Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (24)

Denis Naughten

Question:

164 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the political situation in Burundi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25226/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Despite difficulties, there has overall been significant political progress in Burundi since the signing of the Arusha peace accord in August 2000. That accord provided for a three year transition period to end on 31 October 2004 by which time national elections were due to be held. However, this three-year transition period is likely to be extended due to disagreements on the new draft constitution and the power sharing arrangements which were to be operative in the post-transition period.

The position is that an agreement on power sharing for the post-transition period was concluded in Pretoria on 6 August 2004 and endorsed by a regional summit. While it is accepted by 20 of Burundi's political parties, the remaining ten, predominantly Tutsi, parties reject it. These Tutsi parties also object to certain provisions of the draft constitution. They and the Tutsi vice-president began a boycott of Government meetings on 3 September.

In the event, the draft constitution was approved by the national assembly on 18 September, but 60 Tutsi members of the assembly boycotted the proceedings. A referendum to approve the constitution is planned for November, which will be observed by the EU.

Preparations for the holding of elections are also proceeding assisted by the UN mission in Burundi, ONUB. Local and legislative elections are now planned for March 2005 followed by presidential elections in April 2005. The European Union is committed to supporting the electoral process in Burundi, including through the provision of financial assistance and is expected to send an observation mission.

Only one, mainly Hutu, armed group, the FNL, remains outside the peace process. Its position has become increasingly marginalised following a massacre at Gatumba refugee camp on 13 August 2004 when 160 Congolese Banyamulenge — Tutsi — refugees were murdered. An investigation into the massacre, which was claimed by the FNL, is being conducted by the United Nations. Tensions between Burundi and the DRC rose following the massacre and border crossings on both sides were closed temporarily.

Following the massacre, countries in the region declared the FNL a terrorist organisation and requested the UN and African Union to take appropriate action against it. Burundi has in addition issued international arrest warrants for the FNL leaders. The FNL continues to mount military operations in the Bujumbura Rurale area which result in widespread casualties and destruction of property. The EU has consistently called for a comprehensive ceasefire and has urged the FNL to abandon its military campaign and commit fully to the peace process.

Ireland, as EU Presidency, remained very closely engaged with the Burundian peace process. In April 2004, my predecessor met the President and the Foreign Minister during a visit to Burundi, and again met the President in September at the United Nations. During these meetings, the Minister reiterated Ireland's and the EU's full support for the current peace efforts and willingness to extend whatever assistance we can to further this process. He also urged progress in implementing all the provisions of the Arusha peace accord, including those relating to tackling impunity and safeguarding human rights. He urged Burundi to ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court, since this would offer an assurance of justice to all those who have suffered human rights abuses during the latter years of the conflict. The President responded that his Government is considering ratification.

It is critically important that over the coming months, all sides in Burundi refrain from any actions that might create tension or lead to violence, proceed swiftly with the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration and bring about a rapid end to hostilities.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (25, 26, 27, 28)

Enda Kenny

Question:

165 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the undertaking given in 2000 to allocate 0.7% of GNP to overseas aid by 2007; when this target will be reached; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25229/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

203 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he expects to increase overseas development aid in the coming year with particular reference to the drawing up of the Estimates for 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25276/04]

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Brendan Howlin

Question:

230 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to recent comments, that the 0.7% target of GNP for ODA will not be reached as planned by 2007 despite the commitments to achieving this target in speeches made to various international gatherings since the UN Millennium Summit, New York, 2004; the reasons for this U-turn; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25300/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

362 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is intended to increase overseas development aid in line with commitments given previously; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25524/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 165, 203, 230 and 362 together.

I refer the Deputies to my answers to Questions Nos. 156, 157 and 158.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35)

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

166 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the outcome of the meeting convened on 6 August 2004 with key Irish and international humanitarian agencies working in Darfur, Sudan; the challenges that remain in delivering aid to the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25303/04]

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John Gormley

Question:

173 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the widening of the mandate of African Union peacekeeping forces in Darfur to allow them to ensure the safety of civilians as a priority and the delivery of badly needed aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25356/04]

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Eamon Ryan

Question:

194 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government has made recent initiatives in terms of the ongoing crisis in Sudan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25354/04]

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Pat Breen

Question:

198 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts being made to stem violence in Sudan; the level of Irish aid being allocated to humanitarian relief in the Sudan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25209/04]

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Joan Burton

Question:

214 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the initiatives which the Government, at Irish or European Union level, has had to deal with the crisis in Darfur. [25286/04]

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Liz McManus

Question:

235 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the visit of the Minister of State to Darfur, Sudan, in July 2004; the organisations the Irish delegation met during the visit, and the efforts that the Government has made since to highlight the situation in Darfur internationally. [25304/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

365 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress that has been made in dealing with the ongoing strife and starvation in the Darfur region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25527/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 166, 173, 194, 198, 214, 235 and 365 together.

The crisis in Darfur is at the top of the agenda for Ireland, the European Union and, as we heard from Secretary General, Kofi Annan, last week, the United Nations. The immediate priority is to address the vulnerability of those at greatest risk. They need security and humanitarian assistance. One without the other is not enough.

Considerable progress has been made in addressing the need for humanitarian aid, but more needs to be done. There are still areas where food supplies are not getting through. Reports of malnourishment persist. The loss of the planting season means that the reliance on external assistance will not improve for the next 12 months. The UN world food programme has provided food to about 1.3 million people in September. These are enormous needs, especially in the rainy season and in an insecure environment.

The international community has responded generously. Irish NGOs, supported by the Government and the private donations of the Irish people, have played a noteworthy part in this effort. For its part, the Government has provided almost €10 million in funding to Sudan in 2004. Sudan is the largest recipient of Ireland's emergency and recovery aid programmes. Some €6 million has been provided in emergency life saving assistance to meet the immediate needs of some of the most vulnerable populations in Darfur. However, as Kofi Annan has reminded us, more is required. Ireland will not be found wanting in the face of this appeal.

On the security front, conditions have improved, but not by nearly enough. Communities continue to live in fear of attack, particularly women and girls who are preyed upon by armed militias. Unfortunately, the current insecurity in Darfur derives from a military conflict between the Sudanese Government and local rebel groups. While separate from the larger conflict which has crippled Sudan for decades, the Darfur conflict also runs along the fault line between Arab and Islamic Africa and sub-Saharan Christian or animist Africa. An end to the present crisis requires not only an immediate humanitarian and security response, but a settlement of the political conflict in Darfur. Without peace there can be no long-term security.

The United Nations has given the African Union the lead role in terms of military intervention by the international community. The African Union, an organisation which embodies the determination of Africans to meet the challenges facing their continent, has sought this lead role. It looks to the international community for support, but it is determined to lead. It has rejected any foreign intervention by any country in what it regards as a purely African issue.

The African Union is active through both its ceasefire monitoring mission and its mediation of the peace talks between the government and the rebels in Abuja. Ireland and the EU welcome the AU's plans to strengthen its mandate and substantially expand the size of its mission in Darfur to about 4,500 troops by the end of next month. The EU has already provided substantial support to the existing mission, including an allocation of €12 million from the African peace facility established under the Irish Presidency. The EU is also contributing a number of observers to the mission, including an officer from the Irish Defence Forces. The EU has recently reaffirmed its commitment to assist the AU with the planning and implementation of this expanded mission and is examining ways in which to do so.

It is hoped that this expanded mission can help to improve the security situation on the ground and to create suitable conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons. However, the area covered is so vast that no such mission can hope to provide blanket security. The Sudanese Government must continue to bear primary responsibility for security and the protection of its own citizens. The international community must therefore continue to maintain pressure on the Sudanese Government to meet its obligations and support all efforts to put an end to the conflict between the Government and local rebel groups.

For its part, the Irish Government has been active both in the European Union and at the United Nations in seeking to address the situation in Darfur. As regards the UN, we have been vocal in pressing for action by the Security Council. We welcome the adoption of Resolution 1564 and the fact that sanctions have been signalled as an option if the Sudanese Government fails to meet its obligations under that resolution.

The Government particularly welcomes the Secretary General's decision, taken at the request of the Security Council, to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur and determine whether acts of genocide have occurred. Ireland is ready to co-operate fully with the commission and hopes that it will complete its work as soon as possible.

Darfur was discussed at last week's meetings in Dublin with Secretary General Annan, who, in particular, highlighted the need for the wider international community to assist the efforts of the AU. Last month, my predecessor made a forceful intervention on Darfur in his address to the General Assembly. He appealed to the international community to support the humanitarian effort. He criticised the Sudanese Government for its failure to protect its citizens and demanded that it disarm the Janjaweed. He also expressed frustration at the failure of some members of the Security Council to support Resolution 1564 and urged that the Security Council unite behind the implementation of that resolution. While in New York, the Minister met the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, and urged him to ensure that the Sudanese Government meet the obligations imposed upon it by the Security Council.

In the EU, Ireland has been active on Darfur, both during our Presidency and since. The External Relations Council reviews the situation at every meeting and continues to speak out strongly. At its meeting on 11 October 2004, the Council warned that if no tangible progress is achieved, the EU will take appropriate measures, including sanctions, against the government of Sudan and all other appropriate parties, in accordance with Security Council Resolutions 1556 and 1564. On 13 October, an EU ministerial Troika mission visited Sudan to stress to the Government the need for further concrete progress in protecting civilians, neutralising and disarming the Janjaweed, fostering progress in the peace talks and bringing to justice perpetrators of human rights violations and crimes against civilians.

The former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, visited Sudan, including Darfur, in July. He used the visit to view the situation at first hand. He met and spoke to humanitarian workers from NGOs and UN agencies, including the many Irish working for NGOs such as GOAL, Concern and Trócaire and the UN agencies, to whom I pay tribute. The Minister of State also met members of the African Union's ceasefire monitoring mission and the Sudanese authorities, including Foreign Minister Osman. Among the points he stressed to the latter were the need for free and unrestricted access for humanitarian workers, the removal of other bureaucratic barriers to effective emergency action and the disarming of the Janjaweed militia.

On 6 August, as part of our ongoing dialogue with the NGO community on the Darfur crisis, the former Minister of State met Irish NGOs operating in Darfur. This meeting provided a valuable opportunity to brief our NGO partners on the Government's actions and allowed the NGOs to highlight the ongoing challenges they face and to update the Government on developments on the ground. We remain in ongoing contact with NGOs partners on developments in Darfur.

Ireland's ambassador to Sudan, who is resident in Egypt, visited Darfur last month. He met representatives of the Sudanese authorities, EU partners and Irish NGOs. He also received updates from representatives of the UN, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Another team from my Department will visit Darfur towards the end of November. It will carry out a fresh appraisal of needs in order to ascertain the best way to complement and add value to the ongoing humanitarian effort. Based on this assessment and contacts with NGO partners, I will be able to determine the best way to deliver additional assistance.

Resolution of the Darfur crisis will remain an absolute priority for the Government. Sudan has suffered terribly from war. There are great hopes that the wider peace process between the north and south may come to a successful conclusion. Preparations are under way for a major programme of recovery and reconstruction if the peace process is completed. However, the Darfur conflict must also be brought to an end. Deputies should rest assured that the Government will be to the fore in efforts to assist not just Dafur, but Sudan as a whole, both now and into the future.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (36, 37)

Paul McGrath

Question:

167 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political situation in Chechnya; the level of support being given by the Government in the aftermath of the Beslan school siege; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25235/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I reiterate the Government's condemnation of the horrific events in Beslan last month. The hostage-takers clearly had no regard for human life and their callous actions served no purpose other than to bring death, fear and harrowing grief to the people of Beslan and Russia.

The Government responded promptly by providing support for humanitarian efforts in Beslan. On 6 September, the Government announced funding of €100,000 in response to the International Federation of the Red Cross appeal to assist families affected by the tragedy. On 14 September, following a meeting between the former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and the Secretary General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Government announced further funding of €100,000 for the IFRC effort. Ireland's support includes trauma counselling assistance for the victims of the siege.

I would also like to recognise the extraordinary response of the ordinary Irish people, including many children, who signed the book of condolence at the Russian Embassy and who, together with many others, contributed generously to supporting the victims of this atrocity.

With respect to the situation in Chechnya, the Russian authorities have made a concerted effort over the past 18 months to build the basis of a new political system there. This policy has included the adoption by referendum of a new Chechen constitution in March 2003 and a presidential election in the republic in October 2003. An extraordinary presidential election was held on 29 August following the assassination of President Kadyrov in a bomb attack in May this year. Following the election of Mr. Alu Alkhanov as President of Chechnya, the European Union expressed the hope that the new president and Russian authorities would make efforts to start a process leading to a genuine political settlement, based on dialogue, reconciliation, respect for human rights and a restoration of the rule of law.

Regrettably, it is clear that the security situation in Chechnya remains very serious and that the civilian population continue to suffer enormously as a result of the conflict. We continue to receive credible reports of human rights abuses against Chechen civilians by both rebels and Russian security forces. These incidents can only hinder prospects for long-term peace and reconciliation.

Ireland and the European Union recognise the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. We condemn the actions of the terrorist groups. We acknowledge the right and responsibility of the Russian Government to oppose terrorism and crime and to protect its citizens. However, the EU has consistently stated that the fight against terrorism, in the Russian Federation as elsewhere, must be conducted in accordance with internationally accepted human rights standards.

I assure the Deputy that I will continue our work for the promotion of human rights in Russia and to encourage a peaceful solution in Chechnya in the overall context of developing positive Irish and EU relations with Russia.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

168 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Kosovo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25214/04]

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Elections for a new Kosovo assembly will be held on 23 October. Preparations for the elections have been difficult due to the reluctance of Kosovo Serb parties to participate on the grounds that their security has not been fully assured. The most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council welcomed the statement by President Boris Tadic of Serbia encouraging Kosovo Serbs to participate in the elections, and the subsequent registration by a number of Kosovo Serb parties. It is important that the elections are conducted in a free and fair manner and with the widest possible participation by all communities. The conduct of the elections will be monitored by a Council of Europe observation mission which will include four Irish observers.

Kosovo remains under UN administration, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1244, which was adopted following the end of the conflict in 1999. The EU fully supports the UN mission in Kosovo, which is working with the provisional institutions of self-government to implement European standards in the rule of law, human rights and protection of minorities in advance of any consideration of the final status of Kosovo. The EU has stressed the importance of the early formation of a functioning government following the election of the new assembly which will continue to work towards the review of progress on the implementation of standards which will be carried out in mid-2005. If this review is positive, it will be followed by a process of negotiation to agree the status issue. These negotiations will inevitably be complex and difficult with implications for the whole western Balkans region. Whatever their agreed outcome, it is clear that the future of Kosovo rests within the region as it moves closer to eventual integration with the EU. The European Union will, therefore, be called on to play the lead role in working with the authorities in Kosovo in the long term.

The EU remains fully committed to a multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo in which the rights of all communities are fully protected. The ethnically motivated violence in March this year was undoubtedly a major setback. Significant progress has been made, however, towards re-establishing a political process for Kosovo, which must involve the representatives of all communities, and continued dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. The security situation has stabilised, although it remains tense. There are 213 Irish troops serving with KFOR, the UN mandated peacekeeping force in Kosovo. I express the appreciation of the Government for the role being played by members of the Defence Forces in ensuring security and stability in Kosovo.

During Ireland's EU Presidency, the European Council and the General Affairs and External Relations Council paid close attention to developments in Kosovo. The situation will remain high on the agenda of the Council in the months to come. The EU will continue to work closely with the UN mission in Kosovo, and especially with the special representative of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen, in preparation for the crucial review of the implementation of standards next year. The EU will also remain in close contact with the US and the wider international community to ensure that the eventual process to address the issue of the final status of Kosovo will also contribute to the stability of the western Balkans region as a whole.

Terrorist Attacks.

Questions (38, 39)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

169 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had discussions with the US and Israeli ambassadors arising from risk assessments carried out by Army specialists before Ireland’s EU Presidency on their Dublin embassies which showed that they are the most vulnerable to terrorist attack in Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25321/04]

View answer

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

222 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the recent attack on an embassy in France, any reassessment of the threats to embassies on Irish soil has been undertaken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25227/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 169 and 222 together.

Matters pertaining to the security of embassies in Ireland are the responsibility of the security authorities in this State. The primary responsibility for such security rests with the Garda Síochána. While it is not the practice to comment on specific details of security arrangements relating to the protection of individual embassies, I can confirm that these arrangements are kept under continuing review.

Emigrant Services.

Questions (40)

David Stanton

Question:

170 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the way in which the Government assists disadvantaged members of the Irish community in Britain; his further plans in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25313/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The DION fund for Irish emigrant welfare in Britain is allocated by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the basis of recommendations from the DION committee. The committee, which was established in 1984, replaced earlier consultative arrangements on emigrant welfare services for vulnerable Irish people in Britain.

The DION committee's role is to advise and report on welfare services for emigrants, to make recommendations on the provision of financial assistance towards the employment of professional workers dealing with the welfare problems of Irish people in Britain, and to consider and make recommendations on specific questions at my request.

Since the DION fund was established in 1984, more than €21 million has been distributed under it. Recipients of DION grants are organisations that provide frontline advice, counselling and support services to Irish people in need in Britain. Priority targets for funding are services that support the elderly, the homeless and people affected by illness or substance misuse problems, as well as the Traveller community. The fund also addresses problems relating to access to housing, training or employment.

The DION fund has more than quadrupled in the past five years. This year's initial allocation to the fund was €3.57 million. However, an additional €1 million has recently been secured and most of this amount will be directed to organisations in Britain. Some 57 different organisations working with Irish people in need have already received funding this year.

A new dedicated unit, the Irish abroad unit, was recently established in my Department to co-ordinate the provision of services to emigrants. I am confident that this initiative will inject a new momentum into this important area of policy. Officials of the unit and of the embassy in London are working in close consultation with the wide range of people engaged in the delivery of services to Irish people in Britain so that Government funding is targeted effectively and best meets the needs of our vulnerable community.

Ministerial Travel.

Questions (41)

Simon Coveney

Question:

171 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will give details of his overseas travel arrangements for the remainder of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25213/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The following is a list of my confirmed overseas engagements for the remainder of the year. On 29 October, I will be in Rome to sign the European constitution. There will be three meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council between now and the end of the year. These will take place in Brussels on 2 and 3 November, 22 and 23 November and 13 and 14 December. I will also attend the European Council meetings in Brussels on 4 and 5 November and 17 December. On 29 and 30 November, I will be in The Hague for a Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, EUROMED, mid-term ministerial meeting. I will also be attending a Euro Atlantic Partnership Council, EAPC, ministerial meeting in Brussels on 9 and 10 December.

Official Engagements.

Questions (42, 43, 44, 45)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

172 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the agenda of his predecessor’s meeting with the US Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell, in New York in September 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25352/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, together with the Foreign Ministers of all EU member states, met US Secretary of State Powell in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly on 22 September last. It is a feature of Ministers' week at the General Assembly that EU Foreign Ministers meet the US Secretary of State. The meeting represents an important opportunity for the EU and the US to discuss current international issues of mutual concern. As Presidency of the EU, the Dutch Foreign Minister led discussions on the EU side.

In particular, the two sides discussed the ongoing crisis in Sudan, including continued EU and US efforts to contribute to improving the security situation there, the situation in the Middle East, in Iraq, and in Iran.

Question No. 173 answered with Question No. 166.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

174 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent meeting with the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25355/04]

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Olivia Mitchell

Question:

179 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent meeting with Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, of the United Nations; the issues discussed with the Secretary General; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25217/04]

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Bernard Allen

Question:

368 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on recent discussions held with the Secretary General of the United Nations, in particular on proposals made relating to greater humanitarian, crisis management or other co-operation between the UN and the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25494/04]

View answer

I propose to take Questions Nos. 174, 179 and 368 together.

Secretary General Annan's official visit last week took place at the invitation of the Government. It was his first visit to Ireland since 1999 and provided an excellent opportunity for an exchange of views on a range of issues at a critical time for the United Nations.

Many Deputies will have been present in Dublin Castle to hear the Secretary General's address to the National Forum on Europe last Thursday 14 October, which was chiefly on the theme of EU-UN co-operation in crisis management. In his intervention, the Secretary General outlined with force and clarity the importance to the United Nations of strengthened EU capacities, in particular the specialised skills its member states possessed in the military area that other troop contributors may not be able to provide, including its ability to deploy more rapidly in crisis situations.

On Friday, the Secretary General held talks on peacekeeping issues with my colleague, the Minister for Defence, and reviewed troops and met Defence Forces veterans of UN peacekeeping operations. That evening, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, and I met the Secretary General, Kofi Annan, at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Discussions were very wide ranging and took place in a warm and cordial manner, befitting the close and co-operative relationship that has long existed between Ireland and the Secretariat of the United Nations on matters such as peacekeeping, disarmament, economic and social development and human rights.

The Secretary General was highly appreciative of the particular impetus Ireland has given to European Union co-operation with the United Nations, including in the important area of crisis management and in activity by the European Union to support the multilateral system. I assured the Secretary General that he could rely on Ireland's strong support for his efforts to reform the United Nations and to promote agreement among UN member states on a more effective system of collective security.

We exchanged views on the major review that will take place in 2005 of the implementation of the millennium summit declaration and on the follow up to the report of the Secretary General's high level panel on threats, challenges and change. We discussed the actions that need to be taken to ensure a successful review and to create the political will to establish a platform for a renewed effort to ensure the achievement of the millennium development goals by the target date of 2015.

I assured the Secretary General that the Government fully understood the need for hard decisions to ensure the continued and strengthened capacity of the multilateral system to address common threats and challenges. We agreed that UN member states need to address difficult questions of institutional reform in the UN system, including reform of the Security Council, with a view to enhancing its legitimacy, and thus its effectiveness, by becoming more representative of today's world.

I reviewed with the Secretary General what Ireland has done, and what it wants to see done to stem HIV-AIDS. We discussed preparations for the June 2005 meeting that will assess progress on the declaration of commitment on HIV-AIDS agreed at the UN special session on HIV-AIDS in 2001. The Secretary General paid tribute to Ireland's activity on HIV-AIDS, including the outcome of the Dublin conference earlier this year on HIV-AIDS in eastern Europe and central Asia.

I also discussed with the Secretary General a number of pressing current issues of international peace and security. These included the grave humanitarian and security situation in the Darfur region of the Sudan, preparations for the forthcoming elections in Iraq in the context of the dangerous security situation there, the outstanding UN achievement in assisting the government of Afghanistan with the successful recent national elections as well as prospects for the country in their aftermath; the continued refusal of the authorities in Burma to release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and to receive the Secretary General's special envoy, the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including recent Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip, progress, or the lack of it, in the implementation of peace processes in the Great Lakes area of Africa, in the Horn of Africa, and in Western Sahara and the situation in West Papua.

Deputies will understand that I am not in a position to go into detail on our exchanges on these issues. However, the insights that the Secretary General and his team were in a position to offer on these issues were, as always, very instructive and of great value to me and to the Government in formulating policies on a wide range of issues. Secretary General Annan leaves Ireland carrying the Government's best wishes for success in the difficult task of revitalising and strengthening the multilateral system.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (46, 47, 48, 49)

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

175 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the benefits flowing from the Government’s recent change in its attitude towards the military junta in Burma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25326/04]

View answer

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

180 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the practical benefits that have flown from the Government’s change of position in relation to dialogue with the military regime that has been holding the democratically elected choice of the people in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, under house arrest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25292/04]

View answer

Paul Kehoe

Question:

190 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Dutch Government has maintained links with Burma, extended by Ireland during its Presidency of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25236/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 175, 180 and 190 together.

The Government has pursued a strong and consistent line in support of democracy in Burma. Both Ireland, and our EU partners, remain strongly critical of the continued detention under house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the absence of political progress, serious and persistent human rights abuses and the lack of fundamental freedoms in Burma.

The issue of Burma is raised in all our bilateral political contacts with relevant third countries, particularly Burma's Asian neighbours. Most recently, the Taoiseach raised the issue of Burma both at the fifth ASEM summit, which took place from 7 to 9 October in Hanoi, and during his visits to Malaysia and Singapore which followed. He also reviewed the current situation with the UN Secretary General's special representative for Burma, Mr. Razali, during his visit to Kuala Lumpur on 11 October 2004. During our EU Presidency, the Government ensured that the issue of Burma was regularly discussed in consultations with third countries. This practice has been carried forward by the Netherlands Presidency, which has demonstrated a similar commitment to fostering democracy in Burma. Burma figured high on the agenda at the ASEM Foreign Ministers' meeting which my predecessor hosted in Kildare in April 2004 as well as at the preceding informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers held at Tullamore.

There was considerable hope at that time that the Burmese regime was about to release Aung San Suu Kyi and allow her party to participate in the national convention. Indeed, the Burmese Foreign Minister at the time, since dismissed, announced publicly that Aung San Suu Kyi was about to be released. This optimism was reflected in the decision by EU Ministers in Tullamore to indicate that if Aung San Suu Kyi were released, the NLD invited to participate in the national convention and the convention permitted to operate free from harassment, the EU would be ready to re-examine its engagement with Burma.

Regrettably, the expected positive developments have not been forthcoming. Lack of support from our Asian partners meant that the EU was not able to prevent Burma's participation in the newly enlarged Asia-Europe meeting, ASEM, short of provoking the collapse of ASEM. Nevertheless, the EU used the recent ASEM summit to make clear its opposition to the actions of the Burmese regime. The Taoiseach, in his intervention, questioned why Aung San Suu Kyi has not been released, and why there has not been greater progress towards democracy in Burma. Immediately following the summit, on 10 October, the Union took the decision to reinforce sanctions against the Burmese regime.

The Government has also acted in regard to the establishment of diplomatic relations. The decision to establish diplomatic relations on a non-resident basis, which was announced on 13 February this year, was taken in the context of increased engagement leading to the anticipated progress to which I have referred. Given the lack of progress, in particular the refusal of the regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, the exchange of ambassadors has been put on hold. The Government has, in effect, pressed the pause button. I hope that the situation will move forward in the future and that it will be possible to resume progress on the exchange of ambassadors.

The Government's continuing goal, and that of the EU, remains the release and restoration of liberty to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the return of democracy to Burma, an end to human rights violations, and the realisation of peace and prosperity for the long suffering people of Burma.

Joe Costello

Question:

176 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of contacts he has had with the International Committee of the Red Cross on the operation of the Geneva Convention with regard to the prisoners being held in Iraq, or who have been removed from Iraq; the number of prisoners and if they are being held in accordance with the principles of international law; if he proposes to raise these matters with the appropriate authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25288/04]

View answer

The International Committee of the Red Cross plays a crucial role in protecting the interests of prisoners held as a result of conflict. The Red Cross has access to the US detention facilities in Iraq where it is understood between 4,600 and 5,100 persons are being held. A further 50 persons are held by UK forces. In addition to highlighting shortcomings in detention facilities, the Red Cross has also acknowledged remedial actions taken by the US authorities. The Government has not received any representations from the ICRC in relation to the operation of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, but officials of my Department remain in frequent contact with the Red Cross on a wide range of humanitarian issues, including that of prisoners in Iraq.

From the beginning of the conflict in Iraq, the Government has called on all parties to respect their obligations both in regard to the status of civilians and in regard to prisoners of war. The Government's position is in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003, which calls upon all concerned to comply fully with their obligations under international law including, in particular, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and The Hague Regulations of 1907. The treatment of prisoners of war is specifically covered by the third Geneva Convention.

When evidence of mistreatment by multi-national forces of some prisoners in Iraq came to light earlier this year, the Government publicly and strongly condemned these abuses, and made our concerns known directly to the countries involved.

Travel Agreements.

Questions (50)

Joan Burton

Question:

177 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the new arrangements that have been entered into between the European Union and Ireland on the exchange of information on passengers travelling to the United States or coming from the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25285/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I assume the Deputy is referring to the agreement between the European Union and the United States on passenger name records. The agreement applies to all member states. There are no separate bilateral arrangements between Ireland and the United States on the issue.

The agreement between the European Union and the United States on the processing and transfer of passenger name records data by air carriers to the United States Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, was signed in Washington DC on 28 May 2004 and entered into effect on the same day.

The agreement was negotiated on behalf of the European Union by the Commission, with the agreement of the member states. The agreement negotiated establishes the number and type of data which can be transferred; the length of time for which data can be retained, and the purposes for which data can be used — combating terrorism and international crime. It also provides that EU data protection authorities can represent EU citizens in seeking redress. The agreement is intended to be an interim measure until the EU has an agreed policy of its own on passenger name records.

The European Parliament subsequently decided to refer the agreement to the European Court of Justice seeking its annulment. It is the prerogative of the Parliament to refer such a matter to the European Court of Justice.

The effect of the present agreement is to facilitate air travel, while avoiding any clash of EU and US legislation and providing legal certainty for passengers and airline carriers. The agreement is designed to ensure adequate protection and the right to privacy in relation to data held. The agreement establishes more clearly the situation affecting air passengers than previously. It sets out what data can be transferred, the length of time it can be held and places limits upon the purposes for which it can be used. It also provides an avenue of redress for EU citizens in case of need. None of this had existed previously. In approving the agreement, the Council of Ministers of the European Union considered that it provided a fair balance between the need for security and privacy.

Emigrant Services.

Questions (51)

Emmet Stagg

Question:

178 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the functions of the dedicated unit within his Department working to implement the recommendations of the task force on policy regarding Irish emigrants; the number of staff working in the unit; the work they are undertaking; the budget afforded the unit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25320/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

My predecessor announced in London in July the establishment of a dedicated unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs to deal with issues concerning Irish people overseas. He announced at the same time he was making available a further €1 million for services for emigrants, bringing the total for this year to €5 million.

The issues of concern identified in the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants can best be addressed by a collective effort involving governmental and non-governmental agencies. A core function of the dedicated unit, the Irish abroad unit, is to give a fresh impetus and focus to this collective effort. The unit is charged with co-ordinating the provision of assistance to our emigrants and to advance effective and coherent strategies in this important area of national policy.

At present, there are three officials assigned to the Irish abroad unit which is headed by a senior Irish diplomat. Since it became operational, members of the unit have had valuable meetings with a range of voluntary agencies which provide front-line support to our emigrants in both the United States and Britain, as well as more general contact with Irish communities abroad. They are also engaged in a round of contacts with the Departments and agencies throughout Ireland that have an involvement in emigrant services. The costs arising from the functioning of this unit are met from my Department's administrative budget.

I am convinced that the new dedicated unit, with its exclusive focus on emigrant affairs, will serve to ensure that our emigrants have an effective channel of communication to the Government, and that our response to their needs becomes quickly and progressively more focused and effective.

Question No. 179 answered with QuestionNo. 174.
Question No. 180 answered with QuestionNo. 175.
Question No. 181 answered with QuestionNo. 163.

Arms Trade.

Questions (52)

Paul Connaughton

Question:

182 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government is to give support to a campaign of Oxfam and Amnesty International to control arms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25219/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I am aware of a process led by a number of non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, aimed at the development of an international arms trade treaty which is intended to be a legally binding agreement with core principles and mechanisms relating to international transfers of arms. A welcome aspect of the proposed treaty is that it has the objective of setting out states' existing international legal obligations in the area of international transfers of arms. In addition, once ratified, the draft framework treaty would enable the international community to move forward incrementally by means of subsequent more specific instruments. While work on the drafting of the text is still ongoing, it is a promising initiative and I commend the NGOs concerned for their efforts.

An official of my Department participated in a conference held last November at Cambridge University in England, the purpose of which was to examine the text of the draft treaty. I understand that the text of the proposed treaty is currently being re-examined from a legal perspective by those NGOs involved in the arms control campaign who met last February in Costa Rica and that as a consequence of those discussions revisions to the text are to be made.

An official from my Department also attended an international workshop on Enhancing the International Export Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons — the Case for an International Arms Trade Treaty, which took place in Helsinki last June. There was broad representation at the workshop both from governments and from NGOs. Ireland will continue to be associated with the process and will closely monitor developments.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (53, 54, 55)

Phil Hogan

Question:

183 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the security and political situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25207/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

359 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25519/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 183 and 359 together.

The presidential election in Afghanistan, the first election to be held since the 1960s, took place on 9 October 2004. This election constitutes the penultimate step in the implementation of the Bonn agreement of December 2001, on arrangements for the re-establishment of permanent government institutions in Afghanistan. The holding of parliamentary elections, scheduled for April 2005, will complete this process. Counting of the votes will take place over the next few weeks, following which the result of the presidential election will be announced. A panel of independent election experts has also been established by the UN to investigate a number of reported irregularities in the election process and it is expected to complete its work shortly.

The fact that millions of Afghan nationals turned out to vote, many of them braving severe weather conditions and difficult terrain, was particularly encouraging, and bodes well for the future stability of Afghanistan. The election day passed without a major security incident, which is a tribute to both the Afghan police and armed forces, as well as to the international security forces in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding this, however, the security situation in Afghanistan remains a source of concern. This concern is fuelled by the recent deplorable murders of foreign nationals involved in humanitarian and reconstruction work, a number of attacks on personnel involved in preparations for elections, as well as on some of the candidates, and continued factional fighting in the north west of the country. It is important that the international community remains focused on how best to support Afghanistan in the period ahead.

The decision of the UN Security Council on 17 September 2004 to extend the mandate of the NATO-led international security assistance force in Afghanistan, ISAF, for a further 12 month period beyond 13 October 2004 is an important development in this regard. The agreement by NATO, at its summit in Istanbul in June 2004, to provide an additional 3,500 NATO troops to supplement ISAF, together with the deployment of a number of new provincial reconstruction teams, PRTs, in recent months, are also positive developments.

In order to ensure a secure environment in Afghanistan, it is important that all irregular forces are disarmed and demobilised, or integrated into the national army. I welcome the steps already taken towards this end, but much more needs to be done so that the future Afghan government has unified armed forces at its disposal. To this end, I strongly urge all concerned to make a full commitment to the vigorous implementation and intensification of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process.

