Industrial Relations.

Questions (3)

Joe Costello

Question:

2 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made by the Labour Relations Commission in addressing the industrial relations dispute between his Department and the Prison Officers' Association; the reason he has resorted to closing down four of the most efficient prisons in the State while negotiations continue; if the prison service will be required to pay mileage allowance to prison officers who are being transferred from the institutions to be closed and the estimated annual cost of this; if he is considering privatising any sections of the prison system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2582/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

It is timely that I have this opportunity to bring the House up to date on developments in relation to this matter.

The talks at the Labour Relations Commission have been protracted and difficult. Some progress was made initially but I regret to say that an impasse on one aspect of the talks has emerged leading to talks being adjourned yesterday until further notice to allow the sides to reflect on how to overcome the present difficulties. In the course of the talks and again following the impasse reached yesterday, the Labour Relations Commission advised against the sides taking public positions on aspects of the talks which might prejudice the prospects of a successful outcome to such further discussions which will inevitably arise in the future. This is a long standing industrial relations practice which has served practitioners well over the years. I am disappointed that the POA has not adopted this approach of maintaining confidentiality around the talks.

In the light of statements issued by the POA in the last 24 hours and in view of the contents of two bulletins issued by it to its members in the course of the recent negotiations which have come to my attention, I must now reluctantly take this opportunity to set the record straight on some of the misleading statements made about matters under negotiation at the LRC. I do so reluctantly and will confine my remarks to a minimum.

The POA contention that the Irish Prison Service deliberately collapsed the talks at the LRC is patently untrue. While the talks reached an impasse, management was prepared and is still prepared to explore options for overcoming the particular difficulty involved. Furthermore, management made itself available to continue talks on other issues on the agenda pending reflection by both sides on how to resolve the issue at impasse.

The impasse which has now emerged is not as the POA suggests related to management wanting staff to be available on stand-by to work additional hours without pay. In fact management has proposed an attendance system aimed at promoting 'smart' working which would involve staff contracting to work a fixed number of additional hours per year which would be paid for at a premium rate of 1.8 times the relevant hourly basic rate whether or not they are required to be worked.

As regards the closure of prisons, Deputy Costello will already be aware of the terms of the Government decision of 11 November 2003 and the budgetary context in which it was taken. That decision approved a series of measures to be taken in the event of failure to reach agreement with the Prison Officers' Association on a change agenda aimed at eliminating overtime payments and reducing other costs in the Irish Prison Service. These measures included the mothballing of the Curragh and Fort Mitchel Prisons and the transformation of the open centres at Loughan House and Shelton Abbey into post-release centres for the reintegration into society of prisoners on conditional temporary release. The reasons for the Government decision have been well aired in the House and indeed in the Seanad. I refer the Deputy to the Adjournment debates in this House on 12, 18 and 27 November 2003 and to an Adjournment debate in the Seanad on 19 November 2003. It was made clear that the Irish Prison Service could not continue to spend public money to feed an overtime culture which was virtually out of control while sustaining outdated and inefficient work practices. It was made clear that I had no desire to close or mothball prisons and that my preference was for a mutually advantageous agreement with the Prison Officers' Association which would ensure an efficient and cost effective prison service. I would still prefer an agreed way forward.

Deputy Costello's suggestion that four of the most efficient prisons in the State have been selected for closure does not reflect the full facts. For example, Fort Mitchel is one of the most expensive prisons in the State with an annual cost per prisoner in excess of €100,000. The Curragh Place of Detention, which has already been mothballed, was less expensive at €72,000 per prisoner per annum but it has been possible to move the inmates and staff to a modern facility at the Midlands Prison which also operates at a cost of approximately €72,000 per prisoner per annum. Furthermore, the facilities at the Curragh are in a very poor state of repair with major capital investment required to put it to rights. As regards the open centres, the position is that the cost of keeping an offender in Shelton Abbey is well above the average at €85,000 approximately while Loughan House operates at a relatively modest €63,000 per prisoner per annum approximately. It should be borne in mind, however, that staffing costs in these institutions are extremely high compared with the staffing costs that could be expected if they were transformed to be run as a post release centre by another agency.

In relation to the payment of mileage, prison officers transferring on a temporary basis are entitled to be paid mileage in accordance with the relevant Civil Service circular, i.e. where an officer proceeds on an official journey direct from home or returns home direct, the travelling allowance payable will be calculated by reference to the distance from home or headquarters to the temporary location, whichever is the lesser and will be paid at the reduced rate. As the amount payable is largely dependent on individual circumstances, it is not possible to provide an estimate of the annual cost at this time, pending receipt of individual claims from the officers concerned. It should be remembered, however, that any mileage payments which may be made will have to be reviewed should transferred staff be permanently assigned at the new location. Furthermore, any costs arising from mileage payments will be more than offset by savings in overtime.

As regards the question of privatising sections of the prison system, the position is that, in the event of failure to reach agreement with the Prison Officers' Association, steps will be taken to give effect to that element of the Government decision of 11 November 2003 which envisages the invitation of tenders from contractors for the provision of a prisoner escort service. A prior indicative notice has already been published in the EU Official Journal in that regard. Prisoner escorts currently account for over one quarter of the overtime worked in the Irish Prison Service — that is €15 million approximately — and there is a great deal of room for rationalisation and efficiencies. Furthermore, I will be bringing forward legislation shortly to provide the necessary statutory authority to facilitate this arrangement. If agreement is reached with the POA the privatisation of prisoner escorts will not proceed. Instead, the system will be rationalised from within through the establishment of a dedicated prison service escort corps. While I have no immediate plans to privatise any other sections of the prison service, I am aware that the Irish Prison Service already outsources a number of services, including certain specialist maintenance services. The whole area of maintenance is under review and consultants have been engaged to advise on how best to provide for such needs. I am currently awaiting the outcome of this review and management's recommendations arising.

Illegal Immigrants.

Questions (4)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

3 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the proportion of the fund which will be used to fly illegal immigrants out of member states in view of the Council of Ministers' recent announcement of the setting up of a €30 million fund to increase the number of illegal immigrants who are repatriated; and the types of project which will be initiated to help reintegrate them in their home countries. [2579/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The financial provision of €30 million in the 2005-2006 EU budget period is intended to fund a framework preparatory action to support a series of pilot programmes, including joint flights and reintegration measures, aimed at increasing the number of returns of persons illegally resident in the EU.

The fund is a further development of the Comprehensive Return Action Programme which was approved by the Justice and Home Affairs, JHA, Council on 28 November 2002. This sets out a series of proposals for the development of a number of short, medium and long-term measures in the field of return. Considerable progress has been made in adopting these initiatives and this will be continued under the Irish Presidency.

The fund was first announced by the European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, JHA, Mr. António Vitorino, on Thursday, 22 January 2004, at the informal meeting of JHA Council of Ministers held in Dublin Castle. The precise details of the framework preparatory action, that is how it will be allocated to specific areas or projects of return and the procedures involved, will be a matter for negotiation in the relevant working group in Brussels chaired by the Irish Presidency. It is Ireland's aim to progress negotiations on this framework preparatory action so that Council conclusions on the matter can be reached before the end of the Irish Presidency.

It should be noted that the fund is not intended to replace national programmes of return but rather to augment them and provide value added for the EU as a whole.

Garda Reform.

Questions (5)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

4 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will consider introducing comprehensive Garda reforms in line with the Patten commission model, including a fully independent Garda Ombudsman responsible for complaints investigation, an independent policing board responsible for civilian oversight, and district-level community policing partnerships for local democratic accountability. [2589/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

As has already been made clear the Minister will be introducing significant changes affecting the Garda Síochána in the forthcoming Garda Síochána Bill. Preliminary details of these proposals in the form of a draft general scheme of a Bill were published and views on the proposals invited. I understand that Sinn Féin has made a submission on the proposals in the context of that consultation process.

As regards the Patten commission, the Report of the Independent Commission on Policing in Northern Ireland, published in September 1999, has been given detailed consideration and where appropriate its work has been taken into account in preparing the Garda Síochána Bill.

However, I would enter the caveat that the Patten commission itself made it clear in its report that its recommendations were what it believed "would be the best arrangements for policing in Northern Ireland" and that the "problems faced by the police service in Northern Ireland are in a sense unique to a divided society with its own political history and culture".

I would also point out that it looked at structures in the context of the policing structures in the United Kingdom where there are more than 40 different police services associated with specific local authority areas. We, in contrast, have a national police service as do many member states of the European Union, particularly the Scandinavian states.

As regards a Garda Ombudsman, the Garda Síochána Bill to which I have referred will provide for the establishment of a fully independent Ombudsman body which will have wide powers to investigate complaints made against members of the Garda Síochána. The new body will also be able to investigate policies and practices of the Garda Síochána where such policies and practices may be the cause of complaint.

On the question of the establishment of a policing board the position is that this issue has been raised on a number of occasions, but the Minister is not convinced that such a board would be the most appropriate model for this jurisdiction and the proposed Garda Bill will make no provision in that regard. In this State we have one national police force which is answerable, through the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, to the Dáil. The introduction of a Garda policing board would introduce a further level of bureaucracy into the process and effectively diminish the supervisory role of the Dáil.

As regards district-level partnerships and local accountability, there will be provision in the proposed Bill for the involvement of local authorities and local communities in local policing issues. However, it is not proposed to make the Garda Síochána in any way accountable to any body or group other than the Minister and the democratically elected members of Dáil Éireann.

Prison Escapes.

Questions (6)

Mary Upton

Question:

5 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of prisoners currently absent without leave from prisons as a result of escapes or failure to return from temporary release; the steps being taken to deal with this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2503/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I want to dispel any belief that there is a major security issue in this area. In this context I would like to refer the Deputy to Question No. 403 answered on 18 November 2003 which gives background material on the issue.

It is important to note that the vast majority of prisoners who have actually become unlawfully at large over the years are persons who absconded from one of the open prisons or who failed to return from a period of temporary release, but a large number are actually people who were released, perhaps only a matter of weeks before the end of a sentence, and who failed to sign on at the prison every week — one of the conditions of the release. In most of these cases, the offender is very much at the lower end of the risk to the public spectrum. The gardaí are informed where prisoners are unlawfully at large and have the power to detain, arrest, and return such persons to prison. It is also the case that, as the vast majority of persons on this list were nearing the end of their sentences they would, in the absence of them being at large, now have been released back into the community in any case.

Over the years, a substantial number of prisoners have failed to comply with the requirement to sign on at the prison. However, the vast majority of prisoners who have failed to comply with the condition of their temporary release have not come to notice in respect of any further offences. The list of people currently shown as "unlawfully at large", which amounts to 666, would include many such people. As reported previously, the lists are subject to an ongoing examination to check their accuracy and it is anticipated that this process, when completed, will lead to a more realistic and significantly reduced figure.

To put this in context, the number of prisoners who escaped from closed prison custody and who are still at large is negligible and no major criminal figures are involved. No prisoner escaped from a closed prison in 2003. Three prisoners absconded from a trustee area of the Dóchas Centre for a brief period and were quickly recaptured.

I would also like to highlight the fact that the construction of additional prison spaces has significantly reduced the number of persons released on unstructured periods of temporary release. This has had a knock-on effect on the numbers at large as a significant proportion of those on the unlawfully at large list are a hangover from the revolving door syndrome which was prevalent in the 1990s. It is worth recording at this stage that similar lists from 1997 indicated that there were upwards of 1500 prisoners "at large" at any one time.

Courts Service.

Questions (7, 8)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

6 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made by the Courts Service with regard to guidelines for gardaí acting as jury keepers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2435/04]

View answer

Joe Costello

Question:

142 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made by the Courts Service with regard to guidelines for gardaí acting as jury keepers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2600/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 142 together.

As the Deputies will appreciate, under the Courts Service Act 1998, the Courts Service is independent in the performance of its functions, including the management of the courts. The issue of security arrangements within the courts, including arrangements concerning juries, is a matter, in the first instance, for the Courts Service to consider. In this regard, I am advised by the Courts Service that it is currently in the process of producing guidelines for jury keepers. I am further advised that the Courts Service hopes to be in a position to finalise the guidelines in the very near future.

In so far as the Garda authorities are concerned, I have been informed that, while the Commissioner has not issued any specific guidelines to gardaí who act as jury keepers, the Garda Síochána discipline regulations are there to deal with any matters relating to misconduct involving a member of the Garda Síochána employed as jury keeper. Indeed, these regulations were applied in a recent case.

Prison Committals.

Questions (9)

John Gormley

Question:

7 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the 47% rise in the number of persons incarcerated in the State between 1994 and 2002; and if he will give the latest figures for same. [2520/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The average number of prisoners in custody in 1994 was 2,141. This figure had risen to 3,112 in 2002. The number of persons in prison custody on 27 January 2004 was 3,168. The total annual number of committals to prison custody by the courts has risen by 15%, from 10,153 to 11,860, during the years 1994 to 2002.

As the Deputy is no doubt aware the 1990s, in a prison context, was blighted by a persistent high level of overcrowding in our committal institutions which resulted in the granting of release in an unstructured manner to many offenders at an early stage in their sentences. This situation was in serious danger of undermining the credibility of our whole system of criminal justice as the prison capacity available was totally insufficient to accommodate those sent there from the courts. As a result, almost 20% of those persons under sentence were out on temporary release. The construction of a large number of prison spaces in recent years has created a situation whereby the Irish Prison Service is now in a much better position to accommodate prisoners for the duration of their sentences.

Probation and Welfare Service.

Questions (10)

James Breen

Question:

8 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 73 of 27 November 2002, if more personnel will be recruited to the Probation and Welfare Service in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2384/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

As you will be aware, the Probation and Welfare Service office which covers the Clare area was understaffed for some time due to the prolonged absence on sick leave of one of the staff. The office has a full complement of staff at present and is endeavouring to deal with the backlog of cases which have arisen along with new cases coming on stream. The Probation and Welfare Service has advised me that there has been a significant increase in the level of referrals from the courts in County Clare as well as in Limerick city and county.

Every effort is now being made to eliminate the backlog of cases as quickly as possible. I have been further advised by the Probation and Welfare Service that the backlog of cases is being tackled in order of the date that the report was first requested in Court.

Departmental Transport.

Questions (11)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

9 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the total cost of purchasing new cars for the ministerial car fleet for each year since 1998; the amount spent in 2003 and the amount allocated for this purpose in the Estimates for 2004; the running cost of the car fleet for 2004; if he has plans to consider cutting costs in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2501/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that the total cost of purchasing ministerial cars for each of the years concerned is outlined in the following table:

Year

Cost

1998

480,350.35

1999

502,947.75

2000

551,408.28

2001

677,277.22

2002

597,438.75

2003

367,829.97

As expenditure on ministerial cars forms part of the total Garda budget for the purchase of vehicles under subhead D of the Garda Vote there is no specific amount allocated to the purchase of ministerial vehicles for 2004. As can be seen from the figures provided the cost of purchasing ministerial cars each year is somewhere between €500,000 and €600,000 per annum except for 2003 when €367,829.97 was spent. It is expected that expenditure on ministerial cars in 2004 will be in excess of previous years figures.

The provision of the garda drivers, cars, fuel, maintenance and depreciation of the vehicles are the key components of cost to the Exchequer in providing State cars. It is estimated that maintenance and running costs, excluding the cost of the provision of garda drivers, are in the region of €550,000 per annum.

The Garda Síochána is constantly examining ways by which the running costs of the garda fleet may be reduced and thereby increasing the efficiency of its fleet. The ministerial fleet will also benefit from any means to improve efficiency.

Juvenile Offenders.

Questions (12)

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

10 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of juvenile liaison officers in the Garda Síochána at the latest date for which figures are available; his plans to extend the scheme in view of the proven success of it in dealing with juvenile offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2492/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I have been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel that as at 27 January 2004, there are 85 juvenile liaison officers, JLO gardaí and eight JLO sergeants working in the various divisions throughout the country. In addition to this, the national juvenile office has a staff of one superintendent, two inspectors, two sergeants and four civilians. There are no plans to extend the programme to other areas as the programme is already nationwide.

Part 4 of the Children Act 2001 came into law in May 2002. This effectively placed the Garda juvenile diversion programme on a statutory basis for the first time in its 40 year history. Included in the Act is the introduction into the criminal justice system of the concept of restorative justice and family conferencing, the provisions of which are currently being put into effect by the Garda Síochána.

In compliance with the provisions of section 44 of the Act, a committee has been established to monitor the effectiveness of the programme, review all aspects of its operation and monitor the ongoing training needs of facilitators. In addition, a review is presently taking place within the Garda Síochána regarding the resource implications resulting from the introduction of the Children Act.

Passports for Investment Scheme.

Questions (13)

Jack Wall

Question:

11 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to reports that a number of persons wanted for criminal offences abroad are travelling under Irish passports granted under the passports for investment scheme; if, in particular, his attention has been further drawn to the case of a person (details supplied) who has been declared a fugitive by the Czech Government and is wanted in connection with a major financial scandal in that country and is reported to be planning to use the Irish passport to stand in the forthcoming European Parliament elections; if there are grounds under section 19 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 for withdrawing the passport of this person, or others wanted for criminal offences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2505/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

Section 19 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 empowers the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to revoke a certificate of naturalisation in a number of specified circumstances. Those circumstances include cases where the issue of the certificate was procured by fraud, misrepresentation, whether innocent or fraudulent, or concealment of material facts or circumstances; the person to whom it was granted has, by any overt act, shown himself to have failed in his duty of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State; the person to whom it is granted is also, under the law of a country at war with the State, a citizen of that country; and the person to whom it is granted has by any voluntary act other than marriage acquired another citizenship.

Before revoking a certificate of naturalisation, the Minister must give notice to the person to whom the certificate was granted of his intention, stating the grounds therefor and the right of that person to apply to him for an inquiry as to the reasons for the revocation. If the person in question makes such a request, the Minister is obliged to appoint a committee of inquiry consisting of a chairman having judicial experience and such other person as he may think fit, and refer the case to it. Thereafter the committee must report its findings to the Minister with a view to informing his decision.

It is clear therefore that the revocation of a certificate of naturalisation is a serious matter and one in which the Minister must be in a position to show that the legal requirements have been fulfilled.

It has never been the practice to comment on the detail of individual cases and I do not intend to depart from that practice. If the Deputy, or indeed any Member of this House, is aware of any particular cases where the exercise of my power under section 19 may be appropriate, relevant details should be passed to the Minister for investigation by the gardaí.

Details of several recipients of certificates of naturalisation under the investment based scheme were referred to the gardaí a number of years ago for investigation but, following consideration of the reports of the investigations, it was concluded that there were insufficient grounds to justify invoking section 19 at that time.

The Deputy can be assured that if the circumstances of any particular case warrant revocation under the above provisions, I will have no hesitation in utilising my statutory powers to the fullest extent possible.

Liquor Licensing Laws.

Questions (14)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

12 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he intends to use the powers available to him under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 to introduce regulations providing for traceability of alcohol sold in off-licences; if the EU has been notified of the proposed regulations; if a response has been received from the EU or other member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2500/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The powers in question are contained in section 22 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003. They provide for the making by me of regulations to specify particulars to be affixed to any container in which intoxicating liquor is sold for consumption off the premises which would enable the licensee and the licensed premises concerned to be identified.

With a view to ensuring effective implementation of this measure, I am consulting with interested parties prior to making such regulations. Discussion of issues arising in this context is ongoing between officials in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and representatives of trade organisations and other interested parties, including the gardaí.

In order to avoid any later challenge to regulations made under section 22 on the grounds that proper procedures had not been followed, I intend to notify the European Commission of proposed regulations in accordance with the so-called technical standards or transparency directives, Directives 98/34/EC and 98/48/EC. These directives have been put in place at EU level in order to give the European Commission and the member states an opportunity to examine, in advance, proposed national standards and rules in the interests of transparency and the smooth functioning of the internal market. The notification will take place in due course when consultations with interested parties have concluded and details of the draft regulations have been progressed.

Asylum Applications.

Questions (15, 16)

Seán Ryan

Question:

13 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the matters discussed at his meeting in Dublin on 6 January 2004 with the European Commission, and with the EU Justice Ministers on 22 January 2004, particularly in regard to proposals for new measures to ensure common procedures across the EU for dealing with asylum seekers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2497/04]

View answer

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

53 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will report on the outcome of the informal Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on 22 and 23 January 2004 in Dublin Castle, particularly with respect to discussions on the Common Migration and Asylum Policies. [2363/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 53 together.

The meeting between the Government and the European Commission on 6 January took the form of bilateral meetings between the Irish Ministers with responsibility for chairing meetings of the Council and their counterparts on the European Commission. This was followed by a plenary session. My meeting with Commissioner Vitorino focused on the Irish Presidency programme for the Justice and Home Affairs Council. I also made a short presentation on that programme, and the outcome of my discussions with Commissioner Vitorino, at the plenary session.

On 22 and 23 January I hosted an informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Dublin Castle. The main purpose of such meetings is to allow joint consideration and an open exchange of views on topics of general scope. Meetings of this nature are not formal Council meetings and they do not arrive at formal conclusions or decisions. The Deputy will therefore understand that I am not in a position to detail the discussions which took place. However, I am more than happy to outline the matters under discussion.

