Written Answers.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies received from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 16 to 88, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 89 to 98, inclusive, answered orally.

Overseas Missions.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

99 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if he will propose changes to the Defence (Amendment) Act 1960 in order to allow Irish troops participate in the EU’s proposed rapid reaction battle groups; if such changes would alter the triple lock procedure by which Irish troops operate in activities abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1509/05]

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

115 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Defence if he has had recent discussions with his European Union counterparts with regard to the formation of EU battlegroups; when he considers that such battlegroups will be operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1535/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

118 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence his plans to change the legal and constitutional position to allow Irish troops to be deployed internationally without the requirement of a UN mandate. [1514/05]

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

137 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence if he will propose changes to the Defence (Amendment) Act 1960 in regard to the deployment of Irish troops abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1519/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

1272 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence the details of the command and control structure of the EU battle groups; and the persons who would command Irish troops. [1641/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

1273 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence the regions and countries that fall outside the proposed 2,500 mile deployment zone for EU battle groups and the non-EU regions and countries that are included within it. [1642/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

1275 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence the persons with whom his Department officials are liaising with regard to Irish participation in EU battle groups; the persons who are on the interdepartmental committee dealing with this issue; when it was set up; the number of meetings it has conducted; and if he will report on its recommendations. [1644/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

1282 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which he has had discussions with his EU or UN colleagues in the matter of a rapid reaction force or any similar body likely to be asked to undertake peacekeeping, peace enforcement or humanitarian assignments on a large scale; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2001/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 99, 115, 118, 137, 1272, 1273, 1275 and 1282 together.

I refer Deputies to my reply to this House on this very subject on 17 November last. The position remains as I outlined at that time.

The background to the rapid response elements concept, commonly referred to as the "battlegroups", is that at the European Council in Helsinki in 1999, member states set themselves a headline goal, that is, that "by the year 2003, co-operating together and voluntarily, they will be able to deploy rapidly and then sustain forces capable of the full range of Petersburg Tasks as set out in the Amsterdam Treaty"— that is, in short, humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and crisis management operations including peacemaking. This included,inter alia, a capability to provide “rapid response elements available and deployable at very high readiness”. The ambition of the EU, to be able to respond rapidly to emerging crises, has and continues to be a key objective of the development of the European Security and Defence Policy, ESDP.

The EU has learned from historical experiences in the Balkans and Africa and wants to be able to react faster when crises develop. This was effectively illustrated last year by the EU's first autonomous military operation, which was conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The operation, undertaken at the request of the United Nations Secretary General, and which deployed in very rapid circumstances, was successful in contributing to the stabilisation of the security environment and the improvement of humanitarian conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

During his visit to Dublin in October 2004, UN Secretary General, UNSG, Kofi Annan underlined the extent to which he believes regional organisations, such as the EU, can contribute to the UN's requirements in the crisis management area.

Deputies will also recall, in his address to the forum on Europe on 14 October, that the UNSG specifically welcomed the development of EU capabilities in the context of European Security and Defence Policy and stressed the importance of strengthened EU capacities, in particular rapid deployment capabilities, to the UN. He also highlighted Ireland's pivotal role during our Presidency of the European Union in promoting co-operation between the EU and the United Nations in crisis management and in particular the potential use of EU rapid response elements to support UN peacekeeping operations.

In this context, if we do not seek to establish how best Ireland may make a meaningful contribution to the rapid response elements initiative we would be departing from our traditional policy of full support to the UN.

As I indicated in my reply to the House on 17 November, at the Cabinet meeting of 16 November, the Government agreed that I should advise my EU counterparts of Ireland's preparedness to enter into consultations with partners with a view to potential participation in rapid response elements. A Military Capabilities Commitment Conference was held on 22 November 2004 at which member states committed up to 13 battlegroup formations, which will be available to deploy to crisis situations within a five to ten day period from 2005 onwards. The five to ten day period begins from the date of a decision by the EU Council to launch an operation. However, it is to be expected that a crisis would normally have a longer gestation period during which the UN Security Council would have sufficient opportunity to decide on a UN mandate.

In order to fully assess the implications associated with such participation, I have established an interdepartmental group, which includes representatives of my Department, the Defence Forces, the Taoiseach's Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General's office. This group met in December and has established three sub-groups to address the policy, legislative and operational issues arising. The work of these sub-groups will span some months due to the fact that the rapid response elements concept is still evolving and a complete picture of all other member states' proposed involvement is not yet available. Following completion of the necessary analysis I intend returning to Government with proposals regarding the level of any proposed participation.

One must bear in mind the Defence Forces are currently in Liberia in a UN operation, in Kosovo in a NATO led operation, in Bosnia in a EU led operation and that rapid responsive elements are but one aspect of EU capabilities to assist in crisis management.

The rapid response concept raises many issues not alone for Ireland, but also for other EU member states, such as legal issues; operational, training, deployability, rotation and timeframe issues — multinational RREs will not be operational before 2007 and some as late as 2010; and decision-making issues, in particular how to preserve the integrity of national decision-making.

Once again, I stress that the question of Ireland's participation in rapid response elements will remain subject to the usual requirements of a Government decision, Dáil approval and UN authorisation and I have no plans to change that position.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

100 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Defence his views on whether it is necessary to alter the wording of the section of the Defence Act permitting Irish involvement in an international or United Nations force, such as EUFOR, to reflect that such operations are established under the authority of the UN Security Council rather than by the Security Council; his further views on whether there is a distinction between operating in a force established by and one established under the authority of the UN Security Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1511/05]

There are two types of UN missions on which members of the Permanent Defence Forces have been deployed. The first is the traditional "UN Blue-Hat" mission, established by the Security Council of the United Nations or the UN General Assembly. UNIFIL in Lebanon and UNMIL in Liberia are examples of such missions. The second type are missions authorised to be established by the Security Council of the United Nations or the UN General Assembly. KFOR in Kosovo, EUFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina and ISAF in Afghanistan are examples of such missions, where a regional organization, such as NATO or the EU, assembles the force and deploys it under the authorisation of the UN.

The advice to me from the Attorney General is that the Defence Acts are not an impediment to the Government dispatching members of the Permanent Defence Force on either type of mission and, as such, the necessity for any change in the provisions of the Defence Acts does not arise. In accordance with the provisions of the Defence Acts, Ireland's participation in these missions has only been undertaken following UN authorization, Government approval and, where required, the approval of Dail Éireann, the so called "triple lock". There are no plans to depart from or amend these arrangements.

Hearing Impairment Claims.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

101 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Defence the number of claims for damages for deafness determined in court or settled out of court at the latest date for which figures are available; the amount paid out to date in terms of damages or legal costs; the number of such claims outstanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1508/05]

By 31 December 2004 a total of 16,731 claims had been received in my Department from current and former members of the Defence Forces in respect of loss of hearing allegedly caused during their military service. A total of 332 claims have been determined in court and 15,099 have been disposed of out of court, mainly through settlement, leaving a total of 1,300 claims outstanding at that date. A total of €277.6 million has been paid in respect of hearing loss claims, including €93.4 million in plaintiff's legal costs.

Questions Nos. 102 and 103 answered with Question No. 98.

Defence Forces Reserve.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

104 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Defence if he intends developing the Reserve Defence Forces overseas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1398/05]

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

131 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Defence the role and function of the FCA; the numbers involved; the percentage of the force who are active as opposed to nominal members; and his plans for the development of the force. [1222/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 104 and 131 together.

On 26 July 2004 my predecessor, Deputy Michael Smith, officially launched the Reserve Defence Force review implementation plan which is the start of a process that will radically change the structure and configuration of the reserve while preserving its traditional strengths. These include such things as the spirit of voluntary commitment, the maintaining of strong links with local communities and a nationwide geographical spread.

An important change recommended by the study of the reserve is that members of the FCA and Naval Service Reserve should be considered for participation in overseas peace support missions subject to suitable qualifications, personal availability and appropriate advance training. In other countries service by reservists on overseas peace support missions is quite common.

As specified in the Reserve Defence Force implementation plan, any such participation is likely to be in specialist areas such as medical, transport, engineering and communications and information services. This service will be dependent on extended pre-deployment training. General criteria governing selection for overseas service come within the scope of representation and any matters relating to overseas service by members of the reserve, which come within the scope of representation, will be raised with the representative associations at the appropriate forum. The question of the security of civilian employment, for the members of the reserve who may wish to serve overseas, will be considered as part of the ongoing implementation process.

While there are no immediate plans for participation by members of the Reserve Defence Force in overseas missions, policies to support the selection of reserve personnel for overseas duties will be developed over the lifetime of the Reserve Defence Force implementation plan.

The White Paper on Defence sets out the assigned roles for the Defence Forces. The Reserve Defence Force, as a constituent element of the Defence Forces, augments and assists the Permanent Defence Force across the full range of roles assigned by Government. The roles-functions of the Reserve Defence Force are as follows: defence against armed aggression; aid to civil power; participation in peace support operations; fishery protection; and other duties which may be assigned by Government.

The military authorities have advised that the current strength of the Reserve Defence Force is 12,652; the effective strength is 7,095 which is 56% of the force.

The Permanent Defence Force is now organised in a three-brigade structure and a Defence Forces training centre. The Reserve Defence Force will be similarly reorganised and restructured and it is envisaged that the implementation of this plan will take place over the course of the next six years.

The plan defines the organisational framework of the new Army Reserve and provides for a greater concentration of units within each Army brigade area. There will be mergers both at battalion and company level as well as between sister technical support units. This will be the key to providing enhanced training facilities and opportunities for each member of the reserve.

In producing detailed proposals for the restructuring of reserve units within each brigade area, the military authorities have taken due cognisance of the existing FCA presence within communities. Consultation and communication have been a priority throughout the development of the plan. They will continue to be important if the changes now proposed are to be carried through smoothly and effectively. Reserve units will be kept informed of developments on a regular basis.

Members of the FCA are already seeing the benefits of the reorganisation process in terms of better clothing and improved equipment and more and better quality training. As the process develops we will see additional benefits in terms of a clearer role for the reserve, a better overall organisation structure and opportunities for suitably qualified personnel to serve overseas. We will also see benefits from the closer integration of the reserve with the Army.

Departmental Estimates.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

105 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Defence the way in which the €1.2 million allocated in the Estimates for his Department towards the cost of participating in EU security and defence initiatives will be spent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1498/05]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

130 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Defence his views on an item in the Defence Estimates for 2005, that is, costs arising directly from Ireland’s participation in the EU’s European Security and Defence Policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1528/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 and 130 together.

National sovereignty and voluntarism are the fundamental underlying principles of participation in the European Security and Defence Policy, ESDP. For example, participation in any specific EU operation by member states is decided on a case-by-case basis and in accordance with respective national decision making procedures.

Defence spending in EU member states remains a sovereign issue for each member state and is usually undertaken in the context of ever increasing and competing demands for invariably limited national resources.

A new subhead V has been created within the Vote for Defence for 2005 relating to costs associated with Ireland's participation in the EU's European Security and Defence Policy, ESDP, and a sum of €1.2 million has been allocated within the Estimates. The costs involved are broken down into three separate categories. First, there are common costs relating to EU missions. A figure of some €805,000 consisting mainly of costs associated with the EU follow on operation EUFOR — Althea, in Bosnia Herzegovina, which replaced the NATO-led Stabilisation Force, SFOR, in December 2004 — is being provided in respect of common costs for 2005. Second, there are costs associated with participation in the European Defence Agency. Ireland has paid a contribution of €21,733.07 towards the agency's initial general budget for 2004. A provision of some €315,000 has been sought in respect of the agency for 2005, which includes a contribution to "once off" capital costs in respect of accommodation and facilities. Third, there are costs associated with the running of the EU Satellite Centre. The provision of €80,000 represents 50% of Ireland's contribution to the running costs of the EUSC. The balance of Ireland's contribution is funded from the Vote for Foreign Affairs.

Defence Forces Investigation.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

106 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Defence the progress made in exploring ways of bringing the alleged killer of two Irish peacekeepers in Lebanon 24 years ago to justice here; the details of the review of all the files relating to the case that has recently been launched; when this review will conclude; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1510/05]

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

135 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Defence the situation with respect to the investigation into the murders of persons (details supplied) while on service with UNIFIL; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1388/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106 and 135 together.

The case to which the Deputies refer relates to the killing of Private Thomas Barrett and Private Derek Smallhorne while serving with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, in 1980. The question of the measures open to the Irish authorities to bring the alleged perpetrator of this crime to justice is currently being examined in my Department in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Attorney General's office. As Deputies will appreciate, the process is detailed and complex, involving a review of international legal provisions including the potential application of the provisions of the Geneva Convention and of all the available evidence in the case. In this regard my Department has compiled all information available from its own files, and the files of the Defence Forces and the Department of Foreign Affairs. This information has been provided to the Attorney General, who has been requested to advise my Department as to whether there is a basis available for mounting a case against the alleged perpetrator.

The advice of the Attorney General is awaited. In the event that there is sufficient evidence available to mount a case then I assure the Deputies that this will be pursued. I will ensure that no stone is left unturned in seeking justice for Privates Barrett and Smallhorne.

Defence Forces Equipment.

John Gormley

Ceist:

107 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the signing of contracts for four Air Corps helicopters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1517/05]

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

120 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Defence the cost accruing to the State from the purchase of two light EC-135 helicopters and four AB139 models from companies (details supplied); the type of operations these craft will be involved in; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1499/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 107 and 120 together.

Following a tender competition, two contracts have been signed for the provision of new helicopters for the Air Corps, at a total cost of over €61 million.

Four utility AB139 helicopters are being acquired from the Bell Agusta Aerospace Company at a cost of €48.4 million, inclusive of VAT. The four helicopters will be built at the Agusta facility near Milan, Italy. Two AB139s will be delivered in 2006 and the other two will be delivered in 2007.

The four AB139 helicopters will be operated by the Air Corps in a general purpose military operational and training role. Primary taskings for the utility helicopter will include training and operations with special forces, security and aid to the civil power, military exercises, infantry interoperability training and limited troop transport. They will also be used to perform air ambulance, inland search and rescue, aid to the civil community and VIP transport tasks.

Two light utility EC-135 helicopters are being acquired from Eurocopter S.A.S. at a cost of €12.8 million, inclusive of VAT. The two helicopters will be built at Eurocopter's facility in Donauworth, Germany. Both EC-135s are scheduled to be delivered in the latter part of this year.

The two light utility helicopters will be operated by the Air Corps primarily in the military pilot and aircrew training role. Primary taskings for the helicopters will include pilot training, instructor training and instrument flight training.

The new helicopters will provide a very significant boost to the Army and the Air Corps. The purchase of the helicopters is another positive indication of the Government's commitment to ensure that all branches of the Defence Forces are fully equipped to carry out their roles at home and overseas.

Military Police Investigation.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

108 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Defence the details of the military police investigation into suggestions of two incidents of near mutinous behaviour on a Naval Service vessel; if these investigations involve allegations of sabotage on board the vessel; if the military investigation is concluded; the conclusions that have been reached from this investigation and if action has subsequently been taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1500/05]

The military authorities advise that as a result of a number of alleged incidents on board a Naval Service vessel in November-December 2004, two Military Police investigations were initiated. One of these investigations concluded on 20 December 2004 and a report was submitted to the Flag Officer Commanding Naval Service on 22 December 2004 for consideration. The appropriate disciplinary procedures have now been initiated by the military authorities in relation to the matter reported on by the Military Police and due process will now take its course. In the circumstances, it would be inappropriate to comment further on the matter.

The Military Police investigation into the second alleged incident is still ongoing and therefore it would be inappropriate to comment on the matter.

Emergency Planning.

John Deasy

Ceist:

109 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Defence the frequency with which the emergency planning cell meets; the members of same; if it has a budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1404/05]

The Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, which I chair, was established in October 2001. The membership of the task force includes Ministers, senior officials of Government Departments, senior officers of the Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána and officials of other key public authorities that have a lead or support role in Government emergency planning. The work of the task force continues and there have been 35 meetings to date. I intend convening the next task force meeting early in February and further meetings will be held on a regular basis as required.

The Office of Emergency Planning was established, following a Government decision in October 2001, as a joint civil and military office within my Department. The office supports the work of the task force and continues to work with Government Departments and other public authorities in order to ensure the best possible use of resources and compatibility between different planning requirements. A key area of activity is oversight of emergency planning; refine and develop the arrangements that exist; continuously improve them through review and revision; and generally provide the basis for an increased confidence in the emergency planning process.

An interdepartmental working group on emergency planning supports the work of the task force and carries out studies and oversight of emergency planning structures and processes. This working group has met on 32 occasions and continues to meet on a regular basis.

The inter-departmental working group on emergency planning encompasses all Departments with lead roles in the various Government emergency plans and those key public authorities, including the Defence Forces, which plan to support such activities. This working group, under the guidance of the Government task force, continues to meet and is chaired by the Office of Emergency Planning. It is a forum for developing strategic guidance to all those involved in emergency planning and for sharing information on emergency planning.

The lead responsibility for specific emergency planning functions remains with the relevant Government Departments as does the budgetary requirements for such responsibilities. Emergency plans are co-ordinated by the various lead Government Departments at a national level and through the local authorities, including the Fire Service, the Health Service Executive and the Garda divisions at local and regional levels.

The Defence Forces contribute significantly to the work of both the Government task force and the inter-departmental working group on emergency planning to ensure that their emergency planning and preparations are to the highest standards and are well co-ordinated with the lead Government Departments and the other key public authorities involved.

The objective of the Government is to ensure that all State bodies can react quickly and efficiently to any large-scale emergency. My expectation is that all Government Departments and key public authorities will have the correct plans and response arrangements in place so that a large-scale emergency in Ireland will be handled efficiently and effectively. We must refine arrangements to ensure co-ordination of all those responding so that, should we be unfortunate enough to experience a large-scale emergency, we will be in a position to mount a credible response.

As chairperson of the task force, my approach continues to be that such responses must be characterised by effective management of all aspects of emergency planning and by a high level of public confidence in all the response arrangements. I will continue to report regularly, on a confidential basis, to Government on emergency planning. I am pleased to report to this House that there continues to be excellent co-operation between my Department and all other Departments and public authorities in these vital areas of work.

Defence Forces Strength.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

110 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he is satisfied with the current strength of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1529/05]

The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force, comprising 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army. It is my intention to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. Recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force will continue to maintain the strength at the level set out in the White Paper as required to meet military needs.

The strength of the Permanent Defence Force, comprising the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service, as of 31 December 2004 was as follows:

Army

8,369

Air Corps

871

Naval Service

1,053

Total P.D.F.

10,293

In addition, there were 258 recent recruits undergoing training on 31 December 2004.

The Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women in the Defence Forces, including the Reserve Defence Force, and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

111 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Defence the new major military equipment which will be acquired by the Defence Forces in 2005; the estimated costs and purposes of these investments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1527/05]

The acquisition of new equipment for the Defence Forces will be a key focus for me as Minister for Defence in 2005. I am aware that significant investment has taken place in recent years and I will continue the good work in that regard.

The unprecedented level of expenditure on equipment for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service was made possible by the Government's decision that pay savings arising from the reorganisation of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper of 2000, with proceeds from thesale of surplus properties, would be reallocated for investment in modern facilities and equipment.

Investment in new equipment for the Army, Air Corps and the Naval Service is provided for under various subheads of the Defence Vote relating to defensive equipment, mechanical transport, aircraft, ships and naval stores, engineering, communications and information technology equipment, etc. The total expenditure for 2004 for equipment under those subheads was in the region of €100 million and a similar provision is available this year.

The acquisition of light tactical armoured vehicles, LTAVs, for the Defence Forces has been identified as a key priority by the military authorities for 2005. The LTAVs will complement the work of the 65 Mowag armoured personnel carriers delivered in the past few years at a cost of some €84 million. The final stage payments for the APCs in the sum of €9.6 million will be paid in 2005. Preparations are in hand for a tender competition for the acquisition of the LTAVs and I would expect that the competition will commence in the near future. The precise number of vehicles to be acquired will be confirmed at a later date. The cost of the LTAV programme will only be evident after the tender competition is held.

A contract for the acquisition of the Javelin missile system from Raytheon-Lockheed Martin in the USA at a cost of some €13 million inclusive of VAT will be fulfilled this year with the main delivery due this summer. The purpose of this acquisition is to give Defence Forces personnel an effective, anti-armour capability while on peace support operations. The system will replace the Milan system.

On the general transport side, the focus will be on the purchase of three-quarter tonne trucks, trailers for the DROPS vehicles, the purchase of a number of EOD trucks and some road ambulances for the Army Medical Corps.

There have been ongoing programmes of acquisitions of both nuclear biological chemical, NBC, equipment and night vision equipment, NVE, in recent years and these programmes will continue in 2005 to meet the ongoing requirements of the Defence Forces. This will include the purchase of a further 1,000 NBC suits this year.

The delivery of eight Pilatus training aircraft for the Air Corps at a total cost of €60 million has been completed. The final stage payment for the aircraft in the sum of €7 million will be paid this year. The focus for the Air Corps is now on the two contracts for helicopters for a total value of over €61 million, which I had the pleasure of signing recently.

Four utility AB139 helicopters are being acquired from the Bell Agusta Aerospace Company at a cost of €48.4 million, inclusive of VAT. The four helicopters will be built at the Agusta facility near Milan, Italy. Two AB139s will be delivered in 2006 and the other two will be delivered in 2007.

Two light utility EC-135 helicopters are being acquired from Eurocopter S.A.S. at a cost of €12.8 million, inclusive of VAT. The two helicopters will be built at Eurocopter's facility in Donauworth, Germany. Both EC-135s are scheduled to be delivered in the latter part of this year. The Naval Service has also benefited from the investment programme in recent years with the acquisition of two new modern ships,LE Roisin and LE Niamh, at a cost of some €25 million each.

Overseas Missions.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

112 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence if, in the context of the upcoming debate on the new European constitution, he will consider drawing up a White Paper on Ireland’s defence commitments and growing European defence role; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1496/05]

The Government's White Paper on Defence, published in February 2000, sets out a medium-term strategy for defence and covers the period up to 2010. A major objective of the strategy is to ensure that Ireland has a world-class military organisation capable of carrying out the roles assigned to them by the Government, both at home and abroad. This objective requires an ongoing modernisation process, including an investment programme to ensure that the Defence Forces are properly equipped for these roles.

Events at both a national and an international level are closely monitored by my Department on an ongoing basis. A high level civil-military planning and procurement group was established within my Department under the White Paper in order to ensure the continued efficiency, professionalism and safety of the Defence Forces.

I understand that the Department of Foreign Affairs is preparing a White Paper describing all aspects of the European Constitution, but it is not intended that this will address specific policy areas in detail.

Emergency Planning.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

113 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Defence the level of the threat posed to Ireland by international terrorists as communicated to him by Garda and Army intelligence services; his views on whether Ireland is prepared to cope with an emergency on the scale of that created by the Madrid bombings in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1503/05]

The most important defence against any terrorist attack is early detection and prevention by the security forces. The Garda Síochána has primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. The potential threats to the State arising from international terrorism are continuously monitored by them in co-operation with the Defence Forces. The advice available to me at this time is that, while the Garda authorities recognise that the terrorist threat to Europe may currently be high, in relation to Ireland it is low.

