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 10, inclusive, answered orally.

Banking Regulation

Barry Cowen

Question:

11 Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Finance if he is concerned by the apparent anomaly that Permanent TSB is charging new residential mortgage customers a standard variable mortgage rate considerably below that which it charges its existing customers, particularly in view of the difficulty customers face in switching to an alternative mortgage provider; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5619/12]

The lending institutions in Ireland, including those in which the State has a significant shareholding, are independent commercial entities. Ultimately, the pricing of financial products, including standard variable mortgage interest rates, is a commercial decision for the management team and board of each lending institution, having due regard to their customers and the impact on profitability, particularly where the cost of funding to each lending institution, including deposit pricing, is under pressure.

Neither the Central Bank nor I have any responsibility for the variable mortgage interest rates charged by the financial institution mentioned by the Deputy. I have no powers to compel the institution to reduce its rates for existing customers to that charged for new customers. However, the Central Bank has advised me that, within its existing powers it will continue to engage with specific lenders which appear to have standard variable rates set disproportionate to their cost of funds.

The Deputy may wish to note that there is a proposal before the House to give the Central Bank power to make regulations for facilitating the switching of business by customers to other financial service providers. This proposal is contained in Section 40(2)(m) of the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011 as initiated.

Tax Code

Clare Daly

Question:

12 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Finance if he will explain the circumstances through which section 86 of the Finance Act 1989 which has been found by the High Court and Supreme Court to enable tax evasion to be highly artificial of mind numbing complexity involving more than 40 separate steps and devised for the sole purpose of avoiding tax was introduced; and if he is proposing to abolish this scheme. [5608/12]

Section 86 of the Finance Act 1989 (now Section 811 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997) is not a scheme, it is the general anti avoidance rule in tax law introduced to defeat transactions which are undertaken primarily for the purposes of avoiding tax. Where a transaction is challenged by the Revenue Commissioners under this section and the Courts uphold the challenge, the transaction is redefined to ensure that no tax is avoided. I assume that the Deputy is referring to the recent Supreme Court decision in the Revenue Commissionersv. O’Flynn Construction case. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that in this case the Revenue Commissioners used Section 86 of the Finance Act 1989 (now Section 811 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997) to challenge a scheme entered into by the taxpayer and the Supreme Court upheld the Revenue Commissioners challenge.

National Assets Management Agency

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Question:

13 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide an update on the operations of the National Asset Management Agency, including whether NAMA made a profit or loss in 2011 and his assessment of whether NAMA will return a profit or loss in 2012. [5655/12]

I am informed by NAMA that it will make a pre-impairment profit of circa €600 million in 2011. I am also informed by NAMA that due to the decline in property values during 2011, it will have to make an impairment provision. The size of the impairment provision is not yet calculated as it is a complex exercise which is carried out under International Financial Reporting Rules (IFRS). The final level of impairment is subject to agreement between the Board of NAMA and its auditors the Comptroller and Auditor General. I understand that NAMA expects to publish its audited 2011 Annual Report and Accounts in June 2012. I would also bring to the Deputy's attention the fact that the NAMA quarterly report to the end of September 2011 was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas yesterday, and has been published on the NAMA website. Finally, I am informed by NAMA that it expects to make a pre-impairment profit for 2012.

European Treaty Agreements

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

14 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide an update on the progress of the ratification of the European Stability Mechanism treaty; if in the aftermath of the 9 December 2011 European Council summit statement he expects any changes to be sought to the ESM treaty; his views that the linking of the ESM eligibility to the ratification of the intergovernmental treaty will require changes to the ESM treaty; and when the legislation on the ESM treaty will be published. [5660/12]

Willie O'Dea

Question:

20 Deputy Willie O’Dea asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether it is appropriate for countries who do not sign up to the EU treaty ratifying the fiscal compact to be excluded from assistance under the European Stability Mechanism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5642/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 20 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, earlier this week at the Informal European Council, Heads of State or Government announced that the treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is ready for signature and the objective is that it enters into force in July 2012. In line with decisions at the Heads of State or Government meeting on 21 July 2011, the ESM will have a wide range of tools available and a strong financial basis. As decided on 9th December 2011, the Heads of State or Government will reassess the adequacy of resources under the ESM and the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) in March 2012. These decisions have now been incorporated into the ESM Treaty text.

The ESM Treaty which is expected to be signed later this week by Euro Area Member States, subject to ratification, also provides that the granting of financial assistance in the framework of new programmes under the ESM will be conditional, as of 1 March 2013, on the ratification of the Intergovernmental Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union by the ESM Member concerned. The linkage between the ESM and the Intergovernmental Treaty to ratification was accepted in the interests of securing agreement on the ESM and its acceleration into force by July 2012.

It has been clarified that the linkage of both the ESM and the Intergovernmental Treaties refers to new applications for assistance under the ESM and will not affect the transfer to the ESM of undisbursed amounts under the EFSF to Ireland (and other programme countries). The ESM will replace the EFSF. While the ESM may assume the rights and obligations of the EFSF, this should not affect the terms and conditions of the amounts transferred to the ESM and subsequently disbursed to Ireland. Primary legislation will be required to enable Ireland to ratify the ESM Treaty and implement its decisions. It is expected that the required legislation will be published this term.

EU-IMF Agreement

Mick Wallace

Question:

15 Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Finance the action he has taken to date and any future action he plans to take in relation to the renegotiation of the terms of the €30 billion promissory notes issued to Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society; the outcome of his meeting with ECB President Mario Draghi last week in relation to this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5647/12]

Mick Wallace

Question:

46 Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Finance the progress that has been made to date in meetings with officials from the ECB, European Commission and IMF in relation to the renegotiation of the terms of the Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide Building Society promissory notes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5648/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 46 together.

As I have indicated I am committed to reviewing the approach to the Promissory notes with a view to reducing the overall cost to the State of correcting the banking system. The troika has agreed to engage in a process with Irish officials to produce a common paper which will consider all options for restructuring the notes in terms of the source of funding, the duration of the notes, the interest rate etc. In tandem with this technical review I have met with Commissioner Rehn and Mario Draghi President of the European Central Bank last week to progress the matter. I would expect that work at a technical level will progress at a good pace, however given the nature of advocacy and the decision making process in the EU I would not expect this matter to be concluded in the short term.

Banking Regulation

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

16 Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Finance the action he is taking, or requesting the Financial Regulator to take with respect to the high rates being charged by Permanent TSB on their variable rate mortgages. [5653/12]

The Deputy will be aware that the lending institutions in Ireland, including those in which the State has a substantial shareholding are independent commercial entities. Neither the Central Bank nor I have the power to compel the financial institution referred to by the Deputy to reduce its mortgage interest rate. However, the Central Bank have advised me that, within its existing powers, it will continue to engage with specific lenders which appear to have standard variable rates set disproportionate to their cost of funds.

Ultimately the pricing of financial products, including standard variable mortgage interest rates, is a commercial decision for the management team and board of each lending institution, having due regard to their customers and the impact on profitability, particularly where the cost of funding to each lending institution, including deposit pricing, is under pressure.

Insurance Industry

Seamus Healy

Question:

17 Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Minister for Finance if he will fund a house insurance scheme for those who cannot access flood insurance due to repeated flooding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37694/11]

I have no plans to introduce a type of Government backed insurance scheme outlined by the Deputy. The possible introduction of a scheme to protect householders who cannot obtain flood insurance from insurance companies was examined in 2010. However, at that time, the Government concluded that such an approach was not financially viable. In particular, there were concerns that, over time, such a scheme could incentivise the insurance industry to discontinue the provision of flood cover in medium and high risk areas, thereby making the cost of such a scheme prohibitive. I am advised by the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works that the OPW continues to liaise with the Irish Insurance Federation to ensure that the Federation and its members have access to up-to-date information on flood protection measures. The Minister of State has also advised me that he intends to arrange a meeting with representatives of the insurance industry early this year to provide a forum for the effective interchange of information and opinions in relation to flood risk management.

Banking Sector Regulation

Liam Twomey

Question:

18 Deputy Liam Twomey asked the Minister for Finance his plans to introduce legislation for non-recourse mortgages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5524/12]

I have no plans to introduce legislation to promote non-recourse mortgages. There are accrued property rights which subsist as a consequence of existing property mortgages; legislation to alter such mortgage contracts could raise constitutional issues.

The Deputy might wish to note that the provision of non-recourse mortgages carries a higher level of risk for lenders. This risk would likely be reflected in higher costs to borrowers in the future.

John McGuinness

Question:

19 Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance if he is satisfied that financial institutions, particularly those in the sub-prime sector, are fully adhering to the required code of conduct in respect of dealing with people in difficulties with their mortgages; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5635/12]

The Central Bank's Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (the Code) applies to mortgage lending activities with borrowers in respect of their principal private residence in the State. Compliance with the Code is mandatory on all mortgage lenders registered with the Central Bank. These lenders include sub-prime lenders registered with the Central Bank. The Code provides a number of protections to borrowers. These include the establishment of a formal Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP) to deal with mortgage customers who are in arrears or in pre-arrears, the establishment of a dedicated Appeals Support Unit and a separate internal appeals process by lenders to deal with individuals on a case by case basis. A copy of the Code is available on the Central Bank's websitewww.centralbank.ie.

The Central Bank has advised me that in monitoring compliance with their consumer protection codes, they carry out themed inspections and mystery shopping exercises. In July 2011, the Central Bank published the findings of a themed inspection of mortgage lenders which examined compliance with provision 9 of their Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears and related individual Letters of Direction that were issued in December 2010. Provision 9 of the Code restricts lenders from imposing charges and/or surcharge interest on arrears outstanding in MARP cases. The Central Bank notifies each lender individually of the charges to which provision 9 applies by means of a letter of Direction. The issues found as a result of the inspection impacted on almost 3,100 mortgage accounts which were overcharged by nearly 70,000 euros. In a press Release dated 1 July 2011 on the results of the themed inspections, the Central Bank stated that all amounts overcharged were refunded and that the system errors were corrected.

Question No. 20 answered with Question No. 14.
Question No. 21 answered with Question No. 8.

Public Sector Staff

Catherine Murphy

Question:

22 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if, in view of the large numbers of public servants who will avail of early retirement in the coming weeks, he has considered any incentive package, guaranteed return investment programme, special purpose vehicle or any other proposal to encourage retirees to make use of the lump sum that they will receive to the benefit of the State, specifically in relation to job creation but not exclusively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5611/12]

The special arrangement whereby public servants may retire before the end of February 2012 with pension and lump sum calculated on the basis of 2008 salary levels is part of Government policy designed to achieve a significant reduction in public service numbers. It is of course open to any retiring public servant to invest all or part of their retirement lump sum in the State Savings products, the brand name used by the National Treasury Management Agency to describe the range of savings products offered by the NTMA to personal savers. Moneys raised through the sale of State Savings products are used to fund the Exchequer and repayment of all NTMA State Savings money, which includes principal, interest and bonus payments if due (or, in respect of Prize Bonds, cash prizes), is a direct, unconditional obligation of the Government of Ireland.

The suite of State Savings products includes Savings Certificates, Savings Bonds, Prize Bonds, the National Solidarity Bond, Instalment Savings and Deposit Accounts such as the Ordinary Deposit Account and the Deposit Account Plus. NTMA State Savings products have been an important and dependable component of Government borrowing for many years and make a valuable contribution to the national finances.

In relation to employment creation, I am confident that the measures introduced by the Government in May 2011 as part of the Jobs Initiative, such as reducing the rate of VAT in the high-value-added tourism sector, are playing a role. The Jobs Initiative is an important part of the Government's overall strategy to establish the correct conditions to allow our domestic economy to recover, while at the same time respecting the requirement to return our public finances to a sustainable position. It should be viewed as one element of a wider strategy to support economic activity.

The Government is giving priority to job protection, job creation and supporting the unemployed. In this regard, the Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation will soon publish an Action Plan on Jobs.

I might also mention that the Government announced in September 2011 the establishment of the New Economy and Recovery Authority (NewERA) within the NTMA and the establishment of the Strategic Investment Fund. As I have outlined in previous replies to this House, NewERA and the Strategic Investment Fund are important elements in the Government's strategy to promote economic growth and create jobs.

Tax Collection

Clare Daly

Question:

23 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Finance the names of Irish citizens claiming non-resident status for tax purposes; the days they spent out of the State in each case during 2011; and the total universal social charge paid in 2011 by this category for the period during which they were within the State. [5510/12]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the only data available on the taxable income of non-residents comes from the income tax returns filed in Ireland by those non-resident individuals who have Irish source income or income derived from working in Ireland. The data does not distinguish between citizens and non-citizens. Income tax returns for 2011 are not due to be filed until 31 October 2012. I am also advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they cannot comment on any particular individual's tax affairs.

Financial Services Regulation

David Stanton

Question:

24 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider easing the lending restrictions on credit unions imposed by the Registrar of Credit Unions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5508/12]

The imposition of lending restrictions is the responsibility of the Registrar of Credit Unions, who is the independent regulator for credit unions. Within his independent regulatory discretion, the Registrar acts to support the prudential soundness of individual credit unions, to maintain sector stability and to protect the savings of credit union members. As Minister for Finance, my role is to ensure that the legal framework for credit unions is appropriate for the effective operation and supervision of credit unions. It would not be appropriate for me, as Minister for Finance, to examine or adjudicate on whether the placing of lending restrictions is necessary on a case by case basis. I believe that such action would represent interference in the work of the independent regulator.

The Registrar has put lending restrictions in place in order to protect the savings of members in credit unions and to ensure that credit unions focus on risks when making lending decisions. Restrictions are imposed on a case-by-case basis and are reviewed regularly. The type of lending restrictions can include maximum individual loan size, overall maximum monthly lending limits and restrictions on business lending.

The Registrar has advised that about 50% of credit unions are subject to lending restrictions at present. Almost all credit unions with a lending restriction have a maximum individual loan size restriction. Of the credit unions with lending restrictions over 65% can lend €20,000 or more to an individual member. Less than 3% of credit unions are restricted to loans of less than €10,000 to an individual member, and less than 1% of credit unions are restricted to lending less than €5,000 per member. Commercial lending restrictions apply to approximately a third of credit unions.

Fiscal Policy

Gerry Adams

Question:

25 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Finance his plans for a full return of the State to the international bond markets, including the interest rates he believes would be acceptable for a partial and subsequent full return and the likely dates on which he expects a partial and subsequent full return to the markets. [5651/12]

It is the stated intention of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) to return to sovereign debt markets as soon as market conditions permit. On 25th January 2012 it re-engaged with the bond market and extended the maturity of some €3.5 billion of debt which was due for repayment just after the end of the EU/IMF Programme. This is a significant first step in terms of managing Ireland's post-Programme funding requirements. The steps necessary to position the NTMA for such a return include continued progress in the reduction of the budget deficit in line with the targets agreed in the EU/IMF Programme, together with the implementation of policies that will see Ireland return to sustainable economic growth. Of course, resolution of the wider euro area sovereign debt and banking crisis is also a critical factor.

The NTMA is in ongoing contact with market participants and will advise me when it feels that the time is right to re-enter the markets. While the interest rates at which Ireland can borrow will obviously be a key determinant in this decision, they will not be the only factor. In any event, it would not be wise to speculate about what these interest rates may be as this would harm the State's ability to access funds at the most competitive rate possible.

I should say that, based on conservative projections of Ireland's funding needs, there is no urgency about a return to the markets. Indeed, the purpose of a programme such as the EU/IMF Programme is to provide the space necessary for economic and fiscal adjustment to take place. Based on current projections and assuming no capital market access, the State has access to sufficient funds for its needs well into the second half of 2013.

State Banking Sector

Joe Higgins

Question:

26 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Finance, regarding the recent departure of the chief financial officer, the HR director and the director of retail business at the Educational Building Society, the monetary arrangements that were made in each case. [5516/12]

I am advised by the institution involved that all three directors referred to in the Deputy's question tendered their resignation of their own volition and no monetary arrangements were made in these cases.

EU-IMF Agreement

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

27 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance if he will report on the views expressed last year by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on the issue of repaying senior and junior bondholders and his response to the question of whether the US Treasury Secretary, as previously reported, intervened to oppose proposals to impose a “haircut” on senior bondholders in the Irish banking system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5610/12]

As described previously in answer to Parliamentary Questions No. 152 of 17th May 2011, No. 58 of 2nd June 2011, and No. 30 of 5th July 2011, the Government's decision to repay senior bank bond holders was made in consultation with the ECB and other ‘Troika' members. Ireland is not a member of the G7 and there were no direct discussions with Mr. Geithner on this matter.

Economic Recovery

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

28 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the degree to which he and his European colleagues can individually and collectively generate positive economic influence towards economic recovery throughout Europe; if particular issues have been identified as being fundamental to such an objective; if there has been any agreement as to the extent to which the smaller countries, both within the eurozone and without, can in co-operation with their larger counterparts and without detriment to each other’s interest, maximise political, social and economic impact for the benefit of all; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5521/12]

Appropriate policy responses can and will have positive influences in terms of supporting economic recovery in Europe. First and foremost, it is clear that resolving the euro area sovereign debt crisis is a prerequisite for a return to sustainable growth, both in the euro area and the wider EU. In this regard, we are now seeing concerted action to address the weaknesses that have become evident in the design of monetary union, including through the so-called ‘six-pack' of legislative reforms as well as the agreement on a ‘fiscal compact' to ensure fiscal discipline in participating Member States.

Another key policy response is the establishment of financial stabilisation mechanisms to support Member States whose access to private capital markets is constrained and to help avoid difficulties in one Member State spreading to other euro area Members States.

It is also worthwhile to point out that EU leaders on 30 January committed to further efforts to promote growth and employment in the Union, including through a better targeting of available EU funds and further steps to complete the Single Market.

All of these various commitments that Member States have entered into apply irrespective of the size of a country and it is essential that all within Europe play their part to maximize the benefits for all of our citizens.

Personal Debt

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

29 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which he has received any communications from the banking and lending sectors with a view to achieving a basis for addressing the ongoing and ever-increasing issue of mortgage arrears, which has been exacerbated by unemployment and negative equity; the extent to which agreement can or will be reached towards the elimination of compound interest, which in turn reduces the capacity of the borrowers to resolve a debt problem, increases the burden and reduces considerably the ability of the borrower to meet repayments; the degree to which progress has been or can be made towards putting in place a mechanism, incorporating aspects of the Keane report, that will at least give a householder with mortgage arrears a reasonable chance of regaining control over mortgage debt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5522/12]

The Government is acutely aware of the increasing financial stress that some households are facing arising from difficulty in meeting their mortgage commitments. The Government, therefore, established an Inter-Departmental Working Group on Mortgage Arrears to consider what additional measures could be introduced to assist people experiencing mortgage difficulty. The Group's report was published last October and the implementation of its recommendations is a key part of the Government's ongoing efforts to tackle mortgage difficulty. The Central Bank revised Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (CCMA) is the key framework that governs the relationship between lenders and borrowers who are in arrears, or facing arrears, on their mortgage and it provides a number of protections to borrowers. These include the establishment of a formal Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP) for handling such cases, the establishment of dedicated Arrears Support Units and a separate internal appeals process by lenders to deal with individuals on a case by case basis.

The Code also provides that a lender must not apply to the Courts to commence legal action for the repossession of a borrower's private residence until every reasonable effort has been made to agree an alternative arrangement with the borrower and that, where a borrower co-operates with the lender, the lender must wait at least twelve months from the date the borrower is classified as a MARP case before applying to the Court to commence legal action for repossession of a borrower's primary residence. This twelve month period does not include any time where the borrower is complying with the terms of any alternative arrangement agreed with the lender, or being processed by the internal Appeals Board, or any time during which a complaint against the lender against any aspect of the Mortgage Arrears Code is being processed by the Financial Services Ombudsman's Office. In addition, lenders are restricted from imposing charges and/or surcharge interest on arrears arising on a mortgage account in arrears to which the Code applies and in respect of which the borrower is co-operating reasonably and honestly with the lender in the MARP process. The Central Bank has published a guide for consumers on mortgage arrears ‘Mortgage Arrears — A Consumer Guide to Dealing with your Lender' and this is available on the Central Bank website.

More recently, the Central Bank has also required licensed mortgage lenders to develop comprehensive strategies and implementation plans to deal with their individual mortgage arrears situations. The Central Bank is currently reviewing these strategies and plans to ensure that they are addressing the problem and that mortgage lenders are looking at appropriate longer term solutions, such as those recommended in the Inter-Departmental Mortgage Arrears Working Group report and other options that banks may develop themselves, for their customers who may have unsustainable mortgages. The Central Bank will continue to engage with lenders on the further development and implementation of these strategies and plans.

In addition, as part of the overall process of implementing the Inter-Departmental Working Group recommendations, other developments are in train to assist distressed mortgage holders. In that regard, the publication of a draft Personal Insolvency Bill by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence is a significant development. The Inter-Departmental report stated that reformed personal insolvency law is a central requirement for the resolution of the mortgage arrears problem and the draft Bill proposes a new Personal Insolvency Arrangement framework that would allow insolvent debtors and creditors to consider and reach formal agreements on proposals to address unsustainable mortgages in a non-judicial manner. This draft Bill is now open for consultation and the submission of views by interested parties for the further consideration by Government in advance of the finalisation of a Bill by end April.

EU-IMF Agreement

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Question:

30 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Finance, in view of the current deficit and the targets laid down in the EU-IMF programme, his views on whether the proposed 0.5% deficit ceiling outlined in the intergovernmental treaty is an achievable target for this State; when he believes this target will be met; and if in meeting this target significant budgetary adjustments will be required in the years 2015 and 2016. [5656/12]

There are two different deficit targets laid down in the EU/IMF Programme. The first relates to the annual General Government deficit and the second relates to quarterly Exchequer primary balance targets. Neither of these targets is a structural one. The new Treaty requires us to achieve a balanced budget in structural terms, in other words after adjustment for the impact of the economic cycle on the budgetary position. This requirement will be deemed as respected if a structural deficit of 0.5% of GDP is achieved. This target will be converted into a Medium-Term Objective (MTO) and the timeframe for convergence towards the MTO will be proposed by the Commission for each Member State taking into account country-specific sustainability. At this point in time, it would be speculative to put forward a possible timeline for reaching the structural deficit of 0.5 per cent of GDP. My officials will continue to work with the Commission, highlighting the need for commonsense when interpreting the size of the structural fiscal position.