The informal Council took place over a day and a half. On each day there were sessions dealing with individual topics which were organised around Presidency discussion papers which outlined the issues and posed questions for consideration. Over the course of the informal Council, Ministers discussed a range of issues — the question of a common EU returns policy, the draft Council directive on minimum standards on procedures for granting and withdrawing refugee status, organised crime, a European Commission proposal for a Council framework decision on the European evidence warrant and, in the context of civil law cooperation, the possibility of an EU instrument to deal with small claims. In addition, at my invitation, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Ruud Lubbers, addressed the Council and provided a UNHCR perspective on refugee protection issues including progress in relation to the development of a common EU asylum policy.

Deputy Seán Ryan has specifically asked about the proposed asylum procedures directive, discussions on which have not yet been finalised at EU level. The informal Council discussion was essentially an orientation debate on one important aspect of that directive namely, the safe third country concept. The directive, which is one of the central measures which was mandated by the Amsterdam treaty and by the Tampere European Council, aims to set out minimum standards for the granting and withdrawing of refugee status in member states.

The European Council, on 12 December 2003, welcomed the significant progress achieved in the negotiations on the adoption of this directive. While taking note of the persisting political obstacles that have been delaying the conclusion of negotiations, it reaffirmed the importance of developing a common European policy on asylum and invited the Justice and Home Affairs Council to complete its work as soon as possible to ensure that the first phase of the establishment of a European asylum system is fully implemented within the deadline set in Tampere.

The discussion at the informal Council on the safe third country concept was helpful in providing guidance on how to bring forward dialogue on this measure. There was an emphasis on the need for flexibility and a general consensus that safe third countries should be part of the directive. The Presidency now intends to reflect on these discussions and to bring forward a new text to reflect their outcome as soon as possible.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh also asked about the discussions on migration issues. These discussions focused on the practical implementation of various measures which have already been adopted at EU level in relation to the return of illegal immigrants. The discussions were aimed at providing the Presidency with a basis for progressing the practical implementation of return-related measures and were consistent with the Presidency focus in the JHA area on operational co-operation. Ministers had a positive exchange which identified practical ways to move forward on the implementation of a common return policy at EU level.

People Trafficking.

Questions (17)

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

14 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the action being taken to combat the reported trafficking of women, especially from Eastern Europe, for purposes of prostitution here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2508/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Garda Síochána is ever vigilant to ensure that any allegations relating to the trafficking of women for purposes including prostitution are vigorously investigated. "Operation Quest" was set up under the direction of the Assistant Commissioner, Dublin Metropolitan Region, to target human trafficking-exploitation and associated crime in relation to lap dance clubs in Dublin. The operation consists of members from local detective units working alongside members from the Garda National Immigration Bureau and the Criminal Assets Bureau. This investigation is on-going and, where appropriate, files will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

In view of the exponential growth in the level of immigration in Ireland over the past number of years, all members of the Garda Síochána are now being advised of the need to be mindful of the possibility of trafficking in women for purposes such as prostitution. Any cases where evidence of trafficking for purposes such as prostitution is disclosed will be fully investigated.

Of its nature it is impossible to be precise about the extent, in Ireland of persons being trafficked for the purposes of prostitution or sexual exploitation, but I am very conscious of the growing problem of trafficking in human beings particularly throughout the European Union. That is why I am actively pursuing, for example the transposition into Irish law of the EU Framework Decision on Trafficking in Human Beings; the ratification of the UN Transnational Crime Convention with its Protocol on Trafficking in Human Beings; and the EU Council Framework Decision on Joint Investigation Teams.

The Garda authorities report that since the enactment of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 there have been nine cases of trafficking investigated by the Garda National Immigration Bureau where sexual exploitation has been disclosed as the motive.

Finally, I also provided grant funding in 2003 to Ireland En-Route, a forum made up of statutory organisations and voluntary groups set up in 2000 to investigate and address the problem of trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation. This forum is currently conducting research into the extent of the problem in Ireland.

Garda Disciplinary Proceedings.

Questions (18)

Willie Penrose

Question:

15 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount paid out in respect of court awards or out of court settlements for claims taken against members of the gardaí in respect of assault, unlawful arrest, or other breach of a citizen's rights in respect of 2001, 2002 and 2003; the number of cases in which awards were made by the courts; the number of cases which were settled out of court; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2490/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The information requested by the Deputy in relation to court awards and out of court settlements taken against gardaí in respect of assault, unlawful arrest or other breaches of citizens' rights is set out in the table being circulated with this answer.

Civil actions may be taken by the general public against members of the Garda Síochána for compensation for alleged wrongs and personal injuries inflicted on them by gardaí in the performance of their duties. The highest percentage of these types of civil actions against the Garda Síochána is in relation to assault and unlawful arrest. The great majority of these cases have been settled for less than €25,500. Settlement of cases takes place on the advice of the Chief State Solicitor, the Attorney General and State Counsel.

The Garda Commissioner has informed me that incidents which result in successful claims against the State in respect of the actions of gardaí are examined with a view to identifying and implementing operational strategies to eliminate or reduce similar claims in the future. The Garda Commissioner has also informed me that the Garda Síochána discipline regulations 1989 are invoked in appropriate cases where the actions of individual gardaí come into question. It is relevant also to indicate here that I will shortly be publishing a Garda Síochána Bill, the draft scheme of which was approved by Government and published in July 2003, one of the principal aims of which will be the establishment of a new mechanism for dealing with complaints against members of the Garda Síochána which will secure public confidence and which will address the acknowledged shortcomings in the existing law and procedures on complaints.

Year(Total Amount)

Assault

Unlawful Arrest

Other

2001 €1,619,746.83

Awards

1,904.61 (1)

20,950.68(2)

22,220.42 (1)

Settlements

123,164.59 (5)

33,965.49 (3)

162,782.25 (9)

Costs

244,665.35

123,199.41

886,894.03

Total

369,734.55

178,115.58

1,071,896.70

2002 €1,240,388.40

Awards

1,270 (1)

3,809.21 (1)

56,500 (2)

Settlements

166,924.48 (6)

106,835.58 (10)

185,078.82 (11)

Costs

230,769.67

148,714.19

340,486.45

Total

398,964.15

259,358.98

582,065.27

2003 €1,232,101.65

Awards

11,000 (1)

10,000 (2)

4,870 (2)

Settlements

75,000 (4)

303,011 (4)

37,814.84 (3)

Costs

145,561.70

71,794.28

573,049.83

Total

231,561.70

384,805.28

615,734.67

The number of cases in which awards were made by the courts and the number of cases which were settled out of court are shown in brackets in each case.

Prison Accommodation.

Questions (19)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

16 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of prison spaces currently required; if he expects to have adequate spaces in the wake of the closure of the Curragh and Spike Island prisons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2512/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The number of spaces required at any given time will clearly depend on the level of crime and the number and duration of sentences imposed by our courts and peaks and valleys will be experienced. As such, a definitive figure is not possible. However, given that crime figures have stabilised and are indeed reducing and that the numbers committed to the prisons from the court system are fairly static, there is no evidence of any strong underlying trend which would suggest a major increase in capacity is warranted. The number in custody on 27 January was 3,168 as against 3,186 for the corresponding date in 2003. However, that is not to say that there are no accommodation issues in the system. For example, some additional accommodation will be required for female prisoners. There is also an urgent acknowledged need to refurbish older facilities to provide both better accommodation and to reduce the usage of multiple occupancy cells.

With regard to the closure of Fort Mitchel and the Curragh, I want to put these matters in their proper context. At the start of this year, the Curragh Place of Detention had capacity for 102 prisoners in 52 cells. Following the closure of the institution, the vast majority of its prisoners were accommodated in single cells in an unused block of the modern Midlands Prison. Approximately 80 prisoners were transferred in this way. As such the closure was largely neutral in its effect. Spaces had been available in the Midlands Prison for some time but, until now, it had not been possible to bring this into operation due to lack of available staff under existing rostering arrangements.

Fort Mitchel Place of Detention also has a maximum capacity of 102 prisoners with many housed in multiple occupancy cells. The prisoners currently housed there are also being transferred to other prisons. The newly-built block in Limerick Prison has room for up to 100 prisoners and will shortly come into commission. Its opening will offset the loss in capacity as a result of the forthcoming mothballing of Fort Mitchel.

The overall position is that closure results in a combined reduction of 204 prison spaces which is largely offset by the opening up of new accommodation in Limerick, 100, and the midlands, approximately 80. The net effect will be to reduce the overall capacity in the system by approximately 25 spaces.

I do not take any reduction in prison capacity lightly and, in an ideal world, we would not have to close Fort Mitchel and the Curragh. We would, on the contrary, be developing new, modern facilities to the highest international standard and providing the long overdue refurbishment of some older institutions. However, we are not in this ideal world and it is frustrating in the extreme to see the money earmarked for these necessary capital projects being devoured by an overtime system which has spiralled out of control. The Government has now called time on this abuse of public money and the House will be aware of the measures which are being implemented to protect the financial future of the prisons and our future investment in the prison system.

In this regard, the Government is committed under its agreed programme to continue with the modernisation of prisons and to the provision of sufficient places so as to avoid serious overcrowding in the future. A review of prison space requirements and a new capital building programme to meet the requirements for the next ten to 15 years is under way. I hope to bring these proposals to Government in the near future.

Asylum Applications.

Questions (20)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

17 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the Government's plans to meet its commitments under international law to allow asylum seekers access to the asylum system. [2522/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The State fully meets its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees and has a comprehensive legislative and infrastructural framework in place for this purpose.

The Refugee Act 1996 provides a comprehensive statutory framework for the processing of asylum applications. Section 8 of the Refugee Act provides, inter alia, an entitlement for an asylum seeker to apply for a declaration of refugee status. Section 9 of the Act provides, inter alia, that an applicant for asylum be allowed to enter and remain in the State until an asylum application has been considered. This legislative framework compares very favourably with legislative provisions internationally and was drafted in full consultation with the UNHCR.

Asylum applications in Ireland are processed in accordance with procedures agreed with the UNHCR and are based on the highest standards of international practice. Our asylum determination system compares with the best in the world in terms of fairness, decision making, determination structures and support services for asylum seekers. Three separate offices, namely, the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner, Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the Reception and Integration Agency have been put in place and highly resourced to deal with all aspects of asylum applications from initial application to appeal and to co-ordinate accommodation and other support needs of asylum seekers.

In addition, staff working in the asylum processing agencies are provided with comprehensive training overseen by UNHCR including dealing with vulnerable groups, such as victims of torture and unaccompanied minors, and comprehensive translation and interpretation services are provided to applicants as well as legal assistance at all stages of the asylum process. The provision of services to asylum seekers represents a considerable cost to the Exchequer and, for example, amounted to some €340 million in 2002. A figure for expenditure on asylum services in 2003 is being compiled at present. In 2004, the Department has provided some €120 million for asylum and related immigration services, including processing of asylum applications and accommodation.

I understand that what prompted the Deputy to table this question was the recent discussion at the informal meeting of the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council in Dublin on 22 and 23 January 2003 on the draft asylum procedures directive, with particular reference to comments made by Amnesty International. The informal Council discussion was essentially an orientation debate on one important aspect of that directive, namely, the safe third country concept. The Council discussions were helpful in providing guidance on how to bring forward dialogue on this measure. There was an emphasis on the need for flexibility and a general consensus that the safe third country concept should be part of the directive. The Irish Presidency intends to reflect on these discussions and to bring forward new ideas to reflect their outcome as soon as possible.

Benchmarking Awards.

Questions (21)

Joan Burton

Question:

18 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made to date in regard to the implementation of the Civil Service action plan drawn up to meet the requirements of the benchmarking process within his own Department and within the public service generally; if the Civil Service performance verification group has decided that the level of progress warrants the payment of the general round and the benchmarking award on 1 January 2004; if payments will be withheld in any sector due to failure to make adequate progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30090/03]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

Considerable progress has been made by my Department and by organisations associated with my Department operating within the justice and equality sector on the implementation of modernisation requirements, as set out in the Civil Service action plan, under Sustaining Progress, the social partnership agreement 2003-05. Key areas of improvement include the more efficient use of financial, staff and IT resources, enhanced customer service, better staff training and development, further development of partnership, regulatory reform and commitments in the area of equality of opportunity.

In accordance with the procedures set out in Sustaining Progress, the first progress report on my Department's action plan was submitted to the Civil Service performance verification group in October 2003. On 15 December the CSPVG wrote to the Secretary General of my Department conveying its decision that the progress achieved by my Department on the implementation of commitments in its modernisation action plan warranted payment of the general round and benchmarking increases due on 1 January 2004 to all grades of staff in my Department.

A separate justice and equality sector performance verification group, chaired by Ms Olive Braiden, was established to discharge the verification requirements under Sustaining Progress for organisations in the justice and equality sector. The 14 organisations in the justice and equality sector under this group's remit are as follows: the Land Registry and Registry of Deeds; the Courts Service; the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner; the Refugee Appeals Tribunal, the Irish Prison Service; the Probation and Welfare Service; the Legal Aid Board, the Office of the Director of Equality Investigations; the Equality Tribunal; the Equality Authority; the National Disability Authority; the Garda Síochána Complaints Board, the Forensic Science Laboratory; the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner; and the Film Censor's Office.

Each of these organisations submitted progress reports on the implementation of their action plans to the justice and equality sector performance verification group in October 2003. On the 17 December the justice and equality sector PVG wrote to the heads of these 14 organisations conveying its decision that the progress on action plans achieved by each of the 14 organisations under its remit warranted payment of the general round and benchmarking increases due on 1 January 2004, with the exception of grades represented by the Prison Officers' Association, in respect of which a decision as to whether payment was warranted was deferred. The PVG has continued to defer that decision while discussions in relation to the situation in the Prison Service are continuing under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission.

The Deputy will be interested to know that the Department's and the 14 associated organisations' action plans are on the Department's website, as is the report of the justice and equality PVG on the first progress reports submitted by the 14 sectoral organisations.

With regard to the Garda Síochána, following acceptance by the four Garda staff associations of the report of the public service benchmarking body and the terms of Sustaining Progress, an agreed report of the Garda conciliation council recording such agreement was signed by all parties on 28 November 2003. A performance verification group was nominated by the Commissioner and it approved the Garda action plan on 1 December 2003. The appropriate procedure set out in Sustaining Progress in respect of the payment of the general round and benchmarking increases due on 1 January 2004 is in train following the submission by the Commissioner of the first progress report.

My Department and its associated bodies are continuing to implement modernisation commitments contained in their action plans and will be reporting to the verification groups at the end of April ahead of the 2% general round increase due on 1 July 2004.

United Nations Convention.

Questions (22)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

19 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the action taken by him to promote the ratification of the optional protocol to the torture convention; and his plans to promote adequate monitoring of prison conditions here. [2523/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

On 18 December 2002, the third committee of the United Nations General Assembly adopted the draft optional protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, OP-CAT, with Ireland's support. The EU has called upon all member states to sign and ratify the optional protocol. There are 21 signatory states to the optional protocol. The following EU member states are signatories to the optional protocol: Denmark; Sweden; and the United Kingdom.

The object of the protocol is to establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places of detention with a view to preventing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The international body is proposed to be a sub-committee of the UN Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. The national bodies may consist of one or several bodies as national preventive mechanisms for the prevention of torture at the domestic level.

The question of whether to sign the optional protocol with a view to subsequent ratification is currently under consideration. My Department is reviewing national legislation to ascertain whether legislative changes would be required before signature and ratification of the optional protocol. It will be necessary to consult other Government Departments, including the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science, regarding arrangements for the inspection of institutions for which they are responsible in which persons may be detained without their consent.

With regard to monitoring of the prison system, it is already the subject of scrutiny by independent bodies, including the Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, CPT, which operates under the aegis of the Council of Europe. The CPT was established under the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in 1987. Ireland was the third country to ratify the convention, which is now ratified by 40 European States. The committee is composed of lawyers, medical doctors, prison experts, parliamentarians, etc., from the member states and carries out its task by periodic andad hoc visits. During these visits, the committee has the right of unimpeded access at any time of the day or night to any place where persons are detained, whether it be a prison, a Garda station or a mental hospital, and are entitled to speak in private to any detained person. The CPT visited Ireland for inspection purposes in May of 2002 and its report and the Government's response to it was published on 18 September 2003. The report and the Government's response are available on the Council of Europe's website, www.coe.cpt.int. Printed copies of the report and the Government's response have been laid before the Houses of Oireachtas.

In addition, the Government appointed in 2002 an Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention, Mr Justice Dermot Kinlen, whose terms of reference include inspecting and reporting on prisons and other places of detention that are administered by the Irish Prison Service on behalf of my Department. Issues that he has regard to include: the attitude of staff and inmates; health, safety and well-being of prisoners; the conditions of the buildings; questions of humanity and propriety; and any general pattern which may indicate possible inadequacies in the management of the prison. The inspector has highlighted a number of concerns in his reports to me. These reports have been made available to both Houses and to the general public.

The prison visiting committees also report to me on an annual basis and their reports are also available on request. All prisoners have access to the prison visiting committee, to the prison chaplain, to the prison doctor and to the courts. A prisoner may also directly contact the European Court of Human Rights and the CPT. I am satisfied that there is adequate provision to monitor prison conditions here in an open and transparent manner.

Garda Operations.

Questions (23)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

20 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he proposes to take to tackle the growing problem and increasing menace of organised crime; if he proposes to take steps to interrupt the supply of weapons to such groups; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2513/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I have been informed by the Garda Síochána that its strategy to tackle organised crime involves the utilisation of specialised national units dedicated to the investigation-detection of such types of crime. These units are the national bureau of criminal investigation, the Garda national drugs unit, the Garda bureau of fraud investigation, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda national immigration bureau, all of which operate under the control and direction of an assistant commissioner in charge of national support services.

These units investigate every aspect of organised crime and in conjunction with the special detective unit are constantly involved in operations to interrupt the flow of firearms to criminal groupings. On this latter issue, I should also add that the Minister is currently undertaking a review of firearms control policy with the intention of introducing legislation in this area. The security of weapons held legitimately by individuals or dealers will be central to this review.

The Garda Síochána in general, and specifically all national units, works in common cause in the investigation of serious and organised crime in accordance with the strategic goals of the Garda Síochána. Legislative measures taken by the Government in recent years, backed up by significant law enforcement measures, have significantly altered the environment within which organised criminal groups operate in Ireland. The targeting of serious and organised crime will continue to be a priority and will be undertaken by the national support services targeting areas of criminality, individuals and groups operating nationally.

In my address of 9 December 2003 to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality Defence and Women's Rights I addressed in some detail, with particular reference to the activities of criminal gangs, the measures I intend to bring forward to enhance the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences. My address in this respect is available on the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas atwww.irlgov.ie/oireachtas but a copy will, of course, be made available to the Deputy if he so wishes. I intend to provide for those measures which require legislative provision in the criminal justice Bill, which I expect to publish during the current session.

I assure the Deputy that the my commitment to dealing with organised crime is unwavering and I am constantly evaluating our response to this problem. In this context, the Minister will take whatever measures are necessary to deal with this menace.

Coroners Service.

Questions (24)

Jack Wall

Question:

21 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress which has been made in implementing the report of the working group on the coroner service published in December 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2504/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

In line with a commitment I gave when I met representatives of the Coroners Society of Ireland, I hope to be in a position to bring a proposal to Government, early this year, for a short Bill to amend the Coroners Act 1962 so as to deal with a certain number of critical issues that need to be addressed as a priority. These concern the ending of the restriction on the number of medical and other witnesses at an inquest, increased sanctions for those who might refuse to co-operate at an inquest and a more coherent restatement of the scope of the provisions for mandatory inquests, which will include all deaths in custody. I remain conscious that a suitably more comprehensive reform of the coroners service, taking due account of the recommendations of the review group and developments since, is required in the medium term.

Prison Accommodation.

Questions (25)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

22 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will make a statement on his plans for the future of the Mountjoy Prison complex. [2474/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I agree with the views expressed by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention and the prisons authority interim board that there is a need to replace the accommodation and facilities at Mountjoy Prison as soon as possible. There are two possible options in regard to the replacement of the outdated accommodation at Mountjoy Prison. The first is to redevelop the prison on the existing site involving the demolition and reconstruction of existing buildings. The second option is to relocate the prison to a greenfield site. My preference, as I have recently indicated, is for the relocation of Mountjoy Prison to a new site and I intend to bring this proposal to Government in the next week or so.

Human Rights Commission.

Questions (26)

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

23 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made to date with regard to the operation of the Human Rights Commission; the number of staff now employed by the commission; the budget allocated to the commission for 2003; the services the commission is offering to the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2493/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I refer the Deputy to my reply to a similar question on this matter on 25 November 2003. The Human Rights Commission has now recruited the final member of its administrative staff, which brings its staffing complement to the ten staff requested by it. The chief executive of the commission was appointed in June 2002.

