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 6, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 7 to 74, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 75 to 84, inclusive, answered orally.

Departmental Applications.

Jack Wall

Question:

85 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps she is taking to improve her Department’s application processing times and overall customer service performance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18618/08]

My Department is committed to providing a quality service to all its customers. This includes ensuring that applications are processed and that decisions on entitlement are 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 deployed to discharge the Department's obligations towards its customers and in implementing cost effective controls to prevent and detect fraud and abuse.

The processing of applications under any of the schemes operated by the 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 by the Department's medical assessors of applicants; the verification of information provided through home visits by social welfare inspectors, 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.

Measures introduced by the Department to address the efficiency of claim processing include the following:

Review of existing processes and procedures on an ongoing basis with the explicit objective of reducing delays in claim processing;

Prioritising claim renewals to ensure continuity of payments;

Review of ongoing staffing requirements in light of the increased volumes of claims in certain areas;

The judicious application of overtime working;

Recruitment of temporary staff where appropriate, to reduce or eliminate the backlogs;

Introduction of scanning technology in certain areas, to update details directly from claim forms to computer systems, will enable further streamlining of claim processing.

These measures will, over time, lead to more efficient processing and reduce the number of claims on hand. The position is being closely monitored and kept under review by my Department.

Pension Provisions.

Richard Bruton

Question:

86 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has assessed the impact of stock market losses on the robustness of pension provision; and if there are implications for public policy. [15682/08]

The Funding Standard provided for in the Pensions Act 1990, measures the solvency of defined benefit pension schemes. Generally speaking, this requires that pension schemes have sufficient assets to discharge their liabilities in the event that the scheme is wound up. Schemes are required to carry out a full actuarial assessment of the funding position every three years and an interim assessment of the position must be included in the annual report of a scheme.

Where a scheme does not meet the funding standard the trustees are required to put in place a funding proposal to enable the scheme to meet the standard within three years. The Pensions Board can extend this period to ten years in certain circumstances including where the funding position of a scheme has been adversely affected by market difficulties.

Up to the end of March this year 1,343 of the 1,416 Defined Benefit pension schemes registered with the Pensions Board submitted funding certificates and 77% of these schemes satisfied the Funding Standard.

In many cases the assessments, on which the funding certificates are based, pre-date the recent market difficulties and so it will be sometime yet before it becomes apparent what impact these will have on individual pension schemes.

Pensions are long-term investments and changes in market performance over the short-term must be viewed with caution for that reason. Private pensions performed positively over a number of years before the recent change in fortunes. That said, there is no doubt that difficulties in the markets impact on pensions in a number of ways. Firstly, as employers bear the investment risk for the schemes, it puts pressure on defined benefit provision. The cost to employers of maintaining defined benefit schemes has increased significantly in recent years and any period of sustained market losses is a cause for concern as they will be required to make up any deficits which may arise in scheme funding.

Secondly, as regards defined contribution schemes, losses can impact on the value of the fund and the level of pension it can provide. This has serious implications for members who carry the investment risk. Stock market losses may affect confidence in the system at a time when the Government is encouraging people to make early provision for their retirement.

As the House is aware the Government published a Green Paper on Pensions in October 2007. The associated consultation period on the paper will draw to a close at the end of May. The Government is committed to developing a framework for future policy on all aspects of pensions with a view to putting in place a sustainable pension system which people can be confident will deliver an adequate income in retirement. This framework will be developed by end 2008.

Social Welfare Code.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

87 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the lone parent reforms proposed by her; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18713/08]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

93 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when legislation relating to lone parent reforms can be expected; if procedures have been agreed for Departmental action to support the proposals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18714/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 87 and 93 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.

Under the proposals, the lone parenthood category 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. This new payment is currently being developed in my Department, taking into account the various issues raised in the consultation process which continues to take place.

Any proposed new payment scheme can only be introduced when the necessary co-ordinated supports and services are put in place on the ground by other relevant Departments and Agencies. This is why the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion has been tasked with bringing forward a plan on the key issues of childcare, education, training and activation measures.

The non-income recommendations contained in the discussion paper were examined in two areas: Coolock and Kilkenny. These studies focused on identifying and resolving any practical and administrative issues that may arise in advance of the scheme being introduced. These studies took place between November 2007 and February 2008. The studies allow for operational and logistical co-ordination between the relevant Departments and Agencies to be considered and facilitate the development of the policy and operational details of the new scheme and accompanying supports.

The outcome of the process is currently being considered in the Department. This will inform the further development of the proposals which I hope to bring to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion in the coming months.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

88 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the rationale for not paying child benefit and early childcare supplement to foster parents from the commencement of their foster care arrangement where it is known in advance that the arrangement is to be long-term in nature; and the review that she will conduct of this policy. [18601/08]

Child benefit is a monthly payment, paid in respect of children up to the age of 16 years. It continues to be paid in respect of children up to and including 18 years where they are in full-time education, or where they have a physical or mental disability.

Prior to April of this year child benefit continued to be paid to the birth parent where a child was placed in foster care, regardless of the duration of foster care or the level of support provided by the birth parent. This arrangement was based on a legislative provision which deemed that the child should be regarded as normally residing with the mother, even where the child had been placed with foster parents.

New arrangements have now been put in place whereby child benefit transfers to a foster parent after a period of six months of foster care. The rationale behind this change is that the purpose of child benefit is to assist toward the ongoing cost of child rearing. However, when introducing the change, it was considered inappropriate to withdraw payment from a parent in respect of short periods of foster care, such as during a period of recuperation from illness in the case of a single parent without family or other supports. Furthermore, it is recognised that the immediate withdrawal of child benefit may have an adverse financial effect on the mother who may, regardless of the duration of the foster care, maintain some level of contact with the child.

Following discussions with the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Irish Foster Care Association, it has been established that the HSE initially consider the vast majority of foster care arrangements to be short-term placements. In view of this and in light of the fact that legislating for all possible scenarios would be impractical, it was decided that six months represents a reasonable ‘lead-in' time before the transfer of child benefit. The foster parent is subsequently entitled to child benefit from the seventh month of foster care.

The early childcare supplement, which is administered by the Department on behalf of the Office of the Minister for children and paid in respect of children under six years of age, also transfers to the foster parent. As it is paid quarterly in arrears, it is paid to the person who was entitled to CB for the majority of the proceeding quarter.

I believe that these arrangements present the most equitable method of administering payment of child benefit in what can be very difficult circumstances for the families concerned.

Question No. 89 answered with Question No. 83.
Question No. 90 answered with Question No. 80.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

91 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her intentions to issue new guidelines or take other courses of action to clarify the way deciding officers should treat an application for carers respite grant where the claim was made outside the statutory time limit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18610/08]

The Respite Care Grant is an annual payment made to all persons providing full-time care, regardless of means or PRSI contribution record, but subject to certain statutory conditions. These conditions relate primarily to employment outside the home, the provision of full time care as set out in legislation, and the medically certified need for such care.

The Grant is payable from the first Thursday in June of the year in respect of which the application is made and all the qualifying conditions must be satisfied on that date. The majority of Respite Care Grants are paid to people who are in receipt of certain primary social welfare payments, notably Carer's Allowance, Carer's Benefit or Constant Attendance Allowance. In these cases, the Grant is paid automatically without the recipients having to make a specific application for it.

The extension of the scheme to all carers was introduced in Budget 2005. This provided that people who are providing full-time care and attention may qualify for the Respite Care Grant, regardless of primary payment, by making specific application for it. To this end, a new unit was set up in my Department to process applications from this newly eligible category of people.

In 2005, applications for the Grant amounted to 6,813 and of these, some 5,930 were successful. The number of applications in 2006 rose to 13,916 and 10,051 of those were successful.

In 2007, applications fell slightly to 13,564, with 10,959 being successful. Those receiving payment of the 2006 and the 2007 Grant included those who received the Grant the previous year and who confirmed that they continued to satisfy the qualifying conditions.

A recent change was made to the legislation, which has the effect merely of clarifying existing arrangements. There is a requirement under primary legislation that a person must claim their entitlement within a specified period from the date their entitlement arises. In the case of the Respite Care Grant this period runs from roughly mid- April of the year for which the Grant is being claimed to the 31st of December of the following year. The legislation helps to set down more clearly the prescribed time within which a claim for the Grant for a particular year must be made. Claims received outside this time period can also be allowed in certain circumstances, at the discretion of a Deciding Officer where the applicant can show that there is a reasonable explanation for the failure to claim within the prescribed time.

The recent legislative measure does not involve changes to procedures which have been in place since the inception of the newly extended scheme in Budget 2005. Deciding Officers who deal with applications for the Grant have been advised of this.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

92 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her intention to provide statutory independence to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. [18611/08]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office, which was established in 1990, acts as an independent and separately managed office of my Department. The Office was set up in response to concerns about a perceived lack of independence and, also, in line with a commitment in the Programme for National Recovery. Prior to 1990, appeals were made to the Minister and the appeals process was administered by the Department. Since 1990, appeals are made directly to the Chief Appeals Officer and are administered by the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

The statutory basis for the social welfare appeals system is contained in Part 10 of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 and in Regulations made under the provisions of that Act. This legislation provides for the appointment of Appeals Officers and for various other procedures and powers necessary for the operation of the system. The legislation also outlines the powers and duties of the Chief Appeals Officer. The Appeals Officers are completely independent in the exercise of their functions, a fact which has been recognised and commented on by the Courts.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office aims to provide and deliver an independent, accessible and fair welfare appeals service in a prompt and courteous manner. The independence of the officers is, therefore, of paramount importance in carrying out their functions.

The officers recognise the importance of fulfilling their role in an impartial and objective way in determining the cases submitted for adjudication. In this context, some 14,000 appeals were finalised in 2007, of which over 47% were decided in favour of the appellant.

The present system has worked effectively and has provided a high standard of service since the establishment of the Social Welfare Appeals Office in 1990. The independence and integrity of the Appeals Officers in discharging their function has never been in doubt and, while there are currently no plans to provide statutory independence to the Social Welfare Appeals Office, I will be keeping all aspects relating to the functioning of the Office under review.

Question No. 93 answered with Question No. 87.

Pension Provisions.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

94 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the rationale for applying the formula used to assess entitlement to a pre-1953 State pension where credits from a country with which Ireland has a bilateral agreement are used to satisfy the minimum number of contributions required; if her attention has been drawn to the anomalous position whereby once this minimum is reached, every extra non-Irish contribution results in a smaller payment for the applicant; the rationale for not basing the formula on the number of Irish credits as a proportion of total credits up to 260 credits; if her attention has been further drawn to the way in which the formula differs from the full State pension; if the effect of this formula is in keeping with our bilateral agreements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18602/08]

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

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

The pre-53 pension is a special measure designed to provide a pension to people who would not otherwise qualify for any payment. A number of such pensions are being paid in accordance with the arrangements outlined above and I am satisfied that such payments are calculated in accordance with the relevant EU regulations and the reciprocal agreements entered into by Ireland with other States.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

95 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on whether the top rate of maternity benefit, currently €280, is an amount that new mothers, during perhaps the most expensive times of their lives, can be expected to survive on. [18569/08]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

104 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on increasing the maximum rate of maternity benefit to an amount that would provide an acceptable living standard for new mothers. [18568/08]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

105 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if there are plans to oblige employers to make contributions to their employees’ maternity leave payments, in order to increase the payments. [18570/08]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

131 Deputy Arthur Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has plans to introduce paid paternity leave. [18566/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 95, 104, 105 and 131 together.

The Maternity Benefit scheme has been significantly improved, notably in the last few years, in terms of both the duration of the payment and the level at which it is paid. Budget 2006 provided for Maternity Benefit payments to be extended from 18 to 22 weeks. Following further extension of 4 weeks in Budget 2007 the period of Maternity Benefit payments rose to the current level of 26 weeks. Under Maternity legislation women may also choose to take a further 16 weeks leave without payment of benefit.

In 2000, the rate of maternity benefit payable was the equivalent of €219.41 per week over 14 weeks — or €3,071 for the duration. Maternity Benefit is now paid at a weekly rate of €280 over 26 weeks — or €7,280 for the duration. This represents an increase considerably ahead of the rise in average industrial earnings.

Some employment contracts may allow for additional periods of leave to be taken or for an additional top-up payment to be made above the normal entitlement to Maternity Benefit. These arrangements are discretionary private contractual arrangements agreed between employers and workers and, as such, are outside the realm of social welfare legislation.

Provision of a social insurance funded payment for paternity leave would be contingent on an underlying entitlement to statutory paternal leave which is the responsibility of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

I am satisfied that the rates and duration of maternity benefit in Ireland represent a reasonable response to the income needs of women on maternity leave.

Richard Bruton

Question:

96 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on the recent report by Focus Ireland, Rental Systems in Ireland: The case for change; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18698/08]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

100 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on Focus Ireland’s recent proposals that the housing income system of supplementary welfare allowance needs to be radically reformed and redesigned into an integrated housing benefit system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18705/08]

Shane McEntee

Question:

101 Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on the recent submission by Focus Ireland in relation to the review of the adequacy and effectiveness of rent supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18704/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 96, 100 and 101 together.

The rent supplement scheme is administered on my behalf by the community welfare service of the Health Service Executive. The purpose of the scheme is to provide short-term income support to eligible tenants living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

In response to an invitation from my Department, Focus Ireland recently made a submission in relation to a review of rent limits currently being undertaken by the Department. 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. 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.

The current rent limits were set in January 2007 and applicable to 30 June 2008. The limits were set following a review which resulted in rent limits being adjusted upwards for a number of household types at annual cost of €13 million. A consultative process is being used in the current review of rent limits, to ensure that the views of all relevant parties, including non-governmental agencies, are taken into account. The views put forward by Focus Ireland in this context are being considered and will form part of the review. Any adjustments to rent limits, resulting from this review, will be effective from 1 July 2008.

On the issue of the adequacy and effectiveness of the rent supplement scheme in general, the scheme works well in providing income maintenance support where required in particular circumstances by tenants in the private rented sector. However, the rent supplement scheme has, over the years, developed beyond the original objective of providing short-term assistance with accommodation costs. A significant number of people have now come to rely on rent supplement for extended periods, including people on local authority housing lists. Of the 62,000 people in receipt of rent supplement, almost 32,000 rent claims are of over 18 month's duration.

The rent supplement scheme was not designed to meet long-term housing needs.

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

Almost 13,000 people have been transferred from the rent supplement scheme to RAS since 2005. The objective is that local authorities will complete the transfer of all 32,000 rent supplement recipients with long-term housing needs to their care in time.

I am anxious that all avenues are explored as regards ways of providing support for those on long-term rent supplementation. This is being considered in the context of overall housing policy, which comes within the remit of my colleague the Minister for the Environment Heritage and Local Government. That Department already provides a range of housing supports through local government initiatives, including traditional social housing and RAS, both of which provide tenants with the benefit of Differential Rent. They also include shared ownership and affordable housing schemes.

Any further initiatives in relation to mortgage support will be framed by that Department in the context of its "Delivering Homes — Sustaining Communities" housing policy statement and "Increasing Affordable Housing Supply" published in 2007. I consider that it would be preferable to deploy resources directly in the housing support system rather than through the social welfare system. In the meantime the Department will continue working closely with the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government in ensuring the success of RAS.

Overall, I consider that the current range of housing supports, together with the enhancements that may emerge from the current public consultation in relation to affordable housing, provide the potential to meet long-term housing needs in an appropriate and sustainable manner.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

97 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the supports in place to farm operators suffering from a disability in view of the fact that the average age of farm operators experiencing a disability is only 52 years old; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [13066/08]

My Department currently operates a range of schemes for people with an illness or disability including the insurance based illness benefit scheme, the occupational injury benefit scheme for those who are unable to work because of an accident or illness suffered at work and the means-tested disability allowance scheme.

Farm operators normally pay Class A social insurance contributions and therefore, subject to satisfying the contribution and medical requirements, would be entitled to the full range of illness and disability payments. Should they suffer from a specified illness related to their employment or an accident while at work they can apply for injury benefit which would be paid for a period of 26 weeks.

A person who acquires an illness or disability outside the work environment, or who is still unable to work after 26 weeks of receiving injury benefit, may qualify for illness benefit. They must meet certain medical and contribution requirements in order to receive this payment which can be paid for a period of 52 weeks or, if more than 260 contributions have been paid, may continue indefinitely. A person who does not satisfy the contribution conditions for illness benefit, and whose means are below a prescribed level, may qualify for disability allowance instead.

National Carers Strategy.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

98 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress to date on the national carers strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18695/08]

Pat Breen

Question:

114 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the consultation that has taken place to date on the national carers strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18697/08]

Pat Breen

Question:

129 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the national carers strategy will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18696/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 98, 114 and 129 together.

The development of a National Carers' Strategy is a key Government commitment in both the national partnership agreement "Towards 2016" and the Programme for Government.

A working group, chaired by the Department of An 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. To date, the working group has met on three occasions, in February March and April.

Developing the strategy involves consultation with other government departments and bodies not represented on the working group. The Department of Social and Family Affairs has met with a wide range of organisations including the Equality Authority, Combat Poverty Agency, Citizen's Information Board, the National Council on Ageing and Older People, the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the National Disability Authority.

A request for submissions from the public was published in regional newspapers in early March. The closing date for submissions was Friday 18 April 2008. There was a good response from individuals and organisations and the submissions received are currently being examined.

"Towards 2016" commits the DSFA to hosting an annual consultation meeting of carer representative groups and relevant government departments and agencies. Such a meeting was held on 23 January 2008. Representatives of 12 groups and 9 departments and agencies attended.

The theme was the National Carers' Strategy and groups were given an opportunity to comment on the draft terms of reference and to raise other issues considered relevant in the context of the strategy. It is intended that a further meeting with carer groups will be held in early summer.