As for supporting Afghanistan's overall reconstruction, the EU committed some €2.3 billion at the 2002 Tokyo conference to cover the five year period 2002-06. At the Berlin conference in spring 2004, the EU updated its reconstruction pledge committing $2.2 billion for the period 2004-06. In 2003, the European Commission delivered over €300 million in assistance to Afghanistan. For 2004, commitments have already been made for a total of €136.5 million. Since January 2002, Ireland has committed €17 million to reconstruction and recovery programmes in Afghanistan. This funding is being channelled through the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund, ARTF, UN agencies, international organisations and trusted NGO partners. Ireland also provided €800,000 to support the conduct of the presidential election, through the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP. Ireland's contribution to Afghanistan remains one of the highest, on a per capita basis, of any EU member state.

The House will be aware of the grave problems that flow from the resurgence of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. Ireland, together with our EU partners, fully supports the Afghan transitional authority's uncompromising stance on the illicit cultivation of and trafficking in drugs. Afghanistan will continue to face many serious challenges in the period ahead and will therefore continue to need extensive support from the international community. Ireland and our partners in the European Union are determined to play our part in this process.

Billy Timmins

Question:

184 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide an up-to-date account of the political situation in East Timor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25237/04]

View answer

The government and people of Timor Leste have continued to make good progress in building up their country, with continuing support from the international community, including from Ireland and the EU as a whole. The development of their economy and the consolidation of their democratic institutions is ongoing.

On 23 August 2004 the United Nations Secretary General provided a report on Timor Leste to the Security Council. The Secretary General observed that remarkable achievements had been registered by the new state, most notably the fact that Timor Leste has been peaceful and largely stable since taking over responsibility for security from the UN mission there. The registration of voters for the forthcoming local elections has also been encouraging. Previous reports of the UN Secretary General also commented on advances in the areas of governance, enactment of legislation, rehabilitation of infrastructure, responsible development planning and budgetary discipline, the country's regional integration, and, most importantly, the commitment to democratic norms and personal freedoms.

On 21 May 2002, the United Nations Security Council established a UN mission of support in East Timor, UNMISET. In Resolution 1543 of 14 May 2004, the Security Council backed the recommendations of the Secretary General to extend UNMISET for a consolidation phase, in the expectation that its mandate would be completed by 2005. On 19 May 2004, UNMISET handed over all official responsibility for policing and external security to the government of Timor Leste.

Resolution 1543 highlights the need to ensure against impunity for those who have committed criminal acts. It stresses, in particular, the need for the serious crimes unit, set up under UNMISET, to investigate serious crimes committed in the period leading up to Timor Leste's independence, to complete all investigations by November 2004 and to conclude trials and other activities no later than 20 May 2005. The resolution calls for continued and co-ordinated UN and donor support to Timor Leste. Also, it calls on the UN Secretary General to report to the Security Council every three months on the situation in Timor Leste.

Despite continued progress, and the achievements of the past three years, Timor Leste continues to face a number of major challenges. These include the building up of support for core administrative capacities, strengthening the justice system and creating a favourable climate for sustainable social and economic development. Timor Leste remains one of the poorest nations in the world, and there remains a critical need for the continued support of the international community.

Good progress has been made on negotiating the maritime boundary between Timor Leste and Australia. Negotiations on this issue are expected to be completed by the end of 2004. There has also been progress in the demarcation of the land boundary with Indonesia.

Ireland has demonstrated its continuing commitment to the political and socio-economic development of Timor Leste through according it programme country status for development co-operation purposes in March 2003. The country strategy paper for Timor Leste sets out the strategy for Ireland's official programme of development assistance to Timor Leste for 2004-06, to which the Government has allocated funding of more than €11 million over the period. The focus of the programme, which has a 2004 budget of €3.7 million, is on capacity building for the public sector and support for Timor Leste's national development plan for reducing poverty through the delivery of essential services and the strengthening of governance and human rights. Ireland will continue to play its part in the provision of ongoing international support for Timor Leste, and will continue to follow developments there very closely.

Foreign Travel.

Questions (56)

Tom Hayes

Question:

185 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level of contact between the Government and the authorities in Saudi Arabia regarding the murder of an Irish national (details supplied); the advice being given by his Department to Irish nationals living in Saudi Arabia or intending to travel there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25233/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

It was with great regret that my Department learned that an Irish national was tragically killed in Saudi Arabia in August 2004. I am sure I speak for all Members of the House in extending our deepest sympathy to the family. Following his death, our embassy in Riyadh extended all possible consular assistance to his family and the embassy has had numerous contacts with the Saudi Arabian authorities in relation to the case. We have emphasised to them the importance of protecting the lives of expatriates in Saudi Arabia and have called for the killers of this person to be brought to justice.

In light of the continuing threat from terrorism, my Department has been advising Irish citizens for some time to avoid non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia. We are also advising citizens to maintain the highest levels of personal security and to limit travel within Saudi Arabia to essential journeys only. This advice is available on my Department's websitewww.dfa.ie.

In addition, our embassy in Riyadh has established a system of wardens to maintain contact with the Irish community. Through these wardens, the embassy provides regular bulletins to the community on the security situation in Saudi Arabia and updated advice on the most appropriate protection measures. There is also close co-operation and exchange of information between EU embassies in Riyadh in relation to security threats in Saudi Arabia.

My Department, through the Irish embassy in Riyadh, will remain in contact with the Saudi Arabian authorities in relation to the security of Irish citizens generally in Saudi Arabia and will continue to monitor the investigation of this case.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (57)

Joe Costello

Question:

186 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s views on the statement by the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, that the war in Iraq was illegal; if the consequences of such for its provision of facilities at Shannon for military aircraft participating in an illegal war had been considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25287/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Secretary General Annan's statement was an important contribution to the debate on whether there was an adequate legal base to authorise the coalition invasion of Iraq. The Taoiseach, in his statement to the Dáil on 20 March 2003, acknowledged that there was no clear legal consensus on whether there was a mandate for the use of force against Iraq. He acknowledged that the arguments put forward by the coalition asserting the existence of a mandate were supported by a number of countries which were not participating in the military action. However, he made clear that Ireland could not participate in the military campaign without an explicit, further Security Council mandate.

The Government's decision to continue to make landing and overflight facilities available to the United States was made on the basis that provision of such facilities was a long-standing practice which had been ongoing for over 50 years, a period which saw various conflicts involving the US, some of which did not have UN sanction. The Government also noted that the US is a country to which we are closely bound by personal, historical and economic ties. At the end of the debate in question the Dáil voted to approve the Government's position on the matter.

US forces currently serving in Iraq are part of the multi-national force operating at the request of the interim Iraqi government. The presence of the multi-national force in Iraq was authorised by the UN Security Council in resolution 1511 of 16 October 2003. This authorisation has been reaffirmed in resolution 1546 of 8 June 2004. The legality of the presence of US forces in Iraq is, therefore, not in question.

Arms Trade.

Questions (58)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

187 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans to address the inherent weaknesses in the EU code of conduct on arms exports; and the way in which Ireland will support the review and reform of the code to make it effective. [25361/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

A exports of arms from EU countries must conform to the EU code of conduct on arms exports, which establishes criteria to control such exports. Ireland was actively involved in the establishment of this politically binding code, which was adopted by the EU General Affairs Council in June 1998. The code lists the factors to be taken into account when deciding whether to allow an export of military goods, including respect for human rights, the internal situation in the country of final destination and the preservation of regional peace, security and stability.

The review of the code of conduct on arms exports was initiated during Ireland's Presidency of the EU and is taking account of developments since the code entered into force in 1998. In this respect, proposals to strengthen and update the code are currently under consideration, including a proposal to reinforce the status of the code by transforming it into an EU common position, which would be legally binding. Ireland is in favour of such a move. We believe the first review of the code of conduct is a very necessary and important undertaking for the EU and we have been supportive of a number of proposals under discussion to strengthen the code.

We have also had several contacts with civil society on this issue. Representatives from several EU member states, including Ireland, met a number of non-governmental organisations last May to discuss and to exchange views on the ongoing review of the code. Ireland also subsequently circulated to all our EU partners, for their consideration, written suggestions made by NGOs for possible improvements to the code.

The Netherlands has made the review of the code of conduct one of its priorities for its Presidency of the EU and, in association with NGO representatives, hosted an international conference in The Hague at the end of last month to further consider the matter. An official from my Department attended this meeting and I understand that there was a very productive discussion concerning those areas of the code which would merit revision.

The examination of the code of conduct by officials from the member states is continuing in the COARM working group which had its most recent meeting in Brussels last Friday. Ireland will continue to participate actively in discussions on this matter at working group level within the EU and will seek an early agreement on the strengthening of the code.

Emigrant Services.

Questions (59, 60, 61)

Michael Ring

Question:

188 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the issue of Irish citizens living illegally in America was raised with President Bush during his recent visit; [20501/04]

View answer

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

213 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on recent contact he has had with the US State Department regarding immigration reform, especially in relation to the approximately 50,000 undocumented Irish in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24981/04]

View answer

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

227 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the issue of the 50,000 or so undocumented Irish immigrants in the US was raised with President Bush during his recent visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20189/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 188, 213 and 227 together.

The Government's concern regarding the situation of the undocumented Irish in the United States is raised regularly in our bilateral contacts with the US authorities, including when the Taoiseach and my predecessor met President Bush at the EU-US summit in Dromoland in June 2004. In this regard, we welcome the various proposals in this area which have been made by President Bush and by certain members of Congress. These initiatives reflect a recognition of the importance of addressing the situation of the undocumented in the US in a constructive and sympathetic way. These proposals will, of course, have to be considered by the US Congress and, realistically, there is very unlikely to be any movement until after the presidential inauguration in the new year.

In addition to the political level discussions, our embassy in Washington DC regularly raises this issue with the US authorities, in particular with the Department of Homeland Security which has responsibility for immigration services. The embassy and our network of consulates also work closely with voluntary Irish organisations in the US which provide assistance and support to vulnerable Irish people. These organisations receive significant financial support from the Government and I would again like to pay a warm tribute to their valuable work. We will continue actively to seek support for measures that would help alleviate the situation of undocumented Irish people in the United States.

European Neighbourhood Policy.

Questions (62)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

189 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s position concerning the proposal that the EU strengthen its ties with Israel under the recently adopted European neighbourhood policy. [25316/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The European neighbourhood policy is designed to strengthen relations between the European Union and those neighbouring countries that do not currently have the prospect of EU membership. In return for concrete progress and the effective implementation of political, economic and institutional reforms reflecting shared values, the initiative offers these countries the prospect of closer economic integration with the EU. Under the policy, it is hoped that action plans with Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, the Palestinian Authority, Israel, Ukraine and Moldova will be ready for adoption by the General Affairs and External Relations Council in November. All action plans with the exception of that for Israel are well advanced. In the case of Israel negotiations are continuing.

We believe that strengthening co-operation in all areas, including the political and economic areas, will be both in our own interests and in the interests of the new neighbours themselves. It is our belief that the political dialogue in these action plans will be of central importance to meeting the EU's concerns about developments in the region. These action plans will, of course, be prepared through consultation and agreement with the parties, and the finalisation of any plan will depend on the acceptance by both parties of the need to engage constructively on political issues of concern.

Question No. 190 answered with QuestionNo. 175.

Millennium Development Goals.

Questions (63)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

191 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position on the achievement of the world millennium goals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25283/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The declaration which was adopted at the UN millennium summit in 2000 included eight millennium development goals, MDGs. The goals set specific time-bound measurable targets to be achieved by 2015 in areas such as the reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty, universal primary education, maternal and child mortality and HIV-AIDS.

The Secretary General will conduct the first major review of progress in the implementation of the MDGs in 2005. Already it is evident that greater effort will be required on the part of the international community if the MDGs are to be achieved by the target date. In a recent report, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated:

Despite greater endorsement of the Millennium Development Goals and some encouraging regional and subregional trends, as a whole the world is not optimizing its performance. Some regions and countries are making little progress towards any of the Goals. Many sub-Saharan African countries will need special support to accelerate progress sufficiently to catch up.

From the outset, Ireland has been fully committed to the achievement of all of the MDGs. We have adopted achievement of the MDGs as the overarching framework for our development co-operation. Our overseas aid programme is already focused on those sectors that are most critical to the success of the MDGs such as education, health, HIV-AIDS, water and sanitation. Gender and environmental sustainability are also highlighted as important cross-cutting issues throughout the programme.

As the world's largest aid donor, the EU has a major role to play in the achievement of the MDGs. During our recent Presidency of the EU, we were a strong advocate of early action to ensure a strong and visible EU contribution to next year's major review. Our EU partners agreed to our suggestion for a stock-taking exercise to be co-ordinated by the Commission with a view to providing a consolidated EU contribution to next year's review.

All member states, including Ireland, are currently engaged in carrying out that exercise. My Department is co-ordinating Ireland's submission which is to be completed shortly. This submission will focus, in particular, on MDG eight which provides for a global partnership for development and embraces such issues as increased ODA, greater policy coherence for development, trade and debt. In his address to the National Forum on Europe, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Dermot Ahern, reasserted Ireland's commitment to meeting the UN's 0.7% of GNP overseas development aid target.

I sincerely hope that national and international preparations for next year's major progress review of the millennium development goals will make the international community face up to the fact that, while there has been some progress, much more needs to be done to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (64)

Seymour Crawford

Question:

192 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide an up-to-date account of the security situation in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25208/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The security situation in Iraq continues to be a matter of serious concern both to Ireland and to the international community at large. Violent incidents continue to increase and I am concerned that the situation may continue to worsen in the run up to the Iraqi elections scheduled for January. In addition to the brutal murder of Mr. Ken Bigley, and persons of many other nationalities, it is the Iraqi people who are suffering most from the continued instability both directly and through the frustration of reconstruction work.

The interim Iraqi government is pursuing a three track strategy to try to end the violence. First, to encourage disaffected groups in the community to enter the political process. Second, to push forward reconstruction efforts so as to relieve the hardships affecting the Iraqi population, especially the poorer elements. Third, to advance as quickly as possible the recruitment and training of Iraqi security forces, not just to contribute to security efforts but also to advance the transfer of responsibility for security from the multi-national force to Iraq's own forces.

The challenge facing the Iraqi government in these areas is great but I believe it is following the correct approach to meet it. It is clear that the elections scheduled for January will be a crucial stage in giving the Iraqi government the authority it needs to restore stability throughout the country.

Ireland and the European Union will continue to give every support we can to the Iraqi government in these efforts, especially in the areas of reconstruction and preparation for the elections. We will also continue to support the involvement of the United Nations in these efforts, which I believe to be crucial to their success.

Military Neutrality.

Questions (65)

John Gormley

Question:

193 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the solidarity and mutual defence clauses in the proposed EU constitution; their impact on Ireland’s neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25357/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The solidarity clause and so-called mutual defence clause are separate issues in the European constitution. As regards the solidarity clause, Article I-43, it is for each member state to determine how to respond to a request from another member state in case of terrorist attack or natural or man-made disaster. No member state is bound to take any particular course of action. The European constitution also contains a declaration on the solidarity clause, which clearly states that none of the provisions of the solidarity clause are intended to affect the right of another member state to choose the most appropriate means to comply with its own solidarity obligation towards another member state. Any decisions having military implications under the solidarity clause would be taken by unanimity. The Government has welcomed and supported this provision which is fully consistent with our traditional policy of military neutrality.

In regard to the so-called mutual defence clause, Article I-41.7 of the treaty, the constitution states that if a member state is a victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states will have an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. Importantly for Ireland, the article goes on to make clear that this obligation shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain member states. As the Taoiseach and my predecessor have consistently made clear, in the event of another member state coming under attack, we would continue, as we do now, to determine our own response, consistent with our own constitutional and legal arrangements. Ireland is not bound by any mutual defence commitment and the entry into force of the European constitution will not change this. Our traditional policy of military neutrality is not altered or compromised by this article in the constitutional treaty.

Question No. 194 answered with QuestionNo. 166.

Official Engagements.

Questions (66, 67, 68, 69)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

195 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he has had discussions with his colleagues on the issue of European development in the social, political and economic sense; his views on further enlargement of the Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25277/04]

View answer

Michael Noonan

Question:

225 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has held discussions with his European Union counterparts on any matter since his appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25224/04]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

352 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the October 2004 meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25366/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

361 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he intends to influence discussions on the possible admission of further countries to the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25523/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 195, 225, 352 and 361 together.

Since my recent appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I had the opportunity to meet my EU ministerial colleagues at the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council which took place in Luxembourg on 11 October. I look forward to many future opportunities for discussions with my colleagues both bilaterally and in the Council on the range of issues on the EU agenda. I also received a telephone call from the British Foreign Secretary in which we discussed amendments which have recently been proposed to the working time directive.

In the General Affairs part of the recent Council meeting, we discussed the Presidency's draft annotated agenda for the European Council of 4 and 5 November — terrorism, enlargement and the financial framework for 2007 to 2013. One of the items on the annotated agenda for the November European Council, which is due to be discussed in more detail at the next meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 2 November, is the Lisbon Agenda which embraces many economic and social aspects of the development of the EU.

Under the external relations agenda, the Council addressed a wide range of issues and adopted conclusions in relation to Libya, the Middle East, Sudan, the Great Lakes, the western Balkans, Indonesia, Ukraine, and both the EU-China and EU-Iran human rights dialogues.

Before attending the Council, I was very happy to meet the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs for a detailed exchange of views on the agenda items and my Department subsequently sent to the committee a copy of the Council's conclusions. These are also available on the following Internet address:www.consilium.eu.int.

The question of the future enlargement of the Union is one which will feature prominently on the EU's agenda for the foreseeable future. The Government has participated actively and positively in negotiations on the enlargement process, notably during our Presidency in the first half of the year, and will continue to do so.

On 6 October, the European Commission published its regular reports on progress towards accession of Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, as well as an overall strategy paper on progress in the enlargement process which includes recommendations on Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Turkey. As part of its regular report on Turkey, the Commission also published a paper which looks at the issues raised by that country's possible membership of the EU.

The European Union's objective, as stated in the European Council conclusions of 17 to 18 June 2004, is that both Romania and Bulgaria should conclude negotiations in 2004, sign the accession treaty in 2005 and accede in January 2007, if they are ready. The Commission makes clear in its reports of 6 October that both countries have made good progress this year in their preparations for EU accession. Negotiations will be concluded on the same basis and principles applied to the ten new member states which acceded on 1 May 2004.

The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 decided that Turkey is a candidate country destined to join the European Union on the basis of the same criteria applied to other candidate states. The December 2004 European Council will decide, on the basis of the report and recommendation published by the Commission on 6 October, whether Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria. If that decision is positive, the EU is committed to opening accession negotiations with Turkey without delay.

The Feira European Council in June 2000 agreed that the countries of the western Balkans are potential candidates for EU membership. The EU-western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki in June 2003 confirmed that the shared objective of the EU and the countries of the region is their eventual integration into EU structures. It is agreed that the countries of the western Balkans will make progress individually, based on progress in negotiating and implementing stabilisation and association agreements with the EU, which involve wide ranging institutional reforms, and on the development of increased regional co-operation.

Croatia formally applied for membership of the EU in February 2003. The European Council in June 2004 decided that Croatia is a candidate country and that accession negotiations will begin in early 2005. The Commission, in its strategy paper issued on 6 October, sets out suggested principles for the negotiating framework for Croatia which must be finalised before negotiations can begin.

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia submitted its application for membership in a ceremony in Dublin on 22 March this year. The Council on 17 May requested the Commission to prepare its opinion on the application for submission to the Council. This process is expected to take about one year to complete.

EU Constitution.

Questions (70)

Bernard Allen

Question:

196 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the referendum to be held to ratify the constitutional treaty for the European Union; when this referendum will be held; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25211/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Following signature of the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, which is to take place in Rome on 29 October, it will then be for all member states of the European Union to ratify the European constitution in accordance with their own constitutional requirements. The European constitution sets a target date of 1 November 2006 for the completion of this process and for its entry into force. The Taoiseach has made clear, most recently in this House on 6 October, that there will be a referendum in Ireland. The Government will give detailed thought to the timing in due course.

The Government will do all it can to foster the fullest possible national debate on the European constitution, building on the excellent work done by the National Forum on Europe and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs during the European convention and the subsequent intergovernmental conference. As an initial contribution, my Department will next week be publishing an explanatory guide to the European constitution, together with a short pamphlet for wider distribution. I am also conscious of the important role political parties, the social partners and other concerned groups and individuals have in stimulating debate.

I am confident that the public will recognise that the European constitution is an important and positive step forward in the development of the European Union. It is a balanced document, clarifying how the Union operates and equipping it to face new challenges, without substantially changing its basic character or its relationship with its member states.

State Airports.

Questions (71)

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

197 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on a recent article which suggests that an aircraft (details supplied) involved in abduction of persons from such countries as Sweden and their transportation to Guantanamo Bay landed in Shannon and used facilities here; if such information was supplied to the Government on this aircraft; the steps the Government has taken; his views on whether providing facilities for such activity is a breach of international law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25282/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Government has no information to indicate that prisoners are being transported through Irish airports to and from Guantanamo or elsewhere. Furthermore, the US authorities have confirmed to our embassy in Washington that they have not been using Irish airports for this purpose and that they would not seek to use Irish airports for this purpose in the future without seeking the authorisation of the Irish authorities.

The aircraft cited in the report mentioned by the Deputy is a civilian registered aircraft. The regulation of the activities of civilian aircraft is primarily a matter for the Minister for Transport who has made inquiries into the matter and outlined his findings to this House in a written reply to Parliamentary Question No. 218 on 7 October 2004.

I am aware of various press reports claiming that the aircraft was used in December 2001 by US authorities for the transportation of al-Qaeda suspects from Sweden to Egypt. I understand, however, that the articles do not allege that any stops were made in Shannon on that particular occasion or offer any proof that prisoners have been transmitted through Shannon by the US authorities.

Question No. 198 answered with QuestionNo. 166.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (72)

David Stanton

Question:

199 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the way in which Ireland is promoting human rights internationally; the areas of greatest concern; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25314/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The protection and promotion of human rights is, and has always been, a priority of successive Governments and central to our foreign policy. Support for civil society, human rights and democratisation is an important element of Ireland's international development co-operation programmes.

Together with our EU partners, the Government monitors the human rights situations in many countries, on the basis of information obtained from a variety of sources including non-governmental organisations. Where the situation warrants, we make known our concerns about human rights violations to the governments in question, either directly or through action at the UN General Assembly and the UN Commission on Human Rights. At these bodies, the EU regularly makes statements on the human rights situation in various countries. Ireland is fully associated with these statements. The EU also introduces or supports resolutions dealing with specific countries.

Human rights were a central part of Ireland's recent EU Presidency. One of the most significant achievements of the Presidency was the adoption by Ministers in mid-June, and approval by the European Council, of EU guidelines on support for human rights defenders.

At the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which was held in Geneva earlier this year, Ireland in its capacity as EU Presidency successfully presented a significant number of country specific initiatives, including resolutions on the human rights situations in Burma-Myanmar, North Korea, and on the question of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. Ireland also, on behalf of the EU, proposed initiatives on Turkmenistan and Belarus jointly with the United States. In addition, the EU initiated chair's statements on Colombia and Timor Leste, and was active on the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Russian Federation — Chechnya, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

At the current session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Ireland will join in EU initiatives on the human rights situations in a number of countries, including Burma-Myanmar, Turkmenistan, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as on the subject of religious intolerance.

Active participation in multilateral organisations such as the EU, UN and the Council of Europe provides an occasion where Ireland can voice its concerns regarding human rights abuses. Through these organisations, international pressure can be brought to bear on those responsible for violation of human rights.

The EU has also adopted common positions on certain countries, an integral part of which attaches priority to promoting human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. In addition, the EU conducts human rights dialogues with a number of countries. The progress of these dialogues is the subject of regular review and evaluation — the dialogues with China and Iran were the subject of Council conclusions at the most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on Monday, 11 October. The Government will continue to use these mechanisms as a means of highlighting violations of human rights and furthering their protection.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (73, 74)

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

200 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will advise on the political situation in Uganda and the Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25220/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

357 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in the Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25517/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 200 and 357 together.

Uganda's track record in poverty reduction and economic management over the past 18 years stands up favourably to comparison with much of Africa. The country has seen the development of key institutions of governance and earned a good reputation in some areas such as press freedom. The announced intention to move to a multi-party system offers the possibility of greater democratic change in future. However, there are concerns about some current trends in governance. On the economic front, macroeconomic stability is being maintained, although recent trends have indicated a fall in the levels of growth and some inequities in the distribution of its benefits.

Continuing insecurity in the northern region of Uganda has caused widespread disruption and loss of life. The 17 year old civil conflict, caused by the brutal campaign of the Lord's Resistance Army, LRA, involving atrocities against the civilian population and large-scale abduction of children, intensified in 2003, resulting in a humanitarian crisis with approximately 1.5 million people displaced. The ongoing tragedy represents a major challenge to the Ugandan government, but there are recent indications that the conflict may be entering its final phase. While the Government is pursuing a military campaign against the LRA, it has also indicated willingness to seek a negotiated settlement and has introduced a successful amnesty process. The humanitarian situation remains fragile.

In mid-September 2004, members of the donor community in Kampala, led by the Irish embassy, visited northern Uganda to send a message of solidarity to the people on behalf of the international community and to stress the international community's support for the amnesty process and for dialogue and reconciliation as a way to bring finality to the conflict. The Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs also visited northern Uganda in late September 2004.

On the domestic political front, Uganda has commenced a process of transition from its current no party but one movement democratic system to a multi-party system. On 22 September 2004, a White Paper was published on proposals for constitutional change which endorsed the move to multi-party democracy and the necessary changes in legislation required to enable political parties to operate. A referendum will be required to change the constitution and this is expected to take place during 2005. It is hoped that this process will culminate in multi-party presidential and parliamentary elections in 2006. While the move to multi-party democracy is welcome, proposals emerging from some quarters for a change in the Ugandan constitution which would facilitate a third term by President Museveni are viewed with concern by donors.

The position of donors, including Ireland, is to continue close engagement with the Ugandan authorities with a view to ensuring that the process of constitutional change and the subsequent elections are transparent and free. It will also be important to ensure that the political space is opened up in sufficient time for an opposition to organise and contest the elections in 2006.

Respect for human rights is enshrined in the Ugandan constitution and Uganda has good policies and strong institutions in support of human rights, in particular an active and respected human rights commission. It also has a free press which plays a constructive role in highlighting abuses. An important step to promote press freedom was a ruling by the supreme court in February 2004 that journalists could no longer be charged with publication of false news. At the same time, donors are concerned about incidents of torture and illegal detention by security forces in 2003 and have kept the Government under pressure in this respect. In July 2004 the security agencies agreed to work together with the Uganda human rights commission and the director of public prosecutions to fight torture. This is a positive development, although concrete results will have to be awaited.

In response to donor pressure, Uganda established the Porter judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of illegal exploitation of natural resources and other forms of wealth in the DRC. The Government has underlined its commitment to following up on the commission's findings and bringing to account those implicated in such activities. While there is still unresolved business, action has been taken against key people whom the commission found to be involved, including the army chief of staff, General Kazini, who was dismissed from his post, and the president's brother, Salim Saleh, who was removed from parliament. In mid-September 2004, a number of donors, including Ireland, met President Museveni to stress the need for the government to reconfirm its political will to fight corruption and act accordingly.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC, the peace process remains largely on track, although recent events, particularly the assault and capture of the town of Bukavu in eastern DRC by rebel forces last June, have underlined the fragility of the transition process established under the Sun City peace accords of 2002. There is a clear need for accelerated progress in implementing the transition if the target of elections in 2005 is to be met and lasting peace and security are to be achieved in the country and, indeed, in the wider Great Lakes region.

Some recent positive developments have occurred, including agreement on establishment of a border joint verification mechanism between the DRC and Rwanda, which will deploy permanent joint verification teams to two border towns; a second agreement concluded en marge of the UNGA ministerial week under US auspices between the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda and providing for establishment of a tripartite mechanism between the three countries; and final settlement of a long running disagreement over the core membership of the international conference on the Great Lakes which is currently scheduled to take place in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, at the end of November.

UN Secretary General Annan presented proposals for a substantial reinforcement of the MONUC mission in the DRC to the UN Security Council in August. The proposals provide for an effective doubling of MONUC's strength from just under 12,000 at present to over 24,000 personnel and also adjustments to MONUC's mandate to allow it to focus more on essential tasks such as support to the transition process and improving the security situation in eastern DRC.

The UN Security Council adopted resolution 1565 on 1 October 2004 which extends MONUC's mandate until 31 March 2005 and provides for an increase of 5,900 in MONUC's strength, with the additional resources being used to provide an extra battalion in the troubled Kivus region and also a rapid reaction capability. The EU has made clear its willingness to assist the UN in reinforcement of MONUC.

Support for the peace process in the DRC was a major priority of the Irish Presidency and the EU is actively contributing to strengthening the transitional institutions and helping them to extend their authority throughout the territory of the DRC. Apart from financial support for the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, the EU is also providing support, in a two phase project, towards the establishment of an integrated police unit in Kinshasa, with the emphasis in the initial phase on training and rehabilitation of the training infrastructure. Ireland has contributed €75,000 towards the costs of establishment of this unit.

Recent events in the DRC have also underlined the importance of the regional dimension to building peace in the DRC and the Great Lakes region. The European Union fully supports, and has been actively engaged, through the EU special representative for the Great Lakes region, in the preparations for the proposed international conference on the Great Lakes region which is currently scheduled to begin in November 2004. The conference will focus on peace, security, democracy and development in the Great Lakes region and will be held under the auspices of the African Union and the UN. Ireland has provided €200,000 in support of this conference.

Conference on Poverty.

Questions (75, 76)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

201 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his predecessor’s attendance at the UN conference on poverty in September 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25353/04]

View answer

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

215 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government was represented at the recent United Nations special conference on poverty; the details of commitments made by Ireland; the timescale for their achievement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25327/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 201 and 215 together.

The event to which the Deputies refer was the high level meeting of world leaders for action against hunger and poverty organised at the initiative of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. Ireland was represented at the meeting by the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen.

The meeting took place at UN headquarters in New York on 20 September 2004. Its purpose was to discuss the findings of a technical group set up by President Lula to explore innovative sources of development financing. The outcome of the meeting was a political declaration aimed at advancing consideration of the issues raised in the report of the technical group and galvanising political support for the implementation of viable financing mechanisms. The issues addressed in the report included mandatory mechanisms such as taxation of financial transactions and the arms trade, the UK proposal for the international financial facility and special drawing rights under the IMF for financing for development. The document represented an attempt to reach consensus on possible avenues for achieving the millennium development goals by 2015.

No specific commitments were sought other than support for the political declaration. The EU Presidency delivered a statement on behalf of the 25 member states, in which the collective support of the EU was recorded.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Questions (77)

Michael Ring

Question:

202 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has held discussions with the Department of Defence with regard to European proposals in the area of common security and defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25228/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I very much look forward to discussing various issues of concern to both our Departments with the Minister of Defence, including issues relating to European security and defence policy. I am very conscious of the importance of close co-operation and co-ordination between the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence. Officials from my Department and from the Department of Defence are in ongoing contact on a wide range of issues, including in the area of ESDP.

Question No. 203 answered with QuestionNo. 165.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (78)

John Perry

Question:

204 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political situation in Venezuela; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25232/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The political situation in Venezuela in recent months has been focused on the outcome of the presidential recall referendum held on 15 August 2004. President Hugo Chavez won this referendum with 59% of the vote and the result has been endorsed by the main international observers, the Organisation of American States and the Carter Center, whose observer mission was headed by the former US President, Jimmy Carter. The United States has also recognised that the referendum result is valid.

The European Union did not deploy an observer mission for the recall referendum due to a lack of agreement with the Venezuelan electoral authorities on methodology. However, it supported the role of the OAS and the Carter Center and in a statement on the outcome of the referendum, the Netherlands Presidency congratulated Venezuela on the historically large turnout and hoped that political stability would soon return to that country, with all parties contributing to this end.

While the referendum result has thus been widely acknowledged internationally, opposition parties in Venezuela have continued to claim that the results were tainted by electoral malpractices. In the run-up to the referendum those opposed to President Chavez had organised under the umbrella group, Coordinadora Democrática, democratic co-ordinator. However, there have been reports since the referendum of divisions within the opposition, with some smaller parties announcing that they intend to boycott state and municipal elections now scheduled to take place on 31 October 2004.

The European Union, while welcoming the conduct and outcome of the recall referendum, remains concerned about aspects of a number of policies being pursued by the Venezuelan Government, particularly on the independence of the judiciary and the media. Ireland shares the hope of our EU partners that the referendum outcome can lead to a process of national reconciliation. We will continue to monitor the political situation in Venezuela and seek to engage constructively with the administration of President Chavez.

EU Enlargement.

Questions (79, 80)

Willie Penrose

Question:

205 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the state of negotiations with Turkey regarding its application for EU membership; if his attention has been drawn to recent comments from the French Foreign Minister that a referendum may be required in France to facilitate Turkey’s entry into the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25324/04]

View answer

Billy Timmins

Question:

210 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts being made by Turkey to meet the Copenhagen criteria for accession to the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25210/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 205 and 210 together.

The Helsinki European Council in December 1999 decided that Turkey is a candidate country destined to join the European Union on the basis of the same criteria applied to other candidate states. The Copenhagen European Council in December 2002 made the clear commitment that if the European Council meeting in December 2004 decides that Turkey has fulfilled the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU will open accession negotiations without delay. This commitment was reaffirmed by the most recent European Council, under the Irish Presidency, on 18 June. The political criteria require a candidate country to have achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities.