The commission recently moved to its new permanent office accommodation which is located in Jervis House, Jervis Street, Dublin 1 and that will be a crucial factor which will enhance its capability to provide services to the public in line with its wide statutory mandate and remit, as outlined in section 8 of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000. In that regard, I direct the Deputy's attention to the commission's first strategic plan 2003 to 2006, which it published on 31 March 2003. The plan sets out the areas of work on which the commission proposes to focus over the next four years, and it is a key document in the process of the commission's ongoing consultation and dialogue.

The commission's budget for 2003 was €1.28 million. However, it also received an additional once off payment of €536,000 in 2003 to assist it in the acquisition of its new premises. The commission's budget for 2004 is €1.823 million.

Garda Compensation Tribunal.

Questions (27)

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

24 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in respect of the establishment of the Garda Síochána compensation tribunal which was recommended in 1997; and the reason there has been so little progress in the meantime. [2378/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Garda Síochána (Compensation) Acts 1941 and 1945 provide for a scheme of compensation for members of the Garda Síochána who are maliciously injured in the course of their duty or in respect of the performance of their duties as members of the force and for the dependants of members who have died from injuries maliciously inflicted on them. Under section 6 of the 1941 Act, a member of the Garda Síochána who has been maliciously injured may sue the State only by an authorisation issued by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

In 1997 a committee was established to review and make recommendations on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Garda Síochána compensation scheme operating under the Garda Síochána (Compensation) Acts 1941 and 1945. The committee comprised representatives from the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Finance, the Attorney General's Office, the Chief State Solicitor's office, Garda management and two Garda staff associations, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and the Garda Representative Association. A medical practitioner who had experience of life assurance work was also on the committee which was chaired by an independent chairman. The committee presented its report to the then Minister on 28 August 1997. The committee made 14 recommendations which included the repeal of the existing Acts and the setting up of a new Garda Síochána compensation tribunal on a statutory basis.

The Minister has stated in his answers to Parliamentary Question No. 63 on 15 October 2003, and Parliamentary Question No. 555 on 4 November 2003, that he has taken steps to establish a Garda Síochána Compensation Tribunal, along the lines recommended by the committee set up in 1997. Following acceptance by the four Garda staff associations of the report of the public service benchmarking body and the terms of Sustaining Progress, an agreed report of the Garda conciliation council recording such agreement was signed by all parties on 28 November 2003. The establishment of a Garda compensation tribunal is one of the items included in the related pay agreement and the modernisation agenda in the Garda Síochána. Agreement had not been achievable up to then. It is intended that this matter will be finalised with the Garda associations within the next couple of months.

The tribunal will operate along the same lines as the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal, the main difference being that gardaí would be compensated for pain and suffering. It is envisaged that trainee gardaí who suffer malicious injuries prior to attestation would be covered under the new scheme and that claims already refused under the existing Acts as being minor would be allowed go before the tribunal. The Minister is confident that the Garda staff associations will co-operate with the necessary legislative change.

Residency Permits.

Questions (28, 29, 30)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

25 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if nationals of the new EU member states who have been deported from Ireland, having being refused asylum or for being illegally in the State will be entitled to return here after 1 May 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2525/04]

View answer

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

74 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the action being taken regarding persons from the new member states of the EU who are living here and who have applications for leave to remain or residency pending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2519/04]

View answer

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

140 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the action that will be taken with regard to persons from the new member states of the EU who are living here and who have applications for leave to remain or residency pending. [2598/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 25, 74 and 140 together.

The EU treaties afford freedom of movement within the Union to citizens of member states mainly for economic purposes to do with the internal market in labour, services and goods. This is not an absolute right but subject to public policy, public health and public security considerations. As and from 1 May 2004, persons from the ten accession states with extant deportation orders may apply to the Minister to have those orders revoked. Each application will be considered individually in the context of the treaty rights and the reasons why the orders were made in the first instance. In addition, as and from 1 May 2004 persons from the ten accession states, who have a legal basis for residency in Ireland under the EU treaties, should have no need to pursue individual residency applications outside the treaties.

Garda Reform.

Questions (31)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

26 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has given consideration to the application of the Patten report and the Paris principles on best practice in policing in this jurisdiction (details supplied). [2514/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I refer the Deputy to my answer today to the Priority Question No. 4 from Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Questions (32, 33, 34, 35)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

27 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the promised tribunal of inquiry arising from the Cory report will be established; the form it will take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2471/04]

View answer

Joe Higgins

Question:

28 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the Government's progress to date in implementing the recommendations of Judge Cory's reports. [1839/04]

View answer

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

31 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the report of Judge Cory will be published. [31081/03]

View answer

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

134 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the Government plans to publish the report of the inquiry being carried out by Mr. Justice Peter Cory into allegations that some members of the security forces in the Republic and in Northern Ireland may have co-operated with terrorist organisations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30498/03]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 27, 28, 31 and 134 together.

Following agreement reached between the Irish and British Governments at Weston Park in 2001, Mr. Justice Peter Cory, a retired Canadian supreme court judge, was appointed to undertake a thorough investigation of allegations of collusion between British and Irish security forces and paramilitaries in six cases. Two of the cases — the murders of RUC Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Bob Buchanan and the murders of Northern Ireland Lord Justice Maurice Gibson and Lady Cecily Gibson — relate to allegations of collusion by the Garda Síochána and these reports were submitted to the Irish Government. The other four cases — the murders of Mr. Pat Finucane, Mr. Robert Hamill, Ms Rosemary Nelson and Mr. Billy Wright — relate to allegations of collusion by British security forces and these were submitted to the British Government.

The aim of the process was to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of collusion between state security forces and those responsible for the killings in each case to warrant a public inquiry. Following receipt of Government approval, I published the two reports submitted to the Irish Government on 18 December 2003. Copies of the these reports are available in the Oireachtas Library.

In respect of the killings of Lord and Lady Gibson, Mr. Justice Cory concluded that there is no evidence of collusion that would warrant the holding of an inquiry. Accordingly, no further action by the Government is required in this case. In respect of the killings of the two RUC officers, Mr. Justice Cory concluded that evidential material was revealed that, if accepted, could be found to constitute collusion. As a result, Mr. Justice Cory considers that there must be a public inquiry into these killings. It is important to note, however, that Mr. Justice Cory did not find that collusion had taken place; the nature of his investigation allowed him to conclude only that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a public inquiry.

Accordingly, in keeping with the commitments of the two Governments as part of the Weston Park agreement, I have secured Government approval for the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Acts 1921-2002, with the scope to inquire into allegations that employees of the State colluded in the fatal shootings of the two RUC officers on 20 March 1989. My Department is currently drafting specific terms of reference for the tribunal, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, and I intend to secure further Government approval as soon as possible to bring the necessary resolutions before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Garda Policing Plan.

Questions (36)

Dan Boyle

Question:

29 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether the type of statistics used in the evaluation of the Garda Síochána policing plan 2002, contained within the Garda Síochána Annual Report 2002, stand up to international scrutiny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2517/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Garda policing plan sets out the strategic goals and measurable performance indicators for the Garda Síochána for the year. I am informed by the Garda authorities that the statistical information provided in the evaluation of the Garda Síochána Policing Plan 2002, contained in the commissioner's annual report for 2002, is sourced from several places, including academic research programmes, overseas national and international organisations, for example, Interpol and the UK Home Office, in addition to internal Garda research.

In the case of the statistics produced by the Garda Síochána, they accurately depict the information in question in each case and in the case of statistics sourced from other bodies, they are accurately reproduced. All statistics in the annual report are subjected to a stringent validation process before publication. In January 2003, I established, with Government approval, an expert group on crime statistics to examine the methods of collation and presentation of crime statistics by the Garda Síochána and other organisations involved in criminal prosecution. I look forward to receiving its report in the near future.

Departmental Appointments.

Questions (37)

James Breen

Question:

30 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 385 of 27 May 2003 and 489 of 7 October 2003, the reason for the long delay in appointing the county registrar for County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2382/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

A memorandum on the appointment of a county registrar to County Clare is currently with the Government. I expect that a decision will be made shortly.

Question No. 31 answered with QuestionNo. 27.

Vetting Procedures.

Questions (38)

Olwyn Enright

Question:

32 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress of across-departmental team investigating vetting arrangements here; if he will introduce com-prehensive vetting procedures for the protection of children and vulnerable adults; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31157/03]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 846 of 27 January 2004.

Prison Inspectorate.

Questions (39, 40)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

33 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made to date in addressing the serious shortcomings in prisons identified in the report of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2473/04]

View answer

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

66 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his intentions with respect to implementing the recommendations of the first prison inspectorate report; and when he will put the prison inspectorate on a statutory footing. [2364/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 66 together.

The first annual report of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention contains a substantial number of recommendations aimed at improving services and conditions in prisons generally, as well as specific recommendations on particular prisons inspected.

The most serious shortcomings identified by the inspector are the outdated and unacceptable conditions at Mountjoy and Portlaoise prisons where there is still a requirement for prisoners to perform the demeaning and degrading practiceof daily slopping out. The inspector's recommendations that both of these prisons be replaced in their entirety by modern prison facilities coincide fully with my own prior conclusions and those of the Prisons Authority interim board. Construction work is already under way at Portlaoise Prison to provide new gatelock and prisoner reception facilities and tenders will be invited shortly for the much needed new prisoner accommodation to replace the outdated ‘D' and ‘E' blocks.

There are two possible options in regard to the replacement of the outdated accommodation at Mountjoy Prison. The first option is to redevelop the prison on the existing site involving the demolition and reconstruction of existing buildings. The second option is to relocate the prison to a greenfield site. My preference, as I have recently indicated, is for the relocation of Mountjoy Prison to a new site and I intend to bring this proposal to Government in the next week or so.

Other recommendations made by the inspector are being implemented as opportunity and resources permit. Several of the more straightforward recommendations have already been implemented. A medical officer is due to take up duty in February at Portlaoise Prison and a recruitment competition to fill vacancies for psychologists will be advertised in the coming weeks. Emergency exit, assembly signs and so forth have been put in place in the Dóchas Centre and fire evacuation drills organised as required. It is intended that all precautionary and emergency procedures for fire will be examined at each institution on the appointment of the Irish Prison Service's new fire officer. An offer of appointment to the highest placed candidate in the recent competition for fire officer will issue this week.

At the prior initiative of the Prisons Authority interim board, and coinciding with the inspector's recommendations, television points have been provided in all cells at Mountjoy Prison and netting is being provided at Cloverhill Prison to frustrate the efforts of persons outside the prison who throw illicit drugs into the yards during prisoner recreation times. A comprehensive report on measures taken to implement the recommendations of the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention will be included in the annual report of the Irish Prison Service for 2003 which is currently being prepared.

Draft provisions for a statutory prisons inspectorate are being prepared in the context of the Prisons Bill which is under preparation in my Department at present.

Garda Complaints Procedures.

Questions (41)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

34 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the statement by the chairman of the complaints board that the investigation of complaints is delayed in many cases until the accused gardaí have reached retirement age and are immune from sanctions by the board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2426/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am aware of the matter referred to by the Deputy.

The issue adverted to is one of the matters that is being considered in the context of the drafting of the Garda Síochána Bill, which I will publish shortly.

Garda Stations.

Questions (42, 43)

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

35 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding the provision of a new Garda station at Castleisland, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2509/04]

View answer

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

62 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the level of priority accorded to the provision of a new Garda station in Castleisland by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2375/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 62 together.

It is proposed to build a new Garda station in Castleisland, as soon as is practicable, to replace the old station which was destroyed by fire. As a first step, the Office of Public Works, which has responsibility for acquiring property for the State, was requested to source a suitable site in the town. When it has done that, consideration will be given to providing the new station. As with all such proposals, construction of the new station will depend on the availability of financial and other resources and priorities within the Garda building programme.

Crime Prevention.

Questions (44)

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

36 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps being taken to reduce the access to and use by criminals of firearms, in view of the fact that the number of murders involving the use of such weapons has increased from four in 1998 to 21 in 2003; the steps he intends to take to ensure that those using such weapons are brought to justice in view of the fact that proceedings have been commenced in respect of only four of the murders in which firearms were used in 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2432/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I assure the Deputy that I share his concern in relation to the issue of firearms becoming available to criminals. I have made inquiries with the Garda authorities who have informed me that any action taken against organised criminal groups who habitually use firearms in the course of their criminal activities is focused through intelligence-led operations.

This approach allows Garda management to utilise local divisional resources, along with specialised units, to maximum effect. I have discussed this matter previously with the Garda Commissioner and I am confident that every effort is made by the Garda Síochána to bring those engaged in crime to justice and that appropriate action is taken where sufficient evidence is available.

My Department is currently reviewing the firearms control policy with the intention of updating the legislation in this area. The security of weapons held legitimately by individuals or dealers from robbery by criminals will be central to this review.

Garda Strength.

Questions (45)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

37 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí in the force as of 1 January 2003; the number of members who retired, resigned or otherwise left the force during 2003; the number of recruits who qualified as full members of the force during 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2478/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources including personnel that the personnel strength of the Garda Síochána, all ranks, as at 1 January 2003 was 11,895.

A total of 417 members, all ranks, have resigned, retired or otherwise left the Garda Síochána during 2003.

A total of 475 recruits graduated from the Garda College during 2003. This figure of 475are those members who have successfully completed the student-probationer education-training programme.

The strength of the force at any given time includes those who have been attested following completion of phase three of their training but not yet graduated. Graduation takes place following the completion of the fifth and final phase of training. The strength of the force as at 1 January 2004 was 12,017.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Questions (46, 47)

Liz McManus

Question:

38 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the action which has been taken to implement the recommendations of the Nally report regarding the keeping of better records of North-South contacts and exchanges in intelligence matters and a written code of instructions and guidelines on intelligence-gathering and agent-handling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2466/04]

View answer

Liz McManus

Question:

50 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the consideration he has given to the Nally report since his Dáil statement of 16 December 2003; if he has plans to meet the relatives of the victims of the Omagh bombing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2465/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 38 and 50 together.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that they have taken appropriate action in line with the recommendations in the Nally report. In my statement of 16 December 2003 I set out the findings of the report and outlined the constraints as to what I could say on the matter. The matters in question are kept under review.

In the past there have been a number of contacts on behalf of the State with the relatives and I expect further contacts will take place.

Car Theft.

Questions (48)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

39 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that vehicles are being stolen in the State and exported; and the steps he intends to take at ferry ports to ensure that such vehicles are detected at the port from which they are exported. [2524/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Garda authorities have informed me that the stolen motor vehicle investigation unit, SMVIU, which is attached to the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation Unit is responsible for the investigation of organised theft and illegal trafficking in stolen vehicles from this jurisdiction to other EU states.

Liaison between SMVIU and gardaí stationed at all ferry ports in the State takes place on a regular basis. There is also continuous communication with the police at Holyhead, Pembroke and Fishguard ports in the UK and other relevant ports in continental Europe.

The Garda Síochána also participate in a number of Interpol and Europol sponsored initiatives aimed at combating the organised theft of motor vehicles. A number of successful operations have taken place in this jurisdiction which have resulted in stolen motor vehicles being recovered before being removed from the jurisdiction. A number of arrests have resulted from these operations.

Televising Court Proceedings.

Questions (49)

Emmet Stagg

Question:

40 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the recent suggestion by the President of the High Court that consideration should be given to televising the courts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2498/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I noted the views recently expressed by the President of the High Court in relation to televising court proceedings. However, the conduct of court proceedings is primarily a matter for the Judiciary and I would be open to considering any proposals made in this regard.

Crime Levels.

Questions (50)

Joe Costello

Question:

41 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on the crime figures given in the Annual Report of the Garda Commissioner for 2002, particularly the increase in the number of reported sex offences, assaults and armed robberies; if, in view of the fact that these figures are already out of date, he has plans to ensure the speedier publication of official crime figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2430/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

As the Deputy is aware, the key headline statistics for 2002 were first released in their provisional format in April 2003. The final validated statistics published recently in the commissioner's annual report do not differ significantly from those provisional figures. The statistics for provisional headline offences for 2003 were made public on 21 January 2004 and show a cumulative decrease of 2% for 2003 compared with 2002. The figures in 2003 showed a welcome and marked decrease in most categories.

Although there were increases in the categories of rape of a female, aggravated sexual assault and sexual assault in 2002, the Deputy will be pleased to note the reduction in these categories in 2003 of 19%, 54% and 7% respectively. Furthermore, cases of assault causing harm decreased by 21% in 2003 which represents the largest volume decrease of any offence in the year.

It is my conviction that this Government's firm and coherent strategy for dealing with crime is proving effective. The gardaí are being given the resources to investigate crime, the courts are being given the resources to deal effectively with criminal cases, and I will continue to ensure that those convicted of crime will serve the sentences imposed on them by the courts.

A significant number of the robberies, thefts from the person and similar type offences concern mobile phone thefts. I believe mobile phone theft will decline steeply with the introduction of the new technology that renders stolen mobile phones useless where the victim records the phone's IMEI number and informs his-her network of the theft.

I wish to point out to the Deputy that there are complicating factors in relation to the 2002 statistics, not least of which is the conclusion, based on a detailed analysis of the data, that a certain proportion of the increase in the figures for recorded headline crime is due to the increases in recording rates resulting from the phasing in of the Garda PULSE IT system. The positive benefits of PULSE can be noted in the more detailed treatment of non-headline crime statistics in the 2002 report, which are extracted from the PULSE system for the first time.

The Expert Group on Crime Statistics which I established has been engaged for the past year on a detailed examination of the methods of collation and presentation of crime statistics, and I understand that, as part of its work, it has examined the question of the timeliness of the production of the Garda crime statistics.

As the Deputy will be aware, I have already arranged for the release of provisional statistics on a quarterly basis. My initiative ensures that members of the public, those working in the criminal justice system and public representatives have almost immediate access to this important quality of life indicator. I am informed that the delay in producing the commissioner's 2002 report was due to the volume of work involved in extracting and formulating the non-headline statistics which, as I have mentioned, were extracted from PULSE for the first time. I am further informed by the Garda authorities that work has already commenced on the compilation of the 2003 annual report and it is expected that it will be submitted significantly earlier.

Gender Wage Gap.

Questions (51)

Arthur Morgan

Question:

42 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures he has taken to address the gender pay gap since June 2002; the current level of the gender pay gap and the levels for each year since 1997; if he has satisfied himself that sufficient progress is being made to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29848/03]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The most up-to-date figures on wage levels in Ireland show a gap of approximately 15% in the average hourly earnings of women when compared with men. This data is compiled by the Economic and Social Research Institute from the Living in Ireland survey. The ESRI research found that the greater part of the gender pay gap is because women interrupt their careers to care for children with consequent loss of job experience and promotion opportunities. Women's over-representation in low paid positions and their under-representation in senior levels were also significant factors.

The gender pay gap is an indicator of progress towards the achievement of gender equality in the labour market. Research by the ESRI indicates that the gap has been reduced from 20% in 1987, to 18% in 1994, and to 15% in 1997. Preliminary figures for 2000 indicate a further narrowing by 0.3% to 14.7% in the period 1997 to 2000. The figures indicate that women's pay levels have improved relative to men's in the period, although the rate of progress has slowed.

Our existing wage data sets do not permit annual monitoring of the gender wage gap. The national employment survey which has been introduced by the Central Statistics Office will provide regular economy-wide data on the gender pay gap. The first results from this new survey are due for publication in mid-2004. This is a significant development and will allow us to track the gender wage gap and also to understand movements in the figure.

My Department chaired the consultative group, set up under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, to report to Government on actions required to address the gender pay gap. The group's report has been finalised and was formally presented to Government in November 2003. It contains a number of recommendations addressing a wide range of Government policies including child care, the development of family friendly policies, the promotion of equal opportunities policies, statutory minimum wages and taxation. The consultative group has also overseen sectoral studies on the gender pay gap in the IT — electrical and electronic, retail, food and local government sectors. My Department has recently commissioned research on the gender wage gap among graduates. It is expected that this research, which is being carried out by the ESRI, will be completed by the end of 2004.

A significant part of the work of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, including the ongoing implementation of the equal opportunities child care programme and the proposals to strengthen the provisions of the Maternity, Parental and Adoptive Leave Acts, will have a positive impact on the gender pay gap. Also relevant is the work of my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dea, in overseeing the implementation of the Government commitment to gender balance on State boards. Currently women constitute 30% of state board nominees and 35% of Government nominees. In addition, the equality for women measure is also making an important contribution to addressing the gender pay gap through the identification of best practice on gender equality. More generally, Government support for equal opportunities in education and training and for the equal opportunities infrastructure, together with the statutory minimum wage, are important elements of our overall strategy to address the gender wage gap and to ensure equal opportunities for women and men at work.

Garda Organisational Structures.

Questions (52)

Willie Penrose

Question:

43 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has received the report from the steering group working under the SMI on Garda organisational structures; the main findings of the report; if it is intended to publish the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2491/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am informed that the Garda SMI Implementation Steering Group is in the process of finalising a report which will be forwarded to me in the coming weeks. I will give careful consideration to all of the steering group's recommendations and the question of publication.

Child Pornography.

