Topical Issue Debate

Financial Services Regulation

I have raised this issue on foot of the problems people are encountering in the context of so-called sub-prime mortgages. We are all aware of the general difficulties experienced by people whose mortgages are in arrears as a result of unemployment and reductions in income. These difficulties are greatly exacerbated in the case of certain lenders who charge huge interest rates, impose massive penalties on people who are in arrears and resort to legal proceedings to obtain possession of properties even in circumstances where they have been presented with reasonable offers of repayment.

The lenders to whom I refer should not be allowed to continue to lend money. One such lender is a certain Mr. Weisz, who has been already convicted of a breach of section 27 of the Central Bank Act 1971. His offence related to the illegal solicitation of deposits and was a breach not only of the Central Bank Act but also of the terms of the only licence held by the company, which was issued in the UK. This fact alone should warrant an investigation on the part of Revenue. We also have information relating to the fact that numerous deposits were made to the personal bank account of Mr. Weisz and his wife, Fiona, and not to that of the Wise Finance Company.

Concerns in respect of this matter were raised in the House in 1999. The then Minister, Mary Harney, attempted to tighten up the legislation relating to lenders of this kind. Unfortunately, a number of loopholes still remain.

Mr. Weisz signed an affidavit in the High Court on 28 September 2004 in which he stated that the plaintiff company was a mortgage lender within the meaning of the Consumer Credit Act 1995, when the only licence the company ever held was one issued by the Office of Fair Trading in England. This licence allowed for the granting of credit by non-deposit taking finance houses and other specialist consumer credit guarantors. Said licence lapsed on 25 May 2004, over four months earlier. I am sure Mr. Weisz was well aware of that fact at the time.

I apologise for interrupting but I would like the conversations taking place in the lobbies to cease. I want to be able to hear what Deputy Martin Ferris has to say and I am sure the Minister of State does as well. Perhaps the Deputies who are talking to one another in the lobbies might continue their conversations outside the Chamber.

Given that the company to which I refer is currently in the process of attempting to repossess properties, particularly a number of farms throughout the country, I request that the Department of Finance and the Central Bank investigate the legal position and status of this company as a matter of urgency. I hope the Minister of State will relay my request to the relevant entities.

Deputy Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine ( Shane McEntee)

I have taken on board everything the Deputy stated and I promise to forward the details to the relevant authorities. Approximately two years ago, I was gob-smacked when discovered the number of people and entities that were in a position to give out mortgages and the number of individuals who simply did not know what type of mortgage they had taken out.

The Central Bank of Ireland has overall responsibility for authorising, regulating and supervising regulated financial service providers. In terms of the provision of mortgages, this includes the regulation of credit institutions - such as banks - retail credit firms and home reversions schemes. A retail credit firm is one which provides credit in the form of cash loans directly to individuals under the Consumer Credit Act 1995. A home reversion scheme is where a consumer agrees to sell a share of his or her home in return for a set price. The Central Bank provides a register of regulated financial service providers on its website www.centralbank.ie. In addition to the requirement to be authorised, mortgage providers are subject to a range of supervision and enforcement provisions set out in statute, including the Central Bank Acts 1942 to 2011. There are a number of other requirements to which mortgage providers are subject, including the code of conduct on mortgage arrears; the consumer protection code; and the Central Bank fitness and probity regime.

A number of measures have been already put in place to protect mortgage holders who are experiencing difficulty with their mortgage repayments. These include the Central Bank code of conduct on mortgage arrears which, among other things, requires each lender to put in place a mortgage arrears resolution process. It also provides that a lender must make every reasonable effort to agree an alternative payment arrangement with a co-operating borrower who is experiencing mortgage difficulties and places a moratorium on legal action by banks against co-operating borrowers.

