Topical Issue Debate

Driver Licence Waiting Times

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to address an issue that has arisen since the introduction of the new driver licensing service. I welcome the new service because it eliminates the problem of issuing false driver licences, increases the security of the system and makes our roads safer. However, while it is understandable that there were teething problems in the system, there are apparently ongoing delays in the processing and issuance of licences. I previously suggested that applicants should be able to book appointments rather than queue for lengthy periods and I understand that such a system is being put in place. However, it is not possible to book online, as is the case for the Passport Office. I found the website difficult to navigate and I suggest it is not very consumer friendly.

I have been contacted by a number of constituents who have had to wait up to five weeks to have their licences processed and in some cases are unable to obtain insurance because they cannot show a licence to the insurance company. In one case the insurance company suggested it would accept a letter from the RSA stating that the licence was being processed but the RSA told the applicant that such a letter would cost €15 in addition to the application fee for the licence.

I have previously raised the issue of the number of offices in areas of the country. County Mayo, which is the third largest county in the country, has one office in Castlebar and a sub-office in Belmullet. The cost of opening an office has been mentioned but I suggest that the headquarters of the RSA in Ballina could be adapted at minimal cost. The RSA has suggested an average distance beyond which one should not have to travel but, for example, Belmullet is 57 km from Carrowmore Lacken and Castlebar is 61 km away. Public transport services in rural areas are not sufficient to get people to these places. I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to consider this issue

I thank Deputy John O'Mahony for giving me the opportunity to address the issue of waiting times for the issuing of driver licences. The RSA developed the structure of the new national driver licensing service, NDLS, to consist of three outsourced elements overseen by a specialist unit based in the RSA headquarters in Ballina. The three outsourced contractors are a card producer for the plastic licence, a front office provider to engage with customers and a back office provider to process applications. The RSA held competitive procurement processes for each of these contracts.

In January of this year, the RSA took over in law as the sole driver licensing authority in Ireland. However, in order to allow the new contractors to complete their preparations, local authorities continued to provide customer services for driver licence applicants on behalf of the RSA during a transition period. The RSA assumed full responsibility for the service with effect from 29 October 2013. Early difficulties arose, mainly in the front office service provided by SGS Ireland Limited, under contract to the RSA. There are 34 full-time centres and two part-time centres nationally, and these open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. They also remain open through lunchtimes. These opening times are better and more convenient than the previous service. In addition, applicants can visit any centre, whereas under the previous system they had to go to their own local authorities. The new network provides service to 95% of the population within a 50 km radius.

There were some teething problems following the launch of the new service on Tuesday, 29 October. These included delays for customers in some NDLS centres, faults in the customer helpline on the first day and an IT problem in 12 of the centres on the morning of the first day. These initial problems were identified and addressed promptly by the RSA. However, the target of processing licences within eight days has not been met and there have been similar delays in processing some applications since the new service came on stream. Along with senior officials and advisers I met with the acting CEO of the RSA last week to discuss these issues and how the RSA plans to resolve them. I understand from the RSA that it currently processes an average of 1,800 licences through to card production on a daily basis. This is similar or greater to the volumes of licence applications being received. Backlogs that built up in the first few weeks of service are now being cleared. There is no doubt that the service suffered from a number of teething problems from its inception which contributed to delays. The current backlog of licences relates to approximately 14,500 licences applied for between the 2 November and 12 November.

Some of the front-end processing work was deferred because of the significant pressure the service faced at that time.

The RSA advises me that licences have been produced for 5,700 of those applications, while a further 8,800 are at various stages of processing. They expect to issue a further 5,000 licences this week.

I understand that there are some outstanding applications which will require further contact with customers to resolve problems or seek clarification on some aspect of the application. This work is ongoing, and the vast majority of these cases will be finalised before Christmas. Where no outstanding information is awaited from a customer, the RSA advises that all of the licences concerned will be issued by the end of the first week in January 2014.

The RSA has also informed me that it has advised the Garda of the delays. Meanwhile, the RSA has undertaken to add additional resources and further training to ensure that customers are dealt with speedily and that applications are being processed quickly. They have identified specific locations and areas for improvement, and put in place actions to address these matters.