Proposed Legislation

Liam Twomey

Question:

31 Deputy Liam Twomey asked the Minister for Finance his plans to introduce legislation to change the valuation date of 30 November 2009 that the National Asset Management Agency is still using to value property it is acquiring; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5523/12]

The eligible assets of participating financial institutions were acquired at an acquisition value which was determined in line with Part 5 of the NAMA Act, 2009 and the National Asset Management Agency (Determination of Long Term Economic Value of Property and Bank Assets) Regulations, 2010. The 30 November, 2009 is the reference valuation date for the valuation of all assets acquired by NAMA. A decision to opt for a single reference date was made to ensure that all assets were valued on a consistent basis. Given that transfer of relevant assets to NAMA is now complete, there is no basis for making any changes to the valuation date. I therefore have no plans to make any change to the NAMA legislation as suggested by the Deputy.

Ministerial Meetings

Joan Collins

Question:

32 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Finance if he will report on his meeting with European Central Bank president Mario Draghi in Frankfurt last week; if he will report on discussions on the fiscal compact treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5578/12]

John McGuinness

Question:

56 Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide details of the contacts he has had with Mr. Mario Draghi since his appointment as President of the European Central Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4757/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 and 56 together.

I had my first scheduled meeting with Mr. Draghi, the President of the European Central Bank on Tuesday 24th January in Frankfurt. I have also met Mr. Draghi on the margins of Eurogroup and Ecofin meetings since his appointment last November.

At the meeting of 24th January last, I had a good discussion with Mr. Draghi on a number of issues, including on the excellent progress on the implementation of our EU/IMF Programme and on measures to help strengthen our Programme which would also assist our return to the markets. In relation to the latter, work at a technical level is currently under way with members of the Troika.

On the 28th November 2011, a letter was furnished to Mr. Draghi, signed by myself and the Governor of the Central Bank, regarding the delivery of the agreed targets under the Troika programme.

In addition, on the 8th November 2011, I received correspondence from Mr. Draghi in relation to the ECB's Opinion on the extension of the Eligible Liabilities Guarantee Scheme and on the 8th December I received a copy of a letter from Mr. Draghi to the President of the ECOFIN, on the Opinion of the ECB Governing Council on a Council recommendation on the appointment of a Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank.

I also met Commission Vice-President Rehn last week when in Brussels. As the Deputy is aware, I and other members of the Government make sure to take advantage of any appropriate opportunities to pursue contacts with Member States and with key partners such as the European Commission. Commission Vice-President Rehn and I discussed the Irish EU-IMF programme in the light of the recent visit of the Troika to Dublin, at which it was confirmed that Ireland's programme was on track. This assessment was endorsed by eurozone Heads of State and Government this week, whose communication welcomed the positive review of Ireland's programme.

I discussed the Fiscal Compact Commission with Vice-President Rehn, which as the Deputy and the House is aware was agreed on Monday night in the form of an Intergovernmental Treaty among twenty-five member states of the European Union. The situation now is that the text of the Treaty will be prepared for signature and subsequent ratification by each of the participants.

State Banking Sector

Joe Higgins

Question:

33 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Finance, in respect of ongoing industrial disputes at the Educational Building Society, when the placing agreement will be furnished to the union, UNITE. [5515/12]

On the basis that the Placing Agreement entered into on 23 December 2010, the Placing Agreement entered into on 1 July 2011 and the Minister's Letter entered into on 25 July 2011 are private contractual documents entered into between, amongst others, the Minister for Finance and Allied Irish Banks, p.l.c. ("AIB"), it would not be appropriate for such documents to be made publicly available. On 13 December 2010, AIB publicly announced that an instruction had been received from the Minister that the provision of further State funding to AIB would be conditional on the non-payment of any bonuses awarded, no matter when they may have been earned, since AIB would not be in a position to pay such bonuses in the absence of State support. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of AIB, EBS is subject to the same instruction. This instruction has been communicated to the legal advisers to UNITE the Union.

The private contractual documents referred to above do not contain any material information relating to the non-payment of bonuses in addition to that which is already in the public domain.

The Deputy will be aware that the industrial relations dispute is now before the Labour Relations Commission who are presently endeavouring to find an acceptable solution to all parties. Accordingly, it would not be advisable to comment further at this stage.

Financial Services Regulation

Sean Fleming

Question:

34 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Finance his plans to improve protection for customers of debt management companies in view of recently expressed concerns by the Central Bank concerning the operation of one such company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5624/12]

Michael McGrath

Question:

64 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he has advanced plans to regulate businesses providing debt management services to citizens; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6138/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 64 together.

I am advised by the Central Bank that following the failure of Home Payments Limited in mid-2011 it inspected the bill payment and debt management industry to assess whether firms providing these services are carrying out any activity that falls to be regulated by the Central Bank and whether consumer funds may be at risk. The first phase of the Central Bank's review has concluded with the Bank writing to a number of companies notifying them that their activities are subject to regulation by the Central Bank and requiring that immediate steps be taken to provide additional protection to client funds. In one case recently reported in the media the Central Bank has also intervened to communicate with clients and creditors. Those companies subject to Central Bank regulation now need to seek authorisation from the Central Bank or to change their business model. In the meantime the Central Bank is requiring that certain controls are in place regarding client assets.

On the basis of advice received from the Central Bank and my officials I have agreed that all debt management and debt advice services of firms should be subject to regulation. I have asked my officials to prepare the necessary legislation which, subject to Government approval, will be brought forward as a Committee Stage amendment to the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011.

State Banking Sector

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

35 Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Finance the reason he is unwilling or unable to name the unsecured unguaranteed bondholders at Anglo Irish Bank who are due to be paid in 2013. [5654/12]

I am not unwilling to name the unsecured unguaranteed bondholders who are due to be paid in 2013. As he Deputy is aware I am not in a position to provide a list of the bondholders who were repaid the gross payment of €1.25 billion. I am advised that the process of issuing new bonds is normally through underwriting, where one or more securities firms or banks form a syndicate buying the entire bond issue from the issuer and then re-selling to investors. Primary issuance is arranged by these syndicates who contact potential investors and advise the bond issuer in terms of timing, tenor and pricing of the bond issue. The bond issuer will likely have little knowledge of the original owners of the bonds; also these initial investors may over time sell the bonds to other investors.

Bonds are usually issued in bearer form which means that the purchasers of the bonds are unknown, with the bonds usually held by a securities depository company (e.g. Euroclear and Clearstream). When paying interest and principal the bond issuer will transfer the required funds to the securities depository company who in turn will pay the funds through to the bondholders. The function of the securities depository company is to receive the appropriate interest or principal payment for the entire bond issue from the issuer and to distribute the required amounts to the individual bondholders. This is a standard process for all such issuances. Therefore throughout this entire process the bond issuer is unaware of the individual bondholders' details.

Dessie Ellis

Question:

36 Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Finance his views on the negotiations between Allied Irish Banks and Aviva on the matter of life insurance products; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that these products would be sourced from the UK rather than Ireland; and if he has made any attempts to advise AIB to seek to source these products from within the State from providers such as Irish Life. [5667/12]

The negotiation of any other contracts in relation to the day to day operations of the bank is a matter for the management and Board of AIB. On 5 Jan 2012, Aviva announced that its Life and Pensions (Ark Life) distribution arrangement with AIB will not be renewed in its current format when it expires in 2012. As it is a commercial matter for the Bank, any future negotiations/agreements conducted by the Bank will presumably be concluded in a manner which derives the best economic return for the Bank and, by inference, the State.

EU Summits

Joan Collins

Question:

37 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Finance if he will report on his meeting with the EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn, in Brussels last week; if he will report on discussions on the fiscal compact treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5577/12]

I met Commission Vice-President Rehn last week when in Brussels. As the Deputy is aware, I and other members of the Government make sure to take advantage of any appropriate opportunities to pursue contacts with Member States and with key partners such as the European Commission. Commission Vice-President Rehn and I discussed the Irish EU-IMF programme in the light of the recent visit of the Troika to Dublin, at which it was confirmed that Ireland's programme was on track. This assessment was endorsed by eurozone Heads of State and Government this week, whose communication welcomed the positive review of Ireland's programme.

Commission Vice-President Rehn and I also discussed the Fiscal Compact, which as the Deputy and the House is aware was agreed on Monday night in the form of an Intergovernmental Treaty among twenty-five member states of the European Union. The text of the Treaty will now be prepared for signature and subsequent ratification by each of the participants. In terms of discussions on the draft Treaty, the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, I and other Ministers have at all times sought to keep the House and the relevant Committees informed. Our priorities in the negotiations included ensuring clarity regarding the status of programme countries, ensuring as many clear linkages as possible with existing EU Treaties and enhancing references to economic growth. I am happy that Ireland's interests and priorities were reflected in the agreed text.

In addition to the commitment in the Intergovernmental Treaty to promote conditions for stronger economic growth, I would also draw attention to the statement by members of the European Council entitled "Growth-friendly Consolidation and Job-friendly Growth". I strongly welcome this statement and the initiatives contained within it, which reflect issues Ireland had highlighted such as youth employment, the establishment of a digital single market and ensuring a competitive market for SMEs.

Tax Code

Brendan Griffin

Question:

38 Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Finance if he has considered the logistics and revenue-raising potential of a levy on SMS and MMS messages; if his attention has been drawn to the figure of €242 million that a 2 cent levy would generate based on current usage patterns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5514/12]

In the 12 months to end September 2011, the last 12 month period for which figures are available, over 12 billion SMS messages and over 43 million MMS messages were sent in Ireland. This information is based on figures for mobile telephone usage per quarter supplied by the companies to the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). At those usage rates, a levy of 2 cent on such messages could raise c. €246 million per annum, which is in line with the figure indicated in the Deputy's question.

However, this potential yield does not take account of any behavioural impact if a levy was directly imposed on customers or imposed on the mobile phone companies and passed on to customers. Text messages are already subject to VAT at 23%. While any additional revenue would be welcome in the current circumstances, wider social and economic factors which may militate against the introduction of a further tax on text messages would also have to be taken into account. I am not aware of a similar tax anywhere else in the world. Although there are no plans to introduce such a tax at this time, all potential taxation measures are kept under review.

Motor Fuel Costs

Derek Keating

Question:

39 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the road haulage system is currently experiencing extreme financial difficulty because of the cost of fuel; that each heavy goods vehicle will take 1,200 to 1,500 litres per week; that there are 15,000 trucks engaged in international haulage, and that exports play a major part in this State’s recovery; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the haulage industry in Northern Ireland has a special arrangement with a Dutch fuel supplier saving up to 20 cent per litre; if he will consider establishing a taskforce to protect our truck haulage industry and examine ways to deal with the growing crisis resulting from fuel costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5518/12]

Ireland, as with other countries, has experienced an increase in the cost of petrol and auto-diesel. The increase in fuel prices is an international phenomenon. Fuel prices are driven by a number of factors including the price of oil on international markets, exchange rates, production costs and refining costs. The rise in oil prices over recent periods reflected additional factors such as geopolitical uncertainty in Northern Africa and the Middle East with potential supply disruptions.

The excise rates (including the carbon charge) in Ireland on motor fuels are 58.8 cent per litre of petrol and 47.9 cent per litre of auto-diesel. However, our rates remain lower than many of our main trading partners and significantly lower than our nearest neighbour the UK. The rates for petrol and auto-diesel were increased with effect from 7 December 2011, arising from an increase in the carbon charge for those fuels from €15 to €20 per tonne of CO2 emitted. This represented an increase of less than 1.5 cent per litre in the case of petrol and just over 1.5 cent per litre in the case of diesel, when VAT is included. The rate of VAT that applies to those fuels increased from 21% to 23% with effect from 1 January 2012.

The Exchequer yield from excise, as excise is set at a nominal amount, does not increase as the price of fuels increase. On the other hand, the yield from VAT per litre of fuel, as VAT is set as a percentage of the price, increases as the price of fuels increase. However, in this regard it should be borne in mind that to the extent that spending in the economy is re-allocated to petrol and other oil products, and away from other VAT liable spending, and to the extent that the overall level of economic activity is reduced by higher oil prices, there may be little or no net gain to the Exchequer.

It should also be noted that businesses are of course entitled to reclaim VAT incurred on their business inputs, including VAT incurred on fuel. For example, VAT incurred on auto-diesel and marked gas oil (MGO or green diesel) used in the course of business is a deductible credit for business in the Irish VAT system. VAT on petrol can not be deducted/reclaimed. There are no plans for temporary taxation adjustments, as to do so could lead to significant costs to the Exchequer.

The issue of rising fuel prices was discussed by EU Finance Ministers at an ECOFIN meeting last year where they reconfirmed the approach taken in 2005 and again in 2008, when oil prices were very high, which endorsed a coordinated approach towards not making distortionary fiscal adjustments.

Job Losses

Sandra McLellan

Question:

40 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide an update in respect to staff employed at Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks and possible future staff redundancies; his position on this matter and contacts he has had with officials in both banks on the matter. [5664/12]

As I have stated previously, the Deputy will appreciate that it is an inevitable, but unfortunate, consequence of the necessary restructuring of the banking system that job losses will arise. Essentially the banks will be smaller operations than previously with the focus being on the creation of the two universal full-service pillar banks with a more domestic remit and a restructured Irish Life & Permanent. To date, AIB have indicated that some 2,000 plus jobs will have to go. Job losses will arise at other institutions where, for example, recently Ulster Bank has announced the planned shedding of some 950 positions on the island of Ireland. I am most anxious that, in this most sensitive of matters, all parties would be treated with the utmost consideration and respect. In that vein, active discussions on the matter are taking place with the relevant institutions.

As I have indicated in a recent reply to a Parliamentary Question on the subject, the redundancy terms previously available in the financial sector cannot be countenanced in the light of the changed and challenging circumstances at the covered institutions. The latest terms to be offered were at IBRC and are more reflective of the terms that will be available at the State supported banks.

Financial Services Regulation

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

41 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance, following on from the intervention by the Registrar of Credit Unions at Newbridge credit union last month, if any future interventions will be part of a wider restructuring plan for the credit union movement developed in conjunction with the credit unions, or if they will be led by the Financial Regulator’s office. [5657/12]

The Government established the Commission on Credit Unions, which includes credit union stakeholders, to review the future of the credit union movement and make recommendations in relation to the most effective regulatory structure for the sector. The Commission is to take into account credit unions' not-for-profit mandate, their volunteer ethos and community focus, while paying due regard to the need to fully protect depositors' savings and financial stability.

The Commission on Credit Unions submitted its Interim Report to me at the end of September 2011, which deals with Phase 1 of the Commission's work regarding the strengthening of the regulatory framework for credit unions including more effective governance and regulatory requirements. The final report of the Commission on Credit Unions is due to be submitted to me by the end of March and I expect that it will deal with the remaining issues in the Commission's terms of reference, including restructuring. I do not propose to bring forward proposals on restructuring of credit unions until I have had the benefit of considering the Commission's recommendations.

The Commission on Credit Unions has recommended that the resolution powers granted to the Central Bank under the Central Bank and Credit Institutions (Resolution) Act 2011 should be considered for those credit unions that meet the intervention conditions. Under the Act the Central Bank may take certain resolution actions where the intervention conditions under the Act are satisfied. To date, the only resolution action taken has been in the case of Newbridge Credit Union where a Special Manager was appointed to undertake a review of the Credit Union with a view to ascertaining its financial position and to develop a plan to restore the institution's financial position considering all available options.

Under the Act, initiation of further resolution interventions is a matter for the Central Bank. In considering any such action, the priority for the Central Bank is to protect members of credit unions and their savings, the financial stability of credit unions and the sector overall.

State Banking Sector

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

42 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Finance if he is engaging any external professional advice or services related to the ongoing negotiations on the Anglo Irish promissory note; the names of the companies or persons involved; the cost of these services; and who is covering the costs of these services. [5662/12]

As the Deputy is aware discussions in relation to the Promissory Notes have been on-going for some time. These discussions are part of the overall restructuring of the banking sector. In the year 2011 the following external advisors have been engaged to provide support. Up to the end of December 2011 the costs were borne by the National Treasury Management Agency. From 2012 onwards costs associated with bank restructuring/shareholding management will generally be borne by the Department of Finance. McKinsey & Company was engaged by the NTMA on 16 May 2011 until 31 December 2011 as external adviser on bank restructuring, to ensure a timely, efficient and effective process, and to review the proposals for merger and integration and related matters. A fixed fee, including expenses, of €2.75m was agreed for the engagement.

The McKinsey & Company engagement has been extended for a further number of weeks in relation to the on-going discussions on funding options for IBRC (including promissory note) and related matters. This further engagement will be paid for by my Department.

Consultancy Contracts

Sandra McLellan

Question:

43 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Finance if he is currently using the services of Goldman Sachs for any aspect of departmental business; and if so, if he will list the activity it is engaged with and the cost of its services. [5663/12]

Goldman Sachs was engaged by the NTMA on 15 April 2011 as external advisor for the liability management exercises and capital raising transactions to be undertaken in respect of BOI, AIB, ILP, EBS, INBS and Anglo Irish Bank and for advice on the sale of Irish Life. The total cost of the engagement was €7.8 million. Work is ongoing with regard to the sale of Irish Life.

Job Losses

Seán Crowe

Question:

44 Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Finance if he will give a commitment to staff currently employed at Permanent TSB that their jobs will be protected as part of any future sale or merger of the company. [5665/12]

Discussions are ongoing in relation to the restructuring of Permanent TSB and it would not be appropriate at this time to speculate as to what impact this may have on staff in the institution. However, as I have stated previously, the Deputy will appreciate that it is an inevitable, but unfortunate, consequence of the necessary restructuring of the banking system that job losses will arise.

Proposed Legislation

Catherine Murphy

Question:

45 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance his plans to introduce consumer legislation in the area of mortgage rate reductions; the options available to him; the obstacles that require consideration prior to drafting legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36213/11]

I have no plans to introduce consumer legislation into the area of mortgage rate reductions. In late 2011 the Taoiseach asked for the Central Bank's opinion on recent developments in mortgage interest rates and on possible action by the Central Bank in that regard. In response to the Taoiseach's request, the Deputy Governor wrote to him on 11 November 2011. In his letter the Deputy Governor stated that the Central Bank was not requesting the power to have regulatory control over the setting of retail interest rates given that this could absolve banks of their responsibility to price risk accurately. He indicated that experience of such controls in the past and in other countries, did not encourage the Central Bank to believe that such a regime would be advantageous in net terms as the banking system recovers its normal functioning. Binding controls tend to reduce the availability of credit and channel it to the most creditworthy customers, starving smaller and less secure customers from credit. Binding controls would have a chilling effect on the entry of sound competitors in the market. By absolving banks from their responsibility to price risk accurately, binding interest rate controls would especially during the recovery phase, impede progress towards the re-establishment of bank management practices that can ensure a healthy and free-standing banking system no longer dependent on the Government for bail-outs. In his letter, the Deputy Governor also said that within its existing powers, the Central Bank would continue to engage with specific lenders which appear to have standard variable rates set disproportionate to their cost of funds.

Question No. 46 answered with Question No. 15.

Fiscal Policy

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

47 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Finance, in view of the State’s current debt-to-GDP ratio and the ratios expected to be reached as part of the ECB-IMF programme, his views on whether the 5% reduction in the State’s debt-to-GDP ratio for states in breach of the 60% threshold as required under the terms of the inter-governmental treaty is achievable; when he believes the 60% target will be met; and the scale of fiscal adjustments that will be required post-2015 to meet this target. [5659/12]

The new Treaty requires us to correct our debt to GDP ratio at a sufficient pace when it is above the 60 per cent threshold. I would point out that the pace of the required correction under the new Treaty is the same as is already required under the reforms of the Stability and Growth Pact as part of the so-called ‘six pack' of legislative reforms. Specifically, we will be required to reduce our debt to GDP ratio annually by one-twentieth of the difference between the actual rate and the threshold rate of 60%. I would point out that a transition period will apply for all countries that are currently subject to the excessive deficit procedure on the basis of the deficit criterion, including Ireland.

In terms of the fiscal implications of this debt correction rule, it is important to remember that it is the ratio of debt to GDP that is important. In other words, on the basis of reasonable assumptions, we can expect economic growth to do much of the "heavy lifting". Furthermore, I think it's also worth pointing out that, irrespective of our international commitments, we need to get the debt to GDP ratio down to more manageable levels. Otherwise we will just spend more and more of our revenues on servicing the debt burden, which reduces the amount we can spend on education, health, social welfare, and other areas.

Budget 2012 forecasts that Ireland's General Government debt to GDP ratio will be 115% by 2015 down from 119% in 2013. In light of this, the present focus is on improving the General Government balance and stabilising the General Government debt position. Continued fiscal vigilance will gradually improve our public finances and reduce the General Government debt.

Before concluding, it is also appropriate at this point for me to highlight the NTMA's recent success in switching around €3.5 billion worth of bonds due to mature in 2014 with bonds maturing in 2015 at a broadly similar annual interest rate. This will smooth the maturity profile of Irish debt, and is a reflection of the improved market sentiment for Irish government paper.

EU-IMF Agreement

Gerry Adams

Question:

48 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide details of the moneys drawn down to date from the EU-IMF programme, including the dates on which the draw-downs took place, the amounts drawn down on those dates, and the interest rates payable on those draw-downs. [5652/12]

To date, Ireland's nominal borrowings from the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism and the European Financial Stability Facility under the EU/IMF Programme amount to €38.2 billion. The table below, provided by the NTMA, sets out the loans drawn down to date from each source under the EU-IMF programme of financial support for Ireland along with the interest rate for these loans. The interest rates reflect the interest rate margin reductions agreed in respect of loans from the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM).

