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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 12 Feb 2013

Vol. 792 No. 1

Topical Issue Debate

Cash for Gold Trade

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on this Topical Issue, which was prompted by a recent meeting I had with a constituent at a jobs launch. I was admiring a ring on her finger when she informed me that it was the only piece of jewellery she owned following a break-in at her home. The reason it was the only piece she had left was that she was wearing it on the day thieves broke into her house and took every piece of her jewellery.

We all know that gold is a classic safe-haven investment, and demand has been strong amid the global economic turmoil we are experiencing. The value of gold jewellery is now driving criminal activity because it can be turned easily into cash. We have all become aware of the anecdotal reporting of increased criminal trade in the sale of stolen goods, jewellery and scrap metal. We have seen a large increase in the number of cash for gold advertisements on our television screens, in our newspapers and on lampposts. Such businesses are littered up and down the country, and often no identification is required to obtain money in exchange for gold. This new outlet for burglars wishing to sell stolen goods has led to some increasing the number of burglaries they carry out in which they specifically target jewellery for quick resale.

Increasingly, consumers are looking to sell unwanted or broken jewellery to cash for gold smelting firms and pawnbrokers to raise some badly needed funds. Sellers can head into a cash for gold store, offer their jewellery without being asked for information that identifies ownership, and walk out with a cheque or cash. The gold is melted down quickly, leaving nothing for police to trace. While most of these outlets are run responsibly, a small number of them are being used by burglars to quickly sell stolen gold jewellery for significant sums of money.

At the launch of the report on the cash for gold trade in June 2012 the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, observed: "There must be a targeted, proportionate and balanced response by Government to ensure that opportunities for criminals to obtain cash for stolen gold and other precious metals are eliminated whilst not affecting legitimate trade because of the criminal actions of a few." The key findings of the report were that the Garda had visited all 124 known cash for gold traders, that there was a significant level of public concern, and that most of the metals were usually melted down. The report stated that while criminal law was adequate and law enforcement had been strong, there were grounds for considering controls on purchase, including identification of the seller, identification of the item, a retention period before resale, and detailed records of all transactions.

On whether we can do more, it is arguably inconsistent that there are specific rules and regulations that apply to pawnbrokers for the protection of the public and to assist the Garda while similar appropriate and adapted rules and regulations do not apply to cash for gold outlets. Second-hand trade is not regulated legislatively in Ireland, with the exception of pawnbroking. However, pawnbroking is not the same as the cash for gold business, which currently is not registered and not specifically legislated for.

Above all, the primary issue is identification, both of the person selling and of the object he or she is selling. Tied to that is recording of details by dealers. A secondary issue is valuation of goods. Pawnbrokers must keep a record of the people who provide them with goods and their address. If a pawnbroker receives such goods knowing that they are derived from an offence, that can give rise to a criminal prosecution. I would like to see that replicated in the cash for gold market.

A recent initiative in the north of England was the setting up a voluntary code of conduct, called the Gold Standard, to which traders of precious metals can sign up. This scheme will tighten security measures at pawnbrokers', gold traders' and jewellers' shops to restrict the opportunity for robbers and burglars to sell on their stolen goods. It aims to reward and support reputable traders while helping the police to identify anyone who might trade in stolen goods. The goal is to make it easier for victims and the police to track down stolen merchandise and to eliminate what has become an easy payday for criminals, although someone signing up would have to demonstrate that they took the details of each person who sold precious metals to them. Initiatives such as that could go a long way towards reforming the poorly regulated cash for gold sector and bringing peace of mind to those fearful of selling their gold legitimately or those who keep their precious jewellery, which often holds far more sentimental value than any cash remuneration they could ever have, at home.

I thank Deputy Doherty for raising this important matter. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality, who regrets he is unable to be present as he is in Dublin Castle in his capacity as Minister for Defence.

I can inform the Deputy that on 19 June 2012, the Minister published a report on the criminal justice aspects of the cash for gold trade, which was prepared by his Department. The Minister has formally requested the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to consider the content of the report, obtain the views of all relevant interested parties and make such report and recommendations to the Houses of the Oireachtas and to the Government as it deems proportionate and appropriate in the public interest. The Minister understands that the committee has sought views from stakeholders and he is awaiting receipt of the committee's report following the conclusion of the committee's deliberations.

