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 8, inclusive, answered orally.

Electricity Generation

David Stanton

Question:

9 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 29 and 34 of 5 April 2011, the further progress which has been made with regard to the ESB microgeneration programme and general supports for microgeneration; the number of customers currently signed up to the ESB tariff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30083/11]

There are 387 customers on the ESB microgeneration tariff to date, representing a total connected generation capacity of just over 2 megawatts. The technologies being deployed are wind turbines, solar installations and small scale hydro turbines.

ESB Networks agreed in 2009 to provide the necessary import/export metering free of charge to the first four thousand domestic microgeneration customers. ESB Networks also provides a support payment of 10 cent per kilowatt hour for those eligible customers for the first 3000 kilowatt hours exported back to the grid annually for a period of five years. The take-up has been low despite an overall tariff rate of 19 cent per kilowatt hour being available. This compares to the wholesale electricity price, which is currently averaging around 7 cent per kilowatt hour.

Currently, ESB Customer Supply (now rebranded Electric Ireland) is the only electricity supplier in the market offering microgeneration tariffs to domestic customers who generate up to 11 kilowatts. The Commission for Energy Regulation wrote to the other electricity supply companies to see if they would consider introducing a microgeneration tariff but to date no other company has been prepared to introduce such a rate.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is currently completing an 18-month microgeneration pilot scheme and is monitoring the performance of the 42 installations involved. Those participating in the pilot have been able to avail of the tariffs offered. The findings from the pilot will provide valuable data with regard to microgeneration, which will inform policy decisions on how best to stimulate the sector.

In line with the Programme for Government commitment, I have asked my Department and SEAI to finalise their cost benefit analysis work on a feed in tariff programme for microgeneration. Any such programme must be fully cost effective and take into consideration the overall cost implications for all electricity consumers.

Question No. 10 answered with Question No. 8.

Telecommunications Services

Denis Naughten

Question:

11 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to develop fourth-generation broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29915/11]

The telecommunications market in Ireland, including the provision of next generation broadband networks and services, has been fully liberalised since 1999 and, since then, has seen the steady growth and development of significant well-regulated competition in the provision of the full range of telecommunications products and services. The provision of broadband services, including next generation broadband, is therefore primarily a matter for the private sector telecommunications operators.

I do however, fully accept and am committed to policies that will promote the roll-out of broadband. In this regard the European Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe sets challenging targets for all member states in terms of incrementally increasing the availability of basic broadband by 2013 and the roll-out of higher broadband speeds over next generation broadband infrastructure by 2020. Next generation broadband can be delivered over various fixed and wireless platforms. The wireless technologies are often referred to as "4G" or fourth-generation wireless technologies.

The first of the Digital Agenda milestones is to have basic broadband services available to all EU citizens by 2013. I am happy to report that between the significant private sector investments that have taken place and the targeted Government intervention aimed at addressing market failure, such as the National Broadband Scheme and the Rural Broadband Scheme, Ireland will be in a position to meet this first milestone in advance of 2013.

While the National Broadband scheme has brought broadband to areas that were previously unserved, the Rural Broadband Scheme, which recently closed for applications, aims to identify remaining individual premises in rural Ireland that are unable to obtain a broadband service for reasons specific to the premises, even though broadband is generally available in the area.

The Digital Agenda for Europe also seeks to ensure that by 2020, (i) all Europeans have access to speeds of at least 30 Mbps and (ii) at least 50% of European households subscribe to connections of at least 100 Mbps. There is already significant progress being made in Ireland in the quality and delivery of broadband speeds within the competitive market. For example, broadband speeds of up to 100 megabits per second are already available to around 500,000 premises using coaxial cable. This will increase to over 700,000 premises by the end of next year.

Telephone lines now provide digital subscriber line broadband (DSL) offering speeds of up to 24 Mbps, depending on distance from exchanges. In addition to these improvements in fixed line services, developments in wireless technologies are also delivering higher speeds. Fixed wireless products are increasingly available, with advertised speeds of up to 10 Mbps, while mobile broadband speeds are also being increased. The speeds being provided through these technologies will be considerably enhanced with the availability of new spectrum as a consequence of the switch to digital TV services. ComReg proposes to auction this valuable spectrum for the purposes of providing fourth generation high speed wireless broadband services.

Current statistics indicate that more than 80% of customers nationally have opted into broadband services in the range of 2 to 10 Mbps.

Under the NewERA proposals in the Programme for Government, there is a commitment to co-invest with the private sector and commercial semi-state sector to bring forward next generation broadband customer access to every home and business in the State. This commitment must be implemented in a manner compliant with the applicable EU state aid rules.

The next generation broadband task force (NGBT), which I chair, is currently considering how best to facilitate the roll-out of next generation broadband. The NGBT also comprises the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, the CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies currently operating in the Irish market and the CEOs of some Internet Service Provider companies. The purpose of the task force is to discuss the optimal policy environment required to facilitate the provision of high speed broadband across Ireland. The task force will also assist me to identify those areas of the country where commercial service providers are planning to invest and areas more appropriate to market intervention to ensure the Government commitment on next generation broadband access is delivered.

Exploration Licences

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

12 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of oil, gas or other mineral explorations currently in progress on foot of licences issued in each of the past ten years and to date in 2011; the extent to which it is estimated that economic benefit will accrue from such explorations; if any particular locations have indicated more positive results; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30087/11]

There were 25 petroleum exploration licences granted since 2001; of these, 16 are still active. Oil and gas discoveries have been made in respect of four of these licences to date. Three of the discoveries were in the North Celtic Sea Basin and one in the Slyne Basin. None of the discoveries have been declared commercial to date. Applications for lease undertakings in respect of two of the discoveries in the Celtic Sea are under consideration by my Department at present.

With regard to non-petroleum minerals, 714 mineral prospecting licences were issued since 2001 and of these, 517 are still active. Details of these licences can be found in the six-monthly report to the Oireachtas, which I am obliged to lay before the Houses under the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999. This report is also available on my Department's website.

While no new commercially viable deposits of non-petroleum minerals have been discovered in the past ten years, there have been some encouraging results, particularly in Counties Limerick and Clare. However, it is too early to determine whether these results will lead to identification of commercially viable deposits or to estimate the economic benefits that might accrue.

Fishing Licences

Michael Colreavy

Question:

13 Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason for the delay in granting licences for oyster fishing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27919/11]

Many bays and estuaries in Ireland are Special Areas of Conservation or Natura Scheme Areas. As a result, appropriate assessments have to be carried out before licences can be issued. My understanding is that IFI then proceeded to issue annual licences in accordance with the statute. I am not aware of any significant delays in the licensing process.

The purpose of restricting the number of licences is to avoid intensification of the fishery that would jeopardise its future sustainability and could also result in Ireland being found in breach of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. Appropriate assessments are to be conducted on all such bays and estuaries by the Marine Institute for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. In the event of a favourable assessment for continued future operation of the oyster fisheries, IFI will then be free to reconsider the issuing of additional licences as appropriate.

Question No. 14 answered with Question No. 8.

Renewable Energy

Brendan Smith

Question:

15 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when it is expected that the European Commission will give State aid permission for the REFIT scheme; the reason for the delay in approving this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30121/11]

The Renewable Energy Feed-in-Tariff scheme known as REFIT was introduced in 2006 for certain categories of renewable energy, including onshore wind and hydro power. With the support of REFIT, the renewable energy sector has continued to grow strongly and there is now around 1,800MW of renewable generation capacity connected to the electricity grid. In addition to this there is a further 1,100 MW of renewable generation capacity with signed connection offers. This capacity will build out over the next few years.

The original REFIT scheme was designed with a view to delivering our 2010 renewable electricity target of 13.2% of electricity consumption from renewable technologies. It was successful in achieving that target and Ireland was one of only six Member States to achieve their 2010 target level.

Officials from my Department are currently finalising State Aid clearances with the European Commission to continue to offer REFIT. There are two State Aid clearance processes underway. One of these in respect of onshore wind, landfill gas and hydro technologies and a second one in respect of biomass. The Commission are currently finalising their assessments on both applications and I am confident that we will have a positive outcome shortly in both cases.

Once these clearances have been received from the European Commission the final proposed schemes will be brought before Government for its agreement before being opened for applications.

Electricity Generation

Catherine Murphy

Question:

16 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the proportion of primary energy input into each of the State’s fossil-fuel-powered electricity generation stations that is ultimately consumed by end users; the proportion lost in transmission through the electricity grid network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29913/11]

The Single Electricity Market is an all island wholesale market for electricity. Electricity generators sell their power into a central pool, from which it is then dispatched to consumers by EirGrid and SONI as the Transmission System Operators on the island.

Data on the amounts of fuel used by individual generating stations are commercially sensitive market information and are not disclosed.

There are a number of factors that influence the amount of electricity generated by any fossil fuel, or thermal, generating plant over the course of a year, including demand levels, wind levels and maintenance schedules. As a result, analysis of the mix of fuels used for thermal generation is done by fuel type rather than individual stations.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) prepares an annual report on Ireland's Energy Balance. This identifies the amounts of fossil fuels used in electricity generation and their share of the Total Primary Energy Requirement. The figures for 2009 show that gas fired electricity generation accounted for 64 percent of our total gas demand, while electricity generated from coal accounted for 70 percent of the total amount of coal used in Ireland. As regards oil and peat, electricity generated from these fuels accounted for 3 and 67 percent, respectively, of the total amounts of these fuels consumed in Ireland. I have asked the SEAI to provide the Deputy with additional technical information.

The breakdown of the fuel mix for electricity generation in 2010, as published by the Commission for Regulation in its annual Fuel Mix Disclosure, shows that natural gas was the predominant fuel for power generation, followed by coal, and renewable energy. In relation to losses on the transmission system, EirGrid advises that losses of electricity are estimated at 2 to 3 percent. One of the ways in which those losses are reduced during the bulk transportation of power nationally is through the use of higher voltage lines. Therefore, it is critical to maintain investment in our high voltage network.

Departmental Funding

John McGuinness

Question:

17 Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the level of new funding being provided for the NewERA scheme; the source of that funding; if he will provide the number of jobs to be created by the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30113/11]

The Government announced the establishment of the New Economy and Recovery Authority (NewERA), in line with the Programme for Government on 29 September last.

NewERA is being initially established on a non-statutory basis as a Shareholder Executive within the NTMA. NewERA will carry out the corporate governance function, from a shareholder perspective, of ESB, Bord Gáis, EirGrid, Bord na Móna and Coillte, reporting to the relevant Ministers. Its operation will be overseen by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Infrastructure. In this capacity, NewERA will have responsibility for reviewing capital investment plans of these commercial semi state companies from a shareholder perspective and will identify possible synergies between investment programmes of different State companies.

The establishment of NewERA and the Strategic Investment Fund under the NTMA are important elements in the Government's strategy to create jobs and promote economic growth.

Where requested by Government, it will also advise on, and if appropriate oversee, any restructuring of State companies and it will work with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the disposal of State assets.

NewERA will initially be established on a non-statutory basis as a Shareholder Executive within the NTMA. It will bring forward proposals for consideration by Government on options for moving towards a full holding company status which could own the shares in commercial semi-states.

NewERA will have the following functions:

corporate governance from a shareholder perspective of the following Commercial Semi-State (CSS) companies: ESB, Bord Gáis, EirGrid, Bord na Móna, Coillte;

working with Departments to develop and implement proposals for investment in line with NewERA Programme for Government commitments in Energy, Water and Next Generation Telecommunications;

working with the National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF) to bring forward proposals for investment of available resources in the NewERA initiative;

developing a Strategic Investment Fund, drawing on NPRF resources, with the medium-term goal of establishing a Strategic Investment Bank;

reviewing capital investment plans of these CSS companies from a shareholder perspective;

identifying possible synergies between investment programmes of different CSS companies;

where requested by Government, advising on, and if appropriate overseeing any restructuring of CSS company assets, and supporting the work of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform who has responsibility for the disposal of State assets;

based on progress with the initial phase of its work, considering a model(s) for a holding company structure which could own the shares in CSS companies.

The Government has made clear its intention to ensure that State Companies play a full role in Ireland's economic recovery. The Energy State Companies are already engaged in significant programmes of infrastructure investment. We must ensure that all the investment programmes of the State Companies are cost effective, strategic and subject to rigorous shareholder scrutiny. NewERA will have a key role to play in this regard on behalf of the Government's shareholder interests in the State Companies, where appropriate regulatory oversight will also continue to be a fundamental requirement.

NewERA will work to develop and implement proposals for commercial investment in line with Programme for Government commitments in Energy, Water and Broadband.

NewERA will also work with the National Pensions Reserve Fund (NPRF) to bring forward proposals for investment of available resources, each such investment to be on a commercial basis. In this context, the Programme for Government commits to investment of €2bn from the sale of non-strategic assets to fund NewERA investment.

Now that the Authority has been formally established, I am confident that progress can be made on necessary investment under the aegis of New ERA with consequential positive direct and indirect jobs impact.

Electricity Generation

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Question:

18 Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will direct the ESB to consider the offer made by a person (details supplied) to have the proposed power line that is to cross their land buried underground instead of cutting down a 60-metre-wide avenue of mature trees through their land; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the ESB has in recent years replaced overhead lines with underground lines in some urban areas and that this approach should now be extended to rural areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29911/11]

I have no statutory function regarding the construction of specific power lines or in relation to arrangements entered into with landowners by ESB Networks and EirGrid. The matter raised is an operational matter for the two State bodies with statutory responsibilities to deliver Ireland's transmission and distribution network infrastructure.

Alternative Energy Projects

David Stanton

Question:

19 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the research conducted by him to support progress in wave and tidal energy and renewable energy from the marine environment; if he will provide details of any supports available for this sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30084/11]

Wave and tidal energy, commonly known as ocean energy, is still at the research, development and demonstration stage globally. In 2008, the Ocean Energy Development Unit (OEDU) was established in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) to take forward Ireland's ocean energy programme.

In 2006, my Department published a National Strategy for Ocean Energy in conjunction with SEAI and the Marine Institute. The strategy was aimed at advancing Ireland's research and development capabilities and at increasing the speed at which ocean energy technologies are deployed in Ireland. It outlined a strategy to capitalise on Ireland's marine energy resource to introduce ocean energy into the renewables portfolio in Ireland and to develop an ocean energy sector.

The current phase of the strategy, provides enhanced support to bring successful designs from the prototype stage to the construction of fully operational pre-commercial devices, which will supply power directly to the electricity network.

SEAI is implementing the programme through a number of actions:

The Prototype Development Fund supports the development of wave and tidal device prototypes and associated supporting technologies through a dedicated grant support scheme promoting the growth of an Ocean Energy industry and associated supply chain based in Ireland. The main focus of this action is on stimulating the development and deployment of Ocean Energy devices and systems. As such, the emphasis is on

Industry-led projects to develop and test wave and tidal energy capture devices and systems;

Independent monitoring of the projects/technologies;

Industry-led R&D aimed at the integration of ocean energy into the electricity market and the national electricity grid (and network);

Data monitoring, forecasting, communications and control of ocean energy systems.

With the objective of stimulating the development and deployment of ocean energy devices that can generate renewable electricity, the funding will enable the companies to take their proposals and prototypes to the next stage of development. A total of 31 projects have been funded to date. Of these 7 projects have been completed and 24 projects are in process. 13 of these 24 projects are due for completion by end of 2011.

The intention is to eventually be able to test full scale grid connected pre-commercial wave energy prototypes. In order to achieve this goal, the Ocean Energy Development Unit in SEAI has been pursuing a strategy of developing a site where this testing could take place.

The proposed Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site (AMETS) project in Belmullet, County Mayo, is approaching a stage of development with a view to being ready to enter the full consenting process within the next few months subject to resource availability for 2012 and later years. The test site includes two offshore test areas at 50m and 100m water depths which would in turn be connected to a shore based electricity substation.

SEAI and the Marine Institute have also established an Ocean Energy Test Site for 1/4-scale prototypes of wave energy devices in Galway Bay. There are two berths for Wave Energy Converter devices at the test-site. This site was used earlier this year by Ocean Energy Ltd (a device developer from Cork) for a European funded project.

SEAI has also provided support for the enhancement of the wave research capabilities through upgrading the existing wave tank test facility at the Hydraulic and Maritime Research Centre UCC prior to its upgrade as the National Ocean Test Facility, a key component of the PRTLI-funded Maritime and Energy Research Cluster (MERC).

The SEAI is currently overseeing a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) of the potential for offshore wind, wave and tidal development in Irish waters. The draft plan was placed on the SEAI and DCENR websites for public consultation earlier this year and following that process the plan is being finalised prior to full publication. More generally, SEAI and the Marine Institute work closely to ensure continuous development of the marine energy industry in Ireland.

Telecommunications Services

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

20 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he has examined the failure of programmes to provide high-speed broadband in all areas throughout the country regardless of geographic location over the past ten years; the degree to which other jurisdictions have surpassed this country’s performance in that regard over the same period; the extent to which he can make strategic and corrective changes to ensure a substantial improvement in the provision of state-of-the-art technology, thereby giving the business sector a competitive advantage in the communications sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30086/11]

The telecommunications market in Ireland, including the provision of current and next generation broadband networks and services, has been fully liberalised since 1999 and, since then, has seen the steady growth and development of significant well-regulated competition in the provision of the full range of telecommunications products and services.

The Government is not a commercial operator in this market and can only intervene in cases of market failure. Such interventions are subject to State Aid clearance by the EU Commission. It is nevertheless a priority of the Government that there is broadband coverage across the entire country. Therefore, in cases of market failure to deliver quality services, the Government will continue to intervene, where it is appropriate and possible to do so.