The move to a centralised driver licensing service is the right one in the long term, and will provide a better service to the public as well as greater security and better value for money. While there have been teething problems in the new system, I have been assured that these are being dealt with quickly and effectively by the RSA. I apologise to anyone who has been inconvenienced by delays in the new system and assure those concerned that it will be sorted out.

I thank the Minister for the reply and welcome the update on how the problems are being addressed.

I mentioned the RSA charging for a letter - because there is a five week delay - to give to insurance companies is an issue that has been raised with me. A constituent, I was told, is being charged because the RSA cannot get the licence out on time. Perhaps that could be raised.

We are all too aware of young people who have emigrated but hope to come back, and some of their driver licences are running out. Under the current system, they can only renew it by appearing in person which means that they must go back to the process, do the test and theory test, etc. We all hope, I am sure, that many of them will return sooner rather than later. Perhaps some way could be devised so that they can renew their licences while abroad for future reference when they are back and we have full employment.

In terms of charging for the letter, perhaps Deputy O'Mahony can give me the details so that I can check it out. If the delay was caused by the RSA or the contractor, not by the person in question, it seems unfair that the applicant would be charged for the letter.

The booking system is not fully up and running but it is coming into place. In the case of those who live far away from one of the existing centres, as I mentioned, 95% of the population live within 50 km of a centre and, by their nature, those applying for driving licences tend to either own or have access to a car. That means there are 200,000 who do not live within 50 km of a centre, some of whom are looking for learner permits and do not have access to a car. When the system settles down we will have a look at providing additional centres or in some cases, even mobile centres but that would involve a change to the contract.

On those living overseas, I dealt with a query on this earlier. There is a solution to that, and they can apply directly through Ballina. Under EU law, to get a driving licence one must be ordinarily resident in the State but if the person can prove he or she is either studying overseas with a letter from the university or on a contract overseas with a letter from the employer, of if he or she can produce evidence of being resident in Ireland such as a utility bill, it is possible for the person to have his or her driver licence renewed and posted to his or her registered address in Ireland. I can give the Deputy details on that.

I thank the Minister.

Flood Risk Insurance Cover

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, for being here to discuss again this issue of insurance companies' non-engagement with areas of the country, particularly in the city and my constituency, where householders have undergone much hassle, discomfort and, in some circumstances, displacement because of the irregularity of weather patterns over the past number of years. There have been quite a number of severe weather events over the past and this has caused considerable distress to areas across the city. What has caused even more distress, as the Minister of State will be aware, as he has been quite to the forefront in this discussion with me previously, is the non-engagement of insurance companies with these individuals.

What we have done in Dublin City Council, based on the Scottish model, is establish a flood forum. The flood forum goes to local areas, deals with the particulars of the areas on an individual basis, gives advice - more than any financial support - to individual householders and talks about what could be done, what could be changed and what could be applied for. We learned yesterday at a Dublin City Council meeting, however, that when the flood forum was trying to engage with the insurance companies, it was being stonewalled. The insurance companies have no interest in engaging with them. As a result, individuals, through no fault of their own are, due to extreme circumstances, house location etc., losing their house insurance. If one has no house insurance, one cannot sell one's house and it is worthless because no prospective buyer can get a mortgage without house insurance. What we have here is a small number of individuals who are living in worthless homes because of the inability of the local authority or whoever to engage with the insurance companies who are not taking this issue seriously.

It is crucially important for this small number of individuals that this be resolved. It is also crucially important, as the Minister of State will be aware, for areas like Maryfield Crescent in respect of which the local authority, through every strategic policy committee and every area committee, has accepted that €50,000 should be spent on hydraulic analysis yet city councillors are not willing to spend the money to find out the problem in order that we can rectify it, go forward and not have this issue hanging over our heads in the long term.

However, the main issue is that when we establish the flood forum, we ask residents to engage with it - residents can be justifiably untrusting of any new forum that is set up if they think it is a committee or talking shop that will not have any real effect. If the forum engages with residents on the issues concerned, a level of expectation is raised and the residents think that perhaps some solutions can be found to put this issue behind them, and then the flood forum goes off and tries to engage with an insurance company and does not get anywhere. We ask citizens to engage with the process, to believe in their local authority, to understand that the OPW has a certain responsibility here as well, to talk about the issues concerned and to trust in the agents of the State so that they can finally find a long-term solution, but when that flood forum, which is an agent of Dublin City Council, goes to talks to an insurance company, there is non-engagement. As a result, there is the problem of individuals with homes that are effectively worthless.