The commitment to the development of a National Carers' Strategy also includes a commitment to appropriate consultation with the social partners. An update in relation to the strategy was provided to the social partners plenary session in February. The first of two consultation meetings with the social partners was the commitment to the development of a National Carers' Strategy also includes a commitment to appropriate consultation with the social partners. An update in relation to the strategy was provided to the social partners plenary session in February. The first of two consultation meetings with the social partners was held on 8 May 2008. Key issues raised were recognition for carers and their work, access to suitable health services, income support, training, gender issues and balancing employment and care.

It is intended to publish the strategy later this year.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

99 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the actions she has taken on foot of the commitments in the programme for Government to examine urgently the introduction of free travel for returning Irish citizens of pension age who live abroad. [18614/08]

The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over and to people receiving certain disability or care payments.

Following extension of the free travel scheme on an "all Island" basis proposals were put forward to extend the scheme to Irish born people living abroad and those receiving pensions from my Department. Officials of the Department have been examining the proposal and, in this regard, have engaged in discussions with EU Commission officials. However, at this stage, it has not been possible to progress the matter as, under EU legislation discrimination on grounds of nationality is prohibited.

More recently, the European Commission has indicated that to extend the scheme to people in receipt of an Irish pension could also be considered discriminatory.

Questions Nos. 100 and 101 answered with Question No. 96.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Sean Sherlock

Question:

102 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when she proposes to introduce new guidelines for the habitual residence rule in view of the inconsistencies identified in decision making by the social welfare appeals office. [18606/08]

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 would not normally be 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 particular individual circumstances of each case. Decisions in relation to Supplementary Welfare Allowance are made by Community Welfare Officers in the Health Service Executive (HSE).

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 (HRC) 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 HRC.

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 HRC have been prepared in consultation with management in the various scheme areas.

The guidelines will be issued in the immediate future and will be made available to all relevant staff and published on the Department's website www.welfare.ie. Prior to the publication of the guidelines, and as an additional support, training and/or briefings will be provided as appropriate to decisions staff within my Department and within the Health Service Executive. The revised guidelines place particular emphasis on the need for consistency. Deciding Officers will be advised to have regard to any previous HRC determinations in respect of the same applicant and will also establish whether the same factors continue to apply, and will take account of the latest relevant evidence and information.

I am satisfied that this arrangement contributes greatly to accuracy and consistency in the decision-making process.

Services for People with Disabilities.

David Stanton

Question:

103 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on the community and voluntary sector advocacy programme funded through the Citizens Information Board; her plans to further extend the programme’s coverage and guarantee funding on a long term basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18692/08]

In 2004 the Citizens Information Board in preparation for forthcoming legislation commissioned research from Goodbody Economic Consultants on, Developing an Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities. The report which was launched in July 2004 proposed a three-stranded approach:

1. The establishment of a Personal Advocacy Service to be provided directly by the Citizens Information Board in line with the forthcoming legislation.

2. A programme of support for community and voluntary sector advocacy.

3. A Community Visitors Programme for people in long–stay residential centres.

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

The Community and Voluntary Sector Advocacy programme to-date has developed and funded 47 advocacy projects. The overall focus of the programme is on representative advocacy for people with a disability. The programme includes geographically based projects that cross disability type as well as those focused on a particular disability type. Each of the projects poses different challenges, some requiring more intensive work with smaller caseloads while others have larger caseloads with shorter periods of client contact.

External evaluations are being undertaken on a sample of projects, and it is planned to undertake a full evaluation of the entire programme in 2010. It is not anticipated to grow the programme any further at this time. However, a small number of additional projects may be considered if any significant gaps are identified. The outcome of the evaluation will inform the future direction of the programme.

Questions Nos. 104 and 105 answered with Question No. 95.

Personal Advocacy Service.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

106 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reasons for the ongoing delay with introducing a personal advocacy service; the month in 2008 when she expects it to be launched and fully operational; if a recruitment embargo applies to any of the proposed new posts of the new service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18612/08]

The introduction of a personal advocacy service as provided for in the Citizens Information Act, 2007, is a priority for my Department. An organisational structure has been developed by the Citizens Information Board to meet the needs of the Personal Advocacy Service (PAS). Discussions between my Department, the Department of Finance and the Citizens Information Board are ongoing in relation to the additional staffing resources required for the provision of the service.

The appointment to the new post of Director of PAS will be made shortly and the service will be launched when the Director has taken up the position, recruited the staff and is satisfied that the structures, resources and facilities are in place to allow the service to commence operation.

In the meantime the Citizens Information Board is continuing preparatory work in relation to the establishment of the new service and has identified accommodation to facilitate its immediate needs.

Social Welfare Code.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

107 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the developments in the area of child care since she proposed the upcoming lone parent’s Bill, which will force single parents off welfare and into the workplace, leaving them in urgent need of affordable child care. [18571/08]

Mary Upton

Question:

108 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when she will abolish the cohabitation rule in respect of the one-parent family payment. [18624/08]

Martin Ferris

Question:

110 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her Department engaged in a process of consultation before proposing the upcoming lone parents Bill; and if so, the persons with whom it consulted. [18572/08]

Mary Upton

Question:

111 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way she will proceed in respect of the proposals for supporting lone parents document; and the precise timescale proposed. [18616/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 107, 108, 110 and 111 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.

Under the proposals, the lone parenthood category of payment 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.

Extensive consultation has been carried out at all stages in the development of the proposal. Submissions were invited from a range of organisations when the working group was first established within the Department of Social and Family Affairs to analyse the income support arrangements for lone parents and parents on low income. Thirty-nine organisations were contacted, including organisations participating in social partnership, lone parent organisations and other relevant organisations. Submissions were received from thirteen of these.

A consultative forum also took place with the then Minister for Social and Family Affairs following the publication of the Government Discussion Paper. Attendees included representatives from a range of lone parent organisations, other NGOs, relevant agencies and other government departments, as well as opposition spokespersons and members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs.

In May 2006 the then Minister participated in a debate on the discussion paper in the Seanad and he presented the proposals to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social and Family Affairs. The consultation process has continued as the proposals are being developed in the Department with a number of meetings having taken place between officials and lone parent groups. Presentations on the proposals have been made at various fora around the country. The discussion at these meetings and events has assisted in the development of the proposals.

Any proposed new payment scheme can only be introduced when the necessary co-ordinated supports and services are put in place on the ground by other relevant Departments and Agencies. This is why the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion has been tasked with bringing forward a plan on the key issues of childcare, education, training and activation measures.

The non-income recommendations contained in the discussion paper were examined in two areas: Coolock and Kilkenny. These studies, which took place between November 2007 and February 2008, focused on identifying and resolving any practical and administrative issues that may arise in advance of the scheme being introduced. These studies allow for operational and logistical co-ordination between the relevant Departments and Agencies to be considered and facilitate the development of the policy and operational details of the new scheme and accompanying supports. The outcome of the process is currently being considered in the Department. This will inform the further development of the proposals which I hope to bring to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion in the coming months.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Liz McManus

Question:

109 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extra language or translation resources she will provide to the Social Welfare Appeals Office to overcome interpretation difficulties during oral appeals and in relation to the translation of foreign documentation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18609/08]

The provision of adequate interpretation and document translation services is an important element in delivering a quality service to my Department's customers, particularly in the context of an increasing number of foreign nationals availing of social welfare services.

In relation to social welfare appeals, I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that it arranges for the attendance of interpreters to assist appellants who do not enjoy a sufficient command of English to enable them to adequately put their case at the oral hearing. Similarly, arrangements are made for the translation of foreign documents, especially medical reports, when required for the purpose of an appeal. I am advised that the current level of resources available for those purposes is adequate and that the position is kept under review so as to meet demand as required.

Questions Nos. 110 and 111 answered with Question No. 107.

Tax Collection.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

112 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way she proposes to comply with the provisions of the Finance Act, 2007 in relation to the collection and transfer of landlord PPS numbers who are in receipt of rent supplement to the Revenue Commissioners. [18603/08]

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

120 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if in view of the failure of her Department to withhold approximately €200,000 per year in tax from non-resident landlords to whom her Department pays rent supplements directly, she will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of introducing a paper-based system to collect this tax; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18620/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 112 and 120 together.

Rent Supplement is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term income support to eligible tenants 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. Rent Supplement is the property of the tenant in all cases.

The Department is committed to effective co-operation with the Revenue Commissioners and in this regard, details of rent supplemented tenancies have for many years been supplied to the Revenue Commissioners, in a format agreed with them. Details are also supplied in respect of rent supplement paid directly to non-resident landlords. The Revenue Commissioners have indicated that they have had significant success in matching landlords of rent supplemented tenancies with their database of clients.

The Finance Act 2007 obliges the department to collect and supply the Revenue Commissioners with landlord PPS or other tax reference number. Computer systems and new administrative arrangements are being developed to collect and record landlord PPS/tax reference numbers to transfer this data to Revenue in an electronic format by the end of the year. The approach being taken is not merely to provide the reference numbers but to associate details of rent supplement payments with those data.

Although the department does not have a facility to withhold tax from rent supplement paid directly to non-resident landlords, full details of such landlords are provided to the Revenue Commissioners for the purpose of allowing enquiries to be made as to tax compliance. The Minister for Finance has asked his officials and the Revenue Commissioners to review the requirement to deduct withholding tax from rent payments made to non-resident landlords. My Department is awaiting the outcome of this review and does not propose to change the current arrangements in the meantime.

Social Welfare Code.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

113 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will review the qualifying criteria for the back to school clothing and footwear allowance in order that low income families who derive earnings from self-employment may qualify. [18600/08]

The Back to School clothing and Footwear Allowance (BSCFA) scheme provides a one-off payment to eligible families to assist with the extra costs when their children start school each autumn. The allowance is not intended to meet the full cost of school clothing and footwear but only to provide assistance towards these costs.

A person may qualify for payment of an allowance if they are in receipt of a social welfare or Health Service Executive (HSE) payment, are participating in an approved employment scheme or attending a recognised education or training course and have household income below standard levels.

Self-employed people may receive back to school clothing and footwear allowance provided they are receiving a qualifying payment, such as Family Income Supplement or Jobseekers Allowance. If a person is self-employed, they or their spouse may qualify in certain circumstances for jobseeker's allowance or family income supplement subject to meeting the other qualifying criteria of these schemes. If a self-employed person is not in receipt of a qualifying payment such as jobseeker's allowance, then they will not qualify for the back to school clothing and footwear allowance.

I consider the back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme to be an important support for parents at a time of particular financial strain. The improvements to the scheme in recent years have provided a major boost to meeting the financial costs associated with return to school for those who most need assistance. Any changes to the structure of the scheme, rates of payment, income limits or amendments to the qualifying criteria would have cost implications and would have to be considered in a budgetary context and in the light of resources available to me for improvements in social welfare payments generally.

Question No. 114 answered with Question No. 98.

Community Welfare Service.

Billy Timmins

Question:

115 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the discussions that have taken place between herself and the Health Service Executive in relation to the moving of community welfare officers to her Department; the number of meetings that have taken place; the persons who attended these meetings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18715/08]

Billy Timmins

Question:

117 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the work undertaken between herself and the Health Service Executive to define the role of the community welfare officer if they move to her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18716/08]

Emmet Stagg

Question:

133 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the rationale for the proposed transfer of the community welfare service to her Department; the research which exists to support such a move; the expected impact of such transfer on the users of the service; and if she will he make a statement on the Government’s objectives in the context of this proposal. [18617/08]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

138 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action that will be taken in relation to the role of the community welfare officer under her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18717/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 115, 117, 133 and 138 together.

The decision to transfer certain functions from the Health Service Executive (HSE) to my Department follows on from recommendations made by the Commission on Financial Management and Control Systems in the Health Service. In its report, the Commission noted that over the years, the health system had been assigned responsibility for a number of activities that are non-core in the context of a health service. In view of the range of challenges facing the health sector, it recommended that the Government consider assigning such non-core activities to other bodies.

The Government considered the matter and in February 2006 decided to transfer certain functions from the HSE. The functions to be transferred included the General Register Office and various payments, including supplementary welfare allowances and payments made to or in respect of persons with a disability, namely domiciliary care allowance, mobility allowance, infectious diseases maintenance allowance and blind welfare allowance. The mechanics of transferring dental, optical and other treatment benefits from my Department to the health sector was also to be examined.

The General Register Office transferred to my Department in January this year and plans to transfer dental, optical and treatment benefit to the health sector are being developed. In addition plans are well advanced for the transfer of the domiciliary care allowance scheme and the other disability related income maintenance schemes to my Department.

Provision has been made in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act, 2008 for the transfer of the administration of SWA to my Department to take place. This provision is subject to Commencement Order.

Officials from my Department, the Department of Health and Children and the HSE have met the Superintendent Community Welfare Officers as a group on three occasions to discuss the transfer.

In addition officials are engaged in discussions with the unions representing the Community Welfare Service staff in relation to the transfer proposals. These discussions are being facilitated by an independent chairperson. Twenty one meetings haven taken place since last October and further meetings are expected to be held.

Progress has been made in these discussions in some areas but a number of issues remain to be resolved. The intention is to reach a collective agreement with the Unions which will deal with the concerns of all the staff involved. In this regard, discussions are also taking place with the civil service unions, representing staff in my Department, in relation to the transfer proposals.

During the course of the discussions the Unions have sought assurances about the future role of Community Welfare Officers and the discretionary element of the SWA scheme. Assurances have been given that when the service transfers to my Department the existing flexibilities will be retained. Community Welfare Officers working within my Department's structure will continue to make discretionary payments under the SWA scheme. They will remain community based and will continue to provide key information advice, advocacy and referral links between agencies.

The integration of the Community Welfare Service with my Department will allow for development of the role of Community Welfare Officers. There is already a significant level of liaison between them and locally based staff in my Department.

I am satisfied that the transfer of the Community Welfare service to my Department is appropriate and timely. It will allow for the development of the role of the Community Welfare Officers and will lead to an integrated and improved service for those in need. The existing flexibilities within the scheme will be maintained and Community Welfare Officers will remain community based and will continue to provide information, advocacy and referral links between agencies.

Social Welfare Schemes.

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

116 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the Central Statistics Office’s consumer price index detailed sub-indices report of March, 2008 which indicates that rents have increased by 10.4% in 12 months; and when she will increase rent supplement limits to reflect this trend. [18619/08]

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.

Notwithstanding these limits, under existing arrangements the HSE may, in certain circumstances, exceed the rent limits. This discretionary power ensures that individuals with particular needs can be accommodated within the scheme and specifically protects against homelessness.

The current rent limits were set in January 2007 following a review of the maximum levels of rent which a person may incur and still be eligible to receive rent supplement. The review informed the process of setting new limits applicable from January 2007 until 30 June 2008. Arising from the review, rent limits were adjusted upwards for a number of household types in 14 counties at an annual cost of €13 million.

A review of current rent limits is now under way . A consultative process is being used to ensure that the views of all relevant parties are sought and taken into account in the process.

This includes consultation with the HSE, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Central Statistics Office, the Private Residential Tenancies Board and voluntary agencies working in this area. This process will help ensure that the new rent limits reflect realistic market conditions throughout the country. Any adjustments to rent limits, arising from this review, will be effective from 1 July 2008.

Question No. 117 answered with Question No. 115.

Social Welfare Code.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

118 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on the recent report on One Family’s New Futures Project Increasing Labour Market Outcomes for Lone Parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18711/08]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

132 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on the recently launched One Family Strategy 2007 to 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18712/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 132 together.

The Department has recently received the One Family Strategy 2007 to 2009, and also the final report of their New Futures Project and found them both very worthwhile and informative. The Strategy document outlines the progress One Family aims to achieve by 2009 across the areas of client services, legal and policy change and attitudinal change.

Overall, One Family aims to continue to work to change attitudes towards lone parents. This is something that I am very much in favour of. Society and attitudes in Ireland have changed radically in the last 25- 30 years, alongside dramatic changes that have taken place in family formation. There is, however, still room for improvement in acceptance of all forms of family diversity, with the well-being of children being the key focus.

The New Futures project was developed by One Family as a continuation of their successful Moving On programme. New Futures aimed to support lone parents as they progressed from being dependent on welfare to supporting themselves independently. The project brought together the complementary expertise of front line service providers to develop a model of service provision to support lone parents who have been excluded from the labour market to progressing into sustainable employment. This initiative is in line with the Government's view that it is only through education, training and improved employment prospects that the risk of poverty and social exclusion of lone parents can be radically reduced.

In this regard the new proposals for supporting lone parents that both the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion and my Department are developing, are progressing. The testing phase of the non-income aspect of the proposals has ended and the outcome of the process is currently being considered. This will inform the further development of the proposals, which I hope to bring to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion in the coming months.

Social Welfare Fraud.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

119 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the concerns of the Social Welfare Appeals Office of the actions of deciding officers in applying the fraud legislation to straightforward cases of overpayment; and the course of actions she will take to ensure that this practice ends. [18608/08]

Deciding Officers revise decisions when new evidence that affects entitlement comes to their attention. An overpayment arises where the revised decision is effective from a date in the past and may be due to mistakes having been made by the customer, a third party or by the department but may also be due to the customer making false or misleading statements or wilfully concealing material facts i.e. fraud.

Prior to deciding that changes in entitlement are due to fraud, deciding officers give careful consideration to all the evidence available and offer the customer the opportunity to comment, and to submit any facts or information to correct any inaccuracy or incompleteness in the information. If the customer is dissatisfied with the deciding officer's decision s/he may appeal the decision to the Chief Appeals Officer.

Comprehensive guidelines are issued and training is provided to Deciding Officers to ensure that high standards are met and maintained in all aspects of decision-making.

Focus is placed on the appropriate legislation that should be applied when making revised decisions. I am satisfied that in the vast majority of cases, correct decisions are made regarding entitlement and that Deciding Officers provide a high quality service. Regular meetings are held with the Social Welfare Appeals Office to discuss the quality of decision making and any other issues which need to be addressed.

Individual cases, brought to attention by the appeals office, because they do not meet acceptable standards, are followed up so that corrective measures can be taken.

