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Tuesday, 3 Apr 2007

2007 Output Statement for Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

On 22 February 2007, the Dáil ordered that the following Revised Estimates for public services, inter alia, be referred to this committee for consideration: Vote 30 — Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The purpose of today’s meeting is to consider the annual output statement and Revised Estimates for the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources group of Votes. I propose that we consider the output statement and Estimates together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We will consider the Estimates for subheads B1 to B3, inclusive, and then for subheads C1 to C2, inclusive, D1 to D7, inclusive, and E1 and E2. These relate to the Minister of State, Deputy Browne. Our consideration of these will be concluded before the commencement of the Order of Business. We will suspend the sitting during the Order of Business. When we resume we will consider the Estimates for subheads A1 to A9, inclusive, F1 to F5, inclusive, G1 to G3, inclusive, H1 to H6, inclusive, I1 to I14, inclusive, J1 to J4, inclusive, and K, with the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Browne, and his officials for attending and assisting our consideration of the Estimates. I invite the Minister of State to make his opening statement.

The statement of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, will present a co-ordinated picture of the Estimates from our Department's perspective. Therefore, I will confine my opening remarks to my areas of responsibility.

My own sectoral responsibilities include coastal zone management, marine research, inland fisheries, seafood and fishery harbour development. The gross provision in the 2007 Estimates for the marine related subheads is more than €172 million. In common with other sectors under the Department's remit, the key challenge in the marine area is to ensure long-term sustainability, given the productivity and economic growth imperatives. In particular, the Department must ensure that resources are managed and developed appropriately to deliver and protect employment in rural and coastal communities.

Future investment and activity in the marine sector will be informed by a number of recent important strategic developments. The new national seafood strategy charts a course towards a sustainable future for that industry, while inland fisheries policy is informed by the report of the independent working group on salmon. In the area of marine research, the new sea change strategy provides a framework for selective and management investment that will transform the Irish maritime economy.

The provision for seafood and harbour development is €97.55 million. More than €70 million is provided for the seafood sector in 2007, generating total annual revenues of more than €702 million and providing employment for 11,500 people. The Irish seafood industry is vital to coastal communities and the country as a whole. The industry is currently facing serious challenges to its future development, and indeed survival, primarily related to declining fish stocks and quotas and consequent structural imbalances at catching and processing levels.

In January 2007 the Taoiseach, the Minister and I launched a new national seafood strategy entitled, Steering a New Course, A Strategy for a Restructured, Sustainable and Profitable Irish Seafood Industry 2007-2013. The strategy is based on a comprehensive report carried out by an independent expert group in consultation with all key interests and stakeholders in the sector. The strategy sets out a roadmap towards achieving an Irish seafood sector that is sustainable, profitable, truly competitive and market focused. Exchequer funding of €334 million is required to match private funding of €263 million, creating a total investment package of €597 million for implementation of the strategy. This strategy will be implemented through a co-ordinated series of initiatives to address challenges in the areas of marketing and sales, processing, fisheries and aquaculture. I have now established a seafood strategy implementation group with an independent chairman, Dr. Noel Cawley, to ensure effective and timely delivery on all objectives.

Subhead D1, together with the associated carryover from 2006, provides funding of almost €50 million in 2007 in respect of the operations of Bord Iascaigh Mhara. The provision will support investment in seafood development, including inshore fisheries, seafood market development, innovation and diversification in the catching sector, the installation of safety equipment on fishing boats, training and local aquaculture management.

Over €18 million is provided for an extension of the existing white fleet decommissioning scheme in line with the new seafood strategy. The seafood strategy recommends the restructuring of the fish processing sector to incentivise consolidation and sustainable long-term value creation. The provision of €1.8 million under subhead D3 in 2007 will support the restructuring process with immediate priority being given to the development of robust programmes to deliver the objectives of the strategy. The provision of almost €6 million under subhead D4 will support investment in capacity for sustainable production of fin fish and shellfish with high value-added potential. The seafood strategy document highlights a significant development opportunity for the aquaculture sector. Future initiatives will aim to realise the development potential of the industry, allowing it to play a much greater role in supplementing fish raw material supplied to the seafood processing industry and meeting the growing consumer demand for seafood.

I recognise the key role the development of local harbours and upgrading of harbour infrastructure must play in maintaining jobs in fishing, aquaculture and ancillary activities. A key policy objective is the development of the infrastructure, operational efficiency and range of supply and support services at the five fishery harbour centres and other key fishery harbours. More efficient and commercial fishery harbour centres will allow us to exploit our geographical competitive advantage to attract a greater proportion of EU landings. A sum of €27 million is provided under subhead D6 and the associated carryover in respect of fishery harbour infrastructure development. The 2007 programme includes significant infrastructural developments at Castletownbere, Greencastle, Dingle, Dunmore East, Ros a Mhíl and Clogherhead.

In accordance with the provisions of the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Act 2006, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority was established on 1 January 2007. The authority is wholly independent of my Department and is legally charged with the State's sea-fisheries law enforcement functions. Under subhead D, €10 million is provided to meet the running costs of the authority which will enforce the EU's Common Fisheries Policy and sea-fisheries law generally, in addition to food safety law on fish and fisheries products.

Subhead E1 provides more than €27 million in 2007 for inland fisheries, including over €24 million to provide for the operations and activities of the central and regional fisheries boards, salmon management initiatives, contributions to trout and coarse fisheries development societies, inland fisheries management and development generally. As our contribution to the costs of the Loughs Agency, €2.7 million is being provided.

The central and regional fisheries boards are the statutory bodies with responsibility for maintaining and improving the environmental quality and developing and protecting the resource. Their activities have increased significantly following the implementation of the habitats directive, the water framework directive and the Government decision to align the wild salmon fishery fully with scientific advice from 2007.

The committee will be aware that the first phase of a high level review of the Government's involvement in inland fisheries has been completed and that the second phase has commenced. The Government has agreed to the establishment of a new regulatory regime for the management of this important resource. The reforms are necessary to ensure the inland fisheries sector thrives and reaches its full potential. They will enable the Government to harness the expertise of local stakeholders involved in fisheries while providing a coherent and effective strategy for the sector.

In late 2006, the Government adopted the report of the independent working group on salmon which contained recommendations to address financial hardships arising from the Government's decision to align the management of wild salmon fisheries fully with scientific advice. Just last month, I announced details of the €30 million hardship fund for commercial salmon fishermen, of which €10 million is to be provided in 2007 under subhead E2. On foot of the strong interest shown in the scheme, I have recently extended the deadline for applications to 27 April 2007.