In publishing that report, the Minister noted the concerns that members of the public had expressed about the proliferation of cash for gold outlets throughout the State. The informal purchase of jewellery is not specifically regulated in criminal legislation. However, the circumstances under which jewellery is being bought or sold may indicate the commission of certain offences, such as handling of stolen property or possession of stolen property under sections 17 and 18 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. The report indicated that these provisions were adequate to deal with any such offences that may be committed in the cash for gold situation.

The report also highlighted the actions undertaken by An Garda Síochána in consultation with the Minister's Department. All cash for gold premises in the State were visited by An Garda Síochána and the operators made aware of their responsibilities and obligations under the law with regard to the purchase of gold and other items of jewellery. Garda contact information provided to operators will facilitate the reporting to the Garda Síochána of any suspicious activity. The Minister, in publishing the report, congratulated the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána for his prompt and proactive response to this matter.

The Minister has stated that it is arguably inconsistent that there are specific rules and regulations that apply to pawnbrokers for the protection of the public and to assist the Garda while similar appropriate and adapted rules and regulations do not apply to cash for gold outlets. It is in this context that the need to explore the issue of evidence of ownership of gold and jewellery items, such as photo ID and other evidence of ownership mentioned by the Deputy, is referred to in the report and no doubt will be the subject of attention in the course of the Oireachtas committee's consideration of the issue.

There is a requirement to examine carefully the resource implications of any role envisaged for An Garda Síochána in proposed new regulatory steps. In addition, in framing any necessary measures in respect of cash for gold shops, it is important to ensure consistency in their application in so far as they would also apply to other retail outlets that may trade in second-hand gold items, such as jewellery and antique retailers. However, the Minister is of the view that it is important to avoid creating unnecessary form-filling, expense and bureaucracy for legitimate businesses that makes no significant contribution to law enforcement or the protection of the public generally.

I thank the Minister. I appreciate and acknowledge that it was the current Minister who initiated the report and that the Garda provided it in an exceptionally timely manner with very good recommendations, all four of which are eminently doable. The reason for my frustration is that although the report was sent to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality last June, it is now February, and even if the committee were to produce a report tomorrow it would take it a considerable amount of time to draw up the heads of legislation and put in place the IT systems that would be required to capture the data by both the cash for gold shops and the Garda.

The backdrop to all of this is the increase in the number of burglaries. The items that are being targeted directly by criminals are items of jewellery and easily sellable household items.

While I understand that the political process is slow, I believe that the longer we procrastinate, the more time and space we will give criminals to obtain money from the ordinary people. It is not fair. I ask the Minister of State to write to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence to ask it to wrap up and make recommendations, which I know will not be any different from those in the report of last June. Let us get our skates on and show the criminals that we mean business. In the meantime, I will liaise with the voluntary organisations and those who run legitimate businesses and want to continue with a view to putting a voluntary code of practice in place until legislation is introduced. Let us do this sooner rather than later.

I ask the Deputy to forgive me for having a prepared response because the Minister is not present to respond. On behalf of the Minister, I thank the Deputy for availing of the Topical Issue procedure for raising this important issue. I assure her, on behalf of the Minister, that her constructive remarks and suggestions will be noted.

The Minister looks forward to the Oireachtas committee's response to the issues raised in his departmental report on the cash for gold sector. With regard to burglaries, the Minister welcomes the progress being made by An Garda as part of Operation Fiacla, which is focused on identifying and targeting gangs involved in burglaries. Operation Fiacla is intelligence driven. As part of the operation, specific burglary initiatives have been implemented in each Garda region to target suspect offenders. As of 21 January 2013, 3,903 persons have been arrested and 2,142 persons have been charged as part of the operation, showing that the Garda Commissioner is effectively deploying the substantial resources available to him. Furthermore, the latest quarterly figures for burglary, by comparison with those prior to the operation's introduction, suggest the operation is having an impact.

While it is clearly no consolation to those who have had to endure dreadful experiences at the hands of gangs of burglars, it is none the less important to mention that the most recent crime figures show that the number of aggravated burglaries has decreased by over 17% on the previous 12 months. The Garda response to such crimes is robust, and gangs and individuals involved in burglaries are pursued with determination and effectiveness.

