I propose to take Questions Nos. 368 and 373 together.
Under the Government's recently announced decentralisation programme, the development co-operation directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs is scheduled for decentralisation to Limerick. This will involve the relocation to Limerick of 130 posts.
A decentralisation committee has been set up within the Department to liaise with the Government decentralisation committee, to plan and implement the decentralisation programme and to assess the impact of the move on the work of the Department. A number of important questions relating to decentralisation remain to be clarified. The timing of the move will be a central issue, in particular. In this context we wish to give staff as much information as possible on these aspects prior to asking them to indicate whether they wish to decentralise to Limerick or to the other 52 centres. The content of the central implementation plan report, to be prepared by the implementation committee for the Cabinet sub-committee on decentralisation by the end of March, will be of particular relevance in this regard. I anticipate the Department of Foreign Affairs will conduct a decentralisation survey shortly after the presentation of this report. The results of the survey will, when available, be made known to the Department of Finance, unions and staff.
The Deputy will be aware that, in addition to a passport office in Cork and a new passport facility being established in Balbriggan, this Department also has 67 resident diplomatic and consular missions abroad, with which Dublin-based staff liaise on a daily basis, by e-mail, fax and telephone and video conference facility. The decision to relocate the development co-operation directorate to Limerick does not, therefore, pose an insurmountable problem for the efficient and effective operation of the Department in general or the directorate itself in particular. It will pose certain managerial and coherence challenges. I am confident that, with careful planning, these challenges will be met. Measures to minimise potential risks to efficiency and effectiveness in the period leading up to, during and following the decentralisation to Limerick will be planned and overseen by the departmental decentralisation committee.