Under the marine research and development heading, €33 million has been provided. Subhead C1 provides funding in excess of €29 million in 2007 for marine research activities, especially the operations of the Marine Institute. The 2007 provision will contribute to the first year of activity under Sea Change, the recently launched marine knowledge, research and innovation strategy for the period 2007 to 2013. Sea Change will build on the solid foundation of marine infrastructural research capacity established under the 1998 marine RTDI strategy. Sea Change presents a co-ordinated national agenda comprising science, research, innovation and management activities and aims to drive the development of marine sectors as a dynamic element of Ireland's knowledge economy. The key to the strategy is a policy support measure through which the knowledge gained from research will be applied to inform public policy, governance and regulation. In February 2007, a new research awards scheme was announced to attract researchers of international standing to join the Irish marine research community working in the priority research areas identified in Sea Change.

Subhead C2, with associated carryover from 2006, provides funding of €4 million in 2007 for the second year of the Infomar programme. The programme is designed to map Ireland's shallow inshore waters to complete a process initiated under the national seabed survey 1999-2005 which mapped offshore areas. The survey of the Irish seabed area completed to date has already provided a series of integrated data sets for marine and shell life. The data has been produced in map form and as integrated data assets and been supplied to customers in digital form.

The extension of the survey to inshore areas will facilitate the development of new marine research projects, environmental monitoring, navigation and engineering projects in coastal zones. The main priorities for 2007 are the mapping and sampling of priority bay areas including those in Galway, Waterford, and the remaining areas in Dunmanus Bay and Bantry Bay and the mapping and sampling of 4,000 sq. km. off Kerry and Cork. The Geological Survey of Ireland and the Marine Institute will continue to co-operate with other agencies and third level institutions to optimise the value generated from the survey data.

Funding of €4.34 million is provided for coastal zone management. Funding of more than €3 million has been provided under subhead B1 for coastal protection works in 2007. Investment in this area is intended to tackle coastal erosion and manage coastal flooding to minimise their impact on the commercial and social activities of coastal communities. The outcome of the national coastal protection strategy study will lead to a more targeted approach to programme delivery.

The Department is responsible through the legislative codes governing foreshore aquaculture for ensuring the appropriateness and environmental acceptance of aquaculture and other coastal developments. The Department's priority is to ensure that any development involves sustainable projects appropriately located and carried on in accordance with the high standards of environmental and ecological protection. In light of increasing development pressures, the aim of the Department is to manage competing demands on the State's foreshore resource to achieve a balance between development needs and conservation imperatives. The provision of €1.3 million under subhead B4 is intended to meet the cost of foreshore evaluations, liabilities in respect of refundable deposits paid by some foreshore licensees and possible costs of removing unauthorised structures from the foreshore.

The provision in the Estimates of more than €172 million for the marine sector in 2007 is significant. Investment will focus on achieving sustainable and regionally balanced development. I commend the Vote to the committee.

I remind members that they may make opening remarks if they wish. If not, we can proceed directly to questions on the subheads.

Can we combine the two?

I am sure we can. We will move straight to subheads B1 to B4 and confine our remarks to them. Having spent five minutes on subheads B1 to B4, we will spend five minutes on subheads C1 and C2, five minutes on D1 to D7 and five minutes on E1 and E2.

This is definitely the last meeting the committee will hold on the Estimates. One of the key issues on which we have pursued the Government as a committee has been new legislation on coastal zone management. For the whole of its ten-year term, the Government has promised us a modern coastal zone management Bill supported by a serious approach to managing the foreshore. Our Green Party colleague, Deputy Sargent, must have raised the issue more than 60 times in this and the last Dáil. The Government's term of office is coming to an end and there is nothing to show. Why did the Minister not produce a management system with updated legislation relating to developments in urban areas close to the foreshore and a range of other areas? That is one of the failures of this Government. We are dealing with marine tourism. I may be straying into subhead C1, so I will conclude for the moment.

Coastal zone management should mean just that. If the coastal zone is not managed, there is no point in having a budget, albeit quite a small budget. I do not know to what extent the budget provided in the Estimates is appropriate to the scale of the work required to carry out coastal zone management. Other countries have serious problems with their coasts and foreshores. I would like to hear more from the Minister on the matter.

I accept the points Deputy Broughan has made on the need for coastal zone management. It is interesting to note that the Minister for Transport discussed the merits of an eastern bypass for Dublin as a coastal zone protection measure and the budget for that amounts to several billion euro. I look wryly at this much smaller budget for coastal zone management when in the future we may have to consider some kind of coastal protection system for Dublin Bay. Given the predictions of increased stormy weather as a result of climate change, this is an issue that will become increasingly significant.

It is with sadness that I note how little is provided under subhead B3, marine tourism, because there is great potential to develop activity-based tourism in Ireland. Marine tourism is one area from which, with very little additional investment, Ireland could benefit, generating significant income and employment in the most remote western, north-western and south-western coastal communities.

Last week I read with interest the report of the Committee of Public Accounts on marine projects. It was a damning indictment of the political culture that existed around the development of marinas where standards, rules and procedures were thrown out the window by the Minister in office who was, on the one hand, managing a Department, setting objectives and setting out certain procedures and, on the other hand, utterly abandoning them in favour of certain projects which, in the long run, did not benefit from this ministerial intervention because the projects did not stand up to scrutiny. It was remarkable to see State support of up to 85% in respect of a particular project where the benefit went directly to private individuals. I note that the subhead for marine tourism is effectively at nil. Perhaps that is the final damning indictment of that political, not departmental, activity in regard to marine tourism.

The main priority for 2007 is the continuation of the coastal protection strategy study. It is intended to progress phases 2 and 3 of the study. The need to re-examine this issue has been mentioned on a number of occasions at this committee and it is intended to appoint consultants to do that. Although it was not promised in the outgoing Government's programme for Government, Deputy Broughan will find a commitment in the new programme for Government to initiate a coastal zone management programme.

For seven consecutive years there was a foreshore conservation Bill before us and we asked about it constantly. Then it was whipped off the clár. It should not have been put there unless the Government intended to proceed with it.

Consultants will be appointed in the next couple of weeks to carry out a detailed analysis of the foreshore area and make recommendations to the Department. This year the Department worked with local authorities to undertake urgent coastal protection works around the country. Applications to the value of €20 million have been submitted over recent months, and we will work with the local authorities over the next week or two on the allocation of moneys for coastal protection.

