Adjournment Debate

Flood Relief

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for accepting this matter on the Adjournment. In November and December 2009, Skibbereen was hit by a series of floods which devastated the local community. The effect of these events was threefold. There was a major impact on the businesses of the town with some premises destroyed. It resulted in the closure of some long-established family businesses and it is estimated that it cost the town approximately €6 million. Insurance obviously then became an issue, and within the town some businesses and residential holdings are finding it impossible to get cover, which is having a significant impact. There is also the emotional toll. Confidence is low as there is a fear that with each heavy fall of rain or high tide we could again experience the events of last year. The local hospital was completely cut off. The COPE Foundation building was damaged and it is currently looking for other premises.

Since the flooding of last year the Minister of State, Deputy Martin Mansergh, has visited the town on more than one occasion. He has been more than willing to meet and reassure us that the OPW will not be found wanting when it comes to funding. The Minister of State is due to visit Skibbereen again this weekend to address the national flood forum, which is appropriate. There is no doubt that he is committed to providing funding that will address this situation. He has announced funding for Cork County Council to conduct a study that will identify the flood relief measures that will alleviate the flooding issues of Skibbereen. We realise that the new sewerage scheme has made this necessary. While this funding is welcome, my concern is about the amount of time this will take and what can be done in the interim.

To the people of Skibbereen it appears as if nothing has happened since the events of last year and no work has been done on any section of the River Ilen this year. This brings me to the main point of tonight's motion — that funding for minor flood relief works be provided immediately. I understand that Cork County Council has made an application for an early warning system. While I accept this is a necessary step, it will provide little relief to the people of Skibbereen because there is no work going on in the river.

While the study to identify the major works is vital, I am confident along with the people of Skibbereen that there are at least three physical improvements that could be carried out prior to the results of any survey as follows. There should be the selective removal of gravel, built up in the realigned channel between Kennedy Bridge, New Bridge and the Curragh Bridge. This is high priority and would cost approximately €100,000. Improvements should be made to culverts crossing Mardyke Road at an estimated cost of €10,000. Existing culverts across Townshend Street should be extended and a new inlet chamber and screens upstream of Townshend Street should be constructed which would cost an estimated €150,000. The total cost of these the works would come to €260,000, which is well within the figure announced by the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, for minor flood relief works.

I have spoken at length with members of Skibbereen flood committee who are confident these works would make a significant difference and go a long way to reducing the risk of flooding. It is reported that in a meeting between the OPW and Cork County Council it was stated that these measures would not be considered, but I urge the OPW to revisit this possibility.

Throughout Munster, towns are benefiting from minor flood relief to complete necessary work which is testament to the OPW's commitment to flood relief. I am asking for similar flood relief measures to be carried out in Skibbereen immediately. I am asking for the OPW to re-engage with Cork County Council and address the three issues I have outlined. I would like to know if the relief schemes in Munster are being fully funded by OPW and if it is true that for Skibbereen it is suggested that 90% funding should come from the OPW with the additional funding coming from Cork County Council. I want to know what is the status of the study that has been undertaken and if the three suggestions I have made will be given serious consideration. It is vital that the people of Skibbereen can at last be confident that their plight is being addressed.

I thank the Deputy for giving me an opportunity to update the House on the flooding issues in Skibbereen since I last spoke in the House on the matter in October.

In the wake of the flooding of November 2009, I travelled around the Cork area to see at first hand and discuss the impact of the severe flooding. I visited a number of locations in the county in January, including Skibbereen. Having seen the damage and talked to many of the town's residents and business owners, I am acutely aware of the distress they suffered at that time and their concern that steps be taken quickly to prevent a recurrence. I would like to assure them again of my determination to provide every assistance in that regard.

The Office of Public Works is continuing to work in partnership with Cork County Council — as it is with most other local authorities — to assess, manage and find a solution to the flood problem experienced in the Skibbereen area. The objective is to develop effective long-term flood relief works which will provide the required level of protection while also addressing any environmental issues.

In the aftermath of the November 2009 flood event, Cork County Council took the lead in addressing the flooding problem in the town by commissioning an initial scoping report from consultants. The consultants reviewed and analysed the conclusions of previous works and reports on the problem and identified channel capacity and tidal factors as likely contributing factors. A key recommendation of their report was that further, more detailed, analysis be undertaken which would take account of recent changes in the area, including urban development and climate change.

