Topical Issue Debate

Thalidomide Victim Compensation

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter. I will begin with two dates and one number. The first date is 27 November 1961 and the second is 27 July 2012.

The first date, 27 November 1961, is the date on which most authorities worldwide became aware of the highly dangerous and serious effects of thalidomide on mothers and unborn children. The second date, 27 July 2012, is the date on which survivors of thalidomide began to take matters into their own hands individually by initiating individual actions against the State due to their dissatisfaction with the manner in which their plight has been handled by the State to this point. The figure to which I refer is 32, which is the number of people who are known to the State to be survivors and who are dealing with the effects of thalidomide on their lives. This is an issue with which a number of Governments have grappled unsuccessfully in recent years. A number of decisions were made over the summer on how this issue will be moved forward by the present Administration. I acknowledge my colleague, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, also sought to raise this issue in the House with the Minister. I am aware of the difficulty a government, including our Government, can face in being obliged to respond to a particular claim by any group, as well as of the responsibility it has to the broader society and to dealing with any claim fairly and well. However, in raising this issue, my point is the future health and quality of life of many of those who have been affected in this way is unknown. They do not know what the future will hold for them and many are surprised they have got to this point. It is important for them that within such an environment of uncertainty, they are clear on where the State and the Government stand in respect of their claim and on how we wish to support them in the future.

Second, I am aware that previous Attorneys General have indicated the State does not have legal culpability with regard to what happened. I can understand the reason such a claim could be made in a purely legal manner. However, even were this true - I do not doubt what the Attorneys General have stated - the Government has a wider moral responsibility in respect of the failure of care to these people when the Irish State and Government became aware of the potential impact of this drug on their lives and on what could happen as a result of non-action. I raise this issue because the number of people involved is known to the State and given what happened over the summer, I ask the Government to ascertain whether further action can be taken and whether it can undertake further dialogue with such survivors to ensure they are not obliged to pursue their individual plights with the injuries board. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue and I await the Minister of State's response to these points.

I am pleased to take this opportunity to outline, on behalf of the Minister for Health, the Government's position on the Irish survivors of thalidomide. The commitment in the programme for Government is to reopen discussions with survivors and this is what the Government is committed to doing. The Government recognises the challenges that persist for thalidomide survivors as they get older. In recognition of this, the Minister has proposed an ex gratia payment and a health care assessment package. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, has met both groups representing Irish survivors of thalidomide and has been trying to make progress on reaching an agreement that takes account of their concerns and in particular, their health and personal social care needs. The State has been making payments to Irish survivors of thalidomide since 1975 although it does not bear a legal liability. The payments were designed to augment payments made by the German foundation set up specifically under German law to compensate survivors of the drug. When German and Irish payments are combined, most individuals receive €30,386 per annum or €2,572 per month tax-free. Moreover, each individual is automatically entitled to a medical card.

The Irish Thalidomide Association has stated it fundamentally disagrees with the State's position and is unwilling to engage on this basis. In July 2012, the Irish Thalidomide Association, through its solicitor, submitted 17 personal-injury claims to the Minister. The Minister has asked the State Claims Agency to consider the submissions. The Irish Thalidomide Survivors Society, ITSS, has written to the Health Service Executive, HSE, regarding the extent and scope of the assessment process. Some major issues raised by the society unfortunately are outside the remit of the Department of Health. The Minister has requested the ITSS, in good faith, to continue to engage and participate in a health care assessment process in order to assist the HSE in addressing the future health care needs of Irish survivors of thalidomide. An assessment process will be managed by the HSE through Beaumont Hospital. The Minister wishes to make clear he always is available to meet representatives of survivors of thalidomide and is committed to a non-statutory solution.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and acknowledge the Government and the Minister are committed to resolving this matter. I raise it because we have reached a significant point in the issue's development on foot of the decision made by the Irish Thalidomide Association to initiate individual actions. I urge the Government to do all it can to render unnecessary this action. My concern is one must be careful regarding language such as, for example, a financial gesture of goodwill. While I understand the reason one might choose such language, these people genuinely deserve, on a moral level, far more than a gesture of goodwill from the State. I urge the Government to do all it can to ensure the commitment contained in the programme for Government is delivered in an imaginative and creative manner because having met people who deal with this issue in their day-to-day lives, I believe they do not consider this to be the case, which is the reason they have taken the individual actions. I urge the Government to do all it can to ensure their fears are not met and that it responds to them in the manner I believe it should.