Draw-down Date

Maturity Date

Interest Rate

Currency Code

Principal Currency

Billion

01/02/2011

18/07/2016

2.75%

EUR

4.2

14/11/2011

04/02/2022

3.60%

EUR

3.0

15/12/2011

15/03/2012

0.32%

EUR

1.0

12/01/2012

04/02/2015

1.73%

EUR

1.3

19/01/2012

19/07/2012

0.37%

EUR

0.5

Total European Financial Stability Facility

10.0

12/01/2011

04/12/2015

2.50%

EUR

5.0

24/03/2011

04/04/2018

3.25%

EUR

3.4

31/05/2011

04/06/2021

3.50%

EUR

3.0

29/09/2011

04/09/2026

3.00%

EUR

2.0

06/10/2011

04/10/2018

2.38%

EUR

0.5

16/01/2012

04/04/2042

3.75%

EUR

1.5

Total European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism

15.4

18/01/2011

18/01/2021

Floating SDR + Surcharges

XDR

5.0

18/05/2011

18/05/2021

Floating SDR + Surcharges

XDR

1.4

07/09/2011

07/09/2021

Floating SDR + Surcharges

XDR

1.3

16/12/2011

16/12/2021

Floating SDR + Surcharges

XDR

3.3

Total International Monetary Fund

11.0

14/10/2011

15/04/2019

4.72%

GBP

0.4

30/01/2012

30/07/2019

4.29%

GBP

0.4

Total UK Bilateral Loan

0.8

Note 1: The interest rate on IMF loans is variable. It is composed of a weekly setting of the IMF SDR interest rate and surcharges which are volume and time dependent. As of 30 January 2012 the SDR interest rate accruing on Ireland's IMF loans is 0.14% and the surcharges are 2.32% making a total of 2.46%.

This interest rate represents the unhedged cost of funds.

Note 2: XDR is the currency code used to denote the IMF's Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), an international reserve asset which is composed of a basket of currencies consisting of the euro, Japanese yen, pound sterling, and U.S. dollar.

Under Ireland's EU-IMF Programme a total of €67.5 billion in loans will be provided from EU facilities, bilateral loans and the IMF.

Total disbursements from the EFSF/EFSM will amount to €3.3 billion in January 2012.

The schedule of future disbursements is kept under constant review and is the subject of discussion at each quarterly review. Disbursements take place following the completion of the review process, with the approval by EU Finance Ministers at Eurogroup and ECOFIN and the IMF's Executive Board, of the reports prepared, respectively, by the European Commission Services and IMF staff. The actual disbursements take place in the period following approval.

The next planned disbursement from the IMF will be approximately €3.2 billion and is scheduled to take place, subject to approval, after their Executive Board meeting on February 27th.

The second disbursement of approximately €482 million under the bilateral loan agreement with the UK took place on 30 January 2012.

Subject to signature of the bilateral loan agreements with Sweden and Denmark, the first disbursements of €0.2 billion and €0.1 billion respectively are due to be drawn down following this review.

Economic Growth

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

49 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance his response to the recent downgrading of growth projections for the economy here and the wider European economy by the IMF and others; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5609/12]

There is a huge amount of uncertainty at the moment, as evidenced by the wide range of GDP projections for this year, not just for Ireland, but also for the euro area. Indeed, the recent downgrading of forecasts by the IMF — including those for Ireland — reflects heightened concern about the euro area and the wider global outlook. Obviously as a small open economy whose recovery is being driven by exports, Ireland will be affected by weaker euro area growth. However, the substantial competitiveness improvements we have seen in recent years will provide some support. It is also important to point out that a weakening of activity in our main trading partners is already factored into my Department's forecasts for economic growth that underpin the 2012 Budget.

The Budget forecast is for real GDP growth of 1.3 per cent in 2012. This forecast was prepared on the basis of economic information (domestic and international) available up to end-November 2011, and was mid-range at that time. Given the highly uncertain environment, the Budget documentation also pointed to a number of risks to this forecast — some to the downside and some to the upside. These risks remain valid.

While the weak external outlook is of concern, there have also been some positive developments since Budget time, not least of which is the trajectory for ECB interest rates which appears more favourable than was the case in November. In addition, recent exchange rate movements will provide some benefit to the exporting sector. I would also point out that some of the economic data — domestically and internationally — have not been as poor as some were assuming. For example, high frequency survey data show that economic activity in the euro area increased in January, the first such increase in five months, while at home consumer sentiment picked up, as did new manufacturing export orders.

Moreover, concerted action has been taken at European level to address the weaknesses that have become evident in the design of monetary union. Measures include the so-called ‘six-pack' of legislative reforms, as well as the agreement on a ‘fiscal compact' to ensure fiscal discipline in participating Member States. I am confident that this strong policy response will contribute to a restoration of confidence in the euro area as we go through 2012.

Over the coming months, my Department will continue to monitor the economic situation, both in terms of positive and negative developments and, as is the norm, will publish an updated macroeconomic assessment in the spring in the context of the Stability Programme Update. It is anticipated that the Update would be published in April in line with the requirements under the European semester agreed by Member States last year.

State Banking Sector

Pearse Doherty

Question:

50 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide an update on his discussions with the European Commission and members of ECOFIN on the issue of the promissory note, indicating any developments from the recently established EU-ECB-IMF technical working group on the promissory notes; and if he will indicate the approach being taken by him in attempting to influence the work of this technical group. [5650/12]

As indicated I am committed to reviewing the approach to the Promissory notes with a view to reducing the overall cost to the State. The Troika have agreed to engage in a process with Irish Officials to produce a common paper which will consider all options for restructuring the notes in terms of the source of funding, the duration of the notes, the interest rate etc. This review is at a technical level and while I would be aware of and fully briefed on Irish proposals, it would not appropriate for me, other than through Irish proposals, to attempt to directly influence this group. I have every faith and reliance on the capacity and commitment of the Irish members to represent our views and influence proceedings within the normal dynamics of the group. In tandem with this technical review I have commenced an intensive campaign at political level to garner support for an approach which is more beneficial to the Irish State. I met Commissioner Rehn and Mario Draghi President of the European Central Bank this week to progress the matter. I have also discussed the matter with a number of my counterparts from other Member States. Given the nature of advocacy and the decision making process in the EU I would not expect this matter to be concluded in the short term.

Financial Sector Regulation

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

51 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the number of credit unions that have approached the Registrar of Credit Unions seeking the easing or lifting of lending restrictions placed on them by the Registrar; and the number of these requests that have been granted. [5658/12]

The imposition of lending restrictions is the responsibility of the Registrar of Credit Unions, who is the independent regulator for credit unions. Within his independent regulatory discretion, the Registrar acts to support the prudential soundness of individual credit unions, to maintain sector stability and to protect the savings of credit union members. As Minister for Finance, my role is to ensure that the legal framework for credit unions is appropriate for the effective operation and supervision of credit unions. I am advised by the Registry of Credit Unions that the information requested by the Deputy will take some time to collate and will be made available to the Deputy within the next week.

Departmental Expenditure

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

52 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Finance if he is engaging any external professional advice or services in respect of the sale of the life insurance unit of Irish Life & Permanent; the names of the companies or persons being engaged; the cost of these services; and who is covering the costs of these services. [5661/12]

The law firms Arthur Cox and Matheson Ormsby Prentice (MOP) were engaged to provide legal advice in relation to various aspects of the proposed sale of Irish Life pursuant to the terms of a framework agreement put in place following a competitive tender in March 2011, for the NTMA Banking Unit. These engagements were awarded by the NTMA in accordance with the delegation of certain banking system functions from the Minister for Finance to the NTMA in March 2010. The cost paid by the NTMA/Department of Finance to date in relation to these legal services is €188,670.13 to Arthur Cox and €44,871.67 to MOP.

As previously advised, Goldman Sachs was also engaged by the NTMA following a competitive tender in April 2011 as external advisor for the liability management exercises and capital raising transactions to be undertaken in respect of Anglo, AIB, BOI, ILP, EBS, INBS and also for advice on the sale of Irish Life. The total cost of the engagement is up to €7.8 million and will be paid by the NTMA (following consultation with the Department of Finance) although a substantial portion of the fee will be reimbursed by the financial institutions involved. It is worth bearing in mind that a large quantum of equity was generated from these LMEs (€5.6bn). Furthermore, at the time of the Bank of Ireland recapitalisation Goldman Sachs played an important role in advising the State in relation to Bank of Ireland's capital raise, including, the sale of shares to a group of North American investors. As a result of this work, the State's cash outlay for the 2011 PCAR bank recapitalisations was lower by €1.7bn than initially expected.

The delegation of banking system functions to the NTMA ended in August 2011 with the secondment of the NTMA Banking Unit to the Department of Finance Banking Division. Following the transfer, the NTMA continued to pay professional fees incurred by the Unit to 31st December 2011. From 1st January 2012, these costs will be paid by the Department of Finance.

Job Security

Seán Crowe

Question:

53 Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether there is any threat to the jobs of the 300 former AIB employees who were moved to Aviva in 2011; and the action he is taking to ensure the safety of these jobs. [5666/12]

The Deputy should note that the termination of the AIB/Aviva distribution agreement was a commercial decision made by the Board of AIB following careful consideration of all options available to them. I therefore had no role to play in this decision. AIB and Aviva are currently working closely to agree the separation process and following that, employees currently supporting the Ark Life business within the joint venture will transfer to AIB or another agreed provider. I do not have any input into this process, as it is a matter for the Board of AIB.

Fiscal Policy

Micheál Martin

Question:

54 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Finance the studies he has commissioned or reviewed regarding the likely impact of the fiscal control provisions in the proposed European treaty as part of his consideration of the matters before the European Council. [4755/12]

First and foremost, I want to point out that the Government's priority for the public finances continues to be to meet the terms of the joint EU/IMF programme of financial assistance, which are designed to maintain the long-term sustainability of our budgetary position. Nevertheless, over the longer term, the intergovernmentalTreaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union agreed on Monday by 25 Member States will require all Member States to adhere to a number of rules regarding the evolution of fiscal deficits and debt. In relation to deficits, those Member States that have signed will be required to achieve a balanced budget in structural terms. This requirement will be deemed respected if the structural balance is at its so-called country-specific Medium Term Objective. It is important to recognise that targeting an appropriate structural balance has been a feature of the European fiscal framework for a number of years already. Its application is reflected in the budgetary policies adopted by each Member State and it is in this context that any economic assessment arises.

Turning to debt requirements where the ratio to GDP in Ireland is currently above the 60 per cent threshold. The new intergovernmental Treaty, taking account of the relevant EU regulations, will therefore require us to correct this at a sufficient pace. I would point out that the pace of the required correction under the new intergovernmental Treaty is the same as is already required under the reforms of the Stability and Growth Pact as part of the so-called ‘six pack' of legislative reforms. Specifically, we will be required to reduce our debt-to-GDP ratio annually by one-twentieth of the difference between the actual rate and the threshold rate. I would point out that a transition period will apply for all countries that are currently subject to the excessive deficit procedure on the basis of the deficit criterion, including Ireland.

In terms of the fiscal implications of this debt correction rule, it is important to remember that it is the ratio of debt-to-GDP that is important. In other words, on the basis of reasonable assumptions, over the medium to longer term we can expect economic growth to do much of the "heavy lifting" on the basis of the reforms we are now putting in place. Furthermore, I think it is also worth pointing out that, irrespective of our international commitments, we need to get the debt-to-GDP ratio downwards to more manageable levels. Otherwise we will just spend more and more of our tax revenue on servicing the debt burden, which reduces the amount we can spend on education, health, social welfare, and other areas.

Banks Recapitalisation

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

55 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Finance if he agrees that the European Central Bank-driven blockages to burning bank bondholders should be removed and that new terms should be given for funding in respect of bank recapitalisation; if he has requested this action; the responses he has received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5171/12]

The Government is committed to delivering a return to a successful vibrant economy. In this context I have indicated that there is no private sector involvement for senior bank paper or Irish Sovereign debt without the agreement of our external partners. This commitment has been agreed with out external partners and is now the basis on which Ireland's future financing strategy is built. This strategy is working well as evidenced by the reduction in pricing of Irish Sovereign debt in the secondary markets and the successful bond exchange offer by the NTMA.

As indicated the Minister is committed to reviewing the approach to the Promissory notes with a view to reducing the overall cost to the State. The Troika have agreed to engage in a process with Irish Officials to produce a common paper which will consider all options for restructuring the notes in terms of the source of funding, the duration of the notes, the interest rate etc. In tandem with this technical review the Government has commenced an intensive campaign at political level to garner support for an approach which is more beneficial to the Irish State. I have met with Commissioner Rehn and Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank recently to progress the matter.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 32.

Departmental Expenditure

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

57 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the annual cost of maintaining Irish embassies in Luxemburg, Sweden and Singapore for the years 2009 to 2012, inclusive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5803/12]

The administrative budgets for each embassy are provided in the table below. These budgets are considered to be the locally devolved administrative (day-to-day) budgets including local staff salaries but not salaries of diplomatic staff, which are a charge on the Headquarters budget. Likewise, my Department's capital budget is not allocated to missions on an ongoing basis but is managed from Headquarters. The budgets for 2012 have not yet been finalised.

Administrative Budgets

Mission

2009

2010

2011

Luxembourg

692,201

687,546

435,287

Singapore

801,544

821,066

828,590

Sweden

396,501

474,031

614,346

Overseas Development Aid

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

58 Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is satisfied that he has honoured his commitment to provide aid in the aftermath of the Haitian crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5863/12]

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

59 Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that no more than 40% of aid promised by several Governments in the immediate aftermath of the Haitian disaster has been provided; if he will identify countries and particularly European partners that have not honoured commitments in this regard; if he will lobby the international community to provide additional support; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5864/12]

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

60 Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to significant weaknesses in the system of public administration in Haiti; if he has had or will undertake discussions with other European partners in relation to support for capacity building for the Haitian authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5865/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 to 60, inclusive, together.

Just over two years have passed since Haiti was struck by one of the most devastating earthquakes in recent history, which killed more than 230,000 people and injured 300,000 others. Given the scale of the death and destruction inflicted, it is perhaps little surprise to learn that the country is still struggling to rebuild and recover.

Indeed, before the earthquake struck in January 2010, Haiti was already facing huge development challenges, with eighty percent of the population living below the poverty line and the worst income inequality indicators in the western hemisphere. Moreover, the country's governing institutions have historically been very weak, with political challenges undermining development for generations. At the same time, the state has long struggled to deliver basic services, economic development, or security to most of its population, not least because of political instability, high levels of corruption, poor public administration and a "brain drain" of talented individuals.

Some slow but steady progress has undoubtedly been made over the past two years, with emergency aid keeping people alive and providing millions more with essential food, medicine, emergency shelter and water and sanitation. At the same time however, half a million Haitians remain displaced and still living in tents and under tarpaulin sheeting. Half of the quake rubble remains where it fell; cholera has become endemic and many Haitians struggle to access basic services.

While the emergency relief effort during the two years after the earthquake should be regarded as a success, a great deal remains to be done in order to meet Haitians' long-term needs. In particular, large-scale investment will continue to be required in order to provide both immediate humanitarian relief and to rebuild housing, revitalize urban planning, reconstitute destroyed communities, develop new communities and create employment opportunities.

In addition, we recognise the longer term challenge of building an effective public administration in Haiti. Government capacity and financial weakness limit the pace at which reconstruction can move ahead. President Michel Martelly's new Government has promised an ambitious programme, including the provision of free primary education, the revival of the disbanded armed forces, and the eradication of corruption. Ireland will continue to support the need for capacity building in our international policy engagement as well as financial support for the reconstruction of Haiti.

Despite the many real achievements, some observers have suggested that the international community has been too slow in delivering the billions of dollars pledged for reconstruction in March 2010.

For our part, we in Ireland have worked hard to meet our own commitments to the people of Haiti. Some 90% — or €11.5 million — of the €13 million pledged at the Haiti Donor Conference in New York in March 2010 has now been committed. We intend to meet our entire pledge during 2012.

As the Deputy will be aware, Irish funding has prioritised the needs of the most vulnerable populations, including women and children as well as the basic humanitarian needs of the population more generally. In this regard, support has been provided to a range of NGOs and UN agencies, including UNICEF, Concern, Goal, Plan, World Vision and Haven for the provision of clean water and sanitation, shelter and housing to the affected population. A total of €1 million was also provided to the Haiti Reconstruction Trust Fund for projects managed by the World Bank in line with priorities agreed with the Haitian authorities, including capacity building.

Since the earthquake, there have also been 18 deployments of the Irish Aid-administered Rapid Response Corps to Haiti to assist in areas such as logistics, engineering and water and sanitation.

Other donors have also responded generously, in Europe and beyond. Since 2010, the European Union (European Commission and Member States combined) has been the largest global donor to Haiti's humanitarian and development needs. The European Commission alone pledged €522 million in assistance, seventy percent of which has already been committed. EU funding is being used not only to address the direct effects of the earthquake, but also to support longer-term reconstruction and development, especially in areas relating to institutional capacity building and support for democracy, including the electoral process and governance.

Of course not all donors have responded so generously or acted upon their original commitments or pledges. We will therefore continue to use all available opportunities in international fora, in Brussels, New York, Geneva and elsewhere, to urge other donors to keep their promises and to provide the kind of long-term, co-ordinated and predictable funding which will be required in order to move Haiti from crisis to recovery.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

61 Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is yet in a position to outline the impact of budgetary reductions on Ireland’s aid programme in Ethiopia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5866/12]

For 2012, the Government will provide a total of €639 million for ODA, which, on current projections, will represent over 0.5% of GNP. Given our current economic circumstances this allocation represents a real commitment by the Government and people of Ireland to the world's poorest people. The allocation represents a total reduction of €20 million on the projected outturn for 2011 — a reduction of €10 million in funding for Vote 27 (International Cooperation) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and an estimated fall of €10 million in ODA provided from other sources, notably as a result of an expected lower allocation of Ireland's share of the EU Development Cooperation Budget.

Through the overseas aid programme the Government provides assistance to over ninety countries worldwide. Nine have been designated as Programme Countries for Irish Aid, where we have a commitment to long term strategic assistance. These are Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Timor Leste, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia.

We are now in the process of allocating the overall budget for 2012, and therefore no individual country budgets have yet been identified. As has been the case in recent years however, the allocations to Irish Aid's Programme Countries will be prioritised to the extent possible.

In 2011 the budget for Ireland's bilateral aid programme in Ethiopia stood at approximately €26 million. Given the ongoing crisis in the Horn of Africa and the need for humanitarian support in addition to our bilateral programme, I expect that the allocation to Ethiopia this year will remain at about the same level. Our programme will therefore be able to maintain its commitment to the most vulnerable in Ethiopian society and continue to deliver impressive results such as those I saw first hand when visiting Irish Aid programmes and projects in Addis Ababa and the northern province of Tigray last week.

I must note also the high regard in which Ireland's engagement in Ethiopia is held by those I met with during my visit. While receiving plaudits from the OECD and other international bodies for the quality of our aid programme is always to be welcomed, having the opportunity to meet with the individuals and communities who are the ultimate beneficiaries of our programme, and to receive their thanks for the support of the Irish people over many years, has left me with a deep appreciation of the benefit of maintaining Ireland's programme of overseas aid, even in these times of economic difficulty.

Human Rights Issues

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

62 Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has, individually or in tandem with European partners, carried out a recent review of the political situation in Burma; if he has had or intends to have direct contact with Madam Aung San Suu Kyi or members of her party, the National League for Democracy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5867/12]

The Government remains closely engaged at both European Union and international level in monitoring the situation in Burma and in supporting the Burmese people in their struggle for democracy and human rights. We have been encouraged by recent movements including the opening of dialogue between the Burmese Government and Aung San Suu Kyi as well as approval of the registration of her political party, the National League for Democracy. We also view positively the negotiation of a cease-fire deal between the Burmese Government and ethnic rebels, the recent visits to Burma of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague, and the reported release of a significant number of Burmese political prisoners.

Together with my EU colleagues, and as a signal of our hope for Burma's continuing process of political reform, the EU has begun to take steps to ease the sanctions on Burma by suspending the visa ban on certain individuals.

While the situation in Burma has improved, there is still much to achieve. I hope for continuing reform over coming months, including the unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners as well as further action from the Burmese Government in addressing the concerns of ethnic minority groups and towards the establishment of comprehensive human rights protection for the people of Burma. I remain optimistic that April's by-election — in which Aung San Suu Kyi is due to stand — will be characterised by free and fair conduct.

I expect to speak with Aung San Suu Kyi, members of the National League for Democracy and other civil society organisations at an appropriate occasion in the future. In the meantime, EU High Representative Ashton intends to visit Burma in the coming months and I look forward to hearing her report of the progress of reform.

Together with my EU colleagues, I want recent developments to indicate a lasting change for the people of Burma and that they herald the beginning of a new era of peace, democracy and respect for human rights. The actions of the Burmese Government over the next few months will be crucial to establishing their commitment to the process of reform and in securing the confidence and trust of the international community — including Ireland — which will be paying close attention during this transformational period.

Illicit Trade in Tobacco

Regina Doherty

Question:

63 Deputy Regina Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the measures in place to tackle the illegal tobacco trade and its benefactors; his views on the success or failure of the measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5712/12]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners, who are responsible for the collection of tobacco products tax, and for tackling the illicit trade in cigarettes and tobacco products, that the strategy employed by Revenue to tackle this illicit trade is multi-faceted. It includes ongoing analysis of the nature and extent of the problem, developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis, ongoing review of operational policies, development of analytics and detection technologies, and optimum deployment of resources at point of importation and inland, in order to intercept the contraband product and to prosecute those involved. Interception at the point of importation is achieved through a combination of risk analysis, profiling, intelligence, and the screening of cargo, vehicles, baggage and postal packages. Revenue enforcement officers also target this illicit trade at the post-importation level by carrying out intelligence-based operations and random checks at retail outlets, markets and private and commercial premises. Since mid- 2010, Revenue has conducted a series of nationwide intensive tobacco "blitz" type operations, which concentrated additional Revenue resources at ports, airports and at various inland retail points, including markets, for the purpose of identifying illicit tobacco products. To date, Revenue has conducted nine such national tobacco "blitz" operations resulting in the seizure of over 34.6 million cigarettes and 1,715 kg of tobacco. These intensive operations are of course additional to Revenue's ongoing day-to-day illicit tobacco operations.

Revenue also carries out regular multi-agency operations, particularly in relation to large maritime importations. Revenue both provides and receives intelligence from other Customs Administrations and works closely with the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, in its efforts to tackle the illicit sale of tobacco at an international level. This international cooperation and sharing of intelligence and expertise plays an important role in combating illegal tobacco smuggling on a global basis.

In the course of 2011 Revenue enforcement officers seized 109 million cigarettes with a retail value of €46 million and 11,158 kg of tobacco with a retail value of €4 million. In addition Revenue secured one hundred and one court convictions for cigarette smuggling, with thirty custodial sentences, of which twenty were suspended, and fines of €136,300 imposed. Another fifty-seven convictions were secured for the sale of unstamped tobacco products with thirteen custodial sentences, of which seven were suspended, and fines of €115,850 imposed.

