Sport and Recreational Development.

Questions (57)

David Stanton

Question:

153 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the Government policy on sport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25529/04]

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

The Government policy objective for sport is to promote and encourage an active sports sector, with increased participation in sport, especially by young people in areas of disadvantage and to support the provision of good quality, sustainable facilities and opportunities for people to play an active role in sport. In order to contribute to a more healthy lifestyle, it is vital that people of all ages and from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to engage in sporting activity and are encouraged to participate at the level which suits their needs. In addition, the Government, through the strategies of the Irish Sports Council supports the pursuit of excellence and success in national and international competition by our elite sportsmen and sportswomen.

My Department's statement of strategy 2003-05 has identified the key areas to be addressed. These include the creation of expanded opportunities to participate in sport through facilitating the provision of sporting facilities at local, regional and national level with a particular emphasis on providing facilities for young people in disadvantaged areas. It underpins the important role of the Irish Sports Council in assisting with the provision of sports programmes.

This departmental strategy for sport guides the actions of the Irish Sports Council in its promotion and development of sport as outlined in its own statement of strategy 2003-05, Sport For Life, which maps out a threefold strategy: to increase participation in sport; to create an environment to develop sporting abilities; and to enable our best sports people to achieve world class standard. The Irish Sports Council has been allocated funding of €30.7 million for 2004 to operate a range of initiatives and programmes from the Buntús primary schools programme and the youth field sports programme all the way up to the high performance strategy and international carding scheme.

My Department's sport capital programme has been enormously beneficial to clubs, sports organisations and voluntary and community groups, directing funds to virtually every village, parish and town throughout the country. Since 1998, on the sports capital side alone, my Department has allocated almost €331 million to over 4,200 projects around the country to assist towards the cost of providing sport and recreational sport facilities. In consultation with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, 1,266 projects located in areas designated as disadvantaged have been allocated funding of over €121 million in the four year period 2001-04.

The tax relief on donations to certain sports bodies scheme, established under section 847a of the Taxes Consolidation Act came into effect on 1 May 2002. Since then 83 projects, drawn from nine sporting disciplines and with a total project cost of €76 million, have been approved by my Department.

Under the local authority swimming pool programme, my Department is committed to supporting 55 local authority swimming pool projects throughout the country. Delivery of this programme is well underway with a total €43 million paid out in the period 2000-04 with 14 projects completed, eight under construction and the remaining 33 projects at various stages.

The Government decision earlier this year to support the redevelopment of a 50,000 all seated stadium at Lansdowne Road in association with the IRFU and FAI along with a sporting campus at Abbotstown is further progress towards bringing our national sporting infrastructure into the 21st century alongside other recent national projects such as the national aquatic centre and the national rowing centre at Inniscarra. I am satisfied that we now have in place a vibrant policy through which persons of all ages can participate in sport.

Arts Council.

Questions (58)

Paul McGrath

Question:

154 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has received the report, Towards a Policy for the Traditional Arts, from the Arts Council, which he commissioned some time ago; the timeframe for the implementation of this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25545/04]

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

The remit of the special committee on the traditional arts established by me, in accordance with section 21 of the Arts Act 2003, was to make recommendations to the Arts Council on the role of the council in relation to the traditional arts. The committee presented their report to me last month. I believe that it represents a very valuable contribution to the process of ensuring that our traditional arts sector is acknowledged and cherished for its quality and diversity. I wish to pay particular tribute to the work of the committee which produced the report and which was so ably led by Mr. Jerome Hynes. Responsibility for follow-up action, including decisions regarding implementation of the report's recommendations, rests with the Arts Council which, I understand, has invited feedback from the sector. I look forward to engaging in due course with the council on its implementation strategy.

Tourism Industry.

Questions (59, 60)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

155 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on figures from the Central Statistics Office in August 2004 which highlight the high costs of accommodation and eating out here; his further views on the consequences of such figures for the tourist industry. [25438/04]

View answer

Gay Mitchell

Question:

174 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the measures which are proposed to restore the competitiveness of tourism here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25539/04]

View answer

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 155 and 174 together.

I have already made very clear my views on the growing level of dissatisfaction expressed by overseas visitors about the value for money, particularly in terms of the cost of eating out, of the overall tourism experience in Ireland. One of the strongest messages of the tourism policy review group is that restoring competitiveness is the major challenge facing the tourism sector. In short, delivering value for money will be of paramount importance for maximising future growth opportunities.

The reality is that Ireland has never been marketed as a low cost destination. However, during the years of significant growth in the 1990s, it was competitive and was seen to be offering holidaymakers value for money.

The consumer price index for August 2004 did show price increases in the restaurants and hotels category at the level of 0.3% for the month and 4.5% for the year. However, by end September 2004, there was no further deterioration in the annual rate of increase. In the context of value for money, it is important to point out that there continues to be very attractive packages on offer in regard to access, accommodation and dining out.

Competitiveness is a function of the overall Irish tourism experience for customers relative to other competing locations. My contribution towards the restoration of competitiveness is to see a coherent tourism action plan implemented effectively in co-operation with all the major players. To this end, I have established a high level implementation group to advise and assist in driving forward and monitoring the comprehensive action plan set out in the report of the tourism review group.

I received the first progress report from the implementation group at the end of August. Few people involved in the industry were surprised to learn that the group found that strong areas of concern remain in relation to the competitiveness and value for money available in wide segments of Irish tourism. The group has re-affirmed that sustained efforts to address the issues that have undermined competitiveness within both the industry itself and within the Government sector, along the lines of the review group's recommended actions, are essential.

The implementation group will continue its work over the remainder of the period of the initial two year tourism action plan. It will continue to meet at monthly intervals and to encourage, through regular consultations, the relevant Departments, State agencies and industry representative groups to progress the implementation of the recommended actions.

Abbey Theatre Players.

Questions (61, 62)

Jack Wall

Question:

156 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has proposals to address the funding difficulties at the Abbey Theatre; his views on the possibility of staff redundancies at the theatre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25418/04]

View answer

Seán Ryan

Question:

164 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on the recent TNS-MRBI opinion poll which found strong support among the public for State funding for the Abbey Theatre; if he will address the funding problems at the theatre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25425/04]

View answer

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 and 164 together.

I have been briefed on the problems currently being encountered at the Abbey Theatre by the chairperson of the Arts Council. Financial support of the Abbey is a matter for the Arts Council. I understand that the council has been in close dialogue with the Abbey and wishes to support the organisation through its current difficulties. The council is conducting an independent review to help inform the council's response. My Department's role is confined to the overall funding of the Arts Council, which itself decides how funds made available by my Department are disbursed. I am not in the least surprised by a positive public attitude towards the Abbey. The Abbey has an iconic place in the Irish psyche, in our cultural life, and I share the view that the Abbey must be cherished and supported.

Tax Code.

Questions (63)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

157 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on the recent figures he issued regarding the declining number of certificates issued for the section 481 tax break in the first seven months of 2004; his views on the decline in the amount of film production here recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25420/04]

View answer

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

I do not believe that there is any evidence to suggest that the Irish film sector is in decline. During the first seven months of 2004, 11 film projects were certified by my Department for the purposes of the section 481 tax relief. This is down somewhat from the 15 projects certified during the same period of 2003, but is very similar to the 12 projects certified during the first seven months of 2002. To date in 2004, my Department has certified 16 projects in this context.

I am aware that there are competitive pressures coming to bear on the effort to attract international film productions, particularly from economies where wage rates and other costs are far lower than in Ireland. However, we also have advantages, such as our use of the English language, our historical links particularly with the United States, the very high skill and experience levels of our film professionals, our relatively low level of bureaucracy, and the variety of locations available within quite short distances of one another. The Government has done its part in that film producers now have certainty going forward, as the section 481 scheme has been extended to 2008, with the amount that can be raised increasing substantially from 2005.

I have every confidence that Irish film-makers will take full advantage of this decision, and that our industry has a very bright future. The indications available to my Department suggest that there has already been quite a significant pick up in activity, and that producers are generally optimistic about the industry's prospects. It is my intention to travel to the United States early next year to support the efforts of the Irish Film Board to persuade film producers that Ireland is an attractive location for international film productions.

Question No. 158 answered with QuestionNo. 151.

Sport and Recreational Development.

Questions (64)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

159 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the need for an integrated approach to facilitate participation in sport at an early age between his Department and the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25497/04]

View answer

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

As the Deputy is aware, the Irish Sports Council is the statutory body with responsibility for the development of sport, including initiatives to promote sport among young people. The provision in funding for the Irish Sports Council in the 2004 Estimates is over €30 million, in comparison to just over €13 million in 2000.

This Government recognises the major role that sport can play in the lives of young people. The Irish Sports Council is responsible for a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging young people to participate in sport. There are currently 16 local sports partnerships in operation around the country. One of the central aims of the local sports partnerships is to create greater opportunities for participation by all in sport and to ensure that resources are co-ordinated and used to their best effect at a local level.

The sport for young people grant scheme is promoted through vocational education committees which do not currently have local sports partnerships in their areas to create sporting opportunities to participate in sport for young people, particularly those in areas of social and economic disadvantage. This grant scheme is open to the vocational education committees. The designated areas scheme-underage participation scheme provides funding to the FAI, GAA and IRFU, to assist these organisations to develop programmes for increasing participation in sport by young people in the three main field sports.

The Buntús programme is also being rolled out by the Irish Sports Council through the local sports partnership network to primary schools. The programme aims to support the primary PE curriculum by providing equipment, resource cards and training to teachers and allows teachers and introductory level coaches introduce sport to children in a safe and fun way.

The code of ethics and good practice for children's sport was launched in 2000 by the Irish Sports Council and provides guidelines to sports organisations in promoting good practice in children's sport. The core message in the code is that sport must be safe, must be fun and no matter what young people are involved in, that it takes place in a spirit of fair play.

My Department and the Irish Sports Council maintain an ongoing liaison with the Department of Health and Children in relation to matters of mutual concern. Officials of the Department and the council have actively participated in the development of key initiatives such as, for example, the national children's strategy, the national children's play and recreation policy, healthy heart strategies. My Department has also contributed to the task force on obesity established by the Department of Health and Children and which is being chaired by Mr. John Treacy, chief executive of the Irish Sports Council.

Finally, the European Year of Education through Sport 2004 is an important European Commission initiative in the area of education and sport, which I launched along with my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, in Croke Park in January this year. As part of our national programme in this regard, this initiative will be used to promote the importance of sport within the education system, particularly in promoting social inclusion. My Department, the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children as well as the Sports Council and other relevant bodies are represented on the national steering committee of the European Year of Education through Sport 2004.

Tourism Industry.

Questions (65)

David Stanton

Question:

160 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the impact on tourism of the 9 p.m. ban on children in licensed premises since the inception of the ban; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25528/04]

View answer

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

It is too early to say with confidence what precise impact the 9 p.m. restriction has had on tourism business this year. There are, at present, no official figures which measure the actual situation. Nevertheless, I am aware that many people in the hospitality trade, both at individual and representative group level, have described this particular measure as having a negative impact on trade. If there are difficulties, my understanding is that they are more likely to be concentrated in areas outside of Dublin, particularly as regards family holidays over the summer period.

The Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2004, which has recently been passed by both Houses, provides for an extension to 10 p.m. of the time that persons under the age of 18 years may remain in licensed premises from May to September. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has also agreed to consider issues of concern to the tourism industry in the context of the comprehensive review of the intoxicating liquor legislation that is currently underway.

I know from experience the difficulties in coming up with enforceable formulae to tackle the presence of minors on licensed premises and I warmly welcome the Minister's openness to addressing legitimate concerns without, of course, undermining the basic thrust of Government policy in relation to underage drinking.

National Stadium.

Questions (66)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

161 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on possible delays in the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road due to asbestos in the stadium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25433/04]

View answer

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

The Lansdowne Road Stadium Development Company is responsible for the day to day matters in relation to the development of the stadium. A project director has been appointed and progress on the stadium plans are well underway. At this stage, delays in the redevelopment of the stadium are not anticipated.

Performing Arts.

Questions (67)

Pat Breen

Question:

162 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the proposed academy for the performing arts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25543/04]

View answer

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

In January 2003, it was decided that responsibility for an Irish academy for the performing arts would be transferred to my Department from the Department of Education and Science. The likely timescale for the commencement of the project is dependent on how it is decided to proceed. I have already stated previously that one of my priorities, as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, is to examine the synergy between the education and the arts. Many communities, schools and universities contribute enormously to the furtherance of arts education and training. It is in this context that my Department will be examining the issue. Until such time as I have concluded my deliberations and decided the most appropriate course of action, it will not be possible to indicate a likely timescale. Capital funding is currently not available to progress the development of the project.

Tourism Industry.

Questions (68, 69)

Tom Hayes

Question:

163 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of actions proposed in the report, New Horizons for Irish Tourism, which have now been implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25548/04]

View answer

Joe Costello

Question:

172 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the way in which he will respond to the call recently from the national tourism strategy group for fast turn-around facilities at Dublin Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25435/04]

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 163 and 172 together.

In January 2004, I established the tourism action plan implementation group whose fundamental task is to monitor the implementation of the recommendations within the report of the tourism policy review group, New Horizons for Irish Tourism: An Agenda for Action, to assess progress and to report on how any constraints that are found to be impeding progress might be addressed.

The tourism action plan implementation group presented its first progress report to me at the end of August. It is available on my Department's website www.arts-sport-tourism.gov.ie and a copy has been placed in the Oireachtas Library.

The group found that overall the initial progress in the implementation process has been good with strong commitment and support from the tourism industry and the Government to the strategy and recommendations of the review group. It reported that the areas where progress is most advanced lie in those relating to administrative and co-ordinating activities, as the key actors gear up to implement the new strategy, and that the areas where progress is least advanced lie in the more specific areas of what can be termed the "real economy".

There is a detailed schedule appended to the report setting out progress achieved up to mid-2004 for each of the 70 recommendations in the New Horizons document. The implementation group will continue its work over the remainder of the period of the initial action plan. It will continue to meet at monthly intervals and to encourage, through regular consultations, the relevant Departments, State agencies and industry representative groups to progress the implementation of the recommended actions in the report of the review group.

As the Deputy is aware, ministerial responsibility for aviation matters rests with my colleague, the Minister for Transport who, I understand, has asked the new Dublin Airport Authority, which took office on 1 October 2004, to give priority to addressing capacity requirements at Dublin Airport including providing additional facilities for the fast turnaround of aircraft. In the context of my commitment to ensure the better integration of national tourism policy with other Government policies, including transport, I will continue to liaise with my colleague, the Minister for Transport on this issue and my Department's officials will participate fully in inter-departmental-agency fora to drive forward the tourism agenda as recommended in the New Horizons report. The tourism action plan implementation group will continue to monitor capital investment developments at Dublin Airport and will report on progress again in due course.

Question No. 164 answered with QuestionNo. 156.

National Conference Centre.

Questions (70, 71, 72, 73)

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

165 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the provision of a national conference centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25547/04]

View answer

Mary Upton

Question:

180 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of groups or companies which have expressed interest in the construction of the proposed national conference centre; when the contract is likely to be awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25431/04]

View answer

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

182 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of submissions received in response to the Office of Public Works advertisement for expressions of interest to provide a national conference centre in Dublin; the number of candidates that were short-listed; the location of the site in each case; the likely date on which a decision will be made on the successful candidate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25368/04]

View answer

Willie Penrose

Question:

186 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress being made in relation to the provision of a national conference centre; the likely location of the centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25423/04]

View answer

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 165, 180, 182 and 186 together.

On 7 July last I announced that three of the four candidates who submitted expressions of interest in the provision of a national conference centre in the Dublin area had been short-listed to proceed to the next stage of the competition. As required, each short-listed consortium proposed an acceptable site in the Dublin area.

As I informed the House in reply to an earlier question today, the Government decision to proceed with the provision of a national conference centre also provided that its provision should be pursued under a public private partnership arrangement. This is a necessarily complex procedure and one that is required to be undertaken in accordance with the Department of Finance's interim guidelines for the provision of infrastructure and capital investments through public private partnerships.

As part of the procedural requirements of the PPP process, a public sector benchmark exercise and a benefit assessment must be undertaken before the next detailed proposals stage can be initiated. These exercises are being carried out and are close to finalisation. In addition, every effort is being made by the Office of Public Works and its advisers to complete as soon as possible the detailed project contract documentation required. As I explained to the House on 1 July last, the preparation of this documentation is demanding and time-consuming, with details requiring careful scrutiny and consideration.

At that time, I also expressed the hope that the procurement process would be sufficiently advanced to facilitate a Government decision before the end of the year. This has not proved possible and the firm objective now is to ensure that invitations to tender are issued to the three pre-qualified candidates before Christmas.

On the assumption that tender invitations will be ready for issue in December, and allowing several months for engagement with the selected tenders, current indications are that a preferred bidder could be selected by late summer 2005. While, I am reluctant to be categorical, given the complexity of the process, my personal priority and that of the Government, is to have this project brought to a conclusion at the earliest possible date while ensuring that the relevant procedures and guidelines pertaining to the process are closely observed and that nothing is done that might jeopardise its successful conclusion.

Question No. 166 answered with QuestionNo. 151.

Tourism Industry.

Questions (74, 75, 76)

Mary Upton

Question:

167 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the figures revealed by Fáilte Ireland in July 2004 which show that there has been a dramatic fall in tourist numbers in many parts of the country in the summer of 2004; the measures he proposes to redress the regional imbalance in the number of tourists especially in the west and north west; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25432/04]

View answer

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

175 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concern among many sectors of the tourism industry in the regions regarding the very patchy season in 2004; and the proposals he has to win back market share for the regions. [25538/04]

View answer

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

223 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his Department has carried out a review of the regional tourism authorities, as promised some time ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25369/04]

View answer

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 167, 175 and 223 together.

While CSO figures show an increase of 5% in overseas visitor numbers in the first seven months of the year, evidence on the ground suggests that this level of growth has not been shared equally throughout the country or among different sectors of the industry. The trend towards shorter holidays is clearly impacting on regional spread and some tourism enterprises, particularly in rural areas are reporting a difficult year.

One of the key objectives of national tourism policy is to achieve as wide as possible a distribution of visitor numbers across the different regions with the consequent distribution of tourism revenue. Achieving that goal has long been recognised as a major challenge for Government, the tourism agencies and the industry alike, a view that has been echoed in the progress report submitted recently by the tourism action plan implementation group.

The Government, for its part, has committed substantial resources to enable the tourism agencies to support the tourism industry across the length and breadth of Ireland to win its fair share of business.

In regard to the promotion and development of tourism by the regions themselves, Fáilte Ireland is channelling in the region of €5 million directly into the regional tourism authorities to strengthen and enhance their operational and marketing capabilities this year. This investment, which represents a 20% increase in funding to the RTA network, is designed to ensure both a high quality visitor servicing experience at key tourist information offices and also a strong overseas promotional effort, in co-operation with Tourism Ireland.

Building on this, and on foot of the recommendations of the report of the tourism policy review group, Fáilte Ireland is now actively considering the question of how best to establish a closer correlation between the identified core visitor servicing and development functions provided at regional level and the State financial support system.

Home holidays promotions and supporting the RTAs represent just two of the many ways Fáilte Ireland is funding the development of tourism in the regions. In total this year, Fáilte Ireland is investing in the order of €25 million in developing regional tourism, from supporting local festivals to building capability and strengthening the tourism product itself. Initiatives such as the festivals and cultural events programme will continue to favour the less developed regions. The tourism product development scheme is supporting the development of tourism capital infrastructure in a sustainable way that widens the spatial spread of tourism, diverts pressure from highly developed areas and increases the under performing regions' share of overseas tourism revenue. Both tourism agencies are investing resources in encouraging good air links. Already, Knock and Galway airports are reaping the rewards of their efforts to promote direct access to the west, particularly from Britain.

As the Deputy is aware, I have no direct responsibility in regard to individual actions or measures relating to tourism promotion or development insofar as specific areas of the country are concerned. These are a day to day function of the tourism agencies at national and regional levels.

Genealogy Project.

Questions (77)

John Perry

Question:

168 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when he expects the Irish genealogical project to be completed; the reason for the delay in completion, in view of the fact that 1994 was the target year of completion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25370/04]

View answer

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

I refer the Deputy to the reply to Parliamentary Question No. 15 of 1 July 2004.

As I indicated on that occasion, the primary aim of the Irish genealogical project, which has been the responsibility of my Department since 1997, is to compile all church and civil records up to 1900. The number of records involved is in excess of 20 million. I am advised that to date about three quarters of church records and 40% of civil records have been indexed by 35 designated Irish Genealogical Limited centres. Some €380,000 has been allocated in support of this project from subhead D4 in my Department's Vote in the current financial year.

The Irish Genealogy Limited business plan 2005-07 has a target of completion of 90% of church records by the end of 2007, subject to the necessary financial resources being available. Due to the prioritising of the indexing of church records, a target date for completion of the cataloguing of civil records has not been determined.

National Cultural Institutions Act.

Questions (78, 79)

Paul Kehoe

Question:

169 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 is in itself insufficient to resolve legal problems related to official grants of arms; if he intends to implement this section of the Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25262/04]

View answer

Damien English

Question:

176 Mr. English asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has given consideration to introducing a genealogy and heraldry Bill to authorise the creation of a new post of State herald-Stát Aralt within the National Library of Ireland, with clearly defined powers and duties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25263/04]

View answer

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 169 and 176 together.

I have no plans to introduce a genealogy and heraldry bill to authorise the creation of a new position of State herald. Rather, it is my intention that section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997 relating to genealogy and heraldry will be implemented in the next stage of phased implementation of the Act, which will result in the establishment of statutory boards for, and autonomy of, the National Museum and National Library from 1 January 2005. The advice available to me does not suggest that section 13 is inadequate for this purpose but, as the Deputy will appreciate, legal interpretation of the section in the final analysis is a matter for the courts.

Sports Funding.