On Deputy Ryan's point regarding the allocation for marine tourism, the reason it is such a small amount this year is that under the national development plan, responsibility for marine tourism has been transferred to the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy O'Donoghue. That Department will provide the allocation of money this year. Deputy O'Donoghue, with Fáilte Ireland, will draw up a programme as quickly as possible to develop marine tourism projects across the country.

I note that the provision for 2006 was €3.686 million and there was a decrease of €648,000 in the amount of money spent in 2006. The amount budgeted for this year is €3.038 million. It is stated in the output statement that there is to be ongoing protection and management of the foreshore having regard to the EU directives, national legislation, public policy and the policies of all State agencies impacting on foreshores, national parks and so on. Does the Minister envisage more work being done in managing and sustaining the foreshore in 2007 or is it the case that the Department, for some extraordinary reason, saved money in 2006?

During the year we had meetings with the Department of Finance about extra money for coastal protection and it asked that we prepare a strategy taking into account value for money and so on. That strategy is currently being progressed within the Department and will, it is hoped, be concluded this year. We will then be in a position to seek further funding from the Department of Finance.

In regard to the allocation of money in 2006, on a number of occasions the Department had to seek additional funding for emergency coastal protection works and had no difficulty in getting funding from the Department of Finance. I envisage that in 2007 it will also be possible to secure money where urgent works are required.

Am I correct in thinking there was a decrease of €648,000 in the amount of expenditure in 2006?

Was it savings or does it relate to work that was not done?

In some cases work is not carried out because the local council is not in a position to do it, for example, if it is involved in a community project. That happened in my county.

Did we overbudget in 2006, or overestimate what would be required? The outturn for 2006 was €3,686,000. We have €3 million this year. Last year we had more or less the same allocation but we secured extra money as the year went along. A situation may arise where the money is not spent, but in that event we transfer it to other counties.

That is a very good point. Has the Department engaged in discussions with local authorities? In my local authority area, I understand that Dublin City Council is making preparations to build sea defences. In light of the publication of the climate change strategy yesterday, has the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources initiated preparatory work to deal with its effects? The Minister comes from Wexford, my ancestral county, where the land around Fethard, home to one of his old running mates, is disappearing into the sea. The Sunday Times published a generated image of Ireland in a hundred years’ time, as a country of about 400 islands.

The Baldoyle area of my constituency is a polder and is under sea level. Wexford is being nibbled away by constant coastal erosion. The next Government must be much more proactive.

The coastal protection strategy study is being carried out at present and will continue into 2007. I spent two weeks touring the Wexford coastline to see the erosion. Substantial money is being allocated to Wexford to deal with it. Last week I accompanied Deputy Martin Brady to visit Howth and I was amazed how much of the area we visited had been washed away.

Did the Minister of State meet Senator Fitzgerald along the way?

No, I met Deputies Woods and Martin Brady. They have serious problems.

I trust the Minister of State is not forgetting the longest coastline in Ireland.

No. The officials from my Department work on a continuous basis with the local authorities and we prioritise based on the money available. As I stated, we have allocated €20 million this year.

I thank the Minister of State for clarifying the issue of the marine budget. Is the budget for recreational fishing and the development of angling tourism handled by his Department? If that is the case, why is one water related tourism activity being separated from the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism? Is it not necessary, because of foreshore licences and monitoring, to keep marine tourism in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources? What is the logic of separating it out to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism?

We will be working in conjunction with the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism in some of the areas. There will be a certain amount of overlapping. Marine tourism is no longer within the remit of my Department.

Have members any questions on subheads C1 and C2?

The problem with Estimates is that we are discussing this year's spending, in other words, eaten bread, whereas in other parliaments, the opposition has a role in drawing up the estimates for the following year. We have not reached that stage yet. The output statement is a really useful development. As public representatives we want the public service to be as efficient as possible and deliver the best possible value for money and try to develop the country. This is the first year we have a detailed outturn. I thank the Secretary General and his officials.

I hope the Deputy is not preparing for office.

We all recognise the valuable work of the Marine Institute. I received a disturbing e-mail on the outsourcing of the management of the crews on our two vessels. Will the Minister of State confirm this?

I welcome the national seabed survey. It is very positive in terms of exploration to build up a knowledge of the national terrain, most of which is under the sea.

I commend the Department for the annual output statement, which is useful when used in combination with the Estimates. There has been a radical change in the past year in that it is now recognised that the path we were following in terms of fisheries management development was deeply flawed. There was widespread agreement that the reporting of activities was not accurate. People may disagree on the level and extent, but the fishing industry is being honest. It is acknowledging the system is not working and that it encourages illegality, with significant underreporting of catches. As Dr. Paul Connolly pointed out on a number of occasions, the scientific evidence is that if we fail to manage our fish stocks, we will move down the food chain with options only to fish for sponges and jellyfish, having fished all the big easy stock. The industry is in crisis and we are seeing a contraction in the pelagic fleet and white fleet.

When one examines the programme of expenditure, the seafood and fishery harbour development programme is up 29% to €92 million in 2007. The fisheries programme is up 22% to €39 million in 2007 and then I see what is allocated to the research and development programme. I would have thought in this changed climate, when it is recognised that energy resources will come from the sea, there would be a dramatic about turn with massive additional investment, somewhere on the scale of the investment in seafood and fishery harbour development. Why is the increase in the general net programme for expenditure on marine research and development limited to 5% whereas it is in the high 20% in seafood and fishery harbour development?

My colleague, Deputy Ryan, has proceeded to subhead D. May I raise some points?

We will deal with subheads D1 to D7.

There is additional expenditure of €6 million on Bord Iascaigh Mhara. Mr. Keogh, the director, is due to retire in June 2007. When I looked at the recent report, I was struck by the fall in the production of certain species. We know the reasons for these decreases, some of which have been mentioned by my colleague. When I was in Howth last week, I noticed that fish like blossom and coley, which people did not eat years ago, were being sold on the pier.

What about the orange roughy?

We do not have orange roughy.

It is illegal to catch it now.

Blossom, which is very like whiting, was on the menu in the Dáil restaurant a few weeks ago.

I have spoken previously to the Minister of State about my fundamental concerns about Bord Iascaigh Mhara in this regard. We all welcomed in general terms the new industry vision, Steering a New Course, which relates to marketing, processing and fisheries development. Should BIM have been more proactive in producing an overall vision for Irish fisheries? Has any cost-benefit analysis of the BIM's achievements been conducted? I would like details of the return from the €50 million that was provided for corporate development priorities, advanced information systems and strategies, etc. How do we measure what BIM actually achieves in terms of basic delivery? The bottom line is that there has been a decline in exports, as far as I know, in a number of categories. I am trying to think back to the last BIM report. Has there been a bottom-line evaluation of BIM's performance?