Notwithstanding this, it is important that all prudent precautions are taken and that matters are kept under continuous review. The awareness that the situation could change rapidly and with little warning has ensured that vigilance is maintained. The objective has been, in so far as possible, to confine and control threats before they translate into destructive actions.

Government Departments with lead and support roles for emergency planning, management and response continue to work to achieve the most effective outcome possible from State assets in terms of organisation, equipment and personnel.

The vision continues to be that State bodies must react quickly and effectively to any large-scale emergency. Response arrangements must continue to be characterised by effective management of all aspects of emergency planning.

The Government task force and the interdepartmental working group on emergency planning are essential to providing the necessary co-ordination across Departments and bodies under their aegis to ensure that the system acts in a co-ordinated way.

The terrorist attacks in Madrid in March 2004 further stimulated those involved in emergency planning to ensure that readiness was maintained. Any large-scale emergency presents enormous challenges to the State in which it occurs and the issues that arise take many years to resolve. Such incidents can be etched into the national consciousness, perhaps for generations.

The experience of the Spanish authorities in the immediate response and in providing supports during the recovery phase, which will continue for some considerable time into the future, have been generously made available to others.

The European Union has been an important vehicle in passing on the experiences and lessons learned by the Spanish authorities to key personnel in other European countries and we, in Ireland, have benefited considerably from this process.

Those with emergency responsibilities in Ireland know that they must prepare for many different scenarios, which may affect their own particular areas and functions. By studying the experiences of others valuable lessons can be learned that may have an application in our national, regional or local situations.

The response of the Spanish authorities continues to be studied and any further lessons learnt will be considered and incorporated into the work of the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, which I chair.

Defence Forces Equipment.

David Stanton

Ceist:

114 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Defence the number of nuclear, biological and chemical suits available to members of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1532/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

1285 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he is satisfied that adequate protection and equipment is available to the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps in the event of a gas or similar attack; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2004/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 114 and 1285 together.

The Defence Forces have available to them equipment for monitoring and protecting their members in dealing with nuclear, biological or chemical, NBC, threats identified from time to time. They hold an extensive range of modern NBC equipment that meets their current requirements. This range includes approximately 7,000 NBC suits, 1,500 of which were delivered in 2004. It is planned to purchase a further 1,000 NBC suits this year.

In addition, the Defence Forces has sufficient stock of respirators for each individual soldier. They also have 98 of the most technologically up to date chemical agent monitors and Defence Forces personnel have been trained on their operation. Other equipment on hands includes biological agent detector and screening kits, group decontamination equipment and personal decontamination equipment.

The requirement for additional NBC equipment is kept under continuous review by the Defence Forces. A programme for the purchase of NBC equipment is ongoing and whatever equipment deemed necessary is purchased expeditiously to meet the changing requirements.

Question No. 115 answered with QuestionNo. 99.

Overseas Missions.

Damien English

Ceist:

116 Mr. English asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the situation in Liberia (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1533/05]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

125 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on his visit to West Africa in December 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1524/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116 and 125 together.

The Defence Forces contingent, which was deployed for service with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, in December 2003, comprises a motorised infantry battalion of some 428 personnel. A small number of additional personnel have been also deployed at force headquarters and as military observers. Irish personnel are rotated on a six monthly basis. The 92nd Infantry Battalion commenced a six month tour of duty last month.

Ireland, together with an infantry company group from Sweden, provides the quick reaction force, QRF, to the UNMIL force commander. Despite the difficult start to this mission, with the tragic death of Sergeant Derek Mooney of the Army Ranger Wing in a road accident, the mission is proving very successful. Ireland was specifically requested by the UN to participate in a substantive manner in this mission, which is a tribute to the high regard in which the UN holds the Irish Defence Forces. I very much welcome the participation of Sweden as part of the QRF. This type of co-operation is reflective of the changing dynamics in peacekeeping. The range and diversity of arrangements now in place for peacekeeping allow us to work in tandem with like-minded nations to contribute in a very effective and meaningful manner to peace support operations throughout the world. The role of the Irish personnel is the provision of an immediate response capability, deployable in sufficient strength and with the required level of force to provide a swift and decisive military reaction to any crisis situation.

The Irish battalion in UNMIL has operated in a path-finding and reconnaissance role supporting the deployment of other UN contingents. It has also conducted long-range patrols beyond Monrovia and well into the interior of Liberia showing a UN presence, deterring lawlessness and protecting local populations. The contingent also undertakes regular daily patrols within the Monrovia area. The Irish battalion is available to the force commander to provide support and a rapid response capability in the event of a breakdown in law and order or further conflict.

During the period 13 to 15 December 2004, I was a member of the delegation accompanying President McAleese on her visit to West Africa. The delegation included the Secretary General of the Department of Defence and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces. On 13 December 2004, en route to Liberia, President McAleese paid a courtesy call on the President of Senegal, Mr. Abdoulaye Wade, at his palace in the capital, Dakar.

On 14 December 2004, I accompanied President and Dr. Martin McAleese on their visit to Liberia. The principal purpose of the visit was to meet members of the Irish contingent serving with UNMIL and to observe at first hand the work of the contingent and to convey to them, on behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland, our deep appreciation for the outstanding manner in which they continue to perform their duties on overseas service. UNMIL is a challenging assignment and the Defence Forces are to be congratulated on the expeditious manner in which they planned and undertook deployment to this mission.

On our visit we met with UN Special Representative of the Secretary General, Jacques Klein, the UNMIL force commander, the US Ambassador to Liberia, international representatives of non-governmental organisations — Concern, Trócaire, Oxfam, ICRC and UNICEF — and Mr. Gyude Bryant, Chairman of the Transitional Government of Liberia. All were full of praise for the Irish contingent which has earned universal respect and affection, particularly from those who understand the vital role they play in UNMIL.

The meeting with Chairman Bryant was very cordial and both he and President McAleese expressed their desire for stronger co-operation between both countries. Chairman Bryant recalled his recent excellent visit to Ireland last November and reiterated his enormous gratitude for the Irish UN contingent.

We later visited Camp Clara, headquarters of the Irish troops serving with the 92nd Infantry Battalion UNMIL, where we found morale among troops to be very high. There the President reviewed a guard of honour and laid a wreath at the memorial to late Sergeant Derek Mooney. This was followed by a tour of the camp after which the President addressed about 250 members of the battalion. President McAleese sent a very clear message to the Irish contingent which set out the important role which Irish peacekeepers play in Irish foreign policy. She also reinforced the message that the Irish Government and people are very committed to assisting the countries in most need, particularly in Africa, in the areas of humanitarian, democratic and socio-economic development. Deputies will be aware that the adoption of a number of local humanitarian projects is a feature of Irish peace support operations.

While in Liberia, President McAleese availed of the opportunity to visit St. Michael's Hospice, which has received funding from the Department of Defence and Development Co-Operation Ireland, DCI. St. Michael's is an AIDS hospice run by the Missionaries of Charity, the Order of Mother Theresa, and is being assisted on a personal voluntary basis by members of the Irish battalion. She was shown the new building which was funded by Ireland and the Irish UN contingent.

The visit to Liberia was extremely successful. It was a great boost for the Irish UN contingent and the reception they accorded us was spontaneous and very warm.

Question No. 117 answered with QuestionNo. 94.
Question No. 118 answered with QuestionNo. 99.

Departmental Properties.

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

119 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Defence if he plans to make any of his Department’s land available to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1406/05]

The Government decided on 1 July 2003 that Magee Barracks, Kildare, and Gormanston Camp, County Meath, would be among the State lands released for inclusion in the Sustaining Progress affordable housing initiative. In addition, the Government agreed on 16 December 2003 to the release of a further series of State lands for inclusion in the affordable housing initiative including Department of Defence sites at St. Bricins Hospital, Dublin, and at the Camp Field, Collins Barracks, Cork.

The modalities for the transfer of these sites to the relevant local authorities are under active consideration and my Department is in ongoing communication with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in this regard.

Apart from the foregoing, there are no proposals at present to make further Department of Defence lands available to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for housing.

Question No. 120 answered with QuestionNo. 107.

High Court Action.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

121 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Defence the details of the settlement reached in the High Court action arising from a dispute (details supplied); if further legal action on this issue is likely; the legal costs incurred by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1497/05]

A settlement was reached in the matter referred to by the Deputy on 19 November 2004 and a statement was read into the court record. The terms of the settlement did not provide for any compensation to be paid to the person referred to in the question. However, as part of the settlement, an order for the taxation of the applicant's costs to include reserved costs was made. The costs have yet to be agreed.

Emergency Planning.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

122 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the series of exercises being undertaken by gardaí, the Defence Forces and the Civil Defence to establish the way in which security and emergency agencies can cope with a major terror alert; the role he is taking in co-ordinating the activities of this task force; the frequency with which the task force is meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1502/05]

The Government Task Force on Emergency Planning, which I chair, was established in October 2001. The membership of the task force includes Ministers, senior officials of Government Departments, senior officers of the Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána and officials of other key public authorities that have a lead or support role in Government emergency planning.

The work of the task force continues and there have been 35 meetings to date. I intend convening the next task force meeting early in February and further meetings will be held on a regular basis as required.

The Office of Emergency Planning was established, following a Government decision in October 2001, as a joint civil and military office within my Department. The office supports the work of the task force and continues to work with Government Departments and other public authorities in order to ensure the best possible use of resources and compatibility between different planning requirements. A key area of activity is oversight of emergency planning; refining and developing the arrangements that exist; continuously improving them through review and revision; and generally providing the basis for an increased confidence in the emergency planning process.

An interdepartmental working group on emergency planning supports the work of the task force and carries out studies and oversight of emergency planning structures and processes. This working group has met on 32 occasions and continues to meet on a regular basis.

The interdepartmental working group, IDWG, on emergency planning encompasses all Departments with lead roles in the various Government emergency plans and those key public authorities, including the Defence Forces, which plan to support such activities. This working group, under the guidance of the Government task force, continues to meet and is chaired by the Office of Emergency Planning. It is a forum for developing strategic guidance to all those involved in emergency planning and for sharing information on emergency planning.

The lead responsibility for specific emergency planning functions remains with the relevant lead Government Departments and those bodies under their aegis. Emergency plans are co-ordinated and exercised by the various lead Government Departments at a national level and through the local authorities, including the Fire Service, the Health Service Executive and Garda divisions at local and regional level.

The Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and other bodies, such as Civil Defence, regularly take part in simulated exercises both within their own structures and collectively as part of their ongoing training policies.

The Garda Síochána has primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. The potential threats to the State arising from international terrorism are continuously monitored by them in co-operation with the Defence Forces. The Garda Síochána conducts exercises on a regular basis and involves lead Government Departments and other key public authorities. Exercises are conducted on a regular basis with the UK authorities and the Police Service of Northern Ireland. A comprehensive programme of exercises for 2005 is in train.

The Defence Forces can provide resources and capabilities in the event of a terrorist alert, including specialist units such as explosive ordnance disposal teams. The Defence Forces participated in two major security operations in 2004 during the EU accession meetings in Dublin and the EU-US Summit in Shannon during which these resources and capabilities were deployed in the field. The Defence Forces chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, CBRN, training for 2004 culminated in a major internal exercise in November. The Defence Forces will continue to work and co-operate with lead Government Departments and bodies under their aegis in developing operational capabilities.

Civil Defence volunteers are exercised at local level within their respective local authorities to respond within the context of the local authority element of the major emergency plan. Regional exercises in particular disciplines are held to test roles and facilitate interaction. Annual exercises are held under the aegis of the Civil Defence Board to test the broader skill levels and preparedness of the organisation to meet its responsibilities as a second line emergency service under the various emergency plans, including the national emergency plan for nuclear accidents.

The Defence Forces contribute significantly to the work of both the Government task force and the interdepartmental working group on emergency planning to ensure that their emergency planning and preparations are to the highest standards and are well co-ordinated with the lead Government Departments and the other key public authorities involved.

The objective of the Government is to ensure that all State bodies can react quickly and efficiently to any large-scale emergency. My expectation is that all Government Departments and key public authorities will have the correct plans and response arrangements in place so that a large-scale emergency in Ireland will be handled efficiently and effectively.

We must refine arrangements to ensure co-ordination of all those responding so that, should we be unfortunate enough to experience a large-scale emergency, we will be in a position to mount a credible response.

As chairperson of the task force, my approach continues to be that such responses should be characterised by effective management of all aspects of emergency planning and by a high level of public confidence in all the response arrangements. I will continue to report regularly to Government on emergency planning, on a confidential basis, and I am pleased to report to this House that there continues to be excellent co-operation between my Department and all other Departments and public authorities in these vital areas of work.

Question No. 123 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

European Council Meetings.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

124 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the meeting of EU Defence Ministers in Brussels on 21 November 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1521/05]

On 22 November 2004, the Dutch Presidency convened a meeting of EU Defence Ministers in the form of a Military Capabilities Commitment Conference, MCCC, in order to discuss various aspects of military capability development, in particular in terms of the rapid response elements-battlegroups concept. Most notably, member states gave commitments for up to 13 battle groups and niche capabilities. These commitments will allow for the delivery of the ambitions set in the rapid response elements concept for an initial operating capability in 2005 and a full operating capability in 2007. This would permit the EU to one battle group sized operation in 2005 and one in 2006. From 2007 the EU could launch two concurrent operations.

Following the MCCC, a General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, meeting was held in Defence Ministers formation. At this meeting the conclusions of the MCCC were approved and an update on the activity of the European Defence Agency, EDA, was provided by SG-HR Solana, acting as the head of the EDA. At the second meeting of the steering board of the EDA, which followed the GAERC meeting, the budget and the work programme of the EDA were both formally approved.

Question No. 125 answered with QuestionNo. 116.

Overseas Missions.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

126 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence the position regarding the training abroad of Irish troops under Ireland’s Partnership for Peace commitments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1518/05]

Ireland's participation in Partnership for Peace, PfP, to date is set out in our five individual partnership programmes, IPP, copies of which have been lodged in the Oireachtas Library.

Ireland's fifth IPP, covering the period 2005-06, was completed in consultation with the Departments of Foreign Affairs, the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. A total of 116 activities were chosen representing participation by the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces, the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Health and Children and Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. Activities consist of training courses, seminars, workshops, conferences, staff exercises and table top exercises.

Defence Forces personnel have participated in a number of staff, technical and crisis management exercises in the context of both the EU and PfP. In accordance with stated policy, the Defence Forces do not participate in multinational military field exercises.

Ireland also participates in the PfP planning and review process, known as PARP. In common with the other EU neutrals, Ireland is using the PARP process in connection with planning for humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping and crisis management collectively known as the Petersberg Tasks. The scope of our involvement in PARP is focused on enhancing interoperability and familiarity with operating procedures in a multi-national environment. Participation in PfP activities is entirely voluntary and is based on the principle of self-differentiation, that is, a State selects for itself the nature and scope of its participation.

It is Government policy to stay in the mainstream of peacekeeping. Ireland's participation in PfP enables our peacekeepers to remain abreast of developments in preparation for peacekeeping in areas such as training, humanitarian aspects of peacekeeping and interoperability and enhances the ability of our peacekeepers to work with those of other countries. It also enables us to share our own peacekeeping skills with a wide range of countries. We want to ensure that our Defence Forces have a full voice in preparations for peacekeeping missions and we do not want to see Ireland absent when matters in which we have a legitimate interest are being discussed.

Army Equitation School.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

127 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on progress in the investigation he has initiated into practices at the Army Equitation School in McKee Barracks, Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1525/05]

An investigation was carried out into the operation of the Army Equitation School in McKee Barracks, Dublin, following on from unattributed rumours which suggested that certain unacceptable practices were happening in the equitation school. The Chief of Staff advised me that there were no grounds for believing that anything untoward was actually happening in the equitation school. However, as a proactive measure, he felt it prudent to move quickly to safeguard the school's good name and reputation.

The investigation into the operation of the Army Equitation School was carried out by the Military Police in conjunction with two independent veterinary surgeons from UCD Veterinary College. The investigation was carried out both at the equitation school in McKee Barracks, where there are almost 40 horses stabled, and at the equitation detachment at the Curragh Camp in County Kildare, where up to 12 non-competition horses are kept. The investigation included an examination of animal husbandry and interviews with all relevant personnel including grooms and riding officers.

I am pleased to announce that there were no findings that would suggest any mistreatment or abuse of the animals whatsoever. The report found that the general facilities, the care and training given to the horses and the veterinary standards were all excellent and that the school was being run to a high standard.

Ministerial Travel.

David Stanton

Ceist:

128 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Defence his travel plans for 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1531/05]

At present the only definite plans for travel in my capacity as Minister for Defence are to visit a number of barracks throughout the State over the coming months and to attend the informal meeting of Ministers of Defence of the European Union in Luxembourg on 18 and 19 March 2005. I also intend to visit our troops who are serving abroad but these plans are not yet finalised.

Question No. 129 answered with QuestionNo. 97.
Question No. 130 answered with QuestionNo. 105.
Question No. 131 answered with QuestionNo. 104.

Decentralisation Programme.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

132 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Defence the position with regard to decentralisation plans for his Department; if further staff have agreed to relocate as part of this plan; the number of staff who have agreed to relocate; when the Civil Defence branch of his Department will be moved to Roscrea; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1512/05]

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

138 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Defence the progress made in decentralisation of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1526/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 132 and 138 together.

The Government decision on decentralisation provides for the transfer of my Department's Dublin based Civil Service staff to Newbridge, County Kildare. The number of staff to be relocated to Newbridge is 200. The Government decision also provides for the transfer of 300 Defence Forces headquarters staff to the Curragh, County Kildare.

A total of 385 civil servants, of whom 78 are currently serving in the Department, have declared an interest in relocating to Newbridge. The Office of Public Works is in discussions regarding the possible acquisition of a site in Newbridge for the Department's new headquarters. A site for the Defence Forces' headquarters at the Curragh has been selected and preliminary planning in connection with the design of the building has commenced.

Part of the staff of the Civil Defence Board has already moved to temporary accommodation in Roscrea. The Office of Public Works, which has responsibility for the provision of official accommodation for Government Departments, will shortly issue tenders for the fit-out of a leased building in Roscrea which will be the permanent headquarters of the Civil Defence Board. It is expected that this building will be available for occupation later this year.

Shannon Airport Landings.

John Gormley

Ceist:

133 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Defence if he has investigated allegations reported in publications (details supplied) that a Gulfstream V turbojet (details supplied) has been transporting tortured and kidnapped Muslims through Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1516/05]

Responsibility for the approval of overflights and landings by foreign military aircraft lies with my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In relation to civil aircraft and civil airports, the responsibility lies with my colleague, the Minister for Transport. I have no role in relation to the investigation of any allegations regarding any activity at Shannon Airport. I have made my concerns and views known regarding the alleged transport of prisoners and terrorist suspects through Shannon Airport. However, I am led to understand that there is no substance to the allegations.

Official Engagements.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

134 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Defence when he last met with PDFORRA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1402/05]

My first public engagement after being appointed Minister for Defence was to attend PDFORRA's annual delegate conference in Letterkenny last October. I had the privilege of addressing the delegates and meeting briefly with officials of the association.

PDFORRA is the voice of enlisted personnel of the Permanent Defence Force and it plays an integral and valuable part within the representative process. I look forward to developing a positive and productive working relationship with the association.

PDFORRA has recently been in contact with my office requesting a formal meeting and it is hoped that a mutually agreeable date will be arrived at in the near future.

Question No. 135 answered with QuestionNo. 106.
Question No. 136 answered with QuestionNo. 94.
Question No. 137 answered with QuestionNo. 99.
Question No. 138 answered with QuestionNo. 132.

Security Threats.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

139 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Defence if Army intelligence is maintaining surveillance on between 50 and 60 persons here suspected of having links with international terrorists; if there is a hard core of a dozen persons in the greater Dublin area who have to be kept under regular watch; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1504/05]

Both the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces perform complementary roles in relation to the protection of the security of the State. There is ongoing and close liaison between the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces regarding internal security matters including in the intelligence field. Both agencies gather and share information and assessments in relation to perceived and-or emerging security threats. In addition, mutual assistance and co-operation is maintained between the Irish security services and those of other like-minded countries to ensure effective flow of relevant intelligence.

The Garda Síochána has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. In the intelligence field, the Defence Forces act in a complementary role, primarily in relation to the gathering and analysis of intelligence on paramilitary activities, while also providing intelligence on external threats, in particular, threat assessments in respect of locations where the Defence Forces are deployed on overseas peace support missions.

The director of intelligence provides briefings to me, the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, on such threats. In addition, the Chief of Staff, who is a member of the National Security Committee, apprises that committee on the nature of such threats. Obviously, of their nature, the content of those briefings must be kept confidential. As such, I am not at liberty, nor would it be appropriate for me, to indicate the nature and extent of any activities which the Defence Forces may undertake in this regard or to disclose information received by me on such issues.

Military Police Investigation.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

140 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Defence if the investigation into allegations made by a soldier who claimed he was locked in a locker and made to eat food off a floor during training at an Army barracks is complete; if so, the conclusions of the investigation; if it is still under way, when the investigation will be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1506/05]

The Military Police investigation in relation to this matter is still in progress. The scale and scope of the investigation is very broad due to the numbers of personnel to be interviewed and the seriousness of the allegations in this case. Fair procedures and due process must be fully observed. Every effort is being made to ensure that the investigations will be finalised as soon as possible.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

141 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach if, as part of his discussion with the DUP in the recent negotiations to secure that it abide by the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, the issue of loyalist paramilitary arsenals (details supplied) being put beyond use was part of that discussion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34111/04]

The issue of the decommissioning of weapons and explosive materials held by all paramilitary organisations has been the subject of discussions with all of the political parties, including the DUP and Sinn Féin, in the talks process.

International Trade.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

142 Mr. Durkan asked the Taoiseach the trading partners with whom Ireland has achieved the best record in terms of exports in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33993/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

143 Mr. Durkan asked the Taoiseach the countries from which Ireland has imported most in the past 12 months and the countries which have shown the growth in this area in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33994/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 143 together.

Tables 1, exports, and 3, imports, respectively, compare Ireland's main trading partners for the nine month period January to September 2004 with the corresponding period for 2003 — September 2004 is the latest month for which data are available.

Tables 2, exports, and 4, imports, similarly compare the full year 2003 to 2002. In all tables the top 30 trading partners have been identified together with the respective period percentage changes.

Export trading partners — Table 1.