Question No. 120 answered with Question No. 112.

Pension Provisions.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

121 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on offering social welfare contribution credits for old age pension purposes to carers who have spent a major proportion of their working lives providing care for family or others in such need even though they may not have had to give up insurable employment to provide this care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18682/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

174 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her proposals to award pension based social welfare credits to carers who do not have social welfare contributions from other employment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18851/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 121 and 174 together.

In order to qualify for the maximum rate of the state pension (contributory), a person must, amongst other qualifying conditions, achieve a yearly average of at least 48 contributions paid or credited on his/her social insurance record over their working life. Reduced pensions are paid to those with yearly averages as low as 10 contributions.

Arrangements are also in place to cater for those with social insurance contributions at different rates, with contributions from other EU member States or countries with which Ireland has reciprocal social security agreements and with pre-1953 contributions.

The range of different payments available has made it easier for people to qualify for a contributory pension. Measures are also in place to protect the social welfare pension entitlements of those who leave work to care for sick or elderly relatives. People who qualify for payments such as carer's allowance or carer's benefit may, subject to conditions, qualify for credited contributions.

The homemaker's scheme, which was introduced in and took effect from 1994, allows up to 20 years spent caring for children or incapacitated adults to be disregarded when a person's social insurance record is being averaged for pension purposes. This scheme applies to people who take time out of the workforce for caring duties but who do not qualify for credits through the carer's allowance or benefit schemes.

Any person, including a carer, may pay voluntary contributions once they satisfy certain qualifying conditions. A person may choose to pay voluntary contributions, provided they are no longer covered by a PRSI scheme on a compulsory basis in Ireland, are no longer covered by a PRSI scheme on a compulsory or voluntary basis in any other E.U. country, are under age 66 and satisfy the qualifying conditions. Voluntary contributions provide cover for long-term benefits, such as pensions.

To become a voluntary contributor, a person must have paid at least 260 PRSI contributions in either employment or self-employment and apply within 12 months of the end of the contribution year during which they last paid compulsory insurance or were last awarded a credited contribution. The person must agree to pay voluntary contributions from the start of the contribution week that follows the week in which they left compulsory insurance.

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 carers allowance, carers 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.

Overall, I am satisfied that adequate arrangements are in place to protect the pension entitlements of people who leave employment to provide full-time care so that they can qualify for a contributory pension. There are, of course, people caring who cannot benefit from these measures. The position of these, and others who are at present not receiving support through the social welfare pension system, is considered in the Green Paper on Pensions. A consultation process on the Green Paper is underway and will remain open until the end of this month.

The Government will respond to the process by publishing a framework for future policy on all aspects of pensions and I expect that this will be finalised before the end of the year. The position of those who are at present without a contributory pension entitlement will be considered in that context.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

122 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the actions she has taken to explore the possibility of including in the household benefits package, a national waste services waiver scheme. [18613/08]

The setting of waste management charges and the introduction of waivers in respect of waste charges is, as has been stated in this House on many occasions, a matter for each local authority. Local authorities operate under the auspices of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The introduction of a national social welfare scheme as part of the household benefits scheme to address the issue would not be feasible given the wide range of charging regimes and cost structures that exist in respect of waste management throughout the State. Charges vary across local authorities and within local authorities where there is more than one provider. In addition, some local authorities and private operators already operate waiver schemes but again the qualifying conditions for these schemes also vary. Any system put in place to assist people with waste collection charges would have to take account of the different local arrangements.

My officials have discussed this issue with their counterparts in the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and I understand that Department does not have any plans at present to introduce a National waiver scheme. Similarly, I have no plans to introduce a waiver scheme through the social welfare system.

Joe Costello

Question:

123 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action she is taking to deal with the oversight in her Department’s guidelines in relation to the application of EU regulations to the entitlement of migrant workers to child benefit where their children resided outside Ireland, as highlighted in the 2007 report of the Social Welfare Appeals Office; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18605/08]

The reference in the Social Welfare Appeals Office Report 2007 relates to a number of cases where Child Benefit claims were submitted outside of the specified time frame for so doing. The small number of Child Benefit claims referred to were paid from the month after receipt of the claim as provided for by Social Welfare legislation. EU legislation provides that in certain circumstances such claims to family benefits can be backdated to an earlier date. The decision to allow payment only from the month after receipt of the claim was subsequently appealed by the customer to the Social Welfare Appeal office.

The appropriateness of the application of this EU legislation to the Child Benefit claims in question is being examined by the Department at present. When this examination is completed the relevant Department guidelines will be updated if required.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

124 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she is satisfied that the increases in welfare and pension payments in 2008 are sufficient to meet the growing cost of living for low income individuals and families and retired people; and her intentions to seek a supplementary estimate to support her Department’s clients with these rising costs. [18625/08]

Improvements in social welfare supports are normally introduced by way of the annual Budget. Budget 2008 provided for increases in welfare rates of payment which are ahead of the projected increases in prices for 2008. These included:

An increase in the maximum personal rates of contributory pension of €14, or6.7%, per week, and

An increase of €12.00 per week, or 6.5%, in the lowest personal rate of payment.

In addition, a wide range of improvements for families with children were also announced. Following Budget 2008, total child income support for a welfare-dependent family with one young child will be €87.77 per week, an increase of 7% over 2007.

Over the last five Budgets, the lowest social welfare rates have increased by 58% compared to cumulative price increases of 17% in the same period. In 2004, the lowest social welfare rate of payment equated to 24% of gross average industrial earnings. In 2008 this rate will equate to 30%. Overall social welfare spending in 2008 is projected to be just under €17 billion, an increase of €1.5 billion (or more than 10%) over 2007.

The increases introduced this year clearly demonstrate the Government's determination to fully protect the most vulnerable in our society and to making real progress towards achieving our commitments for pensioners, carers, people with disabilities and all others relying in whole or in part on a welfare payment. I look forward to making further progress in this regard in the years ahead, having regard to available resources.

Pension Provisions.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

125 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the procedures in place to deal with personal queries submitted as part of the public consultation process for the Green Paper on Pensions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18718/08]

The Green Paper on Pensions was published on the 17th October 2007, beginning a period of consultation on our pensions system which will continue until the end of May 2008.

From time to time, the Department has received personal queries about people's State Pension entitlements through the channels set up to receive Green Paper submissions. Where this occurs, the Department refers the queries to the relevant pension section of the Department for attention.

Social Insurance.

Martin Ferris

Question:

126 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if there are plans to withdraw funds from the social insurance fund to pay for rising unemployment costs; and if so, the amount that will need to be withdrawn. [18573/08]

There are no plans at present to withdraw funds from the Social Insurance Fund.

Homeless Persons.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

127 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the consultation she has had with the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive in regard to homelessness; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18702/08]

The Government is committed to addressing homelessness in a comprehensive and co-ordinated manner. Substantial progress is being made under the Government's strategy on adult homelessness, in addressing the needs of people who are homeless and in assisting them to move to accommodation that is suitable to their needs. This has been done through the recognition that a solution to homelessness is not just about the provision of housing or shelter. There is also a need for a comprehensive approach involving health, care and welfare, education, training and support, as well as accommodation, to enable homeless persons to re-integrate into society and to prevent others from becoming homeless.

Under the social welfare system, homeless people have the same entitlements as any other person. They can be paid a basic allowance under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme if they do not fulfil the conditions for any other primary weekly payment from my Department. In addition, they can apply for payments such as rent supplement, diet supplement and exceptional needs payments. My Department determines overall policy in relation to the supplementary welfare scheme and communicates this to the HSE and the community welfare service who administer the scheme on behalf of the Department.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has overall responsibility for addressing homelessness and is currently developing a revised strategy in that regard. The strategy is being developed under the aegis of a Cross Departmental Team on Homelessness which is chaired by that Department. My Department is represented on the Cross Departmental Team as is the Department of Health and Children and a number of other government departments and agencies.

International Agreements.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

128 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of countries with which Ireland has bilateral social welfare agreements thereby enabling some citizens to qualify for payment on foot of contributions in more than one jurisdiction; the jurisdictions with which the agreements have been most beneficial in terms of expeditious and efficient assessment of applications; the countries with least impressive performance in this regard; if she will take action to ensure that all such applications are rapidly processed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18683/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

176 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will examine the degree to which bilateral social welfare agreements are operating effectively with particular reference to the need to reduce delays of up to two to three years in some cases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18853/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 128 and 176 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.

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. The arrangements protect pension rights by allowing reckonable periods in each country to be taken into account in either country in determining the entitlement to certain benefits where there would be no entitlement if national legislation only applied.

All of these agreements are currently in operation and are generally working satisfactorily. 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 and the necessity to obtain the relevant foreign insurance details. Delays, in general, occur where persons have had a varied employment history over a long period and this can lead to some difficulties in completing their full insurance record. Where particular delays occur in the exchange of information, every effort is made to minimise processing times, having regard to the overriding objective in dealing with these claims to ensure that people receive their full and correct entitlements.

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.

Pension applications from customers who have worked in the UK represent the largest category of claims under bilateral agreements. My Department has established a very good working relationship with the UK Department of Work and Pensions, with regular direct communication on operational matters.

Delays in processing applications do not ultimately result in any losses to pensioners in that those who qualify for payment have their claims backdated in accordance with the normal practice for backdating pension claims.

I am satisfied that overall the procedures are working effectively and efficiently.

Question No. 129 answered with Question No. 98.

Social Welfare Code.

Liz McManus

Question:

130 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when she proposes to expand the free telephone rental scheme by providing for free broadband for older people as promised in the Programme for Government. [18615/08]

The telephone allowance is a component of the household benefits package which also includes the electricity/gas allowance and free television license schemes. The package is generally available to people living in the State aged 66 years or over who are in receipt of a social welfare payment or who satisfy a means test. It is also available to people aged under 66 who are in receipt of certain social welfare disability payments or carer's allowance. There are currently some 355,000 customers in receipt of the household benefits at an annual cost of €317 million.

The primary objective of the telephone allowance scheme is to ensure access to help in an emergency and to provide an element of security. A secondary objective is to encourage social contact and to assist in the prevention of social isolation for those living alone.

The Department has endeavoured to meet the demands of deregulation, notably in the telecoms market, where it supports multiple providers within the fixed line telephone business.

A restructuring of the telephone allowance to a cash value was undertaken in 2003 and this has facilitated the inclusion of additional providers in the scheme since July 2004. The scheme was further extended to include mobile phones in April 2007 as a result of improvements announced in Budget 2007. Since then, customers have the choice of either opting for a direct credit to a telephone company for their land-line or for a cash payment in respect of their mobile phone. This means that it is no longer necessary for a person to have a fixed line phone in order to benefit from the telephone allowance. There are currently some 15,000 customers availing of the mobile phone option.

In addition, the value of the telephone allowance was increased in line with general price increases in August 2007 from €296 per annum to €310.80 per annum.

The Programme for Government includes a commitment to extend the scheme further to incorporate broadband services for older people. My Department is currently examining how best to implement this commitment. It should be noted that where people access the internet using a land-line, the telephone allowance applies to their bill usage and will cover the cost of calls or internet usage up to the level of their allowance.

Question No. 131 answered with Question No. 95.
Question No. 132 answered with Question No. 118.
Question No. 133 answered with Question No. 115.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Joan Burton

Question:

134 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her plans to improve entitlements in relation to the backdating of welfare payments; and if she will bring it into line with the four-year rule that applies to claiming tax credits from the Revenue Commissioners. [18621/08]

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 late claim is made, and the circumstances in which the time limits may be extended.

Since 1997 a number of improvements have been made to the provisions 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. Legislation introduced in 1997 extended that period to twelve months with proportional payments for certain periods prior to that.

The legislation also provides for payment to be made on foot of late claims in the case of all schemes, other than supplementary welfare allowance, for a period of 6 months prior to the date of claim, provided that there was good cause for the delay in claiming.

Changes introduced in 2000 provided for relaxation of the restrictions on backdating late claims under all schemes apart from jobseeker's benefit, jobseeker's allowance and supplementary welfare allowance and for further payment to be made, up to the level of full retrospection if 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, on the other hand, the need for appropriate recognition to be given to cases of genuine hardship or difficulty.

Social Insurance.

Willie Penrose

Question:

135 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way she proposes to deal with the anomalous position of the social insurance status of company directors as outlined in the 2007 report of the Social Welfare Appeals Office. [18607/08]

Increasing numbers of company directors are seeking formal insurability decisions as to their correct class of insurance, some of which have come to the attention of the Social Welfare Appeals Office. As a result the Appeals Office has proposed a change in social welfare legislation aimed at simplifying the classification of directors.

The situation arises due to the fact that, while some directors are regarded as self-employed for PRSI purposes, all are covered under the PAYE provisions of income tax legislation. In addition, directors can hold two positions in a company, one as an office holder and the other as a working director whose employment may come under the terms of a contract of service, insurable at Class A.

The proposal is currently under consideration by officials in my Department.

Personal Advocacy Service.

David Stanton

Question:

136 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action she will take to raise awareness and understanding of advocacy among people with disabilities and service providers, in particular the new personal advocacy service which is due to be operational in 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18693/08]

A key function of the Personal Advocacy Service will be to develop awareness and understanding of advocacy amongst people with disabilities and service providers. This will be done through a range of measures including engaging directly with disability representative groups, service providers and other voluntary and statutory organisations who deal with people with disabilities. The Personal Advocacy Service will also promote its services through professionals such as General Practitioners, Public Health nurses and residential care workers.

In addition, family members and the general public will be targeted through general promotions and through the network of Citizen Information Services, which operate at over 250 locations nationwide. The Citizen Information Services also provide advocacy services, within the mainstream context, to members of the public who require additional support to access their rights and entitlements.

A considerable amount of work has already been done to generate awareness at local level and within the disability sector by the 47 projects funded under the Citizens Information Board's Community and Voluntary Sector Advocacy programme. The Personal Advocacy Service will be working in close collaboration with these projects to maximise the resources of both programmes and ensure people with disabilities have access to advocacy services at the most appropriate level to meet their needs.

In addition, my Department has an established Disability Consultative Forum which comprises disability groups, service providers and other voluntary and statutory organisations. It meets regularly to discuss issues relevant to people with disabilities. The Forum is an important means of communications to our customers with disabilities on their rights and entitlements, to brief them on developments, listen to their concerns and raise awareness on matters relevant to them, such as the establishment of the Personal Advocacy Service.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Enda Kenny

Question:

137 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she is satisfied that the guidelines in place for recipients of invalidity pension are sufficient; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18719/08]

Guidelines detailing circumstances that may affect ongoing entitlement to invalidity pension and conditions to be observed for customers claiming or receiving the pension are forwarded to customers in advance of the award of invalidity pension claims, and a signed declaration acknowledging observation of these guidelines must be returned to my Department prior to the award of payment. These Guidelines are also issued with the notification of the award of payment.

Similar guidelines are printed at the back of the Personal Payable Order Book as a reminder for customers whose pension is paid by this payment method. Customers who receive payment by electronic methods are contacted annually by post and this communication also includes the previously mentioned guidelines.

More detailed information on invalidity pension is available from the Department's information leaflet on invalidity pension, SW 44 and the Freedom Of Information Guidelines on invalidity pension both of which may be accessed via the Department's internet site at www.welfare.ie or from the Department’s Local Office network or by telephoning the Department’s Information Services at LoCall 1890 66 22 44.

The guidelines issued by my Department on invalidity pension are detailed and comprehensive and are kept under constant review in order to improve the information provided to our Customers. However, if the Deputy is aware of a specific information deficit with regard to invalidity pension I will be happy to pass on the details to the relevant area of the Department and have the matter rectified.

Question No. 138 answered with Question No. 115.

Departmental Audits.

Joan Burton

Question:

139 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the audit by the Data Protection Commissioner of her Department’s procedures for processing personal data is finalised; the main conclusions reached; and the specific actions her Department will be taking on foot of these conclusions. [18622/08]

The Office of the Data Protection Commissioner undertook an audit of the Department in late January 2008. The Commissioner is preparing his report and, in this regard, his officials have been liaising with officials of the Department. When the final report is received, its findings and recommendations will be carefully examined by the Department with a view to taking whatever actions are necessary.

Disabled Drivers.

Damien English

Question:

140 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Finance if the primary medical certificate scheme in respect of Section 92 of the Finance Act 1989 and the Disabled Drivers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 will be expanded to allow an application on behalf of a child (details supplied) in County Meath to be awarded with a primary medical certificate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18742/08]

The Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme provides relief from VAT and Vehicle Registration Tax (up to a certain limit), and exemption from motor tax, on the purchase of an adapted car for transport of a person with specific severe and permanent physical disabilities.

The disability criteria for these concessions are set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. To get a Primary Medical Certificate, an applicant must be permanently and severely disabled within the terms of these Regulations.

As the Deputy will be aware there was an interdepartmental review of the Scheme. Some 12,500 people benefited under the scheme in 2007 at an overall estimated cost of €74 million. Any changes would have to be considered in the context of the annual Budget.

Financial Services Regulation.

Finian McGrath

Question:

141 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will ensure that a maximum interest can be charged by all official money lenders and to make unofficial lending a crime punishable by a prison sentence. [18896/08]

The Deputy may wish to note that in early 2007, the Financial Regulator (FR) published its review of the licensed moneylending industry in Ireland. With respect to interest rates, it concludes that the introduction of an interest rate ceiling for moneylenders may not achieve the objectives of lowering the cost of credit for consumers. The Report contained a number of other conclusions, including the fact that:

Overall, consumers that use licensed moneylenders as a source of finance are happy with the service provided despite the fact that it is a relatively expensive form of credit.

Not all consumers have access to other sources of credit.

The FR committed to reviewing the ‘Interim Code of Practice for Licensed Moneylenders', with a specific emphasis on increasing transparency, helping consumers make informed decisions and enhancing the consumer protection framework.