With regard to cash for gold operations, it is important that there be a targeted, proportionate and balanced response by the Government to ensure opportunities for criminals to obtain cash for stolen gold and other precious metals are eliminated while not affecting legitimate trade because of the criminal actions of a few. The Minister has indicated that the objective of any actions must be to ensure such businesses are not unknowingly open to abuse by criminal elements.

Planning Issues

The vast majority of people, when buying a house, are unaware that the planning permission requires development contributions. These contributions vary throughout the country, from a couple of thousand euros to €15,000 or €16,000 in some cases. Builders and developers include this in the cost of a house and have always done so. Local authorities have frequently allowed and continue to allow developers to pay levies in increments. This arrangement bypasses the homeowner and it is not a public process. If what is occurring, as highlighted in the case of Wicklow, is to become the norm, incremental payment would have to stop and a more robust certification and collection process would be needed.

The Minister of State must clarify for homeowners where liability lies. Does the council have a duty of care to those who purchase a house in respect of ensuring planning permission guidelines are properly complied with? The interpretation of the local authority in Wicklow is that there is co-responsibility between the developer and homeowner to comply with planning permission guidelines. That is just crazy. The planning permission is a legal instrument that gives the benefit of permission to construct an estate in accordance with its stipulations.

Are those who purchased a home also to be liable in respect of other conditions of their planning permission? Will they be obliged to ensure that a bond remains in place, for example, or that the roads and footpaths are constructed according to the specified conditions? Must they oversee the construction of the underground services?

The legislation of 2000 appears to be silent in regard to responsibility. The section that deals with special contributions shows that the relationship is between the developer and the council. Where a special development contribution is applied and the work is not done, that special contribution is repaid to the developer. It is not repaid to the homeowner who purchases the house. This practice must be nipped in the bud. The Minister of State must offer clarification and I hope he will be able to do so today.

Wicklow County Council states the development levies were and are a charge on the property itself, not on an individual or developer, and that there was an obligation to pay the contributions. Dublin City Council said its policy was not to pursue householders but that it was pursuing developers for outstanding levies. Other councils, including those of Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, said they were unable to be definitive about their approaches to the issue but that they were doubtful that the charges would be passed on to householders in the event of default by developers.

Payment of levies is one of the conditions imposed in acquiring planning permission. It appears that actions being taken by Wicklow County Council and not only unfair but also completely wrong. Development levies should not fall on the homeowner. The actions taken by Wicklow County Council raise a number of questions that demand urgent clarification from the Minister. Homeowners around the country deserve legal clarification on this matter in light of the fact that other councils around the country have yet to rule out following the same path as the one in Wicklow.

For most sales to be completed, a certificate of compliance must be acquired by the purchaser to demonstrate compliance with planning and building regulations. This includes planning permission and, therefore, the payment of levies. This raises an issue as to whether the solicitor is responsible for signing off on the sale or the person who provided the certificate of compliance. Where does responsibility lie?

Has the Minister of State discussed this matter with Wicklow County Council or his Department? Can he show some leadership on this issue and clarify the matter forthwith? Can he clarify the matter such that we will not expect the contagion to spread to other counties tomorrow? We need clarification and the practice to be nipped in the bud today so we will know exactly the position and so the affected people can be assured they will not be liable. I refer to planning permission guidelines that may have applied 12 years ago and not only to the statute of limitations, which also needs clarification.

On 23 May 2005, Wicklow County Council took the shocking decision to send out letters to the residents of Brook Meadow, Avoca. The letters threatened them with a very large fine which would increase if unpaid and could incur a custodial sentence. Needless to say, this caused great concern among many residents, who, like most citizens, do not have large funds on which to draw should a county council seek funds owed to them by a developer.

Three other estates in Wicklow have been similarly affected: Avondale Court, Emyvale and Aughrim Oaks. Residents were told by the council that the developers are going to force the residents to pay for the developers' sins. It is apparent that residents in the South Dublin County Council area are receiving similar letters to those received by the residents in Wicklow. The local authorities carrying out this practice seem to be the first of many considering the many developers who are absent and have not paid fees. They must not be allowed to put ordinary residents over a barrel in this manner. Many of the latter are in negative equity and are struggling to pay bills and deal with other issues with developers, who even refuse to do essential repairs. It is estimated that €269 million is outstanding in levies from developers across the State. Something must be done to prevent these charges from being imposed on ordinary homeowners.