The June European Council welcomed the significant progress made to date by Turkey in the reform process, including the important and wide ranging constitutional amendments adopted in May. It also welcomed the continued and sustained efforts of the Turkish government to meet the Copenhagen political criteria and emphasised the importance of concluding the remaining legislative work and accelerating efforts to ensure decisive progress in the full and timely implementation of reforms at all levels of administration and throughout the country. There have been important legislative developments since June, including the adoption by the Turkish Parliament on 26 September of a comprehensive new penal code.

On 6 October, the European Commission presented its 2004 regular report on Turkey's progress towards accession together with its recommendation, for consideration by the December European Council. The Commission also presented an initial study on issues arising from Turkey's membership perspective. The Government has welcomed the very comprehensive report and recommendation from the Commission, which deserve close study by all member states as we prepare for the important decision to be taken by the December European Council.

The Commission notes that Turkey has made substantial progress in its political reform process, particularly in the past two years. It draws attention to a number of reforms which have been legislated for, but which have not yet entered into force. The Commission concludes that in view of the overall progress of reforms, and provided that Turkey brings into force certain key outstanding legislation, it considers that Turkey sufficiently fulfils the political criteria and recommends that accession negotiations be opened. The issue of the timing of the opening of negotiations would be a matter for decision by the European Council.

In its recommendation, the Commission notes that the irreversibility of the reform process in Turkey and, in particular, its implementation with regard to fundamental freedoms, will need to be confirmed over a longer period of time. It suggests a detailed strategy for the pursuit of negotiations, which would reinforce and support the reform process. The Commission makes it clear that accession negotiations with Turkey would, by their very nature, be part of an open ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand.

The Government has welcomed the remarkable progress which Turkey has made in recent years in the adoption of wide ranging constitutional and administrative reforms. The Turkish Government has welcomed the Commission's report and recommendation. I expect that it will maintain its efforts over the coming weeks in order to ensure that the conditions are in place for a positive decision by the European Council in December, leading to the opening of accession negotiations.

The question of Turkey's accession has been the subject of political debate in all member states, including France. I have noted the statement by Foreign Minister Barnier on 27 September that, in his personal opinion, a decision should be taken by referendum in France. President Chirac stated on 1 October that a referendum would only be held when accession negotiations had been completed, which he expected to take up to 15 years. As with previous enlargements, if Turkey were to conclude accession negotiations, the terms and conditions under which it would join the Union would be set out in an accession treaty, which would require ratification by Turkey and by each of the member states, in accordance with their national procedures.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (81)

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

206 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the wish of the people of West Papua to have the undemocratic decision presided over by the UN rescinded, and their aspiration to independence respected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25296/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I acknowledge the concern which exists about the manner in which the act of free choice was conducted in West Papua. However, as has been stated on many occasions in the House, the review of the act of free choice would require the support of UN member states. Inquiries made by our Permanent Representative to the UN confirm that, at present, there is no significant support for such an initiative. This was confirmed to me by the UN Secretary General when I raised the matter with him during his recent visit to Ireland.

There is, moreover, a possibility that pursuing the issue of the act of free choice would prejudice ongoing efforts to develop and strengthen dialogue with the government in Jakarta, and would not contribute to the amelioration of the current situation of the Papuan people. The view of the Government is that the most productive approach to dealing with the situation of the people of Papua is through contact with the government of Indonesia.

The Government will continue to avail of every opportunity to encourage the government of Indonesia to strengthen its efforts to address the legitimate aspirations of the people of Papua. In this regard, I welcome the commitment expressed by president-elect Yudhoyono of Indonesia to implement the special autonomy law for Papua. This law dates from November 2001 but has not yet been implemented. It provides for a greater degree of autonomy for Papua than for Indonesia's other provinces.

My predecessor met the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Mr. Noor Hassan Wirajuda, in the margins of the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2004. The former Minister, Deputy Cowen, used the occasion to express Ireland's continuing concerns about the situation in Papua. These concerns had previously been raised with Minister Wirajuda in April 2004, during an EU Troika meeting, and again in January 2003, on the occasion of the EU-ASEAN Foreign Ministers' meeting. Minister Wirajuda took note of our concerns, and expressed his belief that the special autonomy law will satisfy the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the people in Papua. He said autonomy remains the settled policy of the government of Indonesia and that the strengthened democracy in Indonesia, following successful presidential and legislative elections, would increase autonomy. My predecessor made it clear that we would be carefully monitoring the situation in this regard.

The EU External Relations Council of 11 October 2004 adopted conclusions on Indonesia, which reiterated the EU's respect for the territorial integrity of the Republic of Indonesia and welcomed president-elect Yudhoyono's intention to implement special autonomy for Papua. Officials of my Department regularly discuss the situation in Papua with their counterparts from Indonesia, representatives of various Papuan NGOs, as well as from third countries, such as Australia and the United States.

Ireland, together with our EU partners, will continue to support the development of a strengthened partnership and effective dialogue between the EU and Indonesia. As I have said, the Government sees this as the most effective framework at this time for addressing our concerns about the situation in Papua.

EU Constitution.

Questions (82)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

207 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the expansion of the so-called Petersberg Tasks (details supplied) in the EU constitution into the fight against terrorism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25360/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Article III — 309 of the European constitution updates and expands the Petersberg Tasks, which currently cover humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping and peacemaking, to include joint disarmament operations, military advice and assistance tasks and post-conflict stabilisation. The constitution makes clear that all these tasks may contribute to combating terrorism, including by supporting third countries in their efforts to tackle terrorism in their territories. This is in keeping with the obligations placed on all member states of the United Nations, under UN Security Council Resolution 1373.

The Government supported the expansion of the Petersberg Tasks during negotiations on the constitution and very much welcomes the Union's capacity to make a meaningful contribution to global peace and security through these tasks. The threat of terrorism is a serious one both for Europe and for our partners outside the EU. We need to ensure that the Union does its utmost to assist in countering this threat.

Indeed, the Union's objectives in this regard have been clearly set out in the European Council declaration on combating terrorism of March 2004 which was co-ordinated under the Irish Presidency. The declaration represents the Union's most comprehensive strategy statement to date and includes measures relating to the sharing of intelligence, the financing of terrorism, protecting populations and transport infrastructure, assistance to victims and international co-operation.

The declaration was formulated in the wake of the horrific bombings in Madrid on 11 March. In specific response to these, the European Council also agreed to the immediate implementation of the terms of the solidarity clause subsequently enshrined in the European constitution. This was an important political message that acts of terrorism represent an attack on the values on which the Union is founded and will be dealt with in a spirit of solidarity by the member states of the Union.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Questions (83, 84)

John Bruton

Question:

208 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide a full update on the situation in Northern Ireland; his views on the meetings held at Leeds Castle; the steps to be taken to bring about the resumption of the Northern Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25230/04]

View answer

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

223 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress made to date in resolving the outstanding issues from the Leeds Castle talks; the nature of the outstanding issues to be resolved; if these issues are capable of being resolved within the binding terms of the existing Agreement; if not, the nature and extent of amendments they may require; if, in the event of parties failing to agree, the British and Irish Governments will endeavour to present an alternative plan that seeks to implement as much of the Good Friday Agreement as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25302/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 208 and 223 together.

At Leeds Castle, the Taoiseach and the Government team worked hard to achieve resolutions to the four outstanding issues identified by the two Governments, namely, an end to paramilitary activity; decommissioning; stability of the political institutions; and policing, including the devolution of policing and justice powers.

At the conclusion of the talks, the two Governments stated their belief that the issues of paramilitary activity and decommissioning could now be resolved. However, consensus was not achieved on possible changes to the operation of the institutions in strands one, two and three of the Agreement. The review of the operation of the Good Friday Agreement was provided for in the Agreement itself. The Government has consistently acknowledged that there may be scope for pragmatic and sensible changes to the workings of the Agreement in the light of practical experience. It has, from the outset, also made clear its openness to considering such changes, once they are consistent with the fundamental provisions of the Agreement.

Since the conclusion of the Leeds Castle talks, the Government has encouraged and facilitated dialogue with and between the parties in order to reach agreement on the outstanding issues. The former Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, met all the parties in Belfast on 21 and 22 September.

The Taoiseach and I met a DUP delegation, led by Dr. Ian Paisley, on 30 September in Dublin. Since my appointment I have also met the SDLP, Sinn Féin, and the Alliance Party, as well as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I hope to meet a delegation from the UUP in the coming days.

Both Governments are determined to move ahead now and have emphasised the urgent need to achieve an accommodation between all sides which does not trespass against the fundamental power sharing nature of the Agreement. We remain focused on securing a comprehensive agreement that definitively resolves the question of paramilitarism and allows for the early restoration of the devolved institutions on a stable and inclusive basis.

EU Constitution.

Questions (85)

Dan Boyle

Question:

209 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will outline the new structured co-operation provisions in the proposed EU constitution (details supplied); the decision making and funding aspects of this co-operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25359/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

In the European constitution, member states express their determination to ensure that the Union is capable of fully assuming its responsibilities as part of the international community. They also recognise that the United Nations may request the Union's assistance for the urgent implementation of its missions. In order to undertake peacekeeping and conflict prevention missions in the framework of the European security and defence policy, the so-called Petersberg Tasks, the Union must be able to use the capabilities, or resources, of member states.

The European constitution puts in place a new arrangement known as permanent structured co-operation to enable those member states wishing to do so to commit to being able to undertake the most demanding crisis management missions. Structured co-operation is open to all member states, on the condition that they undertake to enhance their defence capacities through the development of national contributions and subject to participation in a number of areas specified in Article III — 312.

Member states can signal their decision to take part in structured co-operation once the constitution comes into force. Alternatively, member states who decide not to participate immediately can decide to do so at a later date, providing they meet the criteria outlined.

Decision-making procedures in relation to structured co-operation are set out in Article III — 312 of the European constitution. These provide that decisions will be taken by unanimity among the states participating in permanent structured co-operation. The detailed arrangements for the implementation of structured co-operation, including financial aspects, have yet to be elaborated. The Government will consider further its approach to possible Irish participation in structured co-operation in due course. Such consideration will include an assessment of the national implications from a financial perspective.

Question No. 210 answered with QuestionNo. 205.

Arms Trade.

Questions (86)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

211 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the EU decision to lift the arms embargo against China; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25301/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The European Council on 12 December 2003 invited the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, to re-examine the question of the embargo on the sale of arms to China.

Initial discussion at the GAERC took place on 26 January 2004, when it was agreed to invite the permanent representatives' committee, COREPER, and the political and security committee, PSC, to look into the matter. The issue was further reviewed at the GAERC in April and again last week, where it was decided that the preparatory work should continue, in order that all technical issues surrounding it could be fully examined. Any decision on the lifting of the arms embargo will require consensus among EU partners.

There is broad agreement within the Council that the arms embargo, which was imposed in reaction to the events of June 1989 in Tiananmen Square, does not reflect the quality of the rapidly deepening relationship between the EU and China 15 years on. However, there is as yet no agreement to lift the embargo.

One reason for this is that discussions are still ongoing on a review of the EU's code of conduct, which sets out criteria governing all arms exports from the EU. Also, there is an awareness of public concerns regarding the commitment of the Chinese authorities to the protection of human rights. There is no doubt that there has been a significant improvement in the human rights situation in China since 1989. This is reflected in the regular EU-China human rights dialogue and the joint seminar which took place in Beijing in June on China's ratification of the Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Nevertheless, legitimate concerns persist in Europe and there is ample scope for the Chinese authorities to further demonstrate their stated commitments in relation to improving respect for human rights.

The Government will continue to examine this question with our EU partners, considering our overall relationship with China, our ongoing commitment to human rights and the broader regional and international context. This approach has been conveyed to the Chinese authorities, most recently by the Taoiseach during his discussions with Premier Wen when they met in the margins of the ASEM summit in Hanoi on 9 October 2004.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (87)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

212 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will consider proposing the suspension by the EU of its association agreement with Israel, based on the human rights clause (details supplied). [25315/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Suspension of the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement with Israel is not on the agenda. Consensus within the European Union would be required for such a step. This would not be forthcoming.

The argument has also been made that that such action could have undesirable consequences such as undercutting the role of the EU in the peace process and creating difficulties in implementing our programmes of assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

Furthermore, meetings of the Association Council with Israel provide the opportunity for the EU to highlight its concerns to the Israeli authorities on the human rights implications of its security policies. Article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement reinforces obligations which already fall to the signatories with respect to human rights.

Question No. 213 answered with QuestionNo. 188.
Question No. 214 answered with QuestionNo. 166.
Question No. 215 answered with QuestionNo. 201.

EU Presidency.

Questions (88)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

216 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to a Garda investigation into complaints that luxury cars used to transport VIPs during Ireland’s Presidency of the European Union may not have been licensed as commercial vehicles; if this investigation is now complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25318/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

A complaint was received by the carriage office of the Garda Síochána concerning the use of certain vehicles during the course of the Irish Presidency. I understand that the investigation is ongoing and it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the matter until the investigation has been completed, and the complainant notified of the outcome.

Debt Relief.

Questions (89)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

217 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will elaborate on views expressed at a recent seminar in Rome concerning Government policy on poor country debt relief; the efforts he is making to change those aspects of the World Bank-IMF heavily indebted poor countries initiative identified by the Government as problematic; the level of support among other countries for the views he expressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25317/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

My predecessor, Deputy Kitt, as Minister of State with responsibility for development co-operation and human rights, attended a seminar in Rome entitled, Poverty and Globalisation: Financing for Development, including the millennium development goals, on Friday, 9 July 2004. The seminar was organised by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and attracted, among others, the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, senior representatives of the French, US, Italian and a number of African Governments. Representatives of civil society and development NGOs were also present.

The former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, based his intervention at the seminar on the policy document on developing country debt developed by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Finance and launched in July 2002. The document commits us to work for 100% debt cancellation for the poorest countries and highlights a number of problems with the operation of the World Bank's heavily indebted poor country, HIPC, initiative.

Among the problems with HIPC, which the former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, cited at the seminar were: the need to pay more attention to human development criteria and less to hard economic indicators such as exports; the need to take greater account of the impact of HIV-AIDS on the poorest, disproportionately HIPC, countries of sub-Saharan Africa; and the inadequacy of the HIPC criteria in estimating a country's ability to sustain debt. He also emphasised our belief that any enhancement of HIPC must be financed by financial resources in addition to those already earmarked for overseas development aid.

The former Minister of State addressed the related issues of the need for increases in ODA flows to developing countries and the search for innovative sources of development financing. He again emphasised that all funds accruing from innovative sources should be in addition to the commitment to increased levels of ODA.

Prior to the Holy See seminar, Ireland's Presidency of the European Union offered us a number of opportunities to focus attention on the issue of poor country debt relief, debt sustainability and debt cancellation. The Taoiseach reaffirmed our commitment when he addressed the European Parliament in January 2004. The Minister for Foreign Affairs ensured that the discussion on development issues at the April meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council gave a new impetus to the EU's already significant commitment to HIPC and to debt relief generally. When the EU Ministers for development met in Dublin in June, debt was among the central issues discussed, with trade and HIV-AIDS, and given added emphasis by the presence of Bono, internationally recognised for his campaign for Africa, as guest of honour. At the EU-Africa ministerial meeting in Dublin in April, Ministers welcomed the joint report prepared by debt experts from the African and European sides on the nature, scale and impact of Africa's debt burden. As President of the European Council, the Taoiseach took part in the G8 summit meeting, where he emphasised Ireland's view that the situation of the heavily indebted poor countries is one of the most pressing challenges to world economic and social development.

Recently, officials of my Department participated as members of the Irish delegation to the annual meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, where the debt issue was a central focus of discussion. While there, the officials met representatives of other donor countries and of the HIPC countries, as well as senior staff members of the financial institutions, including the head of the World Bank's HIPC unit.

Support for the cancellation of poor country debt, as advocated by Ireland since 2002, is growing both within the G8 countries and the wider international community. At the meeting in Washington, both UK and US proposals on poor country debt, that include debt cancellation, were discussed. While there was no agreement on how to progress these specific proposals at this time, I think their advocacy by these countries and the debate they generated around the issue of debt cancellation represent a considerable shift in the thinking of wealthier countries on the debt issue. The G8 countries have a crucial leadership role to play in the resolution of the debt problem of the poorest countries, including the pursuit of debt sustainability in the long term. Ireland will continue to attach the highest priority to this issue and will avail of every opportunity to reiterate our strong commitment to the pursuit of a lasting solution to the problem of developing country debt.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (90)

Dan Boyle

Question:

218 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures he has taken to ensure that UN Resolution 1325 on women in conflict has been given effect in the official Irish humanitarian aid programme; and the plans that have been implemented to ensure that emergency and crisis responses of Development Co-operation Ireland and its partner agencies are appropriately gender sensitive. [25358/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

UN Resolution 1325, adopted by the Security Council in October 2000, highlights the particular vulnerability of women in situations of armed conflict. The contents of Resolution 1325 have been taken on board by my Department, especially in its humanitarian policy on emergency response. The ongoing and widespread exploitation and gender based violence perpetrated against women and girls in situations of conflict is a matter of grave concern. Development Co-operation Ireland is currently working with Amnesty International and other NGOs in Ireland to support strategic initiatives aimed at ensuring that violence against women in conflict is given priority both in policy and programming.

Ireland has a strong commitment to gender equality in its overseas development programme generally. Gender is a cross-cutting priority in the policies and strategies guiding the development programme. Last month, a gender equality policy was launched by Development Co-operation Ireland, the Government's official programme of development assistance. This policy emphasises three areas for the advancement of gender equality: full achievement of human rights; equal access to resources and services; and equal participation in political and economic decision-making. Each of these areas is applicable to situations of conflict.

I am also committed to ensuring that our development partners are signatories to best practice policies and codes so as to mainstream gender in the provision of water, sanitation, food aid, shelter and health. Ireland endorses the code of conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and NGOs in disaster relief, which outlines the principles that govern humanitarian action and asserts the rights of populations to protection and assistance. Ireland works closely with a broad range of civil society organisations, including NGOs, in developing a full understanding of the gender specific needs of both men and women in crisis and conflict situations.

Middle East Peace Process.

Questions (91)

Damien English

Question:

219 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts being made by the Government, through the European Union, to progress the Middle East peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25222/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Government's position on the Israel-Palestine conflict has been one of consistent support for a peaceful solution. Together with our EU partners, we are working for a negotiated end to the conflict leading to two states, Israel and Palestine, living at peace within secure and recognised borders.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council considered this issue once again on 11 October in Luxembourg, and in its conclusions reaffirmed the EU's long standing positions on the quartet roadmap and Israel's proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. While an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the northern West Bank could represent a significant step towards the implementation of the roadmap, the Council underlined that the withdrawal must not be an attempt to replace the roadmap and the two state solution it encompasses. It also recalled that settlement activity is contrary to the roadmap.

The Council reaffirmed the position taken by the European Council in March and endorsed in the Tullamore declaration on the conditions which must be met by any Israeli withdrawal plan. The following five elements are essential to make a Gaza withdrawal acceptable to the international community: it must take place in the context of the roadmap; it must be a step towards a two state solution; it must not involve a transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank; there must be an organised and negotiated handover of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority; and Israel must facilitate the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza.

Departmental Staff.

Questions (92)

Emmet Stagg

Question:

220 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the case of a person (details supplied), he has requested a review of checks on staff working in his Department in view of the fact that this person had two previous convictions for theft for which they had served a prison sentence in 1995; the changes in security checks that he has authorised in view of this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25319/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

In June 2004, an individual who had been working on contract in the Department of Foreign Affairs received a four year suspended sentence for the theft of eight laptop computers from the Department. The individual had been contracted from a specialist information technology company to work as part of a team of contractors, to provide IT help desk support for the Department in the lead up to and for the duration of Ireland's Presidency of the European Union.

Failure to complete security checks for this individual, as opposed to a flaw with the security check procedures, occurred on this occasion. All IT staff contracted for the Presidency, including this individual, were the subject of standard security clearance procedures equivalent to those related to the recruitment of full-time staff members in the Department. Unfortunately, due to increasing demands on the IT help desk service and in view of an existing positive working relationship with the individual's employer, the person concerned commenced work in the Department in advance of completion of the normal security checks. The theft of equipment and subsequent arrest of the individual concerned occurred in advance of completion of these checks.

Following a review of procedures and practices resulting from this incident, arrangements for conducting security checks have now been tightened. I assure the Deputy that no one now commences work in the Department in advance of completion of the security clearance procedures.

EU-US Relations.

Questions (93)

Paudge Connolly

Question:

221 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which the EU-US relationship has been renewed arising from the recent EU-US summit here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24982/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The trans-Atlantic relationship has been crucial to the stability and prosperity of both Europe and the US over the past 50 years. We share the same belief in democracy, the rule of law, fundamental rights and open trade between nations. These are values that have forged an enduring partnership, which continues to be a stabilising and positive force in the world.

During Ireland's recent Presidency of the EU, we emphasised the importance of renewing the trans-Atlantic relationship after the divisions experienced last year over Iraq. This approach culminated in the successful EU-US summit in Dromoland Castle in June this year which demonstrated the continuing strength and depth of the transatlantic partnership. The EU and the US adopted seven important joint declarations addressing many of the key challenges that face the world today including on Iraq, as well as on counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, the fight against HIV/AIDS, Sudan, and partnership with countries in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. This outcome has contributed significantly to a renewed trans-Atlantic consensus on the approach to adopt on a number of global issues. The US ambassador to Ireland, Mr. James Kenny, commented recently that the State Department rated the summit as probably the best in the last 15 years.

Obviously, an important feature of an open and mature friendship is the ability to discuss matters of difference. This is an important element of the EU-US relationship. It will be evident from the press conference given by the Taoiseach and President Bush at Dromoland following the summit that differences were raised during their meeting.

A strong partnership between the EU and the US is vital if we are to find durable solutions to the many global challenges facing us, despite the differences between the US and European approaches on some issues. Both bilaterally and within the EU, we will continue to engage with the US to build a more productive transatlantic relationship. In that context, I reiterate the Government's welcome of the appointment of former Taoiseach, Deputy John Bruton, as ambassador and head of the European Commission's delegation to the United States. I am confident he will make an important contribution to relations between the EU and the US in the future.

Question No. 222 answered with QuestionNo. 169.
Question No. 223 answered with QuestionNo. 208.

UN General Assembly.

Questions (94, 95)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

224 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the Irish ministerial address to the UN General Assembly in September 2004; his views on whether the UN is on target to produce its report on UN reform expected in December 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25322/04]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

353 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the speech made by his predecessor at the UN General Assembly in September 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25367/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 224 and 353 together.

My predecessor, Deputy Cowen, delivered Ireland's national statement in the general debate at the start of the 59th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on 23 September 2004. The statement reflected the Government's view that the session just commenced will be one of the most important in the history of the United Nations. After the serious divisions that arose in 2003, and confronted by continued war, terror, ethnic violence and abuse of human rights, the organisation is now engaged in a period of serious reflection. A strong momentum for reform of the United Nations now exists, generated in no small part by its Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, whom we were pleased to welcome to Ireland last week. In addition, preparations are in train for a review of the commitments undertaken at the millennium summit, and of progress to date in the implementation of the millennium development goals.

During this session, therefore, the groundwork must be laid for a new compact by which the member states will invest the United Nations with the strength and capacity it needs to meet the threats and challenges of today, and rededicate themselves to the task of achieving by the target date of 2015 the goals established at the millennium. These goals, as the Secretary-General reminded us last week, include such important aims as halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and ensuring universal primary education.

Our national statement to the General Assembly called for bold decisions, that would restore the determination and idealism of the founding fathers of the United Nations, and provide a more effective system of collective security. Such a system required the unique legitimacy offered by the United Nations and its charter.

A high-level panel on threats, challenges and change was established by the Secretary-General last year. The panel's mandate is to examine and analyse current and future threats and challenges to international peace and security, to identify the contribution that collective action can make in addressing these challenges, and recommend necessary changes, including a review of the principal organs of the United Nations. The panel is on course to deliver its report to the Secretary-General by 1 December. Secretary-General Annan, when he receives the report of the high-level panel, will embark on a series of consultations to establish a basis for consensus. I assured him when I met him last Friday that he would have Ireland's support and help in this complex task.

Our national statement to the General Assembly drew attention to the EU contribution to the panel's work, co-ordinated by Ireland during its recent Presidency. EU partners agreed that security and development are intimately connected and that there should be no hierarchy of threats. The EU contribution pointed to the need for enhanced early warning systems that identified states or societies at risk of instability and for sustained engagement with such states to ensure that they do not descend or relapse into conflict, as well as new structures to ensure such engagement by the UN system and the international community in general. It called for enhanced involvement by the Security Council in addressing the threats posed by terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and pointed to the need to establish a basis for a common assessment of threat and to agree on criteria for intervention. It also pointed to the increasing contribution that regional organisations, including the European Union itself, can make to the maintenance of international peace and security under the overall authority of the Security Council.

There is no consensus among European Union partners on the specific means by which the Security Council itself might be reformed. The Minister, Deputy Cowen, however, told the General Assembly that Ireland favoured a regionally-balanced increase in the membership, in both categories, permanent and non-permanent, which would mean more legitimacy and, therefore, more effectiveness for the Security Council. He also pointed out that an effective Security Council required more than a change in structures, it also required a change in attitudes. Those who aspired to world leadership bore a particular responsibility to act in the global interest.

Ireland's national statement this year could not but condemn the dreadful terrorist attacks that had recently taken place, particularly at Beslan in southern Russia, where hundreds of innocents — men, women and especially children — were ruthlessly slaughtered. It also recalled that terrorism can rarely be defeated exclusively military or security means alone and that it was necessary to address root causes and maintain due regard for international law and human rights norms.

The statement dealt with non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear non-proliferation. We signalled our intention to work with our New Agenda Coalition partners to strengthen the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at its forthcoming review, noting the mutually reinforcing nature of disarmament and non-proliferation. The importance of dealing with the threat posed by conventional weapons and land mines was also stressed.

The Minister, Deputy Cowen, offered the General Assembly the Government's perspectives on a range of regional issues. He urged the authorities in the Sudan to fulfil the obligations imposed by the Security Council, to co-operate closely with the monitoring mission of the African Union, to bring the Janjaweed militias under control and disarm them, to bring to justice those responsible for serious violations of human rights and bring about secure conditions so that people can return voluntarily to their homes. He called on all parties, including the rebel groups, to show flexibility and good will so that the underlying problems of Darfur can be resolved peacefully.

The Minister welcomed the passage of Security Council Resolution 1546 on Iraq, which represented a coming together of the international community on the importance of reconstruction, saying that it was vital that the interim Iraqi government be able to establish a full democratic mandate. He called for an end to the lethal violence that was disrupting the normal development of the country. Ireland has always seen the United Nations as central to reconstruction and, with its EU partners, will seek to ensure that the UN mission is provided with the necessary security to carry out its tasks.

The national statement described the violence that the people of Israel and Palestine suffer as futile and tragic. It called on Israel to halt the expansion of settlements and criticised the line taken by the security fence, which creates severe hardship for Palestinian communities and will perpetuate facts on the ground that will make a resolution of the conflict, which is fundamentally a struggle over land, more difficult. It also called on the Palestinian Authority to assume its responsibilities under the roadmap and to exercise effective and responsible leadership. The statement recalled the Tullamore Declaration, in which EU Ministers acknowledged the impetus that could be given to the peace process by Prime Minister Sharon's plan to withdraw from Gaza, as long as it took place in the context of the implementation of the roadmap for peace.

The Minister, Deputy Cowen, also availed of the opportunity to brief the General Assembly on ongoing work to consolidate peace and stability in Northern Ireland, saying that the complete implementation of the Good Friday Agreement was the best way forward. While it had not been possible to achieve agreement among the parties on the operation of the political institutions of the Agreement at Leeds Castle, he noted that Dr. Ian Paisley had made the point immediately after the talks that "a golden opportunity has been available to realise a stable and entirely peaceful future".

In conclusion, the Minister exhorted the members of the General Assembly to make 2005 the year in which the United Nations was reborn, strong, effective and respected, as its founding fathers intended it to be.

Question No. 225 answered with QuestionNo. 195.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (96)

John Deasy

Question:

226 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level of aid given to Uganda for 2004; if he will estimate the amount to be given in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25221/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

A budget of €30.65 million has been allocated for Ireland's official programme of development assistance to Uganda in 2004. That allocation is in line with the budgetary provisions of my Department's country strategy paper for Uganda, which sets out the strategy for Ireland's programme of development assistance to Uganda for the period 2004-06. The goal of the programme is to support Uganda's efforts to achieve pro-poor and sustainable economic growth, equitable social development and democratic governance, as articulated in Uganda's poverty eradication action plan. The emphasis of the programme is on support for four key sectors: education, agriculture, justice, law and order and health, including HIV/AIDS interventions. The country strategy paper provides for an allocation of €32 million in 2005. Aid is also being given in support of the development activities of civil society bodies in Uganda and in the form of humanitarian assistance.

A further €2.9 million has been allocated in 2004 towards development projects in Uganda under my Department's multi-annual programme scheme, block grant, and non-governmental organisation, NGO, co-financing schemes. This funding is channelled through Irish NGOs and missionaries and goes towards basic education, water and sanitation, primary health care and rural development projects. Funding is also provided for NGO and missionary personnel working in the health, education, administration and technical sectors.

The humanitarian situation in northern Uganda continues to be a source of grave concern. More than 1.4 million displaced people are still seeking shelter in over-congested camps and continue to depend on food assistance for survival. While there have been no major attacks on civilians in the past two months, small-scale ambushes, attacks, looting and abductions continue, constraining the internally displaced from pursuing livelihoods. Access to displaced populations for humanitarian assistance remains a problem.

The World Food Programme, WFP, reports significant shortfalls in the food reserves for northern Uganda. Ireland has provided a total so far of €623,000 in emergency humanitarian assistance to Uganda in 2004, including €500,000 to WFP for food assistance to the internally displaced. My officials will keep this situation under close review and will respond to any changes in the situation.

Question No. 227 answered with QuestionNo. 188.

International Atomic Energy Agency.

Questions (97)

Dan Neville

Question:

228 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide an up-to-date report on the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Libya; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25225/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

On 19 December 2003, Libya announced its intention to eliminate all "materials, equipment and programmes which lead to the production of internationally proscribed weapons". In the months since, the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, has been working closely with the Libyan authorities to gain a complete picture of its nuclear programme.

On 10 March 2004, the board of governors of the IAEA adopted a resolution welcoming Libya's voluntary decision and requesting it to provide continuing co-operation and full disclosure. The board also agreed to report past non-compliance to the Security Council for information purposes.

The director general of the agency, Dr. Mohammed El Baradei, delivered his latest report on Libya's nuclear programme at a meeting of the IAEA board of governors in Vienna last month. The agency's assessment was that Libya's declarations on its uranium conversion programme, enrichment programme and other past nuclear-related activities appear to be consistent with the information available to and verified by the agency. The report confirmed that Libya has shown good co-operation with the agency by providing information and prompt access to locations requested. It was noted, however, that there are still some areas related to the acquisition of uranium hexafluoride, uranium conversion technology and enrichment technology that need further investigation. The director general has indicated he will continue to report developments to the board as part of the periodic reporting of the agency's verification activities.

It is important that Libya facilitate the IAEA's continued investigations by providing all necessary information, particularly with respect to the illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and the origins of such materials. Full and close co-operation by all third countries with the agency is also needed in order to clarify the outstanding questions.

Ireland fully supports the work of the IAEA in verifying the dismantlement of the Libyan programme. We welcome Libya's signature and decision to implement an additional protocol and its ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Ireland has also welcomed Libya's accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention and subsequent declaration of its chemical weapons agents. As with the IAEA's verification activities, we are looking forward to Libya's continued co-operation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, OPCW, with regard to fulfilling its obligations to comply with the requirements of the convention.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (98)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

229 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the relief the Government has allocated and sent to Haiti; his proposals to improve and facilitate the operation of the UN agencies and other relief agencies in that country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25284/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Hurricane Ivan, one of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the Caribbean in recent memory, ravaged the islands of Haiti and Grenada last month. More than 1,500 people lost their lives in Haiti and a further 300,000 have been affected by the subsequent flooding. Severe environmental degradation has exacerbated the effects of the hurricane.

Haiti is one of the world's poorest countries and has been the recipient of Irish development assistance prior to the current crisis. To date, €1.5 million has been committed in emergency and development funding to Haiti. This figure includes €250,000 which I approved on 4 October for emergency humanitarian programmes, specifically in response to Hurricane Ivan. This assistance is being delivered through NGOs, UN agencies and the Red Cross.

The current situation in Haiti is still very much in the emergency phase. When the position is stabilised, recovery and reconstruction will be a major task. Although the challenge is enormous, Ireland stands ready to assist the Government and people of Haiti in the recovery efforts.

Question No. 230 answered with QuestionNo. 165.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (99)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

231 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures which have been put in place to co-operate with and support the work of the International Criminal Court on behalf of this State particularly in view of continued perpetration, for example, of crimes against humanity in Sudan. [25351/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland is obligated, as a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, ICC, to co-operate with the ICC in its investigation and prosecution of crimes under its jurisdiction. Legislation to allow the State to implement these obligations, the International Criminal Court Bill 2003, has been prepared by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and has recently completed Second Stage before this House.

Ireland and its EU partners have been consistent and strong supporters of the work of the ICC, and have repeatedly stated their commitment to the establishment of a fully functional, independent court. In the Council Common Position on the ICC of June 2003, the EU and its member states commit themselves to supporting the development of training and assistance for judges, prosecutors, officials and counsel in work related to the court. The EU and its member states have also been active supporters of programmes to strengthen the capacity of the justice systems of third states, thus enhancing the ability of these states to co-operate with the ICC when requested by it to do so.

With regard to the Deputy's comments on the situation in Sudan, it should be pointed out that under article 13 of the Rome statute, the court can normally exercise jurisdiction only in cases of acts committed on the territory of a state party or by a national of a state party. Sudan signed the Rome statute in September 2000, but has not yet ratified it. However, article 13(b) of the Rome statute would allow the ICC to exercise jurisdiction over the situation in Sudan if the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, chooses to refer the situation to the prosecutor of the ICC.