Questions (53)

Joe Sherlock

Question:

44 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the contents of a television programme (details supplied) broadcast on 7 December 2003 which claimed there could be a far more extensive trade here for child pornographers swopping images than those who pay to download the images; the action the gardaí are taking to deal with this situation; if he has satisfied himself that there are sufficient resources available to the gardaí to combat this activity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2507/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am aware of the television programme referred to by the Deputy which has been the subject of previous debate in this House. The paedophile investigation unit of the Garda Síochána is examining case details as alleged in the programme and any offences discovered will be fully investigated.

The paedophile investigation unit is located within the domestic violence and sexual assault unit which in turn forms part of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. I am informed that the unit, which is augmented by additional personnel from mainstream units as required, co-ordinates Garda investigations of child pornography and investigates alleged breaches of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 brought to its attention by the Internet Advisory Board hotline, concerned citizens, Interpol, Europol and external police forces. The unit is also proactive in its work. It monitors Internet chat rooms and strives to maintain best practise in the investigation of child pornography with an emphasis on Internet investigations. I understand from the Garda authorities that the unit currently has approximately 40 cases of alleged offences on hand. A small number of cases concerning the production and distribution of child pornographic images have been successfully prosecuted in this jurisdiction and a number of suspected cases are currently under investigation.

The Deputy will be familiar with Operation Amethyst which involved substantial Garda resources on a countrywide basis. The operation was directed and controlled by personnel from the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. Some cases detected during this operation have been successfully prosecuted while others are still being processed through the District and Circuit Courts.

Child Abduction.

Questions (54)

Joe Costello

Question:

45 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps which have been taken by the gardaí to locate the whereabouts of a person (details supplied) who was abducted by their father; if Interpol is involved in the search; if he will allow the mother to remain here until this person is found; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2427/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am informed by the Garda authorities that they are currently investigating the alleged abduction from this jurisdiction of the child referred to by the Deputy. I can confirm that inquiries are being made with Interpol. However, the investigation of this matter is an operational matter for the gardaí and I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the investigation at this stage.

I understand that the mother concerned currently has an appeal against the refusal of an asylum application outstanding and is thus entitled to remain in the State pending the final determination on that application.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (55)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

46 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason for the lack of human rights elements of police co-operation within the EU in the European arrest warrant mechanism before the Houses of Oireachtas; and the action being taken to ensure that human rights safeguards, as mandated by international human rights law, will be preserved. [2518/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The legislation giving effect in Ireland to the EU framework decision on the European arrest warrant was enacted during the last session and the European Arrest Warrant Act came into operation on 1 January 2004.

The Act contains numerous protections for arrested persons, such as a right to legal representation and interpretation services. However, section 37 of the Act covering fundamental rights reflects the provisions in Article 1.3 and in recitals 12 and 13 of the framework decision. It sets the general grounds for consideration by the High Court of European arrest warrants and provides that a person shall not be surrendered unless there is compliance with the section. The section provides for the need to respect fundamental rights, including rights under the Constitution and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and its protocols, as well as a range of specific rights aimed at protecting the rights of certain classes of people, minorities, etc. It also includes grounds for refusal where there is a possibility of the death penalty or inhuman or degrading treatment.

Article 1.3 of the framework decision refers to Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union and provides that "the Framework Decision shall not have the effect of modifying the obligations to respect fundamental rights and fundamental legal principles as enshrined in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union".

Recital 12 affirms that the framework decision respects the fundamental rights and observes the principles recognised by Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union. Article 6 states, inter alia, that “the Union shall respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”. This recital also provides that a warrant may be refused where there are reasons to believe it was issued for reasons related to the person's race, religion, sex, etc. It adds that the framework decision does not prevent a member state from applying its constitutional rules on due process, freedom of association, freedom of the press and freedom of expression in other media.

Recital 13 states that "no person shall be removed, expelled or extradited to a State where there is a serious risk that he or she would be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". Section 11(3) of the Act gives effect to Ireland's statement that European arrest warrants would be executed only for the purposes of bringing a person to trial or for the purpose of executing a custodial sentence or detention order. Ireland made that statement when the framework decision was being adopted. It ensures that persons who are not yet convicted are surrendered to face trial rather than for investigative purposes. The European Arrest Warrant Act 2003 contains comprehensive human rights safeguards.

Anti-Racism Measures.

Questions (56)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

47 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans, through the Irish Presidency, to promote the proposal for an EU framework decision on racism and xenophobia. [2515/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Commission presented a proposal for a Council framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia in November 2001. It was extensively discussed at working party and other levels, including the JHA Council in February 2003. The Council instructed its relevant bodies to further examine the proposal with a view to trying to reach agreement. Subsequent discussions at official level, however, led to the conclusion that agreement was not possible on the measure.

The Irish Presidency, in the light of the outcome of earlier discussions, is exploring whether a basis exists for making progress on the proposal.

Proposed Legislation.

Questions (57)

Joe Sherlock

Question:

48 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding his consideration of the recommendations of the legal advisory group on the defamation law, particularly in regard to the proposals for the establishment of a statutory press council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2506/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

In September 2002 I asked the legal advisory group to report to me on the issues involved with regard to defamation and to make recommendations. This request was on foot of a commitment in the programme for Government. I brought the report to Government in June 2003 but it is the group's report, not a report by me to Government or a report of the Government which has made no decision in respect of the substance of the contents of the report.

The report contains some 23 separate recommendations. The group also put forward a suggested text for a new defamation Act which would completely replace the Defamation Act 1961. This is a very useful and helpful approach since we are concerned with a potential legislative outcome and it is, therefore, very informative to see how the various recommendations would translate into legislative form. One of the terms of reference for the group was to consider the nature and extent of any statutory intervention which might attach to the establishment of any entity concerned with the regulation of the press. This is a subject on which there are diverging views as to the optimum approach to be followed.

On the one hand, there is a need to achieve a form of regulation which is effective and in which the public can have confidence. On the other hand, care must be had to ensure that any regulatory framework does not trespass needlessly upon the traditional freedoms which the press enjoys in all democratic societies. Having considered the options, the group recommended the establishment of a statutory press council with functions which would include the preparation of a press code of conduct and the investigation of complaints concerning alleged breaches of that code. The report sets out, in some detail, the main features of such a council including proposals for its operation and structure. The draft defamation Bill contains a template for the legislative intervention which would be required were such an entity to be established.

The model examined by the group is neither the only nor the most obvious model for a statutory press council. There could be a body chaired by a judge, and composed of nominees of various groups to reflect the different interests involved such as the public, media owners, and journalists. The public interest might be represented in several ways including some form of proportionate selection by elected public representatives to ensure that the Government of the day could not swamp the council with its sympathisers. Other models were suggested which I will consider carefully before bringing a proposal to Government.

There are other important recommendations in the report. For example, the proposed new defence of reasonable publication; the rebalancing of the role which judge and jury have at present in defamation actions commenced in the High Court; the Circuit Court to have jurisdiction in all defamation cases where the amount of the damages claimed does not exceed €50,000; a one-year limitation period for defamation actions and the enshrinement in legislation of a defence to be known as the "defence of innocent publication" which would be available, among others, to broadcasters, distributors, printers and Internet service providers.

The advisory group endorsed many of the recommendations put forward by the Law Reform Commission in its report on the civil law of defamation, such as making an apology, court lodgements and the rationalisation of the defences of absolute and qualified privilege. It is a mark of the excellence of the work done by the Law Reform Commission that the report which it prepared on this topic remains so seminal and so influential.

Some of the recommendations are more radical than others and will provoke considerable comment which will secure an informed and wide-ranging debate on this important topic. In consultation with my colleagues in Government, I decided the best way to proceed was to have a period of public consultation which will allow all interested parties to comment on the substance of the recommendations contained in the report. The deadline for receipt of submissions is 31 January 2004. I also held a major conference on 1 December last to facilitate an exchange of views from a cross-section of interested parties. This was well attended and thought provoking.

Following completion of the consultative process I intend to reflect carefully on the consensus that emerges on the issues and also on the best way forward on the proposals I bring to Government. I hope to bring forward proposals in the latter half of this year.

Refugee Status.

Questions (58)

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

49 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by the Irish Refugee Council that there is a real risk that a new underclass will develop if current policies on asylum seekers and refugees are not changed; his view on the concerns raised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2495/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The comments referred to by the Deputy were made in a document entitled Review of Some Refugee Issues in 2003 issued by the Irish Refugee Council. I do not agree with the view that a new underclass may develop if current policies on asylum seekers and refugees are not changed.

The Government has a wide-ranging strategy for meeting its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In so far as asylum seekers are concerned, a comprehensive infrastructure has been provided in the form of the office of the refugee applications commissioner and the refugee appeals tribunal to process asylum applications fairly. These offices are processing applications much more speedily than in the past. Accommodation and other support services such as health care education services and legal aid are also provided to asylum seekers. In 2002 some €340 million was spent on service provision to asylum seekers. While a figure for 2003 is not yet available, my Department alone will provide some €120 million for asylum processing, accommodation, legal aid to asylum seekers and related immigration services in 2004.

In response to specific points made in the IRC review, the Government does not intend to change the present policy on access to work by asylum seekers. As I have pointed out several times in reply to parliamentary questions, there are many reasons why the present policy of not allowing asylum seekers to take up paid employment should not be changed. It would not be possible under current legislation and would have a major negative impact on the Government's asylum strategy; be a major pull factor leading to a large increase in asylum applications; undermine the present legitimate entry process for immigration and employment; have potential implications for trafficking; have a negative impact on our ability to accommodate asylum applicants and provide them with a reasonable level of State services.

The IRC review also referred to the implications of placing asylum seekers in accommodation centres under direct provision arrangements. Great care is taken to ensure that these centres operate to the highest standard and all asylum seekers have full access to health and child education services. I am not convinced that the present legislative provision in the Refugee Act 1996 provides a suitable framework in which to move forward. Accordingly, I am considering whether an alternative framework might be available which would be capable of making a value-added contribution to asylum and refugee matters and, in particular, be of benefit to those genuinely in need of protection.

I am committed to the integration of refugees in Ireland. One of the key responsibilities of the reception and integration agency, which operates under the aegis of my Department, is to co-ordinate the implementation of integration policy for all refugees and persons who, though not refugees, are granted leave to remain in the State. The agency continuously helps refugees by providing information, support and advice and this support is particularly intensive for refugees who are being resettled in Ireland as part of a Government decision.

At a policy level, the agency has now concluded a series of intensive consultations with non-Governmental organisations and service providers working with refugees and asylum seekers. As well as hosting the integration forum referred to in the IRC's review, the agency recently concluded a conference on the strategic use of the European Refugee Fund. The agency is the responsible authority for the administration of the fund in Ireland.

The agency, which has representatives from key Departments, recently hosted five regional conferences for asylum support groups with a view to developing common agendas for action. The outcome of these meetings will underpin a range of agency initiatives addressing co-ordination by all key partners, including support groups, non-Governmental organisations and service providers. The agency also operates a small grants scheme for the activities of asylum support groups, with an annual fund of €140,000.

The national anti-racism awareness programme, which operated under the aegis of my Department, co-produced a leaflet entitled Myths and Misinformation about Asylum Seekers. Against a background of these initiatives and the agency's ongoing focus on integration, I am committed to ensuring that no underclass emerges in Irish society. The forthcoming publication of the National Action Plan Against Racism will cover a wide range of integration measures and will aim to address issues of social inclusion and cultural diversity.

Question No. 50 answered with QuestionNo. 38.

Criminal Gangs.

Questions (59)

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

51 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures he intends to being forward to deal with the activities of criminal gangs in regard to his address to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights on 9 December 2003; when he expects the legislation will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2433/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

In my address of 9 December 2003 to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights I outlined the measures I will bring forward to enhance the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences with particular reference to the activities of criminal gangs. This address is available on the website of the Houses of the Oireachtas atwww.irlgov.ie/oireachtas but I am happy to make a copy available to the Deputy if he so wishes.

I intend to provide for those measures which require legislative provision in the Criminal Justice Bill, which I expect to publish during the current session.

Courts Service.

Questions (60)

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

52 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he supports the establishment of a permanent High Court in Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2380/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

It is a matter in law for the President of the High Court to arrange the distribution and allocation of the business of the High Court under section 10(3), Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961. As Minister, I have no role in the distribution or allocation of court business. Should the Judiciary decide that the High Court should be based, temporarily or permanently, in locations outside Dublin, I would support such arrangements as I did last year when the Judiciary decided that the Central Criminal Court should sit in Limerick to hear several local cases.

Question No. 53 answered with QuestionNo. 13.

Witness Intimidation.

Questions (61)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

54 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress which has been made to date in the review of the witness protection programme; if he is considering additional measures to support witnesses who may be giving evidence in court cases involving serious charges, but who may not wish to enter the protection programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2434/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Garda authorities say that the review of the procedures of the witness security programme, which includes examination of measures to support witnesses in court cases who may not wish to enter the programme, is ongoing. When received, the recommendations of the review process will be given full consideration.

Garda Recruitment.

Questions (62)

John Gormley

Question:

55 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans to recruit gardaí at ranks other than entrance level. [2521/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, inform me that entrance to the Garda Síochána is governed by the Garda Síochána (Admission and Appointments) Regulations 1988-2001.

Those regulations do not provide for Garda recruitment at ranks other than entrance level. However, the Garda Síochána (Police Co-Operation) Act 2003, which is not yet in force, provides for the appointment of members of the PSNI to certain ranks in the Garda Síochána and for the secondment of members of the PSNI to certain ranks in the Garda Síochána for up to three years. This legislation will allow members of the PSNI to compete for certain positions in the Garda Síochána above entry level.

Garda Complaints Board.

Questions (63)

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

56 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to concerns expressed by the DPP that he is unable to investigate the vast majority of files he receives from the Garda Complaints Board due to the fact that the time limit for summary prosecution has already expired; the steps he is taking to deal with this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2431/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am aware of the matters referred to by the Deputy.

The Garda Complaints Act provides that complaints can be lodged with the complaints board up to six months from the date of the alleged incident. After receipt of the complaint it must be investigated and the findings of the investigation presented to the board. At this point, if the board is of the opinion that the conduct alleged may constitute a criminal offence, it refers the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

I am aware that the timescales implicit in the procedures outlined above can cause problems in the context of the time limit for summary prosecutions, and this is one of the matters that will be addressed in the Garda Síochána Bill, which I will publish shortly.

Garda Recruitment.

Questions (64)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

57 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of recruits who have graduated from the Garda Training College as full Garda members since 6 June 2002; the number of gardaí who have retired, resigned or otherwise left the force since 6 June 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2476/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources including personnel that 754 recruits have graduated from the Garda College since 6 June 2002. This figure of 754 are those who have successfully completed the student-probationer education-training programme. This figure does not include those who have been attested to the force upon completion of phase 3 of their training programme and who have yet to complete the fifth and final phase of that programme.

A total of 698 members, all ranks, have resigned, retired or otherwise left the Garda Síochána since 6 June 2002.

Prison Closures.

Questions (65, 66)

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

58 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans in respect of the threatened closure of Spike Island Prison; if a closure is proposed, the cost savings which will be achieved by such a closure in view of the beneficial and rehabilitative work carried out by both prison staff and VEC staff at the said institution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30711/03]

View answer

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

75 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in light of the ongoing negotiations between the Irish Prison Service and the Prison Officers' Association and the proposed temporary closure of Fort Mitchel Prison, he is still committed to his earlier statement of 11 November 2003, to reopen Fort Mitchel Prison in the event of the above negotiations being successfully resolved; and if he will give a commitment that the reopening of Fort Mitchel Prison will take immediate effect upon the resolution of the current dispute. [1567/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 75 together.

On 11 November 2003, the Government decided to implement a number of measures to reduce prison operating costs with effect from 1 January 2004, in the event of failure to reach agreement with the Prison Officers' Association on the proposed change agenda, aimed at eliminating overtime and reducing costs. These measures included the temporary closure of the Curragh and Fort Mitchel Places of Detention.

The Curragh Place of Detention closed on 20 January and Fort Mitchel will close on 10 February 2004, if there is no agreement with the Prison Officers' Association by that date. I have already made it clear on several occasions that I fully appreciate the good work being done at Fort Mitchel and other prison institutions scheduled for closure. I personally do not want to close those institutions but, if the Prison Officers' Association is unwilling to agree reasonable terms to operate them on an economically sustainable basis, it is a course I reluctantly have to pursue. I have also indicated that if such agreement is forthcoming from the Prison Officers' Association, prison closures could yet be cancelled or reversed.

Closure of Fort Mitchel Place of Detention would yield significant savings by facilitating the transfer of prison staff to Cork and Limerick Prisons to perform work which is currently done on an overtime basis. In addition, savings would arise from non-payment of the allowance which is paid to staff for working on the island; non-operation of the daily ferry to the island; and elimination of the above average general costs associated with operating an island facility.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Questions (67)

John Bruton

Question:

59 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether the IRA ever intends to decommission all its weapons. [29635/03]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Decommissioning Act 1997 and the regulations made pursuant to it provide for the decommissioning of arms held by paramilitary organisations, including the Provisional IRA, under the auspices of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

The Government has welcomed past acts of decommissioning by the Provisional IRA and urges all paramilitary groups to engage fully with the commission in order to achieve the complete decommissioning of paramilitary arms.

The Government continues to proceed on the basis that the complete decommissioning of paramilitary arms is not only achievable, but is what will be required if everybody is to be convinced that the transition from violence to completely peaceful means is complete.

Proposed Legislation.

Questions (68, 69)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

60 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the promised legislation to provide for the appointment of a Garda Inspectorate-Ombudsman will be published; when he expects the office to be functioning; the anticipated staffing level of the office; the funding which has been allocated in his Estimates for 2004 for this purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2428/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The drafting of the Garda Síochána Bill, which will provide for the establishment of a fully independent new body with comprehensive powers of investigation to deal with complaints against members of the Garda Síochána, is at an advanced stage and I intend to publish it shortly. The Bill will also provide a statutory basis for management, performance and accountability in the Garda Síochána.

It is the Government's intention that the new body will be established as soon as possible following the enactment of the Bill. It would be premature at this stage to indicate what the likely staffing complement and budget of the new body will be.

David Stanton

Question:

61 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he intends to change section 5, subsection 1 of the Domicile and Recognition Foreign Divorces Act 1986 and section 29 of the Family Law Act 1995; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2360/04]

View answer

The provisions to which the Deputy refers no longer have effect in relation to proceedings where the relevant jurisdiction has been exercised by a court of a member state by virtue of Council Regulation, EC, No. 1347/00 of 29 May 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and in matters of parental responsibility for children of both spouses, SI No. 472 of 2001 refers. The council regulation in question entered into force for all member states, with the exception of Denmark, on 1 March 2001.

The provisions continue to be relevant where the pertinent status decision is not one to which the council regulation applies. The question of legislation to deal with divorces, legal separations and annulments which are granted in countries other than those to which the regulation applies is, subject to the disposal of priorities itemised in the Government legislation programme, being considered within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with a view to any amending proposals which may be necessary.

Question No. 62 answered with QuestionNo. 35 .

Freedom of Information.

Questions (70)

Seán Ryan

Question:

63 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he intends to bring forward an order applying the Freedom of Information Act 1997 to the Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2496/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Garda Síochána is one of the bodies under the aegis of my Department which has not to date been made subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1997.

The Freedom of Information Act has been extended to additional public bodies on a phased basis since it commenced in April 1998. The Government has decided that this process should continue so that all bodies appropriate for inclusion are covered by end of 2005.

A working group comprising members of the Garda Síochána and representatives of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform was established by the Garda Commissioner in March 2001 to examine all issues arising from the possible extension of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 to the Garda Síochána and to prepare a detailed proposal of action for consideration by the commissioner.

Following on from this, the commissioner has made a submission to my Department, analysing the issues to which any such extension would give rise. I will carefully consider this submission before coming to a final view on the matter.

Industrial Disputes.

Questions (71)

Dinny McGinley

Question:

64 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if arrangements have been made to use troops in the event of a prison officers industrial dispute. [29358/03]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

At its meeting on 29 September 2003, the Government established a group comprising the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Finance and myself to deal with the evolving industrial relations situation in the Prison Service, including putting in place contingency arrangements in the event of industrial action. In line with this decision, I can confirm that a considerable amount of contingency planning has been undertaken regarding the possible use of Garda and Defence Force personnel in the event of industrial action in the prisons. I can also confirm that, in such a situation, the Defence Forces will play a significant role. Pursuant to that role, army personnel have been engaged in a familiarisation process which has included a series of visits to the prisons. The Deputy will appreciate that, for obvious operational and security reasons, I am not in a position to go into the details of the arrangements which have been put in place.

I would also refer the Deputy to my written reply to Question No. 398 on 9 December 2003.

Garda Complaints Board.

Questions (72)

Joan Burton

Question:

65 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will make a statement on the recent annual report of the Garda Complaints Board. [2429/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The report of the Garda Síochána Complaints Board for the year 2002 was published last December 2003 having been laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

In welcoming the publication of the report, I observed that in previous reports the board had pointed up what it considered to be the shortcomings of the legislation under which it operates, and noted that in its 2002 report the board acknowledged the Government's intention to address the issue as a matter of urgency.

