Priority Questions.

Controlled Drugs Sales.

Jack Wall

Question:

2 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the steps he will take to close or regulate head shops in view of the serious public concern and the potential damage that can be caused by substances sold in these outlets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8489/10]

Catherine Byrne

Question:

5 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on the proliferation of head shops here in recent months; the steps he will take to tackle the prevalence of legal highs and their mind altering effects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8488/10]

I propose taking Questions Nos. 2 and 5 together.

I have voiced my concerns about the activities of head shops and substances represented as "legal highs" sold in these outlets on numerous occasions since my appointment as Minister of State with responsibility for the national drugs strategy. My concerns about these substances centre on the potential health hazards arising from the use of these products and the possibility that their use may act as a gateway to the use of illicit drugs. This issue is causing concern across Europe and a number of countries have taken action, each adapting their approach to reflect their own laws and experiences. However, no EU member state has come up with a comprehensive response thus far.

The National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016, launched in September 2009, includes two actions aimed at addressing the issues involved. The identification of the head shop and "legal highs" issue in the strategy is a reflection of the concerns arising in families, communities and across the general population. As provided for under the strategy, I held a number of meetings in late 2009 with the Ministers for Health and Children, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science. I have also met with the Garda Commissioner and with senior officials of various Departments and offices. Head shops and the sale of legal highs were discussed at many of these meetings and some possibilities for addressing the activities of head shops were suggested.

Following more recent communications with the Minister for Health and Children, who has overall responsibility for the Misuse of Drugs Acts, the primary legislation through which these substances can be regulated, she has indicated that her Department is currently preparing regulations to introduce controls on a range of substances. These regulations will make the possession and sale of these substances illegal and subject to criminal sanctions. In preparing the required regulations, officials of the Department of Health and Children are consulting with the relevant authorities to ensure that any legitimate uses of the substances involved are not impinged upon. The intention is that the regulations will be drafted within a month, but a three month notification process to the EU may be involved. In this context, the advice of the Attorney General is being sought by the Department of Health and Children before the regulations are implemented.

Meanwhile, the activities of head shops are also being closely monitored by the Garda Síochána and the Customs Service, with a view to ensuring that no substances that are currently illegal are being sold. I have also been in contact with the Attorney General about other possible approaches to the matter. I raised issues in respect of public liability insurance, product liability insurance and consumer protection with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as well as planning issues with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The matters involved are being considered by the two Departments and I expect to have their views in the short-term.

The National Advisory Committee on Drugs is carrying out some research at my request on psychoactive substances sold in head shops. The National Advisory Committee on Drugs has established a research advisory group for this project and it will report periodically to me on progress. In light of the banning of a number of substances and groups of substances in Britain and Northern Ireland in December, I am especially concerned about the possibility of Ireland becoming a dumping ground for some of these products. From the level of engagement outlined, Deputies can be assured that I am very committed to pursuing appropriate and comprehensive responses to counter the potential threats of head shops and "legal highs".

I thank the Minister of State for his detailed reply. This item has caught the attention of people in every town, village and city in the country. There are many different views on the subject. I have a similar view to the Minister of State that this must be addressed urgently, yet his former colleague Deputy McDaid said last week that it would be a mistake to ban head shops, because we would be driving the sale of these products into the black market which would be controlled by drug dealers. We have seen head shops vandalised and burned in Dublin and Deputy Costello is so concerned that he is seeking to bring a Private Members' Bill to the Dáil on the issue.

We must not delay on this. The Minister of State has said that the legislation may have to go to the EU. When will it be ready? Will the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government be dealing with the planning aspects of this, or will the local authorities have to deal with the matter? Protest marches have taken place over the last few days in Castlebar and other places on the issue, so it must be addressed quickly. Kids from schools are frequenting these places, so every aspect of the legislation must be covered.