In its report published last autumn, the interdepartmental group on mortgage arrears concluded that the mortgage problem is complex and that in some cases a response other than a forbearance approach will be required. In particular, it stated that a range of practical solutions tailored to individual circumstances will need to be developed and deployed for people in most need. The Government has accepted the recommendations in the Keane report which relate to this area and has put in place a special committee to ensure a high priority is assigned to their implementation across relevant Departments and agencies. Under the consumer protection code, a regulated entity must ensure that in all its dealings with customers and in the context of its authorisation it acts honestly, fairly and professionally in the best interests of its customers and the integrity of the market; acts with due skill, care and diligence in the best interests of its customers; does not recklessly, negligently or deliberately mislead a customer as to the real or perceived advantages or disadvantages of any product or service; does not exert undue pressure or influence on a customer; ensures any outsourced activity complies with the requirements of the code which also sets out a range of more detailed provisions relating to mortgages.

The Central Bank Reform Act 2010 gave effect to the new fitness and probity regime being introduced on a phased basis by the Central Bank. Under the new regime, the Central Bank may refuse to approve a proposed appointment to a pre-approval controlled function where it is of the opinion that the proposed appointee is not of such fitness and probity as are appropriate to perform the relevant function. The Central Bank, as part of its role in the ongoing supervision of the financial services sector, may from time to time consider there is reason to suspect the fitness and probity of a person performing a controlled function and may commence an investigation into that person. Under the fitness and probity regime, a person must be able to demonstrate, among other things, that his or her ability to perform the relevant function is not adversely affected to a material degree where he or she has, in any jurisdiction, been convicted of an offence either of money laundering or terrorist financing, or has had a finding, judgment or order made against him or her involving fraud, misrepresentation, dishonesty or breach of trust.

Following on from the Central Bank Reform Act 2010, the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011 was published in July 2011. That Bill draws on the lessons of the recent past in Ireland and abroad and further enhances and strengthens the Central Bank's regulatory powers to impose and supervise compliance with regulatory requirements and undertake timely prudential interventions. The Bill contains a range of provisions that will enhance the protection of consumers. Further provisions have been proposed for Committee Stage which are the subject of a public consultation process.

The Government has brought forward several reforms to improve the regulatory system. The provision of mortgages and the protection of consumers remain a core focus of the Government's attention. The Central Bank continues to work with the Department of Finance and other stakeholders to deal with difficulties that arise on the ground and bring forward meaningful proposals to ensure mortgage holders are dealt with in a fair, honest and professional manner.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Obviously, he does not have the details I have regarding the Wise Mortgage Company and Mr. Weisz's finance company. I have been aware of his operation for several years when he attempted to repossess a farm in my constituency. Vulnerable people borrowed money at a rate of 9%, but once they had missed one repayment, it doubled to 18%. It would tend to accumulate over time, making it impossible for the individuals concerned, small farmers in many cases, to pay it back.

When I first named Mr. Weisz in the House, I was assured the loopholes in the legislation would be closed for this sub-prime mortgage lender. In two weeks time, however, he has a case before the Supreme Court. Again, it involves an individual who borrowed a modest amount of money that has accumulated with penalties to an exorbitant sum which the person concerned is unable to pay back. Unless the Supreme Court states the lender, Mr. Weisz's finance company, was acting illegally, the farm of the individual in question will be repossessed. I am aware of two other farmers whose farms are being repossessed by Mr. Weisz.

Because of a loophole people like Mr. Weisz are not regulated by the Central Bank. Until such time as this is done, vultures like him will continue to exploit the vulnerability of individuals who find themselves in desperate situations and who are doing their utmost to maintain whatever property they have.

I will bring this matter, particularly the specific lender mentioned, to the attention of the Minister for Finance. In my constituency we have had similar cases of people who did not look at where they were getting their mortgage from and now find themselves in serious trouble like that described by the Deputy.

Air Quality Controls

I am raising this matter because I have been contacted by constituents who are concerned about the lack of a ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous coal, smoky coal as it is generally called, in Wicklow town and the wider Greystones area. I am concerned about this issue as the health implications are significant for those inhaling this smog, as evidenced by the reduction in the number of deaths, estimated to be in the hundreds, when the ban was first introduced in the wider Dublin area in the early 1990s.