In late 2007, the FR engaged with a number of interested stakeholders with a view to increased transparency in relation to costs associated with loans from moneylenders. It sought views on how best to disclose an itemised statement of the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on its Register and how best to highlight the total cost of credit associated with moneylenders. Responses are being considered in the context of work being carried out in relation to the draft Consumer Protection Code for Licensed Moneylenders and transparency in the moneylending sector.

As far as the question of illegal moneylending is concerned and the penalties for engaging in this activity, Section 98(1) and (2) of the Consumer Credit Act, 1995 provide that a person must not engage in the business of moneylending without licence and Section 12 provides that a person commits an offence (other than a summary offence) if the person contravenes either of those subsections. Moreover, Section 13(1) provides that a person who is so guilty shall be liable on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding €100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or both.

Equal Opportunities Employment.

Joan Burton

Question:

142 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance his views on abolishing the maximum retirement age of 65 for civil servants recruited before 1 April 2004 in line with the absence of such restrictions for civil servants recruited after that date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18889/08]

The Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004 and the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2005 introduced a number of important changes in relation to the retirement age of civil servants. These changes mean that there is no longer a compulsory retirement age of 65 for "new entrants" who joined the civil service on or after 1 April 2004. The changes also raised the minimum pension age to 65 years for most "new entrants" to the civil service, with the exception of "new entrants" to the Irish Prison Service, where different arrangements apply for operational reasons.

The removal of a compulsory retirement age means that, over the medium to longer term, as more and more new staff are recruited as "new entrants" for the purposes of the new legislation, an increasing number of civil servants will have the right to work beyond the age of 65, if they choose to do so. Clearly, in time, all civil servants will be working under these terms and conditions.

The legislative changes introduced also provide a mechanism by which existing civil servants can work beyond the retirement age if they wish. While a person who joined the public service before the 1 April 2004 must retire at 65, they can be reappointed through open competition to the civil service as a "new entrant", provided there is a break in their service of 26 weeks.

The removal of the retirement age for "new entrants" was based on a number of factors. Firstly, Ireland's demographic profile, with one of the Europe's youngest populations, allowed the 2004 Act to confine these changes to new entrants. In light of our demographics, there is no immediate financial imperative to introduce such a significant change to the terms and conditions of pre-2004 civil servants.

Furthermore, the increase in the minimum pension age and the removal of the compulsory retirement age for new entrants cannot be managed in isolation. Other civil service human resource processes must be adapted and developed to reflect the changes in the retirement age. The performance management system which has been introduced across the civil service will, in time, support the gradual transition to a situation where an increasing number of civil servants will be required to work until age 65 before drawing full pension and will have the right to continue to work beyond that age.

The issue of the removal of the retirement age for staff appointed before April 2004 was the subject of a recent claim by the civil service unions at General Council of the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme. The claim was rejected on the grounds that:

the cost imperatives which gave rise to the decision to change the retirement age arrangements for new entrants would not arise in the short and medium term, and

relevant human resource processes and practices would have to be adapted over time to address the issues that would arise from the new arrangements.

In light of these points, there are no immediate proposals to change the current situation whereby staff recruited before 1st April 2004 must retire at 65 and those recruited on or after that date have no mandatory retirement age.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

143 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the sources of income in respect of which persons under the age of 18 years can obtain tax credit to relieve the tax liability which would otherwise accrue; and if restrictions apply to the claiming of this relief. [18973/08]

Given the diversity of sources of income available to individuals (for example, self-employment, PAYE employment, investment and dividend income and deposit interest) it is not possible to provide a comprehensive list of sources of income which may arise.

However, all individuals, including those under the age of 18 years, who are chargeable to income tax are entitled to those tax credits which are appropriate to their personal circumstances. In general, individuals, including those under the age of 18 years, are entitled to set the personal tax credits to which they are entitled against all sources of income. Entitlement to a tax credit is governed by the legislation relating to each relief. There are no special restrictions applying to those under 18 years of age.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Michael Ring

Question:

144 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the exact calculation methods being used to determine the offers made to people under the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006; and if she is satisfied with the methods used in view of the number of people who have been offered higher payments following their appeals. [18733/08]

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has responsibility for administering the health repayment scheme in conjunction with the appointed scheme administrator K.P.M.G. and McCann Fitzgerald.

The HSE has informed my Department that there are extensive procedures employed by the scheme administrator in order to compile a calculation. Firstly the records of the institution are checked for in-patient charges. The scheme administrator begins by using the scanned data based on the dates of admission provided by the claimant. It is determined whether the patient paid by invoice or by the HSE acting as agent on social welfare payment or perhaps both. The calculations team compiles the calculation based on this information.

The HSE has informed my Department that if there are periods for which there are no records, the scheme administrator has worked with the HSE to devise rules to calculate the repayment. These rules are applied for these periods and compared to other years to ensure consistency. The scheme administrator also needs to ensure that the patient had full eligibility while the charges were paid.

The HSE has informed my Department that they have agreed the procedures used to compile calculations with the scheme administrator. The scheme administrator has been audited by the HSE internal audit, the Comptroller and Auditor General and reviews of the scheme have also been carried out by an external auditing firm who have all been satisfied with the procedures adopted by the scheme administrator.

Damien English

Question:

145 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Health and Children when an application for a person (details supplied) for the nursing home subvention refund scheme will be processed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18739/08]

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the Repayment Scheme and the information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Executive. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued to the Deputy.

Pharmacy Education.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

146 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of training placements available in 2007 to allow pharmacy students to complete the pre-registration year; the number of same available for 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18743/08]

The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) has statutory responsibility for pharmacy education and training. In late Autumn every year, the PSI writes to the total number of qualified tutor pharmacists held on its database (currently in excess of 1,000) to identify those who are in a position to provide a training placement for pharmacy graduates within their pharmacy for the following training year (i.e. the training year due to commence the following Autumn). In recent years there have been around 200 placements available annually, mostly in the community sector, but with upward of 30 in the hospital sector. The details of the these placements are circulated to the fourth year pharmacy students by the PSI at the end of November via the schools of pharmacy.

The number of available training placements notified to the PSI in Autumn 2006 for the 2007-08 training year was 202. All 144 pharmacy graduates qualified to take up placements found training places in 2007-08.

In response to the PSI's call for tutors for 2008/09, a total of 209 positive replies were notified to the PSI and circulated to the fourth year pharmacy students in late November 2007. Notwithstanding the above, certain difficulties were being experienced by pharmacy graduates this year in securing pre-registration training placements in the community pharmacy sector, primarily due to the withdrawal of such places by a number of tutors\pharmacies. However, I understand that the position has improved in recent weeks and the PSI continues to monitor the situation. A very small number of the placements in the hospital sector are also at issue, which my Department has raised with the HSE.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Niall Collins

Question:

147 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health and Children when the Health Service Executive will make payments (details supplied). [18752/08]

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.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Martin Ferris

Question:

148 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Health and Children if funding will be made available to ensure a person (details supplied) in County Kerry will receive the necessary support. [18783/08]

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 5s 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 specific 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.

Martin Ferris

Question:

149 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Health and Children if funding will be made available to an organisation (details supplied) in County Kerry in order that they can provide support for people in need of support. [18784/08]

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

Hospital Services.

Sean Fleming

Question:

150 Deputy Seán Fleming asked the Minister for Health and Children if an outpatient appointment for a person (details supplied) in County Laois for 16 September 2009 at the urology outpatients department at Tallaght Hospital will be brought forward due to the unacceptable time to wait for such an outpatients appointment due to the person’s current health situation. [18799/08]

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

Mary Upton

Question:

151 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate a case (details supplied) where a patient, who is a VHI member, was asked by the hospital to pay for a procedure because the consultant had not submitted the relevant documentation or paperwork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18802/08]

The contracts entered into between private hospitals and their patients are entirely matters for the parties involved as are the contracts between health insurance companies and their customers. These arrangements are outside the scope of my responsibilities as Minister for Health and Children. All insurers have arrangements in place to ensure that payments are only made when they are satisfied that services have been provided.

Health Service Expenditure.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

152 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount of funding allocated in 2008 for the hospital in the home programme to each hospital involved in the scheme; the number of patients in the programme; the number of patients whose treatment in the home is about to cease; and if hospital beds are available for these people in view of the fact that the programme is ceasing. [18809/08]

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

Health Service Allowances.

Michael Creed

Question:

153 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork has had their domiciliary carer’s allowance withdrawn in respect of care provided for their daughter; if she will review the circumstances surrounding the case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18879/08]

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

Ambulance Service.

Enda Kenny

Question:

154 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of ambulances operating in the greater Dublin area; the number owned by the Health Service Executive; the number owned by Dublin fire brigade; the numbers in both categories in each of the years 2000 to date in 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18880/08]

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

Medical Aids and Appliances.

Pat Breen

Question:

155 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will receive aids and appliances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18887/08]

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

Controlled Drug Sales.

Catherine Byrne

Question:

156 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Health and Children if and when the sale of a drug (details supplied) will be restricted or banned in this country following the recent decision of the European Council of Ministers to introduce new control measures for this drug; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18890/08]

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and regulations made thereunder regulate and control the import, export, production, supply and possession of a range of named narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances listed in the Schedules to the Act. Substances are scheduled under the Act in accordance with Ireland's obligations under international conventions and/or where there is evidence that the substances are causing significant harm to public health in Ireland. The list of scheduled substances is kept under review; in particular, my Department reviews any evidence that substances are being abused and are causing significant harm to public health.

The drug in question, benzylpiperazine (BZP), is not currently a scheduled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act. However, a risk assessment of new psychoactive substances carried out by the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction has found that the use of BZP can lead to medical problems even if the long term effects of the substance are still unknown. Against this background, the European Council decided in March 2008 to place BZP under control in accordance with the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Member States must act as soon as possible, but no later than one year from the date of the decision, to introduce control measures and criminal sanctions. Work is under way in my Department with a view to introducing the necessary control measures here.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

James Reilly

Question:

157 Deputy James Reilly asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of applications made to the nursing home repayments scheme; the number of payments made; the number of awards that have been appealed; the current backlog in dealing with appeals; the number of appeals officers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18898/08]

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has responsibility for administering the health repayment scheme in conjunction with the appointed scheme administrator KPMG and McCann Fitzgerald. The HSE has advised my Department that as of the 2 May 2008 approximately 39,000 applications have been received under the health repayment scheme and 9,796 payments have issued.

As of 2 May, 11,108 claimants are deemed to be outside the scope of the repayment scheme and of these, 2,285 have appealed the decision of the scheme administrator. 13,578 offers of payment have issued under the scheme and of these, 650 have appealed the amount offered. A total of 2,935 appeals have been lodged, which represents approximately 12% of processed claims. As of 9 May the appeals officer has considered 1,293 appeals.

Following the establishment of the appeals office a temporary appeals officer was seconded from the Chief State Solicitor's Office. Subsequently, a recruitment process was undertaken by the Public Appointments Service and a panel of appeal officers has been established. A second appeals officer is due to begin work shortly.

Hospital Accommodation.

Michael Ring

Question:

158 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when long-stay beds will be provided for persons (details supplied) in County Mayo. [18899/08]

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

Health Services.

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

159 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Health and Children when the new Health Service Executive public health clinic in Balbriggan will operate to its full capacity; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that some Balbriggan residents are forced to travel to Gardiner Street, Dublin to see the community welfare officer; her views on whether this is an acceptable situation for staff and welfare recipients alike; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18900/08]

The provision of the appropriate infrastructure to facilitate the delivery of primary care services is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matters raised by the Deputy investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

160 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive to Parliamentary Question No. 68 of 3 April 2008. [18962/08]

The Health Service Executive has informed me that a reply was issued to Deputy Ó Caoláin from the office of the National Directorate of Estates on 15th April 2008.

Hospital Staff.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

161 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive to Parliamentary Question No. 149 of 26 February 2008. [18963/08]

My Department has been informed by the Health Service Executive that a reply has issued to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

162 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children when replies will issue from the Health Service Executive to Parliamentary Question Nos. 106 to 109 of 13 December 2007. [18964/08]

In order to provide the Deputy with the estimates of cost requested, it was necessary for my Department to obtain detailed information from the Health Service Executive (HSE). Based on information received from the HSE, my Department estimates that:

The cost of extending the medical card to all persons aged under eighteen who do not currently hold a medical card would be approximately €296 million per annum.

The cost of extending the GP visit card to all persons aged under eighteen who do not currently hold a GP visit card would be approximately €155 million per annum. (This allows for the fact that some 306,000 persons aged under eighteen currently hold a medical card and that they would continue to do so in the event of the GP visit card being extended to the under eighteen cohort.)

The annual cost per person of a medical card is approximately €1,300.

The annual cost per person of a GP visit card is approximately €220.

I would emphasise to the Deputy that the figures outlined above relate solely to the costs involved in respect of medical cards and GP visit cards and does not take into account other factors, such as income foregone in public hospitals, the provision of aids and appliances to medical card holders and costs in other areas of the public service where the medical card is used as a means of determining entitlement to services.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Billy Timmins

Question:

163 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow who is waiting for a multidisciplinary assessment with the Health Service Executive in Naas; if they will be seen as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18965/08]

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 specific 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.

Billy Timmins

Question:

164 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to services for autistic children in the west Wicklow area; the pre-school facilities available in the area; if ABA is available in the area; the services available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18966/08]

The availability of ABA in the West Wicklow area is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science. The remainder of 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.

Rural Transport Services.

Jack Wall

Question:

165 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Transport the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the programme for Government to greatly enhance and extend the rural transport initiative nationwide. [18761/08]

The Rural Transport Programme (RTP) launched in February 2007, placed the pilot Rural Transport Initiative (2002-2006) on a permanent mainstreamed basis with significantly increased funding. Some Euro 9 million was provided for the RTP in 2007 which led to an increase in the frequency of a number of existing services, extended area coverage, and additional groups of passengers accessing rural transport. The scheme is being expanded further in 2008 as a result of an additional €2m being allocated to Pobal in 2008 and I understand that the RTP will be operational in all counties by the end of the year.

Road Signage.

Damien English

Question:

166 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Transport if he plans to introduce increased road markings and visibility aids for county roads nationwide on safety grounds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18740/08]

Under section 95 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 the provision of traffic signs on the public roads is a matter for each road authority. I have given directions and guidance to road authorities in the Traffic Signs Manual on the provision and use of traffic signs. The present Manual is currently under review and updated provisions will be published later this year.

International Travel Requirements.

Enda Kenny

Question:

167 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his proposals to deal with passport requirements for entry to the Schengen area; the way he proposes to deal with differing biometric requirements for passports for entry to both the United States and Great Britain-Northern Ireland not being part of the Schengen area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18907/08]

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is the international body responsible for the specification of standards for international travel documents. ICAO policy requires that all passports in circulation in April 2010 be machine readable. Ireland commenced issuing machine readable passports in 1993. The ICAO has also defined the technical specifications for the issue of passports which incorporate biometric data, known as e-passports, but has not yet set the date by which all passports in circulation must be e-passports.

As regards the United States, Washington required that countries, participating in its visa waiver program, commence issuing e-passports by 26 October 2006. Ireland in fact began issuing e-passports on 16 October, 2006, in accordance with the ICAO standards and in advance of the US requirement date. This involved the incorporation of a biometric feature -a facial image — in the Irish passport. A passport is not required for entry to Great Britain from this State. The Irish passport, however, meets fully the requirements for entry to Great Britain from third countries.

As regards the Schengen area, Council Regulation (EC) 2252 of 2004 requires Schengen countries to include a facial image and fingerprints in their passports. The requirement for the inclusion of a facial image came into effect on 28 August 2006, while the requirement for the inclusion of fingerprints is to come into effect on 28 June 2009. However, as the Regulation relates only to Schengen countries, Ireland is not subject to its application. There are currently no plans to include a second biometric identifier, such as fingerprints, into Irish passports.

Regulatory Reform.

Jack Wall

Question:

168 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the programme for Government to review the regulatory regimes to better assist small and medium size businesses to conduct their affairs. [18767/08]

There are number of commitments in the Programme for Government relating to regulatory reform. Insofar as my Department is concerned, the Government has agreed that I should lead the effort across Government to reduce the administrative burden (or ‘red tape' factor) on business, including small and medium sized firms arising from regulations.

In July 2007 year, I established the High-level Group on Business Regulation whose role is to seek concrete actions to reduce administrative burdens on business in five policy areas i.e. Taxation, Statistics, Environment, Health and Safety and Employment & Company Law. The Group comprises representatives of the business sector, trade union and relevant Government Departments and Agencies. In particular the Group will seek to respond to specific suggestions from the business sector. I am expecting a first report from the Group in July 2008.

In March 2008, the Government agreed to set a target to reduce the administrative burden of regulations on business of 25% by 2012. Again my Department has been asked to lead on this project. My Department is currently devising the approach and methodology to be used across Government and for reporting on progress. Initially, all Departments will be required to list the Information Obligations which their regulations impose on business. From that listing, Departments will assess which requirements are the most burdensome and will then measure the actual cost to business of the most burdensome requirements. Finally Departments will be required to propose ways to reduce the burden in order to meet the Government target.

Finally, as part of the Government decision last March, it was also agreed that in relation to proposals for future regulations, all Departments should (a) assess the proportionality of the burden imposed to the risk foreseen (b) measure the administrative cost on business (c) examine the impact on small business and (d) consider what education and advice requirements are necessary to improve compliance. This decision will be further addressed through the Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) process. An independent review of the operation of RIA, being conducted on behalf of the Department of the Taoiseach is expected to be completed shortly.

Job Losses.

John Deasy

Question:

169 Deputy John Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of job losses in Waterford City and County in each of the years 2004 to 2007; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18805/08]

The numbers of actual redundancies notified to my Department for the years 2004-2007 for Waterford City and County are as follows:

Actual Redundancies 2004-2007

Year

2004

2005

2006

2007

Actual

957

998

675

631

These figures show the number of employees on whose behalf claims were submitted for statutory redundancy lump sum payments. They do not reflect those who lost their jobs with less than two years service in an employment.