I thank the Deputy for his comments, but I would like to clarify a few points. He mentioned my colleague, Deputy McDaid. I take a completely different view to Deputy McDaid on the issue. I am concerned at the proliferation of these shops and the threat they pose, due to the sale of the individual substances and the health risk involved, but also due to the fact that they could be a gateway to illicit drug use.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Acts, the Minister for Health and Children indicated at the beginning of February that the controlled list would be increased to cover everything that was done in the UK until December. That would cover a certain amount, but we want to go a little bit further. We hope to be able to include the likes of mephedrone, which is often sold as "White Ice" or "Snow", is one of the leading products and is quite problematic. I do not have a definitive answer on this and the advice of the Attorney General is being sought. The Minister for Health and Children will bring in that draft regulation by the end of February or the beginning of March. It may be necessary to give three months' notice to Europe before it becomes effective. That will be totally dependent on the advice of the Attorney General, but the regulation will be drafted and ready by early March.

Local authorities have a role to play in planning, but I asked specific questions of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on planning regulations. At the moment, head shops open where retail use already exists. I am wondering if the Department could look at actions we have taken to require the likes of off-licences to require specific planning regulations. If that were to be the case, the local authorities have a role to play, but I have addressed the issue to the Department.

I take this very seriously and I am not prepared to have delays on it. I would like to expand on the issue briefly.

There are many questions on this, so I would like the Minister of State to hold his fire while I let Deputy Catherine Byrne in.

I agree with the Minister of State. I do not believe that closing these shops completely will help anybody. In the long run, that will drive people into a darker corner and drive them underground to get this stuff. However, it is urgent that we bring in legislation as soon as possible. I agree with Deputy Wall in this respect.

There are very serious health risks associated with these legal highs, as has been demonstrated by many professionals. Many young people queue outside these shops on weekends to buy their products. Along with the regulation of the head shops, there must be council action on planning, because the shops have recently resembled off-licences and there is almost one on every street corner.

I know the Minister of State is seriously concerned about what is happening, just like every parent. This is particularly the case for young people, who really do not understand the consequences of what they are taking and how they take it. Young people, particularly those at college or secondary school, need to be informed about what they are becoming involved in. Once the analysis is complete, will the products in question be added to the list of banned substances held by the Department of Health and Children?

Yes. To ban a substance, it must first be clearly identified and shown to have a negative and detrimental effect on health. A process must be completed to ensure the legislation is robust. Shortly before Christmas a range of products was added to the list of banned substances in the United Kingdom. While I am not familiar with the technical names, some designer cathinones such as methadrone and methylone have not been added to the UK list. We hope to go a step further than Britain and include these products on the Irish list of banned substances. The products in question have brand names with which the Deputy may be familiar, for example, "Charge", "White Ice" and "Snow Blow". We intend to add a substantial number of products to the list of banned substances.

While planning and other regulations will have a role to play, it should be borne in mind that the primary concern relates to the substances given that a considerable number of them are available for sale on the Internet and are delivered by post. For this reason, closing off retail outlets will not be sufficient to address the problem. I have quizzed customs officials on this matter and they have indicated that if legislation is in place and products are illegal, they have the capacity to intercept these products. We are addressing this issue in a comprehensive manner.

Deputy Byrne is correct that education has a major role to play in this regard. The Health Service Executive has embarked on designing an awareness campaign which will focus, in particular, on addressing the mistaken impression that because these products are legal they are regulated. The problem is these products are not yet illegal and the message the HSE will try to communicate is that this does not mean they are safe. This will be the focus of the awareness campaign being developed.

I concur with Deputy Catherine Byrne on the educational aspect of this issue. I ask the Minister to ensure the websites of his Department, the Department of Education and Science and the Health Service Executive carry warnings about these products. It would not cost much to provide information on all relevant websites, including, for example, those of local drug task forces and policing committees in each county. I hope this will be done as a short-term measure while work on analysing the products is being done.

When will legislation on this issue come before the House?

Deputy Wall makes a good suggestion on providing information on websites. I will ask officials in the relevant Department to take action in this regard.

I am not sure whether legislation will be necessary or if the measures can be taken by ministerial order and statutory instrument under existing legislation. It is intended to add this range of substances to the Schedule of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Decentralisation Programme.

Michael Ring

Question:

1 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the cost involved in acquiring a permanent site for the proposed decentralisation of his Department to County Mayo; his views on the fact that this move has now been postponed until 2011 at the earliest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8487/10]

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department's headquarters are scheduled to decentralise to Charlestown, County Mayo, under the decentralisation programme. To date, 100 staff have moved to temporary accommodation in Tubbercurry, County Sligo.