As I explained previously, the council subsequently submitted a number of applications for funding in February of this year in respect of Skibbereen under the Office of Public Works minor flood mitigation works scheme, which provides funding for interim works to address minor localised flood problems where a solution has been identified or can be identified readily. To qualify for funding, proposals must be economically viable and environmentally sustainable and should cost not more than €500,000 in each case. Deputy O'Sullivan is correct that 90% of the funding is provided by the Office of Public Works while the local authority must put up 10%. That applies throughout the country. The applications submitted by the council for Skibbereen were in respect of, first, a study focused on the River Ilen; second, interim flood mitigation works; and third, a flood warning system.

Following an assessment of the applications submitted by the council, the Office of Public Works allocated funding of €120,000 in 2010 for a comprehensive flood risk and management study of the Ilen catchment for the purpose of determining the cause of the flooding problem in the town and to identify appropriate, cost effective solutions. In addition to providing funding, the Office of Public Works provided substantial assistance for the council in developing the brief for the study. The council has issued tender documents requesting submissions from consultants to carry out the study, and tenders are due at the end of this month.

The council expects to be in a position to appoint the consultant in January 2011. The study could take up to eight months to complete. The council also invited separate tenders to undertake surveys of the river channel and flood plains. The tenders received in this regard are currently being assessed and it is expected that the contract for this element will be awarded in the coming weeks. An aerial survey of the study area has also been completed by the Office of Public Works. The applications made by the council for interim mitigation works were assessed by the OPW, which found that the proposed works would be premature in the light of the forthcoming study and would not have a significant impact in reducing flood risk. It remains the view of the Office of Public Works that the proposed study will provide the basis for developing effective permanent flood relief measures for Skibbereen.

The issue is not political will or funding, as there is ample funding for minor relief works, but a technical assessment of what is the most effective way to proceed. The weather in November so far has underlined the dangers at this time of the year. In fact, I attended a budget Council meeting in Brussels on Monday and there had been severe flooding in Belgium over the weekend in which four people died. There was also a consequential suicide. I have also received reports this morning of severe flooding in Cornwall, which is much closer to Skibbereen. The dangers and concern are well understood but we are anxious to prepare a thorough and effective scheme for Skibbereen as well as for Bandon. People in other parts of the country that are prone to flooding understand that full protection will not be available until planned works are carried out and completed. Unfortunately, the more ambitious and thorough the scheme, the longer the delay.

As regards the issue of a flood warning system, Cork County Council earlier this year commissioned UCC to examine and report on the feasibility of a such a system for Skibbereen. Based on the findings in UCC's report, the council has recently submitted a revised application under the minor works scheme for funding to implement a system in the town in advance of any significant structural works. The UCC study identifies a number of system options which are currently being examined by OPW engineers, in consultation with the council as necessary. A decision will be made on the application as soon as this assessment is complete. At this stage it is not possible to give a definitive timescale for the implementation of any works or other measures recommended by the study. The timescale would be influenced by a number of factors, including the scale of the proposed measures and the associated statutory or other consent processes. Every effort will be made to progress their implementation as quickly as possible in line with normal procedure.

Pending the implementation of any major flood relief scheme the study may recommend, it is still open to the council to develop and seek funding from the Office of Public Works under the minor works scheme for alternative proposals for minor mitigation works which the council considers worthwhile. Any such applications that meet the criteria of the scheme will be given favourable consideration by the Office of Public Works. I remain confident that the approach adopted the council and Office of Public Works offers the best prospect of identifying effective, viable and sustainable solutions to the flooding in Skibbereen.

As the Deputy will be aware, I will be in Skibbereen on 20 November, at the invitation of the local flood committee to attend a forum on flooding which it has organised on that date. That forum has a wider scope than just Skibbereen. At the forum I will outline the role of the Office of Public Works in flood risk management as well as the various measures in train to address flooding issues throughout the country. I will avail of the opportunity to engage with the residents and listen to their concerns. As I said previously any suitable interim proposals put forward by the council will be given full consideration by the Office of Public Works.

Medical Cards

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this matter of huge importance. It is a problem in the HSE primary care reimbursement service system that is preventing medical card patients from accessing their care and medication. It must be rectified as a matter of urgency.