I have no control over the number of redundancies that occur at any given time. Naturally I am concerned at any trend that indicates greater than normal volatility in the labour market. However, it must be remembered that redundancy — as recorded in these statistics — does not equate with unemployment.

Decentralisation Programme.

Willie Penrose

Question:

170 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reason there is a significant delay in the decentralisation of the Health and Safety Authority to Thomastown, County Kilkenny; the number of staff who have been recruited to the HSA, as well as REACH, on the basis that they will be moving to Thomastown; when she will transfer public and civil service staff to Thomastown; if she is satisfied that the HSA has provided for sufficient lands to meet anticipated and ongoing decentralisation of the HSA in Thomastown; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18911/08]

The organisation of the decentralisation of the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) to Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny is primarily an operational matter for the Authority itself. The Authority already has temporary offices in Kilkenny City with an advance party of staff partly drawn from the 48 staff recruited on the basis that they would be employed in Thomastown. This figure includes all new staff recruited for the REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) strategy. The Deputy will be aware that, at present, there is no formal arrangement in place for the transfer of staff between the civil service and State Agencies.

The procurement of premises to facilitate decentralisation is primarily an operational matter for the Office of Public Works (OPW). I am informed that the OPW has signed a contract in respect of a site in Thomastown and the sale should close shortly. The OPW has had to go through the development process that required a material contravention of the County Development Plan and this was only finalised earlier in the year. The current estimated timeline for availability for occupancy of the Thomastown site is 2009/2010. I have no reason to believe other than that the premises will be sufficient to meet the HSA's requirements.

Mary Upton

Question:

171 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of persons transferred from Dublin under the decentralisation programme; the number of transferees who have responsibility for arts, sport and tourism, respectively; the number of persons retained in the Dublin offices with the relative responsibilities as stated; the target number that has been set for his Department under the decentralisation programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18795/08]

To date, a total of 70 staff from the Department have relocated to temporary accommodation in Fossa, Killarney, under the Government programme of decentralisation. The objective is to complete the decentralisation process by the end of 2008 by which time the Department will be operating from new purpose built offices in Killarney. Of the 70 staff in Fossa, 24 members of staff have responsibility for Sport, including the sports capital grants scheme and sports policy, 19 for Arts, including the Access scheme and the National Cultural Institutions and 6 for Tourism development.

In Dublin, apart from the Secretary General and the three Assistant Secretaries, each of whom has responsibility for a sectoral area, there are 5 officers with responsibility for Sport including major sports projects. There are 8 officers with responsibility for various elements of the Arts, and 4 with responsibility for Tourism Marketing policy and impact assessment. The target number set for decentralisation to Killarney is 130.

Legislative Reform.

Joe Costello

Question:

172 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will establish a working group to reform the law to ensure that transgendered people are given recognition by the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18753/08]

This issue was the subject of a recent High Court judgement concerning the rights of a person, who has undergone gender reassignment surgery, to recognition of her acquired gender. On foot of the High Court judgement, delivered on 19 October 2007, the judge made a declaration, pursuant to Section 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003, that Sections 25, 63 and 64 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 are incompatible with the obligations of the State under the European Convention on Human Rights. The reason for the judgement of these Sections was the failure to respect the private life of the Applicant, as required by Article 8 of the Convention, in that there are no provisions which would enable the acquired gender identity of the Applicant to be legally recognised in this jurisdiction.

This is the first time that the High Court has made a declaration of incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of a provision of Irish law. As such, the High Court judgement is very significant and raises complex and far-reaching issues, not merely for this case but for future cases under the European Convention on Human Rights Act. The judgment has implications for a wide range of legislative and policy areas including taxation, social welfare, pensions, family law, criminal law, equality, employment, sport, financial services, health, education and so on. In that context, it is essential to obtain the confirmation of the Supreme Court that the judgement was warranted and to seek clarity on all its implications. As the judgment is the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court, it is not considered appropriate for me to comment further at this time.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

173 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will expand the carer’s programme to facilitate payments to a wider group of carers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18850/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

175 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if it is her intention to ease the qualification requirements for respite care grants in line with the original announcement at the introduction of the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18852/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 173 and 175 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.

Carer's allowance, in line with other social assistance schemes, is means tested. This ensures that 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. It has been significantly eased over the years, most notably with regard to spouse's earnings.

Increases to the carer's allowance income disregard, provided for in Budget 2008, mean that, from April 2008, a single person can have an income of €332.50 per week and a couple can have an income of up to €665 per week and still qualify for the maximum rate of carer's allowance (the previous levels were €320 and €640 per week respectively). This ensures that a couple can have an income in the region of €37,200 per year and still qualify for the maximum rate of carer's allowance as well as the associated free travel, household benefits package and the respite care grant. This increase surpasses the Towards 2016 commitment of ensuring that those on average earnings can qualify for carer's allowance. In addition, in Budget 2008 the maximum rate of carer's allowance was increased to €214 per week for those aged under 66 and to €232 per week for those aged over 66, with effect from January 2008.

Budget 2007 provided for new arrangements whereby people can receive a maximum payment equivalent to a half rate carers allowance while receiving another social welfare payment, other than jobseekers benefit or allowance. In June 2006 the number of hours for which a person can engage in employment, self-employment, education or training and still be considered to be providing full time care for the purposes of carer's allowance, carer's benefit and the respite care grant was increased from 10 to 15 hours per week.

From June 2005, the annual respite care grant was extended to all carers who are providing full time care to a person who needs such care, regardless of their income. A carer who is caring for two or more people is entitled to a full grant for each of the care recipients. The rate of the grant will increase to €1,700 per year from June 2008. 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.

Question No. 174 answered with Question No. 121.
Question No. 175 answered with Question No. 173.
Question No. 176 answered with Question No. 128.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

177 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will examine the qualification for the back to education allowance with a view to extending and broadening the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18854/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

178 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications for the back to education allowance received in her Department in each of the past three years to date; the numbers approved, rejected or pending; her proposals to extend or improve the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18855/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 177 and 178 together.

The back to education allowance (BTEA) is paid at a standard weekly rate equivalent to the maximum rate of the relevant social welfare payment that qualifies the applicant for participation in the scheme. It essentially replaces their existing social welfare income and in addition an annual €400 cost of education allowance is payable. From September 2008 the annual cost of education allowance will increase to €500.

The current scheme is in place since January 1998 and has been subject to review and modification over the years to ensure it continues to support those people who are most distant from the labour market and whose need is greatest. Improvements include:

In Budget 2005 a reduction in the qualifying period for access to the third level option from 15 to 12 months.

From September, 2005, a reduction in the qualifying period to 9 months for access to the third level option for persons participating in the National Employment Action Plan (NEAP) process where a FÁS Employment Services Officer recommends pursuance of a third level course of study as essential to the enhancement of the individuals employment prospects.

From September, 2006 time spent in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance from the Health Services Executive or the direct provision system operated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform can count towards the qualifying period for back to education allowance in circumstances where the person establishes an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment prior to commencing an approved course of study.

Further improvements to the BTEA scheme came into effect from the beginning of the current academic year in September 2007. People who are awarded statutory redundancy may access the BTEA scheme immediately provided an entitlement to a relevant social welfare payment is established prior to commencing an approved course of study. The qualifying period for illness benefit recipients was also reduced from three to two years.

I will continue to monitor the scheme but I believe that, overall, the current arrangements provide that my Department's back to education allowance scheme continues to meet its objectives and ensures that limited resources are targeted at those who are most in need.

The details requested in relation to applications for BTEA are given in tabular form below for the academic years 2004/2005 to 2006/2007 inclusive. There are no cases pending for any of these years.

Academic year

Approved

Rejected

2004/2005

7,308

1,175

2005/2006

7,285

1,002

2006/2007

8,090

1,405

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

179 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will increase rent support in line with economic circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18856/08]

The purpose of rent supplement, administered under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, is to provide short-term income support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. 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. There are currently over 62,000 rent supplements in payment.

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. Notwithstanding these limits, under existing arrangements the HSE may, in certain circumstances, exceed the rent limits. This discretionary power ensures that individuals with particular needs can be accommodated within the scheme and specifically protects against homelessness.

The current rent limits were set in January 2007. A review of rent limits is currently being undertaken. A consultative process is being used to ensure that the views of all relevant parties are sought and taken into account in the process. This includes consultation with the HSE, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Central Statistics Office, the Private Residential Tenancies Board and voluntary agencies working in this area. This process helps ensure that the new rent limits reflect realistic market conditions throughout the country. Any adjustments to rent limits, resulting from this review, will be effective from 1 July 2008.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

180 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent to which she has met or will meet in full applications for full occupational injury payments for suffers of pneumonocosis to those deemed to suffer from illness regardless of the extent to which they are affected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18857/08]

Pneumoconiosis is a prescribed disease for the purpose of the Occupational Injuries scheme administered by my Department. The legislation governing the Occupational Injuries Scheme provides entitlement to benefit for persons suffering from certain prescribed diseases which are listed in the legislation and where that person has contracted that disease in the course of their employment.

Where a person has contracted one of the diseases listed in the legislation, benefits are payable if they were employed in an occupation which is specifically prescribed in relation to that disease or if they can show, to the satisfaction of the Chief Medical Advisor in the Department, that the disease was contracted through an employment not specifically prescribed in relation to that disease.

Employment under a contract of service is insurable for Occupational Injuries Benefit under the Social Welfare Acts. An insured person who contracts pneumoconiosis may qualify for disablement benefit under that scheme, in addition to disability benefit under the general social insurance scheme, subject to meeting the qualifying conditions. Medical assessments are undertaken in all such cases to determine the degree of disablement, which is calculated by comparison of the state of health of the applicant with a person of the same age and gender.

Persons claiming Occupational Injuries Benefit in cases of Pneumoconiosis are referred to Consultant Respiratory Physicians in the first instance for an examination and report. This examination consists of a clinical assessment and pulmonary function testing (PFT). Disablement benefit is awarded on the basis of the consultant's report, including the pulmonary function test result. The degree of disablement is expressed as a percentage of loss of faculty and the compensation payable varies accordingly.

Loss of faculty may be determined within a range of less than 1% to 100%, depending on the severity of the condition. Currently, there are 25 people in receipt of disablement benefit as a result of contracting pneumoconiosis arising from their occupation, of which 20 are former coal miners and 5 were in employments prescribed in relation to asbestos. The percentage of disablement assessed in these cases ranges from 8% to 90%. A person must be assessed as having a minimum of 20% loss of faculty before they may be considered as being incapable of work due to their disablement. Of the 25 persons already mentioned who are in receipt of disablement benefit in respect of pneumoconiosis 16 are also in receipt of state pension (contributory), 1 is in receipt of state pension (transition), 7 are in receipt of invalidity pension and 1 is at work.

Where a person qualifies for disablement benefit, the rate of benefit increases on an annual basis in line with the normal social welfare budget increases. In addition, where a person feels that his/her condition has deteriorated since the assessment was made under the scheme, it is open to that person to apply for a review of the percentage calculated.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

181 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will make arrangements to speed up the processing of social welfare appeals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18858/08]

The social welfare appeals process is quasi-judicial and the procedures are designed to ensure that every appellant's case gets full and satisfactory consideration. The quasi judicial nature of the appeals system means that the process must be governed by fair procedures. This, of course, can give rise to inevitable time lags in processing appeals.

I am advised that improving processing times is a major objective of the Social Welfare Appeals Office. However, it is necessary at all times to ensure that progress in this regard is achieved in a manner which is not in conflict with the demands of natural justice and the requirement that every appeal be fully investigated and examined on all its merits.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

182 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the average time required to process an application for old age pension or similar payments; her proposals to speed up this process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18859/08]

Claims for State Pension (Contributory) and State Pension (Transition) are now fully processed within three weeks of receipt of the applications where all information is available. Average processing times for all claims now stand at less than 8 weeks for a State Pension (Contributory) and 5 weeks for State Pension (Transition). The Department has commenced claim initiation on the State Pension Contributory scheme whereby customers are proactively invited to claim pensions in advance of reaching pension age in order to ensure their entitlement to pension is decided by the due date.

Over the past year 59% of State Pension Non-Contributory claims were processed and decided within 8 weeks. The processes involved in deciding claims for the schemes are currently being reviewed with a view to reducing the time taken to decide claims. In order to facilitate a good customer service people are advised to apply for pension at least three months before reaching pension age so that their entitlement can be determined as close as possible to the due date.

Community Development.

Jack Wall

Question:

183 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made on the commitment given in the programme for Government to double funding for the CLÁR programme to enable rural infrastructure deficits to be tackled. [18762/08]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No 14 of 3 April 2008.

Jack Wall

Question:

184 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made on the commitment given in the programme for Government to establish community and development agencies as a one-stop shop. [18763/08]

Jack Wall

Question:

194 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made on the commitment given in the programme for Government to ensure that islands through Comhdháil Oileán na hÉireann will have their own dedicated LEADER partnership company. [18779/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 184 and 194 together.

As the Deputy will be aware from the reply given by the former Minister of State, Deputy Carey to Questions Nos. 10 and 11 of 3 April 2008, the core objective of the cohesion process is to simplify and improve local delivery of programmes operated by my Department through the integration and alignment of local delivery structures. In line with the commitment in the programme for Government, the intention is that for the future, there will be one local development company in any given area and fewer local development companies overall. The new arrangements will provide full county coverage and enable communities to more readily access services and make maximum use of the funding available.

At this stage, local development bodies are in place in 54 of the 55 operational areas agreed by the Government. In respect of the islands, a new integrated structure, Comhar na nOileáin Teoranta, was incorporated on 8 November 2007.

Transitional arrangements are being made for 2008 to enable the new integrated structures to extend their areas of coverage and to embed their operations.

Departmental Reports.

Jack Wall

Question:

185 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made on the commitment given in the programme for Government to conduct an enterprise audit to review the use of existing and redundant agricultural buildings and manufacturing plants in rural areas. [18764/08]

I refer the Deputy to my response to Question No. 131 of the 13 of March 2008.

Rural Social Scheme.

Jack Wall

Question:

186 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made on the commitment given in the programme for Government to expand the rural social scheme to provide additional income for farmers and fisherman by increasing the number of places available. [18765/08]

Currently there is a provision for 2,600 participant places and a further 130 supervisor positions on the Rural Social Scheme (RSS). All available places (both Participants and Supervisors) have been allocated and quotas have been assigned to each of the Implementing Bodies. Commitments in the Programme for Government will be met over the lifetime of that programme.

Tourism Development.

Jack Wall

Question:

187 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made on the commitment given in the programme for Government to initiate a study in consultation with Fáilte Ireland, LEADER companies, agricultural associations, county enterprise boards and rural tourism operators to devise a new plan for farm based rural tourism. [18768/08]

I refer the Deputy to my previous answer to this question on 14 February 2008.

Jack Wall

Question:

188 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to pursue the possibility of using former railway infrastructure as recreational trails for cycling and so on in partnership with Iarnród Éireann. [18769/08]

My Department is actively pursuing the possibility of using former railway infrastructure as recreational trails — for activities such as walking and cycling — with the Department of Transport and Iarnród Éireann. Officials from my Department have met with representatives of Iarnród Éireann and CIE, who confirmed that, as of now, the only line abandoned and definitely available for development is Tralee to Limerick. A portion of this line, the Great Southern Trail, has already been developed as a recreational amenity. I have provided funding to Great Southern Trail to upgrade to cycling standard a section of the existing walking trail on the abandoned Limerick to Tralee railway line. My officials meet with Iarnród Éireann/CIE regarding issues arising from Great Southern Trail and continue to explore further opportunities as they arise.

Jack Wall

Question:

189 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to introduce an all-Ireland walkways development plan. [18771/08]

Jack Wall

Question:

190 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to implement a major programme to promote rural countryside recreation by a dedicated unit or division of staff in consultation with stakeholders. [18772/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 189 and 190 together.

I refer the Deputy to my previous response to Questions numbered 19 and 34 of 3rd April 2008. I should add that agreement has been reached with Fáilte Ireland for the employment of a further Rural Recreation Officer (RRO), bringing the total to be employed to 12. I understand that eight of the RROs have been recruited, with the remaining four to be employed shortly.

Offshore Islands.

Jack Wall

Question:

191 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to complete the infrastructure programme on the islands, ensuring low-cost high quality access services with fixed and competitive tariffs for passengers and freight. [18774/08]

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that very considerable progress has been made in regard to the development of islands generally and improving the quality of life for island communities. Since 1997, more than €65m has been provided by my Department and its predecessor for the development of island infrastructure. In 2008, a further €33m has been allocated for this purpose, bringing the total amount provided to date to almost €100m. This unprecedented level of investment has resulted in significant improvements to access infrastructure on and for the islands. The following examples illustrate this:

the construction or development of piers at a number of locations, including Árainn Mhór and Machaire Rabhartaigh in County Donegal, Coney Island, County Sligo, the Clew Bay islands of Clynish, Inishlyre, Insegort and Islandmore, as well as Inis Bigil, Doran's Point, Clare Island, Inishturk and Roonagh in County Mayo and the Cork islands of Whiddy, Bere, Sherkin, Cléire, Long and Heir;

the construction of airstrips at Clifden and Inishbofin and the resurfacing of airstrips on the Aran Islands;

the provision of new helipads on Árainn Mhór and Cléire;

coastal protection and pier improvement works on Inishbofin, and

major pier and harbour developments on the three Aran Islands: construction of a new pier on Inis Meáin is nearing completion, while the largest development ever undertaken by my Department (in excess of €40 million) has recently commenced at Cill Rónáin, Árainn, and plans for the development of the pier on Inis Oírr are also at an advanced stage.

As island access infrastructure has improved, so too have associated access services. At this stage, my Department is funding eighteen island transport services, including ferry and air, compared to just seven in 1997 and, of course, many of these older services have been greatly improved since then. The annual cost of these subsidised services is approximately €5m.The cost of transport for passengers and cargo to the islands has been a major issue for island communities. The capping of passenger fares for islanders on contracted ferries (€8 for adults; €5 for students and children) has made a significant difference in this regard, as has the reduction by nearly two thirds of tariffs on the Aran Islands cargo service and the introduction of similar tariffs on other new cargo services due to commence shortly.