I would be interested in getting an update on the Minister of State's interaction with the insurance companies and the insurance federation. It is only reasonable that a request would be made, through the flood forum. Dublin City Council or any local authority should be able to provide proof to the insurance company of works undertaken. That should be enough for the insurance companies. The householder should be able to get on with his or her life, and not have the matter constantly hanging over his or her head. It is so serious that every time there is a black cloud residents get nervous, start worrying and think there will be a major weather event that will impact seriously on their lives again. They cannot move on; they are stuck. I ask the Minister of State to update the House and myself on his engagement with the insurance federation and individual insurance companies.

I thank Deputy Ó Ríordáin who, once again, has raised this important issue on behalf of constituents. I fully appreciate his frustration at the lack of progress across a number of agencies. I genuinely understand the frustration of the local community around the River Naniken who every night are worried about whether a substantial amount of fluvial rainfall could affect their homes, the consequent damage that causes and the lack of insurance in that regard.

Regarding the substantive issue of the provision of new flood cover or the renewal of existing flood cover, it should be noted that this is a commercial matter for insurance companies and must be based on a proper assessment of the risks that they are accepting.

These are often considered on a case-by-case basis and it is important to be clear that neither the Government nor the Central Bank has any influence. The Central Bank's consumer protection code contains no provisions that compel an insurance company to accept a particular insurance risk.

This reply is written from the perspective of the Department of Finance and I might put some of my own flavour on it. I understand that insurers try to provide flood cover wherever possible. However, in some cases flood insurance is not economically viable for insurance companies and, in the interest of keeping premiums affordable for policyholders in general, insurers decline flood cover for new business for some risks, or, in certain cases, need to withdraw flood cover upon renewal.

I understand that flood insurance cover is available to most householders; it is estimated that there are difficulties for only 2% of policies nationally. Furthermore, I understand that when making an underwriting decision, an insurer reviews a property's claims history and any flood protection measures implemented by the Office of Public Works or by the local authority. As a result, some people will pay a higher premium because their flood risk is higher or will have a higher flood excess on their policies. I remind the Deputy about the avenues available to those who have difficulties, complaints or queries in seeking insurance cover through Insurance Ireland's free information service.

However, the fact that approximately 2% of households cannot obtain flood insurance is a matter of concern to the Government. I and my officials in the OPW have had ongoing discussions with the insurance industry on the transfer of information on completed flood defence schemes. In January 2013 a working group was established with representatives from the OPW, Insurance Ireland and the main household insurance companies operating in the Irish market to address this issue. The work is proceeding satisfactorily. This will allow the insurance industry to take into account the levels of capital investment in flood protection measures over several decades by the OPW when assessing flood risk in localities where such flood measures have been completed. Ultimately, it is a matter for the insurance companies to decide how this information will be used, but they have committed to taking the information into account in their assessment of risk. This will facilitate the provision of flood cover in all areas that are protected by completed schemes.

The question that arises in respect of the River Naniken, which the Deputy has brought to my attention, is exactly what I am talking about. If we can get a completed scheme for it by way of dialogue between the OPW and the local authority and put in place a flood defence which the insurance companies are satisfied meets the possibility of a one-in-100-year event, or slightly less than that, then insurance cover will follow. In circumstances in which there is no such completed scheme, it is very difficult to predict that insurance cover will follow. The OPW and the insurance federation are trying to come to an agreement on that, which they have been slow in obtaining, but I hope there will be some agreement on it in the not too distant future which will give some measure of hope to people in this regard.