I was shocked recently when a medical card holder informed me that she was charged by her doctor for visiting him as she was told her medical card was invalid. She was then told by her chemist that she would have to pay for her medication. Luckily, she had enough medication to last a few days until this problem was dealt it. This patient was a medical card holder whose card was due for renewal. A number of months ago she submitted all her documentation but due to the large backlogs in the local medical card office her review had not yet been dealt with.

The medical card office has a policy that if a number of medical card reviews remain unprocessed on the last working day of each month, the unprocessed applications are rolled over into the next month. This extends the medical card expiry date for another month to allow the review be finalised. However, due to a glitch, it takes approximately four days for the primary care reimbursement service system to be updated and during these four days, the patient's medical card will be shown as "card expired" in the system. That is a worrying and most unsatisfactory situation, particularly for the elderly.

Unfortunately, my constituent was obliged to attend her doctor within these four days. If she had not, she would not have been aware of this situation. Her medical card was rolled over on the last day of October and when she attended her doctor four days later, she was told her card was expired. This was just one of the 2,300 reviews rolled over in south Tipperary last month. There were thousands more throughout the country. I have great respect for the local health board officials who do their best but there is a glitch in the system which must be rectified.

Having checked with the primary care reimbursement service I was informed that it was not its problem. I then spoke with staff in the local office who informed me that they had updated their system on the last day of the month, four days previously, and that the primary care reimbursement service had not yet updated its system. I was also informed that this was a very common problem. I ask the Minister to examine this issue immediately and to try to rectify it.

The medical card is a matter of life and death for many people. Not having a medical card can have a very serious effect on a person's health. The changes the Minister introduced recently with regard to the medical card, the general practitioner, GP, card, the centralised system for processing renewals and fresh applications and the new prescription levy for medical card holders have added to the confusion and delays in the system. Why is it the case that the health system, above all else, has constant delays, queues, confusion, bureaucracy and waiting lists? It is almost as though it is a purgatory which sick people have to endure before they are able to access medical care and their rights. I find that many more people have come to my clinics in recent months regarding medical cards than I ever experienced before. Much of that is a result of the new changes the Minister introduced.

The situation is very depressing and worrying for people who have difficulties with applications and renewals. The current system is such that it can take months to process them. There are regular requests for additional information. The official average time for appeals is now two months. Documents go missing on a regular basis. The elderly and the chronically ill suffer most and they have immediate needs which should be addressed. A centralised system now operates on the north side of Dublin in a compound that is worthy of Fort Knox because it is impossible to get in and out of the place. It created a bureaucracy that results in everybody being put on the same conveyor belt when a local system with local information and local knowledge would produce instant results.

In addition, the system does not do what is supposed to do, namely, provide a level playing field. Rather, it discriminates against the elderly and chronically ill as they are most likely to have difficulty with filling out the application, renewal and appeal forms. The Minister must realise that she is dealing with the most vulnerable of citizens. An application processing system should reflect that rather than creating a centralised bureaucracy and pretending that all is well.

I thank Deputies McGrath and Costello for raising this Adjournment matter, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney.

Medical cards are provided to persons who, in the opinion of the HSE, are unable without undue hardship to arrange general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants. The HSE, through its service plan for 2009, advised the Department of Health and Children of plans to introduce a centralised national processing centre for medical cards and community drugs schemes as part of the executive's value for money programme. The decision to centralise the processing of all medical card and GP visit card applications and renewals to the primary care reimbursement service, PCRS, in Dublin was in the context of the executive's requirements to make efficiencies in business practices that could realise savings in a very challenging economic environment and provide a modern service to the public within sustainable levels of expenditure.

The initial phase of the centralisation process commenced in January 2009 with the PCRS processing all medical card applications for persons aged 70 or over. The second phase commenced in September 2009 with the transfer of the case load from two local health offices in Dublin City to the PCRS. The phased implementation has allowed the situation to be continuously monitored and, if required, modified to address any issues arising. Under the centralisation plan, the HSE's local offices will continue to provide the public with assistance and information locally on medical card eligibility and making an application. They will also provide information on the current status of their application or review.

In June 2010 the HSE introduced a new website, www.medicalcard.ie, which enables people anywhere in the country to apply for a medical card through a simple and efficient application process. Phased implementation of the centralisation project will allow the situation to be continuously monitored and, if required, modified to address any issues arising. To date, the central PCRS office processed over 232,461 medical card applications and reviews of which 7,023 were unsuccessful, 186,512 medical cards were issued and further information is awaited in respect of 14,141 applications. Some 7,534 applications are currently being assessed.