Tourism Development.

Jack Wall

Question:

192 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to develop the potential of language based and countryside recreation based tourism and services. [18775/08]

In line with commitments in the Programme for Government, my Department has made considerable progress in relation to developing the potential of language based and countryside recreation based tourism and services. In relation to language based tourism and services, my Department has continued to promote the Gaeltacht as a holiday destination in its own right, and, in this regard, particular emphasis has been given to the promotion of tourism on the islands. The focus is on developing products and facilities, providing specific packages for certain sectors (e.g., hotels, islands, Irish summer colleges, etc), and marketing the Gaeltacht as a place in which to learn Irish, as well as a tourist destination of outstanding merit.

Examples of initiatives progressed in 2007-08 include the Ireland North West Marketing Campaign, Ireland West's Connemara Marketing Strategy, marketing at various Holiday Trade Shows, initiation of a pilot community based project to support local product providers in delivering marketable packages to visitors, and the development of partnerships with a view to enhancing the tourism infrastructure provision in Donegal, Galway and Mayo. In 2007, employment figures in the Gaeltacht based tourism sector (language, cultural & service based activities) increased by 25% from 2006. In addition to this, strong working partnerships exist between Údarás na Gaeltachta and Fáilte Ireland, particularly through their regional offices and other tourism organisations, to optimise the opportunities provided by the tourism industry for the Gaeltacht.

My Department has also made substantial progress in terms of enhancing countryside recreation based tourism and services. Progress to date includes:

Publication of a National Countryside Recreation Strategy in September 2006 by Comhairle na Tuaithe;

Development and launch of the ‘Walks Scheme' by my Department, which is currently being piloted on four routes;

Agreement with Fáilte Ireland regarding the employment of 12 Rural Recreation Officers to promote walking tourism in areas where there are clusters of suitable, accessible walks;

Provision of over €1.3m in capital funding to Fáilte Ireland to assist in the development of the national network of looped walks to a total of 50 trailheads and 75 loops;

Funding to Coillte Teo for a joint project with Roscommon County Council, where Coillte has provided 110 acres of land to develop Lough Key Forest Park on a long-term lease, as well as for the development of a motocross course in the Dublin Mountains; and

An allocation of €90,000 (€30,000 per annum from 2006-2008) to Wicklow Uplands Council and Wicklow Rural Partnership to provide a network of access routes over private lands in areas of high scenic and amenity value in County Wicklow.

In addition, my Department is actively pursuing the possibility of using former railway infrastructure as recreational trails for activities such as walking and cycling, in conjunction with the Department of Transport and Iarnród Éireann. I have also provided funding to the Great Southern Trail to upgrade to cycling standard a section of the existing walking trail on the abandoned Limerick to Tralee railway line. Discussions are also continuing with Coillte and Bord na Móna regarding the possibility of expanding the use of their lands for recreational purposes. I will continue to progress this matter, which I believe has considerable potential to make a significant contribution to rural and countryside recreation.

Community Development.

Jack Wall

Question:

193 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to change the law to enable Údarás na Gaeltachta to provide development services on a contract basis to non-gaeltacht islands thus ensuring parity between all islands. [18777/08]

Legislative proposals in regard to the powers and functions of Údarás na Gaeltachta are being considered in the general context of recommendations contained in the Report of the Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht, which was published recently.

As the Deputy is aware, a Cabinet Committee has been established to examine the study's recommendations with a view to agreeing an integrated action plan.

Question No. 194 answered with Question No. 184.

Jack Wall

Question:

195 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to invest through the community employment scheme, the job initiative scheme, the rural social scheme and the community services programme in providing top class community services on islands. [18780/08]

In line with commitments in the Programme for Government, my Department has made considerable progress in relation to the development of community services on our islands through the Community Services Programme and the Rural Social Scheme.

The Community Services Programme (CSP), currently supports six community enterprises located on five islands in Donegal, Galway and Mayo. The islands are Árainn Mhór, Inis Oírr, Inis Mór, Inishbofin and Achill. The support provided is in the form of a contribution towards the wages of five managers and twenty-four full time equivalent workers. An allocation is also provided for non-wage expenses. The community enterprises, supported under the CSP, in turn provide support for various services, including support for tourism initiatives, transportation, recycling, literacy, social care, and youth support services, and also maintenance of community halls and facilities.

The Department continues to roll out the Rural Social Scheme (RSS), including on our islands. Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann implements the RSS on the islands on behalf the Department and has a quota of twenty participant places. In 2007, eleven projects were undertaken under the RSS.

In relation to the Deputy's query regarding the Community Employment Scheme and the Job Initiative Scheme, these do not fall within the remit of my Department and are matters for my colleague, Mary Coughlan T.D. Tánaiste & Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Recreational Facilities.

Jack Wall

Question:

196 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to ensure that play facilities are provided on islands where necessary. [18781/08]

Information regarding assistance approved by my Department for play facilities and other social amenities on islands in recent years is provided in the following table:

Island

Details

Amount Approved

Inis Oírr

Playground development

133,075

Toraigh

Playground development

35,000

Árainn Mhór

Playground development

35,000

Clare Island

Football pitch

106,658

Inishturk

Football pitch

169,526

Inishbofin

Football pitch

27,294

Irish Language.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

197 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to establish a senior officials group between his Department and the Department of Education and Science to enhance the actions of both Departments and their agencies in addressing challenges in supporting the Irish language including strengthening the teaching of Irish throughout the education system. [18870/08]

A high-level group has been established at Secretary General level between my Department and the Department of Education and Science and meets periodically to consider matters of common interest in the context of the Irish language and the Gaeltacht. Joint actions arising from the work of the group are advanced through regular engagement at Assistant Secretary level between the two Departments, as well as interaction with relevant agencies, including Foras na Gaeilge, Údarás na Gaeltachta and An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

198 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the programme for Government to develop a comprehensive plan based on the linguistic study of the Gaeltacht with clear and effective measures for the continued preservation and development of the language in the Gaeltacht. [18873/08]

A Cabinet level committee has been established to examine the issues in the context of the analysis and the recommendations made in the Report of the Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht. The Committee, which had its first meeting on 10 April 2008, has been tasked with agreeing an integrated action plan within a year to ensure the preservation and development of the Irish language as a community language in the Gaeltacht.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

199 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the programme for Government to provide for an extension to the Irish language network of crèches in the Gaeltacht. [18874/08]

In general, the primary responsibility for assisting crèches in the Gaeltacht and throughout the State rests with the Office of the Minister for Youth and Children. However, Údarás na Gaeltachta and my Department have also provided assistance for the provision of childcare facilities in the Gaeltacht in the form of capital funding and provision of suitable sites. In addition, an tÚdarás may also provide feasibility study grants to help community groups in Gaeltacht areas with design and other related preliminary costs associated with the building of such facilities.

Designated Areas.

Willie Penrose

Question:

200 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he has received an application from a group (details supplied), to extend the RAPID areas within their particular geographical remit; if in this context, he will take steps to include two additional estates as pointed out in a submission for inclusion in RAPID; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18908/08]

The RAPID Programme aims to ensure that priority attention is given to tackling the spatial concentration of poverty and social exclusion within the 46 designated RAPID areas. The Government has given a commitment to continue to prioritise investment in the existing RAPID areas and no area currently included in the Programme will lose its eligibility for priority treatment. My attention at present is focused on an analysis of recent Census data with a view to ensuring that the boundaries of existing RAPID areas are appropriate. A key concern will be to ensure that the effectiveness of the RAPID Programme is not diluted and that Government action continues to prioritise and target communities with the greatest needs. The area referred to in Athlone will be examined as part of the overall analysis of Census data.

Fishing Industry Development.

Tom Sheahan

Question:

201 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the operational programme for fisheries has been rejected by EU Commissioners due largely to his failure to implement a variety of EU directives; his proposals to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18786/08]

The Operational Programme (O.P) for Fisheries for Ireland has not been rejected by the Commission. As part of the normal consultative process for approval, the Commission adopts a negotiating position where it sets out how the OP should be improved and completed to meet the Commission's quality requirement for the programme. The Commission Negotiating position was received on the 22nd of April 2008, officials from my Department met the Commission (DG Mare, DG Regio and DG Environment) on 24 April as part of the formal process in the consideration of Ireland's Fisheries Operational Programme 2007 — 2013.

The OP submitted to the Commission envisages the use of EU funds under the Fisheries Fund to support decommissioning of fishing vessels, aquaculture development and environmental/inshore fisheries support. The total EU aid available under the Fisheries Fund for the period is €42m. My officials are engaging fully with the Commission to address the issues raised, including in relation to EU Directives on the Environment, with a view to agreeing the OP as early as possible.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Michael Creed

Question:

202 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will clarify whether the growing of willow crops for energy production is classified as an agricultural or forestry activity; his views on the ten metre boundary margin and 12 degrees rule for planting of willow crops; his further views on the consequences for farmers participating in the REP scheme who wish to grow willow crops for energy production who feel that these regulations and others restricting the amount of lands which they can include in energy crops jeopardise their participation in the REP scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18736/08]

In 2006, the European Commission classified willow as an agriculture crop. The Commission subsequently introduced Council Regulation 2012/2006 authorising Member States to grant national aid of up to 50% of the costs associated with establishing permanent crops (willow and miscanthus). This Regulation provides the legal basis of the Bioenergy Scheme, which my Department introduced in February 2007 to provide establishment grants to farmers of up to €1,450 per hectare to grow willow and miscanthus. The second phase of the Bioenergy Scheme commenced in December 2007 and to date applications to plant a further 1,400 hectares of willow and miscanthus have been submitted.

Growing willow is a specialised activity and my Department has published Best Practice guidelines to provide advice to growers on planting and harvesting operations. This is to ensure proper crop establishment, maximise crop yield and improve the economic viability of the crop. The ten-metre boundary margin is necessary to protect watercourses. The 12 degrees rule is to ensure that planting and harvesting operations can be carried out in a safe and efficient manner. Ideally sites must have low elevation and be moderately sheltered to facilitate machine operations and to minimise potential runoff.

In addition to establishment grants, areas planted with willow also qualify for the Single Farm Payment, the National Energy Crop Premium of €80 per hectare and the EU Premium of €45 per hectare under the EU Energy Crops Scheme. We also extended the aid payable under the REPS and Disadvantaged Areas Scheme to include areas planted with willow, subject to some restrictions on the areas planted.

On the REPS area, under the specification for REPS 4, the maximum area of willow and miscanthus permitted on REPS farms is 10 hectares or 25% of the REPS contract area, whichever is the greater. This area limitation is in order to maintain landscape diversity. It would not be desirable or acceptable in an agri-environmental scheme to have whole farms, or a major portion of the lands, devoted to the growing of an introduced species monoculture. Existing levels of flora and fauna need to be sustained, and if possible improved, on all REPS farms and the large-scale growing of willow is not consistent with this objective.

The same maximum area applies in REPS 3 but it has come to my Department's notice that a small number of farmers have exceeded the limits. My Department is examining these sympathetically on a case-by-case basis.

Fisheries Industry Development.

Tom Sheahan

Question:

203 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when grant aid programmes for aquaculture, processing and fisheries will be open to the industry to apply; when these programmes will be advertised welcoming applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18787/08]

Grant aid schemes for aquaculture and processing measures under the European Fisheries Fund Regulation 2007–2013 will be launched as soon as the relevant approvals are in place. For measures being partly supported with EU aid, the Commission must approve the national Operational Programme for Fisheries. The Operational Programme (O.P) for Fisheries for Ireland has been submitted to the Commission and is currently is subject to the formal process of negotiation. Schemes supported solely with national funds (including seafood processing and some aquaculture schemes) are currently being evaluated as required under the EU Strategic Environmental Directive. The schemes are planned to be launched in the autumn.

Licence Applications.

Tom Sheahan

Question:

204 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position regarding licensing applications on hand; the breakdown of same under the categories of the number of new licence applications, the number of licences under review and the number of licences for renewal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18788/08]

I refer the Deputy to the response to Question No. 47 of 6 November 2007 which indicated, inter alia, that 254 applications were being processed as new applications, licence renewals or licences undergoing review. Since then, the Department has received 17 new applications, 10 applications to renew a licence and 3 applications to review a licence.

The licensing procedure is lengthy and complex, involving a range of intermediate measures before a recommendation and decision can be made in any one case. I should also point out that the process has become considerably more complex in recent years due to increased activity and demands in the coastal zone and the knock-on need to take an ever greater account of public safety, environmental and economic issues.

I wish to advise the Deputy that a detailed examination of all applications within my Department is currently underway as a matter of urgency with a view to categorising all applications shortly, including by reference to the categories identified by the Deputy. This examination is part of a broader categorisation exercise which is one of the detailed measures being taken by my Department to successfully address the backlog in applications and is in keeping with measures recommended in the Cawley Report aimed at delivering an improved service to customers.

Fisheries Industry Development.

Tom Sheahan

Question:

205 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position regarding the negotiations process with the European Commission on Ireland’s operational programme on fisheries following the announcement in May 2008 of the rejection by the Commission of Ireland’s operational programme for fisheries; the way this rejection will affect progress on implementing the Cawley report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18789/08]

The Operational Programme (O.P) for Fisheries for Ireland has not been rejected by the Commission. As part of the normal consultative process for approval, the Commission adopts a negotiating position where it sets out how the OP should be improved and completed to meet the Commission's quality requirement for the programme.

The Commission Negotiating position was received on the 22nd of April 2008, officials from my Department met the Commission (DG Mare, DG Regio and DG Environment) on 24 April as part of the formal process in the consideration of Ireland's Fisheries Operational Programme 2007 — 2013.

The OP submitted to the Commission envisages the use of EU funds under the Fisheries Fund to support decommissioning of fishing vessels, aquaculture development and environmental/ inshore fisheries support. The total EU aid available under the Fisheries Fund for the period is €42m. My officials are engaging fully with the Commission to address the issues raised, with a view to agreeing the OP as early as possible.

A Seafood Strategy Implementation Group (SSIG), chaired by Dr Noel Cawley, has been established. This group is actively supporting and driving the delivery of the recommendations contained in "STEERING A NEW COURSE — Strategy for a Restructured, Sustainable and Profitable Irish Seafood Industry 2007–2013" (the Cawley Report). It is not expected that the current process we are engaged in regarding the O.P will have any significant impact on the delivery of the recommendations contained in the Cawley report over the timeframe of the strategy.

Sheep Sector.

Michael Creed

Question:

206 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if his Department has considered the report on the sheep, lamb and goat sector in Europe (details supplied); if in this context his Department is considering a per ewe environmental sheep maintenance scheme; if this issue has been discussed with the European Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18875/08]

I am aware of this report which contributes to the ongoing consideration of the future of the sheep sector in Europe. In that context my predecessor raised the issue at the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers last March. Commissioner Fisher Boel has indicated that the needs of the sector would be borne in mind in the CAP "Health Check".

The mixed grazing supplementary measure under REPS 4 is already targeted at the sheep sector. This measure is being kept under review.

Farm Inspections.

Michael Creed

Question:

207 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the progress made on the issue of adequate notice to farmers for on farm cross-compliance inspections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18876/08]

The position is that a Commission report on the application of cross-compliance was presented to the April 2007 Agriculture Council and Council conclusions were adopted in June 2007. One of issues covered in the conclusions was advance notice of inspections. Council and Commission Regulations are now in place implementing the new arrangements with effect from 1 January 2008.

Under the new regime, while all inspections should be unannounced, up to 14 days notice can be given for land eligibility and cross-compliance inspections involving Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) other than those related to animal identification and registration, food, feed, and animal welfare. For checks involving cattle identification and registration the maximum advance notice is 48 hours provided the Inspector is satisfied that the purpose of the inspection is not jeopardised. For SMRs dealing with feed, food and animal welfare no advance notice may be given.

The Department is required to ensure that the control environment established under cross-compliance is robust and meets with regulatory and audit requirements. Nevertheless, the Department believes that the cross-compliance provisions were overly complex for farmers and has sought and gained appropriate simplification in the context of the review of cross-compliance conducted by the Commission and the Regulations introduced as a result.

It is intended however, that further simplification of the cross-compliance arrangements will be pursued in the context of the CAP Health Check. Specifically, Ireland is committed to pursuing indent 14 of the June, 2007 Council conclusions which requested the Commission "to study ways of improving the coherence and practicability of the control provisions in the different sectors covered by the Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) for example as regards control rates and advance notice for on-the-spot checks".

Sheep Sector.

Michael Creed

Question:

208 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will request the European Commission to publish a price series on retail, wholesale, processor and producer prices for each member State on the Internet every three months in order to ensure more price transparency within the European sheep sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18877/08]

This is one of the recommendations in the report by Liam Aylward, MEP, to the European Parliament on the future of the sheep and goat sectors, which is being examined. I support the principle of maximum price transparency at all levels. In Ireland producer prices at export meat plants are published weekly by An Bord Bia. This includes a comparison with EU lamb markets.

One of the recommendations of the Sheep Strategy group was a move to mechanical grading of sheep, as is done for cattle. This will provide an objective assessment of quality and enhance price transparency. My Department has facilitated trials on mechanical grading and the results are currently being considered.

Registration of Entitlements.

Michael Creed

Question:

209 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the policy of his Department and the legal basis for same regarding treatment of entitlements in circumstances where land is being farmed in partnership and where on the death of one of the partners his Department is refusing to transfer entitlements to the surviving partner (details supplied); if in this context his Department will outline its position regarding the transfer of entitlements in a case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18878/08]

The rules governing the registration and transfer of payment entitlements are set out in Council Regulation 1782/2003, Commission Regulation 796/2004 and Commission Regulation 795/2004.

The 40 standard entitlements in question were established by the first person named and his late brother as joint herd owners during the reference period.