I was first contacted about this matter by a father of two young children who suffered from asthma. Their neighbours burn high bituminous coal and the prevailing wind blows the resulting smog straight in through their bedroom windows. The black carbon particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs of those who breathe it in. This is clearly not tenable for the family, nor is it tenable for the other elderly residents who have contacted me from Wicklow and Greystones and are concerned about their own health. It is clear that exposure, even below the mandatory levels, can have adverse effects on health, particularly of those prone to respiratory problems.

During the years many other towns and cities have been added to the list of areas in which a ban has been put in place. They include Arklow in 1998 and my home town, Bray, in 2003. The results of these additions have demonstrated a reduction in black smoke emissions in the range of 70% in cities to a minimum of 45% in towns. This is welcome. I would, therefore, certainly like to see an extension of the ban to Wicklow town and Greystones. Not only, as I said, would it have immediate health benefits but there would also be wider policy implications. As a country, we should be reducing our dependence on fossil fuels such as smoky coal that has a high carbon content and relatively inefficient combustion when compared to other fuel sources. In doing so, we could help to tackle climate change and improve energy efficiency. A recent UN report demonstrates that the replacement of coal with smokeless coal for cooking and residential heating offers the prospect of a large potential reduction in emissions. Further reports indicates that by 2020, small-scale residential heating systems will be the source of about half of all black carbon emissions and, therefore, the most dominant form.

I know the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is undertaking a review of the situation, which is very welcome. Given the recent census results which demonstrated a large increase in the population of County Wicklow and that Wicklow town and Greystones were significant urban areas, it is incumbent on us to consider adding them to the list of places where only smokeless fuels may be used. I would not like to see another winter when the level of home heating is at its highest with increased smog levels. We must endeavour to do what we can to protect the health of the most vulnerable members of our communities. I, therefore, urge the Minister to take these points on board when coming to a decision on the results of the review.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous fuel - the smoky coal ban - was first introduced in Dublin in 1990 owing to severe winter smog resulting from the widespread use of smoky coal for residential heating. The ban has proved effective in reducing smoke and sulphur dioxide levels, with research indicating it has resulted in over 350 fewer annual deaths in Dublin since its introduction. The ban was subsequently extended to other areas and now applies in 20 cities and towns. Air quality monitoring by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has shown that levels of particulate matter are lower in these areas than in towns where the ban does not apply. In its most recent state of the environment report the EPA has concluded the smoky coal ban has had a positive effect on limiting particulate matter emissions from home heating and recommended it should be extended to all urban areas.

A public consultation paper was recently prepared by my Department to inform and assist a review of the smoky coal ban regulations, taking account of the progress made to date, as well as the 2011 census, which evidenced changes in town populations. As well as reviewing the impact of the regulations to date, the consultation paper also identifies relevant considerations relating to their effective implementation in the context of the scientific and societal developments since their introduction. The consultation paper can be viewed on my Department's website,www.environ.ie.

Among the options explored in the consultation paper is the proposed alignment of the smoky coal restricted areas outside Dublin and Cork with EPA-designated air quality zones so as to provide for greater consistency in overall air quality management. The EPA has divided the country into four zones for the purpose of air quality monitoring and management, as follows: zone A is Dublin; zone B is Cork; zone C comprises other cities and towns with populations greater than 15,000 people; and zone D covers the remaining areas of the country. Based on the latest census data, the alignment of the smoky coal ban regulations with zone C would result in the ban being extended to the towns of Balbriggan, Greystones, Letterkenny, Mullingar, Navan, Newbridge and Portlaoise.

Under the current consultation process, my Department has received submissions supporting the extension of the smoky coal ban to the town of Greystones and its environs. At present, Wicklow town is not proposed for inclusion as part of the alignment with air quality zone C as its population is less than 15,000 people. Although it is open to Wicklow County Council to nominate any town within its functional area for inclusion in the ban, I understand my Department has not received any such request. It should be noted that the closing date for submissions is this coming Thursday, 17 May. Perhaps the Deputy will have the opportunity to ensure a submission is made before that date.