EU Enlargement.

Questions (100)

Gerard Murphy

Question:

232 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timescale for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25212/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The European Union's objective, as stated in the European Council Conclusions of 17-18 June, is that both Bulgaria and Romania should conclude negotiations in 2004, sign the accession treaty in 2005 and accede in January 2007, if they are ready. Negotiations will be concluded on the same basis and principles which applied to the ten new member states which acceded on 1 May 2004.

On 6 October 2004, the European Commission published its annual reports on progress towards the EU accession of Bulgaria and Romania, as well as an overall strategy paper on progress in the enlargement process. The Commission makes clear in these reports that both Bulgaria and Romania have made good progress this year in their preparations for EU accession.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (101)

Willie Penrose

Question:

233 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position on the conflict between the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco; the position in relation to the UN referendum in the area known as the former Spanish Sahara; the position on the prisoners of both sides; if he will confirm the Government’s recognition of the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25325/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Ireland is a long-standing supporter of the right of the Saharawi people to self-determination. The Government played a prominent role in seeking a solution to the Western Sahara dispute during its term on the Security Council.

The conflict in the Western Sahara ended with the brokering by the UN in 1991 of a ceasefire which has been maintained under the monitoring of the United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, although the conflict gave rise to numerous humanitarian issues which remain unresolved. MINURSO's efforts to carry out the referendum in the Western Sahara have been frustrated to date by the inability of the parties to agree on the list of qualified voters.

On 31 July 2003 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1495 which, in addition to extending the mandate of the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, also recommended the acceptance by all sides of the Baker II plan. This plan was drawn up by Mr. James A. Baker during his term as personal envoy of the UN Secretary General and formally presented by the Secretary General to the Security Council for its endorsement on 23 May 2003. The Baker II plan proposes a transitional period of four to five years during which Western Sahara would be self-governing under Moroccan sovereignty. A Western Sahara Authority, WSA, under a chief executive would be responsible for local government, internal security, law enforcement, the economy, welfare and education, while Morocco would be responsible for foreign relations, national security and defence. At the end of five years, a referendum would be held giving residents a choice between independence, integration with Morocco or continued autonomy.

The Government believes these proposals represent the best way forward towards a negotiated settlement of the issue which fully respects the right to self-determination of the Saharaoui people. Algeria and the Polisario Front have indicated their willingness to explore these proposals, while Morocco continues to reject them. United Nations efforts to secure agreement between the parties, led by the Secretary General's special representative, continue with the strong support of the Government.

The Government position on recognition is that there is as yet no Saharan state that meets international established criteria for recognition. Such a step would in any event prejudge the outcome of the UN efforts, which, as I have noted, the Government strongly supports.

In addition to supporting efforts to secure a political settlement, the Government is concerned over the fates of the combatants in the conflict, including those who disappeared during the conflict and Moroccan prisoners-of-war still held by the Polisario. The Government firmly believes there is a compelling humanitarian case that all prisoners be released immediately and without preconditions. During the Irish Presidency of the EU this year, Polisario released 200 of the remaining prisoners of war. The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, was present to witness the release of the second group of 100 in June. The Government will continue to press all parties to meet their humanitarian obligations without further delay.

Diplomatic Representation.

Questions (102)

Dinny McGinley

Question:

234 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government plans to open more embassies over the coming years; the places where embassies will be opened; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25215/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

In 2001, the Government decided to open new embassies in a number of EU candidate countries on a phased basis, subject to the availability of the necessary resources. New embassies have since been established in Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia and Cyprus and also in Brazil. Presidency offices were opened in Bulgaria and Romania in the run up to and during the Irish Presidency of the European Union to ensure the most effective management of our Presidency in these two countries. The opening of additional missions is under active review at present and I expect this review to be completed in the near future.

Question No. 235 answered with QuestionNo. 166.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (103)

Olwyn Enright

Question:

236 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he raised, since his appointment, any matters of concern with his American counterpart, in particular the holding of persons at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25223/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Since my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have not had the opportunity to meet the Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powell. I have, however, spoken to him briefly when he telephoned to congratulate me on my appointment and he also has written to me expressing his desire to work with me to strengthen the excellent bilateral ties between Ireland and the United States. The Secretary of State, in his letter, reiterated the strong support of the United States for the peace process in Northern Ireland. I share the Secretary of State's wish to strengthen further Irish-US relations not only in our mutual bilateral interest but also to enable us to address the many global challenges common to all of humanity. Our brief exchanges to date have not afforded me the opportunity for discussion of substantive issues or concerns but I look forward to meeting the Secretary of State in the period ahead.

With regard to holding persons at Guantanamo Bay, as the Deputy is aware, the Government's position is that these detainees should be treated in accordance with the provisions of international human rights and humanitarian law. These concerns were conveyed to the US Embassy in Dublin by my Department and were raised by the Taoiseach when he met President Bush in Washington on 17 March 2004. In all contacts with the US authorities on this issue we have been assured that they are aware of their obligations under international law.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Questions (104)

Gay Mitchell

Question:

237 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the recent visit of the Democratic Unionist Party to Dublin; the matters discussed with the DUP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25218/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

On 30 September, together with the Taoiseach, I met a DUP delegation at Government Buildings. The delegation was headed by the leader of the party, Dr. Ian Paisley. This meeting was the first with the DUP leadership to be held in Dublin and it provided a welcome opportunity to discuss further the outstanding issues from the Leeds Castle talks.

As we outlined in the joint statement after those talks, both Governments believe the issues relating to the ending of paramilitary activity and decommissioning can be resolved. However, consensus was not achieved at Leeds Castle regarding possible changes to the operation of the institutions in Strands One, Two and Three. These issues have been the subject of discussions with and between the parties in recent weeks.

The meeting with the DUP at Government Buildings was focused on these outstanding issues. The Taoiseach briefed the DUP delegation on the on-going efforts to bring the necessary clarity and certainty to the question of ending paramilitary activity and capability. In addition, the Government emphasised that any changes to the political institutions must respect the fundamental power-sharing nature of the Good Friday Agreement.

We also stressed to the DUP the importance of seizing the impetus of the Leeds Castle talks and of securing early progress on all of the outstanding issues. The Government is committed to achieving a comprehensive agreement for Northern Ireland that will bring about the early restoration of the political institutions. In order to do so, we will continue to liaise closely with the British Government and the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly, including the DUP.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (105, 106, 107)

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

238 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts made by the Government to assist efforts to secure the release of a person (details supplied) in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25298/04]

View answer

Damien English

Question:

239 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps taken by the Government to assist in the release of a person held hostage in Iraq (details supplied); the advice given by his Department to Irish persons intending to travel to Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25231/04]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

350 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the precise circumstances in which an Irish passport was granted to a person (details supplied); the steps he had taken to secure the release of this person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25122/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 238, 239 and 350 together.

The House will share the deep sense of shock and sadness felt by the Government and by all the people of Ireland following the cruel and barbaric murder of Kenneth Bigley. All Members would join with the Government in expressing their most sincere condolences to his mother and his family, whose courage and fortitude we came to know and admire over recent weeks.

It is against this tragic background that I will outline details of the Government's efforts in the case of Kenneth Bigley. I had hoped to be able to respond to the Deputies' questions in different circumstances and I am very disappointed that all our efforts and pleadings for mercy and humanity to be shown to Mr. Bigley went unanswered.

When the Government learned that Mr. Bigley's mother Elizabeth was born in Dublin, my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, immediately spoke with the British Foreign Secretary and informed him of the Irish interest in the case. The next day, the Taoiseach issued an appeal to the Al Jazeera network in which he appealed for Mr. Bigley's release. The Taoiseach also instructed the Irish Ambassador in London to communicate the sympathy and solidarity of the President, the Government and the Irish people to the Bigley family.

Throughout these weeks, we monitored the case actively. On my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I immediately reviewed the case with my senior officials to see how Irish influence could best be brought to bear. Following on from this, we had contacts with a number of authorities in the region. This included my discussing the Bigley case with the Jordanian Foreign Minister and with the Secretary General of the Arab League. We remained in close touch with these contacts.

On 5 October, following a request from his family, I instructed that an Irish passport be issued to Kenneth Bigley. I was glad to respond positively to this request, in order to help convince his kidnappers of his Irish citizenship and in the hope that it would contribute to the efforts to secure his release. As the son of an Irish-born citizen, Mr. Bigley was automatically an Irish citizen under law and thus entitled to an Irish passport.

Sadly, our efforts and the efforts of the Bigley family, Members of this House, the Jordanian and other Arab authorities, the British Government and the many other governments and leaders throughout the world were ignored by the terrorists who held Kenneth.

The Government has from the outset called on all parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under international law both in regard to the status of civilians and in regard to prisoners of war. In line with this, the Government and the Council of the European Union have publicly and strongly condemned any incidents of abuse of prisoners in Iraq by occupying forces which have taken place as contrary to international humanitarian law. Equally, we have repeatedly deplored the taking of hostages and their subsequent execution by the hostage takers. The Government will continue to play its part, together with our partners in the European Union, in efforts to ensure the fullest possible respect for human rights in Iraq.

In answer to Deputy English's specific question, my Department advises Irish citizens against all travel to Iraq, given that civil unrest is widespread and the risk of violence remains high. This advice is available on the Department's websitewww.dfa.ie.

Departmental Investigations.

Questions (108)

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

240 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Taoiseach if his departmental review of legislation requested by the Attorney General in search of Henry VIII provisions in legislation has been completed; if he will report on the findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24980/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

I assume the audit referred to in the Deputy's question is that referred to in my reply to Question No. 2 of 30 March 2004. To the extent that the audit concerns areas of the Statute Book within my functional remit, it is ongoing at present but has not so far identified instances of legislation of the kind referred to which might require remedial legislative action.

Health Board Services.

Questions (109)

John McGuinness

Question:

241 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the personal assistance being given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 will be extended to more than once a week. [24990/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The provision of health services for people with disabilities is a matter for the health boards-authority in the first instance. Therefore, a copy of the Deputy's question has been forwarded to the regional chief executive of the Eastern Regional Health Authority with a request that he examine the case and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Medical Qualifications.

Questions (110)

John McGuinness

Question:

242 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an application for validation and documents submitted by a person (details supplied) in County Laois in May 2004 will be processed without further delay by the personnel management and development section of her Department; and if a decision will be expedited. [24991/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Applications for the validation of non-national qualifications are received by my Department as the designated authority under the EU directives governing the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. The appropriate professional body, which acts as adviser to my Department, examines all applications to determine equivalence with Irish qualifications. A complete application for validation from the person referred to by the Deputy was received in my Department on 18 August 2004. The documents were checked, processed and forwarded to the professional body at that time. The professional body's assessment will be completed as soon as possible when the final decision will be communicated to the applicant by my Department.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Questions (111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119)

Pat Breen

Question:

243 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason persons (details supplied) in County Clare were refused the special housing aid for the elderly scheme. [25006/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Pat Breen

Question:

244 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a shower will be installed under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare. [25007/04]

View answer

The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Pat Breen

Question:

245 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when repairs will be carried out to a roof under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25008/04]

View answer

The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Pat Breen

Question:

246 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when window replacements will be made under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25009/04]

View answer

The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Pat Breen

Question:

247 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when repairs to a chimney and the installation of heating will be carried out under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25010/04]

View answer

The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Pat Breen

Question:

248 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when window replacements will be made under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25026/04]

View answer

The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Pat Breen

Question:

249 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when repairs will be made under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25027/04]

View answer

The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Pat Breen

Question:

250 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when repairs to a roof will be carried out under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25028/04]

View answer

The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Pat Breen

Question:

251 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when replacement windows and one door will be made under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25029/04]

View answer

The housing aid scheme for the elderly in the Clare area is operated by the Mid-Western Health Board on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Health Board Services.

Questions (120)

Finian McGrath

Question:

252 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the funding for a group (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if it will be given the maximum support and assistance in 2004 and 2005. [25037/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Responsibility for the provision of the services referred to by the Deputy rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Questions (121, 122)

Finian McGrath

Question:

253 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the full national cervical cancer screening programme will be implemented without delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25039/04]

View answer

Brian O'Shea

Question:

309 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to extend cervical screening nationwide; the timescale involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25491/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 253 and 309 together.

A pilot cervical screening programme commenced in October 2000 and is available to eligible women resident in Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary. Under the programme, cervical screening is being offered free of charge to 74,000 women in the 25 to 60 age group at five year intervals.

The Health Board Executive commissioned an international expert in cervical screening to examine the feasibility and implications of a national roll out of a cervical screening programme. The examination included an evaluation of the pilot programme, quality assurance, laboratory capacity and organisation and the establishment of national governance arrangements. The expert's report was submitted on the 12 October 2004 and is now being considered by my Department.

Cosmetic Products.

Questions (123)

Finian McGrath

Question:

254 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if bubble baths, shampoos and shower gels often contain sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate; if these products can have a degenerative effect on the cell membrane; and if she has plans to tackle these health issues. [25040/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Cosmetic products are subject to control under the European Communities (Cosmetic Products) Regulations 1997 (SI No. 87 of 1997). Under these regulations, persons placing cosmetic products on the market are required to ensure that they are not liable to cause damage to human health under normal and reasonably foreseeable conditions of use. Substances in use in cosmetic products continue to be subject to review by the European Commission in consultation with the Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non Food Products. The substances referred to by the Deputy have been in safe use in cosmetic products over many years as surfactants, emulsifying, foaming and cleansing agents and their use has not given rise to concern.

Health Board Staff.

Questions (124)

Jerry Cowley

Question:

255 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the position of a general practitioner in Straide, Foxford, County Mayo, is still unfilled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25052/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Responsibility for the provision of services to medical card holders, including the recruitment and selection of candidates to fill vacant general practitioner positions, is a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board or authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the Western Health Board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Questions (125)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

256 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there are plans to include irritable bowel syndrome as an illness under the Long Term and Disability Scheme Health Act 1970, in view of the increasing number of children and teenagers who have been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. [25058/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Under the 1970 Health Act, a health board may arrange for the supply, without charge, of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition, for the treatment of that condition under the long-term illness scheme. The conditions are: mental handicap, mental illness, for people under 16 only, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia. There are currently no plans to amend the list of eligible conditions.

Other schemes provide assistance towards the cost of approved drugs and medicines for people 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.

Medical Cards.

Questions (126, 127, 128)

Phil Hogan

Question:

257 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a decision will be made on a medical card appeal for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25080/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board-authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Phil Hogan

Question:

258 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a decision will be made on a medical card appeal for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25081/04]

View answer

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board-authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Phil Hogan

Question:

259 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a decision will be made on a medical card appeal for persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25082/04]

View answer

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board-authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

ESRI Report.

Questions (129)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

260 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the recent ESRI report which stated that the health of middle-income persons is suffering due to the fact that they are delaying costly general practitioner visits; the steps she intends to take to ensure that those above the medical card threshold can afford to visit their general practitioner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25083/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The consultation fees charged by general practitioners to their private patients are a matter of private contract between the doctor as the service provider and the patient as the service user. The Department of Health and Children has no role in this relationship.

As regards the issue raised in the ESRI report in relation to the current income guidelines for medical cards, it is the case that the Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage as set out in the health strategy. This will focus on people on low incomes and will give priority to families with children, particularly those with a disability. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Questions (130, 131)

Paul McGrath

Question:

261 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the development control plan for phase 2B of the Midland Regional Hospital at Mullingar was lodged in her Department; if she will make this plan available for review; and the indicative time frame for the implementation of this plan. [25084/04]

View answer

Paul McGrath

Question:

262 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the stages through which the proposed phase 2B of the Midland Regional Hospital at Mullingar must proceed on its progress to the finalisation of this project. [25085/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 261 and 262 together.

Having examined the board's stage 2 submission, development control plan, for phase 2B of the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, my Department approved proceeding to stage 3 planning for the project. The stages through which the project must now proceed, to its completion, are stages 3 to 8 inclusive which are as follows: stage 3 — sketch design; stages 4 and 5 — detail design including tender documentation; stage 6 — invitation of tenders-contract award; stage 7 — construction works; and stage 8 — equipping and commissioning. The development control plan was lodged with my Department in early 2004. As the Midland Health Board is the client for the project, a request to view the plan should be addressed to the board. The Department's letter of approval to proceed to stage 3 planning requested the preparation, by the board, of a management plan for all remaining planning stages to tender stage. This management plan, when available, will allow the preparation of a time frame for completion of the project.

Health Board Services.

Questions (132)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

263 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the assistance that can be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25090/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Responsibility for the provision of care and treatment of the named individual rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply to him directly.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Questions (133)

Enda Kenny

Question:

264 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the plans she has to review the block grant method of annual payment to providers of services to children and adults with disabilities through the health boards; if she is considering making changes to this method of funding such as allocating the funds directly to the individual service user rather than to the service provider; if the multi-annual funding arrangements for services to persons with disabilities will be granted to service providers under a new or the current arrangement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25100/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Under the recently published Disability Bill 2004, my Department has published an outline sectoral plan in respect of the specific health and personal social services provided for people with disabilities. This is an interim plan designed to encompass a programme of work which is to be undertaken over the next 12 to 18 months. The main aspects of this programme are related to the provisions contained in the Disability Bill 2004, together with a strategic review of the services as a whole.

It is expected that this review will examine the significant level of service provision which is already in place, focusing on specific issues which are of concern to people with disabilities and their families and carers, together with statutory and voluntary bodies in this area, with an opportunity to input into the planning and delivery of services over the coming years.

While the strategic review of services may result in a degree of re-prioritisation of existing resources, it is quite clear, given the identified needs of the various groups within this sector, that an ongoing programme of significant additional investment in these services is required. Recognising this, the Taoiseach has given a commitment to a multi-annual capital and current investment programme in the forthcoming Estimates and budget. Decisions on the investment programme for disability-specific services will be announced as part of that process.

The issues raised by the Deputy will be considered within the context of the programme of work to be undertaken in respect of the outline sectoral plan and the strategic review.

National Disability Authority.

Questions (134)

Enda Kenny

Question:

265 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she intends to introduce the national standards for disability services, the final draft of which was passed by the board of the National Disability Authority in September 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25101/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The draft national standards for disability services were received in my Department on last Wednesday and are receiving consideration.

Departmental Correspondence.

Questions (135)

Tony Gregory

Question:

266 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Question No. 387 of 5 October 2004, if, in view of the correspondence (details supplied) which extends from 25 June 2002 to 14 June 2004 from her Department to the person in question, she will have the matter re-examined; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25102/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I regret that, due to an administrative error in my Department, part of my reply to Question No. 387 on 5 October last was incorrect. There has, in fact, been a number of communications between my Department and the persons referred to by the Deputy. However, as I indicated in the previous reply, the clinic in question is privately operated and I have no function in the matter.

Health Insurance.

Questions (136)

John McGuinness

Question:

267 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she has taken or intends to take arising from the legislation passed in 2003 relating to risk equalisation in the health insurance market; if her Department has had discussions with the Health Insurance Authority regarding the issue; if that body has indicated the action which should be taken in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25116/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Provision for risk equalisation is a feature of the health insurance market following the introduction of the risk equalisation scheme 2003.

Under the Health Insurance Acts and the provisions of the scheme, the Health Insurance Authority has a central and independent role to play in whether or not risk equalisation transfers between insurers are warranted. Participating insurers submit data returns to the authority on a six monthly basis, and the authority analyses these returns to assess the level of risk differential between the insurers.

The risk equalisation scheme provides that: (i) risk equalisation transfers cannot be commenced where the difference in the risk profiles of the insurers is less than 2% of the market equalisation percentage; (ii) risk equalisation transfers can only be commenced with a positive recommendation from the authority where the percentage is between 2% and 10%; and (iii) the Minister is obliged to consult with the authority on a decision to commence risk equalisation where the percentage is greater that 10%.

Furthermore, the scheme provides that, in formulating its recommendation, the authority is to have regard to the best overall interests of health insurance consumers, which concerns both the need to maintain the application of community rating across the market for health insurance and to facilitate competition between insurance undertakings. The authority's first report did not recommend the commencement of transfers, the then market equalisation percentage being 3.7%.

Under the legislative provisions in place, a second report is to be submitted by the authority to me before the end of this month, in relation to its analysis of returns for the period 1 January 2004 to 30 June 2004. Given that the time frame as regards the submission of the authority's report to me is predicated on the level of risk profile differences I can say that the latest report will show a difference of less than 10%. In such circumstances, unless the percentage difference is less than 2%, determination of whether risk equalisation is warranted is a matter, in the first instance, for the authority. The action to be taken by me, if any, would be dependent upon the authority's recommendation.

The question of my Department having discussions with the authority on its recommendation does not arise, given the independent statutory role of the authority.

Health Board Services.

Questions (137)

John McGuinness

Question:

268 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if financial assistance or a travel pass will be given to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny to enable her to travel to Dublin for cancer treatment for her baby. [25125/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The provision of health services for people living in County Kilkenny is a matter for the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to examine the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Medical Cards.

Questions (138, 139)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

269 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the estimated cost of the extension of the general medical services scheme to all persons under 18. [25134/04]

View answer

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

270 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the estimated average annual cost to the Exchequer of each medical card issued. [25135/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take questions Nos. 269 and 270 together.

On the basis of the figures contained in the 2003 annual report of the GMS payments board the current cost of extending medical card coverage to include all those aged up to 18 years is in the region of €116 million. This figure relates to fees paid to general practitioners, the costs of drugs and medicines and fees paid to pharmacists. There would also be other associated costs with a medical card such as the dental and ophthalmic schemes. However, this does not take account of any costs, which might result from industrial relations negotiations and any fee increases for the service providers involved.

The 2003 annual report of the GMS payments board indicates that the overall average annual cost of a medical card in respect of general practitioner and pharmacist services provided was €809.48 per person in 2003.

Hospital Services.

Questions (140)

Mildred Fox

Question:

271 Ms Fox asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if funding will remain in place to help with cochlear implant operations for the many persons who opt for this procedure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25141/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The national cochlear implant programme, based at Beaumont Hospital, is funded through the Eastern Regional Health Authority, which is charged with responsibility for commissioning health and personal social services on behalf of the population of the region, and also on behalf of those outside the region who are referred for specialist treatment. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the issue raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Health Board Services.

Questions (141, 142, 143)

Seán Crowe

Question:

272 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether a lack of funding contributes to the delay in the opening of the new meningitis facilities at Exchange Hall in Tallaght; and if discussions or proposals have been initialised to resolve these difficulties. [25147/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Responsibility for the provision of health services to persons residing in Counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to examine this issue and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Finian McGrath

Question:

273 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) will have their application for a grant expedited particularly in relation to the delay. [25155/04]

View answer

The provision of health related services, including occupational therapy 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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

274 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to Question No. 188 of 9 October 2004 in relation to funding MASC in Galway, if there are plans for further funding in 2004-05; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25156/04]

View answer

My Department does not directly fund health and personal social services to victims of abuse. Moneys are made available each year to the various health boards for the provision of such services.

Hospital Services.

Questions (144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

275 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress that has been made in the development of radiation oncology centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway. [25170/04]

View answer

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

277 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if radiation oncology centres will be provided in regions other than those earmarked for Dublin, Cork and Galway, in order that patients do not have to travel 100 miles or further for ongoing treatment; and if she will treat this as an immediate priority. [25172/04]

View answer

Brian O'Shea

Question:

310 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to have the alternative report for radiotherapy submitted by the Cancer Care Alliance (details supplied) considered by Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25492/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 275, 277 and 310 together.

The Government is committed to making the full range of cancer services available and accessible to cancer patients throughout Ireland. To this end, we will provide considerable investment in radiation oncology facilities in the coming years. The central aim is to ensure access by cancer patients throughout the country to high quality radiation oncology in line with best international standards.

The Government's policy on radiation oncology are based on the report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Serves in Ireland. The report was prepared by a multi-disciplinary group of experts in radiation oncology, medical oncology, public health and palliative care, including professional and voluntary bodies such as the Irish College of General Practitioners, the Irish Cancer Society and Aid Cancer Treatment. The report has had significant international endorsement from such bodies as the US National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

Significant progress is being made in implementing the report's recommendations. Approval has issued for the purchase of two additional linear accelerators for the supra-regional centre at Cork University Hospital, CUH, and the necessary capital investment amounting to more than €4 million. Approval has also issued for the appointment of 29 staff for this unit, including two additional consultant radiation oncologists at CUH with sessional commitments to the South Eastern and the Mid-Western Health Boards. Following a three-month commissioning period, the first unit will be ready to treat patients in early 2005. In relation to phase two of the development, the design brief for the expansion to eight linear accelerators was recently submitted by the Southern Health Board to my Department and is currently being examined.

The supra-regional centre at University College Hospital Galway is constructed and the equipment is currently being commissioned. Approval has now issued for the appointment of 102 staff for this unit, including an additional consultant medical oncologist and three consultant radiation oncologists, two of whom have significant sessional commitments to the North Western and the Mid-Western Health Boards. The Western Health Board has been requested to prepare a development control plan to facilitate the expansion from three to six linear accelerators in the medium term. A project team is developing a design brief for this expansion and it is anticipated that it will be submitted to the Department in the near future.

In relation to the Dublin area, six hospitals have now submitted proposals for the development of radiation oncology services. I will be advised by the chief medical officer of my Department on the location of radiation oncology services in the eastern region and by other experts in the area. The chief medical officer will be assisted by a panel of international experts in this regard.

As recommended in the report, the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group has been established. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group's remit encompasses recommending measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. The group will also advise on quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

Funding of up to €1 million is being made available to develop a national Telesynergy® network for oncology services. The aim of the network is to improve service delivery and efficiency, to better use consultant's time, reduce consultant and patient travel, and support earlier and better diagnosis. Telemedicine is a key enabling technology to improve the networking of radiation oncology centres with outreach hospitals thus supporting expert case review, multi-disciplinary meetings, education and research.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

276 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans for the further development of cancer services in the North Eastern Health Board region. [25171/04]

View answer

Since 1997 there has been a cumulative additional investment of approximately €28 million in the development of appropriate treatment and care services in the North Eastern Health Board region, for people with cancer. This investment has enabled the funding of ten additional consultant posts together with support staff in key areas such as medical oncology, haematology, breast surgery and palliative care. The funding has also enabled the appointment of 20 cancer care nurse specialists across the region.

Proposals from the North Eastern Health Board for further developments in cancer services are being considered by my Department in the context of the Estimates for 2005.

Question No. 277 answered with QuestionNo. 275.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

278 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will authorise development of a satellite radiotherapy unit for the south east region. [25173/04]

View answer

John Deasy

Question:

296 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her position with regard to the provision of a radiotherapy unit at Waterford Regional Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25337/04]

View answer

I propose to take Questions Nos. 278 and 296 together.

The Government is committed to making the full range of cancer services available and accessible to cancer patients throughout Ireland. To this end, we will provide considerable investment in radiation oncology facilities in the coming years.

In its decision last year on radiotherapy services, the Government remained open to the provision of a "satellite" radiation oncology unit in Waterford. We are determined to deliver enhanced services for the whole population as soon as possible. There is unanimity about the urgent need for significantly enhanced services in the major population centres of Dublin, Cork and Galway. I will keep the question of networked satellite locations under active review.

The immediate developments in Cork and Galway will result in the provision of an additional five linear accelerators. Five additional consultant radiation oncologists are being recruited for this service. These developments will significantly improve access to radiotherapy for patients in the south east and throughout the country.

As recommended in the report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland, the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group, NROCG, has been established. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group's remit encompasses recommending measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. The group is expected to develop proposals in these important areas. The group will also advise on quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

The NROCG is currently developing a national Telesynergy® network for radiation oncology services. The South Eastern Health Board has advised the Department that a Telesynergy® system should be installed in Waterford Regional Hospital. Arrangements are now being made to install this technology at the hospital which will enable the hospital to develop improved linkages with Cork University Hospital and St. Luke's Hospital, Dublin and reduce patient and consultant travel time.

Health Board Services.

Questions (150, 151, 152)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

279 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will immediately allocate resources for designated transport for patients travelling for radiotherapy treatment. [25174/04]

View answer

Brian O'Shea

Question:

307 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she is to receive the recommendations of the National Radiation Oncology Co-ordination Group in regard to the provision of designated transport for cancer patients receiving radiotherapy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25489/04]

View answer

Brian O'Shea

Question:

308 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the National Radiation Oncology Co-ordinating Group will report to her with recommendations to facilitate improved access to radiotherapy in regard to designated transport and accommodation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25490/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 279, 307, and 308 together.

The Government's objective is to provide a model of cancer care which ensures that patients with cancer receive the most appropriate and best quality of care regardless of their place of residence. In order to achieve this objective, an integrated and co-ordinated approach to the allocation of resources for designated transport and accomodation for patients receiving radiotherapy treatment is required.

As recommended in the report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland, the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group has been established. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group's remit encompasses recommending measures to facilitate improved access to existing and planned services, including transport and accommodation. The group has consulted with the Eastern Regional Health Authority and all health boards in relation to the current transport arrangements for radiation oncology patients. The group is expected to develop proposals in this area at its next meeting, which is due to take place in November.

Environmental Issues.

Questions (153)

Finian McGrath

Question:

280 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that cleaning materials containing bleach and other such substances are not only damaging for the environment but also have a detrimental effect on our health; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25176/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Regulations for the classification, packaging and labelling of cleaning materials, such as those referred to by the Deputy, are a matter for my colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

The Health and Safety Authority, HSA, which comes under the aegis of that Department, has advised that the potential health effects of cleaning agents containing bleach are: corrosive, if concentration is greater than or equal to 10%; irritation to the skin and eyes, if the product comes in contact with unprotected skin and eyes; and toxic, the product has the potential to release toxic gas if it comes in contact with acid.

I am advised that most cleaning agents containing bleach, available to the general public, have a concentration of less than 10%.

The HSA has advised that under the European Communities (Classification, Packaging and Labelling of Dangerous Preparations) Regulations 2004 such cleaning materials must carry an appropriate danger symbol, risk phrases and safety phrases. The danger symbol alerts the user of the danger presented, the risk phrases specify the potential effect, and the safety phrases inform the user of the precautions to be taken when using the product.

Persons using such cleaning materials should do so in accordance with the labelling and instructions so as to avoid any significant risk to human health.

Health Board Services.

Questions (154, 155)

Bernard Allen

Question:

281 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the situation regarding the provision of a new health care centre at Glanmire, County Cork; and when funds will be made available for the construction of the centre. [25180/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

In the first instance, the provision of health centres to meet the needs of local communities and the maintenance and upgrading of such centres within its functional area is a matter for the relevant health board or the Eastern Regional Health Authority. In the case of Glanmire, County Cork, this responsibility rests with the Southern Health Board, SHB.

My Department approved a capital grant of £200,000, almost €254,000, in June 2000 for the purchase of a site for this development. I have been advised by the SHB that the purchase of this site has almost been completed.

My Department will be in a position to consider the question of funding for the design and construction of the proposed development when the SHB has completed the purchase of the site and forward a detailed submission on this project.

Willie Penrose

Question:

282 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of patients awaiting orthodontic treatment in County Westmeath; the numbers waiting in categories A and B; the average waiting time for treatment; the staffing situation in the county in orthodontics; the plans to correct staff shortages; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25183/04]

View answer

The provision of orthodontic services in County Westmeath is the statutory responsibility of the Midland Health Board in the first instance. Orthodontic information by county is not routinely collected by my Department. Therefore, the chief executive officer of the Midland Health Board has been requested to provide the information requested directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Questions (15, 16, 17)

Bernard Allen

Question:

156 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will achieve the United Nations target for overseas development aid by 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25416/04]

View answer

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

157 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is his intention to achieve the UN target for overseas development aid within the period announced to the UN General Assembly; his views on whether the allocation in 2003 left the percentage virtually unchanged; the progress he expects to make in each year to the target year 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25371/04] ]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

158 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason the Government’s commitment to increase overseas aid spending to the UN target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007 will not be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25372/04]

View answer

Oral answers (80 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions No. 156 to 158, inclusive, together.

The programme for Government commitsthe Government to spending 0.7% of GNP onofficial development aid by 2007. The Government will make every effort to meet that target. Our spending on official development aid has increased dramatically in recent years. In 1997 we spent €158 million on ODA. This year we will spend approximately €475 million. Our aid as a percentage of GNP has also increased significantly in the intervening years. In 1992 the figure was 0.16% of GNP. Last year it was 0.4% of GNP.

These increases mean that Ireland is now one of the world's leading aid donors. We are in joint seventh place in terms ofper capita spending on aid, well above the European average. The negotiations for the Estimates for 2005 are currently under way. The Government is committed to building quickly on the substantial progress to date in order to achieve the UN target of 0.7%. The figures for 2002 and 2003 were lower than we would have hoped. However, this was against the background of the economic slowdown that affected all areas of public expenditure. We should be proud of what has been achieved in our development aid programme. Our peers in the OECD regularly evaluate us. The most recent evaluation in 2003 concluded that our development programme is of the highest quality. The taxpayer is getting good value for money. The OECD review stated that our programme distinguishes itself by its sharp focus on poverty reduction and commitment to partnership principles. The focus of our development programme is in line with the UN’s millennium development goals. These goals were set by the international community as a framework by which the commitment to reduce poverty in the world can be judged.

To reduce poverty we must tackle the underlying causes as well as the symptoms. This means that in addition to providing immediate relief to those suffering from conflict, disaster and famine, we must tackle the underlying causes of poverty through long-term assistance programmes. The focus of our programme is on assisting long-term economic growth and the provision of basic services such as education and health care. Good governance, inclusive political processes and human rights are also important elements of our programme.

I am confident that Ireland has a high quality development aid programme with the proper focus on poverty reduction. I intend to make a strong case in the course of the Estimates process for substantial increases so as to reach the UN target of 0.7%.

