Articles of Association in December 2007 to take account of those recommendations of the Advisory Group which were relevant to it. The functions of IGL under its new Memorandum and Articles of Association are:

1.To act as an advisory body to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism in relation to achieving a co-ordinated approach to genealogy.

2.To maintain strong links with Fáilte Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourism Board and Tourism Ireland; and to engage in marketing initiatives overseas in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland, the Northern Ireland Tourism Board and Tourism Ireland.

3.To foster, encourage and promote genealogical and other research.

IGL is funded primarily by my Department from which it has received the following funding in the past five years:

Year

2003

380,000

2004

380,000

2005

395,000

2006

25,000

2007

95,000

Since 2005, the staff and functions of IGL have been scaled back, taking account of the completion of some of its tasks and the review of its functions. The current Board of IGL comprises six public interest representatives, three of whom are appointed through this Department and three through the Department of Finance and Personnel in Belfast, two representatives from, and appointed by, the Association for Professional Genealogists in Ireland, one representative from the Association of Ulster Genealogists and Record Agents and five representatives from the Irish Family History Foundation (IFHF). The IFHF representatives have not sat on the Board since 2005. A number of observers, representing statutory bodies also attend the meetings of IGL. These observers represent the National Archives of Ireland; the National Library of Ireland; the General Register Office; Fáilte Ireland; FÁS, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and this Department.

A new Board of IGL will be appointed by me later this year and will consist of 11 directors who will serve for a period of 5 years. Five of the directors will be nominees of the following statutory bodies: The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; The National Archives of Ireland; The National Library of Ireland; The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Northern Ireland and Fáilte Ireland. The remaining six directors will be nominated from non-statutory bodies, local government or organisations in the genealogy sector of which three will have a particular genealogy based competence or expertise.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

268 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by him as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6010/08]

Since its establishment in June 2002, my Department has not employed, through open recruitment, any full time specialists in the area of information technology procurement or capital project evaluation and management. There have been no IT procurement specialists seconded between the Department and the private sector.

Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Richard Bruton

Question:

269 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the use of compulsory purchase orders powers has increased since the advice of the Minister for Finance to Departments on this matter in 2005; the details of the increase; if he has secured faster release of lands and a more cost effective price for all forms of public infrastructure; and the savings secured. [6126/08]

There have been no instances of compulsory purchase orders being used by my Department since 2005.

School Meals Programme.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

270 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department will give early approval to a DEIS school (details supplied) in Dublin 11 for inclusion in the free school lunch scheme. [5497/08]

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

There is no record of an application having been received from the school concerned for funding under the scheme. It is open to the school concerned to contact my Department if they wish to make an application for funding. Any application received will be processed without delay. There is no automatic entitlement to funding under the school meals local projects scheme. Priority for funding under the scheme is being given to schools in the Department of Education & Science's initiative for disadvantaged schools, ‘Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools' (DEIS).

Social Insurance.

Denis Naughten

Question:

271 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he is taking to ensure that persons seeking PPS numbers are genuine applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4794/08]

My Department assumed responsibility for the allocation of PPS Numbers in June 2000. Because the PPS Number is a unique identifier for access to services provided by Government Departments and other public bodies it is essential to have effective controls around the PPS Number registration process. Controls are exercised at both the initial allocation stage and at subsequent stages in the lifecycle of the number.

A PPS Number is automatically issued in the case of children born in Ireland. In other cases application must be made in person at one of the Department's network of Local Offices. PPS Numbers are issued following a controlled allocation procedure, involving

personal attendance at the office,

the completion of a written application form,

the submission of appropriate identity documents proving identity and address.

In order to ensure that a person receives only one number and that the number is allocated on information that is accurate and verified, certain operational procedures are prescribed for local office personnel when dealing with applications. Proof and evidence of identity is a vital element of the allocation process. Client Identity Services (CIS) is the section in the Department that has a central role in developing and maintaining expertise in the area of questioned document examination through contact and liaison with national and international experts in this field and in turn, passing this expertise on through provision of appropriate training and issuing of guidelines. A help desk is also operated, allowing any issuing office to phone in with details of a suspect document. Many suspect documents can be cleared in this manner, avoiding the necessity of referring them to CIS for physical examination. Nonetheless, documents do sometimes have to be referred for physical examination and authentication.

My Department carries out post-allocation audits and surveys to detect cases of bogus identity which have not been detected using the pre-allocation measures. In terms of overall fraud, a recent survey of the PPS Number registration process highlighted pre- and post-allocation fraud rates of 0.5%. Overall, while there can be no acceptable level of fraud, it is equally the case that achieving a zero level of identity fraud will, realistically, always remain an aspiration. A rate of 1% or less is low and would indicate that fraud detection methods are effective.

Initiatives designed to improve the PPS Number registration process have already begun. In particular, the concentration of expertise in a reduced number of PPS Number allocation centres together with tougher legislative measures introduced in the Social Welfare Act 2007 should significantly enhance the Department's ability to control identity fraud.

Social Welfare Code.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

272 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when, in view of the continuing rise in rents, he will improve the maximum rents available to rent supplement recipients. [5442/08]

Rent supplement is administered on my behalf by the Health Service Executive as part of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. Rent supplement is subject to a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant may incur. Rent limits are set at levels that enable the different eligible household types to secure and retain basic suitable rented accommodation, having regard to the different rental market conditions that prevail in various parts of the State. The objective is to ensure that rent supplement is not paid in respect of overly expensive accommodation having regard to the size of the household.

Setting maximum rent limits higher than are justified by the open market would have a distorting effect on the rental market, leading to a more general rise in rent levels. This in turn would worsen the affordability of rental accommodation unnecessarily, with particular negative impact for those tenants on lower incomes, including people in low-wage employment. In January 2007 a review was completed of the maximum levels of rent which a person may incur and still be eligible to receive rent supplement. The purpose of the review was to inform the process of setting new limits, applicable from January 2007 until 30 June 2008. The review included consultation with the HSE, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Central Statistics Office, the Private Residential Tenancies Board and voluntary agencies working in this area. This process ensures that the new rent limits reflect realistic market conditions throughout the country. Arising from the review, rent limits were adjusted upwards, from January 2007, for a number of household types in 14 counties.

I intend to have rent limits reviewed this year with a view to implementing any revision found to be necessary from 1 July 2008. A consultative approach will be used to conduct this review. Notwithstanding existing rent limits, the Health Service Executive may exceed these limits in certain circumstances, e.g. where there is special housing need related to exceptional circumstances. The discretionary power ensures that individuals with particular needs can be accommodated within the scheme and specifically protects against homelessness.

Social Welfare Payment System.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

273 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to introduce the payment of social welfare benefits through electronic fund transfer; the consultation taking place to facilitate the introduction of such a system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5525/08]

It is government policy to facilitate the greater use of electronic payment systems in the economy in the interest of developing a world-class payment environment in Ireland. In this context, the National Payments Implementation Program Advisory Group, under the aegis of the Department of the Taoiseach, monitors the growth in electronic payments, the reduction in cash transactions and any new payment mechanisms which come on the market. My Department is represented on this Group. The current range of payment options offered by my Department to customers includes payment to a bank or building society account, a local post office or certain credit unions that have been authorised by the banking and credit union regulators. Customers opt for a particular payment method having regard to their own personal circumstances.

Currently, some 50% of customers receive their payment electronically direct to their bank or financial institution, or electronically at their Post Office. The remaining customers are paid by paper-based payment instruments — cheques, post drafts or personal payment order books. My Department is implementing a three-year strategy to change paper-based payment instruments to electronic payments at financial institutions and Post Offices. The programme is being implemented on a phased basis to coincide with book renewal production schedules and as personalised payable order books expire. The objective of my Department's payment strategy is to ensure that cost-effective arrangements are in place for making payments to social welfare customers using a range of payment options and that new payment facilities are made available to customers as they become available.

A range of measures is under way to inform customers of the change in payment methods and to allay fears and concerns which they may have regarding and the use of Social Services Cards to collect their payment at Post Offices. Each customer is being informed by letter of the change in their payment arrangement. A Social Services Card, along with a covering letter explaining how to use the card, is being issued to each customer. An Post and the Irish Postmaster's Union (IPU) are committed to assisting customers in the use of cards for collecting their payments. Groups representing the elderly and disabled have already been consulted and have indicated that they will support the move to electronic payments at Post Offices.

Posters will be displayed in all Post Offices and Citizens' Information Centres and throughout my Department's local office network. In addition, the change from paper to electronic payment will be a key element of all public information events, seminars and information briefings being carried by my Department in the coming year. I am confident that the planned range of measures to inform customers of the change to electronic payment will ensure a smooth transition for them.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

274 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under his Department which are due to decentralise, showing, in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5307/08]

Under the Government's current decentralisation programme for the civil and public service, some 1,200 posts comprising the Department's headquarter sections and the Social Welfare Appeals Office are relocating to 6 locations — Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon, Donegal, Buncrana, Carrickmacross and Drogheda. In addition, the Combat Poverty Agency (CPA) and Citizens Information Board (CIB) are scheduled to relocate to Monaghan and Drogheda, respectively, under the programme.

To date, 177 posts have relocated from the Department's Dublin Offices to Carrick-on-Shannon and Sligo. A further 32 posts will decentralise from the during 2008 — 27 posts to Carrick-on-Shannon and 5 posts to Sligo. In addition, the Department has decentralised offices in Longford, Sligo, Letterkenny, Waterford, Dundalk and Roscommon and some 170 employees have transferred to these offices and other offices of the Department to fill vacancies created by the current decentralisation programme. Furthermore, a total of 206 employees of the Department have transferred to other Government Departments for the purposes of their decentralisation programmes.