I thank the Minister for his reply and I am delighted that Greystones has been included. As I mentioned, the population in Greystones, Delgany and other areas has grown. The Minister, unfortunately, noted that there has been no application from Wicklow County Council with regard to Wicklow town. That is a pity, and the closing date is on Thursday. I contacted the town clerk in Wicklow this morning to see if she had made a submission but she had not, so I will contact representatives of Wicklow County Council to see if we can get in a submission before Thursday. There is a growing population in Wicklow town, and the town is, unfortunately, quite smoggy. With regard to health and environmental aspects, I would like to see this ban extended to every town and city in the country.

I am glad Deputy Ferris is in contact with the local authority to remind it to put in a submission for Wicklow town. If it does not do so, perhaps the Deputy will make a submission herself.

Special Educational Needs

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this topic and the Minister of State for being present. Parents of children with intellectual disabilities who are about to leave school are in a dilemma as they do not know what services, if any, the children can avail of when school finishes next month. The difficulty is believed to affect more than 700 children, voluntary service providers are pointing out that the reduced funding has resulted in the paring back of services, and there is no capacity to care for further people as there is pressure to find sufficient resources to care for people already within the system.

Many of these children require ongoing speech and language support, physiotherapy or occupational therapy. Parents fear their children will regress if they do not receive the necessary support. Each year, the Department of Health offers funding to provide emergency placements and services for school leavers, but according to recent reports in the media, for the first time there will be no provision of such funding this year. Voluntary services, as we know with all other Departments, have been facing cuts over recent years and are struggling to maintain existing provisions. Support groups have indicated cuts are also exacerbated by the recruitment moratorium and the reduction in front-line services.

Fears are being expressed by parents of people with intellectual disabilities that the current issues will result in a reduced quality of life for those involved. A number of parents in Galway have been told by service providers that there are no places for their children, and transport and respite services are also being reduced. The HSE has stated a commitment to using all available resources in a creative and flexible manner to respond to the needs of these service leavers. I was contacted by a parent in Ballinasloe yesterday whose 18 year-old son at this point does not know what services will be available to him. He is a young man with a great level of needs, and I ask the Minister of State in her reply to state what, if anything, can be done in that case.

I extend my appreciation to the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue. We need clarity on it as there is great uncertainty among parents and families of people with intellectual disabilities. The previous Deputy indicated that up to 700 children with these special requirements will leave school this year, and they are unsure if places for services will be made available and what funding will exist for those places. The service has already been cut to the bone over recent years. The 4% cut this year, when there is little room left for manoeuvre, will have a direct impact on services. There has been an indication that half the 4% cut will come from administration, but many service providers argue this will not be the case as administration costs cannot be further reduced. There will be a knock-on effect on services.

What assurance will the Minister of State give that the supports and services, especially occupational and speech therapy, language supports and physiotherapy, will remain available? Ms Deirdre Carroll of Inclusion Ireland, an umbrella group representing people with intellectual disabilities and their families, has said many parents and their children face an uncertain future, and it is very disappointing and frustrating for families to be left in limbo. She has argued the onus must be on the Health Service Executive and service providers to formulate a plan to deal with this and not leave parents waiting until the last minute. This sums up the concerns that exist.

I know there is an ongoing review of efficiencies in the shape of a value for money audit but until that report is completed, there is an issue with 700 children leaving school this year to an uncertain position with regard to supports. Will the Minister of State clarify the matter?

I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue. I recognise the importance of life skills training and day services to people with disabilities who are leaving the education system, and every effort is being made within the available resources to provide services to all 2012 school leavers. Day services for adults with disabilities provide a network of support for more than 25,000 people who have a wide spectrum of need, ranging from those with severe and profound disabilities who are likely to need long-term specialist service provision to people with lower support needs and greater potential for community participation and inclusions. The HSE, through its occupational guidance service, works with schools, service providers, service users and families to identify the needs of young people with disabilities who are due to complete their second level education. The aim is to address the needs of individuals in one or more of the following ways: health funded rehabilitative life skills training; health funded day services; FÁS funded vocational training; and approval to extend education placement for a specified time.