The Minister stated that we will make every effort to meet the target. Does he agree that this comment is a major retreat from the Taoiseach's solemn commitment made in 2000, when he claimed that we would make the 0.7% target by 2007? Does the Minister agree that that comment was made to get a seat on the UN Security Council? Like the promises made before the last election, this promise has evaporated. In order to meet the target, there are three opportunities in the three budgets before 2007. The first step in reaching the target is to increase the spending to about €570 million this year, increase it to €724 million in 2006 and bring it up to the €892 million required to meet the 0.7% target by 2007.

Can the Minister give a commitment that the Government will bring forward legislation to provide that 0.7% of GNP will be allocated directly to overseas development aid? Enacting legislation will safeguard that budget.

The Deputy has asked a number of questions, the most pertinent of which is on the 0.7% of GNP target. That remains the target of the Government and was arrived at by Cabinet decision. If he listened to both the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach in recent days and weeks, the Deputy would know that target remains in place. We intend to achieve it in line with the Government decision. Some people seem to have mistakenly formed the opinion that I reneged on that commitment. I simply expressed a certain amount of scepticism about our ability to reach the target within the given time frame. The Deputy should not be under any illusion; the time frame for the commitment remains there——

The Minister of State should answer ‘yes' or ‘no'.

The Deputy should allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

The commitment remains to be achieved. For the purposes of discussion on the Estimates, my Department will go into discussions with other Departments and will make the case that the target should be achieved within the time frame outlined.

The idea of needing to incorporate the commitment within legislation is a double-edged instrument. One of the dangers of doing that is that it would lead to calls in other areas, such as health and education, for similar types of commitment. In general, the management of the public service demands a certain amount of flexibility in resource allocation between different Departments. There is also a much used argument against such a particular measure, which is that if the economy was subject to a sharp reduction in growth, then the overall amounts of money available to overseas development aid would sharply reduce in actual amounts. That is a result that most of us would profoundly regret. An instrument designed to guarantee a particular result would actually achieve the exact opposite when our economy went into reverse. For those reasons the Government would discount such a proposal.

I congratulate the Minister officially on his appointment. I think this is the first time he has taken questions. For those of us who have had that experience, including Deputy Allen, it is not in the same category as a maiden speech, but it is not far away.

Is the commitment to reach the target of 0.7% by 2007 the same as the commitment to deliver on benchmarking? In other words, is the Government's commitment to deliver on benchmarking as solid and as clear as the Minister's commitment to use every effort to reach 0.7% of GNP? Are these on the same level, of a similar reliability? My second question is on the idea to put the commitment on a statutory basis. Does the Minister see any difference between that commitment and the one made by the former Minister of Finance in statutory terms, irrespective of the economic circumstances of the day, to commit €1 billion or 1% of GNP to our national pension reserve fund? That is now enshrined in legislation. There is no provision for a downturn in the economy. Why can the same type of commitment not be made to the Third World as is being made to our future pension requirements?

I thank the Deputy for his gracious comments on my latest appointment. For the Department of Finance benchmarking is an issue. The bulk of benchmarking actually has been delivered at this stage. The remainder has yet to be delivered and some of it is subject to local agreement on improvements in performance and efficiency.

Is it subject to negotiation or is it given?

I am not the Minister of Finance and I will not make pronouncements on his behalf. He may take umbrage at them. The pension provision is also an entirely separate matter for the Department of Finance. There is an issue with holding percentage figures in stone. The effect of that is that if there is a reverse in the economy, the actual amount will decrease.

What does that do to benchmarking?

I will not answer the question despite the best efforts of the Deputy, as it is not my Department. The right person to direct that question——

I am talking about the level of commitment in Government terms.

The Deputy should direct that question——

Benchmarking is sacrosanct; this is variable.

I am not suggesting for a minute that it is variable. In my reply to Deputy Allen, I made it absolutely clear that the figure of 0.7% by 2007 is enshrined by a Cabinet decision. It can only be unwound despite——

He claimed he made a strong case.

Despite pronouncements by Deputies on both sides of the House on this matter, it would not have been possible for me to renege on such a promise, as I am not a member of the Cabinet. It has not arrived at a position other than the position as stated routinely in the programme for Government and by the Taoiseach and other members of the Government. That is that the figure remains intact and it is the target of all efforts to achieve that target by the date prescribed.

Will he do it?

I join others in congratulating the Deputy on his elevation. I feel it is deserved. The Minister of State has said that he expressed scepticism. Can his statement be attributed to naivety and inexperience, or was it choreographed? Had he spoken to other members of the Cabinet before he made his statement? The Taoiseach said in Bodenstown that a firm decision has been made, but he was unclear when he was asked about the 2007 deadline. I would like the Minister of State to clarify whether the commitment has been copperfastened. Will the Minister of State deliver the 0.7% target by 2007?

I invite the Minister of State to comment on another intriguing comment made by the Taoiseach at Bodenstown. He said he knew that some people in the audience would like to relate aid with trade. Perhaps the Minister of State, who was in the audience, can explain to the House what the Taoiseach meant by that comment.

The Deputy asked a number of questions. I thank him for his good wishes. I wish to put one suggestion to bed immediately. Neither naivety nor choreography led to my use of the phraseology I used when speaking about the 0.7% target during an interview with RTE on 5 October last. I said, based on my experience of financial and management issues when I was working in the private sector, that when one is trying to achieve a target, one must examine realistically the figures that underpin it.

The Minister of State should stop while he is ahead.

I expressed my opinion after I had studied the books and examined the percentages in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I wish to make clear that our ability to achieve the target was disturbed somewhat by the downturn in 2002 and 2003. The moneys which would have made it much easier to achieve the target were not devoted at that time.

I wish to respond to the question asked by Deputy Gormley by speaking about the wider issue of whether the capacity to achieve the 0.7% figure exists in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the NGO sector. Would it be good to make a splurge of funding available at a particular time by simply transferring moneys to projects in the Third World? It is obvious that one can distribute aid at the drop of a hat. There is a huge wellspring of need. Issues of capacity arise as we try to increase overseas development aid.

Mr. David O'Donoghue has said——

We need to try to improve the capacity of the non-governmental organisations and their organisations and staff.

It is a strange one.

There is no capacity.

We should increase resources at departmental level to ensure that aid is spent in a proper fashion.

Will the 2007 target be achieved?

It is not just me who has made this——

The Minister of State is not answering the question. Will the 2007 target be achieved?

I have said that the Government remains committed to achieving that target. As I understand it, the Cabinet has not made a decision to the contrary. The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have spoken about this matter over the past week. When I addressed the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on 12 October last, I made it quite clear that the 2007 target is the focal point of the Government's activity.

Is it as firm as benchmarking?

That is the target we are trying to achieve. We will work as hard as we can, in the context of the forthcoming Estimates, to achieve the level of funding that will allow the target to be reached. I cannot make it any clearer.

What about aid and trade?

Before I speak about aid and trade——

I ask the Minister of State to conclude so that Deputies can ask supplementary questions.

I wish to address an issue which is quite relevant. Mr. John O'Shea of GOAL has said that he would favour a smaller budget which is spent carefully to an enlarged budget which is not spent carefully. That is a very relevant point.

Who would not spend it carefully?

I do not refer to the comments of a Government spokesman, but of an independent source.

Who would not spend it carefully?

I do not have to tell the Deputy that planned growth is an issue. I think he ran an architect's practice before he was elected to this House — he is probably still involved in such areas. No increase in spending should be sanctioned by the State if we are not absolutely clear that the State is getting value for money.

What about electronic voting?

When one speaks about the Third World——

That is a new one.

——one should consider the sort of regimes which can exist there.

Aid is now related to value for money.

There is huge scope for the misuse of funds in such regimes.

I ask the Minister of State to conclude.

It is important that Ireland's overseas aid should be spent in a proper fashion.

Nobody is arguing with that.

Ireland has a very good international reputation.

Does that mean we should not pursue the 0.7% target?

The OECD has praised Ireland's programme twice in recent years on these precise grounds. Every country in the world does not receive such an appraisal, but Ireland has received such an accolade. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and I are determined to ensure that remains the case. Regarding the relationship between aid and trade——

Give us a chance.

The Minister of State will have to conclude.

I have to wait for the Deputy to ask about that issue.

I will allow Deputy Allen to ask a supplementary question.

With respect, Deputy Gormley asked about relating aid with trade.

I have to allow other Deputies to ask supplementary questions.

The Minister of State mentioned the OECD on a number of occasions. Does he accept that the most recent OECD report stated that the Government is "faltering" in its attempts to reach the target? Does the Minister of State doubt the capacity of the non-governmental organisations to spend the €570 million they expect to receive this year? I have heard such a suggestion today for the first time.

That is what he is saying.

The Minister of State is casting doubt on the organisations. He said that if the organisations receive additional money, he doubts their capacity and that of the Department to allocate it.

I am anxious to allow other Deputies to speak.

The Minister of State also questioned the organisations' efficiency and ability to spend the money effectively. That is a new one on me. I ask the Minister of State to clarify his position in that regard.

The Deputy is misrepresenting me.

I will take supplementary questions from Deputies Gormley and Quinn.

I asked a specific question about the Taoiseach's comments at Bodenstown about relating aid with trade. He said that certain people in the audience at Bodenstown want aid to be related to trade. I did not see too many people there, so the Taoiseach must have been talking about specific people. I would like further information in that regard. That some members of the Government do not consider the question of aid to be a vote winner seems to me to be a problem. Such people would prefer the money to be spent in other ways. They want to spend money on aid only if it will generate trade. That always seems to be the Government's bottom line.

If there is a problem with capacity, as perceived by the Department of Foreign Affairs in terms of the national development co-operation programme, does the Minister of State agree that the target could be reached and our moneys spent wisely by investing prudently in the global fund for combating AIDS, to which the Taoiseach has so eloquently committed himself? There is no capacity constraint, in reality. Doing it efficiently may involve domestic difficulties, but the balance of funding required to meet the target could be invested in a number of internationally approved global funds, such as the global fund for combating AIDS, which is totally under-subscribed.

I ask the Minister of State to conclude, because the time for this question has elapsed.

The answer to Deputy Allen's question is "No". The Government does not question the current capacity of the Department or the non-governmental organisations to deal with the funds which are being allocated to the organisations or flowing from the Department. There is absolutely no issue there. We will significantly increase funding for overseas development assistance as we try to achieve the target figure of 0.7%. It is obvious that the Government's plans to improve significantly the level of aid have implications for resources and staffing.

We have to move on.

Deputy Gormley raised the possibility of a connection between trade and aid. I am not in a position to read into, interpret or extrapolate from the Taoiseach's comments in Bodenstown, but I imagine that he was trying to highlight the fact that a number of countries in Europe and elsewhere are increasing the pressure to link overseas development aid with trade issues. In other words, such countries want to use the overseas development aid they provide as a tool to access more trading opportunities in the countries which receive such aid. I think the Taoiseach was saying, from a deeply idealistic point of view, that Ireland does not approve of such an approach to overseas development aid and rejects it in all circumstances.

The Minister of State was saying quite the opposite.

That is very important.

We have to move to the next question.

That is how I read the Taoiseach's comments. Deputy Quinn is absolutely correct to say that if we had a surfeit of money for overseas development aid but a shortage of programmes to which it could be distributed, it could be given to funds such as the global fund for combating AIDS. Ireland's contribution to that fund has increased by ten times in recent years, from €5 million to €50 million.

I have to call QuestionNo. 159.

The next point I would like to make is that to do so would be rather purposeless. We would be better developing our programmes organically, growing and improving them and expanding the number of countries we prioritise and target.

The time allowed for the question has expired.

Health Board Services.

Questions (15, 16, 17)

Bernard Allen

Question:

156 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government will achieve the United Nations target for overseas development aid by 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25416/04]

View answer

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

157 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is his intention to achieve the UN target for overseas development aid within the period announced to the UN General Assembly; his views on whether the allocation in 2003 left the percentage virtually unchanged; the progress he expects to make in each year to the target year 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25371/04] ]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

158 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason the Government’s commitment to increase overseas aid spending to the UN target of 0.7% of GNP by 2007 will not be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25372/04]

View answer

Oral answers (80 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions No. 156 to 158, inclusive, together.

The programme for Government commitsthe Government to spending 0.7% of GNP onofficial development aid by 2007. The Government will make every effort to meet that target. Our spending on official development aid has increased dramatically in recent years. In 1997 we spent €158 million on ODA. This year we will spend approximately €475 million. Our aid as a percentage of GNP has also increased significantly in the intervening years. In 1992 the figure was 0.16% of GNP. Last year it was 0.4% of GNP.

These increases mean that Ireland is now one of the world's leading aid donors. We are in joint seventh place in terms ofper capita spending on aid, well above the European average. The negotiations for the Estimates for 2005 are currently under way. The Government is committed to building quickly on the substantial progress to date in order to achieve the UN target of 0.7%. The figures for 2002 and 2003 were lower than we would have hoped. However, this was against the background of the economic slowdown that affected all areas of public expenditure. We should be proud of what has been achieved in our development aid programme. Our peers in the OECD regularly evaluate us. The most recent evaluation in 2003 concluded that our development programme is of the highest quality. The taxpayer is getting good value for money. The OECD review stated that our programme distinguishes itself by its sharp focus on poverty reduction and commitment to partnership principles. The focus of our development programme is in line with the UN’s millennium development goals. These goals were set by the international community as a framework by which the commitment to reduce poverty in the world can be judged.

To reduce poverty we must tackle the underlying causes as well as the symptoms. This means that in addition to providing immediate relief to those suffering from conflict, disaster and famine, we must tackle the underlying causes of poverty through long-term assistance programmes. The focus of our programme is on assisting long-term economic growth and the provision of basic services such as education and health care. Good governance, inclusive political processes and human rights are also important elements of our programme.

I am confident that Ireland has a high quality development aid programme with the proper focus on poverty reduction. I intend to make a strong case in the course of the Estimates process for substantial increases so as to reach the UN target of 0.7%.

The Minister stated that we will make every effort to meet the target. Does he agree that this comment is a major retreat from the Taoiseach's solemn commitment made in 2000, when he claimed that we would make the 0.7% target by 2007? Does the Minister agree that that comment was made to get a seat on the UN Security Council? Like the promises made before the last election, this promise has evaporated. In order to meet the target, there are three opportunities in the three budgets before 2007. The first step in reaching the target is to increase the spending to about €570 million this year, increase it to €724 million in 2006 and bring it up to the €892 million required to meet the 0.7% target by 2007.

Can the Minister give a commitment that the Government will bring forward legislation to provide that 0.7% of GNP will be allocated directly to overseas development aid? Enacting legislation will safeguard that budget.

The Deputy has asked a number of questions, the most pertinent of which is on the 0.7% of GNP target. That remains the target of the Government and was arrived at by Cabinet decision. If he listened to both the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach in recent days and weeks, the Deputy would know that target remains in place. We intend to achieve it in line with the Government decision. Some people seem to have mistakenly formed the opinion that I reneged on that commitment. I simply expressed a certain amount of scepticism about our ability to reach the target within the given time frame. The Deputy should not be under any illusion; the time frame for the commitment remains there——

The Minister of State should answer ‘yes' or ‘no'.

The Deputy should allow the Minister to speak without interruption.

The commitment remains to be achieved. For the purposes of discussion on the Estimates, my Department will go into discussions with other Departments and will make the case that the target should be achieved within the time frame outlined.

The idea of needing to incorporate the commitment within legislation is a double-edged instrument. One of the dangers of doing that is that it would lead to calls in other areas, such as health and education, for similar types of commitment. In general, the management of the public service demands a certain amount of flexibility in resource allocation between different Departments. There is also a much used argument against such a particular measure, which is that if the economy was subject to a sharp reduction in growth, then the overall amounts of money available to overseas development aid would sharply reduce in actual amounts. That is a result that most of us would profoundly regret. An instrument designed to guarantee a particular result would actually achieve the exact opposite when our economy went into reverse. For those reasons the Government would discount such a proposal.

I congratulate the Minister officially on his appointment. I think this is the first time he has taken questions. For those of us who have had that experience, including Deputy Allen, it is not in the same category as a maiden speech, but it is not far away.

Is the commitment to reach the target of 0.7% by 2007 the same as the commitment to deliver on benchmarking? In other words, is the Government's commitment to deliver on benchmarking as solid and as clear as the Minister's commitment to use every effort to reach 0.7% of GNP? Are these on the same level, of a similar reliability? My second question is on the idea to put the commitment on a statutory basis. Does the Minister see any difference between that commitment and the one made by the former Minister of Finance in statutory terms, irrespective of the economic circumstances of the day, to commit €1 billion or 1% of GNP to our national pension reserve fund? That is now enshrined in legislation. There is no provision for a downturn in the economy. Why can the same type of commitment not be made to the Third World as is being made to our future pension requirements?

I thank the Deputy for his gracious comments on my latest appointment. For the Department of Finance benchmarking is an issue. The bulk of benchmarking actually has been delivered at this stage. The remainder has yet to be delivered and some of it is subject to local agreement on improvements in performance and efficiency.

Is it subject to negotiation or is it given?

I am not the Minister of Finance and I will not make pronouncements on his behalf. He may take umbrage at them. The pension provision is also an entirely separate matter for the Department of Finance. There is an issue with holding percentage figures in stone. The effect of that is that if there is a reverse in the economy, the actual amount will decrease.

What does that do to benchmarking?

I will not answer the question despite the best efforts of the Deputy, as it is not my Department. The right person to direct that question——

I am talking about the level of commitment in Government terms.

The Deputy should direct that question——

Benchmarking is sacrosanct; this is variable.

I am not suggesting for a minute that it is variable. In my reply to Deputy Allen, I made it absolutely clear that the figure of 0.7% by 2007 is enshrined by a Cabinet decision. It can only be unwound despite——

He claimed he made a strong case.

Despite pronouncements by Deputies on both sides of the House on this matter, it would not have been possible for me to renege on such a promise, as I am not a member of the Cabinet. It has not arrived at a position other than the position as stated routinely in the programme for Government and by the Taoiseach and other members of the Government. That is that the figure remains intact and it is the target of all efforts to achieve that target by the date prescribed.

Will he do it?

I join others in congratulating the Deputy on his elevation. I feel it is deserved. The Minister of State has said that he expressed scepticism. Can his statement be attributed to naivety and inexperience, or was it choreographed? Had he spoken to other members of the Cabinet before he made his statement? The Taoiseach said in Bodenstown that a firm decision has been made, but he was unclear when he was asked about the 2007 deadline. I would like the Minister of State to clarify whether the commitment has been copperfastened. Will the Minister of State deliver the 0.7% target by 2007?

I invite the Minister of State to comment on another intriguing comment made by the Taoiseach at Bodenstown. He said he knew that some people in the audience would like to relate aid with trade. Perhaps the Minister of State, who was in the audience, can explain to the House what the Taoiseach meant by that comment.

The Deputy asked a number of questions. I thank him for his good wishes. I wish to put one suggestion to bed immediately. Neither naivety nor choreography led to my use of the phraseology I used when speaking about the 0.7% target during an interview with RTE on 5 October last. I said, based on my experience of financial and management issues when I was working in the private sector, that when one is trying to achieve a target, one must examine realistically the figures that underpin it.

The Minister of State should stop while he is ahead.

I expressed my opinion after I had studied the books and examined the percentages in the Department of Foreign Affairs. I wish to make clear that our ability to achieve the target was disturbed somewhat by the downturn in 2002 and 2003. The moneys which would have made it much easier to achieve the target were not devoted at that time.

I wish to respond to the question asked by Deputy Gormley by speaking about the wider issue of whether the capacity to achieve the 0.7% figure exists in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the NGO sector. Would it be good to make a splurge of funding available at a particular time by simply transferring moneys to projects in the Third World? It is obvious that one can distribute aid at the drop of a hat. There is a huge wellspring of need. Issues of capacity arise as we try to increase overseas development aid.

Mr. David O'Donoghue has said——

We need to try to improve the capacity of the non-governmental organisations and their organisations and staff.

It is a strange one.

There is no capacity.

We should increase resources at departmental level to ensure that aid is spent in a proper fashion.

Will the 2007 target be achieved?

It is not just me who has made this——

The Minister of State is not answering the question. Will the 2007 target be achieved?

I have said that the Government remains committed to achieving that target. As I understand it, the Cabinet has not made a decision to the contrary. The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have spoken about this matter over the past week. When I addressed the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs on 12 October last, I made it quite clear that the 2007 target is the focal point of the Government's activity.

Is it as firm as benchmarking?

That is the target we are trying to achieve. We will work as hard as we can, in the context of the forthcoming Estimates, to achieve the level of funding that will allow the target to be reached. I cannot make it any clearer.

What about aid and trade?

Before I speak about aid and trade——

I ask the Minister of State to conclude so that Deputies can ask supplementary questions.

I wish to address an issue which is quite relevant. Mr. John O'Shea of GOAL has said that he would favour a smaller budget which is spent carefully to an enlarged budget which is not spent carefully. That is a very relevant point.

Who would not spend it carefully?

I do not refer to the comments of a Government spokesman, but of an independent source.

Who would not spend it carefully?

I do not have to tell the Deputy that planned growth is an issue. I think he ran an architect's practice before he was elected to this House — he is probably still involved in such areas. No increase in spending should be sanctioned by the State if we are not absolutely clear that the State is getting value for money.

What about electronic voting?

When one speaks about the Third World——

That is a new one.

——one should consider the sort of regimes which can exist there.

Aid is now related to value for money.

There is huge scope for the misuse of funds in such regimes.

I ask the Minister of State to conclude.

It is important that Ireland's overseas aid should be spent in a proper fashion.

Nobody is arguing with that.

Ireland has a very good international reputation.

Does that mean we should not pursue the 0.7% target?

The OECD has praised Ireland's programme twice in recent years on these precise grounds. Every country in the world does not receive such an appraisal, but Ireland has received such an accolade. The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and I are determined to ensure that remains the case. Regarding the relationship between aid and trade——

Give us a chance.

The Minister of State will have to conclude.

I have to wait for the Deputy to ask about that issue.

I will allow Deputy Allen to ask a supplementary question.

With respect, Deputy Gormley asked about relating aid with trade.

I have to allow other Deputies to ask supplementary questions.

The Minister of State mentioned the OECD on a number of occasions. Does he accept that the most recent OECD report stated that the Government is "faltering" in its attempts to reach the target? Does the Minister of State doubt the capacity of the non-governmental organisations to spend the €570 million they expect to receive this year? I have heard such a suggestion today for the first time.

That is what he is saying.

The Minister of State is casting doubt on the organisations. He said that if the organisations receive additional money, he doubts their capacity and that of the Department to allocate it.

I am anxious to allow other Deputies to speak.

The Minister of State also questioned the organisations' efficiency and ability to spend the money effectively. That is a new one on me. I ask the Minister of State to clarify his position in that regard.

The Deputy is misrepresenting me.

I will take supplementary questions from Deputies Gormley and Quinn.

I asked a specific question about the Taoiseach's comments at Bodenstown about relating aid with trade. He said that certain people in the audience at Bodenstown want aid to be related to trade. I did not see too many people there, so the Taoiseach must have been talking about specific people. I would like further information in that regard. That some members of the Government do not consider the question of aid to be a vote winner seems to me to be a problem. Such people would prefer the money to be spent in other ways. They want to spend money on aid only if it will generate trade. That always seems to be the Government's bottom line.

If there is a problem with capacity, as perceived by the Department of Foreign Affairs in terms of the national development co-operation programme, does the Minister of State agree that the target could be reached and our moneys spent wisely by investing prudently in the global fund for combating AIDS, to which the Taoiseach has so eloquently committed himself? There is no capacity constraint, in reality. Doing it efficiently may involve domestic difficulties, but the balance of funding required to meet the target could be invested in a number of internationally approved global funds, such as the global fund for combating AIDS, which is totally under-subscribed.

I ask the Minister of State to conclude, because the time for this question has elapsed.

The answer to Deputy Allen's question is "No". The Government does not question the current capacity of the Department or the non-governmental organisations to deal with the funds which are being allocated to the organisations or flowing from the Department. There is absolutely no issue there. We will significantly increase funding for overseas development assistance as we try to achieve the target figure of 0.7%. It is obvious that the Government's plans to improve significantly the level of aid have implications for resources and staffing.

We have to move on.

Deputy Gormley raised the possibility of a connection between trade and aid. I am not in a position to read into, interpret or extrapolate from the Taoiseach's comments in Bodenstown, but I imagine that he was trying to highlight the fact that a number of countries in Europe and elsewhere are increasing the pressure to link overseas development aid with trade issues. In other words, such countries want to use the overseas development aid they provide as a tool to access more trading opportunities in the countries which receive such aid. I think the Taoiseach was saying, from a deeply idealistic point of view, that Ireland does not approve of such an approach to overseas development aid and rejects it in all circumstances.

The Minister of State was saying quite the opposite.

That is very important.

We have to move to the next question.

That is how I read the Taoiseach's comments. Deputy Quinn is absolutely correct to say that if we had a surfeit of money for overseas development aid but a shortage of programmes to which it could be distributed, it could be given to funds such as the global fund for combating AIDS. Ireland's contribution to that fund has increased by ten times in recent years, from €5 million to €50 million.

I have to call QuestionNo. 159.

The next point I would like to make is that to do so would be rather purposeless. We would be better developing our programmes organically, growing and improving them and expanding the number of countries we prioritise and target.

The time allowed for the question has expired.

Hospital Services.

Questions (19)

Jerry Cowley

Question:

160 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress made to date on the implementation of the recommendations made in the task force on policy regarding Emigrants Ireland and the Irish Abroad document; the recommendations on which progress has already been made; if he intends to make progress on recommendation 515, namely, the opportunity for EU citizens, particularly Irish pensioners who are residing abroad, to have free travel on the holidays here, especially in view of the Good Friday Agreement, Article 2 of the Constitution and the facility afforded under this Agreement for reciprocal travel arrangements, particularly for persons with pre-1953 pensions who are already in the Irish system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25485/04]

View answer

Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants is being implemented progressively. As my predecessor noted in welcoming the report, it contained many detailed recommendations that are wide-ranging and whose implementation can only come about on a phased basis over several years.

Already there has been considerable progress, with action initiated on a large number of the recommendations. I am particularly pleased to say that a dedicated unit, the Irish abroad unit, has now been established within the Department of Foreign Affairs and is fully functioning. The unit is charged with co-ordinating the provision of assistance to our emigrants and advancing effective and coherent strategies in that important area of national policy. The officials assigned to the unit are working in close consultation with Departments and voluntary agencies engaged in the delivery of services to emigrants. Since it became operational, members of the unit have already had productive meetings with a range of voluntary agencies that provide front-line support to our emigrants in both the United States and Britain. I am convinced the unit will ensure that our emigrants have an effective channel of communication to the Government and that our response to their needs will become quickly and progressively more focused and effective.

Key recommendations of the task force called for a strategic and integrated approach to meeting the needs of the Irish abroad under three headings: pre-departure services intended to ensure, as far as possible, that people who emigrate do so voluntarily and on the basis of informed choice, and are properly prepared to live independently in a different society; services to Irish people abroad, particularly those who have emigrated involuntarily and find themselves vulnerable or at risk of social exclusion; and services to returning emigrants, especially the reintegration into Irish society of elderly emigrants who wish to come home.

I am happy to report that progress is being made in all three of those key areas. The Department of Social and Family Affairs actively supports organisations that provide pre-departure services and services to returning emigrants. This year, for instance, it has provided grants to ÉAN, the umbrella group that provides support for emigration and return migration information providers, and to Emigrant Advice.

Additional information

My Department will also grant €50,000 towards a conference organised by ÉAN to take place at the end of November.

As regards funding, my predecessor announced in July an additional €1 million, on top of the significant increase in funding already provided for emigrant services in 2004, bringing the total to some €5 million. That money will be disbursed before the end of the year, the bulk of it going directly to front-line service providers in Britain. The DION committee, which considers applications for funding in Britain, has also been asked to give a higher priority to providing assistance to older Irish emigrants in Britain who may wish to return to Ireland. To date, €1.2 million has been allocated to services for the elderly Irish in Britain. In addition, €182,000 has been allocated to projects aimed at assisting people who wish to return home to Ireland.

With regard to the recommendation on free travel within Ireland for our pensioners living abroad, this is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, who set out the position in reply to a question on 6 October.

The Deputy can be assured that the Government's commitment in the entire area is strong, growing and long-term.

I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate him on his appointment. I wish him every success.

I hope, though I am not sure, that in his reply the Minister mentioned the emigrants in Britain who have done such great work for us. However, I will not go into that. Perhaps the Minister might address recommendation 515 of the task force report on travel, which was mentioned in the question. He said that, for many elderly Irish, the issue is not simply one of free travel, since they are not being given their due recognition as full citizens of their own country. The task force recommended that measures be introduced as a matter of urgency to enable Irish pensioners living overseas to enjoy free travel on public transport when they visit Ireland from abroad. It is usual to say that it is too difficult to do this, and that the privilege would have to be afforded to every other EU citizen if it were not to be discriminatory. The point I made was that people in receipt of their pre-1953 pension are already in the system, having been assessed. For them to be recognised as a special group and given free travel does not mean that such travel must be given to all older people in the EU.

The London-Irish Elders Forum has campaigned for many years for free travel for Irish pensioners when they come home to Ireland. I attended a meeting of the British-Irish Interparliamentary Body yesterday and the Home Secretary, Mr. Murphy, made much of the common travel area between Ireland and the UK. The only recognition in law of this area was in the Amsterdam treaty, from which Ireland sought a derogation. Neither Ireland nor England incorporated the Schengen Agreement because of the common travel area arrangements. Will the Minister consider the matter? Does he agree that a successful legal challenge could be brought by an Irish pensioner in Britain asserting that the denial of travel concessions discriminates against and could be a breach of an Irish citizen's constitutional rights?

I thank the Deputy for his kind remarks. I have some knowledge of this matter as a result of my five years as Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs and during my tenure in that Department I sought to see if we could give some help to Irish pensioners returning to Ireland and wishing to avail of free travel. The Deputy may say this is the usual bureaucratic response but it was not possible to take action unless there was an EU-wide agreement to such free travel. That is true regardless of who stands on what side of the House. I recall that when Deputy John Bruton was Taoiseach, and afterwards, he was to the fore in promoting the concerns of Irish emigrants, particularly those in the UK.

Some three or four years ago, while Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, I introduced the pre-1953 pension, for which €72 million has been awarded this year. Some 77% of that figure, €56 million, is being spent on Irish emigrant pensioners who had the pre-1953 stamps. That is one of the best responses ever to Irish emigrants. The free transport issue for Irish pensioner emigrants is difficult and we would love to find a solution. I welcome the moves regarding free transport North and South for pensioners but the other issue is larger.

Medical Cards.

Questions (20)

Liz McManus

Question:

161 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the issues discussed and matters raised at the meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, held at Farmleigh on 7 July 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25305/04]

View answer

Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy MP, co-chaired a meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference at Farmleigh on 7 July this year. The then Minister, Deputy Cowen, was accompanied at the meeting by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, and the then Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt. The Secretary of State was accompanied by Mr. John Spellar MP and Mr. Ian Pearson MP, Ministers of State at the Northern Ireland Office. Copies of the communiqué of this meeting have been placed in the Dáil Library.

The conference on 7 July reviewed political developments including the discussions on 25 June in Lancaster House. The imperative of seeing an end to all forms of paramilitary activity and of restoring a stable and inclusive partnership government in Northern Ireland was reasserted and the conference looked forward to the intensive talks in September. As the House will be aware, these talks subsequently took place at Leeds Castle on 16-18 September. The conference reviewed the various commitments made in the Joint Declaration, which are not conditional on acts by others, and agreed to continue to monitor and advance their implementation. Progress was welcomed on a number of individual commitments in the areas of human rights, equality and criminal justice.

Security and policing issues were also reviewed. The continuation of a peaceful and orderly marching season was encouraged and those involved in seeking to defuse tensions arising from contentious parades were commended. The conference also discussed cross-Border security co-operation, and ongoing North-South and east-west issues within the framework of the Good Friday Agreement.

Regarding the Cory reports, both Governments agreed that it was important to continue to move forward to establish the inquiries that have been announced following Judge Cory's report and discussed progress in their respective jurisdictions. The Irish Government reiterated its view that the British Government should establish as soon as possible a public inquiry into the Pat Finucane case, as recommended by Judge Cory. On 23 September the British Government announced steps to enable the establishment of an inquiry which will be based on new legislation to be introduced at Westminster.

On the broader issue of dealing with the past, the conference agreed that any approach would need to have widespread acceptance across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland, and to respect the views of victims.

Additional information

In addition, the Government raised concerns in relation to the impact of the requirement to register annually on the rate of registration by eligible voters in Northern Ireland, particularly among marginalised and socially disadvantaged groups. The British Irish Intergovernmental Conference will meet again this autumn.

Arising from the Minister's comprehensive reply, can he confirm what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, stated on the radio on Sunday, that at Leeds Castle, arising from the talks to which the Minister's reply refers, Sinn Féin asked for a question to be answered in public to the effect that in some circumstances Sinn Féin could participate in a coalition government south of the Border? Did the Minister anticipate the question put to him on this matter and prepare the answer in consultation with the Taoiseach and senior officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs in response to a very explicit request made in Leeds Castle by representatives of Sinn Féin on behalf of themselves and the IRA?

I was not present in Leeds Castle and I do not want to touch on the issues currently being discussed among the parties following the talks held there.

The comments made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, were reported to me. I was asked a specific question with regard to a time when we would have complete peace, full decommissioning and an end to paramilitarism, with the latter being demonstrably shown and with the DUP and Sinn Féin in government together in Northern Ireland. I referred to the circumstances in the Republic and I look forward to a time when there will be no violence in this island, when the gun will be removed from Irish politics.

Was the Minister aware that the question would be asked?