International comparisons of retail broadband services are conducted periodically. The latest OECD broadband report up to June 2010 ranked Ireland 13th of 19 EU states surveyed for fixed line broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants and 3rd of 18 EU states surveyed for wireless broadband penetration. Such surveys are confined to markets retail services only; they do not measure customised electronic services provided over leased lines or Ethernet services provided to businesses. A wider report on broadband services in 72 countries published in 2010 by the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo, Spain, concluded that the broadband services currently available in Ireland are capable of meeting the requirements of today's broadband applications and overall, in terms of broadband quality and penetration, ranks Ireland 13th of the 72 countries studied.

Despite a slow start in investing in broadband, good strides have been made in more recent times both in relation to broadband penetration, speeds and competition. Commercial operators have been investing steadily of the order of €400 to €500m per annum in roll out of infrastructure and services. The State too has invested, where it has identified market failure. Initiatives such as the Metropolitan Area Networks, the National Broadband Scheme and major international interconnectivity projects are delivering important infrastructure and services to areas of Ireland which could not be served commercially.

As a result of the combined efforts of Government and the private sector, a basic broadband service will be available to all citizens across Ireland ahead of the EU target date of 2013.

In addition to basic broadband services, speeds of up to 100 megabits per second are already available to around 500,000 premises using coaxial cable. This will increase to over 700,000 premises by the end of next year. Telephone lines now provide digital subscriber line broadband (DSL) offering speeds of up to 24 Mbps, depending on distance from exchanges. Wireless technologies are also delivering higher speeds. The speeds being provided through wireless technologies will be considerably enhanced with the availability of new spectrum as a consequence of the switch to digital TV services. ComReg proposes to auction this valuable spectrum for the purposes of providing fourth generation high speed wireless broadband services.

A key Government priority now, is to accelerate the widespread availability of next generation, high speed broadband. Under the NewERA proposals in the Programme for Government there is a commitment to co-invest with the private sector and commercial Semi State sector to provide Next Generation Broadband customer access to every home and business in the State. The Next Generation Broadband Taskforce has an important role, in this regard. In June of this year I convened the Taskforce which I chair and which also comprises the Minister of State, Fergus O'Dowd, T.D., the CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies currently operating in the Irish market, and CEOs of some Internet Service Provider companies.

The purpose of the Taskforce, which will conclude its deliberations by the end of this year, is to discuss the optimal policy environment required to facilitate the provision of high speed broadband across Ireland.

Television Licence Fee

Niall Collins

Question:

21 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the cost to RTÉ of ending its practice of share dealing; if it will have an impact on the television licence fee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30095/11]

As the Deputy will be aware, the Competition Authority was established under the Competition Act 2002 and is independent in the exercise of its functions in accordance with section 29(3) of that Act. In addition, RTÉ is also a statutory body, established under the Broadcasting Act 2009, and its independence is provided for under section 98 of that Act. As such, the details of any agreement reached between the Competition Authority and RTÉ in regard to the issues referred to in the question are matters for the two bodies concerned.

That said, I am aware from press reports that RTÉ has entered into certain undertakings with the Competition Authority to address the concerns the Authority had expressed and that, as part of these, RTÉ is to put in place a new advertising trading system in mid-2012 to replace the system that currently operates.

The cost to RTÉ, if any, of implementing such a change of system is a matter for the company in accordance with the provisions of section 108(1) of the Broadcasting Act regarding the company's pursuance of its specific object in relation to the exploitation of commercial opportunities.

In regard to the question of any impact on the level of the TV Licence fee, it is important to understand that, in the case of RTÉ, the TV Licence fee is designed to support the achievement of the company's public service objects, as set out in section 114 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, and is not a mechanism for offsetting changes in commercial income.

Fuel Poverty

Martin Ferris

Question:

22 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress that has been made on tackling fuel poverty as promised in the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30085/11]

Energy Affordability is a cross-cutting policy issue and tackling the root causes requires action on a number of fronts across Government and across Agencies. Energy poverty is caused by interaction between energy prices, thermal inefficiency of the home and income. Action to mitigate energy poverty has traditionally focused on providing assistance through the fuel schemes operated by the Department of Social Protection.

However, enhancing the energy efficiency of low-income homes through permanent structural improvements is the most effective means of addressing energy affordability. To date, energy efficiency improvements in almost 76,000 homes have been made under Better Energy: Warmer Homes, which is administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) on behalf of my Department. This year, to date, 14,543 homes, out of a target of 20,000, have been retrofitted.

Better Energy: Warmer Homes is primarily delivered by 28 community based organisations (CBOs). The CBOs work in partnership with their local network of poverty and community support organisations including public health nurses, MABS and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to identify and address vulnerable homes. Private contractors are also engaged to address areas or technologies not covered by CBOs. The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government also operates a retrofit programme for social housing.

The Inter-Departmental/Agency Group on Affordable Energy, which is chaired by my Department and which represents all key Departments, Agencies and energy suppliers as well as the Energy Regulator and NGOs, finalised its own deliberations on the Affordable Energy Strategy over the summer months.

I am completing a further round of discussions with the Ministers for Social Protection and Environment, Community and Local Government, and it is my intention, with the approval of the Government to publish the Affordable Energy Strategy within the next few weeks.

The Affordable Energy Strategy will be the framework for building upon the many measures already in place to protect households at risk from the effects of energy poverty, which include the thermal efficiency-based measures delivered through the Better Energy: Warmer Homes programme. Providing significant energy efficiency improvements to homes in, or at risk of, energy poverty, results in benefits to recipients in terms of energy affordability, tangible health improvements and overall well being.

Onshore Exploration

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

23 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, in view of An Taisce’s recent presentation to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht, his views on its call for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30089/11]

Joan Collins

Question:

80 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on reports in the US that have found that hydraulic fracturing has caused environmental and societal damage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30234/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 23 and 80 together.

I am aware that concerns have been expressed, both locally and internationally about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on the environment and I take these concerns seriously. I would, however, like to make clear that my Department has not received applications for, nor licensed the use of hydraulic fracturing in the Irish onshore and accordingly the issue of a moratorium on this drilling technology does not arise at this time.

The presentation referred to by Deputy Boyd Barrett formed part of a series of presentations made to the Joint Committee on 20 September last. At that meeting Officials of my Department also made a presentation to the Committee providing detailed geological and geophysical information, detailed information in relation to aquifers and groundwater and detailed information on the regulation of petroleum exploration and production activities.

In February of this year, onshore Licensing Options were awarded to three companies over parts of the North West Carboniferous Basin and the Clare Basin. The Licensing Options are preliminary authorisations and are designed to allow the companies assess the natural gas potential of the acreage largely based on studies of existing data from previous exploration activity. This work is largely office/desktop based and does not involve exploration drilling or hydraulic fracturing.

By the end of the Option period in February 2013, the companies will have to decide whether to apply for a follow-on exploration licence or relinquish the acreage. I have made it clear that in the event any of the companies involved decide to apply for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing, the application would have to be set out in detail and be supported by an environmental impact statement. The application would then be the subject of an environmental impact assessment which would include a public consultation phase.

The environmental impact assessment would be broad and consider a range of potential impacts. My Department would also consult with other relevant statutory authorities such as the Environmental Protection Authority, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and local authorities before reaching any decision.

Work under these Licensing Options is at an early stage and it is too soon to conclude whether or not these authorisations will proceed to the exploration licence stage let alone anticipate a commercial discovery that could lead to a petroleum production project. Notwithstanding this, I have requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct research and advise on the environmental implications of hydraulic fracturing as a means of extracting natural gas from underground reserves as I believe that such research could be helpful.

Energy Policy

Denis Naughten

Question:

24 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to reform the regulation of the energy market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29914/11]

Overall energy policy objectives, including the regulatory framework, aim to deliver a secure, sustainable and competitive energy supply for the economy and all consumers. In delivering these objectives, the regulatory framework must meet evolving energy policy challenges and also ensure compliance with the requirements of EU and national energy legislation.

The regulation of the electricity and gas market is the responsibility of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER). The Electricity Regulation Act 1999 provided for the establishment of the CER as an independent statutory regulator. Since its establishment, there may have been a number of changes to the regulatory framework, and CER's functions, in line with the continually evolving energy policy landscape and partly as a result of EU obligations.

Initially, the Commission was responsible for the regulation and reform of the electricity market only. In 2002, under the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act, the Commission was additionally given statutory responsibility for the regulation of the natural gas market. Since then its remit has been further extended to include additional responsibilities, for example for security of supply, upstream petroleum and downstream gas safety and customer protection matters.

The Regulators North and South together with my Department, DETINI and EirGrid collectively developed the Single Electricity Market (SEM), which has been operating as an all-island wholesale electricity market since November 2007. It represents one of the first cross-jurisdictional energy markets in the world, as was recognised by the EU Energy Commissioner at the time of the launch of the SEM.

Building on the success of the SEM, work is under way to develop Common Arrangements for Gas (CAG) on the island, whereby all players in the gas market can buy, sell, transport and contribute to the development and planning of the natural gas market North and South on an all-island basis. The development of CAG is also aligned to the timeframe for implementation of EU obligations in relation to gas security of supply and the integration of gas markets.

The regulatory regime for the Irish electricity and gas market, including new consumer protection standards, is being progressively enhanced by implementation of the obligations under the EU's Third Energy Package.

An independent assessment of the efficiency of the Irish electricity and gas sectors, as required under the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support for Ireland is being undertaken currently by the International Energy Agency (IEA) as part of its five yearly review of Ireland's Energy Policy. The IEA is assessing existing policy in relation to the energy regulatory framework and the need for further actions to ensure that the electricity and gas markets are efficient and competitive in line with EU requirements.

Informed by IEA's forthcoming assessment, my Department and the CER will determine what actions may require to be taken in order to strengthen the regulatory and market regime in the energy markets in consultation with European Commission Services, as required under the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support for Ireland.

It is also my intention that a new Energy Policy Framework 2012-2030 will be prepared and published next year. The new framework will take account of the very changed energy and economic landscape since 2007. The new Energy Policy Framework will also be informed by the outcome of the IEA's overall review of Energy Policy, including the assessment of the efficiency of the electricity and gas sectors.

Petroleum Extraction

Michael Colreavy

Question:

25 Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he is concerned that an attempt to use hydraulic fracturing to extract gas in the area known as the Lough Allen basin could have catastrophic consequences on the quality and reputation of our agrifood industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27911/11]

I am aware that concerns have been expressed about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing and I take these concerns seriously. I would like to make clear, however, that my Department has not received applications for, nor licensed the use of, hydraulic fracturing in the Irish onshore at this time.

In February of this year, onshore Licensing Options were awarded to three companies over parts of the North West Carboniferous Basin and the Clare Basin. The Licensing Options are preliminary authorisations and are designed to allow the companies assess the natural gas potential of the acreage largely based on studies of existing data from previous exploration activity. This work is largely office/desktop based and does not involve exploration drilling or hydraulic fracturing.

By the end of the Option period in February 2013, the companies will have to decide whether to apply for a follow-on exploration licence or relinquish the acreage. I have made it clear that in the event any of the companies involved decide to apply for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing, the application would have to be set out in detail and be supported by an environmental impact statement. The application would then be the subject of an environmental impact assessment which would include a public consultation phase.

The environmental impact assessment would be broad and consider a range of potential impacts including an assessment of the potential impact of the proposed works on agriculture. My Department would also consult with other relevant statutory authorities such as the Environmental Protection Authority, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and local authorities before reaching any decision.

Work under these Licensing Options is at an early stage and it is too soon to conclude whether or not these authorisations will proceed to the exploration licence stage let alone anticipate a commercial discovery that could lead to a petroleum production project. Notwithstanding this, I have requested the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct research and advise on the environmental implications of hydraulic fracturing as a means of extracting natural gas from underground reserves as I believe that such research could be helpful.

Inland Fisheries

Derek Keating

Question:

26 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, further to the news that sea salmon have returned and are spawning in the River Tolka, if there has been any similar research or result in the Liffey basin, particularly between Leixlip power station and the Lucan Weir; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29910/11]

I am advised that a recent review of fish stocks in the River Tolka in North Dublin by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI) has indeed indicated the presence of numbers of juvenile wild Atlantic salmon. IFI has also previously recorded the presence of salmon in both the River Liffey and the River Dodder and continues to monitor stocks on all rivers as part of the ongoing National Salmon Monitoring Programme. IFI's Standing Scientific Committee reports annually on the status of salmon stocks, which for the River Liffey in 2011 are estimated at approximately 19% of their conservation limit.

I understand that juvenile salmon are monitored under a catchment-wide electro-fishing programme, where 47 sites on the Liffey were monitored in 2010 and repeated in 2011. Other programmes that monitor fish in the River Liffey include the Celtic Sea Trout project, juvenile lamprey are monitored as part of the survey under the Habitats Directive and elver traps monitor eel stocks in accordance with the National Eel Management Plan.

IFI is also overseeing habitat rehabilitation projects on tributaries of the River Liffey, the Rye in Leixlip and the Morell in Johnstown, Co. Kildare. The presence of juvenile salmon, a species that only survives in clean water, reflects the hard work of the County and City Councils in reducing pollution levels in these largely urbanised rivers.

Up to the year 2000 Dublin and Reykjavik were the only two capital cities in Europe which had a wild Atlantic salmon stock in a river within city boundaries. Now Dublin can boast about having three salmon rivers within its boundaries — the Liffey, Dodder and now the Tolka. In environmental terms this is an important step forward.

Overseas Development Aid

Anthony Lawlor

Question:

27 Deputy Anthony Lawlor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide specific details as to the frequency with which the evaluation and audit unit of his Department evaluates and audits recipients of funding through Irish Aid; if all non-government organisations are subjected to the same audit process to ensure consistency; if not, the reason for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30281/11]

The Evaluation and Audit Unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade carries out an annual programme of strategic evaluations such as the evaluation of our Country Programmes, thematic evaluations such as our support to combating HIV and AIDS, and evaluations of major NGOs. In addition, all of Irish Aid's major partners, including UN agencies and Global Funds, have well established evaluation functions and they make available to Irish Aid their evaluation reports, thus complementing the evaluation work of Irish Aid itself.

In keeping with our evaluation policy, all evaluations undertaken by the Evaluation and Audit Unit, such as our soon to be published evaluation of funding to four major Irish NGOs, are posted on the Irish Aid website. The Evaluation and Audit Unit's approach to audit takes account of the different types of partners in receipt of funding and the nature and frequency of audits is determined accordingly. The audit approach to Irish Aid funding combines audit work carried out directly by the Evaluation and Audit Unit, audits commissioned by Irish Aid, and reliance on external audit reports received from partner organisations.

Funds are provided to a range of NGOs from large scale NGOs in receipt of very significant funding to more modest funding provided to smaller NGOs for individual projects. Funding provided to NGOs is audited in various ways and depends on a number of factors, including the size of the grant and the nature of the programme involved.

For smaller grants, there is a contractual requirement that audited accounts are provided. For larger grants, in addition to an annual audit of accounts, it is routine that we undertake specialised audits. For example in relation to the Multi-Annual Programme Scheme, which is the most significant funding scheme in terms of the volume of funding available to Irish NGOs, it is our audit practice to subject each NGO partner to an in-depth audit at least once in the 5 year programming period.

Departmental Funding

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Question:

28 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the support he will offer to the Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith, London in their efforts to secure the building that houses the centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30326/11]

Since 2006, the Irish Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Emigrant Support Programme, has been a key funder of the Irish Cultural Centre, Hammersmith. In that period, the Centre has received over £1 million in grants in support of a range of its education, cultural, seniors and youth activities. I understand that following the decision of the Hammersmith and Fulham Council to sell the Centre's building, the Council advised the Centre on 16 August that they would accept £1.5 million for the building.

The Centre has now undertaken a fund raising programme to purchase the building. I met with the Centre's Board during my recent visit to London and I reiterated the Government support for the Centre as evidenced by the £205,650 grant which I approved earlier this year. I also indicated fund-raising must be led by the Centre and the local community and that any Government support for the purchase of the building would have to supplement funds raised by the Centre and the wider Irish Community in London and Britain. Our Embassy in London remains in regular contact with the Centre and I have asked the Ambassador and his team to provide all appropriate support to the fund raising campaign.

Tax Yield

Gerry Adams

Question:

29 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Finance the income to the State that was received last year from the income levy. [30191/11]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that in 2010, total receipts from the income levy amounted to €1,446 million.

Tax Code

Jim Daly

Question:

30 Deputy Jim Daly asked the Minister for Finance if he will investigate the tax affairs of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30233/11]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the person concerned has written to the Revenue Commissioners seeking an internal review of his tax affairs. Revenue's Internal Review Unit will ensure that the review is completed as soon as possible.

Pearse Doherty

Question:

31 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the cost to the Exchequer of taking all those earning below €15,000 out of the universal social charge. [30265/11]

Pearse Doherty

Question:

32 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the cost to the Exchequer of taking all those earning below €20,000 out of the universal social charge. [30266/11]

Pearse Doherty

Question:

33 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the cost to the Exchequer of taking all those earning below €25,000 out of the universal social charge. [30267/11]

Pearse Doherty

Question:

34 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the cost to the Exchequer of taking all those earning below €30,000 out of the universal social charge. [30268/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 to 34, inclusive, together.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated full year costs to the Exchequer, estimated by reference to 2012 incomes, of increasing the existing exemption threshold of €4,004 for the universal social charge to €15,000, €20,000, €25,000 and €30,000 would be €120 million, €185 million, €465 million and €730 million respectively .

These figures are estimates from the Revenue tax-forecasting model using actual data for the year 2009 adjusted as necessary for income and employment trends for the year 2012. They are therefore provisional and may be revised.