To date in 2012 Revenue enforcement officers have seized 1.5 million cigarettes with a retail value of €635,000 and 615 kg of tobacco with a retail value of €220,000. In addition Revenue secured four court convictions for cigarette smuggling, with one custodial sentence of fifteen months, one suspended sentence of three years and fines totalling €5,000 imposed in the other two cases. Another two convictions were secured for the sale of unstamped tobacco products with fines totalling €5,000 imposed.

The Revenue Commissioners have established a high level internal group, chaired at Commissioner level, to examine the risks related to tobacco products tax evasion and to oversee and optimise the detection of contraband and counterfeit tobacco products. This group has promoted a number of initiatives aimed at counteracting the illicit trade in tobacco. These include the adoption of a comprehensive tobacco strategy, which is underpinned by annual action plans. This 3-year (2011-2013) strategy, which is published on Revenue's websitewww.revenue.ie, includes a number of programmes, which are designed to complement each other in targeting the supply and demand sides of the market for contraband tobacco in Ireland.

Revenue's strategic level plans include the taking of steps to ensure that the legitimate trade remains compliant, delivering more effective and visible interventions through enhanced capability and better deployment of its resources, further development of cooperation and intelligence sharing at organisational, national and international level, a commitment to prosecute all serious cases of tobacco tax evasion and a focus, in partnership with other Government agencies, on reducing the demand for contraband tobacco.

I understand the Deputy's reference to benefactors to mean those groups that derive a benefit from the illegal tobacco trade. The individual activities that produce a profit from this criminal activity are many and varied. On the international front the bulk smuggling of tobacco products in maritime containers is carried out mostly by organised criminal elements, while smaller scale smuggling by individuals and "ant smugglers" takes place by air and passenger ferry from countries having a low rate of tobacco tax. Ant smuggling involves the organised and co-ordinated use of groups of air travellers to smuggle individual suitcase amounts of tobacco products. At the domestic level organised crime also plays a role in the distribution of smuggled tobacco product, together with a variety of groups and individuals involved in street level transport and sale at locations such as markets and housing estates.

I am advised that there is no internationally recognised method for precisely determining the level of the illicit trade in cigarettes and consequently no method will exactly reflect the impact of Revenue's ongoing compliance and enforcement strategy on the illicit tobacco trade. However, a survey commissioned by Revenue and the Office of Tobacco Control in 2009 estimated that 20% of cigarettes consumed in the State had not been taxed in this jurisdiction. The 20% figure was further broken down as 14% illegal product and 6% legally imported by passengers arriving into the State from other jurisdictions. Revenue and the Office of Tobacco Control commissioned a similar survey in the last quarter of 2010 and the results of this latest survey show a consistency with the 2009 figures i.e. 20% of all cigarettes consumed in the State were not taxed in the State with 14% again classified as illegal product and 6% classified as legal non-Irish duty paid product. A further survey is currently under way.

Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 34.

Tax Code

Michael McGrath

Question:

65 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether recent proposals from France and Germany in relation to accelerating implementation of a common consolidated tax base within the EU pose a significant risk in respect of Ireland’s long-established corporation tax policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5820/12]

Although no formal proposals have yet been presented to the European Council, I understand mainly from media coverage that France and Germany are preparing a submission which recommends an acceleration of the negotiation process with regard to the European Commission's proposal for a Common Consolidated Corporation Tax Base (CCCTB). The call for acceleration may reflect their concerns at the pace of the negotiations at the Council working group where approximately only one third of the text of the CCCTB proposal has been the subject of an initial examination. The Danish Presidency are expected to present a progress report on the CCCTB discussions to Ecofin in May or June.

With regard to the risk to Ireland's long established corporation tax policy, I would like to remind the Deputy that it is a well accepted principle that the setting of tax rates is the prerogative of each Member State.

The explanatory memorandum attached to the European Commission's CCCTB Proposal explicitly states that there is no intention to extend harmonisation to the tax rates applied in Member States, however, the Proposal does involve the introduction of common rules for the computation of the tax base.

Both I and the Government have made it clear that Ireland, like all other Member States, intends to actively engage in that process because only in that way can we absolutely ensure that all of the arguments are brought to the table.

I want to assure the Deputy that it is clearly understood that our engagement is strictly on the basis that taxation is a matter of national competence and that the principle of unanimity in taxation is fully respected.

Banking Sector Regulation

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

66 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide this Deputy with and publish a copy of the licences and memorandum of associations under which all banks operate here. [5684/12]

I have been informed by the Central Bank that once a licence is issued by the Central Bank of Ireland it becomes the property of the relevant credit institution and thus the Central Bank retains no right to publish copies. However, pursuant to Section 12(1) of the Central Bank Act 1971, the Central Bank publishes a register of licensed institutions on their website. Issues regarding memorandum of associations are a matter for the Companies Registration Office which comes under the aegis of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

67 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Finance the facilities that banks have to provide a paper trail of mortgages which have been transformed into securities; and if the mortgage holder is entitled to peruse this paper trail. [5685/12]

I have been informed that this information will require more time than has been provided in order to produce a comprehensive response. In the interim I can inform the Deputy that the respective banks have been approached regarding this query, and that at least one major Irish bank has confirmed that they maintain an audit trail of mortgages that have been securitised in the form of a flag in their electronic systems. In theory this information could be made available to the mortgage holder if requested. When I have received the information required for a fuller response I will inform the Deputy in writing.

Price Inflation

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

68 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance if the cost of living and general living standards have declined further since March 2011; if he will estimate the contribution the plethora of planned and incoming costs and other charges for citizens and householders make to a continuing decline in living standards during 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5806/12]

The Central Statistics Office recently published the annual inflation figures for 2011. On a HICP basis, inflation averaged 1.1 per cent while CPI inflation averaged 2.6 per cent. This follows on from two years of negative inflation according to both measures. It should be noted that the Irish rate of HICP inflation (which is used for comparison purposes) was the lowest in the euro area last year. Looking at 2011 costs specifically, most of the upward price pressure stemmed from the pass-through of higher wholesale energy prices and increases in administered charges domestically. In the case of CPI, higher mortgage interest costs were also a significant factor.

With regard to planned increases in costs during 2012, the Budget inflation forecasts factored in all announced increases up to end-November 2011. Taking these and other developments into account it is expected that inflation will remain moderate in 2012, with HICP inflation averaging 1.9 per cent. Interest rate cuts by the ECB in recent months will boost household disposable income and will keep CPI inflation relatively modest. It is expected to average 1.8 per cent this year.

Betting Legislation

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

69 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the proposed new gambling legislation does not allow for any tax to be collected on moneys earned by the layers — that is, bookmakers — in betting exchanges, unlike other bookmakers in the State, and instead stipulates that betting exchanges will pay just 15% gross profit tax on their commission; his views on whether this loophole may facilitate tax evasion; if he will consider ensuring that the new betting licence requires those betting through the betting exchanges who act as layers to pay income tax through a system similar to DIRT tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5808/12]

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 drafting of the Bill, which is fairly complex, is well advanced. The Finance Act 2011 contained measures to allow for the extension of the 1% betting duty to remote bookmakers and for a 15% gross profit tax to betting exchanges. The taxation provisions are subject to a Ministerial Commencement order which can only be commenced when the Betting (Amendment) Bill is enacted. In relation to the taxation treatment of betting exchanges, it is the operator of the betting exchange that will be liable to the gross profit tax which is also the position in the UK.

Financial Services Regulation

Pearse Doherty

Question:

70 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance, further to Parliamentary Question No. 159 of 24 January 2012, if he or any of his officials have had contact with KBC bank since 14 December 2011 on the subject of the passing on of ECB interest rate reductions to mortgage customers; if so, if he will detail the content of these contacts; if not, if it is his intention to contact KBC bank or have any of his officials contact KBC on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5809/12]

Neither I, nor officials from the Department of Finance have had contact with KBC Bank since 14 December 2011 on the subject of passing on ECB interest rate reductions to mortgage customers. I do not intend to make contact with the Bank on the matter nor will I request my officials to do so. As I stated in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 159 on 24 January 2012, the lending institutions in Ireland are independent commercial entities. Ultimately the pricing of financial products, including standard variable mortgage interest rates, is a commercial decision for the management team and board of each lending institution, having due regard to their customers and the impact on profitability, particularly where the cost of funding to each lending institution, including deposit pricing, is under pressure.

Neither the Central Bank nor I have any responsibility for the variable mortgage interest rate charged by the financial institution mentioned by the Deputy. I have no powers to compel the institution to reduce its rates. The Deputy will be aware of the Central Bank's Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears, a copy of which can be accessed onwww.centralbank.ie.

National Debt

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

71 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the full extent of savings achieved to date in the context of debt repayment since the formation of the current Government, with particular reference to interest rate reduction or otherwise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5825/12]

The most significant saving that we have achieved on our debt dynamics results from the interest rate reduction on EU/IMF Programme funding announced following last July's Heads of State/Government meeting and the lengthening of maturities on Programme loans from an average duration of 7½ years to 12½ years in the case of EFSM and a minimum of 15 years in the case of EFSF. This lengthening of maturities in particular will be of assistance as it means there is less pressure on the State to borrow to refinance maturing debt in the short-to-medium term, giving the State valuable breathing space to continue with the process of returning the economy to health and sustainability to the public finances. Estimates provided by the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) show that the total savings on the EU facilities with an average life of 7½ years is some €9 billion. In addition, the estimated cost of IMF loans is expected to reduce as a result of increases in Ireland's IMF quota. The NTMA has estimated the overall benefit of this to be some €1.9 billion. For 2012, it is estimated that the combined interest rate margin reductions and IMF quota impact will reduce the interest bill by some €0.9 billion. In the case of the IMF loans, the estimated savings take account of a quota increase which will not come into effect before autumn 2012 at the earliest. These expected savings may change either upwards or downwards in the light of future quota revisions.

Furthermore, we have taken steps to lessen the impact of the supports to the banking system. Of the €24 billion in capital identified as being required for the Irish banking sector following the March 2011 PCAR process, the net Exchequer contribution was some €6.5 billion. A further €10 billion was provided from the National Pensions Reserve Fund (NPRF) with the balance of some €7.5 billion being sourced to date through burden sharing with subordinated bondholders, private investment, asset disposals and internal capital generation. The cost to the State was therefore significantly less than it might otherwise have been.

In this regard we will continue to take initiatives that will lessen the impact on the sovereign of debt resulting from the banking crisis.

Fiscal Policy

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

72 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the steps he has taken, together with his EU colleagues, with a view to stabilising and synchronising the recovery of the various EU member states within the eurozone and without; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5826/12]

Resolving the euro area sovereign debt crisis is a prerequisite for a return to sustainable growth, both in the euro area and in the wider EU. In this regard, we are now seeing concerted action to address the weaknesses that have become evident in the design of monetary union, including through the so-called ‘six-pack' of legislative reforms as well as the agreement on a ‘fiscal compact' to ensure fiscal discipline in participating Member States.

Another key policy response is the establishment of financial stabilisation mechanisms, to support Member States whose access to private capital markets is constrained and to help avoid difficulties in one Member State spreading to other euro area Members States.

It is also worthwhile to point out that EU leaders on 30 January committed to further efforts to promote growth and employment in the Union, including through a better targeting of available EU funds and further steps to complete the Single Market.

So, in summary, a number of positive steps are being taken to support recovery in both the euro area and the wider EU.

Budgetary Forecasts

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

73 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if he is satisfied that the targets identified in the context of budget 2012 can be reached notwithstanding less-than-anticipated economic growth rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5827/12]

The Budget forecast is for real GDP growth of 1.3 per cent in 2012. This forecast was prepared on the basis of economic information (domestic and international) available up to end-November 2011, and was mid-range at that time. Given the highly uncertain environment, the Budget documentation also pointed to a number of risks to this forecast — some to the downside and some to the upside. This uncertainty has continued into 2012 and is reflected in the wide range of GDP projections for this year, not just for Ireland, but also for the euro area. Indeed, more recent forecasts and revisions — including those of the Troika — reflect heightened concerns about the euro area and the wider global outlook. However, there have also been positive developments, not least of which is the trajectory for ECB interest rates which appears more favourable than when the forecasts were compiled at Budget time. In addition, recent exchange rate movements will be of some benefit to the exporting sector.

In terms of targets, I am assuming that the Deputy is referring to fiscal targets. In this regard, while the Troika has revised down its real GDP growth forecast for this year, it still sees the overall deficit target of 8.6 per cent as achievable. There are of course risks to this, as is always the case with any forecast in any year. In this respect, it is important to highlight that it is the nominal growth rate of GDP (i.e. volume and price changes) which drives tax revenue and affects the various fiscal ratios. It is also crucial to point out that the Exchequer budgetary position at end-2011 was slightly better than anticipated at Budget time.

My Department will continue to monitor the economic and budgetary situation, in particular the monthly Exchequer Statements (the end-January Statement will be published tomorrow), and this will inform official thinking over the coming months. As is the norm, my Department will publish a revised set of economic and budgetary forecasts in the April Stability Programme Update.

Budgetary Submissions

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

74 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the degree to which he has sought or received comments from the various banking and commercial sectors relating to the current budget, with particular reference to maximising opportunities for economic recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5828/12]

My Department receives large numbers of submissions in the run-up to every Budget and Finance Bill. In respect of Budget 2012 we received in the order of 700 submissions from a variety of interest groups, representative bodies, commercial organisations and individuals. Submissions covered a wide range of economic and taxation issues ranging from suggestions for economic initiatives to requests for particular measures to be included, or excluded, from the Budget. These submissions were distributed to the relevant officials in both my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform for consideration in the course of the Budget preparation process. In addition, I met with various representative bodies in the weeks preceding Budget 2012. These included ICTU, IBEC, the ICMSA, the IFA, the CIF and the Community and Voluntary Pillar.

Tax Collection

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

75 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which the return in respect of the various forms of taxation, direct or indirect, over the past 12 months is likely to be affected by ongoing influences in the current year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5829/12]

In preparing Exchequer tax forecasts the methodology adopted by my Department at Budget time involves the estimation of the outturn for the outgoing year across a series of tax headings. This becomes the base for the preparation of the projection for the forecast year. The resulting projected outturn is then adjusted as necessary to take account of the effects of previous Budget measures which may have a pass-through effect or any known one-off factors likely to impact upon the yield. To this resulting "cleaned" base, the key macroeconomic driver of each tax heading, is applied. The impact of any Budget day policy measures are also incorporated. With respect to macroeconomic developments, I would draw the Deputy's attention to the fact that it is the nominal growth rate of GDP (i.e. volume and price changes) which drives overall tax revenue and affects the various fiscal ratios.

As we are only a month into the New Year, it is too soon to be talking about the impact of on-going influences on the Exchequer tax receipts for this year. My Department will continue to monitor the economic and budgetary situation over the coming months, in particular the monthly Exchequer Statement, and this will inform official thinking on these matters. As is the norm, my Department will publish a revised set of economic and budgetary forecasts in the April Stability Programme Update.

Economic Forecasts

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

76 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent, if any, to which economic performance over the next 12 months is likely to be affected by lack of confidence throughout the eurozone; the likely or appropriate measures to combat such situations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5830/12]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

77 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if he is satisfied that the target and projections in respect of economic performance in respect of the next 12 months are retainable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5831/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 76 and 77 together.

The Budget forecast is for real GDP growth of 1.3 per cent in 2012. This forecast was prepared on the basis of economic information (domestic and international) available up to end-November 2011, and was mid-range at that time. Given the highly uncertain environment, the Budget documentation also pointed to a number of risks to this forecast — some to the downside and some to the upside.

The ongoing euro area sovereign debt crisis is contributing to an uncertain economic environment. This, in turn, is impacting upon confidence in the euro area and weighing on the region's growth prospects.

Obviously as a small open economy whose recovery is being driven by exports, we in Ireland will be affected by the soft patch that the euro area is currently going through. However, the substantial competitiveness improvements we have seen in recent years will provide some support. It is also important to point out that a weakening of activity in our main trading partners is already factored into my Department's forecasts for economic growth that underpin the Budget.

The uncertainty, in particular internationally, has continued into 2012 and is reflected in the wide range of GDP projections for this year, not just for Ireland, but also for the euro area. Indeed, more recent forecasts and revisions reflect heightened concerns about the euro-area outlook. However, there have also been positive developments, not least of which is the trajectory for ECB interest rates which appears more favourable than when the forecasts were compiled at Budget time. In addition, recent exchange rate movements will provide some benefit for the exporting sector.

Over the coming months, my Department will continue to monitor the economic situation, both in terms of positive and negative developments and, as is the norm, will publish an updated macroeconomic assessment in the spring in the context of the Stability Programme Update. It is anticipated that the Update would be published in April in the context of the requirements under the European semester agreed by Member States last year.

In terms of the wider question regarding the resolution of the euro area crisis, my view is that we are now seeing concerted action to address the weaknesses that have become evident in the design of monetary union, including the so-called ‘six-pack' of legislative reforms as well as the agreement on a ‘fiscal compact' to ensure fiscal discipline in participating Member States.

Finally, it is also worthwhile pointing out that EU leaders on 30 January committed to further efforts to promote growth and employment in the Union, including through a better targeting of available EU funds and further steps to complete the Single Market.

Economic Competitiveness

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

78 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent, if any, to which this country’s economic competitiveness has improved or otherwise fluctuated over the past 12 months; if there are particular areas deemed to require further efforts in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5832/12]

In terms of cost competitiveness, according to the European Commission's Autumn Forecasts published in November 2011, a decline of 3.1 per cent in Irish nominal unit labour costs was forecast for 2011, the most significant decline among euro area Member States. This is in addition to the fact that over the 2009-2010 period, unit labour costs in Ireland fell more than in any other euro area country. With regard to price competitiveness, Ireland had the lowest rate of HICP inflation in the euro area in 2011. This follows on from 2009 and 2010, where prices fell in Ireland but rose in most other euro area Member States.

These improvements in competitiveness are standing to us — figures from the IDA show that a record number of new investments were won in 2011.

It is crucial that the competitiveness gains made in the last number of years be sustained and further gains be made so as to support export growth and underpin the economy's recovery and job creation. With regard to areas where further efforts are required, I would draw the Deputy's attention to the recent National Competitiveness Council report. This notes that competitiveness is improving and that action has been taken, while also recommending a series of additional steps aimed at, inter alia, reducing the cost of doing business and increasing productivity. This report is a useful input and will inform Government thinking and action over the coming months.

Fiscal Policy

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

79 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which economic and fiscal issues occurring over the past five years and deemed to have been a serious obstacle to economic independence have been identified, isolated and addressed, with particular reference to the need for economic recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5833/12]

Ireland has faced substantial challenges over the past five years as previously accumulated economic, fiscal and financial imbalances began to unwind rapidly. The fallout from this ultimately necessitated a programme of external financial assistance from the EU/IMF. However, since this Government took office we have actively set about addressing the challenges facing the State.

On the banking side, we have recapitalised and restructured the domestic banking system to make it fit for purpose. We have acknowledged the credit problems facing SMEs and established a loan-guarantee scheme. There is also ongoing work with the Troika on the issue of the Promissory Notes.

The Government has stabilised the public finances and placed them firmly on a downward trajectory. We have met the targets set out under the EU-IMF Programme. Indeed, on the deficit target for 2011, we came in at an estimated -10.1 per cent of GDP, well under the -10.6 per cent required. During the summer, in discussions with his European colleagues, the Taoiseach secured a reduction in the interest rate being charged on Programme funding.

Economic growth has returned, led by the exporting sectors and facilitated byinter alia improvements in competitiveness. Notwithstanding considerable uncertainty, all forecasters, domestic and international, expect the economy to continue to grow in 2012. While these are positive developments, the unemployment rate remains unacceptably high. Recognising this, the Government has given top priority to the creation and preservation of jobs including a Jobs Initiative in May 2011. Additionally, my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will soon publish an “Action Plan on Jobs”.

So progress is being made on the economy, stabilising the public finances and in the banking sector.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

80 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if he is satisfied with the extent to which economic issues have been addressed within this State in 2011; the extent to which issues effecting this country’s economy at a European level have been identified and resolved; the extent to which economic growth is likely to reflect the changing situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5834/12]

Since this Government took office we have actively set about addressing the challenges facing the State and where relevant, taken issues up at European level. On the banking side, we have recapitalised and restructured the domestic banking system to make it fit for purpose. We have acknowledged the credit problems facing SMEs and established a loan-guarantee scheme. There is also ongoing work with the Troika on the issue of the Promissory Notes.

The Government has stabilised the public finances and placed them firmly on a downward trajectory. We have met the targets set out under the EU-IMF Programme. Indeed, on the deficit target for 2011, we came in at -10.1 per cent of GDP, well under the -10.6 per cent target set by the Troika. During the summer, in discussions with his European colleagues, the Taoiseach secured a reduction in the interest rate being charged on Programme funding.

Turning to the economy, 2011 saw a return to growth for the first time since 2007. Notwithstanding considerable uncertainty, all forecasters, domestic and international, expect the economy to continue to grow in 2012. While these are positive developments, the unemployment rate remains unacceptably high. Recognising this, the Government has given top priority to the creation and preservation of jobs including the launch of the Jobs Initiative in May 2011. Additionally, my colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will soon publish an "Action Plan on Jobs".

Obviously as a small open economy whose recovery is being driven by exports, developments in Europe can potentially have serious implications for our growth prospects. As such, resolving the euro area sovereign debt crisis is crucial. In this regard, we are now seeing concerted action to address the weaknesses that have become evident in the design of monetary union. Progress is being made, including through the so-called ‘six-pack' of legislative reforms as well as the agreement on a ‘fiscal compact' to ensure fiscal discipline in participating Member States.

Financial Services Regulation

Finian McGrath

Question:

81 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will respond to correspondence regarding payments to EBS staff (details supplied). [5874/12]

I have outlined my position on this matter when replying to previous parliamentary questions on the same subject in particular on 11 January 2012 (Questions Nos. 76, 78 and 95). The Deputy will be aware that the matter is now before the Labour Relations Commission which is presently endeavouring to find an acceptable solution to all parties. Accordingly, it would not be advisable to comment further at this stage.

Banking Sector Regulation

Gerry Adams

Question:

82 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the advice and management of bad loans and the potential for a conflict of interest to arise (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5881/12]

I am assured by NAMA that it is cognisant of conflicts of interest in the appointment of any advisors and works to prevent them arising.