Country of destination

Jan-Sep 2003

Jan-Sep 2004

Period % change

€(000)

€(000)

United States

12,744,065

12,560,750

-1.4

Great Britain

9,920,176

9,889,607

-0.3

Belgium

7,674,530

9,529,492

24.2

Germany

5,006,335

4,688,359

-6.4

France

3,669,316

3,667,884

-0.0

Italy

2,547,035

2,807,165

10.2

Netherlands

2,986,770

2,733,806

-8.5

Switzerland

1,893,528

2,144,837

13.3

Spain

1,745,406

1,752,342

0.4

Japan

1,528,104

1,734,704

13.5

Northern Ireland

1,066,228

1,088,778

2.1

Sweden

740,691

697,598

-5.8

Hong Kong

504,825

656,483

30.0

Singapore

541,276

635,301

17.4

Australia

480,964

538,573

12.0

China

410,226

455,896

11.1

South Korea

389,801

442,136

13.4

Norway

410,558

356,985

-13.0

Denmark

358,122

351,773

-1.8

Malaysia

424,522

328,523

-22.6

Mexico

441,018

313,634

-28.9

Portugal

218,282

249,538

14.3

Austria

236,123

248,059

5.1

Canada

306,714

247,343

-19.4

Taiwan

220,060

245,528

11.6

Greece

235,796

243,563

3.3

Turkey

245,541

223,173

-9.1

Finland

206,423

217,496

5.4

Saudi Arabia

220,122

197,263

-10.4

Export trading partners — Table 2.

Country of destination

Year 2002

Year 2003

Year on year % Change

€(000)

€(000)

United States

16,509,438

16,939,245

2.6

Great Britain

20,853,065

13,427,189

-35.6

Belgium

13,547,073

10,334,321

-23.7

Germany

6,729,140

6,803,989

1.1

France

4,685,440

5,013,505

7.0

Netherlands

3,493,468

4,181,352

19.7

Italy

3,597,067

3,749,807

4.2

Switzerland

3,103,770

2,603,265

-16.1

Spain

2,239,681

2,353,668

5.1

Japan

2,630,798

2,109,434

-19.8

Northern Ireland

1,610,716

1,409,013

-12.5

Sweden

1,202,085

1,159,286

-3.6

Singapore

739,310

734,246

-0.7

Hong Kong

534,074

688,304

28.9

Australia

636,070

647,646

1.8

China

538,662

584,978

8.6

Malaysia

765,941

578,068

-24.5

Norway

517,204

530,137

2.5

Mexico

456,560

518,544

13.6

South Korea

640,367

509,585

-20.4

Denmark

545,302

501,851

-8.0

Canada

510,896

469,287

-8.1

Austria

334,916

329,057

-1.7

Greece

329,898

312,165

-5.4

Portugal

362,144

309,744

-14.5

Turkey

327,777

303,848

-7.3

Finland

302,982

292,846

-3.3

Taiwan

345,974

285,561

-17.5

Saudi Arabia

365,110

273,558

-25.1

Philippines

342,688

208,010

-39.3

Import trading partners — Table 3.

Country of origin

Jan-Sep 2003

Jan-Sep 2004

Period % change

€(000)

€(000)

Great Britain

9,908,961

10,259,825

3.5

United States

5,339,722

5,178,843

-3.0

Germany

2,555,892

2,765,848

8.2

China

1,534,019

2,037,768

32.8

France

1,368,854

1,650,515

20.6

Japan

1,732,338

1,575,995

-9.0

Netherlands

1,257,554

1,376,856

9.5

Northern Ireland

766,312

816,107

6.5

Italy

809,144

798,315

-1.3

South Korea

541,090

694,387

28.3

Taiwan

567,269

684,466

20.7

Singapore

745,194

676,596

-9.2

Belgium

574,873

668,763

16.3

Norway

561,870

666,505

18.6

Denmark

598,629

524,928

-12.3

Spain

437,368

469,154

7.3

Switzerland

373,176

422,066

13.1

Sweden

323,313

393,422

21.7

Hong Kong

280,799

318,670

13.5

Malaysia

347,370

313,678

-9.7

Thailand

232,702

265,544

14.1

Turkey

214,175

233,033

8.8

Canada

335,748

204,897

-39.0

Brazil

167,870

186,133

10.9

Finland

201,022

174,124

-13.4

Hungary

79,497

159,991

101.3

Portugal

128,565

140,840

9.5

South Africa

116,287

124,676

7.2

Mexico

173,564

114,474

-34.0

India

104,040

109,007

4.8

Import trading partners — Table 4

Country of origin

Year 2002

Year 2003

Year on year % Change

€(000)

€(000)

Great Britain

19,083,893

13,659,298

-28.4

United States

8,517,747

7,416,172

-12.9

Germany

3,564,277

3,493,771

-2.0

Japan

1,840,254

2,296,562

24.8

China

1,495,131

2,215,503

48.2

France

2,265,235

1,912,216

-15.6

Netherlands

1,858,790

1,678,649

-9.7

Italy

1,098,554

1,070,404

-2.6

Northern Ireland

1,036,313

1,042,511

0.6

Singapore

1,005,572

1,039,057

3.3

Denmark

694,096

816,038

17.6

Taiwan

999,128

787,897

-21.1

Belgium

788,365

750,522

-4.8

Norway

721,803

749,116

3.8

South Korea

889,531

733,411

-17.6

Spain

676,895

665,260

-1.7

Switzerland

616,648

487,462

-20.9

Malaysia

675,442

468,801

-30.6

Canada

423,825

452,442

6.8

Sweden

421,363

447,657

6.2

Hong Kong

498,309

382,250

-23.3

Thailand

283,091

334,944

18.3

Finland

728,582

263,710

-63.8

Turkey

226,532

262,225

15.8

Brazil

159,348

221,474

39.0

Mexico

249,637

209,284

-16.2

Philippines

353,279

181,851

-48.5

Portugal

170,286

179,304

5.3

Hungary

182,279

163,456

-10.3

Austria

206,445

163,058

-21.0

Northern Ireland Issues.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

144 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the Northern talks and further plans for 2005. [34578/04]

The Chief Constable Hugh Orde's comments on 7 January regarding the Northern Bank robbery are a matter of deep concern. While recognising that the investigation is ongoing and arrests have yet to be made, irrespective of the final outcome of the investigation, the attribution of the Northern Bank robbery to the Provisional IRA represents a serious set-back for the political process in Northern Ireland and is corrosive of the public confidence that we have been seeking to create.

It underscores the need for compelling commitments, both in word and deed, that the full spectrum of IRA paramilitary activities and capability has been brought to a definitive closure. This must include the necessary assurance in regard to all forms of criminal activity which, following the Northern Bank robbery, clearly remains a major concern.

The proposals for a comprehensive agreement published by both Governments on 8 December provided for these essential commitments, both in regard to the transparency of arms decommissioning and the ending of all forms of paramilitary and criminal activity. Recent developments have validated the need for such demonstrable commitments if the public confidence necessary to sustain inclusive government is to be achieved.

At political level, the robbery and its aftermath will reinforce the determination of both Governments to complete the unfinished business arising from the comprehensive agreement. If stable politics in Northern Ireland is to be secured, there can be no doubt or ambiguity about the total commitment of all concerned to exclusively peaceful and democratic engagement, including desisting from involvement in criminality in all its forms.

On his return from the Far East, the Minister for Foreign Affairs met with Secretary of State Murphy to review matters and I met with a Sinn Féin delegation led by Gerry Adams, an SDLP delegation led by Mark Durkan and a UUP delegation led by David Trimble yesterday. I will meet with David Forde and an Alliance Party delegation tomorrow. Prime Minister Blair and I will meet next week.

Official Travel.

John Gormley

Ceist:

145 Mr. Gormley asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent trade delegation visit to China; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1489/05]

From 17 to 23 January, I made an official visit to China and Hong Kong. The purpose of the visit was to further enhance Ireland's strong economic and trade links with China. I was accompanied on the trip by my colleagues, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. On this visit, I led the biggest trade delegation ever to leave Ireland. It comprised more than 200 people representing over 120 companies in a wide variety of business and academic sectors. This element of the visit was co-ordinated by Enterprise Ireland. The visit allowed for meetings between the Ministers accompanying me and their Chinese counterparts in bilateral sessions and at round table meetings.

China is the world's fifth largest economy and it is essential that Ireland makes its presence firmly felt there. The visit was designed to drive forward our economic, trade, agriculture, education and tourism interests through dedicated commercial and trade events and signings with Chinese partners. I am pleased that contracts worth hundreds of millions of euro were signed in the course of the visit. The importance of the Chinese economy to Ireland is reflected in the Government's Asia strategy, a new phase of which is currently being prepared.

I renewed a number of important political connections during the visit. I met with President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jaibao and the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. My discussions with all three focused on bilateral and trade relations, EU-China relations and political issues, including human rights. I also had a short bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Canada, Paul Martin. We discussed bilateral relations, the Northern Ireland peace process and UN reform. My visit afforded political outreach and awareness-raising through keynote speeches at the prestigious Tsinghua and Fudan universities.

The importance of tourism, including cultural tourism, was addressed throughout the visit. Irish musicians, including Dervish, and dancers accompanied the delegation for this purpose and were well received. The Hong Kong leg of my journey coincided with a visit by the GAA Allstars. I took the opportunity to watch them play and to meet the teams afterwards.

Freedom of Information.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

146 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the State, semi-State, State-sponsored and statutory bodies under the aegis of his Department which are not subject to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1997; the reason a body is not subject to the requirements of the Act; and if he envisages proposals to bring any such body within the scope of the Act in the foreseeable future. [1704/05]

The only State, semi-State, State-sponsored or statutory body under the aegis of my Department that is not subject to the Freedom of Information, FOI, Acts is the Law Reform Commission.

Proposals for extending FOI are being developed at present in the Department of Finance in the context of plans to extend FOI to other appropriate bodies by the end of 2005. The question of extending FOI to the aforementioned body is being considered in this context.

Ministerial Appointments.

John Gormley

Ceist:

147 Mr. Gormley asked the Taoiseach the public appointments made in his Department since the Cabinet reshuffle in September, 2004. [2089/05]

My Department has not made any public appointments since the Cabinet reshuffle on 29 September 2004.

In relation to the bodies under the aegis of my Department, Patricia T. Rickard-Clarke and Marian Shanley were re-appointed to the Law Reform Commission in September and November 2004, respectively, and Dr. Seán Barrett, economist, Trinity College, was appointed to the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, in January 2005. There have been no other appointments made by me since that date.

Adoption Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

148 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the practical measures which have been identified as being necessary to tackle the waiting lists for inter-country adoptions, in view of the appalling delays for assessment of those who want to adopt children. [2198/05]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

168 Ms Lynch asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the waiting time in each health board area for the assessment of couples for suitability to adopt overseas children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34191/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

231 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the number of persons in the country who are awaiting assessment for adoption; the approximate number involved; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that it can take more than three years for assessments to take place; and the practical measures being taken to tackle these waiting lists. [1202/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 148, 168 and 231 together.

Applications for inter-country adoption are processed by the Health Service Executive under the Adoption Acts 1952 to 1998.

The length of time it takes to complete the necessary assessment and the allocation of resources within the Health Service Executive is a matter for the management of HSE. However, I have asked the Adoption Board to identify practical measures to tackle the waiting lists of inter-country assessments and itis examining this currently.

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

149 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will facilitate an immediate assessment of needs in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare with a view to determining the best way in which to offer assistance. [2207/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

225 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason extra home support has not been restored in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1190/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 and 225 together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services to persons with intellectual disability and those with autism in the Celbridge area lies, in the first instance, with the Health Service Executive. My Department has asked the chief officer of the Health Service Executive, eastern region, to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

Smoking Ban.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

150 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the smoking ban in public houses is in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34114/04]

The prohibition on smoking in enclosed places of work introduced on 29 March 2004 in section 47 of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2002 as inserted by section 16 of the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Act 2004 is a public health and safety measure enacted for the purposes of reducing the risk to and protecting the health of persons in places of work. Passive smoking and environmental tobacco smoke has long been recognised as a significant public health issue. The facts on smoking and the damage caused by second-hand smoke are well established. Being able to work and socialise in public houses and other places of work in a clean and healthy environment has health benefits for all. Article 8(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights recognises a right to respect of a person's private and family life, home and correspondence. A person's dwelling is specifically exempt under section 47(7)(a) of the 2002 Act as amended. Therefore, there is no breach of Article 8 by the application of the work place smoking ban to licensed premises in so far as they are places of work.

Nursing Qualifications.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

151 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that due to regulations under the care and welfare regulations 1993, a nurse cannot be recognised as a nurse in charge in a nursing home unless they have three years’ experience in a nursing home; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that there are many persons who have major nursing qualifications who would be immediately suitable for this position but are debarred due to this regulation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34115/04]

The Nursing Home (Care and Welfare) Regulations 1993 set down the requirements for staffing within a registered nursing home. Article 10.2 states: "Subject to article 10.3, the post of person in charge shall be full-time and the person in charge shall be a nurse with a minimum of three years appropriate post registration experience within the previous 6 years." The experience of the person in charge is examined by the director of nursing involved with the inspection teams for nursing homes.

These regulations allows for nurses from different disciplines to qualify for such a position provided that their experience is relevant, for example, a public health nurse could qualify on the basis that many of her day to day patients were elderly. However, ideally such experience should include care for older people, in any setting, or care of people with Alzheimer's disease.

When these regulations were drafted many stakeholders were consulted, including An Bórd Altranais, and the wording reflects the combined views of these stakeholders. It is the opinion of my Department that this wording is sufficiently broad and at the same time focused on its essential purpose of ensuring that the persons in charge in nursing homes will be suitably qualified to discharge the responsibilities entrusted to them.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

152 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she will implement the National Disability Authority recommendations for establishing national standards in services for persons with disabilities. [34116/04]

A key policy aim of the Health Strategy, Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You, is to deliver high quality services that are based on evidence-supported best practice. Essential elements for the execution of this aim are currently being developed under the health reform programme. A critical constituent in this process is the establishment of the Health Information Quality Authority, HIQA. I have recently appointed the chairman of HIQA and plans are well advanced to put in place an interim HIQA whose role will be to plan for the orderly establishment of the HIQA on a statutory basis.

Responsibility for the development and implementation of the national standards for disability services will rest with HIQA upon its appointment.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

153 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the percentage of budget 2005 disability allocations which will pay for services for persons with disabilities; and the percentage which will go towards the assessment and appeals bureaucracy proposed under the Disability Bill 2004. [34117/04]

The additional revenue funding of €70 million and €60 million capital funding provided in 2005 for services for people with physical, sensory, intellectual disabilities, autism and mental illness is being used to put in place a broad range of new and enhanced services around the country. These include, among others, new residential, respite, day and home support services, together with enhanced access to child and adolescent mental health treatment services.

As outlined by the Taoiseach at the launch of the national disability strategy last September, the Government is committed to building on and accelerating the measures which it has taken in recent years to strengthen the capacity of the health services to respond to the identified needs in support services for people with disabilities and to implement the provisions of the proposed Disability Bill 2004 and other relevant legislative measures.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

154 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the way in which the additional finance in budget 2005 will be used to reduce the number of service users — currently 299 — on the priority residential waiting list at a centre (details supplied) in Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34118/04]

The additional revenue funding of €70 million and €60 million capital funding provided in 2005 for services for people with physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities, autism and mental illness is being used to put in place a broad range of new and enhanced services around the country. These include, among others, new residential, respite, day and home support services, together with enhanced access to child and adolescent mental health treatment services.

As the Deputy may be aware, since 1 January 2005 the Health Service Executive is the statutory provider of health and personal social services to persons with an intellectual disability and those with autism. The disbursement of the additional funding will be carried out by the executive.

Medical Cards.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

155 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a medical card will be issued to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [34120/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

156 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Carlow has been waiting two years from the date of the visit to their general practitioner to be examined to determine the cause of a disorder in their hands, arms, neck and back; the further reason this person has been waiting so long to be examined at Cork University Hospital; if this person’s examination can be fast tracked; if they can be considered under the treatment purchase fund; if a resolution will be expedited in this case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34121/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

As the person referred to by the Deputy resides in County Carlow, my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

157 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason she denied a request from the violence against women sector for a €7 million increase in funding earmarked for frontline services which would increase the budget allocation to €19 million in order to redress severe under-resourcing of these services in relation to demand; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34125/04]

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

253 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if urgent assistance will be given to a group (details supplied) in Dublin 3 in its efforts for funding; and if she will work closely with the Department of Social and Family Affairs on this issue. [1310/05]

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

258 Mr. McCormack asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make the necessary funds available to the Western Health Board to grant aid the Galway rape crisis centre to meet its running costs (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1331/05]

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

259 Mr. Ferris asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will commit funding to the Kerry rape and sexual abuse centre in order that it can sustain its current level of services and also develop its services in the future. [1332/05]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

269 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason agencies which are funded by her Department and involved in issues related to violence against women (details supplied) have suffered a reduction in real terms in their funding for 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1609/05]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

287 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will increase financial aid to the rape crisis services in the south west, particularly Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1629/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

298 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to increase and ring-fence funding for frontline women’s services by €7 million for 2005; and if the Government will establish funding security for the sector through multi-annual planning, as demanded by the non-governmental organisation Coalition on Violence Against Women. [1667/05]

John Perry

Ceist:

300 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that, due to a lack of coherent national level governmental commitments to services, a centre (details supplied) is experiencing difficulties in providing adequate services to victims of assaults in Sligo and Leitrim; if funding will be ring-fenced for delivery of services to enable it to plan service provision strategically for the future; if her Department is committed to a national funding framework for VAW; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1838/05]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

307 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the role of her Department in the funding of rape crisis and sexual assault centres around the country; the funding which is provided by her Department to these services; and if she will make a statement on the matter [1893/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 157, 253, 258, 259, 269, 287, 298, 300 and 307 together.

The national steering committee on violence against women was established following the report of the task force on violence against women, 1997. Its purpose is to provide a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency and cohesive response to the problem of violence against women and it is chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Fahey.

My Department does not directly fund or co-ordinate health and personal social services to victims of abuse. Moneys are made available each year, formerly through the health boards, and now through the Health Service Executive, for the provision of services to women victims of violence. In recent years there has been a substantial increase in funding so that now over €12 million is provided annually for the provision of such services. It is now a matter for the Health Service Executive to resource the provision of these services.

Medical Cards.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

158 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a decision on an appeal for a medical card will be made for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34167/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

159 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a decision on an appeal for a medical card will be made for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [34168/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

160 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a decision on an appeal for a medical card will be made for a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34169/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

161 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the financial hardship being caused to the family of a person (details supplied), this person’s health board subvention will be increased under section 22.4 of the Nursing Homes (Subvention) Amendment Act 1996. [34170/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of health services in Bray rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Damien English

Ceist:

162 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Meath will receive an appointment to see a consultant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34173/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer of the Health Service Executive's north eastern area to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Practitioners.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

163 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will respond to the petition put before her for the registration of an orthopaedic surgeon (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34174/04]

The responsibility for the registration and regulation of the activities of medical practitioners lies with the Medical Council under the Medical Practitioners Act 1978.

I have responded to previous correspondence with the party mentioned and have advised him that without the written approval of the doctor concerned I cannot discuss the matter with any third party. This approval has not yet been received in my Department. Furthermore, officials from my Department have also corresponded directly many times with the doctor concerned in this matter.

Health Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

164 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the location at which a person (details supplied) will receive speech therapy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34175/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services to people with an intellectual disability and those with autism in the Dublin area lies, in the first instance, with the Health Service Executive. My Department has asked the chief officer of the Health Service Executive, eastern region, to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to her.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

165 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a speech therapist will be appointed to a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 9; if she will report on the provision for children who must have speech therapy at an early stage as a priority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34176/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services to people with an intellectual disability and those with autism in the Dublin area lies, in the first instance, with the Health Service Executive. My Department has asked the chief officer of the Health Service Executive, eastern region, to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to her.

Registry Offices.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

166 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans for improving the state of the registry office in Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34177/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of accommodation for registry offices for civil marriages rests with the executive. My Department has asked the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

167 Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the category of persons in possession of medical cards and that are in a public or private nursing home who will be refunded for the care they receive. [34178/04]

The Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2004, which was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas on 17 December 2004, as well as providing a statutory basis for the imposition of charges on persons to whom long stay in-patient services are provided, irrespective of whether they are otherwise fully eligible for those services, also provides that a relevant charge levied under section 53 of the Health Act 1970 for long stay care prior to the enactment of the legislation is and always has been lawful. Furthermore, the Bill states that the declaration of lawfulness in relation to the imposition and payment of a relevant charge does not apply in the case of such charge which is the subject of civil proceedings instituted on or before 14 December 2004 and for the recovery of the relevant charge. The President referred the Bill to the Supreme Court for a decision on its constitutionality.

The Deputy will also be aware that, following legal advice from the Attorney General on the matter, health boards were instructed to cease imposing any financial charge on fully eligible people in receipt of public long stay in-patient services with effect from 9 December 2004. In the case of nursing homes run by former health boards or private nursing homes — solely by virtue of a contractual arrangement with a former health board — the category of person covered is fully eligible individuals, including those who had their medical card withdrawn on admission to the institution and in respect of whom charges were imposed and paid for long stay in-patient services. In addition, by way of a goodwill gesture, the Government agreed to haveex gratia payments of up to €2,000 made to those with full eligibility who have paid the charges and who were alive on 9 December 2004. Where persons have been charged less than €2000, they will be refunded the amount they have paid. The Health Service Executive is making the necessary arrangements with regard to the ex gratia scheme and payments to those currently in public long stay care have already commenced.

Question No. 168 answered with QuestionNo. 148.

Adoption Services.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

169 Ms Lynch asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has plans to set up a new adoption authority to replace the existing Adoption Board under proposed reforms of legislation governing adoption; her views on the current delay of up to four years for couples to be assessed for suitability to adopt; her further views on whether a one stop shop integrating all the necessary services would assist in speeding up the process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34192/04]

Following an extensive public consultation process I recently announced that the Government has approved the drafting of a range of legislative proposals relating to adoption. These proposals include the establishment of an adoption authority to act as a central national authority for adoption, including the carrying out of the functions that are the responsibility of the Adoption Board.

The allocation of resources within the Health Services Executive is a matter for the management of the HSE. However, I have asked the Adoption Board to identify practical measures to tackle the waiting lists of inter-country assessments and it is examining this.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

170 Ms Lynch asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is intended to introduce an upper age limit for adoptive parents under proposed reforms of the legislation governing adoption; her views on whether such a move will doubly militate against couples in the older age bracket who already have to wait four years to be assessed for suitability to adopt; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34193/04]

The Government recently approved the drafting of legislative proposals relating to adoption. One of the proposals is that only persons under 50 would be eligible to apply for assessment for inter-country adoption. Adoption is a service for children, and the best interests of children are at the core of the proposals. As the proposals relate to age at the time of application for assessment, time on the waiting list will not have a negative impact.

Hospital Accommodation.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

171 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of extra accommodation at the National Maternity Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34206/04]

A draft planning brief has been prepared on interim capital works at the National Maternity Hospital. The brief includes proposals designed to increase capacity in delivery rooms, theatres and neo-natal intensive care units, as well as providing improved post-natal facilities for mothers and babies.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

As part of the executive's responsibility to prepare and submit an annual service plan for my approval, it is obliged under section 31 of the Act to indicate any capital plans proposed by the executive. In this process the executive can be expected to have regard to the full range of potential capital developments, its own criteria in determining priorities, available resources and any other relevant factors.