I certainly undertake to pass on Deputy Donohoe's concerns to the Minister. I again assure him that at this point, the Minister's principal concern is to provide a health care package, as well as meaningful discussions on what he describes as a financial gesture of goodwill. I would be interested to hear what Deputy Donohoe's alternative wording might be for this gesture for the survivors. The Minister is ambitious to provide a reasonable and compassionate response aimed at meeting the medical and other needs of survivors over the coming years.

Student Grant Scheme Eligibility

I wish to raise the issue as to how it came to pass that the Department of Education and Skills signed off on and worked with Bank of Ireland on a punitive interest rate of 10.8% for postgraduate loans to be provided to postgraduate students. In last December's budget, the Government signed off on the abolition of postgraduate grants for new students entering third level from this year. At the time, Fianna Fáil stated this was a wrong and illogical decision from both a social and an economic point of view. One must ensure equality of access at both undergraduate or postgraduate level. It is vital to the future of the economy in respect of producing highly skilled graduates and of attracting high-skill jobs. According to the figures from the 2010-11 academic year, 34,740 people studied at postgraduate level, which constitutes an increase of 26% on the figures from five years previously. According to the most recent figures available, 6,720 people, out of more than 21,000 full-time postgraduate students, availed of a postgraduate grant last year. This constitutes an overall proportion of approximately 31% of postgraduate students who availed of and qualified for a maintenance grant and therefore, for their fees as well.

Before the general election of 18 months ago, the current Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, was seen posing for photographs with the Union of Students in Ireland, while promising not to increase third level registration fees.

In addition, he promised to row back on a previous increase of €500. If we fast-forward to after the general election, the party's spokesperson on education and now Minister for Education and Skills, instead of standing in a photograph with students, was standing in a photograph with the CEO of the largest bank in the country, encouraging students to take a loan from the bank at an interest rate of 10.8%. This is the Minister who went back on his previous promise not to increase registration fees and also abolished maintenance grants for post-graduate students meaning that they are now liable for fees and those who previously qualified for a maintenance grant are no longer eligible.

How did the Minister sign off on a grant from the Bank of Ireland that had a punitive interest rate of 10.8%? These are potential future customers of the bank whom any bank would be more than glad to have. Therefore one would expect they would offer very attractive rates to get them in. Instead the Minister for Education and Skills appeared in a photograph and encouraged students to take up loans at that rate. Several credit unions are offering education grants to undergraduates and postgraduates at interest rates of approximately 6%. How did the Minister end up agreeing with the banks and endorsing a rate of 10.8% being applied to students to be paid back when they leave college?

What happens if a student is refused a loan? Will the State provide some sort of guarantee that will ensure that students - even those without a strong credit rating - will have access to postgraduate education? Does the Minister of State consider this is a fair and viable option for students? Given the Government's record of abolishing the post-graduate grant for students, can the Minister of State give a guarantee today that the undergraduate grant will not be tampered with and will be maintained?

I am taking this important matter on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, and I thank Deputy McConalogue for raising it. The Deputy is referring to a recent announcement by Bank of Ireland regarding its postgraduate loan initiative for current and prospective students, providing finance for fees and living costs. The approach to dealing with the current difficulties in the public finances has meant that in making very difficult choices, the burden has been spread as fairly as possible.

New students entering postgraduate courses from the 2012-13 academic year onwards will not be entitled to maintenance payments under the student grant scheme. However, payment of tuition fees is being maintained for those who are least well off. In the circumstances, the Department, with support and advice from the National Treasury Management Agency, met a number of commercial providers to discuss the provision of a loan product to enable postgraduate students to have access to credit to meet the cost of pursuing their studies. Following these discussions, Bank of Ireland developed a proposal for a postgraduate loan initiative which was launched on 7 August.

The features of the postgraduate student loan are considerably more flexible and affordable than standard unsecured personal loans. I understand that the repayment schedule provides for a significant period of interest-only payments and that, as the loan is variable, the student can pay off the balance of the loan early, without any fees or charges, to further reduce the overall cost of credit. In addition to loans for fees, a maintenance loan of up to €2,000, which will be paid directly to the student, is available to those students who previously received a maintenance grant at undergraduate level. This will help to ensure the additional loans being made available for living costs are targeted towards those who need them most. Full information on the terms and conditions of the loan is available from Bank of Ireland.