While the herd number previously held in the joint names of the first person named and his late brother has been transferred into the sole name of the first person named, no application has been received requesting the parallel transfer of entitlements.

The first person named has submitted an application requesting the transfer of the 40 standard entitlements from himself to a third party. As the entitlements are not currently registered in the sole name of the first person named, it has not been possible to process this application.

My Department has advised the first person named that he must first of all submit an application requesting the transfer of the entitlements from the joint names to his own name following which he may use them or transfer them as he sees fit. An application form to have the entitlements transferred has also been issued. To date, the first person named has not completed this transfer application.

Once a Transfer of Entitlements application and any relevant supporting documentation have been received, it will be processed without delay.

Grant Payments.

Niall Collins

Question:

210 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position in relation to REP scheme payments due to miscanthus growers; the qualifying hectarage of miscanthus which will allow farmers to make best use of the Government support schemes, that is REP scheme bioenergy scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18881/08]

REPS is an agri-environmental measure, and for that reason payments to farmers must be costed and justified on the basis of quantifiable environmental benefits that go beyond keeping land in good agricultural and environmental condition and observing the statutory management requirements of the Single Payment Scheme. No element of the REPS payment can be justified on the basis of a production support, nor can a farmer be compensated for the same action twice. REPS is not a support scheme; it is a voluntary scheme open to all farmers and payments under the scheme are not entitlements as of right. Participants who agree to be bound by the scheme conditions qualify for payment.

Under the specification for REPS 4, the maximum area of willow and miscanthus permitted on REPS farms is 10 hectares or 25% of the REPS contract area, whichever is the greater. This area limitation is in order to maintain landscape diversity. It would not be desirable or acceptable in an agri-environmental scheme to have whole farms, or a major portion of the lands, devoted to the growing of an introduced species monoculture. Existing levels of flora and fauna need to be sustained, and if possible improved, on all REPS farms and the large-scale growing of miscanthus is not consistent with this objective.

The same maximum area applies in REPS 3 but it has come to my Department's notice that a small number of farmers have exceeded the limits. My Department is examining these sympathetically on a case-by-case basis.

World Trade Negotiations.

Jack Wall

Question:

211 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his proposals to address the concerns expressed in correspondence (details supplied); the proposed meetings he is seeking to arrange with other EU Agricultural Ministers within the EU to discuss the matter; his proposals to further the efforts to address the matter and to continue the forum of meetings with the EU Commission and its Commissioners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18975/08]

There is no doubt that the current round of WTO negotiations represents a significant challenge for EU and Irish agriculture.

I am very concerned about some of the proposals being made in the WTO negotiations and with the lack of balance in the process. I want to assure the Deputy that I will take every opportunity to express my concerns in the strongest terms in the various EU and WTO meetings dealing with these negotiations. Only last week I met my French counterpart in Dublin, and the current state of play and imbalance in these WTO negotiations was high on the agenda of this meeting. I can report that France and Ireland share the same concerns on the direction of these negotiations and will continue to insist that the Commission does not accept an unbalanced deal which undermines EU agricultural production.

The WTO negotiations are on the Agenda of the Agriculture Council of Ministers next week and I will take the opportunity to reiterate and highlight Ireland's concerns to the Commission and to other Member States and to insist that any WTO agreement must be a balanced one which does not place a disproportionate burden on EU and Irish agriculture.

In addition I will ensure that Ireland continues to play a leading role in the Group of 14+ like-minded Member States who have come together to express concerns in relation to the direction of the WTO agriculture negotiations. I will continue to work closely with like-minded Ministers in other Member States to seek support for my position.

At official level, my Department, and other Departments involved, have and will continue to work assiduously in the various technical meetings to ensure Ireland's interests are best protected.

School Accommodation.

Michael Creed

Question:

212 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will list the primary and post primary schools in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18735/08]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that a full list of primary and post-primary schools, on a county by county basis, is available on my Department's website at www.education.ie.

School Staffing.

Damien English

Question:

213 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will review a case for a person (details supplied) in County Meath regarding a pay scale issue; and if he will make a statement regarding teaching service given outside the EU by EU trained teachers and pay rates. [18741/08]

The terms of award of incremental credit to teachers are determined by the Conciliation Council for Teachers, which is the forum for the discussion by representatives of the management and staff sides of claims, terms and conditions of employment. Arrangements for the award of incremental credit for primary teachers are outlined in Circular 10/01, and any changes in arrangements would have to be negotiated through the Conciliation Council for Teachers. In this context, if the matter is to be considered by the Council, it should be raised by the teachers' union.

Schools Building Projects.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

214 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science when he will make a capital allocation for the building programme at a school (details supplied) in County Cork; when the school authorities including the board of management and principal will be informed; the length of time he expects the construction period to last; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18782/08]

An application for capital funding towards the provision of a new school has been received from the Management Authority of the school referred to by Deputy. Applications for large scale capital funding are assessed and banded in accordance with published prioritisation criteria. These criteria were agreed following consultation with the Education Partners and the progression of individual projects is considered in the context of the multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. It is not possible at this stage to say when construction will commence on the project referred to by the Deputy.

School Management.

Tom Sheahan

Question:

215 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing issues in a school (details supplied) in County Kerry regarding the teaching of subjects through the medium of Irish only; the implications of this policy into the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18785/08]

My predecessor and officials of my Department met with the Trustees of the school and discussed with them the language policy of the school. I understand that the Trustees have engaged in discussions with the school's Board of Management on the issue. The Board of Management recently contacted my Department advising that they had appointed a person to review how the school facilitates pupils with either a little or no Irish. My Department has welcomes this development and has expressed its willingness to establish a specific liaison mechanism between it and the Board through which any issues that may arise could be considered. My Department has also offered to provide any expert advice to the Board that may assist the review being carried out in the school. The Inspectorate of my Department have offered, if the Board would find it helpful in the circumstances, to have a number of subject inspections conducted to help establish how the school's policies are impacting on the quality of learning at classroom level.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

John Deasy

Question:

216 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of primary school pupils attending schools in each county council and city council area; the number of pupils in each of those areas who are in classes of 30 or over; the number of pupils in each of those areas who are in classes of 25 to 29; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18804/08]

Enrolment data for the school year 2007/2008 are currently being processed and are not yet available. Schools have flexibility in the way in which they assign pupils and teachers to classes and the Department does not allocate teachers to specific classes or age groups. The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30th September of the previous school year. The actual number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule which is issued to all primary schools each year.

Posts allocated on the basis of this staffing schedule are specifically for mainstream classes and should be deployed accordingly. School authorities are requested to ensure that the number of pupils in any class is kept as low as possible, taking all relevant contextual factors into account (e.g. classroom accommodation, fluctuating enrolment). In particular, school authorities should ensure that there is an equitable distribution of pupils in mainstream classes and that the differential between the largest and smallest classes is kept to a minimum.

As the Deputy will be aware, major improvements have been made in staffing at primary level in recent years. There are now in the region of 6,000 more primary teachers than there were in 2002. By the 2006/07 school year, we had reduced the average class size in our primary schools to 24, while the pupil teacher ratio was 16.4:1, including resource teachers etc. In that year, schools were staffed on the basis of a general rule of at least one classroom teacher for every 28 children. Given that the national average was 24, many schools benefited from much more favourable staffing ratios than this. Extra teachers were provided by the Government for the 2007/08 school year to improve primary school staffing so that schools would generally get at least one classroom teacher for every 27 children.

A further initiative in recent years that has been of direct benefit to primary schools has been the change in the criteria for developing schools. For the current school year the threshold for getting a developing school post was reduced specifically to help schools that are seeing large increases in enrolments each year. Over 330 such posts have been sanctioned in the 2007/08 school year compared to 280 in 2006/07.

The improvements we have made in school staffing in recent years are absolutely unparalleled. The Government is committed to providing more teachers to our primary schools over the next five years in order to reduce class sizes. We will also continue our focus on measures to improve the quality of education in our primary schools to ensure that increased resources lead to better outcomes for our children.

School Curriculum.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

217 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the programme for Government to implement further changes in the Irish curriculum, with a focus on improving young people’s command of the spoken language and move towards more marks for oral Irish in the leaving certificate examinations. [18867/08]

In March 2007 plans were announced to increase the proportion of marks available for oral assessment in the certificate examinations in Irish to 40%, for pupils beginning second level schooling in 2007/8. This will impact on the voluntary oral Irish examination available as an option within the Junior Certificate from 2010 onwards, and the national oral examinations in the Leaving Certificate from 2012. The measure is designed to promote a significant shift in emphasis towards Irish as a spoken language, where students can communicate and interact in a spontaneous way, and where Irish is spoken every day in schools.

A subject-specific support service for Irish has been established, as part of the Second Level Support Service (SLSS), to provide professional development for second-level teachers and support the use of Gaeilge as a communicative language in schools and classrooms. The work of the support team is assisted by a professional advisory group which includes representatives of my Department, the State Examinations Commission, An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta, Foras na Gaeilge and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. To date the service has concentrated on the induction of team members and the preparation of seminars for teachers of First Year Irish. 54 seminars have been planned nationally for Term One, with the intention that two teachers of First Year Irish from all second-level schools will have had access to these seminars by the end of the current school year. Targeted seminars to teachers of First Year Irish in Irish-medium and Gaeltacht schools are also being provided.

The support service has also been undertaking an audit of the professional development needs of the teachers with whom it has been working and this will inform its work into the future. The service will shortly be looking at ways to make courses available to support teachers who wish to upskill themselves in the spoken language. A co-ordinating committee, Coiste Comhordaithe na Gaeilge, has also been established to advise on co-operative elements of the overall work to be carried out on the promotion of the Irish language within the education system. The committee is comprised of representatives from An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta (COGG), Údarás na Gaeilge and Foras na Gaeilge.

The policy of awarding bonus marks for Irish in the State examinations was introduced by the government in the 1920s as one of a number of initiatives to promote the study of subjects through Irish, reflecting the Constitutional position of Irish as the first language. This continues to the present day in the context of wider public policy to promote the Irish language, and is a facility open to all students. I have no plans to change the policy in this regard.

In-service Training.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

218 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made on the commitment given in the Programme for Government to build on the provision of in-service for primary teachers in teaching drama through Irish in the 2006/2007 school year by encouraging English medium primary schools to teach more subjects through Irish. [18868/08]

The Drama Curriculum contains a focus on An Ghaeilge agus Drámaíocht. It advocates the use of drama in Irish and asserts that ‘the greatest benefit of drama in Irish is that it can bring fluency in the language'. The curriculum also alludes to the use of drama by the teacher 'in order to prompt and extend the use of Irish'.

The curriculum supports the integration of Irish and drama and refers to the fact that such integration will assist the child's drama education and at the same time help him/her to achieve greater fluency and expressiveness in Irish (Primary School Drama Curriculum, Teacher Guidelines, P. 20).

A team of thirty-two trainer designates was appointed to the Primary Curriculum Support Programme, (PCSP) in 2005, a year in advance of the roll out of in-service seminars. The team comprised fully qualified primary school teachers from schools of diverse backgrounds and with broad interests in drama and Arts Education. The designate trainers attended a number of training sessions during the course of the academic year 2005-2006. In addition, they explored and experimented with aspects of the drama curriculum in their schools. The training which teachers ultimately received in Drama was reflective of this broad range of experience.

Drama in-service seminars were delivered over the course of two non-consecutive school closure days in 2006-2007. In addition to this, schools were also sanctioned to take one school-based planning day for Drama.

In all, a total of 1,737 drama seminars were delivered to primary school teachers. A total of 39,997 participants attended the drama in-service seminars.

The session of each of the drama in-service days which had a focus on ‘Drámaíocht trí Ghaeilge' had two aims:

to develop drama as a subject in its own right

to demonstrate how Irish can be used as a living language in the context of the drama lesson.

Ongoing Support

In 2007-2008, the Arts cuiditheoir team continues to provide support for Dramaíocht trí Ghaeilge where they have been requested by schools to do so. One aspect of the work of these cuiditheoirí has been in modelling strategies which focus on Dramaíocht trí Ghaeilge in classrooms.

The Gaeilge/Tús Maith team has also been promoting the use of Drama as a methodology for the teaching of Gaeilge.

The Campaí Samhraidh initiative for disadvantaged schools will have a focus on Dramaíocht trí Ghaeilge.

The INTO magazine InTouch published an article which aims to support Dramaíocht agus an Ghaeilge in schools, ‘I dtreo na Drámaíochta — October 2007'.

School Staffing.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

219 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made on the commitment given in the Programme for Government to put in place new arrangements to enable Gaelscoileanna to hire teachers with a strong ability to teach all subjects through Irish. [18869/08]

In relation to teaching methods my Department, through Teacher Education Section, has a wide number of initiatives in place to further develop the teachers' competency in teaching Irish.

At primary level the "Tús Maith" programme is a targeted initiative designed to support the teaching of Irish. There are currently thirty — one cuiditheoirí on the team of trainers. The purposes of the Tús Maith programme are to improve the teaching of Irish and to improve teachers' competence and confidence in speaking the Irish language. Tús Maith cuiditheoirí provide a range of supports to teachers including in-class support, whole school support and after-school workshops. The team is currently working with 527 Spriocscoileanna, (Target Schools), providing intensive sustained support. Tús Maith cuiditheoirí also work with Gaelscoileanna. The funding currently provided for the Tús maith initiative is €2.3m annually.

At post primary level, a subject-specific support service for Gaeilge was established in 2007. The service forms part of the Second Level Support (SLSS) which provides programme and subject specific curricular support, and support for implementing new teaching methods in second-level schools. The funding provided for this service is €0.65m annually.

The support service for Irish has been designed to provide professional development support to second-level teachers of Irish generally. One of the primary objectives of the service is to support the use of Gaeilge as a communicative language in schools and classrooms.

The programme of professional development has been designed to:

promote the importance of oral skills as an integral part of the Junior and Leaving Certificate syllabuses

enable teachers develop a range of teaching and learning strategies that will promote oral language proficiency, as recommended in Circular 0042/2007

build on the strengths of the Revised Curriculum for Primary Schools.

My Department also provides funding of €150k per annum for the provision of Campaí Samhraidh in disadvantaged schools for 4th to 6th class students. In 2007 there were 10 ten schools participating in the scheme and it is anticipated that there will be twenty schools in 2008.

In addition to the above at both primary and post primary level each of our support services have measures in place to provide training through Irish. In relation teaching aids, Séideán Sí is a pack of resources forming a course in Irish which was developed for Gaeltacht primary schools and All-Irish primary schools. It comprises a range of teaching materials and guidelines for teachers and pupils up to Third Class. It includes pre-reading materials, posters, prompt cards, word games, board games, rhymes, songs, picture cards, alphabet cards, books, a cd and ICT materials. At present writers are developing a package of materials for Fourth Class.

All of the above initiatives aim to improve the competency of students in the Irish language when they leave school. Some of these students will eventually become teachers themselves, with an improved grounding in the Irish language.

As part of the minimum academic requirements specified by my Department for entry to programmes of teacher education in the Colleges of Education, all candidates must have a minimum of a Grade C in Higher Level in Irish in the Leaving Certificate or an approved equivalent. This requirement embodies both the written and oral element of a student's proficiency in Irish and my Department considers it to be the minimum standard in Irish necessary for students entering a teacher training course which will equip them to teach Irish to pupils at all levels of the primary school.

In addition in the Colleges of Education there is a separate competition for entry to the B.Ed for candidates who reside in the Gaeltacht and the normal language of whose home is Irish. The Colleges may offer up to 10% of their places to Gaeltacht candidates.

Physical Education Facilities.

Enda Kenny

Question:

220 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that his predecessor made a public commitment to the allocation of funding for a sports hall at a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; the reason this has not been honoured to date; when he will confirm that this project can proceed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18905/08]

A tender report for the project referred to by the Deputy is currently under examination by my Department. The contract for the project has not yet been awarded.

The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered on an on-going basis in the context of my Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

It is not possible at this stage to say when construction will commence on the project referred to by the Deputy.

Computerisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

221 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science if he allocated €30,000 for the specific purchase of computers for a school (details supplied) in County Mayo for 2007; the amount allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18906/08]

The school referred to by the Deputy did not receive direct ICT funding in 2007. The school did however receive the annual Minor Works Grant which allows schools, inter alia, to purchase IT related equipment without referring back to my Department. Over €27m was paid out to primary schools throughout the country in 2007 to enable thousands of small scale works to be completed without the need to interact with my Department. Individual primary schools received a grant in the sum of €5,500 plus €18.50 per pupil.

School Accommodation.

Willie Penrose

Question:

222 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science the position on an application for additional funding by a school (details supplied) in County Longford, which is being examined by his Department’s review group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18910/08]

A grant was sanctioned in March 2007 to enable the management authority of the school in question to provide additional accommodation.

The scheme is not intended to leave schools with significant fundraising needs; rather the terms of the Scheme require the schools to tailor the scope of capital works commissioned to the available funding. The decision on whether to continue participating in the scheme or to drop out, if the scope of build is more than the funding envelope permits, is a matter for each school authority.

The Board of Management submitted an appeal for additional funding which was unsuccessful. They were advised to use the grant to achieve the maximum accommodation possible taking into consideration the extra cost which has arisen.

Residency Permits.

Martin Ferris

Question:

223 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position of the residency application from a person (details supplied). [18726/08]

It is not the practice to comment in detail on individual asylum applications. As the Deputy will be aware, applications for refugee status in the State are determined by an independent process comprising the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which make recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted. A final decision on this application will be made upon receipt of the decision of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Damien English

Question:

224 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a decision will be made on an application for family reunification (details supplied); if all information has been provided by the applicant for a decision to be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18738/08]

I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that the application made for family reunification by the person in question was refused in August 2007. She was also advised that it was open to her to seek a declaration from the Irish courts under Section 29 of the Family Law Act 1995 that the marriage in question is a valid marriage.