National Asset Management Agency

Joanna Tuffy

Question:

35 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide details of the National Asset Management Agency’s progress to date in its efforts to recover from developers and debtors repayments of their full original loan amounts; if the agency is attempting to get the full original loan amount from assets which may have been transferred to spouses or members of their family or assets which may have been transferred to offshore accounts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30283/11]

At a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, the Chairman of NAMA stated that NAMA remains as focused as ever on pursuing each developer for the full amount owed. He also explained that NAMA's minimum target is to recover what it has paid for the loans, plus any other moneys advanced as working capital or for development, plus interest on these moneys. This does not mean, however, that NAMA will stop at that threshold. Under Section 10(2) of the National Asset Management Agency Act, NAMA is required to operate so that it obtains the best achievable financial return for the State and that means pursuing all debts to the greatest extent feasible. It is important also to point out that the agency’s targets are based on the existing state of the property market. Overall, NAMA’s best estimate at present is that it will, at the very least, recover the consideration it has paid for loans, plus any additional funding it advances to preserve or enhance asset values. It aims to recover significantly more than that and the extent to which it can do so will depend largely on the performance of the Irish and UK economies over the next five to seven years. If the outlook for property improves as a result of economic growth, NAMA’s expectations for the realised value of the portfolio as a whole and for individual debtors will increase.

At the same meeting of the Joint Committee, the Chief Executive of NAMA pointed out that, having been through the business plans of debtors which account for close to 75% of NAMA debt, he does not consider that there is a ‘huge pot of gold' that can be recovered through legal proceedings to reverse asset transfers by NAMA debtors. I am informed by NAMA, however, that most of the debtors who engaged in such transfers are co-operating with it as regards a voluntary reversal of asset transfers. As negotiations are ongoing with many debtors and assets are being re-valued at current prices, it is not yet possible to determine the final valuation of reversed asset transfers. In a number of cases where debtors are refusing to co-operate, it has been necessary for NAMA to adopt an alternative approach, with the strategy varying by reference to the legal advice received in each particular case. This may involve the pursuit of personal guarantees through the courts and, in some cases, will require litigation to reverse asset transfers where the original intention appears to have been to place the assets concerned beyond the reach of NAMA, including transfers to offshore accounts.

Betting Regulation

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

36 Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Finance his views on proposals put forward by the Irish Bookmakers Association to extend the opening hours of betting shops during the winter months; the amount of extra tax revenue this would generate for the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30327/11]

The proposed Betting (Amendment) Bill, which is being drafted at present, will amend the 1931 Betting Act to inter alia establish the regulatory framework for the licensing of remote bookmakers and betting exchanges, including measures to enforce the regulatory framework. The extension of the opening hours of retail betting shops over the winter period is being considered in that context. An estimate of the potential tax revenue the extension of the opening hours would generate is not possible to predict as it would depend on a number of factors not least the number of betting shops that would avail of the new opening hours. I note that the representative body of bookmakers has estimated potential additional revenue of around €5 million which would include betting duty, PAYE, PRSI etc.

National Asset Management Agency

Mary Mitchell O'Connor

Question:

37 Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor asked the Minister for Finance the status of lands known as the Ashcastle site on the border between Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Dublin City Council, which lands are bordered by the Booterstown Marsh and Nature Reserve, the Rock Road and the DART line and are in the ownership of the National Asset Management Agency; if said lands are for sale; if said lands have been sold recently; if there is a tender process in existence for purchase of the lands; the estimated value of the lands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30333/11]

The property concerned is listed on the NAMA website among the properties enforced. I understand from NAMA that the property has been offered for sale by a receiver appointed by NAMA. I also understand that the receiver has received offers from potential purchasers and that additional expressions of interest can be directed towards the receiver, RSM Farrell Grant Sparks, at namaproperties@rsmfgs.ie. Any offers to the receiver will be submitted by the receiver to NAMA for the final decision as to which offer should be accepted. NAMA informs me that within the context of its commercial remit, it is at all times open to considering proposals aimed at contributing to broader social and economic objectives. The NAMA Board has committed to giving first option to State bodies on the purchase of property which may be suitable for their purposes where these bodies have requirements such as schools, hospitals, parks, and so on. In the context of this policy and in view of the land’s proximity to the Booterstown Marsh and Nature Reserve, I expect that NAMA will consider any offers which may be submitted by the relevant public bodies before making its final decision.

Tax Code

Jack Wall

Question:

38 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Finance his views regarding a submission (details supplied); his plans to address the stated problems; if there is any aspect of the submission that the applicants can or should review in regard to their taxation issues; whether the matter as stated in regard to the European Convention on Human Rights is an issue in regard to the determination of the applicants’ tax position or whether they have they a right to be considered under any other category because of it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30355/11]

The basis for the current tax treatment of married couples derives from the Supreme Court decision in Murphy vs. the Attorney General (1980), which held that it was contrary to the Constitution for a married couple, both of whom are working, to pay more tax than two single people living together and having the same income. Where a couple is cohabiting rather than married or in a civil partnership they are treated as separate and unconnected individuals for the purpose of income tax. Each partner is a separate entity for tax purposes and, accordingly, credits, tax bands and reliefs cannot be transferred from one partner to the other.

It should be noted that a cohabiting couple where both partners are working get, in total, the same tax credits as a married couple or couple in a civil partnership (i.e. €3,300). In addition, the same amount of income is subject to tax at the 20% rate (i.e. €32,800 each). This equates to the €65,600 threshold in the case of a married couple or couple in a civil partnership.

If both cohabitants earn in excess of the standard rate band (i.e. €32,800), then they both pay tax at 41% on any income in excess of €32,800. Married couples or couples in a civil partnership, where both work, get the same treatment.

The difference between the two groups is the ability of married couples or civil partners to transfer tax credits and tax bands between the individuals, and this is of benefit where one of the individuals earns less that the 20% tax threshold of €32,800.

Section 462 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 allows for the granting of a one-parent family tax credit of €1,650 to an individual who has a qualifying child. However, the legislation specifically excludes married persons, civil partners and cohabitants from claiming this credit. In other words, any couple, married, in a civil partnership, or cohabiting has no entitlement to this credit.

In addition, an individual's gross income is subject to Universal Social Charge (USC) at progressive rates as income increases. The applicable rates are 2% on the first €10,036, 4% on the next €5,980 and 7% on any balance thereafter. The USC is a charge specific to the income of each individual separately. There is no joint assessment provision.

My understanding is that the current taxation treatment of married couples, civil partners and cohabiting couples is not in conflict with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

Information and Communications Technology

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

39 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the degree to which modern IT available to the educational sector is on a par with the best available worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30434/11]

In relation to primary and post-primary schools, my Department pursues the integration of ICT into teaching and learning and the development of pupils' digital literacy through the ICT in Schools Programme. This Programme focuses on four key areas:

The provision of essential ICT infrastructure within schools (including in particular an investment of €92m over 2009 and 2010)

The provision of access to broadband connectivity to schools

Continuous professional development for teachers in ICT

Integrating ICT within the curriculum and providing curriculum-relevant digital content and software.

The Programme has been developed and implemented in consultation with all stakeholders and is currently guided by two key collaborative reports:

The ICT Strategy Group report "Investing Effectively in Information and Communications Technology in Schools, 2008-2013" (July 2008)

The "Smart Schools = Smart Economy" report (November 2009)

As I am sure the Deputy will be aware, the manner in which ICT is integrated into teaching and learning varies from country to country, in accordance with local priorities, educational structures and resources. There is no one benchmark model or single reference statistic against which an integrated and multifaceted programme of this nature can be measured. The collaborative approach taken in the Irish context has been helpful in ensuring that the Programme is informed by a proper understanding of the potential for ICT to enhance teaching and learning in general within the Irish education system, and of the kinds of skills needed for effective participation in 21st Century knowledge economies. I believe the Irish Programme to be very much in line with best practice in advanced economies globally.

For a detailed international analysis, the Deputy may be interested in the research report published on 23rd June this year by Eurydice, under the title "Key Data on Learning and Innovation through ICT at school in Europe". This report gives some insight into the range of themes in this area. In particular, it indicates that the ratio of 15-year-old pupils per computer in Irish schools (2.08) compares favourably with the EU median value (2.15). I understand that the pupil-to-computer statistics are based on information collected before the recent investment of €92m in schools ICT infrastructure, which has led to further substantial improvements in the Irish position over the last two years.

School Accommodation

Thomas Pringle

Question:

40 Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Education and Skills the grants for improvement works and extra classrooms that have been received by a school (details supplied) in County Donegal in the past two years. [30195/11]

The school to which the Deputy refers was sanctioned funding in November 2010 on a devolved basis to provide a 1 classroom Special Needs/Autistic Spectrum Disorder Unit. A once-off set up grant for this Unit was also approved.

The school authorities advised my Department in April 2011 that it expected the project to be completed within approximately six months of the project's commencement in June 2011. However, to date no funding has been drawn down for this project.

Contingency funding in the amount of €5,309 was approved in September 2010 in respect of pest control. This funding has been drawn down in full.

School Curriculum

Robert Dowds

Question:

41 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on making provision for an Irish sign language curriculum for use in general schooling, for example during transition year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30271/11]

There are no plans at present to include Irish sign language as a specific subject within the national curriculum in primary and post-primary schools in the Junior Certificate, or established Leaving Certificate programmes. Irish Sign Language is one of the optional modules available within the Leaving Certificate Applied programme, and schools also have the flexibility to provide this as an option within Transition Year if they wish to do so.

Irish sign language (ISL) has formal recognition in the Education Act 1998. Under that Act, it is a function of the Minister for Education and Science (Skills) to ensure, subject to the provisions of the Act, that there is made available to each person resident in the State, including a person with a disability or who has other special educational needs, support services and a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting the needs and abilities of that person. This includes provision for students learning through ISL.

A number of initiatives which seek to promote, develop and implement ISL in order that it will achieve greater recognition and use in the education system are currently in place:

Special schools for the deaf have been encouraged in relation to the use of sign language in class.

Funding for an ISL weekly home tuition service whereby deaf tutors visit the homes of deaf pre-school children and deaf school-going pupils to provide training in ISL for the deaf children, pupils, their siblings and parents.

Funding is also made available through the Special Education Support Service (SESS) to enable individual teachers and whole school staff to undertake courses in Irish Sign Language which are available throughout the country through a variety of providers.

Special Educational Needs

Jerry Buttimer

Question:

42 Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Education and Skills the administrative savings made by the National Council for Special Education over each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30277/11]

The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) declared the following savings and excesses to my Department since 2008.

Financial Year 2008Pay Allocation: saving of €2,482,000Non-pay Allocation: saving of €134,000

Financial Year 2009Pay Allocation: saving of €1,724,000Non-pay Allocation: no savings or excess

Financial Year 2010Pay Allocation: saving of €1,068,000Non-pay Allocation: excess of €69,000

The savings over the past three years relate to the non-filling of posts by the NCSE and the delay in the implementation of the full terms of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004.

Teaching Qualifications

Brendan Griffin

Question:

43 Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding part-time tutors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30278/11]

Each person appointed to a recognised teaching post should be registered with the Teaching Council, and have qualifications appropriate to the sector and suitable to the post for which s/he is to be employed. However, from the information supplied, it appears that the individual referred to by the Deputy may not be employed in such a teaching post.

The Teaching Council's regulations are set out on its website and currently require a person who wishes to register as a post primary teacher in the VEC sector to have a minimum standard of a degree or its equivalent. From 1 April 2013, a person applying to be entered on the register as a teacher in a VEC school will also need a qualification in post primary teacher education as set out in Regulation Four. With effect from the same date, a person applying to be entered on the register as a teacher in the further education sector must have attained a Council approved further education teacher education qualification in accordance with Regulation Five.

The recognition of teacher qualifications in this State is now a matter for the Teaching Council, the body with statutory responsibility for establishing and maintaining standards in the teaching profession. Accordingly, it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in individual cases. The matter should be taken up directly with the Council.

Special Educational Needs

Gerry Adams

Question:

44 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will initiate a review of the allocation of special needs assistants to a school (details supplied) in County Louth in view of the fact that the number of SNAs at the school has been cut from 3 to 1.75 without any reduction in the number of children attending the school. [30285/11]

The Deputy will be aware that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) for allocating resource teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) to schools to support children with special educational needs. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in allocating such support. This now includes a requirement for the NCSE to have regard to an overall cap on the number of SNA posts.

The school referred to by the Deputy has an allocation of 1.75 SNA posts and 30 Resource Teaching Hours.

I wish to clarify that the recruitment and deployment of SNAs within schools are matters for the individual Principal/Board of Management. SNAs should be deployed by the school in a manner which best meets the care support requirements of the children enrolled in the school for whom SNA support has been allocated. It is a matter for schools to allocate support as required, and on the basis of individual need, which allows schools flexibility in how the SNA support is utilised.

It is considered that, with equitable and careful management and distribution of these resources, there should be sufficient posts to provide access to SNA support for all children who require such care support to attend school, in accordance with Departmental criteria.

The NCSE has now advised all mainstream schools, including the school referred to by the Deputy, of their SNA allocation for the current school year, taking into account the care needs of qualifying pupils attending the school.

The NCSE has recently published statistical information in relation to the allocation of Special Needs Assistant posts and resource teaching hours to Primary Special and Post Primary Schools. The information is provided on a county by county and school by school basis on its website at www.ncse.ie.

The NCSE will advise schools early in the near future of a process to review allocation decisions to ensure that correct procedures were followed and that they comply with my Department's policy. The merits of individual allocation decisions will not be open to appeal under this mechanism.

It will be expected that schools, before requesting a review, will be in a position to demonstrate that they have made every effort to manage their allocation of SNA posts to best effect.

Third Level Admissions

Paudie Coffey

Question:

45 Deputy Paudie Coffey asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will review the CAO regulations with a view to making a special case due to the unique circumstances of a person (details supplied) who wishes to transfer from a college course to another course in a different college; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30287/11]

The higher education institutions have delegated to the CAO the task of processing applications to their undergraduate courses. However, the participating institutions retain the function of making decisions on admissions. Neither my Department nor the Higher Education Authority has any role in relation to the operation of the CAO or the admissions policies of third level institutions.

Special Educational Needs

Mattie McGrath

Question:

46 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will make changes to the administration of the July education programme in the future to ensure that applicants will be given sufficient notice and time to complete their application forms prior to the commencement of the scheme; his views on whether ten days is an acceptable timeframe for parents to obtain the necessary consultants’ reports and other necessary information required for the application, particularly during the summer period; if he will extend the notice for future programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30294/11]

The Deputy will be aware that the July Education Programme is available to all special schools and mainstream primary schools with special classes catering for children with autism who choose to extend their education services through the month of July. My Department also provides for a July Programme for pupils with a severe/profound general learning disability. Where school-based provision is not feasible, home based provision may be grant aided. The Deputy may also be aware that the scheme is currently under review. Future improvements to the administration of the scheme will be considered in the context of this review.

FÁS Training Programmes

Simon Harris

Question:

47 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Education and Skills the reason FÁS has not progressed a person (details supplied) beyond level 5 of their plumbing apprenticeship, despite their being eligible for advancement and having served over 200 weeks of their apprenticeship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30338/11]

My Department contacted FÁS about the apprenticeship status of the person in question. FÁS advised that the FÁS system had not identified this person as an Apprentice that required a FÁS intervention. FÁS informed my Department that the person finished his Phase 4 training on 18th March, 2011, but that he remained identified on the FÁS apprenticeship system as employed. When an apprentice is made redundant the apprentice or employer must notify FÁS immediately.

Had the FÁS system indicated that the person was redundant he would have been referred by the FÁS South East Region for processing under the Redundant Apprentice Placement Scheme (RAPS).

FÁS advises that the person should contact FÁS Training Centre (Mr. Brendan Kennedy), Baldoyle Industrial Estate, Baldoyle, Dublin 13, Phone 01 8167400, to confirm that he is redundant and to have his status updated on the system. I understand that FÁS may have a placement for him with a local authority.

University Expenditure

Michael McCarthy

Question:

48 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will outline, in respect of each of the country’s seven universities, the cost incurred in 2009 and 2010 in providing accommodation for visiting lecturers; the names of these lecturers, location, duration of stay and the total amount paid each year in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30340/11]

Michael McCarthy

Question:

49 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Education and Skills, in respect of each of the seven universities, the amount of expenses incurred by visiting lecturers in each of the years 2009 and 2010; specifically, the total amount paid per university each year, and the number of lecturers concerned in each university per year in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30342/11]

Michael McCarthy

Question:

52 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will outline, in respect of each of the heads of the seven universities, the expenses incurred by each individual in 2009 and 2010; if he will confirm the income paid to each university head in these years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30347/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48, 49 and 52 together.

All of the information sought by the Deputy is not readily available in the University sector; however, the Higher Education Authority has contacted them seeking an early reply and I will forward the available data to you as soon as possible.

School Books

Brendan Smith

Question:

50 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills the school book publishing companies that were represented at the recent meeting with him; the progress achieved at the meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30345/11]

I have held meetings with educational book publishers, representatives of parents' organisations and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul regarding the cost of school textbooks. The following publishers were represented at the meeting with me on 10 October 2011: C J Fallon, Forum Publications, Educational Company of Ireland, Gill and McMillan, Mentor Books, Educate.ie, An Gúm and Folens. All of the publishers present stated that they were committed to the code of practice where publishers undertook not to publish new or revised editions of textbooks for six years, except in the context of significant change to the curriculum or examinations. Publishers also said they were willing to make minor updates available on-line in the future. The publishers stated that they would allow discount rates for bulk buying to schools which would typically range between 10% and 17.5%, which would support the introduction of book rental or loan schemes in schools. I requested the publishers not to print workbook style material within textbooks as this rendered loan or rental schemes impracticable. The publishers undertook to bear my concerns in mind in the development of any new publications.