I am very disappointed that the Minister of State did not outline why the best the Minister could do when negotiating with the banks for a loan scheme was an interest rate of 10.8%, particularly when credit unions, with which the Government did not engage, are able to offer students loans at a rate of 6%. It is a pathetic effort on behalf of the Government that this is the best that can be done, particularly coming from a Government that had promised not to increase the fees for which those students now must find the money. The Minister of State's party promised to introduce a student loan scheme to be backed and operated by the State. This is similar to schemes in other countries where loans are available to students at interest rates close to zero. We only need to look across the water to Britain for an example of that.

I ask the Minister of State to outline how such a punitive interest rate is being charged. Having broken previous promises to students, how did the Department fail to strike a better bargain with banks, given that it encourages very good future customers who will prove to be among the most profitable? However, the bank is charging an interest rate of 10.8%. Having let them down on previous promises, how was such a pathetic deal reached on behalf of students by the Government?

The current variable interest rate of 10.8% APR is below the existing standard unsecured personal loan rates, which are 14.8% APR for a loan of less than €5,000 and also below the existing standard student loan rate of 11.9% APR. If, as the Deputy has said, credit unions are offering rates substantially lower than the 10.8% offered by Bank of Ireland, I am sure postgraduate students are more than capable of making the right decision in choosing the financial institution to support them in their postgraduate education.

There is considerable flexibility in this loan that would not be available under normal circumstances. The schedule provides for a significant period of interest-only payments and as the loan has a variable as opposed to a fixed-interest rate, the student can pay off the balance of the loan early without incurring any fees or charges. This loan initiative developed in conjunction with the NTMA will ensure in these very difficult times that postgraduate students will be able to access funding to pursue their studies.

This is a challenging time. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, had to make some very difficult decisions on whom we would support with the very limited resources available to the Department of Education and Skills. The challenge, as the Deputy is well aware, is that 70,000 new students are about to enter the educational system and this will require significant investment in infrastructure. In making these difficult decisions, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, engaged with the NTMA and a number of different lending institutions to secure the best possible deal at this time for students who wish to access finance for their postgraduate studies.

Schools Building Projects Status

I thank the Minister of State for attending. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Quinn, on the provision of six new schools in north Kildare, in Naas, Celbridge and Maynooth where new schools will be built, and in Clane, Celbridge and Kilcock where major extensions will take place.

I wish to highlight a problem in my parish in Kill, where two new primary schools were built in the past three years. One of them is incomplete and one was completed a year and a half ago. Following a tendering process a contractor was allocated. However, the dogs in the street knew this contractor would be in trouble within a few months of commencing the building and this was proven to be true. He only completed the rising walls of the building and then went into liquidation. This resulted in a number of subcontractors and building supply merchants not being paid.

The question I had to ask at the time was whether due diligence had been given during the tendering process to the company that had been awarded the contract. I thought lessons might have been learned. However, I recently discovered issues have arisen in regard to the tendering process in respect of a project at a second school in my parish of Ardcath.

It is worrying to note that the tendering process is not being properly adhered to. In my view this problem arises because the Department only considers low tenders, as a result of which many contractors submit tenders which are below cost. The awarded contractor then discovers half way through the process that he cannot afford to continue with the contract, leaving subcontractors, many of whom are from the locality in which the school is being built, and those who supply materials to them out of pocket. There is a Bill before the Oireachtas dealing with subcontractors and the issues facing them.

Having undertaken some research I discovered that under EU rules the Department of Education and Skills can only deal with the lowest tender. As far as I am aware, most European countries do not award to the lowest tender, rather they give the job to whomever they believe will be able to complete the project. However, the Department of Education and Skills is rigidly following the rules laid down by the EU procurement section.