The Minister for Health and Children in her letter to all members of the Oireachtas on the 19 January 2010 stated she fully supports the HSE's decision to centralise the medical card and GP visit card application and review process to one location. The HSE has advised that when fully implemented this measure will deliver a number of improvements for medical card applicants. Under the new arrangements, the HSE will improve turnaround times for the processing of applications. The aim will be a turnaround time of 15 working days or less, with provision for emergency applications to be dealt with immediately.

That is what the Minister said six months ago.

The centralisation of applications will deliver consistent and equitable application of eligibility and service provision. This measure will provide clearer governance and accountability, as well as improved management information. Finally, the process will lead to a reduction in the overall number of staff required to process medical and GP visit card applications, thus freeing up staff for other service needs.

The decision to centralise the medical card application and review process to a central office will, when fully implemented, enhance the delivery of services provided to the public. It will also realise overall savings through the greater usage of shared services. This decision is in line with the Government policy Transforming Public Services programmeannounced by the Taoiseach in November 2008. The HSE has indicated that procedures are in place to ensure that gaps in eligibility, as described by Deputy McGrath, do not occur. Each month the HSE PCRS updates the central national database on the day that the data is provided to them by local health offices.

In cases where the local health office considers that a review of eligibility will require additional time to complete, then eligibility should be extended prior to the last month which prevents any gap in eligibility for the medical card holder. The HSE is not aware of any such problems and if the specific details of the issue in question are passed to it, it will investigate the matter. If the Deputy has information that a gap in eligibility has occurred in an individual case, the details should be forwarded to the HSE who will investigate it. These individual cases suggest that the procedure to prevent eligibility gaps has not been uniformly implemented. This problem does not arise in regard to the 39% of the medical card population that are being managed directly by the central office at PCRS. This error will be eliminated altogether when the centralisation process is completed early next year.

Legal Advice Services

The Northside Community Law Centre was founded 35 years ago in Coolock to provide legal information, advice and representation, to protect and develop the human, social and economic rights of individuals and groups and to empower the northside community is through education, research and campaigns.

The centre, known as the Coolock Community Law Centre until 2003, was modelled on community law centres which started in the United States as part of President Johnson's war on poverty. A key part of empowering local communities was to give control of such law centres to a management committee containing a built-in majority of community representatives. The Northside Community Law Centre is governed by a voluntary board of directors, headed by the distinguished former county councillor Mr. Tom Brennan PC, with a majority of local directors. For many years I was also a member of the centre.

The centre, led by solicitor in charge Mr Colin Daly, provides a wonderful and invaluable range of services to constituents across its operational area of the constituencies of Dublin North-East and Dublin North-Central. These services are freely and widely made available to citizens and families living on low wages and social welfare benefits. In 2009, for example, the centre made its services available to 3,267 clients, including 975 information contacts, 1,639 advice contacts, 123 court representations, 267 community education contacts and 263 mediation cases.

This onerous and impressive workload is set to be surpassed in 2010. Like the other Deputies representing Dublin North-East and Dublin North-Central I regularly refer constituents to the centre for essential information and legal assistance. The mediation service offered by the service, Mediation Northside, has been developed in an innovative manner by the centre and offers a critical mediation and conflict resolution service to families, communities and all our local agencies, including Dublin City Council.

As with the mediation service, the centre has also long had a national profile for its pioneering community legal initiatives. Among the more recent groundbreaking and successful cases on behalf of its clients are Caroline McCannv. Judge of Monaghan District Court and others of June 2010, and Pullen and others v. Dublin City Council of October 2009. As a result of the McCann case the law relating to imprisonment for the failure to pay a civil debt was declared unconstitutional and the Pullen case established that the then eviction process for local authority tenant infringed the European Convention on Human Rights.

The centre has a very small and dedicated core staff, led by Mr Colin Daly and two other solicitors. A feature of the centre's history has been the pro bono voluntary services of legal professionals and volunteers. More than 40 solicitors and barristers volunteer with the law centre to help staff meet demand and volunteers also carry out the important work of the mediation service.