Equally, however, struggling local authorities that are facing budget cuts and a property tax bill must get this money from the developers who are responsible. They must not be allowed to go for the easy target, homeowners, but get the levies paid by those responsible, the developers.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has stated that it is up to the local authority whether to pursue these charges. In my constituency of Dublin North West there are estates which are potentially liable should the local authority wish to pursue residents rather than builders. The Department should state that this is morally wrong and unacceptable, not pass the buck to individual local authorities which see residents as the only target available. There are residents in unfinished estates and many are in negative equity. They are being asked to pay a price for services which they are not responsible for delivering.

My concern is that this will spread across counties such as Kildare, Laois, Offaly and Westmeath. Wicklow County Council is going after the people who purchased the houses and who are now in negative equity. The developers got their money and the banks are getting their money. Everybody has been paid but the householders are getting screwed, again. Along with carrying the bank debts, they will now also carry the debts left behind by the developer. This cannot be allowed to happen.

These people paid €200,000 to €300,000 for their houses. The development levies were included in that price. That is how it works. They are not an add-on, but part of the sale price. The certificate of compliance was issued to the purchasers. If the certificate of compliance was falsified, whoever did that, the developer or the person acting on their behalf is at fault. It is a scandalous situation. Local authorities allowed bonds to lapse or to roll over to the next phase of development without the earlier phases of the development being completed. Bonds have been inadequate and have been allowed to lapse. That is the fault of the local authorities. They should be alert to this and not allow it to happen.

If the developer is still in place, in whatever shape or form, they are responsible for this money. If they are not there, the receiver is responsible and if there is no receiver, the financial institution or the purchaser of what is left is responsible. This is a terrible situation and an awful prospect for people. If the local authority did not collect the levies incrementally or in whatever way necessary to get the money, it has funked the job and not carried out its statutory responsibilities in a proper manner.

The local authorities have been too accommodating of developers. The developers were the kings. One could not say "boo" to them or question them. Those of us who tried to question what was happening were shouted down and drowned out. Now we see the consequences of that, and this is the latest phase. Decent householders who are paying huge mortgages for houses that are worth a fraction of what they paid for them and who are on lower wages than they had when they bought the houses are now faced with this charge as well. This must be lifted from their shoulders. The Minister and the Government must step in and tell the local authorities, be it in Wicklow, Laois or wherever a local authority considers doing this, to back off and leave these people alone. This money is owed by either the developer, the receiver, a financial institution or the new owners of these estates.

I thank the four Deputies for raising this important issue. As soon as I heard about it I immediately sought clarification and information through my Department's officials.

I will first address the situation in Wicklow. It is important to point out in the first instance that Wicklow County Council has also initiated separate legal action against the original developer seeking payment of the full amount outstanding which runs to over €60,000. This matter is before the Circuit Court later this month and it would be inappropriate to comment further on this aspect. However, I understand also that it may now be possible for the original bond - approximately €60,000 - lodged by the developer to be accessed by Wicklow County Council and used to fund carrying out necessary works at the estate. I hope that a satisfactory outcome can be reached in this way. Like other Deputies, however, I very much regret what happened.

In general, development contributions in housing developments are attached as a condition of planning permission and are typically therefore required to be paid by the person carrying out the development in advance of construction starting. In the case of one-off houses, the developer and the homeowner is generally the same person so the situation is different. The payment of development contributions is a long standing part of the planning system, dating back to the Planning Act 1963. Since the 2000 Act, each planning authority must have a development contributions scheme in place setting out how development contributions will apply in their area. The purpose of levying development contributions is to provide a mechanism by which developers can contribute to the cost of providing public infrastructure and facilities that benefit development in the area.

Wicklow County Council wrote to 24 homeowners in the Brook Meadow housing estate near Avoca in May 2012 to inform them that the council was of the view that their properties were in breach of the planning permission as a result of non-payment of the development contribution. The letters were issued under section 152 of the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2012. These are known as "warning letters" and mark the initial stage in the planning enforcement process. While the adoption of the development contribution scheme is a matter for elected members of the planning authorities, I have written to all planning authorities, including Wicklow County Council and South Dublin County Council, in order to establish the approach being adopted more generally by local authorities to the issue of liability for unpaid development contributions in multi-unit housing developments. I await the replies from all the councils, and I will return to this issue when I receive them.