The Deputy will also be aware from replies to previous questions that issues relating to property, accommodation and costs arising are a matter for the Office of Public Works. On the Deputy's specific query regarding the cost involved in acquiring a permanent site for my Department in County Mayo, the Office of Public Works has advised me that an amount of €390,000 has been paid to date for a six acre site adjacent to Knock Airport. Additional associated ancillary costs amounted to €23,000. With regard to a site in Charlestown deemed by the Office of Public Works as suitable for the headquarters of my Department, I have been advised that no costs have been incurred to date as a contract for sale has not been completed.

The Deputy will also be aware that, in light of budgetary constraints and affordability issues, the Minister for Finance has decided to defer proceeding with permanent accommodation in Charlestown at this time. This location, along with four other deferred projects, will be considered as part of an overall review of the decentralisation programme in 2011. Clearly, the decision to defer the project has caused some disappointment, especially for the people of Charlestown and many staff in my Department who are housed at present in interim accommodation in Tubbercurry. Officials in my Department are liaising with the Department of Finance on practical issues arising from this decision.

I reiterate my commitment to decentralisation, which is an important and positive policy put forward by Government. I assure the Deputy that I will continue to seek to advance the decentralisation agenda and liaise with the Department of Finance on the relocation of my Department to Charlestown, County Mayo.

Deputy McGinley and I are having great difficulty tabling questions to the Minister. This week, a number of our priority questions were again ruled out of order. This makes life difficult for Deputies who prepare for a discussion on their questions only to be informed on the day before Question Time that their questions are not in order. Some of the questions ruled out of order relate to the Minister's role. For example, one of my questions asked whether the Minister had discussed rural transport with a ministerial colleague. Surely this question should be answered in the Chamber. Deputy McGinley asked a question about masses in the Gaeltacht being said in Irish. The Minister is all over the television, frequently appearing on TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta, yet he will not discuss questions in the House.

I invite the Deputy to discuss this matter, which has caused real difficulties for Deputies, with the Ceann Comhairle to ascertain whether it can be addressed.

I appreciate the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's suggestion.

I will give the Deputy injury time.

Perhaps the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will say a prayer for me in Irish.

On the decentralisation of the Department to County Mayo, people in Claremorris, Charlestown and Knock are disappointed by recent developments. While I accept that planning objections were lodged, with political will a building could have been completed. More than €1 million has been spent on decentralisation to the county. This figure includes the cost of a site, for which I do not know what are the plans, and the cost of reallocating staff to Tubbercurry. Will the Minister consider using the Cairn building in Kiltimagh on a temporary basis pending the completion of the building at the site in Charlestown? While I agree that Charlestown must be the number one priority, if the Cairn centre were used now, at least the Department would be located in the county, which would be a move in the right direction.

The major move in the right direction for all of us in the west was to have the Department relocated to the west. While some people may have expected me to succumb to the temptation, when decentralisation was mooted, to move my Department to County Galway, I had a clear view that, other than the Gaeltacht sections, departmental offices should be located in the region of Knock Airport. This was done for strategic reasons and to make a clear statement of the importance of the airport, which is located at the crossroads of Connacht, the point at which the N5 and N17 intersect. I am very committed to the project. Perhaps it is my east coast upbringing but the most important issue is to ensure these offices move to the region. Whether they are five or ten miles up the road is not a crucial issue.

As the selection of accommodation is a matter for the Office of Public Works, the Deputy should address questions on that issue to my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh. At present, the Department has temporary accommodation in Tubbercurry and staff have moved to the west. The building in question has been leased until 2012 which means there is a commitment to that location for that timeframe. I hope we will have a permanent headquarters by the time the lease expires.

Has the Minister engaged in discussions with the Minister of Finance on lifting the embargo and advancing the decentralisation project? The Minister is one of the exceptions in the Cabinet in that decentralisation of his Department reached the planning stage before being held up by objections. If the delay continues, I am afraid decentralisation to Claremorris and Charlestown will not take place.