The table below outlines the data requested:

Location

No. of posts announced to decentralise

No. transferred to new location

No. who have accepted offers of transfer

New recruits

No. who have been redeployed to other posts in Dublin

Buncrana

120

0

7

2

0

Carrickmacross

85

0

39

0

0

Carrick-on-Shannon

225

111

133

0

85

Donegal

230

0

46

7

0

Drogheda — HQ

215

0

154

0

0

Drogheda — ISD

225

0

34

0

0

Sligo

100

66

67

0

50

Location

No. of posts announced to decentralise

No. transferred to new location

No. who have relocation clauses in contracts

No. who have been redeployed to other posts in Dublin

Drogheda — CIB

47

0

19

0

Monaghan — CPA

25

0

6

0

Departmental Bodies.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

275 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the date of establishment of money advice and budgeting service; the purpose and role of this body; the number of members of the board of this body; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this body for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5351/08]

The Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) provides assistance to people who are over-indebted and need help and advice in coping with debt problems. The MABS was initiated in 1992 when the Budget provided for a special allocation of €330,000 (£260,000) for the establishment of five Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) pilot projects around the country. Since 1992 the service has grown, and there are now 53 independent companies nationwide with voluntary boards of management and with money advice staff of 240 who operate the service. Membership of the voluntary boards of management of the MABS companies is a matter for the local community stakeholders.

Many voluntary and statutory bodies, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the credit unions, work closely with the service at local level. The Department provides funding and is responsible for policy development and the financial administration of the MABS. For 2008, almost €18 million has been provided to fund the service. A National Advisory Committee advises the Department in relation to the MABS. This is an informal forum which is chaired by a Principal Officer in the Department. Participants in the forum are selected from time to time by the local MABS stakeholders. It includes representatives from the voluntary boards of management, staff of the MABS, the Citizens Information Board, the Irish League of Credit Unions and other interests in the service.

Expenditure on the MABS for each of the past five years is detailed in the table below.

MABS Expenditure 2003-2007

Year

Expenditure

€m

2003

9.405

2004

11.397

2005

13.593

2006

13.577

2007

14.578

Leo Varadkar

Question:

276 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the date of establishment of the social welfare benchmarking and indexation group; if this group is still in existence; the purpose and role of this group; the number of members of the board of this group; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this group for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5352/08]

The Social Welfare Benchmarking and Indexation Working Group was established under the terms of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF), in late 2000 and met for the first time on 17 December 2000. The group comprised some 16 members drawn from government departments and social partners. It was chaired by an independent chairperson, Professor Kieran Kennedy, former director of the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI). The members of the working group were nominated by their respective organisations. The secretariat was provided by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs.

The terms of reference of the group were to:

i.examine the issues involved in developing a benchmark for adequacy of adult and child social welfare payments, including the implications of adopting a specific approach to the ongoing up-rating or indexation of payments, having regard to their long-term economic, budgetary, PRSI contribution, distributive and incentive implications, in light of trends in economic, demographic and labour market patterns; and

ii.examine the issue of relative income poverty.

The group operated in parallel with the wider review of the National Anti-Poverty Strategy (NAPS) in accordance with the terms of the PPF. While the group was not a formal element of this wider review, it was intended that its work would help to advance consideration of the theme of income adequacy and income poverty measurement. The group concluded its work and produced its final report in September 2001. No expenditure has arisen in connection with the group in the past five years.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

277 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the date of establishment of the social inclusion consultative group; if this group is still in existence; the purpose and role of this group; the number of members of the board of this group; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this group for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5353/08]

A review of the National Anti Poverty Strategy (NAPS) was undertaken in 2001/2002 in line with a commitment in the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. The revised NAPS that emerged from the review, Building an Inclusive Society, provided for new institutional arrangements to monitor its implementation. This included the setting up of the Social Inclusion Consultative Group which comprised some 25 members selected by their respective parent organisations. These were drawn from the social partners, the community and voluntary sector, government departments and agencies, including the Combat Poverty Agency, the Equality Authority and the Economic and Social Research Institute. The Group was co-chaired by the Office for Social Inclusion and the Department of the Taoiseach. The main task of the Group was to advise the newly established Office for Social Inclusion on implementation of the revised NAPS. The group met twice a year in each of the years 2003 to 2006. It incurred no expenditure other than administrative costs.

Towards 2016, published in June 2006, provides for a streamlined approach to monitoring and reporting progress on social inclusion policies across government departments, in relation to the agreement itself, the National Action Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016 and the social inclusion elements of the National Development Plan 2007-2013. A Steering Group established under Towards 2016 with representatives of the social partners and government departments has overall responsibility for monitoring implementation of all aspects of the social partnership agreement and the strategic plans. One outcome of this streamlined approach is that the functions of the Social Inclusion Consultative Group have been subsumed within the Towards 2016 Steering Group. As a result, the Consultative Group ceased to exist from September 2006.

Question No. 278 answered with Question No. 166.

Live Register.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

279 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons on the live register on 31 January 2008 and on the same date in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5543/08]

The Live Register is not designed to measure unemployment. It includes part-time workers (those who work up to three days a week), seasonal and casual workers entitled to jobseeker's benefit or allowance. Unemployment is measured by the Quarterly National Household Survey and, according to the CSO, the latest seasonally adjusted figure, for June-August 2007, is 97,700.

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

170,701

174,529

160,543

160,139

158,752

181,449

The Live Register figures are collated in respect of the last Friday in each month and published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO). The live register figure for January 2008 was 181,449. The details for the month of January in each of the past five years are set out in tabular format above.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

280 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons in receipt of disability benefit or allowance at 31 January 2008 and at the same date in the proceeding five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5544/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

281 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons whose applications for disability allowance or benefit or similar payments have been disallowed in each of the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5545/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 280 and 281 together.

Disability allowance is a weekly allowance paid to people with a disability who are aged between 16 and 66 years. The allowance is subject to both a medical examination and a means test. The person must be suffering from an injury, disease, congenital deformity or physical or mental illness or defect which has continued or may reasonably be expected to continue for a period of a year. As a result of that condition the person would be substantially restricted in undertaking work which would otherwise be suitable having regard to the person's age, experience and qualifications.

The attached table shows the number of people in receipt of disability allowance, illness benefit and injury benefit over the past five years. The second table gives a breakdown of the number of claims for those three schemes which were refused each month in 2007, and 2008 to date.

Table 1

Date

Number in Receipt of

Disability Allowance

Illness Benefit

Injury Benefit

At 31 Jan 2008

89,371

71,805

316

At 31 Jan 2007

84,046

67,887

210

At 31 Jan 2006

79,770

63,181

212

At 31 Jan 2005

72,985

59,538

204

At 31 Jan 2004

68,271

57,062

426

At 31 Jan 2003

63,296

55,787

98

Table 2

Date

Applications not qualified or disallowed in the past 12 months

Disability Allowance

Illness Benefit

Injury Benefit

Jan-07

606

4,673

337

Feb-07

476

3,978

266

Mar-07

678

4,355

272

Apr-07

353

3,978

198

May-07

557

4,417

433

Jun-07

666

3,901

435

Jul-07

509

4,218

406

Aug-07

530

3,768

459

Sep-07

493

3,951

380

Oct-07

675

4,611

426

Nov-07

719

4,664

398

Dec-07

275

2,796

283

TOTAL 2007

6,537

49,310

4,293

Jan-08

559

4,053

450

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

282 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications for respite grants that have been refused in each of the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5546/08]

In the last 12 months a total of 13,245 Respite Care Grant claims have been processed by the Department. Details of Respite Care Grant claims refused by month, totalling 1,397 for the 12-month period February 2007 to January 2008 are detailed in tabular form below.

Respite Care Grants refusals February 2007 to January 2008

Month

Claims Refused

February 2007

104

March

74

April

117

May

80

June

62

July

161

August

181

September

180

October

205

November

127

December

58

January 2008

48

Total

1,397

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

283 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to extend the carer’s allowance significantly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5547/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

284 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to extend the carer’s allowance by way of easing the means test thereby providing facilities to a greater number of people who might otherwise become institutionalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5548/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

285 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on awarding contribution credits to carers who have provided care on a full-time basis to such an extent that they themselves were prevented from entering the work force and as a consequence failed to qualify for a contributory pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5549/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 283 to 285, inclusive, together.

Supporting and recognising carers in our society is, and has been, a priority of the Government since 1997. Over that period, weekly payment rates to carers have greatly increased, qualifying conditions for carer's allowance have significantly eased, coverage of the scheme has been extended and new schemes such as carer's benefit and the respite care grant have been introduced and extended. The primary objective of the carer's allowance is to provide income support to low income carers and in line with other social assistance schemes, is means tested. This ensures scarce resources are directed at those in greatest need.

The carer's allowance means test is one of the more flexible tests in terms of the assessment of household incomes. The means test has been significantly eased over the years, most notably with regard to spouse's earnings. Since April 2007, the income disregard has been €320 per week for a single person and €640 per week for a couple. Budget 2008 provided for the disregards to be increased further to €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple from April 2008. These increases surpass the "Towards 2016" commitment to ensure those on average industrial earnings continue to qualify for a full carer's allowance.

In 2005, the respite care grant was extended to all people providing full time care regardless of their means or social insurance contributions. Since then, the grant has also been paid in respect of each care recipient. From June 2008, the grant will be €1,700 per year in respect of each care recipient. Credited contributions, or ‘credits' as they are termed, are intended to protect the entitlements, particularly the pension rights, of employees and other persons participating in the social insurance system when they are ill or unemployed. A person who is providing full time care and attention to a person as a carer is awarded credits on the same basis as if they were out of the workforce due to illness or unemployment.

Under the current statutory provisions governing the award of credited contributions, recipients of the carer's allowance may be awarded credits if they switched to that payment from another credit-bearing payment such as jobseeker's allowance. From April 1999, formal provision was made for the award of credits to claimants of carer's allowance who have left insurable employment to engage in caring duties. People in receipt of carer's benefit or on carer's leave are awarded credits at the same rate as their last paid contribution. Recipients of carer's allowance, who are not entitled to credits, may be eligible for homemaker's disregards which preserve the carer's entitlement for contributory pension purposes.

The homemaker scheme provides that contribution years spent working in the home while caring on a full-time basis for a child up to 12 years of age or an incapacitated person will be disregarded in calculating a person's yearly average number of contributions for state pension (contributory) purposes. The provisions apply from the contribution year commencing on 6 April 1994 and up to 20 contribution years may be disregarded.

The award of credits is subject to certain conditions. For example, when a person has no paid or credited contributions for a period of two years, they cannot be awarded further credits until 26 contributions are paid. In recognition of their caring role, this rule will be waived where claimants of carer's allowance were eligible for homemakers disregards immediately prior to claiming carer's allowance. This, in effect, means that credits will be awarded where a person who has a gap of two years in their paid or credited contributions was eligible for homemakers disregards before claiming carer's allowance. This will protect the position of people who did not give up work to become carers but may have qualified for homemakers disregards due to child-minding duties and who subsequently became carers after a two year period had expired.