The big issues arise under the heading of fisheries conservation and management. Subhead D3 relates to the funding of fish processing. It is obvious that Deputies on all sides of the House will be interested in the progress made in the years to come under Steering a New Course, which was produced by Dr. Cawley's implementation team. The day the Minister presented the report, we felt that more support could be given to some parts of the industry affected by the decommissioning of the fleet. I accept that the Minister had come forward with a good deal.

I notice that the priorities mentioned in subhead D4, which relates to aquaculture, are quite vague. For example, one of the Government's aims is "to build critical mass in the production of certain species". It is stated in Steering a New Course that aquaculture — the blue revolution — represents the future in terms of ecosystems. Does the Minister of State think we have adopted a sufficiently proactive policy on the environmental issues which arise in that regard?

The Government has spent a good deal of money this year on upgrading the fishing harbours. I welcome the work being done in Castletownbere, Clogherhead and various other ports.

Has much of the €11 million that has been allocated for the Fisheries Sea Protection Authority been spent to date? I notice that an executive chairperson has been appointed to the authority. Is it expected that the full €11 million will be spent this year? When we dealt with the Sea-Fisheries and Maritime Jurisdiction Bill 2005, we thought the authority would operate primarily as the regulator of the fishing industry. I presume that is still the intention. I note the authority seems to have a strong focus on food — in other words, its role at Clonakilty will be like that of BIM. When we considered the Bill so rigorously in these rooms, we thought the authority would act as a regulator. We thought it would give us information in the manner outlined by Deputy Eamon Ryan. Such information is needed by policy makers — who feel there is a dearth of information — so that a modern and transparent industry can be developed.

I would like to speak about an allegation that has been made about BIM and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. The Minister mentioned in his speech that the Cavan office is coming on the horizon. Has the Minister of State heard stories on the grapevine about public servants having to undertake a great deal of extra travel to work in Clonakilty industrial park? It seems they may have to complete circuits between Dublin, Clonakilty and Greencastle. I am concerned about the cost of decentralisation as it is now operating. How much of the €11 million I mentioned will be spent directly on the decentralisation process? I appreciate that we have an opportunity to establish the new agency in Clonakilty. I would have preferred if it were at one of the great ports, but it has been placed in Clonakilty.

It is heaven on earth down there. Does the Deputy not have family from west Cork?

What about Castletownbere and Beara?

The new development will be beautiful.

I refer to places where the industry is vibrant. The European Fisheries Agency is in Vigo, not the Algarve. I would like to know how the process is working.

We would all like to be in the Algarve.

I thought the Minister of State wanted to go to Clonakilty. Is there something in Wexford we do not know about?

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority spend to the end of March was €1 million. We expect to spend €7 million by the end of the year as we move towards a full staff complement. It is also important to note that we have staff at Killybegs, Dunmore East and elsewhere, not just at Clonakilty. It is expected that the full allocation will have been spent by the end of the year. We are working to recruit more staff in this area.

Out-sourcing of management of vessels was raised. The Marine Institute does not recruit management or crew itself. Vessels are crewed by specialists and public procurement guidelines require tendering for such contracts. The vessels are fully owned by the Marine Institute, however.

Did the crews ever work directly for the Marine Institute?

No. We are carrying out a series of value for money audits in respect of BIM and also have a performance contract with the board that outlines our requirements for 2007 to 2009. That BIM is carrying out useful work can be seen in the increase in Irish seafood sales from €664.9 million in 2005 to €724.6 million in 2006, which was an increase of 9%.

A sum of €29 million has been allocated for Marine Institute research for this year. That is the amount of money it will be able to spend this year. The Marine Institute is regarded as one of the top performers not only in Europe but in the world. Its expertise is highly sought after.

Where does the figure of €724.6 million total seafood sales come from? Is it from all fleets?

The figure is from BIM's annual review for 2006, which was published just recently.

Does the figure represent our sales in Ireland or Norway and Spain or what Spanish boats are taking from Irish waters? It seems very high compared to other figures I have heard for Irish sales.

The figure represents domestic and export sales.

From the Irish fleet exclusively?

Total Irish sales of seafood in 2006 in the home and export markets amounted to €724.6 million, excluding direct Irish landings at foreign ports, which represents an increase of 9% on the previous year. The main contributor to the increase in revenue was the ongoing rapid growth of the domestic market. Seafood sales to the retail sector were valued at €157.7 million, representing an increase of 15% on 2005. Sales to food services were valued at €204.7 million, which was an increase of 18% on the previous year.

Is that landed sales from Irish vessels?

Is it foreign fleets also?

The increase in sales was driven mainly by the growing consumer awareness of the health and nutritional benefit of seafood.

We have to be careful here, given that we spend €50 million on BIM. I understand the value of the Irish catch was approximately €200 million, which means the BIM provision represents quite a subsidy to just one agency. There cannot be many businesses where the State provides 25% cover of turnover.

We are looking at the whole area of value for money in the period 2007-09. Whoever is in my position after the election will be dealing with that.

We will have a report from you, Deputy Browne, after the election.

It could be yourself, Chairman. I do not know.

Has the transition from the Department to the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority been a smooth one? Did staff leave the Department and go to the authority? Has there been a corresponding reduction in staff, and of staff costs, in the Department?

The transition, with the necessary negotiations and discussions, has been very smooth. The decrease in subhead A1 reflects the reduction in staff costs.

What is the nature of that reduction? It seems to be approximately €3.6 million.

There is a 64% reduction in administration costs and a 57% reduction in non-pay costs.

Subhead D6, which deals with investment in harbours, includes the figure of €1.653 million for other local authority projects. Given that some of the grants listed are as low as €38,000 for Tír an Fhia in County Galway, for example, what is the make-up of the total of €1.653 million? There was a reasonably large marina development in Bundoran. Is that project included under the heading of other local authority projects? Why are they listed under that heading rather than individually?

The normal procedure is that the Department requests local authorities to make applications for funding for small piers and harbours. A number of applications are made every year and are assessed in the Department by our engineers. The local authority must provide 25% of the cost of each project and the balance is provided by the Department. The grants are generally for work on very small harbours and piers.

Early in 2007, the Department contacted local authorities and asked them to submit applications for funding for small harbour works in 2007. We will make a decision on those applications next week. If Deputy Ryan has a harbour in mind it is important that the local authority apply for funding for it. The Department cannot allocate funding to communities or individuals. Funding can only be allocated to a local authority.