I will shortly publish a Garda Síochána Bill, one of the principal aims of which will be the establishment of a Garda ombudsman body to deal with complaints made against members of the Garda Síochána under a new mechanism which will address the concerns expressed by the board.

Question No. 66 answered with QuestionNo. 33.

Legal Aid Service.

Questions (73)

Emmet Stagg

Question:

67 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps being taken to reduce the waiting time for an appointment with a solicitor at the legal aid centres in view of the fact that the average waiting time is five months and that this can rise to 13 months at some centres; the additional funding which has been provided in the estimates for 2004 to reduce waiting times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2499/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Deputy will appreciate that under section 5(1) of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, it is the function of the Legal Aid Board to provide, from within its resources and subject to the other provisions of the Act, legal aid and advice in civil cases to persons who satisfy the requirements of the Act and the regulations made thereunder. In addition, under section 30 of the Act, responsibility for determining how legal services should be provided, including the location of law centres, the staffing required by these centres and the use of private practitioners, is a matter for the board.

I would also mention to the Deputy that, regarding those applicants waiting for legal services, the board operates a procedure whereby priority is accorded for certain categories of cases over other cases, for example, domestic violence, child care, child abduction and cases where there are time limits. In these cases the application is dealt with immediately and such applicants are not placed on a waiting list. I understand that during 2002 such priority cases accounted for over 20% of the total caseload handled by the board.

I can also inform the Deputy that the allocation for the Legal Aid Board in 2004 is €18.388 million. This represents an increase of almost 5% over the 2003 provision of €17.539 million. I can further inform the Deputy that in recent years the level of funding provided to the board has increased significantly. During the period from 1997 to date, the grant-in-aid has increased by 74%, from €10.563 million in 1997 to €18.388 million in 2004. In addition, sanction for the board to employ additional full-time solicitors was also received during this period. These increased resources have enabled the board to provide legal services to a greater number of people.

Asylum Applications.

Questions (74)

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

68 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of applications for asylum received during 2002 and 2003; the number of applications upheld by the Refugee Appeals Commission; the number of appeals submitted to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal; the number of such appeals upheld; the number of applications for leave to remain; the number of such applications granted; the number of deportation orders made; the number of such deportations carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2494/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The information requested is as follows:

Number of asylum applications received and the number of recommendations by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner to grant refugee status, at first instance, in 2002 and 2003

2002

2003

Number of applications received

11,634

7,900

Number of recommendations to grant refugee status issued by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner*

893

345

*It is assumed that the reference in the Deputy's question to "Refugee Appeals Commission" refers to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner.

Number of appeals submitted to the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the number upheld, at appeal stage, in 2002 and 2003

2002

2003

Number of appeals received by Refugee Appeals Tribunal*

5,151

4,710

Number of appeals unheld by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (granted refugee status)*

1,099

825

*Substantive cases.

Number of deportation orders signed and number effected in 2002 and 2003

2002

2003

Number of deportation orders Signed

2,430

2,411

Number of deportation orders effected

521

590

Number of applications for leave to remain received from current or former asylum applicants

2002

2003

Number of applications received

6,887

1,272

Number of applications granted for leave to remain by category

2002

2003

Parentage of Irish-born child

3,113

172

Marriage to an Irish national

86

132

Dependant of EU citizen

138

77

Humanitarian grounds

159

83

Proposed Legislation.

Questions (75)

John Deasy

Question:

69 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will be appealing the recent judgment of the High Court as it relates to the expiration of visas of legal immigrants; and if he will introducing new legislation to address the High Court ruling. [2511/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

It is intended to appeal the High Court decision of 22 January to which the Deputy's question refers.

The Immigration Bill 2004 was published this morning and is expected to be before Seanad Éireann tomorrow. I will be asking that House, and in due course this House, to deal with the Bill as a matter of great urgency.

Garda Central Vetting Unit.

Questions (76)

Olwyn Enright

Question:

70 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has met children's groups such as the ISPCC and Barnardos to discuss the extension of the remit of the central vetting unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30975/03]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I met the chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children on 19 September 2003 to discuss Garda vetting arrangements.

I have received representations from many groups regarding the extension of the Garda vetting arrangements for persons having substantial contacts with children and other vulnerable persons. These representations, together with the views of the ISPCC, have been brought to the attention of the working group established to review the system of Garda vetting.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Questions (77)

John Bruton

Question:

71 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the Garda national fraud squad operations against a provisional IRA tax scam in the building trade (details supplied) has implications for the peace process or for the status of Sinn Féin therein. [29672/03]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

As investigations by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation concerning the fraudulent claiming of repayments of revenue by subcontractors in the building industry are ongoing it is not appropriate to comment at this stage on the investigations or the accuracy, or otherwise, of the particular media report referred to in the details supplied by the Deputy.

Proposed Legislation.

Questions (78)

John Deasy

Question:

72 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he will be introducing legislation to provide a statutory basis for sentencing principles for public order offences. [2510/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Acts 1994 and 2003 provide a comprehensive legislative basis for the prosecution and punishment of a range of public order offences and I see no need to provide any further statutory basis for sentencing for such offences.

As I have already announced, however, I am considering including provisions for a fixed penalty procedure in respect of certain lesser public order offences in the Criminal Justice Bill, which I expect to publish this session.

Garda Equipment.

Questions (79)

Mary Upton

Question:

73 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress made to date with regard to the installation of video recording equipment in Garda stations; the number of stations in which the equipment has been installed and the number which have no such equipment; the overall number of interview rooms in Garda stations; the number of those in which equipment has been installed; the number which will have it when the current programme is completed; the number which will have no such equipment; his views on whether it is desirable that all interview rooms should have such equipment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2502/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I refer the Deputy to the reply I gave to Question No. 56 of Tuesday, 25 November 2003. As I stated then, the Criminal Justice Act 1984 (Electronic Recording of Interviews) Regulations, 1997, provide for the recording of interviews in respect of suspects who are detained in custody. In 1999, the Government decided to introduce an audio-video system for the recording of such interviews and the number of stations and rooms now fitted out with the specialised equipment is such as to provide broad nationwide coverage.

I stress again that there is a total of 703 Garda stations throughout the State. Many of these are rural stations and are not equipped to accommodate the holding of prisoners and are open for a set number of hours or days per week. It was never the intention, nor is it considered necessary, that all 703 Garda stations or that every interview room in these stations be fitted out with the system. I am advised by the Garda authorities that the number of rooms and stations fitted out provides the nationwide coverage envisaged by the Government decision.

As regards the specific information sought by the Deputy on the numbers of rooms equipped, etc., I am informed by the Garda authorities that the data are being researched, and I will write to the Deputy as soon as they are available.

Question No. 74 answered with QuestionNo. 25.
Question No. 75 answered with QuestionNo. 58.

Job Creation.

Questions (80)

Dan Boyle

Question:

76 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of new jobs provided and lost in the Cork south central constituency for 2003. [2613/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

The board of management of Clare LES advised FÁS on 15 December last that they were discontinuing operations effective from 30 January 2004.

A meeting was held in the Dáil on Wednesday, 21 January 2004, between the Minister for labour affairs and representatives of Clare local employment service staff to discuss the imminent closure of the Clare LES. Also present were a number of other Clare public representatives including the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, a union representative, two departmental officials and two representatives of FÁS.

It was pointed out that while the board of Clare LES is made up of representatives from the statutory and voluntary sectors, and the operation of the service is funded by FÁS, it is nonetheless a separate legal entity and the Minister for labour affairs has no function in relation to the internal workings of a body of this kind.

The Minister did, however, agree to ask FÁS to immediately commence an assessment of the labour market data and needs of the Clare region in the context of the closure of the LES. This assessment will include the type and level of a dedicated employment service necessary to address the needs of marginalised client groups in the region, including structures, management, staffing and other relevant requirements of any such service.

Work Permits.

Questions (81)

John Perry

Question:

77 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when work permits will be issued for persons (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2670/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise)

I am informed that work permit applications in this case have recently been approved and have issued to the employer in question.

Bullying in the Workplace.

Questions (82)

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

78 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence the investigation held into allegations that members of the Air Corps based in Sligo were subjected to bullying, prior to the recent decision to terminate the helicopter service based there; if specific complaints of bullying or harassment were received; the actions taken as a result of any such complaints; if it is intended to review his decision to terminate the search and rescue service operated by the Air Corps from Sligo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2572/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Defence)

The military authorities advise that no specific formal complaints of bullying or harassment have been received by them from Air Corps personnel who were deployed as part of the search and rescue service in Sligo. All Defence Forces personnel may avail of the Defence Forces procedures in relation to any complaints of harassment or bullying. These procedures are outlined in the administrative instruction on interpersonal relationships in the Defence Forces, which is available and applicable to all personnel. Personnel may also submit any such complaints through the redress of wrongs procedure, as provided for under section 114 of the Defence Act. The allegations referred to were published in the media at the time and the general officer commanding, Air Corps initiated a military police investigation to establish the facts of the matter. This investigation is not yet completed.

In December 2003, when I announced the discontinuance of the Air Corps SAR service in the north west, I acknowledged the efforts of Air Corps management and staff to maintain an operational SAR service in the north west and, in particular, the dedication and commitment of key personnel in the search and rescue service. However, notwithstanding this commitment, the Air Corps was unable to provide the required service in the north west and, as a result, I advised my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, that he should seek to make alternative arrangements to secure the service. Arrangements are now in hand to give effect to the hand-over of the service from the Air Corps at the earliest possible date.

Defence Forces Property.

Questions (83)

Dan Boyle

Question:

79 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence if his Department has retained land from the former Murphy's barracks in Ballincollig to transfer and allow for the construction of a new Garda station; and if such a transfer will have to be conducted through the new owners of the site. [2611/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Defence)

An area comprising approximately 0.545 of an acre at the former Murphy Barracks has been set aside and retained by my Department, on foot of a request from the Office of Public Works (OPW) for a plot of ground to facilitate extension of the existing Garda station located on Main Street, Ballincollig. My Department is in correspondence with the OPW on arrangements for transfer of the lands concerned, including the matter of a consideration therefor.

Question No. 80 withdrawn.

Blood Sports

Questions (84)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

81 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if his attention has been drawn to the large scale destruction of farm and other property, often running to thousands of euro, by the unauthorised use of such lands for the purposes of live hunting; the plans he has to safeguard the interests and property of landowners in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2569/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The issue of entry by a hunt onto private lands is in each instance a matter for the landowner himself/herself in so far as the vindication of their rights to enjoyment of their property and the issue of trespass is concerned. There are already protections against trespass in place to which landowners may, if they so choose, seek redress and also well-established legal mechanisms for dealing with damage to private property. It is my belief that fox hunts generally will and do respect the wishes of farmers and other landowners regarding hunts entering onto their lands by seeking the agreement of landowners prior to hunting over their property. Where issues of concern to landowners may arise, these are generally resolved at local level.

I am not aware of large scale destruction of farm or other property by fox hunts. Indeed I would make the point that it is clearly not in any event in the interests of hunts themselves to damage property in the course of their activities.

Given the foregoing I have no plans for any additional measures in this area.

Meat Imports.

Questions (85)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

82 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the protections in place to ensure that imported meat from outside the EU is screened for health risks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2571/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

Under Community law it is a requirement that imported meat from outside the EU has been sourced from an approved establishment, whether that is a slaughterhouse, cutting plant or cold store. It must also be accompanied to its destination by a commercial document or health certificate that bears the identity of the establishment from which the beef has been despatched.

Under EU harmonised rules, imports into the European Union from third countries must have been sourced in premises and in countries which are approved by the European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office, FVO. This office carries out inspections to ensure that only establishments that meet hygiene and health standards equivalent to those operating within the EU are approved. The evaluation of third countries is on the following basis: there are systems in place for the rapid detection, reporting and confirmation of list A diseases of theOffice International des Epizooties, OIE; there is access to laboratory facilities that allow detection and confirmation to take place; there are animal disease control systems in place whose operation and outcome must be recorded and demonstrable, e.g. registration of holdings, animal identification and movement controls; there are operational contingency plans for the control of and/or the eradication of OIE list diseases; and that the import policy in the country, including its controls, as well as the animal health situation in neighbouring countries have been assessed as acceptable.

Where the FVO is not satisfied that public health requirements are being met by an approved establishment in a third country, the establishment may be removed from the EU approved list. If outbreaks of animal diseases occur in a third country, approval to export to the EU is suspended for the infected regions of the country, or the whole country, as appropriate, until the disease risk has been eliminated.

Meat being imported into the European Community may only enter through a border inspection post, BIP, that has been approved by the FVO. That office also carries out monitoring and inspection of each member state's BIPs to ensure that the facilities and procedures for import of animal products into Europe, provided under harmonised EU legislation, are being correctly applied. In Ireland, the border inspection posts approved for administering checks on direct imports of meat from third countries are Dublin Port and Shannon Airport and these posts are staffed by officials from my Department.

In addition, importers must be registered with my Department. They must give advance notice of the arrival of meat. Imported meat must be accompanied by the appropriate commercial documentation which shows country and approval number of the establishment of production as well as a health certificate which conforms to the models set down in EU legislation. The meat must also be appropriately labelled. All consignments undergo a documentary and identity check and physical checks are carried out at frequencies laid down in EU law. Where required, sampling for laboratory analysis for the purposes of safeguarding human and animal health is carried out. Once imported, meat has met all the required conditions it is released for free circulation within the community. Copies of the BIP clearance document and the health certificate must accompany the consignment to its declared destination.

Imports failing to comply with these veterinary control checks may be detained for further examination. If non-compliance is established they are returned to the exporting country or destroyed.

Grant Payments.

Questions (86)

Michael Ring

Question:

83 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive payment for 14 animals included on a suckler cow premium application for 2003, as the delay is causing major problems. [2575/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The person named applied for premium on 15 animals under the 2003 suckler cow premium scheme. In processing the application for payment, it was found that according to CMMS details one animal tag number BQQG0046F did not appear to be in the applicant's herd at the time of application. The district livestock office of my Department, together with the herdowner are working to have the information relating to this animal updated on the national beef assurance system. The application has now been processed for an 80% advance instalment on 14 animals and payment will issue shortly. At balance payment stage the application will be processed taking account of the 15 animals.

Cattle Identification Scheme.

Questions (87)

Michael Ring

Question:

84 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if a person who has been penalised for not having their herd register up to date during the years which come into play for de-coupling, will now be penalised for the ten years when de-coupling is introduced. [2576/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

Generally, all livestock premium and arable aid cases in which penalties were imposed for breaches of regulations will be reviewed with a view to ensuring that such penalties are not carried forward into the single payment scheme which is to be established under the CAP mid-term review.

Grant Payments.

Questions (88)

Paul Connaughton

Question:

85 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a cattle grant and other grants have not been awarded in 2003 to a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2607/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The person named applied for premium on 17 animals under the 2003 suckler cow premium scheme. When processing the application it was found that according to CMMS records, animal tag number 181703530079 was not in the applicant's herd at the time of application. Details concerning the movement of this animal have since been updated and the animal is eligible for payment as applied on. Compliance checks with CMMS also showed that animal tag number 181952620104 was sold inside the six months retention period and would therefore require a replacement. The district livestock office of my Department has been in contact with the herdowner and a replacement animal has been nominated. The application is being processed further and payment will issue shortly.

Payment of his full entitlement under the 2003 area-based compensatory allowance scheme amounting to €2189.11 issued on 19 September 2003.

Poultry Industry.

Questions (89, 90)

Dan Boyle

Question:

86 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the extent to which his Department monitors poultry producing companies and the extent to which they source poultry from outside of this State. [2608/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The European Communities (Fresh Poulty Meat) Regulations 1996 provide for the approval of poultry meat processing establishments slaughtering in excess of 200 birds per week. In all, 14 such establishments have been approved by my Department and are subject to supervision by my Department's veterinary inspectorate. There are also a further 12 poultry meat processing plants which are also subject to veterinary control by my Department.

In the period January to September 2003 some 39,000 tonnes of poultry meat was imported into Ireland. Of this, 27,000 tonnes was fresh/frozen product and 12,000 was processed product. This compares with Irish poultry meat exports of 60,000 tonnes during the same period. The majority of the poultry meat used as a raw material in these processing/manufacturing plants, and particularly in the higher value added sector of the industry, is sourced outside the country.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

87 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the slaughtering of turkeys and geese on-farm; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this practice is part of the country's tradition for many decades; his views on whether to change this practice is wrong, based on the fact of tradition; if a change is brought into place, if it will arise from an EU regulation; if so, if he in his capacity as Agricultural President of the EU, will seek a special derogation for Ireland in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2628/04]

View answer

I am aware that on-farm slaughter of turkeys and geese is traditional in this country.

The EU Commission has introduced a package of proposals aimed at revising and updating food hygiene regulations. The proposals provide flexibility concerning the direct supply, by the producer, of small quantities of meat from poultry slaughtered on the farm to the final consumer or to local retail establishments.

In implementing this proposed legislation, I will clearly be mindful of the necessary balance between small scale traditional practices and the need to ensure consumer protection.

Suckler Cow Quota.

Questions (91)

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

88 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the outcome of contact between his officials and a person (details supplied) in County Cork in relation to their suckler cow quota and their application for additional units. [2629/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The person named originally held four suckler cow quota rights when he submitted an application for an allocation of additional quota from the 2004 suckler cow national reserve. His application was processed and he was allocated four additional quota rights and was notified accordingly. Following the subsequent contact with the person named on 19 December 2003, an additional six quota rights were allocated to him from the 2004 suckler cow national reserve. Since he had already received four additional quota rights from the reserve, this brought his total allocation to ten premium rights, which was the maximum allocation that any applicant received from the 2004 national reserve. His total suckler cow quota was therefore increased from four, which he originally had, to 14 premium rights for the 2004 suckler cow premium scheme. A letter confirming the additional allocation and his new quota issued to him on 19 December 2003.

If the person named has more than 14 suckler cows on which he wishes to claim suckler cow premium under the 2004 scheme, he may purchase or lease in additional quota in order to qualify for payment. It should be noted that it will be essential to lodge an area aid application in 2004 if the person named wants to qualify for payment in excess of 15 livestock units.

Decentralisation Programme.

Questions (92)

Seymour Crawford

Question:

89 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider Monaghan or other towns along the Border, such as Clones, for some of the remaining decentralisation jobs that as yet have not been allocated; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that it is one of the few opportunities the Government has to actually decide whether or not the Border region deserves recognition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2564/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

In advance of the announcement of details of the decentralisation programme in budget 2004, I received submissions on behalf of over 130 centres throughout the State. A total of 53 locations, including Monaghan, have been designated for the relocation of approximately 9,000 posts.

Locations for a further 1,300 or so jobs will be identified at a later stage. As I said in my budget speech, I believe the total number of posts to be relocated should be closer to 12,000 and I will examine further options in this regard once the programme is well under way.

The case for Clones and other Border towns receiving decentralised offices as well as Monaghan receiving a second decentralised office can be given due consideration in the decision making process leading to the identification of locations for the remaining posts.

Flood Relief.

Questions (93)

Emmet Stagg

Question:

90 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance if he will ensure that an early meeting is held between officials of the OPW and Kildare County Council to see what outstanding documentation is required in relation to flood relief schemes in Maynooth, Leixlip, Straffan and Ardclough, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2565/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

A meeting has been arranged in the first week of February between the Office of Public Works and officials of Kildare county council to discuss issues in relation to flooding in Maynooth, Leixlip, and Ardclough, County Kildare.

In relation to Straffan, County Kildare, the flooding problem arises from surface water drainage. This is a matter solely for the county council.

General Government Balance.

Questions (94)

Joan Burton

Question:

91 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the implications of the proposals from Eurostat to change the method of calculation of the general Government balance; the way in which the forecast general Government balance for 2004, 2005 and 2006 would be affected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2566/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

Eurostat is expected to issue a decision shortly giving guidance as to how PPP projects should impact on the general Government balance, GGB. This decision follows the work of a Eurostat task force in which the CSO participated. I look forward to seeing the details of the new rules when they are published.

Decentralisation Programme.

Questions (95)

Richard Bruton

Question:

92 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he proposes that a common pool for transfers will be formed to include autonomous executive agencies which are designated for a move under decentralisation so that those who do not volunteer to move have reasonable alternative opportunities available to them. [2567/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

The issue of transfers between organisations, both for those volunteering to participate in the decentralisation programme and those who do not wish to participate, is one which the implementation committee appointed by me has been asked to address in preparing the implementation plan. The implementation committee has been asked to report to Government by the end of March 2004.

Garda Stations.

Questions (96)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

93 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the position in regard to the proposed new Garda station at Leixlip, County Kildare; when it is expected that the station will become operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2638/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

A revised brief for Leixlip Garda station remains under consideration by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Office of Public Works is not in a position to finalise a sketch scheme pending receipt of a revised brief.

Tax Code.