The Minister of State is well aware of this issue and I appreciate his response. A flood forum has been established, residents are in need of cover and insurance companies are not engaging, and meanwhile a recommendation has been made that a hydraulic analysis be undertaken on the river in question, but it is not going ahead. We cannot have a solution for the insurance companies until a hydraulic analysis is undertaken that could identify a long-term solution. We are in a classic catch-22 situation. Insurance companies are not engaging because they have a certain understanding of the risk. We would have a better understanding of the risk if the city council agreed to spend the €50,000 that was unanimously agreed to by every councillor in Dublin City Council, yet the city council is not willing to spend the money. Where do we go from here? The residents will stay in limbo and we cannot go anywhere with this. What are the long-term ramifications of this, not only for the particular street concerned, which obviously is of importance to me in my constituency, but across the city and country? When we establish a flood forum that identifies certain solutions, what power does it have and what changes can it make? If it just descends into being effectively a talking shop that gives information, people will quickly lose interest in it. They will lose faith in it and will stop engaging with it and they may take some other route which could be much more expensive for the local authority and for the OPW in the long term.

I thank the Deputy for his comments and appreciate his frustration. My understanding is that the flood forum has met. As Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, the questions I would ask are what it is doing, whether it has made specific recommendations and whether there has been an assessment of risk in respect of each household across the affected street. My understanding is that preliminary meetings have taken place, and I believe further meetings should be arranged as soon as possible. It should get on with this. If Dublin City Council brings forward a scheme to my Department, either by way of a minor works scheme, which covers works up to a cost of €500,000, or a major capital scheme, covering works at a cost of over €500,000, we will prioritise it and get on with it. However, we have to be sure it is a solution that will resolve the problem. There is no point in spending segments of funding on a hydrological survey if its findings are not going to resolve the problem. That is the challenge for the local authorities and the flood forum: to produce a solution that is workable and that meets cost-benefit criteria. There is a solution to every problem, but we should not spend millions upon millions of euro on works if the impact of such works is very minimal compared to the total expenditure. I will check the position regarding the flood forum, what exactly it is doing and whether it is making recommendations to my Department. I have a very open mind about how we can help Dublin City Council and the residents living close to the River Naniken, who have been dreadfully affected by this. Where the OPW has put in place schemes that have resulted in major capital infrastructure projects, insurance cover follows, as it should follow. If we rectify a problem, the insurance companies will then offer cover because it is in their interests to make money through doing so. I cannot envisage insurance companies making an investment in flood cover in circumstances in which we have not spent money and have not produced a solution. We need to get to the solution - if there is a solution. That is the question.

Wind Energy Guidelines

Members on the Government benches sometimes say that the Sinn Féin Deputies do not want to see Government policy succeed, but I know that is not true and I suspect that the Members opposite also know it is not true. I and the Sinn Féin Party fully support the maximum use of renewable energy, including wind-generated energy, in Ireland. We want wind energy projects in Ireland to succeed. We want to minimise our dependence on imported energy, to maximise our capacity for renewable energy and to ensure that the benefits arising from renewable energy are applied for the benefit of the people of Ireland. However, we contend that the Government must have a coherent and integrated strategy governing all aspects of renewable energy generation, including wind energy generation. That is a critical point. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, argues that we have a strategy, but I contend that we do not have one and that what we have is a statement of objectives and some broad timescales. A strategy would have to include a study of the true potential and economics of renewable energy generation, including the impact on tourism in rural areas; measures for dealing with the impact on host communities, particularly where major wind farm developments are envisaged; proposals for a land and landscape management strategy to ensure that local authorities and the Government advise companies where such projects will be located, rather than the Government constantly responding to companies that decide where they will be located; and proposals to encourage micro-generation and small-area energy supplies, including bio-generation projects, which seem to have fallen off the radar and are only sometimes mentioned in ministerial speeches.

It must include a listed, costed statement of the financial benefits accruing to the host communities and the people of Ireland. If we do not have these things, we do not have a strategy and the Government is responding to companies.