A site has been identified and I believe planning permission will be given on this occasion. I am aware, however, that an objection was made to the planning application for the previous site. More than €1 million has been spent on the project to date. The Department can sell the site it acquired for decentralisation at a cost of €390,000. As it will be unable to use this site, it should move to the other site it has identified. The Minister now has another site he can sell for which he paid €390,000 that will not be used for decentralisation.

The Government is committed to decentralisation. We have already decentralised a considerable number of people throughout the country. Within my own Department we have decentralisation go dtí na Forbacha. We are proceeding now after significant difficulties — tá a fhios ag an Teachta McGinley faoi seo — go Gaoth Dobhair. Throid mé agus throid mé, nuair a bhí chuile duine ag dul i m'aghaidh do sin, and people thought I would never succeed in doing it. We kept pushing the Gaoth Dobhair one. We have people in Clifden and in Tubbercurry. The Government's commitment to decentralisation is clear.

The Deputy's party seems to speak with one voice in the west and another voice in the east. There has been significant opposition within the Deputy's party towards the concept of decentralisation——

——which I believe is wrong.

No. We were in favour of planned decentralisation, not the political stroke the Government pulled with McCreevy. That was a political stroke.

With planned decentralisation it is decided who——

It did not happen because of the nonsense with the stroke politics.

It did happen. I have found that when people want to oppose something, they always tell me I am right but I am doing it the wrong way. My attitude towards life is to just get on and do it, and that is what we did.

The current position is that we are in Tubbercurry. I will continue my discussion with the Department of Finance and will continue to press that in the 2011 review we would proceed with this project as planned. The Deputy and I both know that this would be long built if it were not for an individual living in Dublin 6 — I do not know why it concerned him but it is his democratic right within the laws of this country — who chose to put in a single objection.

That is right.

I remain baffled by the decision taken by An Bord Pleanála in the case. I have never understood the logic of it but I have to bow to its will.

We have spent money in Tubbercurry but that must be offset by the significant saving in the cost of rents here in Dublin, which are much higher than in Tubbercurry. It is not just a question of how much one spends in Tubbercurry. That must be offset against the vacation of space here in Dublin that is saving us a considerable amount of money.

Tax Code.

Michael Ring

Question:

3 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the representations he has had from rural groups on the introduction of the carbon tax on rural Ireland; the discussions he has had with regard to the need for flexibility on the way this tax is imposed on rural Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8279/10]

To date, I have received two representations on this issue — one was referred to my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, for his consideration and the other was handled through the appropriate channels in my Department.

As the Deputy knows, the economic and social implications of climate change are immense and it is the responsibility of Governments everywhere to change behaviour to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide. The most effective way to do this is to put a price on carbon which will encourage innovation by incentivising companies to bring low carbon products and services to the market. This tax is designed to change consumption patterns and encourage fuel efficiency leading to better air quality.

It is estimated that the carbon tax, inclusive of VAT, will yield approximately €250 million in 2010. The revenue will, among other things, be used to boost energy efficiency, support rural transport and alleviate fuel poverty.

I understand it is the general practice for the Department of Finance not to ring-fence revenues for specific purposes but rather to take an overall view on priorities in the context of expenditure decisions which are dependent on Exchequer revenues. In this regard, I understand that revenues from the carbon tax will facilitate investment in the aforementioned areas.

I understand the application of the tax to coal and commercial peat will be subject to a commencement order to allow a robust mechanism be put in place to counter the sourcing of coal and peat from Northern Ireland where lower environmental standards apply. A vouched fuel allowance scheme will be developed to offset the increases for low income families dependent on such fuels. I can inform the Deputy that work has already commenced on this matter within the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

As the Deputy will appreciate, carbon taxes will become a feature of economies across the world in the coming years. They demonstrate our commitment to reducing emissions from carbon dioxide and send a positive signal about Ireland's capacity to show leadership to those working for agreement on global climate change.

I was surprised that the Minister, as a member of the Cabinet, allowed rural Ireland to be attacked in the form of carbon tax. This tax is a penalty on rural Ireland. We do not have Dublin Bus, Luas, other public transport or the infrastructure in rural Ireland.