In the case referred to by the Deputy, NAMA has appointed two receivers to the assets of the company subject to receivership proceedings. As one of the receivers is a tenant of the company subject to the receivership process, in a building which is security for loans held by NAMA, the second receiver is acting in respect of that asset. NAMA assures me that the firm referred to by the Deputy will act as receiver only over assets in respect of which it has no interest.

Second Level Fees

Michael Creed

Question:

83 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will clarify the charges for the enrolment of non-EU students in post primary school settings for the purpose of English language studies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5681/12]

The student immigration system stipulates that non-EU persons with student immigration permission can only access fee charging post primary schools. The level of fees charged is a matter for the schools themselves. Immigration permission is not granted for students intending to enrol in non-fee charging schools. In addition to the student immigration position, it should be noted that under the Equal Status Act 2000, schools may not discriminate on the grounds of nationality in relation to admission or the terms or conditions of admission. This means that a school cannot charge a fee to a non-EU student if it does not charge fees generally.

School Accommodation

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

84 Deputy Patrick O’Donovan asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Question No. 80 of 25 January 2012, if he will provide a timeframe in which it is likely a decision will be made on an application for additional accommodation made in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5691/12]

Further information in relation to its application for additional accommodation has been received in recent days by my Department from the school, referred to by the Deputy. A decision will be conveyed to the school authority as soon as this information has been assessed.

Departmental Applications

Brendan Smith

Question:

85 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills when a payment will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Cavan, in view of the fact that a commitment was given that an application would be prioritised when an applicant was not working; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5743/12]

I will arrange for a reply to issue direct to the Deputy in relation to the case that he has referred to.

Higher Education Grants

Ciaran Lynch

Question:

86 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Skills the financial assistance available to low-income students wishing to pursue postgraduate studies; if students who received maintenance grants or other assistance at undergraduate level will be similarly assisted as postgraduate students; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5753/12]

My priority as Minister for Education and Skills is to preserve access to undergraduate higher education courses despite the difficult circumstances in our public finances. As a result, no changes were made to the eligibility criteria for undergraduate students in the recent Budget. It is also worth emphasising that 41% of all undergraduate students currently receive a grant and pay no student contributions.

Nevertheless, in the context of the necessary but difficult expenditure reduction measures announced in Budget 2012, new students entering postgraduate courses from the 2012/13 academic year onwards will not be entitled to any maintenance payment under the Student Grant Scheme. Existing postgraduate students will not be affected.

However, those students who meet the qualifying conditions for the special rate of grant will be eligible to have their post-graduate tuition fees paid up to the maximum fee limit under the Student Grant Scheme.

In access terms, the requirement to pay a fee is considered to be a greater obstacle to entry than lack of maintenance support at postgraduate level. This is why I opted to maintain the fee-payment ahead of maintenance payments for postgraduate students.

In addition, a further limited number of students who would previously have qualified under the standard grant thresholds will qualify to have a €2,000 contribution made towards the costs of their fees. My Department estimates this will help an additional 4,000 postgraduate students. However, there will be a new income threshold for this payment which will be lower than the standard grant threshold. The income threshold for this level of grant is currently being determined in the context of the formulation of the student grant scheme for the 2012/13 academic year.

In addition to this, the Student Assistance Fund will continue to be made available through the access offices of third-level institutions to assist students in exceptional financial need. Tax relief is also available on postgraduate tuition fees. While it is regrettable that any changes need to be made to student support, I believe this approach will continue to provide resources for a relatively wide number of post-graduate students and allow us to maintain the high level of supports provided to undergraduate students.

Departmental Programmes

Brendan Smith

Question:

87 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills if it is proposed to renew the licensing arrangements in respect of Scoilnet maps in view of the fact that this is an important facility in the study of geography and the value of this system is more important now than previously due to the availability of technology in classrooms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5852/12]

As I am sure the Deputy will appreciate, the need to ensure value for money in public expenditure is greater than ever. In common with many other State-funded initiatives, the ICT in Schools programme has needed to re-evaluate its spending priorities in order to ensure that it can continue to deliver essential services notwithstanding an unavoidable reduction in the overall level of resources available.

The contracts for providing this service expire on 4th February and there are no plans to renew them. Other options of providing access to maps are being examined within the context of available resources and value for money. The Scoilnet service will continue to make other Geography-related digital resources available through its portal and the PDST will continue to support teachers in this area.

Proposed Legislation

Stephen S. Donnelly

Question:

88 Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for Education and Skills, with regard to section 4(c)(ii) of the Education (Amendment) Bill 2012, the services currently provided that are considered to be health and personal social services within the meaning of the Health Act 2004 and which will no longer be provided under the new legislation. [5858/12]

The Education Act 1998 listed the planning and co-ordination of support services (including speech therapy services) as a function of the Minister for Education and Science. In actual fact speech therapy services are provided by the Health Service Executive (HSE) which receives the financial vote for the provision of such services. There are therefore no services currently being provided by my Department which will no longer be provided under the new legislation. Rather, the amendment is necessary to clarify the actual position in relation to the delivery of speech therapy services to students of school going age. The legislative framework will be regularised in accordance with the de facto position, which is that the provision of speech therapy services is a matter for the HSE. The proposed provisions will not impact on the availability through the HSE of speech therapy services for children with special educational needs.

My Department will continue to support the co-ordinated delivery of services to families of children with special educational needs and will continue to work with service providing partners in the health and disability sectors through the interdepartmental Cross-Sectoral Team.

Higher Education Grants

Finian McGrath

Question:

89 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding a grant in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [5885/12]

Officials in my Department have contacted City of Dublin VEC in this instance. I understand that an email issued to the student referred to by the Deputy from CDVEC on 24th January requesting additional specific documentation. As soon as the requested documentation has been provided to the VEC, it will be in a position to proceed with processing of the application.

In addition to the grant scheme students in exceptional financial circumstances can apply for assistance under the Student Assistance Fund. Information on the Fund is available through the access offices of third-level institutions. The access offices themselves will also continue to provide support and advice to students to enable them to continue with their studies.

Public Service Staff

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

90 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the number of jobs that have been eliminated in the public service and semi-State sectors in 2011; the likely outcome in terms of job cuts in both sectors in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5800/12]

As part of its Reform Agenda, the Government is committed to reducing public service numbers to 282,500 by the end of 2015 with the aim of producing a more customer-focused, leaner, more efficient, better integrated public service which delivers maximum value for money.

Numbers employed in the Public Service and Non-commercial State Agencies (NCSAs) are estimated to have decreased by over 8,000 in 2011.

It would not be correct to equate the reduction in numbers employed with a loss of specific numbers of jobs or a reduction in public services. Where vacancies arise it is a matter for local management to reorganise work, change methods of service delivery or redeploy staff to the most critical areas in order to ensure services are maintained in keeping with Government policy.

Meeting our challenging numbers targets will require continued implementation of the moratorium on recruitment with exceptions being limited to only essential posts and the utilisation of redeployment as the primary mechanism to fill posts which have been approved. Only after all mechanisms set out in the Public Service Reform Plan are utilised will the issue of recruitment for current or emerging business needs arise.

Should a Department identify a potential exception to the moratorium on recruitment the sanction of my Department must then be sought. Exceptions to the moratorium may be granted on the following basis:

a) statutory posts which have to be filled for legal reasons;

b) where failure to fill posts would result in a breach of EU/international regulations and impact upon exports etc.;

c) safety related posts — failure to fill them could leave the state open to potential legal liabilities or for security reasons;

d) specialist/technical posts to ensure continuity of operations e.g. legal officers; laboratory staff, maritime safety, etc.;

e) to ensure continuity of frontline services.

In addition, in the case of the Education and Health Sector, a number of grades are exempted from the moratorium in order to ensure that certain services are maintained.

Each Sector in the Public Service has been establishing its own Strategic Workforce Planning Group to ensure that sectoral employers are developing plans to deal with the operational and strategic consequences arising from staffing reductions in the coming years. The sectoral groups are liaising with the central Strategic Workforce Planning Forum under my Department.

Departmental Bodies

David Stanton

Question:

91 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, further to Parliamentary Question No. 252 of 24 January 2012, the funding allocation and expenditure of the valuation tribunal each year respectively from 2009 to date in 2012; if he will provide a breakdown of the expenditure for each year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5891/12]

Funding allocations and expenditure of the Valuation Tribunal in respect of the years 2009 to 2012 (to date) are set out in the table below. Between 2009 and 2010 savings were achieved in the categories of Members' Fees and Members' Travel and Subsistence as a result of procedural changes at the Tribunal. The significantly increased figures in all expenditure categories in respect of 2011 arise from the Tribunal's handling of an additional 302 valuation appeals in respect of the revaluation of properties in the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Rating Authority Area. These additional appeals represent an increase in the Tribunal's annual workload of approximately 230%.

Valuation Tribunal

Year

Salaries Allocation€

Funding Allocation€

Total Allocation

Members’ Fees€

Members’ Travel and Subsistence€

Administration Expenditure€

Salaries Expenditure€

Total Expenditure€

2009

341,000

213,000

554,000

147,025

67,305

69,297

142,666

426,293

2010

341,000

300,000

641,000

118,312

50,375

61,078

231,071

460,836

2011

341,000

233,000

574,000

186,282

71,171

64,816

303,189

625,458

2012

341,000

233,000

574,000

nil to date

nil to date

2,852

26,321

29,173

Performance Fees

Noel Harrington

Question:

92 Deputy Noel Harrington asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he or his officials have had any discussions with such bodies as IMRO and PPI regarding reducing their fixed charges for commercial premises in view of the downturn in business revenue and footfall in these premises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5702/12]

Neither the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation nor his officials have had any discussions with such bodies as IMRO and PPI regarding reducing their fixed charges for commercial premises. The Minister does not have any function in the setting of tariffs charged by such organisations. However, it is open to a person affected by such charges to refer any dispute in relation thereto for determination by the Controller of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks, who has certain statutory functions in this area under the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000.

Jobs Initiative

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

93 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the statistical evidence that can be produced to indicate the number of new jobs that have been created so far by the jobs initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5799/12]

Job creation is at the top of the Government's agenda. Since we came into office, we have been working hard to create the improved economic conditions which will support the maintenance of existing jobs and the creation of new ones.

The Government's Jobs Initiative, which was announced last May, was aimed at building confidence to encourage consumers to spend, providing opportunities for re-skilling those who have lost their jobs, and assisting people to get back to work. It is a cross-Government initiative and the impacts are being seen across a range of sectors.

It is not possible to indicate the exact number of positions which have been filled as a result of the measures which were taken in the Jobs Initiative, as there are indirect as well as direct impacts arising from the Initiative. However, there is no doubt that the measures introduced by the Government in May 2011 are contributing to both maintaining existing jobs and creating new ones.

For example, the measures in relation to reducing VAT and PRSI rates were credited by the Restaurant Association of Ireland with the creation of 490 new jobs in that sector within the first two months of the implementation of the Jobs Initiative. The Government has also brought in a visa-waiver scheme, which was announced in the Jobs Initiative, to further support tourism. Overseas tourist numbers for the first eleven months of 2011 were up 6.8% on the same period in 2010. The number of visitors from mainland Europe was up 8.5%, and visitors from North America were up 5.6%.

The Jobs Initiative targeted Capital spending at labour-intensive local projects, focussing on school works, local roads, energy efficiency and smarter travel projects. The Minister of State for Public Transport, Alan Kelly TD, indicated recently that work undertaken between May and October 2011 on sustainable travel projects has created over 14,500 days of employment for local contractors around the country.

The level of take-up and activity under the domestic retrofitting schemes to date is demonstrably supporting employment. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) reported in November 2011 that over 5,800 full time jobs were supported in this sector in 2011.

The JobBridge National Internship Programme was launched on 1 July last as part of the Jobs Initiative, and has already seen almost 3,700 interns start with host organisations up to 26 January, as well as a further 630 who transferred to JobBridge from the Work Placement Programme. A further 1,577 internship opportunities were available on the JobBridge website last week. Feedback from the Department of Social Protection indicates that the first cohort of interns to have participated in the scheme are already being offered full time positions in a number of cases.

Building on the Jobs Initiative, I am currently finalising an Action Plan for Jobs for Government. This Plan will be launched in the coming weeks and will set out a series of clear, actionable measures to support the creation and retention of jobs.

Job Creation

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

94 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the inducements that exist in terms of grants to Irish business from the Industrial Development Agency, Enterprise Ireland and any other agencies to encourage or compel employers to hire workers from the live register; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5801/12]

The core goal of the enterprise agencies under my Department's remit is to create the conditions where indigenous and FDI companies can thrive, grow employment and create opportunities for those on the live register. Decisions relating to the recruitment of individuals with the appropriate skills for particular posts in those companies are entirely at the employers' discretion.

Where companies require staff with an appropriate skills set, they can make contact with the state training and job placement agency FÁS or, alternatively, they can use a number of the well established private recruitment agencies, operating under employment agency licences received from my Department.

Enterprise Ireland is responsible for the development and promotion of the indigenous business sector. The agency's mission is to accelerate the development of world-class Irish companies to achieve strong positions in global markets resulting in increased national and regional prosperity. Enterprise Ireland works closely with individual companies and sectorial groups, offering a wide range of services.

Enterprise Ireland does not offer any specific grants to encourage or compel employers to hire workers from the live register. However, Enterprise Ireland's Job Expansion Fund directly assists client companies to achieve enhanced growth through increased employment. The fund provides grant support to SMEs up to a maximum of €150,000 towards the recruitment of new employees.

IDA Ireland seeks to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) to Ireland while Shannon Development provides grants to both Irish and FDI companies located in the Shannon Free Zone. The support packages offered by both agencies encourage companies to take part in the Irish and global economic recovery and to improve competitiveness and growth.

As agencies operating under the aegis of my Department the County and City Enterprise Boards (CEBs) provide support for micro-enterprises in the start-up and expansion phases, promoting and developing indigenous micro-enterprise potential and stimulating economic activity and entrepreneurship throughout their respective areas across the county. The CEBs deliver a range of tailored programmes and supports through the provision of both financial assistance and non-financial assistance. Business growth, job creation and retention considerations are central to the activities of CEBs.

The enterprise agencies under my Department's remit make their client companies aware of schemes administered by the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners aimed at taking people off of the live register, such as the Revenue Job Assist Scheme.

On Monday last, I attended the launch of the ‘Joint Government — Industry ICT Action Plan: Meeting the High-Level Skills Needs of Enterprises in Ireland', which I launched alongside my colleague, Mr Ruairí Quinn, T.D., Minister for Education and Skills. More than 750 places are being made available on 17 new graduate skills conversion programmes across the country. This will see the upskilling of individuals currently on the live register, at no cost to the participants.

The plan also sets out how we will increase the supply and quality of graduates in the medium to long term. We aim to double the annual outturn of ICT graduates from 1,000 in 2012 to 2,000 by 2018. There are currently over 1,000 vacancies and there is great potential for future growth within the ICT sector if we can get an increase in those people with the necessary skills.

I believe that this plan will be a major contributor in getting the country back to work. Such a plan was brought about through joined up thinking of Government, its agencies and private industry, where we have combined forces to develop the plan, which sends a strong signal of our intention to meet the skills needs of the ICT sector.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

95 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the current multipliers and cost benefit for each job created by the Industrial Development Agency during 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5802/12]

The companies supported by the enterprise agencies are fundamental to Ireland's economic performance, as their impact on the Irish economy extends beyond their immediate employment effects. They contribute in large measure to the country's turnover, employment, exports, domestic economic activity and tax receipts.

The cost per job as published in the IDA Ireland Report and which is available on IDA's web-site for the years 2009 and 2010 is set out below. Information relating to 2011 will be included in the 2011 Annual Report which will be published later in 2012.

IDA Cost Per Job Sustained Constant 2010 Prices

Year

1995-2001

1996-2002

1997-2003

1998-2004

1999-2005

2000-2006

2001-2007

2002-2008

2003-2009

2004-2010

IDA Ireland

16,304

18,525

18,210

16,165

14,219

12,903

12,899

12,495

14,159

14,287

Source: Forfás Annual Employment Survey 2010

Note: The cost per job sustained is calculated by taking into account all IDA Ireland expenditure to all firms in the period of calculation. Only jobs created during and sustained to the end of each seven year period are credited in the calculations.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has been and will continue to be a catalyst for our national prosperity. FDI companies account for 140,000 high-quality direct jobs and a further 100,000 indirect jobs in the firms that provide goods and services to them. FDI companies represent over 70% of all goods and services exported from Ireland, and spend over €19 billion in the Irish economy, including over €7 billion on payroll each year.

Proposed Legislation

Robert Troy

Question:

96 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he will clarify the following with regard to the proposed law similar to the stop online piracy Act; the stage the proposal is currently at; when the final proposal will be ready for review; and if the public will be able to view this proposal when finished. [5857/12]

I wish to inform the Deputy that I have not put forward any proposals to enact a Stop Online Piracy style law.

However, I would point out that an issue arose following a High Court judgement in October 2010 where it was held that Ireland was not in compliance with its EU obligations under Copyright Directive 2001/29/EC. It was held that the Court could not grant an injunction against an intermediary in relation to transient communications. Until this judgment, it had been considered that Ireland was fully compliant with Art 8 (3) of the relevant directive and that injunctions were available both under Section 40(4) of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 and by reason of the inherent power of the court in relation to equitable remedies. Following consultation with the Office of the Attorney General it was considered that as the High Court decision was not appealed, it was necessary for Ireland, for the avoidance of doubt, to restate its previous understanding of its compliance with EU law.

A public consultation was held by my Department last July in relation to the wording of a proposed Statutory Instrument amending Section 40 of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000. More than 50 submissions were received from interested parties. I am most grateful to all who contributed to this consultation. It provided me with an excellent overview of all the issues and concerns involved. I have also engaged extensively with interested parties in relation to any issues or concerns that they have raised in relation to the matter.

The amended text of the proposed Statutory Instrument was recently published by my Department. It should be noted that this matter was also the subject of a Dáil debate on 31 January 2012. I would expect that this legislative measure will be introduced shortly.

I wish to state that the measures being proposed in the Stop Online Piracy Act in the United States are of an entirely different order to that being put forward in the Statutory Instrument.

Terence Flanagan

Question:

97 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he will provide an update on the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5877/12]

I can advise the Deputy that the Directive on Temporary Agency Work is being transposed by way of primary legislation that is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill, 2011 is one of the priority Bills for my Department. The Bill completed Second Stage in the Dáil on 19 January last and Committee stage is scheduled for 2 February 2012.

Assuming passage of the Bill through all stages in the Dáil in early February, it will then proceed for consideration of all stages before the Seanad. The intention is to ensure passage of the Bill at the earliest possible enactment date.

Social Welfare Code

Simon Harris

Question:

98 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Social Protection the plans under review by her regarding proposed changes to the State contributory pension; the impact that these changes would have on prospective future payees; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5674/12]

The challenges facing the Irish pension system are significant. There are currently six people of working age for every pensioner and this ratio is expected to decrease to approximately two to one by 2050. In addition, those aged over 65 will account for a greater proportion of the population while the proportion who are of working age is expected to decline. With increases in life expectancy, more people are living to pension age and living longer in retirement. The period for which an average pension will be paid will be greater than the period for which a pension is paid at present. This has obvious and significant implications in relation to the future costs of State pension provision.

There are two categories of contributory State pension:- State pension (transition) (SPT) payable at age 65 and State pension (contributory) (SPC) payable at age 66.

The qualifying conditions for State pension (transition) require the applicant to:

have entered insurable employment before attaining the age of 55 years.

have at least 260 full-rate social insurance contributions paid since the date of entry into insurance.

Have a minimum yearly average of 24 contributions (paid or credited) since the date of entry into insurance.

have retired from work.

State pension (transition) ceases at age 66 when the claimant transfers to (SPC).

The qualifying conditions for State pension (contributory) require the applicant to:

have entered insurable employment before attaining the age of 56 years.

have at least 260 weeks full-rate contributions paid, from employment or self-employment, since entry into insurance

Have a minimum yearly average of 10 contributions (paid or credited) since the date of entry into insurance.

The planned changes are as follows:

The minimum paid contributions requirement for SPT and SPC will increase to 520 in April 2012 as provided for in legislation since 1997.

As provided for in recent legislation, State pension age will be increased gradually to 68 years. This will begin in 2014 with the standardisation of State pension age at 66 and SPT will no longer be payable to those who reach age 65 in 2014 or later. State pension age will be increased to 67 years in 2021 and to 68 in 2028.

A ‘total contributions approach' to State pension will be adopted to replace the current averaging system. The proposed date for its introduction is 2020. Under this system, the level of pension paid will be directly proportionate to the number of social insurance contributions made by a person over his or her working life. This change reflects the potential that people now have to accumulate contributions as a result of the comprehensive nature of social insurance coverage which has been in place for 20 years, and the growth in the labour force over that period. Accordingly, a total contributions requirement of 30 years' contributions for a maximum pension will be introduced. Under the new approach, a minimum rate of State pension (contributory) (SPC) will be payable at one third (10/30ths) of the maximum rate, which will be 30/30ths.

As announced in Budget 2012, a change to the rates bands for contributory pensions is being introduced from September 2012. This supports the policy objective of aligning the proportion of pension paid with the person's contribution to the PRSI system over a working life. This policy needs to be adhered to if we are to be able to fund pensions into the future. Currently a person with an average of 20-47 PRSI contributions per year over their working life receives a weekly State pension of only €4.50 less than a person with a yearly average of 48 or more PRSI contributions, a situation which is neither fair, equitable nor sustainable.

With effect from September 2012, the rate band of between 20 and 47 yearly average contributions will be replaced with new rate bands of between:—

(i) 40 and 47 yearly average contributions

(ii) 30 and 39 yearly average contribution and

(iii) 20 and 29 yearly average contributions.

Therefore, the rate of State pension paid to new applicants will be appropriate to the average number of contributions paid. Those who have fewer contributions will receive a lower rate of pension. The maximum rate is unchanged as is the rate for those with yearly average contributions of between 40 and 47. Existing pension recipients are unaffected and any changes will only apply to new claimants from September 2012. A person qualifying for State pension in July 2013 will be assessed using the new rate bands. Claimants who qualify for a reduced rate of State pension (contributory) may qualify for a higher rate of State pension (non-contributory).

The measures outlined above support the social contract between the State and the individual whereby those who pay most in a working life benefit most in retirement.