From June 2006 the number of hours a person can engage in employment, self employment, education or training outside the home and still be eligible for carer's allowance, carer's benefit and the respite care grant was increased from 10 to 15 hours per week. Where a carer remains in employment he or she will continue to pay the appropriate social insurance contribution. I will keep the supports for carers available from my Department under review in order to continue to improve the schemes and ensure commitments on income support are delivered.

Bilateral Social Security Agreements.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

286 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will review the bilateral agreements with the objective of identifying those countries with which the arrangement is most satisfactory, those with which it is least satisfactory and identifying a resolution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5550/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

287 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number and location of countries with which his Department has a bilateral agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5551/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 286 and 287 together.

Ireland has social security agreements with Austria, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the USA and Switzerland. These agreements came into effect between 1989 and 1999, except for that with the UK which covers the Isle of Man and Channel Islands and came into effect on 1st October 2007. Ireland also has a bilateral understanding with Quebec since 1 October 1994. In the cases of Austria and Switzerland the agreements have limited application as the EU Regulations normally apply in these cases. An agreement with the Republic of Korea was signed on 31st October 2007 and it is hoped to complete the necessary steps to bring it into effect within the next few months. The main purpose of the agreements is to protect the social security pension rights of workers who have worked both in Ireland and the other country to which the agreement applies.

All of these agreements are currently in operation and are generally working satisfactorily. However, the time taken to process claims that fall to be examined under bilateral agreements can be longer than that for standard Irish entitlements, reflecting the added complexity that arises in determining entitlements under these agreements.

Liaison procedures to ensure the secure transfer of personal data have been established with each country and are kept under constant review. Regular contact is made with the appropriate agencies to ensure the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of transfer of the information required to decide on claims. Where particular delays occur in the exchange of information, every effort is made to minimise processing times, while the overriding objective in dealing with these claims is to ensure that people receive their full and correct entitlements. Delays in processing applications do not ultimately result in any losses to pensioners in that those who qualify for payment have their claims backdated fully in accordance with the normal regulations for backdating pension claims. I am satisfied that overall the procedures are working effectively and efficiently.

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

288 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the increased hardship arising from job losses resulting in an inability to meet mortgage or rent repayments and the necessity to favourably review rent or mortgage supports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5552/08]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme (SWA) provides for a weekly or monthly supplement to be paid in respect of rent or mortgage interest to any person in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their needs. Rent supplements provide short-term assistance with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible persons living in private rented accommodation who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from another source. Similarly, mortgage interest supplement provides short-term income support to eligible people who are unable to meet their mortgage interest repayments in respect of a house which is their sole place of residence.

Payment is normally calculated to ensure that the person, after payment of the rent or mortgage interest has a weekly income equal to the rate of supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to their circumstances, less €13. This €13 represents the minimum contribution which all applicants are required to pay towards rent or mortgage costs from their own resources. These arrangements ensure that tenants and home-owners have a minimally adequate income with which to meet their day-to-day needs after paying their rent or mortgage. Overall, I am satisfied that the current rules in relation to SWA scheme provides an adequate "safety net" within the overall social welfare system to ensure that people do not suffer hardship due to loss of employment.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

289 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on extending the living alone allowance to include old aged pensioners whose only income is their retirement pension; if he has proposals to address this anomaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5654/08]

The living alone increase is an additional payment of €7.70 per week made to people aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments and who are living alone. It is also available to people who are under 66 years of age who are living alone and receiving payments under one of a number of invalidity type schemes. While, as outlined, the increase is paid to those receiving invalidity type payments, it is primarily a benefit for those aged 66 or over. Accordingly, there are no plans to extend the payment to people receiving the State Pension (transition) or, indeed, to others who are under 66 years of age receiving other social welfare payments.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

290 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by him as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6020/08]

The Department has significant recognized internal expertise in procurement. It has not recruited specialists, either from the open market or by secondment, in the area of information technology procurement and/or capital project evaluation and management.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

291 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under his Department which are due to decentralise showing, in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5298/08]

Following is the information requested by the Deputy.

Organisation

Posts to decentralise

No. moved

Assigned but not moved

New recruits

Staying in Dublin and reassigned

Pobal

40

25

0

24

0

Foras na Gaeilge

30

0

0

0

0

Pobal have filled 25 posts in Clifden, Co. Galway. The posts concerned were in respect of new business and all posts, except 1, were filled by way of local recruitment. The remaining 15 positions due to relocate to Clifden will be filled, again by local recruitment, when a permanent building is in place. This is expected in late 2009. In relation to Foras na Gaeilge, 5 posts have been identified as an initial decentralisation tranche from within the overall complement of 30 posts to be relocated in Gaoth Dobhair. It is hoped that the necessary approvals can be processed so that these 5 posts will be filled in the course of 2008. It is expected that posts will be filled mainly by new recruits.

Departmental Bodies.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

292 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the date of establishment of the national drugs strategy team; if this group is still in existence; the purpose and role of this group; the number of members of the board of this group; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this group for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5359/08]

The National Drugs Strategy Team (NDST) was set up in late 1996 to help co-ordinate a response to the drug problem. The NDST is a cross-sectoral Team, with representatives from Government Departments and Agencies and from the community and voluntary sectors. The main purpose of the NDST is:

to ensure effective co-ordination in implementing the Government's National Drugs Strategy;

to oversee the work of Local and Regional Drugs Task Forces,

to monitor developments at local level; and

to contribute to the development of Government policy on drugs.

The NDST has a current membership of fifteen people, including the chairperson and director. These represent a range of Departments and Agencies, with two representatives each from the community and voluntary sectors. In my capacity as Minister responsible for the National Drugs Strategy, I appoint the Chairperson. The other members are nominated by their parent Department/Agency or Sector, on the basis of operating in this capacity for two and a half days per week. The salaries and other costs of the Statutory Representatives are borne by the parent Department or Agency. My Department engages the voluntary and community sector representatives on a contract basis and also covers the salaries and other costs of the Director and some of the staff, as well as administrative costs of the NDST.

My Department's expenditure in respect of the NDST from 2003-2007 is a follows:

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€0.24m

€0.25m

€0.40m

€0.40m

€0.43m

Leo Varadkar

Question:

293 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the date of establishment of the national monitoring committee overseeing the operation of the RAPID programme; if this group is still in existence; the purpose and role of this group; the number of members of the board of this group; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this group for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5360/08]

The National Monitoring Committee, which is still in existence, was established when the RAPID Programme commenced in 2001. The role of the Committee is to support the achievement of greater co-ordination and coherence in actions between the different Departments and agencies with regard to the RAPID Programme. There are twenty-two members of the Committee including the State Sector and Social partners, all appointed by the Agencies/Departments interests that they represent. The Committee has an oversight role in the implementation of the Programme by the relevant lead agencies. The Committee does not have a funding allocation and does not directly incur expenditure.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

294 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the date of establishment of Waterways Ireland; if this group is still in existence; the purpose and role of this group; the number of members of the board of this group; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this group for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5361/08]

Waterways Ireland is a North/South Implementation Body set up in December 1999 under the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999. Waterways Ireland has responsibility for the management, maintenance, development and restoration of certain inland navigable waterways, principally for recreational purposes, including:

the Barrow Navigation

the Erne System

the Grand Canal

the Lower Bann Navigation

the Royal Canal

the Shannon-Erne Waterway

the Shannon Navigation.

In addition, approval has been granted to Waterways Ireland to proceed with the restoration of the stretch of Ulster Canal from Upper Lough Erne to Clones. Waterways Ireland does not have a board, but the body has a Chief Executive appointed by the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC). Waterways Ireland is jointly funded by my Department and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland. The funding from my own Department for each of the last five years is as follows:

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€22.293m

€32.454m

€30.054m

€34.133m

€36.218m

Leo Varadkar

Question:

295 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of board members of the Boord o Ulstér-Scotch who are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5362/08]

There are eight members of the Agency's Board, four of whom are nominated by the Irish Government and four by the Northern Ireland Executive. Appointments are made formally by the North/South Ministerial Council.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

296 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the date of establishment of each of the 14 local drugs task forces and ten regional drugs task forces; the purpose and role of these task forces; the number of members of the boards of these task forces; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5363/08]

Local Drugs Task Forces (LDTFs) were established in 1997 in the areas considered to be experiencing the worst levels of opiate misuse. Twelve areas in Dublin — Ballyfermot, Ballymun, Blanchardstown, the Canal Communities, Clondalkin, Dublin North Inner City, Dublin South Inner City, Dublin 12, Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown, Finglas-Cabra, North East Dublin and Tallaght — were involved, as well as Cork City. Bray was later added in 2000.

The ten Regional Drugs Task Forces (RDTFs) were set up under the National Drugs Strategy in 2003, covering all parts of the country not covered by an LDTF, thus achieving full coverage of the country. Their areas of operation generally correspond with the Health Board areas of that time. The RDTF areas are listed in Appendix 1. The main purpose of Drugs Task Forces was to assess the nature and extent of the illicit drug problems in their areas of operation, to develop action plans for a co-ordinated response to those problems and to oversee and monitor projects approved under these action plans. Each Drugs Task Force has an independent Chairperson and comprises representatives of Government Departments and Agencies, elected public representatives and the community and voluntary sectors. The average membership is 21 for LDTFs and 28 for RDTFs. I do not make appointments to Drug Task Forces.

Appendix 1

Regional Drugs Task Forces

East Coast

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Wicklow

Mid-West

Clare, Limerick and Tipperary NR

Midlands

Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath

North East

East Cavan, Louth, Meath and Monaghan

North West

Donegal, Leitrim, Sligo and West Cavan

Northern Area

North Dublin City and Fingal

South Western

South Dublin City, South Dublin, Kildare and West Wicklow

South East

Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary SR, Waterford and Wexford

Southern

Cork and Kerry

Western

Galway, Mayo and Roscommon

Leo Varadkar

Question:

297 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, further to his reply to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 453, 454 and 455 of 5 February 2008, the number of advisory groups operating under the remit of his Department; the date of establishment of each of these groups; the purpose and role of each group; the number of members of the boards of these groups; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of each group for the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5364/08]

As the Deputy will be aware, my Dept was established in June 2002. At present there are 5 advisory groups operating under the remit of my Department, detailed as follows.