My Department is awaiting the 2005 service plan from the Heath Service Executive. In the interim, my Department has asked the chief executive of the Health Service Executive, eastern regional area, to investigate the position in relation to this project and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

172 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a care plan will be put in place for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9, especially in the area of occupational therapy; if this will be made a priority issue. [34209/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for occupational therapy rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's northern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Staff.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

173 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of health sector personal social service professionals in each health board; if there are waiting lists for these services; if so, the number of persons on these waiting lists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34211/04]

I understand that the Deputy is referring to the number of health and social care professionals in each Health Service Executive, HSE, area. The number of these staff in each area in wholetime equivalence terms is as set out in the following table. The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the management of the services provided by these grades rests with the executive.

My Department has requested the chief officer of each HSE area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health and Social Care Professionals by Area.

Area

Total WTE

Eastern

6,110

Midland

717

Mid-Western

903

North-Eastern

771

North-Western

636

South-Eastern

852

Southern

1,851

Western

1,169

Total:

13,009

Source: Department of Health and Children Personnel Census at 30 September 2004.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

174 Mr. Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of institutions under her care which came under the terms of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002; if these were residential institutions which did not come within the terms of the Act in which children were in the care of her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34215/04]

The Department of Health and Children did not have children under its direct care while they were resident in institutions. Children were placed in these institutions by the then local health authorities and by health boards who were actingin loco parentis. Under the Health Act 1953 the Minister had responsibility for 14 homes of which ten are included in the Schedule to the Act. The Department of Education and Science has been informed that a further two homes can be considered for inclusion in the Schedule and research is ongoing in relation to the remaining two homes. Responsibility for 23 industrial schools transferred from the Department of Education and Science to the Department of Health under the Education (Transfer of Departmental and Ministerial Functions) Order 1983, SI 358 of 1983. A total of 22 of these institutions are included in the Schedule to the Act and research is ongoing in relation to the remaining one.

Section 4 of the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 states that the Minister for Education and Science may include additional institutions to the Schedule of the Act on condition that a public body had a regulatory or inspection function in relation to that particular institution. My Department liaises closely with the Department of Education and Science in considering institutions for inclusion on the Schedule of the Act.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

175 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the high care cost of Alzheimer’s patients at a centre (details supplied) in County Dublin, appropriately higher nursing home subvention levels will be provided to meet this specialist care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34235/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, St. Joseph's is a private facility offering nursing care to individuals, many of whom suffer from terminal dementia. As the placement of an individual in a private nursing home is a private matter between the patient or his-her representative and the nursing home, my Department has no function in the matter of fees charged by the home. Nursing home subvention payments are paid by the Health Service Executive and the rates of subvention are currently €114.30, €152.40 and €190.50 depending on the level of dependency. The HSE, under the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990, can enter into an arrangement with a nursing home to pay more, that is, enhanced subvention, than the maximum rate payable for the three levels of dependency, on a discretionary basis.

Health Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

176 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate the policy of Naas General Hospital in refusing a blood test to a person with acute rheumatoid arthritis; if this provision will be ensured in the future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34236/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services at Naas General Hospital rests with the executive. My Department has therefore asked the chief officer of the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Health and Social Care Registration.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

177 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the costs arising from the passing of the Health and Social Care Professionals Bill; the fees that are likely to be charged for the professionals involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34237/04]

No detailed estimates are available at present for the costs of establishing the Health and Social Care Professionals Council. The Deputy may wish to note that, once operational, the system of statutory registration provided for under the Health and Social Care Professionals Bill will be self-financing, that is, funded from registration fees of professionals to be registered.

Section 18 of the Bill provides that it is the responsibility of the Health and Social Care Professionals Council to determine the fee to be charged to registered professionals.

Hospital Services.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

178 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost to the North Eastern Health Board of transporting a person from Monaghan General Hospital to Dublin hospitals on a return journey; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34238/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services at Monaghan General Hospital rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer of the Health Service Executive's north eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

179 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Question No. 84 of 8 December 2004, if she will investigate a situation regarding a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will further investigate another situation regarding this person who was referred by the central appointments office to another department within Cork University Hospital. [34270/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for Cork University Hospital rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Charges.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

180 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Wexford was charged for a recent stay in hospital despite being a medical card holder; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34272/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Services Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the imposition of charges in the case of individuals in hospitals in County Wexford rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

181 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an increase in nursing home subvention will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34273/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Kildare rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

182 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the actions taken to resolve the case of a person (details supplied); and if further efforts will be made to end this dispute. [34302/04]

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

183 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the North Western Health Board refused the offer of a mediator in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if the new Health Service Executive will resolve this dispute definitively. [34328/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 182 and 183 together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the matters raised by the Deputy rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's north western area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

184 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [34598/04]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of hospital services rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Cancer Statistics.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

185 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of deaths each year from lung cancer caused by asbestos; and her plans to deal with this epidemic in 2005. [1001/05]

Data concerning the number of deaths each year from lung cancer caused specifically by exposure to asbestos are not available. The number of deaths from selected causes for the period 1999 to 2003, as provided by the Central Statistics Office, is as follows:

1999

2000

2001

2002*

2003*

Cancer of the trachea, bronchus and lung

1,449

1,568

1,478

1,474

1,587

Asbestosis

1

3

1

2

2

Cancer of the pleura (which includes the mesothelium)

12

10

15

16

17

*Provisional figures

It should be noted that unlike asbestosis and mesothelioma, which can be directly linked to asbestos exposure, lung cancer can develop due to exposure to many chemicals, tobacco smoke, environmental causes, or a combination of exposures from environmental, social and work environments.

The use of asbestos is now banned. However, there is still a health risk from asbestos which was used in buildings in the past. In this context, the Deputy may wish to note that the protection of persons from exposure to asbestos in the workplace is a matter for the Health and Safety Authority.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

186 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 has been waiting for an appointment since September 2004 at the Mater Hospital; and if this person will be given the maximum support and assistance. [1002/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of hospital services rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Mobile Telephony.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

187 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there is concrete medical evidence that mobile phones can cause cancer and that radiation from these phones is able to damage DNA in human cells. [1003/05]

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

188 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if persons who use mobile phones for more than ten years have an increased risk of developing tumours and damage to brain tissue; and if she will clarify this medical evidence from Sweden. [1004/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 187 and 188 together.

The current consensus of authoritative scientific literature is that there is no evidence of a causal relationship between exposure to radio frequencies, RF, from mobile phones and ill health. Furthermore, research to date indicates that RF fields do not possess sufficient energy to cause direct damage to DNA.

The World Health Organisation has assessed the many reviews carried out in this area and has indicated that exposure below the limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection in its 1998 guidelines, covering the frequency range from0-300 GHz, does not produce any known adverse health effects. Telecommunication companies licensed to operate in Ireland are obliged to comply with these guidelines.

Research is ongoing in relation to this issue. The Swedish study to which the Deputy refers is part of the INTERPHONE study which is an international collaboration of 13 countries, coordinated by the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer. The primary object of the INTERPHONE study is to establish whether RF exposure from mobile phones is associated with cancer risk. The interpretation and publication of results are a matter for the INTERPHONE international study group which is expected to produce its report in early 2005.

Hospital Services.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

189 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the proposals she has in the matter of providing a radiotherapy unit at Waterford Regional Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1005/05]

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

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

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

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

The NROCG is currently developing a national telesynergy® network for radiation oncology services. Arrangements are being made to install this technology at Waterford Regional Hospital which will enable the hospital to develop improved linkages with Cork University Hospital and St. Luke's Hospital, Dublin and reduce patient and consultant travel time.

National Cancer Strategy.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

190 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the proposals she has to meet the concerns of the Cancer Care Alliance in the matter of best outcome for all cancer patients (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1006/05]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

270 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has received the strategy document from the National Cancer Forum on the provision of cancer care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1610/05]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

271 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will publish the strategy document on the provision of cancer care from the National Cancer Forum before any decisions are made by Government regarding the recommendations from the forum; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1611/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 190, 270 and 271 together.

The National Cancer Forum is currently finalising a new national cancer strategy which is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2005. The forum is a multi-disciplinary group of experts and includes representatives of all modalities of cancer care. In developing the new strategy, the forum's considerations have been informed by the broad strategic context in which the cancer strategy exists, a comprehensive review of the current status of cancer care, a review of the literature evidence concerning key aspects of the organisation of cancer services and a review of international models of care. The forum has concluded that the current arrangements for the delivery of cancer services are not generally in accordance with best practice and cannot be recommended to deliver best quality cancer care. The new strategy will set out the key priorities for the development of cancer services over the coming years and will make recommendations in relation to a balanced organisation of cancer services nationally, with defined roles for hospitals in the delivery of cancer care.

In regard to the development of radiation oncology specifically, the Government's policy is based on the report on "The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland". The predominant view of the group, based on international guidelines of best practice, is that radiation oncology services would be best developed in the context of a clinical network model of large centres. The report was discussed and unanimously endorsed by the National Cancer Forum at its meeting in September 2004 as the framework for the future development of radiation oncology services in this country.

The Government is committed to making the full range of cancer services available and accessible to cancer patients throughout Ireland. To this end, we will provide considerable investment in radiation oncology facilities in the coming years. The central aim is to ensure access by cancer patients throughout the country to high quality radiation oncology in line with best international standards. We are determined to deliver enhanced services for the whole population as soon as possible. There is unanimity about the urgent need for significantly enhanced services in the major population centres of Dublin, Cork and Galway. I will keep the question of networked satellite locations under active review.

Diabetes Incidence.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

191 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she proposes in 2005 in regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the diabetes service development group of the Diabetes Federation of Ireland, Diabetes Care-Securing the Future, and the recent supplementary report (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1007/05]

In recognition that diabetes is an important health condition, a national diabetes group chaired by the chief medical officer of my Department was established in January 2004 and has met on a regular basis since. The terms of reference of the working group included: the epidemiology of diabetes, health promotion and preventive initiatives, examination of services and the expansion of shared care programmes, and recommendations on future needs.

In the course of its work, the group has received and considered a number of submissions including those from the Diabetes Federation of Ireland. It is the intention that this work will lead to a diabetes strategy which underlines the importance of prevention, is patient centred and will enhance the quality of care for people with diabetes.

I understand that the group's intention is that it will conclude its report for submission to and consideration by my Department later in 2005.

Hospital Accommodation.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

192 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the practice of some hospitals which treat male and female patients in the same ward; her further views on the fact that older patients find this practice insensitive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1008/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the issues raised by the Deputy rests with the national hospitals office of the Health Service Executive. My Department has, therefore, requested the director of the national hospitals office to investigate this matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

193 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in granting an appointment to read the scan results for a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; the efforts which are being made to provide an earlier appointment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1009/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services for residents of County Wexford rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

194 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the average length of the waiting lists for tonsillectomy operations in the Midland Health Board area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1010/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of hospital services rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's midland area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

195 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will meet a deputation of the Ennis Hospital committee to discuss the timetable for the €20 million investment and upgrade for Ennis General Hospital as promised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1011/05]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that I will be in a position to meet the Ennis Hospital Development Committee. My office will be in touch with the organisation in due course to make the necessary arrangements.

Hospital Accommodation.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

196 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the constant chronic overcrowding at Ennis General Hospital, including the continuous use of the day surgical unit which, unlike the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, has to stay open on a 24 hour basis to cater for in-patients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1012/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Ennis, rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

197 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a current home help review will be made in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1013/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Services Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services to persons with intellectual disability and those with autism in the Kildare area lies, in the first instance, with the Health Service Executive. My Department has asked the chief officer of the Health Service Executive, eastern region, to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

Medical Cards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

198 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1014/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Ambulance Service.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

199 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the decision which has been taken to approve the proposed ambulance base in Thurles further to an adjournment debate of 24 November 2004; the funds which have been allocated for the project; when building work is expected to start; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1055/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of ambulance services in County Tipperary rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

200 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 205 of 2 November 2004 has not yet been received; and if this reply will issue from the health board. [1060/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for speech and language therapy rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

201 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of a new community hospital in Tralee, County Kerry; if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 771 of 29 September 2004, a decision has been made by An Bord Pleanála on the project; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1061/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of a new community hospital in Tralee rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

202 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for a scan in Mayo General Hospital. [1078/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

203 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be given an admission date for a hip operation in Merlin Park Hospital; and the reason this person was not called for admission on the date that was promised. [1079/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

204 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if transport will be provided to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo to enable her to attend the eye clinic in Galway. [1080/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Allowances.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

205 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12 is entitled to the blind welfare allowance plus arrears since registering with the NCBI. [1081/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the assessment of entitlement to and payment of the blind welfare allowance, including the payment of arrears, rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

206 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be admitted to Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children. [1082/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

207 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the health boards have submitted the information for a database to her Department in relation to the Planning Services for People with Disabilities — A Guide to the Physical and Sensory Disability Database; if not, when this process will be complete; and the cost of compiling this database for each health board area and for her Department. [1083/05]

The national physical and sensory disability database is currently being implemented in all Health Service Executive areas. When complete, the database will provide a comprehensive picture of the health and personal social service needs of people with a physical or sensory disability over a five year period. The database will inform planning, service development, prioritisation of service needs and resource allocation at national, regional and local level.

The cost of implementing and maintaining the national physical and sensory disability database and the national intellectual disability database is €3.9 million per annum.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

208 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called to Galway to be seen by a urologist; if this person is on a waiting list; and if so, when they were placed on the list. [1084/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

209 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when refunds will be made available to those who were charged illegally in respect of their stay in nursing homes over the years; when family members can apply for the money that is owed to them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1085/05]

The Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2004, which was passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas on 17 December 2004, as well as providing a statutory basis for the imposition of charges on persons to whom long-stay inpatient services are provided, irrespective of whether they are otherwise fully eligible for those services, also provides that a relevant charge levied under section 53 of the Health Act 1970 for long-stay care prior to the enactment of the legislation is and always has been lawful. Furthermore, the Bill states that the declaration of lawfulness in relation to the imposition and payment of a relevant charge does not apply in the case of such charge which is the subject of civil proceedings instituted on or before 14 December 2004 and for the recovery of the relevant charge. The President referred the Bill to the Supreme Court for a decision on its constitutionality.

The Deputy will also be aware that, following legal advice from the Attorney General on the matter, health boards were instructed to cease imposing any financial charges on fully eligible people in receipt of public long-stay inpatient services with effect from 9 December 2004. Additionally, by way of a goodwill gesture, the Government agreed to haveex gratia payments of up to €2,000 made to those with full eligibility who have paid charges and who were alive on 9 December 2004. Where persons have been charged less than €2,000, they will be refunded the amount they have paid. The Health Service Executive is making the necessary arrangements with regard to the ex gratia scheme and payments to those currently in public long-stay care have already commenced.

Health Service Allowances.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

210 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if all the health boards have issued arrears of the blind welfare allowance, which arose due to the misinterpretation of the blind welfare allowance Circular 4/79; if the funding has issued from each health board; and the number of persons who have received payment to date. [1086/05]

My Department issued letters to the CEO of each health board on 6 December informing them that the funding to pay arrears of blind welfare allowance is being authorised by this Department. It was a matter for each individual health board, and is now a matter for the Health Service Executive, as to how and when the arrears are issued to the individuals involved.

Patient Transport.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

211 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the help available from the Western Health Board for appointments for persons who urgently need hospital appointments for their well-being and who are in receipt of social welfare, own no form of transport, have no public transport available to them and cannot afford taxis. [1087/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo rests with the Executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

212 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the guidelines for patient transport in each health board area or region, in particular transport to attend outpatient appointments, for persons who live in isolated areas, have no means of transport or access to public transport and who do not have the resources to hire private transport. [1088/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of patient transport services rests with the executive. My Department has requested the director of the national hospitals office of the executive to provide the information requested directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

213 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) with nursing home subvention and if the maximum support and advice will be available to the family. [1089/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in Whitehall rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Aids and Appliances.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

214 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3, who until recently could obtain insulin and syringes by means of a green book now has to obtain a prescription from the doctor and pharmacy to secure the syringes; and the motive behind giving insulin on the green book but not the instruments with which to administer it. [1090/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Under the 1970 Health Act, the relevant area of the Health Service Executive may arrange for the supply, without charge, of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition, for the treatment of that condition through the long term illness scheme. The conditions are mental handicap; mental illness, for people under 16 only; phenylketonuria; cystic fibrosis; spina bifida; hydrocephalus; diabetes mellitus; diabetes insipidus; haemophilia; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; multiple sclerosis; muscular dystrophies; parkinsonism; conditions arising from thalidomide; and acute leukaemia. Parkinsonism, acute leukaemia, muscular dystrophies and multiple sclerosis were added to the scheme in 1975. The long-term illness scheme does not cover GP fees or hospital co-payments.

My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Children in Care.

John Gormley

Ceist:

215 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to investigate the way in which health boards apparently paid out €85 million in 2004 to keep just 600 children in residential care; the fact that one health board is paying out €19,000 a week for special arrangements for one child; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1091/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for provision of residential care for children in care rests with the executive. My Department has requested the primary, community and continuing care directorate of the Health Service Executive to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

216 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when an application will be processed under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1092/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of the housing aid scheme for the elderly in Clare rests with the executive on behalf of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

217 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of a new accident and emergency department for Kerry General Hospital. [1093/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of services at Kerry General Hospital rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

I have identified the delivery of accident and emergency services as a priority area for attention. I have announced a ten point action plan in relation to accident and emergency services which is being financed with €70 million current funding and €10 million capital funding. My Department is liaising with the Health Service Executive to progress the implementation of the plan.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

218 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the proposed extension to Kenmare District Hospital, County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1094/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the proposed extension to Kenmare District Hospital rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

219 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of the new community hospital for Dingle, County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1095/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of a new community hospital in Dingle rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Allowances.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

220 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person in receipt of the invalidity pension can also qualify for the blind welfare allowance. [1147/05]

The assessment of entitlement to and payment of the blind welfare allowance, including the payment of arrears, is a matter for the Health Service Executive in the relevant area. Blind welfare allowance is a means-tested Department of Health and Children supplementary payment which is paid to eligible persons who are blind or visually impaired in addition to an existing Department of Social and Family Affairs income maintenance payment, for example, invalidity pension, old age contributory and non-contributory pension, disability allowance, to eligible persons whose income is below the combined blind person rate and the blind welfare allowance rate.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

221 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funding made to each nursing home in counties Roscommon, Mayo and Galway respectively under the winter initiative in 2004; the number of patients in each nursing home under this scheme; the rate charged per patient per week; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1150/05]

As the information required is not normally collated in my Department, my Department has requested the chief officer of the Health Service Executive, western region, for the information sought, and will forward it to the Deputy as soon as it is received.

Medical Cards.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

222 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the health boards are applying the health regulations in such a way as to deny a medical card to non-working persons under 18. [1166/05]

Dependent children aged up to 16 years, whose parents are medical card holders, are normally covered for services under the medical card issued to their parents under the general medical services scheme.

Individual assessments of applications for medical cards from persons aged 16 and over who may or may not be dependants of their parents are made by the chief officer of the relevant area of the Health Service Executive which, under legislation, has the responsibility for such determinations.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

223 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when an application will be processed under the housing aid for the elderly scheme for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1188/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of the housing aid scheme for the elderly in County Clare rests with the executive, on behalf of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

224 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1189/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of a medical card rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Question No. 225 answered with QuestionNo. 149.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

226 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if care will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Carlow at the Alzheimer’s unit in Carlow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1197/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Carlow rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

227 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress in extending the CAT scan services at St. Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny, to out-of-service hours; if she has costed the number of times patients have been sent from Kilkenny to other hospitals for the service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1198/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services at St. Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny, rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

228 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a proposal from a private company to provide CAT scan and other services on the grounds of St. Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny, has not been approved; and her views on such public-private partnerships. [1199/05]

My Department is aware of a previous proposal to provide a private MRI facility on the grounds of St. Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny. Following discussions with the South Eastern Health Board last year it was agreed that the issues involved would be kept under review in the light of the board's regional MRI requirements. Public CAT scanning facilities are already on site at the hospital and my Department is not aware of proposals to develop a private CAT scanning facility there.

It is the Government's policy, as outlined in the health strategy, to increase the capacity of the acute hospital system to treat public patients. A significant proportion of this additional capacity will be supplied in the future by private providers. I am in the process of developing an overall policy framework which will identify the policy issues which need to be addressed and the key criteria to be applied in developing private facilities on public hospital sites.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

229 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the SEHB will fund cranial structural alignment treatment at a location for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if an immediate assessment will be carried out to determine if this treatment is appropriate and if it will be funded in 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1200/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of services for residents of County Kilkenny rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Housing Aid for the Elderly.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

230 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an occupational therapist’s report has been prepared in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny who applied in 2004 under the housing aid for the elderly scheme; if the grant has been approved; and if the work will be approved. [1201/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of the housing aid scheme for the elderly in Kilkenny rests with the executive, on behalf of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 231 answered with QuestionNo. 148.

Hospital Accommodation.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

232 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the timescale and location within Cavan General Hospital for the additional theatre capacity proposed by the former North Eastern Health Board in its submission of 13 December 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1203/05]

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

233 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the extent and cost of the additional theatre capacity proposed for Cavan General Hospital by the former North Eastern Health Board in its submission of 13 December 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1204/05]

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

235 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position with regard to the commissioning of the 19 additional beds proposed for Cavan General Hospital by the former Northern Eastern Health Board in its submission of 13 December 2004; the areas identified for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1206/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 232, 233 and 235 together.

The planning brief prepared by the former North Eastern Health Board envisages using the existing shelled-out ward accommodation known as surgical three to facilitate the provision of 19 additional beds, and the commissioning of the shelled-out fourth operating theatre. The board estimated the overall capital cost of the proposals in the brief at €6 million.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

As part of the executive's responsibility to prepare and submit an annual service plan for my approval, it is obliged under section 31 of the Act to indicate any capital plans proposed by the executive. In this process the executive can be expected to have regard to the full range of potential capital developments, its own criteria in determining priorities, available resources and any other relevant factors.

My Department is awaiting the 2005 service plan from the Heath Service Executive. In the interim, my Department has asked the chief executive of the Health Service Executive, north eastern area, to investigate the position in relation to this project and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

234 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position with regard to the commissioning of the ten additional day beds approved for Monaghan General Hospital; the areas identified for same; if any request for their provision has been received from the Cavan-Monaghan Hospital Group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1205/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services at Monaghan General Hospital rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer of the Health Service Executive's north eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 235 answered with QuestionNo. 232.