The proposed revisions to the guidelines published last week pertain to noise and flicker shadow but avoid the issue most people have with wind turbines - their proximity to dwelling houses. There is one reference to distance on page 6 of the guidelines, which indicates that it is intended to retain 500 m as the distance between turbines and houses. It is something that requires to be revisited and which has been the subject of a number of Private Members' motions, not all of which were tabled by Sinn Féin. Given the likelihood of a major wind farm in the midlands as part of the energy export deal with Britain, it is vital that all of these issues are subject to consultation and that the views of local communities are taken into account. The guidelines which should be regulations rather than guidelines need to be in place before work commences. It is envisaged 1,700 turbines will be built by 2020 to meet the export requirements indicated in the memorandum of understanding signed by the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte. It is a massive undertaking which has generated considerable debate and opposition in the midlands. Some respected economists argue that the economics do not stand up. We need to revisit this issue and we ask that there be a suspension of work until the regulations and proper strategy are in place.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and the support of his party for renewable energy projects which he emphasised at the beginning of his contribution. It is important that I clarify two things. First, what I issued last week were not new guidelines on wind energy developments but proposed draft revisions to the existing 2006 wind energy development guidelines. They run to over 100 pages and are significant. The revisions focus specifically on the issues of noise, setback and shadow flicker. I initiated a targeted review of these specific aspects of the guidelines earlier this year. The 2006 guidelines will remain in force and planning authorities will be required to continue to have regard to them in making decisions on wind energy planning applications until the draft guidelines are finalised in 2014.

Second, I emphasise that last week's announcement was only the commencement of a public consultation exercise on the draft revisions to the guidelines. I want to ensure everyone has an opportunity to contribute his or her views before the guidelines are finalised next year. There is major interest in the public consultation process and I look forward to receiving and considering evidence-based submissions on the draft revisions by 21 February 2014.

Following consideration of the submissions made during this public consultation period, the revisions to the guidelines will be finalised and issued to planning authorities under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. The draft revisions to the wind energy development guidelines which I put out to public consultation last week propose three main changes. These include the setting of a more stringent absolute noise limit, day and night, of 40 dB for future wind energy developments. I emphasise that this is an outdoor limit and, in general, the reduction of noise levels between the outside of a dwelling and inside would be approximately 10 dB.

The second change is a mandatory setback of 500 m between a wind turbine and the nearest dwelling for amenity considerations. Under previous guidelines, that setback was not mandatory. The third is that a condition be attached to all future planning permissions for wind farms to ensure there will be no shadow flicker at any dwelling within 10 rotor diameters of a wind turbine. If shadow flicker does occur, the wind energy project developer or operator will be required to take necessary measures such as turbine shut down for the period necessary to eliminate the shadow flicker.

The purpose of the guidelines, when finalised, is to protect the interests of communities and to ensure the development of renewable energy infrastructure takes place appropriately, having regard to the relevant social and environmental factors. As the new requirements on noise levels, setback and shadow flicker will apply to all future planning applications for wind energy developments, both supplying electricity to the national grid and for export, it is important that they strike the appropriate balance.

Regarding export projects, the Minister has not completed the intergovernmental agreement. There was an initial signing, but the agreement has not been completed. There must be a strategic environmental assessment in the context of an overall policy and planning framework to underpin any arrangement that may be made with the United Kingdom. There will be a strategic environmental assessment of the export proposals. These are under consideration by the Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte. This is a draft proposal which has been put out to public consultation. There is huge interest in it and I expect to receive many submissions, to which I will give careful consideration before adopting the guidelines. I will need a period of time to consider them.

The reply clearly outlines what will be covered in the public consultation process. I am unclear whether the potential devaluation of property will be the subject of consultation. I am unclear whether the consultation fits into the wider aspects of a strategy for renewable energy generation about which I spoke.

With regard to the export of energy to Britain, the Government will sometimes state I want to see nothing exported to Britain. That is not true; I would like to see us export to Britain, but I would like to see us achieve self-sufficiency before we do so. This nation has great potential in the area of renewable energy generation. We could reach self-sufficiency faster than planned and be a net exporter of energy to Britain and elsewhere, which I would welcome, but we need to look after our own market first.

Will the public consultation process be open to the economic analysis that must be undertaken, bearing in mind that some respected economists have called into question the economic benefits of wind energy generation in the current market? Will it enable the community to specify the financial benefits they would like to see accruing from renewable energy generation in Ireland?