Questions (80)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

170 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the areas and projects which will benefit from his Department’s funding of sport development officers; if his project will be mainstreamed and expanded throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22688/04]

View answer

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

The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness committed the Government to the introduction of local sport partnerships to help promote and develop sport at local level. In its first strategy document, A New Era for Irish Sport — 2000-2002, the Sports Council identified the establishment of local sports partnerships as one of its main priorities.

The Irish Sports Council, following evaluation of proposals from local bodies, approved and funded the establishment of eight partnerships in May 2001. A further four were established in early 2002. These are located in Clare, Donegal, Fingal, Kildare, Laois, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary North, Cork, Limerick, Meath and Waterford.

At my Department's request the Sports Council commissioned a review of the operation of four of the original eight partnerships. Arising from this review, I authorised the Irish Sports Council last year to extend the network of local sports partnerships by a further four, bringing the total number of LSPs to 16. These four partnerships are now being established in Kerry, Westmeath, Kilkenny and Mayo. This year, €2.3 million has been allocated to the LSPs to cover the 12 existing and four newly established projects. Since 2001, a total of almost €6.7 million has been allocated to the LSPs by the Irish Sports Council.

An independent appraisal and review of the entire local partnership process will be carried out by my Department later this year to obtain confirmation that this element of sport policy continues to have an impact at local level. The question of extending the partnerships to further areas of the country will be considered in the light of the outcome of that appraisal.

Question No. 171 answered with QuestionNo. 150.
Question No. 172 answered with QuestionNo. 163.

Abbey Theatre Players.

Questions (81)

Joe Sherlock

Question:

173 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the relocation of the Abbey Theatre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25427/04]

View answer

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

I refer the Deputy in this context to my reply Priority Question No. 144 of today.

Question No. 174 answered with QuestionNo. 155.
Question No. 175 answered with QuestionNo. 167.
Question No. 176 answered with QuestionNo. 169.

Departmental Programmes.

Questions (82)

Billy Timmins

Question:

177 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if it is his intention to introduce a follow up programme to replace the ACCESS programme to upgrade existing arts and heritage centres, especially the content and quality of the displays and interpretative material in these centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25546/04]

View answer

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

The ACCESS programme provided grants of €45.71 million for the development of 44 arts and cultural facilities around the country, and has transformed the level of access to the arts for a great many people in local communities. The provision of adequate facilities is a key element in making the arts something that everyone can enjoy and participate in.

I am currently reviewing the need for a successor programme to ACCESS, to address priority needs for the provision and upkeep of performance and display space following which I will engage in consultations with the Minister for Finance on the parameters for such a programme.

Sports Review Group.

Questions (83)

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

178 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has established the Athens review group; the timeframe for the publication of its report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25530/04]

View answer

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

The Deputy will be aware that the Irish Sports Council, as the statutory agency for the promotion and development of sport in Ireland, is responsible in partnership with both the Olympic Council of Ireland and the relevant national governing bodies of sport, for all matters relating to the preparation and participation of Irish competitors at the Olympic Games.

My Department has already engaged with the Irish Sports Council in regard to Ireland's performance at Athens. The council has initiated a review of Team Ireland's participation in this year's Olympic and Paralympic Games. The review involves questionnaires, one-to-one meetings with the athletes, support personnel, coaches and performance directors.

The aim of the review is to produce an objective assessment of the preparation and performance of the Irish teams at the Athens Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2004, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of all aspects of the programmes throughout the four year cycle, with a view to making recommendations regarding the development of a programme for Beijing in 2008.

Wharton Consulting, a leading consultancy firm based in Britain, is conducting the review under the direction of a steering committee established by the Sports Council and on which my Department is represented. Wharton Consulting was selected by the Sports Council following a public tender process and has considerable experience working with sporting organisations in England, including Sport England. The review is due for completion by 1 December 2004 and it is the intention of the Irish Sports Council to publish the report in due course.

National Concert Hall.

Questions (84)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

179 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the future development of the National Concert Hall; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25541/04]

View answer

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

The OPW commissioned an outline report on the feasibility of reconfiguring the Earlsfort site to meet the long term needs of the National Concert Hall. This study concludes that all of the needs of the National Concert Hall for the long-term could be met if the entire Earlsfort Terrace site were to become available. This report is being examined in consultation with all of the parties involved, following which I intend to bring proposals to Government in the near future for long-term strategic development of the National Concert Hall.

Question No. 180 answered with QuestionNo. 165.

Sports Capital Programme.

Questions (85)

Emmet Stagg

Question:

181 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of new public facilities such as swimming pools, gymnasia, synthetic and floodlit playing pitches which have been resourced and provided by his Department since June 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25429/04]

View answer

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

Under the national lottery funded sports capital programme administered by my Department, funding is allocated to projects which provide sports and recreational facilities at local, regional and national level. Since June 2002 a total of €114.45 million has been allocated to 1,357 projects throughout the country under the 2003 and 2004 sports capital programmes. The projects funded through the programme form the backbone of sporting infrastructure in the country and provide the means for greater public participation in sporting activities. These projects include facilities such as development of natural playing surfaces, synthetic and all-weather surfaces, floodlighting, indoor sports halls, changing facilities and a vast range of sporting equipment.

In terms of municipal public facilities, it has been a key objective of sport policy, particularly in recent years, to support a number of multi-sport centres on a regional basis throughout the country, most of which would be under the management and control of local authorities. Of course, such projects must, like all others, comply with the terms and conditions of the sports capital programme.

A total of 26 such projects in urban centres have been allocated a total of over €14.7 million under the 2003 and 2004 programmes, providing facilities in areas such as Finglas, Ringsend, Ballyfermot, Monkstown, Mahon in Cork, Limerick, Dundalk, Trim, Thurles, Killarney, Waterford, Sligo and Youghal.

My Department also administers the local authority swimming pool programme, which provides grant aid towards either the capital costs of new pools or the refurbishment of existing pools. The closing date for receipt of applications from local authorities under the current programme was 31 July 2000.

Since June 2002, grant-aid has been approved for the following swimming pool projects: Finglas, aquadome Tralee, Tralee sports and leisure centre, Grove Island in Limerick, Clonmel, Churchfield in Cork city, Tuam, Ballymun in Dublin, Cobh, Youghal, Ballyfermot in Dublin and Drogheda. Four of these projects are open to the public and eight are under construction or about to start construction.

The National Aquatic Centre at Abbotstown was completed in March 2003, on time and within its budget of €71 million. It provides international standard facilities for swimming and diving as well as extensive leisure water facilities. Commitments in regard to the provision of sporting facilities are outlined in the programme for Government which are being implemented nationwide.

Question No. 182 answered with QuestionNo. 165.

Tourism Industry.

Questions (86)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

183 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on the latest CSO figures which suggest that while domestic holiday trips were up 10%,, nights spent in guest houses and bed and breakfasts fell by 9.4% and self catering and rented houses fell by 16%; his further views on whether these figures are related to high prices charged for stays, or high costs for the tourist industry here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25509/04]

View answer

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

I welcome the overall results of the latest CSO household travel survey for the quarter to the end of June, which show an increase of 10% in the number of domestic holiday trips and an increase of 16% in expenditure over the same quarter last year. This level of performance is encouraging given the competitive challenges facing the Irish tourism industry and the attractive alternative holiday offerings available to the Irish consumer.

The CSO statistics also show variations in the level of performance among the different categories of accommodation providers with increases in the number of bed nights in the case of hotels, caravan and camping sites and own holiday homes and reductions, to which the Deputy refers, in the case of guest houses bed and breakfasts, self-catering and rented houses. Extreme caution should be exercised, of course, in interpreting trends over such a limited timeframe. While price is always a consideration in holiday choice, variations in performance in the case of these statistics may be more indicative of emerging changes in market share among the different accommodation categories, related to such factors as changing consumer tastes and variations in supply levels. Whereas significant additions have been made in recent years to the supply of hotel rooms, I understand that the number of approved bed and breakfasts has been declining at an annual average rate of 10%.

I had a very useful meeting with representatives of the Town and Country Homes Association, the largest representative group of approved bed and breakfasts, on 12 October during which the association committed itself to reviewing its product and marketing positioning in the light of changing consumer trends. For my part, I indicated my strong view that the bed and breakfasts product was an important and integral component of the Irish holiday experience, in particular to visitors from overseas, and gave an assurance that support would continue to be available through the State tourism agencies to strengthening the capability of the sector in the future.

National Library.

Questions (87)

John Deasy

Question:

184 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the vacant post of director of the National Library of Ireland will be filled; if the salary on offer for the position might be reviewed in the interests of securing the services of a suitably qualified person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25264/04]

View answer

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

Arrangements for the filling of the post are in train in the context of the establishment of the National Library as a separate legal entity in accordance with the provisions of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997. The objective is to give effect to those provisions from 1 January 2005. The salary for this post is based on recommendations of the review body on higher remuneration in the public sector. There are no proposals to change it at present.

Campus Stadium Ireland.

Questions (88)

Emmet Stagg

Question:

185 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his proposals for the inclusion in the Abbotstown campus of an indoor sports arena; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25430/04]

View answer

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

In January 2004, the Government decided to proceed with the development of a sports campus at Abbotstown. I requested Campus Stadium Ireland Development Limited to meet with the various sporting bodies and draw up a developmental plan for a campus of sports facilities at Abbotstown. This work is now nearing completion and I expect to receive the proposals of the board of CSID for phased development of the component elements of the campus in the very near future and to be in a position to bring them to Government for decision before the end of the year, which will be the basis for a Government decision on the future of the sports campus project.

Question No. 186 answered with QuestionNo. 165.
Question No. 187 answered with QuestionNo. 151.
Question No. 188 answered with QuestionNo. 149.

Foreign Adoptions.

Questions (89, 90)

Gay Mitchell

Question:

189 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of post placement adoption reports that were not provided in time to the authorities in Belarus; if her Department’s attention is drawn to the fact that they have now suspended adoptions to Irish persons until these reports are completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25875/04]

View answer

Paul Kehoe

Question:

200 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the efforts she has made to liaise with the Adoption Board and Belarus to ensure that it reopens to foreign adoptions and that responsibilities which Ireland may have in relation to adoption in Belarus, especially post placement reports, are effectively implemented to assist persons (details supplied) in County Wexford. [25611/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 189 and 200 together.

Arrangements with the central authorities of other countries are primarily a matter for the Adoption Board. I have been informed by the board that the adoption centre in Belarus has confirmed that intercountry adoptions to all countries have been suspended by the Belarussian Government, pending a review of intercountry adoption laws, procedures and practices in Belarus. This suspension also applies to adoption applications already in Belarus.

I have also been advised by the Adoption Board that the board is in routine contact with the adoption authorities in Belarus to ensure that we are in full conformity with their intercountry adoption requirements at all times. The board regularly monitors and follows up on any outstanding post placement reports. Post placement reports from Ireland were not a factor in the decision to suspend adoptions.

The adoption centre in Belarus is awaiting further clarification from the Belarussian Government as to the scope of the internal review of intercountry adoption that is to be carried out. The board will remain in close contact with the adoption centre as regards developments.

Vaccination Programme.

Questions (91)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

190 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the national supply of the influenza vaccine; if the cost of the vaccine is refundable to senior citizens; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25573/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Notwithstanding a problem with one supplier that affected supplies worldwide, ample supplies of vaccine have been secured for this country for the 2004-05 influenza season. Some 200,000 doses of 'flu vaccine were distributed around the country in early September 2004. A further 192,680 doses were distributed during the first week in October. 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 cardholders 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" groups include 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" groups, 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 GPs 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.

Medical Cards.

Questions (92, 93)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

191 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to extend the right to a medical card to all children with an intellectual disability; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25574/04]

View answer

Brian O'Shea

Question:

192 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to increase substantially the income limits for qualifying for a medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25575/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 191 and 192 together.

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-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. For those who do not qualify for a medical card there is a number of schemes that provide assistance towards the cost of medication. Under the long-term illness scheme persons suffering from a number of conditions can obtain the drugs and medicines required for the treatment of that condition free of charges. The conditions in question include intellectual disability. Under the drug payments scheme, a person and his or her dependants will not have to pay more than €78 in any calendar month for approved prescribed drugs and medicines.

Health board chief executive officers have discretion in relation to the issuing of medical cards and a range of income sources are excluded by the health 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 a whole 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 CEOs under the PPF which include: streamlining applications and improving the standardisation of the medical card applications process to ensure better fairness and transparency; providing clearer information to people about how and where to apply for medical cards; and proactively seeking 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 Allowances.

Questions (94)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

193 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will standardise and increase the rate of health board travel allowance awarded by health boards to intellectual disability services to assist with travel costs of persons attending their day services (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25576/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

A strategic review of disability services is currently being undertaken by my Department. The issue of the travel allowances will be considered in the course of this review.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Questions (95, 96, 97)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

194 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to provide 600 additional respite places over a three year period for children and adults with an intellectual disability and to have a specified number of these places reserved for children and adults with more significant disabilities and challenging behaviour; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25577/04]

View answer

Brian O'Shea

Question:

195 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is her intention to provide at least €80 million in revenue and €40 million in capital in 2005 in order for a three year investment programme to provide 600 additional residential respite places for persons with an intellectual disability; if a similar level of resources will be provided for the following two years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25578/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 194 and 195 together.

The Deputy will appreciate that I cannot at this stage give specific commitments in relation to levels of expenditure in 2005. As part of the national strategy on disability, the Government recently announced a multi-annual investment programme which is being considered in the course of the current Estimate and budget discussions with the Department of Finance.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

196 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to recommendation 626 of the report of the commission on the status of people with disabilities 1996, her proposals for the introduction of a variable cost of disability payment which is based on the needs of the person with the disability in recognition of the extra costs associated with their disability; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25584/04]

View answer

Under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, an inter-departmental working group, chaired by the Department of Health and Children, was established to examine the feasibility of introducing a cost of disability payment — PPF3.10.11.

The National Disability Authority, on behalf of the working group, and in line with its own remit, commissioned research into the feasibility of a cost of disability payment in Ireland. The purpose of this research was to advise regarding: the additional costs incurred by people with disabilities, owing specifically to the direct or indirect costs of the disability; and the appropriate mechanisms, or instruments by which to address identified additional costs.

The resultant report, Disability and the Cost of Living, was published by the NDA early in 2004. The working group in March of this year produced a position paper, which gave an overview of the work it has undertaken to date. It outlined the group's current thinking and also gave an indication of the next steps the working group intends to take.

The working group recommends that urgent steps be taken to improve the quality of data relating to disability in Ireland. This might include, for example, adjustment of existing data gathering exercises undertaken by the Central Statistics Office or other relevant bodies to include questions on the numbers per household with disabilities, the nature of the disability, severity of impairment, etc. The working group considers that it is vital that comprehensive data is available on which to base consideration of the feasibility of a cost of disability payment. Given its advisory and research remit, the working group considers that the National Disability Authority has an important role to play in addressing these data gaps along with other relevant bodies.

The working group acknowledges that a number of Departments and agencies have previously carried out reviews of the various supports-payments for people with disabilities. However, these reviews have tended to focus solely on the operation of individual schemes, without taking a broader overview of how these measures fit into the overall system of disability supports. The working group proposes to examine the scope for rationalising and streamlining the various disability supports measures, with a particular focus on mitigating the additional costs of disability for a greater number of people with disabilities, particularly in the case of those who wish to move from a position of total welfare dependence to one of greater economic independence. The working group is now proceeding to follow up on these various matters.

Vaccination Programme.

Questions (98)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

197 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a refund will be made in regard to the cost of the influenza vaccine for a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25585/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Notwithstanding a problem with one supplier that affected supplies worldwide, ample supplies of vaccine have been secured for this country for the 2004-05 influenza season. Some 200,000 doses of 'flu vaccine were distributed around the country in early September 2004. A further 192,680 doses were distributed during the first week in October. 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 cardholders 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" groups include 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" groups, 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 GPs to concentrate their efforts on ensuring that patients at greatest risk receive priority vaccination. I have read the details provided by the Deputy in relation to a person in County Waterford who fits the "at risk" criteria and is a medical card holder. I am concerned that this person found it necessary to purchase 'flu vaccine privately on 8 October 2004. At that stage, 392,680 doses had been distributed around the country, that is, 63,280 more doses than the same time last year. Having regard to the circumstances involved, my Department is writing to the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board asking that he arrange for a refund of the costs incurred by the person in question in purchasing 'flu vaccine.

Health Board Allowances.

Questions (99, 100)

Michael Ring

Question:

198 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive the arrears of their blind welfare allowance. [25599/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The assessment of entitlement to and payment of the blind welfare allowance, including the payment of arrears, is a matter for the relevant health board. Accordingly, a copy of the Deputy's question has been referred to the chief executive officer, Western Health Board, with a request that she examine the case and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Michael Ring

Question:

199 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when arrears of blind welfare allowance that is due to persons for a number of years as a result of the misinterpretation of the blind welfare allowance circular 4/79, will be awarded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25600/04]

View answer

The Department of Health and Children has received from the health boards an estimation of the cost of implementing the revised methodology of calculating blind welfare allowance. The matter is under consideration in the context of the Estimates process.

Question No. 200 answered with QuestionNo. 189.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Questions (101)

John Perry

Question:

201 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Sligo will be called for an operation in Beaumont Hospital; when a decision will be made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25614/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Responsibility for the provision of health services to persons living in County Sligo rests with the North Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Questions (102)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

202 Mr. Sargent asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is in line with Government policy for a health board to disburse money directly to parents of a child with Down’s syndrome rather than engage a speech therapist on the understanding that the parents will procure speech and language therapy privately; and if this practice has been authorised by her Department and the Comptroller and Auditor General. [25624/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

As the Deputy may be aware responsibility for the provision of services to persons with an intellectual disability, including Down's syndrome, is a matter for the relevant health board. The allocation of funding for the provision of requisite services is determined by the health board on a case by case basis. It is a matter for the relevant health board to ensure that all sanctions have been obtained and that an adequate monitoring system is in place to guarantee appropriate disbursement of public funds.

Health Board Services.

Questions (103)

Mary Upton

Question:

203 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if every assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25681/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

I am aware of the circumstances of this case. 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 her directly.

Carriage of Dangerous Goods.

Questions (104)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

204 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that patients are frequently required to send their blood and urine samples to laboratories via the postal service; her views on whether this is a satisfactory method of transporting bodily fluids in view of the safety risk and the possibility of loss, damage or interference with the sample; if steps will be taken to end this practice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25682/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

EU Directive 94/55/EEC brought into legislation by SI 492/2001, the Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road Regulations 2001, sets out an agreement on the international carriage of dangerous goods by road. Samples, which have no inherent infection danger and are appropriately packaged, may at present be sent by post. Other samples, which carry a danger of infection, should conform to the requirements of the directive and be appropriately transported.

Health board officials have raised the issue of the collection and transport of blood and other samples from general medical service scheme doctors' practice premises with my Department, and the implications of introducing an appropriate collection system is being evaluated by the health boards.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (105)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

205 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the priorities of her Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25683/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

Current health policy is informed by the health strategy, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You, which is underpinned by the guiding principles of equity, people-focus, quality and accountability. The Government is committed to sustaining and improving health service developments and to reforming the way in which the health service works so that funding is used efficiently and effectively for the purposes intended. Within this overall context, I will give priority to supporting those who need to access the health care they require.

With a view to ensuring that acute hospital services meet the needs of patients in a timely and effective manner, my focus is on the reduction of waiting lists and waiting times for inpatient and day-case treatments. This initiative is being facilitated by the national treatment purchase fund. I am also committed to tackling the problems in accident and emergency departments. Among the initiatives undertaken to date to assist in dealing with this issue is that of facilitating the discharge of patients, notably elderly, from acute hospitals to more appropriate settings. I am concerned that the elderly should receive appropriate care either in a residential setting or in their own homes.

Another priority is the improvement of cancer services and my intention is to build on the considerable investment made since 1997 in the development of such services. In line with the programme for Government, I am committed to extending medical card eligibility to more people on low incomes.

The general question of services for those with a disability is also a priority. 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.

The programme of reform of the health service announced by the Government in June 2003 is now well underway. This initiative will result in the consolidation of a multiplicity of different structures within a single agency, the health service executive. Additionally, with a view to achieving the aim of the delivery of high quality health services that are based on evidence-supported best practice, the health information and quality authority will be established on a statutory basis.

The board of the Interim Health Service Executive was appointed in late 2003 and the Interim Health Service Executive was established on a statutory basis in March 2004. The Interim Health Service Executive is charged with drawing up a plan, for my approval, for the establishment of a unified management structure for the proposed new health service executive. It is also making plans for the smooth transition from the current structures to the new HSE structure.

I will soon be bringing forward legislation to give effect to the health reform programme.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Questions (106)

Liz McManus

Question:

206 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the need for a national prostate cancer screening programme; her plans for this; when it is likely to be rolled out; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25684/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The national cancer strategy is currently being developed by the national cancer forum in conjunction with my Department. As part of this work, a multi-disciplinary sub-group of the national cancer forum has reviewed all issues relating to screening, including examining specific diseases such as prostate and colorectal cancer. The group advised that insufficient evidence exists to recommend the introduction of a population based prostate screening programme in this country. The group also recommended that this issue should be reassessed when the results are available from randomised trials currently being conducted. The group's recommendation will inform the development of the new national cancer strategy.

This position is consistent with recent recommendations adopted by the European Union. This advocates the introduction of cancer screening programmes, which have demonstrated their efficacy having regard to professional expertise and priority setting for health care resources. The proposals do not make specific recommendations in respect of screening for prostate cancer.

Departmental Investigations.

Questions (107)

Seymour Crawford

Question:

207 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason Parliamentary Question No. 244 of 7 July 2004, referred to in written reply to Parliamentary Question 831 of 29 September 2004 has still not been answered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25685/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The collation of the information requested by the Deputy is now almost complete. The details will be made available to the Deputy on Tuesday, 26 October 2004.

Health Board Services.

Questions (108, 109, 110)

Richard Bruton

Question:

208 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24 will obtain a full assessment concerning their application for domiciliary care allowance; the reason it has taken five months for a decision to be taken in this case, in view of the fact that an application was made in May 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25712/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The assessment of entitlement to and payment of the domiciliary care allowance is a matter for the relevant health board and the Eastern Regional Health Authority in the first instance. Accordingly, 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.