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) was established in July 2000. The purpose of the NACD is to advise Government in relation to prevalence, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland, based on its analysis of research findings and information available to it. Its role is to:

review current information and research capacity;

identify gaps in our knowledge and understanding;

ensure better use of information available from all sectors;

provide analysis and interpretation of research findings;

respond to Government requests to research issues of relevance to policy;

work with the Alcohol and Drugs Research Unit of the Health Research Board and assist with the establishment of a National Documentation Centre;

implement the three year programme of research and evaluation, liaising with all the relevant agencies;

co-ordinate and advise on appropriate research projects and commission research projects; and

promote and encourage debate through the dissemination of research findings.

The Committee has a Chairperson and 18 ordinary members. Members serve at the invitation of the Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy and are drawn from the statutory, community, voluntary and academic sectors. The Minister of State invites nominations from the various sectors but has the scope to make one personal appointment to the committee. This option has not been exercised to date. NACD expenditure over the past five years is €5.17m.

Audit Committee

The Department's Audit Committee was established in 2001. In line with the Mullarkey Report 2002, the Audit Committee was established to provide objective advice and recommendations on the work of Internal Audit Unit. The Audit Committee acts as a support and a resource to the Unit in carrying out its work and advises the Management Advisory Committee in relation to the operation and development of the internal audit function in the Department. The Audit Committee comprises of 1 chairperson and 3 committee members, none of whom are appointed by myself. Board members are appointed by the Management Advisory Committee of my Department.

Comhairle na Tuaithe

Comhairle na Tuaithe was established in February 2004 to address the three priority areas of:

Access to the countryside

Developing a countryside code

Developing a countryside recreation strategy

The membership of Comhairle na Tuaithe is 18, all of whom are appointed by myself. The total spend for Comhairle na Tuaithe since its establishment in 2004 to date is €211,200.07.

Fóram na Gaeilge

Fóram na Gaeilge was established in July 2004. The main purpose of the group is to advice the Government in relation to Irish Language Policy primarily in respect of the following issues;

The preparation of the 20 year strategy for the Irish Language

Short term priority strategy to maintain and promote Irish within the State

Identify priorities in relation to the implementation of the Official Languages Act and the best and most practical ways to advance and implement same. The membership of Fóram na Gaeilge is 26, all of whom are appointed by myself.

An Coimisiún Logainmneacha

An Coimisiún Logainmneacha was established in 1946. The Commission supervises the research programme of the Placenames Branch of my Department, which undertakes research in order to establish the correct Irish language forms of the placenames of Ireland and to publish them for official and public use. The Commission also has a statutory advisory role in relation to Placenames Orders under Part 5 of the Official Languages Act 2003. The membership of An Coimisiún Logainmneacha is 12, all of whom are appointed by myself. Other than routine meeting expenses which are paid by my Department, neither Fóram na Gaeilge, the Audit Committee or An Coimisiún Logainmneacha is a funding body or incurs expenditure.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

298 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the date of establishment of the national advisory committee on drugs; if this committee is still in existence; the purpose and role of this committee; the number of members of the board of this committee; the number of whom are appointed by himself; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed; the expenditure of this committee for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5366/08]

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) was established in July 2000 under the auspices of the Department of Tourism, Sport & Recreation. Since June 2002, the NACD operates under the auspices of this Department. The mandate of the NACD has been extended to July 2008 to coincide with the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008. Further information on the NACD, and its comprehensive array of publications, is available on its website www.nacd.ie

The purpose of the NACD is to advise Government in relation to prevalence, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and consequences of problem drug use in Ireland, based on its analysis of research findings and information available to it. Its role includes reviewing current information, identifying gaps in our knowledge and understanding and providing analysis and interpretation of research findings. The Committee has a chairperson and 18 ordinary members. Members are appointed by me and are drawn from the statutory, community, voluntary and academic sectors. Nominations are invited from the various sectors and there is the scope to make one personal appointment to the Committee. This option has not been exercised by me to date.

The NACD's expenditure over the past five years is as follows:

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

€1.232m

€1.269m

€0.679m

€0.867m

€1.124m

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

299 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by him as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6012/08]

In my Department there have been no full-time specialists procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management. Also, there have been no IT procurement specialists seconded between the public and private sectors.

Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Richard Bruton

Question:

300 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if the use of compulsory purchase orders powers has increased since the advice of the Minister for Finance to Departments on this matter in 2005; the details of the increase; if he has secured faster release of lands and a more cost effective price for all forms of public infrastructure; and the savings secured. [6128/08]

The appropriate use of compulsory purchase order powers is considered by my Department, Údarás na Gaeltachta and Waterways Ireland where relevant in the interest of securing a faster release of lands at a cost effective price. However, I am advised that the use of such powers has not increased since 2005.

Grant Payments.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

301 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if a company (details supplied) received grants in 2007 under the dairy investment fund; and if, in the event of grants having been paid to the company, they will be reclaimed if the company lets staff go in 2008. [5564/08]

The company in question was approved a total of €18.25m in grant assistance in respect of three separate projects on investments totalling €45.6m under the 2007 Dairy Investment Fund. The primary consideration for establishing the Dairy Fund was to support capital investment in the dairy sector to ensure that Irish dairy products could be produced efficiently and competitively for export markets. An important element in evaluating the projects submitted under the Fund was the extent to which each project would maintain or increase employment within the company. If a situation arises whereby job losses can be directly attributable to the investment under the Dairy Fund, my Department in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland will seek a review with the company into the circumstances giving rise to the job losses.

It is a condition of the award of grant aid under the Dairy Fund 2007 that a company must not dispose of equipment or buildings, in respect of which grant aid has been paid, within a period of five years from the date of payment of the final aid instalment without the prior written authorisation of Enterprise Ireland. If there is a breach of this condition, the Company will be required to repay the grant. Also, where it has been determined that the categorisation of the output has changed from that originally agreed, a pro-rata repayment/reduction of grant support will apply.

Coastal Erosion.

Pat Breen

Question:

302 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, further to Parliamentary Question No. 254 of 6 February 2008, if there are plans under the coastal protection programme 2008 to replace the structure known as the Model at Cloghauninchy, Quilty, County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5619/08]

I refer to my reply of 6th February 2008 to Parliamentary Question No. 254, which set out the current position regarding Coast Protection at Quilty, Co. Clare. However, having consulted with my Department's Engineers, I understand that in this case the Deputy's question relates to a specific structure (a sluice valve) owned by the Office of Public Works. Therefore, I would advise the Deputy to contact the OPW directly in relation to this matter.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

303 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under her Department which are due to decentralise showing in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5295/08]

The position regarding my Department's progress is as follows.

Location

Posts due to decentralise

Moved to the new location

Assigned but not moved

New recruits

Portlaoise

600

253

85

16

Fermoy

100

0

24

0

Macroom

100

0

25

0

Clonakilty

91

81

0

7

To the end of 2007, 15 staff from the Department were assigned to posts under the ‘Dublin Arrangements'.

Grant Payments.

John O'Mahony

Question:

304 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason for the hold up in REP scheme payments to farmers in County Mayo; when they will be receiving same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5317/08]

In the course of the ongoing discussions on the payment arrangements for REPS 4, the European Commission raised questions early in January 2008 about the established practice of paying REPS 2 and REPS 3 farmers at the beginning of each contract year. At that stage, some €6 million had already been paid to REPS 2 and REPS 3 farmers since 1 January 2008.

My officials have argued strongly with the Commission that the practice of paying at the start of the contract year is well established and one of which the Commission is well aware. My Department's position was outlined in considerable detail at a meeting with the Commission in Brussels on 25 January. When Commissioner Fischer Boel was in Dublin two weeks ago to attend the Annual General Meeting of the IFA, I took the opportunity to make the same points directly to her and I emphasised the seriousness with which I regarded the situation. I am continuing, along with my officials, to press for a quick resolution to the issue and high-level contacts are ongoing with the Commission. However, until the matter is clarified, my Department is not in a position to release any further payments under REPS 2 and REPS 3. Payments to REPS 4 farmers under contracts which commenced in 2007 are beginning to issue this week.

Departmental Bodies.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

305 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the date of establishment of Relay — Research for Food Industry; the purpose and role of this body; the number of members of the board of this body; the number of whom are appointed by her Department; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed by; the amount of financial support provided by the Government to this body for each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5323/08]

RELAY, established in 2001, is the national dissemination service charged with communicating the results of publicly funded food research to the Irish food industry. Its primary responsibility is to disseminate the research outputs from the Food Institutional Research Measure (FIRM), funded by my Department.

RELAY has established itself as the main source of food research information in Ireland and currently has over 1,500 organisations, 3,860 company contacts and 330 researchers on its database. RELAY tailors the methods of communication to provide stakeholders with easy access to research information. Through its website www.relayresearch.ie and targeted use of e-mail, industry contacts are provided with user-friendly updates on every FIRM funded project. RELAY hosts workshops on the latest topics in food research and conducts face-to-face meetings with industry to learn about current research from institutions and universities. RELAY also provides food companies with access to specific researchers to help them meet their R&D needs. The dissemination service, which is carried out by three disseminators and two support staff based in Teagasc and University College Cork, is funded under the FIRM programme. A steering group, appointed by my Department and composed of representatives of the various stakeholders, oversees the work of the RELAY service. The financial support provided by my Department to RELAY in the period 2003-2007 is as follows:

Year

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Amount

€519,379

€461,846

€457,159

€163,548

€366,063

Leo Varadkar

Question:

306 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the date of establishment of the Food Agency Co-Operation Council; the purpose and role of the council; the number of board members of the council; the number of whom are appointed by her Department; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed by; the amount of financial support provided by the Government to this committee for each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5324/08]

The Food Agency Co-operation Council (FACC) was established under the aegis of my Department in 2000 to promote the fullest possible practical co-operation between the State Agencies involved in the food industry in the interests of the optimum development of the industry. The Council, which was comprised of senior executives of the various state agencies involved in the food industry, met on 20 occasions between 2000 and 2003 under the independent Chairmanship of Mr Padraic White. There was no financial support provided in respect of the work of the Council. Payments totalling €15,200 were made to Mr. White in recognition of his work as Chairperson over the four year period.