I cannot anticipate questions asked by journalists. I am not a clairvoyant.

Was the Minister aware that a question of that kind was likely to be asked?

Did the Minister know that Tommy Gorman was going to ask that question? Was he tipped off in advance?

No. I answered the question when it was put to me. I gave an answer which showed that on one hand we cannot dictate that the DUP and others should sit in government with Sinn Féin in a time of peace. I did not suggest that there would be a coalition between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil. On this side of the House, within Fianna Fáil, I am probably one of the people who would be vehemently opposed to the type of policies which Sinn Féin has pursued over the years.

Did the Minister discuss this issue with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste before and after the question was asked and answered? What was the trend of any conversations that took place?

As I said, I cannot anticipate questions asked by journalists. I discussed my interview with the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and the former fully verified my account publicly in Bodenstown where he said that I made the essential point, namely that there can be no allegiance to another army, that no organisation can come in from the cold until it professes and accepts allegiance to Óglaigh na hÉireann under our Constitution and no other Óglaigh na hÉireann. I look forward to the day when it does so.

Hospital Services.

Questions (21)

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

162 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his position on the roadmap for peace in Palestine and Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25293/04]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Government believes that the roadmap remains the most likely framework within which to achieve a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The members of the international quartet — the European Union, Russia, the United States and the Secretary General of the United Nations — remain committed to the roadmap. This commitment was reiterated in the quartet's statements of 4 May and 22 September.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council considered this issue again on 11 October in Luxembourg and in its conclusions reaffirmed the EU's long-standing positions on the quartet roadmap and Israel's proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. While an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip could represent a significant step towards the implementation of the roadmap, the council underlined that the withdrawal must not be an attempt to replace the roadmap and the two-state solution it encompasses. It also recalled that settlement activity is contrary to the roadmap.

The council reaffirmed the conditions endorsed by the Tullamore declaration on the conditions which must be met by any Israeli withdrawal plan. The following five elements are essential to make a Gaza withdrawal acceptable to the international community: it must take place in the context of the roadmap; it must be a step towards a two-state solution; it must not involve a transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank; there must be an organised and negotiated hand-over of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority; and Israel must facilitate the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza.

It is of the utmost importance that no further time should be lost in implementing the provisions of the roadmap. I call on both sides to make every effort to fulfil the commitments they have entered into in respect of the roadmap.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply on what is a complex set of affairs. What is the Government's attitude to the status of President Yasser Arafat? Is it of the view that he continues to retain the support of the Palestinian people or does it share the view expressed by Ariel Sharon and others that he is a discredited leader with no effective mandate and with whom they cannot do business?

The Government still regards Yasser Arafat as somebody who has significant influence and input in respect of this matter. From discussions I had with Kofi Annan in the past week, I am aware that this is also the position as far as he is concerned. I do not agree that Mr. Arafat has been discredited and I am of the opinion that he has an important role to play. One of the main things we must do is ensure that the Palestinian Authority has the wherewithal and status to move forward in respect of the roadmap.

Does the Minister accept that the attitude of Ariel Sharon, and the position he has adopted, to Yasser Arafat is a major impediment to the implementation of the roadmap?

It is important that we are not overly critical of one side or the other in respect of this matter. We must contend with the violence perpetrated by Hamas on one hand and the over-reaction of the Israeli Government on the other. However, we must also accept that people on both sides, including Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, are endeavouring, as best they can, to bring peace to that part of the world. The unrest there is leading to instability in the wider region. As I stated at the first meeting I attended of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, the violence perpetrated on this island drove people further apart. Unfortunately, the same is the case in the part of the world under discussion. The longer the conflict goes on, the worse matters will become and the more destabilising an influence it will have in the general region. That is why the council in Luxembourg reiterated the view expressed in Tullamore in respect of the roadmap and the two-state solution.

Does the Minister agree that building of a wall by the Israelis is a symbol of a type of apartheid? Does he agree with the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign that it is time to introduce a boycott of Israeli goods in light of the repression we are witnessing, similar to that which occurred in South Africa in the past?

Does the Minister agree that Israeli actions in Palestine in recent months run contrary to the roadmap? Does he also agree that extending the privileges of the European neighbourhood policy, including everything except institutions, would send the wrong signal to the Palestinian people? That signal would be to the effect that human rights abusers will be rewarded. What action will the Government take in respect of the debate on 5 November?

First I will answer Deputy Ó Snodaigh's question on the European neighbourhood policy. It is a policy of the EU to maintain good relations, from a political, economic and institutional point of view, with nations in and around its borders and we support it. As regards Israeli participation in the plan of action in that respect, we also welcome their involvement. By getting Israel involved in the ENP, it is hoped that stability will be brought to that part of the world.

With regard to Deputy Gormley's question, we intend that the vast majority of what we will do in respect of this matter will be done through the united voice of the EU. The issue of a boycott has not been raised in that context. We would be more willing to proceed on the basis of using the greater power the EU possesses, as one body, in respect of putting pressure on Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Health Levy.

Questions (22, 23)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

163 D’fhiafraigh Mr. Sargent den Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha cén dul chun cinn atá déanta aige agus ag an Rialtas sa chomhphlé le ballstáit eile an AE chun stádas oifigiúil a bhaint amach don Ghaeilge agus ar chuir an Rialtas litir chuig an gCoimisiún fós ag lorg an stádais seo agus an gceapann an tAire go ndéanfar socruithe san idirphlé leis na ballstáit eile agus leis an gCoimisiún le gur féidir le Comhairle na nAirí an Ghaeilge a thabhairt isteach faoi Rialachán 1 (1958) ag an gcruinniú a bhéas acu i Mí na Nollag 2004. [23055/04]

View answer

Brian O'Shea

Question:

181 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the response which has been received from the European Commission in respect of the status of the Irish language within the EU; if bilateral discussions have taken place in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22756/04]

View answer

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 163 and 181 together.

The Government decided on 14 July to initiate a process of discussions with the other EU member states and EU institutions with a view to seeking official and working status for the Irish language in the EU under Regulation 1 of 1958. The regulation is the legal instrument that governs the official and working language regime of the EU institutions. As a first step, we have undertaken initial bilateral discussions in Brussels with representatives of other member states and EU institutions. These discussions are ongoing and once they have progressed sufficiently to clarify the issues arising, as well as practical options in relation to achieving its objective, the Government will decide how it can most effectively proceed further, including the tabling of a formal proposal, with this matter.

The outcome and length of negotiations on this matter cannot be predicted with certainty. Unanimity among the 25 member states is required for amendment to Regulation 1 of 1958 which governs the language regime of the Union. The Government is determined to try to make early progress in this matter.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an bhfreagra. Tá an Rialtas ag plé na ceiste seo le fada ach tá gá le freagraí daingneacha, "sea" nó "ní hea". Níor chuala mé na freagraí a raibh mé ar a lorg go fóill. Ar scríobh an Rialtas litir go foirmiúil chuig an Coimisiúin agus Comhairle na nAirí ag déanamh an iarratais seo? An féidir í a feiceáil? An mbeidh rún ar an gclár ag an chruinniú de Chomhairle na nAirí atá beartaithe do dheireadh na bliana an Ghaeilge a chur ar an liosta faoi airteagal 1 do rialachán 1, 1958? Tá gá le freagra díreach dó sin. An bhfuil aon dhul chun cinn déanta faoi aonad chomhordaithe aistriúcháin a bhunadh leis an chuid denacquis communitaire nach bhfuil aistrithe go Gaeilge cheanna a aistriú? Tá go leor oibre ansin agus tá a lán ann a bheadh sásta á déanamh.

It is not a question of "yes" or "no". The contacts that have been made were made at diplomatic level with all the countries involved. While some progress has been made, there is a difficulty in respect of some countries with regional languages which may want to obtain recognition in that regard. As stated earlier, unanimity is the issue.

A sensitive sounding out of the positions of other countries is taking place at present. The discussions are at a preliminary stage but we would like to believe we would be able to progress a proposal on this matter at a meeting in the not too distant future. This is a particularly sensitive issue. While the Irish language has treaty status and the Amsterdam treaty confirmed this, it is the only language in which treaties may be published yet it is not an official language. The Government decided to try to address this matter and that is why the initial contacts have taken place at diplomatic level. I am not in a position to say that letters are in place. We leave the matter to diplomatic representatives acting on behalf of the State.

An bhfuil an tAire sásta sprioc-dáta a chur leis na comhráití seo a chríochnú? Sna cainteanna go dtí seo, an bhfuil dul chun cinn déanta? Cén stáit a léirigh bá leis an rud atá ar lorg ag Gaeilgeoirí agus pobal na hÉireann?

Recently, I told a member of the public I would raise a question he put to me in the House at the first opportunity. Why was the status of the Irish language not addressed during our Presidency and before the accession of the new member states?

Níl an tAire ag déanamh a dhícheall ar son stádas na Gaeilge. Cad faoi stádas na Gaeilge sa tír seo? Tá an nuachtán laethiúil Ghaeilge,, faoi bhrú agus tá daoine ag iarraidh an deontas atá ag dul do a bhaint agus an t-aon nuachtán laethiúil Ghaeilge a chur ó dhoras. I ask specifically about the language daily, , which will have its funding removed. Unionist politicians, in particular, argue that it does not deserve funding. An gcosnóidh an tAire an nuachtán seo? Will he protect this newspaper because it is extremely important?

An nglacann an tAire go bhfuil an-difríocht idir teanga conartha agus teangacha eile sa Spáinn, mar shampla, nach dteangacha conartha iad agus nach bhfuil comparáid ann? Tuigim nach bhfuil litir ann, agus tá díoma orm nach bhfuil, ach ar labhair an tAire go pearsanta, nó ar labhair ionadaíocht ar a shon, sa Bhruiséil le stáit eile faoin gceist seo? Tá sé ag rá go bhfuil sí á plé idir dhaoine ach ní dúirt sé go raibh sé féin ag plé léi go díreach. Ar labhair sé go pearsanta le hionadaíocht buan sa Bhruiséil faoi stádas na Gaeilge?

As regards our position during the discussions on the European constitution, the status of a number of languages, Basque, Catalan and Galician, was raised and it was agreed that the treaty would be translated into these languages, which is similar to the position regarding the Irish language. A declaration on minority languages was also agreed but there was no question of reopening the issue of Article 1 of the 1958 treaty.

The Government made a decision to pursue this issue in July last and since then significant progress has been achieved. Our representatives in Brussels have made direct contact with all the member states and there has been a degree of positive reaction towards and understanding of our position regarding the Irish language. At the same time, however, the question of the status of other minority languages that do not have recognition in the European Union also arises. We will need to overcome this issue given that unanimity is essential in this regard.

Chuir mé ceist dhíreach faoi.

I do not know what is the position regarding the newspaper,. The Deputy will have to raise the matter with the Minister with direct responsibility.

Chuir mise ceist.

I answered the question regarding discussions on the European constitution.

The Minister did not provide an explanation. Why was the matter not pursued during the Presidency? Why did we wait until July when it had expired to follow up the issue when the most opportune time to do so was before the accession of the new states?

Chuir mé ceist agus tá mé ag fanacht ar fhreagra go fóill. Ar labhair an tAire go pearsanta? An mbeadh suim aige sa cheist gon-ardófadh sé í le baill stáit eile? An bhfuil suim aige i gceist freisin, mar tá sé, mar Aire Gnothaí Eachtracha, ag plé le daoine ar an dá thaobh ó Thuaidh agus is féidir leis an cheist a chur ansin? Is ceist don Tuaisceart é fosta.

I will have to check the position regardingin the Department. I understand the reason the matter was not raised during the Presidency was that the Irish language became a real issue with the accession of ten new countries.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

Hospital Services.

Questions (164, 165)

Seamus Healy

Question:

291 Mr. Healy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she intends to approve the proposal by the South Eastern Health Board to open a 20 bed general practitioners assessment unit to be located in the main building at Our Lady’s Hospital, Cashel; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25289/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The provision of health services in Cashel is the responsibility of the South Eastern Health Board in the first instance. Officials of my Department have had discussions with the board with regard to the issue raised by the Deputy. Further consideration will be given to the matter in the context of the Estimates process for 2005.

Seamus Healy

Question:

292 Mr. Healy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she intends to approve funding for the opening of the completed health care units (details supplied) at Our Lady’s Hospital, Cashel, including funds for equipping and staffing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25290/04]

View answer

Officials of my Department have had discussions with the South Eastern Health Board on the issue raised by the Deputy. Further consideration will be given to the matter in the context of the Estimates process for 2005.

Health Board Services.

Questions (166)

Seamus Healy

Question:

293 Mr. Healy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of home help and home case attendant hours provided by the South Eastern Health Board in the south Tipperary community care area in each of the years 2001, 2002 and 2003. [25291/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

As the Deputy is aware, the provision of health services in the south Tipperary community care area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Medical Cards.

Questions (167)

Michael Ring

Question:

294 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person who is the holder of a medical card, during an emergency at night is visited by a member of the Westdoc team, if the person has to pay the doctor; the position in relation to emergency call out charges to medical card holders by Westdoc ; if money has to be paid for the visit; the way in which a person can get a refund of his or her money. [25332/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

A medical card holder is entitled to consultations and a range of agreed services free of charge from his or her designated general practitioner. This is the situation whether the services are provided in the surgery during normal surgery hours, in the patient's home or elsewhere provided by that general practitioner or a locum or deputy acting in his or her place at any time. Clinical decisions as to whether a domiciliary visit is warranted are a matter for the doctor involved and the symptoms of the presenting patient.

If the Deputy is aware of a particular case where a medical card holder has been asked for payment, I would be happy to have the matter investigated with the Western Health Board, upon receipt of the relevant details.

Hospital Services.

Questions (168)

Michael Ring

Question:

295 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for a hip operation. [25333/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The provision of hospital services for people living 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 with regard to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 296 answered with QuestionNo. 278.

Medical Cards.

Questions (169)

John Deasy

Question:

297 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the plans she has to raise the medical card income limits; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25339/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage, as set out in the health strategy. This will focus on people on low incomes. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position.

Income guidelines are drawn up each year by the health board or 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. The last such increase was notified in January 2004. Health board chief executive officers have discretion with regard to the issuing of medical cards and a range of income sources are excluded by the boards when assessing medical card eligibility. Despite someone having an income that exceeds the guidelines, 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. 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.

The health strategy includes an entire series of initiatives to clarify and expand the existing arrangements for eligibility for health services, including recommendations arising from the review of the medical card scheme carried out by the health board chief executive officers under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. There are recommendations to streamline applications and improve the standardisation of the medical card applications process to ensure better fairness and transparency, to provide clearer information to people about how and where to apply for medical cards, and to proactively seek out those who should have medical cards to ensure they have access to the services that are available.

In addition, my Department is committed to the preparation of new legislation to update and codify the whole legal framework for eligibility and entitlements in regard to health services.

Health Board Services.

Questions (170, 171)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

298 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a block grant might be made available to a school (details supplied) in County Dublin which caters for the needs of those with terminal dementia. [25391/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

As the Deputy is aware, the provision of health services in south County Dublin is, in the first instance, a matter for the East Coast Area Health Board under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has been informed by the East Coast Area Health Board that St. Joseph's Centre is owned and operated by the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God and that services including extended care, respite care and day care for older people, especially those with dementia related conditions or illnesses, are provided at the centre. The question of funding for services at St. Joseph's Centre is a matter for the area board having regard to meeting increased demands for services within the board's revenue allocation as notified in the letter of determination. This is in keeping with the provisions of the Health (Amendment)(No. 3) Act 1996.

Bernard Allen

Question:

299 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the long delay in sanctioning the go ahead for a day care centre (details supplied) in County Cork; and when she will be in a position to sanction the commencement of the project which has been waiting for more than 15 years. [25392/04]

View answer

As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in County Cork rests with the Southern Health Board in the first instance. The board has advised my Department that it purchased a site from Cork City Council for the construction of a new day care centre for older people and a family resource centre. My Department has received stage two documentation from the board with regard to these projects. My Department, by letter dated 12 October 2004, has given approval to the board to proceed to stage three of the planning process and to lodge a full planning application for planning permission to Cork County Council.

The board has identified the need for a new day care centre for older people as one of its priorities for capital funding and it has confirmed that this project needs to proceed in tandem with the provision of a family resource centre on the site. My Department will continue to liaise with the board with regard to these projects in line with the board's priorities for capital investment and having regard to resources available to my Department under the capital investment framework 2004-08.

Hospital Services.

Questions (172)

Liz McManus

Question:

300 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the situation regarding Letterkenny General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25398/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Responsibility for the provision of services at Letterkenny General Hospital rests with the North Western Health Board. In July 2003, approval was given to the board to proceed with the planning of an extension to the accident and emergency department at the hospital. The board appointed a design team to carry out an option appraisal and feasibility study to determine the preferred location for the facility on the hospital site. The study, which examined eight options, was recently completed and submitted to my Department seeking approval for the preferred location. The proposal is being examined with a view to granting approval to the appointment of a design team to the project.

Medicinal Products.

Questions (173)

Seán Haughey

Question:

301 Mr. Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has considered the reason certain drugs and medicines are much cheaper to buy in other EU countries such as Spain; if action can be taken to address this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25408/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Through their national reimbursement schemes, EU member states are the main purchasers of medicines in their domestic markets. They naturally seek to control drug prices but the extent of this control varies widely. Countries with higher prices, such as the UK and Germany, rely more on market forces to set prices. Spain, on the other hand, closely regulates and controls prices. Ireland's pricing policy is somewhere in the middle of the European league as, with its relatively small market, it must seek to balance value for money in State drug spending with reliability and continuity of supply for essential products.

Price comparison in different markets is difficult. Patent protection is well established in Ireland, as elsewhere, and allows originator companies exclusive rights to the market for ten years for new medicines. In Spain, until 1992 there was no intellectual property protection for medicines and no patent protection for new products. This has kept prices down but may change with patent and intellectual property exclusivity, although the long lead-in time for product development and patenting will inevitably delay this. In addition, some products that are prescription-only in Ireland are available without prescription in Spain. While the removal of prescription status for certain products may produce lower prices in Ireland, these products would no longer be reimbursed by the State.

My Department is currently examining a range of policy options with regard to pharmaceutical expenditure, including increased use of generic medicines, pricing and reimbursement structures for the community drug schemes, and pharm-acoeconomic assessment of reimbursable medicines.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Questions (174)

Seán Ryan

Question:

302 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the needs of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if this person’s requirements will be met as a matter of urgency. [25409/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The provision of health related services 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 Waiting Lists.

Questions (175)

Seán Crowe

Question:

303 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps she proposes to take in order to reduce the waiting time it takes for a public patient to see a consultant (details supplied). [25460/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

In accordance with health strategy objectives, the Government's immediate focus is on the reduction of waiting lists and waiting times for inpatient and day case treatments in acute hospitals. This is being particularly facilitated by the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. The NTPF has reported that waiting times have fallen significantly, with 37% of patients now waiting between three and six months and 43% waiting between six and 12 months for surgery. Some 80% of patients now wait less than one year for surgical treatment. This represents a major reduction in the length of time patients have to wait. The NTPF has been successful in arranging treatments for approximately 19,000 patients up to the end of September 2004. It is now the case that, in most instances, anyone waiting more than three months will be facilitated by the fund.

Responsibility for the management and monitoring of patients waiting for outpatient appointments rests with the individual hospitals and health boards concerned. It is a matter for each hospital to prioritise its services based on patient need and use its available resources to best effect to ensure that patient services are delivered efficiently and effectively.

Influenza Vaccine Provision.

Questions (176)

John Gormley

Question:

304 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps which have been taken to deal with a possible influenza outbreak; if flu vaccine is available and the persons who can avail of it; if the flu vaccine is effective against all forms of influenza; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25461/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Influenza is an acute viral respiratory illness. It is characterised by the sudden onset of symptoms, which include a temperature of 38° Celsius or more with a dry cough, headache, sore muscles and sore throat. The cough is often severe and protracted, but otherwise the disease is self-limiting. While those who are in good health usually recover from influenza in two to seven days, there are others for whom the disease is much more severe. In those with underlying diseases, especially the elderly, complications are common and hospitalisation rates are high.

Many respiratory diseases occur every winter but influenza is one of the most severe. There are three types of influenza virus, A, B and C. Influenza A and influenza B cause the majority of infections, with influenza A generally causing the most severe form of the disease. The third type, influenza C, is rarely reported as a cause of human illness.

Constant genetic changes in influenza viruses mean that the vaccines' virus composition must be adjusted annually to include the most recent circulating influenza A(H3N2), A(H1N1) and influenza B viruses. The WHO's global influenza surveillance network writes the annual vaccine recipe. The network, a partnership of 112 national influenza centres in 83 countries, is responsible for monitoring the influenza viruses circulating in humans and rapidly identifying new strains. Based on information collected by the network, the WHO recommends annually a vaccine that targets the three most virulent strains in circulation.

On 13 February 2004, the WHO published its recommendation on the composition of influenza vaccines for use in the 2004-05 northern hemisphere influenza season. The recommendation was as follows:

A/New Caledonia/20/99(H1N1)-like virus

A/Fujian/411/ 2002(H3N2)-like virus*

B/Shanghai/361/2002-like virus**

*The currently used vaccine virus is A/Wyoming/3/2003. A/Kumamoto/102/2002 is also available as a vaccine virus.

**Candidate vaccine viruses include B/Shanghai/361/2002 and B/Jilin/20/2003, which is a B/Shanghai/361/ 2002-like virus.

The National Disease Surveillance Centre, NDSC, in partnership with the Irish College of General Practitioners, ICGP, and the Virus Reference Laboratory, VRL, have established a network of computerised general sentinel practices which report on a weekly basis the number of patients seen with influenza-like illness. As there is little difference in the presenting symptoms of a number of respiratory pathogens, virological confirmation is required to identify that influenza is the causative agent. The VRL can detect and identify if influenza A and-or B viruses are circulating. Following collection of the data, a weekly influenza report is compiled by the NDSC. Reports of influenza activity in Europe and worldwide are also provided as part of the overall monitoring of influenza activity. The report is produced every Thursday throughout the influenza season, which runs from October to May.

The first report for this season was published on 7 October and stated that influenza activity was at a low level in Ireland. The second report published on 14 October noted that influenza activity remained at low levels. One case of influenza A virus was reported in the first week, the only case of influenza reported so far this winter.

The impact of the influenza vaccine in reducing mortality from influenza in older people is well documented. Protection lasts about one year and, therefore, it is important that individuals who are at risk of contracting influenza are vaccinated annually against the current strains. Notwithstanding a problem with one supplier that affected supplies worldwide, ample supplies of flu vaccine have been secured for Ireland. Some 200,000 doses of flu vaccine were distributed around the country in early September, a further 192,680 doses were distributed during the first week in October and another 200,000 doses will be delivered later this month. This compares favourably with last year when approximately 470,000 doses of vaccine had been distributed by the middle of November.

The vaccine is available free of charge from general practitioners to medical card holders who are deemed to be at risk of serious illness as a result of contracting the disease. Persons in the at risk group who do not have a medical card can obtain the vaccine free of charge. However, the fee for administering the vaccine in such cases is a matter between the general practitioner and the patient. The at risk group includes persons aged 65 years or older, those with specific chronic illness such as chronic heart, lung or kidney disease, and those with a suppressed immune system. For persons in the at risk group, complications arising from influenza such as pneumonia are common and can be fatal, particularly in the elderly.

My Department asked health boards on 23 September last to advise general practitioners to concentrate their efforts on ensuring that patients at greatest risk receive priority vaccination. A national and local media campaign is planned by the Health Boards Executive to take place at the beginning of November in order to remind those who are in the at risk group and who have not yet received the vaccine to do so immediately.

Hospital Services.

Questions (177)

Michael Ring

Question:

305 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be provided with dialysis in Mayo General Hospital. [25462/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The provision of hospital services for people living 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 with regard to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Questions (178)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

306 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the proposals she has to restore medical cards to the 4,723 persons in County Waterford who lost their medical card between January 1997 and September 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25488/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The determination of eligibility of applications for medical card is a matter covered by legislation for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board. Assessment of eligibility is based upon the applicant's income and his or her medical need. In cases of refusal, applicants have the right of appeal and are normally advised of this by their local health board.

Generally, the reduction in recent years in the number of medical cards may be attributed to the increase in the number of people in employment and the improved economic situation nationally. Another factor which affects this area is the review by health boards of medical card databases. Since 2003, this has led to 80,000 inappropriate database entries being removed from these databases. Reasons for deletions included duplicate entries, change of address, cases where the medical card holder is deceased and ineligibility due to changed circumstances.

The Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage as set out in the programme for Government. This will focus on people on low incomes and will give priority to families with children, particularly those with a disability. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position.

Questions Nos. 307 and 308 answered with Question No. 279.
Question No. 309 answered with QuestionNo. 253.
Question No. 310 answered with QuestionNo. 275.

Hospital Services.

Questions (179, 180)

Paul Connaughton

Question:

311 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position concerning the proposed new community hospital for Tuam, County Galway; her views on whether a community hospital in Tuam is seen by her Department as being of great strategic value in the delivery of a better hospital and medical service to the people of Tuam and the outlying areas; her further views on the construction of the community hospital in Tuam; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25551/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in County Galway rests with the Western Health Board in the first instance. The board has identified the need for a new community hospital in Tuam as one of its priorities for capital funding. My Department will continue to liaise with the board with regard to this project in line with the board's priorities for capital investment and having regard to resources available to my Department under the capital investment framework 2004-08.

Liz McManus

Question:

312 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the resignation of two high profile nurses from the renal team at Our Lady’s Hospital, both citing frustration with the lack of support from hospital management; if the hospital will have recruited a replacement nurse before the renal CNS has reached the end of his or her notice period; the reason the new renal ward has not yet opened; her views on whether it is appropriate that a renal patient should have to share a room with three other patients when dialysis should be carried out under aseptic conditions; her further views on whether it is acceptable that a parent must ask visitors with a patient in the cot next to the parent’s child to move to enable the parent to set up their child’s dialysis and then queue to use the only sink in the ward; if, in the planning for the Nazareth ward’s long-term closure, a risk assessment was carried out for this interim set up; if there is an up to date safety statement taking into account the new use of this space; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25556/04]

View answer

Services at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, are provided under an arrangement with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Compensation Payments.

Questions (22, 23)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

163 D’fhiafraigh Mr. Sargent den Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha cén dul chun cinn atá déanta aige agus ag an Rialtas sa chomhphlé le ballstáit eile an AE chun stádas oifigiúil a bhaint amach don Ghaeilge agus ar chuir an Rialtas litir chuig an gCoimisiún fós ag lorg an stádais seo agus an gceapann an tAire go ndéanfar socruithe san idirphlé leis na ballstáit eile agus leis an gCoimisiún le gur féidir le Comhairle na nAirí an Ghaeilge a thabhairt isteach faoi Rialachán 1 (1958) ag an gcruinniú a bhéas acu i Mí na Nollag 2004. [23055/04]

View answer

Brian O'Shea

Question:

181 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the response which has been received from the European Commission in respect of the status of the Irish language within the EU; if bilateral discussions have taken place in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22756/04]

View answer

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 163 and 181 together.

The Government decided on 14 July to initiate a process of discussions with the other EU member states and EU institutions with a view to seeking official and working status for the Irish language in the EU under Regulation 1 of 1958. The regulation is the legal instrument that governs the official and working language regime of the EU institutions. As a first step, we have undertaken initial bilateral discussions in Brussels with representatives of other member states and EU institutions. These discussions are ongoing and once they have progressed sufficiently to clarify the issues arising, as well as practical options in relation to achieving its objective, the Government will decide how it can most effectively proceed further, including the tabling of a formal proposal, with this matter.

The outcome and length of negotiations on this matter cannot be predicted with certainty. Unanimity among the 25 member states is required for amendment to Regulation 1 of 1958 which governs the language regime of the Union. The Government is determined to try to make early progress in this matter.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as an bhfreagra. Tá an Rialtas ag plé na ceiste seo le fada ach tá gá le freagraí daingneacha, "sea" nó "ní hea". Níor chuala mé na freagraí a raibh mé ar a lorg go fóill. Ar scríobh an Rialtas litir go foirmiúil chuig an Coimisiúin agus Comhairle na nAirí ag déanamh an iarratais seo? An féidir í a feiceáil? An mbeidh rún ar an gclár ag an chruinniú de Chomhairle na nAirí atá beartaithe do dheireadh na bliana an Ghaeilge a chur ar an liosta faoi airteagal 1 do rialachán 1, 1958? Tá gá le freagra díreach dó sin. An bhfuil aon dhul chun cinn déanta faoi aonad chomhordaithe aistriúcháin a bhunadh leis an chuid denacquis communitaire nach bhfuil aistrithe go Gaeilge cheanna a aistriú? Tá go leor oibre ansin agus tá a lán ann a bheadh sásta á déanamh.

It is not a question of "yes" or "no". The contacts that have been made were made at diplomatic level with all the countries involved. While some progress has been made, there is a difficulty in respect of some countries with regional languages which may want to obtain recognition in that regard. As stated earlier, unanimity is the issue.

A sensitive sounding out of the positions of other countries is taking place at present. The discussions are at a preliminary stage but we would like to believe we would be able to progress a proposal on this matter at a meeting in the not too distant future. This is a particularly sensitive issue. While the Irish language has treaty status and the Amsterdam treaty confirmed this, it is the only language in which treaties may be published yet it is not an official language. The Government decided to try to address this matter and that is why the initial contacts have taken place at diplomatic level. I am not in a position to say that letters are in place. We leave the matter to diplomatic representatives acting on behalf of the State.

An bhfuil an tAire sásta sprioc-dáta a chur leis na comhráití seo a chríochnú? Sna cainteanna go dtí seo, an bhfuil dul chun cinn déanta? Cén stáit a léirigh bá leis an rud atá ar lorg ag Gaeilgeoirí agus pobal na hÉireann?

Recently, I told a member of the public I would raise a question he put to me in the House at the first opportunity. Why was the status of the Irish language not addressed during our Presidency and before the accession of the new member states?

Níl an tAire ag déanamh a dhícheall ar son stádas na Gaeilge. Cad faoi stádas na Gaeilge sa tír seo? Tá an nuachtán laethiúil Ghaeilge,, faoi bhrú agus tá daoine ag iarraidh an deontas atá ag dul do a bhaint agus an t-aon nuachtán laethiúil Ghaeilge a chur ó dhoras. I ask specifically about the language daily, , which will have its funding removed. Unionist politicians, in particular, argue that it does not deserve funding. An gcosnóidh an tAire an nuachtán seo? Will he protect this newspaper because it is extremely important?

An nglacann an tAire go bhfuil an-difríocht idir teanga conartha agus teangacha eile sa Spáinn, mar shampla, nach dteangacha conartha iad agus nach bhfuil comparáid ann? Tuigim nach bhfuil litir ann, agus tá díoma orm nach bhfuil, ach ar labhair an tAire go pearsanta, nó ar labhair ionadaíocht ar a shon, sa Bhruiséil le stáit eile faoin gceist seo? Tá sé ag rá go bhfuil sí á plé idir dhaoine ach ní dúirt sé go raibh sé féin ag plé léi go díreach. Ar labhair sé go pearsanta le hionadaíocht buan sa Bhruiséil faoi stádas na Gaeilge?

As regards our position during the discussions on the European constitution, the status of a number of languages, Basque, Catalan and Galician, was raised and it was agreed that the treaty would be translated into these languages, which is similar to the position regarding the Irish language. A declaration on minority languages was also agreed but there was no question of reopening the issue of Article 1 of the 1958 treaty.

The Government made a decision to pursue this issue in July last and since then significant progress has been achieved. Our representatives in Brussels have made direct contact with all the member states and there has been a degree of positive reaction towards and understanding of our position regarding the Irish language. At the same time, however, the question of the status of other minority languages that do not have recognition in the European Union also arises. We will need to overcome this issue given that unanimity is essential in this regard.

Chuir mé ceist dhíreach faoi.

I do not know what is the position regarding the newspaper,. The Deputy will have to raise the matter with the Minister with direct responsibility.

Chuir mise ceist.

I answered the question regarding discussions on the European constitution.

The Minister did not provide an explanation. Why was the matter not pursued during the Presidency? Why did we wait until July when it had expired to follow up the issue when the most opportune time to do so was before the accession of the new states?

Chuir mé ceist agus tá mé ag fanacht ar fhreagra go fóill. Ar labhair an tAire go pearsanta? An mbeadh suim aige sa cheist gon-ardófadh sé í le baill stáit eile? An bhfuil suim aige i gceist freisin, mar tá sé, mar Aire Gnothaí Eachtracha, ag plé le daoine ar an dá thaobh ó Thuaidh agus is féidir leis an cheist a chur ansin? Is ceist don Tuaisceart é fosta.

I will have to check the position regardingin the Department. I understand the reason the matter was not raised during the Presidency was that the Irish language became a real issue with the accession of ten new countries.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

National Health Strategy.

Questions (182)

Finian McGrath

Question:

314 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will include the CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within her Department. [25736/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I am aware of the policy recommendations to which the Deputy refers, which cover a range of health issues. The Deputy is aware that the national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, targets to reduce health inequalities were included in the Government's review of the NAPS — Building an Inclusive Society — and have subsequently been subsumed into the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion 2003-05. This latter plan is now an EU requirement under the Lisbon Agenda. The targets to reduce health inequalities have been taken on board in the national health strategy, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You. They cover both health status issues, such as reducing differences between socio-economic groups in premature mortality, as well as health care issues such as improved respite care for people with disabilities. A range of initiatives are under way to implement the targets and my Department has forwarded a report on these to the Office for Social Inclusion for inclusion in its annual report. I understand this report will be published in November by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs who has lead responsibility for the NAPS.