In relation to Junior Cycle reform, I indicated that reform was in the process of being finalised. I stated that I intended to communicate clearly with publishers on the implementation of the reform and to provide adequate notice of curricular changes. The publishers welcomed my intention to treat them as important stakeholders in discussions of implementation of reform.

I recognise that educational publishers are independent commercial companies who compete in an open market for the sale of their textbooks. I recognise that I cannot interfere in the matter of price setting but have sought assurances from publishers they will facilitate schools that wish to purchase bulk stock for the operation of rental schemes. I am pleased to have received this assurance.

I am very satisfied with the progress made in my two meetings with publishers and I welcome their positive and proactive approach to co-operating with me in reducing the cost of textbooks to students and families. My Department is undertaking a survey of schools to establish the current situation regarding school book rental and loan schemes so that I can consider how I might incentivise the introduction of book loan or rental schemes. I have invited the National Parents Councils at primary and post-primary levels to provide me with examples of good practice of book rental schemes. My Department is currently preparing guidelines for schools on best practice in the operation of such schemes.

Teaching Qualifications

Brendan Smith

Question:

51 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills if an application (details supplied) will be processed and finalised at an early date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30346/11]

As the Deputy may be aware, the recognition of teacher qualifications in this State is now a matter for the Teaching Council, the body with statutory responsibility for establishing and maintaining standards in the teaching profession. While it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in individual cases, I have forwarded the Deputy's correspondence on to the Teaching Council for a direct reply.

Question No. 52 answered with Question No. 48.

Special Educational Needs

Finian McGrath

Question:

53 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the provision of special needs assistants, speech and language therapists and occupational therapists in respect of a person (details supplied). [30423/11]

The Deputy will be aware that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) for allocating resource teachers and Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) to schools to support children with special educational needs. The NCSE operates within my Department's criteria in allocating such support. This now includes a requirement for the NCSE to have regard to an overall cap on the number of SNA posts. The NCSE has now advised all mainstream schools, including the school attended by the pupil referred to by the Deputy, of their SNA allocation for the current school year, taking into account the care needs of qualifying pupils attending the school.

The NCSE has recently published statistical information in relation to the allocation of Special Needs Assistant posts and resource teaching hours to Primary Special and Post Primary Schools. The information is provided on a county by county and school by school basis on its website at www.ncse.ie. The school referred to by the Deputy has an allocation of 15 SNA posts.

It is considered that, with equitable and careful management and distribution of these resources, there should be sufficient posts to provide access to SNA support for all children who require such care support to attend school, in accordance with Departmental criteria.

I wish to clarify that the recruitment and deployment of SNAs within schools are matters for the individual Principal/Board of Management. SNAs should be deployed by the school in a manner which best meets the care support requirements of the children enrolled in the school for whom SNA support has been allocated. It is a matter for schools to allocate support as required, and on the basis of individual need, which allows schools flexibility in how the SNA support is utilised.

The NCSE will advise schools shortly of a process to review allocation decisions to ensure that correct procedures were followed and that they comply with my Department's policy. The merits of individual allocation decisions will not be open to appeal under this mechanism. It will be expected that schools, before requesting a review, will be in a position to demonstrate that they have made every effort to manage their allocation of SNA posts to best effect.

I wish to advise the Deputy that the Health Service Executive is responsible for the provision of health supports including Speech and Language Therapy and Occupational Therapy to children. The Deputy may wish to contact my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children or the HSE directly relating to his query in this regard.

Job Protection

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

54 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which he continues to monitor the reasons for relocation to more competitive economies by various manufacturers or service providers in the communications sector over the past five years and to date in 2011; the extent to which positive intervention will be made to address any issues arising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30435/11]

There are many differing and complex factors that can influence a firm's decision to relocate in today's modern globalised economic environment. Companies adjust their plant locations and utilisation strategies to address matters such as accessing new markets, moving production nearer to customers, meeting firm or market specific customer relationship issues, in addition to business takeovers and consolidations.

Recent jobs losses which have occurred in the FDI sector in Ireland are largely the result of the continuing restructuring process that is ongoing in Ireland and other developed economies, driven by competitive pressures and technological change. This results in jobs at the lower end of the value added scale being either phased out completely or relocated to lower cost locations.

An analysis of closures in the IDA portfolio of companies over the period 2005-2010 shows that the majority of the closures were in areas such as Metals and Engineering, Print and Packaging, Textiles, and Plastics and Rubber. The remainder of closures were spread across more vulnerable parts of sub sectors that are growing overall, such as ICT, International services, and Chemicals. In many instances, it is not possible to distinguish between jobs that are made redundant as a result of technological change and those that relocate to lower cost locations.

IDA's strategy "Horizon 2020” is focussed on winning as many new jobs as possible each year and giving equal priority to maintaining existing jobs. On a daily basis, the IDA is working with its clients, making every effort to retain their operations in Ireland and minimising job losses. The IDA continues to play a key role in both encouraging and assisting its client companies to move up the value chain in terms of carrying out higher skilled operations and expanding their presence in Ireland. The IDA’s aim is to retain existing clients, improve the quality of employment opportunities in Ireland and increase the positive economic impact.

The IDA actively encourages its clients to engage in transformation initiatives, and is assisting them in programmes to :-

improve company-wide competitiveness

enhance the use of new technologies

grow the skills of the business

engage in Research, Development and Innovation

develop new business process, and make company operations more energy efficient.

For much of the last decade, company relocation has been positive overall for Ireland. The IDA has continued to attract and retain high value investments from leading global corporations. The combined influence of Ireland's improving competitiveness, our commitment to maintaining our 12.5% corporate tax rate, the development of our national infrastructure, the Government's investment in science, technology and innovation, and our strong skills base has been instrumental in this regard, and will continue to attract and increase the level of inward investment in Ireland. To date in 2011, the IDA has announced investment decisions which will create over 4,500 jobs in the Irish economy as the investments come on stream.

IDA's focus will continue to be on high end manufacturing, global services and RD&I across a wide range of sectors. In particular ICT, Digital Media, International Financial Services, Internationally Traded Services, Life Sciences and Clean Tech are poised for further growth.

Appointments to State Boards

Sean Fleming

Question:

55 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the number of appointments he has made to State boards since March 9 2011; and if he will list the names of each of these appointments and the boards to which they were appointed. [30208/11]

The information sought by the Deputy was provided in response to Question No. 72 of 13 October 2011.

Industrial Development

Joan Collins

Question:

56 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the president of a foreign company (details supplied) signed a memorandum of agreement with an Irish company in County Sligo in July 2010 in respect of its decision to establish its main European manufacturing base there with the creation of 100 jobs over the next three years, with the new factory to commence operating in October 2010; if his further attention has been drawn to the fact that the proposed factory has not been established; if he has been in communication with this foreign company; when the proposed factory will commence operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30239/11]

IDA Ireland has met with GLED on a number of occasions both in Ireland and in Taiwan. Earlier this year the company advised IDA that it planned to establish a manufacturing operation, which would serve the Irish market and have contracts with County Councils, Public Bodies etc. and the company planned to tender for projects in the Irish market to supply LED lighting.

Due to the fact that the company would purely be serving the domestic market, they would not be eligible for financial assistance from IDA. However, IDA will work with the company in the future as they expand their services out of Ireland into export markets.

Redundancy Payments

Clare Daly

Question:

57 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection if there is a requirement for employees to obtain a liquidator’s stamp on their EIP 1 forms when claiming redundancy payments from her in scenarios in which the erstwhile company is utterly insolvent and unable to pay redundancy; if this is the case, how employees in these scenarios have their redundancies processed by her under the Protection of Employees (Employers’ Insolvency) Acts 1984-2004 when no liquidator has been appointed. [30215/11]

Claims under the Insolvency Payments Scheme may be processed if the company is insolvent within the definition of the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984 and a "relevant officer" — normally, a receiver or liquidator — has been appointed and certifies the claims. It is usually the case that the liquidator collates all employee claims and submits them on behalf of the employees. From October, all such claims are being submitted online to my Department.

In the case referred to, it appears unlikely that a liquidator will be appointed based on the information provided to date. The Department is currently examining this situation and has been in direct contact with the individual concerned, to assess the available options.

Community Employment Schemes

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

58 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Social Protection if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the planned changes to FÁS mean that the Gateway community project in the north inner city, which offers FETAC-certified courses to young women recovering from drug addiction, will no longer be able to continue offering these courses in view of the fact that FÁS is no longer a registered provider with FETAC and FETAC will not accept new providers; and if she will recommend an alternative provider for this particular course. [30221/11]

As part of the reorganisation of functions and services in support of people who are unemployed, the community and employment support services of FÁS are being transferred to the Department of Social Protection. The legislative changes to give effect to these changes have been put in place and FÁS staff will complete the transfer to my Department in January 2012. As a consequence of these changes, the current practice whereby the Training Standards Quality Assurance System of FÁS processes FETAC certificate requests on behalf of a small number of education and training providers, such as the Gateway project, will be discontinued on 5 December 2011.

The Gateway project has been advised of the changes and of the opportunities to source alternative arrangements for the processing of FETAC applications. My understanding is that Gateway is currently linking with other providers with a view to accessing FETAC certificates. FÁS is also actively engaged so as to ensure that the matter is resolved in a satisfactory manner.

Social Welfare Appeals

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

59 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Social Protection when an appeal regarding illness benefit payment will be decided in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30189/11]

Payment of illness benefit to the person concerned was disallowed by a Deciding Officer following an examination by a Medical Assessor of the Department who expressed the opinion that he was capable of work. I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that, in accordance with statutory requirements, the Department was asked for the relevant documentation in the case and the Deciding Officer's comments on the grounds of the appeal. In that context, an examination by another Medical Assessor will be carried out on 10 November 2011. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Tom Hayes

Question:

60 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision on a disablement benefit appeal will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30225/11]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that the appeal from the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer who proposes to hold an oral hearing in this case. There has been a very significant increase in the number of appeals received by the Social Welfare Appeals Office since 2007 when the intake was 14,070 to 2010 when the intake rose to 32,432. This has significantly impacted on the processing time for appeals which require oral hearings and, in order to be fair to all appellants, they are dealt with in strict chronological order. In the context of dealing with the considerable number of appeals now on hand, the Department made 9 additional appointments to the office earlier this year. While every effort is being made to deal with the large numbers awaiting oral hearing as quickly as possible, it is not possible to give a date when the person's oral hearing will be heard, but s/he will be informed when arrangements have been made. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Social Welfare Benefits

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

61 Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Social Protection the amount she spent in 2010 on the back to school clothing and footwear allowance; the amount spent on children aged between two and three years of age; the amount she expects to spend this year on the back to school clothing and footwear allowance and the amount that will be spent on children aged between two and three years of age in 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30228/11]

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.

The provision for the 2011 scheme is €82m. In light of the number of payments made this year, some 183,000 to date, this figure will be exceeded. The number of children who will benefit under the scheme this year and the costs will be available when all claims are processed.

Social Welfare Appeals

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

62 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision will issue on an appeal for invalidity pension in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [30230/11]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 30 September 2011. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Social Welfare Services on the grounds of appeal be sought. When received, the appeal in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer for consideration. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Social Welfare Benefits

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

63 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Social Protection when an application for supplementary welfare payment will be decided while the person concerned (details supplied) in County Cork is awaiting jobseeker’s allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30238/11]

The community welfare service (CWS), and the community welfare officers providing it, formally transferred to the Department of Social Protection (DSP) from 1 October 2011. The service and the staff are now part of the DSP. Departmental records show that the person concerned is currently in receipt of a weekly supplementary welfare allowance payment.

Social Welfare Code

Robert Dowds

Question:

64 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans to phase out the qualified adult designation in social welfare payments in favour of making independent payments to both persons in a marriage or civil partnership on the basis of their respective employment records and needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30269/11]

Full individualisation of personal payments within the social welfare system would involve separate and independent treatment of persons in relation to means and other conditions of entitlement and separate payments to each. There are no plans to introduce full such payments in relation to means tested or social insurance payments.

However, over the years my Department has introduced various measures to make payments directly to qualified adults, regardless of marital status. For example, separate payments are made in cases of domestic difficulty where a qualified adult might otherwise have no other form of income. Also, for certain categories of State pension (non-contributory), where the couple are both aged 66 or over, payment is made individually to each partner. In October 2002, my Department introduced administrative arrangements to provide an option to have the qualified adult increase paid directly to the qualified adult for all new applicants to State Pension (Transition), (formerly known a retirement Pension) and State Pension (Contributory), (formerly known as Old Age (Contributory) Pension). Since 2007, the increase for a qualified adult is paid directly to a qualified adult or to a person nominated by them.

Robert Dowds

Question:

65 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on reducing the number of hours per week a person must work in order to qualify for family income supplement, in order to eliminate a potential poverty trap; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30270/11]

The family income supplement (FIS) is designed to provide income for employees on low earnings with families. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if he or she were unemployed and claiming other social welfare payments.

To qualify for payment of FIS, a person must be engaged in full-time insurable employment which is expected to last for at least 3 months and be working for a minimum of 38 hours per fortnight or 19 hours per week. A couple may combine their hours of employment to meet the qualification criteria. The applicant must also have at least one qualified child who normally resides with him/her or is supported by him/her. Furthermore, the average family income must be below a specified amount which varies according to the number of qualified children in the family.

The "hours worked" requirement has been reduced significantly since the introduction of the scheme in 1984. The requirement was initially set at 30 hours per week but was progressively reduced to 19 hours per week in 1996. Further reducing the "hours worked" requirement could have expenditure implications and could only be decided on in a budgetary context. For low income workers (or potential workers) with less than the minimum hours of employment or who are working on a casual basis, unemployment payments provide for daily disregards and tapered withdrawal of payment which address the loss of social welfare benefits through taking up employment.

While there are no immediate plans to make any significant changes to the qualifying criteria for FIS, the Deputy should note that family and child income supports are currently being examined by the Advisory Group on Tax and Social Welfare, which I established last June. The Group has been tasked with recommending cost-effective solutions as to how employment disincentives can be improved and better poverty outcomes achieved, particularly child poverty outcomes.

Social Welfare Appeals

Dan Neville

Question:

66 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Social Protection when a jobseeker’s allowance claim which has been referred to the appeals office will be dealt with in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if an oral hearing will be allowed. [30275/11]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 6 August 2011. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. These papers were received in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 17 August 2011 and the appeal has been referred to an Appeals Officer, who will decide whether the case can be decided on a summary basis or whether to list it for oral hearing.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Social Welfare Benefits

Pat Breen

Question:

67 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason a person (details supplied) in County Clare cannot be facilitated while applications are pending; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30286/11]

The community welfare service (CWS), and the community welfare officers providing it, formally transferred to the Department of Social Protection (DSP) from 1 October 2011. The service and the staff are now part of the DSP. Departmental records show that the person concerned is currently in receipt of a weekly supplementary welfare allowance payment at the rate appropriate to his family circumstances pending a decision regarding his entitlements to a primary payment.

Social Welfare Appeals

Paul Connaughton

Question:

68 Deputy Paul J. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision will issue on a disability allowance appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30291/11]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 5 October 2011. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Social Welfare Services on the grounds of appeal be sought. When received, the appeal in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer for consideration.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Social Welfare Code

Mattie McGrath

Question:

69 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will consider making amendments to the eligibility criteria for schemes such as TUS, FÁS training courses, the community employment scheme and so on to ensure that applicants who are not in receipt of jobseeker’s allowance payment due to the income of their spouse, partner or parents are not prevented from participating in skills programmes; her views on this matter; how she proposes that such persons improve their skills to increase their chances of gaining employment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30292/11]

I have already indicated to this House that I wish to review and consider improvements to the operation of a number of programmes and initiatives funded by the Department of Social Protection to support people who are unemployed to get back into work, further training and/or education. Matters relating to extending the current eligibility criteria to those that are not in receipt of a social protection payment can only be considered in the context of a wider ranging review.

Eligibility for training courses provided by FÁS is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Education and Skills.

Social Welfare Benefits

Clare Daly

Question:

70 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Social Protection her plans for the future of the mortgage interest supplement scheme in view of the fact that legislative changes in relation to mortgage arrears are currently being considered. [30297/11]

At the end of December 2010 there were 17,974 people in receipt of mortgage interest supplement, an increase of 337% over the 2007 figure. There are currently over 18,500 households benefiting from the scheme for which €77.2m has been allocated for 2011.

The Department's review of the administrative, policy and legal aspects of the mortgage interest supplement scheme was published in July 2010 in conjunction with the interim report of the Mortgage Arrears and Personal Debt Review Group. The final report of the Mortgage Arrears and Personal Debt Review Group was published in November 2010. These reports set out a number of recommendations. These recommendations are centred on the delivery of customer service improvement by ensuring that State support for those unable to deal with mortgage arrears is better targeted, consistent and easily understood. Allied with the focus on customer service improvements are recommendations that seek to ensure that lending institutions, borrowers and the Exchequer share responsibilities and commitments in a balanced way.

The recommendations set out in the Mortgage and Personal Debt Review Group's final report were considered by the Inter-Departmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group whose report to the Government's Economic Management Council was published on the 12th October 2011.

My Department's officials are currently examining this report and considering the implications of the recommendations.

Employment Support Services

Seán Kyne

Question:

71 Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Social Protection if a waiver will be introduced for the three-month waiting period for application for social welfare schemes after the conclusion of the leaving certificate exams for school-leavers who wish to participate in the work placement programme, WPP, as the current situation excludes such persons from the WPP until six months, at the earliest, have elapsed since the leaving certificate exams, owing to the stipulation that a person must be unemployed for three months and in receipt of a social welfare payment before being eligible for the WPP. [30304/11]

Anyone who is unemployed is eligible to apply for the work placement programme. There is no necessity to be in receipt of a payment from the Department of Social Protection.