There are grave concerns among my constituents that funding for the centre will be cut in budget 2011. The centre's 2009 annual report shows a serious reduction in income of more than €150,000 from a then 2008 budget of under €700,000. This time last year, there were fears that the 2010 budget would further reduce the centre's department of social protection grant. Thankfully, at the time the Minister accepted the strong case made for the law centre's vital work made last November. In recent years, as I saw on my recent visit to the Northside Community Law Centre, costs have been cut to the bone. Any reduction in grant income for 2011 would imperil the fundamental role and service of the centre. Given its hugely dedicated and much appreciated service to the people who sent me to the Dáil, and my colleagues, I urge the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, to ensure that the Department of Social Protection's grant to the law centre will not be cut for 2011 and that the service will be protected as a key instrument of public policy for the people of these two Dáil constituencies.

I agree completely with Mr. Jonathan Friedland who, in today'sGuardian newspaper, castigated the savage Tory and Liberal Democrat government’s cuts to legal aid in England. Mr. Friedland said that equality before the law has to mean equal access to the law.

I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this matter. The Northside Community Law Centre is an independent, community-based legal centre. Its mission is to protect the rights of individuals and groups from within the Dublin North-Central and Dublin North-East areas. It does this by providing free information, advice and legal representation services to individuals and groups in its community who may otherwise not be able to get legal services. The centre also works to support its local community through education, research and campaigns.

Operating since 1975, the NCLC was the first community law centre in the State. It is not part of the State civil legal aid scheme. The centre is currently located in the Northside civic centre, Bunratty Road, Coolock, Dublin 17. The centre is a company limited by guarantee and is a registered charity. It is governed by a voluntary board of directors elected from the membership of the centre. It employs a number of full time solicitors and support staff.

Since its establishment the Northside Community Law Centre has, at various times, been funded by a number of separate agencies, including the Department of Justice and Law Reform, the Eastern Health Board and the Combat Poverty Agency.

In 1995, the Department of Social Protection, as it is now, assumed responsibility for funding the centre at a time when its future was in jeopardy. Funding is provided to the centre under the scheme of grants for the development and promotion of information and welfare rights. Applications for grants are made by way of completing and submitting an application form annually. The Department has invested significant funding to the Northside Community Law Centre over the years in support of the services it provides within the Dublin North-Central and Dublin North-East areas. To date in 2010, funding of some €386,000 has been approved to the centre.

In considering previous applications for funding, the Department of Social Protection advised the centre to secure funding from more appropriate revenue sources in the public and private sectors. While acknowledging that progress has been made by the centre in developing additional revenue streams through its own work in recent years, the Department remains the primary funder.

In 2009, the centre raised additional funding of some €135,000 from sources such as the Law Society of Ireland, Dublin City Council and fees generated from community education and mediation-related courses. With regard to continued funding by the Department of Social Protection, applications for funding in 2011 will be considered early next year, giving due consideration to the financial resources available to the Department at that time. Officials from the Department of Social Protection will meet the Northside Community Law Centre to discuss this further at that time. In this regard the Department will contact the organisation shortly.

Oyster Industry

Real fears have been expressed about the possibility of diseased oyster seed being imported into the country from contaminated oyster hatcheries abroad, particularly from France. The marine environment and food safety services in the Marine Institute at Oranmore have confirmed that the oyster herpes virus has been found in up to 17 locations in various coastal areas around the country. There is therefore genuine concern in my constituency of west Galway about the possibility of contaminated oyster seed being brought in.

The oyster beds in Streamstown Bay, Kill Bay and the Claddaghduff, Cleggan areas of County Galway — on the north-west Connemara coast — are free of the disease, even though there was contamination in the nearby Mannin Bay area, with which I am familiar. There are a number of small oyster farmers in that north-west Connemara area who generate hundreds of thousands of euro worth of oysters every year. France is the main export outlet for our mature oyster crop. Even though there is a local hatchery in the area, some oyster seed may still be imported because of the trade links that have been built up over years in that area.

Controls are in place concerning the importation of oysters. While not totally prohibited any such importation is subject to certification by the relevant competent authority in the country of origin of the disease-free status of the consignment. I am not happy with that and neither are the oyster farmers. It amounts to self-regulation by the exporting country. Notwithstanding this provision, the Marine Institute also encourages producers to avoid importing oysters from contaminated areas. Furthermore, in the case of importation of oysters from abroad generally, producers are strongly advised to submit samples of the oyster to the Marine Institute for testing prior to importation.

That is all very well but it is a voluntary system. If possible, however, the Minister should make it compulsory to certify such samples at the Marine Institute in Oranmore, County Galway. The institute is competent to undertake that type of work and already does so on behalf of oyster farmers in the area.