The latest information on medical card coverage is that for September 2004. There were 768,895 cards, covering 1,151,106 persons, or 29.39% of the population, in existence at that time. It should be noted that the upward trend in the population may marginally affect the 2004 percentage over time. The Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage, as set out in the health strategy. This will focus on people on low incomes and will give priority to families with children, particularly those with a disability. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position. In addition, the Department of Health and Children is committed to the preparation of new legislation to update and codify the entire legal framework for eligibility and entitlements in regard to health services.

The policy of my Department with regard to the care of older people is to maintain them in dignity and independence in their own homes for as long as possible, in accordance with their wishes. Numerous research studies have shown that the vast majority of older people have a preference to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible rather than moving into long stay residential care. My Department has been encouraging the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards to develop personal care packages for older people as an alternative to long stay residential care. Personal care packages are specifically designed for the individual concerned and could possibly include the provision of a home help service, home subvention payments, arrangements for attendance at a day centre or day hospital and other services such as twilight nursing. Personal care packages allow older persons the option of remaining living in their own homes rather than going into long stay residential care. In addition, the authority and the health boards provide respite care for older people, a service which is seen as an integral part of the community support services which are being developed to support older people living in the community.

In line with a Government decision, an expenditure review of the nursing home subvention scheme was undertaken by the Department of Health and Children in association with the Department of Finance. The review was carried out by Professor Eamon O'Shea and the objectives of the review were,inter alia, to examine the objectives of the nursing home subvention scheme and the extent to which they remained valid, to assess the service delivered and to establish what scope, if any, existed for achieving the programme objectives by other more efficient and effective means. Professor O’Shea’s report, Review of the Nursing Home Subvention Scheme, was launched in June 2003 simultaneously with the Mercer report, Study on the Future Financing of Long-Term Care in Ireland, which was commissioned by the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

My Department has established a working group comprising all stakeholders to review the operation and administration of the nursing home subvention scheme following on from the publication of the O'Shea report. The purpose of the review is to develop a scheme which will be transparent, offer a high standard of care for clients, provide equity within the system to include standardised dependency and means testing, be less discretionary, provide both a home and nursing home subvention depending on need, be consistent in implementation throughout the country and draw on experience of the operation of the old scheme. The working group has received both oral and written submissions from a number of interested parties. Issues such as how the scheme is administered are being examined as part of the review.

The expert group on mental health policy was established by the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O'Malley, in August 2003, to prepare a national policy framework for the further modernisation of the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document, Planning for the Future. The future direction and delivery of all aspects of our mental health services, including those referred to by the Deputy, will be considered in the context of the work of the group. It is expected that the expert group will report in 2005.

The Child Care Act 1991 has been fully implemented since the end of 1996. Section 11 of the Children Act 2001, establishing the special residential services board on a statutory basis, was commenced in November 2003. Sections 2 and 3 of the Children Act 2001, concerning family welfare conferencing, special care and the regulation of private fostering, were commenced towards the end of September 2004. Approximately €230 million has been invested in the development of child welfare, protection and family support services since 1991. Further development of child care and in particular family support and early intervention services will be considered in the light of any additional resources available in 2005.

With regard to respite care, there was an increase of 255% in the number of people with disabilities, an additional 445 people, who received service based respite care between 2001 and 2002, the latest year for which figures are available.

The health promotion unit in my Department is leading a wide range of strategic initiatives in areas such as smoking and alcohol — lifestyle issues which are related to many non-communicable diseases, for example, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Work on smoking cessation in recent years has resulted in a 1% drop in the prevalence of adult smoking per year. Advertisements on public awareness of passive smoking, on foot of the workplace smoking ban, started during 2004. These advertisements direct smokers to the national smokers quitline where they receive support in their efforts to quit smoking. The strategic task force on alcohol, STFA, has published two reports, the second of which is being brought to Government. The two reports contain approximately 100 recommendations involving many different sectors, target groups and environments. The health promotion unit will build on these and other strategic initiatives in the coming year.

The four key principles underpinning the Government's national health strategy — Quality and Fairness, a Health System for You — are equity and fairness, a people-centred service, quality of care and clear accountability. The health service reform programme is the framework for the modernisation of the health service and the achievement of the goals and objectives of the health strategy. The annual report of the Department of Health and Children sets out progress over 2003 in respect of each of the 121 action points contained in the health strategy action plan. To date, work has commenced on 88% of the 121 actions set out in the strategy.

The Minister for Health and Children convenes a national consultative forum on an annual basis to comment on progress in the implementation of the health strategy, emerging trends and future priorities, including the health reform programme. It is intended to convene a meeting of this forum next month.

Tax Code.

Questions (183, 184)

Phil Hogan

Question:

315 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Finance the way in which the decision made in the Finance Act 2004 to reduce benefit-in-kind to workers will be implemented; if this decision will be phased; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25014/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

I assume the Deputy is referring to the recent changes applying PAYE to benefits-in-kind, BIK, introduced with effect from 1 January 2004 and for which legislative provision was made in the Finance Acts 2003 and 2004 and the Social Welfare Acts 2003 and 2004. The intention of the new system is to ensure that generally all remuneration, in whatever form, is treated in the same way for income tax, PRSI and health levy purposes. Treating benefits in the same way and subjecting them to the same rules as normal wages and salaries under PAYE has introduced a greater degree of equity into the system.

I understand the Deputy has a specific interest in the tax treatment of health care benefits paid for by employers on behalf of employees and, in particular, the cost of medical check-ups and health insurance costs. There has been no change in the tax treatment of either of these benefits in that both would always have been taxable. However, under the new arrangements, PRSI and health levy also apply. Tax relief can be claimed on the cost of health insurance premiums. With regard to medical check-ups, the position is that the provision of medical check-ups which employees are required to undergo by their employer is not regarded as a taxable benefit. However, routine medical check-ups, paid for but not required by the employer, are treated as giving rise to a taxable benefit.

Billy Timmins

Question:

316 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the position with regard to a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow who is still waiting for a tax refund for 2003 and 2004; if this can be issued as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25055/04]

View answer

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the refund is being withheld as the taxpayer has not complied with preliminary tax requirements, that is, preliminary income tax 2003 which was due on 31 October 2003 is outstanding.

Disabled Drivers.

Questions (185)

Enda Kenny

Question:

317 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the recommendations of the ten made by the interdepartmental review group on the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme that have been accepted by his Department; those which have been implemented to date; the timeframe for implementation of the remaining recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25096/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

The report of the interdepartmental review group sets out in detail the genesis and development of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme including the current benefits, the Exchequer costs, the various requests to broaden the eligibility criteria and various recommendations for changes to the scheme.

Following on from two of the report's recommendations concerning the appeals process, amendments to the regulations governing the scheme were drafted to improve the operation of the medical appeals board. These were signed by the Minister for Finance on 23 July 2004. The amendments provide for changes to the existing regulations by expanding the panel of medical practitioners serving on the medical board of appeal from three to five. They also amend the appeals process by introducing a six-month waiting period between an appeal and a subsequent application and by introducing the requirement for a second or subsequent application to be certified by a registered medical practitioner to the effect that there has been material disimprovement in the medical condition of the appellant since the previous application.

The Government has agreed that the Minister for Finance will consider other recommendations in the report on an ongoing basis in the overall budgetary context having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme.

Departmental Properties.

Questions (186)

Tony Gregory

Question:

318 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance, further to Question No. 216 of 12 February 2002, if he will list the items stolen or removed without authorisation; if any of them have since been recovered; the steps that were taken to bring about their recovery; and if he will list any additional items stolen since then from State or semi-State property. [25097/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

The information the Deputy requires will take some time to prepare. I will communicate the information requested by the Deputy as soon as it is to hand.

Tax Collection.

Questions (187)

Richard Bruton

Question:

319 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the number of companies paying corporation tax in each year since 1997 and the forecast for 2004; and the corporation tax paid and the distribution of companies and revenue between foreign-owned and domestic companies and between companies traditionally eligible for the 10% rate and the standard rate for tax paying companies. [25133/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

The number of companies which indicated on their tax return forms that they were liable to pay corporation tax for each of the years from 1997 to 2002 is set out below. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that statistics on the amount of corporation tax paid by foreign-owned companies are not separately available. However, data can be derived from corporation tax returns on the percentage of corporation tax liability attributable to companies taxed wholly or partly at the reduced rate of 10%. This information, which is available for accounting periods ending between 1 April 1997 and 31 December 2002, the latest available, is as set out below.

Year Ending

All Liable Companies

Number of Companies with 10% relief

Tax Liability of Companies with 10% relief

Other Liable Companies

Tax Liability of other Liable Companies

€m

€m

31 March 1998

28,980

5,680

1,431

23,300

1,079

31 March 1999

31,900

5,800

1,818

26,100

1,428

31 March 2000

33,720

5,790

2,185

27,930

1,648

31 March 2001

38,730

5,620

2,716

33,110

1,737

31 December 2001

41,620

5,220

2,521

36,400

1,611

31 December 2002

46,300

5,290

2,545*

41,010

1,627*

*Breakdown figures are subject to revision.

The figures shown as the corporation tax liability of companies qualifying for the 10% relief reflect the total tax liability of these companies on all their profits, including those profits taxed at other rates. It is not possible to isolate the tax attributable solely to the effective 10% rate in such cases because certain reliefs relating to income liable for tax at both the standard and reduced rates are set off against the overall tax liability after the relief at 10% has been computed. The budget forecast for corporation tax receipts for the year 2004 is €5.384 billion.

Public Service Recruitment.

Questions (188)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

320 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance the jobs which are available or will become available with the OPW in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25139/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

One position of general operative will be filled shortly at the JFK Arboretum near New Ross. A proposal to fill three positions based at the OPW's south-eastern drainage office in Castlebridge is under consideration. Guides or information officers for built heritage sites such as Ballyhack Castle, Ferns Castle, JFK Arboretum and Tintern Abbey are recruited annually for the relevant visitor season.

National Parks.

Questions (189)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

321 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Finance if there are proposals to reduce the amount of traffic going through the Phoenix Park, reduce traffic speeds in an area of the park or change the flow of traffic to try and create areas which are free of traffic. [25159/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

The principle governing the management of the Phoenix Park is its conservation and presentation as a national historic park. The issue of traffic is a major problem with more than 30,000 cars using the park each day. While recognising that the elimination of all through traffic is not a realisable objective in the short to medium term, measures have been or are about to be put in place to manage traffic in the park.

The safety of all park users has been paramount in the preparation of a plan for the renovation of Chesterfield Avenue. This has been developed in consultation with the Dublin Transportation Office and will involve a variety of traffic calming measures having regard to the special character of the park. The proposed scheme will encompass the construction of a roundabout at Mountjoy Cross and the introduction of traffic calming and a pedestrian priority area in the vicinity of Dublin Zoo. As an interim measure, extensive works have been undertaken this year to improve the surface of Chesterfield Avenue and some minor roads while further works of this nature are expected to commence shortly.

A number of minor roads, including the Khyber Road, Odd Lamp Road, Furze Road, Spa Road and Furry Glen Road, have been closed to through traffic in recent years. Furthermore, policy has been in place to facilitate recreational cyclists in the park and dedicated cycle paths have been provided in recent years to encourage this. Plans have been drawn up to introduce a one-way system between the Ashtown and Cabra gates and the Garda Síochána is being consulted about this proposal.

The responsibility for enforcing the speed limit lies with the Garda Síochána and officials of the Office of Public Works consult closely with gardaí with a view to controlling traffic speeds at certain locations. Arrangements are being made to install 11 speed ramps on the Back Road or North Road in the vicinity of the Phoenix Park School, the rear entrance to Áras an Uachtaráin and near Cabra Gate.

Tax Code.

Questions (190, 191, 192)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

322 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance the proposals he has to grant tax free allowances to unmarried partners who are in stable relationships, as are presently enjoyed by married couples; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25188/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

Married couples living together may opt for joint assessment where they may transfer unused credits and bands between spouses, subject to certain restrictions. The restrictions relate to the employee credit which is allocated on an individual basis and is non-transferable and to transferability of the standard rate band for a married couple which is limited to €37,000. The majority of married couples opt for joint assessment because the transferability between them means it can be more advantageous to them than treatment as two single persons. Within joint assessment, a married couple may opt for separate assessment. Under this option they will be treated as single persons but their combined tax bill will be the same as under joint assessment. Couples may also elect for assessment as single persons where each spouse is taxed on his or her own income, each receives the credits and the standard band due to a single person and there is no transferability of unused credits and bands. As regards other taxes, a spouse may receive gifts and inheritances from the other spouse without paying capital acquisitions tax, CAT. There are also certain exemptions for married couples in the capital gains tax and stamp duty codes.

Generally speaking, the tax system treats members of co-habiting couples as separate and unconnected individuals. Each partner is a separate entity for tax purposes and credits, bands and reliefs cannot be transferred from one partner to the other. The home carer's credit may not be claimed by cohabiting couples as the credit is restricted to married persons who are jointly assessed for tax. It should be noted that a man and woman living together as man and wife are specifically excluded by the tax code from entitlement to the one-parent family tax credit.

For CAT purposes, the members of co-habiting couples are treated as unrelated. However, within a couple, an individual may be able to avail of dwelling house relief. Essentially, CAT no longer applies on the transfer of the home on or after 1 December 1999 provided it is the principal private residence of the disponer and-or the recipient and the recipient has been living in the home for the three years prior to the transfer. The recipient must not have an interest in any other residential property. It is also a condition of the relief that the recipient must own and reside in the house for six years after the transfer. However, this condition does not apply to recipients over 55 years of age and provision is made also for those circumstances where the recipient is unable to comply with the residence requirement for reasons outside his or her control, for example, due to hospitalisation or work obligations.

The working group examining the treatment of married, co-habiting and one-parent families under the tax and social welfare codes, which reported in August 1999, was sympathetic in principle to changes in the tax legislation to address the issues raised relating to co-habiting couples and reported that the options that it set out should be considered further. However, it acknowledged with regard to the tax treatment of co-habiting couples that a key issue is whether tax law should proceed ahead of changes in the general law. Earlier this year, in response to a parliamentary question, my predecessor indicated to the Deputy that such a course, where changes in the tax code would set a headline in advance of developments in other relevant areas of public policy, for example, in the area of legal recognition of relationships other than married relationships, would be problematic and unwise. I agree with that position.

However, I draw the Deputy's attention to the consultation paper on the rights and duties of co-habitees which was published in April this year by the Law Reform Commission. That paper indicated that in the light of the current policy with regard to individualisation of the tax bands, the commission was not recommending any change to the income tax treatment of co-habiting couples. It has been the practice of successive Ministers for Finance not to comment in the run up to the annual budget and Finance Bill on what may or may not be included in that process and I do not intend to depart from that practice.

Mary Upton

Question:

323 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide more generous exemption limits for pensioners in considering their liability for capital gains tax from share option pay outs such as that of First Active plc; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25239/04]

View answer

I assume the Deputy is referring to the recent once-off gains arising to shareholders from the disposal of their shares in First Active plc which gives rise to a potential capital gains tax, CGT, liability. The CGT liability of an individual is computed by reference to the chargeable gain on the disposal which is essentially the excess of the sale proceeds, net of incidental costs of sale, over the allowable costs of acquisition, if any, of the shares being sold. The legislation also provides that the total amount of chargeable gains arising in a tax year is arrived at after deducting any allowable losses accruing to that individual in that year together with any unused allowable losses from disposals in any previous year. If there were no other chargeable gains in the year, this gain is then reduced by the annual personal exemption of €1,270. The net chargeable gain is then taxable at a rate of only 20%.

The rate was halved from 40% to 20% in the 1998 budget. Reliefs and exemptions made sense when CGT rates were 40% and above. The current situation is in accordance with the overall taxation policy of widening the tax base to keep direct tax rates low. As Deputies are aware, it is not the practice to comment in the lead up to the annual budget and Finance Bill on the intention or otherwise to make changes in taxation.

Dan Neville

Question:

324 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Finance when a tax reconciliation statement will be made available to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [25273/04]

View answer

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a tax reconciliation statement issued to the individual concerned on 23 April 2004. Arrangements have been made to provide a copy of the statement to the taxpayer.

Flood Relief.

Questions (193)

Seamus Healy

Question:

325 Mr. Healy asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the Clonmel flood alleviation scheme with particular reference to the announcement that the first phase of the scheme would be completed in 2004 and that the public consultation process would be completed in the autumn of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25306/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

The Deputy is aware that following severe flooding in the late 1990s in Clonmel, a flood alleviation scheme was developed by the OPW which was publicly exhibited, as required under the Arterial Drainage Acts, in December 2001 and January 2002. Concerns were raised by Waterford and South Tipperary county councils that there might be contaminated material in the river bed which was due to be dredged as part of the alleviation measures and which would therefore have major environmental implications.

As a result of these concerns, the proposed scheme was re-examined and a revised scheme was proposed earlier this year, which included the use of demountable defences which have developed greatly in the past few years. This revised scheme has the advantages of requiring no dredging of the river, along with bringing the level of protection against flooding to a one in 100 year protection.

In April this year I attended a meeting with the elected members of the borough council where I outlined the revised scheme and the way in which it was to be implemented. I explained it was hoped to implement the scheme in a phased manner over a period of four to six years depending on available funding. The first phase included the development of a flood warning system and the clearing of debris from streams and culverts in the town. The next step in the process would be the formal public exhibition of the scheme, which it is hoped to have in the spring of 2005.

The development of the flood warning system has already begun and is being carried out by the engineering services of the OPW. It is hoped that the installation of flood warning equipment will commence in the next two months, with a report due in January 2005 containing the recommended system. At this stage it is felt that the clearing of various streams and culverts might be best carried out when the major construction work commences. Subject to a successful public exhibition next spring, the scheme will be brought to detailed design and, subject to confirmation by the Minister for Finance, construction work on walls and embankments will commence as early as possible after that.

Garda Recruitment.

Questions (194)

Michael Ring

Question:

326 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Finance when the Office of the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission will be recruiting again for the Garda Síochána. [25307/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

It is expected, arising from the Government's recent decision to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000, that a new Garda recruitment competition will be advertised in the coming weeks. It is anticipated that the Garda Síochána will be able to take the next intake of trainees to the Garda College from the current panel.

The Deputy may wish to note that following the enactment of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 and the establishment of the Public Appointments Service, PAS, on 19 October 2004, the recruitment will be carried out by the PAS.

Fiscal Policy.

Questions (195)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

327 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Finance if he will take steps by the appropriate fiscal measures to encourage the development of an indigenous bio-fuel sector here in view of the extensive interest among farmers in growing energy. [25308/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

The Deputy may be aware that section 98(a) of the Finance Act 1999, as inserted by section 50 of the Finance Act 2004, provides for the introduction of a scheme for excise tax relief for bio-fuels. The purpose of the scheme is to allow qualified and conditional relief from excise of bio-fuel used in approved pilot projects for either the production of bio-fuel or the testing of the technical viability of bio-fuel for use as a motor fuel.

The details of the scheme are being finalised in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The European Commission has confirmed that the scheme would represent a State aid and consequently its approval is required. The EU Energy Tax Directive of 2003 envisages such tax relief and the Commission has approved schemes for excise relief of bio-fuel in other EU member states. Formal application for Commission approval will be made shortly and, assuming approval is granted, the necessary commencement order will then be signed.

Tax Code.

Questions (196, 197)

John Deasy

Question:

328 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider the removal of capital gains tax and stamp duty for farmers when the proceeds from the disposal of land are utilised in the acquisition of other farm land to consolidate the farm holding. [25340/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

Capital gains tax, CGT, is a tax on a capital gain arising on the disposal of assets. A 20% rate of CGT applies on the gains arising on the disposal of assets, including farm land. It was announced in the 2003 budget that no roll-over relief would be allowed for any purpose on gains arising from disposals on or after 4 December 2002. This relief was introduced when CGT rates were much higher than current levels. In effect, it was a deferral of tax to be paid where the proceeds of disposal were re-invested into replacement assets. The taxation of these gains would take place following the eventual disposal of the new assets without their replacement.

The abolition of this relief was in accordance with the overall taxation policy of widening the tax base to keep direct tax rates low. Such reliefs and allowances made sense when CGT rates were 40% and more. As the Deputy may be aware, the rate was halved from 40% to 20% in the 1998 budget. Taxing capital gains when they are realised is the most logical time to do so, and this change brought CGT into line with other areas.

With regard to stamp duty, any such concession mentioned by the Deputy would lead to calls from other sectors for relief for their particular situations, with an adverse effect on the stamp duty yield. The Deputy may be aware that the stamp duty code already contains full stamp duty relief for transfers of land to young trained farmers where land is transferred to them by way of gift or sale, provided they have attained relevant educational qualifications. The availability of this relief was extended in the 2003 budget for a further three years to 31 December 2005. The Finance Act 2004 provided for an updated list of educational qualifications and contained changes which resulted in the raising of the standards of certain of those qualifications which must be attained to qualify for the relief.

As Deputies are aware, it is not the practice to comment in the lead up to the annual budget and Finance Bill on the intention or otherwise to make changes in taxation.

John Deasy

Question:

329 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider increasing the flat VAT refund to non-VAT registered farmers from its present level of 4.4%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25341/04]

View answer

The flat rate refund for unregistered farmers is examined every year in the lead-up to the budget. It is not customary to comment on any possible changes to the existing rate which may arise in the context of the forthcoming budget.

The flat rate VAT refund is a simple administrative system designed to compensate farmers who are not registered for the VAT they incur as part of their farming activities. The calculation of the flat rate is governed by EU VAT law and is based on the relevant macroeconomic information drawn from statistics on agricultural production, agricultural inputs and the deductible VAT content of such inputs. The flat rate is arrived at by calculating the VAT payable by unregistered farmers on agricultural inputs as a percentage of the value of agricultural sales by these farmers.

A commitment was given under Sustaining Progress to elaborate on the data and methodology used in the calculation of the flat rate VAT refund and a working group chaired by my Department and including representation from the Revenue Commissioners, the Central Statistics Office and the farming organisations has met on a number of occasions to discuss the matter and further meetings are planned.

Disabled Drivers.

Questions (198, 199)

John Deasy

Question:

330 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that appeals under the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme 1994 are taking as long as three years; his plans to improve this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25342/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

My Department has no direct involvement in the operation of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal. However, I am informed that there is a backlog of appeals to be dealt with by the board, involving a waiting time of over two years for appellants to be seen. I am advised that the backlog of appeals, approximately 600, is caused by a number of factors, in particular, the general increase in applications for a primary medical certificate, and the significant number of persons who are aware that they do not meet the medical criteria specified in the regulations but nevertheless insist on exercising their right of appeal.

An interdepartmental review group was established to examine the operation of the scheme and the group's report was published in early July. Following from the report's recommendations concerning the appeals process, amendments to the regulations governing the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme were drafted to improve the operation of the medical appeals board. These were signed by the Minister for Finance on 23 July 2004. The amendments provide for changes to the existing regulations by expanding the panel of medical practitioners serving on the medical board of appeal from three to five. They also amend the appeals process by introducing a six-month waiting period between an appeal and a subsequent application, and introducing the requirement for a second or subsequent application to be certified by a registered medical practitioner to the effect that there has been material disimprovement in the medical condition of the appellant since the previous application.

With regard to the first change, I hope, very shortly, on the recommendation of the Minister for Health and Children, to appoint two more doctors to the board. A panel of five doctors should allow for the board to meet more regularly and hence reduce the backlog. As regards the second change, it should be noted that a further factor in the backlog of appeals is that a number of those who are seen by the board and are dissatisfied with its decision are re-appealing immediately and this is causing a build up of appeals. The change addresses this issue and should free up the appeals board to deal with existing appeals in the system and subsequent appeals where a change in an individual's circumstance requires a reassessment.

John Deasy

Question:

331 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Finance further to the report of the interdepartmental review group on the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme, the plans he has to improve access to the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25343/04]

View answer

The interdepartmental review group established to review the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme examined all aspects of the scheme including the qualifying medical criteria upon which access to the scheme is based. The Government has agreed that the Minister for Finance will consider the report on an ongoing basis in the overall budgetary context having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme.

Tax Yield.

Questions (200)

Joan Burton

Question:

332 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the rate of income tax paid by persons earning in excess of €100,000 per annum and upwards in bands of €20,000 per annum; if he will distinguish between single persons and couples, between PAYE taxpayers and those who are self-employed; and if there were such taxpayers paying 0% and taxpayers paying tax at 20% and below. [25375/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent basic data on incomes from which information of the type requested by the Deputy could be derived are in respect of the "short" income tax year of 2001. This was a short transitional tax "year" running from 6 April to 31 December 2001 which preceded the first full calendar tax year, 1 January 2002 to 31 December 2002. The information requested is set out in the following tables. However, because of the Revenue Commissioners' obligation to observe confidentiality with regard to the taxation affairs of individual taxpayers and small groups of taxpayers, the breakdown by income bands requested by the Deputy is not provided in relation to incomes exceeding €1 million due to the small numbers of income earners with incomes in excess of that level.

It should be noted that as PAYE taxpayers were charged tax on their earnings in the period from 6 April to 31 December 2001 and self-employed taxpayers were assessed for tax for the short "year" on 74% of the profits earned in a 12-month accounting period, the income figures will not be directly comparable with those of earlier or later years.

A married couple who have elected or have been deemed to have elected for joint assessment are counted as one tax unit. Married couples and individuals with income chargeable to tax under both schedule E and schedule D have been classified in the tables below by reference to the schedule under which the larger amount of income is taxable.

The designation of a tax rate to an income earner in the tables is based on identifying the top tax rate applying to the taxable income of each earner. To arrive at the figure for taxable income, the gross income is reduced by various relevant deductions and allowances such as capital allowances, losses, allowable expenses and retirement annuities. In some cases, these will reduce the taxable income to nil. Where there is a positive taxable income, it is a feature of the tax credit system that the association between taxable income and the marginal tax rate is made prior to deduction of the personal and other tax credits in arriving at the net tax liability.

Analysis of the data in the tables indicates that of those in the PAYE sector who earned €100,000 or more in the short tax "year", 2001, 0.4% had a nil net income tax liability, 0.4% had a net liability for tax at the standard or marginal relief rates and 99.2% had a liability for tax at the higher rate. Of the self-employed who earned €100,000 or more in the short tax "year" 2001, 2.1% had a nil net income tax liability, 1.2% had a net liability for tax at the standard or marginal relief rates and 96.7% had a liability for tax at the higher rate.

INCOME TAX "short year" 2001

Numbers of mainly PAYE income earners with incomes exceeding €100,000 (including proprietary directors on the PAYE record)

Range of Gross Income

No net liability for income tax

Liable for tax at the standard rate (20%) or marginal relief

Liable for tax at the higher rate (42%)

Overall Total

Single*

Married

Total

Single*

Married

Total

Single*

Married

Total

100,000 120,000

3

12

15

4

6

10

518

3,415

3,933

3,958

120,000 140,000

1

2

3

0

6

6

262

1,914

2,176

2,185

140,000 160,000

0

1

1

1

6

7

142

1,093

1,235

1,243

160,000 180,000

1

4

5

0

4

4

98

717

815

824

180,000 200,000

0

4

4

0

2

2

78

514

592

598

200,000 220,000

0

1

1

0

4

4

52

358

410

415

220,000 240,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

27

278

305

305

240,000 260,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

30

188

218

220

260,000 280,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

25

142

167

169

280,000 300,000

1

1

2

0

1

1

14

111

125

128

300,000 320,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

10

92

102

104

320,000 340,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

11

72

83

83

340,000 360,000

0

0

0

1

0

1

7

50

57

58

360,000 380,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

7

55

62

63

380,000 400,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

5

44

49

50

400,000 420,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

8

32

40

41

420,000 440,000

1

0

1

0

0

0

6

27

33

34

440,000 460,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

2

29

31

32

460,000 480,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

14

20

20

480,000 500,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

23

25

25

500,000 520,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

2

15

17

18

520,000 540,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

1

15

16

17

540,000 560,000

1

1

2

0

0

0

2

11

13

15

560,000 580,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

13

19

19

580,000 600,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

3

13

16

17

600,000 620,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

8

8

8

620,000 640,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

7

7

7

640,000 660,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

8

8

8

660,000 680,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

7

8

8

680,000 700,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

5

6

6

700,000 720,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

3

3

720,000 740,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

9

10

10

740,000 760,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

4

4

4

760,000 780,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

4

5

5

780,000 800,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

7

8

8

800,000 820,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

10

11

11

820,000 840,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

3

3

4

840,000 860,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

1

860,000 880,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

3

3

4

880,000 900,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

1

900,000 920,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

3

3

920,000 940,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

6

6

940,000 960,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

3

3

960,000 980,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

7

8

8

980,000 1,000,000

1

0

1

0

0

0

0

3

3

4

Over 1,000,000

0

2

2

0

0

0

16

57

73

75

9

38

47

6

34

40

1,347

9,394

10,741

10,828

* "Single" includes widowed persons

INCOME TAX "short year" 2001

Numbers of mainly self-employed income earners with incomes exceeding €100,000

Range of Gross Income

No net liability for income tax

Liable for tax at the standard rate (20%) or marginal relief

Liable for tax at the higher rate (42%)

Overall Total

Single*

Married

Total

Single*

Married

Total

Single*

Married

Total

100,000 120,000

12

26

38

3

26

29

348

1,707

2,055

2,122

120,000 140,000

9

22

31

3

17

20

235

1,141

1,376

1,427

140,000 160,000

6

13

19

2

15

17

168

877

1045

1,081

160,000 180,000

3

10

13

1

12

13

110

590

700

726

180,000 200,000

2

11

13

1

3

4

81

501

582

599

200,000 220,000

0

5

5

2

2

4

71

378

449

458

220,000 240,000

2

5

7

1

4

5

41

318

359

371

240,000 260,000

3

5

8

0

2

2

36

245

281

291

260,000 280,000

0

4

4

0

1

1

28

227

255

260

280,000 300,000

1

5

6

0

0

0

31

183

214

220

300,000 320,000

0

6

6

1

2

3

28

157

185

194

320,000 340,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

15

134

149

149

340,000 360,000

1

3

4

1

1

2

16

107

123

129

360,000 380,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

21

108

129

131

380,000 400,000

0

2

2

0

0

0

24

103

127

129

400,000 420,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

11

72

83

83

420,000 440,000

0

2

2

0

0

0

15

79

94

96

440,000 460,000

1

1

2

0

0

0

9

74

83

85

460,000 480,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

5

48

53

55

480,000 500,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

5

37

42

44

500,000 520,000

0

2

2

0

1

1

4

45

49

52

520,000 540,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

8

39

47

48

540,000 560,000

0

4

4

0

0

0

5

25

30

34

560,000 580,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

4

27

31

32

580,000 600,000

2

2

4

0

1

1

2

25

27

32

600,000 620,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

5

29

34

35

620,000 640,000

0

1

1

0

2

2

4

19

23

26

640,000 660,000

0

2

2

0

0

0

3

20

23

25

660,000 680,000

1

0

1

0

0

0

2

8

10

11

680,000 700,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

22

28

28

700,000 720,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

4

11

15

15

720,000 740,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

2

11

13

14

740,000 760,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

4

7

7

760,000 780,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

12

13

13

780,000 800,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

1

5

6

7

800,000 820,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

8

8

8

820,000 840,000

0

1

1

0

0

0

1

9

10

11

840,000 860,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

10

10

10

860,000 880,000

0

1

1

0

1

1

2

12

14

16

880,000 900,000

0

0

0

0

1

1

1

7

8

9

900,000 920,000

0

2

2

0

0

0

2

4

6

8

920,000 940,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

6

7

7

940,000 960,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

4

4

4

960,000 980,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

2

2

980,000 1,000,000

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

8

8

8

Over 1,000,000

2

7

9

0

0

0

18

101

119

128

45

150

195

15

94

109

1,378

7,558

8,936

9,240

* "Single" includes widowed persons

Tax Code.

Questions (201)

Gay Mitchell

Question:

333 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance if he will take steps to remove a VAT and stamp duty liability, requesting a total of approximately 22% additional cost on a new premises being purchased by persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25407/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

If the voluntary organisation referred to by the Deputy is purchasing a newly built premises, VAT applies at the reduced rate of 13.5% both on its construction and on the site, where these are connected contracts.

Voluntary groups and charities are exempt under the EU sixth VAT directive with which Irish VAT law must comply. This means they do not charge VAT on their services and cannot recover VAT incurred on goods and services that they purchase. Essentially, only VAT-registered businesses which charge VAT are able to recover VAT. Voluntary organisations are final consumers and like other final consumers they pay VAT as a tax on their purchases. There is no provision in the directive under which Ireland would be permitted to exempt from VAT the sale of property to a particular person or class of persons.

The stamp duty arising in this case is the stamp duty on non-residential property. This duty yielded €547 million in 2003 in total. There are very few reliefs in the case of non-residential property and there are no plans to introduce any new relief for any other categories.

Fiscal Policy.

Questions (202)

Finian McGrath

Question:

334 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will include CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within his Department. [25739/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

The position is that the policies being pursued by the Government in the area of taxation are as set out in the relevant provisions of the Government programme, An Agreed Programme for Government, and the current national partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress. In this regard, the Conference of Religious in Ireland, CORI, was one of the organisations in the community and voluntary pillar which was a party to the Sustaining Progress agreement.

I met yesterday with representatives of the community and voluntary pillar, including CORI, in the context of pre-budget submissions. I am aware of their suggestions and concerns and I will bear them in mind, as with other pre-budget submissions, in my policy deliberations.

Electricity Tariffs.

Questions (203)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

335 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the cumulative increases in domestic and commercial electricity tariffs since the Commission for Energy Regulation was established. [24998/04]

View answer

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

I do not have a function with regard to the pricing of electricity. The Commission for Energy Regulation was given the statutory responsibility for regulating the ESB's tariffs to its franchise customers under the European Communities (Internal Market in Electricity) Regulations 2000. I have asked the Commission for Energy Regulation to communicate directly with the Deputy on the information sought.

Gas Tariffs.