Child Care Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

236 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding development of a regional child development centre at Dooradoyle, County Limerick. [1233/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services to children with intellectual disability and those with autism in the Limerick area lies, in the first instance, with the Health Service Executive. My Department has asked the chief officer of the Health Service Executive mid-western area to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

237 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of a time out facility for children at Foynes. [1234/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of a time out facility at Foynes rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

238 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the development of a private hospital in the Limerick region. [1235/05]

The development of private hospital facilities in the Limerick region is essentially a matter for individual private investors. The Mid-Western Health Board had previously raised with the Department the development of a private hospital on the site of the Mid-Western Regional Hospital, Limerick.

I am in the process of developing an overall policy framework which will identify the policy issues which need to be addressed and the key criteria to be applied in developing private facilities on public hospital sites. I hope to complete this work in a matter of weeks.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

239 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the radiotherapy unit at the Mid-West Regional Hospital, Limerick under the Mid- West Hospitals Development Trust. [1236/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the health services in the mid-western region rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

240 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the enhanced subvention payments in each of the former health board areas. [1237/05]

The most recent information available, as requested by the Deputy, is as follows:

Former Health Board Area

Enhanced Subvention Payments

ERHA

1,098 people are in receipt of enhanced subvention as at 30th November 2004. €20.4 million was spent on the subvention scheme (including enhanced subvention) as at 30th November 2004. €680 is the highest amount that can be approved as an enhanced subvention.

NEHB

293 people were in receipt of enhanced subvention as at 31st December 2004. €2,961,915.13 was spent on enhanced subvention in 2004.

NWHB

249 people were in receipt of enhanced subvention as at 31st December 2004. Total paid on enhanced subvention in 2004 was €481,905.

MHB

39 people were in receipt of enhanced subvention as at 30th September 2004. Maximum enhanced subvention is €50 per week for certain categories at Maximum dependency level and €90 for certain categories at High dependency level. Total figure spent on enhanced subvention is unavailable at present.

MWHB

322 people are currently in receipt of enhanced subvention. €672,200 was spent on the subvention scheme (including enhanced subvention) in 2004. Current enhanced subvention is €50 per week.

SEHB

767 people were in receipt of enhanced subvention as at 31st December 2004. €1,960,452 was spent on enhanced subvention in 2004.

SHB

674 people were in receipt of enhanced subvention as at 31st December 2004. €1,557,133.16 was spent on the subvention scheme (including enhanced subvention) in December 2004.

WHB

613 people were in receipt of enhanced subvention as at 31st December 2004. €227,117 (estimated) was spent on enhanced subvention in December 2004. Maximum payment of enhanced subvention is €85.50 per week.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

241 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons with an intellectual disability in psychiatric institutions. [1238/05]

The data from the national intellectual disability database committee's annual report for 2004, which was published on 26 November 2004, identify 474 individuals with intellectual disability, all aged 20 years or over, accommodated in psychiatric hospitals, 315 of whom have services requirements.

Care of the Elderly.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

242 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of a dementia unit at a hospital (details supplied) in County Limerick; and her views on the proposals submitted in April 2004 to her Department to construct this unit. [1239/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Limerick rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Mental Health Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

243 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of a full acute psychiatric unit at Nenagh General Hosptital. [1240/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of the service referred to by the Deputy rests with the executive. My Department has requested the acting chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

244 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the refurbishment of the health centre at Foynes, County Limerick. [1241/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for provision of health centres rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

245 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of a purpose built health centre at Glin, County Limerick (details supplied). [1242/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for provision of health centres rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

246 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress in providing a new health centre for Thomastown, County Kilkenny; if a site has been identified; the timeframe for completing the project; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1277/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for provision of health centres rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

247 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a hip replacement operation will be expedited for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny at Kilcreene, Kilkenny or Waterford Regional Hospital; the waiting time for such operations at these locations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1278/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of services for residents of County Kilkenny rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

248 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath will be immediately admitted to the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore for a tonsillectomy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1279/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of hospital services rests with the Executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's midland area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

249 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons in possession of a medical card in each county. [1280/05]

The latest figures available from the Health Service Executive — shared services, primary care reimbursement service — are those for December 2004. The number of persons in possession of a medical card in each county is as follows:

County

Number of persons in possession of a medical card

Dublin

274,272

Kildare

37,195

Wicklow

27,612

Laois

17,133

Longford

12,384

Offaly

19,039

Westmeath

21,059

Clare

30,896

Limerick

49,767

Tipperary NR

18,915

Cavan

18,638

Louth

35,013

Meath

30,333

Monaghan

16,361

Donegal

67,229

Leitrim

11,169

Sligo

19,343

Carlow

15,404

Kilkenny

19,506

Tipperary SR

28,318

Waterford

34,938

Wexford

38,353

Cork

130,955

Kerry

40,924

Galway

66,502

Mayo

47,590

Roscommon

20,066

Grand Total

1,148,914

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

250 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the 30,000 additional medical cards announced in December 2004 will be made available; when the 200,000 GP-visit cards will be made available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1281/05]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

268 Mr. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the proposed new general practitioner cards will be introduced; the details of the income guidelines and other conditions which will apply to these cards; and the estimate of the number of beneficiaries. [1608/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 250 and 268 together.

Some €60 million has been provided for in the 2005 Estimates for health to improve access to primary care by providing for additional persons to become eligible for a medical card and free access to GP visits for those on low income. The medical card income guidelines were increased from 1 January 2005 by 7.5% generally and in specific regard to children the income allowance for each of the first two children was increased by 20% and for the third and subsequent children by 30%. It is estimated that this will increase the numbers eligible for medical cards by approximately 30,000 in a year.

Free access to general practitioner visits under the GMS scheme will be provided to individuals and families based on income guidelines which may be up to 25% in excess of the new medical card income guidelines. It is estimated that 200,000 persons will become eligible for free GP services under this initiative. Subject to clarifying legislative and administrative issues, the doctor visit card will be introduced as soon as possible in 2005. Income guidelines are shown in the following table.

Medical Cards

Doctor Visit Cards

2005 Weekly

2005 Weekly

Single person living alone (under 66)

153.50

191.87

Single person living alone (66-69 years)

168.00

210.00

Single person living with family (under 66)

136.50

170.63

Single person living with family (66-69 years)

144.50

180.63

Married couple (under 66)

222.00

277.50

Married couple (66-69 years)

248.50

310.63

Married couple (70-79 years)

497.00

621.25

Married couple (80 and over )

522.50

653.13

Allowance for first 2 children under 16 financially dependent on applicant

31.50

39.38

Allowance for 3rd and subsequent children under 16 financially dependent on applicant

34.00

42.50

Allowance for first 2 children over 16 years financially dependent on applicant

32.50

40.63

Allowance for 3rd and subsequent children over 16 years financially dependant on applicant

35.50

44.38

Allowance for a dependent over 16 years who is in full time third level education and not grant aided

65.00

81.25

Out-goings on house: rent/mortgage in excess of

26.00

32.50

Reasonable expenses necessarily incurred in travelling to work (in excess of)

23.00

28.75

Health Services.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

251 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will approve a request for funding (details supplied) submitted to the Health Services Executive in County Offaly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1287/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for funding rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's midland area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Staff.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

252 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will approve funding for the appointment of additional staff and the development of respite services at the St. Mary’s residential services, Dunleer, County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1306/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of services to persons with an intellectual disability and those with autism in the Louth area lies, in the first instance, with the Health Service Executive. To ensure the smooth transition and delivery of services, I have agreed to meet with representatives of the executive and representatives of the St. John of God Order to discuss the issue.

Questions No. 253 answered with QuestionNo. 157.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

254 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reasons for the delay in arranging a hip operation for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny at Waterford Regional Hospital; if the operation will be expedited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1326/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of services for residents of County Kilkenny rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Staff.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

255 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 323 of 9 March 2004, the progress which has been made on this issue; if the phlebotomy course has commenced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1327/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for education and training of health service employees, including in relation to phlebotomy training, rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern area to investigate the matter raised and respond directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

256 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a review of nursing home subvention will be finalised with a view to an increase in same in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1328/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Kildare rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

257 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the decisions which have been made in regard to the draft planning brief submitted by the South Eastern Health Board for capital developments at Waterford Regional Hospital which includes the provision of a new oncology and haematology department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1329/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As part of the executive's responsibility to prepare and submit an annual service plan for my approval, it is obliged under section 31 of the Act to indicate any capital plans proposed by the executive. In this process the executive can be expected to have regard to the full range of potential capital developments, its own criteria in determining priorities, available resources and any other relevant factors.

My Department is awaiting the 2005 service plan from the Heath Service Executive. In the interim, my Department has asked the chief executive of the Health Service Executive, south eastern area, to investigate the position on to this project and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Questions Nos. 258 and 259 answered with Question No. 157.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

260 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the proposals of the Health Services Executive western area for Knock, County Mayo; the nature of the building being constructed in Knock; and the services which will be provided from that property in Knock. [1333/05]

Michael Ring

Ceist:

261 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a review has taken place of the Westdoc facility in the west; if so, the outcome of that review; if an independent review will be taken of this facility to assess the way in which it is working; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that Westdoc plans to set up a headquarters in Knock even though it has not carried out a review of the existing services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1334/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 260 and 261 together.

Westdoc is an out-of-hours general practitioner led service which operates on a partnership basis between the participating GPs and the Health Service Executive, western area. The service has been operating since December 2002 and to date it has received over 95,000 patient contacts. Westdoc has 107 general practitioners providing service to public and private patients in counties Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.

The service was primarily established to provide a more managed and structured service to patients requiring urgent GP care out of hours. The service operates via a lo-call number with patients receiving advice from specially trained triage nurses and appointments to see a GP in their locality where required or domiciliary visits where deemed appropriate. Calls are prioritised in order of their seriousness with more urgent calls receiving the earliest appointments.

A patient satisfaction survey, independently conducted by NUIG in July 2003, found that "patient satisfaction with the Westdoc service is very high". A further patient satisfaction survey will be conducted in 2005. I am conscious of the challenges of providing this service over a particularly wide, rural area and I hope these challenges will continue to be addressed in order to meet patients' needs.

The Health Service Executive, western area, has purchased a premises at Drum, Knock, County Mayo, that will serve as a central base for out-of-hours GP services in this immediate area and it is planned to provide a range of primary care day services from this facility. Refurbishment work on the premises, an existing building that has been unoccupied for some time, is expected to commence within the next few months. The Health Service Executive does not have a similar health facility in the immediate area and this development will play a central role in meeting the health needs of the local population.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

262 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons in the State with multiple sclerosis; the number of these who are on waiting lists for treatment; and if she will provide other data available on multiple sclerosis sufferers in the State. [1335/05]

The most recent figures from the national physical and sensory disability database, NPSDD, which is managed by the Health Research Board, HRB, show 1,804 people as having being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In interpreting the data from the HRB, it is important to note that as not everyone in this country with a physical or sensory disability is availing of a specialised health and personal social service, the NPSDD will not provide any definite epidemiological statement on the number of people with a particular type of disability. The other data requested by the Deputy are not readily available in my Department.

Care of the Elderly.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

263 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the plans there are to provide residential or respite facilities for Alzheimer’s patients in County Roscommon; the total number of persons with the disease in the county; if she will outline the procedure for patients who cannot be catered for at home and are unsuitable for a nursing home; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1336/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Roscommon rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Suicide Incidence.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

264 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of cases of suicide recorded in each of the past three years nationally; the breakdown of these figures on a county basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1604/05]

The number of deaths by suicide as published annually by the Central Statistics Office are as follows: 2001- 519, 2002 — 451, 2003 — 444, 2004 — not yet available. A breakdown of these figures on a county by county basis as requested by the Deputy, is as follows:

County

2001

2002

2003

Carlow

8

3

6

Cavan

9

6

8

Clare

13

12

13

Cork

100

77

64

Donegal

15

20

14

Dublin

120

95

111

Galway

23

26

21

Kerry

20

10

9

Kildare

12

16

18

Kilkenny

15

12

11

Laois

7

4

4

Leitrim

6

6

3

Limerick

16

24

24

Longford

6

5

2

Louth

7

7

16

Mayo

17

19

10

Monaghan

2

2

8

Meath

19

19

11

Offaly

12

13

7

Roscommon

5

5

3

Sligo

10

4

7

Tipperary

23

17

26

Waterford

17

14

8

Westmeath

9

8

6

Wexford

19

16

23

Wicklow

9

11

11

519

451

444

As the Deputy may be aware, a new strategic action plan for suicide reduction is currently being prepared by the project management unit, Health Service Executive, in partnership with the national suicide review group and supported by the Department of Health and Children. This plan will build on existing policy and on the recommendations contained in the report of the national task force on suicide. All measures aimed at reducing the number of deaths by suicide will be considered in the preparation of this strategic action plan, which will be published later this year.

Care of the Elderly.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

265 Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there has been progress in the provision of extra beds for the elderly who require long-stay care in hospital in the areas of Mallow and Fermoy in County Cork. [1605/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Cork rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

266 Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the arrangements her Department has made in respect of refunding those who are referred to private nursing homes, though not in a contract bed situation, by health services personnel due to the shortage of beds in public nursing homes. [1606/05]

The Department of Health and Children is unaware of the practice to which the Deputy refers. However, because of a shortage of public long-stay beds in some areas of the country, I understand that health service providers have, under section 22(3) of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990 entered into arrangements with private nursing homes to provide services.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

267 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is correct for a health board or nursing home to deduct money from a patient’s pension as in the case of a person (details supplied); and if so, the action she is taking to stop such action and to reimburse the person concerned. [1607/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in the Dublin 1 area rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 268 answered with QuestionNo. 250.
Question No. 269 answered with QuestionNo. 157
Questions Nos. 270 and 271 answered with Question No. 190.

National Archives Act 1986.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

272 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department has not fulfilled its obligations under the National Archives Act 1986; the period during which her Department has been negligent in this regard; and if she has proposals to comply with the terms of the Act. [1613/05]

Section 8 of the National Archives Act 1986 requires that departmental records that are more than 30 years old should be transferred to the National Archives where they shall be made available for inspection by the public. However, the Act also provides an exemption from this requirement where records are required in connection with a Department's administration and where their transfer to the National Archives would seriously interfere with the administration of the Department.

The administration of the Department of Health and Children involves, on an ongoing basis, detailed examinations of its records in the context of orders of discovery, tribunals, inquiries, commissions, freedom of information requests and administrative requests, many of which involve the use of pre-1973 records. The Department's business programme also includes an examination of files by professional archivists and the creation of a names index and a centralised records and file tracking system. Owing to the nature of the Department's current administrative programme, much of the Department's file holdings are unsuitable for transfer to the National Archives at this time.

Since 2001, the records management unit of my Department has been in regular contact with the National Archives with the intention of complying fully with the requirements of the National Archives Act 1986. Interim measures agreed and pursued with the National Archives include the following: the transfer in 2003 of more than 300 items, including folder files, box files and bound volumes; the identification of further suites of records suitable for transfer and the preparation of appropriate deposit agreements — to date, space restrictions in the National Archives premises have prevented the physical transfer of these papers; the administrative release of certain records from within the Department using the National Archives legislation as guidelines; the Department's funding of an initiative by the National Archives to microfilm certain record sets that are suitable for transfer, with a view to making the microfilms accessible to the public; the Department's initiative to have certain of its files published on the National Archives website. A pilot in 2004 resulted in eight files being published electronically, with the intention of adding to this set throughout 2005. The Department of Health and Children is fully committed to meeting its obligations under the National Archives Act, and continues to liaise on a regular basis with the National Archives to achieve this.

Health Service Staff.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

273 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the responsibilities and roles of the former chief executive officer of each of the health boards under the newly structured health reforms. [1614/05]

Following the establishment of the Health Service Executive, HSE, on 1 January 2005, the HSE has responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services, including those functions previously carried out by chief executive officers of former health boards, area boards and authority.

As part of the transition arrangements and as provided for in the Health Act 2004, the interim chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive has delegated responsibility for the administration of health and personal social services to a chief officer in each of the former health board, area board or authority areas. A chief officer is defined as a person who on establishment day was chief executive officer of a health board, area board or authority, or a person nominated to act in that capacity. Each chief officer reports to the chief executive officer of the HSE. I have been informed by the HSE that the delegations will be reviewed by it during the first half of 2005.

Nursing Home Accommodation.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

274 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of public nursing home beds in hospitals and nursing homes in County Westmeath; and the locations of these beds. [1615/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Westmeath rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's midland area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Care of the Elderly.

John Deasy

Ceist:

275 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost involved in maintaining an elderly person in their own home as opposed to seeking a placement for them in a public hospital or a nursing home; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1616/05]

The cost involved in maintaining an older person at home or in a public hospital or in a nursing home depends on the type of medical needs, accommodation and health services required. The information requested cannot therefore be provided as each individual's circumstances will differ.

If the Deputy has a specific case in mind, details should be sent to the chief officer in the relevant Health Service Executive, HSE, area.

Inter-Country Adoptions.

John Deasy

Ceist:

276 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the lengthy process of the present system of adoption here; the steps she proposes to take to streamline this system; if she has had discussions with the adoption authority in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1617/05]

Applications for inter-country adoption are processed by the Health Services Executive, HSE, under the Adoption Acts 1952-1998, as amended by the Health Act 2004.

The process of assessment of applicants for inter-country assessment is set out in a framework for inter-country assessment introduced in 1999 to streamline assessments and to provide a transparent system centred on the child's best interests. It involves a number of stages and would generally include an initial assessment, a considerable level of education-preparation work, including an exploration with prospective adoptive parents of the challenges and issues that are likely to arise when undertaking adoption, and a home study assessment. The length of the assessment process can vary between applicants depending on the particular circumstances of each case, bearing in mind at all times the best interests of the child. Applicants found to be suitable to be adoptive parents are granted a declaration of suitability by the Adoption Board, and may then pursue the adoption of a child abroad with the selected sending country. It should be noted that difficulties may arise in sending countries that can also cause delay. The length of time it takes to complete the necessary assessment and the allocation of resources within the HSE is a matter for the management of the HSE. I have asked the Adoption Board to identify practical measures to tackle the waiting lists of inter-country assessments and itis examining this currently.

Health Services.

John Deasy

Ceist:

277 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will provide funding to a centre (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1618/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Waterford rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

278 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to expanding the accident and emergency service in Letterkenny, County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1619/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of services at Letterkenny General Hospital rests with the executive. My Department has, therefore, requested the chief officer of the executive's north-western area to investigate the position in relation to this matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

I have identified the delivery of accident and emergency services as a priority area for attention. I have announced a ten point action plan on accident and emergency services which is being financed with €70 million current funding and €10 million capital funding. My Department is liaising with the Health Service Executive to progress the implementation of the plan.

Nursing Home Charges.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

279 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the category of persons who will be refunded €2,000 in respect of payments deducted from them for nursing home care; if the category includes persons who were the holders of medical cards and were inpatients at public hospitals; if such persons are so entitled to the refund, but have in the interim died, if such a repayment will be made to their next of kin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1621/05]

The category of person who will receive refunds under theex gratia scheme in respect of payments deducted from them for publicly funded long-stay care in facilities run by former health boards or private nursing homes solely by virtue of a contractual arrangement with a former health board comprises fully eligible persons, including those who had their medical card withdrawn on admission to the institution and were alive on 9 December 2004. Those qualifying under the scheme will be paid up to €2,000 if they have already paid up to that amount by way of charges. Where persons have been charged anything less than €2,000, they will be refunded the amount they have paid.

The category of person who will receive refunds does not include medical card holders in receipt of acute public inpatient services in a hospital, but may include medical cardholders who were charged incorrectly while in receipt of long-stay inpatient services following an acute phase of treatment in a hospital. In relation to acute care in hospitals the position is that under the Health (In-Patient Charges) Regulations 1987, as amended, a statutory inpatient charge of €55, with effect from 1 January 2005, is levied in respect of each day during which a person is maintained, subject to a maximum payment in any 12 month period of €550. However, it should be noted that various categories of person, including medical card holders, are exempt from the charge.

The scheme does not apply in the case of persons who were in long-stay care in the institutions in question but died before 9 December 2004. If, however, individuals concerned died on or after this date, payments will be made to the executor or person who has taken out the grant of administration in respect of the individual who died.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

280 Mr. Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons on the waiting list for Our Lady’s Hospital, Cashel and South Tipperary General Hospital, Clonmel, County Tipperary. [1622/05]

Responsibility for the collection and reporting of waiting lists and waiting times falls within the remit of the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the NTPF to reply to the Deputy directly with the information requested.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

281 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if orthodontic treatment will be arranged immediately in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; her views on the waiting list for this treatment; the exact timeframe relative to this case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1623/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of orthodontic treatment for eligible persons in County Kilkenny rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

282 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an assessment will be expedited for a hip operation for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if there is a waiting list for such cases; if this case will be urgently attended to; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1624/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of services for residents of County Kilkenny rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

283 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive will reinstate a person (details supplied) on the waiting list for speech and language therapy at the Maynooth Health Centre; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1625/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for speech and language therapy rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Charges.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

284 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps she proposes to take to force health boards to return the pension books of residents that they continue to retain illegally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1626/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

321 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to the refund of pensions to persons aged over 70 years in nursing houses; the procedure for returning the pension book to those persons or to their next of kin; the reason some pension books have not been returned to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2061/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 284 and 321 together.

The Health Act 2004 provides for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. The Health Service Executive decided that pension books held by health agencies in respect of pensioners who were charged in relation to long-stay care should be returned to the pensioners concerned or their representatives. Responsibility for this matter rests with the executive. My Department has requested the interim chief executive officer to investigate the matter and to reply directly to the Deputies.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

285 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 235 of 2 November 2004, the progress there has been in the development of a village complex for 60 residents with an intellectual disability on the campus at St. Ita’s Hospital, Portrane, County Dublin. [1627/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. As part of the executive's responsibility to prepare and submit an annual service plan for my approval, it is obliged under section 31 of the Act to indicate any capital plans proposed by the executive. In this process the executive can be expected to have regard to the full range of potential capital developments, its own criteria in determining priorities, available resources and any other relevant factors.

My Department is awaiting the 2005 service plan from the Heath Service Executive. In the interim, my Department has asked the chief executive of the Health Service Executive, eastern regional area to investigate the position with regard to this project and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospitals Code of Practice.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

286 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether conduct (details supplied) is appropriate behaviour for a hospital (details supplied); and if there is a code of practice for all hospitals by which they are to protect patient care and confidentiality. [1628/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Services at St. James's Hospital, Dublin, are provided under an arrangement with the executive and my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Question No. 287 answered with QuestionNo. 157.

Health Service Staff.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

288 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will provide funding for a nurse for County Kerry to deal specifically with Parkinson’s disease sufferers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1630/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of services for residents of County Kerry rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's southern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

289 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is regular practice for a hospital (details supplied) to give a patient’s (details supplied) details to a third party without first notifying the patient; is it normal practice for the same hospital to make a separate charge to a patient who may take a successful personal injury claim; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1631/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Services at St. James's Hospital, Dublin, are provided under an arrangement with the executive and my Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Health Centres.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

290 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the extent to which it is intended to upgrade the various health centres throughout County Kildare in line with population increases or other demographic changes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1632/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for provision of health centres rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and reply to the Deputy directly.