I hope the Minister of State will take on board the following points. The cheapest tender is not always the best value or best option. In my experience, this results in the Department having to re-tender to have the project completed. Below cost does not mean we get value for money. It may lead to poor quality building materials and to the non-payment of subcontractors. I ask the Minister of State to ensure the procurement section of his Department, when undertaking an analysis at prequalification stage, ensures all risks associated with a contractor are taken into consideration and the Department is not constrained by EU rules. It is important that common sense is allowed to prevail. We cannot allow a situation to arise again whereby the hopes of parents, pupils and teachers are dashed when their school is not completed on schedule.

I ask that the Minister of State, when reviewing the procurement process in his Department, would take on board these issues to ensure we do not end up with half-built schools around the country and no contractors on site owing to their having gone into receivership.

I thank Deputy Lawlor for raising this matter which provides me with an opportunity to outline to the House the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects over the next five years and specifically the procedures for tendering public works contracts to meet the projected demographic need during this period.

The Deputy will be aware of the context within which decisions relating to meeting the accommodation needs of schools must be considered over the coming years. Total enrolment is expected to grow by approximately 70,000 students between now and 2018 - more than 45,000 at primary level and 25,000 at post primary level. Second level enrolment is expected to continue to rise until at least 2024.

To meet the needs of our growing population of school-going children, the Department must establish new schools as well as extend or replace a number of 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 of the Department's budget for the coming years. The five year programme which the Minister announced last spring will provide more than 100,000 permanent school places, of which more than 80,000 will be new school places. The remainder will be the replacement of temporary or unsatisfactory accommodation.

Schools building projects are tendered in line with public procurement procedures. There are two methods of tendering, namely, the open procedure and the restricted procedure. In both procedures, there are minimum standards for participation, including previous experience, turnover, insurances, capacity to obtain a bond, and so on. The minimum standards for participation are stated in the contract notice e-Tenders advertisement. Previous experience of education work is not a prerequisite. However, previous experience of work of a similar scale and complexity is needed. For less complex projects of a small to medium scale, the open procedure is generally used and all contractors meeting the minimum standards are entitled to submit a tender, thus facilitating the inclusion of small to medium-sized enterprises and those with no experience in educational projects.

For larger or more complex projects like the project in the Kildare North area, where it is considered that prequalification of contractors is warranted, the restricted procedure is normally used. In the restricted procedure, there is an intermediary qualification stage during which the number of applicants is reduced or restricted to a specified amount - normally ten. The criteria for suitability assessment, which are taken from the Department of Finance capital management works framework, include company turnover, insurances, capacity to obtain a bond, personnel for the project, previous experience and health and safety competence.

The project referred to by the Deputy should have reached substantial completion late last year. In other words, the building should have been available for occupation by the school late last year. Up to the time of the Department's decision to terminate the contractor's obligation to complete the works, the project had not reached substantial completion.

I again thank the Deputy for allowing me the opportunity to outline the position with regard to the five year plan and the procedures for tendering and appointing contractors for school building projects which form part of this plan.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. However, I remain concerned about the level of below cost tendering for many projects. As I stated, below cost tenders are not always the best option. Just because under EU regulations we are obliged to take the lowest tender does not mean we are getting the best value.

I ask the Minister of State to ensure, in particular in respect of the two schools in Kildare North, that the Department can, where it believes tenders cannot be justified, use its common sense and select a contractor whom it knows will complete the project on budget and on time.

I will briefly outline for the Deputy the process by which this particular contractor was appointed. Initially, nine contractors submitted tenders. The contractor appointed at the end of the process was deemed to have submitted the most economically advantageous tender. The design team engaged by the Department then undertook a serious due diligence of the tender before submitting their report to the Department. Further checks, by way of the submission of particular documentation, were also undertaken before appointment of the contractor. The contractor concerned met all the criteria required at each stage of the tender process and was duly appointed.

I take on board the concerns expressed by the Deputy and will pass them on to the Minister, Deputy Quinn. We have a major capital programme under way for the next five years and will be endeavouring to avoid the type of situation that has arisen in Kildare happening again.

Waste Management Regulations

I thank the Minister, Deputy Hogan, for coming to the Chamber to deal with this Topical Issue matter. I am fully aware that this problem is not one of his making but dates back to former Minister, Dick Roche, who signed the contract as he was running out of office, leaving a shambles to be dealt with by others.