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

72 Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Social Protection how a person availing of the graduate work placement programme can transfer to the JobBridge programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30325/11]

The closing date for transferring work placement programme participant placements to the JobBridge programme was 31 August 2011. Applications received after this date will not be accepted.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

73 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection if a company (details supplied) has or has had any interns through JobBridge; and if so, the number of same. [30335/11]

At present the company referred to has a total of eight internships under the JobBridge scheme.

Social Welfare Code

Mattie McGrath

Question:

74 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Social Protection the logic behind the changes made in April 2011 to the age limit for a qualified child for the one parent family payment; the reason 14 years was chosen as a cut-off age; the position regarding parents who are in receipt of this payment after their youngest child turns 14 when they are not in a position to work; if there are any circumstances where the payment for new applicants can be extended beyond the age of 14; the options available to those who will be left without any payment as a result of these changes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30349/11]

Legislative changes were introduced to the One-Parent Family Payment (OFP) in the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2010. These came into effect on 27 April, 2011. The former OFP scheme provided long-term income support to lone parents until their youngest child was aged 18, or 22 if in full-time education, without any requirement for them to engage in education, training or employment. Such long-term welfare dependency and passive income support to individuals of working age are not considered to be in the best interests of the recipient, their children or society.

The reform of the OFP scheme puts in place a model that:

prevents long-term dependence on social welfare support and facilitates independence among parents;

recognises parental choice with regard to the care of young children, but with the expectation that parents will not remain outside of the labour force indefinitely, and

includes an expectation of participation in education, training and employment initiatives, with the appropriate social welfare supports provided in this regard.

The changes made to the scheme also bring Ireland's support for lone parents more in line with international provisions — where there is a general movement away from long-term and passive income support.

Under the reformed scheme, for new customers:

payment is made until the youngest child reaches the age of 14;

there is a special provision to allow for the continuation of the payment for lone parents who are in receipt of the Domiciliary Care Allowance, payable until the child reaches the age of 16, and

there is a special provision for those who are recently bereaved (married, cohabiting, in a civil partnership), with no children under the age of 14, to claim the OFP for a period of up to 2 years from the date of death of their spouse/partner/cohabitant, or until their youngest child reaches the age of 18.

New customers will be written to when their youngest child reaches the age of 11 and informed of the educational, training and back-to-work opportunities available to them.

When the youngest child reaches the age of 14, a lone parent, if still in need of income support, can claim Jobseeker's Allowance or Benefit and receive the activation supports attached to that payment. These lone parents will be profiled in the future as the profiling of jobseekers is rolled out nationally. This will enable supports to be more effectively targeted to meet individual customer needs, with a case management approach being adopted in supporting them back to education, training and employment. Lone parents who are in low-paid employment of 19 hours or more per week, and earning below the relevant income threshold, they can claim the Family Income Supplement.

Under the reformed scheme, for existing customers, there will be no change to the payment in 2011 or 2012. The age limit for the receipt of the payment will, from 2013 onward, be reduced on a yearly basis — from the age of 17 that year to 16 in 2014, to 15 in 2015 and to 14 in 2016.

It is planned, over time and as resources permit, to provide more structured interventions from the Department/FÁS to support lone parents into education, training and employment from the claim-award stage.

Appointments to State Boards

Sean Fleming

Question:

75 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of appointments he has made to State boards since 9 March 2011; if he will list the names of each of these appointments and the boards to which they were appointed. [30199/11]

Twenty appointments were made by me to State boards since 9 March 2011, as set out in the following table.

Name of Body

Appointments since 9th March 2011

National Gallery of Ireland

Fred Krehbiel

National Concert Hall

Kieran Tobin (Chair)Dearbhla CollinsJohn McGraneLaurie CearrGina MenziesBruce ArnoldMargaret RyanRay BatesAlma HynesArtemis KentDeborah KelleherPeter McEvoyPat HeneghanRachel HolsteadPatricia Slavin

Arts Council

Eimear O’ConnorCiaran WalshMark O’ReganJohn Fanning

Maoiniú d’Eagrais Ghaeilge

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

76 D’fhiafraigh Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta an bhfuil aon chinneadh déanta aige, nó ag a Roinn nó ag Foras na Gaeilge, maoiniú ón Stát do na heagrais óige atá lonnaithe sa Stát seo, mar shampla Cumann na bhFiann, a tharraingt siar nó a laghdú [30301/11]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

77 D’fhiafraigh Aengus Ó Snodaigh den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta, cén uair a bheidh polasaí ann lena gcinnteofar gur ar bhonn uile-Éireann a bheidh ár n-eagrais Ghaeilge eagraithe, seachas ar bhonn 26 Chontae, má táthar ag rá gur eagrais náisiúnta iad ar mhaithe le deontais a fháil ón Lár-Chiste [30302/11]

Tógfaidh mé Ceisteanna 76 agus 77 le chéile.

Mar thoradh ar athbhreithniú seachtrach ar na heagraíochtaí a fhaigheann bunmhaoiniú ó Fhoras na Gaeilge, Cumann na bhFiann san áireamh, d'aontaigh an Chomhairle Aireachta Thuaidh Theas gur chóir an cur chuige bunmhaoinithe a athrú chun cur chuige níos sruthlínithe agus níos cost-éifeachtaí a chur i bhfeidhm. Dá bhrí sin, tá sé i gceist go mbeidh Foras na Gaeilge ag athrú ó mhúnla bunmhaoinithe don 19 n-eagraíocht atá i gceist go múnla iomaíoch, bunaithe ar scéimeanna faoina ndéanfar tosaíochtaí straitéiseacha éagsúla a sheachadadh.

Ag cruinniú den Chomhairle Aireachta Thuaidh Theas ar 12 Deireadh Fómhair, nótáladh an dul chun cinn atá déanta ag Foras na Gaeilge go dtí seo i ndáil le punann dréacht-scéimeanna a ullmhú don tsamhail mhaoinithe iomaíoch nua, a bhfuil sé mar sprioc aici tairbhí suntasacha luach ar airgead a bhaint amach agus dualgais reachtúla Fhoras na Gaeilge a chomhlíonadh go héifeachtach.

Iarradh ar Fhoras na Gaeilge roinnt céimeanna a thógáil chun an próiseas athbhreithnithe a thabhairt chun cinn, eadhon:

tréimhse bhreise chomhairliúcháin 12 seachtain a chur ar fáil i ndáil le punann na ndréacht-scéimeanna, go háirithe leis na heagraíochtaí bunmhaoinithe;

a chinntiú go dtabharfar deis do chomhlachtaí reachtúla bainteacha an tionchar a bheidh ag na dréacht-scéimeanna ar a réimsí feidhmiúcháin a bhreithniú;

an punann dréacht-scéimeanna a leasú de réir mar is gá agus mar is cuí, ag féachaint don phróiseas comhairliúcháin leathnaithe;

cás gnó mionsonraithe a ullmhú, le cúnamh neamhspleách más gá, chun tacú le punann na ndréacht-scéimeanna;

plean tionscadail athbhreithnithe a ullmhú, i gcomhar leis na Ranna Urraíochta, a thabharfaidh aird mar is cuí ar chur i gcrích an phróisis athbhreithnithe mar bheart práinne; agus

tuarascáil eile ar an dul chun cinn a sholáthar don chéad chruinniú eile den Chomhairle Aireachta Thuaidh Theas i mí Feabhra 2012.

I bhfianaise na gcinntí sin, tuigfidh an Teachta nach mbeadh sé cuí domsa a bheith ag tabhairt mo bhreithiúnais maidir leis an tsamhail mhaoinithe nua i láthair na huaire, ach bheinn ag glacadh leis go dtabharfar san áireamh, sa phróiseas thuasluaite, an cheist atá luaite ag an Teachta maidir leis an mbonn faoina bhfeidhmeoidh na heagraíochtaí a bheidh le maoiniú faoin gcóras nua amach anseo.

Turbary Rights

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy

Question:

78 Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will review an application for compensation by a person (details supplied) for ceasing to cut turf at the Bawn bog, County Offaly, which is part of Clara bog, which was cut for domestic use only; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30337/11]

Officials from my Department have been dealing with this application over a number of years. Following extensive negotiations an agreement was reached for my Department to purchase turbary rights from this individual on designated land located in the relevant Special Area of Conservation. The purchase of these rights was finalised in November 2007. A subsequent application for compensation was received by my Department in relation to this case. This claim has been rejected on foot of legal advice that the European Communities (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1997 exclude the payment of compensation where an agreement for the purchase of the land, including turbary rights, by the Minister is concluded. Confirmation of same was sent to the solicitors acting for the applicant in July of this year.

Departmental Funding

Kevin Humphreys

Question:

79 Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the assistance available to a not-for-profit studio group (details supplied). [30418/11]

My Department has no role in relation to sourcing accommodation, or providing assistance towards the cost of sourcing such accommodation, for any group of the nature referred to by the Deputy, whether not-for-profit, or otherwise. As I mentioned in replies to previous Parliamentary Questions, I have met the chair and chief executive of NAMA in relation to the potential use of NAMA buildings for cultural purposes. As the Deputy and the House will, however, appreciate, NAMA is required to deal with a range of sensitive financial matters in carrying out its functions and is restricted in regard to the information it may make available in relation to assets.

Question No. 80 answered with Question No. 23.

State Agencies

Joan Collins

Question:

81 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his input into NewERA; if he will comment on the discussion about the disposal of State assets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30235/11]

The Government announced the establishment of the New Economy and Recovery Authority (NewERA), in line with the Programme for Government on 29th September last. NewERA is being initially established on a non-statutory basis as a Shareholder Executive within the NTMA.

NewERA will carry out the corporate governance function, from a shareholder perspective, of ESB, Bord Gáis, EirGrid, Bord na Móna and Coillte, reporting to the relevant Ministers. Its operation will be overseen by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Infrastructure. In this capacity, NewERA will have responsibility for reviewing capital investment plans of these commercial semi-State companies from a shareholder perspective and will identify possible synergies between investment programmes of different State companies. Where requested by Government, it will also advise on, and if appropriate oversee, any restructuring of State companies and it will work with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the disposal of State assets.

NewERA will initially be established on a non-statutory basis as a Shareholder Executive within the NTMA. It will bring forward proposals for consideration by Government on options for moving towards a full holding company status which could own the shares in commercial semi-states. The establishment of NewERA and the Strategic Investment Fund under the NTMA are important elements in the Government's strategy to create jobs and promote economic growth.

NewERA will work with line Departments and the private sector to develop and implement proposals for commercial investment in line with Programme for Government commitments in Energy, Water and Broadband. It will also examine other commercial investments and build upon existing work by the NPRF by developing a Strategic Investment Fund.

NewERA will have the following functions:

corporate governance from a shareholder perspective of the following Commercial Semi-State (CSS) companies: ESB, Bord Gáis, EirGrid, Bord na Mona, Coillte;

working with Departments to develop and implement proposals for investment in line with NewERA Programme for Government commitments in Energy, Water and Next Generation Telecommunications;

working with the National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF) to bring forward proposals for investment of available resources in the NewERA initiative;

developing a Strategic Investment Fund, drawing on NPRF resources, with the medium-term goal of establishing a Strategic Investment Bank;

reviewing capital investment plans of these CSS companies from a shareholder perspective;

identifying possible synergies between investment programmes of different CSS companies;

where requested by Government, advising on, and if appropriate overseeing any restructuring of CSS company assets, and supporting the work of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform who has responsibility for the disposal of State assets;

based on progress with the initial phase of its work, considering a model(s) for a holding company structure which could own the shares in CSS companies.

The Government has made clear its intention to ensure that State Companies play a full role in Ireland's economic recovery. The Energy State Companies are already engaged in significant programmes of infrastructure investment. We must ensure that all the investment programmes of the State Companies are cost effective, strategic and subject to rigorous shareholder scrutiny and, where appropriate, regulatory oversight. NewERA will have a key role to play in this regard on behalf of the Government's shareholder interests in the State Companies. NewERA will also work to develop and implement proposals for commercial investments in line with the Programme for Government commitments in Energy, Water and Broadband.

Now that the Authority has been formally established, I am confident that progress can be made on necessary investment under the aegis of New ERA with consequential positive direct and indirect jobs impact. The sale of a minority stake in the ESB as an integrated utility has been agreed by Government. This decision is an early demonstration of the commitment by the Government to the Programme for Government objectives and to its obligations under the EU/IMF MoU.

This sale will be advanced by means of a defined process involving a full evaluation of the best approach to be taken, including consideration of the size of the minority stake to be sold. The process is being progressed by a group co-chaired by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, and also including officials from the Department of Finance and the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA)/NewERA.

Telecommunications Services

Patrick Deering

Question:

82 Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of applications that have been received for the rural broadband scheme from persons living in the Palatine/Burton Hall area of County Carlow; and when improved broadband will be available in this area as a result of their applications. [30280/11]

Almost 5,000 applications have been received under the Rural Broadband Scheme and my Department is currently processing applications where address details need to be clarified — this is a time consuming exercise but the aim is to clear these applications over the coming weeks. On a provisional basis I can say that a total of 52 applications have been received from County Carlow and 7 of these are from the Palatine/Burton Hall area. Final numbers will not be known until all applications have been processed. Once all applications have been processed I will make information available on the Department's website on the total number of applications and a breakdown by county.

The next step in the scheme is the Verification Phase, in which the Department will give Internet service providers the opportunity to serve the applicants under normal commercial terms. Subject to agreement with the companies concerned, the Verification Phase should be carried out over the period October 2011-January 2012. We would expect that some of the applicants under the Scheme will be offered a service by these companies during this phase.

The procurement process is expected to commence in parallel to select a service provider to offer a service to remaining applicants once the Verification Phase has been completed. My Department expects to identify the preferred supplier by the end of January 2012 and pending contract negotiations a service provider will be appointed by mid-February 2012. Roll out of the service under the Scheme is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

83 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the efforts that have been made by him and his Department or through the appropriate Oireachtas committee to address the issue of mobile phone and data roaming charges in the Republic and Northern Ireland in recent years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30332/11]

The regulation of roaming charges is an EU competency following the publication of Regulation (EC) No 717/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of the 27 June 2007 on roaming on public mobile telephone networks within the Community and amending Directive 2002/21/EC. This Regulation, as amended, imposes maximum wholesale and retail roaming prices on mobile service providers and additional obligations to protect customers from bill shock.

The EU Commission in its more recent communication A Digital Agenda for Europe, published August 2010, proposes that "the difference between roaming and national tariffs should approach zero by 2015." The current Regulation is due to expire in June 2012. The EU Commission recently presented the text of a revised draft Regulation to exert further downward pressure on roaming tariffs to the Council and EU Parliament for consideration. Ireland called for the first Roaming Regulation at the Spring Council in 2006 on the grounds of protecting consumers from high roaming and supports the EU Commission's current proposal to exert further downward pressure on roaming charges, subject to further detailed scrutiny in developing a formal Regulation of the European Parliament and the Council.

Electricity Transmission Network

Sean Conlan

Question:

84 Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his view on EirGrid’s assertion that the savings from the proposed North-South interconnector are slightly lower but very similar to the savings from the east-west interconnector, in view of the fact that fuel mix in the United Kingdom is different, that there exists tighter correlation of wind generation in Northern Ireland and Ireland compared to Ireland and the United Kingdom, and in view of the interconnection of the United Kingdom with the Netherlands and France as well as limits on the Moyle interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30356/11]

I am not aware of EirGrid making any assertion that the savings from the proposed North-South interconnector are slightly lower but very similar to the savings from the East-West interconnector.

A summary of the net savings associated with the East-West interconnector are included in the 2009 "Interconnection Economic Feasibility Report" published by EirGrid. This report examines the economic feasibility of interconnection between the island of Ireland (the All Island (AI) system) and Great Britain or France and includes a range of cost savings associated with additional levels of interconnection capacity. In the case of the East-West interconnector, base case net savings in the range of €42m to €85m per annum are forecast. These net benefit figures comprise of production cost savings (fuel and CO2) and capacity benefits (linked to generation adequacy and capacity payments) and is net of the annualised capital costs of the East-West Interconnector.

EirGrid is currently carrying out a re-evaluation of the North-South interconnection project. As part of this review, a study is under way to quantify the savings associated with the North-South interconnector. Initial results from this study, which will be published shortly, indicate cost savings in the range €20m to €30m per annum. While the economic feasibility studies for each of the interconnectors has been undertaken separately, each study was based on the assumption that both interconnectors were in place. This ensures that the full savings benefit that can be realised to consumers through these strategically critical electricity infrastructure investments is quantified.

Together, both interconnectors will play a significant role in ensuring that Ireland will meet its 40 percent renewable energy target by 2020. The benefits include, in the case of the North-South interconnector, support for the efficient operation of the Single Electricity Market and the related strengthening of the all Island transmission network while the East-West interconnector will provide additional and significant reduction in potential levels of wind curtailment. The latter is in part related to less correlated wind profiles between the All-Island system and neighbouring systems. These differences are fully reflected in both studies.

Sean Conlan

Question:

85 Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the discount rate used to work out the feasibility of Eirgrid projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30357/11]

Sean Conlan

Question:

86 Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the time horizon Eirgrid uses in assessing feasibility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30358/11]

Sean Conlan

Question:

87 Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if 110 kV interconnector lines will be upgraded; if so, the voltage of the upgraded lines; if they will be upgraded, the reason they were not considered in the feasibility studies carried out in the early 2000s; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30420/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 85 to 87, inclusive, together.

The discount rate used by EirGrid for investment appraisals and feasibility studies has been informed by and is consistent with regulatory determinations. The Commission for Energy Regulation recently determined the regulated real pre-tax Weighted Average Cost of Capital as 5.95%.