Details of the new rates bands for both State pension (transition) and State pension (contributory) are set out in the following tables:

Yearly Average Contributions

Personal Rate Per Week€

48 or over

230.30

40-47

225.80

30-39

207.00

24-29

196.00

New State Pension (Contributory) Rates

Yearly Average Contributions

Personal Rate Per Week€

48 or over

230.30

40-47

225.80

30-39

207.00

20-29

196.00

15-19

150.00

10-14

92.00

Social Welfare Appeals

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

99 Deputy Patrick O’Donovan asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an appeal for disability allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal. [5682/12]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that the disability allowance claim of the person concerned was disallowed by a Deciding Officer following an assessment by a Medical Assessor of the Department who expressed the opinion that he was medically unsuitable for the allowance. An appeal was registered on 26 October 2011 and in accordance with the statutory procedures the relevant department papers and the comments of the Social Welfare services on the matter raised in the appeal have been sought. In that context, an assessment by another Medical Assessor will be carried out.

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

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

100 Deputy Patrick O’Donovan asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an appeal for carer’s allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal. [5683/12]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that it has not received an appeal from the person concerned.

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

Simon Harris

Question:

101 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an application for rent allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; when a decision will be made on this case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5686/12]

The person concerned has made an application for rent supplement and has been requested to provide further information in order to process her claim. A decision will be made on her application when the information has been provided. The Department requested the information on 14 December 2011.

Simon Harris

Question:

102 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will introduce an Oireachtas Members’ inquiry line for rent allowance queries in view of the fact that no such facility currently exists and the lo-call general enquiry numbers provided by her experience a high volume of calls and many calls go unanswered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5687/12]

My Department has set up Oireachtas Members' Enquiry Lines for each service area. In relation to Rent Supplement, which forms part of the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme, a dedicated e-mail box has been created for such queries. The address is: TDREPS.SuppWelfareAllowance@welfare.ie

All queries to this address are dealt with promptly.

Dominic Hannigan

Question:

103 Deputy Dominic Hannigan asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason for including an under 24 years old on jobseeker’s benefit who lives at home in the overall means for a household that is applying for the household benefit package; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5713/12]

One of the conditions for receipt of the household benefits package is that an applicant who is under age 70, must be living alone or only with excepted people. These excepted people include: a qualified adult; a dependent child or children aged between 18 and 22 years of age, if in full-time education; a person who would qualify for the allowances in his or her own right; or a person providing full time care and attention.

The claim for household benefits has been disallowed in this instance, not on the basis of a means test as such, but as the household composition rules are not satisfied.

The household benefits package is made up of three allowances, electricity or gas allowance, telephone allowance and free television licence. These allowances provide contributions towards electricity or natural gas or bottled gas refill bill and telephone bill and cover the cost of the television licence each year. Provision for 2011 on household benefits was €382 million. As of end of December 2011 there were over 400,000 customers on household benefits package.

One of the objectives of the household benefits package is to provide assistance to older people who are living alone or with certain excepted people by targeting them with specific benefits that provide both income and social inclusion gains.

Community Employment

Sean Conlan

Question:

104 Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Social Protection if a value for money audit will be carried out on each community employment scheme as part of the independent assessment on CE schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5734/12]

I have directed that a review of the financial resources of individual community employment schemes be completed by the end of March of this year. The purpose of the review is to examine the income and funding of sponsoring organisations in terms of their ability to continue to deliver the programme. As part of the review alternative sources of support will be examined, particularly the level of funding from other State agencies. The review will also seek to establish if income is generated by scheme activity and the potential for utilisation of these funds to cover project costs. The outcome of each review will provide a clear picture of the core funding required for each CE scheme. This will assist my Department in ensuring a fair distribution of the funding available for these schemes. This review is undertaken by staff of the Department working locally in the CE area. They are therefore familiar with the schemes.

Sean Conlan

Question:

105 Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding redundancy packages for supervisors of community employment schemes; the person who has responsibility for redundancy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5735/12]

Supervisors of Community Employment schemes are employed by independent, community and voluntary organisations. As such these sponsoring groups are the employer and are bound by employment legislation and requirements, including Redundancy legislation.

It is the responsibility of the employer to pay statutory redundancy to all eligible employees. An employer who pays statutory redundancy payments to employees is then entitled to a rebate from the State of a percentage of the relevant amount.

Where an employer can prove to the satisfaction of the Department that he/she is unable to pay the statutory redundancy to his/her employees the Department will make lump sum payments directly to the employees and will seek to recover the debt from the employer. To prove inability to pay the employer must submit documentary evidence to confirm that this is the position.

Social Welfare Benefits

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

106 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the reasons for occurrence of an alleged overpayment in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5740/12]

The person concerned was overpaid rent supplement in respect of the period from 1 August 2008 to 31 July 2009. The overpayment arose when her means were revised retrospectively to take account of her increased household income.

Social Welfare Appeals

John O'Mahony

Question:

107 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision on a review for domiciliary care allowance will issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; if a medical assessment has taken place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5745/12]

An application for domiciliary care allowance was received on 14th June 2011. This application was referred to one of the Department's Medical Assessors who found that the child was not medically eligible for the allowance. A letter issued on 26th August 2011 where the customer was advised of the decision. The person concerned subsequently lodged an appeal against this decision. As part of the appeal, her application along with the extra information she provided, was reviewed by a second Medical Assessor on 24th October 2011. The application was again deemed to be medically ineligible.

The file was then returned to the Social Welfare Appeals Office for the next stage of the appeals process where an Appeals Officer will review the case.

Niall Collins

Question:

108 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [5747/12]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that it has not received an appeal from the person concerned.

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.

Michael McGrath

Question:

109 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an invalidity pension appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [5878/12]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 29th 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 20th January 2012 and the appeal will, in due course, be assigned 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.

Michael McGrath

Question:

110 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an invalidity pension appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [5879/12]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 28 January 2012. 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 in due course 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.

Departmental Staff

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

111 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of persons employed by Foras na Gaeilge who have a qualification at masters level or equivalent in language planning. [5848/12]

I am informed by Foras na Gaeilge that the specific qualification referred to by the Deputy is not a prerequisite for appointment to any post in the agency.

I have also been advised that the staff of Foras na Gaeilge have a varied range of academic qualifications, skills and experience, including a range of domain-general and domain-specific qualifications and skills, which combine effectively in order to further the strategic objectives of the organisation.

Alternative Energy Projects

Jerry Buttimer

Question:

112 Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland grant payment was cancelled and the expiry date not extended in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork, in view of the fact that unforeseen circumstances prevented completion of works within the specified time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5696/12]

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) administers the Better Energy Programme, on behalf of my Department.

To ensure the transparent use and administration of Exchequer funding, the SEAI is committed to delivering processes and systems, which are clear and efficient, and which operate in a manner that is fair to all applicants. The scheme rules explicitly state that the grant offer, once accepted, remains valid for 6 months from the date of issue of Grant Offer notification. In accepting the grant offer the applicant accepts all conditions of the scheme indicating those set out in the Application Guide. It is not possible to make exceptions as to do so would be to alter the terms of the scheme and create a precedent for any other parties who have found themselves ineligible.

Queries in relation to individual applications are an operational matter for the SEAI and a dedicated hotline can be reached at 1800 250 204. In addition, the SEAI has recently established a specific email address for queries from Oireachtas members, which can be sent tooireachtas@seai.ie and will be dealt with promptly.

Broadcasting Services

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

113 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he intends to encourage the State broadcaster, RTE, to provide one or more television and radio channels to be broadcast without advertising, along the lines of the BBC, in return for the current licence fee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5804/12]

Section 114 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 outlines the principal objects of RTÉ and Section 98 of the Act provides that it shall be independent in the pursuance of these objects. As the Deputy is aware, RTÉ is funded through both a Grant-In-Aid for a proportion of broadcasting licence fee receipts and through the commercial revenue it generates. Such a dual-funding mandate is necessary for RTÉ to adhere to its principal objects in a country and marketplace of this size.

That said, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that RTÉ's new digital terrestrial television service, Saorview, is carrying two television stations without advertising on its platform — RTÉ News Now and RTÉjr.

Offshore Exploration

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

114 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when he envisages Corrib gas flowing into Irish homes and businesses; the measures he will undertake to encourage gas and oil exploration between now and 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5805/12]

Completion of the development works by the developer is the principal factor that will determine the date for first gas. Pending such completion, it is not possible to state a date for when gas from the Corrib gas field will become available.

The Corrib Project requires a number of statutory permissions in order for the developer to construct, operate and maintain the development.

In February of last year, the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources granted consent to the Corrib Partners pursuant to Section 40 of the Gas Act, 1976 and Section 13 of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act, 1960 to construct, but not commission, the Corrib Gas Pipeline, subject to 47 conditions.

The Deputy might also note that other licences and permissions beyond my statutory remit, including planning permission, Foreshore Licence and an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Licence are also required with respect to the construction and operation of the Corrib Gas Pipeline.

Legal challenges to the consents granted pursuant to both the Gas and Petroleum Acts and the Planning Permission granted by An Bord Pleanála were settled towards the end of last year.

Works on the development commenced last summer. 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 three years. First gas cannot therefore reasonably be anticipated before 2014.

With regard to encouraging gas and oil exploration in Ireland, I can tell the Deputy that my Department is actively promoting and sponsoring major petroleum research projects designed to provide exploration companies with a much better understanding of resource potential during the next two years. My Department is also engaging with the industry to see how critical data gaps in the frontier basins, which are hindering deep-water exploration, can be addressed in the near future. These initiatives should be of considerable assistance in encouraging new exploration effort in the search for indigenous hydrocarbon reserves.

I would also remind the Deputy of the results of the 2011 Atlantic Margin Round, which featured a number of special initiatives designed to encourage new momentum in the level of exploration activity. Under the Round, Licensing Options were offered in frontier basins for the first time. The response from the exploration industry was positive and gives some grounds for confidence. Key facts include:

Fifteen applications were received by the deadline compared to two in the previous round.

Thirteen Licensing Options have been awarded which cover a total area of just over 15,000 square kilometres and comprise 55 full blocks and 7 part blocks.

Twelve companies were involved in the awards, seven of which were new to Ireland.

A wide variety of exploration plays were recognised, some of which were the focus of the Department's recent technical promotion campaigns.

The outcome of 2011 Round confirms that this is the correct strategy to encourage exploration. Both the number of applications and the number of awards resulting from the Round are the highest of any Frontier Round, the first of which was in 1994. I am optimistic that the holders of many of the new licensing options will be successful in identifying exploration opportunities that warrant progression to full exploration licences and substantial further work programmes.

Rural Development

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

115 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on rural development programmes (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5673/12]

The EU co-funded Rural Development Programme, as referred to in the Question, is part-implemented by 35 Local Development Companies around the country. My Department is responsible for these elements of the overall programme, while the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine is responsible for the elements of the programme that directly support the agriculture sector.

These 35 Local Development Companies are also involved in the implementation of a broad range of publicly-funded local programmes and initiatives. It is in the context of their broader local development role that I am currently engaging with the local development sector as part of an examination of the scope for enhanced alignment between local development programmes and local government. I have established a Steering Group to advise me on this issue and expect its final report soon. The Group presented an interim report in December 2011 which is available on my Department's website at:http://www.environ.ie/en/Publications/ Community/AlignmentLocalGovLocalDev/FileDownLoad,28839,en.pdf.

I am aware that, in general, there has been successful implementation of rural development programmes in Ireland and that the local development structures involved with these programmes are a key part of that success. At the same time, given the very significant range of both EU and Exchequer supported local development programmes being implemented around the country through a range of local development entities, it is appropriate that there is a strong and continuous focus on efficiency and effectiveness in relation to these programmes. Our local government system is a key part of our democratic process and it is appropriate that it has a role in local and community development programmes.

The focus of the Steering Group is on improving efficiency, effectiveness and services to the citizen, and on enhancing the role of local government in the area of local development. I am fully aware of the guidance of the EU regarding community participation in rural development programmes, and this guidance will continue to be fully respected for the current and future programmes.

Local Authority Charges

Jack Wall

Question:

116 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if a person (details supplied) is liable for the full rate of the household charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5676/12]

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 gives effect to the €100 household charge.

The Act places the household charge under the care and management of the local authorities, and application in particular circumstances is a matter for the relevant local authority. Interpretation of the legislation is a matter for legal advice in individual cases and ultimately a matter for the Courts.

Sandra McLellan

Question:

117 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if a repayment arrangement will be reached in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5677/12]

The Local Government (Charges) Act 2009, as amended, provides the legislative basis for the charge on non-principal private residences (NPPR).

Under section 9 of the Act, collection of the charge is placed under the care and management of the relevant local authority. It is open to an individual who may be experiencing hardship in meeting their payment obligations under the Act to make contact with the relevant local authority in the first instance to establish if there is a basis for addressing the matter.

Local Authority Staff

Pearse Doherty

Question:

118 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 145 and 147 of 25 January 2012, the individual projects to which funding was committed under the capital assistance scheme in 2011; the amount of funding committed to each of these projects in 2011 and the amount actually spent on each of these projects in 2011; with respect to the allocation of funding for 2012, the amount of this funding already allocated to projects approved in 2011 or before; the amount available for new applications in 2012; whether there is any formal application process for this portion of the 2012 allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5680/12]

It is not possible to provide the information requested in the form sought in the question. Information will be compiled and sent to the Deputy as soon as possible to meet his request so far as this is possible.

Work is currently underway on preparing the Social Housing Investment Programme for 2012, including projects funded under Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS). Information submitted by local authorities for the 2012 programme is still being collated and examined. I will, in the context of an examination of existing programme commitments under CAS, give consideration to the financial scope for new CAS projects during 2012. I envisage making announcements in relation to budgets or allocations for the various housing supply programmes in early March.

Local Authority Charges

Shane Ross

Question:

119 Deputy Shane Ross asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if there will be any concession on the household charge made for those paying management fees on residential properties; his plans to hold management companies accountable for the work they carry out in managing these properties to ensure that residents are getting value for money; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5693/12]

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides for a number of exemptions and waivers from payment of the household charge. The exemptions from payment of the household charge are—

Residential properties that are part of the trading stock of a business and have not been sold or been the source of any income since construction,

Residential property owned by a Minister of the Government, a housing authority or the Health Service Executive,

Voluntary and co-operative housing,

Residential property subject to commercial rates and wholly used as a dwelling,

Residential property owned by certain charities or discretionary trusts, and

Residential property which an owner has vacated due to long-term mental or physical infirmity (e.g. elderly person that has moved into a nursing home).

The waivers which apply concern—

Owners of residential property entitled to mortgage interest supplement, and

Owners of houses in certain unfinished housing estates.

There is no exemption or waiver in the legislation, or proposed, in respect of persons who are paying management fees.

With a view to improving consumer protection, the recently enacted Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011 includes provisions for the licensing of property services providers, including providers of property management services. Section 43 of the Act will oblige licensees to provide a letter of engagement containing detailed information on the services to be provided in accordance with Parts 1 and 4 of Schedule 2. Moreover, the statutory functions of the Property Services Regulatory Authority will include the investigation of complaints concerning the provision of property services by licensees.

Housing Grants

Denis Naughten

Question:

120 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will approve funding for a project (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5704/12]

My Department's involvement with voluntary and co-operative housing schemes relates primarily to the provision of funds for individual projects. The detailed administration of the schemes, and the certification that projects comply with the terms and conditions of the funding schemes, are the responsibility of the relevant local authority. Galway County Council submitted a proposal under my Department's Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS) on 6 October 2011 for a 17-unit scheme at Hymany, Ballinasloe, to be undertaken by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

I will, in the context of an examination of existing programme commitments under CAS, give consideration to the financial scope for new CAS projects during 2012. It will be a matter for Galway County Council to prioritise projects locally having regard to the relative merit of any proposals received and the extent to which they meet housing need.

Emergency Services

Catherine Murphy

Question:

121 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government about the new institutional arrangements he is considering in respect of the fire and ambulance services; the timeframe to which he is working; if any consultation will take place prior to the implementation of new arrangements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5707/12]

I refer to the reply to Question No. 474 of 31 January 2012 which sets out the position in this matter.

Waste Water Treatment

Robert Troy

Question:

122 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he will publish the standards by which waste water treatment facilities will be inspected under the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011. [5714/12]

The Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011 sets out the duties for owners of domestic waste water treatment systems including septic tanks. The Bill requires an owner of such a system to ensure that it does not constitute, or is not likely to constitute, a risk to human health or the environment and, in particular, that it does not create a risk to water, air or soil, or to plants and animals, create a nuisance through noise or odours, or adversely affect the countryside or places of special interest.

As I stated in reply to Question Nos. 171, 174, 175, 176, 177 and 180 of 19 January, it is not intended to apply new standards, for example as set out in the EPA's 2009 Code of Practice, to older on-site systems as part of the new inspection system. Where an inspection reveals a problem, issues such as existing site size, hydrological and geological conditions etc. will be considered to identify the most appropriate and cost-effective remediation works necessary.

It is my intention, following the enactment of the legislation, to carry out a public consultation on draft performance standards for domestic waste water treatment systems which will be prepared by my Department in consultation with the EPA. These standards will also include the minimum requirements for the maintenance and de-sludging of treatment systems.

Social and Affordable Housing

Simon Harris

Question:

123 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he intends to launch the buy-to-rent scheme for private home owners in which owners can surrender their house to their local authority and rent the property back; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5725/12]

Robert Dowds

Question:

127 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government how a mortgage-to-rent scheme, as recommended by the Keane report on mortgage arrears, will work in practice. [5849/12]

Robert Dowds

Question:

128 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, in respect of an upcoming pilot of the mortgage-to-rent scheme, if it will be up to each bank and financial institution to decide whether to get involved in such a scheme. [5850/12]

Robert Dowds

Question:

129 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if it will be up to the banks and financial institutions or to persons with distressed mortgages to decide whether to get involved in a mortgage-to-rent pilot scheme. [5851/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 123 and 127 to 129, inclusive, together.

As part of the implementation of the recommendations in the Keane Report my Department is developing a mortgage to rent scheme on a pilot basis. This work has been assisted by Clúid Housing Association, a number of local authorities, the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency, AIB, and more recently, New Beginning and another lender. The Keane reported recommended 2 such schemes or models on which a mortgage to rent option might operate. The same categories of household would be targeted under each scheme. These are households that:

have had their mortgage position deemed unsustainable under a Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (as provided for under the Central Bank's Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears);

agree to the voluntary repossession of their home;

do not have significant positive equity, and;

are eligible for social housing.

In addition, the house must also be appropriate to household need. In other words, the household are not significantly over-accommodated (e.g. a couple residing in a home that is too large for their needs) or under-accommodated/overcrowded. Households availing of the scheme will become social housing tenants, paying a differential rent calculated on the basis of household income. The essential difference between the 2 options relates to ownership of the property after the voluntary repossession has taken place.

Under the first model, after voluntary repossession has taken place the property would be purchased by an approved housing body at current market value. The household would become a social housing tenant — they would no longer be homeowners.

The purchase of the property would be part loan financed (using loan finance generally obtained from the initial mortgage provider) and the Exchequer. My Department is also consulting with the Central Bank to ensure that the process through which households might be offered the option to participate in the scheme complies fully with all existing consumer protection and other regulatory requirements.

Under the second model, the lender would become the long term owner of the property after voluntary repossession had taken place. The household would become a social housing tenant of the relevant local authority and the local authority would, in turn, lease the property from the financial institution for the period of the lease. The household would enjoy the same benefits as any household already accommodated under the social housing leasing initiative in terms of security of tenure, differential rents, eligibility etc.

It is anticipated that the first transactions under the first model will take place very soon. Ultimately, the schemes will be rolled out nationally using the criteria set out above and it is hoped that all lenders will agree to participate.

Fire Stations

Eamonn Maloney

Question:

124 Deputy Eamonn Maloney asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if a timeframe has been established for the new fire station for Tallaght, Dublin. [5741/12]

The provision of fire services in local authority areas, including the establishment and maintenance of fire brigades, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of premises, is a statutory function of the individual fire authorities under the provisions of the Fire Services Act 1981. My Department supports fire authorities through the setting of general policy and guidance, and the provision of capital funding, including the recoupment (within the overall funding available) of costs incurred by fire authorities in relation to the approved purchase of fire appliances and emergency equipment as well as construction and upgrading of fire stations.

I am not aware of any suggestion that a new fire station will be provided in Tallaght. In 2011, I indicated that support of € 300,000 from my Department's fire services capital programme would be made available, as an exceptional measure, to supplement a similar level of funding announced by Dublin City Council to upgrade facilities at the current Tallaght fire station. I expect this sum to be drawn down in 2012.

Continued investment in the fire appliance fleet has been identified as a key national priority, given the current constraints on public finances. In order to deliver cost efficiencies in line with recommendations of the Local Authority Efficiency Review Group, following the development of an agreed national fire appliance specification, a programme is currently underway which involves fire authorities aggregating demand and inviting tenders for 17 fire appliances.

Further support from my Department's fire services capital programme for any fire station projects, including further upgrades in relation to Tallaght Fire Station, will be considered within the constraints of available resources and will have regard to local authorities' priorities, the value for money offered by proposals and the totality of requests from fire authorities.

Waste Management

Derek Keating

Question:

125 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a private contracting company (details supplied) has introduced an administrative charge of €60 for every household since the autumn of 2011 but has recently exempted from such a charge those who will return to their contract; if he believes such action is uncompetitive and unjust; his views on whether this warrants the introduction of regulation, standards of service provision and an appeals system for those service users who are not receiving the service they are contracted to get; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5819/12]

The charges applied by waste management companies are a matter between those companies and their customers, subject to compliance with all applicable environmental and other relevant legislation, particularly the conditions attached to each waste collector's collection permit issued by the relevant local authority under the Waste Management (Collection Permit) Regulations 2007, as amended. Waste collection in individual local authority areas may also be subject to local bye-laws. Matters of compliance with competition law are proper to the Competition Authority.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce competitive tendering for household waste collection, under which service providers would 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 designed to inform the policy development process concluded in September 2011. A large number of responses were received from a broad spectrum of interests. As one might expect, a consensus is not apparent and, on almost all of the relevant issues, a considerable breadth of opinion was expressed. All of the responses received, in addition to a summary document, are available on my Department's website,www.environ.ie.

I expect to be in a position to submit final proposals in relation to household waste collection to Government by Easter this year. All policy proposals will be carefully considered by Government and will take account of the full range of issues and perspectives. Issues including value for money and service standards will be among the issues for consideration in this context.

Professional Bodies

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

126 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding the Building Control Bill 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5838/12]

I have no plans to amend the Building Control Act 2007 along the lines suggested.