I want to separate what I am doing as Minister of State with responsibility for planning and what Deputy Pat Rabbitte is doing as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. These are planning guidelines and the economic side is not a matter for me or my Department. My first responsibility is to ensure we have sustainable planning guidelines and balance the needs of the economy with those of the community and the environment and other factors that must be considered in spatial planning. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is examining the strategy, of which I am sure an economic analysis will be part. I agree that our first priority is to reach our targets and that is the intention of the Government. I also agree that the issue of community gain must be considered. There must be consideration of the needs of the broader community rather than individual land holders. That matter can be considered across the two Departments. It is a live political issue, in which there is great interest. We have time for consultation on the matters within my area of responsibility - planning.

School Textbooks Rental Scheme

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing a debate on this issue and I am glad to share time with our spokesperson, Deputy Charlie McConalogue. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, for coming into the Chamber to deal with it.

I hope he will look favourably on the issue we are raising. I welcome the launch of the guidelines for developing textbook rental schemes in schools and I know these guidelines provide practical advice to primary and post-primary schools in how to establish and operate a rental scheme. My main query is why a school with a limited or very basic book rental scheme would not qualify under this scheme.

The Minister has told us that 76% of primary schools operate a book rental scheme and many of these schools would like to have resources to expand but this process does not allow that to happen. We all know how expensive textbooks can be and that puts financial pressure on many families at the start of the school year. The Minister should do more than just commend schools that have already established a school book rental scheme, as there is talk of investing €15 million to support the scheme, with an initial €5 million per annum over three years. Some funding should be made available to schools seeking improvement in the scheme, as it would show recognition for the amount of work involved in a book rental scheme. Parents have been involved in establishing and upgrading the schemes, and there are guidelines for the involvement of parents.

Parents have indicated that they have saved up to 80% of the cost of buying new books by setting up a book rental scheme. If the Minister believes in the guidelines and the scheme, he should show flexibility in its operation. I support him in the priority given to literacy and numeracy but we do not even currently have new funding for the school library scheme, so book stocks are falling. I hope we will not make the same mistake with the school book rental scheme, as schools wish to make improvements. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, will bring back that message to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, and show some recognition for the schools which have, on their own initiative, set up a book rental scheme.

When this announcement was made in the budget it was very much welcomed by schools across the country which struggle on a yearly basis to keep book rental schemes alive in order to ensure that students and families have as low a cost as is possible in attending school. It was with shock that many of those schools learned that funding will only be provided to a quarter of all primary schools, specifically those schools which have not yet commenced a book rental scheme. This will exclude many schools which have fund-raised with families and made cuts in other parts of the school budget in order to try to get a school book rental scheme off the ground. Those excluded will number among them schools that only started such schemes last year or which may have only set up a book rental scheme for one class or subject. Only a quarter of schools will be able to benefit, although we welcome that those which need it will be able to benefit from the process.

The Minister cannot stand over a position where schools which have already started to make an effort and sacrificed, and which now need support in order to build momentum, are being totally excluded by the way the Government is going about using this funding. I ask the Minister of State to respond on the issue. The Minister must consider how to support the schools which have made the effort. It is not enough to congratulate those schools for starting the process and the Government must support them in continuing their work rather than punishing them for taking the initiative.

I am taking this Topical Issue on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. I thank Deputies Kitt and McConalogue for raising this issue and I welcome the opportunity to clarify the position. The Minister, Deputy Quinn, is very conscious that the cost of textbooks is a considerable burden on families. Textbooks are a very important way in which students can be supported in their learning and the Minister believes that participation in book rental schemes offers the best opportunity to reduce the burden. Schools which already have rental schemes can save parents up to 80% of the cost of buying new books.

Since his appointment, the Minister has attempted to take steps to increase participation in book rental schemes. In January 2013, the Minister launched the guidelines for developing textbook rental schemes in schools, which provide practical advice to primary and post-primary schools on how rental schemes can be established and operated. The aim of the guidelines is to help as many schools as possible to start such book rental programmes. The publication of the guidelines followed a survey of schools by the Department last year. This had a 99% response rate at primary level and indicated that 76% of primary schools operate a book rental scheme. At second level, the response rate was lower, at 44%. Of those which did respond, 88% of those in the VEC sector and 73% of those in the community and comprehensive sector operated a book rental scheme.