On 29 February 2012 Dublin local authorities and Covanta reached an agreement on a revised commercial arrangement for the Poolbeg incinerator with a final extension to the end of August. We were told this would be its third and final extension. In June Covanta's chief financial officer, speaking at a J. P. Morgan conference in the US, said that it was proving difficult to raise the necessary capital to fund the Poolbeg incinerator. On 31 August the contract for the Poolbeg incinerator with Covanta expired. There is no sign that Covanta has been able to raise the money to construct it.
It has been made clear by the Minister that the regulation of the waste market will not be rejigged to make the incinerator commercially viable by trying to give the council control over waste collected by private companies. It is now 15 years since an incinerator at Poolbeg was first proposed and it has cost €91 million so far. That is taxpayers' money - that includes the Minister, myself and every working citizen who has paid his or her taxes.
The original contract was to build a 600,000 tonnes incinerator which was far too big for our current and future use. Its proposed location, on a peninsula in the centre of Dublin city with only one road in and out to it, was in the wrong place. This saga has created massive uncertainty in the market. Waste companies have been holding back on investment that would allow us to meet our recycling and recovery targets. Such investment would create sustainable jobs. Some of our semi-State companies have put investment in the recycling and re-use industry on hold awaiting a decision on this over-sized incinerator proposal.
To date the Poolbeg project has involved a cost of €52 million on the purchase of the land alone, €32 million has been given to consultants and that cost to taxpayers is still increasing. It is stated in a report to Dublin City Council this month that the city manager, on behalf of the regional authority, felt it reasonable to consider a further extension. The facts I outlined should lead the Minister to a different conclusion. It is past time for the Minister to intervene in this matter. He may say he has no direct powers in this area but the money of taxpayers and ratepayers is being continuously wasted in this process. Such money could be invested in the recycling and re-use industry. We are still awaiting a decision on whether Covanta can get the necessary money but I do not believe that money can be raised and I believe we will see endless extensions and uncertainty in this matter.
This is a mess not of the Minister's making but he has the skills and the determination to intervene and resolve it. We need a sustainable waste industry and this proposed 600,000 tonnes capacity monster project will destroy that industry. I ask the Minister to take a direct role in this, to step in where previous Ministers have failed to do so. He has the skills and the tenacity to intervene and resolve this long-running saga.

I get worried when a Deputy says that I must intervene in something. The Poolbeg project, as Deputy Humphreys indicated, is provided for in the Dublin regional waste management plan, for which the four Dublin local authorities have statutory responsibility under the Waste Management Acts. The facility is being advanced by Dublin city Council, albeit with the caveats that the Deputy has outlined, in conjunction with Covanta Energy and DONG Energy.

The project received planning approval as far back as November 2007 and was granted a waste licence from the EPA in December 2008. As the Deputy indicated, the facility is intended to have a capacity of 600,000 tonnes. The position is that, in accordance with the provisions of the of the Waste Management Acts, the preparation and adoption of a waste management plan is the statutory responsibility of the local authority and, under section 60(3) of the Act, the Minister is precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to the performance by a local authority, in particular circumstances, of a statutory function vested in it.

As the Deputy will be aware, my predecessor appointed Mr. John Hennessy to have a look at this contract under section 224 of the Local Government Act 2001 and to examine the potential financial risks associated with the Poolbeg project within a given set of scenarios. As consideration of that report had not been completed when I came into office, it fell to me to consider the report's findings.

In June 2011, I published the report prepared by Mr. Hennessy in order to ensure that as much information as possible is available to the public while respecting the confidential nature of certain information provided by Mr. Hennessy in the course of his work. The report was therefore redacted to protect commercially sensitive information. At the time of publication I indicated that much had changed since the report was commissioned and there would be further changes as I finalised a new waste policy. Mr. Hennessy provided a very good report but he was working within a set of scenarios which had been narrowly defined for him and this somewhat restricted the applicability of the report. Having consulted my Government colleagues, I concluded there was no national waste policy justification for intervening in the matter.

The position remains that decisions in relation to the Poolbeg project are a matter for the two parties concerned. I understand that the parties are in a period of review and that an update was provided to Dublin City Council earlier this month. Queries concerning the status of discussions, contract terms and costs of the project are not a matter for me at this stage, notwithstanding what the Deputy said about the amount of money that has been spent on the project to date.