Hospital Services.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

291 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if details of the cost of inpatient and day procedures and for bed days in different hospitals, based on case-mix, are available for 2004; if not, when she expects them to be available; and if she will put them on the record of Dáil Éireann. [1633/05]

Data on the 37 acute hospitals which participate in the national case mix programme are detailed in the following table. These data are based on audited costs and activity for 2003, the latest full year for which data are available. Data for 2004 will be audited during the year for release in January 2006.

The case mix adjusted base price for inpatients and day cases is the average cost of a case when all national data have been aggregated and takes into account each hospital's unique mix of cases and differing complexities, that is, the base price is the cost of treating the same type of case in each hospital. Bed day costs do not take account of complexity and are simply an expression of total costs divided by total bed days. Bed day costs relate to inpatients only.

Data for 2003

Hospital

Case Mix Adjusted Hospital Inpatient Base

Day Case Base Price

Cost per Bed Day* Price

Beaumont

3,930

542

641

Cork University

3,774

534

747

James Connolly

4,825

535

640

Mater

3,721

652

658

St. James’s

4,147

461

692

St. Vincent’s

3,874

584

633

Tallaght AMNCH

3,992

516

671

UCHG

3,856

427

662

Cavan

3,454

655

488

Croom

3,627

665

806

Letterkenny

3,107

417

470

Limerick

3,603

477

573

Longford/Westmeath

2,963

464

447

Lourdes Drogheda

3,479

463

575

Louth General

2,797

697

381

Mallow

3,223

394

477

Mayo General

3,632

587

534

Mercy

3,371

576

565

Merlin Park

3,118

648

481

Monaghan

4,053

536

507

Navan

3,428

781

556

Portiuncula

3,362

525

500

Portlaoise

3,567

501

550

South Infirmary

3,108

524

469

Sligo

3,276

773

476

St. Columcille’s

4,349

556

492

St. Luke’s Kilkenny

3,340

385

541

St. Mary’s Orthopaedic

3,906

561

582

Tralee

3,559

503

523

Tullamore

3,501

684

502

Waterford

3,349

474

535

Wexford General

3,076

514

500

Coombe

3,556

Note 2**

563

National Maternity

3,657

Note 2

677

Rotunda

3,714

Note 2

697

OLHSC, Crumlin

5,109

Note 2

1,155

Temple Street

5,281

Note 2

1,128

National Totals

3,644

540

589

*Note 1: *Cost per bed day calculation excludes day cases, outpatient services, accident and emergency cost and activity. It also excludes capital and depreciation.

**Note 2: Day case costs not currently collected.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

292 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the numbers on acute hospital waiting lists by each region and hospital. [1634/05]

Responsibility for the collection and reporting of waiting lists and waiting times falls within the remit of the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the NTPF to reply to the Deputy directly with the information requested.

Consultants’ Common Contract.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

293 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress in the negotiation of a revised contract for hospital consultants to ensure greater equity for public patients as promised in action 89 of Quality and Fairness; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1635/05]

A series of meetings has taken place between management and the medical organisations to resolve outstanding issues from the current consultants' common contract. These negotiations resulted in the introduction of a revised grievance and dispute procedure for consultants. Preliminary talks have been held between management and the medical organisations to discuss forthcoming negotiations on the new contract. Unfortunately, the opposition of these organisations to the extension of the clinical indemnity scheme to cover claims against consultants has led to a decision by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, IHCA, not to participate in further negotiations. This has resulted in the commencement of talks on a new contract being postponed.

I am anxious to break the deadlock which has arisen and I have continually indicated to the consultants that I am available to sit down with them to discuss a new contract in tandem with those issues that are of particular concern to them with regard to the clinical indemnity scheme. In this respect, I met again the IHCA before Christmas when we discussed the negotiations on the new contract for consultants and the resolution of the medical indemnity issues. I regret that the IHCA indicated it wished to resolve the indemnity issue before it will agree to negotiate a new contract. I am available to meet again with the IHCA on this matter and it is my wish to move beyond the current impasse at the earliest opportunity.

I emphasise that the root cause is the withdrawal of cover for historic liabilities of consultants by the Medical Defence Union. I have also met the Medical Defence Union to bring forward a sustainable resolution to this issue. I have also ensured that, in the meantime, consultants who have been unreasonably left without cover will receive State assistance for a legal defence for any case that arises against them.

In this regard, I regret that both medical organisations are currently considering whether to take industrial action to seek a resolution to these issues. I encourage the IHCA and the IMO not to take this action and to continue with the discussion process with a view to reaching a mutually agreeable solution.

Hospital Staff.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

294 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reasons for terminating the suspensions of persons (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1636/05]

I reviewed the suspensions of the persons concerned on 23 December 2004 and decided, based on legal advice and pursuant to the powers conferred on me as Minister for Health and Children by section 22(3) of the Health Act 1970, to terminate the suspensions with effect from that date. My decision is without prejudice to the outcome of any legal or disciplinary proceedings relating to the suspensions and, in these circumstances, I am unable to comment further.

Hospital Services.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

295 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she proposes to take on foot of the RCSI report on surgical services at Cavan General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1637/05]

At the request of my Department, the report referred to by the Deputy is being examined by the national hospitals office of the Health Service Executive. I expect to be advised by the executive in the near future as to the steps it proposes to take to address the issues raised in the report.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

296 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals for action regarding the future of surgical services at Monaghan General Hospital in view of her meeting with Cavan-Monaghan Oireachtas Members to address this matter on 9 December 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1638/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of services at Monaghan General Hospital rests with the Executive. My Department has requested the chief officer of the Health Service Executive's north-eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

297 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if extra home help will be offered to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1639/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Kildare rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 298 answered with QuestionNo. 157.

Freedom of Information.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

299 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the State, semi-State, State-sponsored and statutory bodies under the aegis of her Department which are not subject to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1997; the reason a body is not subject to the requirements of the Act; and if she envisages proposals to bring any such body within the scope of the Act in the foreseeable future. [1705/05]

The Department of Finance plans to extend freedom of information provisions to a range of appropriate bodies in 2005. Within the health sector, proposals to extend freedom of information to the following bodies are currently being finalised with that Department: An Bord Altranais; Bord na Radharcmhastóirí — Opticians Board; the Crisis Pregnancy Agency; the Dental Council; Dental Health Foundation; the Drug Treatment Centre Board; the Health Insurance Board; the Health Research Board; the Irish Health Services Accreditation Board; the Medical Council; the National Breast Screening Board; the National Cancer Registry; the National Council for the Professional Development of Nursing and Midwifery; the National Treatment Purchase Fund; the Office of Tobacco Control; the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland; the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council; the Special Residential Services Board.

The following bodies are not deemed appropriate for the application of the Act at this time for the reasons outlined below: the Food Safety Promotion Board; the Institute of Public Health; the Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal; the Adoption Board; the Voluntary Health Insurance Board; the Hospitals Trust Board; the Board for the Employment of the Blind.

The Food Safety Promotion Board is a North-South Implementation Body established under the British Irish Agreement Act 1999. Under the Agreement, Irish and Northern Ireland Ministers with responsibility for freedom of information will, as soon as practicable, draw up a code of practice on access to information for approval by the North-South Ministerial Council. Preparation of the code of practice is at an advanced stage and it is expected to be implemented during 2005.

The Institute of Public Health was established prior to the British-Irish Agreement Act 1999 under the auspices of the Department of Health and Social Services in Northern Ireland and the Department of Health and Children. It is intended to consult the institute regarding the application of the above code of practice to it. The Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal is a quasi-judicial body. Access to information concerning adoption has been the subject of an extensive process of consultation and the Minister of State with responsibility for children has recently published details of legislative proposals arising from this. The Voluntary Health Insurance Board provides private health insurance within the commercial market.

Under the current health reform programme, the Hospitals Trust Board is to be dissolved and alternative arrangements are intended for the services provided by the Board for the Employment of the Blind. These services are being examined by a working group which is expected to report on its work at the end of March.

Question No. 300 answered with QuestionNo. 157.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

301 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 89 of 16 December 2004, when the person will be called for a urology outpatients appointment at the County Hospital, Roscommon; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1855/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the County Hospital, Roscommon rests with the executive. My Department has again requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Community Care.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

302 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the full complement of beds is now in use in the Maynooth community care unit, Maynooth, County Kildare; if not, the number of beds in use; the reason for the delay in bringing the unit to full capacity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1874/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Kildare rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

303 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the serious overcrowding in recent weeks in the accident and emergency unit at Naas General Hospital, Naas, County Kildare; the way in which she intends to improve matters at the hospital prior to autumn 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1877/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of services at Naas General Hospital rests with the executive. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief officer of the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the position regarding this case and reply to the Deputy directly.

I have identified the delivery of accident and emergency services as a priority area for attention. I have announced a ten point action plan on accident and emergency services which is being financed with €70 million current funding and €10 million capital funding. My Department is liaising with the HSE to progress the implementation of the plan.

Health Services.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

304 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the waiting time for hearing tests in the region covering County Kildare by the South Western Area Health Board, now Health Service Executive; and the waiting time for the provision of hearing aids following the hearing test. [1888/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of audiology services for eligible persons in County Kildare rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

305 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the waiting time for eye tests in the region covering County Kildare by the South Western Area Health Board, now Health Service Executive; and the waiting time for the provision of glasses following the eye test. [1889/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for provision of ophthalmic services rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's south-western area to investigate the matter raised and reply to the Deputy directly.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

306 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of hours allocated for home help services in County Kildare in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. [1890/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in County Kildare rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 307 answered with QuestionNo. 157.

Asthma Management.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

308 Mr. Sargent asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the results of a study in New Zealand on a breathing method (details supplied) as a treatment for asthma; her plans to investigate the merits of the treatment and its application here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1895/05]

My attention has been drawn to this particular study and to other aspects of this matter. Therefore, I am aware of the work that is being done in this area. The causation and treatment of asthma are very complex issues involving a combination of environmental, physiological, psychological, metabolic and other factors.

As regards the particular point of this study, namely, the Buteyko breathing technique, I would make the following observation. The use of any treatment modality in any area of medical practice is a matter for individual practitioners based on best practice, as reflected in the research literature, standards and guidance provided by professional bodies and practitioners' individual experience. The Department is not in a position, therefore, to advocate the use of any particular programme of treatment in the complex and difficult area of asthma management.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

309 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to compensate registered nurses working in the intellectual disability sector who are paid significantly less than other staff working in this area with fewer qualifications, whom the nurses work alongside and in many cases supervise; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1900/05]

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

317 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will urgently resolve the major professional matters (details supplied) relating to the registered nurses in intellectual disability to ensure that they get the maximum support and ensure that persons with an intellectual disability be entitled to the same high standard of service as others; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1971/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 309 and 317 together.

The final report of the joint committee on social care professions made recommendations in relation to pay and grading structures for child care workers. The pay recommendation provided for increases of 17% to 27% for house parents-child care leaders and assistant house parents-child care workers in the residential sector. The benchmarking body, PSBB, referred to this report and recommended that these increases be extended to similar grades in the intellectual disabilities sector, IDS.

In March 2004 the Labour Court considered a claim from the Alliance of Nursing Unions for a 10.55% pay increase for nurses working in the intellectual disability sector, to restore a ‘differential' which existed between nurses and social care professionals prior to the determination of the public sector benchmarking body. While the Labour Court accepted that registered nurses intellectual disability, RNID, had traditionally been paid more than social care professionals, it stated that no formal pay ‘differential' existed between the two grades. The court noted that an understanding had been reached at the Labour Relations Commission on 3 September 2003 between the employers and the Alliance of Nursing Unions and that both parties had accepted that the report of the PSBB severed all pay links and established new absolute levels of pay for benchmarked grades. There was also an acceptance that any future benchmarking exercise or whatever subsequent arrangements are put in place for determining public service pay is the appropriate forum to examine the position of RNIDsvis-à-vis other social care professionals. The court also noted that this understanding was rejected by members of the Alliance of Nursing Unions leading to the referral to the matter to the court.

The court issued its recommendation on 1 April 2004. Having considered the written and oral submissions the court was of the view that the claim could not be dealt with outside of the established agreements. Accordingly, the court recommended that the matter be dealt with in accordance with the understanding reached between the parties at the conciliation conference on 3 September 2003 and that it be given priority in this exercise.

In the discussions on phase II of Sustaining Progress the management agreed that the position of the RNID would be considered in the next benchmarking review which will commence in the second half of 2005. The special working group on the registered nurse intellectual disability was established in April 2003 and includes representatives of the Nursing Alliance and health service employers. This group is continuing to consider issues relevant to the role of the RNID, including reporting relationships, scope of practice matters and the education of persons with severe and profound intellectual disability.

The Government is committed to enhancing services for people with intellectual disability. Between 1997 and 2004, the Government provided additional revenue and capital funding of €400 million for services for people with intellectual disability and those with autism. In late 2004, the Government announced details of a further five-year investment programme in services for people with disabilities, the cumulative cost of which will be around €900 million. A major proportion of this funding will be used to target specific high support services for people with disabilities, including those with intellectual disability or autism, provided by the health services. This investment programme is a key element of the national disability strategy announced by the Taoiseach in September 2004.

Health Services.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

310 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be called for orthodontic treatment in Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1906/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of orthodontic services for eligible persons in County Clare rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's mid-western area to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Tobacco Control.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

311 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she plans to ratify the WHO framework convention on tobacco control by 27 February 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1947/05]

I intend to bring a motion before the Oireachtas shortly seeking approval to the ratification by Ireland of the framework convention on tobacco control. The convention is an initiative of the World Health Organisation in response to the global epidemic of tobacco addiction. The treaty, which was adopted unanimously by the World Health Assembly in May 2003 and signed by Ireland in September 2003, provides an agreed approach to tobacco control at a global level.

This will be the first binding international treaty that addresses all aspects of tobacco control — the traditional health interventions such as advertising and sponsorship bans, passive smoking and retail licensing. It also addresses economic and trade issues, including taxation policy, international trade and smuggling. Other areas include product specification and issues of compensation and liability.

Ireland is a strong advocate of effective tobacco control policies and of the framework convention on tobacco control and has consistently pressed these policies nationally and internationally to protect public health and reduce deaths from tobacco related illness. To enable the treaty to come into force ratification by 40 states is necessary and this figure was achieved at the end of last year. Ireland is committed to effective tobacco control policies. Our smoke-free workplace initiative which commenced in March 2004 has drawn favourable comment from public health authorities around the world as an effective public health instrument in tackling the negative health effects of tobacco smoking. A number of other jurisdictions are using the Irish experience as a basis for similar type health interventions.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

312 Mr. Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if persons aged over 70 years with medical cards prior to December 2004, who were in long-term private nursing home care and in receipt of a subvention from the health board were entitled to this service free of any charge; the amount which will now be paid to such persons; if she will investigate the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1961/05]

As the Deputy will be aware, the placing of a person in a private nursing home is a private matter between the person or his or her representatives and the nursing home, as are the fees charged for that service. The nursing home subvention scheme was introduced to help people with some of the cost of this service and is based on need, both medical and financial. Consequently, the issue of refunds does not arise.

Health Centres.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

313 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure maximum support and funding in 2005 for a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 5; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1967/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in the Dublin 5 area rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

314 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding funding to a centre (details supplied) in Dublin 5; if it will receive the maximum support and funding in 2005. [1968/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in the Dublin 5 area rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

315 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to persons (details supplied) in Dublin 3 with their complaint regarding a hospital; and if this case will be a priority issue. [1969/05]

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

316 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE will put in place a care plan for a person (details supplied) and work closely with the family on the issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1970/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 315 and 316 together.

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of hospital services rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to examine the issues raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Question No. 317 answered with QuestionNo. 309.

Health Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

318 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the breakdown of home help expenditure in each of the health board areas which are funded by the health boards for the years 2002, 2003 and 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1976/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for the provision of health services in each county rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officers for each of the executive's areas to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

319 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a major hospital in Dublin (details supplied) states that it can only provide day service physiotherapy for patients who are over 65 years of age and had no physiotherapy stroke service for patients under 65 years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1977/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Services at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght, are provided under an arrangement with the executive. My Department has, therefore, requested the chief officer of the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the position with regard to this matter and reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

320 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there have been any recent discussions between her Department and the ERHA-Health Service Executive or the professional bodies representing chiropodists regarding the long-running issue of chiropodists charging a top up fee to elderly medical card holders for chiropody services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1982/05]

The provision of chiropody services is a matter for the local area of the Health Service Executive. This is a service which it is not statutorily obliged to provide and a variety of arrangements were in place nationally under the former Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards. As the Deputy is aware, my Department informed the Eastern Regional Health Authority that it was inappropriate to impose a charge for this service on medical card holders. There are complex inter-relationships at play and I regret that the matter was not resolved. My Department has written to the Health Service Executive with a view to getting an early resolution of this matter.

Question No. 321 answered with QuestionNo. 284.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

322 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason Ballinasloe social services, County Galway, has not had the services of an occupational therapist for more than four years; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a vital need for this service in a town and hinterland the size of Ballinasloe; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2063/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for occupational therapy rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

323 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to the case of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; if an operation will be carried out as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2065/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of health services to persons residing in counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow rests with the Health Service Executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern regional area to investigate the matter raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Health Service Executive.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

324 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the HSE advisory forums are due to be established; the number of representatives per county; if she has to make a ministerial order and, if so, when she will do so. [2066/05]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the regional health forums due to be established under section 42 of the Health Act 2004. This section of the Act provides for the establishment of regional health forums, not exceeding four, following consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The function of a regional health forum is to make representations to the Health Service Executive on the range and operation of health and personal social services provided within its functional area. Members will be appointed to a regional health forum by the city and county councils in the forum's functional area. A regional health forum is to be composed of members of each city council and each county council within the functional area of the forum who are to be appointed as members of the forum by that city council or county council.

Details relating to the establishment, composition and operation of the regional health forums will be set out in regulations to be prepared by my Department. It is my intention that these regulations will be completed in the near future to enable the fora to be established as soon as possible.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

325 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to the proposed extension and enlargement from 23 to 45 beds at Dunmanway community hospital, which was sanctioned in 1996; the progress which has been made in the meantime; and when the work will commence. [2067/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

As part of the executive's responsibility to prepare and submit an annual service plan for my approval, it is obliged under section 31 of the Act to indicate any capital plans proposed by the executive. In this process, the executive can be expected to have regard to the full range of potential capital developments, its own criteria in determining priorities, available resources and any other relevant factors.

My Department is awaiting the 2005 service plan from the Heath Service Executive. In the interim, my Department has asked the chief executive of the Health Service Executive — southern area — to investigate the position in relation to this project and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Suicide Incidence.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

326 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans for a major programme to promote suicide prevention; her views on the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2068/05]

Since the publication of the report of the national task force on suicide in 1998, there has been a positive and committed response from both the statutory and voluntary sectors towards finding ways of tackling the tragic problem of suicide. I am fully committed to the intensification of suicide prevention measures and, in this regard, work is now well underway on the preparation of a strategic action plan for suicide reduction. This strategic action plan involving the project management unit, Health Service Executive, in partnership with the national suicide review group and supported by the Department of Health and Children will build on existing policy and on the recommendations contained in the report of the national task force on suicide. All measures aimed at reducing the number of deaths by suicide will be considered in the preparation of this strategic action plan which will be published later this year.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

327 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that women who have medical cards are having to make a payment for the cervical smear test; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2069/05]

Where cervical smear testing is necessary in the context of an individual woman's medical examination and clinical needs, it is covered under the general medical services scheme. However, opportunistic cervical smear testing is not currently provided under the scheme for medical card holders. Any necessary follow-up treatment is available to all women, including medical card holders, within the public hospital system.

The Health Board Executive, HeBE, commissioned an international expert in cervical screening to carry out an examination on the feasibility and implications of a national roll-out of a cervical screening programme and her report has been submitted to my Department. My Department is now consulting with relevant professional representative and advocacy groups on the report as an essential input into its preparation of a detailed response to the recommendations. These groups are: the Irish College of General Practitioners, An Bord Altranais, the Academy of Medical Laboratory Science, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of the RCPI; the faculty of pathology of the RCPI, the women's health council and the Irish Cancer Society.

Ministerial Appointments.

John Gormley

Ceist:

328 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the public appointments made in her Department since the Cabinet reshuffle in September 2004. [2090/05]

I take it that the Deputy is referring to persons appointed by the Minister for Health and Children to State boards under the aegis of the Department from 30 September 2004 to date. These appointments are set out in the following table.

Board/Agency

Appointee

Date of Commencement of Appointment

Crisis Pregnancy Agency

Peter Finnegan

13/12/2004

Dublin Dental Hospital Board

Bernard McCartan

20/12/2004

Edward Cotter

20/12/2004

Eamon Croke

20/12/2004

William Watts

20/12/2004

Jane Davis

20/12/2004

Pat Harvey

20/12/2004

Deirdre Sadler

20/12/2004

Angela Kerins

20/12/2004

Ann Murphy

20/12/2004

Colette Morrissey

20/12/2004

Michael Horgan

20/12/2004

Colm A. O'Moráin

20/12/2004

Diarmuid B. Shanley

20/12/2004

John Clarkson

20/12/2004

Food Safety Authority

Mary Falvey

22/11/2004

Health Service Executive

Liam Downey

01/01/2005

Anne Scott

01/01/2005

Maureen Gaffney

01/01/2005

Michael McLoone

01/01/2005

Michael Murphy

01/01/2005

Niamh Brennan

01/01/2005

John A. Murray

01/01/2005

Eugene McCague

01/01/2005

P.J. Fitzpatrick

01/01/2005

Dónal de Buitléir

01/01/2005

Irish Blood Transfusion Service

Helen Enright

4/11/2004

Jane O'Brien

4/11/2004

Mary Cahill

4/11/2004

Medical Council

Kieran Murphy

30/11/2004

National Breast Screening Board

Sheelagh Ryan

01/01/2005

Olivia O'Leary

01/01/2005

Sean Hurley

01/01/2005

Pat McLoughlin

01/01/2005

Niall O'Higgins

01/01/2005

National Council on Ageing and Older People

Oliver R. Clery

23/12/2004

Paul O'Donoghue

23/12/2004

Eileen O'Dolan

23/12/2004

Annette Kelly

23/12/2004

Elaine Soffe

23/12/2004

Ruth Loane

23/12/2004

Kit Carolan

23/12/2004

John Grant

23/12/2004

Davida de la Harpe

23/12/2004

Paddy O'Brien

23/12/2004

Martina Queally

23/12/2004

Bernard Thompson

23/12/2004

Sylvia Meehan

23/12/2004

Noel Byrne

23/12/2004

John Brady

23/12/2004

Tallaght Hospital Board

Richard Conroy

10/12/2004

Gerry Hurley

10/12/2004

Chris Flood

10/12/2004

Robert Kelly

10/12/2004

Michael Gannon

10/12/2004

Salters Sterling

10/12/2004

Catherine Quinn

10/12/2004

Tony Morris

10/12/2004

Voluntary Health Insurance Board

Jim Kelly

01/02/2005

Julia Neuberger

01/02/2005

Health Services.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

329 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to the case of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; if the decision will be re-examined and this person treated as speedily as possible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2105/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of orthodontic services to eligible persons in County Wicklow rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's eastern area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

330 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will provide the HSE with €121,000 to provide a respite service at Sycamore Drive, Athlone, County Roscommon; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2110/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Responsibility for funding rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

331 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will allocate funding to the HSE to appoint a specialist counsellor at the North-West Hospice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2112/05]

The Health Act 2004 provided for the Health Service Executive, which was established on 1 January 2005. Under the Act, the executive is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services.