Part 3 of the Act enables eligible persons engaged in the provision of architectural services to register for the use of the title architect. The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) has been designated as the registration body for the purposes of Part 3 of the Act.

Membership of the RIAI is not a prerequisite to registration and a number of non-RIAI members have already been included on the register of architects in line with the Act.

A number of routes to registration are provided for in Sections 14, 15, 16 and 22 of the Act having regard to the differing approaches to gaining the requisite knowledge, skills and experience adopted by individual applicants. Section 22, in particular, includes a provision to address the position of a category of practically trained persons who had already been providing architectural services in Ireland commensurate with those understood as being provided by Architects for the purpose of the Building Control Act 2007 for a period of ten years at the time the Act became law. This provision is transitional in nature and enables this category of persons to become registered once they have been assessed as eligible for registration by the Technical Assessment Board in accordance with the practical experience assessment procedure.

Taken in their totality the various routes to registration provided for under Part 3 of the Act represent a registration process that is open, fair and transparent.

Questions Nos. 127 to 129, inclusive, answered with Question No. 123.

Local Authority Charges

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

130 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will make it a requirement of local authorities to send reminders in respect of the non-principal private residence charge in view of the fact that an increasing number of persons report the onerous penalties imposed for late payment at a time when they are hard pressed to pay the charge itself; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5884/12]

The Local Government (Charges) Act 2009, as amended, broadened the revenue base of local authorities through the introduction of the charge on non-principal private residences (NPPR). The charge is set at €200 and is being levied and collected by local authorities. The Act places the onus on an owner of a residential property which is situated in the State to assess his or her liability for the charge in the first instance.

There is no obligation on local authorities to issue notifications or invoices regarding the charge. Nationwide advertising took place in both 2009 and 2010, and again in 2011, to ensure general awareness of the charge and the liability dates. In tandem, local authorities have undertaken their own advertising campaigns locally. Communications have also been issued to persons who paid the charge in respect of previous years reminding them of their possible liability for the charge.

Significant efforts are being made to ensure that property owners are aware of the charge and the liability dates. However, the charge is based on self-assessment principles and it is a matter for persons with a liability to pay the charge by the due date to avoid late payment fees.

Pyrite Heave

Clare Daly

Question:

131 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the counties in which heave inducing pyrite has been found in housing developments, public and commercial buildings and roads; and if he is preparing an emergency plan to deal with this issue in view of the rapid deterioration of some of these properties. [5889/12]

My Department is aware that incidents of pyrite heave have been reported to date in Dublin, Meath, Kildare and Offaly. As the Deputy is aware, I have set up an independent Panel to examine the problem of pyrite in private housing and I have asked the Panel to report to me early this year. When I receive the report, I will give early and careful consideration to the Panel's findings, and will make their report available as soon as possible.

Regional Development

Denis Naughten

Question:

132 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the Western Development Commission report Creative West; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4751/12]

The Western Development Commission's Creative West report, published in 2009, outlined a summary of research findings and detailed a set of recommendations for developing the creative sector. The sector includes design, digital media, visual arts, architecture and crafts among others. The report provides useful information and a coherent analysis that is being used to underpin and guide the implementation of initiatives in the WDC region in order to support creative enterprises and contribute to job creation and economic development.

Baseline research by the Western Development Commission estimated that there were 4,800 enterprises employing 11,000 people which generated an annual turnover of €534m and contributed €270m to the gross value added of the regional economy in 2008.

In 2011 the WDC published an economic impact assessment, conducted by NUI Galway which measured the potential impact of supporting export growth and facilitating networks of practice among creative businesses in the region. It estimated that if these activities were supported there was potential to significantly increase (by up to 17,000) the numbers working in the creative sector over the next 10 years. In order to pursue the recommendations made in the Creative West report and to develop the sector, the Western Development Commission has worked with partners in the region including NUI Galway and Sligo County Council to access EU funding sources for development programmes. The Creative Edge project, which is a €1.2m 2-year project funded mainly by the EU under the INTERREG IVB Northern Periphery Programme, has recently been approved. Its primary objective is to develop an export platform to assist creative businesses to increase their exports, initially targeting the Diaspora. In addition, the Creative Challenge project which is a €300,000 2-year project mainly funded by the EU which aims to increase innovation in mainstream enterprises e.g. agrifood, tourism, life sciences has also been developed.

It is hoped that these two collaborative, development programmes will go some way to supporting existing creative enterprises in the region to scale-up where appropriate, to engage in joint projects and to access international markets. It is also hoped that new start-ups within the sector will be encouraged.

Environmental Education

Seán Crowe

Question:

133 Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the Green Flag initiative; and the support he gives to schools to encourage greater environmental awareness. [2968/12]

The Green Schools environmental education programme, coordinated by An Taisce, has been operating very successfully in Ireland for the past 15 years. The programme is coordinated at international level by the Foundation for Environmental Education. The Green Schools initiative provides a great opportunity for young people to learn how we can live more sustainably and protect and improve our environment. It fosters a strong sense of citizenship and leadership among students that spreads beyond the school and into their homes and the wider community. Schools are awarded Green Flags when they achieve certain targets under a number of environmental headings — waste and litter, energy, water, transport and biodiversity. Other themes under development are Global Citizenship and Climate Change.

Over 3,500 schools in Ireland are currently taking part in the programme; this represents over 84% of all schools nationally, with over 700,000 students and nearly 50,000 teachers and staff involved. To date, 2,306 schools have been awarded Green Flags.

The success of the Green Schools programme is further illustrated by the demand for the programme to be extended to our post-second level institutions. In 2010, UCC became the first third-level campus in Ireland, and the world, to be awarded a Green Flag.

Alongside the central objective of raising environmental awareness, the Green Schools programme also has the added benefit of assisting participating schools in identifying and achieving cost savings. Costs are reduced through diversion of waste from landfill, and reductions in energy and water usage. An Taisce estimate that schools achieved a combined minimum saving of approximately €3 million during the 2010-2011 academic year.

My Department continues to support the Green Schools and Green Campus programmes and provided funding of €200,000 to An Taisce for the operation of the programmes in 2011. The programmes are also supported by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, local authorities, and private sector sponsors. My Department also supports other environmental educational initiatives, through the funding of small, local environmental projects in partnership with local authorities through the Local Agenda 21 partnership fund, for which I provided €395,000 in 2011. My Department has developed a primary school teachers' resource — Eco Detectives — on climate change and the environment and this was distributed to all primary schools in 2011. The Environmental Protection Agency has also developed a second-level resource entitled 2020 Vision: A Closer Look at Ireland's Environment. The theme of sustainable development is also integrated into a number of subjects in the curriculum in primary and second level schools, including geography, history, science, home economics and business.

Local Authority Services

Seán Crowe

Question:

134 Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the importance of keeping open public libraries. [2975/12]

Day to day operations, including staffing levels and opening hours, in the public library service are a matter for each local authority in its capacity as a library authority under Section 78 of the Local Government Act 2001.

My Department provides funding towards the capital costs of approved new libraries and the refurbishment of existing libraries along with funding for mobile libraries and delivery vans.

The library service provides very valuable social, educational and cultural services to communities around the country and local authorities continue to make every effort to deliver appropriate services within budgetary constraints.

Planning Issues

Seán Crowe

Question:

135 Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the health concerns associated with telecommunication masts, his position regarding the erection of telecommunication masts in the vicinity close to a school. [2974/12]

The issue of the potential health effects of mobile phone masts was the subject of an Expert Group Report commissioned by the Government and published in March 2007. This Report, entitled Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields, is available for download on my Department's website (www.environ.ie). The Expert Group reported that the majority scientific opinion to date is that no adverse short or long term effects have been demonstrated from exposure to electromagnetic fields at levels below the limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). However, extensive international research on the issue continues to be coordinated through bodies such as the World Health Organisation.

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), the licensing authority for the telecommunications industry, commissions audit reports to verify that its licensed operators are in compliance with their licence conditions relating to emission limits for non-ionising radiation. The detailed measurement results from over 900 transmitter sites surveyed to date have so far shown total compliance. Recorded levels of radiofrequency signals are typically measured as being within the range of 0.002% to 2% of the safe exposure levels set by the ICNIRP guidelines. This is lower or comparable to radiofrequency exposures from radio and television broadcasts. The location of licensed telecommunications antennae and the results of individualsite survey reports can be found on ComReg's website:http://www.askcomreg.ie/ mobile/siteviewer.273.LE.asp.

My Department's current advice to those living in close proximity to mobile masts or base stations, based on the conclusions of the Expert Group, is that there is no scientific basis or evidence of adverse health effects in children or adults as a result of exposure to electromagnetic fields below ICNIRP levels. This applies irrespective of the location of the mobile phone mast.

Local Authority Services

Sandra McLellan

Question:

136 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will detail the local authorities which do not have arts officers; if he will outline the plans to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5196/12]

In accordance with Section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, day to day staffing and organisational arrangements are a matter for each local authority.

My Department has a delegated sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for implementation of the moratorium on public sector recruitment in the local authority sector. Where vacancies arise, it is a matter for each local authority, in the first instance, to reorganise and reallocate work to meet requirements. Any exceptions to the moratorium require sanction from this Department.

In considering sanction requests public safety, maintaining key front line services and economic issues are given precedence as is the requirement to avoid increases in overall staffing levels.

Based on a survey of local authorities I understand that all are satisfied with current staffing arrangements in relation to the Arts function.

Pension Provisions

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

137 Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the measures he intends to take to end the pay, pension and abatement arrangements for current county managers. [3795/12]

The pension entitlements of city and county managers are provided for in article 78 of the Local Government (Superannuation) (Consolidation) Scheme 1998.

My Department has examined the new pension terms for secretaries general to assess how they apply to city and county managers. The implementation of new pension terms will require legislation. The precise detail of this is currently being examined.

The remuneration of City and County Managers is sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform and was reduced in January 2010 in accordance with Government policy on pay.

There are no plans to amend the pension entitlements or remuneration of existing managers.

Investor Visa Programme

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

138 Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on whether his new immigrant investor visa scheme will allow persons to enter the State and remain here as a result of purchasing National Asset Management Agency properties without creating any employment. [5708/12]

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

139 Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the criteria that will be applied for the sale of the National Asset Management Agency properties to participants in the immigrant investor programme. [5709/12]

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

140 Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the interpretation of “endowment” in the context of the immigrant investor scheme includes a gift to sporting, cultural, health or educational organisations; the level of endowment required to participate in the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5710/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 138 to 140, inclusive, together.

The Immigrant Investor Programme, which has been approved by the Government, will provide a portfolio of investment options for potential migrant investors. Details of these together with the broad outline on how the scheme will operate are set out in the press release issued by me on 24 January, 2012. The level of investment required in each of the options is also clearly stated in that press statement.

I also indicated in my press release that the scheme will be formally launched in March when the rules, procedures, application details and so forth will be published. In advance of this, I do not propose to comment in detail on specific elements of the programme.

I will say, however, that the primary purpose of this very innovative programme is either job creation or job maintenance and I am completely satisfied that it is appropriately structured with these key national objectives in focus. In that regard, I do not agree that investment in property will not have an impact on employment. The CSO's Quarterly National Household Surveys have reported that the construction sector accounted for the largest declines in employment from Quarter 2 in 2008 through to Quarter 2 in 2011. The sector experienced a reduction in numbers employed of 43,000 people in the period between Quarter 3 of 2009 and Quarter 3 of 2011. During this period, the Construction Sector accounted for 56% of the overall employment drop and for more than 70% of the drop in male employment. This has very significant economic and social consequences and in framing the Immigrant Investor Programme, I specifically stipulated that the programme should contribute to the response to the crisis in construction employment and associated professions as well as injecting some much needed funding into the sector. Measures that stimulate demand for property, including that overhanging the market, can only be of benefit in terms of job creation.

Citizenship Applications

Michael Lowry

Question:

141 Deputy Michael Lowry asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding an application for naturalisation in respect of persons (details supplied) in County Tipperary; the current status of said applications; the reason this case is taking in excess of three years; the steps being taken to resolve this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5738/12]

I am advised by the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that valid applications for certificates of naturalisation were received from the persons referred to by the Deputy in December, 2008.

The applications are currently being processed with a view to establishing whether the applicants meet the statutory conditions for the granting of naturalisation and will be submitted to me for decision as expeditiously as possible. As the processing requirements and time taken to complete necessary checks vary from case to case, it is not possible to provide a specific date for determination of an individual application. I can inform the Deputy that good progress continues to be made in reducing the time taken to process the generality of applications.

The granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and an honour which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from INIS is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Residency Permits

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

142 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason for the length of time taken to reach a decision in respect of residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5739/12]

I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Question No. 498 of Tuesday 24 January 2012 and the written Reply to that Question.

The Deputy might wish to note that the case of the person concerned is amongst a large volume of such cases to be considered by my Department and will be processed to finality as soon as possible.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from the INIS is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Court Accommodation

Mattie McGrath

Question:

143 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans for the courthouse in Tipperary town; if moneys secured in recent years for essential repairs for the courthouse have been spent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5742/12]

Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions. However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me Tipperary courthouse is owned by South Tipperary County Council. I understand that due to its general condition it has not been used for court sittings for a number of years.

The Courts Service is not in a position to fund the extensive remedial works that would be required to facilitate its return to service as a court venue and does not consider it appropriate to invest in property owned by third parties. In view of the historical nature of building, I understand my Department indicated at the end of 2010 that it would be prepared to consider funding limited repair work to prevent further deterioration of the building. However, no funding was made available and, as the Deputy will appreciate, the budgetary situation in my Department has deteriorated further since 2010. Given the need to concentrate on core activities, I regret to inform the Deputy that there is no funding available to facilitate repair work in circumstances where neither the Department nor its agencies has any vested interest in the property.

Garda Transport

Brendan Ryan

Question:

144 Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, in view of the closure of the Garda station in Rush, County Dublin, if he will detail the number of squad cars currently available to the Garda to service the towns and surrounding areas of Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush and Lusk in County Dublin; his views on whether the current number of patrol cars is adequate to cover these areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5794/12]

Decisions in relation to the deployment of Garda resources, including transport, are a matter for the Garda Commissioner. In that context the efficient deployment of Garda vehicles within each Garda Division is a matter for the Divisional Officer in the light of operational requirements.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that the allocation of Garda vehicles within each Garda District is continually monitored and reviewed by the Garda authorities to ensure that the optimum policing service is available to the community.

I am further informed that there are currently 9 Garda vehicles, both marked and unmarked, assigned to the Balbriggan Garda District which covers the areas referred to by the Deputy. In addition, the Garda authorities have advised that they are satisfied that an effective policing service is being provided, and will continue to be provided, to those areas.

Garda Deployment

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

145 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the number of gardaí attached to the Garda traffic corps will not be reduced, in view of the fact that media reports indicated that the corps will be reduced by 30% in numbers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5796/12]

The Deputy will be aware that the Commissioner, in consultation with his senior management team, is responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, throughout the organisation. There is no getting away from the reality that public expenditure and public service numbers have to be reduced in the context of the agreement with the EU and the IMF. Notwithstanding this reduction in Garda numbers I have been informed by the Commissioner that the Garda Traffic Corps, with the primary role of roads policing, remains in place and that the strength of the Corps, as of the latest date for which figures are readily available, was 947. This represents a reduction of just over 10% in the Corps since 2009 when the strength of the Force was at an all time high.

Garda Vetting Service

Billy Timmins

Question:

146 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding Garda clearance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5810/12]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that a vetting application on behalf of the individual concerned was received by the Garda Central Vetting Unit on 23 January 2012. I am further advised that the application was processed and returned to the Registered Organisation concerned on the 31st January 2012.

Garda Stations

Robert Troy

Question:

147 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when will he advance the extension for the Garda station in Athlone, County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5811/12]

The programme of replacement and refurbishment of Garda accommodation is based on agreed priorities established by An Garda Síochána. This programme is progressed in co-operation with the Office of Public Works, which has responsibility for capital expenditure in relation to Garda accommodation.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that planning approval for the Athlone scheme has been secured by the OPW and that the preparation of the tender documentation for the relevant works is being prepared.

This matter will be progressed in the context of An Garda Síochána's identified accommodation priorities and in the light of available resources.

Proposed Legislation

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

148 Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Justice and Equality, following his statement in December 2011 that he intends to introduce a system of attachment orders allowing money to be taken from wages or social welfare payments to facilitate the payment of the debt or fines over time as an alternative to imprisonment for persons who refuse to pay fines, and that work was under way with a view to bringing forward legislative proposals in 2012, when will this legislation be published; and the reason he stated in Dáil Éireann on 26 January 2012 that he was not considering such legislation, a claim that is contrary to his own public statements. [5836/12]

I understand that the Deputy is referring to an exchange between herself and the Tánaiste on the Order of Business on 26 January. There are no plans for legislation relating specifically to the collection of fines in respect of household charges. The current position in relation to general legislation on fines was set out in my reply to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 514 and 516 on 24 January 2012.

Departmental Expenditure

Michael McCarthy

Question:

149 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the total cost of the Garda drug squad in 2010 and 2011 separately; if he will provide a breakdown in tabular form of the various categories of spending and their corresponding cost in each year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5845/12]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the costs for the Garda National Drugs Unit in 2010 and 2011 are outlined in the table.

Subhead Item

2010

2011

Salaries, Wages and Allowances

5,128,750

5,424,807

Travel and Subsistence

193,274

164,114

Other Subhead Items

358,553

390,856

Total

5,680,577

5,979,777

Liquor Licensing Laws

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

150 Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if there is legislation that permits nightclubs to serve alcohol in glasses; and if this legislation also applies to sporting events and festivals at which alcohol is usually provided in a plastic cup. [5847/12]

The position is that neither the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2011 nor the Metrology Acts 1980 to 1996 regulate the type of containers in which alcohol is sold or supplied. Health and safety concerns may, however, have a bearing on the type of containers used for this purpose in certain situations.

Garda Complaints Procedures

Martin Ferris

Question:

151 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to allegations involving members of the Garda in Schull, County Cork, in regard to a case (details supplied). [5853/12]

Martin Ferris

Question:

152 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the Garda Commissioner has received complaints from members of the public about members in the Schull-Bantry area, County Cork. [5855/12]

Martin Ferris

Question:

153 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will request a full report from the Garda authorities on complaints regarding members in the Schull and Bantry area of County Cork. [5859/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 151 to 153, inclusive, together.

I understand that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has received a complaint concerning members of the Garda Síochána in the area concerned and the Ombudsman Commission has yet to decide whether the complaint is admissible. I am therefore not in a position to comment further on this matter at this time.

Proposed Legislation

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

154 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when the Landlord and Tenant (Business Leases Review) Bill will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5888/12]

The Deputy refers to a proposal for legislation to end upward-only rent reviews (UORRs) for existing leases, i.e., those entered into prior to 28 February 2010. The Deputy will recall that the Government announced in December last that it had decided not to proceed with legislation in this area.

Departmental Investigations

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

155 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the concern at the manner in which his Department’s special investigations unit has carried out some of its work, with indications that in a range of cases it has abused the extensive powers given to it under legislation; if he will order an independent review of the operation of this unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5697/12]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

156 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to amend the legislation governing the special investigations unit of his Department in order to provide stronger safeguards for the rights of citizens, including an avenue of appeal other than the courts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5698/12]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

157 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, recognising the need for absolute vigilance to ensure food safety and animal health and welfare, if he will put in place a stronger regime with regard to education, information and prevention, balancing the strong emphasis on prosecution as pursued by the special investigations unit of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5699/12]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

158 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will set out the annual costs of the operation of his Department’s special investigations unit in 2009, 2010 and 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5700/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 155 to 158, inclusive, together.

The position is that officials in the Special Investigation Unit are officers of my Department and they operate fully in accordance with national and EU legislation. I am not aware of any widespread concern at the manner in which the SIU has carried out its work or that it has abused its powers of investigation. The investigations carried out by the SIU have formed the basis for the majority of the successful Court prosecutions taken on behalf of my Department over the past 20 years, which in itself is clear evidence of the integrity of the officials involved in the Unit and the fact that they operate in accordance with the rule of law.

The investigative procedures adopted by the SIU comply with the standard requirements in regard to the taking and presentation of evidence and the rights of the person or persons being investigated. They follow the same protocols as are used for criminal investigation carried out by the Garda. On occasion, investigations by the Unit involve the use of search warrants, with all the rules of evidence being complied with. Interviews are carried out under caution and statements are prepared for use in court by Counsel on behalf of the Department. When an investigation is complete a report is prepared and forwarded to the relevant section of the Department for further action in relation to any grant payments due.

A formal code of practice relating to the operations of the SIU, which codified existing guidelines, was put in place in February 2004. While this provides that, in the first instance, complaints are dealt with through line management and, if necessary, subsequently through the Quality Service Unit, complainants also have recourse to third party bodies such as the Ombudsman's Office and, if necessary, the Courts. Only two matters have been referred to the Department since publication of the code in 2004 and these were resolved satisfactorily within the Department.

The annual costs of the operation of the Special Investigation Unit in 2009, 2010 and 2011 were as follows:

Year

Salaries and T and S

2009

€0.916m

2010

€0.845m

2011

€0.817m

The SIU has focused much of its energies on enforcing legislation on animal remedies, disease eradication and animal identification in respect of the small subset of those involved in the sector who attempt to profit from illegal activities. Its success in enforcing this legislation has established its value as the primary deterrent and this has resulted in a very high level of compliance in the food industry as a whole with regulatory requirements, thereby assisting in the eradication of diseases such as Brucellosis and BSE. This, in turn, has facilitated the production of high quality food and safeguarded the reputation of the Irish food industry both on the home and export markets, which is essential for continued growth. The value of the agri-food industry in 2011 was €22 billion and agri-food exports were worth €8.9 billion. It is vitally important for the continued growth of the food industry, which is so dependent on export markets, that it complies with, and is seen to comply with, national and EU regulations.

I accept that many of the regulatory requirements in the animal health and food safety area are complex and my Department makes great efforts to explain and communicate these requirements to the farming sector. The relatively small number of prosecutions that come before the courts suggest that the vast majority of farmers both understand and comply with these requirements. As part of the EU CAP negotiations, I am continuing to press for greater simplification of EU regulations and requirements. I intend to continue this as the reform process continues.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that farmers generally and others in the agri-food sector have no reason to be concerned with the activities of the SIU. Indeed the operations of the SIU protects the interests of farmers generally and the reputation of the Irish food industry from the malpractices of the few. I do not intend to order an independent review of the operation of the Unit, though, in common with all other areas of the Department's activities, the role and functions of the SIU will be kept under constant review.