Deputies will also be aware that I recently issued new guidelines relating to development levies which, for example, put a strong emphasis on job creation projects and on town centres. However, I appreciate that this issue arises under earlier guidelines and legislation. It is a very important issue and I understand why Deputies are seeking clarification.

The Minister said she took advice when she first heard about this, but now she is asking each local authority to outline its approach to her. It is the Minister's responsibility to tell them what the approach should be in terms of the responsibility of the developers, as opposed to the homeowners, to pay the development contributions. One must ask if the local authorities were negligent in phasing payments or seeking payment in increments when it has left homeowners so exposed. The issue is the food chain in terms of responsibility. Consider Priory Hall, the pyrite issue, management companies and the lapsing of the bonds, which was mentioned. Most bonds are of only seven years duration; the only ones that were issued in perpetuity were Anglo Irish Bank bonds. All of that has been a negative for the people at the end of the food chain.

Who is acting in the interest of the homeowner? Is that not one of the roles the local authority should play? I believe it is not a question of asking about the approach of the local authorities but of dictating to them how they should conduct their affairs in this regard. The homeowners should not be made responsible for this.

I thank the Minister for her response. It is amazing that she reiterated the situation in Wicklow. Wicklow County Council is seeking its funds from the developer through the courts, it is also seeking them from the homeowners and now we are told it might get its funds by taking the bond route. It wants them not in one or two ways, but three ways. It is incumbent on the Minister of State or the Minister, having taken advice, to insist on an approach to be taken universally across the local authorities in Ireland. Let us show some leadership on this issue, in the interest of the homeowners.

Second, it is incumbent on the Minister, the Department and the Government to adhere to the recommendations from the Mahon tribunal and appoint a regulator to oversee planning regulation in this State. That will take everything into where the control should lie, and prevent this happening again in the future.

There is no way that Wicklow County Council or any other local authority should be allowed to back three horses. The Minister of State must insist on what the universal policy is in this regard. Wicklow County Council cannot be allowed to continue to waste taxpayers' money following three horses on this issue. It cannot be going to the courts to argue that it is the developer's responsibility while issuing letters which amount to legal proceedings against homeowners at even more cost to the State. What process has Wicklow Country Council initiated by which it can take the funds from the bond? It either can or cannot. I plead with the Minister of State to get into her car in the morning and go to Wicklow to take charge of the situation, put the fire out and make sure no more fires start anywhere else.

I am glad to hear that at least one county, Wicklow, is managing to get fees out of developers. It is probably one of the few that is going to get them. Does the Minister of State accept that residents are being blackmailed and threatened by being told that their estates will not be finished, that they will not receive local services and that roads and underground systems will not be completed? It is being held against them. They are going to be deliberately discriminated against while this is going on. It is unacceptable that we should adopt the position of writing to local authorities to ask for their opinions. We should be telling them it is unacceptable to put this burden on residents. Residents have paid enough. They paid their development and planning fees and they paid for their services. They deserve the same as everyone else and they do not deserve to pick up the tab for any developer. That is the position the Government should adopt and put to local authorities. We should be unequivocal in that.

To write to local authorities asking them to establish the approach being adopted generally by them is to do things the wrong way around. I agree with the previous speakers. We must establish what the legal position is and the Government and the House should tell local authorities what should happen. My information is that planning permission is granted to a developer and is a contract between the developer and the local authority. The contract with the purchaser requires a certificate of compliance, which is issued to the purchaser by the vendor. If certificates were provided wrongfully or fraudulently, that is where a case needs to be taken up.

I would welcome it if the bonds could be relied on, but if that is not the case and there is no other option for local authorities, which I do not accept, where does that leave people? I have seen how local authorities allowed the bonds to lapse and left housing estates and communities in an awful predicament. It is completely unsatisfactory and slipshod. Writing to them to ask about their approach is weak and wrong. I accept that the Minister of State is trying to deal with the matter but we need to come at it the other way around. We need to take a strong position and the message must go out loud and clear from the House that the ordinary householders who are in negative equity and paid over the mark for these houses are not liable for the outstanding bills left behind by developers, some of whom were rogue developers.