Citizenship Applications.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

225 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding citizenship in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18800/08]

Officials in the Citizenship section of my Department inform me that processing of the application from the person referred to in the Deputy's Question has commenced and the file will be forwarded to me for a decision in the coming months. I will inform the Deputy and the person in question when I have reached a decision on the matter.

Residency Permits.

Niall Collins

Question:

226 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status and when a decision will be made in relation to persons (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18801/08]

Long-term residency is an administrative scheme that was introduced in May 2004 and is focused on persons who have been legally resident in the State for over five years on the basis of work permit / work authorisation / work visa conditions. Such persons may apply to the Immigration Division of my Department for a five year residency extension. In that context they may also apply to be exempt from employment permit requirements. While applications for long term residency are under consideration, the person concerned should ensure that their permission to remain in the State is kept up to date.

I have been informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that applications for long term residency from the persons referred to by the Deputy were received in November 2006. I understand that applications received in August 2006 are currently being dealt with. As soon as a decision is made on the case, the persons concerned will be notified.

Garda Stations.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

227 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Garda stations here which are e-mail enabled and can be contacted by citizens via e-mail; if he will list each of these e-mail enabled stations; when every Garda station will be directly electronically contactable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18803/08]

I am advised by the Garda Authorities that currently there is a pilot running in the Dublin Metropolitan Region which provides section mailboxes to all District and Divisional offices. The pilot is assessing the various factors that need to be addressed with regard to greater use of external email by An Garda Síochána, including the type and volume of Garda business that can be transacted using email, the potential uses for Section and Station email and the security and resource implications for the Garda network.

Internal email has been provided to all ranks of An Garda Síochána via the PULSE environment. External email facilities are provided to all Gardaí from Inspector rank upwards as well as to members of other ranks based on operational needs. Accordingly, external email access is personnel rather than location based.

Garda Investigations.

John Deasy

Question:

228 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of warrants that are outstanding in each Garda division; if he will break down the total outstanding warrants for each division into bench warrants, committal warrants and penal warrants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18807/08]

John Deasy

Question:

229 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of warrants that are outstanding in each Garda district of the Waterford/Kilkenny division; if he will break down the total outstanding warrants for each district into bench warrants, committal warrants and penal warrants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18808/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 228 and 229 together.

In the time available it has not been possible for the Garda authorities to supply the details requested by the Deputy. I will be in contact with the Deputy when the information is to hand.

Prisoner Releases.

Tony Gregory

Question:

230 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to his reply to Parliamentary Question No. 523 of 8 May 2008, the date of the decision to reject the application of each of the five prisoners. [18901/08]

Tony Gregory

Question:

231 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to his reply to Parliamentary Question No. 523 of 8 May 2008, if he or officials have consulted with other parties or individuals when making his decision to refuse the applications under the Good Friday Agreement of each of the prisoners concerned. [18902/08]

Tony Gregory

Question:

232 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to his reply to Parliamentary Question No. 523 of 8 May 2008, if in view of the spirit and the letter of the Good Friday Agreement he will review the decision to refuse to send the applications of the prisoners concerned, which in this instance would be four or the five prisoners to the Independent Commission as agreed under the Good Friday Agreement to allow the Commission to make their advice known in each case as is their function. [18903/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 230 to 232, inclusive, together.

The decisions not to specify the prisoners as qualifying were communicated to the prisoners in question by the Prison Governor in September 2000, April 2002, December 2004 and September 2006. In the normal course my Department would seek the views of An Garda Síochána on such applications which would then be taken into account in my formal decision. As to whether the decisions not to specify these prisoners will be reviewed, I can confirm to the Deputy that the circumstances in which these decisions were taken have not changed.

Licensing Laws.

Jack Wall

Question:

233 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on and his plans to address the contents of correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18974/08]

I am currently examining the issues raised by the Irish Nightclub Industry Association in connection with reform of the licensing laws in their recent submission.

Sport and Recreational Development.

Jack Wall

Question:

234 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to implement proposals for a community development plan which will deliver community facilities such as playgrounds, community centres, local markets, recycling, sports and recreational facilities throughout the country, and that this plan will be underpinned by a €150 million community development fund to be established over a five year period. [18758/08]

Jack Wall

Question:

235 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to ensure that services being delivered for towns under the community development plan are easily accessible to rural communities. [18760/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 234 and 235 together.

I refer the Deputy to the reply to Questions Nos. 656, 657, 658 and 659 of Thursday, 17 April 2008. The position is unchanged.

Planning Issues.

Jack Wall

Question:

236 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to set up a national monitoring committee to oversee the consistent implementation of the sustainable rural housing guidelines. [18770/08]

I refer the Deputy to the reply to Questions Nos. 249 and 250 of 3 April 2008.

The Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines for Planning Authorities were published in April 2005, and have a statutory basis as they were issued under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The Guidelines are designed to achieve a balance between a good planning framework for rural housing and the local housing needs of those who are part of, or have links to, local rural communities.

In a circular letter issued in May 2005, planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála were asked to put in place the required procedures and practices to implement the policies set out in the Guidelines as quickly and effectively as possible. My Department also held two seminars for local authority planning officials on the implementation of the Guidelines. While respecting the need to consider each planning application individually and on its own merits, planning officials were asked to ensure that the provisions of the Guidelines are applied consistently and uniformly.

All planning authorities were also requested to take immediate steps to review their development plans so as to incorporate any changes necessary to promote consistency with the policies set out in the Guidelines. This has been done, with some authorities varying their plans and others incorporating the Guidelines into the reviews of development plans. The Guidelines are a material consideration both in relation to development plans and in the consideration of planning applications. Detailed application to particular planning cases is, however, a matter for the planning authority concerned or An Bord Pleanála, as appropriate.

My Department will continue to monitor implementation of sustainable rural planning policies to ensure appropriate consistency in the application of guidance across all counties.

Community Wardens.

Jack Wall

Question:

237 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to extend the successful pilot scheme of community wardens nationally. [18773/08]

The pilot community warden service, which was established in five local authorities in 2002, has since been placed on a permanent footing. There are currently 45 warden posts across these authorities. Following a process of adjudication, the practical issues concerning the extension of the service to other local authorities have recently been settled. Accordingly, it is now open to other local authorities to introduce the scheme, having regard to local circumstances.

Planning Issues.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

238 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to build on recent planning laws by setting up a national monitoring committee to oversee the clear and consistent implementation of the protections for the unique linguistic identity of the Gaeltacht. [18871/08]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

239 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the Programme for Government to examine Section 10 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 that requires local authorities to prioritise the promotion and development of Irish when considering future development schemes. [18872/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 238 and 239 together.

Section 10(2)(m) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 requires a development plan to include objectives for the protection of the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Gaeltacht, including the promotion of Irish as the community language, where there is a Gaeltacht area in the area of the development plan.

Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Development Plans were issued by my Department in June 2007 to assist planning authorities in the preparation and implementation of development plans. Appendix C to these guidelines sets out, inter alia, further considerations for planning authorities in the preparation of development plans in Gaeltacht areas such as demographic, economic and cultural factors, as well as particular facilities appropriate to Gaeltacht areas and the administrative and management structures that might be required. These guidelines were issued under section 28 of the Act, which requires planning authorities to have regard to them in the performance of their functions. The Guidelines are available on my Department's website at www.environ.ie. The provisions of the Act and the statutory guidelines provide a strong legal underpinning of Gaeltachta and the Irish language in planning law.

I am also a member of the Cabinet Committee on Irish and the Gaeltacht which held its first meeting on 10 April 2008. I will work with my colleagues to ensure that the Committee's programme of work is advanced, including the implementation of any necessary actions in the area of planning, to protect our linguistic and cultural heritage.

Local Authority Housing.

Willie Penrose

Question:

240 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the status of an application by Westmeath County Council to replace and renew a significant number of houses built as part of a low cost scheme in the early 1970s (details supplied) in County Westmeath; if, in view of the urgency attached to having new dwelling houses provided for the residents who have been patient in this regard, he will ensure that the appropriate financial allocation is made to the local authority to enable them to carry out this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18734/08]

The Council has already received funding of €1.1 million to undertake a pilot phase remedial works scheme in this estate. This was completed in May 2007. A proposal to extend the pilot phase was received by the Department in March 2007. The proposal, however, did not address a number of issues that arose in the pilot phase and did not meet with public procurement policy. A letter to that effect issued from my Department in April 2007.

At the end of April 2008, my Department received a revised proposal from the Council and this is currently under consideration.

Tom Hayes

Question:

241 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the criteria for assessment and approval of Respond! and Clúid housing; if these houses are available for purchase by the tenant; if not, the reason this social housing scheme is different to other housing schemes; if tenants are made aware of this prior to acceptance of tenancy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18737/08]

The provision of accommodation by approved voluntary and co-operative housing bodies is an integral part of my Department's overall response to delivering on social housing need. Local authorities and approved housing bodies are working in close co-operation to deliver an expanded range of social housing options and a wide range of accommodation types to meet the needs of low-income families and persons with special housing needs.

Proposals for new voluntary housing schemes, including proposals from Respond! and Clúid housing associations, are assessed by the local authorities and my Department in accordance with the technical, financial and general terms and conditions of the Capital Funding Schemes as set out in Memorandum: VHU:2/02 and my Department's social housing Best Practice Guidelines — Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities, details of which are available on my Department's website at www.environ.ie. Only projects which comply with the terms of the funding schemes and which meet the local authority's strategic housing objectives for delivering on need, are approved for funding.

There is no provision at present in the voluntary housing schemes for the purchase of individual houses by tenants and this would be communicated to potential tenants by approved housing bodies in the context of pre-tenancy meetings. However, the Government's housing policy statement, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, indicated that consideration would be given, in consultation with the voluntary and co-operative sector, to piloting a tenant purchase scheme for some new voluntary homes based on the incremental purchase model.

The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is expected to be published during the present Dáil session, will include provisions to give effect to the incremental purchase scheme. In parallel with this, arrangements for the introduction of a pilot scheme for the voluntary housing sector are being considered in consultation with the Irish Council for Social Housing.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

John Deasy

Question:

242 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his proposals to provide funding to Waterford City Council to extend the main sewerage scheme to an estate (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18806/08]

A sewerage scheme to serve Blenheim and other areas was sixth on the list of water and sewerage schemes submitted by Waterford City Council in response to my Department's request to all local authorities in 2006 to undertake assessments of needs for capital works in their areas and to prioritise their proposals on the basis of these assessments. The priority lists were taken into account in preparing the Water Services Investment Programme 2007 — 2009, which I published in September 2007 and which is available in the Oireachtas Library. Given the level of competing demands for the available funding, and the priorities identified by the elected members of Waterford City Council, I regret that it was not possible to include the Blenheim scheme in the current Programme.

Willie Penrose

Question:

243 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the status of an application by Westmeath County Council to provide essential sewerage facilities in Rathowen, County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18909/08]

The Rathowen Sewerage Scheme is included in my Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2007-2009 as a scheme to advance through planning at an estimated cost of €1.9 million. My Department is in communication with Westmeath County Council in relation the level of Exchequer funding for the scheme and a decision will be conveyed to the Council shortly.

Salmon Hardship Scheme.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

244 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the funding given to each country from the hardship fund to compensate salmon fishermen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18754/08]

The purpose of the Salmon Hardship Scheme is to address hardship difficulties experienced by those commercial salmon licence holders affected as a result of the Government's decision to align the wild salmon fishery with the scientific advice from 2007 onwards. The scheme is administered on behalf of my Department by Bord Iascaigh Mhara. The scheme in respect of the Foyle area is administered by the Loughs Agency. I am advised that some 994 applicants made claims through BIM. To date, offers totalling €22,707,948 have been accepted including some 120 offers which have been appealed to the Independent Appeals Officer for the Scheme. The Scheme administered by the Loughs Agency is co-funded on an equal basis by my Department and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland at a cost of €3,608,124. A total of €3,006,873 has been paid out under this scheme to date. A breakdown of the funding, by county, will be made available to the Deputy as soon as it is prepared by the administering agencies.

Telecommunications Services.

Jack Wall

Question:

245 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the programme for Government to provide broadband on all islands. [18776/08]

The provision of broadband services is, in the first instance, a matter for the private sector. Broadband service providers operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated, where appropriate, by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The role of the Government is to formulate regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of high quality telecommunications services by competing private sector service providers. The widespread provision of broadband services continues to be a priority for the Government. In that regard my Department has undertaken initiatives to address the gaps in broadband coverage. These include providing grant-aid under the Group Broadband Scheme (GBS) and investment in Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs). Although broadband is now widely available in Ireland there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband services. These areas are being addressed by the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), which will provide broadband services to areas that are currently unserved, including any unserved areas in the country, including inhabited offshore islands, and will ensure that all reasonable requests for broadband are met.

The first phase of the NBS procurement process (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)) is now complete, and four candidates pre-qualified to enter the next phase of the procurement process. Following the withdrawal of the IFA/Motorola Consortium as a candidate, the remaining three candidates have now commenced "Competitive Dialogue" with my Department and are developing their proposed solutions to meet my Department's requirements for the delivery of broadband to the unserved areas of the country. It is anticipated that a preferred bidder will be selected in mid 2008, with roll-out to commence as soon as possible thereafter. My Department has recently received notice of Judicial Review proceedings regarding certain elements of the NBS mapping process. These proceedings are currently before the Commercial Court and due for hearing on 10 June 2008. A speedy conclusion of the matter has been requested in order to advance the NBS as quickly as possible.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Jack Wall

Question:

246 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress made in regard to the commitment given in the programme for Government to introduce a scheme for offshore islands to incentivise and support the production of island produced and consumed renewable energy by island co-operatives or other island-based organisations for community buildings and public lighting. [18778/08]

The REFIT support programme, which is administered by my Department, supports the construction of new renewable energy powered electricity production plants. This support programme is open to all qualifying projects including project proposals for the offshore islands. In addition to this general support for new renewable energy powered projects, I understand that Sustainable Energy Ireland has been working directly with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs over the past year in regard to conducting a comprehensive energy needs survey of the islands, using the Aran Islands as a pilot area. The aim of this survey is to assist in the development of strategies that will reduce the offshore islands dependence on fossil fuels.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

247 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has plans to introduce a grant aid scheme for wood log gasifiers, which is a highly efficient technology for burning wood and a carbon neutral renewable fuel resource; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18729/08]

The Greener Homes Scheme provides support to homeowners to invest in a range of domestic renewable energy heating technologies including solar panels, biomass boilers and stoves and heat pumps. There has been a strong interest in the scheme since it was launched in March 2006. On foot of the achievement of the original scheme targets three years ahead of schedule, Phase I of the Greener Homes Scheme was closed on 3 September 2007.

Phase II of the scheme was opened on 1 October 2007 with assistance still provided under the above mentioned headings. The objective in Greener Homes Phase II is to consolidate the market, underpinning it with quality standards and training and providing for a long-term future that is not grant dependent. The aim is to ensure that the market for these products, services and fuels continues to develop strongly in a robust manner and that consumers continue to be guided towards discerning choices. Continuing the scheme is helping secure a range of objectives including more competitive offerings, revised product standards, improved training standards and stable growth across the renewable heating industry. The Greener Homes Scheme will continue to be kept under review, and will continue to evolve in light of the maturing technologies and market developments, including the consideration of additional technologies such as wood log gasifiers.

Telecommunications Services.

Noel Coonan

Question:

248 Deputy Noel J. Coonan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when the enablement of broadband will be provided at an exchange (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [18750/08]

The provision of telecommunications services is a matter, in the first instance, for the relevant companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated where appropriate by the Independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. I have no function in the matter of the enabling of exchanges owned by private companies. However, it is hoped that the facilitation of greater competition in the area via the introduction of broadband from different technology platforms will encourage the more rapid enabling of all exchanges for broadband.

My Department operates a dedicated website www.broadband.gov.ie where potential broadband customers can establish the service providers providing a broadband service in their area. The website also lists prices of the various service levels on offer and contact details for each service provider.

Inland Fisheries.

Frank Feighan

Question:

249 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the name in respect of the years 1985 and 1995, of each of the ESB subsidiary and associate companies involved in fishery activity within the State; the percentage of ESB holdings; the activity of each company in fishery activity; the amount invested by the ESB in subsidiaries and associates by way of shares and loans and the profit and loss position in each company; and if these companies are still trading in the State. [18892/08]

I have been informed by the ESB that only their subsidiary company, Salmara Holdings Limited, was engaged in salmon farming from 1987 to 1995. Approval to dispose of the four offshore farms operated by the company was given to the ESB in January 1995. It has not been possible to obtain the other information sought in the time available and this will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as it is provided by the ESB.

Frank Feighan

Question:

250 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the funding available and allocated specifically for the development of Shannon fisheries in each of the years 2000 to 2007 by the ESB for the development of the Shannon fisheries service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18893/08]

Frank Feighan

Question:

251 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if the ESB fisheries division provides him with an annual financial breakdown of profits and operating costs for the fishery activity on the River Shannon (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18894/08]

Frank Feighan

Question:

252 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if the ESB has a protection brief on the Shannon system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18895/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 250 to 252, inclusive, together.

I am advised that the ESB controls the fishing rights of the entire River Shannon and the role of maintenance and preservation of the fishery resources is undertaken by ESB Fisheries Conservation, part of the ESB Hydro Group which operates within the ESB Power Generation directorate. I am advised that certain protection activities on the Shannon catchment are managed on behalf of the ESB by the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board.

Under the Electricity (Supply) (Amendment) Act 1961, the ESB is required to provide me with an annual report, statistics, returns and accounts in relation to fisheries under its management. This report includes turnover, expenditure, payroll, operational costs and net loss figures which are extracted from the financial statements of the ESB for the year ended 31 December. The report includes details for the various fishery activities undertaken by ESB Fisheries Conservation throughout the State. No breakdown of the figures is provided for the Shannon Catchment. I understand the ESB publishes and circulates the report among interested stakeholders. Copies are also available from the ESB on request.