I received a specific inquiry about a project in Bundoran. Is that included in the list? How much funding did the Department grant to that project?

I am not aware of any funding for Bundoran. We have a number of applications from Donegal County Council. Each local authority decides its priorities and submits applications accordingly.

All local authorities do the same, whether for harbours, roads or other projects. They have little regard for members of the authorities. What sort of response is the Department getting from local authorities? Are any of them excluded? Do they all get grant aid or does the grant depend on the departmental evaluation of their applications?

Last year was my first year to be involved in these grant allocations. We try to be as fair as possible to each local area. The fund is limited to approximately €2 million, which must be matched to the priorities decided by local authorities. This year we had 14 applications from County Donegal, listed in order of priority. I do not see Bundoran on the list. If Deputy Ryan contacts Donegal County Council to make an application——

Deputy Ryan will be more interested in South Dublin County Council for the next two months.

This committee has had numerous discussions about the crisis in the fish processing industry and the underutilisation of facilities due to the lack of landings. Where are the new facilities funded under subhead D3? At a time when assets are underutilised, it seems strange that new facilities are being built.

There has been very significant investment in Killybegs, Castletownbere and Ros a Mhíl. We are considering investments in Dunmore East, Kilmore Quay and other areas. In the seafood strategy document, Dr. Noel Cawley recommended a strong restructuring of the fish processing sector. The implementation group chaired by Dr. Cawley held its first meeting last week. I understand it will deal with this issue. We have included a provision of €1.8 million to support the restructuring process. More money will be required as it develops.

What are the locations of the main plants being supported?

No decision has been made on the plants to be grant-aided this year. We have asked for applications and a number of plants will show interest. It is too early to say which they will be. The implementation group is in place. It is widely representative and is under the chairmanship of Dr. Noel Cawley. I expect to see major developments in the next year to 18 months.

We have concluded our consideration of the marine sector subheads. Is it agreed that we suspend the sitting until after the Order of Business in the Dáil? Agreed.

Sitting suspended at 5.15 p.m. and resumed at 5.45 p.m.

I thank the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, and his officials for their attendance and assistance with our consideration of the Estimate. We have had the benefit of the Minister's statement, which has been circulated to members. Is it agreed not to require the Minister to make an opening address? Agreed.

We will move directly to deal with subheads A1 to A9, F1 to F5, G1 to G3, H1 to H6, I1 to I14, J1 to J4 and K. We will deal first with subheads A1 to A9 — Administration. Are there any questions from members?

I welcome the Minister, his officials and the Secretary General. The output statement and list of achievements the Department hopes to carry out in 2007 is a very welcome development. I hope that at some time a government, perhaps the next one, will facilitate the Opposition by having a discussion on the Estimates for the following year. We should now be discussing the Estimates for 2007 and 2008 rather than discussing eaten bread. I made that point in my earlier presentation.

In regard to administration, has the decentralisation of staff to Cavan started to have an impact, given the €27 million we are spending this year? I note that incidental expenses have increased slightly. I also note that some of the priorities for 2007 include staff training and development.

Perhaps the Minister would tell the committee what exactly is being done in regard to the ICT strategy. I got the Minister's press release on This is a welcome development. There is a very brief account of it in the press statement. I note that the figure for consultancies has decreased. Lest I forget to do so later, allow me to ask whether the Indecon report will be completed by the time the Government leaves office and will it be presented to the Dáil.

On value for money, the output statements on the priorities for 2007 are, again, a welcome development. We are spending €200,000 on the value for money and policy review, three quarters of which goes to consultants. The Minister mentioned aquaculture in that regard. We will be dealing with group broadband and demands later so I would welcome the Minister's comments on the points I have raised.

We will bank those questions. Has Deputy Durkan any questions?

No, not on that issue.

Decentralisation to Cavan obviously has some impact. We have acquired a 10.5 acre site to accommodate the decentralisation of the headquarters functions of the Department. It is working with the OPW towards lodging a planning application ahead of the decentralisation implementation group timeframe. We began with a party of 28 staff who are currently located in interim accommodation in Cavan town. They are involved mainly in corporate services, domestic policy, EU co-ordination, North-South co-ordination and some of the financial management functions. We are relocating a further five staff members in the internal audit division to Cavan in the coming months. The Department is actively considering moving a second advance party to Cavan during the course of the early part of this year.

As to the ICT strategy, the Department has a proven capability in delivering technology solutions that support the business of the Department. That is reflected in the ICT strategy of the Department covering 2005 to 2007. The main emphasis of the ICT strategy is on business, benefits and change management aspects of ICT investments. The main priorities for 2007 will be the implementation of the Department's high priority business projects as well as maintaining and enhancing the Department's IT infrastructure in line with the strategy. We are constantly working to maintain, upgrade and keep up to date in the ICT area. That, again, is part of what is happening in that area.

The Department has been very successful in a couple of areas that need updating, including the database, the geographic spatial information services, an upgrade to video conferencing facilities for the new decentralised offices, and completion of the final phase of e-governance. These are all priorities.

The e-governance project was launched yesterday. It is a public information service and will give details of all the boards and bodies under the aegis of the Department, the membership, the chair, the length of time served and so on. However, it is also designed to help the Department in its relations with boards and the Minister in keeping up to date with vacancies and with the make-up of boards. It is also a tool for companies and organisations. Having seen it, I believe it will probably be copied across the public sector.

We appointed Indecon in the past 24 hours. As to when the report will be completed, that depends on when the Taoiseach decides to call the election. Generally speaking, it will take approximately two months to do the report. If the election is called before that, the report will not be ready.

We only take on consultants as and when they are required. A couple of major consultancies were commissioned last year, especially the one on the electricity sector. That is why there is a slight reduction in this year's budget.

We follow particular procedures in regard to the appointment of consultants. We only seek consultants in special circumstances, for example, when there is no specialised knowledge or expertise within the Department, where a need for objectivity or independence is deemed to be essential, where, for instance, the European Union stipulates a consultancy should be carried out by an external body, or where an issue is specialised and has to be completed within a certain timescale. We are careful about our use of consultants but like most Departments we need to use them on a regular basis.

Has the Minister set in train any programmes for developing staff resources? Whatever the outcome of the general election, the Department may not survive in its current form. The Opposition has found each of the areas of responsibility within the Department both complex and significant. Is it possible to recruit specialists in certain areas or to help current staff to upgrade their skills? Much discussion occurred recently in parties on fourth level skills and added abilities in research. Has any initiative been taken in this regard? For example, profound technical issues arise in the area of communications.