Leo Varadkar

Question:

307 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the date of establishment of the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council; the purpose and role of the council; the number of board members of the council; the number of whom are appointed by her Department; the person by whom the remaining board members are appointed by; the amount of financial support provided by the Government to this council for each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5325/08]

The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council (FAWAC) was established in February 2002 on a non-statutory basis. It has been instrumental in promoting animal welfare in a practical way and providing a forum for different interest groups to meet, exchange views and reach consensus on the broad mandate of challenges facing farm animal welfare. Its terms of reference are:

To identify ways in which the welfare of farm animals can be further improved and to prioritise areas requiring attention.

At the request of the Minister/Department, to consider and advise on proposals for EU and national legislation relating to farm animals.

To consider ways of increasing public awareness and development and dissemination of information relating to welfare of farm animals at home and abroad.

To provide any other advice relevant to the welfare of farm animals as the Minister may seek from time to time.

All members of Council are appointed by me and include representatives from the following organisations:

The Irish Farmers Association

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association

The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society

Compassion in World Farming

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Wexford Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

The Committee for Irish Livestock, Dealers, Exporters, Hauliers and Shippers

Veterinary Ireland

Teagasc

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARDNI), Northern Ireland

Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, UCD

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

FAWAC is chaired by Professor Patrick Fottrell, former President of the National University of Ireland, Galway and secretariat assistance is provided by my Department. The total amount of financial support provided to date is €313,000. This funding includes expenditure on publications, meetings, subsistence and ex-gratia payments and is broken down as follows:

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

€48,000

€76,000

€29,000

€79,000

€81,000

Leo Varadkar

Question:

308 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the date of establishment of the consumer liaison panel; the purpose and role of the panel; the number of members of the panel; the number of whom are appointed by her Department; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed by; the amount of financial support provided by the Government to this panel for each of the past five year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5326/08]

The Consumer Liaison Panel was established in January 2002 to strengthen communication between the consumer and my Department. It is a Standing Panel which operates independently of the Department and meets as it considers necessary to liaise on general consumer issues in relation to the activities of the Department and to comment on the flow of information both to and from the public. It does not have a set annual budget.

There are currently eight members on the Panel, nominated by organizations to represent the consumer base of those organizations. The Panel consists of representatives of the Consumers' Association of Ireland, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Irish Countrywomen's Association, Voluntary and Community Sector Platform, RGDATA and consumer representatives of major food retail outlets. The Chair is nominated by the Minister, this position is currently vacant. A representative of the Department also sits on the Panel as a facilitator and the Department provides secretariat and back-up services. My Department is currently in the process of reviewing the activities of the Panel in accordance with the commitment set out in the Agri-Vision 2015 Action Plan.

Financial support towards the running costs of the Panel is provided by my Department. The breakdown of costs of the Panel during the past five years is set out below.

Year

2003

13,760.07

2004

5,416.79

2005

7,054.71

2006

817.92

2007

1,199.99

Leo Varadkar

Question:

309 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the date of establishment of the animal remedies consultative committee; the purpose and role of the committee; the number of members of the committee; the number of whom are appointed by her Department; the persons by whom the remaining board members are appointed by; the amount of financial support provided by the Government to this committee for each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5327/08]

The Animal Remedies Consultative Committee was originally provided for under the Animal Remedies Act 1956 to advise and assist the Minister for Agriculture in the making of regulations under that Act. With the replacement of the 1956 Act by the Animal Remedies Act 1993, the Committee, as currently constituted, came into being on 15 June 1994. The nine member Committee is appointed by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Seven of these appointments, however, are made, as prescribed by Section 3(2)(a) of the Act, on the basis of nominations as follows:

1 from the Minister for Health and Children

1 from the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland

1 from the Veterinary Council of Ireland

1 from organizations engaged the manufacture, distribution, sale or supply of animal remedies

1 from organizations concerned with livestock farming or the keeping or rearing of animals or use of animal remedies

1 from organizations concerned with production of food of animal origin or development of the food industry

1 from organizations concerned with consumer interests.

In line with its remit, the Committee is only convened when consideration is being given to the making of regulations under the Act, which results in infrequent meetings. The total amount of expenditure arising from the activities of the Committee for each of the last 5 years is as follows:

Year

Amount

2003

Nil

2004

Nil

2005

991

2006

585

2007

Nil

Legal Proceedings.

Ulick Burke

Question:

310 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, further to her reply to Parliamentary Question No. 469 of 5 February 2008, if an official of her Department involved in this case is referred to in the reply; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5377/08]

I am not a party to the proceedings referred to in the question. Resolution of those proceedings is a private law matter for the parties to the proceedings. I am advised that an appeal is pending and consequently it would not be appropriate for me to comment further in relation to litigation in which I am not involved.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Ulick Burke

Question:

311 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of farmers in REP scheme two whose plans have expired since the termination of the receipt of the REP scheme three plan in late 2006; the numbers for each month up to February 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5378/08]

4,376 REPS 2 contracts have terminated since REPS 3 closed for new applications in October, 2006 . The statistical breakdown requested is provided in the table below:

Year

Month

REPS 2 plans ended

2006

November

361

2006

December

8

2007

January

312

2007

February

308

2007

March

121

2007

April

281

2007

May

572

2007

June

215

2007

July

211

2007

August

157

2007

September

258

2007

October

271

2007

November

289

2007

December

394

2008

January

313

2008

February

305

Foreshore Licences.

Dara Calleary

Question:

312 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if her Department has received all outstanding information from Mayo County Council; if Dúchas has completed its work on a slipway development (details supplied) in County Mayo; and when she will be in a position to issue a foreshore licence. [5391/08]

An application was made to my Department by Mayo County Council on 30 May 2007 for a foreshore lease to facilitate construction of a slipway at Kilcummin, Co Mayo. The application was circulated to the Department's consultees for assessment and comment. The Development Applications Unit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has requested that a full underwater archaeological assessment of the area be carried out. This request has been communicated to Mayo County Council. The archaeological assessment will require examination and approval by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Responses are also awaited from the Valuation Office and my Department's Engineering Division. As soon as the necessary information becomes available, every effort will be made to finalise the lease.

Harbours and Piers.

Dara Calleary

Question:

313 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if her Department has received all outstanding information from Mayo County Council in relation to a harbour development (details supplied) in County Mayo; and the status of the scheme. [5392/08]

Purteen Harbour is owned by Mayo County Council and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests with the Local Authority in the first instance. In December 2007 my Department invited Mayo County Council to submit its proposals for inclusion in the Fishery Harbours & Coastal Infrastructure Development Programme for 2008. An application for funding for the assessment of development options for the Harbour was included in the submission received from Mayo County Council. The Fishery Harbours & Coastal Infrastructure Development Programme for 2008 is currently being finalised and the application from Mayo County Council will be given due consideration subject to the availability of Exchequer funding and overall national priorities.

Grant Payments.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

314 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Galway will receive their REP scheme payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5398/08]

The person named is a participant in REPS 3 but I understand that processing of her most recent payment application has not yet been finalised in my Department's local office. In the course of the ongoing discussions on the payment arrangements for REPS 4, the European Commission raised questions early in January 2008 about the established practice of paying REPS 2 and REPS 3 farmers at the beginning of each contract year. At that stage, some €6 million had already been paid to REPS 2 and REPS 3 farmers since 1 January 2008.

My officials have argued strongly with the Commission that the practice of paying at the start of the contract year is well established and one of which the Commission is well aware. My Department's position was outlined in considerable detail at a meeting with the Commission in Brussels on 25 January. When Commissioner Fischer Boel was in Dublin two weeks ago to attend the Annual General Meeting of the IFA, I took the opportunity to make the same points directly to her and I emphasised the seriousness with which I regarded the situation. I am continuing, along with my officials, to press for a quick resolution to the issue and high-level contacts are ongoing with the Commission. However, until the matter is clarified, my Department is not in a position to release any further payments under REPS 2 and REPS 3. Payments to REPS 4 farmers under contracts which commenced in 2007 are beginning to issue this week.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

315 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when single payments will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5408/08]

An application under the Single Payment Scheme was received from the person named on the 14th April 2007. As part of the control procedures under EU legislation governing the Single Payment Scheme, the application was selected for and was the subject of satellite eligibility and on the spot animal identification and registration inspections. All outstanding issues are now resolved and full payment will issue shortly.

Eamon Scanlon

Question:

316 Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim will receive payment due to them. [5416/08]

An application under the 2007 Single Payment Scheme / Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 26 March 2007. The application has been fully processed and payments have issued as follows: Single Payment Scheme (Advance): €2,258.07, dated 16 October 2007; Single Payment Scheme (Balance): €2,258.07, dated 3 December 2007; Disadvantaged Areas Scheme: €4,456.75, dated 12 September 2007.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

317 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Wexford has not received full payment of their single farm payment; when full payment will be made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5418/08]

The person named applied for Category B of the 2005 National Reserve which catered for farmers who made an investment in production capacity in a farming sector for which a direct payment under Livestock Premia and/or Arable Aid schemes would have been payable during the reference period 2000-2002. Investments can include purchase or long-term lease of land, purchase of suckler and/or ewe quota or other investments. The application was in respect of leased land and the person named was successful under this category. A letter outlining this decision issued to him on 24 November 2007.

The person named also applied for an allocation of entitlements from the 2006 National Reserve under Category B. Category B of the 2006 National Reserve catered for farmers who commenced farming after 31 December, 2002 or who commenced farming in 2002 but who received no direct payments in respect of that scheme year. The person named was also successful under this category and a letter outlining this decision issued to him on 29 January 2008. All monies due in respect of the first allocation from the National Reserve for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007 have already issued to the person named. A top-up payment due in respect of the allocation from the 2006 National Reserve will issue shortly.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

318 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Wexford has not received full payment of their single farm payment; if full payment will be made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5419/08]

The person named and his brother established entitlements during the reference period 2000-2002 and in 2005 they applied to transfer by way of lease 6.69 entitlements to the son of the person named. The person named and his brother received full payment on the remaining entitlements for 2005. In May 2006 an application was received to transfer a further 5.67 entitlements by way of lease again to the son of the person named. A request was received by letter dated 14 November 2006, to withdraw this transfer. This request was granted and the Department did not transfer the 5.67 entitlements.