Departmental Expenditure

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

159 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will set out the annual spending by him on education, information and prevention with regard to animal health and welfare and food safety in 2009, 2010 and 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5701/12]

It is not possible to provide this information in the required time. I will forward it to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

Appointments to State Boards

Joan Collins

Question:

160 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether it is appropriate to appoint a person (details supplied) who had previously outsourced jobs to the board of Bord Bia. [5751/12]

Bord Bia has a statutory mandate to promote, assist and develop the marketing of Irish food and drink, seafood, livestock and horticulture products through innovative and effective research, development and promotion activities. The Bord Bia Acts require the Chair to have knowledge or experience of the food industry and of consumer requirements. The newly appointed Chairman has these attributes and will bring considerable experience and knowledge to the agri-food sector at a time when the food industry is playing a pivotal role in the economic recovery of this country.

The Chair of Bord Bia is responsible for leading and inspiring the organisation to develop strategies to expand markets in line with Food Harvest 2020 which sets out ambitious growth and export targets for the food sector, which will contribute to economic recovery and sustainable employment. The record €8.9 billion in the value of food and drink exports in 2011 marks an important step in that process.

Inland Fisheries

John McGuinness

Question:

161 Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if regulations and restrictions operated by him with regard to salmon fishing on rivers can be or are applied to private lakes stocked with salmon reared by the owners of those enterprises; the function, if any, he has in such enterprises; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5835/12]

The general regulation of salmon fishing on rivers and lakes is a matter for the Department of Energy, Communications and Natural Resources. I assume the enterprise referred to by the Deputy is a "Put and Take" fishery.

From a fish health perspective, "Put and Take" fisheries must be authorised by the Marine Institute in accordance with S.I. No 261 of 2008 (as amended). All movements of live fish to and from "Put and Take" fisheries must be notified in advance to, and approved by, the Marine Institute. A "Put and Take" fishery should:

have appropriate record keeping to allow full traceability on their fish

have appropriate bio security measures in place at each facility

participate in the Risk Based Disease surveillance scheme operated by the Marine Institute, in conjunction with my Department's vets

report unexplained increased mortalities to the Marine Institute for investigation.

Departmental Schemes

Michael Creed

Question:

162 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of installation aid and early retirement scheme applications received by his offices at Johnstown Castle, County Wexford between 6 October 2008 and 13 October 2008; the number of these applications that required additional information or documentation; the number of these applications that were subsequently approved for payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5875/12]

The information requested in relation to applications received under the Young Farmers' Installation Scheme and the Early Retirement Scheme between 6 and 13 October 2008 in my Department's office in Johnstown Castle, Wexford is set out in the following table:-

Scheme

Number of Applications Received

Whether Further Documentation Required

Number Approved for Payment

Young Farmers’ Installation Scheme

86

Yes, in all cases

78

Early Retirement Scheme

21

18

21

Departmental Expenditure

Brendan Smith

Question:

163 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will provide a detailed breakdown by programme and scheme of certain subheadings (details supplied) under budget and actual expenditure. [5883/12]

The details requested in relation to the funding allocations under the 2011 budget and the corresponding actual outturns for my Department by programme and scheme are as follows:

New 2011 Subhead Format

Budget 2011

Actual Outturn

A.1

Administrative Pay

15,085

15,176

A.2

Administrative Non-Pay

4,325

3,524

A.3

Research & Training

35,695

35,189

A.4

Development of Agriculture & Food (farm grants).

44,500

20,361

A.5

Teagasc Grant-in-Aid

120,156

120,156

A.6

Bord Bia Grant-in-Aid ’(incl Bord Bia)

28,392

27,637

A.7

Marine Institute G-in-Aid

24,200

24,123

A.8

Bord Iascaigh Mhara G-in-Aid

16,738

16,738

A.9

Food Aid Donations — World Food Prog.

9,960

9,960

A.10

Other

27,301

14,037

A.11

Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund

57,290

57,290

A.1-A.11 Total

383,642

344,191

B.1

Administrative Pay

105,231

105,867

B.2

Administrative Non-Pay

35,983

28,971

B.3

Food Safety, Animal Health /

175,730

121,211

B.4

Other

185

93

B.1-B.4 Total

317,128

256,142

C.1

Administrative Pay

40,856

41,103

C.2

Administrative Non-Pay

11,063

9,010

C.3

Rural Environment Protection Scheme

337,000

277,022

C.4

Land Mobility (Early Retirement Sch.Installation Aid)

35,960

27,702

C.5

Development of Agriculture & Food (farm grants).

73,340

40,882

C.6

Forestry

119,820

116,459

C.7

Fisheries

17,837

12,648

C.8

Sea Fisheries Protection Authority

10,895

10,199

C.9

Other

1,114

708

C.1-C.9 Total

647,885

535,732

D.1

Administrative Pay

27,503

27,670

D.2

Administrative Non-Pay

7,389

6,017

D.3

Market Supports Operational Costs

43,333

17,609

D.4

Income Support in Disadvantaged Areas

220,000

233,757

D.5

Other

626

136

D.1-D.5 Total

298,851

285,189

Total A-D

1,647,506

1,421,255

Health Service Staff

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

164 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the number of whole-time equivalent social workers in employment at the end of 2010 and 2011; if she intends to reach the target number of social workers recommended in the Ryan report at the end of 2012; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5886/12]

The HSE compiles a monthly census of employment in the public health and social care sector. The latest data available is in respect of December 2011. This shows that the total number of social workers employed in the HSE and in directly funded agencies at that time was 2,442 whole time equivalents (WTEs). The equivalent figure at the end of 2010 was 2,432 WTEs and at the end of 2009 was 2189 WTEs. This is an increase of 253 WTEs since the end of 2009.

The policy goal, in line with the Implementation Plan, published in 2009 in response to the Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Ryan Report), is to achieve an overall increase of 270 social workers. In this context, it should be noted that the HSE made provision for the recruitment of an additional 62 social workers in 2011, to build on the recruitment of over 200 additional social workers in 2010. However, I understand from the HSE that not all of the 2011 cohort of additional staff are reflected in the employment census as yet owing to the time lag between candidates being offered positions, taking up duty and appearing in the employment census returns.

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

165 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has an estimate of the number of social workers intending to take early retirement in February; if there is a plan to replace these workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5887/12]

My Department has sought the information requested by the Deputy from the HSE and I will provide the Deputy with the information when it becomes available.

Home Help Services

Martin Ferris

Question:

166 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Health when home help will be awarded to a person (details supplied). [5860/12]

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

Health Service Staff

Michael McCarthy

Question:

167 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Health if he will confirm the total number of health service personnel based at Cork University Hospital who have applied for retirement before the end of February under the public sector pension scheme; the number of personnel at Cork University Hospital who have already retired in the months between September and the end of December 2011 under the scheme; if he will provide a breakdown in tabular form of the number of applicants in each staffing grade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5868/12]

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

Medical Cards

Jack Wall

Question:

168 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health the position regarding an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5678/12]

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

Jack Wall

Question:

169 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health the position regarding medical card holders being charged for routine blood tests (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5679/12]

General Practitioners (GPs) who hold General Medical Services (GMS) contracts with the HSE must not seek or accept money from medical card or GP visit card holders for services covered under the GMS contract. In circumstances where the taking of blood is necessary to either (a) diagnose a patient or (b) monitor a diagnosed condition, the GP may not charge the patient if they are eligible for free General Medical Services. The HSE points out that, in many GP surgeries, it is the practice nurse who takes blood samples and that it significantly subsidises the cost of employing practice nurses.

At my request, the HSE has written to all GMS GPs reminding them of their obligations under their contract in this regard. I would encourage patients to follow up with the HSE if they believe they are being wrongly charged for services by their GP and the matter will be fully investigated by the Executive. Formal complaints will be dealt with through the HSE's Consumer Affairs Service. In a number of cases to-date, the GP has reimbursed their patients following receipt of correspondence from the HSE.

I appreciate that because of the nature of the GP/patient relationship, it may be difficult for patients to make such complaints. Where public representatives are made aware of GPs charging GMS patients in error, they may wish to notify the HSE directly.

Health Services

Pearse Doherty

Question:

170 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Health the estimated cost which would be entailed by providing free health care for infants up to one year of age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5689/12]

As all persons ordinarily resident in the State may avail of public hospital services, I take it that the Deputy's question relates to the cost of providing free General Practitioner (GP) care to children up to one year of age. In the time available, it is difficult to provide an accurate estimate of the cost of providing a free GP service to all children under one year of age. While the current GMS capitation rate payable to GPs in respect of children under 5 years is approximately €80, GPs are also entitled to a range of other payments. These include fees for out of hours consultations which could be a significant factor in the care of young children. In addition, GPs receive subsidies towards the cost of employing practice nurses, secretaries and practice managers, which vary depending on the number of patients on their panels. Allowing for these additional fees and allowances, the overall cost per child could be up to €150 per annum. Assuming that cost per child and an annual birth rate of between 70,000 and 75,000, the total cost of providing free GP care to all children under one year is provisionally estimated at between €10.5m and €11.5m. I would emphasise, however, that the Deputy's proposal has not been the subject of detailed analysis and this estimate should be treated with a high degree of caution.

Finian McGrath

Question:

171 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health the position regarding an assessment in respect of a person (details supplied). [5705/12]

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

Hospital Staff

Tom Fleming

Question:

172 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Health the implications of the further reductions in staffing levels due to take place between now and the end of February 2012 on the provision of services at Kerry General Hospital; the number of staff involved; if there will be bed closures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5711/12]

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

Ambulance Service

Billy Kelleher

Question:

173 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if he will publish a report investigating the incidence of ambulance side doors opening unexpectedly; the cost to the Health Service Executive of improving the ambulances in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5715/12]

There are a number of investigations by agencies external to the HSE into the events surrounding an incident which involved the opening of a side door on an emergency ambulance. As these investigations are not concluded, it would be inappropriate to make any comment at this time on the matter. On foot of a safety alert to all ambulance owners, published by the Health and Safety Authority, the National Ambulance Service has installed additional safety features, over and above the safety features already in place, on its emergency ambulance fleet, to meet the Authority's recommendations. These additional safety features were fitted at a cost of €153,774.

Health Service Staff

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

174 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health if he is responsible for centralised co-ordination of contingency plans to address the severe shortfall in Health Service Executive staff, especially in front line services, that will follow the departure of thousands of employees under early retirement at the end of February 2012; if he is satisfied that such contingency plans exist; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5726/12]

The Government has determined that, in line with its commitment to reduce the size of the public service, health sector employment numbers must be reduced to approximately 102,000 in 2012. The cumulative impact of staff reductions from this year and previous years represents a significant challenge for the health system in delivering services. The priority is to reform how health services are delivered in order to ensure a more productive and cost effective health system.

The most recent information available from the HSE indicates that, over the period from September 2011 to end-February 2012, some 3,700 health service staff will have retired from the health service. Of this total, approximately 1,500 persons have already retired during the four-month period to the end of December 2011, while the remainder have indicated that they will leave by the end of February 2012. It should be noted that these figures refer to the number of individuals rather than whole-time equivalents (WTE). It should also be noted that this data is subject to change in the event of additional applications being received or existing applications being withdrawn.

The health and personal social services that will be delivered by the HSE within its budget and anticipated staff complement are set out in the National Service Plan for 2012, which I approved on 13 January. It is clear that the cumulative impact of staff reductions from this year and previous years represents a significant challenge for the health system in delivering services. It increases the need for reform including greater flexibilities in work practices and rosters as well as redeployment. The Service Plan includes a commitment to addressing these issues within the context of the Public Service Agreement. It also commits the HSE to minimising the impact on services by fast tracking new, innovative and more efficient ways of using reducing financial and human resources. The Plan reflects the need to move to new models of care across all service areas which will treat patients at the lowest level of complexity and provide quality services at the least possible cost.

Other reform initiatives set out in the Plan include the development of proposals to protect the viability of community nursing units and to increase the intermediate care capacity for older people; a significant strengthening of primary care services; the enhancement of community mental health teams; a more tailored approach to disability services; and progression of the clinical care programmes. I intend to review the Service Plan once the full impact of the staff leaving at the end of the 29 February "grace period" is known. In advance of this, I have asked the HSE Board to submit as a matter of urgency its assessment of the likely impact of retirements to the end of February, to identify particular pressure points and to develop appropriate measures to deal with significant departures in a given service or area.

The HSE is currently finalising detailed service plans at regional level and these regional plans will take account of the effect of the current reduction in staff numbers.

Seán Kyne

Question:

175 Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Health if consideration can be given to enabling hospitals and their constituent parts such as laboratories to offer internships as part of the JobBridge scheme, which would provide students from medical science backgrounds, such as biochemistry, an opportunity to gain experience. [5727/12]

The Health Service Executive is examining the possible use of JobBridge, the National Internship Scheme introduced by the Minister for Social Protection, in the health sector. JobBridge provides work experience placements for a 6 or 9 month period to jobseeker's either as new entrants to the labour market after education or training, or as unemployed workers wishing to learn new skills. The Scheme also gives jobseeker's an opportunity to gain valuable experience to bridge the gap between study and work.

Tom Fleming

Question:

176 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Health the implications of the further reductions in staffing levels due to take place between now and the end of February 2012 on the provision of services at St. Columbanus Home, Killarney, County Kerry; the number of staff involved; if there will be bed closures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5728/12]

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

Billy Kelleher

Question:

177 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health the new pay scales proposed for the proposed new non-consultant hospital doctor grade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5729/12]

Billy Kelleher

Question:

178 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health the roles and responsibilities of the proposed new non-consultant hospital doctor grade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5730/12]

Billy Kelleher

Question:

179 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health the discussions that have been held with the Irish Medical Organisation about the proposed new non-consultant hospital doctor grade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5731/12]

Billy Kelleher

Question:

180 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health the average working hours proposed for the proposed new non-consultant hospital doctor grade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5732/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 177 to 180, inclusive, together.

Having had regard to concerns about the large numbers of qualified Irish doctors travelling abroad, the career structure for doctors and the recent difficulties in filling non-consultant hospital doctor posts in our hospitals, I decided to develop a proposal for the creation of a new Specialist grade of doctor for those who have completed their higher specialist training. A project leader and an Advisory Group were appointed last November to progress the development of a proposal. The Advisory Group comprises representatives of my Department, the Health Service Executive, Medical Council, Post Graduate Forum and student doctors in specialist training. A draft Interim Report was provided to me yesterday 31 January 2012. The draft report contains a number of recommendations which I will consider before the report is finalised. It is envisaged that consultation with relevant stakeholders would then take place. I trust the Deputy will appreciate that I am not in a position to answer the specific questions raised by him at this time.

Medical Cards

Billy Kelleher

Question:

181 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if a policy decision was made by him to reduce the number of medical cards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5733/12]

No policy decision has been made to reduce the number of medical cards being issued.

In 2010, the number of medical cards increased by 137,000. In 2011, the number of medical cards increased by 78,849. The National Service Plan 2012 has provided for a forecast of over 100,000 additional medical cards during 2012. As the actual number of medical cards is demand-led based on individuals' circumstances, the outturn may vary from projections.

Hospital Charges

Billy Kelleher

Question:

182 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health the private and semi-private accommodation charges for private in-patients for 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5736/12]

Under Section 55 of the Health Act 1970 (as amended), maintenance charges in respect of private, semi-private and day-care accommodation in categories 1 and 2 public hospitals were increased with effect from 1 January 2012. The new rates are set out below. There are no changes in respect of category 3 hospitals.

Hospital Category

Private Accommodation

Semi-Private Accommodation

Day-care

1

HSE Regional Hospitals, Voluntary & Joint Board Teaching Hospitals

€1,046

€933

€753

2

HSE County HospitalsVoluntary Non-Teaching Hospitals

€819

€730

€586

3

HSE District Hospitals

€260

€222

€193

The private in-patient daily charge of €75, subject to a maximum payment of €750 in any period of 12 consecutive months, will remain unchanged for 2012.

Ambulance Service

Denis Naughten

Question:

183 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health the current plans to establish an ambulance base in west Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5746/12]

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

Health Services

Niall Collins

Question:

184 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health if special provision will be made with great urgency in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [5748/12]

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

Medical Cards

John O'Mahony

Question:

185 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Health when a decision on an application for a medical card will issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5752/12]

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

Eric J. Byrne

Question:

186 Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Minister for Health if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12 will be issued a medical card as a matter of urgency; the reason this person’s medical card has been extended for one month on four separate occasions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5795/12]

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

Health Service Staff

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

187 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health the number of staff in the Health Service Executive who have been given a HSE vehicle as part of their work duties; the grades of these staff; the reason staff are given a HSE vehicle; the cost of supplying and repairing these vehicles in 2009, 2010, 2011 and to date in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5797/12]

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

Medical Cards

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

188 Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Health when a decision will be issued on an appeal for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5812/12]

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

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

189 Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Health the position regarding a medical card application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo; when a decision will issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5813/12]

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

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

190 Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Health when a decision will be issue on a new over-70 application for medical cards in respect of persons (details supplied) in County Sligo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5814/12]

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

Ministerial Staff

Billy Kelleher

Question:

191 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health, in the context of his special adviser’s reducing the work commitment from full time to one third, that special adviser’s outgoing full time salary; their proposed new salary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5817/12]

My Special Adviser is currently paid at the first point of the Principal Officer (Standard) Scale which ranges from €80,051 to €92,672. As I have already informed the Deputy, I am in discussions with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform regarding changes to my Special Adviser's work pattern. These discussions, which are not yet concluded, will include the salary to be paid under the proposed new arrangements.

Medical Cards

John Browne

Question:

192 Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Health if he will arrange to have a medical card entitlement for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford reviewed based on medical evidence submitted. [5843/12]

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

Control of Drugs

Michael McCarthy

Question:

193 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Health his position on the designation of cannabis within the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5844/12]

Cannabis is designated as a Schedule 1 controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 which means that the manufacture, production, preparation, sale, supply, distribution and possession of cannabis and cannabis-based medicinal products is unlawful in Ireland except for the purposes of research. Cannabis misuse is detrimental to health, and significant physical and mental health risks are particularly associated with long-term use. The Government is satisfied that the existing controls associated with cannabis are appropriate.

As the law currently stands, it is not possible for cannabis-based medicinal products to be prescribed by a medical practitioner in Ireland. I am aware that claims have been made in respect of the possible health benefits of cannabis-based medicinal products for patients suffering from certain conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis. I am also aware that cannabis-based medicinal products may be legally prescribed in other countries. Accordingly, my Department is examining the issues associated with applying controls, similar to those that apply to other controlled drugs that can be misused, such as morphine and methadone, to cannabis-based medicinal products to permit them to be prescribed and dispensed in Ireland.

Human Rights Issues

Eoghan Murphy

Question:

194 Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Health when he will be appointing an expert group to consider the implications of last year’s ECHR ruling in the ACB v Ireland case on Ireland’s abortion law; the number that will be in this group; and how its members will be selected. [5846/12]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the Expert Group on the ABC v Ireland judgment of the European Court of Human Rights was established on 13th January 2012. The Group consists of fourteen members who have all been selected based on their medical, legal, and policy expertise.

Health Service Staff

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

195 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health if the figure of 500 general practitioners in primary care teams cited by the CEO of the Health Service Executive includes the 116 GPs who resigned from these teams in the north-east area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5856/12]

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

Medical Cards

Martin Ferris

Question:

196 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Health when an application for a medical card will be decided in respect of a person (details supplied). [5862/12]

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

Health Service Reform

Tom Fleming

Question:

197 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Health when the extension of free general practitioner care to all claimants of medicines under the long-term illness scheme will be introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5869/12]

Free GP care will be extended to persons in receipt of drugs and medicines under the Long Term Illness Scheme. Primary legislation is required to give effect to this commitment. There will be an announcement in due course about the start date for the new arrangements. It is hoped that the new arrangements will be in place by early summer.

Medical Cards

Jack Wall

Question:

198 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health when a child (details supplied) in County Kildare will be issued with a medical card; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5870/12]

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

Departmental Schemes

Catherine Murphy

Question:

199 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Health if he will add Crohn’s disease to the long-term illness scheme in view of the chronic nature of the condition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5882/12]

There are no plans to extend the list of conditions covered by the Long Term Illness Scheme.

Under the Drug Payment Scheme no individual or family pays more than €132 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme significantly reduces the cost burden for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines. In addition, people who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. In the assessment process, the Health Service Executive can take into account medical costs incurred by an individual or a family. Those who are not eligible for a medical card may still be able to avail of a GP visit card, which covers the cost of general practice consultation.

Clamping Industry

Simon Harris

Question:

200 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the current guidelines governing the regulation of private clampers; if he intends to reform this area during his tenure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5706/12]

While current legislation permits local authorities to clamp vehicles in public places, either directly or by contract with a clamping company, there is no legislation covering clamping on private property.

In line with the commitment in the Programme for Government to regulate the vehicle clamping industry, I recently presented a discussion document to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht, outlining the issues involved in regulating the industry, my proposals on the shape of appropriate legislation and inviting their views.

When the Committee's views have been received, I anticipate that appropriate legislation will be brought before the Oireachtas.

Driving Licences

Jerry Buttimer

Question:

201 Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if there are any proposals to revert to the former system whereby, when a full driving licence was issued, class EB was automatically included; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5744/12]

Prior to 1989, the driver licensing system permitted a car and trailer to be driven under the car licence alone. Licence categories were then changed, with separate categories covering car (Category B) and car and trailer (Category EB). People licensed to drive with trailer before 1989 were allowed to keep their old entitlements, simply by ticking the appropriate box on the application form when renewing their licences. Where a pre-1989 licence holder did not tick the box they would no longer retain that entitlement. However, the entitlement could be restored up to ten years after last holding it. If they let the entitlement to drive with a trailer lapse for longer, they must apply as learners for the purposes of driving with a trailer.

The problems this system has caused for some people have been raised before with me. I have considered the issue, and I believe it is of the utmost importance, from a safety perspective, that people are properly qualified and licensed to drive the vehicles they have charge of on our roads. However, I have decided to change the licensing regulations so that those who have a Category B licence, and who wish to acquire a Category EB licence, will now no longer have to wait the usual 6 months before they can take the Category EB test. This change came into effect as of 10 January 2012. I do not propose any further legislative changes in this regard.