The provision of work related training is the responsibility of FÁS and the Department of Education and Skills, whereas life skills training and general day services are provided by the HSE. Although the HSE makes every effort to provide services to people over 18 on leaving school, this has always been dependent on the availability and location of appropriate places, coupled with the needs of the individual school leaver. The demand for services for school leavers continues to grow. The HSE expects that approximately 700 school leavers will require services in 2012. Disability services will be required to cater, from within the existing budgets, for demographic pressures such as new services for school leavers and emergency residential placements.

The 2012 budgets have been reduced by 3.7%, not the 4% the Deputy mentioned, and the moratorium on staff recruitment gives rise to challenges in service provision. In addition, the physical capacity to provide further services may not be present in all agencies. The voluntary sector and the HSE are committed to the best use of available resources in a creative and flexible manner, so as to be as responsive as possible to the needs of this cohort. The emerging Department of Health policy direction, the value for money and policy review, coupled with recommendations from HSE national working groups on key service areas, including the review of HSE funded adult day services, emphasise the need for a new model of service provision that, if agreed by the Government, will further the independence of people with disabilities in a manner which is efficient and cost-effective. New Directions, the review of HSE funded adult day services, was published on 29 February 2012 with a detailed implementation plan. A working group will be established this month under the auspices of the national consultative forum to ensure the implementation plan is progressed through a collaborative approach.

I agree with the Deputy's comment that there should be much earlier intervention rather than having parents and service users worrying up to the last possible moment every year. This cannot continue but the question is why it was not tackled before now.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. Her final point answered what I was going to ask. This has been happening for a number of years now. We are talking about some of the most disadvantaged in our society but we have treated them like this for the past number of years. That is simply unacceptable and I welcome the review. The plan is that this would not happen again and that is welcome. I urge the Minister of State, however, to do whatever she can for the 700 people affected by this now. Some comfort must be given to the parents of those people. In some of the cases, such as those in the Brothers of Charity or Ability West, due to their limited resources, they are able to deal only with those with lesser issues. The problem is those who need this help and support the most are sometimes the ones who are most disenfranchised.

I thank the Minister of State for her response and encourage her to bring some clarity for the 700 currently affected by this in the next seven days.

We could argue over the percentages but in terms of front line cuts, there definitely will be more than 4%. With court cases and increments built into pay already coming out of the budget, there will be major cuts of about 6.5% to front line services. The 3.7% flagged by the Minister of State is the overall figure but the figure for front line services is much greater and there will be a major reduction in those services.

The Minister of State was critical of the supports we gave to people with intellectual disabilities previously. Benchmarking this Government's progress on something it was critical of shows there are no great aspirations to move forward this issue to ensure we do not have continual crises at the end of every year. Can the Minister of State give me an assurance that this time next year, we will not be standing here raising this issue again of school leavers not being made aware of the supports and services being made available to them, so there will be a rolling fund, year in, year out? The HSE holds back money from this fund until later in the year, creating grave uncertainty for vulnerable people.

I will tell both Deputies what I have told the service providers who have been in to see me on this issue. Both the forum and the HSE are working hard to ensure as many people as possible will have a place. There is a multiplicity of places available and different people need a different response.

I do not agree that certain organisations are at the pin of their collar as a result of cuts. There are questions to be asked about administration. The budget for disability is enormous: €1.5 billion in the Department of Health and unknown amounts in the Departments of Social Protection and Education and Skills, as well as FÁS. It is about pulling together all of that. This afternoon I was in discussions with an official to talk about putting in place a framework similar to that in mental health to pull all of that under one umbrella to ensure the crises we have seen, be it in respite, school leaving or continuing care, do not recur. We must put together an implementation plan to ensure the considerable resources that are being spent are spent wisely.