The Minister believes these results indicate we have a good foundation to build on across the country, especially at primary level. We can achieve a position where every primary school has a book rental schemes in operation in the 2014 and 2015 school year. The 2014 budget provided additional funding which will involve an investment of €15 million to support the establishment of book rental schemes in primary schools that do not currently operate them. The Department will provide €5 million in seed capital per annum over a three-year period to such schools.

This seed capital grant for book rental scheme for the primary schools scheme will be confined to primary schools that do not currently operate such a scheme. To extend it to all schools, as suggested by the Deputies, would mean that funding available to each school would be diluted to such an extent as to have little impact. The Minister wholeheartedly commends schools that have established book rental schemes to date. However, he regrets that they will not be eligible to apply for funding under this scheme. The Minister has confirmed that the Department will continue to provide €7 million in book grants to all primary schools, and this can be utilised for the purposes of updating or expanding a school's book rental scheme. The publication of the guidelines builds on other steps the Minister has taken in an attempt to reduce the burden on families, such as agreeing the voluntary code of practice with the Irish Educational Publishers Association, protecting the budget for school book grants at €15 million over the past two years, despite economic pressures.

I am disappointed that the Department will not allow for the 76% of schools at primary level to get some benefit from the scheme. There should be recognition for the work they have done. At second level, books are more expensive, and the students attending second level need assistance which should come from a school. To be fair to schools, they want to provide that assistance but unfortunately, if they want to improve or update a scheme, there is no help available.

With regard to the school library scheme, there is a very worthwhile initiative taken in some counties where up to 15 or 20 copies of one book can be made available through the scheme. There can be a discussion after reading a book - a type of junior book club - and such a process should be promoted. I hope the Minister of State will bring the message to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, that there are very dissatisfied parents, boards of management and school authorities. They want to use this scheme and with a little flexibility, there could be something for the schools that already have a rental process in place. These schools want to update and improve their scheme but the funding will currently only reach a quarter of schools. That is particularly disappointing for those at primary level.

Unfortunately, the response has been very disappointing. The Government is giving no recognition whatever to the many schools which have made a Trojan effort to get book rental schemes off the ground in the past few years. As I indicated, some schools may only have a scheme running for only one subject or year, and they will be excluded from this funding. The schools which have not yet started will be given seed capital and in many ways they will find it much easier to get a full scheme up and running. The schools which have already made an effort will be left out. That is not fair.

This is not the type of solution we heard of on budget day and which is regularly mentioned by the Minister. Unfortunately, in the past two or three years, the cost for a family of going to school has been increased under this Government. This scheme is advocated as a way for the Government to address that cost but the reality is that only a quarter of schools will benefit.

They Deputy is out of time.

Those which have made an effort up to now will get no assistance.

The Deputy is out of time. There is a debate scheduled after this concludes which will have less time if the Deputy goes over his time.

I ask the Minister of State to go back to the Minister for Education and Skills and ask-----

I have asked the Deputy to stop.

-----for this structure to be reviewed.

The debate scheduled to follow this is losing time because of what happened earlier. I do not want to use any more time than what is afforded for this debate.

In fairness to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, he was able to secure €15 million for the scheme during a serious economic crisis in this country. Deputies must accept that he was trying to give an opportunity to schools that did not have a book rental scheme. As I outlined in my reply on behalf of the Minister, 80% of families appreciate such schemes in schools. At the Minister's request, departmental officials have spoken to the Irish Educational Publishers' Association in order to assist families. I accept that families find it difficult at present, but the Minister must be complimented on the measures he has taken to date. He also provided a grant of €7 million to schools, which they can use to update or expand existing schemes. When the economy improves the Minister will be able to assist schools that have already set up the programme. To be fair, he is trying to target the schools that have no programme and to assist them in getting one up and running.

We are all agreed it is a good scheme and that was borne out by the survey results. When the economy improves and more funding is available for education the Minister will be able to look at ways and means to provide further funding for the scheme. I compliment him on finding the money for the scheme for this year in difficult circumstances. Some months ago there was talk about cuts to the education budget and in every other Department. The Minister for Education and Skills had to make cuts, but to be fair to him, he found €15 million to help schools that did not have an existing scheme. When the economic situation improves he might be in a position to do something for schools that have existing schemes.