Second Stage of the Finance Bill will be taken next week. I ask the Minister to contact the Minister for Finance. There should be an exemption for farmers from this tax in respect of home heating oil and diesel for farmers because this tax will impose great hardship on them. It will increase their costs and will have a major effect on rural families.

I know the Government is trying to keep the Green Party happy but it turned yellow when it let the Green Party Members get away with this. This tax is wrong. It is a tax on rural Ireland. Fine Gael is in favour of a carbon tax but there are better ways to do it than taxing people out of their livelihoods and making it more difficult for those living in rural Ireland. I am disappointed that the Minister allowed the Green Party Ministers to dictate policy on rural Ireland at the Cabinet table. We do not have the infrastructure or the services. People in rural Ireland need their cars. If they do not have a car, they cannot get from A to B. This tax is just another revenue earner for the Government.

I do not agree with the Deputy in this case. As he is aware, we have international commitments in regard to emissions and we must tackle this issue.

Living in rural Ireland, I see a wide range of possibilities for rural people to reduce their carbon emissions. First, it is much easier for a person in rural Ireland to install solar panels. Many of the houses, particularly one-off house, face in a southerly direction. Second, with the development of new technologies there is the possibility that small wind turbines will become viable in the future and so on. I see significant possibilities for people in rural Ireland to be very carbon efficient. They might pay a little extra for petrol but that will be offset by the possibility of using technologies because many people live on sites with space, which is not the case in the city.

On the idea of having a small turbine or any other device providing energy for one's house in rural Ireland, as the Deputy is aware, the Western Development Commission has done considerable work on wood energy as a source of energy in Ireland and because it is a renewable source of energy, it is not subject to carbon tax.

There are substantial possibilities if we have the creativeness to opt for them and use them. In fact, rural Ireland has a great capacity to reduce the impact of this tax by adopting all of the resources available.

Would the Minister consider discussing the matter with the Minister for Finance this week with a view to getting a derogation in regard to home heating oil, particularly for farmers? Farmers' incomes are down 30% this year.

I want to give the Minister another figure. Fifty per cent of people in rural areas report difficulties in accessing rural transport compared to 11% in urban areas. We need our cars. We must have them. We are all in favour of reducing carbon emissions but we should not start with the poor people in rural Ireland. The Minister should take on the multinationals that create more carbon in half an hour than anyone in rural Ireland. China and America would create more emissions in two minutes than this country would in the next thousand years.

There is a slogan, "Think local and act global". The reality is that China or any of those major countries are also made up of little neighbourhoods, and each neighbourhood will say the other neighbourhood should do it. This is a global issue and no country is exempt from doing their bit. Even if our bit is small in global terms, we should do it.

The Deputy mentioned farmers. Farmers are in a fantastic position to provide themselves with wood energy, which is a sustainable form of energy. The Western Development Commission has done a good deal of work on that and therefore they can offset the extra costs.

As the Deputy is aware, the tax will be introduced in April. Farmers would normally buy a full tank of oil. Looking at farmers' accounts and so on, the amount of energy used by the west of Ireland farmers I represent — perhaps the big farmers are in Mayo — is small per portion of their input costs because of the low intensity of the farming.

There are no farmers left. They are all gone.

There are farmers in my area but they are small. They do not use a large amount of energy. They are very energy efficient on the farms and they do not have the high intensity costs.

Security of the Elderly.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

4 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the commitment to the community supports for older people scheme in 2010; his views on whether older persons are not being adequately supported to live independently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8287/10]

My Department has funded and operated the scheme of community support for older people since mid-2002. Grant aid provided under this scheme allows for the installation of socially monitored personal alert systems and other items of home security and has supported more than 100,000 older people in recent years. This scheme was reintroduced last October after being suspended for a period while my Department carried out a review of its operation. That review is now complete and I hope to be in a position to publish the report before the end of this month, once I have received the input of other relevant Departments and organisations working with older people.

My Department is also at an advanced stage in finalising arrangements for the implementation of several innovations to the scheme to address matters raised in the review. The revised scheme will seek to streamline its operation in order to make it easier for community groups to access grant support and to broaden coverage to ensure older people who are unable to provide this equipment from their own resources have access to grant aid.