I give credit to the previous Government - I have no difficulty with that - but in some cases the process does not deliver good services. We must ensure those with disabilities make choices themselves. There is a small cohort of people who will not be able to make those choices but the majority will, and we must allow that to happen. Equally, however, we must look at the administration. When people talk about front-line services being cut, why is that? Some organisations have multiples of CEOs. They then divide up into other organisations. There is no difference in administration in disability services between organisations. Why must every area have its own backroom staff and administration? This must be about the person with the disability and that is what we are working hard to deliver. That is why the HSE, the forum and other service providers want to see this resolved so we are not constantly crisis driven. We have done that in the area of mental health and we must start doing it in the area of disability.

Schools Building Programme

Clifden community school serves a very extensive area of west Connemara, from Maam Cross to Clifden and from Roundstone to Leenane. It is now the only second level school in this area with the closure of Kylemore Abbey school.

In the school catchment area, there are primary schools in Roundstone, Ballyconneely, Aillbrack, Clifden, Cashel, Kingstown, Claddaghduff, Cleggan, Letterfrack, Tully, Eagles Nest, Inishbofin and Lettergesh. Virtually all of these schools saw upgrades in the standard of their accommodation in the term of the Fianna Fáil Governments of recent years through the devolved schemes, the summer works scheme, and the emergency works scheme. This included major works on Cashel, Cleggan, Claddaghduff, Eagle Nest and Inishbofin schools. We had on completion of this programme proceeded to the progression of the building of a replacement building for Clifden community school and had made significant progress on it before leaving office. To be honest, I thought we had brought this project to the point of no return . How wrong could I be in underestimating the anti-rural bias of this Government?

On 7 February, nearly a year after coming into office, the Minister for Education and Skills informed me in a parliamentary reply that:

The major building project at the school referred to by the Deputy is at an advanced stage of architectural planning. The design team are currently working on finalising the stage 2(b) submission (detailed Design and Tender Documents) which will then be forwarded to my Department for review. Thereafter, officials from my Department will be in contact with the Board of Management with regard to the progression of the project.

The Department will shortly publish an outline five year programme on the projects to be constructed in that time. The school building projects currently in architectural planning, including the project at Clifden Community School will be considered in the context of that programme, taking into account the funding available, the building costs involved and the progression of other major projects required to meet demographic needs.

When I got this reply my antennae immediately told me that we were heading for trouble and that the Minister was about to put this file in what the late Monsignor Horan used to refer to as the "MAD file". The acronym MAD stands for "maximum administrative delay" and means that files are not rejected outright but they never progress either. I alerted the school authorities and the parents organisation, CSI, immediately to inform them of my concerns in the vain hope that the local Government Oireachtas Members could persuade the Minister to include this school in the five year building plan.

When the Minister announced the five year plan, Clifden community school had disappeared off the radar for the next five years. On examining the criteria for selection laid down by the Minister, as outlined in a recent freedom of information request, the priority for new builds of schools are "projects that will provide for significant additional capacity to meet demographic growth." Amazingly in this prioritisation there is no mention of sub-standard buildings or unsuitable prefabricated buildings, both of which exist in Clifden. In a reply to a question from me on 18 April, the Minister clarified that as far as he is concerned there is no minimum standard laid down for school buildings by his Department. In simple terms, if there is a roof over their heads, the Minister did not even consider the unsuitability of the building or otherwise.

I call on the Minister today to redress a wrong done by him and his Department to this school, its pupils, teachers and parents, and to reverse his unjustifiable decision not to proceed with the building of a new school at Clifden community school. I also call on him to have the common decency to meet a delegation from the school, something he has refused to do and something I and others will continue to pursue through the elected Government Deputies in the area.