In April 2007 the joint ownership between the person named and his brother was ended and the herd number was registered in the joint names of the person named and his wife. Documentation was received in December 2007 signed by all parties to have the position regarding the entitlements reviewed. In the course of this review it appears that the person named may have wished to rescind the 2005 lease arrangement and not the 2006 transfer as requested in November 2006. My Department is in direct contact with the person named to clarify all issues associated with the ownership and lease of the entitlements since 2005. If necessary an official from my Department will meet the person named as there seems to be some confusion as to what exactly is required. Following this clarification any payment due will issue to the parties concerned.

Michael Ring

Question:

319 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of REP scheme claims that have been cleared by local agriculture, environment and structure offices and are awaiting payment from the Wexford section of her Department; if she will provide details on a county basis and indicate if the claimants are participants in REP scheme 2 or REP scheme 3; the total amount to be paid out; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5492/08]

Up to 10 February 2008, 4,895 payments to farmers in REPS 2 and REPS 3 were approved. A number of payments to farmers with contracts commencing in 2007 had also been processed. The total amount provided for REPS under Ireland`s Rural Development Programme during the period 2007-2013 is €2.968 billion. In relation to REPS 2 and REPS 3 the information requested is set out in tabular form.

County

Payments approved for REPS 2 participants

Payments approved for REPS 3 participants

Carlow

0

68

Cavan

16

189

Clare

10

189

Cork

8

277

Donegal

36

321

Dublin

2

13

Galway

45

577

Kerry

32

305

Kildare

1

58

Kilkenny

4

130

Laois

1

66

Leitrim

8

191

Limerick

9

181

Longford

13

110

Louth

3

20

Mayo

50

354

Meath

2

63

Monaghan

8

145

Offaly

10

117

Roscommon

3

185

Sligo

10

172

Tipperary NR

3

173

Tipperary SR

1

94

Waterford

10

153

Westmeath

5

199

Wexford

4

196

Wicklow

2

53

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Michael Ring

Question:

320 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the budget allocated to the REP scheme programme; and the total amount of funding paid out to date in both REP scheme two and three; and the number of participants in each scheme on a county basis. [5493/08]

A record level of funding — €2.968 billion — has been provided for REPS under Ireland`s Rural Development Programme over the seven years 2007-2013. The Government's commitment to the Scheme is clearly evident in the provision of €1.599 billion in national funding. I am confident that funds will be available to meet all commitments arising under the Scheme this year in line with the existing practice of paying REPS farmers at the start of each contract year. Some €6 million had been paid to participants in REPS 2 and REPS 3 this year, up to the point in early January when the Commission raised questions about the established practice of paying REPS farmers at the beginning of each contract year. Until this matter is clarified, my Department is not in a position to release any further payments under REPS 2 and REPS 3. The following table shows the number of active participants in each scheme, on a county basis.

County

REPS 2

REPS 3

Carlow

24

584

Cavan

182

1,954

Clare

183

2,476

Cork

333

3,836

Donegal

444

3,619

Dublin

8

104

Galway

748

5,350

Kerry

333

2,916

Kildare

46

574

Kilkenny

33

867

Laois

65

1,130

Leitrim

322

2,735

Limerick

100

1,695

Longford

199

874

Louth

37

324

Mayo

740

5,340

Meath

67

1,131

Monaghan

138

1,696

Offaly

116

1,308

Roscommon

169

1,382

Sligo

246

1,594

Tipperary (NR)

64

1,395

Tipperary (SR)

75

1,354

Waterford

84

1,767

Westmeath

102

1,293

Wexford

76

1,271

Wicklow

33

738

Michael Ring

Question:

321 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if there is money in place to meet REP scheme two and three claims that are awaiting payment in her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5494/08]

I am confident that the available funding will be sufficient to meet all commitments arising under the Scheme in line with the practice of paying REPS farmers at the start of each contract year.

Michael Ring

Question:

322 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food her plans to lift the suspension of REP scheme payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5495/08]

In the course of the ongoing discussions on the payment arrangements for REPS 4, the European Commission raised questions early in January 2008 about the established practice of paying REPS 2 and REPS 3 farmers at the beginning of each contract year. At that stage, some €6 million had already been paid to REPS 2 and REPS 3 farmers since 1 January 2008.

My officials have argued strongly with the Commission that the practice of paying at the start of the contract year is well established and one of which the Commission is well aware. My Department's position was outlined in considerable detail at a meeting with the Commission in Brussels on 25 January. When Commissioner Fischer Boel was in Dublin two weeks ago to attend the Annual General Meeting of the IFA, I took the opportunity to make the same points directly to her and I emphasised the seriousness with which I regarded the situation. I am continuing, along with my officials, to press for a quick resolution to the issue and high-level contacts are ongoing with the Commission. However, until the matter is clarified, my Department is not in a position to release any further payments under REPS 2 and REPS 3. Payments to REPS 4 farmers under contracts which commenced in 2007 are beginning to issue this week.

Grant Payments.

Denis Naughten

Question:

323 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, further to Parliamentary Question No. 273 of 28 September 2006, the grant aid returned to her Department by the company; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5565/08]

My Department, in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland, examined the position regarding contingent liabilities arising from the closure of the plant in question at Rooskey, Co. Roscommon. Having regard to all the factors involved, including the company's significant capital investment in the Irish pork sector and the retention of cannery operations at Rooskey for a number of years, agreement was given by my Department to the assignment of the remaining contingent liabilities at Rooskey to the new assets at the company's plants in Roscrea and Edenderry.

Denis Naughten

Question:

324 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the grant aid committed to the redevelopment of a plant (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5568/08]

My Department has not committed any grant aid for the redevelopment of the plant in question.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

325 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by her as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6009/08]

My Department has a number of internal staff who are qualified and experienced in the area of information technology procurement. These staff have successfully procured and delivered a substantial number of large ICT capital projects; examples include the Single Payment Scheme and the Animal Health Computer System. Consequently, my Department had no vacancies for a full-time specialist in the area of information technology procurement, nor have any IT procurement specialists been seconded between my Department and the private sector. With regard to evaluation and management of capital projects, no full-time specialists have been recruited into my Department, nor have any such specialists been seconded between my Department and the private sector.

Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Richard Bruton

Question:

326 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if the use of compulsory purchase order powers has increased since the advice of the Minister for Finance to Departments on this matter in 2005; the details of the increase; if she has secured faster release of lands and a more cost effective price for all forms of public infrastructure; and the savings secured. [6125/08]

To date I have not had occasion to exercise compulsory purchase powers in the affairs of my Department.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

327 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will present in tabular form the progress at the end of 2007 in respect of units or agencies under her Department which are due to decentralise showing in respect of each the number of posts to be decentralised, the number who have moved to the new location, the number who have been assigned to the decentralised post but have not moved, the number of staff who have been assigned who are new recruits and the number who have opted to stay in Dublin who have been assigned to other posts within Dublin. [5300/08]

The following is the information requested by the Deputy in tabular form. As my Department is scheduled to decentralise in full the officers opting to remain in Dublin who have been assigned to posts remaining in Dublin have transferred out of my Department.

Department of Education & Science

A

B

C

Position @ 31 Dec 2007

Posts to decentralise

Posts held by officers who will decentralise

Posts decentralised

No of new recruits included in B & C

No of officers wishing to remain in Dublin who have transferred to posts remaining in Dublin

Department of Education & Science

404

149

13

45

48

State Bodies in the Education Sector

A

B

C

Position @ 31 Dec 2007

Posts to decentralise

Posts held by staff who will decentralise

Posts decentralised

No of new recruits included in B & C

Higher Education Authority (HEA)

64

22

0

National Council for Curriculum & Assessment (NCCA)

35

19

0

National Education Welfare Board (NEWB)

14

11

0

National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI)

18

6

0

Further Education & Training Awards Council (FETAC)

44

4

0

Higher Education Training & Awards Council (HETAC)

34

6

0

Total

209

68

0

401

1On the basis of the information provided by these bodies to the Department of Education & Science it is known that at least 40 posts assigned to staff who will decentralise in them are held by relatively new recruits. Not all of the bodies have provided full data on this issue — the figure of 40 may rise when such data is provided.

Special Educational Needs.

Terence Flanagan

Question:

328 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will guarantee that the existing home tuition allowance payable to parents of autistic children who attend a school in an area (details supplied) in Dublin 3 will remain in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5382/08]

The Home tuition scheme provides funding to parents to provide education at home for children who, for a number of reasons such as chronic illness, are unable to attend school. The scheme was extended in recent years to facilitate tuition for children awaiting a suitable educational placement. Home tuition funding cannot be provided indefinitely in respect of children who have school placements available to them. A suitable school place is available for each of the children attending this centre. Officials in my Department have now written to the parents of the children attending the centre in question in relation to the Home Tuition Scheme.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government believes that as each child with autism is unique, they should have access to a range of different approaches to meet their individual needs. This view is informed by advice received from international experts on autism, the National Educational Psychological Service and the Inspectorate. An analysis of research — including the report of the Irish Task Force on Autism — supports this approach too, while Autism societies in other countries also caution against relying on just one method. By enabling children in special classes to have access to a range of methods, including Applied Behavioural Analysis, the Government is doing what we are advised is in the best interests of such children.

The Department of Education and Science has supported the use of ABA for many years and training is provided for teachers in its use. However, the Department does not accept – based on research, advice and best practice – that it should be the only method used. While ABA can address certain needs — in particular behaviour — other methods, such as TEACCH and PECS are just as important — in particular in developing children's communication and speech skills. It is important that children have access to a range of methods so that their broader needs can be met.

Hundreds of children with autism are integrated into mainstream schools and hundreds more are in autism specific classes. More than 275 autism-specific classes have now been approved around the country, while more are being set up all the time. A testament to the scale of progress being made in this area is the fact that the number of such classes has increased by over 40% in the past year alone. There are a maximum of 6 children in each special class with a teacher and at least 2 Special Needs Assistants. Extra assistants are provided where the children need them. A child can have his/her own SNA if needed. Children in special classes have the benefit of fully-qualified teachers who are trained in educating and developing children generally and who have access to additional training in autism-specific approaches, including ABA. The level of such training available to teachers has improved dramatically in recent years and is a major priority for the Government. Children in special classes also have the option, where possible and appropriate, of full or partial integration into mainstream classes and of interaction with other pupils.