Questions (204)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

336 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the cumulative increase in domestic and commercial gas tariffs since the Commission for Energy Regulation was established. [24999/04]

View answer

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

I do not have a function with regard to the pricing of gas. The Commission for Energy Regulation was given the statutory responsibility for regulating BGE's tariffs to its franchise customers under the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002. I have asked the Commission for Energy Regulation to communicate directly with the Deputy on the information sought.

Telecommunications Services.

Questions (205)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

337 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the tendering competition for the management of the MANS broadband network including the names of the bidders, their proposals and prices and the criteria by which contract was awarded to the successful company. [25000/04]

View answer

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

The Department received five bids from three bidders. These were Axia Broadband Services Ireland Limited which is jointly owned by IAWS Society and Axia Net Media Corporation and which input one base bid and two variant bids, Data Electronics Group Limited and e-Net. Information on the MSE procurement process, including the evaluation criteria, are posted on the website of the Department and may be viewed athttp://www.dcmnr.gov.ie.

All bids were assessed against the evaluation criteria which, as the Deputy will appreciate, involved more than a pricing assessment. An MSE project board was established to oversee the evaluation process and a separate evaluation team was set up to independently evaluate the bids.

e-Net emerged as the preferred bidder and negotiations with e-Net were initiated with a view to the award of the management services entity concession agreement. The contract was concluded on 2 July 2004. The maximum access pricing agreed with e-Net will be available very shortly on the company's website,http:// www.e-net.ie.

Coastal Protection.

Questions (206)

Seán Crowe

Question:

338 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will investigate the plight of the coast guards at Doolin, County Clare (details supplied). [25047/04]

View answer

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

The Irish Coastguard of my Department operates a station house building programme for coastal units around the coast. The Office of Public Works, OPW, manages this programme for the coastguard. The coastguard and the OPW are together giving top priority to the project for a search and rescue station house at Doolin, County Clare.

The position regarding the project is that, while financial sanction has been granted in principle for the development, the OPW has not yet been able to acquire a suitable site. It is, however, in negotiations for acquisition of a site near Doolin, and as soon as a suitable site has been acquired, the construction process, including building design, planning permission application and tendering, will proceed as quickly as possible.

Pension Provisions.

Questions (207)

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

339 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the result of An Post negotiations with the Communications Workers Union with regard to pay increases to An Post staff pensioners, particularly the non-payment of the 3% increase according to the national agreements; the situation regarding the appointment of a pensioner to the board of trustees of the pensions fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25117/04]

View answer

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

Authority to implement pension increases was delegated to An Post by this Department on 26 May 1989. Traditionally, An Post has granted increases to serving staff in line with national pay agreements. Increases to pensioners have subsequently been applied in line with increases granted to serving staff. I am also informed that the terms and conditions, including those regarding the matter of increases, as enshrined in the An Post main superannuation scheme 1990, are based on those that prevailed in the former Department of Posts and Telegraphs.

In regard to serving staff, the company is involved in detailed negotiations with its unions under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, to reach agreement on necessary restructuring in order to return to financial stability. These negotiations have impacted on consideration of increases for An Post pensioners. However, I understand the An Post board and management are reviewing this situation. In light of this review, I feel it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.

With regard to the appointment of a pensioner to the board of trustees of the pensions fund, the An Post superannuation schemes' trust deed sets out that the number of trustees shall be not less than three nor more than seven individuals. The power for appointing new or additional trustees is vested in An Post and I have no function in this. I understand there are seven appointed trustees of the scheme, three representing the members of the schemes, both serving and retired staff, three representing the principal employer and an independent chairman.

Telecommunications Services.

Questions (208)

John Perry

Question:

340 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the level of funding required with regard to the 23 km. of broadband services in Sligo to provide this facility in surrounding towns, such as Tubbercurry, Ballymote and Gurteen; the amount which will be allocated, when work will commence and the timescale involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25120/04]

View answer

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

Under my Department's regional broadband programme, a 23 km metropolitan area network will be constructed in Sligo town, in association with Sligo County Council. A number of tenders for the construction phase of the project have been received by the council, and are being assessed. An announcement of the successful contractor is expected shortly. The civil engineering contract is expected to cost between €3 million and €4 million, of which 90% will come from Government and ERDF funding, with the remaining 10% from Sligo County Council.

Under the broadband rollout programme, 26 larger towns and cities are being provided with high-capacity fibre networks, which are managed for the State on an open-access basis, allowing service providers to offer services at very competitive prices. Smaller towns such as Tubbercurry, Ballymote and Gurteen can avail of my Department's group broadband scheme, which offers up to 55% funding for communities to group together with service providers and obtain broadband connectivity using the technology most suited to their circumstances. More than 50 groups have already applied for group broadband scheme funding and wireless local area networks appear to be the favoured delivery platform in most cases.

Full details of the group broadband scheme may be found on my Department's website,www.broadband.gov.ie, and full details of the regional broadband programme are on www.dcmnr.gov.ie.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Questions (209, 210, 211)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

341 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he intends to allocate some of the additional public purchase contract capacity that has been approved by the European Union for biomass projects such as the one proposed by a company (details supplied); and the way in which the application made by this company under the AER VI scheme stands in the reserve lists of projects which bid above those successful bidders already granted contracts under the scheme. [25142/04]

View answer

Eamon Ryan

Question:

342 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the procedures he intends to follow regarding the review of the successful bidders for electricity generation from biomass anaerobic digestion under the AER VI scheme; and the procedures that will be put in place to transfer the public purchase agreement to other unsuccessful bidders if it is clear that the winning contracts will not be built within the timeframe expected. [25143/04]

View answer

Eamon Ryan

Question:

346 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the details of the reserve list for onshore wind farm bidders who failed to gain a public supply contract under the recent AER VI programme; when he intends to allocate the additional 140 MW of public service contracts that he is now providing under the programme; and the criteria he will use to allocate those additional contracts. [25483/04]

View answer

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 341, 342 and 346 together.

The 1999 Green Paper on sustainable energy established a target to add 500 MW of new renewable energy-based electricity generating plant to the electricity network by 2005. It was envisaged this would be achieved by awarding support contracts under the AER V and VI rounds of the alternative energy requirement, AER, support programme. The 500 MW had EU state aids clearance prior to the commencement of AER VI.

Subsequently, the market was notified of proposals to allocate support for a further 140 MW of AER projects generally and 50 MW and 28 MW specifically for offshore wind energy and biomass-fed combined heat and power, CHP, projects, respectively, subject to state aids clearance. The necessary state aids clearance was received recently and I will announce shortly the allocations, by applicant, of all the remaining unallocated capacity. The formal allocations of the 140 MW capacity, by category, will form part of that announcement. Otherwise the capacity, by category, will be awarded in accordance with the published AER VI reserve lists. These reserve lists are available on my Department's website,www.dcmnr.ie.

Inclusion on those lists confirms the associated applications were examined and found compliant with the published conditions precedent when received. Thereafter, the ranking of projects in those lists is indicative of the relative competitiveness of the prices bid in each category, commencing with the lowest prices bid in each category listed first. Where the next most successful applicants bid identical prices in any category and the unallocated support capacity is less than the aggregate proposed, any available support allocation will be done by lottery after notice is given to each applicant. This is also in accordance with the published competition rules.

The successful applicants will have an ongoing obligation to remain compliant with the published terms and conditions and clause 4A in particular. My Department will continue to monitor ongoing compliance. If it comes to notice that any project is in breach of the competition rules, the position, in principle, is that the formal offer of a power purchase agreement will be withdrawn and reallocated to the next most compliant application or applications in accordance with the published competition rules. This is the best method of delivering the inherent environmental benefits at the lowest additional cost to consumers.

Harbours and Piers.

Questions (212)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

343 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the proposals he has to dredge the harbour at Dungarvan, County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25191/04]

View answer

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

In March 2002, Dungarvan Town Council submitted an application under the marine tourism grant scheme of the national development plan for funding towards a feasibility study for dredging and reclamation works. However, the grant scheme was suspended in December 2002 due to lack of funding and each of the applicants was so notified. No funding was available for the grant scheme in 2003 or in 2004. In light of the findings of the mid-term review of the regional operational programmes completed by the ESRI, which recommended reallocation of funds to other priorities, it is unlikely that the scheme will be reactivated within the term of the national development plan.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Questions (213)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

344 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will take steps strategically as a country to improve fuel security and derive energy from sources which are less harmful in terms of climate change than fossil fuels. [25308/04]

View answer

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

In May 2002, my Department established Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, to promote and assist environmentally and economically sustainable production, supply and use of energy, in support of Government policy, across all sectors of the economy. Its remit relates mainly to improving energy efficiency, advancing the development and competitive deployment of renewable sources of energy and combined heat and power, and reducing the environmental impact of energy production and use. SEI is charged with implementing significant aspects of the Green Paper on Sustainable Energy and the national climate change strategy. Included in this remit is the task of promoting further research, development and demonstration of renewable energy technologies and alternative fuels.

In December 2003 my Department, in association with SEI, established a bio-energy strategy group, BSG, to consider the policy options and support mechanisms available to stimulate increased use of biomass for energy conversion and electricity generation and to make specific recommendations for action to increase the penetration of biomass energy in Ireland. The group is scheduled to complete a strategy report for consideration by the end of 2004. Membership of the BSG comprises representatives of various Departments as well as State agencies in the agriculture and energy sectors and industry representatives. This report will contain a road map for development of bio-energy with the identification of staged, achievable targets and will link directly into the work of the renewables development group which was set up in May 2004.

An interdepartmental group has also been set up by my Department to develop a bio-fuels strategy for Ireland. The group comprises officials from my Department, Sustainable Energy Ireland, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and the Departments of Transport, Agriculture and Food, and Finance. The group is considering policy options for the development of a bio-fuels sector in Ireland and to increase the penetration of bio-fuels in the transport fuel market.

My Department's support mechanism, the alternative energy requirement, AER, programme, has operated to date to increase the contribution from renewable energy technologies in electricity production. The underlying principle of the alternative energy requirement competitions as operated to date is that prospective generators are invited to make a formal application to build, own and operate newly installed renewable energy-based electricity generating plants, and to supply electricity from these to the ESB under a power purchase agreement of up to 15 years.

Aquaculture Licences.

Questions (214)

Martin Ferris

Question:

345 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the concerns being highlighted by persons (details supplied) in County Donegal with regard to the licensing of mussel dredging in a fashion that threatens the existence of indigenous wild oyster beds in the River Swilly and consequently the livelihoods of these persons; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that under EU regulations this is totally illegal and that it threatens the existence of one of the few wild oyster beds in Europe; and the action he intends to take to alleviate this national scandal. [25312/04]

View answer

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

Following the granting of two aquaculture licences for the bottom cultivation of mussels in Lough Swilly, local oyster fishermen claimed that parts of the licensed areas overlapped with wild oyster beds in the lough. On foot of these complaints, the aquaculture initiative was asked to undertake a survey of the lough. This survey examined the location and size of the oyster beds and sought to ascertain if there was any overlap between these areas and the sites licensed for mussel cultivation. The results of the survey confirmed that there was an element of overlap. Following consultation with the persons to whom the aquaculture licences had been granted, it was agreed that they would surrender the parts of their areas that had been found to contain oysters. Arrangements were made also to have mussels removed from the areas concerned, and any oysters retrieved in the process were relaid.

Since then, the oyster fishermen have applied for an aquaculture licence in respect of oyster beds in the lough. This application is being considered by my Department which is in the process of arranging a meeting with the fishermen at local level later this month.

Question No. 346 answered with QuestionNo. 341.

Children’s Passports.

Questions (215)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

347 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has received reports of cases in which, following separation, one parent may withhold a child’s passport thus preventing the other parent from taking the child on holiday abroad with regard to the fact that children can no longer be included on a parent’s passport; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that it may not be feasible for aggrieved parents to pursue this matter repeatedly though legal channels; if he has proposals to remedy such situations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25098/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

With effect from 1 October last, the passport office ceased the practice of allowing children to be included on their parents' passports. Henceforth, all children, regardless of age, must obtain an individual passport in their own name for travel abroad. This change was designed to improve the security of international travel for children and brings us into line with international best practice in this regard.

The passport office has not received any reports that the new regulation will pose difficulties for separated parents and it does not change the fundamental position that a child under 16 years of age born within marriage must have the consent of both parents before they can travel abroad, unless the courts decide otherwise. In cases where parents are separated, and one of them refuses to give their consent to the provision of passport facilities to the child, such passport facilities will not issue unless a court has made an order, under section 11 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, dispensing with the consent of the parent who so refuses consent.

If a parent of a child to whom a passport has been issued has concerns that their separated spouse may seek to take the child out of the country against their wishes, it is open to them to apply to the courts for an order requiring that the child's passport be held by the court and not released to the other parent without the first parent's agreement. This possibility applies irrespective of whether the child has a passport in his or her own name or is included on the passports of one or both parents.

Imprisonment of Irish Person.

Questions (216)

Pat Carey

Question:

348 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding the trial and imprisonment of a person (details supplied); and the action which will be taken by his Department with a view to securing her release. [25099/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

My Department, through the Irish honorary consul in Quito, has been monitoring developments in the case to which the Deputy refers, and has been active in providing consular assistance to the person in question and her family since we became aware of the case in February 2002. As the Deputy may be aware, the person was convicted on 28 April 2003 of the possession of cocaine and sentenced to eight years in prison. She is being held in the Centre de Detencion Provisional which houses about 420 women and their children.

The honorary consul has ensured that she has had access to adequate legal representation since her arrest and was in attendance at her trial. He subsequently made several prison visits to her. He has also delivered food, money and other essential items to her and has brought various medical problems experienced by her to the attention of prison staff.

On a visit last week to Quito, the Irish ambassador to Argentina also visited her. He found her in good spirits with a positive attitude towards her appeal, which she indicated was scheduled for November. I have asked the Embassy in Buenos Aires to continue to monitor further developments in this case. I assure the Deputy that my Department will continue to provide all possible consular assistance to the individual and her family.

Children’s Passports.

Questions (217)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

349 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts he has made to inform the public regarding the changes to children’s passports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25111/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

With effect from 1 October last, the passport office ceased the practice of allowing children to be included on their parents' passports. Henceforth, all children, regardless of age, must obtain an individual passport in their own name for travel abroad. This change was made on foot of a recommendation from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which sets international standards for travel documents, and was designed to improve the security of international travel for children. The new regulation brings us into line with international best practice in this regard. A number of countries already require that all visitors, including children, carry a separate passport and the new regulation will ensure that all Irish travellers are in a position to meet this requirement.

The passport office placed notices in the national papers on Sunday, 12 September and Monday, 13 September as well as in other journals and magazines, to inform the public of the change. Notices were also placed in the national papers in Northern Ireland on Monday, 13 September. In addition, information has been placed on the passport office's website atwww.passport.ie and has been disseminated through our diplomatic and consular missions abroad. The new arrangements were also communicated to An Post, which operates the passport express service, to the UK Post Office Limited, which operates an express passport service in Northern Ireland, and to Garda stations, from which passport application forms are available.

Question No. 350 answered with QuestionNo. 238.

Visa Applications.

Questions (218)

Michael Noonan

Question:

351 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when a decision will be made on an application for a tourist visa by a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25194/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The person to whom the Deputy refers submitted a visa application to the Irish Embassy in Ankara on 25 August 2004. This application was refused.

This decision is now the subject of an appeal to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. I understand that the applicant should receive a response from that Department within three weeks.

Question No. 352 answered with QuestionNo. 195.
Question No. 353 answered with QuestionNo. 224.

Colombia Three.

Questions (219)

Seán Crowe

Question:

354 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had an indication from the Colombian authorities regarding the timescale surrounding the appeal process in the case of persons (details supplied); and when a decision is to be expected on the matter. [25467/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

As the Deputy will be aware, following the decision in the case by Judge Acosta on 26 April 2004, the Office of the Prosecutor-General in Colombia lodged an appeal against the verdict which acquitted the three men on the principal charge of providing training for terrorists. That appeal is being considered by a panel of judges and their decision is awaited.

Pending the outcome of the appeal, the three men have left the prison in Bogotá. However, the appeal judges ruled that they must remain in Colombia until the appeal is decided.

In a letter to the Taoiseach last July, in response to the representations made by the Taoiseach at his meeting with President Uribe on 29 May in Guadalajara, the President indicated that he was hopeful of an early decision in the appeal but he also emphasised that he could not guarantee this because of the independence of the judiciary in Colombia.

My predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, had a discussion with the Colombian Foreign Minister at the United Nations in New York on 21 September. He again stressed the importance of an early decision on the appeal. Minister Barco, while emphasising the independence of the courts in Colombia, indicated that she shared our wish for an early decision and that she was hopeful that the appeal would be concluded some time in the autumn.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (220)

John Gormley

Question:

355 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has made representations on behalf of the Chagos islanders; if he has raised the matter with the British and American Governments and at EU level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25468/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The demand of the Chagossian natives to return to the Chagossian archipelago is a complex issue which also involves competing sovereignty claims. At present, the matter of the Chagos islanders' right of return and claim for compensation is the subject of legal proceedings in both the UK and US. In a November 2000 ruling, the high court in England ruled that the "wholesale removal" of the islanders was an "abject legal failure" and that they could return to the small outlying islands in the group but not the largest, Diego Garcia. The ruling also granted the islanders British citizenship. Following this ruling, the British Government commissioned a study on island resettlement and concluded that it was "impractical and inconsistent with the existing defence facilities". A study commissioned by the islanders refutes the idea that resettlement is "impractical". In November 2002 the islanders launched a separate case in the high court in England claiming that they had been treated in such a way by the British Government as to entitle them to compensation and return of their property. In October 2003, the islanders lost this claim for compensation. On 10 June last, a royal decree was issued in Britain banning the Chagos islanders from returning to the islands. On 7 October the high court agreed to a judicial review of the royal decree.

The Government will continue to monitor the situation of the Chagossian archipelago. We would wish to see the issue resolved by agreement between the parties, and in a manner which properly addresses the unfortunate situation of the Chagos islanders. The EU has not addressed the issue of the demands of the Chagos islanders for the right of return to their homeland.

Human Rights Issues.

Questions (221)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

356 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he intends to influence the EU and UN addressing human rights issues on the African continent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25516/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Africa is a continent beset by often seemingly insurmountable problems including conflict, debt, poverty, HIV-AIDS and the abuse of human rights. The European Commission and member states collectively are the largest global donors of development assistance to Africa and the EU is thus in a position to play an important role in helping Africans address the problems of the continent especially in multilateral fora.

The EU conducts a process of political dialogue with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries that are party to the Cotonou Agreement. Human rights are a central theme of political dialogue.

Ireland sought to strengthen political dialogue with African countries and organisations during our recent EU Presidency. To this end, two important meetings took place with the African Union and ECOWAS under Irish chairmanship. The discussions with the African Union troika took place in a very positive and constructive atmosphere and covered peace and security and good governance issues, as well as regional integration and trade and development issues, such as external debt and food security. The discussions with ECOWAS took place in a very positive and open atmosphere, with good discussions on peace and security, conflict prevention, economic integration and trade, institutional matters and political dialogue follow-up as well as the issue of human trafficking.

During the most recent session of the UN Commission on Human Rights the EU was active under the co-ordination of the Irish Presidency in securing a number of initiatives on Africa. These included the establishment of a special EU mechanism on the Sudan, the agreement with the African Union of a resolution on the DRC and the adoption of a resolution regarding assistance on human rights in Somalia. The EU also supported resolutions tabled by the African Union on Chad, Sierra Leone and Burundi.

The EU thematic resolution on the death penalty was adopted with a record margin of victory and a record number of co-sponsors. The resolution on the rights of the child, which we co-tabled with the Latin American-Caribbean grouping, and the resolution on religious intolerance were also adopted. All these resolutions are universal in their application and naturally include Africa.

In addition, at the initiative of the Irish Presidency, the EU, for the first time, delivered a strong statement to the Commission, in which the EU reaffirmed its strong commitment to work for the elimination of all contemporary forms of slavery.

Although the EU was not successful in pursuing a resolution on Zimbabwe, the commitment of the Irish Presidency and its promotion of active engagement with the African Union bore fruit in that there is now a clear African concern about the situation in that country which was expressed in Nigeria's explanation of its vote for the no-action motion which caused the EU resolution to fail.

With regard to the situations in countries such as Sudan, Liberia and DRC, Ireland has been actively involved in their discussion at bilateral, EU and UN levels and continues to attach utmost importance to the issue of human rights in Africa. The European Union intends to table draft resolutions in the current session of the UN General Assembly regarding the human rights situations in Sudan and DRC, and Ireland will continue to play an active role in the discussion of these resolutions.

Question No. 357 answered with QuestionNo. 200.

Nigerian Democracy.

Questions (222)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

358 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which democracy has progressed in Nigeria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25518/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Nigeria is the most populous democracy in Africa. The high turnout and largely peaceful conduct of the elections held in 2003 marked a further important step towards the consolidation of that democracy. There is still some way to go, however. An EU election observation mission, which included two Irish observers, monitored the presidential, parliamentary and other elections and regrettably noted some grave irregularities in the voting processes of some states. On 14 May 2003, the EU issued a declaration on the elections which expressed concern at the findings of the observation mission and which urged President Obasanjo to use his mandate to improve the quality of democracy and accountability in Nigeria.

In 2002, the EU adopted a common position on Nigeria, which was updated by Council conclusions approved last November. A key element of the Union's position is to maintain a constructive and regular political dialogue with Nigeria. The Irish Presidency was the first to initiate EU-Nigeria political dialogue at a ministerial level. My colleague, former Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, led an EU troika which addressed a range of issues including peace and security, governance and development matters.

Ireland acknowledges and appreciates the strong leadership role President Obasanjo has played, not only in defusing recent tensions in his own country, but in facilitating the peace process in Liberia and also the peace talks on Darfur which are ongoing in Abuja under Nigeria's current chairmanship of the African Union.

Ireland and the European Union continue to support and encourage Nigeria's transition to democracy and look forward to maintaining our strong relationship with a most important partner in Africa.

Question No. 359 answered with QuestionNo. 183.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (223)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

360 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will initiate through the UN and the EU a major programme to alleviate strife and starvation in various trouble spots on the African continent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25520/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Ireland's programme of development assistance is primarily focused on the African continent. This programme addresses issues related to poverty, including conflict and food security. This assistance is delivered through a number of channels, directly through our embassies in a number of African countries and indirectly using NGOs, UN agencies and other international organisations.

As well as directly assisting many of the poorest countries in Africa, Ireland is a strong advocate for the developing world and for international peace and security through our membership of the EU and the UN. During the Irish Presidency of the EU, we were deeply involved in major conferences, including to consider post-conflict reconstruction in Liberia and to highlight the appalling situation in Darfur, Sudan.

Conflict has many causes and many manifestations in Africa and is exacerbated by poverty, inequality and exclusion. It is no coincidence that the majority of wars occur in the poorest countries. Conflicts affect the poorest and most vulnerable people, particularly women and children. Food security is undermined by conflict and populations with diminished coping strategies are forced to turn to international aid for survival.

The Government responds in two ways to the issues of conflict and poverty in Africa. In the short term, we focus on saving lives in the most effective way possible, through direct assistance via the UN system, international agencies and NGOs. Our current programme of assistance to the Darfur region of Sudan is a good example of this approach.

In the longer term, Ireland's development programme tries to tackle the structural causes underlying extreme poverty, including through our strong development partnerships with six countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Through these partnerships, Ireland fully engages with the governments, communities, donors, EU and UN agencies on the basis of poverty reduction strategy plans, PRSPs. The valuable development work of our civil society partners, including NGOs and missionaries, is also supported on an ongoing basis.

Ireland, therefore, adopts a comprehensive and inclusive approach to the challenges of conflict and poverty. This approach, embracing all stakeholders, stands the best chance of reversing the negative trend of economic and social indicators in sub-Saharan Africa and facilitating real and positive change in the lives of millions of people.

Question No. 361 answered with QuestionNo. 195.
Question No. 362 answered with QuestionNo. 165.

UN Missions.

Questions (224)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

363 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the role he sees for the UN in the context of international peacekeeping or peace enforcement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25525/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Peacekeeping is a central part of the work undertaken by the United Nations in fulfilling the first of the purposes for which it was established, to maintain international peace and security.

Conflicts and tensions in the Middle East, Africa, Central America and elsewhere have ensured a continuing demand for United Nations peacekeepers through the years. The need for UN peacekeeping continues to increase, especially in Africa. Secretary General Annan made it clear in his address to the National Forum on Europe on 14 October that the demands on the member states for troops and funding for peacekeeping operations is likely to grow in the years immediately ahead.

During the Cold War, a peacekeeping operation typically acted as buffer between parties to a conflict, in support of a ceasefire or a peace process, and to permit the affected population to resume normal life in reasonable security. These operations were generally mandated by the UN Security Council under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which is concerned with the pacific settlement of disputes.

Since the end of the Cold War, peacekeeping operations have grown in number and complexity. The United Nations Security Council has been increasingly called upon to address intra-state conflict, where state institutions have broken down and gross violations of human rights have taken place, or are threatened. The Security Council has resorted more and more to the deployment of peacekeeping troops, and authorising peacekeeping operations under Chapter VII of the Charter which is concerned with action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression.

Along with the increased resort to robust Chapter VII mandates, the UN has turned to regional organisations and "coalitions of the willing" to undertake and lead missions under the overall authority of the Security Council. Examples include the operations launched to liberate Kuwait in 1991, to stabilise Bosnia, SFOR, and Kosovo, KFOR, and to restore order in East Timor, INTERFET. In many cases, these operations, having dealt with the immediate crisis, made way for a more traditional UN peacekeeping operation. This took place, for instance, in East Timor, facilitating the emergence of the independent Timor Leste, in Sierra Leone, in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the French-led EU "Operation Artemis" restored stability, and in Liberia, where US and west African troops acted under the authority of the Security Council to restore order and handed over to a UN operation.

It is the firm belief of the Government that the United Nations will remain centrally involved in peacekeeping. We welcome the Brahimi report, which was directed at making UN peacekeeping operations more efficient and effective, and look forward to its full implementation.

In the coming years, regional and sub-regional organisations can be expected increasingly to develop crisis management capacities, and to exercise them under the overall authority of the Security Council. This applies particularly to the European Union. During the recent Irish Presidency, important progress was made in implementing the EU-UN joint declaration on co-operation in crisis management. Secretary General Annan, in his address to the National Forum on Europe, emphasised the importance that he attached to the capacities that the EU can make available to the UN in its task of maintaining international peace and security. The African Union is also developing its capacity for crisis management, and under the Irish Presidency, agreement was reached on an African peace facility, under which the EU would make €250 million available to the AU to help it to develop its capacities. It is facing its first big test in the Darfur area of the Sudan where it has mounted a monitoring mission under the authority of the UN Security Council.

As the Secretary General made clear in Dublin last week, peacekeepers from the developed countries will continue to be required to provide capacities not yet available in the defence forces of developing countries. As an indication of Ireland's commitment to the region, 480 members of the Irish Defence Force are serving with the UN mission in Liberia.

In the Government's view, the security of states rests ultimately on the international legal order and in the mutual guarantees that reside in the UN Charter. When this order is under threat, states are called upon to act in its defence. Peacekeeping under the authority of the United Nations is therefore an essential expression of our foreign policy. This is reflected in Ireland's continuous involvement in peacekeeping operations, mandated or authorised by the United Nations Security Council, since 1958.

Ireland is currently providing personnel for UN peacekeeping operations in Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Western Sahara, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cyprus, Lebanon, Kosovo, Timor Leste and the Middle East. Ireland also provides military personnel to multinational operations authorised by the United Nations Security Council in Kosovo, KFOR Bosnia-Herzegovina, SFOR, and Afghanistan, ISAF. A number of Permanent Defence Force personnel participated last year in EU Operation Artemis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was mounted at the request of the United Nations Secretary General and on foot of UN Security Council Resolution 1484.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (225)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

364 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he and his EU colleagues are monitoring the situation in the Balkans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25526/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The EU has taken the lead role in working with the countries of the western Balkans to consolidate peace and stability in the region and to promote economic development and respect for human rights and the rule of law. The situation in the western Balkans remains a regular item on the agenda for the monthly meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

The EU-Western Balkans summit, which was held in Thessaloniki in June 2003, agreed a shared agenda for progress towards the objective of the eventual integration of the countries of the region into EU structures. Progress is based on the implementation of wide-ranging administrative, political and economic reforms, in the framework of the Union's stabilisation and association process.

The Government ensured that during Ireland's Presidency, the priority which the EU has attached to the western Balkans was fully maintained. Ireland worked to strengthen the Union's overall policy framework, which provides for individual progress by the countries of the region, in the context of closer regional co-operation. Significant progress was made in the implementation of commitments made by the EU under the Thessaloniki agenda, notably with the adoption in June of European partnerships for each of the countries of the region. The partnerships draw on the experience of the latest enlargement process. As agreed at Thessaloniki, the Union has also strengthened its political dialogue with the countries of the western Balkans.

The decisions taken by the EU in the first half of this year on the applications for membership by Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia should be an encouragement to the other countries of the region to persevere with the reform process. On 6 October, the European Commission presented its strategy paper on the enlargement process, which recalled the June European Council decision to begin accession negotiations with Croatia early in 2005. The Commission put forward suggested elements for a negotiating framework, which I expect will be adopted by the Council in the coming months.

As agreed by the Council in May, the Commission is preparing its formal opinion on the application from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The process is expected to take about one year. Progress on the application will depend in large part on the full implementation of the Ohrid framework agreement, which ended the conflict in the country in 2001 and which provides for the creation of a truly multi-ethnic society in which the rights of the ethnic Slav and ethnic Albanian populations are fully respected. One of the most important elements which remains to be implemented is the decentralisation of local government, which involves the redrawing of administrative boundaries with the objective of safeguarding the rights of minorities and their participation in decision making. The necessary legislation has been adopted by Parliament, but it will be the subject of a referendum on 7 November following the organisation of a petition by members of the ethnic Slav community who oppose the measures.

At the most recent meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which I attended in Brussels on 11 October, discussion on the western Balkans focused on the prospects for progress towards negotiations for a stabilisation and association agreement with Serbia and Montenegro and on the situation in Kosovo. The Council welcomed the results of the joint visit to Belgrade on 5 October by Commissioner Patten and High Representative Solana. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the details of the twin-track approach which Ministers agreed in September should be adopted towards negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro on economic and trade matters. The Council welcomed the decision of the Commission to resume work on its feasibility study, which I hope will enable progress on the opening of negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro early next year. The Council was also briefed by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Ms. Carla del Ponte, following which the Council emphasised the need for all the countries of the region to fulfil their pledge to co-operate fully and unequivocally with the tribunal.

The Council also considered the situation in Kosovo, which will remain an important subject for attention in the months ahead, in preparation for the review of progress on the implementation of standards which will be carried out in mid-2005. The Council emphasised the importance of the Kosovo Assembly elections, which will be held on 23 October, and welcomed the statement by the President of Serbia calling on the Kosovo Serb parties to participate. The EU will continue to work closely with the UN, with the wider international community and with the authorities in Belgrade and Pristina in the interests of a multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo, consistent with EU values and standards, and contributing to the stability of the region.

The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina remains under review by the Council. The country has made considerable progress this year in implementing reforms in the 16 major areas identified by the Commission's feasibility study in November 1993. I hope that progress will be sufficient to enable a Council decision in the coming months on the opening of negotiations for an agreement with Bosnia. The June European Council adopted a comprehensive policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, which sets out practical arrangements to enhance the coherence and effectiveness of the EU's developing political, economic and security role in co-operation with the Bosnian authorities. A further significant development will be the transition by the end of the year from the UN-mandated, NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping force in Bosnia to an EU-led force.

Negotiations for a stabilisation and association agreement with Albania have been continuing since early 2003. Progress has been relatively slow and it is important that the pace of implementation of reforms is stepped up to enable the conclusion of the negotiations. I recognise the strong desire of the Albanian Government to implement the necessary reforms, and I hope that this will ensure sufficient progress to enable the conclusion of the negotiations during 2005.

Question No. 365 answered with QuestionNo. 166.

Overseas Development Aid.

Questions (226)

Finian McGrath

Question:

366 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will include CORI justice commission policy recommendations (details supplied) in all policy areas within his Department. [25735/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I refer to the issues raised in the CORI policy recommendations relating to official development assistance.

With regard to the UN target, the programme for Government commits the Government to spend 0.7% of GNP on ODA by 2007. The Government will make every effort to meet that target. ODA has increased dramatically in recent years from €158 million in 1997 to an expected outturn of €475 million for the current year. Based on current GNP estimates, we will reach 0.4% of GNP this year. The 2005 Estimates process is under way and I will urge that substantial progress be made to enable us reach the UN target quickly.

On the WTO, CORI recommends that the budget should resource the development of Ireland's policies in the WTO to ensure they support a fair deal for developing countries. The Government agrees that the current round of WTO negotiations must focus on the needs and interests of developing countries to promote their integration into the world trading system. If developing countries are to achieve the millennium development goals by 2015, they must be facilitated and supported towards their fullest participation, on an equal and fair basis, in the global trade system. Least developed countries in particular often lack the resources to articulate fully and advance their national interests in the WTO negotiations. Ireland is conscious of the need to provide developing countries with the means to engage in the trade negotiations and to implement complex WTO rules and to that end we have been involved, both with the WTO and other relevant multilateral organisations, in funding trade capacity-building, particularly in recent years.

With regard to developing country debt, in July 2002, Ireland adopted a progressive policy on developing country debt which, among other issues, advocates debt cancellation for heavily indebted poor countries under certain circumstances. The strategy also concluded that, where debt cancellation was agreed, it should be accompanied by strong monitoring and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the additional funds would be directly channelled into increased social expenditure. Ireland also believes that debt cancellation must be financed by financial resources in addition to those earmarked for official development assistance.

EU Constitution.

Questions (227)