We had a conversation about this issue previously. I accept the Deputy has a particular interest in this area. The Department has a bigger budget for staff development and increasing expertise than the Department of Education and Science. It is about 7% of payroll which is a significant amount. It is good to see this happening and I would encourage this approach.

Are there schemes to allow staff to pursue higher degrees in engineering?

There are such schemes. In addition, a number of people are taken on by the Department in an advisory capacity. I agree with the Deputy that access to technical skills and knowledge is most important. Because of the semi-State companies for which the Department is responsible, a need was identified for an economist and one was recruited. We try to take that kind of approach on an ongoing basis. Difficulties can arise in regard to pay scales. It is not that easy to get the kind of specialists that are required.

We also have a stagiaire programme, which from my experience is extremely effective. Staff employed on this programme are recently graduated students or those who are in their final year in university. This programme has been remarkably successful. I am not sure what has been the experience in other Departments. The programme is mutually beneficial. Students get an opportunity to work in a real environment and it gives a certain level of expertise and a freshness to the Department.

Are members happy with subheads A1 to A9? Is it agreed that we move on to F1 to F5? Agreed. These subheads relate to energy conservation, gas services, the energy RTDI programme, energy efficiency initiatives and strategic energy infrastructure.

I welcome the Minister and congratulate him on the initiatives taken, especially in regard to subhead F1. I cannot criticise him because we produced similar proposals and that would make it slightly awkward. However, one can always try to improve.

We have heard much about the area of energy conservation in recent days. I urge the Minister to make a cold, hard evaluation of all the efficiency measures to make sure they do what is intended. Many issues are discussed and given an authenticity they do not necessarily deserve, unless and until they are measured against cold, hard facts.

I carried out some experiments recently and the Minister will be pleased to hear I survived them. Home heating is one of the most important areas. We must ensure we get the best value for money, and that means the best value for money for Government also, in providing financial initiatives. I do not say this for political reasons. There is a grave danger we could go in several directions and support all manner of initiatives, some of which are not as effective as they claim to be. I have read articles by people who have embarked on this course who subsequently raised questions. The theory is that if an idea is good, it is the right approach to take, but in terms of efficiency and cost effectiveness in terms of home heating, the best way to heat one's home is with a log of wood; it is not processed and no energy is required to use it. It is also carbon neutral. The problem arises in regard to its calorific value when compared with other fuels such as coal, anthracite and oil. It does not measure up so well against the alternatives in this regard.

It has become more common to seal households. Sustainable Energy Ireland has promoted this approach. I wish to introduce a word of warning that this can be overdone which can give rise to serious problems. I have experience of this from my constituency. When houses are sealed, at a particular time of the year the access of air into the building can be restricted to the extent that it could eventually lead to the death of the occupants due to a lack of oxygen.

Will the Minister elaborate on the development of the gas service, the Corrib gas field and the role it is proposed it will play in future? It is important, especially at a time when energy is at a premium and likely to remain that way and given that security of supply is a significant issue for the foreseeable future.

I would welcome a comment from the Minister on the RTDI programme. I already referred to the energy efficiency initiatives and the grants associated with them. When advising the consumer as to which route to take, it should be noted that various costs are involved, some of which are fairly substantial. Closer and more accurate analysis is required of the total capital cost involved and the benefit accruing over time. In some circumstances, one might be obliged to use the system for up to 20 years before getting one's money back. We must avoid piling burdens on people in such a way that in five or seven years' time they respond by noting that in addition to spending X amount of money, they must also spend a certain amount in upkeep, ongoing maintenance, etc.

My final point is in respect of fuel brought into the household such as wood, treated wood, wood chip or wood pellets. I refer in particular to the use of wood chip in households. While this is infrequent, some households make use of it. One must be careful to avoid bringing pests such as woodworm into the household with it. Experts will state that this cannot happen as woodworm infestations can only arise from an incubation period in the month of August. However, as the requisite climactic conditions may be replicated indoors or semi-indoors, the same effect can take place.

I mention this issue because some years ago, I had an unfortunate personal experience in this regard and was obliged to treat the entire house. Infestation can occur within weeks and one has a problem before one realises it. People must be informed of such issues to ensure that all such materials are treated. When people are trying to do the right thing by being eco-friendly and efficient, there should be no risk of doing something else that could be completely detrimental to their well-being.

We will continue to bank questions before the Minister responds to them.

I welcome the substantial increase in expenditure on energy conservation and research into energy efficiency initiatives. In that regard, to where and when will the Department's energy sections go under the decentralisation programme pursued by the Government? Perhaps I should have asked this question in the previous round. To where and when will Sustainable Energy Ireland go? Will the two groups ever meet or are they bound for the same destination? How many people have indicated their desire to leave? Has Sustainable Energy Ireland provided the Minister with an approximation as to the potential take-up or has the process reached this stage yet?

The Minister may be aware of a recent initiative on the part of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in which it specified heat demand and emissions reductions of 40% above the building standards. Moreover, it specified a 20% renewable requirement in any significant new build, that is, any residential development of more than ten units or its commercial equivalent. Such measures may help to kick-start the wood-fired and other renewables supply industries. When does the Minister consider that we should begin to switch from support grants to regulation, to deliver the requisite new infrastructure? Has the Department begun to consider this issue?

I welcome the funding for the research and technological development and innovation, RTDI, programme. However, I have some concerns in respect of commercialisation. I note that Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, the Higher Education Authority, Science Foundation Ireland, SEI and the Department all have roles in this respect. However, a country of this size has a limited budget that might be similar to the research and development expenditure of a single Fortune 500 company. Would it not make sense for Ireland to try to bring together some of the aforementioned expertise? Perhaps sustainable energy should be added to Science Foundation Ireland's remit as a third leg to achieve economies of scale and develop expertise in processing such research and its commercialisation in particular.

In my role as the Green Party spokesperson who covers the brief of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, I have become concerned that commercialisation is not arising from the State's research funding at present. What is the commercialisation element of the RTDI programme in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources? I am somewhat concerned that the scale of its research budget is insufficient to bring forth the level of experience that might be available in some of the aforementioned agencies.

I refer to the Exchequer's contribution of €12.7 million towards the development of a gas network in Northern Ireland. What proportion does this represent of the overall development costs? Does the Minister have information on what is being done on the British side?

The climate change strategy has been published and I understand we still await a national energy efficiency plan. Does the funding under discussion represent anything that could take place in that context? Essentially, it appears to be funding the Power of One initiative and household improvements such as insulation and so on in the greener homes programme. In that context, who will bear the cost of measures such as smart metering, which was listed as an action in the Minister's action-packed climate change document? Such measures constitute aspirations rather than actions. Are any such issues covered in the funding under discussion?