Finian McGrath

Question:

209 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason there is a waiting list of one year for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 who urgently requires the community occupational therapist assessment for their stair-lift grant; and if she will make this issue a priority. [25744/04]

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.

Billy Timmins

Question:

210 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Health Board in the South East will assist in community based cardiac self-help defibrillator schemes as currently happens in the Eastern Regional Health Authority Area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25745/04]

View answer

The Department of Health and Children is aware of the potential to reduce the number of sudden cardiac deaths in the community. The provision of community-based cardiac defibrillators, including their placement and the ongoing training of relevant personnel and community volunteers, is to be examined by the recently established task force on sudden cardiac death.

I understand that many communities around the country have purchased or are in the process of purchasing an automatic external defibrillator, AED. I am advised that the South Eastern Health Board and other health boards are considering supporting such initiatives, as part of the ongoing implementation of the cardiovascular health strategy.

Organ Retention.

Questions (111)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

211 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals in regard to the concerns of a person (details supplied) in County Waterford regarding organ retention; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25836/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health)

The terms of reference of the post mortem inquiry require it to review post mortem policy, practice and procedure in all hospitals in the State since 1970, with particular reference to organ removal, retention, storage and disposal. The inquiry is also mandated to examine any arrangements with pharmaceutical companies regarding retained organs including pituitary glands. The chairman has confirmed that the inquiry has received considerable co-operation from each of the hospitals with which it is dealing and that the inquiry's non-statutory nature has not thus far significantly hampered its substantive work.

The chairman has indicated that she will provide a report on paediatric hospitals in December 2004. Ongoing consultations are taking place with the inquiry regarding the other elements of its remit, having regard to the Government decision that the inquiry should conclude by 31 March next. Pending receipt of the chairman's report, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the actions of specific pharmaceutical companies.

I am advised that individual hospitals have adopted differing policies for contacting next of kin of deceased persons whose organs were retained.

At the end of August 2004, the inquiry had incurred direct expenditure of €11,577,610. This includes fees to the inquiry's legal team and costs associated with the establishment and rental and administration of the inquiry office. My Department has also provided funding to the Eastern Regional Health Authority and Parents for Justice in respect of inquiry — related expenditure amounting to €6,780,424. This brings the total expenditure relating to the inquiry to the end of August 2004 to €18.358 million.

The persons who wrote to the Deputy may wish to make contact with the relevant hospital for further details on the particular post-mortem that affects them.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (112)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

212 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Finance the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25725/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

The priorities for my Department are set out in our Statement of Strategy 2003-2005, which was published in April 2003 and which reflects the goals and objectives published in the programme for Government in June 2002.

In accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Management Act, which requires that Departments publish a revised statement of strategy within six months of a change of Minister, my Department is currently revising its statement. This will continue to reflect the goals and objectives in the programme for Government, having regard to developments since the last statement was published, including changes in our business environment.

Tax Collection.

Questions (113)

Finian McGrath

Question:

213 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 received a bill from the Collector General for a capital gains tax liability of €359.80 against cash received on free First Active shares; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25742/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Finance)

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they have written to First Active members who received payment from the Royal Bank of Scotland in respect of its acquisition of First Active. As with previous disposals of shares in this type of situation, this transaction gives rise to a potential capital gains tax, CGT, liability on the members in respect of the disposal of their First Active shares. Any CGT liability on disposal of these shares is due for payment on or before 31 October 2004. First Active shareholders have been notified by Revenue of their CGT obligations.

From the information supplied to the Revenue Commissioners, the person referred to by the Deputy received a payment of €3,069 from Royal Bank of Scotland and, provided she had no other gain or loss, her CGT liability is calculated as follows:

Cash Received

€3,069

Allowable Costs

Nil (as the shares were acquired at no cost they have a nil base)

Chargeable Gain

€3,069

Less Personal Exemption

(€1,270)

Net Chargeable Gain

€1,799 @ 20% = €359.80

The chargeable gain above can be reduced by any allowable losses arising in 2004 together with any unused allowable losses from disposals of assets chargeable to capital gains tax in any previous year.

I have also been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the Revenue documentation sent to the person includes a computation sheet and a payslip. The payslip and payment should be sent to the Collector General's office. The documentation issued also includes a special Revenue help-line number for any further assistance required by the person referred to by the Deputy.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Questions (114)

Martin Ferris

Question:

214 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the proportion of bioethanol or alcohol contained in car fuels sold here. [25813/04]

View answer

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

There is currently no bioethanol or alcohol contained in car fuels sold in Ireland. More than 18,000 litres of pure plant oil has however been produced and sold as an alternative vehicle fuel since May 2003.

In March 2004, my Department secured an amendment to the Finance Act 1999, which provides for the introduction of a scheme for excise tax relief for biofuels. The purpose of the scheme is to allow qualified and conditional relief from excise of biofuel used in approved pilot projects for either the production of biofuel or the testing of the technical viability of biofuel for use as a motor fuel.

My Department is finalising details of the scheme with the Department of Finance. 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 biofuel 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.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (115)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

215 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25722/04]

View answer

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

The goals, objectives, strategies and outputs in respect of each of the areas under my Department's remit are set out in the Department's Statement of Strategy 2003 — 2005. This reflects Government priorities as set out in An Agreed Programme for Government and the shared agenda set out in the social partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress. The statement of strategy can be accessed atwww.dcmnr.gov.ie. My Department has begun work on the preparation of a new statement of strategy that will set out the strategic challenges and goals over the next three years.

Visa Applications.

Questions (116, 117)

Pat Carey

Question:

216 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the way in which an Irish national can obtain a visa to visit Libya to explore possible trading arrangements between Libya and Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25616/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

Irish nationals require a visa to enter Libya. An Irish national resident in Ireland should apply for a visa to the Embassy of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriaya, The Libyan People's Bureau, 61-62 Ennismore Gardens, London SW71NH. An Irish national resident outside Ireland should apply to the Libyan Embassy accredited to his or her country of residence.

Mary Upton

Question:

217 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding an application for a student visa (details supplied). [25708/04]

View answer

The application, which is the subject of the Deputy's question, was made on 17 August 2004 and was referred to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for decision. Following an initial refusal of the application by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, it was approved on appeal. This decision was forwarded to the Department of Foreign Affairs visa office on 14 October. The Department of Foreign Affairs visa office is in contact with the applicant with a view to arranging the issuing and collection of the visa.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (118)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

218 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25716/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The Department's priorities remain as set out in the programme for Government, the strategy statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs 2003-05 and the commitments in Sustaining Progress.

I am in discussion with senior officials in my Department about priorities for the period ahead. In this regard also, the Public Service Management Act 1997 requires Departments to produce a new strategy statement within six months of the appointment of a new Minister. My Department will begin the preparation of this statement for the period 2005 to 2007 at an early date.

Foreign Conflicts.

Questions (119)

Finian McGrath

Question:

219 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs about the Shot At Dawn Campaign (details supplied) pardons issue; if there are further developments from the British authorities. [25743/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

In the period since the Deputy's last question on this matter in September 2003, officials from my Department travelled to London to meet the Ministry of Defence with a view to exploring how best to make progress on this issue. Our aim is to restore the good names of the Irishmen concerned.

The Ministry of Defence responded positively to our request for certified copies of the files for the courts-martial of the 26 Irish soldiers executed by the British Army during the First World War, although one file could not be located. Much of the information on the files supplied by the Ministry of Defence, including the transcripts of the courts-martial trials, is hand written and therefore difficult at times to decipher. However, the files provide us with a detailed and often harrowing picture of the circumstances in which these unfortunate men found themselves.

My Department is finalising a report, which we intend to forward to the British side. The research on which the report is based substantiates the concerns about these cases, which moved us to support the Shot at Dawn Campaign. Once complete, this report will be passed to the British side and it is envisaged that further discussion will take place once they have had the necessary time to consider its contents. My officials have remained in close contact with the Shot at Dawn Campaign (Ireland) co-ordinator, Mr. Mulvany, throughout these deliberations, and will continue to update him regularly as developments arise in the period ahead.

Inward Investment.

Questions (120)

Billy Timmins

Question:

220 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the election manifestos of the candidates in the US presidential election contain commitments that may impact on the economic situation here, particularly with respect to foreign direct investment and proposals to limit this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25805/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

My Department, through our embassy in Washington, closely monitors the US presidential election campaign, including any policy positions on the US economy, which might possibly have an impact on trade and investment with Ireland. In my view, however, it would not be appropriate or prudent to comment publicly on possible issues in this area during the election campaign itself. At the same time, if we have any concerns at the end of the campaign, we will of course take these up with the incoming administration.

Arts Council.

Questions (121)

Tony Gregory

Question:

221 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the amount per capita which the State contributes to the arts; the way in which this compares with average State support for the arts in other EU countries; if it is his intention to respond to the request of the Arts Council that its State funding increase to €70 million in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25615/04]

View answer

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

The principal vehicle for the delivery of State support to the arts is the Arts Council. My Department's subvention to the Arts Council in 2004 will amount to €52.5 million. In addition capital expenditure in support of the arts and expenditure on international cultural exchange is provided in sub-heads D5 and D3 of my Department's Vote totals €18.911 million. Based on the CSO figures of a total 2004 population for the State of 4.04 million, this constitutes aper capita amount of €17.67. In seeking to compare figures for other EU states, great care has to be taken as adjustments are necessary to take account of differing sizes of arts sectors, the nature of activities undertaken, whether funding of the arts is centralised or handled at the regional or local level and the cost structures that apply in each country. There can also be significant differences of approach from one country to another regarding what is described as “art” and what is included as “arts spend.”

Tourism Industry.

Questions (122)

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

222 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concern among many sectors of the tourism industry in the regions regarding the very patchy season in 2004; and the proposals he has to win back market share for the regions. [25746/04]

View answer

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

While CSO figures show an increase of 5% in overseas visitor numbers in the first seven months of the year, evidence on the ground suggests that this level of growth has not been shared equally throughout the country or among different sectors of the industry. The trend towards shorter holidays is clearly impacting on regional spread and some tourism enterprises, particularly in rural areas, are reporting a difficult year.

One of the key objectives of national tourism policy is to achieve as wide as possible a distribution of visitor numbers across the different regions with the consequent distribution of tourism revenue. Achieving that goal has long been recognised as a major challenge for Government, the tourism agencies and the industry alike. This view has been echoed in the progress report submitted recently by the tourism action plan implementation group.

The Government for its part has committed substantial resources to enable the tourism agencies to support the industry across the length and breadth of Ireland to win its fair share of business.

To assist the promotion and development of tourism by the regions themselves, Fáilte Ireland is channelling approximately €5 million directly into the regional tourism authorities to strengthen and enhance their operational and marketing capabilities this year. This investment, which represents a 20% increase in funding to the RTA network, is designed to ensure both a high quality visitor servicing experience at key tourist information offices and also a strong overseas promotional effort, in co-operation with Tourism Ireland.

Building on this, and on foot of the recommendations of the report of the tourism policy review group, Fáilte Ireland is now addressing how best to establish a closer correlation between the identified core visitor servicing and development functions provided at regional level and the State financial support provided through the tourism agencies. This work should be completed later this year and should provide guidance to Fáilte Ireland on the most appropriate regional structures for the discharge of its functions and the relationships and arrangements that should apply at regional level.

Home holidays promotions and resourcing the RTAs represent just two of the many ways Fáilte Ireland is supporting the development of tourism in the regions. In total this year, Fáilte Ireland is investing approximately €25 million on developing regional tourism, from supporting local festivals to building capability and strengthening the tourism product itself. Initiatives such as the festivals and cultural events programme will continue to favour the lesser-developed regions. The tourism product development scheme is supporting the development of tourism capital infrastructure in a sustainable way that widens the spatial spread of tourism, diverts pressure from highly developed areas and increases the under performing regions' share of overseas tourism revenue.

The development of good access, particularly air access, is key to strengthening the competitive position of the regions. Both tourism agencies recognise this issue and are investing significant time and resources in encouraging good air links. Already, Knock and Galway airports are reaping the rewards of their efforts to promote direct access to the west, particularly from Britain.

As the Deputy is aware, I have no direct responsibility for individual actions or measures relating to tourism promotion or development in so far as specific areas of the country are concerned. These are day to day functions of the tourism agencies, at national and regional level.

Question No. 223 answered with QuestionNo. 167.

Sports Capital Programme.

Questions (123, 124)

Seán Crowe

Question:

224 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his proposals to use his office to investigate activities regarding the Tallaght stadium in view of the large amount of public funding invested in same; and if he will report on this matter. [25622/04]

View answer

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

226 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will report on recent contacts with a football club (details supplied) regarding its unfinished stadium; if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concern in the region that the community has been left with a serious eyesore; the action open to him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25720/04]

View answer

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 224 and 226 together.

Following applications from the club, grants totalling €2.57 million were allocated, under the sports capital programme, towards the development of a new stadium in Tallaght for the club referred to by the Deputy, Shamrock Rovers Football Club, in each of the years 2000, 2001 and 2002. This project was identified as a priority by the, Football Association of Ireland, FAI, to receive funding under the programme.

Of the funding allocated, €2,441,251 was paid to the club in 2001 and 2002 in respect of works certified by invoices and approved by the Office of Public Works, which acts as technical advisers to my Department. These combined payments represent 95% of the total grants allocated; the remaining 5%, in this case €128,487, is retained in accordance with standard practice pending the receipt of certification of completion of the defects liability period of the project.

Following considerable rises in project costs since 2002, the club advised my Department that it was in discussions with a number of interested parties in an effort to secure additional funding to complete the project. It has not, however, provided my Department with information on the current status of these discussions despite repeated requests to do so. My Department has discussed the importance of bringing this project to a satisfactory conclusion at meetings with the Football Association of Ireland and with South Dublin County Council on a number of occasions and remains committed to constructive engagement with the parties involved.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (125)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

225 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25719/04]

View answer

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

The priorities for my Department are set out in the programme for Government and are further articulated in my Department's statement of strategy which is available on my Department's website. Progress on the delivery of these priorities is set out in my Department's first annual report 2002-03 which is also available on my Department's website.

In addition to the foregoing, my Department will be taking all possible steps to implement Government policy on decentralisation regarding the core Department and the three agencies under its aegis designated to be decentralised.

Question No. 226 answered with QuestionNo. 224.

Sports Capital Programme.

Questions (126)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

227 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the extent to which his Department has funded sporting or recreational groups directly or indirectly in the past 12 months; his plans for the future in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25818/04]

View answer

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

The national lottery-funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

Under the 2004 sports capital programme €61 million was allocated in respect of 738 projects. These allocations give very real, practical effect to the commitment made in the programme for Government that we will continue to invest in sports facilities around the country. This ongoing investment is yielding an excellent network of facilities for all levels of sport in Ireland and is providing a framework on which the delivery and implementation of national sports policy can be built, covering the three main pillars of our sports strategy — participation, performance and excellence.

An amount of €100,000 was also allocated this year towards the renovation of the accommodation at Mosney, which is used to house the participants in the national finals of the Community Games.

The Irish Sports Council is the statutory body with responsibility for the development of sport. The provision in funding for the Irish Sports Council in the 2004 Estimates is more than €30 million of which €11 million has been allocated to national governing bodies of sport and more than €2 million to local sports partnerships to help promote and develop sport at local level.

Question No. 228 answered with QuestionNo. 151.

Sport and Recreational Development.

Questions (127)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

229 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his priorities for the development of sporting and recreational facilities in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25822/04]

View answer

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

The programme for Government outlines a number of priority areas regarding the future provision of sports facilities to which I am fully committed to implementing.

I will continue to invest in sports facilities around the country through the national lottery and Exchequer funding, particularly at local level where clubs of all codes, run by volunteers, remain the backbone of Irish sport. The development of quality infrastructure is crucial to the development of sport. The sports capital programme is the primary vehicle through which the capital provision of sports facilities at all levels and of all types throughout the country are funded. Since 1998, almost €331 million has been allocated under the programme to more than 4,200 deserving projects in parishes, villages and towns all over the country. Details of the 2005 programme will be announced in due course.

The allocation of funding under the sports capital programme will continue to help build facilities, which will serve the needs of the sporting bodies both nationally and locally. Special priority is given under the sport capital programme to proposals for facilities in disadvantaged areas — in line with Government policy aimed at increasing participation in sport in these areas. In the four years to 2004, a total of €121 million was allocated to 1,266 projects in disadvantaged areas. My Department will continue to liaise closely with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to determine priority projects impacting on such areas.

I am committed to working with local authorities to provide at municipal level a range of public facilities such as swimming pools, gymnasia and synthetic floodlit playing pitches. Under the swimming pool programme, the development of pools for the future is done in a structured and focused way, concentrating on areas of greatest need, and enhancing upon the quality of those built in the 1970s and 1980s. Grants of up to a maximum of €3.8 million are available towards both the refurbishment of existing pools or the provision of a new pool, subject in both cases to the total grant not exceeding 80% of the eligible cost of the project or, in the case of projects located in designated disadvantaged areas, 90% of the eligible cost. Support is available towards the cost of the swimming pool, toddler pool, sauna and steam room.

Under present programme, my Department is committed to supporting 55 local authority swimming pool projects throughout the country. Delivery of this programme is well underway with a total €43 million paid out in the period 2000 to 2004 with 14 projects completed, eight under construction and the remaining 33 projects at various stages. Other municipal projects earmarked for Government support include the provision of gymnasia and synthetic floodlit playing pitches funded in part under my Department's sports capital programme.

The Government decision earlier this year to support the re-development of a 50,000 all-seated stadium at Lansdowne Road in association with the IRFU and FAI along with a sporting campus at Abbotstown is further progress towards bringing our national sporting infrastructure. The Department has been working with Campus and Stadium Ireland Development Limited to secure a developmental plan for a campus of sports facilities at Abbotstown. This work is now nearing completion and it is expected that proposals will be presented to me in late autumn, which will be basis for a Government decision on the future of the sports campus project.

The Government is committed to completing a national audit of local sports facilities and to putting in place a long-term strategic plan to ensure the development of such necessary facilities throughout the country. The first step towards developing such a strategy, a review of the existing sports capital programme under the Department's expenditure review programme, is being finalised. The outcome of this review will help identify the level of facilities that have been put in place in recent years with the assistance of national lottery funding and produce recommendations on priorities for future funding.

Following this it is my intention to establish an inter-agency steering group to commence work immediately on developing a long-term strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities. In addition to overseeing the commencement of the audit of sports facilities, this group will determine a framework for establishing priorities for future sports facility provision.

Employment Support Services.

Questions (128)

Tom Hayes

Question:

230 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when his Department will make places available for over 55s in community employment schemes. [25621/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment)

Community employment, CE, provides work experience and training opportunities for the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged groups with the aim of progressing participants to a job in the open labour market. Approximately 16% of participants are currently aged between 55 and 65 years of age, which amounts to 3,316 participants, and these people are working in CE projects countrywide.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (129)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

231 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25723/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment)

The ambitious commitments set out in the programme for Government have not been affected by the recent Cabinet changes. The responses to these commitments, insofar as they relate to my Department, are set out in the Department's statement of strategy 2003-05. Under Section 4 of the Public Service Management Act 1997, Secretaries General and heads of office are obliged to submit statements of strategy to Ministers within six months of the Minister coming into office. I am in discussion with my officials on our existing strategy, which gives effect to the programme for Government, to see whether any part of the strategy needs to be re-visited in the light of our significant achievements in meeting our programme for Government commitments to date. I shall be instructing the Secretary General of my Department in this regard once I have completed my assessment.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Questions (130)

Joan Burton

Question:

232 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason the carer’s allowance is now being included for the purposes of rent assessment by local authorities; if it is the policy of his Department that the carer’s allowance be included for the purposes of rent assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25591/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

The manner in which local authority tenants are assessed for rent is a matter for the various local authorities and my Department has no function in that regard.

My Department has a role regarding certain private sector tenants. The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for the payment of rent supplement to eligible people residing in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available from any other source.

The regulations governing rent supplement stipulate that, in addition to a minimum contribution, currently €13, each recipient is required to contribute towards his or her rent any additional assessable means he or she has over and above the appropriate basic supplementary welfare allowance rate. The means test provides for a disregard of a portion of carer's allowance when assessing entitlement to rent supplement. In the case of a couple, where either spouse or partner is in receipt of carer's allowance, the amount disregarded is the rate of carer's allowance in payment less the adult dependant rate of supplementary welfare allowance. In the case of a single person or a lone parent the amount disregarded is the rate of carer's allowance in payment less the personal rate of supplementary welfare allowance.

Grant Payments.

Questions (131)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

233 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to extend the bereavement grant to uninsured persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25592/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

The bereavement grant is a payment based on PRSI contributions, designed to assist families in dealing with death and funeral expenses. The grant is payable on the death of an insured person or a family member, including a child under age 18, or under age 22 if in full time education.

In the case of persons over these ages, the grant is paid on the basis of their own PRSI contributions. Where there are insufficient PRSI contributions, assistance may be available under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. Under this scheme, a health board may make a single payment to help meet once-off exceptional expenditure, for example, for funeral expenses, which a family could not reasonably be expected to meet out of their income. Any change to the bereavement grant scheme would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

Social Welfare Code.

Questions (132)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

234 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on whether disability allowance should be granted with associate benefits to a person in their own right in order that when a person a receiving disability allowance and who married a person who is working there be no risk of losing disability allowance and benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25593/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

Social assistance payments, such as disability allowance are payable subject to a means test to people who are not qualified for insurance-based payments under the social welfare system.

In assessing means, account is taken of the claimant's own means and, in the case of a couple, the means of the couple are assessed. In addition, the value of any capital is also assessed. In this regard, claimants of disability allowance are treated under the social welfare code in the same way as people who experience other contingencies such as unemployment, old age or widowhood. To depart from current arrangements, in this regard, would have major implications in terms of the cost and financing of the system. There are no plans at present for a change on these lines.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Questions (133)

Michael Ring

Question:

235 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason the disability allowance of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo was reduced from €134. [25612/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

The person concerned has been in receipt of disability allowance since June 1998. Under the legislative provisions that apply to disability allowance all income, which the claimant and his or her spouse or partner have, is assessable for means purposes.