I am taking this topical issues debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. I thank the Deputy for raising the issue relating to Clifden community school, County Galway. I welcome the opportunity it affords me to outline to the Dáil the Government's strategy for capital investment in major primary and post-primary education projects in the coming five years. It also allows me to clarify the current position of the new school building project for Clifden community school.

The Deputy may find it helpful if I first set out the context within which decisions relating to meeting the accommodation needs of schools must be considered during the coming years. Total enrolment is expected to increase by approximately 70,000 students between now and 2018. This will involve an increase of more than 45,000 pupils at primary level and 25,000 students at post-primary level. Thereafter, enrolment at post-primary level is expected to continue to rise until at least 2024.

On 12 March this year the Minister, Deputy Quinn, announced details of 219 new, major school building projects which will proceed to construction during the next five years as part of a €2 billion capital investment programme. These new projects are in addition to the 56 major school building projects already announced for 2012. The projects announced will account for the bulk of the capital funding available each year from 2012 to 2016. Many of these schools will serve a significant rural hinterland.

To meet the needs of our growing population of school-going children, the Department must establish new schools as well as extending or replacing several existing schools in areas where demographic growth has been identified. The delivery of these new schools, together with extension projects to meet future demand, will be the main focus for the Department's capital budget for the coming years. The design of the proposed new school building for Clifden community school has been developed based on a long-term projected enrolment of 425 pupils. The current enrolment is a little above 400 pupils and enrolment levels have been relatively stable during recent years. Full planning permission for the new school was granted in February last year. Currently, the school's design team is working on finalising the stage 2(b) submission, which includes completing the detailed design of the school and the preparation of tender documents. This will be then forwarded to my Department for review.

Given the need to ensure that every child has access to a school place, the delivery of major school projects to meet the demographic demands nationally, as well as demands in Galway, will be the main focus for capital investment in schools in the coming years. The five year programme is focused on meeting these demographic needs. In this context it was not possible to advance all applications for capital funding concurrently. All school building projects, including the project for Clifden community school, will continue to be advanced incrementally over time within the context of the funding available. In light of current competing demands on the Department's capital budget, however, it is not possible to progress the project at Clifden community school to tender and construction stage at this stage.

Before he became a Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, stated his wish to eliminate prefabricated buildings. The Minister of State is aware, as is the Minister, even more so because he visited the school to announce the leaving certificate results last year, that totally sub-standard prefab buildings are in use in Clifden community school. I put the following questions to the Minister of State and if he cannot give me the answers today perhaps he will get them for me again. Is there an objective building standard which the Department considers unsuitable and which, if met, the building is deemed to be in need of replacement, irrespective of the demographics? The question applies to prefab buildings as well. How many schools are at stage 2(b)? What is the total cost involved in allowing schools that are at stage 2(b), schools that have progressed that far and which have received planning permission, to go to construction in the coming five years? Will the Minister of State indicate how many schools are included in the five year plan within a ten mile radius of Athenry, County Galway?

The Deputy referred to prefab buildings and their replacement. He may recall that recently the Minister, Deputy Quinn, announced funding to the tune of €35 million to begin a prefab building replacement programme throughout the country.

That was in place already.

This was the first time such funding was committed and it will help towards eliminating the significant stock of prefab buildings that grew up during the last Government's tenure.

No, it was not.

I undertake to respond to Deputy Ó Cuív directly when I have the detail to hand on the responses sought in terms of the minimum standard of accommodation and other such questions. As Deputy Ó Cuív pointed out earlier, Clifden community school is the only second level school in that area, which has a large geographic footprint. There are some 14 primary schools in the feeder area. The question of whether there are sufficient census data and other school enrolment data to warrant Clifden community school being included on the original five year capital programme is difficult to assess.

The conclusion drawn by the building unit, however, is that the census data and school enrolment numbers for all feeder schools for Clifden community school do not warrant it being on the list at this stage. It is the Minister's intention that all school building projects, including the project for Clifden community school, will continue to be advanced incrementally over time within the context of the funding available. I thank the Deputy for allowing me the opportunity to address the matter.

They call it the MAD file.