In respect of energy conservation, like other members, I have received complaints regarding the levels of VAT levied. While it is obviously too late for the present Government, was any consideration given to fiscal changes to encourage householders and small businesses to be more energy efficient?

The Estimate of €7 million in respect of energy RTDI constitutes a decrease of nearly €750,000 on the provisional outturn for 2006. Given its importance, why is this so small? Subhead F5 on strategic energy infrastructure contains a token estimate of €1,000. Eirgrid is to be involved in infrastructure. Does this reflect the possibility that it is also to be involved in transmission? Does this constitute a physical representation of the Minister's intentions to break up the ESB and wreck one of the premier State commercial enterprises? Does subhead F5 represent the physical result, given that the ESB traditionally carried such costs by its enterprise, borrowing, etc.?

I will try to keep all the points on an issue together. The subhead on energy efficiency carries in large measure the Power of One campaign and it has been highly effective. Deputy Durkan asked how the Department would evaluate it and ensure it constitutes value for money, which is extremely important. Our approach was to begin with baseline studies in respect of people's attitude to energy efficiency, what they know about it and so on. Thereafter the Department will evaluate the campaign on an ongoing basis to ascertain whether the message is getting through, how often people see the advertisements and whether they have had an effect on people's behaviour, as well as being able to keep a more general eye on change and behaviour. This will continue to be measured during the lifetime of the campaign.

As for the wider issue of energy efficiency in large industries and SMEs, baseline data is available. SEI continues to work on measurements for large industries and SMEs. In the large industry energy network, LIEN, scheme we see in specific companies the benefits of the efficiencies that they have put in place. On the more domestic side, we are discussing measuring the impact of the Power of One campaign on public awareness.

On the general point made by Deputy Durkan, SEI tries to give a balanced view of how effective and how energy efficient different types of heating and alternative energies might be. The Deputy mentioned all of the advantages of wood logs and I do not disagree with too many of them. He also mentioned that the calorific value of a wood log might be lower. If one goes into this in its purest form, costs such as transport worked into the cost of the logs also cause difficulties. I do not disagree with the Deputy's general point. There is much motherhood and apple pie spoken about green sources. If one goes into the detail of exactly how much they cost, either economically or from the point of view of emissions, one finds it may not be quite such a case of motherhood and apple pie as people make out.

I do not disagree with the point the Deputy made about insulating homes. I was invited to see a system in place in my constituency, in McCann and Byrnes, which seems extremely effective, and which far exceeds the criteria for insulation and preventing the ingress of cold air, but also safeguards against the other danger as well. In that regard, the technology is catching up.

The other areas of energy efficiency include the energy efficiency plan, smart metering and the sectoral plans. The CER is currently finalising its studies on microgeneration, smart metering, etc. The CER will finalise a report and we will look to that report before finalising any details on this issue.

I was asked who will pay for the smart metering and how it will be done. At present, the ESB owns the meters. If we are getting into smart metering it will be the ESB that will do this. Obviously, the consumer pays for all of the equipment the ESB puts in place. Apart from its borrowing for the bigger infrastructure, that is how the ESB finances projects.

The latest information available to me from the company is that Corrib gas will flow through the pipes by end 2009. At that stage it is expected that it will contribute to reducing our imports of gas by approximately 60%. That will be an important contribution.

On the more general question of security of supply, at present 85% of Ireland's gas supply is being met by imports via the interconnector through Scotland. Obviously, that is an important source for us.

The figure of €12.7 million for the gas pipeline was approximately 50% of the cost of the pipeline. It was Stg£10 million and we agreed to give €12.7 million, which was then the equivalent in euro.

I was asked about reducing VAT on gas or on renewables. According to EU rules, we can only have three levels of VAT and we cannot create a fourth one for renewables or anything else.

Somebody stated that the tax was the same as the grant.

It would not be because the grant, depending on where one buys the stuff, is supposed to be approximately 30% to 35%. There is no rate of VAT anywhere near that. In some cases, some people have stated that the grant amounts to as much as 50%.

The slight decrease in RTDI expenditure on the outturn on last year was because we got agreement from the Department of Finance to move on the Charles Parsons awards as quickly as possible in this entire area of energy research. We got permission from the Department to pay 40% of the total of the phase 1 grants out of last year's Estimates and that is why it is slightly reduced this year.

Deputy Ryan's point about the various roles of the agencies and bodies, and the danger of duplication, is one of which I am acutely aware and which we keep closely under review. It was for that reason we set up the Energy Research Council to ensure that there was a focus on energy research and that energy research focused on Government priorities would get priority.

There is a general need in Ireland to ensure we move from basic research such as the creation of patents into commercialisation. That matter is addressed generally in the White Paper. It is something at which we have not been good in the past, not only in research but across a range of areas, and of which we are extremely conscious.

The marine section of the Department is moving to Clonakilty. The remainder of the Department, which would include the energy division, is moving to Cavan. SEI is being decentralised to Dundalk. Currently, the OPW is identifying a site for SEI in Dundalk. It has two sites in mind. In keeping with what we in the Department have done, my understanding is that SEI has moved the first two people to Dundalk as part of an advance party. The decentralisation of SEI is planned for 2008 and the decentralisation of the Department is planned for the end of 2009.

Are subheads F1 to F5 agreed? Agreed.

I am unhappy with them, but it is too late to do anything about it.

We will proceed to subheads G1 to G3.

I want to ask the Minister about MANs. As I stated in the House, the management team of e-net keeps in touch with myself and others on the Opposition benches and keeps us informed of what it is doing. It has also told us about the increase in revenues. The revenue had probably been non-existent and a cost-benefit analysis would suggest that the expenditure in most commercial entities to date would be looked upon as incredibly badly spent, but at least some revenue is beginning to come in. What is happening with tendering in the second phase? The MANs was a big stick when the Government and the then Minister, Senator O'Rourke, decided to sell off Eircom. Does the Minister see the future of MANs as a single super network?

The digital hub seems to be becoming increasingly successful which is a welcome development for Dublin's southside. However, we have not achieved the full regeneration of south inner city Dublin. Will the Minister comment on the RAPID aspect to this?