My role at this stage is to provide certainty in terms of waste policy, which I have done, and I will provide an update on the recent publication of the new national waste policy later on. I can assure the Deputy that investment in all methodologies and technologies is difficult to finance and is not readily available for any project. The State, through the local authority system, is not in a particularly healthy state financially to intervene in order to provide the necessary interventions in regard to waste policy. I agree with the Deputy that we need to get certainty on this, and to do so sooner rather than later. I am disappointed that it has taken so long to come to a conclusion, one way or the other, on this contractual obligation in which Dublin City Council and Covanta are involved. I will closely monitor the situation in the coming weeks to determine if there is any hope of coming to a conclusion and at the end of the year perhaps I will review the matter.

I thank the Minister for his response. I advise him that the transcript of proceedings of the Committee of Public Accounts on the occasion that officials were questioned on the cost involved and the methodology used in respect of the proposed incinerator is required viewing. My colleague, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, did an excellent job on highlighting the facts and the issues involved at the Committee of Public Accounts. I recommend that the Minister reads the transcript. I know he is extremely busy and that sometimes briefs are prepared for him but I ask him to take a step back and read the proceedings of the Committee of Public Accounts. As he rightly said, there is a need for certainty in waste management market. This project has been considered and planned for 15 years. It is outdated and we do not need to plan for it.

We are told in March that the third extension would be the final one granted to Covanta. Enough is enough. A fourth extension has now been granted. The cost of the project alone demands that it is ended. The Dublin regional authority went all out on a bet and the bet did not work. If we continue with this it will cost us hundreds of millions of euros. This problem is not of the Minister's making, it dates back to the time of the former Minister, Dick Roche. The Minister has to intervene or review the project sooner rather than later. We are not generating anywhere near the volume of waste we used to and recycling has been growing sharply and is up to the level of 40% nationwide. We are not in any danger of missing the targets in the EU landfill directives. As the recent EPA report shows, we met our targets for waste diverted from landfill two years ago and that indicates that we will also meet the 2013 targets.

This project is out of date and out of time and it is time for the Minister to act. We should face the fact that this will involve hundreds of millions of euro that we have not got. Therefore, it is time to cut and run. Covanta cannot deliver the funding. We have an opportunity with the break in the contract when it failed to deliver on its timescale and dates. Let us take the uncertainty out of this system.

The Minister knows as well as I do that there are companies on the side line prepared to step in and develop the recycle and reuse industry. One of our semi-State companies has a planning permission application on hold because it is waiting to see what will happen with this incinerator. We have 900,000 tonnes of waste going to landfill that can be composted, yet we are talking about an incinerator. Investment in the composting element of it would be a far better approach.

This issue has been running issue since 1999 in one form or another. It has created massive uncertainty in the area, even for investment in further development. The time has come to knock heads together and come up with a new plan. We cannot continue to harp back to the past and say we cannot intervene. The former Minister, Deputy Gormley, said it previously. The former Minister, Dick Roche, said he signed the contract and then left office. The ball has been passed to the Minister, and I ask him not to drop it. He should take on the vested interests and stop this contract going ahead.

The difficulty is that we have a contractual obligation which provides legal obligations on the State. We have to be extremely careful in the manner in which we deal with these issues. Otherwise, we will expose the State even further in terms of infrastructure that was contracted but not delivered. All I can do at the moment as Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is outline the country's waste policy. I have done that with my colleagues in Government when we were trying to move away entirely from landfill. We are not entirely sure if we will meet our landfill obligations in 2014-15. We are in difficulty in that respect. It depends on economic growth and the type of investment we have in infrastructure in providing alternatives to landfill.

I accept what the Deputy is saying that if we do not get certainty on this project soon we will not be waiting around forever for the purpose of providing alternatives. We have to meet our objectives and the obligations laid down in our targets that are set by the EU in conjunction with Ireland. I hope that we are in a position to get some information in the very near future on whether the company involved, Covanta, and Dublin City Council are in a position to proceed. I am prepared to examine the situation carefully in the next few weeks and ascertain from the contracting parties whether they are in a position to proceed. I cannot say what the alternatives are at this stage until I see what the future holds for this particular contractual obligation that we have but I agree with Deputy Humphreys that we must have certainty sooner or later. I need to have certainty to ensure that I can move on to alternative methodologies of dealing with our waste if this particular option is closed to us.