Following a review, the person concerned was assessed with means derived from his partner's employment. Accordingly, his means have been assessed at €61.37 per week and his weekly rate of disability allowance has been reduced to €74.80 plus €33.60 for dependent children, making a total of €108.40. The revised level of payment was effective from 29 September 2004.

He was notified on 15 September 2004 of his revised entitlement, the reason for it and of his right of appeal to the social welfare appeals office. He lodged an appeal on 4 October 2004. This is being processed and he will be notified directly of the outcome. As part of this process the case will be, reviewed by a deciding officer before being referred to an appeals officer for consideration. If there are grounds for an assessment that is more favourable to the person concerned then the decision will be revised to reflect this.

Under social welfare legislation, decisions on claims must, be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (134, 135)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

236 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25675/04]

View answer

David Stanton

Question:

239 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his main priorities objectives and targets over the next 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25797/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 236 and 239 together.

My priority for the year ahead is to make significant progress in delivering on the social welfare commitments contained in the programme for Government, Sustaining Progress and the national anti-poverty strategy. Resources will be targeted on helping those most in need in order, not alone to raise their standard of living, but to ensure that everyone is a valued citizen who can make his or own individual contribution to society regardless of his or her particular circumstances.

This will include initiatives relating to: older people who were central to the building of the new Ireland and who want to spend their later years in security; children who, given the right chances, will provide a strong and vigorous basis for this countries future; the thousands of carers throughout the country who selflessly sacrifice so much of their lives to look after loved ones; widows and widowers who have had to face many difficulties; people with disabilities who struggle against great personal odds and are an example to all; and all those others who experience a range of contingencies and who require income and other supports at various difficult stages of their lives.

Throughout my career in public life, my goal has been clear. I have fought to sustain economic progress so that we could do something positive with it for all in society. That is the purpose of economic growth. I will do my utmost, in my new role, to make a difference to the lives of the people around the country who depend on our social welfare system.

Social Welfare Code.

Questions (136)

Jack Wall

Question:

237 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in regard to the ongoing dispute between community welfare officers and social welfare area offices regarding the officer from whom an award should issue to a person when an application is in dispute; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25677/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

Where a person is awaiting a decision on an application for assistance from my Department, or where such an application is in dispute, and that person finds that he or she has insufficient means with which to provide for his or her basic needs, it is open to that person to apply for assistance under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards.

There is no automatic entitlement to supplementary welfare allowance. An assessment of a person's means and needs is carried out and where there is a shortfall in a person's income, a payment may be made to bring it up to the appropriate supplementary welfare allowance rate.

The decision to pay supplementary welfare allowance is a matter for the appropriate health board and would have regard to the particular circumstances involved in individual cases with due regard to any hardship factors. This is not related to any dispute but is an operational policy decision taken by the relevant boards.

Legislative Programme.

Questions (137)

David Stanton

Question:

238 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his legislative plans for 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25796/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

The legislative plans for my Department in 2005 entail the introduction of three Bills. These are the social welfare (miscellaneous provisions) Bill 2005, the social welfare (consolidation) Bill 2005 and the social welfare Bill 2005.

The social welfare (miscellaneous provisions) Bill will provide for any amendments to the social welfare schemes consequent on the budget 2005 which are not provided for in the Social Welfare Act 2004 to be introduced immediately following the budget and any additional measures requiring a basis in legislation. This Bill is provisionally scheduled for publication early in 2005.

To improve accessibility to the existing body of social welfare legislation, it is intended that a social welfare consolidation Bill, will be introduced. This Bill will bring together, in a single document, the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993 and the amending legislation enacted in the intervening years, thereby facilitating easier access to the social welfare code.

Immediately following the Budget Statement by the Minister for Finance in December 2004, a social welfare Bill that will provide for the implementation of budget increases in social welfare payments and any other changes, which would normally be scheduled to take effect from January 2005.

It is intended that the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004, which was published in September last, will be progressed in conjunction with the Disability Bill. Progression to enactment is likely to continue into 2005.

Question No. 239 answered with QuestionNo. 236.

Departmental Agencies.

Questions (138)

David Stanton

Question:

240 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the agencies that operate under the aegis of his Department; the areas of responsibility of each such agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25799/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Family)

Six agencies operate under the aegis of my Department, namely, the Pensions Board, the Pensions Ombudsman, the Combat Poverty Agency, Comhairle, the Family Support Agency and the Social Welfare Tribunal.

The remit of the Pensions Board, which was established on 21 December 1990, is to monitor and supervise the operation of the Pensions Act, and pensions developments generally.

The remit of the Pensions Ombudsman, established in September 2003, is to investigate and decide on complaints and disputes involving occupational pension schemes and personal retirement savings accounts, PRSAs.

The Combat Poverty Agency has an advisory, research and public information role regarding poverty issues and a role in initiating and evaluating programmes in this area. Its role is set out in the Combat Poverty Agency Act 1986. Comhairle, which was established on 12 June 2000, is the national agency responsible for supporting the provision of information, advice and advocacy services to members of the public on a wide range of social and other services. Comhairle has a statutory commitment to assist and support people, particularly those with disabilities, in understanding their needs and options and in accessing their entitlements to social and other services. Comhairle provides financial and other supports to the network of 85 independent citizens information centres, CICs, and in addition, operates the citizen's information phone service. Comhairle has also developedoasis.gov.ie as a web-based source of information on public services.

The Family Support Agency has responsibilities for family mediation services, marriage and relationship counselling, promotion of information, and research and provision of advice on family related issues, and developing a range of family support services, as set out in the Family Support Agency Act 2001.

The remit of the Social Welfare Tribunal, which was established in 1982, is to deal with cases where entitlement to unemployment benefit or assistance is refused due to an involvement in a trade dispute.

Driving Tests.

Questions (139)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

241 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Transport the plans he has to ensure that all drivers on roads here are fully qualified to drive or if unqualified are required to be accompanied by a qualified driver, display “L” plates and observe other road safety criteria for drivers without a full licence. [25596/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

Drivers who hold driving licences have passed the requisite tests of their competence to drive. Provisional licence holders are required to be accompanied by and under the supervision of a qualified person at all times, when driving in a public place. The only exception to this is where the driver holds a second provisional licence in respect of category B vehicles, cars, or is the holder of a provisional licence to drive motorcycles, tractors or work vehicles. Generally, the holder of a provisional licence must display an "L" plate front and rear of the vehicle.

Over the years various changes have been made to the regulatory conditions under which provisional licences have effect. I am considering whether further changes are desirable in this regard.

Traffic Corps.

Questions (140)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

242 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Transport when he will be implementing the Government promise to create a traffic corps. [25597/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

Implementation of the commitment in the programme for Government relating to the establishment of a dedicated traffic corps is being considered further in the light of the recent Government decision to significantly increase Garda numbers and the recent announcements by my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, following discussions with my predecessor, that increased resources will be made available to the Garda, and that enforcement levels will increase especially at weekends.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (141)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

243 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Transport the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25717/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

The programme for Government of June 2002 sets out the agreed agenda for this partnership Government over five years. I will continue to deliver on the programme's various transport commitments. My Department's statement of strategy, which will be published in due course, will provide further details on these commitments.

Light Rail Project.

Questions (142)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

244 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Transport if he will seek assurances from the RPA that an evaluation will be made in respect of the need for lighting along the Luas line in Tallaght and action taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25718/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Transport)

The issues raised by the Deputy are matters which are the day to day responsibility of the Railway Procurement Agency and I have brought his concerns to the agency's attention.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (143)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

245 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25701/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs)

The Deputy will be aware that there have been no changes at ministerial level in my Department. The priorities for my Department reflect the relevant commitments in the Programme for Government.

Departmental Schemes.

Questions (42)

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

144 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding the relocation of the Abbey Theatre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25704/04]

View answer

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

An Agreed Programme for Government commits the Government to rebuilding the Abbey Theatre. As I have previously informed the House, the Government authorised me last year to invite expressions of interest by way of public invitation from the private sector in participating, on the basis of a PPP, in the capital redevelopment of the Abbey Theatre in and-or around the vicinity of the site of the existing theatre. My Department, with the Department of Finance and the Office of Public Works, has been working to implement that decision for the purposes of developing the project, in respect of which it has been determined that the accommodation brief for a new theatre should satisfy the following requirements: to be a signature development, representative of a national theatre in the 21st century; to be in an appropriate civic setting and form part of the overall urban regeneration represented by the O'Connell Street integrated area plan and the north-east inner city plan; three significant enlarged auditoria, the Abbey, the Peacock and a third multipurpose space; a dedicated education and outreach facility; a publicly accessible archive; restaurant-bar; improved public areas; disabled access for audiences and artists; and best practice theatre production facilities.

Other design constraints include a requirement for the Abbey and Peacock Theatres to function efficiently, effectively and without compromise; the stages of both the Abbey and Peacock Theatres to be positioned at ground level; and easy access, also at the same level, to the scenery store and the prop store.

In common with many Deputies and with other interested parties, my preference would have been to redevelop the theatre at its present location. However, taking into consideration the requirements I have outlined, it became apparent that redevelopment of the Abbey Theatre where it now stands would be problematic as it would necessitate a much larger footprint than was currently available and for which the acquisition of adjacent properties would be required. As this would likely have been both costly and time-consuming, I reluctantly decided that we had to look elsewhere.

The Office of Public Works has been engaged in the exploration of all available options for locating the Abbey Theatre elsewhere in the city centre. At one point it seemed that proposals being pursued by Dublin City Council for development of the site of the former Carlton Cinema in O'Connell Street might be capable of accommodating the Abbey Theatre. As the Deputy is aware, however, the site is currently the subject of legal proceedings which may not be resolved for quite some time. Accordingly, I have now asked the OPW to look urgently at otheroptions and to advise me as to their feasibility. For reasons of commercial sensitivity I would prefer not to identify the locations currently under consideration.

As it is only about 60 days to the end of the year in which we celebrated the centenary of the Abbey Theatre, are we any closer to an announcement on a new site for the Abbey? Can the Minister give any commitment today that an announcement will be made before the end of the year?

As Deputy Deenihan will be aware, I have stated that I hope to announce the site of the new Abbey Theatre during this the centenary year of the Abbey. It is still my intention to try to obtain a Government decision in that respect before the end of the year. I hope to come to the Government very shortly with a recommendation and I sincerely hope it will be in a position to adhere to that recommendation and that we can then announce the site for the new national theatre.

In view of the urgency of this announcement, is the Minister confident the OPW can come up with a favourable proposal within that timeframe?

I am relatively confident that the Office of Public Works will be in a position to positively identify the preferred site. Obviously, there are varying views in that regard. However, I will listen carefully to the advice they have to offer regarding the suitability of each of the respective sites. I will then make a recommendation to the Government and at that point I hope the Government will make a decision. It is important we try to move this along now. We have had many problems. We have had problems with the current site of the Abbey Theatre regarding the extension of the footprint and acquiring a property, which would take a considerable period of time and great expense. We have also had legal difficulties in regard to the Carlton site. On this occasion I hope we can be free of complications and that we can get a decision from the Government which will see the Abbey view its new home.

Has the Minister carried out an evaluation of the value of the existing Abbey site in terms of using it as collateral for the purchase of a new site? Has a value been put on the current site which must be viewed as prime property in the city centre?

That issue does not arise if the Government decision is as was indicated, that is to say, we would have a public-private partnership. I can inform the Deputy, however, that it was the view of the Office of Public Works that it would be likely to cost in the order of €50 million to acquire a sufficient footprint on the present site of the Abbey Theatre.

Is it the intention to sell the present site if the Abbey is moved to another site?

No decision has been made in regard to that.

Departmental Programmes.

Questions (43)

Jack Wall

Question:

145 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has had discussions with the IRFU and the FAI regarding potential venues for home international rugby and soccer matches while Lansdowne Road is being redeveloped; when work on this project will commence; when it is likely to conclude; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25565/04]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

At the beginning of September 2004, a formal legal agreement to redevelop the stadium at Lansdowne Road was signed between the Government, the Irish Rugby Football Union, the Football Association of Ireland, and the Lansdowne Road Stadium Development Company, the special purpose company which has been established to deliver the project. A project director has been appointed to manage the project and a steering group, which is chaired by the Secretary General of my Department, has been meeting regularly over the past six months to oversee delivery of the project. At this stage, the primary focus of the steering group is on ensuring all the legal, financial, planning and procurement requirements are met in an efficient and timely manner so that actual construction work can get under way by the target date of July 2006.

The process of transforming the existing well-loved but outmoded stadium into a state of the art facility which will satisfy aspirations of both the IRFU and FAI and, indeed, the sports-going public will at some point necessitate the closure of the stadium for about two and a half years. The current time-line for the project envisages that the closure period will run from mid-2006 to the end of 2008. I am aware from my contacts with both associations that they are giving some thought to their options for staging major home rugby and soccer fixtures when Lansdowne Road is temporarily out of commission. Pragmatic contingency planning clearly would require consideration of possible staging of some of these fixtures outside of this jurisdiction. It is my wish, however, that a way can be found to avoid this contingency. I imagine this aspiration is widely shared. If I can assist in any way to facilitate dialogue on this issue while respecting the autonomy of the parties involved I should be happy to do so.

The loss to the Exchequer of these matches would be huge and no party in this House or interested parties outside it would want that to happen. The only alternative venue for providing the facilities is Croke Park. The previous Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, maintained there was no agreement with the GAA in regard to the €40 million that was outstanding. In recent weeks that was reversed and the money was allocated to the GAA to enable it to complete the stadium, rightly so. Did the GAA make any agreement or give any indication at that stage, or did the Minister's Department seek anything, to ensure that during the period from July 2006 to July 2008 any hope of staging these matches in Croke Park would be considered?

No conditions attached to the €40 million granted to the GAA recently in respect of Croke Park. The president of the GAA has stated several times that he would prefer that Croke Park be open for specified games on specified occasions. While it is not for me to instruct the GAA in how it conducts its affairs I welcome this statement.

Rule 42 of the association specifies that a change in the use of Croke Park or any other stadium can be facilitated only by a vote of congress. It is a matter for the GAA to make its own decision in that context. It would be unhelpful were I to say otherwise. The grant has been allocated to the GAA for Croke Park and the question of whether it will facilitate the IRFU and the FAI while Lansdowne Road is closed is a matter for the GAA to decide.

In my consultations with it, the IRFU said the development of Lansdowne Road is its priority but indicated the problems it has for the period in question today. When the Minister spoke to the IRFU and the FAI did they indicate whether they had made any approaches to the GAA, or if Croke Park is available whether that would be their first choice as a venue for their fixtures? Are they making arrangements for the matches to be played outside the country because of the problems posed by rule 42?

I will be deeply disappointed if any international fixtures are played outside the country while Lansdowne Road is closed between mid-2006 and the end of 2008. I am not aware of any formal contacts between the IRFU and the FAI in connection with the prospect of any change to the GAA's rule 42. Since Croke Park has a capacity of 80,000 it would be of considerable benefit to the FAI and the IRFU if the GAA were to decide to facilitate them but this is a matter for the GAA. The sporting public would be very disappointed if the FAI and the IRFU played outside the jurisdiction. The question would arise of people having to travel outside the jurisdiction and go to that expense should it arise. Furthermore in the spirit of national pride people would wish that the international games were played on home soil. I have no control over that. The correspondence to the president concerning the grant to the GAA did not mention it and no conditions attached to the grant. Of the grant €20 million comes from within my Department's Vote. The balance must come from next year's Vote.

Dormant Accounts Fund.

Questions (44)

Martin Ferris

Question:

146 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if his attention has been drawn to the review of RTOs in the North to establish RTPs; his views on whether, due to the natural affinities which northern counties have with the adjoining counties in the South, there ought to be a common strategy in terms of tourism products, marketing and destination; and if he has been in contact with Fáilte Ireland and his northern counterpart to ensure that this common sense approach becomes a reality within these RTPs. [25564/04]

View answer

Oral answers (3 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

For many years, policy-makers on both sides of the Border have recognised the benefits of applying co-operative strategies in developing tourism both on an all-island and a cross-Border basis. Co-operation on these matters started to become more formalised and action-oriented from the late 1980s onwards. The relevant Departments in both jurisdictions, together with the then Bord Fáilte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, were assisted by cross-Border funding bodies, such as the International Fund for Ireland and the EU-funded INTERREG and peace and reconciliation programmes, to develop and implement specific programmes across a range of tourism themes, for example, support for product development in the Border counties, Northern Ireland and the five southern Border counties plus Sligo, and associated training and a limited joint marketing programme. This programme focused on below-the-line co-operative activities namely, non-mainstream advertising, carried out jointly by the two tourist boards in main markets. These small cross-Border programmes took place against the backdrop of the much larger tourism product, training and marketing measures under the EU co-funded tourism operational programmes in the South.

In the mid-1990s, a new industry-led joint marketing body, the overseas tourism marketing initiative was formed. Both tourist boards were members of OTMI and its board included industry representatives from both jurisdictions. From its inception, it recognised the potential benefits of advancing an all-island approach to tourism marketing. In 1995, for the first time, an island of Ireland theme was used to advertise Ireland.

Arising from the identification of the tourism sector as a key area of co-operation between the jurisdictions, Tourism Ireland Limited, the all-island tourism marketing body, was established in December 2000 under the framework of the Good Friday Agreement. This company is responsible for Tourism Brand Ireland, strategic all-island destination marketing in all markets outside the island of Ireland, the international roll-out of regional and product marketing programmes formulated by Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the operation of the overseas office network. North-South co-operation on tourism matters operates at many levels. At policy level, the North-South Ministerial Council, with the Ministers from both jurisdictions, oversee and approve objectives, strategy and resources for overseas marketing by Tourism Ireland. This co-operation cascades through both public sectors through the active liaison and co-operation of both sponsor Departments on a range of issues and through the co-operation and liaison of the three bodies Tourism Ireland, Fáilte Ireland and NITB. This co-operation is mirrored in the private sector, at one level through the industry representation on the board of Tourism Ireland but also through the close working relationship of the Irish Tourist Industry Confederation and the Northern Ireland Tourist Industry Confederation.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The Border between the North and South cuts through several natural tourism and general development areas. If the potential of the Border region is to be properly developed, the planning strategies for the region will require close co-ordination with those in the North and close, practical co-operation will need to be fostered between the various public authorities on both sides of the Border. This will also have to extend to certain infrastructural issues given that key routes traverse both sides of the Border. It makes sense for the regional tourism authorities on both sides of the Border to work closely to exploit the potential of the natural tourism areas and the waterway systems that straddle the Border. If tourism marketing within the region is to be successful, it needs to take practical account of the cross-Border dimension and to comply with the themes and quality associated with Tourism Brand Ireland, which is an all-Ireland brand.

I have no direct responsibility for individual actions or measures relating to tourism promotion or development in so far as specific areas of the country are concerned. These are day-to-day functions of the tourism State agencies. On foot of the recommendations of the tourism policy review group, Fáilte Ireland, is actively considering the question of how best to establish a closer correlation between the identified core visitor servicing and development functions provided at regional level, and the State financial support provided through the regional entities. The outcome of this work is expected later this year and will inform Fáilte Ireland's ongoing deliberations on the most appropriate regional structures for the discharge of its functions and the relationships and arrangements that should apply at regional level. It remains a key aim of my Department and the tourism agencies, to facilitate North-South tourism co-operation in areas of mutual benefit. The principal aim will be to deliver on the potential manifested by the successful co-operation that has evolved over many years with clear economic and social benefits for both communities.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. I welcome many aspects of it, particularly the all-Ireland dimension and the intention to develop a common strategic approach for developing and marketing Ireland as a single entity tourist project. Do local authorities in regions on either side of the Border make any direct input into the development and continuing progress of the strategy for an all-island tourist project? Does it not make sense in the marketing of Border regions which share amenities, particularly, for example, Leitrim, Fermanagh and Cavan, to take a structural approach, from the point of view of the Six Counties, the Ministers and particularly that of the local authorities which would be responsible for marketing their respective counties in a joint approach?

I fully concur with Deputy Ferris on that. It is also fair to say that there is a very strong case, an unanswerable case, for an ever greater degree of co-operation between the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Fáilte Ireland. There is also an undeniable case for a greater level of co-operation to be made between the regional tourism authorities on both sides of the Border. Tourism Ireland Limited can be described as a unique body. It is unique because it is the one cross-Border development organisation which actually is in place. What is even more important is that it is a template for the future. It is important that it succeeds and the good news is that it is succeeding. For example, tourism in the North increased by 11%, for the first time in many years. All the indications are that this will continue. Marketing Ireland overseas by Tourism Ireland in the context of an all-island unit makes economic sense. I sincerely hope it continues to grow and prosper as it has been doing.

Grant Payments.

Questions (45)

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

147 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when a decision will be made on the successful tender for the proposed national conference centre. [25747/04]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

The Government decision to proceed with a national conference centre provided that it should be pursued under a public private partnership arrangement. This is a necessarily complex procedure and one that is required to be undertaken in accordance with the Department of Finance's interim guidelines for the provision of infrastructure and capital investments through public private partnerships.

As part of the procedural requirements of the PPP process, a public sector benchmark exercise and a benefit assessment must be undertaken before the next detailed proposals stage can be initiated. These exercises are being carried out and are close to finalisation. Every effort is beingmade by the Office of Public Works and its advisers to complete as soon as possible the detailed project contract documentation required. As I explained to the House on 1 July, the preparation of this documentation is demanding and time-consuming, with details requiring careful scrutiny and consideration. At that time, I expressed the hope that the procurement process would be sufficiently advanced to facilitate a Government decision before the end of the year. This has not proved possible and the firm objective now is to ensure that invitations to tender are issued to the three pre-qualified candidates before Christmas.