Questions (97)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

94 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance when a certificate of tax free allowance will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2655/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a certificate of tax credits and standard rate cut-off point for the year 2004 will issue to the taxpayer on 30 January 2004 in respect of her main employment. A manager from the Kildare revenue district has telephoned the relevant employer giving details of the credits due to the taxpayer and has been assured by the employer that they will apply these credits when processing the next salary payment.

In respect of the taxpayer's second employment, the Revenue Commissioners have informed me that a certificate of tax credits and standard rate cut-off point was issued on 23 January 2004. A manager in the Kildare revenue district has telephoned the employer giving details of credits due. This information will be used by the employer when taxpayer is next being paid.

Public Service Contracts.

Questions (98)

Michael Ring

Question:

95 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Finance if he will enter into discussions with the INTO on the proposed changes to pension terms for new entrants to the public service, in particular with regard to the proposed retirement age for teachers. [2663/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

I understand the Deputy is referring to the announcement in budget 2004 of the Government decision that the minimum pension age should be increased to 65 years for new entrants to the public service, including teachers, from 1 April 2004.

In announcing the Government's decision on pension age, and also on the intended abolition of compulsory retirement age for new entrant public servants from 1 April 2004, I stated that the public service unions would be fully informed about the implementation of these particular changes in advance of their introduction with effect from 1 April 2004.

I can confirm to the Deputy that this process of information provision has commenced, and that the process includes the INTO. There are a number of issues in relation to implementation which these discussions can clarify.

The Government has decided that the changes in relation to pension age for new entrants will be implemented. Accordingly, discussions on this are not appropriate. A Bill to provide for the necessary legislative changes is included in the Government's legislative programme for this session of the Dáil.

Emigrant Care.

Questions (99)

Joe Higgins

Question:

96 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the findings of the recent UK census which shows that the Irish in Britain are more likely to be living in residential care than any other group, and that they are the group most likely to be providing over 50 hours per week of unpaid care to relatives, friends and neighbours. [2584/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The census of England and Wales was conducted in April 2001. It showed that 1% of the Irish in Britain were resident in hospitals or other care establishments. It also showed that the Irish have older age structures than other ethnic groups, with one in four Irish people in Britain aged 65 and over. As a result, they are more likely to need care. This is particularly true as the Irish group that went to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s grows older.

The 2001 census was the first in which a question about carers was included. It found that there are 5.2 million people providing unpaid care in England and Wales, that is, one in ten of the population. Carers were defined in the census as people looking after or giving help or support to family members, friends, neighbours or others because of long-term physical or mental ill health or disability or problems related to old age.

The responses showed that 10% of each of the groups categorised in the census as "White British", "White Irish" and "Indian" were providing unpaid care. The "White Irish" group had, by a small margin, 2.5%, the highest rate of providing over 50 hours a week of care. This reflects the older age structure of the Irish community in Britain which makes them more likely to provide care.

The Irish Government, through the Díon committee, provides significant levels of support to the older Irish in Britain. In 2003, €873,000 was spent on projects for the elderly and €119,000 on projects for returning emigrants. This represents 43% of the Díon fund in 2003. Several of these projects involve social activities which have added health benefits, helping older people to continue to live independently for longer. In addition, older Irish people have access to welfare organisations assisted by the Díon fund which provide advice on welfare and health benefits available to them.

Task Force on Emigrants.

Questions (100)

Joe Higgins

Question:

97 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will fully implement the report of the task force on emigrants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2585/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I welcomed the task force's report which sets the issue of emigration in a forward-looking context and provides a template for addressing the needs of the Irish abroad in the future.

The report contains 71 proposals covering a wide range of areas. I have begun to implement the report and action is currently being taken on over two-thirds of the recommendations. Some of them fall within the areas of responsibility of other Departments and I have asked those Departments to examine the relevant recommendations to determine what progress has already been made in implementing them and what further progress could be made in the future.

I was pleased to announce before Christmas that I secured an additional provision of €1 million in the Estimates for my Department for services to emigrants in 2004. This brings the overall expenditure on emigrants services this year to just over €4 million, an increase of one-third on 2003.

I intend that, in allocating the additional funds, they will be focused on improving services for the neediest and the most vulnerable among our emigrants, particularly in Britain, in line with the recommendations of the task force report.

I also intend to give priority assistance to elderly and returning emigrants, capacity building of the voluntary agencies involved and projects to promote more effective networking and information sharing between them.

During the course of the year, I intend to establish a dedicated unit in the Department of Foreign Affairs to work with the voluntary agencies at home and abroad to maximise the impact of our collective efforts.

I will continue to implement the report of the task force and to work in partnership with the governments of the countries concerned and with voluntary Irish agencies at home and abroad, to support our emigrants overseas.

Emigrant Support Services.

Questions (101)

Dan Boyle

Question:

98 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the support services provided by his Department for Irish emigrants abroad. [2618/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Government has been providing assistance to Irish emigrants in Britain, the United States and Australia for many years.

In response to concerns about the situation of Irish emigrants in Britain, the Government established the Díon committee in 1984. The Díon fund, which is administered by the embassy in London through the Díon committee, has increased substantially in the past four years — from €592,300 in 1999 to €3,570,000 this year.

My Department also gives grants to voluntary organisations in the US that provide advocacy and support to Irish immigrants. Priority is given to the provision of information, advice and outreach services for Irish immigrants. This year, my Department will provide a total of €400,000, an increase of 33% over 2003. Increased grants will also be given to Irish welfare groups in Australia.

I was pleased to announce before Christmas that I secured an additional provision of €1 million in the Estimates for my Department for services to emigrants in 2004. This brings the overall expenditure on emigrant services this year to just over €4 million, an increase of one-third on 2003. I intend that the additional funds will be concentrated on improving services for the more vulnerable among our emigrants, particularly in Britain, who require special assistance and support.

EU Presidency.

Questions (102)

John Gormley

Question:

99 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will avail of the Irish Presidency of the EU to support the idea of talks between FARC and the United Nations or the French Government to find a humanitarian resolution for over 800 hostages held in Colombia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2622/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

At its meeting on 26 January 2004 the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, adopted conclusions setting out the European Union's policy in relation to Colombia. The council reiterated its full support for President Uribe's commitment to seek a negotiated solution to the internal armed conflict, including through direct engagement with those illegal armed groups who may be prepared to negotiate a peace agreement. The council insisted that the illegal armed groups cease all hostilities and engage in constructive and meaningful dialogue. In particular, while acknowledging the recent release of some hostages, the council underlined the importance of a rapid release of all remaining hostages and kidnapped persons. Such an act of humanitarian character by the illegal armed groups could be undertaken in the framework of a humanitarian agreement, and would give a positive signal of their intention to take the path of peace.

Schools Building Projects.

Questions (103)

Seymour Crawford

Question:

100 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science the position with regard to the building programme for a school (details supplied) in County Monaghan; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this school is in a very serious situation and is already in breach of health and safety and environment pollution control; his views on whether this school should be asked to compete with others who have been grant aided both north and south of the Border in its immediate hinterland; if he will give a commitment that it will be treated as a priority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2547/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The proposed large-scale building project for the school referred to by Deputy is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, that is pre-tender documents. It has been assigned a ‘band 2’ rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

Indicative timescales have been included in the school building programme for large-scale projects proceeding to tender in 2004. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Teachers' Remuneration.

Questions (104)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

101 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science if resource teachers and teacher assistants will be granted salary increases as part of the benchmarking process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2548/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The Public Service Benchmarking Body recommended that the payment of the benchmarking increases due with effect from 1 January 2004 and 1 June 2005 should be dependent on real and verifiable outputs from modernisation and flexibility changes.

Resource teachers are comprehended within the modernisation agenda set out for teachers in paragraphs 24.27 to 24.33 of Sustaining Progress which includes,inter alia, revised arrangements for the holding of parent-teacher meetings and the standardisation of breaks at mid-term and holiday periods at Christmas and Easter. Agreement has now been reached on the issue of parent-teacher meetings and discussions are at an advanced stage on the standardised school holiday periods for future years. However, a number of difficulties have arisen in regard to issues on non-compliance by certain schools with the standardised arrangements agreed for the current school year and these are currently under discussion at the teachers conciliation council which is holding a special meeting on 3 February next to address these matters. I am anxious that these remaining difficulties are quickly resolved so that the payments to teachers can be made.

Special Educational Needs.

Questions (105, 106)

John Cregan

Question:

102 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will respond to a school (details supplied) in Dublin 11 and their recent request for classroom assistants, at least on a pilot basis to see if these children can be kept within the educational system which will result in an obvious benefit to them and to society as a whole. [2549/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

My Department allocates resource teaching support and special needs assistant support to second level schools to cater for students with special educational needs, including those who have been assessed as having serious behavioural or emotional disorders. Applications for such support are made to my Department by the relevant school authorities. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupil(s) concerned and the nature and level of support provided is determined on the advice of the psychological service.

I understand that no application for additional special needs assistant support has been received by my Department from the school to which the Deputy refers. Any such application will be fully considered by my Department.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

103 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the application for resource hours for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2550/04]

View answer

My Department has received a number of applications for special educational resources, SER, from the school referred to by the Deputy including an application for the pupil in question.

SER applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including the one made by this school, are being considered at present. In all, more than 5,000 such applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children starting school last September and all these cases were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year.

The balance of more than 4,000 applications has been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of my Department's inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. These applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of SER provision conducted over the past year or so. Account is also being taken of the data submitted by schools as part of the recent nationwide census of SER provision.

The processing of the applications is a complex and time-consuming operation. However, my Department is endeavouring to have this completed as quickly as possible and my officials will then respond to all applicant schools. Pending a response, schools are advised to refer to Circular 24/03, which issued in September 2003. This circular contains practical advice on how to achieve the most effective deployment of resources already allocated for special educational needs within the school.

Child Abuse.

Questions (107)

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

104 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will confirm the percentage of the educational fund which was set up for victims of institutional abuse spent in the UK; and if he will confirm the criteria for the allocation of the educational fund as set up for those victims of institutional abuse. [255104]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

Under the terms of the indemnity agreement between the State and 18 religious congregations dated the 5 June 2002 there is provision for an education fund of €12.7 million for educational programmes for former residents of institutions and their families.

A grant scheme which is administered through the National Office for Victims of Abuse, NOVA, commenced in September 2003. To date a total of €346,402.88 has issued to successful applicants. A figure of €128,088.53 has issued to applicants that reside in Britain which represents 37% approximately of the fund spent to date.

I have made arrangements for a copy of the criteria for eligibility to be forwarded to the Deputy.

Special Educational Needs.

Questions (108, 109, 110, 111, 112)

John Bruton

Question:

105 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will confirm the initiatives his Department are implementing in opening a school to assist children who have autism in the Dublin south area, as the Department has yet to sanction permission for the school to be built; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2577/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I am most anxious that all children, including children with autistic spectrum disorders receive education appropriate to their needs.

My Department is actively considering applications from CABAS, Dublin and Saplings, Kildare, for autistic provision in South County Dublin. My officials are liaising with my Department's inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, in this regard. A response will issue to the applicants as quickly as possible.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

106 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science , further to Parliamentary Question No. 117 of 27 November 2003, if further progress has been made on the proposals for the Drogheda CABAS School; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2586/04]

View answer

Dan Boyle

Question:

110 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department will guarantee support at current levels, with current expertise, whilst retaining the ongoing programme and ethos of CABAS schools. [2612/04]

View answer

David Stanton

Question:

111 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the position with regard to the Drogheda CABAS school which is at pilot status up to 2004; if he will ensure the future of the facilities and the method of education at the school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2658/04]

View answer

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106, 110 and 111 together.

I would like to assure the Deputy that my Department intends to take a measured approach to considering the future of the three CABAS facilities in Dublin, Cork and Drogheda. My approach will be to ensure continuity of provision for the pupils in question. My Department appreciates the concerns of parents for greater certainty and in this regard, I wish to confirm that my Department is prepared to continue to provide funding for three CABAS facilities for the next school year 2004-05.

I hope this clarification will ease parents' concerns. My Department will, in due course, consider the reports of the inspectorate on autism specific provisions and any issues arising therefrom will be raised directly with the relevant managements.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

107 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science when resource teaching hours will be sanctioned for a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2594/04]

View answer

Special education resource, SER, applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including those made by the school referred to by the Deputy, are being considered at present. In all, more than 5,000 such applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children starting school last September and all these cases were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year.

The balance of more than 4,000 applications has been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of my Department's inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. These applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of SER provision conducted over the past year or so. Account is also being taken of the data submitted by schools as part of the recent nationwide census of SER provision.

The processing of the applications is a complex and time-consuming operation. However, my Department is endeavouring to have this completed as quickly as possible and my officials will then respond to all applicant schools. Pending a response, schools are advised to refer to circular 24/03, which issued in September 2003. This circular contains practical advice on how to achieve the most effective deployment of resources already allocated for special educational needs within the school.

School Closures.

Questions (113)

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

108 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a secondary school (details supplied) in Dublin 4 has announced its intention to close in 2007; if his Department was consulted; if so, if it gave its consent to this decision; the steps he proposes to take to ensure alternative provision is provided in the locality in consultation with the parents and local interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2595/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

My Department has been advised of the proposed closure on a phased basis of the school to which the Deputy refers. You will appreciate that a secondary school is a privately owned and managed institution and a decision to close such a school is a matter for the trustees.

My main concern in a school closure is to ensure that the best interests of the pupils are looked after in the period up to the closure and that there will be sufficient pupils places in existing schools in the general area for pupils who would have normally enrolled in the closing school. This process will involve consultation with all affected parties.

Special Educational Needs.

Questions (114)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

109 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the basis upon which funding for alternative therapies are assessed and determined; if such an assessment has been carried out to date in respect of the therapy primary movement; if he will provide funding to support a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 from a low income family with the cost of a primary movement specialist, a therapy recommended by his resource teacher; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2596/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

Responsibility for the delivery of therapy services to children with special educational needs lies with the relevant health authorities who are allocated funding for this purpose. Any issues associated with the assessment of or determination of cases for funding would be a matter for the health boards concerned.

My Department has not received any correspondence concerning therapy services for the pupil in question. My officials have been in contact with the pupil's school and have clarified the position outlined above for the school.

Questions Nos. 110 and 111 answered with Question No. 106.

School Staffing.

Questions (115)

David Stanton

Question:

112 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science the total cost of approved school absences in 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2659/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The total cost of substitution for approved school absences in the school year 2002-03 was €23,335,043 for primary level and €16,873,125 for post-primary level.

This covers the cost of the employment of a substitute teacher in cases of certified sick leave, maternity leave, maternity leave in lieu, adoptive leave, adoptive leave in lieu,force majeure, bereavement leave and other absences for which substitution is approved.

National Council for Special Education.

Questions (116)

Michael Ring

Question:

113 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason, in relation to the new special education council which was announced on 6 January 2004, no nominees of same are from the primary level; if he will meet the INTO in relation to this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2660/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

In appointing the new National Council for Special Education I put in place a group of people with a wide range of knowledge and experience in this area. In doing this I did not set out to create a council which was representative of any particular sectoral interests, as I feel that it is very important that the council should operate in a cohesive, non representative way. I have not received any request from the INTO for a meeting to discuss this issue.

Pension Provisions.

Questions (117)

Michael Ring

Question:

114 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will enter into discussions with the INTO in relation to the proposed changes to pension terms for new entrants to the public service, in particular with regard to the proposed retirement age for teachers. [2662/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I understand that the Deputy is referring to the announcement in budget 2004 of the Government decision that the minimum pension age should be increased to 65 years for most new entrants to the public service, including teachers, from 1 April 2004.

In announcing the Government's decision on pension age, and also on the intended abolition of compulsory retirement age for most new entrant public servants from 1 April 2004, the Minister for Finance stated that the public service unions would be fully informed about the implementation of the reforms in advance of their introduction with effect from 1 April 2004. I can confirm that the process of informing the public service unions has commenced.

Since the Government has already taken its decision in relation to these changes affecting new entrants, the issue of negotiation does not arise. I must emphasise that the minimum pension age for existing public servants is not in any way affected by the Government decision.

Education for People with Disabilities.

Questions (118)

John Perry

Question:

115 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has received a submission from the Irish Primary Principal Network with regard to the upcoming Disabilities Bill; the progress he has made in relation to adopting the amendments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2671/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I have received a submission from the IPPN in relation to the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill and have considered it in the context of the preparation of amendments for Committee Stage.

I have a number of proposals which will reduce the burden placed on principals and have reiterated the right of principals to delegate their functions to their staff. I have proposed that principals will have a right to the assistance of special educational needs organisers in carrying out their duties if they feel that is required. I would also draw the Deputy's attention to section 12 of the Bill which, following amendments accepted on Committee Stage, provides that the resources necessary for the preparation and implementation of education plans will be made available.

The definition of "disability" within the Bill has been amended to provide that the Minister for Education and Science can specify conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia in regulations to ensure that they come within the scope of the definition.

The amendments I have proposed and the matters I have agreed to re-examine for Report Stage substantially address the IPPN's concerns.

Prospecting Licences.

Questions (119)

Phil Hogan

Question:

116 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide the necessary finance to carry out a site investigation on the property of a company (details supplied) in County Kilkenny in view of its stated objection to the proposed route of the M9 road; his views on whether this report should be carried out to verify the existence of the volume, quality and value of minerals in that area which are the subject of a licence or may be subject to a licence in the future in order to allow his Department to assess the validity of the objection as well as to quantify accurately the extent of potential compensation in order to ensure that the Bennettesbridge community are not necessarily disrupted or affected by the consideration of a new route arising from the above objection; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2606/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

The type of site investigations requested are not carried out by, or on behalf of, the Department. Current Government policy is to promote exploration and mining by private enterprise, and consequently the viability of potential mineral deposits must first be established by a minerals developing company at its own expense before any application for a mining lease is considered by the Department.

Regarding the mine site at Maddoxtown and its environs, the Department has no reason not to accept the company's expert's reports that viable deposits of minerals exist. The Department may need to commission consultants to advise it on the relevant issues, including the question of the quantum of compensation due for loss of royalties, if matters progress to that stage.

The Department has no role in assessing the validity of third party objections.

Foreshore Licences.

Questions (120)

Dan Boyle

Question:

117 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the status of foreshore being made available in Passage West, County Cork to assist development proposals. [2610/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

My Department received an application in July 2000 for a foreshore lease for the reclamation of 4.46 acres at Passage West, County Cork for the purposes of a development comprising a hotel, riverside bar and restaurant, technology centre and office block, apartments and a car park.

In accordance with normal procedures, the Department obtained the advice of the Valuation Office on the fair commercial rental valuation of the foreshore in question and communicated the details to the project proponents. The project proponents have since requested that the amount in question be reduced. However, the Valuation Office has confirmed that it considers the amounts it recommended to be appropriate.

Sports Funding.

Questions (121)

Dan Boyle

Question:

118 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the grant support made by his Department to sporting organisations in the Cork south central constituency in 2003. [2609/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

Under the national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, grants are allocated to sports clubs and also to voluntary and community organisations and, in certain circumstances, to schools, colleges and local authorities. This programme is administered on a county rather than a constituency basis. Under the 2003 programme, grants totalling €5,545,400 were allocated to 68 organisations in the County of Cork.

Infectious Disease Screening.

Questions (122)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

119 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the advice his Department has received from the World Health Organisation in relation to the screening of refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and or other groups for communicable diseases; the policy adopted by his Department in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2570/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

No specific policy advice was issued by WHO to Ireland in respect of immigrant groups and screening for communicable diseases. Irish policy in this regard is informed with reference to WHO and EU advice generally in respect of communicable diseases, particularly in respect of global TB and HIV control. Policy is formulated on the basis that asylum seekers have the same right to medical treatment as the rest of the population and within the ethical guidelines for medical practice set out by the Medical Council. Screening policy is based on an epidemiological assessment of the communicable disease risks which affect these populations in particular and international best practice in the diagnosis, management and control of these diseases.

Currently the position in relation to screening is that screening in respect of specific infectious diseases is offered to asylum seekers on a voluntary and confidential basis, free of charge, shortly after their arrival in this country. The purpose of screening is to detect and treat certain infectious diseases in the interest of the asylum seekers themselves and their families, as well as the community in general.

The approach adopted in relation to communicable disease screening for asylum seekers is reviewed on an ongoing basis by a group representative of the directors of public health and the Department of Health and Children. The current guidelines produced by this group in relation to infectious diseases screening recommend screening for TB and hepatitis and, where appropriate for HIV, polio and varicella zoster, chicken pox. The guidelines do not preclude other investigations deemed necessary on clinical or public health grounds.

Operational responsibility for health screening for asylum seekers lies with the individual health boards, which have appropriate regional and local management structures in place to manage delivery of the health screening programme.

Hospital Services.

Questions (123)

Michael Ring

Question:

120 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when the Western Health Board first received a letter of referral from the GP of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo regarding their need for a hip operation; the length of time this person was waiting to be assessed; the number of times this person was seen by the consultant; and when they can expect to be called for their operation. [2578/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The provision of hospital services for persons resident in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position and reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Board Services.