It has been confirmed that a number of bays have been affected this year. Mannin Bay was temporarily closed and was only reopened approximately a month ago. It caused real concern to other fisheries in that area, however. Meanwhile, Streamstown Bay and Kill Bay in the Sky Road area have not been affected by the herpes virus and farmers who are cultivating oysters there want to keep it that way. They want the Government and Brussels to put controls in place to protect bays that have not yet been hit by the herpes virus.

I make it clear that the herpes virus has no impact on the health and safety of humans through consumption. It kills oysters and could wipe out 50% to 100% of the oyster beds where such contaminated seed is imported. At least 20 people are employed in that area of north-west Connemara as oyster farmers or helpers. If the disease gets into that area it will have a devastating effect on the livelihood of a large number of people where there are few other employment opportunities except farming and fishing.

The Minister of State should endeavour to put in place compulsory testing of imported oyster seed by environmental experts in our Marine Institute. This would solve the problem entirely, thus satisfying people that the disease cannot be brought in here. As the Minister of State acknowledged, it has occurred in up to 17 oyster farms in coastal areas throughout the country.

I thank Deputy McCormack for raising this issue, which we have discussed on several occasions. Prevention and control of the oyster herpes virus is a matter of high priority for my Department. Our current approach to this matter is to take all appropriate steps to minimise the risk of infection, while allowing trade in oysters to continue. This approach is supported by the aquaculture industry.

The importation of oyster seed is integral to the Irish oyster growing industry as there is not enough Irish seed to support the industry. The industry relies on imports, mainly from France, but also from the UK and the Channel Islands.

The European Commission has made a regulation, No. 175 of 2010, in line with the Fish Health Directive No. 88 of 2006, specifying measures which must be taken by member states to deal with the oyster herpes virus issue. It is important to note that the oyster herpes virus has no impact on human health, but can cause significant mortality in Pacific oysters. The Marine Institute is the competent authority in Ireland for the implementation of the fish health directive pursuant to Statutory Instrument No. 261 of 2008 and was involved in the negotiation of the regulation on the oyster herpes virus which came into effect on 15 March 2010. The regulation requires a surveillance programme to be established for the early detection of the virus in areas that have not previously been affected. It also requires containment areas to be established once the virus is detected in an oyster growing area, until such time as the mortalities subside and two mortality checks, 15 days apart, demonstrate that mortality has ceased.

There are currently four containment areas in Ireland: Caherciveen-Valentia, County Kerry; Carlingford Lough, County Louth; Cork Harbour, County Cork; and Sherkin, County Cork. Over the course of 2010, 14 areas were affected that are now out of containment, that is, the increased mortalities have ceased in these bays. These are Loughras Beg, Donegal Bay, Dungloe Bay, Lough Swilly, Lough Foyle, Trawbreaga Bay and Trawenagh Bay, all in County Donegal; Clew Bay and Achill Sound, both in County Mayo; Mannin Bay, County Galway; Cromane, County Kerry; Ballymacoda Bay, Youghal, County Cork; and Dungarvan Harbour and Woodstown Bay, County Waterford. The legislation allows oysters to be traded between containment areas. In order to import oysters to an area not previously affected by the virus the oysters must come from another area of similar health status. Under the legislation, oysters can also be imported from a containment area or an area previously affected by the virus provided they test negative in line with methods in the regulation and certified by the competent authority.

Controls are in place on the importation of oysters from containment areas, such as diseased areas in Ireland or abroad, to areas not previously affected. While not totally prohibited, any such importation is subject to certification by the relevant competent authority in France of the disease free status of the consignment. In other words, before any stock can be imported, testing as laid down in the regulation must take place, and be certified by the competent authority in France, and the resulting certificate must be provided to the Marine Institute before a movement can take place. Any movement outside these parameters is illegal.

In addition, the Marine Institute also encourages producers to avoid importing oysters from containment to surveillance areas. Furthermore, in the case of importation of oysters from abroad generally, producers are strongly advised to submit samples of the oysters to the Marine Institute for testing prior to importation. I strongly encourage producers to avail of the offer from the Marine Institute to test the oysters when they arrive in Ireland prior to stocking. My Department, in conjunction with the Marine Institute, will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect Irish oyster stocks from this virus.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 18 November 2010.