On the assumption that tender invitations will be ready for issue in December and allowing several months for engagement with the selected tenders, current indications are that a preferred bidder could be selected by late summer 2005. While I am reluctant to be categorical given the complexity of the process, my personal priority and that of the Government is to have this project brought to a conclusion at the earliest possible date, while ensuring that the relevant procedures and guidelines pertaining to the process are closely observed and that nothing is done that might jeopardise its successful conclusion.

International business tourism is worth about €40 billion and Fáilte Ireland has set up a business tourism unit to attract business tourism to this country. Every capital city in Europe now has a dedicated conference centre and I believe Barcelona has about four conference centres. As a country, we are losing at least €60 million because we have no conference centre. Surely the Minister would agree that this should be considered as a matter of urgency. It certainly seems to be taking a long time to go through the various procedures. Will the Minister give a guarantee to the House that this project will command his total commitment and attention for the next six months? This is to ensure that it will be provided in time. In the past, we have been promised certain deadlines and they have not been met, although that may not be the fault of this Minister. I know he gave an outline on possible deadlines. Will he be more precise on key dates by which we can expect progress to be made over the next six months?

Four submissions were received by the closing date of 21 January 2004. What followed was a detailed evaluation of an assessment panel, which was representative of my Department, the Office of Public Works and its advisers, the Department of Finance, Fáilte Ireland and the National Development Finance Agency. Following that a separate panel evaluated the site proposals which candidates were required to bring forward. The outcome of the evaluations was that three of the four candidates were deemed to have pre-qualified on the basis of their financial and economic standing and technical capacity and to have proposed an acceptable sized site. As I announced in July, the three candidates shortlisted were Anna Livia Consortium, Michael McNamara and the Leopardstown Club Consortium and Spencer Dock International Conference Centre Consortium. I had hoped that we would be in a position to move along from there by the end of this year. Unfortunately, that has not proved possible and now it is hoped that we will have the tenders ready in December. If we can do that, I am hopeful that a preferred bidder can be selected by late summer of 2005.

I agree with the Deputy on the issue of the delay. The reason is the PPP process. As far as my experience goes, it is tortuous in the extreme. It is tortuous for the officials involved, the Minister and those who are interested in becoming involved in construction. I hope that one of these days someone will see sense and change the guidelines governing this process. I have rarely come across as much red tape or bureaucracy in all my days travelling.

Will the Minister confirm that there is no concern within the Department of Finance about this project? It is very important that there are no reservations about this project. Does the fact that the Spencer Dock site has planning permission give it an advantage over the other proposals?

I will leave the selection of the proposal to others and will not get involved in that. That is for the panel of experts and it is not for me to decide which site is to be selected, nor to indicate a preference. It would be wrong of me to do so. The Minister for Finance is very committed to this project, as was his predecessor. There is no difficulty as far as they are concerned.

I am talking about official level.

I am not aware that the officials would seek to block a project which has been given the go-ahead by the Government.

Veterinary Inspection Service.

Questions (46)

Paddy McHugh

Question:

148 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the amount of grant aid allocated to Tuam Stadium, Tuam, County Galway, by his Department; the reason for the refusal of a recent grant application; and if grant aid will be made available for essential development work to be carried out. [25562/04]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

Tuam Stadium Development Association received an allocation of €127,000 under the 2000 sports capital programme. The organisation submitted a further application for assistance received under the 2004 sports capital programme. A total of 1,304 applications were received under this year's programme, 73 of which were for projects in County Galway.

All applications were evaluated by my Department in accordance with the detailed assessment criteria for the programme published in the guidelines, terms and conditions document which accompanied the application form for the programme. Having regard to the assessment scores achieved and the amount of funding available, provisional allocations were made. I announced the provisional grant allocations for those projects classified as local on 7 May 2004 and on 10 August I announced those classified as regional, municipal or multi-purpose and national. Of the 739 provisional allocations under the 2004 programme amounting to €61 million in funding, 39 projects in County Galway were allocated a total of €3.4 million. The application on behalf of Tuam Stadium Association under this year's programme was unsuccessful and a letter was issued to the organisation on 16 August last advising it of the outcome of the application. A copy of the assessment of the application conducted by my Department, including the scores attained under each criterion, was also provided. When I announce details of the 2005 sports capital programme later this year, it will be open to the organisation to submit an application if it wishes to do so and if it intends to engage in a project which satisfies the programme's terms and conditions.

Tuam Stadium is not the designated GAA county ground of the Galway county board. Pearse Stadium, which is the official county ground, has been allocated €1.4 million in funding under the sports capital programme in recent years. In addition, the GAA's Connacht provincial council listed Tuam Stadium as fourth out of the five applications submitted in 2004 under the sports capital programme in order of priority for funding.

I thank the Minister for his reply, which was very disappointing, to say the least. As the leading stadium in County Galway over the years, Tuam Stadium has hosted many football matches in all grades. It has been the venue for college matches, under age games, Coiste Peil na n-Óg tournaments, ladies football, Connacht finals and Railway Cup finals. It is managed on a voluntary basis by a few committed members and a hard-working committee. Does the Minister agree that the local voluntary committee has worked hard, for example, through fundraising, to keep the stadium open? It has ensured that the stadium complies — just about — with health and safety regulations.

Does the Minister agree that expenditure of approximately €5 million is required if the stadium is to continue to accommodate GAA fixtures? Such moneys will do little more than bring the stadium up to scratch and ensure that it complies fully with health and safety regulations.

The Minister's reply referred to the GAA's designation of Pearse Stadium as the leading stadium in County Galway. Does the Minister not agree that the existing stadium at Tuam needs to be modernised? We do not want it to eclipse Pearse Stadium as the main stadium in County Galway, as the stadiums are not in competition. Tuam Stadium is worthy of special attention, however, because it is located in north-east Galway, which is the centre of the home of Galway football.

Is the Minister aware that Tuam has been designated as a disadvantaged area under the RAPID programme? Does he agree that Tuam Stadium is worthy of special attention and funding because it is in a RAPID area? Does he accept that the stadium deserves such attention because Tuam has been designated as a hub town under the national spatial strategy? The Government can demonstrate its support for the national spatial strategy by making funding available.

In summary, does the Minister agree that matters other than the GAA's designation of Pearse Stadium as the leading stadium in County Galway need to be borne in mind when considering the application made by the Tuam Stadium committee? The Government should support Tuam Stadium for many reasons other than the advice of the GAA.

I do not doubt that the committee dealing with the affairs of Tuam Stadium is outstanding. I would not deny for a moment that the members of the committee do a considerable amount of voluntary work. Having been to Tuam Stadium, I agree it is a fine facility.

The difficulty we face in this regard relates to competing priorities. Pearse Stadium receives priority under the regional sports grants programme because it is the county ground of County Galway, as I have said. It has the priority backing of the Galway county board, the provincial council and the GAA's central council.

Tuam, which is designated as a hub town under the national spatial strategy, has certainly not been overlooked by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism. Three of the four applications which were submitted by interests in Tuam under the 2004 sports capital programme were successful. Three projects were provisionally granted funding, but the fourth project was not granted funding because it did not comply with the relevant conditions.

As Deputy McHugh said, Tuam is designated as a disadvantaged area under the sports capital programme because it is included in strand 2 of the RAPID programme. Applications from Tuam under the sports capital programme were prioritised within County Galway for that reason. Some €323,000 was provisionally allocated to the three successful projects in Tuam under the 2004 programme. My colleague, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, has allocated top-up funding of a further €96,000 to the three projects under the RAPID programme.

Deputy McHugh is aware that I have sanctioned a grant of €3.8 million to Galway County Council for the replacement of the existing swimming pool in Tuam. Some €960,000 of the grant has been paid to the council to date and construction work on the project is ongoing. I do not doubt that sporting and recreational facilities in Tuam and throughout County Galway have been greatly enhanced in 2004 as a result of Government funding.

The funding allocated to the Galway county board has been more than twice that given to other GAA county boards, with the exception of the Limerick county board which was given €1.88 million for the development of the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick city. Deputy McHugh can be consoled by the fact that his constituency is in pole position. We will examine whether we can provide further assistance this year and reconsider the issues relating to Tuam. I assure the Deputy that, as someone who supports Tuam and the west of Ireland, I will put my money where my mouth is.

I acknowledge the Minister's comments. I thank him for his support of the swimming pool and leisure facilities in Tuam, which are greatly appreciated. The Minister said in response to an earlier question that he should not tell the GAA what to do. Likewise, the GAA should not tell the Minister what to do in respect of Tuam.

No. I did not suggest that the GAA would or could do so.

The Minister should give the money to Tuam.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (47, 48)

Simon Coveney

Question:

149 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to outline the unresolved problems related to official grants of arms in this jurisdiction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25261/04]

View answer

Olwyn Enright

Question:

188 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he intends to fill the vacant position of Chief Herald of Ireland; his views on the fact that no grants of arms have issued since September 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25260/04]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 and 188 together.

My predecessor appointed Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue, the director of the National Library of Ireland, to act as Chief Herald and genealogical officer. The position of Chief Herald became vacant when Mr. O'Donoghue resigned last year, pending the appointment of a new director. Arrangements for filling the post are in train. Regarding the issue raised by the Deputy, I intend to grant autonomous status to the National Library of Ireland under the provisions of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, with effect from 1 January 2005 if possible. I propose to activate section 13 of the 1997 Act, which specifies that the Genealogical Office will be confirmed as an integral part of the National Library of Ireland, at the same time. The board of the National Library of Ireland, to be established under the 1997 Act, will be required to designate a member of its staff to research, grant and confirm coats of arms. That member of staff will be known as the Chief Herald of Ireland. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is in consultations with the acting director to explore options for resolving the current difficulties, pending the establishment of the new board.

Will the Minister explain the delay in appointing the new Chief Herald in the National Library of Ireland, given that the previous office holder retired in September 2003? I appreciate that the Minister has proposed new arrangements, but it seems to me that somebody could have been appointed in the interim. There are concerns that section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, to which the Minister referred, provides an inadequate legal basis for the granting of arms by the Chief Herald. The Attorney General has expressed serious concern that the 1997 Act may not be used as to do so would cause chaos. I understand it was proposed to enact a genealogy and heraldry Bill to provide a sound legislative basis for services and facilities relating to such activities in the State. Are there any such proposals in the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism? Will the Minister consider the introduction of such legislation?

The post of director of the National Library of Ireland became vacant in September 2003 following the retirement of Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue, who did a wonderful job. We then advertised the post through the Civil Service Commission. That was at the end of January this year, but the process did not result in an appointment. In that context, the salary for the post was not an issue. Several options are currently being explored with a view to filling the post in the context of the establishment of the National Library as a separate legal entity, as is proposed from 1 January 2005, should that prove possible. I am not aware of any difficulty with section 13. I have certainly not been given any legal advice to the effect that there is anything wrong with it. However, it may well be the case that Deputy Deenihan has separate information. I do not have such information.

Given that I read in the newspapers that there might be a legal challenge if this section were used, I suggest to the Minister that he take advice on it. Does he think it a good idea that the office of the Chief Herald should be combined with the office of Director of the National Library, or should they be separate functions? Regarding the legislation, might he consider introducing a genealogy and heraldry Bill to provide a sound legislative basis for the area?

Interestingly, the proposal to establish a separate genealogical office, which I think is what Deputy Deenihan is getting at, was examined relatively recently by my predecessor who was not convinced that a separate office was necessary or desirable. The need for the genealogical office to have ready access to the library material held in the National Library and governed by its working practices and standards points strongly to the maintenance of the genealogical office as a branch of the National Library. The continuance of that link also permits the genealogical office to access the library's administrative resources, obviating the need to provide additional staff and resources were the office to be established as a separate entity.

I am not aware of any difficulties with section 13 of the legislation. Few provisions in our legislation or anywhere else in the world might not be the target of legal challenge. There are cynics who feel that, if one pays enough, one can get any legal opinion.

Renewable Energy.

Questions (49, 50)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

150 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his plans to initiate a nationwide audit of sports facilities, as outlined in the programme for Government. [25500/04]

View answer

Joe Sherlock

Question:

171 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the national audit of local sports facilities as envisaged in the programme for Government has been completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25428/04]

View answer

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 150 and 171 together.

The Government has committed itself under An Agreed Programme for Government to complete a national audit of local sports facilities and to put in place a long-term strategic plan to ensure the development of such necessary facilities. The first step in meeting that commitment was the undertaking of the sports capital programme expenditure review. It has emerged in the process of carrying out that review, which is being finalised, that there is a clear need for the sports capital programme to operate in the context of a clearly defined strategy for the provision of sports facilities and for such a strategy to be informed by a national audit of sports facilities. The substantial investment in the provision of sports facilities in the period 1998 to 2004 has made a significant contribution towards meeting the urgent need for such facilities caused by the absence of investment in earlier years.

Given the significant overlap between my Department and other Departments and bodies engaged in sports facility provision, it is my intention to set up an inter-agency steering group to oversee the development of such a strategy. One of the first challenges facing the group will be to oversee the commencement of a national audit of sports facilities. Given the time and effort envisaged in completing such a task and the limited resources available, it may be necessary to focus initial efforts on specific sports facility types or on major sports facilities. That matter will be decided by the steering group but may be determined in part by an initial examination of the level of information already available on sports facilities and how effectively information can be obtained for certain facility types over and above others.

It could take several years to complete a comprehensive audit of all sports facilities. However, it may be possible to conduct the work in stages to ensure that some useful results are available in the short term for input into the proposed strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities due for completion within the next year. That is also supported by the potential use of such information, which leans towards being more effective in helping decision-making at regional and national level as opposed to decisions at local level. However, arrangements for the commencement of the audit are now being put in place, and I expect that the commitment outlined in the agreed programme for Government will be met within the lifetime of this Government.

I found the Minister's answer difficult to understand. The commitment in the programme for Government is quite simple, namely, that the Government would undertake an audit of sports facilities. The answer that the Minister has just given is that such an audit has not commenced, that arrangements are in place to commence it, and that, if the audit takes place, it may take several years. I query several of those claims, since an audit is quite a simple exercise that could be done quite easily and should have been done by now.

If what the Minister is saying is true, why was such a commitment given? Surely, if we are to advance the idea of participation in sport, with its benefits for the health of the citizens and children of this nation, as well as having a general policy that sports participation is a desirable public policy goal, the Government should have initiated such an audit and have completed it by now. The Minister's answer left that even more vague. He said that arrangements were in place to commence the audit. We know nothing from that type of reply about when the arrangements to commence the audit will finish, when the audit will start, or when it will be completed. Given the nature of the commitment in the programme for Government and the fact that the question has already been asked of the Minister on several occasions, will he give any firm dates for when it will happen and if it can happen?

I remind Members that supplementary questions and answers are limited to one minute.

In my reply, I indicated to Deputy Boyle that the Government intended to fulfil its commitment set out in the programme for Government, and that is my intention. As I explained, it was decided as a first step, before the commencement of the audit, that there should be an assessment of what has been achieved under the Department's sports capital programme. That was done in the context of an expenditure review of the programme which seeks to assess the benefits that investment to date has yielded and identify any difficulties or inefficiencies associated with the operation of the programme.

I admit that the review was to have been completed in 2003 to facilitate commencement of the audit that year. However, it has taken longer than expected to complete because of the scale of the programme and the time required to analyse the volume of information and data collected during the review. That may be down to the success of the programme itself, since more than 4,500 projects under the sports capital programme alone have been grant aided to the tune of almost €350 million since 1998. However, I am informed by officials in the Department that the report of the review is expected to be available soon. When I receive it, we will commence the audit.

Deputy Boyle may feel that it is a simple and uncomplicated process, but that is not the case. In a much smaller jurisdiction, that of the North, it was estimated that it would take a minimum of two years to complete an audit.

I share Deputy Boyle's concerns about the time factor. I understood that the review was already in progress. If I understood the Minister correctly, he believes that some sections of the report could be initiated. If that is the case, local authorities can give information to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism on specific areas within their remit, such as large estates with no facilities. It is an ongoing concern that many social problems result from a lack of facilities in those areas. If that is the approach to be adopted when the Minister begins this audit, the initial approach should be to the local authorities to garner every piece of information on local authority estates and private estates. That is where many of these social problems arise.

Deputy Wall has made an important point. A number of local authorities and local sports partnerships are engaged in carrying out an inventory of sports facilities in their areas. We will closely monitor the methodologies, standards and parameters used by them. It is not yet clear how comprehensive or useful these local exercises will be but I have no doubt that they will be helpful to us.

To draw up terms of reference to identify modalities and methodologies to be adopted, we intend to establish a steering group to oversee the development of a new strategic plan and the carrying out of a national audit. It is also proposed that the Irish Sports Council, the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with a local authority representative, would sit on the steering group. The possibility of the involvement of an external professional organisation to carry out the audit will also be considered. Matters are progressing. The work of the expenditure review group is well advanced. Some local authorities and local sports partnerships are carrying out work and that will probably be very useful. We will proceed to the audit at the earliest opportunity.

I remind the Minister that the County Kerry partnership group, before it was established as such, carried out an extensive audit of sports facilities in the country, particularly in schools. Such a project would be an ideal one for the network of post-primary schools and would be an ideal way of creating awareness among young people of the facilities available and the importance of having them available. There are 17 local sports partnerships and they would have the information readily available. There is no need for a full scientific overview and countrywide survey as the information is readily available without the need to employ expensive consultants.

As part of the audit, will the Minister publish a breakdown of the funding allocated on a county basis since the advent of the capital sports grant system funded by the national lottery? Does he agree that large numbers of the population, particularly in the greater Dublin area, have virtually no sports facilities? I am thinking of north-east and north-west Wicklow. They have made unsuccessful applications in recent years. Perhaps the Minister will update me on possible allocations for projects in north Wicklow.

The audit will represent a comprehensive body of work. It will enable policy-makers to map the locations of sports facilities countrywide, whether they are provided through voluntary sports organisations, funded privately or have benefited from public finances. We are not talking merely of the sports capital programme. We will probably all agree that a better fix on the location of existing sporting facilities will lead to more effective targeting of funding new facilities and more efficient use of financial resources. This would apply equally across all Departments involved in the provision of sports facilities, including the Department of Education and Science.

Since 1998, projects to the value of almost €351 million have been awarded under the sports capital programme alone. In addition to the facilities which have benefited under this programme, the audit will also seek to identify sports facilities provided by voluntary sports organisations and local authorities, as well as sports halls and facilities in schools and colleges which have benefited from grant assistance provided by the Department of Education and Science. The result of securing all this data and making it available in a user-friendly and accessible format will be a significant undertaking. Once the work begins, it cannot be expected to last less than two years because in the smaller jurisdiction of Northern Ireland it was estimated that the same task would take two years to complete.

I am committed to the completion of the audit and will try to ensure that the Government commitment as laid out in An Agreed Programme for Government is met during this Government's lifetime. The published details of funding provided under the sports capital programme on a county by county basis are available annually. The Department publishes the data and there is no great mystery to it. Regarding County Wicklow, no part of it has been ignored.

Grant Payments.

Questions (51, 52, 53, 54, 55)

Denis Naughten

Question:

151 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the construction work will commence on the new stadium at Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25542/04]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

158 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the efforts he is making to ensure that the soccer and rugby home international matches will not have to be played abroad; if he will facilitate a round table meeting between the FAI, the IRFU, the GAA and other interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25508/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

166 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has had discussions with a view to the provision of stadium facilities for soccer or rugby during the reconstruction of Lansdowne Road, with particular reference to the forthcoming World Cup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25514/04]

View answer

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

187 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on recent statements by Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael regarding the potential for using Croke Park by other sporting organisations in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25421/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

228 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position in regard to the provision of stadium facilities for all sports during the reconstruction of Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25819/04]

View answer

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 151, 158, 166, 187 and 228 together.

As I indicated to Deputies in my previous replies on this subject, the provision of alternative facilities for the sports which will be affected by the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road stadium is a matter for both the IRFU and the FAI. I have little doubt but that contingency plans are being developed by both associations for the staging of international and other prestigious fixtures that in the normal course would have been hosted at Lansdowne Road. These plans must take account of current realities but I very much hope that an acceptable arrangement can be evolved which would obviate the necessity for playing these fixtures outside this jurisdiction.

The Lansdowne Road stadium redevelopment project will require closure of the existing stadium for some time. The construction phase of the redevelopment is expected to take 29 months and is scheduled to commence in mid-2006 and be completed by the end of 2008. I have consistently stated that the use of Croke Park by other organisations is a matter for the GAA to consider and decide and it would be counterproductive for me to attempt to intervene in the association's decision-making process. However, I welcome the positive views expressed by the President of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael regarding this issue. In the event that the sporting organisations involved saw a role for me in facilitating dialogue on the issue, I would be happy to be of assistance.

Regarding the commencement of work on the new stadium, I read in the media some time ago that there was a problem with the removal of asbestos from the two stands at the Lansdowne Road stadium. Will that pose a difficulty in commencing work? As we all know, numerous concerns were expressed by the residents. Have they been addressed? Is it envisaged that there will be objections to planning permission when the plans are submitted? When does the Minister expect those plans to be submitted?

I envisage no delay because of the removal of asbestos from any section of the Lansdowne Road stadium. I understand that part of the stadium is constructed of old corrugated iron and that is giving rise to the difficulty mentioned by Deputy Deenihan. I am assured that everything is being done to ensure that there is no risk to the health of any person, including the workers, and that no delay will ensue.

Regarding the construction of the stadium, it was intended that this year a steering group would be in place with a project manager, and that is now the position. The next phase involves the appointment of the design team, which I expect to be made early next year. The steering group, under the chairmanship of the Secretary General of my Department, continues to meet on a regular basis to monitor progress. I expect that the developed scheme will be prepared during next year and that the planning application will be lodged at that stage. I also expect that planning permission will be secured in 2006 and that the detailed design will be prepared and a tendering process opened. I anticipate that work will commence on the stadium in or around July 2006. I expect that construction will be in progress throughout 2007 and that it should be completed by the end of 2008.