One issue is the digital divide. A European report, i2010, on our overall broadband performance makes very depressing reading. I accept that since the Minister came on board, there has been some movement. The report makes disparaging remarks about our digital performance. Working on 2006 figures, it shows broadband penetration at 10.3%. We are down the European league table with Slovakia. We may be well able to take them on in Association Football but we are still in the same territory when it comes to broadband. The report carries some depressing statistics. From the overall population, 61% of enterprises have broadband access; regular Internet and e-mail users amount to 44%; and searching for information about goods and services on the Internet, which includes Ryanair and Aer Lingus web users, comes to 42%. Only 21% of the population uses Internet banking; 23% only access the Internet at work. The statistics for e-Government indicators and available public services on-line for citizens are better with 84% of enterprises using e-Government services. However, only 30% of the public use them.

ICT in schools is appalling at 8.7 per hundred. If elected to Government, the Labour Party will give every second level pupil a laptop computer. Deputies Kenny and Durkan stole my policy. There will be no more heavy schoolbags.

Great minds think alike.

Yes. The Tory Party leader, Mr. Cameron, has stolen another one of my policies. Leaving politics aside, these figures are somewhat depressing. We should be at the top of the league. Of course the Minister will argue we have improved dramatically.

Let me say that Deputy Broughan has said what he wants to say.

Let me quote Hamlet, "I am here more in sorrow than in anger".

Many computer-literate people will complain to me about broadband roll-out and provision. The Minister should read the i2010 report. It is hot off the press and a damning indictment of the Government. I know the Minister is manfully attempting to turn the Titanic around but it seems to be relentlessly sailing for the iceberg.

When I heard the Taoiseach's speech, I said to myself it will be a sad night on the Titanic if this keeps up.

I am disappointed with the roll-out of broadband.

What speech was that?

His Ard-Fheis speech. I watched the last 20 minutes of it.

Which Taoiseach — the Taoiseach who wants to be Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny?

The Taoiseach who wants to return as Taoiseach.

That was last Saturday night. The contracts man.

The fisheries Bill is coming up. We need to move on.

I want to say a few words too.

I do not want to overheat the Minister's main drive. Will Deputy Durkan be brief?

Provision of broadband was not the best performance in the past 25 years. It is largely inefficient. When it is claimed the take-up of broadband was not good, the question to be asked is how could it be when it was not available. With all the various schemes, MANs, phase 1 and 2, national broadband scheme, group broadband, it has not done for the telecommunications industry what other countries have managed coming from a much lower base. Ireland has missed the boat in developing its broadband infrastructure. There are certain difficulties that have arisen because it is uncharted waters. The telecommunications regulatory system needs to be reviewed. State-of-the-art technology must be provided for our communities, without obstruction, when it comes on stream and not five years after it is launched.

If we were to do it all again, I would do it differently. I was one of the few who had serious reservations about the sell off of Eircom. We were shifting from a State body to the private sector. I have no problem with that but it is how it is controlled and whether it is used as an investment venture project or a project to deliver services to the community. It is critical we deliver this technology rapidly to the community, whether it is the industrial, commercial, domestic or educational sectors.

Deputy Broughan made a number of general points about MANs and suggested that the phase 1 money was badly spent. I do not understand how he can say that. No one else has suggested that. Projects in the first 27 towns have been completed and we have commenced the next 90 town projects under phase 2, which is expected to be completed by the middle of next year. MANs have been effective in several ways, one of which was mentioned by Deputy Broughan. Anywhere a MAN has been provided the price of broadband and availability has been affected. It has served that much of a purpose. MANs were never intended to make significant profits in their first few years of operation. They represent important, advance infrastructure and I have no doubt they will prove their worth as the next generation networks are rolled out, as in the case of Global Crossing.

Deputy Broughan said regeneration had not happened in the area around the Digital Hub. It depends on how one defines "regeneration" which is something I think has happened around the hub and in the Liberties. I was there at a function last week and saw the community learning initiatives and pride people are taking in the area. That alone has made a significant difference, which is something most communities in the area might say. Deputy Broughan may have meant regeneration in the sense of building development, which it is correct to say has not started. The two sites we had have been sold and work will start at one in the course of the year, if not at both. The development will create a sense of physical regeneration in the area. It is a great project and will succeed.

We are administering the dormant accounts fund, which is where the increase for ICT initiatives for disadvantaged youths arises. I asked about it specifically. The interdepartmental economic and social disadvantage committee considered the applications assessed by Pobail, decided that 39 of the 154 applications had met the assessment criteria and endorsed the recommended allocations. The Department benefited to the tune of €1.605 million.

The most recent report on broadband from which Deputy Broughan has read is out of date. That is not a political remark. The figures in the report are based on last September's figures, but such has been the rate of growth in the broadband market in Ireland that they have become outdated very quickly. From September 2006 to the end of December, 80,000 extra subscribers were recorded. Since then, the number of subscribers has increased further. In March, it was confirmed that by the end of December 2006, there were 517,300 broadband subscribers in Ireland. In the middle of 2005, there were 50,000 subscribers. The increase represents a remarkable performance. The growth of broadband in Ireland is running at 105% per annum to the third quarter of 2006 and has accelerated since then. The rate of growth among the 25 EU member states was only 32%, one third of which occurred in the same period as the Irish increase. The EU report referred to broadband penetration of 10.3% to October 2006. While the statistic was accurate at the time, penetration had exceeded 12% by the end of the year. It is safe to say it is very near the 15% EU average at this stage.

While I do not wish to quibble on the method of calculation the EU uses, I note that it is based on households. We have proportionately fewer households per capita than most European Union member states. If each country reached 100% broadband penetration according to the EU statistical methodology, we could only achieve 18th place among member states due to the balance between households and population. We are doing much better than the figures indicate and have made rapid progress. Broadband is now available in 85% of the country and — not that anyone here has suggested it — no foreign direct investment has been lost. The rate at which people use personal computers and broadband services is not something we can influence, beyond carrying out public information campaigns. We cannot beat people into using e-mail. Government can only do so much, after which it is up to individuals to avail of services. At 85% coverage, it is not really the Government’s fault that only 40% of small and medium industries use personal computers. It is important for the economy to encourage the greatest possible use of computers and broadband, in which context the Government will come forward with another initiative. We initiated a demand-side advertising and awareness campaign last year, which continues North and South.

I am not sure about 96% of schools having broadband. As a former Minister for Education and Science, I note that while the notion of every child having a laptop in his or her schoolbag sounds wonderful and sexy, computers are useless unless the curriculum is digitised and teachers are fully trained and willing to use the equipment. These matters are part of a larger programme which is the responsibility of the Department of Education and Science, the first phases of which have been rolled out. While it continues to be rolled out, the programme will take some time to implement fully. There is not much point in providing every child with a laptop unless the curriculum is fully digitised and accessible.

Is the draft report of the annual output statement agreed? Agreed.