I take on board what Members are saying. The fact is, however, that the adoption of a development contribution scheme is a function of local authorities, although they must have regard to the statutory guidelines provided by the Department. We have local democracy in certain instances and we must ensure that we protect it. At the same time, there is a common national interest with regard to the residents concerned. I take that very seriously. Deputy Barry Cowen referred to a planning regulator. As he knows, I took a proposal for a planning regulator to the joint committee for discussion recently and will bring forward an implementation proposal with regard to the recommendation in the Mahon report.

It is a function of individual local authorities to adopt their own development contribution schemes. If the information I get back shows that there is a disparity or issues that need to be addressed, I will certainly take action. I appreciate that our role as public representatives is to ensure that we protect the public. The reason for the development contributions is to ensure that at the planning permission stage a developer makes contributions to provide for infrastructure. I agree that the intention is not that individual householders pay. The developer concerned should pay.

What does the development contribution scheme have to do with this? This is about the relationship between planning permission and the developer; it is not about the development contribution.

The local development contribution scheme is what is in question here.

That is the final remark on that. We have given it a good airing and everybody got a fair crack of the whip; in fact, more than usual.

Lourdes Hospital Redress Scheme Eligibility

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter. The programme for Government includes a specific commitment to seek a mechanism to compensate those women who were excluded on grounds of age alone from the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital redress scheme. The issue was raised as a topical issue last June, when the then Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, assured us that the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, was committed to finding a mechanism as soon as possible and intended to bring proposals to Government for its consideration at the earliest opportunity. As is well known, 35 women were excluded from the Lourdes redress scheme on age grounds. It was a decision of the last Government with which I disagree.

The programme for Government and statements by the Minister for Health prior to his appointment and since referred to a strong commitment by the Government to resolve this issue. Since October 2011, there have been meetings and several statements by the Minister to reiterate that the matter is with the Attorney General for her advice. The women and their families have come to the conclusion that no progress has been made whatsoever. They believe all statements to the Dáil on the issue and letters from the Minister to local Deputies and Senators are purely lip service. The women have requested a meeting through the Patient Focus organisation with the Taoiseach and Minister for Health to ensure that this serious issue can be dealt with expeditiously. The women feel totally abandoned by the Government, which is not surprising given the promise prior to the election by the Minister that the matter would be resolved within a year of taking office. The Government will mark its second anniversary in three weeks. Can it undertake to resolve the issue by then?

I thank Deputy Seamus Kirk for raising the issue. I reply on behalf of the Minister. The programme for Government commits to seeking a mechanism to compensate those women who were excluded on age grounds alone from the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital redress scheme. The Lourdes hospital redress scheme was established in 2007 following the findings and recommendations contained in the report of the Lourdes hospital inquiry into peripartum hysterectomy, conducted by Ms Justice Maureen Harding Clark. During the inquiry, Ms Justice Harding Clark became aware that there were patients who underwent bilateral oophorectomy procedures which were not clinically necessary. These women lost the ability to reproduce and suffered immediate surgical menopause.

The scheme of redress approved by Government was a non-statutory ex-gratia scheme. Awards were determined in 2007 and 2008 by an independent redress board which was chaired by Ms Justice Harding Clark. The objective of the scheme was to provide compensation to those patients of Dr. Michael Neary who received unnecessary obstetric hysterectomies - that is, hysterectomies carried out in association with pregnancy - and also to women aged under 40 years who received unnecessary bilateral oophorectomies. The inquiry did not extend to a wider examination of Dr. Neary's general practice or the clinical practice of his colleagues.

The Department of Health has been engaged in a review to consider various mechanisms to compensate those women who were excluded from the original redress scheme on age grounds alone. The review has involved taking instructions and legal advice, including advice from the Office of the Attorney General, on this sensitive matter with a view to bringing proposals to Government for a decision. The process is ongoing and it is the Minister for Health's intention that it will be brought to a satisfactory and legally sound conclusion as quickly as possible.

Clear commitments were made. We are talking about 35 women who were excluded. The Minister gave a commitment that their position would be examined urgently and quickly, but that has not happened. I ask the Minister of State to convey to the Minister that the matter needs to be dealt with urgently in order that the concern, worry and stress of the women in question can be brought to a conclusion.

I will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister. I appreciate that the sooner it can be addressed, the better because it has been ongoing for a long time and there is a great deal of stress involved.