It is important that the residents be kept informed of progress at all times. I understand that they are being kept informed of developments and that they will continue to meet those involved in the project to ensure that they are aware of what is happening. Whether there will be objections is a matter of conjecture. I hope that there will be no objections. If they are made, however, they will have to be dealt with. As Deputy Deenihan is aware, people have the right to object in certain circumstances. I sincerely hope that there will not be any objections and that we can proceed with the development.

Is the Minister willing to make a statement that the holding abroad of international sporting fixtures involving Irish teams should be avoided at all costs? Are there measures that he, as Minister, is willing to put in place to ensure that such an eventuality does not occur? Is he prepared to facilitate the holding of a round table meeting between the sporting organisations in need of a venue and the major sporting organisation that has an international class stadium available during the period in question? It would be of commercial benefit to the latter organisation if it were to make its stadium available for use.

As regards the residents concerns about the development of Lansdowne Road — which most people believe necessary and would like to see happen as soon as possible — does the Minister accept that his Department might have a role in expressing some reservations during the planning process, particularly in respect of proposals to eliminate or severely restrict the Dodder River walk? As Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, he should have a say in respect of this planning application in terms of the preservation of interesting features such as the walk which plays a major role in terms of providing public access to recreational and sporting facilities.

I will deal first with the question about the Dodder River. It is intended to provide an international size rugby pitch to the rear of the East Stand which will be used by the Wanderers and Lansdowne clubs. This development will require the use of a small strip of land along the Dodder River walkway. Dublin City Council has been approached with this request and is fully aware of what is involved. There will continue to be a Dodder walkway from Lansdowne Road to Bath Avenue. The existing amenity will not be taken away and, as part of the plans, it is intended to upgrade and improve the walkway.

I stated earlier that I would be deeply disappointed if international games involving the teams fielded by the FAI or the IRFU were played outside of the jurisdiction. Aside from the expense this would involve for travelling supporters, the question of national pride arises. The latter dictates that international games should be played on home soil and I hope this will be the position. I will do whatever I can to facilitate a resolution of the problems the IRFU and FAI will face between mid-2006 and the end of 2008. As indicated earlier, however, it is not my function to interfere with the inner workings of any sporting organisation. Such organisations can make or change their own rules.

Am I correct in stating that the complex, incorporating the stadium and, to the rear thereof, the international size rugby pitch to which the Minister referred, will be completely dedicated to sport and will not involve a commercial aspect such as the building of office blocks or anything of that nature?

Deputy Wall is correct. The complex will only be used for sporting purposes.

Given that there is a deadline as regards the arrangements the FAI and the IRFU will be obliged to make to procure stadia in the UK for away matches, is there any way the Minister can intervene? While he has stated on many occasions that he respects the autonomy of the GAA to decide on issues affecting it, unless rule 42 is on the agenda for congress, nothing will happen before 2006 when the IRFU and the FAI will be obliged to arrange the use of stadia in which to hold international matches. Is the Minister in a position to appeal to the GAA to ensure that the rule will be placed on the agenda for congress in 2005?

It is a question for the GAA to decide if it is going to decide the issue at congress in 2005. The president of the GAA has given positive indications as regards his wishes. I welcome his comments but it would be counterproductive if I were to issue or extend any appeal to the GAA. I specifically announced in recent weeks that the €40 million issued to the GAA in respect of Croke Park was given free of any conditions. I reiterate that now.

Aside from the expense involved for members of the public travelling abroad for home games and the issue of national pride and the effect thereon of playing international games outside the jurisdiction, it should be remembered that a report commissioned by the IRFU found that the revenues generated in the Dublin area as a result of the Ireland-England rugby game in March 2003 were in the region of €52 million. I accept the sense behind what Deputy Deenihan is saying and I understand his point. However, perhaps he more than anyone else in the House understands that the GAA has its own rules and makes its own decisions. I am happy to allow it to proceed in that way.

The Minister may have misunderstood what I said on this matter earlier. When he held discussions with the FAI and the IRFU, did those organisations indicate that they would make proposals or suggestions to the GAA in respect of obtaining the use of Croke Park? I fully understand the positionvis-à-vis rule 42. Leaving that aside, however, have formal or informal representations been made by either organisation to the GAA regarding the possible use of Croke Park?

I am not aware of any approaches, formal or informal, by the IRFU or the FAI to the GAA in respect of Croke Park. The negotiations I held with the FAI and the IRFU related to the construction of a new stadium at Lansdowne Road. They are delighted to join with us in the construction of that stadium. I welcome that the GAA stated that it would be interested in using the new stadium at Lansdowne Road because the pitch will be of sufficient size to accommodate Gaelic games. There comes a point when every actor must bow and leave the stage, and I have just reached it.

Departmental Schemes.

Questions (154)

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

256 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, further to Parliamentary Question No. 89 of 13 October 2004, the manner and method of disposal of the carcasses of the remaining 52,860 animals not accounted for; if such carcasses are still in storage or have otherwise been disposed of; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25824/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

Apart from hides, the carcasses of all animals slaughtered under both the purchase for destruction and special purchase schemes in 2001 were rendered and incinerated. The combined total of animals destroyed under the two schemes was 492,860.

Registration of Title.

Questions (155)

Michael Ring

Question:

257 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when an application made on a folio with the Land Registry Office for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be complete. [25602/04]

View answer

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

I am informed by, the Registrar of Titles that the applications referred to by the Deputy are as follows. An application for transfer of part was lodged on 7 October 2002. Dealing number D2002SM008857H refers. An application for transfer of part was lodged on 14 February 2003. Dealing number D2003SM001425J refers. An application for release was lodged on 2 October 2003. Dealing number D2003SM008231J refers.

I am further informed that those applications are receiving attention in the Land Registry and, subject to no queries arising, will be completed within the next few weeks.

Citizenship Applications.

Questions (156)

Tom Hayes

Question:

258 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when citizenship details will be determined for a person (details supplied). [25603/04]

View answer

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

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that a certificate of Irish citizenship for the person referred to was issued on 6 September 2004 by the citizenship section of my Department.

As the declaration was lodged originally at the Irish Embassy in The Hague, the certificate was forwarded to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin for transmission to officials at the embassy, who, if they have not already done so, will forward the certificate to the person concerned.

Visa Applications.

Questions (157, 158)

Pat Carey

Question:

259 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the visa appeal by a person (details supplied) will be expedited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25608/04]

View answer

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

I can confirm that the visa application in question was approved on appeal on 18 October 2004.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

260 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a person (details supplied) in County Louth will be granted a visa extension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25609/04]

View answer

The person in question applied for a C visit visa in December 2003 to visit her son and grandchildren who were residing in the State. The visa application was refused as the deciding officer was not satisfied that the applicant would adhere to the conditions of the visa and return to China after her visit. In January 2004 an appeal against the refusal was received which included a statement that the applicant was not seeking an extension to the visa and would accept an endorsement on the visa to that effect. The visa appeals officer considered the application in the light of this new information and the applicant was granted a C visit visa on the 29 January 2004.

The applicant entered the State on 9 April 2004 and was granted permission to remain until 8 July 2004. As an exceptional measure, permission to remain for a further three months was granted to the person concerned by her local immigration officer. In light of the fact that the visa was granted on the understanding that the applicant would not seek to stay beyond the period of time for which she had applied, the immigration division of my Department is not prepared to grant any further extension of permission to remain in this case. It is open to the person concerned to re-apply from outside the State should she wish to return. She should include in her new visa application information outlining the purpose and duration of her intended stay.

Citizenship Applications.

Questions (159)

Billy Timmins

Question:

261 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to an application for a certificate of naturalisation by a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25620/04]

View answer

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

I have been informed by officials in the citizenship section of my Department that the application for naturalisation by the person in question is now in the final stages of processing and that it will be forwarded to me for a decision in the near future. I will inform the Deputy and the person concerned as soon as I have reached a decision in this case.

Garda Deployment.

Questions (160)

Gay Mitchell

Question:

262 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 1165 of 30 September 2004, if the issues raised by the persons concerned will be comprehensively reviewed. [25686/04]

View answer

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

As the Deputy is aware, I have no role in the investigation of criminal complaints or the allocation of Garda resources. These are matters for local management within the Garda Síochána. I understand that the issues raised by the person concerned will be kept under review by the Garda authorities.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (161)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

263 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25687/04]

View answer

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

The priorities for my Department have not changed following the recent Cabinet changes and these continue to relate to the implementation of An Agreed Programme for Government and Sustaining Progress commitments for which my Department is responsible.

My Department is responsible, in a lead role, for the implementation of in excess of 80 of the 477 total commitments contained in An Agreed Programme for Government and a number of important commitments in the Sustaining Progress social partnership agreement. Significant progress has been achieved on many of these commitments to date and further progress is expected on other commitments.

Specific priorities for my Department over the next 12 months include recruitment of additional gardaí. The Government at its meeting on 12 October 2004 approved my proposals for increasing the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 in line with a key commitment in the programme for Government. These additional gardaí will be targeted at those areas of greatest need, especially areas experiencing a significant drugs problem and a large number of public order offences.

The Garda Síochána Bill 2004 contains the most comprehensive and important proposals on policing since the foundation of the State. It will also replace the Garda Síochána Complaints Board with a new fully independent Garda Ombudsman Commission. The Bill is awaiting Committee Stage in the Seanad.

Regarding penalty points and the traffic corps, the Garda Síochána is to increase its enforcement activities with the focus on high risk locations and times. Discussions are underway, in the context of an increase in Garda resources, on the establishment of a dedicated traffic corps. A new internal youth justice task force has been established in my Department with the strategic objective of examining and developing the scope for rationalising and restructuring the State's services in the important area of youth justice.

A significant number of judges will be appointed within the next month or so. These additional judges will,inter alia, help reduce delays and improve the efficiency of the handling of cases. My Department will continue to focus on modernisation and reform of the Prison Service and probation and welfare service. Talks with the Prison Officers Association with regard to the introduction of the proposed annualised hours system and elimination of overtime working have almost been finalised. A Prison Bill, providing for various reforms such as the contracting out of prisoner escort services and the video-conferencing of certain pre-trial hearings, has been drafted. Work has also advanced on the selection of a suitable site for a new Mountjoy complex.

My Department will continue to focus on the processing of applications by non-nationals to remain in the State on foot of being parents to an Irish-born child and improving the processing timescales for asylum applications. The Irish Nationality and Citizenship Bill 2004, which implements the decision of the people in last June's citizenship referendum is due to have its second reading in the Dáil next week.

My Department will continue to play an active role in advancing the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, with particular emphasis on those areas for which my Department is responsible.

The Disability Bill 2004 is a key element of the national disability strategy launched by the Taoiseach on 21 September 2004. Second and Subsequent Stages of the Bill will be taken as soon as Dáil time can be arranged.

My Department continues to support the creation of centre-based child care places through funding provided under the equal opportunities childcare programme 2000-2006. Over 20,500 of the programme target of 28,500 new places have already been created, while 20,600 existing places also benefit from the fund.

A wide range of other legislative proposals is also being progressed by my Department. These include the Criminal Justice Bill 2004; Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 1999; Criminal Law (Insanity) Bill 2002; Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Bill 2002; Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill; Immigration and Residence Bill; Intoxicating Liquor Bill 2004; Judicial Council Bill; Adoptive Leave Bill 2004 and Parental Leave Bill.

Prison Accommodation.

Questions (162)

Jack Wall

Question:

264 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the plans his Department has for the vacated Curragh Prison; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25688/04]

View answer

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

No decision has been taken in regard to the future of the Curragh Place of Detention pending the outcome of the current negotiations with the Prison Officers' Association on new working arrangements. The negotiations are nearing conclusion and I am hopeful of agreement being finalised in the near future.

Garda Strength.

Questions (163)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

265 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí assigned to each Garda station in County Kerry; if he will list those stations and the number of gardaí at each; the number of gardaí assigned to each Garda station in County Kerry as at 1 January 1997; and if he will provide this information in tabular form. [25713/04]

View answer

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

I have been informed by the Garda authorities responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength of the Kerry division as at 18 October 2004 was 264, all ranks. The personnel strength of the Kerry division as at 31 January 1997 was 231, all ranks.

I am further informed that Garda statistics regarding the personnel level in every Garda station within each Garda division only refers back to 31 January 1997. Accordingly, the strength of each Garda station within the Kerry division as at 31 January 1997 and 18 October 2004 is as set out hereunder:

Station

31/01/97

18/10/04

Abbeydorney

1

1

Annascaul

2

1

Ardfert

2

2

Ballinskelligs

1

1

Ballybunion

8

6

Ballyduff

1

3

Ballyferriter

1

1

Ballyheigue

2

2

Ballylongford

1

1

Barraduff

2

1

Beaufort

2

1

Brosna

2

1

Caherciveen

17

23

Camp

1

1

Castlegregory

2

2

Castleisland

8

10

Castlemaine

3

1

Clochan

1

1

Dingle

7

9

Farranfore

2

2

Fenit

1

1

Glenbeigh

2

2

Kenmare

6

8

Kilgarvan

1

1

Killarney

37

46

Killorglin

5

10

Knocknagoshall

1

1

Laurragh

1

1

Listowel

23

30

Lixnaw

2

1

Moyvane

1

1

Portmagee

1

1

Sneem

2

2

Tarbert

3

2

Tralee

75

84

Valentia Island

2

1

Waterville

2

2

Total

231

264

Irish Prison Service.

Questions (164)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

266 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason the Government has reneged on its promise made in 2000 to expand the successful CONNECT prisoner rehabilitation project piloted in Mountjoy Prison into all prisons by 2006 with a budget of €58 million, when a 2001 review of the pilot found that participants were ten times less likely to re-offend on release than other prisoners; the further reason most of the €58 million allocated for CONNECT was officially withdrawn; and his plans for the future roll-out of this project, including budgetary allocations for 2005 and the timescale. [25726/04]

View answer

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

The CONNECT project was launched in 2000 as a part of the Prison Service training and development programme, with funding amounting to €58 million allocated under the national development plan. There is no separate budget for this programme. The funding involved is provided annually by the Exchequer as part of the prisons Vote. Expenditure since 2000 has gone mainly to funding salary and incidental costs incurred in providing vocational training in the prisons, as well as meeting the cost of some capitals works and materials used in the manufacture of products in prison workshops for the Special Olympics in 2003.

The CONNECT projects at Mountjoy Prison, the Dóchas centre and the training unit were established with the support of the National Training and Development Institute, NTDI, and are now capable of independent operation. A process of internal review during 2002 prompted a refocusing of the project prior to its roll-out to further institutions. In particular, the review identified the need for new management structures so as to better support the project's sentence management processes in the delivering institutions. Following this internal review, roll-out of the project commenced at Limerick Prison but was subsequently put on hold against the background of the current industrial relations and attendant financial difficulties. The intention is, however, that the roll-out will resume with renewed NDTI support when there is a successful outcome to the current negotiations with the Prison Officers' Association. The CONNECT projects in Mountjoy Prison, the Dóchas centre and the training unit, which are similarly affected by the current industrial relations and financial difficulties, will also resume full operations at that point.

Garda Recruitment.

Questions (165)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

267 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if there are plans to introduce a programme or campaign of targeted recruitment of ethnic minorities to the ranks of the Garda Síochána; if not, his views on whether such a programme would be appropriate and beneficial to Ireland’s increasingly diverse and multicultural society; and if he will raise this matter with the Garda Commissioner. [25727/04]

View answer

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

Entry to the Garda Síochána is governed by the provisions of the Garda Síochána (Admissions and Appointments) Regulations 1988, as amended.

In connection with my recent announcement of the Government's intention to increase the strength of the Garda Síochána to 14,000 and as part of the preparation for the upcoming recruitment campaign, I have taken the opportunity to ask the Garda Commissioner to review the eligibility criteria for entry to the Garda Síochána. This is an opportune moment to ensure that the criteria for entry meet the needs of the Garda Síochána and the society they serve. One particular aspect which I know the commissioner has already studied is the maximum age of entry but there may be other criteria which would benefit from review. It is right, for example, that future intakes of recruits to the Garda Síochána should, as far as possible, reflect the composition of Irish society and I am anxious to see if there are any possible changes to the existing criteria which might facilitate recruitment from different ethnic backgrounds in our community.

Departmental Funding.

Questions (51, 52, 53, 54, 55)

Denis Naughten

Question:

151 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the construction work will commence on the new stadium at Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25542/04]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

158 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the efforts he is making to ensure that the soccer and rugby home international matches will not have to be played abroad; if he will facilitate a round table meeting between the FAI, the IRFU, the GAA and other interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25508/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

166 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has had discussions with a view to the provision of stadium facilities for soccer or rugby during the reconstruction of Lansdowne Road, with particular reference to the forthcoming World Cup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25514/04]

View answer

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

187 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on recent statements by Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael regarding the potential for using Croke Park by other sporting organisations in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25421/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

228 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position in regard to the provision of stadium facilities for all sports during the reconstruction of Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25819/04]

View answer

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 151, 158, 166, 187 and 228 together.

As I indicated to Deputies in my previous replies on this subject, the provision of alternative facilities for the sports which will be affected by the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road stadium is a matter for both the IRFU and the FAI. I have little doubt but that contingency plans are being developed by both associations for the staging of international and other prestigious fixtures that in the normal course would have been hosted at Lansdowne Road. These plans must take account of current realities but I very much hope that an acceptable arrangement can be evolved which would obviate the necessity for playing these fixtures outside this jurisdiction.

The Lansdowne Road stadium redevelopment project will require closure of the existing stadium for some time. The construction phase of the redevelopment is expected to take 29 months and is scheduled to commence in mid-2006 and be completed by the end of 2008. I have consistently stated that the use of Croke Park by other organisations is a matter for the GAA to consider and decide and it would be counterproductive for me to attempt to intervene in the association's decision-making process. However, I welcome the positive views expressed by the President of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael regarding this issue. In the event that the sporting organisations involved saw a role for me in facilitating dialogue on the issue, I would be happy to be of assistance.

Regarding the commencement of work on the new stadium, I read in the media some time ago that there was a problem with the removal of asbestos from the two stands at the Lansdowne Road stadium. Will that pose a difficulty in commencing work? As we all know, numerous concerns were expressed by the residents. Have they been addressed? Is it envisaged that there will be objections to planning permission when the plans are submitted? When does the Minister expect those plans to be submitted?

I envisage no delay because of the removal of asbestos from any section of the Lansdowne Road stadium. I understand that part of the stadium is constructed of old corrugated iron and that is giving rise to the difficulty mentioned by Deputy Deenihan. I am assured that everything is being done to ensure that there is no risk to the health of any person, including the workers, and that no delay will ensue.

Regarding the construction of the stadium, it was intended that this year a steering group would be in place with a project manager, and that is now the position. The next phase involves the appointment of the design team, which I expect to be made early next year. The steering group, under the chairmanship of the Secretary General of my Department, continues to meet on a regular basis to monitor progress. I expect that the developed scheme will be prepared during next year and that the planning application will be lodged at that stage. I also expect that planning permission will be secured in 2006 and that the detailed design will be prepared and a tendering process opened. I anticipate that work will commence on the stadium in or around July 2006. I expect that construction will be in progress throughout 2007 and that it should be completed by the end of 2008.

It is important that the residents be kept informed of progress at all times. I understand that they are being kept informed of developments and that they will continue to meet those involved in the project to ensure that they are aware of what is happening. Whether there will be objections is a matter of conjecture. I hope that there will be no objections. If they are made, however, they will have to be dealt with. As Deputy Deenihan is aware, people have the right to object in certain circumstances. I sincerely hope that there will not be any objections and that we can proceed with the development.

Is the Minister willing to make a statement that the holding abroad of international sporting fixtures involving Irish teams should be avoided at all costs? Are there measures that he, as Minister, is willing to put in place to ensure that such an eventuality does not occur? Is he prepared to facilitate the holding of a round table meeting between the sporting organisations in need of a venue and the major sporting organisation that has an international class stadium available during the period in question? It would be of commercial benefit to the latter organisation if it were to make its stadium available for use.

As regards the residents concerns about the development of Lansdowne Road — which most people believe necessary and would like to see happen as soon as possible — does the Minister accept that his Department might have a role in expressing some reservations during the planning process, particularly in respect of proposals to eliminate or severely restrict the Dodder River walk? As Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, he should have a say in respect of this planning application in terms of the preservation of interesting features such as the walk which plays a major role in terms of providing public access to recreational and sporting facilities.

I will deal first with the question about the Dodder River. It is intended to provide an international size rugby pitch to the rear of the East Stand which will be used by the Wanderers and Lansdowne clubs. This development will require the use of a small strip of land along the Dodder River walkway. Dublin City Council has been approached with this request and is fully aware of what is involved. There will continue to be a Dodder walkway from Lansdowne Road to Bath Avenue. The existing amenity will not be taken away and, as part of the plans, it is intended to upgrade and improve the walkway.

I stated earlier that I would be deeply disappointed if international games involving the teams fielded by the FAI or the IRFU were played outside of the jurisdiction. Aside from the expense this would involve for travelling supporters, the question of national pride arises. The latter dictates that international games should be played on home soil and I hope this will be the position. I will do whatever I can to facilitate a resolution of the problems the IRFU and FAI will face between mid-2006 and the end of 2008. As indicated earlier, however, it is not my function to interfere with the inner workings of any sporting organisation. Such organisations can make or change their own rules.

Am I correct in stating that the complex, incorporating the stadium and, to the rear thereof, the international size rugby pitch to which the Minister referred, will be completely dedicated to sport and will not involve a commercial aspect such as the building of office blocks or anything of that nature?

Deputy Wall is correct. The complex will only be used for sporting purposes.

Given that there is a deadline as regards the arrangements the FAI and the IRFU will be obliged to make to procure stadia in the UK for away matches, is there any way the Minister can intervene? While he has stated on many occasions that he respects the autonomy of the GAA to decide on issues affecting it, unless rule 42 is on the agenda for congress, nothing will happen before 2006 when the IRFU and the FAI will be obliged to arrange the use of stadia in which to hold international matches. Is the Minister in a position to appeal to the GAA to ensure that the rule will be placed on the agenda for congress in 2005?