Responsibility for the provision of health services in Sligo rests with the executive. My Department has requested the chief officer for the executive's north western area to investigate the matter raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

332 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Question No. 207 of 30 November 2004 when she intends to commence the strategic review of existing service provision for persons with disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2119/05]

As the Deputy is aware, Sustaining Progress makes a commitment that "the Department of Health and Children will carry out a strategic review of existing service provision, in consultation with relevant interests, with a view to enhancing health and personal social services to meet the needs of people with disabilities". This review has commenced and it is anticipated that it will be completed within the lifetime of Sustaining Progress, that is, by the end of 2005.

Departmental Schemes.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

333 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 789 of 29 September 2004, the progress to date on the issue; if a detailed examination of the schemes has taken place; the reason for the delay in performing this examination; if it will be included in her Department’s business plan for 2005; when she intends to publish this plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2121/05]

A preliminary review of the vaccine damage compensation schemes in place in a number of other countries was undertaken by my Department. This review was done in order to establish general details of schemes already in existence. More recently, my officials have begun an investigation to identify the most relevant models from a clinical, administrative and fairness point of view. On completion of this investigation, I will be in a position to consider the available options. The completion of this work has been included in the Department's 2005 business plan which it is hoped will be posted on the Department's website by the end of February 2005.

Pre-School Services.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

334 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 90 of 16 December 2004, if the child care report has been finalised; if training issues for pre-school inspection staff will arise as a result of the requirements of the revised regulations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2122/05]

The report on the review of the child care — pre-school services — regulations 1996 and amendment regulations 1997 has been completed pending clarification of a small number of legal and technical issues, which is being progressed. Training issues for pre-school inspection staff which may arise as a result of the requirements of the revised regulations will be a matter for the Health Service Executive as part of the implementation of the revised regulations.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

335 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Question No. 793 of 29 September, 2004, if she will report on progress to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2124/05]

The examination on the feasibility and implications of a national roll out of a cervical screening programme, referred to in the reply to Parliamentary Question No. 793, has now been completed. The Health Board Executive, HeBE, commissioned an international expert in cervical screening to carry out the examination and her report has been submitted to my Department.

My Department is now consulting with relevant professional representative and advocacy groups on the report as an essential input into its preparation of a detailed response to the recommendations. These groups are, the Irish College of General Practitioners; An Bord Altranais; the Academy of Medical Laboratory Science; the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of the RCPI; the faculty of pathology of the RCPI; the women's health council and the Irish Cancer Society.

This year additional revenue funding of €1.1 million is being allocated to the Irish cervical screening programme for developments in quality assurance, training and more effective testing.

Disabled Drivers.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

336 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance when the medical board of appeal to the disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme will be reconstituted; when the staffing and administrative charges will be put in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34124/04]

The Department of Finance together with the Department of Health and Children, is currently reconstituting the medical board of appeal for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers — tax concessions — scheme. Progress has been made and it is expected that the new arrangements will be put in place over the coming weeks. Staffing and administration of the board are also being addressed as part of this process.

Tax Code.

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

337 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Finance the number of first-time buyers in 2004 who were exempt from paying stamp duty; the number who paid at the 3%, 3.75%, 4.5%, 7.5% and 9% rates, respectively; the amount of revenue raised in each rate for first time buyers; the number of first-time buyers who paid stamp duty at the lowest rate in Dublin in 2004; and the number who paid stamp duty at the lowest rate in Mayo in 2004. [34126/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, I changed the stamp duty rates for first-time owner-occupiers of second-hand property in the 2005 budget, which was announced on 1 December 2004. The table below outlines the old rates which were applicable up to 1 December 2004 as well as the new rates as applicable on or after 2 December 2004. It also shows relevant information available regarding the number of transactions and the stamp duty yield relating to first-time buyers who paid stamp duty in 2004, as provided to me by the Revenue Commissioners:

Thresholds

First-Time Buyer Rate Pre-Budget

Number of transactions for First-Time Buyers (Pre-Budget)

First-Time Buyer Rate Post-Budget

Number of transactions for First-Time Buyers (Post-Budget)

Stamp Duty Yield for First-Time Buyers

€190,501 to €254,000

3%

3,970

Exempt

n/a

€26.7m

€254,001 to €317,500

3.75%

2,542

Exempt

n/a

€26.5m

€317,501 to €381,000

4.5%

1,069

3%

35

€16.4m (4.5%) €0.4m (3%)

€381,001 to €635,000

7.5%

Unknown

6%

16

€0.4m

As stamp duty rates for property transactions exceeding €381,000, up to 1 December 2004, and for transactions exceeding €635,000, on or after 2 December 2004, were the same for all purchasers, it is not possible to distinguish first-time buyer transactions from other transactions in excess of those values.

Statistics on stamp duty transactions are not compiled by reference to the address of the property purchased and, accordingly, it is not possible to provide the information requested by reference to counties. Particulars of transactions where no stamp duty applies are not normally captured. Accordingly, it is not possible to provide reliable information in relation to exempt categories.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

338 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider waiving VAT charges (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34171/04]

The position is that charities and non-profit groups are exempt from VAT under the EU Sixth VAT Directive with which Irish law must comply. This means that such organisations do not charge VAT on the goods and services they provide and cannot recover VAT incurred on their input costs. Essentially, only VAT registered businesses which charge VAT are able to recover VAT. There is no provision to waive the VAT charges in respect of production costs for the CD or cassette as referred to in the question.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

339 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider a joint study between his Department and the Department of Social and Family Affairs on the advantages of refundable tax credits over current direct provision of the family income supplement. [34210/04]

The issue of paying family income supplement through the tax system was considered in late 2002 by a working group established under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness to examine the role which refundable tax credits can play in the tax and welfare system. The group was made up of representatives of the social partners and was chaired by my Department.

A perception existed at the time that the take up of the FIS scheme was low, that it was not reaching intended beneficiaries to the extent that it might and that payment through the tax and payroll systems might help in that regard. The take up of the scheme had peaked at about 14,700 at the end of 1999 but had subsequently declined to 11,700 at end September 2002. However, the examination undertaken suggested that some of the perceived disadvantages for eligible persons under the existing system, for example, the need to make an application to a State agency, could apply equally to FIS paid through the tax and payroll systems. The examination also suggested that it would probably not prove feasible to introduce a system whereby FIS would be paid automatically to eligible persons through the tax and payroll systems because of the complexities involved for employers and for the Revenue Commissioners.

I understand that since 2002, the numbers availing of the scheme have risen significantly. Average annual numbers of claimants for the years 2002 to 2004 are 11,716, 12,265 and 13,508, respectively. In the week ending 14 January 2005, there were 14,637 claimants. The improved take up may be due to a number of factors, including generous increases in FIS income thresholds over successive budgets, an increase in the minimum weekly FIS payment to €20, expansion of the economy and greater flexibility in working arrangements.

Having regard to the improved level of take up, I do not see that there is a pressing need to carry out a further examination along the lines proposed by the Deputy.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

340 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Finance if he will examine the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if the Revenue Commissioners will examine this person’s tax allowances. [34223/04]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they have written to the person concerned requesting details of all employments, any other sources of income and P60 forms. When the information requested is received, Revenue will review the person's tax credits and ensure that the taxpayer is subject to the correct tax deduction. Any overpayment of tax for earlier years will be refunded.

Flood Relief.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

341 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance his proposals to fund the Tramore Road phase of the John’s River flood relief scheme (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34228/04]

The Deputy will be aware that the Tramore Road phase of the John's River flood relief scheme has a negative cost benefit ratio and the decision was therefore taken to omit this phase from the scheme at this stage as it does not meet the Department of Finance requirement that a flood relief scheme be economically viable. While flooding of the Tramore Road causes considerable disruption and inconvenience, it is not the only access route between Tramore and Waterford and I could not justify including this phase in the scheme while other cost beneficial schemes to relieve flooding of houses and other property awaited attention.

I wish to reiterate, however, the OPW's willingness to progress the other four phases of the scheme and it is proposed to arrange a meeting shortly between OPW and Waterford City Council officials to discuss this. Alternative approaches to solving the flooding of the Tramore Road can also be discussed.

Ned O'Keeffe

Ceist:

342 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works will complete all the works to be carried out at a location (details supplied) in County Cork within the next 12 months. [34285/04]

The OPW has received a request for funding for flood relief work at Market Dock and Greens Dock in Youghal. OPW officials will assess the situation in Youghal in the near future and will establish whether the flooding is due solely to tidal forces in which case it would be a matter for the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources or is caused by a combination of tidal and fluvial influences in which case it will be a matter for OPW.

The Commissioners of Public Works will also need to quantify the potential benefits arising from any flood relief scheme, as well as any possible constraints to implementing a scheme. The local authority has been asked for it's views on these issues. When all of the relevant information is available a decision will be made on undertaking flood relief works in Youghal and on the priority to be accorded to such works within OPW's overall flood relief programme.

Tax Code.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

343 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider radical new initiatives to assist young persons to buy a home; and if he will reconsider the tax issue whereby the State takes a 40% cut from the sale of every new home. [34303/04]

Government policy in the housing market has focused, among other things, on improving supply thereby assisting home ownership particularly for first-time buyers. In this context, the years 2002 and 2003 were the eighth and ninth successive years of record housing output with 57,695 and 68,819 completions, respectively. This positive trend in supply has continued into 2004, with statistics for the six months to June showing that overall house completions at 35,957 were up 21.4% on the same period last year. The rate of house building is now more than double that in 1996.

In addition, a range of tax incentives exist to facilitate first-time buyers in purchasing their own homes. The Deputy will be aware that I introduced a stamp duty relieving measure in the 2005 budget for first-time house purchasers who are owner-occupiers of second hand houses by increasing the stamp duty exemption threshold for such purchasers from €190,500 to €317,500 and by having reduced rates for house values up to €635,000. The lowering of stamp duty rates for first-time buyers was designed to increase the affordability of residential property for such buyers, thus helping them to get a foothold in the property market. It should be noted that all owner-occupiers are generally exempt from stamp duty on new houses where the property is 125 sq. m. or less whereas an investor who purchases a new house for renting is liable for stamp duty where the price exceeds €127,000.

Mortgage interest relief is available at source in respect of interest paid on moneys borrowed for the purchase, maintenance, repair or improvement of that taxpayer's main residence, including second-hand houses. For owner-occupiers, mortgage interest relief at the standard rate is granted in respect of interest paid up to a ceiling on loans used for the purchase or improvement of a person's sole or main residence. Preferential arrangements exist for first-time buyers over other owner occupiers. The existing higher ceilings for first-time buyers on allowable interest were increased in budget 2003 and currently stand at €4,000 for a single person and €8,000 for married couples and widowed persons. The period for which these increased ceilings apply was extended from five years to seven years.

In relation to the tax take from new homes, the State finds it necessary to raise taxes from this area like all other goods and services. The Deputy may wish to note that I dealt with the issue of the tax take from the price of a new house in a reply to a parliamentary question on 23 November 2004. Figures in excess of 40% have been attributed by the house building industry to the amount that the Government raises in tax from each new home. However, this figure is wrong. In fact, based on the same industry figures, the cost of a new home that accrues directly to the Exchequer through taxation is more like 28%, based on both Dublin and national prices. This is broadly in line with the tax take on the overall economy.

Social Inclusion.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

344 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if the €33 million surplus in the 2004 final Exchequer finances will be spent on social inclusion measures. [34575/04]

The Government will spend a multiple of this small surplus amount on social inclusion in 2005. Over €12 billion will be spent on social welfare measures, including increases in old age pensions, unemployment benefit and child benefit — 8% more than in 2004. Some €2.8 billion has been allocated for health, education and accommodation services for those with an intellectual or physical disability — an increase of over 11% on 2004. Education spending in 2005 will amount to over €7 billion, a year on year increase of around 9%. The Deputy need have no concern over this Government's commitment to social inclusion.

Property Disposal.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

345 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance the number of public buildings sold or in the process of being sold by the OPW in Kildare; the value of such properties; if he will report on the guidelines regarding the sale of such properties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34589/04]

To date no properties have been identified for sale in the Kildare area. The examination of the State property portfolio by the Commissioners of Public Works with a view to identifying vacant, under-utilised, under-developed or surplus property is continuing. To date, the process has produced a number of properties deemed suitable for detailed assessment to determine their potential for disposal or redevelopment.

In considering properties for disposal, the following considerations are taken into account: Title; the planning issues in the context of their development potential; their overall condition; the extent to which decisions on decentralisation might impact on them; the alternative use to which they might be put; their likely market value. Final decisions on disposal-redevelopment will follow the completion of the detailed assessment of each of the properties in question.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

346 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the cost of introducing refundable tax credits solely for tax expenditures, that is, in respect of credits on expenditures which taxpayers have actually incurred such as mortgage interest, health insurance, bin charges and so on. [34590/04]

Tax relief for mortgage interest and health insurance already operate in effect as refundable tax credits as the relief is given at source to all, irrespective of tax liability. As for the costs of introducing refundable credits generally, this depends on the particular expenditure involved, the liability of individual taxpayers and the impact on economic behaviour of changing to a refundable tax credits system. It is not possible at this point to assess such costs with any degree of certainty.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

347 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he has considered introducing a system whereby the tax relief on bin charges would be deducted at source in the same way as applied to health insurance and mortgage interest payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34591/04]

The current tax relief for waste service charges is provided by granting a relief to taxpayers based on the charges they have paid to local authorities and private operators in the previous year, provided of course that they have actually paid the relevant amount and on time. I appreciate the thrust of the various points raised by the Deputy. There are, however, a number of factors which mitigate against a system of tax relief at source for waste service charges, in particular the different ways that service charges operate in local authorities, the changeover to the pay by use system of charging and the number of private operators involved. In general, a tax relief at source operates more easily where there are a limited number of providers of the service for the tax system to deal with. I will, however, bear in mind what the Deputy has said when I next review the application of the system.

Companies Register.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

348 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance if progress has been made with amending the State Property Act to ensure that the Companies Office notifies his Department if a residue has accrued to the State from companies that have been struck off the Register of Companies. [34596/04]

The position regarding residues, either lands or other assets, belonging to companies which are struck off the Register of Companies under company law is that such residues become the property of the State under section 28(2)(a) of the State Property Act 1954. More than 5,000 companies have been struck off the register per annum in recent times. The cost of establishing and maintaining an administrative structure for monitoring property devolving to the State under such circumstances would be substantial as the vast bulk of the property involved consists of small units such as footpaths and roads in housing estates and the common areas, internal and external, of apartment blocks. It is not clear that any countervailing benefits would ensue. In the circumstances, it is considered that the present arrangement, whereby the State becomes aware of property accruing to it on foot of the dissolution of struck-off companies when notified by interested parties, should continue.

Regulation of Gambling.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

349 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if he has issued directives to curtail gambling through the use of mobile telephones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31197/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

350 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the encouragement of gambling on the Internet; if he will issue directives to control the extent of the problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31199/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

351 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the extent to which the Internet and mobile telephone system is being used to promote gambling to the detriment of young persons and families; if he intends to issue instructions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31211/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 349 to 351, inclusive, together.

Regarding the growth of betting by phone and the Internet, I refer the Deputy to my previous reply of 30 November 2004 on this matter. There is a limit to what can be achieved in tax legislation and this is particularly the case when considering the problem of excessive gambling.

Cross-Border Funding.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

352 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if public funds have been provided through the cross-Border INTERREG funding programme to support the activities of a group (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34621/04]

The INTERREG IIIA, Ireland-Northern Ireland programme, is managed by the special EU programmes body, SEUPB, one of six North-South implementation bodies set up under strand II of the Good Friday Agreement. The SEUPB has informed me that the group in question was part of a consortium that applied for funding under the INTERREG IIIA Ireland-Northern Ireland programme on 22 January 2004 under priority 1.1 business and economic development.

This application was approved for grant assistance of €308,682 out of a total project cost of €661,414 on 30 March 2004 by the Ireland-Northern Ireland INTERREG steering committee, subject to a successful economic appraisal. The steering committee is responsible for formally determining which applications are to receive offers of assistance under the programme. The economic appraisal found the project to be compliant with both national and EU regulations.

Tax Collection.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

353 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance the additional cost in income tax per taxpayer if bin charges were eliminated and replaced by income tax. [1052/05]

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is responsible in Government for national waste management policy. The position as I understand it is that local authorities are obliged to collect or arrange for the collection of household waste within their functional areas. However, this obligation does not apply in certain circumstances, including where an adequate waste collection service is otherwise available.

At present, of the 34 city-county councils involved in waste management planning, some 20 are privately operated, while 14 remain local authority operated. In the areas where a local authority collection service is in place, the determination of charges for the service is a matter for the local authority itself. In areas where the local authority is not involved in the collection service, the determination of charges is a matter for the private collectors concerned.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has no function in the setting of waste charges and therefore it has not been the policy of that Department to collect full data on waste charges. However, based on returns received from local authorities in respect of their 2004 adopted budgets, income from domestic refuse charges applied by local authorities themselves is estimated to amount to €113 million for 2004. This figure does not include data in respect of private collectors.

As the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government does not collect full data on the total cost of waste collection it is not possible to say what the additional cost to the taxpayer would be to provide such a service if bin charges were eliminated.

Flood Relief.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

354 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to correspondence from North Tipperary County Council regarding necessary maintenance work to the Ballyfinboy River; if his attention has further been drawn to the urgency associated with such maintenance work; when he will sanction the necessary funds to carry out this work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1059/05]

The Ballyfinboy River does not form part of any drainage scheme for which the Commissioners of Public Works have a maintenance responsibility under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945. Moreover, from the information available to the commissioners, it appears that this river would be unlikely to meet the criteria that would lead to it being included on the priority list for flood relief schemes in the foreseeable future.

Tax Code.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

355 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Finance his plans to address the discrimination against single income families, in cases in which one person earns €56,000 and pays 20% tax on €37,000 plus 42% income tax on the balance yet a married couple with two incomes pay 20% tax on the first €56,000 of taxable income, particularly as the home carer tax credit of €770 was not increased in budget 2005 or in the two previous budgets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1113/05]

I do not accept the Deputy's assertion that there is unfair discrimination in the situation outlined in his question. While the couples may have the same income, they are not in the same situation. The difference in treatment between married one income and married two income couples with regard to the standard rate band arises as part of the policy of band widening which was commenced in budget 2000. The aim was to achieve a position that eventually each individual would have his-her own non-transferable standard rate band. This was with a view to achieving a number of objectives. It was seen to be the most cost effective way of moving towards a position where 20% of income-earners are on the top rate of tax.

As the Deputy may be aware, this is one of the key Government taxation priorities set out in the Government programme and endorsed in the current national agreement Sustaining Progress. It helped to deal with the situation where single people on moderate wages had a relatively high tax burden and it also helped address the problem whereby married persons returning to the workforce faced high marginal rates of tax almost from the first euro of earnings because the full band was already being used by their spouse.

It should be noted that married couples can still benefit from double personal tax credits. The employee — PAYE — credit is only available to employees and not to others so it is not doubled up for a married one-earner. However, this has always been the position in relation to the PAYE credit which was introduced as an allowance in 1979. It might also be noted that there are costs associated with earning an income which are likely to be greater if two persons rather than one person must work outside the home to earn the same total income.

The home carer tax credit, formerly an allowance, was introduced in Finance Act 2000 and is designed to recognise the contribution made by a spouse who remains working in the home in order to care for children or the aged or incapacitated, other than the spouse of the claimant. It currently amounts to €770 per annum. The provision is intended to cover situations where a spouse has forfeited a second income to care for dependents in the home. It is available only to married couples who are jointly assessed for tax. While it was decided not to increase the home carer tax credit in budget 2005, it is worth noting that couples who benefit from the credit will gain significantly in 2005 from the income tax changes I announced in the budget. For example, a married one-earner on PAYE with two children on a salary of €58,800 per annum will gain €765.48 from the budget. This is made up of €658 from increases in tax credits and band widening as well as €180 from increases in child benefit, less €72.52 in additional social insurance contributions.

The position is that nobody has lost out as a result of the introduction of the band widening policy relative to his or her former position. In fact, as a result of positive developments in the tax system over the last number of years, including band widening, all categories of income earner, including married one-earner couples, have seen their average tax rates fall considerably.

In an international context, the most recent data available from the OECD relating to the year 2003 indicate that for the average production worker, who is married with two children with a carer in the home, Ireland now has the lowest tax wedge — that is, income tax, levies, and employers and employees PRSI, as a percentage of gross income plus employers PRSI — in the EU and, indeed, in the entire OECD. Furthermore, recently released OECD data show that the tax wedge for such workers has fallen more sharply in Ireland than in any other OECD country reflecting the progress that the Government has made in this area.

Mary Wallace

Ceist:

356 Ms M. Wallace asked the Minister for Finance if there are special exemptions from stamp duty for purchasers who have no option but to move under advice of a Department or agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1114/05]

The Deputy will be aware that there are a number of incentives in place to assist owner-occupiers in purchasing residential property. There is no stamp duty on the purchase of new residential property for owner-occupiers where the dwelling is not greater than 125 sq. m. and complies with certain conditions in relation to building standards. If the property is over 125 sq. m., stamp duty is charged on the site value or one quarter of the total value of the property, whichever is the greater. Also, I introduced a stamp duty relieving measure in the 2005 budget for first-time house purchasers who are owner-occupiers of second hand houses by increasing the stamp duty exemption threshold for such purchasers from €190,500 to €317,500 and by having reduced rates for house values up to €635,000.

Mortgage interest relief, MIR, is also available at source in respect of interest paid on moneys borrowed for the purchase, maintenance, repair or improvement of that taxpayer's main residence. From 1 January 2003, a first-time mortgage holder can claim 100% tax relief for the first seven years, five years prior to 1 January 2003, of the mortgage at the standard rate of tax, currently 20%, on the interest paid within the following limits: €8,000 for a married couple who are jointly assessed for tax; €8,000 for a widow(er); €4,000 for a single person.

Apart from those outlined above, there are no special exemptions from stamp duty in the circumstances outlined by the Deputy and there are no plans to introduce such exemptions.

Garda Stations.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

357 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Finance if he will present a report on considerations by the OPW of the future Garda station needs of Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the need for a specific announcement to be made by OPW in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1116/05]

I understand that the Garda authorities are considering their accommodation requirements at Tallaght. My office is not in a position to consider the re-design of the Tallaght station until a revised brief has been received from the Garda authorities and the Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform.