Questions (124)

Gay Mitchell

Question:

121 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if the South Western Area Health Board will provide a handrail for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2588/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Dublin 12 area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the South Western Area Health Board acting under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

Post Mortem Inquiry.

Questions (125)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

122 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children the status of the Dunne inquiry; if the inquiry is in difficulty in view of the fact that it has missed its deadlines for reporting; when it is expected to report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2601/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The post mortem inquiry is a non-statutory inquiry chaired by Ms Anne Dunne SC. Since the beginning of 2003, the inquiry has been concentrating on the investigation of the post mortem policy, practice and procedure of the three main paediatric hospitals, that is the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght, the Children's University Hospital, Temple Street and Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin. Up to mid-October, the inquiry had heard 56 hospital and non-hospital witnesses at oral hearings and had accumulated almost 3,500 pages of transcripts of oral evidence.

The chairman has informed me that the inquiry has received considerable co-operation from each of the hospitals with which it is presently dealing and that the inquiry's non-statutory nature has not thus far significantly hampered its substantive work. The chairman is mindful of the need to have her report completed as soon as is reasonably practicable following the completion of the oral evidence.

Medical Cards.

Questions (126)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

123 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children if it is still the policy of his Department that persons whose sole income is from social welfare qualify for a medical card regardless of the extent to which that income is in excess of the medical card income guidelines; if not, when did this policy change; if so, the reason persons in the Northern Area Health Board area are being refused medical cards when their only income is from social welfare; if instructions will be sent to all health boards outlining this policy in full; and if all benefit payments from the Department of Social and Family Affairs will be included in the schedule of qualifying payments as set out in the medical card guidelines for 2004. [2602/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means. Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board. Other than for persons aged seventy years and over who are automatically entitled to a medical card, medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.

Income guidelines are drawn up each year by the health board and authority chief executive officers to assist in the determination of a person's eligibility for a medical card and these are revised annually in line with the consumer price index, CPI. However, it should be noted that the guidelines are not statutorily binding and even though a person's income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that his or her medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

It should be remembered that health board chief executive officers have discretion in relation to the issuing of medical cards and also that a range of income sources are excluded by the health boards when assessing medical card eligibility. Many allowances such as carers' allowance, child benefit, domiciliary care allowance, family income supplement and foster care allowance are all disregarded when determining a person's eligibility. Given these factors and the discretionary powers of the CEOs, having an income that exceeds the guidelines does not mean that a person will not be eligible for a medical card, and a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that a person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this.

I am conscious that increases in social welfare rates in recent years have given rise to a situation where such rates may exceed the income guidelines for a medical card. Because of this situation, my Department has written to the chairman of the chief executive officers' group on a number of occasions, most recently on 5 November 2003, asking that he advise the CEOs of my concern that medical card holders should not be disadvantaged by virtue of increases in social welfare payments which may be announced in the forthcoming budget. They were asked to ensure that increases in social welfare payments do not lead to medical card holders losing their medical cards by reference to the income guidelines and to make every effort to ensure that both medical card holders and applicants are made fully aware that increases in social welfare payments will not disadvantage them when applying to hold or retain a medical card.

My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the Eastern Regional Health Authority to examine the issue raised by you and to reply directly to you in the matter.

Health Board Allowances.

Questions (127)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

124 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of applications made and granted for each year since 1997 for domiciliary care allowance for each of the counties in the North Eastern Health Board area; the average waiting time for each county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2603/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

This information is not readily available to my Department. My Department has asked the chief executive officer, North Eastern Health Board to investigate the issues raised and respond directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Health Services Funding.

Questions (128)

Dan Boyle

Question:

125 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Health and Children if the construction of a recent private consultants facility on the grounds of Cork University Hospital was assisted in any way through public funds. [2619/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

This is a matter for the Southern Health Board and my Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to reply directly to the Deputy. My Department did not provide any funding towards this facility.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Questions (129)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

126 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a residential placement can be made to facilitate a person (details supplied) in County Kildare whose child has special needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2652/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The provision of health related services, including residential care, for people with physical and/or sensory disabilities is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in the first instance. Accordingly, the Deputy's question has been referred to the chief executive officer of the Eastern Regional Health Authority with a request that he examine the matter and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Hospital Procedures.

Questions (130)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

127 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will be admitted for surgery for the removal of cataracts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2656/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

Responsibility for the provision of health services to persons residing in County Kildare rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

General Practitioner Co-operatives.

Questions (131)

David Stanton

Question:

128 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount of funding made available by his Department to establish doctor co-operatives around the country; the places at which such co-operatives have been established; his further plans in this regard; if he will sanction the establishment of a doctors co-op in east and north Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2664/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The funding provided for out of hours co-operatives between 2000 and 2003 totalled €46.5 million including an additional amount of €4.143 million in 2003 for further expansion. The following table gives a breakdown of each board's allocation under this heading.

Health Board

Amount allocated (€million)

Eastern Regional Health Authority

5.57

Midland Health Board

5.213

Mid-Western Health Board

5.028

North Eastern Health Board

6.638

North Western Health Board

4.905

South Eastern Health Board

7.123

Southern Health Board

6.988

Western Health Board

4.869

Totals

46.501 million

The total funding available in 2004 amounts to €24.048 million. These funds have been included into health boards' base allocation for the continued provision of services under this heading. This dedicated funding is exclusive of the fees paid to participating general practitioners.

At present there are out of hours co-operatives operating in all health board areas. These are at various stages of expansion and development. In one board area, the North Eastern Health Board, there is a region wide co-op. Generally, co-operatives operate either a full or limited out of hours service for both private and medical card patients.

It should be noted that the geographical areas to be covered by co-operatives and any expansion are decisions for the relevant health board to make, having regard to the strategic, financial and other issues involved. Of the additional funding provided in 2003, €0.857 million was provided for the Southern Health Board for an expanded service in its area. It would be a matter for that board to decide on further expansion in its area.

Medical Cards.

Questions (132)

Pat Carey

Question:

129 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Health and Children if persons with MS are entitled to medical cards as a right and long term illness cards; if they may avail of the drugs subsidisation scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2665/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

Under the Health Act 1970, a health board may make arrangements for the supply without charge of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to persons suffering from any of the following conditions, who are not already medical card holders, for the treatment of that condition under the long term illness scheme: mental handicap, mental illness, for persons under 16 years only, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism, thalidamoid and acute leukaemia.

The Deputy will be pleased to note that multiple sclerosis disease is included in the list of illnesses covered by the terms of the LTI.

The assessment procedures for the granting of an LTI card are the responsibility of each individual health board. Persons who suffer from any of the above illnesses may apply directly to their local board for admission to the scheme.

There are a range of other schemes which provide assistance towards the cost of approved drugs and medicines for individuals with significant ongoing medical expenses. People who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. Eligibility for a medical card is solely a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board. In determining eligibility, the CEO has regard to the applicant's financial circumstances. Health boards use income guidelines to assist in determining eligibility. However, where a person's income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may be awarded if the CEO considers that the person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be issued to individual family members on this basis. Non-medical card holders, and people with conditions not covered under the LTI, can use the drugs payment scheme. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €78 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines.

Health Board Services.

Questions (133)

Pat Carey

Question:

130 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Health and Children if the practice of health board doctors carrying out assessments on children under one year to identify possible abnormalities has been discontinued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2666/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards are responsible for the provision of health services, including child health developmental checks, within their functional areas.

The information requested by the Deputy has not been provided in full by the health boards and the ERHA in the time available. This information will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as it is received.

Rail Network.

Questions (134)

Dan Boyle

Question:

131 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Transport when it is envisaged that his Department will sanction the Cork suburban rail proposals. [2621/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

Irish Rail's medium term investment programme is currently a matter of discussion between my Department and the company. The development of services within the Cork area is part of these discussions. I expect to receive specific proposals from Irish Rail on the development of these services shortly.

The Deputy will, however, be aware that Irish Rail has already commenced the operation of a commuter rail system in the Cork area, since December last, with the provision of a commuter service between Mallow and Cork, upgraded services to Cobh and improved services between Tralee/Killarney and Cork.

Garda Discipline.

Questions (135)

Joe Costello

Question:

132 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the serious public concern expressed at the claims regarding the Garda made on a television programme (details supplied) of 8 January 2004, particularly the suggestion by a retired Circuit Court judge that members of the Garda had committed perjury in his court; the steps he intends to take to end any abuses by members of the force and restore public confidence in the Garda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2583/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I have already responded in this matter to a question from Deputy Haughey on Tuesday, 27 January 2004. My position is clear. Any allegations of serious wrongdoing by members of the Garda Síochána, such as those broadcast on the Prime Time programme, are of serious concern to me. Some of these cases were previously reported and in the public domain, and either have been or may be dealt with in the courts or by the existing complaints and disciplinary mechanisms, and I will not comment on the specific details of each case.

I regard it as essential that there should be in place a mechanism for dealing with such cases which commands public confidence. In this regard I will shortly be publishing a Garda Síochána Bill, the draft scheme of which was approved by Government and published in July 2003, one of the principal aims of which will be the establishment of such a mechanism which will address the acknowledged shortcomings of the existing law and procedures in this area.

The Garda Siochána Bill will provide for the establishment of a fully independent ombudsman body which will have wide powers to investigate complaints made against members of the Garda Síochána. The new body will also be able to investigate policies and practices of the Garda Síochána, where such policies and practices may be the cause of complaint.

I am informed by the Commissioner that a senior Garda officer has been appointed to examine all matters that featured in the programme, and to report with recommendations. I will consult with the Commissioner further on this matter in due course.

Traffic Management.

Questions (136)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

133 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the promised computer system for penalty points will be in operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2139/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The gardaí are working in partnership with Fujitsu Consulting to develop and implement the fixed charge processing system, which provides for the computerisation of the Garda element of penalty points processing. It also provides for integration with the Courts Service and Department of Environment and Local Government systems.

The gardaí have indicated that the electronic system is planned to commence in Quarter 2 of 2004, initially by way of pilot, and that the full range of offences can be implemented on completion of the pilot.

Question No. 134 answered with QuestionNo. 27.

Garda Recruitment.

Questions (137)

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

135 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the last public recruitment campaign for membership of the Garda was undertaken; the number of applications received and the number of such applicants accepted for training; when the next recruitment campaign is planned and the expected intake; if his attention has been drawn to concerns expressed by some people who wish to apply, at the delay in launching another recruitment campaign; if he will look at the situation where leaving certificate students cannot apply until they have actually taken their leaving certificate and agree to accept applications subject to reaching the appropriate level in the exam; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2553/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources including personnel that the last recruitment competition for entrance to the Garda Síochána was advertised in April 2003. The Civil Service Commission administered this competition on behalf of An Garda Síochána.

The commission received a total of 6,783 applicants, all of whom sat Stage 1, which consists of three written tests. Subsequently, from the written test, a total of 2,389 applicants were placed on a panel to undergo Stage 2, which includes a written communication exercise and a competitive interview. Stage 2 is currently ongoing.

No applicants to date from the 2003 competition have been admitted to the Garda college. It is expected that the first intake from the 2003 competition will be admitted to the Garda college on 26 April 2004.

No date has been fixed for a new recruitment competition. Recruitment to the Garda Síochána is governed by the Garda Síochána (Admission and Appointments) Regulations 1988 — 2001. These are statutory regulations and Regulation 5(1) (d) precludes the commissioner from allowing a person to be admitted as a garda trainee unless the person has before the first day of September in the year in which the said advertisement was so published, obtained a grade not lower than D in at least five subjects, including Irish, English and Mathematics, in the leaving certificate examination of the Department of Education and Science or in another examination which, in the opinion of the Minister, is of a standard not lower that the standard of that examination.

There are no proposals to change this regulation.

Citizenship Applications.

Questions (138)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

136 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11; if a decision has been made on this person's application of December 2002 for naturalisation; if this person will be entitled to an Irish passport in the event of being granted naturalisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2554/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

An application for naturalisation by the person referred to by the Deputy was received in the citizenship section of my Department on 24 April 2003.

The average processing time for applications for naturalisation is approximately 15 to 18 months at this point in time. Consequently, it is likely that the application of the person concerned will be finalised in the latter half of this year. If the application is successful and the person concerned is granted a certificate of naturalisation, he will be entitled to apply for an Irish passport.

As soon as I have reached a decision on the matter I will inform both the applicant and the Deputy of the outcome.

Garda Strength.

Questions (139)

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

137 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the total membership of the Garda at the latest date for which figures are available; the progress made to date with regard to the commitment to recruit an additional 2,000 gardaí; the current annual capacity of the Garda Training College at Templemore; if he has plans to extend the college or otherwise increase training capacity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2462/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Minister has been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength of the Garda Síochána, all ranks, as at 26 January 2004 is 11,959.

In April 2002, the Government agreed to increase the approved strength of the force by 200 to 12,200. Recruitment was carried out during 2003 with a view to bringing the strength of the force to 12,200 by 31 December 2004.

The programme for Government states that the Government will complete the current expansion of the Garda Síochána and increase recruitment so that numbers will increase by a further 2,000. While it will not be possible to increase numbers beyond the approved strength of 12,200 for as long as the cap on public service numbers remains in place, I have made clear in this House, however, that as soon as budgetary circumstances permit I will progress the issue of increasing the strength of the force to 14,000 as provided for in the programme for Government for achievement by 2007. In this context I will address any training issues that may arise as a result.

The Garda College has accommodation on a weekly basis of 400 single rooms. These are utilised on a weekly basis to cater for student and course accommodation. The student Garda "living out" programme that has been developed to cater for increased numbers of Garda trainees, enables Garda students to be accommodated off campus and within the environs of Templemore and can accommodate a further 300 students per week.

A total of 690 Garda trainees were taken into the Templemore Garda College in 2003.

Juvenile Offenders.

Questions (140)

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

138 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will make a statement on the implementation to date of the juvenile justice provisions of the Children Act 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2436/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Children Act 2001 introduces a wide range of innovative measures that will provide a statutory framework for the future development of the juvenile justice system in accordance with modern thinking and best international practice. The Act also amends the Child Care Act 1991 by providing for the detention in special care units of non-offending children with challenging behaviour, establishes the Special Residential Services Board to ensure the efficient and co-ordinated delivery of services to young children in detention, and re-enacts and updates provisions in the Children Act, 1908 protecting children from abuse by persons who have the custody, charge or care of them. The Act is a very complex and comprehensive piece of legislation and, for those reasons, provisions under the Act are being implemented on a phased basis, as was envisaged at the time of enactment.

Responsibility for implementing the Children Act 2001 lies with three Departments, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Education and Science in respect of juvenile offending, and Health and Children in respect of children who are non-offending but out of control. The National Children's Office is co-ordinating the cross-departmental aspects of the implementation of the Act.

The first commencement order under the Act in respect of my Department was signed by my predecessor on 23 April 2002. The order, which came into force on 1 May 2002, provided for, inter alia: the payment of compensation by parents in respect of offences committed by their children — section 113 of the Act; a court order which would require parents to exercise proper and adequate control over their children — section 114 of the Act; the establishment of the Garda diversion programme on a statutory basis and the introduction of a “Diversion Conference” — sections 17 to 51 of the Act — based on restorative justice principles as pioneered in New Zealand. To date, in excess of 100 of these conferences have taken place country wide; and the introduction of a curfew for children found guilty of offences — section 133 of the Act. The position in relation to further commencement is as set out below.

It is an underlying concept of the Children Act to expand the options a court will have at its disposal when deciding on how to deal with a young offender. These options are an essential feature of the Act as they will allow effect to be given to the principle that detention for young offenders will be a last resort. Thus, the Act generally envisages committals to custody of young offenders being availed of only in situations where other alternative diversions and community-based options have been resorted to and have failed.

The successful implementation of the community based options in the Act will require a very significant input from the probation and welfare service. In this context, the probation and welfare service, as part of its planning for implementation of the Children Act 2001, engaged trainers from the Department of Child, Youth and Family, New Zealand for the intensive training of all professional staff as facilitators for family conferences to be convened and managed in accordance with the requirements of the Act as well as providing day seminars for all probation and welfare officers. The service will provide ongoing training through its staff development unit as required.

From September 2003 to date, 14 additional probation and welfare officers have taken up duty and a response to other offers of appointment is awaited. It is the intention that, subject to an adequate number of staff being recruited, community sanctions provided for in the Act will commence to be implemented in 2004.

Under the Children Act, I, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, will be obliged to provide separate detention facilities for 16 and 17 year old boys and girls who are committed to custody by the courts either on remand or under sentence. The provision of appropriate custodial facilities is a priority for the Prison Service. The primary objective of these detention centres will be to provide a secure but supportive environment in which young offenders can develop the personal and social skills necessary to avoid future offending.

In line with this, a new facility for male juveniles in this age group will open at St. Patrick's Institution in the near future. This unit, which was designed by a multi-disciplinary team, will include a custom-designed facility for the delivery of education, recreation, medical and therapeutic services. The longer-term provision of a dedicated facility on a greenfield site for 110 juveniles — 90 male and 20 female — is also being considered. Having considered a report by the Commissioners of Public Works and the recommendations made and having conferred with the director general of the Prison Service, I decided some time ago that the proposed development of such a facility at Newlands Villa, Naas Road, Clondalkin, Dublin 22, will not now proceed. The identification of another site for the proposed juvenile detention facility is now being pursued in consultation with the director general of the Irish Prison Service and the Office of Public Works.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (141)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

139 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he intends to take to improve human rights here after Amnesty's report, Human Rights Begin at Home, in which Ireland was condemned for misconduct by the police and the violation of rights carried out by prison authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2597/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The recently published Amnesty International report refers to general EU human rights policy and contains proposals with regard to human rights issues both within the EU states and worldwide in the context of the Irish and Dutch Presidencies of the EU Council during 2004.

In so far as the report deals with the area of justice and home affairs, for example, judicial co-operation, the European arrest warrant, police co-operation, racism and discrimination, a common European asylum system, immigration and borders, violence against women and human trafficking, the views of Amnesty International as set out in the report have been noted. Other aspects in the report are matters for the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Question No. 140 answered with QuestionNo. 25.

Crime Levels.

Questions (142)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

141 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will make a statement regarding the bank raids that took place on 16 January 2004 at banks in Blackrock, County Dublin, in close proximity to the Garda station; and his views on the Garda response. [2599/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am informed by the Garda authorities that on the afternoon of 16 January 2004, the National Irish Bank in Blackrock was raided by two males, resulting in the theft of a sum of money. I am further informed that on the same afternoon two raiders entered the adjacent Allied Irish Bank and made their escape with a sum of money. I am informed that gardaí were on the scene within a few minutes and that both these crimes are under active investigation.

The Deputy will be aware that Blackrock Garda station is now situated at the junction of the Blackrock bypass and Sweetmans Avenue while the two institutions involved are situated at the top of the Main Street on Rock Hill approximately a quarter of a mile distant from the Garda station. The investigation of these crimes is an operational matter for the gardaí and I am sure the Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this stage.

Question No. 142 answered with QuestionNo. 6.

Asylum Applications.

Questions (143)

Dan Boyle

Question:

143 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if a final decision on their status is likely to be made soon. [2620/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The person in question entered the State on 15 November 2001 and claimed asylum. The Refugee Applications Commissioner recommended that his claim be refused and he was informed of this recommendation on 1 August 2002. He appealed this recommendation on 23 August 2002. The Refugee Appeals Tribunal affirmed the recommendation and he was informed of this decision on 21 November 2002.

In accordance with section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999, he was informed on 14 April 2003 that it was proposed to make a deportation order in respect of him and was given the following options: to make written representations within 15 working days to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform setting out reasons he should be allowed to remain in the State or to voluntarily leave the State or to consent to deportation. An application for leave to remain was received from the person's legal representatives on 8 May 2003. I expect the case file to be submitted to me for consideration shortly.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Questions (144)

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

144 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if there is a scheme available for community groups towards closed circuit television; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2623/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

It is not, understandably, possible for the Garda Síochána to install CCTV systems in all areas that have sought them. Some applications for CCTV systems received by the CCTV advisory committee, established by the Garda Commissioner to advise on all matters regarding CCTV systems, relate to relatively small schemes which, while of importance to the local community, cannot be regarded as a national Garda priority.

To this end, a grant-aid scheme has been launched to facilitate community based groups which wish to install their own local CCTV system. Grant assistance of up to €100,000 will, subject to the availability of funds, be obtainable from the Department towards the cost of such schemes. It will be up to the community groups, in conjunction with the relevant local authority to install, maintain and monitor the community based CCTV schemes.

The following are some of the conditions required to be met before an application for funding can be considered. Approval for grant assistance to individual CCTV schemes will depend on the availability of funds. All valid applications received will not be automatically entitled to grant aid. Awards will be at the discretion of the Department, subject to the availability of funds and the number of valid applications received. It is not possible to determine the actual level of funding that will be available for grant assistance under this scheme. The 2004 CCTV budget amounts to just over €4 million and includes expenditure in relation to maintenance of current Garda schemes as well as the implementation of current and planned schemes.

The Department has received a significant number of expressions of interest — in excess of 200 — in the community based CCTV scheme. An application prospectus has been prepared by the Department which provides information on how to apply for grant-aid funding, outlines the application process and identifies the main issues that applicants will need to consider. Copies of this prospectus are available on request from the Department's Garda administration division.