It is a question for the GAA to decide if it is going to decide the issue at congress in 2005. The president of the GAA has given positive indications as regards his wishes. I welcome his comments but it would be counterproductive if I were to issue or extend any appeal to the GAA. I specifically announced in recent weeks that the €40 million issued to the GAA in respect of Croke Park was given free of any conditions. I reiterate that now.

Aside from the expense involved for members of the public travelling abroad for home games and the issue of national pride and the effect thereon of playing international games outside the jurisdiction, it should be remembered that a report commissioned by the IRFU found that the revenues generated in the Dublin area as a result of the Ireland-England rugby game in March 2003 were in the region of €52 million. I accept the sense behind what Deputy Deenihan is saying and I understand his point. However, perhaps he more than anyone else in the House understands that the GAA has its own rules and makes its own decisions. I am happy to allow it to proceed in that way.

The Minister may have misunderstood what I said on this matter earlier. When he held discussions with the FAI and the IRFU, did those organisations indicate that they would make proposals or suggestions to the GAA in respect of obtaining the use of Croke Park? I fully understand the positionvis-à-vis rule 42. Leaving that aside, however, have formal or informal representations been made by either organisation to the GAA regarding the possible use of Croke Park?

I am not aware of any approaches, formal or informal, by the IRFU or the FAI to the GAA in respect of Croke Park. The negotiations I held with the FAI and the IRFU related to the construction of a new stadium at Lansdowne Road. They are delighted to join with us in the construction of that stadium. I welcome that the GAA stated that it would be interested in using the new stadium at Lansdowne Road because the pitch will be of sufficient size to accommodate Gaelic games. There comes a point when every actor must bow and leave the stage, and I have just reached it.

Departmental Schemes.

Questions (167)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

269 Mr. Ó Fearghail asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of primary schools that provide a breakfast club for their students; and if her Department has considered the introduction of a universal meal system. [25586/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

Meal provision is an integral element of the school completion programme, SCP, which is my Department's main programme for tackling early school leaving. There are currently 82 SCP "clusters", encompassing 299 primary and 111 post-primary schools. The majority of these clusters operate some level of breakfast support-meal provision.

My colleague, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, administers the school meals scheme which aims to supplement the nutritional intake of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds in order to allow them to fulfil their potential within the educational system and also to reduce the risk of early school leaving. Under this scheme in 2003, school meals were provided in 729 primary and post-primary schools, encompassing approximately 76,000 pupils, at a cost of €3.3 million. Increased provision of €6 million is being made available to support the school meals scheme in 2004. Officials in my Department are co-operating with the Department of Social and Family Affairs, on an ongoing basis, with a view to further expanding the number of schools participating in the scheme, as well as ensuring that available resources are targeted at those pupils most in need.

Special Educational Needs.

Questions (168)

Seymour Crawford

Question:

270 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science when a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan can expect to have a resource teacher; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25587/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that my Department sanctioned four hours resource teaching support per week for the pupil in question. A letter to this effect issued to the school authorities on 23 September 2004.

College Closures.

Questions (169)

Joan Burton

Question:

271 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science if she intends to reconsider the proposal to close a college (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25588/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The issue of the future of the college, which is the subject of the question posed by the Deputy, arose in the context of a decision by the trustees of the college that, due to personnel and financial considerations, they were no longer in a position to fulfil the role of trustees of the college. Following discussions between the trustees and my Department, it was agreed that a consultant would be appointed who would meet relevant parties and prepare a report on the options for the college's future.

The consultant's report was thoroughly examined in my Department and the options for the future of the college were set out for my predecessor's consideration. Having carefully considered all of them and having taken into account other factors such as the national spatial strategy, relevant costs in a time of financial constraint, a Government decision to restrict public service numbers, the need to secure value for money and a better allocation of resources, my predecessor, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Deputy Noel Dempsey, decided that these considerations are best served by the closure of the college and the designation of St. Angela's College, Sligo, as the sole centre for the training of home economics teachers.

It was agreed that the closure of the college would be phased over three academic years to facilitate students currently enrolled in the college to fully complete their studies without moving location and to ensure that there was an adequate transition period for staff. On that basis there has been no intake of first year students to the college for the 2004-05 year. Instead these students are now in St. Angela's College. Officials from my Department have already met the trustees and management authorities of the college to discuss the necessary practical arrangements, including arrangements in relation to the position of the staff of the college. I have no plans to reconsider the decision to close the college.

Site Acquisitions.

Questions (170)

Joan Burton

Question:

272 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the fact that children are being bussed from Ongar and Castaheany, Clonee, Dublin 15, to Lucan; and the action she proposes to take to ensure that the reserved primary school sites in the area are fully acquired by her Department to provide primary school places to facilitate children from the many thousands of new homes occupied and under construction in the Castaheany and Ongar area of Dublin 15. [25589/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The school planning section of my Department is aware of the rate and pace of housing developments in the Castaheany-Ongar Road area and is constantly keeping the situation under review. With regard to the provision of long-term accommodation for Castaheaney Educate Together national school, my Department is actively working with the school authority in exploring all options to cater for its needs. Any decisions on capital investment for the school will be reflected in the multi-annual programme, which I intend to publish later this year.

College Closures.

Questions (49, 50)

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

150 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his plans to initiate a nationwide audit of sports facilities, as outlined in the programme for Government. [25500/04]

View answer

Joe Sherlock

Question:

171 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the national audit of local sports facilities as envisaged in the programme for Government has been completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25428/04]

View answer

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 150 and 171 together.

The Government has committed itself under An Agreed Programme for Government to complete a national audit of local sports facilities and to put in place a long-term strategic plan to ensure the development of such necessary facilities. The first step in meeting that commitment was the undertaking of the sports capital programme expenditure review. It has emerged in the process of carrying out that review, which is being finalised, that there is a clear need for the sports capital programme to operate in the context of a clearly defined strategy for the provision of sports facilities and for such a strategy to be informed by a national audit of sports facilities. The substantial investment in the provision of sports facilities in the period 1998 to 2004 has made a significant contribution towards meeting the urgent need for such facilities caused by the absence of investment in earlier years.

Given the significant overlap between my Department and other Departments and bodies engaged in sports facility provision, it is my intention to set up an inter-agency steering group to oversee the development of such a strategy. One of the first challenges facing the group will be to oversee the commencement of a national audit of sports facilities. Given the time and effort envisaged in completing such a task and the limited resources available, it may be necessary to focus initial efforts on specific sports facility types or on major sports facilities. That matter will be decided by the steering group but may be determined in part by an initial examination of the level of information already available on sports facilities and how effectively information can be obtained for certain facility types over and above others.

It could take several years to complete a comprehensive audit of all sports facilities. However, it may be possible to conduct the work in stages to ensure that some useful results are available in the short term for input into the proposed strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities due for completion within the next year. That is also supported by the potential use of such information, which leans towards being more effective in helping decision-making at regional and national level as opposed to decisions at local level. However, arrangements for the commencement of the audit are now being put in place, and I expect that the commitment outlined in the agreed programme for Government will be met within the lifetime of this Government.

I found the Minister's answer difficult to understand. The commitment in the programme for Government is quite simple, namely, that the Government would undertake an audit of sports facilities. The answer that the Minister has just given is that such an audit has not commenced, that arrangements are in place to commence it, and that, if the audit takes place, it may take several years. I query several of those claims, since an audit is quite a simple exercise that could be done quite easily and should have been done by now.

If what the Minister is saying is true, why was such a commitment given? Surely, if we are to advance the idea of participation in sport, with its benefits for the health of the citizens and children of this nation, as well as having a general policy that sports participation is a desirable public policy goal, the Government should have initiated such an audit and have completed it by now. The Minister's answer left that even more vague. He said that arrangements were in place to commence the audit. We know nothing from that type of reply about when the arrangements to commence the audit will finish, when the audit will start, or when it will be completed. Given the nature of the commitment in the programme for Government and the fact that the question has already been asked of the Minister on several occasions, will he give any firm dates for when it will happen and if it can happen?

I remind Members that supplementary questions and answers are limited to one minute.

In my reply, I indicated to Deputy Boyle that the Government intended to fulfil its commitment set out in the programme for Government, and that is my intention. As I explained, it was decided as a first step, before the commencement of the audit, that there should be an assessment of what has been achieved under the Department's sports capital programme. That was done in the context of an expenditure review of the programme which seeks to assess the benefits that investment to date has yielded and identify any difficulties or inefficiencies associated with the operation of the programme.

I admit that the review was to have been completed in 2003 to facilitate commencement of the audit that year. However, it has taken longer than expected to complete because of the scale of the programme and the time required to analyse the volume of information and data collected during the review. That may be down to the success of the programme itself, since more than 4,500 projects under the sports capital programme alone have been grant aided to the tune of almost €350 million since 1998. However, I am informed by officials in the Department that the report of the review is expected to be available soon. When I receive it, we will commence the audit.

Deputy Boyle may feel that it is a simple and uncomplicated process, but that is not the case. In a much smaller jurisdiction, that of the North, it was estimated that it would take a minimum of two years to complete an audit.

I share Deputy Boyle's concerns about the time factor. I understood that the review was already in progress. If I understood the Minister correctly, he believes that some sections of the report could be initiated. If that is the case, local authorities can give information to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism on specific areas within their remit, such as large estates with no facilities. It is an ongoing concern that many social problems result from a lack of facilities in those areas. If that is the approach to be adopted when the Minister begins this audit, the initial approach should be to the local authorities to garner every piece of information on local authority estates and private estates. That is where many of these social problems arise.

Deputy Wall has made an important point. A number of local authorities and local sports partnerships are engaged in carrying out an inventory of sports facilities in their areas. We will closely monitor the methodologies, standards and parameters used by them. It is not yet clear how comprehensive or useful these local exercises will be but I have no doubt that they will be helpful to us.

To draw up terms of reference to identify modalities and methodologies to be adopted, we intend to establish a steering group to oversee the development of a new strategic plan and the carrying out of a national audit. It is also proposed that the Irish Sports Council, the Departments of Education and Science, Health and Children and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with a local authority representative, would sit on the steering group. The possibility of the involvement of an external professional organisation to carry out the audit will also be considered. Matters are progressing. The work of the expenditure review group is well advanced. Some local authorities and local sports partnerships are carrying out work and that will probably be very useful. We will proceed to the audit at the earliest opportunity.

I remind the Minister that the County Kerry partnership group, before it was established as such, carried out an extensive audit of sports facilities in the country, particularly in schools. Such a project would be an ideal one for the network of post-primary schools and would be an ideal way of creating awareness among young people of the facilities available and the importance of having them available. There are 17 local sports partnerships and they would have the information readily available. There is no need for a full scientific overview and countrywide survey as the information is readily available without the need to employ expensive consultants.

As part of the audit, will the Minister publish a breakdown of the funding allocated on a county basis since the advent of the capital sports grant system funded by the national lottery? Does he agree that large numbers of the population, particularly in the greater Dublin area, have virtually no sports facilities? I am thinking of north-east and north-west Wicklow. They have made unsuccessful applications in recent years. Perhaps the Minister will update me on possible allocations for projects in north Wicklow.

The audit will represent a comprehensive body of work. It will enable policy-makers to map the locations of sports facilities countrywide, whether they are provided through voluntary sports organisations, funded privately or have benefited from public finances. We are not talking merely of the sports capital programme. We will probably all agree that a better fix on the location of existing sporting facilities will lead to more effective targeting of funding new facilities and more efficient use of financial resources. This would apply equally across all Departments involved in the provision of sports facilities, including the Department of Education and Science.

Since 1998, projects to the value of almost €351 million have been awarded under the sports capital programme alone. In addition to the facilities which have benefited under this programme, the audit will also seek to identify sports facilities provided by voluntary sports organisations and local authorities, as well as sports halls and facilities in schools and colleges which have benefited from grant assistance provided by the Department of Education and Science. The result of securing all this data and making it available in a user-friendly and accessible format will be a significant undertaking. Once the work begins, it cannot be expected to last less than two years because in the smaller jurisdiction of Northern Ireland it was estimated that the same task would take two years to complete.

I am committed to the completion of the audit and will try to ensure that the Government commitment as laid out in An Agreed Programme for Government is met during this Government's lifetime. The published details of funding provided under the sports capital programme on a county by county basis are available annually. The Department publishes the data and there is no great mystery to it. Regarding County Wicklow, no part of it has been ignored.

Special Educational Needs.

Questions (172)

Michael Ring

Question:

274 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has not been provided with the educational support they need; and when they will be provided with a special needs assistant following their assessment in 2003. [25601/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I can confirm that my Department received an application from the school to establish a special class for autism. Such a class may cater for the educational needs of the pupil in question. The application is currently being considered and the special education section of my Department is liaising with my Department's National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, and building unit as part of this process. My officials will be making early contact with the school concerning the child's needs.

College Closures.

Questions (173)

Trevor Sargent

Question:

275 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to address the large degree of protest regarding the imminent closure of a college (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will rescind the decision, particularly in view of the importance of life skill education and the need to address the growing problems of diet related illness such as diabetes and obesity. [25625/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I assure the Deputy that the overall net annual output of home economics teachers will not be affected by the decision to close the college in question and concentrate the future of home economics teacher training in St. Angela's College, Sligo.

The issue of the future of the college arose in the context of a decision by the trustees of the college that, due to personnel and financial considerations, they were no longer in a position to fulfil the role of trustees of the college. Following discussions between the trustees and my Department, it was agreed that a consultant would be appointed who would meet with relevant parties and prepare a report on the options for the college's future.

The consultant's report was thoroughly examined in my Department and the options for the future of the college were set out for my predecessor's consideration. Having carefully considered all of them and having taken into account other factors, such as the national spatial strategy, relevant costs in a time of financial constraint, a Government decision to restrict public service numbers, the need to secure value for money and a better allocation of resources, the former Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, decided that these considerations are best served by the closure of the college and the designation of St. Angela's College, Sligo, as the sole centre for the training of home economics teachers.

It was agreed that the closure of the college would be phased over three academic years to facilitate students currently enrolled in the college to fully complete their studies without moving location and to ensure that there was an adequate transition period for staff. On that basis there has been no intake of first year students to the college for the 2004-05 year. Instead, these students are now in St. Angela's College. Officials from my Department have already met the trustees and management authorities of the college to discuss the necessary practical arrangements, including arrangements regarding the position of the staff of the college. I have no plans to reconsider the decision to close the college.

With regard to the output of home economics teachers, I will ensure the position is kept under review to ensure there are no shortfalls of teachers, given the increasing importance of diet and related issues in schools as well as in society generally.

Special Educational Needs.

Questions (174)

Sean Fleming

Question:

276 Mr. Fleming asked the Minister for Education and Science when a special needs assistant will be appointed for a person (details supplied) in County Laois; when the review in relation to a special needs assistant and overall special education will be completed; and when her Department will be in a position to sanction this and other appointments. [25630/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I can confirm that my Department has received an application for a special needs assistant, SNA, for the pupil in question. The Deputy may be aware that my Department has established a team to review SNA support in mainstream schools generally. The team commenced its task recently. The team is assessing the levels and deployment of such support to ensure that the needs of children are being met in the context of new applications for resources for the school. I am endeavouring to ensure that the review and the notification of schools regarding outstanding applications for SNA support are completed in the earliest possible timeframe.

Psychological Service.

Questions (175)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

277 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of psychologists that will be required by the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, to cover all the first level and second level schools in County Waterford; the number of psychologists currently employed in County Waterford by the NEPS; when the remaining posts in County Waterford will be filled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25631/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The National Educational Psychological Service development plan for the south eastern region estimates that five educational psychologists will be needed in order to provide a service to all primary and post-primary schools in County Waterford. At present, three NEPS psychologists are assigned to the county. Government policy on public service numbers and budgetary provisions in 2005 and subsequent years will determine the rate of further recruitment of psychologists to NEPS and when the target staffing level for County Waterford area will be attained.

Departmental Reports.

Questions (176)

Seán Ryan

Question:

278 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of a report (details supplied); and when she proposes to implement the recommendations of the report. [25632/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The post leaving certificate review was commissioned by my Department to examine the sector and make recommendations as necessary regarding the organisational, support, development, technical and administrative structures and resources required in schools and colleges with large scale post leaving certificate, PLC, provision, having regard to good practice in related areas across the system and in other countries. The final report was completed in April 2003.

The report contains 21 over-arching recommendations, incorporating over 90 sub-recommendations. The recommendations of the report are wide-ranging and encompass proposals that extend beyond PLC provision. There are issues which impact on the shaping of structures for the delivery of further and adult education into the future and may have implications for other sectors which require consideration at an inter-departmental level. There are significant cost implications in the report's recommendations which must be measured against needs across the education system, as well as substantial industrial relations issues which will have to be processed through the normal industrial relations channels. PLC provision is only one aspect of the Department's provision in the further and adult education area.

Developments in recent years in adult literacy and community education, the introduction of part-time options in further education for priority target groups under the back to education initiative and programmes for young early school leavers, as well as the range of self-financed courses run by VECs and schools, are all part of the strategy to offer wider choices and options for further and second chance education. VEC outreach programmes in prisons and other institutions, as well as co-operative ventures with other training providers, for example, FÁS and Fáilte Ireland, are also important in the overall mix of provision.

The rapid expansion of activity in this area in recent years makes it imperative that the overall structures for the delivery of further and adult education are reviewed with a view to establishing a robust, co-ordinated and coherent system into the future. These structures should encompass all opportunities for further and adult education and training and vocational education and training within the context of overall national and EU policies relating to lifelong learning. The options for greater integration and coherence in the organisation and management of this total provision need to be fully explored. My Department acknowledges that the further education colleges will have a key role in advancing this aim and the research which informed the McIver report, together with the report's recommendations, will assist in the development of an overall framework.

Arising from my Department's discussions with management and trade union representatives with regard to the recommendations of the McIver report, each of these organisations has indicated what their priorities are in relation to the implementation of the recommendations. As the principal representative body for the management of further and adult education, the IVEA has submitted a document to my Department which outlines its view of the way forward in the prioritisation of the report's recommendations. This document places the recommendations of the McIver report in the wider context of the structures required to support the development of further and adult education into the future. My Department is currently engaged in more intensive discussions with the IVEA with regard to their proposals, and will embark on further discussions with the staff interests when the structural and financial details of the IVEA proposals have been clarified.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (177)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

279 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the priorities of her Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25689/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The priorities of my Department are informed by the programme for Government and are reflected in the statement of strategy. As the Deputy will be aware, there is a statutory requirement that a new statement of strategy be prepared within six months of a Minister assuming office. In that context, the areas of capital projects, special education needs, advancement towards a knowledge economy and response to related skills needs, together with the area of educational disadvantage, are amongst those which I believe must receive attention. I would also emphasise that expenditure decisions must be fair and balanced in dealing with the wide range of demands across the education sector.

Special Educational Needs.

Questions (178)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

280 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of applications received from primary schools in County Wexford for special needs assistants in the school year September 2003 to August 2004; the number of special needs assistants appointed to primary schools in County Wexford to date in 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25690/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The information requested by the Deputy is not readily available. My officials will make arrangements to have the available information compiled and forwarded directly to the Deputy.

Teachers’ Life Expectancy.

Questions (179)

Olwyn Enright

Question:

281 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the average life expectancy of secondary teachers retiring under the secondary teachers superannuation scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25691/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

The specific information sought by the Deputy on average life expectancy of secondary teachers retiring is not available since my Department has not undertaken such a study. The Commission on Public Service Pensions, in its final report in November 2000, considered the issue of life expectancy generally. The commission noted that no public service mortality tables were available and considered standard tables of mortality published by the Institute of Actuaries and the Faculty of Actuaries and projections on life expectancy carried out by the Central Statistics Office.

The CSO projections showed that in 1996 the life expectancy of women aged 65 was 17.3 years whereas the life expectancy of men was 13.5 years. Life expectancy generally is increasing and the corresponding life expectancy in 2006 for a 65 year old was projected to be 18.3 years for women and 14.2 years for men.

In projecting the future costs of public service pensions, the commission assumed life expectancy at age 65 of 20.3 years for women and 16.5 years for men.

Departmental Expenditure.

Questions (180)

Olwyn Enright

Question:

282 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason the per capita expenditure on second level pupils here is significantly below the OECD average; if she has plans to bring facilities, resources and staffing up to best practice in the OECD; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25692/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

Expenditure per student at second level has increased significantly over the past decade. In 2001 — the latest year for which internationally comparable data are available — the figure stood at US$5,245 compared to an OECD average of US$6,510 in the same year. However, in 1997 spending was US$3,864 per second level student in Ireland compared to a comparable figure of US$5,273 internationally, as published by the OECD. The gap has therefore narrowed from being 27% below the OECD average in 1997, when we entered Government, to 19% in 2001.

According to data provided by my Department, per pupil expenditure, in Ireland, at second level has increased by 22% from €5,172 in 2001 to €6,308 in 2003. Although no internationally comparable data are currently available for years later than 2001, the gap between expenditure here and across the OECD is likely to have narrowed further.

Historically, expenditure at first and second level in Ireland has lagged behind other countries due to larger classes. In addition, relatively less goes on spending other than teaching staff salaries. For example, 23% of total current expenditure in 2001 went on spending other than teacher salaries compared to 36% on average across the OECD.

However, increased national income and public expenditure has enabled us to reduce average class size over time as well as increase expenditure on salaries and other areas of current expenditure. In the case of the student-teacher ratio, the figure for Ireland at second level has fallen from 17.1 in 1991-92 to 14.3 in 2001-02 leaving us only slightly above the international average of 13.6 in 2001-02.

Since the financial year referred to in the OECD report of 2001, second level schools have benefited from substantial increases in funding. The standard capitation grant which is the main source of funding towards the running costs of secondary schools now stands at €274 per pupil from 1 January last. In the case of disadvantaged schools, an additional per capita grant of €38 is paid, bringing the total per capita grant to €312.

Introduced with effect from the 2000-01 school year, the per capita grant paid under the school services support initiative for secondary schools now stands at €131 per pupil from January last. This per capita grant is in addition to a range of equalisation grants of up to some €15,500 per school per annum that were also approved for voluntary secondary schools. For a secondary school with 500 pupils, this amounts to additional support services funding of some €80,000 annually.