As I have already explained, the Department of Education and Science and the National Council for Special Education have been working hard to ensure that all children with autism have access to a range of approaches in special classes. A number of years ago, before this extensive network was in place, some centres were approved for funding under an ABA pilot programme. The Government is committed to long-term funding for these pilots subject to agreement on certain standards such as appropriate qualifications for staff and the type of educational programme available to the children. Discussions have taken place with Irish Autism Action with a view to advancing this commitment as soon as possible.

Other centres, including the one referred to by the Deputy, are seeking to be funded under the pilot scheme. However, now that a national network of special classes is available, new centres will not be brought into the pilot programme. We are determined instead to ensure that each child has access to the autism-specific education that is now being made available to schools throughout the country. I would again point out that appropriate placements are available in local schools for the children currently attending the centre in question.

Schools Building Projects.

Dara Calleary

Question:

329 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the development of a school (details supplied) in County Mayo. [5390/08]

An application was submitted to the Department under the Small Schools Scheme 2007 by the school referred to by the Deputy. Due to the volume of applications received in my Department it was not possible to allocate funding to all proposed projects and the school referred to was not successful.

Higher Education Grants.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

330 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a person (details supplied) in County Louth has not been granted a higher education grant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5402/08]

The decision on eligibility for third level grants is a matter for the relevant assessing authority — i.e. the local authority or VEC. These bodies do not refer individual applications to my Department except, in exceptional cases, where, for example, advice or instruction regarding a particular clause in the relevant scheme is required. If an individual applicant considers that she/he has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she/he may appeal, in the first instance, to the relevant local authority or VEC.

Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down, in writing, by the relevant local authority or VEC, and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the schemes correctly in his/her case, an appeal form outlining the position may be submitted by the applicant to my Department. Alternatively, as already indicated, the local authority or VEC may, itself, in exceptional circumstances, seek clarification on issues from, my Department. Louth County Council, the assessing body in the case referred to by the Deputy, contacted my Department in respect of this application. They requested further documentation from the applicant in order to complete the assessment process. The information was not submitted and, consequently, the application expired. I understand Louth County Council have written to the applicant to advise them that as the information requested was not submitted the application is now considered closed for the 2007/08 academic year.

Schools Building Projects.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

331 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science when her Department officials will visit proposed sites for a new school (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5420/08]

I can confirm to the Deputy that the Department is in receipt of an application for large scale capital funding from the school to which he refers. The project has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects and assigned a Band 2 rating. Progress on the proposed works is being considered in the context of the multi-annual School Building and Modernisation programme consistent with that Band rating.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

332 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science the position of the application for a school extension at a school (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5421/08]

I can confirm that my Department is in receipt of an application for major capital funding from the school to which the Deputy refers. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects and has been assigned a band 2 rating. Progress on the project in question will be considered in the context of my Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme consistent with its Band Rating.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

333 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science the schools that benefitted from the school modernisation programme each year since the beginning of this programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5422/08]

The information sought by the Deputy is not readily available, however, I am satisfied that existing school infrastructure has been dramatically improved in recent years. During the period of the last National Development Plan 2000-2006 my Department accelerated the school building programme with record levels of investment and the streamlining of delivery systems. An aggregate total of well over €2.6 billion was invested in upgrading existing school infrastructure and providing new school accommodation at both first and second-level. This programme delivered over 7,800 building projects in addition to investment in site purchases; the annual minor works grant to all primary schools, science and technology initiatives, contingency works and grants for the purchase of furniture and equipment including improving equipment needed for new technologies and ICT.

Innovations in the delivery of school buildings such as Generic Repeat Designs and the use of the Design and Build model ensure that new school buildings are delivered in the fastest time-frame possible. My Department also adopted a policy of devolving much greater authority to local school management boards to manage and deliver smaller building projects, thereby freeing my Department to concentrate on the larger scale projects. My Department has improved forward planning through greater cooperation between the Department of Education and Local Authorities and the publication of 10-year Area Development Plans.

The budget for 2007 was the first year of the roll out of the new NDP 2007-2013 which will involve an investment of over €4.5 billion in school building infrastructure over the coming years to ensure that school places are available where needed. This investment will be the largest in the history of the State and will enable my Department to continue to take a proactive approach to the provision of modern school accommodation particularly in developing areas and the upgrade of existing accommodation. Construction in 2007 alone involved over 1500 building projects which will deliver over 700 classrooms to provide permanent accommodation for over 17,500 pupils, mainly in developing areas. The main focus of the school building programme for 2008 and subsequent years is to deliver additional capacity in the rapidly developing areas. I am conscious of the need to provide more school places quickly and these are being delivered.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

334 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans for secondary education in an area (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5423/08]

Paul Kehoe

Question:

335 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans for primary education in an area (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5424/08]

Paul Kehoe

Question:

337 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will meet with the principal and chairman of the board of management of a school (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5426/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 334, 335 and 337 together.

In accordance with my recent announcement, a new 8 classroom primary school is being provided, subject to Planning Permission, in the area referred to by the Deputy, to open in September 2008. The school is capable of being expanded to 16 classrooms and the timing of the delivery of this expansion will be decided in the context of an updated review by my officials of the demand for primary accommodation in the town which will be undertaken over the coming months. Contracts for Sale for the primary school site have been signed and it is expected that the sale will close shortly.

A review of post primary school provision in the Enniscorthy area is currently at an advanced stage and,when completed, decisions will be taken regarding the future development of post-primary education facilities in the area and officials will be in contact with the relevant schools, as appropriate.

Schools Recognition.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

336 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science the contact her Department had with the proposed school (details supplied) in County Wexford; the reason this application has not proceeded; if she will be giving this application the go ahead to take pupils in September 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5425/08]

There is an open and transparent time bound process in place for the recognition of new primary schools. This annual process is administered by the New Schools Advisory Committee (NSAC) which is an independent body. The process commences with the lodgement of Notices of Intention to establish new schools from individual Patron Bodies followed thereafter by full formal applications. In the case in question, while a Notice of Intention to establish a new school was received, this was not followed up by the requisite formal application.

Question No. 337 answered with Question No. 334.

Water Conservation Schemes.

John Curran

Question:

338 Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Education and Science if there are grants available from her Department that would assist schools to fund the installation of rainwater collection systems or to fund other water conservation systems. [5432/08]

My Department does not have any request for funding for rain water harvesting on file. However, I am anxious to enable schools to conserve water and keep their bills as low as possible. An information package is currently being prepared for schools on the most appropriate measures to minimise excess consumption of water and to reduce wastage where it exists. As part of this exercise, technical guidance and specifications for the most common problems that are likely to arise in this area will be provided.

Rainwater harvesting systems have real potential to reduce schools future water bills in conjunction with other technologies. The demand for water in schools must be minimised firstly through push type spray taps, low flushing toilets, urinal controls, repairing leaks, etc, then the potential for rainwater harvesting can be maximised by reducing the amount of mains water used to flush toilets. (Typically this would be about two thirds of the water used in a school). In that context my Department has selected Stamullen National School, Co Meath where a new 16 classroom GRD school is under construction to trial a rainwater harvesting system and are reviewing the suitability of other potential locations currently at early construction stage for such systems. While fitting the systems in new schools during construction is relatively straight forward, retrofitting them in existing schools is much more difficult and very expensive because of the various dedicated pipe work systems and the amount of builders work and making good that would be required in each instance.

In November 2007 the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Mr. John Gormley TD, through Dublin City Council, launched a "Conserve Water in Schools' campaign which involved giving all schools in Dublin City a present of a water butt to collect rain water for use in school gardens and free "hippo bags" to put in toilet cisterns that will automatically reduce the amount of water used with each flush. A "Conserve Water in Schools Resource Pack" was launched which shows children how they can get involved in conserving water and put a stop to water wastage in their schools. The school pack shows children how to audit the amount of water used in their school and how to devise a plan of action to reduce water usage and to stop wastage. Action sheets in the pack encourage pupils to keep up their good water conservation habits and show them how to monitor and evaluate their own school's Plan of Action on an ongoing basis. All schools everywhere can get involved by downloading the schools' pack from the council's website, www.dublincity.ie.

Schools Building Projects.

Michael Ring

Question:

339 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of Gaelscoileanna that have been approved for new schools on a county basis. [5471/08]

Michael Ring

Question:

340 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the breakdown of the stage of each application for a new school for each Gaelscoil on a county basis. [5472/08]

Michael Ring

Question:

341 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of Gaelscoileanna on a county basis that have applied for new buildings in the past two years. [5473/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 339 to 341, inclusive, together.

The information sought by the Deputy is not readily available. However, if the Deputy has a query in relation to a specific school he can contact my officials in the Department who will be happy to assist in this regard. In general new gaelscoileanna initially operate with provisional recognition from my Department. During the period of provisional recognition, it is the responsibility of the school patron to provide interim accommodation. This accommodation must be capable of fully meeting the needs of the developing school until permanent recognition has been secured and my Department is in a position to provide permanent accommodation. While schools with temporary recognition do not qualify for capital funding, my Department does provide grant aid for the rental of interim accommodation.

A school may be granted permanent recognition when it has complied with all the conditions of temporary recognition. The period of temporary recognition may vary from school to school. As soon as permanent recognition is granted by my Department a school may apply for a new school building.

Special Educational Needs.

Joe Costello

Question:

342 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a special needs assistant was withdrawn from a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 who suffered brain damage at birth, suffers from cerebral palsy, epilepsy and seizures and is in need of speech therapy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5480/08]

As the Deputy will be aware, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) to schools to support children with special needs. SNAs are sanctioned to schools specifically to assist in the care of pupils and students with disabilities in an educational context. The SENOs operate within the policy outlined in my Department's circular for allocating such support.

My officials have been in contact with the NCSE and I understand that SNA support has not been withdrawn from the pupil referred to by the Deputy. The pupil currently has access to SNA support in the school on a full time basis. I am also informed that the SENO is reviewing the general SNA allocation in the school and that the parents and school will be notified of the outcome of the review when completed.