The time horizon used by EirGrid for investment appraisals and feasibility studies has been informed by and is consistent with regulatory determinations. In this regard, the Commission for Energy Regulation has recently determined that the Regulatory Asset Base would continue to be depreciated over 50 years.

The planning, development and routing of transmission line infrastructure is a matter for EirGrid, which is the State owned body responsible for the electricity transmission system. I have no statutory function regarding the planning and construction of energy networks.

However, I can confirm that there are two existing 110 kV cross border circuits connecting between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. One circuit connects Letterkenny in County Donegal to Strabane in County Tyrone; the other connects Corraclassy in County Cavan to Enniskillen in County Fermanagh. The 110kV network on both sides of the border, in these border counties, is relatively weak and the two 110kV cross border circuits were installed in order to provide emergency local support in one jurisdiction in the event of a problem in the other.

They operate as standby circuits and do not carry power under normal circumstances.

The quantity of electrical power that can be transferred via these existing cross border 110 kV circuits is constrained not only by the power carrying capacity of the circuits themselves but also by the weak 110 kV network into which they connect, on both sides of the border.

To increase the power transfer capacity of the existing cross border 110 kV circuits would therefore require an upgrade of not just the circuits themselves but also an extensive and deep upgrade of the 110 kV networks in both jurisdictions. Implementing such an upgrade by increasing the voltage rating of the existing circuits up to, say 275 kV, would require a re-build of the networks on both sides of the border. This would require such prolonged outages in the areas concerned that, even if such a rebuild of the network was feasible from an environmental and public planning perspective, it cannot be considered as a practical proposition. As a consequence it was not considered as an option in the joint feasibility studies carried out by EirGrid and Northern Ireland Electricity during the years 2001-2005.

The 2001-2005 feasibility studies were recently reviewed by EirGrid as part of its project re-evaluation process. The findings of this review, published by EirGrid in its Preliminary Re-evaluation Report of May 2011, confirmed that the most appropriate option for achieving the required increase in the capacity of North South Interconnection remains the installation of a new high capacity 400 kV circuit connecting between the existing Woodland Substation in County Meath and a new substation at Turleenan in County Tyrone and routed via the vicinity of Kingscourt in County Cavan.

In July 2011 the Minister appointed an expert independent international commission to investigate the case for undergrounding all, or part of, this proposed 400 kV circuit. The Commission is expected to report its findings in the near future.

Sean Conlan

Question:

88 Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason the Moyle connector was run below maximum capacity; if maximising it would decrease the need for the north-south interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30421/11]

The planning, development and routing of transmission line infrastructure are a matter for EirGrid, which is the State owned body responsible for the electricity transmission system. I have no statutory function regarding the planning and construction of energy networks. In particular, I have no function regarding the Moyle electricity connector which connects Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The European Commission is giving particular strategic priority to strengthening electricity interconnection across Europe. The enhancement of regional co-operation, including improved electricity interconnectivity between Member States, is a key objective of the EU Energy Third Package.

The Government fully endorses the strategic national importance of investing in Ireland's electricity transmission infrastructure.

In that context the Meath-Tyrone 400KV Interconnector is a key strategic project for the economies and consumers both North and South. It is also critical to ensuring energy supply adequacy on the island of Ireland. It will play a significant role in ensuring that Ireland will meet its 40 percent renewable energy target by 2020. The benefits include support for the efficient operation of the Single Electricity Market and the related strengthening of the all Island transmission network.

Investment in the development and maintenance of Ireland's electricity network infrastructure is of fundamental strategic importance for the economy. Secure and reliable energy supply is a prerequisite for inward investment, for indigenous enterprise, and for all consumers.

Ireland has achieved a reliable and modern electricity infrastructure over the last decade. The building of these modern and reliable energy network systems was achieved by extensive and well executed investment by the State owned companies, ESB and EirGrid. The networks must be maintained and enhanced as necessary to ensure that Ireland has an energy infrastructure which is fully fit for purpose. Investment in strategic energy infrastructure is also a key priority for the European Union.

The Government fully endorses the strategic national importance of investing in Ireland's electricity transmission infrastructure. Delivery by EirGrid of its national grid development strategy "GRID 25" is critical to economic recovery, regional development, security of supply, competitiveness and the achievement of Ireland's renewable electricity targets.

Energy Resources

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

89 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress made to date in the development of the Corrib gas field, with particular reference to the likelihood of supply becoming available to the domestic and industrial consumer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30424/11]

Construction of the Corrib Gas Terminal at Bellanaboy is substantially completed, as are the subsea facilities at the Corrib Gas Field. The 83km offshore section of the Corrib gas pipeline has also been installed. Following the granting of a number of statutory consents earlier this year for the construction of the onshore section of the pipeline along a revised route, work on this final element of the development has now commenced. It is estimated that construction of the onshore section of the pipeline, including the construction of a 5km tunnel, will take in the region of two years.

Telecommunications Services

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

90 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he can identify precise objectives for the provision of high-speed broadband throughout the entire country without exception; the extent to which precise infrastructural requirements have been identified and costed in this regard; when such targets are likely to be achieved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30425/11]

Under the NewERA proposals in the Programme for Government, there is a commitment to co-invest with the private sector and commercial semi-State sector to provide next generation broadband customer access to every home and business in the State. The next generation broadband task force has an important role in this regard. In June of this year I convened the task force which I chair and which also comprises the Minister of State with responsibility for NewERA, Deputy O'Dowd, the CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies currently operating in the Irish market and the CEOs of some Internet service provider companies. The purpose of the task force, which will conclude its deliberations by the end of this year, is to discuss the optimal policy environment required to facilitate the provision of high speed broadband across Ireland at efficient cost for the long-term benefit of customers.

Mobile Telephony

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

91 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if, directly or through the regulator, he has become aware of poor mobile phone coverage at a number of locations throughout the country; if there is an obligation on the service providers, the regulator or the Minister to ensure that the quality of such services is at least on par with that available in other jurisdictions throughout Europe or elsewhere; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30426/11]

The provision of mobile phone networks and services is undertaken by telecommunications service providers who operate in a fully liberalised market. The regulation of telecommunications service providers, including regulatory issues surrounding mobile phone network coverage and quality, is the responsibility of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) in accordance with its functions under the Communications Regulation Act 2002, as amended, and the EU Regulatory Framework for Electronic Communications. ComReg is responsible for issuing licences to mobile phone operators and for monitoring compliance with the conditions attached to the licences. I am informed by ComReg that all of the operators have met their licence requirements in this regard and, indeed, that performance tends to exceed the minimum coverage requirements.

Telecommunications Services

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

92 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which the telecommunications system is now reliant on wire, wireless or satellite systems; the degree to which fibre optics is an integral part of the system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30427/11]

The telecommunications market in Ireland, including the provision of telecommunications infrastructure, has been fully liberalised since 1999 and since then, has been regulated by the Commission for Energy Regulation (ComReg) and its predecessor, the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation. ComReg gathers data from telecommunications data service providers and publishes data reports in an aggregated form where appropriate on a quarterly basis to meet confidentiality requirements http://www.comreg.ie/. The most recent report, for the second quarter of 2011, reports on electronic communications connection types by reference to Internet connections. There were 1,662,471 Internet connections at the end of June 2011. Fixed wire connections, including both narrowband and broadband connections, were 762,851 or 46% of all connections, followed by mobile connections at 583,755 or 35%, cable connections at 228,595 or 14%, fixed wireless connections of 78,299 or 5% followed by others, which includes both fibre and satellite connections at 8,971 or approximately to 0.5% of all Internet connections. The ComReg report does not distinguish between fibre and satellite connections. Fibre optic would also contribute a significant element within core telecommunications networks and reaching out to the level of backhaul services. However, the ComReg reports do not quantify the contribution by fibre optic or other technologies within communications networks.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

93 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has studied the quality, coverage and capability of telecommunication systems throughout Europe with a view to replication here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30428/11]

The latest OECD broadband data up to June 2010 ranked Ireland 13th of 19 EU states surveyed for fixed line broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants and third of 18 EU states surveyed for wireless broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants. However, such surveys are confined to retail services only. They do not measure customised electronic services provided over leased lines or Ethernet services provided to businesses under negotiated terms, nor do they consider service availability outside the largest city served by the service providers examined. A wider report on broadband services in 72 countries published in 2010 by the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo in Spain concluded that the broadband services currently available in Ireland are capable of meeting the requirements of today's broadband applications and overall, in terms of broadband quality and penetration, ranks Ireland 13th of the 72 countries studied.

Offshore Exploration

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

94 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent of any oil, mineral, gas or other valuable discoveries in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30429/11]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

95 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of oil, gas or other drilling explorations currently in progress on or offshore; the degree to which commercial viability has been identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30430/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 94 and 95 together.

There have been no new commercial discoveries of oil and gas, or other minerals within the jurisdiction of the Irish State in the past twelve months. While there are no petroleum drilling operations currently in progress on or offshore within the jurisdiction of the Irish State, plans are at an advanced stage for the drilling of an appraisal well in the Celtic Sea and this drilling operation could begin as early as November.

With regard to non-petroleum minerals 517 mineral prospecting licences are currently active. Drilling is a feature of exploration activities and takes place from time to time in each licence area. Details of these licences can be found in the six-monthly report to the Oireachtas, which I am obliged to lay before the Houses under the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1999. This report is also available on my Department's website.

While no new commercially viable deposits of non-petroleum minerals have been discovered in the past ten years, there have been some encouraging results, particularly in Counties Limerick and Clare. However, it is too early to determine whether these results will lead to identification of commercially viable deposits or to estimate the economic benefits that might accrue.

Postal Services

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

96 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the degree to which he continues to monitor the development of the postal services in the aftermath of deregulation with particular reference to the need to meet current and future demands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30431/11]

The Government's core policy goal for the postal sector is to ensure that Irish customers, both business and residential, enjoy competitively priced, high quality postal services. The Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011, which was enacted in August 2011, has put in place a robust and appropriate regulatory framework for the postal services market, which will offer certainty and protection to An Post, the designated universal postal service provider, its competitors, and postal service users.

While I have overall responsibility for the postal sector, the Act charges the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as the postal regulator, with the promotion of the development of the postal sector, particularly the availability of the universal postal service, the promotion of the interests of users and the facilitation of the development of competition in the sector.

Energy Resources

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

97 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the degree to which he has planned for the future development of the country’s natural resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30432/11]

Petroleum exploration in Ireland, in common with most other jurisdictions, is carried out by private enterprise under licence from the State. Petroleum exploration authorisations are issued under the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960 and the operational framework is set out in the Licensing Terms for Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration, Development & Production 2007. In announcing the outcome to the 2011 Licensing Option Round, I indicated that while the outcome of the Licensing Round was positive in terms of the number of applications received, it is a matter of some concern that a relatively small number of applications were received over large parts of the deeper water basins where significant petroleum potential has also been indicated. We need to encourage attention in terms of our deeper water basins, seek strategies to fill data gaps and encourage an increase in drilling and data acquisition levels. I made clear that now is a time for innovative and inventive thinking and that I am open to changes in the regulatory framework that would encourage a greater focus by both contractors and exploration companies on under-explored areas of the Irish offshore.

Non-Petroleum minerals exploration is undertaken by private enterprise under Prospecting Licences issued under the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1999. At present there are 517 active Prospecting Licences. Details of these licences can be found in the six-monthly report to the Oireachtas, which I am obliged to lay before the Houses under the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1999. This report is also available on my Department's website. Following substantial consultation with industry and other interests, a major project to update and consolidate minerals legislation is underway and I would intend to bring forward a very substantial Minerals Development Bill in the New Year.

Energy Prices

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

98 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the degree to which he can interact with his EU colleagues with a view to achieving lower energy prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30433/11]

I do not have a statutory function in the setting of energy prices, whether in the regulated or unregulated market. Responsibility for the regulation of the electricity and gas markets is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, which is an independent statutory body. Prices in the retail electricity market are now fully deregulated and from 1 October 2011 gas residential consumers are the only segment of the electricity and gas markets where prices are regulated. Prices in the electricity market and unregulated part of the gas market are wholly a commercial and operational matter for the suppliers. Ireland's electricity and gas markets, both wholesale and retail, are characterised by vigorous competition regulated by the CER.

The Government recognises that the cost of energy in Ireland is a serious competitiveness issue facing energy consumers during this difficult period for the economy. The provision of secure, sustainable and competitive energy supplies is critical for the economy and is a challenge we are determined to meet.

Global gas and oil prices have risen sharply since the start of 2011 driven by events in North Africa and Japan and high demand from the emerging economies of China and India. There are clear indications that international oil and gas prices will rise further over the coming months. These trends are leading to higher domestic electricity and gas prices, as reflected by recent increases in domestic electricity prices announced by the suppliers competing in that market and by CER's decision to allow an increase in BGE's regulated gas tariff for the residential sector.

Given Ireland's heavy reliance on imported gas and oil and relatively small market size, it is a price taker in the global fossil fuel market. The economy is therefore vulnerable to fossil fuel price fluctuations and price rises. Competitor countries are in many instances facing the same prospect and the objective in the context of higher global prices must be that we retain or improve our competitive position.

Ireland's concerns about high oil and gas prices are shared at EU level and fellow Member Countries of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The EU and IEA agree that high fossil fuel prices which pose a threat to economic recovery underline the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by radically enhanced energy efficiency measures and the development of renewable energy.

EU energy Ministers have focused in recent years on bringing about change in Europe's electricity and gas markets, for example, as regards industry structure, the extent of competition, security of gas supply and greater EU energy market integration. EU targets have been set for 2020 in relation to both energy efficiency and renewable energy. These EU developments have at the same time allowed for Member State subsidiarity in these matters, especially in relation to their fuel mixes. The successful implementation of these policies should contribute to a lesser dependence on fossil fuels, and therefore a lower vulnerability to global price increases in such fuels.

At a national level, our competitive energy market helps put downward pressure on prices. In addition, we must focus on all possible additional actions to mitigate costs where possible for business and domestic customers. This is essential for competitiveness, employment and for economic recovery. I am committed to working with enterprise and with the energy sector to ensure that the costs of energy are as competitive as possible through those measures at our disposal including sustained focus on energy efficiency and renewables.

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

99 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his plans to exclude charities, voluntary and community organisations and sporting clubs from the public service obligation levy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30437/11]

The Public Obligation Service (PSO) levy has been in place since 2001 and is the support mechanism for peat generation, the development of renewable electricity, and certain plant necessary for security of supply. The levy is designed to compensate electricity suppliers for the additional costs they incur by purchasing electricity generated by plant qualifying under these three headings. The levy has supported the connection of more than 1,400 MW of renewable energy, mostly wind, to the electricity grid over the last decade. The PSO also supports the output of two gas fuelled power plants built in 2005 to secure much needed generation capacity at the time.

The Commission for Energy Regulation determines the PSO levy which is a charge on all electricity customers without exception. The legal basis for the PSO levy and its method of calculation are set out in regulations made under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. The scheme sets outs that the levy applies to all electricity customers and the levy amount is reviewed annually. The PSO levy for 2011/2012 (exclusive of VAT of 13.5%) is €19.33 for residential customers and €57.22 for small to medium sized business customers. On a VAT exclusive basis, this roughly equates to €1.61 per month, or €3.22 every two months, for residential customers and €4.77 per month, or €9.54, every two months for small to medium sized business customers.

In general terms, the cost of the PSO levy to the consumer tends to be low or zero when gas and oil prices are high, as in these cases the market adequately rewards renewable and conventional generation including the peat stations. However, when fossil fuel prices are low, peat and renewable generators become less competitive and suppliers need to be compensated for purchasing their output. The fall in gas prices in the two years up to September 2010 accounts for the re-emergence of the PSO levy as a positive amount on all customers' bills from October 2010 onwards.

While I fully understand and appreciate concerns about the cost of the PSO levy to customers, it is the Government's position that increasing the share of renewable energy in electricity generation in Ireland, will enable Ireland reduce its fossil fuel dependence and vulnerability to rises in international fossil fuel prices. The PSO levy supports that development and increased security of supply in electricity generation.

Nuclear Safety

Robert Dowds

Question:

100 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the recent report by the United Kingdom’s Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations on the nuclear facilities and storage of radioactive material at Sellafield. [30272/11]

Following the serious nuclear accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011, the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change requested the UK's Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, to examine the circumstances of the Fukushima accident to see what lessons could be learned to enhance the safety of the UK nuclear industry. The Inspector's final report was published on 11 October 2011.

The report considers implications for all of the UK's nuclear facilities, including those at Sellafield.

Conclusions drawn by the report which are of interest from an Irish perspective include the following:

In considering the direct causes of the Fukushima accident the report sees no reason for curtailing the operation of nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities in the UK;

The report finds that there is no need to change the present siting strategies for the new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK;

The report concludes that the UK Government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and the Sellafield Licensee must continue to pursue the Legacy Ponds and Silos remediation and retrievals programme at Sellafield with utmost vigour and determination.

This is a detailed technical report whose content is being further examined by my Department, together with the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) in line with its statutory function in respect of monitoring developments abroad relating to nuclear installations and radiological safety generally, and keeping the Government informed of their implications for Ireland.