It is my intention to improve further the financial position of schools in the light of available resources and continuing priority to the disadvantaged.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Questions (181, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186)

Olwyn Enright

Question:

283 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the average class size for classes in English in the junior cycle of second level schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25693/04]

View answer

Olwyn Enright

Question:

284 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the average class size for classes in Irish in the junior cycle of second levels schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25694/04]

View answer

Olwyn Enright

Question:

285 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the average class size for classes in mathematics in the junior cycle of second level schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25695/04]

View answer

Olwyn Enright

Question:

286 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the average class size for classes in history in the junior cycle of second level schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25696/04]

View answer

Olwyn Enright

Question:

287 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the average class size for classes in geography in the junior cycle of second level schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25697/04]

View answer

Olwyn Enright

Question:

288 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the average class size for classes in French in the junior cycle of second level schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25698/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 283 to 288, inclusive, together.

To assist the work of the expert group on the allocation of teachers to second level schools, my Department undertook a detailed analysis of class sizes at second level. In doing so, it drew on school returns and its internal databases. The analysis is replicated in the report of the expert group which was published in October 2001.

This report noted that subject provision, subject choice and class sizes are influenced by a combination of factors such as school size, time tabling decisions, teacher allocation, subject expertise and the length of the school day, in addition to decisions made at individual school level on the basis of enrolments, ability levels of the pupils and programmes offered. The report also indicated that class sizes were generally higher for junior cycle subjects.

In practice schools are accorded a considerable local discretion in the way in which they organise matters of subject choice, teacher allocation and class size.

The analysis disclosed a significant variation of class sizes between schools and between subject areas and for this reason averages have to be treated with caution. By way of example, while the average class size for English at junior cycle was 22.6, the following range of class sizes applied:

Class size

Percentage of classes

14 or less

14.1

15- 19 pupils

11.4

20- 24 pupils

25.7

25- 29 pupils

30.9

More than 30

17.9

In relation to the specific subjects referred to by the Deputy the report indicated average class size for the 1999-2000 school year was as follows:

English

22.6

Irish

23.3

Mathematics

22.6

History

24.2

Geography

24.2

French

23.8

The Deputy will be aware that further improvements have occurred in the pupil-teacher ratio in recent years. Since the report was compiled, the ratio fell from 15.1:1 in the 1999-00 school year to 13.48:1 in the 2003-2004 school year.

Higher Education Grants.

Questions (51, 52, 53, 54, 55)

Denis Naughten

Question:

151 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when the construction work will commence on the new stadium at Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25542/04]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

158 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the efforts he is making to ensure that the soccer and rugby home international matches will not have to be played abroad; if he will facilitate a round table meeting between the FAI, the IRFU, the GAA and other interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25508/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

166 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has had discussions with a view to the provision of stadium facilities for soccer or rugby during the reconstruction of Lansdowne Road, with particular reference to the forthcoming World Cup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25514/04]

View answer

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

187 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on recent statements by Uachtarán Cumann Lúthchleas Gael regarding the potential for using Croke Park by other sporting organisations in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25421/04]

View answer

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

228 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position in regard to the provision of stadium facilities for all sports during the reconstruction of Lansdowne Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25819/04]

View answer

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 151, 158, 166, 187 and 228 together.

As I indicated to Deputies in my previous replies on this subject, the provision of alternative facilities for the sports which will be affected by the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road stadium is a matter for both the IRFU and the FAI. I have little doubt but that contingency plans are being developed by both associations for the staging of international and other prestigious fixtures that in the normal course would have been hosted at Lansdowne Road. These plans must take account of current realities but I very much hope that an acceptable arrangement can be evolved which would obviate the necessity for playing these fixtures outside this jurisdiction.

The Lansdowne Road stadium redevelopment project will require closure of the existing stadium for some time. The construction phase of the redevelopment is expected to take 29 months and is scheduled to commence in mid-2006 and be completed by the end of 2008. I have consistently stated that the use of Croke Park by other organisations is a matter for the GAA to consider and decide and it would be counterproductive for me to attempt to intervene in the association's decision-making process. However, I welcome the positive views expressed by the President of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael regarding this issue. In the event that the sporting organisations involved saw a role for me in facilitating dialogue on the issue, I would be happy to be of assistance.

Regarding the commencement of work on the new stadium, I read in the media some time ago that there was a problem with the removal of asbestos from the two stands at the Lansdowne Road stadium. Will that pose a difficulty in commencing work? As we all know, numerous concerns were expressed by the residents. Have they been addressed? Is it envisaged that there will be objections to planning permission when the plans are submitted? When does the Minister expect those plans to be submitted?

I envisage no delay because of the removal of asbestos from any section of the Lansdowne Road stadium. I understand that part of the stadium is constructed of old corrugated iron and that is giving rise to the difficulty mentioned by Deputy Deenihan. I am assured that everything is being done to ensure that there is no risk to the health of any person, including the workers, and that no delay will ensue.

Regarding the construction of the stadium, it was intended that this year a steering group would be in place with a project manager, and that is now the position. The next phase involves the appointment of the design team, which I expect to be made early next year. The steering group, under the chairmanship of the Secretary General of my Department, continues to meet on a regular basis to monitor progress. I expect that the developed scheme will be prepared during next year and that the planning application will be lodged at that stage. I also expect that planning permission will be secured in 2006 and that the detailed design will be prepared and a tendering process opened. I anticipate that work will commence on the stadium in or around July 2006. I expect that construction will be in progress throughout 2007 and that it should be completed by the end of 2008.

It is important that the residents be kept informed of progress at all times. I understand that they are being kept informed of developments and that they will continue to meet those involved in the project to ensure that they are aware of what is happening. Whether there will be objections is a matter of conjecture. I hope that there will be no objections. If they are made, however, they will have to be dealt with. As Deputy Deenihan is aware, people have the right to object in certain circumstances. I sincerely hope that there will not be any objections and that we can proceed with the development.

Is the Minister willing to make a statement that the holding abroad of international sporting fixtures involving Irish teams should be avoided at all costs? Are there measures that he, as Minister, is willing to put in place to ensure that such an eventuality does not occur? Is he prepared to facilitate the holding of a round table meeting between the sporting organisations in need of a venue and the major sporting organisation that has an international class stadium available during the period in question? It would be of commercial benefit to the latter organisation if it were to make its stadium available for use.

As regards the residents concerns about the development of Lansdowne Road — which most people believe necessary and would like to see happen as soon as possible — does the Minister accept that his Department might have a role in expressing some reservations during the planning process, particularly in respect of proposals to eliminate or severely restrict the Dodder River walk? As Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, he should have a say in respect of this planning application in terms of the preservation of interesting features such as the walk which plays a major role in terms of providing public access to recreational and sporting facilities.

I will deal first with the question about the Dodder River. It is intended to provide an international size rugby pitch to the rear of the East Stand which will be used by the Wanderers and Lansdowne clubs. This development will require the use of a small strip of land along the Dodder River walkway. Dublin City Council has been approached with this request and is fully aware of what is involved. There will continue to be a Dodder walkway from Lansdowne Road to Bath Avenue. The existing amenity will not be taken away and, as part of the plans, it is intended to upgrade and improve the walkway.

I stated earlier that I would be deeply disappointed if international games involving the teams fielded by the FAI or the IRFU were played outside of the jurisdiction. Aside from the expense this would involve for travelling supporters, the question of national pride arises. The latter dictates that international games should be played on home soil and I hope this will be the position. I will do whatever I can to facilitate a resolution of the problems the IRFU and FAI will face between mid-2006 and the end of 2008. As indicated earlier, however, it is not my function to interfere with the inner workings of any sporting organisation. Such organisations can make or change their own rules.

Am I correct in stating that the complex, incorporating the stadium and, to the rear thereof, the international size rugby pitch to which the Minister referred, will be completely dedicated to sport and will not involve a commercial aspect such as the building of office blocks or anything of that nature?

Deputy Wall is correct. The complex will only be used for sporting purposes.

Given that there is a deadline as regards the arrangements the FAI and the IRFU will be obliged to make to procure stadia in the UK for away matches, is there any way the Minister can intervene? While he has stated on many occasions that he respects the autonomy of the GAA to decide on issues affecting it, unless rule 42 is on the agenda for congress, nothing will happen before 2006 when the IRFU and the FAI will be obliged to arrange the use of stadia in which to hold international matches. Is the Minister in a position to appeal to the GAA to ensure that the rule will be placed on the agenda for congress in 2005?

It is a question for the GAA to decide if it is going to decide the issue at congress in 2005. The president of the GAA has given positive indications as regards his wishes. I welcome his comments but it would be counterproductive if I were to issue or extend any appeal to the GAA. I specifically announced in recent weeks that the €40 million issued to the GAA in respect of Croke Park was given free of any conditions. I reiterate that now.

Aside from the expense involved for members of the public travelling abroad for home games and the issue of national pride and the effect thereon of playing international games outside the jurisdiction, it should be remembered that a report commissioned by the IRFU found that the revenues generated in the Dublin area as a result of the Ireland-England rugby game in March 2003 were in the region of €52 million. I accept the sense behind what Deputy Deenihan is saying and I understand his point. However, perhaps he more than anyone else in the House understands that the GAA has its own rules and makes its own decisions. I am happy to allow it to proceed in that way.

The Minister may have misunderstood what I said on this matter earlier. When he held discussions with the FAI and the IRFU, did those organisations indicate that they would make proposals or suggestions to the GAA in respect of obtaining the use of Croke Park? I fully understand the positionvis-à-vis rule 42. Leaving that aside, however, have formal or informal representations been made by either organisation to the GAA regarding the possible use of Croke Park?

I am not aware of any approaches, formal or informal, by the IRFU or the FAI to the GAA in respect of Croke Park. The negotiations I held with the FAI and the IRFU related to the construction of a new stadium at Lansdowne Road. They are delighted to join with us in the construction of that stadium. I welcome that the GAA stated that it would be interested in using the new stadium at Lansdowne Road because the pitch will be of sufficient size to accommodate Gaelic games. There comes a point when every actor must bow and leave the stage, and I have just reached it.

Special Educational Needs.

Questions (47, 48)

Simon Coveney

Question:

149 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism to outline the unresolved problems related to official grants of arms in this jurisdiction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25261/04]

View answer

Olwyn Enright

Question:

188 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he intends to fill the vacant position of Chief Herald of Ireland; his views on the fact that no grants of arms have issued since September 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25260/04]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 and 188 together.

My predecessor appointed Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue, the director of the National Library of Ireland, to act as Chief Herald and genealogical officer. The position of Chief Herald became vacant when Mr. O'Donoghue resigned last year, pending the appointment of a new director. Arrangements for filling the post are in train. Regarding the issue raised by the Deputy, I intend to grant autonomous status to the National Library of Ireland under the provisions of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, with effect from 1 January 2005 if possible. I propose to activate section 13 of the 1997 Act, which specifies that the Genealogical Office will be confirmed as an integral part of the National Library of Ireland, at the same time. The board of the National Library of Ireland, to be established under the 1997 Act, will be required to designate a member of its staff to research, grant and confirm coats of arms. That member of staff will be known as the Chief Herald of Ireland. The Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism is in consultations with the acting director to explore options for resolving the current difficulties, pending the establishment of the new board.

Will the Minister explain the delay in appointing the new Chief Herald in the National Library of Ireland, given that the previous office holder retired in September 2003? I appreciate that the Minister has proposed new arrangements, but it seems to me that somebody could have been appointed in the interim. There are concerns that section 13 of the National Cultural Institutions Act 1997, to which the Minister referred, provides an inadequate legal basis for the granting of arms by the Chief Herald. The Attorney General has expressed serious concern that the 1997 Act may not be used as to do so would cause chaos. I understand it was proposed to enact a genealogy and heraldry Bill to provide a sound legislative basis for services and facilities relating to such activities in the State. Are there any such proposals in the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism? Will the Minister consider the introduction of such legislation?

The post of director of the National Library of Ireland became vacant in September 2003 following the retirement of Mr. Brendan O'Donoghue, who did a wonderful job. We then advertised the post through the Civil Service Commission. That was at the end of January this year, but the process did not result in an appointment. In that context, the salary for the post was not an issue. Several options are currently being explored with a view to filling the post in the context of the establishment of the National Library as a separate legal entity, as is proposed from 1 January 2005, should that prove possible. I am not aware of any difficulty with section 13. I have certainly not been given any legal advice to the effect that there is anything wrong with it. However, it may well be the case that Deputy Deenihan has separate information. I do not have such information.

Given that I read in the newspapers that there might be a legal challenge if this section were used, I suggest to the Minister that he take advice on it. Does he think it a good idea that the office of the Chief Herald should be combined with the office of Director of the National Library, or should they be separate functions? Regarding the legislation, might he consider introducing a genealogy and heraldry Bill to provide a sound legislative basis for the area?

Interestingly, the proposal to establish a separate genealogical office, which I think is what Deputy Deenihan is getting at, was examined relatively recently by my predecessor who was not convinced that a separate office was necessary or desirable. The need for the genealogical office to have ready access to the library material held in the National Library and governed by its working practices and standards points strongly to the maintenance of the genealogical office as a branch of the National Library. The continuance of that link also permits the genealogical office to access the library's administrative resources, obviating the need to provide additional staff and resources were the office to be established as a separate entity.

I am not aware of any difficulties with section 13 of the legislation. Few provisions in our legislation or anywhere else in the world might not be the target of legal challenge. There are cynics who feel that, if one pays enough, one can get any legal opinion.

Weight of Schoolbags.

Questions (189)

Brian O'Shea

Question:

291 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science her proposals to meet the concerns of a person (details supplied) in County Waterford regarding the weight of a student’s schoolbag; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25714/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Education and Science)

As the Deputy is aware, a working group was set up in autumn 1997 to examine the potential problems caused by the weight of heavy school bags. The group presented its report in July 1998 in which it formulated proposals to alleviate problems associated with the weight of schoolbags. The report acknowledged that many of the solutions belong at local school level and one of the main recommendations related to the need to heighten the awareness of the potential health hazards posed by excessively heavy schoolbags.

In this regard, my Department, at primary and post-primary levels, initiated an awareness raising campaign by disseminating the report, with an accompanying circular, to all primary and post-primary schools. Furthermore, information leaflets and posters were distributed to all schools, highlighting the potential health hazard of heavy schoolbags and outlining a range of local measures that could be adopted in order to alleviate the problem. It is a matter for each school to choose those measures that would be most suited to its individual needs.

Positive action has been taken by many schools. At second level, actions taken by some schools consist of a range of measures, including the provision of lockers, the arrangement of the timetable into double class periods, active liaison with parents and the co-ordination of homework by subject teachers.

If a parent is concerned at ongoing problems with regard to the weight of his or her children's schoolbags, this should be taken up in the first instance with the management authorities of the school concerned. In exceptional cases, where issues remain unresolved and all local avenues of appeal have been exhausted, my Department may, on receipt of the written authorisation of a pupil's parents, refer a complaint to the management authority of a school. Following consideration of the school's response, the case may be referred to my Department's inspectorate for the purpose of making local inquiries. The outcome of my Department's investigations, when completed, is communicated to the parents.

Defence Forces Regulations.

Questions (190)

Billy Timmins

Question:

292 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Defence the way in which a member of the Defence Forces can be discharged on conduct grounds with respect to criminal or civil convictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25617/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Defence)

Defence Forces regulations provide for the discharge of an enlisted person as a result of conviction by the civil power and on conviction by the Special Criminal Court. The discharge may be carried out on the application of the individual's commanding officer, but where an appeal is pending no decision is taken on discharge until the appeal has been determined.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (191)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

293 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Defence the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25724/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Defence)

My priorities are set out in the White Paper on Defence and in An Agreed Programme for Government. I intend to follow through on the implementation of the White Paper on Defence and the other commitments we have made to the ongoing modernisation and reform process and to ensure that the Defence Forces are equipped to meet challenges at home and overseas.

Housing Grants.

Questions (192, 193)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

294 Mr. Ó Fearghail asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department has completed its review of the disabled persons grant scheme and the essential repairs grant scheme; if it is envisaged that these schemes will be 100% funded by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25606/04]

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Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

295 Mr. Ó Fearghail asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that there is currently a huge disparity between the levels of provision at county council level for disabled persons and essential repairs grants; if he will encourage local authorities that are making inadequate provision to meet their locally identified need; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25607/04]

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 294 and 295 together.

A review of the disabled persons grant scheme is currently being finalised in my Department. On its completion, it will be possible to determine the changes, if any, required to the regulations governing the scheme to ensure that the funding available is directed at those persons in greatest need of such assistance.

The administration of the disabled persons and essential repairs grant schemes is a matter for individual local authorities. The framework for the operation of the schemes is laid down in statutory regulations and, as far as practicable, is designed to give an appropriate degree of flexibility to local authorities with regard to their administration. It is a matter for the authorities to decide on the level of funding to be provided for the schemes in their areas from within the allocations notified to them for this purpose by the Department and to manage the operation of the schemes within these allocations.

The Department recoups to local authorities two thirds of their expenditure on the payment of individual grants and it is the responsibility of the authorities to fund their one third contribution from their own resources from amounts provided for that purpose in their annual estimates of expenditure. The provision of adequate amounts from their own estimates to meet their one third contribution is entirely a matter for the local authorities and one in which my Department has no direct function.

Capital allocations totalling €65 million for expenditure in 2004 on the disabled persons and essential repairs grants were notified to local authorities on 20 May. They were advised to notify my Department if their allocation was either inadequate or surplus to their requirements, in order to facilitate the reallocation of funds to obtain optimum effectiveness from the funding available. Additional allocations totalling some €5.9 million were made to a number of local authorities on 9 September on foot of requests for increased allocations received from the authorities involved.

While it is open to a local authority to seek a higher allocation in the event of increased demand, an increased capital allocation would not, of itself, allow increased expenditure without a corresponding revision of the authority's own provision for expenditure on the scheme.

Local Authority Housing.

Questions (194, 195)

John McGuinness

Question:

296 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if a revised estimate was submitted by Kilkenny Borough Council for the refurbishment scheme at Ossory Park, Kilkenny; the amount drawn down by the KBC to date for this scheme; the number of houses now being completed; the expected finish date for the remaining houses in the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25618/04]

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

The pilot phase of the refurbishment of Ossory Park involves work to a total of 16 houses. My Department understands that work to 13 houses has been completed to date and the contractor is scheduled to complete work on the remaining three houses by the end of 2004. The amount of Exchequer funding recouped to Kilkenny Borough Council to date is €1.003 million. In the light of experience gained from the pilot phase of refurbishment it is understood that Kilkenny Borough Council is considering revised proposals for the next phase of the scheme which may involve the demolition of some houses and their replacement with new houses. The assessment of these revised proposals is taking place in consultation with the residents in the estate and detailed plans and costings are expected from the council in due course.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

297 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his proposals to put structures in place to link the information on residential services requirements recorded on the national intellectual disability database with local authority housing waiting lists (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25633/04]

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Local authorities will be undertaking the next statutory assessment of housing needs in March 2005. My Department will issue detailed guidelines to local authorities in relation to this assessment by end 2004 and consideration will be given in this context to the recommendation referred to in the NAMHI budget 2005 submission to the Government.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Questions (196, 197)

Jack Wall

Question:

298 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of applications for the shared ownership loan submitted to Kildare County Council in each of the past three years; the number accepted and drawn down; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25709/04]

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

Activity under the shared ownership scheme for each local authority is published in my Department's housing statistics bulletins, copies of which are available in the Oireachtas Library.

Jack Wall

Question:

299 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the plans to investigate the interest rates of the shared ownership loans as operated by local authorities in view of present bank interest rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25710/04]

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The current variable interest rate to local authority borrowers is 2.95%, which represents a competitive rate of lending. A fixed interest rate is not available for shared ownership loans. The interest rate on local authority housing loans, including shared ownership mortgage loans, is determined by the Housing Finance Agency by reference to mortgage rates prevailing in the financial market. Local authority loan rates compare favourably with the equivalent rates charged by commercial lending agencies.

It is not proposed to change these current arrangements. These were revised, with effect from 1 January 2003, so that loans to repay the local authority equity in shared ownership transactions would be provided from variable interest rate loan finance instead of index linked finance.

Departmental Priorities.

Questions (198)

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

300 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the priorities of his Department following the recent Cabinet changes; the programme being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25721/04]

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

My Department's priorities are formally set out in its statement of strategy 2003-2005 which is available in the Oireachtas Library. Following my appointment as Minister, this strategy is being reviewed in the light of the objectives of the programme for Government and progress since 2003 with a view to the publication of a revised strategy early in 2005.

Water Charges.

Questions (199)

Billy Timmins

Question:

301 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position on water charges for national schools in view of the fact that many schools are struggling to raise funding from parents and friends; if this charge can be dropped from schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25740/04]

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

The national water pricing policy framework provides, in accordance with the EU water framework directive, for recovery by local authorities of the cost of providing water services from the users of these services, with the exception of households using the services for domestic purposes.

The policy framework also envisages the metering of all non-domestic users by 2006. This move to universal metering of non-domestic users, including schools, is intended to ensure that charges more fairly reflect actual usage.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Questions (200, 201)

Denis O'Donovan

Question:

302 Mr. O’Donovan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding the Inishannon regional water scheme and the extension of same to the areas of Ballinspittle, Garretstown and Kilbritton; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25802/04]

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

I refer the Deputy to the reply to Question No. 453 of 5 October 2004.

Denis O'Donovan

Question:

303 Mr. O’Donovan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position regarding the Castletownbere sewerage scheme; when grant aid will be allocated for this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25803/04]

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The Castletownbere sewerage scheme has been approved for funding in my Department's water services investment programme 2004-06 under the rural towns and villages initiative, at an estimated cost of €4.95 million. Further progress with the scheme is contingent on the outcome of ongoing discussions between Cork County Council and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to determine the most appropriate location for the wastewater treatment plant.