School Transport.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

343 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science if free transport will be approved for a child with special needs (details supplied) in County Louth who is attending a primary school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5490/08]

The School Transport Section of my Department has no record of an application for school transport for the pupil, referred to by the Deputy, in the details supplied. The National Council for Special Education has responsibility, through its network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), for the establishment of special education facilities and for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants to schools to support children with special needs. The parents/guardians of the pupil in question should liaise, in the first instance, with the local SENO. The provision of school transport will be considered upon receipt of the SENO's report.

Schools Building Projects.

James Reilly

Question:

344 Deputy James Reilly asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans for new schools in the Balbriggan area and in particular her Department’s plans to accommodate schools (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason the school lands at Castlelands north of Balbriggan are not used to accommodate the schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5491/08]

The Department of Education and Science, in conjunction with Fingal County Council, has identified sites in Balbriggan for the provision of primary school accommodation. Planning applications have been lodged to provide accommodation at two sites in the area, one to cater for one temporary sixteen classroom school on the Naul Road and a second to provide two permanent eight classroom schools at Castlelands. It is planned to deliver these schools for September 2008. Details on the schools to be accommodated at these sites will be confirmed in the coming weeks.

The Department recently received a Notification of Intention to grant Planning Permission from Fingal County Council for temporary accommodation on a further site at Bremore, Flemington. However, an appeal by a third party has been made to An Bord Pleanála. It will not, now, be possible to deliver the planned temporary accommodation for the schools in question on that site in the time-frame required. My officials are examining other options for these schools.

School Accommodation.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

345 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the severe accommodation problems in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 11; the position in relation to the negotiations between her Department and the authorities of another school in relation to the acquisition of that building for use by the Gaelscoil; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5496/08]

My Department has identified a suitable site for the school in question and negotiations are ongoing for the acquisition of same. When the site is secured, the proposed building project for the school will be considered for progression in the context of my Departments Multi-Annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Willie Penrose

Question:

346 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science if, in the context of persons who were in residential institutions and who were abused and who have been granted awards by the residential redress board, there is a specific education fund available for children of such persons in order to enable them to pursue third level qualifications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5533/08]

Under the terms of the Indemnity Agreement dated 5th June 2002 reached between the State and 18 religious congregations, there is provision for the sum of €12.7m to be used for former residents and their families to facilitate them in accessing educational services and programmes. On 17th February 2006, I formally established the Education Finance Board as a statutory body as provided for in the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Act, 2005.

The functions of the Board are: to pay grants to former residents of institutions and specific relatives to assist them in availing of certain educational programmes; to provide information in relation to educational services for which grants are payable; to determine and publish the criteria for the payment of such grants. The Board is entirely independent in the performance of its functions and consists of a Chairperson and 8 ordinary members, four of whom are former residents. You may wish to note that the Board's website, educationfinanceboard.com, contains all relevant criteria and information together with the necessary application forms for persons who may wish to avail of the fund.

Schools Building Projects.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

347 Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to concerns being expressed around Tallaght regarding the urgent need for redevelopment of a complex (details supplied) in Dublin 24; if she will give assurances on the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5555/08]

Applications for large scale capital funding are assessed against published prioritisation criteria and assigned a Band rating. Progress on individual projects, such as the project in question, will be considered in the context of my Department's multi-Annual School Building and Modernisation Programme consistent with the assigned Band rating.

School Accommodation.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

348 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if the technical assessment recommended by the commission on school accommodation has been completed for a school (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5620/08]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

349 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if the technical assessment recommended by the commission on school accommodation has been completed for a school (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5621/08]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

350 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if the technical assessment recommended by the commission on school accommodation has been completed for a school (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5622/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 348 to 350, inclusive, together.

The Department has carried out an extensive study on educational requirements for Swords for the medium to long term. This study has been formalised and included in the "Draft Area Development Plan for North Dublin, East Meath and South Louth" which was published in January 2007. The Commission on School Accommodation has completed a public consultation process on foot of this draft Plan and its final report was published last September. The recommendations in the report will be used to inform capital investment decisions in the areas covered including Swords for the foreseeable future.

There is no doubt that additional post primary places will be needed in the coming years in the area concerned and the Department is already taking action under the Fingal School Model process to ensure that these will be delivered commensurate with the need. Technical assessments will be carried out in the context of the overall development of future second-level education in the area. In the meantime, the Department is satisfied that, between them, the four existing post primary schools have adequate provision to cater for current demand.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

351 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if her Department and Fingal County Council have completed the steps to reserve a site for a post-primary school (details supplied) as recommended by the commission on school accommodation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5623/08]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

353 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if her Department in conjunction with Fingal County Council, has acquired a site for a primary school (details supplied); the location of the site; the plans in place for the construction of a new school as recommended by the commission on school accommodation and the remainder of the site to be used for a 16 classroom school with provision for expansion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5625/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 351 and 353 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that sites have been identified for the areas in question and will be acquired in the context of my Departments Multi-Annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

352 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if the board of management of a primary school (details supplied) has made a formal application for an extension to the school to become an eight classroom school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5624/08]

I can confirm that the school to which the Deputy refers has made an application to the Department for major capital works for an eight classroom school. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria and was assigned a band 2 rating. The proposed project will be considered in the context of the overall primary school accommodation needs in the area in question and the multi annual school building and modernisation programme.

Question No. 353 answered with Question No. 351

Schools Building Projects.

Finian McGrath

Question:

354 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the timeframe for a school (details supplied) in County Leitrim to go to design; the timeframe for completion of same. [5630/08]

The Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department in relation to site acquisition, has secured a site for the provision of a new school for the school referred to by the Deputy. The building project required to deliver the new school building will be considered in the context of the multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Ulick Burke

Question:

355 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding sanction approval and starting date for the promised extension to a school (details supplied) in County Galway which is overcrowded. [5636/08]

This project has been approved to start architectural planning. The further progression of the project will be considered in the context of my Department's School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Ulick Burke

Question:

356 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to provide a general purpose hall at a school (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5637/08]

The school referred to by the Deputy made an application for capital funding towards the provision of additional accommodation. An assessment of projected enrolment trends, demographic trends and housing developments in the area was carried out in order to determine the long term accommodation needs of the school. This has been finalised and notified to the school. The proposed building project will be considered in the context of my Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation.

Special Educational Needs.

Enda Kenny

Question:

357 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of cases for review that have been taken by the National Council for Special Education to date arising from a request by parents following assessment of their children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5642/08]

Enda Kenny

Question:

358 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science the number, in respect of the Special Education Appeals Board, of meetings held by the board since its inaugural meeting; the number of cases examined by the board to date; the number of cases waiting for decision; the relevant sections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 that remain to be commenced to enable appeals to be undertaken by the Special Education Appeals Board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5643/08]

Enda Kenny

Question:

359 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of cases where the National Council for Special Education has overturned or changed a decision taken by a special education needs organiser in relation to the assessment needs of a child; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5644/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 357 to 359, inclusive, together.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act, 2004 provides for an educational assessment for children with special educational needs and the entitlement to an education plan to meet those needs. As the Deputy will also be aware, many sections of the Act have already commenced and, as I have previously indicated, it is my view that the full commencement of the Act will require the five year implementation period provided for in the legislation. The significant progress that continues to be made to establish the foundations for the full implementation of the Act should be acknowledged. In particular, the appointment of the inaugural Special Education Appeals Board which I formally established in April 2007 under Section 36 of the Act.

The Board has not heard appeals to date and no appeals decisions are pending as the sections of the Act that provide for assessment and education planning and the associated appeals provisions have not yet been commenced. However, the appointment of the Special Education Appeals Board from an early stage will ensure that appropriate appellant structures and processes are in place to hear appeals once the relevant sections of the EPSEN Act are commenced. The Board comprises a Chairperson and two ordinary members, all of whom have a special interest in, or knowledge of, education and in particular the education of persons with special educational needs.

The Board is continuing to identify the resources and processes it will need to put in place to ensure that it will be ready to fulfil its role once the relevant sections of the Act are commenced. Information in relation to review decisions made by the National Council for Special Education has been requested from the Council and I will forward it to the Deputy directly on receipt.

Educational Disadvantage.

Finian McGrath

Question:

360 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the time frame for the mid-term review of schools not included in DEIS; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5645/08]

DEIS provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated School Support Programme (SSP). The DEIS plan also states that as well as provision being made for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage, a measure of financial support will also continue to be provided for other primary schools where the level of disadvantage is more dispersed. The process of identifying primary and second-level schools for participation in DEIS was managed by the Educational Research Centre (ERC) on behalf of the Department and was supported by quality assurance work co-ordinated through the Department's regional offices and the Inspectorate. As a result of the identification and review process, 873 schools have been included in the SSP under the DEIS initiative. These comprised 670 primary schools (338 urban schools and 332 rural schools) and 203 second-level schools. The next identification process is scheduled to be held in 2009/2010.

In the interim, the Department has put in place separate arrangements for new schools (including those created through amalgamation), which opened in 2005/2006 or thereafter up to the time of the next identification process in 2009/2010. The Department will also consider, during the course of the current school year, the situation of schools located in certain communities that have experienced significant socio-economic decline since the commencement of DEIS.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

361 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of full-time specialists who have been procured through open recruitment in the area of information technology procurement and capital project evaluation and management; and the number of IT procurement specialists who have been seconded between the public and private sectors, as proposed by her as part of the improved value from capital projects. [6014/08]

Under the terms of the Department of Finance guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital expenditure proposals in the public sector, the recruitment of full-time specialists as referred to by the Deputy is only required in certain circumstances. To date it has not been necessary to appoint a full-time specialist by way of open recruitment or through secondment from the private sector to work on any I.T. projects for my Department. In addition to this it has not been necessary to date for my Department to engage any procurement and capital project evaluation specialist on a full-time basis, for any capital projects currently being undertaken by my Department. In respect of my Department's Public Private Partnership projects the National Development Finance Agency undertakes the procurement, financial and legal evaluation for each project.

Compulsory Purchase Orders.

Richard Bruton

Question:

362 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if the use of compulsory purchase orders powers