Waste Disposal

Paudie Coffey

Question:

101 Deputy Paudie Coffey asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the guidelines and laws in place that control the practice of burning rubbish and gorse outdoors; the protection afforded in law to the property of landowners adjacent to areas that are burned; if he intends to make any improvements in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30218/11]

The Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) Regulations 2009 explicitly prohibit a holder of waste from disposing of it by uncontrolled burning. The burning of uncontaminated wood, trees, tree trimmings, leaves, brush, or other similar waste generated by agricultural practices is exempt from the burning prohibition but only as a last resort following efforts to either recycle or reduce the waste arising in accordance with good agricultural practice. The local authority is required to be notified in advance of any such burning of waste and there are requirements on the person carrying out the disposal to take all reasonable measures to limit the overall nuisance or possibilities for endangering human health or causing environmental pollution or damage to adjoining hedgerows or habitats. This exemption applies until 1 January 2014 when such activities will require registration with local authorities and be subject to the controls set out in the waste facility permit legislation. Local authorities may also exempt certain local cultural events if they so wish.

All local authorities have dedicated multi-disciplinary Waste Management Enforcement Teams, supported by funding from the Environment Fund operated by my Department. Over 120 local authority waste enforcement officers are currently being supported in this way in performing a wide range of enforcement activities including policing and prosecuting breaches of the Waste Management (Prohibition of Waste Disposal by Burning) Regulations.

In addition, under Section 24 of the Air Pollution Act, the occupier of any premises must not cause or permit an emission from such premises in such a quantity, or in such a manner, as to be a nuisance. Compliance with the Air Pollution Act is enforced by local authorities, who have powers under the legislation to investigate complaints relating to air pollution. A local authority may, in order to prevent or limit air pollution, serve a notice on the occupier of any premises from which there is an emission, specifying the measures deemed to be necessary in order to prevent or to limit air pollution.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is currently finalising a Code of Practice on Prescribed Burning. This Code of Practice will emphasise the paramount importance of safety and consideration for neighbours and wider communities in planning and implementing agricultural burning operations. The Code will also recommend close consultation and cooperation with all interested parties, including neighbouring landowners in particular, in planning such burning operations.

Waste Management

Michelle Mulherin

Question:

102 Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the details of plans to restructure Ireland’s waste market and to restrict side-by-side competition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30288/11]

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce competitive tendering for household waste collection, under which service providers will bid to provide waste collection services in a given area, for a given period of time and to a guaranteed level of service. A public consultation on the issues involved, designed to inform the policy development process, has recently concluded. The responses received are being examined and I intend to bring policy proposals to Government before the end of the year.

Social and Affordable Housing

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

103 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government how children’s welfare will be protected in the new social housing policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26069/11]

National policy in relation to child care is the responsibility of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Within this context local authorities are involved in promoting child care at local level through a range of policies and activities. County/City Child care committees operate under the auspices of the local government-led County/City Development Boards to support a co-ordinated and integrated approach to child care in their area. Local authorities are represented on these committees. Multi-Agency Children Services Committees are currently being piloted in four local authorities and a further number of local authorities have applied to establish Children Services Committees within their area. The aim of these committees is to test models of best practice which promote integrated locally led strategic planning for child services across agencies. In relation to planning, local authorities have been required since 2001 to provide for crèche facilities in new residential developments. This requirement has been further reinforced by more recent and updated statutory guidelines. I am satisfied that local authorities are contributing to the development and implementation of child care policies in their areas. Finally, I might also add that guidelines for the protection of children were developed in 2008 and provided to local authorities by the Local Government Management Services Board.

Regarding the accommodation needs of children, the provision of accommodation specifically for children, where necessary, is a matter for the Health Service Executive. Accommodation of children in family contexts is provided for through a range of housing supports operated by local authorities, as outlined in the recently published Housing Policy Statement.

Visa Applications

Pat Breen

Question:

104 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if, in order to boost tourism visitor numbers from China, he will arrange for an individual tourist visa online application option to be added to the Irish Embassy’s website in China. [30237/11]

I can assure the Deputy that my Department is actively pursuing initiatives in the immigration area to encourage and support tourism from China. In particular, I would point to the Visa Waiver Programme for the holders of Short Stay UK visas which commenced on 1 July of this year. Under the programme, holders of the appropriate UK visa are exempt from the requirement to also hold an Irish visa to travel to Ireland. The Visa Waiver Programme covers nationals of a total of sixteen countries, including China.

In relation to the matters referred to by the Deputy, I can say that the creation of a specific Tourist Visa category is being examined by my Department. However, and not wishing to pre-empt the outcome of any such examination, there are challenges involved such as finding an accurate definition of what a Tourist is as opposed to the many and often varied reasons for wishing to travel to Ireland, for example a business trip concluding with a short holiday. The difficulty in accurately defining a Tourist for immigration purposes is not unique to Ireland and many visa regimes worldwide do not define Tourist as a specific visa category. For example, the central Visa Code governing the issuing of Schengen visas specifically avoids trying to define a Tourist category, but instead asks the visa applicant in detail their various reasons for wishing to travel. I should also point out that any technical changes to central visa system would not be without cost and must be considered in light of current budgetary constraints.

Multi-Unit Developments Act

Noel Grealish

Question:

105 Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, with reference to the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, the position regarding the law in respect of residents of a particular estate who do not want to take ownership under the owner management company; how this matter should be dealt with by the developer of the estate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30194/11]

The Deputy will appreciate that I am not in a position as Minister to provide legal advice in response to a Parliamentary Question on a particular case. However, I can indicate the following by way of general information.

One of the principal objectives of the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 is to ensure the transfer of common areas of such developments to the owners' management companies concerned. Section 4 of the Act, which deals with partially completed developments, and section 5, which deals with substantially completed developments, provide that transfer of ownership of the relevant parts of the common areas must be completed within 6 months of the coming into operation of the Act, i.e. before 1 October 2011.

Section 24 of the Act establishes a court jurisdiction for the resolution of disputes in relation to multi-unit developments. If such a dispute cannot be resolved by means of mediation or other dispute resolution process, the court may make an order where it is satisfied that a right has been infringed or an obligation has not been discharged with a view to ensuring the effective enforcement of the right or the effective discharge of the obligation concerned. Such an order may include an order transferring control of an owners' management company from a developer to the unit owners where the court is satisfied the developer has unreasonably refused to effect such a transfer or the unit owners have unreasonably refused to accept the transfer.

Appointments to State Boards

Sean Fleming

Question:

106 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of appointments he has made to State boards since 9 March 2011; and if he will list the names of each of these appointments and the boards to which they were appointed. [30209/11]

I wish to inform the Deputy that the position remains unchanged since my reply to Question No. 146 of 13 October 2011 in which I provided the information required in response to a similar question.

Deportation Orders

Michael Creed

Question:

107 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason, in dealing with applications for refugee status which have been declined and where a deportation order has issued, he will not facilitate the voluntary return of applicants to their country of origin, thereby incurring additional costs to the State of repatriation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30226/11]

Deportation Orders made under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 require the foreign national specified in the order to leave the State within such period as may be specified in the order and to remain thereafter out of the State. Thus, a Deportation Order is a requirement imposed on a person to leave the State and to remain outside of the State.

I should point out that the onus is on the individual who is the subject of a Deportation Order to remove themselves from the State. Where persons fail to leave the State or resist or evade their removal from the State the enforcement of the Deportation Order will be pursued by the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

I can assure the Deputy that in cases where a person decides to co-operate in relation to their removal from the State every effort is made to effect the removal as speedily as possible. In cases where a person is the subject of a Deportation Order and wishes to leave the State, they should contact the Garda National Immigration Bureau with their passport and their removal from the State will be facilitated at the earliest possible opportunity. However, where a person does not have their passport, difficulties can arise in securing travel documents from countries of origin which are necessary to permit persons to travel and this can lead to difficulties in finalising travel arrangements. My Department will continue to work with the authorities of the relevant country to obtain travel documents for such persons.

I should also point out that any person for whom it is proposed to make a Deportation Order is given ample notice, opportunity and assistance to voluntarily return to their country of origin prior to the Order being made.

Legislative Programme

Terence Flanagan

Question:

108 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when the criminal justice (withholding of information on crimes against children and vulnerable adults) Bill will be published; if priests and journalists will be explicitly mentioned in the legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30284/11]

The text of the criminal justice (withholding of information on crimes against children and vulnerable adults) Bill has not been finalised and discussions with the Attorney General on the matter are on going. However there are no plans to include any specific references to priests or journalists in the Bill. Work is proceeding with a view to publication of the Bill before the end of this session.

Appointments to State Boards

Sean Fleming

Question:

109 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Defence the number of appointments he has made to State boards since March 9 2011; if he will list the names of each of these appointments and the boards to which they were appointed. [30202/11]

The bodies under the aegis of my Department are the Civil Defence Board, the Army Pensions Board and the Board of Coiste an Asgard. The Civil Defence Act 2002 provides that the Board shall consist of at least eight but not more than fourteen members who shall be appointed by the Minister for Defence. Legislation is currently being drafted to dissolve the Civil Defence Board and transfer the functions of the Board back into the Department of Defence. I appointed the current Board as an interim measure from 11 July 2011.

Membership of the interim Board appointed from 11 July 2011 is set out in the table below:

Name

Nominating Bodies

Civil Defence Board Chairperson

Mr. Brian Spain, Director, Department of Defence

Nominated by Minister for Defence

Civil Defence Board Members

Mr. Cathal Duffy, Principal Officer, Department of Defence

Nominated by the Minister for Defence

Ms. Clare Tiernan, Principal Officer, Department of Defence

Nominated by the Minister for Defence

Mr. Robert Mooney, Principal Officer, Department of Defence

Nominated by the Minister for Defence

Mr. Bill Smith, Director General, Civil Defence Board

Appointed as Director General, Civil Defence Board

Mr. Ned Gleeson, County Manager, Limerick City Council

Nominated by City & County Managers Association

Mr. Keith Leonard, Assistant Fire Adviser

Nominated by the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government

Dr. Barbara Rafferty

Nominated by Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland

Ms. Becci Cantrell

Nominated by the Environmental Protection Agency

Ms. Veronica Forde, Assistant Civil Defence Officer

Nominated by the Civil Defence Officers Association

Lt. Col. Tony Kelly SSO, Defence Forces

Nominated by the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces

Detective Superintendent Orla Mc Partlin, An Garda Síochána

Nominated by the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána

Mr. Fergal Conroy

Elected volunteer member of Civil Defence

Ms. Eileen Joyce

Elected staff member of the Civil Defence Board

No appointments have been made to the Army Pensions Board or to the Board of Coiste an Asgard since I took office as Minister for Defence.

In the context of settling the Estimates for the Department of Defence for 2010, the Government decided that the national sail training scheme operated by Coiste an Asgard would be discontinued as recommended in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure. As a result, no funding was provided in 2010 or 2011. No appointments have been made since that decision was taken and the Board will be dissolved shortly.

Grant Payments

Noel Harrington

Question:

110 Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will introduce a scheme for the tracking of maps sent for digital imaging in order to provide an clear estimate time to farmers on his Department’s website when the process will be completed and the completed image returned to the Department for processing of grant applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30293/11]

I can assure the Deputy, and the wider farming community, that my Department is committed to allocating such resources as is necessary to ensure that the essential digitisation of applicants' maps onto the Department's Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) and the processing of payments are proceeding as quickly as possible . However, I must emphasise that any failings or shortcomings in LPIS would leave the Department open to the very real risk of significant fines. I am not prepared to take such a risk, nor will I compromise the value of direct payments to Irish farmers.

I again wish to state categorically that there are no delays in payments to farmers under either the Single Farm Payment Scheme or the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme. In the case of the SFP, the earliest payment date under the governing EU rules is 1 December, while in respect of DAS there is no regulatory payment date — however, it is generally recognised and indeed acknowledged in the Farmers' Charter, that a payment target of late September of the year in question is the most realistic.

In the case of the Single Farm Payment, it should be remembered that, while the earliest payment date provided for under EU rules is 1 December, I am acutely aware of the significance to the wider rural economy of the Single Payment. Therefore earlier this year, I successfully sought the approval of the Commissioner to have advance payments made as and from 17 October. This is the earliest possible legal date for making payments, being the start of the new EU financial year. Following this agreement to my request for an advance payment of the SFP, I set a very demanding schedule of payments for the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and the Single Payment Scheme, with payment of DAS scheduled for 22 September, the 50% advance of the SFP scheduled for 17 October and the 50% balance of the SFP scheduled for 1 December. I am pleased to say that the DAS payments commenced on target and €180m has been paid to date. This week €475m will be paid to 100,000 farmers in advance payments for the SFP. In all cases, my Department will continue to make multiple payment runs, under both schemes, on a weekly basis, to pay farmers as their applications become fully processed and cleared.

I fully appreciate the value and importance of these schemes to Irish farmers and remain committed to ensuring that the maximum numbers are paid at the earliest possible date, mindful, of course, of the over-riding necessity to ensure compliance with the governing EU requirements. I note that Ireland continues to be among the very first countries throughout the EU to be in a position to make such payments and perhaps sight should not be lost of this fact.

Noel Harrington

Question:

111 Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when the digital imaging of land will be completed in respect of a person (detail supplied) in County Cork; when their single farm payment application will be processed; the amount of the payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30298/11]

An application under the 2011 Single Payment Scheme was received from the person named on 9 May 2011, processing of which is now complete, thereby allowing the appropriate payments under the Single Payments Scheme and Disadvantaged Areas Scheme issue in the near future.

Brendan Smith

Question:

112 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a REP scheme payment will issue to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30344/11]

The person named commenced REPS 4 in November 2007 and received payments for the first two years of their contract.

An adjusted agri-environmental plan was requested in July 2011 following the discovery of an query in relation to Nitrates. The person named submitted an adjusted plan and this has passed the cross check. Payment for the amount of €5209.69 representing 75% will issue within the next week while the remaining 25% totalling €1736.56 will issue shortly thereafter.

Arrangements are also well advanced to issue payments in respect of 2011 and I expect that these payments will commence in November.

Denis Naughten

Question:

113 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when payment will issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon; the reason for the delay in same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30348/11]

An application under the 2011 Single Payment Scheme was received from the person named on 12 April 2011. Payments under the Single Payment Scheme and the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme have commenced nationally on 17 October and 21 September respectively. The processing of the application of the person named is now complete and payments under both schemes will issue shortly.

Pat Breen

Question:

114 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when payment will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30350/11]

An application under the 2011 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 11 May 2011. Following processing a number of dual claims were identified on some of the land parcels declared by the person named. The person named has been written to in this regard and, on receipt of a satisfactory response, the application will be further processed, with a view to the appropriate payments issuing shortly thereafter.

Heather Humphreys

Question:

115 Deputy Heather Humphreys asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a disadvantaged area payment will issue to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30351/11]

An application under the 2011 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 3 May 2011, following processing of which, over-claims were identified in respect of a number of parcels declared by the person named. The person named has been written to regarding these matters and, on receipt of a satisfactory reply, the application will be further processed with a view to appropriate payment issuing shortly thereafter.

Heather Humphreys

Question:

116 Deputy Heather Humphreys asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a disadvantaged area payment will issue to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30352/11]

An application under the 2011 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Area Scheme was received from the person named on 11 May 2011. This application was selected for and was the subject of a Ground Eligibility and Animal Identification Inspection. Following completion of the inspection process the application was further processed, with payment under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme due to issue in the coming days and the 50% advance of the Single Payment issuing shortly thereafter.

Heather Humphreys

Question:

117 Deputy Heather Humphreys asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a disadvantaged area payment will issue to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30353/11]

An application under the 2011 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 29 April 2011, following processing of which over-claims were identified in respect of a number of parcels declared by the person named. The person named has been written regarding the matter and, on receipt of a satisfactory reply, the application will be further processed with a view to appropriate payment issuing at an early date thereafter.

Heather Humphreys

Question:

118 Deputy Heather Humphreys asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a disadvantaged area payment will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30354/11]

An application under the 2011 Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 7 May 2011, processing of which was recently completed, thereby allowing payment to issue to the person named on 18 October.

Dan Neville

Question:

119 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position regarding payments in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30362/11]

An application under the 2011 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 10 May 2011. I can confirm that the issue relating to the dual-claim referred to by the Deputy has been resolved and that payment under the Disadvantaged Area Scheme issued on 14 October 2011, while the 50% advance payment under the Single Payment Scheme on 17 October 2011.

The person named commenced REPS 4 in June 2008 and received full payments for the first two years of their contract. In addition, 75% of the year three payment was issued for payment in December 2010 for the amount of €5,919.53. My Department is currently making arrangements to process and check the outstanding 25% payments to farmers in instances where penalties have been imposed. I expect that these outstanding payments will commence in October.

Children in Care

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

120 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, further to Parliamentary Question No. 451 of 28 June 2011, when the outstanding information will issue from the Health Service Executive. [30417/11]

My Department has been advised by the HSE that they hope to have a final response issued to the Deputy this week in relation to this matter.

Adoption Services

Jack Wall

Question:

121 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the attached submission regarding adoptees; the actions taken or to be taken to overcome the problems raised. [30224/11]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Clare Daly

Question:

122 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the reason Ireland has not yet signed a bilateral agreement with Russia which would allow Irish people to continue to adopt children from that country; her opinion on whether the significant number of adoptions between the two countries mean that an agreement should be put in place to facilitate continuing co-operation between the two countries in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30296/11]

A core principle of the Hague Convention, which represents the international standard for adoption, is that inter-country adoption should be child-centred. The child's interests must be paramount throughout the adoption process. The Adoption Act 2010, and specifically the regime of the Hague Convention, is designed to provide an assurance for individual children, their families, and the State, that appropriate procedures have been followed and that adoptions are effected in the best interests of the child. As such, all inter-country adoptions must meet the standards of the Hague Convention.

Russia became a signatory to the Hague Convention on Inter-country Adoption on the 1 September 2000, but has not ratified the Convention. For inter-country adoptions with Russia to continue, it would be necessary to negotiate a bilateral agreement. The negotiation of bilateral agreements on inter-country adoption is primarily the responsibility of the Adoption Authority. As the Hague Convention is designed to ensure a minimum set of standards in inter-country adoption, the Adoption Authority have indicated that their first priority is to reach agreements on arrangements with other Hague countries.