A code of practice, drawn up in co-operation with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner, and detailed technical specifications, drawn up by the Garda Síochána, are almost complete. When both the code of practice and the technical specifications have been finalised, the Department will issue copies of same to all communities which expressed an interest in the community based CCTV scheme and any applications subsequently received will be evaluated and processed. It is anticipated that the technical specifications and the code of practice will be finalised early this year.

Crime Levels.

Questions (145)

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

145 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of aggravated robberies which have taken place in a district (details supplied) in County Donegal during the six months to 23 January 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2624/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am informed by the Garda authorities that there is no offence categorised as aggravated robbery. I assume the Deputy is referring to robberies of an establishment-institution of which there were three in the Garda district referred to by the Deputy during the six month period ending 23 January 2004. These incidents are still under Garda investigation. As I am sure the Deputy will appreciate the investigation of these incidents is an operational matter for the gardaí and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

Crime Prevention.

Questions (146)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

146 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of incidences in which intimidation of witnesses has occurred in the past 12 months; the action or actions taken arising therefrom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2632/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I have had inquiries made with the Garda authorities and the information sought by the Deputy is outlined in the following table.

Intimidation of witnesses 2003.

Convictions Obtained

3

Cases before the Courts

6

Awaiting direction from DPP

3

No proceedings directed by DPP

2

Files being prepared for DPP

1

Non co-operation by Injured Party

3

Complaint withdrawn in Court.

1

Still under investigation

3

Total Incidents reported to Gardaí

22

Crime Levels.

Questions (147)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

147 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of killings, non-fatal shootings, beatings or stabbings which have been recorded as being attributable to the activities of organised criminals throughout the country in the past 12 months; if those involved have been charged in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2633/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the crime statistics are not compiled in such a manner as to provide the information sought by the Deputy. The crime recording system does not distinguish between offences which are attributable to the activities of organised criminals and those which are not.

Garda Deployment.

Questions (148)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

148 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the degree to which sufficient patrol cars are available to meet requirements in the constituency of Dublin north west; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2634/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I have been informed by the Garda authorities which are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources that Garda management is satisfied that there are sufficient patrol cars supplied to both Dublin metropolitan region, north and Dublin metropolitan region, west. There are 159 vehicles of various types, including motorcycles, currently allocated to these two DMR divisions.

Crime Prevention.

Questions (149, 150)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

149 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of organised crime bosses or organisations that have ceased or have been put out of business in the greater Dublin area in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2635/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

157 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the principals of all known criminal organisations operating throughout the country have been questioned or arrested in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2645/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 and 157 together.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the number of organised criminal groups is determined each year using the European Union definition of organised crime to compile the EU Situation Report on Organised Crime. The most recently completed situation report identified 17 major organised crime groups in this country. Approximately half of these groups operate in Dublin but the Deputy will appreciate that the position in relation to gangland activity including the composition of various groups does not remain static.

The Garda authorities have further informed me in relation to the activities of the Criminal Assets Bureau and the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation that it is not the practice or policy to comment on particular operations carried out by these and other national units.

However, the Deputy will be aware that these units continue to target successfully the activities of criminals, including those who may be affiliated to organised crime groups. For example, I am informed by the Garda authorities that they can indicate that more than a dozen organised crime groups were investigated in 2002. The Garda Síochána arrest and charge individuals in accordance with the law but do not categorise such arrests by reference to so-called "gangland" activity.

Garda Deployment.

Questions (151)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

150 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the extent to which Garda strength has been increased in each of the stations throughout County Kildare since June 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2636/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I have been informed by the Garda authorities which are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel that the personnel strength — all ranks — of each Garda station in County Kildare as at June 2002 and currently is as set out hereunder:

Station

June 2002

26/Jan/2004

Naas

80

80

Clane

5

6

Kill

3

3

Celbridge

19

19

Maynooth

14

15

Kildare

29

27

Newbridge

29

29

Robertstown

3

2

Kilcullen

3

3

Carbury

2

2

Monasterevin

3

3

Rathangan

3

3

Athy

18

16

Castledermot

1

2

Ballytore

1

1

Ballymore Eustace

1

1

Station

June 2002

26 Jan 2002

Leixlip

19

26

Kilcock

6

5

Total

239

243

Garda Stations.

Questions (152)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

151 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in regard to the proposed new Garda station at Leixlip, County Kildare; and when it is expected that the station will become operational. [2637/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 910 on Tuesday, 27 January 2004, which set out the position in relation to this matter. Accordingly, I am not in a position to say when the station will become operational.

Missing Persons.

Questions (153)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

152 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of persons currently listed as missing; if this number has increased or decreased in recent times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2639/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I regret that it has not been possible in the time available to compile the information requested by the Deputy. I will contact the Deputy again when the information is to hand.

Crime Prevention.

Questions (154)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

153 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the new measures he has taken to combat the activities of drug barons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2640/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am informed by the Garda authorities that they have initiated a number of strategies designed to address the issue of organised criminal networks involved in criminal activities, including drug trafficking. These measures include generic strategies utilised on an ongoing basis as well as new measures formulated in response to emerging issues and trends.

In general terms, the Garda Síochána addresses the issues of drug trafficking through the following measures: conducting intelligence driven operations against criminal networks involved in drug distribution at both a national and international level; undermining the structures and systems which support this activity; and depriving criminal organisations of the proceeds arising from drug trafficking and related activities.

The Garda national drugs unit, operating under national support services, has the primary responsibility for addressing national and international drug trafficking. This responsibility is discharged in co-operation with other enforcement agencies, most notably the Revenue service, as well as other national units and district and divisional drug units.

Current strategies designed to address the present situation concerning drug distribution are outlined in the recently published annual policing plan 2004. This document sets out fourteen strategic goals and eight policing priorities. The policing priorities include strategies specifically designed to address both organised crime and drug distribution. Strategic goal two specifically relates to drug misuse and includes the following elements: co-ordination of district policing plans; continued implementation of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008; inter-agency co-operation; information dissemination on substance misuse and related items; and support to both local and regional drug task forces.

In regard to the measures which I will bring forward to enhance the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences, including drugs offences, I refer the Deputy to my address of 9 December 2003 to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights where I addressed the issue in some detail, with particular reference to the activities of criminal gangs. I will be happy to make a copy of this address available to the Deputy if he so wishes.

Courts Service.

Questions (155)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

154 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will provide sufficient funding to the Courts Service to facilitate the refurbishment and replacement of various courthouses throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2641/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

Under the Courts Service Act 1998, the Courts Service, which is responsible for the day to day management of the courts, is independent in the performance of its functions. I am responsible for ensuring that the service is adequately funded and, in this regard, €97.49 million is provided in 2004.

Having regard to the statutory independence of the Courts Service, the Deputy will appreciate that it is a matter for the service to decide how the funding provided is specifically allocated. The funding provided allows the Courts Service to progress the implementation of its strategic plans and policies and I am confident that the level of funding provided is adequate, not only to maintain existing levels of service, but also to provide for improvements in services and in court accommodation.

Deportation Orders.

Questions (156)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

155 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if information is available regarding the welfare or whereabouts of non-nationals deported from this country who might be deemed to be at risk in their homeland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2642/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

At the outset, it should be stated that the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is obliged to consider the issue of risk to a person before, not after, a deportation order issues in respect of that person. There are legislative and procedural safeguards to ensure that persons are not returned to countries where they are at risk.

The Immigration Act 1999 sets out the procedures involved in deporting a person. Where the Minister proposes to deport a person he or she is given the options of making representations within 15 working days setting out the reasons they should not be deported, that is, be allowed to remain temporarily in the State, leaving the State before the order was made, or consenting to the making of deportation orders.

Where representations are made setting out reasons a person should not be deported, the Minister is obliged to consider of number of factors as specified in section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended. These factors include considerations relating to the common good, the person's individual family and domestic circumstances and humanitarian considerations. Moreover, the Minister is also obliged to consider the prohibition on refoulement which is contained in section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996, as amended. This means that a person shall not be expelled from the State or returned in any manner whatsoever to a State where, in the Minister's opinion, the life or freedom of that person would be threatened on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Crime Levels.

Questions (157)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

156 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of instances in respect of which offences were committed by persons while either on bail or on temporary or early release from prison; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2644/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The precise information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. The compilation of these statistics would require a disproportionate and inordinate amount of staff time and effort to prepare and could not be justified in current circumstances where there are other significant demands on resources.

Question No. 157 answered with QuestionNo. 149.

Garda Deployment.

Questions (158)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

158 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of extra gardaí now available for duty in each of the Dublin divisions as compared with the numbers in June 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2646/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I have been informed by the Garda authorities which are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength — all ranks — of each division in the Dublin metropolitan region as at June 2002 and currently is as set out hereunder:

Division

June 2002

26 January 2004

D.M.R. North Central

578

634

D.M.R. South Central

638

679

D.M.R. North

614

575

D.M.R. South

524

535

D.M.R. East

545

518

D.M.R. West

617

624

Total

3,516

3,565

Crime Prevention.

Questions (159)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

159 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he has taken to combat the menace of crime, organised or otherwise, in Dublin and throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2647/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I am informed by the Garda Síochána that its strategy to tackle organised crime involves the utilisation of specialised national units dedicated to the investigation-detection of such types of crime. These units are the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Garda National Drugs Unit, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the Criminal Assets Bureau and the Garda National Immigration Bureau, all of which operate under the control and direction of an Assistant Commissioner in charge of national support services.

These units investigate every aspect of organised crime and in conjunction with the special detective unit are constantly involved in operations to interrupt the flow of firearms to criminal groupings. On this latter issue, I should add that I am currently undertaking a review of firearms control policy with the intention of introducing legislation in this area. The security of weapons held legitimately by individuals or dealers will be central to this review.

The Garda Síochána in general, and specifically all national units, work together in common cause in the investigation of serious and organised crime in accordance with the strategic goals of the Garda Síochána. Measures taken to combat crime, in general, include: CCTV systems which have proved to be a very effective deterrent; Garda youth diversion projects that adopt a multi-agency partnership approach to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour at community level; and a new city centre policing initiative was launched on 9 June 2003 by the Assistant Garda Commissioner for the Dublin metropolitan region. This initiative provides high visibility policing presence in specific target areas in the north and south inner city centre areas. It targets issues of concern such as public order, assaults, street theft, shoplifting, addicts, beggars and general vagrancy.

The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2002 gives significant additional powers when dealing with drunken disorder. All sections of the Intoxicating Liquor Act came into operation in 2003.

Criminal Legal Aid.

Questions (160)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

160 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the total cost of free legal aid provided in criminal cases in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2648/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The cost of criminal legal aid between 1999 and 2003 is set out below.

€million

1999

22.45

2000

25.11

2001

25.19

2002

28.88

2003

37.35

Prison Closures.

Questions (161)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

161 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of prison places likely to be lost in the course of the closure of the Curragh and Spike Island prisons; the way in which it is intended to make up this loss; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2649/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I refer the Deputy to my answer to Question No. 16 today where I indicated that the net loss of accommodation following the closures and the opening of new facilities in the Midlands and Limerick Prisons will be of the order of 25 spaces. I will reiterate that the closures have been forced upon the Prison Service because of the failure to reach agreement on reforming prison work practices. If we can resolve these fundamental difficulties, then the opportunity is there to transform the prison estate.

Prison Accommodation.

Questions (162)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

162 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the optimum number of prison places required over the foreseeable future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2650/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

It is difficult to predict precisely the number of spaces which we will need in the future. A number of factors will impact on the demand side, including the level of crime and the number and duration of sentences imposed by our courts. There are also underlying socio-economic factors and population trends which may ultimately have an influence on crime and imprisonment.

The issue of future prison capacity is currently being addressed. The Government is committed in its agreed programme to continue with the modernisation of prisons and to the provision of sufficient places. A review of prison space requirements and a new capital building programme to meet the requirements for the next ten to 15 years is underway. I hope to bring these proposals to Government in the near future.

Some requirements are already clear. Additional accommodation will be required for female prisoners. There is also an urgent acknowledged need to refurbish older facilities to provide both better accommodation and to reduce the usage of multiple occupancy cells.

Prisons Building Programme.

Questions (163)

Joan Burton

Question:

163 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the location, with regard to his comments that he wishes to see Mountjoy Prison razed to the ground, at which he proposes to replace same; the timescale for the replacement of Mountjoy Prison; and if the likely replacement site is the site of the proposed national stadium at Abbotstown in Dublin 15. [2672/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I agree with the views expressed by the Inspector of Prisons and Places of Detention and the Prisons Authority Interim Board that there is a need to replace the accommodation and facilities at Mountjoy Prison as soon as possible.

There are two possible options in regard to the replacement of the outdated accommodation at Mountjoy Prison. The first option is to redevelop the prison on the existing site involving the demolition and reconstruction of existing buildings. The second option is to relocate the prison to a greenfield site. My preference, as I have recently indicated, is for the relocation of Mountjoy Prison to a new site and I intend to bring this proposal to Government in the next week or so. I should add that at this juncture, no alternative site has been identified.

Planning Issues.

Questions (164)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

164 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he intends to change the planning regulations in relation to one-off housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2587/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Overall Government policy on one-off rural housing is set out in the national spatial strategy, NSS, which was published in November 2002. The rural settlement policy framework contained in the NSS aims to sustain and renew established rural communities, while strengthening the structure of villages and smaller settlements to support local economies, ensuring that key assets in rural areas are protected to support quality of life and ensuring also that rural settlement policies are responsive to the differing local circumstances in different areas.

It is vitally important that there is certainty and consistency in the implementation by planning authorities of Government policy in this matter through their own development plans and in the operation of the development control system under planning legislation. This is the purpose of the guidelines under the Planning and Development Act which I intend to bring forward to deal with this issue. These are at an advanced stage of preparation and I hope to issue them as soon as possible.

Local Authority Funding.

Questions (165)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

165 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the funding his Department has provided to Dublin City Council in each of the past three years for extensions to their existing housing stock; the number of extensions in each of these years that this represents; if he has had discussions since taking office with the city council regarding the level of unmet need in this category; the outcome of these discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2604/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Information requested on funding is set out in the following table:

Year

Amount

2001

2,315,800

2002

845,400

2003

3,275,700

Information in relation to activity under the extension provision scheme for each local authority is published is my Department's quarterly and annual housing statistics bulletin, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library.

Local authorities, including Dublin City Council, have delegated authority to provide extensions under the scheme at a cost of up to €75,000 without the prior approval of my Department. It is a matter for Dublin City Council to determine the eligibility of individual applicants, and to determine the level of the annual programme under the scheme.

Departmental Appointments.

Questions (166)

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

166 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when a vacancy (details supplied) in County Donegal will be filled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2605/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

An overall country-wide package of measures involving the reorganisation of the national parks and wildlife service of my Department is being implemented following agreement with the main trade union involved last year. In this context, arrangements are in hands for the recruitment of additional conservation rangers through the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners. Provision for specific conservation ranger coverage of the area in question will be made within the revised overall organisational arrangements.

Age Restrictions.

Questions (167)

Dan Boyle

Question:

167 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason job advertisements for the position of part-time tour guides within the heritage service have age restrictions, and whether this is in compliance with existing legislation. [2614/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer to the reply to Question No. 492 of 11 November 2003 which confirmed that advertised age restrictions are consistent with current legislation. The Government recently announced that it proposes to introduce legislation which will amend current age restrictions on the recruitment and retirement of civil servants with effect from 1 April 2004.

Local Government Elections.

Questions (168)

Dan Boyle

Question:

168 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason new town councils for Ballincollig and Carrigaline cannot be established in time for local government elections in 2004. [2615/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The development of a proposal for the establishment of a new town council is a matter for the local community in the first instance and thereafter a decision on whether to proceed further with such a proposal is a reserved function of the relevant county council, following a public consultation process. Part 17 of the Local Government Act 2001 allows for the first elections to such town councils to proceed independently of the normal local election cycle. I hope to be in a position to commence these and other relevant provisions of the Act during the course of the year.

Local Audit Committees.

Questions (169)

Dan Boyle

Question:

169 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of local authorities which have established local public account committees as permitted under recent local government legislation. [2616/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

The establishment of local audit committees is a matter for consideration by each individual local authority following the commencement of section 122 of the Local Government Act 2001 on 14 November 2002. As yet my Department has not compiled detailed information regarding the establishment of these committees by local authorities.

Waste Water Disposal.

Questions (170)

Dan Boyle

Question:

170 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department encourages or discourages the use of septic tanks for household waste water treatment; and the number of households which continue to use this form of treatment. [2617/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

In issuing standards for on-site waste water treatment systems, the Department seeks to ensure the use of an appropriate system in each case, rather than the use of one method of waste water disposal over another. In a circular letter of 31 July 2003 on groundwater protection and the planning system, the Department also directed local authorities attention to the need for more information within development plans on the location and potential vulnerability of groundwater resources and for clear policies on how development in different areas will be approached based on the available information.

Local authorities were also requested to ensure that effective regimes for the proper assessment of site conditions as well as the design, installation and maintenance of on-site wastewater treatment and disposal facilities are put in place, as well as appropriate monitoring and enforcement mechanisms that ensure that those which carry out approved development meet their obligations to adhere to the terms of planning permissions.

The Department in its circular letter to each planning authority on 8 January 1992 issued the current standard for the use of septic tanks for household waste and water treatment as set out in recommendation SR6, 1991, which was drawn up by the National Standards Authority of Ireland.

The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, has published a draft manual on treatment systems for single houses in 2000 which was designed to help planning authorities, builders and others to deal with the complexities of on-site systems, including packaged systems. I understand that the EPA is currently reviewing the draft manual in the light of comments received from interested parties. My intention is to call up the revised EPA manual, when available, in technical guidance document H — drainage and waste water disposal — on the national building regulations. I also understand that the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, intends, at that stage, to withdraw SR6, 1991 in favour of the revised manual.

Planning Issues.

Questions (171)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

171 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if it is intended to retain or to alter the retail planning guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2626/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I refer the Deputy to the reply to Questions Nos. 919 and 999 of 27 January 2004.

Restoration Project.

Questions (172)

Michael Ring

Question:

172 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the consideration which has been given to the restoration of Moorehall, Lough Canna, County Mayo, following the report commissioned into its structural condition; the funding which has been provided for it; the report's recommendations which have been taken on board by his Department; and the position in relation to the Moorehall project. [2631/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Moorehall is in the ownership of Coillte Teoranta. Any development proposals for the property are a matter, in the first instance, for determination by Coillte. Following a structural report on the property in 2001, commissioned by the former Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, it was estimated the full restoration of the house would cost in excess of £5 million. The purpose of that report was to assist a local community group in the preparation of a business plan for the property. It is not envisaged that my Department should provide funding for the development of this project.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Questions (173, 174, 175, 176)

Michael Ring

Question:

173 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason unemployment assistance to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo was stopped; and if it will be restored immediately. [2574/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

The person concerned was in receipt of unemployment assistance from 29 September 1999. In the course of a review of his entitlements, it came to light that the person concerned is engaged in self-employment. He was requested to provide details of his earnings, but failed to do so. His unemployment assistance payments were, therefore, suspended and his claim was subsequently closed with effect from 12 December 2003. He was informed of this by letter and advised that he could make another claim at any time.

Following receipt of correspondence from the person concerned, an appointment was arranged for him with a social welfare inspector on 12 January 2004 to discuss his entitlements. The person concerned failed to attend. If the person concerned makes a new claim, details of his income, as requested by the inspector, will be required. The question of backdating his claim to the date on which his payments were suspended can be considered at that stage.

Michael Ring

Question:

174 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo did not receive the Christmas bonus 2003 or the fuel allowance for 2003/2004. [2590/04]

View answer

The Christmas bonus and the free fuel allowance are payable to persons in receipt of pensions and long-term payments only. The person concerned was in receipt of disability benefit which is a short-term payment and did not qualify for either payment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

175 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if an exceptional needs supplementary payment can be made in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare who has special needs in regard to heating requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2653/04]

View answer

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered by the health boards provides for a single payment to help meet essential, once-off, exceptional expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her weekly income. These payments are made at the discretion of the health boards and neither I nor my Department have any function in deciding individual cases.

The South Western Area Health Board was contacted on behalf of the individual concerned and has advised that an exceptional needs payment to the value of €200 issued in October 2003 in respect of assistance with heating costs. A recent application for another payment to further assist with heating costs was refused. The health board is satisfied that the level of assistance already provided is appropriate to the circumstances of the case. The individual in question has been informed of her right to appeal against this decision.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

176 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if rent allowance can be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in view of the fact that they are unemployed and unable to meet rent repayments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2654/04]

View answer

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation needs.

The South Western Area Health Board was contacted and has advised that there is no record of an application for rent supplement from the individual in question. If he wishes to make an application for rent supplement he should contact the community welfare officer at his local health centre so that an assessment of his circumstances can be carried out in order to determine whether or not he has an entitlement to a rent supplement under the terms of the supplementary allowance scheme.