Even with the suspension of the scheme in 2009, 432 community groups received total funds of more than €2.1 million in 2009 with 6,523 older persons being provided with security equipment. The vast majority of these received grant support for the installation of socially monitored alert systems. I have made arrangements to keep the existing scheme open and my Department is accepting applications for grant support. The arrangement will continue until such time as revised arrangements are in place. Information on the grants paid is updated monthly on my Department's website at www.pobail.ie.

On a broader front, Government policy is to support older people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. To underpin this commitment, the Government has created the Office for Older People to support the Minster of State with responsibility for older people and health promotion to bring a more co-ordinated approach to issues relating to older people across the range of Departments and agencies. In particular, the Minister of State is developing a new national positive ageing strategy in respect of which my Department is having an input.

Responsibility for ensuring that older people can live independently and securely in their own homes, through the delivery of the necessary services, is spread across several Departments and State agencies, including the Garda Síochána and the Health Service Executive, as well as the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. With respect to my own Department, our focus is on assisting older people through ensuring community organisations and volunteering are supported in order to address gaps in service delivery, where this is best done via local responses, and to ensure older people are included in local activities and community life.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive report, but it does not answer the original question I submitted for priority, on another issue to do with elderly people. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, has commented widely in the media in recent days and weeks on this issue, which affects elderly people living alone. It is inexplicable that I am unable to pursue it with the Minister in the Dáil when he has replied to questions on this issue ag deireadh aifrinn an Domhnaigh ar Raidió na Gaeltachta. I have tried twice to receive answers, by submitting a question to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and to the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív. Both were ruled out of order.

There is nothing that can be done if the question was ruled out of order. The Deputy cannot raise the issue that has been ruled out of order in the guise of a supplementary question.

I know many elderly people living in their homes who dress on Sunday mornings to listen to mass on Raidió na Gaeltachta.

I have given the Deputy latitude.

They dress up to listen to that mass.

The Deputy must find another way to raise the matter, whether by means of an Adjournment debate or otherwise. He cannot address it now.

Like the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I have been here a long time and am simply trying to do my best to find another way of raising this issue.

I am suggesting a very useful way for the Deputy to raise it.

I will be absolutely delighted to hear it.

I am suggesting that he submit a request to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

This is an issue that affects elderly people throughout the State.

Does the Deputy have a supplementary question in respect of the question that was responded to by the Minister of State?

Yes. I welcome the reintroduction of the community supports for older people scheme, which is needed now more than ever. This would be a terrible time to reduce funding for the scheme given that the CSO has indicated a 51% increase in the number of aggravated burglaries involving people in their homes. Will funding be made available in the current year to cater for all the applications that have been submitted for assistance under the scheme? Can the Minister of State give any indication at this stage of the extent of such funding?

I will try to be helpful as possible to the Deputy.

In respect of his relevant questions.

I am sure it is all relevant to the Deputy. In regard to the question ruled out of order, the Minister advises me that if the Deputy has a word with him quietly at the end of Question Time, he will advise him on how to put down a question on that issue that might be in order.

There you are, Deputy McGinley.

I appreciate that, but I assure the Minister of State I was very careful in formulating the question, with assistance from my colleagues. However, it was rejected by the Office of the Ceann Comhairle.

I would be obliged if the Minister of State would answer the question that is properly before us.

As I said, we provided funding for more than 6,500 individuals last year under the community supports for older people scheme. We expect a greater number to apply this year and a new scheme will be implemented shortly. One of my main concerns in regard to the scheme is that there are rural areas which are not adequately covered under it. In other words, we must actively promote the scheme in those areas and seek appropriate groups to administer it. The scheme is based not on the individual but on community groups. We must strengthen that connection between the activity of the community group and the engagement with the older person.

Deputy McGinley asked about the level of funding. I anticipate that this year's allocation will be in the region of €3 million. As I said, some 100,000 people have availed of the scheme, with more than 70,000 monitored alarms being provided. A concerted effort must be introduced in regard to recycling. Thousands of units are in the ownership of community groups, although they are in the possession of individual households, and we must work with those groups to promote recycling.

I understand a review has been carried out into the effectiveness of the scheme. When can we expect that report to be published?

Before the end of the month.

Question No. 5 answered with Question No. 2.