If discussions on a bilateral agreement with Russia were to proceed it would be necessary that the key requirements which underpin the Hague Convention be satisfied to ensure that adoptions under the bilateral agreement with Russia are conducted to a similar standard as those undertaken under the Hague Convention. My Department is keeping the matter under review in conjunction with the Adoption Authority.

Information and Communications Technology

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

123 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health the degree to which modern IT is available to the health sector on a par with the best available worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30434/11]

My Department is working with the HSE to develop a strategy for the use of ICT in the health services which it is hoped to publish shortly. While it is recognised that significant investment will be required over the next few years to bring ICT services to a level where they would be on par with the best world wide the current investment in strategic systems will provide a sound building block for future development when funding is more readily available. An important component for the development of information systems will be the publication of a Health Information Bill which my Department hopes to publish early next year. As indicated in the Programme for Government robust information technology systems will be vital to underpin the move to a universal health insurance system model and provide efficiency and effectiveness in delivering health services.

Health Services

Thomas Pringle

Question:

124 Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Health the position regarding the meetings that have taken place between him, the Health Service Executive and the Diabetes Federation of Ireland to decide on the appropriate model of care for children and adolescents with diabetes; the progress, if any, that has been made on the roll-out of specialist paediatric nurses to manage the care of diabetes on a regional basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30196/11]

The HSE National Clinical Programme for Diabetes — which includes the care of children and adolescents with diabetes — was established within the Clinical Strategy and Programmes Directorate. The national clinical leads for diabetes and paediatrics met recently to discuss the issues involved in the care of children and adolescents with diabetes. They set up a working group to assess current services across the country — including the question raised by the Deputy on specialist paediatric nurses, to agree a model of care and to standardise these across the country. This Group is only recently established and its work is continuing.

One proposed national model of diabetes care is based on 8-10 regional networks, with the 3 existing Dublin centres acting as a tertiary hub of excellence and continuing to see one third of the national paediatric/adolescent diabetes population. This model has been proposed by the Diabetes Federation of Ireland. The second model came from the Expert Advisory Group, chaired by Dr. Colm Costigan, Paediatric Endocrinologist in Crumlin Hospital. This proposes that care be centralised for each region in a dedicated paediatric/adolescent diabetes centre looking after at least 150 children/adolescents. Ideally the centre should be in a regional hospital that has an adult diabetes centre to facilitate transition to adulthood; however the final shape of any model will be determined by the Working Group and may possibly be a variation of either of the two earlier models described above.

In parallel officials from my Department and the HSE met with representatives from the DFI at the end of July last. The primary purpose of this constructive meeting was to discuss developments in relation to the care of all people with diabetes.

Appointments to State Boards

Sean Fleming

Question:

125 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Health the number of appointments he has made to State boards since 9 March 2011; and if he will list the names of each of these appointments and the boards to which they were appointed. [30207/11]

The following board appointments have been made by me since 9th March 2011:

Board

Member

Position

Appointed

Expiry Date

Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council

Maureen Cronin

Ordinary Member

20/04/2011

29/06/2012

Health Service Executive

Brian Gilroy

Ordinary Member

20/05/2011

31/12/2012

Health Service Executive

Laverne McGuinness

Ordinary Member

20/05/2011

31/12/2012

Health Service Executive

Philip Crowley

Ordinary Member

20/05/2011

31/12/2012

Health Service Executive

Barry White

Ordinary Member

20/05/2011

31/12/2012

Health Service Executive

Bairbre Nic Aongusa

Ordinary Member

20/05/2011

07/02/2015

Health Service Executive

Paul Barron

Ordinary Member

20/05/2011

07/02/2015

Health Service Executive

Tony Holohan

Ordinary Member

20/05/2011

07/02/2015

Health Service Executive

Michael Scanlan

Ordinary Member

20/05/2011

07/02/2015

National Haemophilia Council

Ann Grogan

Ordinary Member

23/05/2011

09/12/2013

National Haemophilia Council

Deborah Greene

Ordinary Member

23/05/2011

21/07/2013

Health Service Executive

Martin Connor

Ordinary Member

06/06/2011

07/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Catriona O’Driscoll

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Michael Barry

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Leonie Clarke

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Jean Holohan

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Ciaran O’Boyle

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Fionan O’Cuinneagain

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Kenneth McDonald

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Keith O’Hourihane

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

John David Corr

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Ignatius Noel Stenson

Ordinary Member

15/06/2011

14/06/2015

National Haemophilia Council

Barry Harrington

Chairperson

19/07/2011

18/07/2014

National Haemophilia Council

Mary Jackson

Ordinary Member

22/07/2011

21/07/2014

Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal

Kathryn Hutton

Ordinary Member

01/08/2011

31/07/2012

National Cancer Registry Board

Anna Gavin

Ordinary Member

06/08/2011

05/08/2012

National Cancer Registry Board

Donal Hollywood

Ordinary Member

06/08/2011

05/08/2012

National Cancer Registry Board

Deirdre Murray

Ordinary Member

06/08/2011

05/08/2012

National Cancer Registry Board

Mary Jackson

Ordinary Member

06/08/2011

05/08/2012

National Cancer Registry Board

John McCormack

Ordinary Member

06/08/2011

05/08/2012

National Cancer Registry Board

Paul Redmond

Ordinary Member

06/08/2011

05/08/2012

National Cancer Registry Board

Tony O’Brien

Chairperson

06/08/2011

05/08/2012

Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland Council

Fachtna Murphy

Ordinary Member

26/09/2011

21/05/2013

Medical Council

Michael Ryan

Ordinary Member

04/10/2011

31/05/2013

Medical Council

Marie Kehoe

Ordinary Member

04/10/2011

31/05/2013

Irish Blood Transfusion Service

Dr. Lelia Thornton

Ordinary Member

18/10/2011

31/10/2013

Hospital Staff

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

126 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health when he intends to publish the review into the pay of fourth-year student nurses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30217/11]

Last Autumn the previous Government decided to implement a range of budgetary measures including the phased abolition of pay to student nurses when undertaking the rostered placement.

Following my appointment, I requested a review of this decision and invited the nursing unions to become involved in the process. I also advised that a more general review of the degree programme for nurses would follow. The promised review of the pay issue is under way at present.

General Practitioner Services

Robert Troy

Question:

127 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Health his future proposals for the MIDOC service, Mullingar, County Westmeath. [30222/11]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Medical Inquiries

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Question:

128 Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked the Minister for Health, on behalf of the survivors of symphysiotomy, when the report commissioned in June will be completed and published; the steps he will take to speed up its delivery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30231/11]

My Department has been in discussion with the independent academic researcher appointed to carry out the research in relation to its completion. The researcher has advised my Department that due to unforeseen difficulties in accessing information sources over the summer she expects to complete the report by the end of this month rather than as originally planned.

As soon as the draft report is received my Department will further engage with patient representative groups and the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists as I am very conscious of the feelings of the women that underwent this procedure. It is my intention that the report be published, subject of course to the usual legal and related considerations, which are as of now not expected to create any significant barriers to publication.

Hospital Staff

Joan Collins

Question:

129 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the fact that he stated on 23 June 2011 that two radiographers would be appointed later in 2011 to allow for the resumption of the mammography service at Sligo General Hospital, County Sligo; if his further attention has been drawn to the fact that the Health Service Executive, due to the current financial position, has had to put in place a recruitment pause and as a result these and other positions are currently on hold; if he will provide the necessary funding to the HSE to allow for the recruitment of the radiographers; the date on which the follow-up mammography service will resume in this hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30240/11]

The Deputy's question relates to service delivery matters and accordingly I have asked the HSE to respond directly to her.

Hospital Services

Sean Fleming

Question:

130 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Health if he will arrange an appointment in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Laois; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30273/11]

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Hospital Waiting Lists

Terence Flanagan

Question:

131 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Health if he will deal with the following matter (details supplied) regarding a waiting list for an operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30279/11]

I am determined to address the issues which cause unacceptable delays in patients receiving treatment in our hospitals. In this regard I have established the Special Delivery Unit (SDU), which will work to unblock access to acute services by dramatically improving the flow of patients through the system, and by streamlining waiting lists, including referrals from GPs. The SDU is working closely with its partner agencies — mainly the HSE and the NTPF.

As a priority, public hospitals have been instructed to ensure that, by the end of 2011, they have no patients waiting more than 12 months for treatment. Where they fail to do so, the NTPF will source the necessary treatments elsewhere and an appropriate budgetary adjustment will be made.

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply. Should the patient's general practitioner consider that the patient's condition warrants an earlier appointment, he/she would be in the best position to take the matter up with the consultant and facility involved.

Health Service Staff

Gerry Adams

Question:

132 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Health if essential front-line staff remain part of the Health Service Executive recruitment embargo. [30289/11]

The Employment Control Framework for the health sector requires a net reduction in employment of approximately 1,500 staff a year to 2014. The Framework contains sufficient flexibility to provide for adaptation to changing service needs. It exempts certain grades and posts from the moratorium on recruitment in order to deliver on key priority services. These exemptions include medical consultants, certain therapy grades, and a limited number of nursing posts. The Framework also allows the HSE discretion to fill non-exempt posts on exceptional grounds in order to maintain essential services and to meet priority service change and reconfiguration requirements. Although the number of such exceptions must be kept to a minimum, the Framework does allow the HSE the flexibility to manage its staffing resources in order to protect front line services in so far as possible. In addition, the Public Service Agreement allows the HSE to redeploy staff based on service need.

In July 2011, the HSE decided to introduce a recruitment pause to assist with addressing the serious budgetary overrun. Notwithstanding this pause, exceptions are still being made in order to address critical service risks.

Gerry Adams

Question:

133 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Health if an embargo remains in place in relation to two posts in the national counselling service in the Health Service Executive in counties Louth, Cavan and Monaghan; when he expects the positions to be filled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30290/11]

The Employment Control Framework for the health sector exempts certain grades and posts from the moratorium on recruitment. These include psychologists, counsellors and behavioural therapists. The Framework also allows the HSE discretion to fill non-exempt posts on exceptional grounds in order to maintain essential services.

In July 2011, the HSE decided to introduce a recruitment pause to assist with addressing the serious budgetary overrun. Notwithstanding this pause, exceptions are still being made in order to address critical service risks.

In relation to the two posts referred to in the question, as this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

Health Services

Robert Troy

Question:

134 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Health if he will expedite an application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30295/11]

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Finian McGrath

Question:

135 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health the position regarding long-term care and support in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 17 [30299/11]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Robert Troy

Question:

136 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Health if he will expedite an application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Longford [30303/11]

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Vaccination Programme

Billy Kelleher

Question:

137 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health the number of persons and the number of girls aged ten to 18 years who have received the HPV vaccine since the start of August 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30321/11]

Data on the uptake of HPV vaccination for girls in first year and for those in the sixth year catch-up programme in the 2011/2012 academic year will not be available until the end of the school year. Early indications are that the uptake rate is approximately 80%.

Billy Kelleher

Question:

138 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if he is satisfied with the level of information regarding the side effects of the HPV vaccine being provided to parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30322/11]

All parents/guardians receive a letter, information booklet and consent form prior to the HSE school teams' visit for the HPV vaccination programme. The booklet includes information on possible side effects. When devising the HPV booklet, the HSE consulted with a number of parents in advance of publication and this resulted in 90 percent of parents stating that they were happy with the information provided and said that it was sufficient for them to make an informed decision. All vaccine information leaflets are approved by the National Adult Literacy Agency.

The HSE also provides additional information sources at www.hpv.ie and www.immunisation.ie. This includes information translated into eight languages as well as more details on the safety and side effects of the vaccine. Individual queries can be sent to either website and these are replied to by doctors in the HSE National Immunisation Office within one working day. For those who do not have access to the internet and who require additional assurances and information, the letter to parents contains contact information for Local Immunisation Teams and details of the HSE Information line.

I am satisfied with the level of information being provided by the HSE about the HPV vaccine.

Billy Kelleher

Question:

139 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health the cost of administering the HPV vaccine; if there any commercial interests involved in the administration of the vaccine; the name of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30323/11]

The HSE has allocated €4 million annually for the HPV vaccination programme. This includes

Provision of three doses of HPV vaccine

Training for all school vaccination teams

Information materials and consent forms for parents/guardians.

There are two HPV vaccines licensed for use in Ireland — Gardasil manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur and Cervarix manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline. The vaccines are not interchangeable so the HSE was required to purchase one vaccine for the HPV vaccination programme. Following a competitive tender under EU procurement rules, the HSE in 2010 secured a contract with Sanofi Pasteur MSD for the provision of Gardasil HPV for the programme. There are no commercial interests in the administration of the vaccine in the HSE programme.

Hospital Staff

Ciara Conway

Question:

140 Deputy Ciara Conway asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Question No. 199 of 29 September 2011, if he will provide figures to explain the small number of consultants as referred to in the last line in this question’s reply; the number of consultants who have failed to rectify the breach in question and have been informed that they may no longer conduct private practice in public hospitals; the amount that is owed by this group of consultants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30328/11]

Ciara Conway

Question:

141 Deputy Ciara Conway asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Question No. 199 of 29 September 2011, the measures in place to ensure that the consultants in question have definitely stopped private practice in public hospitals; the action he will take against those who persist in breaching their contracts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30329/11]

Ciara Conway

Question:

142 Deputy Ciara Conway asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Question No. 199 of 29 September 2011, the sum or sums of money owed by hospital consultants to a research and study fund or funds; if overdue moneys will be subject to interest; if so, the rate of interest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30330/11]

Ciara Conway

Question:

143 Deputy Ciara Conway asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Question No. 199 of 29 September 2011, the amount of money derived from private practice excess that has currently been collected and deposited in a research and study fund or funds; how this fund, or funds, is administered; the further way this money is to be used, with details of proposed or active projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30331/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 140 to 143, inclusive, together.

My Department has asked the HSE for the detailed information sought by the Deputy and I will be in further communication when it is to hand.

Health Service Allowances

Sean Fleming

Question:

144 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Health when a home care package will be approved in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Laois; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30343/11]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Health Services

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

145 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Question No. 1002 of 14 September, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [30412/11]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

147 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Question No. 1007 of 14 September, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [30414/11]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 145 and 147 together.

Officials from my Department have contacted the HSE in relation to the outstanding PQ responses. The HSE has advised that the information requested will soon be available to my Department, and a reply will issue to the Deputy shortly.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

146 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Question No. 1006 of 14 September, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [30413/11]

I have been advised by the HSE that it is currently collating the detailed information requested by the Deputy. I will revert to the Deputy as soon as this information is to hand.

Question No. 147 answered with Question No. 145.

Health Promotion

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

148 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 627 of 3 May 2011 and 1019 of 14 September 2011, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [30415/11]

I have requested and received a report on the Social and Personal Health Education Programme (SPHE) from the Health Service Executive. My officials are currently examining the report and are in contact with the Department of Education and Skills with a view to convening a meeting of the SPHE Inter-Departmental Group as soon as possible to consider the report. The meeting will also discuss ways of enhancing the partnership.

Services for People with Disabilities

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

149 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Question No. 364 of 21 June 2011, when the outstanding information will issue from the Health Service Executive. [30416/11]

As the Deputy's question relates to service matters, I have arranged for this question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Hospital Services

Sean Fleming

Question:

150 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Health when a person (details supplied) in County Laois will receive a date for an operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30419/11]

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Tourism Revenue

Noel Grealish

Question:

151 Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the number of additional tourists he expects to come to the west of Ireland as part of the Gathering initiative in 2013; the amount of additional revenue he expects it will generate for the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30193/11]

The National Tourism Development Authority, Fáilte Ireland, is the lead agency for the implementation of the Gathering initiative and is also responsible for the development of tourism in the regions. Therefore, I have referred the Deputy's question to Fáilte Ireland for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Fishing Vessel Licences

Thomas Pringle

Question:

152 Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will consider amending the restrictions on the skipper limited certificate of competency to qualify holders to operate outside the area between 62°N and 48°N, recognising that fishing vessels are obliged to operate outside these areas from time to time during their season in order to make a living; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30197/11]

The safety of fishing vessels is a very important matter for my Department. One of the key aspects of fishing vessel safety is the competency of the skipper and the crew. It is for this reason that the competency of the skippers of fishing vessels is regulated to protect the fishing vessel itself and also other vessels at sea. Regrettably, there has been a number of collisions involving fishing vessels, most recently last September in the Irish sea where there was a collision between an Irish registered fishing vessel and an oil tanker. Holders of the Skipper Limited certificate of competency may operate between 61°N and 42°N. These certificates are issued by the Marine Survey Office of my Department following the satisfactory completion of a course of study and examinations. However, in order for a holder of a Skipper Limited certificate to trade in other areas the requirements as set out in the examination directions for certificates of competency must be complied with and the appropriate syllabus and examinations completed.

State Agencies

Michael McNamara

Question:

153 Deputy Michael McNamara asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the bonuses that were paid to the chief executive officer and the management team of the Dublin Airport Authority for the years 2009, 2010 and 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30229/11]

The Government has made it clear to all State Agencies that performance-related bonuses in respect of chief executives are not appropriate and should not be paid in the current economic circumstances. I reiterated this point to the Chairpersons and Chief Executives of the agencies under my aegis when I met them in April of this year.

The full details of the Chief Executive Officer's remuneration is available in the Dublin Airport annual reports. I can confirm that no bonuses have been paid to the Chief Executive Officer in respect of 2010 or 2011 performance. The payment of performance related pay to other senior management is a matter for the agency itself. I have forwarded the Deputy's question to Dublin Airport Authority. If the Deputy does not receive a reply within ten working days, please advise my private office.