Disabled Drivers.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

358 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Finance the reason for the problem with regard to remission of VAT and VRT to a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1117/05]

I amadvised by the Revenue Commissioners that the organisation in question currently has eight vehicles registered under the disabled drivers and disabled passengers — tax concessions — regulations 1994 on which VAT and VRT have been repaid.

Under the regulations, repayment or remission is given only where the Revenue Commissioners are satisfied that the vehicle in question is a reasonable requirement of the organisation making the claim, having regard to the number of qualifying disabled persons being transported by that organisation and the number and capacity of vehicles already owned by that organisation. The organisation concerned was advised on 28 July 2003 that any future applications under the above regulations would be considered for replacement vehicles only. On 11 March 2004, the organisation applied for repayment of VRT and VAT on two additional vehicles. It was requested to submit a business plan supporting the application to expand its fleet of vehicles. A reply has not been received to date to this request. On receipt of the requested information by the Revenue Commissioners' central repayments office, Monaghan, further consideration will be given to the application.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

359 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance when the small income exemption limit was last increased; the value it would now represent if it had kept a pace with increases in personal tax allowances; the cost of restoring the small income exemption limit to that level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1186/05]

The general exemption limits were last increased in 1998-99, apart from a small upward rounding in 2002 because of conversion to the euro. It stands at €5,210 for a single person and €10,420 for a married couple. There are child additions of €575 for the first and second child, and €830 for third and subsequent children. The general exemption limits have not been increased in recent years. This is as a result of a deliberate policy of removing those on low incomes from the tax system through increases in the personal credits rather than through higher general exemption limits.

The approach taken is in line with the recommendations of the expert working group on the integration of tax and social welfare systems 1996, which considered that the exemption limits should effectively be phased out. At the time, the interaction between the system of marginal relief, which is an integral part of the exemption limits arrangements, and the withdrawal of family income supplement was seen as potentially giving rise to a negative impact on work incentives as well as causing severe poverty traps for a small number of people in a narrow band of income. The group also held that it was difficult to justify, as a matter of principle, the imposition of high marginal rates of tax on low income.

The age exemption system, however, remains in operation to the benefit of a significant number people aged 65 and over, and their spouses. The cost associated with reviving the general exemption limit system, by reference to the increase in the aggregate value of the personal credits, is set out below. The aggregate value of the basic personal tax credit and the employee, PAYE, tax credit has increased by 184% from a combined allowance of €5,016 to a combined credit of €2,850, which equates to a combined allowance of €14,250 at 20%.

I understand from the Revenue Commissioners that if the general exemption limits were increased in value by the same percentage as the combined value of the personal credits, that is, 184%, they would now have a value of €14,796, single, and €29,592, married. Assuming a similar percentage increase in the child addition to the exemption limits, and also in the associated marginal relief limits, the total cost to the Exchequer would be about €226 million in a full year in post budget 2005 terms.

Flood Relief.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

360 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if he has had discussions with Kildare County Council regarding the alleviation of flooding at Mill Lane, Leixlip, County Kildare, a report on which has been prepared by the County Council; if he expects to be in a position to offer financial assistance toward the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1187/05]

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

382 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance if he has received a report from Kildare County Council in relation to flood alleviation measures in Leixlip, County Kildare; if funding is available from his Department to carry out the work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1871/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 360 and 382 together.

The Office of Public Works has received a copy of the executive summary of a study commissioned by Kildare County Council into localised flood relief works at Leixlip. The OPW has written to the county council requesting additional information including a copy of the full study in order that consideration can be given to their application for funding for the proposed works.

Freedom of Information.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

361 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the State, semi-State, State-sponsored and statutory bodies under the aegis of his Department which are not subject to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1997; the reason a body is not subject to the requirements of the Act; and if he envisages proposals to bring any such body within the scope of the Act in the foreseeable future. [1194/05]

The State, semi-State, State-sponsored and statutory bodies under the aegis of my Department that are not subject to the Freedom of Information Acts are: Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland; Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority; Financial Services Ombudsman; National Treasury Management Agency; National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission; National Development Finance Agency; State Claims Agency; Valuation Tribunal; Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal; Public Service Benchmarking Body, non-statutory; and the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector, non-statutory.

Proposals for extending freedom of information are being developed at present in my Department in the context of plans to extend freedom of information to other appropriate bodies by the end of 2005.

In addition to the above bodies, the special EU programmes body under the aegis of my Department is a North-South implementation body established under the British Irish Agreement Act 1999. The Act states that "the Irish and Northern Ireland Ministers with responsibility for Freedom of Information will as soon as practicable draw up a code of practice on access to information for approval by NSMC". Preparation of the code of practice is at an advanced stage and it is expected to be implemented during 2005. My Department is, of course, covered by the freedom of information legislation and any information held by it which is common to both the Department and the special EU programmes body is therefore subject to freedom of information.

Flood Relief.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

362 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance the funding set aside in the River Nore flood relief scheme to re-stock the river when the scheme is completed; the timeframe for restocking the river; when it is likely to commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1195/05]

There is no specific funding set aside at present to restock the River Nore on completion of the drainage scheme as there are no indications to date that such a measure will be required.

Fish population has been carefully considered by the Office of Public Works and the Central Fisheries Board prior to and during the scheme. The Southern Regional Fisheries Board has also been intimately involved in fisheries considerations as the River Nore lies within its jurisdiction. As part of the requirements of the environmental impact statement, a fish population study was carried out on the River Nore prior to the commencement of works on the drainage scheme. As it was evident that the scheme works would have an impact on the fishery habitat, appropriate mitigation measures were incorporated into the scheme works.

Fish population surveys will be carried out post-scheme in order to establish if fish stocks have recovered naturally as it is anticipated they will. An initial study will take place in autumn 2005 with further monitoring studies to be carried out over the next four years. These studies will be carried out by the Central Fisheries Board, working with the Southern Regional Fisheries Board, on behalf of the Office of Public Works.

If the initial survey indicates a depletion of fish stocks, the Central Fisheries Board will advise the OPW of the appropriate measures required and a timeframe for the implementation of any such measures will then be established. The Central Fisheries Board has, however, indicated that physical restoration work to encourage reproduction of the rivers' indigenous stock is usually the method preferred for building up fish stock, particularly in a naturally productive river such as the Nore, as it encourages bio-diversity and does not undermine the genetic structures of the native river fish populations.

The substantial late run of salmon, which caused problems at Lacken Weir some weeks ago, is an encouraging sign that natural recovery will occur successfully.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

363 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance if he will approve the flood relief scheme for Bandon. [1215/05]

Cork County Council submitted an engineering report to the Commissioners of Public Works, which makes proposals in relation to a flood relief scheme for Bandon, County Cork. This report is currently being considered by OPW and a decision on including Bandon in the OPW programme of potential flood relief schemes will be made as soon as possible.

Financial Services Regulation.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

364 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Finance if, further to previous replies, he has yet received the report from the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority on endowment loan shortfalls; if not, if the IFSRA has advised him on when the report will be available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1220/05]

The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, IFSRA, is statutorily independent in the carrying out of its regulatory functions and I have no involvement in its day to day activities. However, I am advised that in 2004 IFSRA wrote to all lenders and insurers seeking information on the their endowment businesses. The information requested included details of, inter alia, the number of endowment policies currently in force, the number of policyholders likely to be impacted by shortfalls and requested details of the steps institutions are taking to inform and advise their customers of options available where a shortfall is projected.

Responses have now been received from the institutions surveyed. The process of compiling and analysing the information submitted is currently underway with a view to ascertaining a clearer picture of the nature and extent of the shortfall problem. When the information has been analysed, IFSRA will consider what appropriate action should be taken.

Tax Code.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

365 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance the reason psychiatric hospitals and geriatric-psychiatric hospitals do not qualify for tax incentives in the same way as mainstream nursing homes. [1230/05]

In the budget and Finance Act 1998 the Government introduced a system of capital allowances specifically for nursing homes that are registered with a health board. The purpose of this targeted measure was to encourage investment in increased nursing home capacity and in improved facilities for the elderly and incapacitated for which there continues to be a demand. When the scheme of capital allowances for the construction of private hospitals was introduced in 2001, the question of including psychiatric hospitals and geriatric-psychiatric hospitals within the ambit of this scheme did not arise.

In recent months I have received proposals with regard to the provision of capital allowances for psychiatric hospitals. These proposals are being examined in my Department.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

366 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Finance if a first-time buyer of a second-hand house purchased in November 2004 is entitled to relief from stamp duty or a refund of any kind; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1282/05]

As the Deputy will be aware, the 2005 budget introduced a stamp duty relieving measure for first-time house purchasers who are owner-occupiers of second-hand houses by increasing the stamp duty exemption threshold for such purchasers from €190,500 to €317,500 and by having reduced rates for house values up to €635,000.

Where a contract has been entered into prior to 2 December 2004 the new rates will apply provided the instrument, for example, deed of conveyance or transfer or lease, giving effect to the contract is executed on or after 2 December 2004. If someone is unsure as to whether the instrument relating to the property was executed before this date, I would advise them to contact their solicitor for confirmation. If someone is a first-time buyer who is an owner-occupier and the instrument giving effect to the contract was executed before the date outlined above, the stamp duty rates in force before 2 December 2004 would apply and there would be no entitlement to a refund of stamp duty already paid in such a case.

When relieving changes to the stamp duty code are introduced, they take effect from a date specified at the time of the introduction of the measure and are not applied retrospectively. As the Deputy will no doubt appreciate, if one were to backdate the budget change to conveyances executed, say, one week before budget day, there would be strong claims of discriminatory treatment from those who incurred the stamp duty liability, say, two weeks earlier.

Flood Relief.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

367 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance the Department responsible for the design of the fish pass at Lacken Weir, Kilkenny which was part of the River Nore relief scheme; if the drawing or plans of the pass are available; if a new fish pass is to be constructed; if the existing pass is to be modified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1283/05]

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has responsibility for the specification for the fish pass and OPW has responsibility for the production of the design and the installation of the pass. The final design produced was approved by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources prior to construction. Copies of the construction drawings can be made available to interested parties on request.

A review of the functioning of the fish pass is currently being carried out by the OPW, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Southern Regional Fisheries Board. Upon completion of the review, OPW will be in a position to confirm the exact nature of any work required. Preliminary investigations, however, indicate that some modifications to the existing fish pass will resolve the issues associated with the functioning of the pass.

Tax Collection.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

368 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance the amount collected by the Exchequer in direct payments of VAT, PAYE and PRSI from the greyhound racing and breeding sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1365/05]

I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information furnished on tax returns generally does not require the yield from a particular sector or sub-sector of trade to be identified. In these circumstances, the amount of tax revenues collected under all taxation headings in respect of the greyhound and breeding sector cannot be readily identified from the overall yield from taxation. Accordingly, the specific information required by the Deputy is not readily available and could not be obtained without conducting a protracted examination of the Revenue Commissioners' records.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

369 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance the amount collected by the Exchequer in direct payments of VAT, PAYE and PRSI from the horse racing and breeding sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1366/05]

I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information furnished on tax returns generally does not require the yield from a particular sector or sub-sector of trade to be identified. In these circumstances, the amount of tax revenues collected under all taxation headings in respect of the horse-racing and breeding sector cannot be readily identified from the overall yield from taxation. Accordingly, the specific information required by the Deputy is not readily available and could not be obtained without conducting a protracted examination of the Revenue Commissioners' records.

Tax Code.

John Cregan

Ceist:

370 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Finance the situation in relation to a house let out by the owners in order to pay for their private nursing home fees; if such a situation would affect this person’s tax situation in any way; if they would be liable for capital gains tax on the increased capital value of the house for the years it was let out; if the rental would affect the gift or inheritance tax later when sold for distribution to this person’s children; the way in which their situation would be treated if the house were sold prior to death and after death; if he will provide the exemption limits for tax payable by this person’s children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1367/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that profits arising on letting a house in the circumstances outlined will be aggregated with other income arising in the same year and chargeable to income tax. Exemption from income tax is available where total income for the year does not exceed the appropriate limits. For 2005, for a person aged 65 years and over, these are €16,500 and €33,000 for single-widowed individuals and married couples respectively. A person chargeable to income tax may claim a deduction for the cost of maintenance or treatment in an approved nursing home, by virtue of S469 TCA 1997, relief for health expenses. A list of approved nursing homes can be viewed on the Revenue website atwww.revenue.ie.

Capital gains tax treatment will depend on when the property is sold. If it is sold prior to death the gain is calculated by reference to the consideration on sale and the cost on acquisition, or value at 6 April 1974 if acquired before that date. This gain is apportioned for main residence relief purposes on the basis of the period, inclusive of the final 12 months of ownership in any event, during which the property was occupied as the main residence and the overall period of ownership, or from 6 April 1974 if relevant. The period of stay in a nursing home would not be considered a period of principal private residence of the family home during the time it was rented. If the property is sold after death the gain is computed on the difference between the sale consideration and the market value at the date of death. Main residence relief does not apply to this gain.

The gift and inheritance tax free thresholds from parents to children is €466,725. No gift or inheritance tax is payable by any child unless the value of that child's gifts or inheritances received from their parents since 2 December 1991 exceeds this figure. The letting of the house prior to a gift or inheritance of the proceeds of sale of the house being received by the children does not affect the gift or inheritance position of the children. If the Deputy has a specific case in mind, he may wish to contact Revenue directly with further details for a more definitive reply.

Site Acquisition.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

371 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance if the OPW has yet acquired a site for the new office of Ordnance Survey Ireland to the decentralised to Dungarvan, County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1584/05]

The Office of Public Works has identified a number of suitable sites in Dungarvan. Negotiations are currently in train with a view to acquiring the best overall property solution at this location for the decentralisation programme.

Decentralisation Programme.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

372 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance if the 300 Ordnance Survey Ireland office jobs promised for decentralisation to Dungarvan, County Waterford in budget 2004 includes the 100 jobs in the six regional offices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1585/05]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

373 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance his proposals to open an advance office for 20 or more staff of Ordnance Survey Ireland in Dungarvan, County Waterford to begin the process of decentralising the promised 300 Ordnance Survey Ireland jobs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1586/05]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

374 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance if he is aware that some staff members of Ordnance Survey Ireland purchased houses in the Dungarvan, County Waterford area following indications that an advance office for 20 or more staff would be set up in the town as a forerunner to the decentralisation of the full 300 jobs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1587/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 372 to 374, inclusive, together.

In reply to a parliamentary question on 4 February 2004, my predecessor stated that approximately 210 staff based in Dublin would decentralise to Dungarvan, County Waterford. The relocation of Ordnance Survey Ireland, OSI, to Dungarvan will not affect its existing regional offices.

The outline implementation plan prepared by OSI in June 2004 stated that it would be preferable to establish an advance office prior to decentralisation. The data from the central application facility, CAF, published in September 2004 indicated that there are 15 members of the staff of OSI who have applied to decentralise and 47 expressions of interest for decentralisation to Dungarvan. In November, the decentralisation implementation group, DIG, published its list of "early movers". This list, which was accepted by Government, does not include OSI. It is expected that a further report will issue from the group in spring 2005 dealing with all remaining locations, including Dungarvan. The issue of a possible advance office in Dungarvan will be considered in the light of that report.

The purchase of property in any location by individual staff members is a matter for themselves, having regard to published information on the decentralisation programme.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

375 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he has considered the desirability of extending tax relief for charitable donations to include other than cash contributions, such as share securities or property; and his policy towards extending relief in this way. [1589/05]

As the Deputy is aware, the Finance Act 2001 introduced a new uniform scheme of tax relief on donations made by either individuals or corporate bodies to eligible charities and other approved bodies, including first and second level schools and third level institutions, including universities. The minimum qualifying donation for relief purposes to any one eligible charity or approved body is €250 per annum. Generally speaking, there is no upper limit on the amount which can be donated and qualify for relief. Donations must be in the form of money and can be on a cumulative basis for any one year. Thus, a weekly donation of €5 per week can qualify for the relief. The relief on the donation is at the individual's marginal rate of tax.

It should be noted that while the tax relief on donations scheme does not apply to the donation of non-cash assets, relief from capital gains tax is available where an asset is donated to an eligible charity. Essentially, where a donation of a non-cash asset is made to an eligible charity, the disposal is deemed for capital gains tax purposes to be made for such an amount as to ensure that neither a gain nor a loss accrues on the disposal. Thus, no charge to capital gains tax arises to either the donor or the receiving charity on subsequent disposal of the asset. Income tax relief on the value of an asset donated together with the current capital gains tax exemption would amount to a double relief. Such a concession could result in tax relief which was significantly higher than marginal rate income tax relief being granted.

The income tax for donations of cash presupposes that the individual is making the donation from income on which he or she has paid income tax to the value of the relief being claimed. Such a link may be broken where non-cash items are involved. In addition, the inclusion of non-cash gifts would also give rise to valuation issues. Extending the scheme to non-cash items would give rise to significant additional cost to the Exchequer in regard to a scheme which is already very generous.

The existing scheme of tax relief on donations is effective in encouraging greater donations. I understand that the Irish Charities Tax Reform Group has informed my officials that they have found the relief very useful in obtaining donations.

Disabled Drivers.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

376 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Finance if, due to the difficulties encountered by blind and visually impaired persons living in rural Ireland in accessing the free public transport to which they are entitled, he will consider funding the extension of the refund of VAT and other taxes on a new car, and on all petrol used on running that car to the households of blind and visually impaired persons in cases in which the car is solely for the family’s personal use. [1590/05]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. This scheme is open to those with disabilities who meet the specified criteria and have obtained a primary medical certificate to that effect. The senior area medical officer attached to the relevant local health board is responsible for both the medical assessment and the issue of the medical certificate.

The medical criteria for the purposes of the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. Six different types of disablement are listed under the regulations and a qualifying person must satisfy one or more of them. The six types of disablement are as follows: persons who are wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs; persons who are wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs; persons without both hands or without both arms; persons without one or both legs; persons wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; and persons having the medical condition of dwarfism and who have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

An individual who qualifies under the medical criteria, as set out above, is issued with a primary medical certificate, possession of which qualifies the holder for remission or repayment of vehicle registration tax, VRT, a repayment of value added tax, VAT, on the purchase of the vehicle and a repayment of VAT on the cost of adaptation of the vehicle. Repayment of the excise duty on fuel used in the motor vehicle and exemption from annual road tax to local authorities are also allowed.

An interdepartmental review group was established to review the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. The group examined all aspects of the scheme, including the qualifying medical criteria. Its report was published on my Department's website in early July and copies have been placed in the Oireachtas Library. As agreed by Government in June, I will consider the report on an ongoing basis in the overall budgetary context, having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme.

Pension Provisions.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

377 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if, in view of the announcement by his predecessor regarding public pension increases (details supplied), he will give the increases awarded to date under these proposals; indicate the increase which is due to a pensioner with 35 years of service as a clerical officer who has a fortnightly pension of €569; and when these increases will be awarded. [1591/05]

I will be introducing the pension increases referred to at an early date. These arrangements will have retrospective effect to 1 January 2004. The new arrangements relate only to the pension entitlement of workers with a pensionable salary below the threshold of 3.33 times the rate of the contributory old age pension, €31,186, and whose occupational pensions are integrated with the social welfare contributory old age pension.

Integration applies in the case of public civil servants who are fully covered for pay related social insurance, class A, PRSI. The social welfare pension is merged with the employer's occupational pension to provide a combined pension which, at 40 years service, is no less than the occupational pension, where the total pension is paid by way of occupational pension only. Generally, civil servants, including clerical officers recruited prior to 1995, are not fully covered by PRSI and, as such, their pensions are not integrated with the social welfare pension. Accordingly, they do not qualify under the new arrangements.

In addition, from the information supplied in this particular case, it appears that the pensionable salary of the official in question would not fall below the threshold of 3.33 times the rate of OACP and accordingly would not qualify under the new arrangements, even if the individual were in class A, PRSI.

Tax Certificates.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

378 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance when a P21 form will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1592/05]

I amadvised by the Revenue Commissioners that a PAYE balancing statement, P21 form, for the year 2003 issued to the taxpayer on 21 January 2005.

Tax Code.

Ned O'Keeffe

Ceist:

379 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of the Revenue Commissioners will investigate a business park (details supplied) in County Cork for breaches under the Finance Act 1997 at which special tax designation status has been secured for the development but it is understood that a number of firms are allegedly in breach of the criteria. [1593/05]

As the Deputy is aware, the Revenue Commissioners cannot comment publicly on particular cases. Section 343 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for the granting of capital allowances to certain qualifying companies carrying on qualifying trading operations in enterprise areas. Both the Revenue Commissioners and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment have roles in the administration of this provision. The Revenue Commissioners do not determine whether or not companies are entitled to be certified as qualifying companies for the purposes of claiming the capital allowances provided for in the section.

Section 343(1) of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides that a qualifying company must have received a certificate indicating its qualification from the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment following consultation with the Minister for Finance. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment may not certify that a company is a qualifying company unless it is carrying on, or intends to carry on, qualifying trading operations in an enterprise area and the Minister is satisfied that the carrying on of such trading operations will contribute to the balanced development of the enterprise area.

The qualifying trading operations in this instance are those manufacturing activities that qualify for manufacturing relief in accordance with section 443 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, internationally traded services, that is those services designated under the Industrial Development Act 1986, and freight forwarding and certain allied services in enterprise areas adjacent to the regional airports. Section 343(4) of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 also empowers the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to revoke the certificate in circumstances where the company has failed to comply with any of its conditions.

The Revenue Commissioners may have to satisfy themselves as to whether the other conditions for claiming the capital allowances, provided for in the section, have been fulfilled. These conditions include the requirement to carry on qualifying trading operations and to claim the rates of allowance provided for in the section.

John Perry

Ceist:

380 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Finance if the status of a company (details supplied) can be backdated to 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1831/05]

I understand the Deputy's question relates to the charitable tax exemption status of the company. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that charitable tax exemption was granted to the company on 25 November 2004. There is no provision whereby the charitable tax status can be backdated to 2002.

Tax Yield.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

381 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the amount of VAT collected annually on the sale of parts for the motor industry. [1848/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the amount of VAT collected in respect of the sale of parts by the motor industry cannot be identified in the overall yield of VAT, as the information furnished on VAT returns from the industry does not require this to be identified. The only relevant information available regarding VAT on motor parts is in respect of the purchase of car accessories for which the VAT yield in 2004 is estimated at €28 million and in respect of car repairs for which the VAT yield, including the VAT collected in respect of labour, is estimated at €34 million.

Question No. 382 answered with QuestionNo. 360.

Flood Relief.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

383 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance if further technical and engineering reports have been provided by Kildare County Council in regard to flood alleviation in Ardclough, County Kildare; if he will make funding available for the required work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1872/05]

Kildare County Council has provided no further technical or engineering reports for the Office of Public Works in regard to flood alleviation in Ardclough, County Kildare.

Garda Stations.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

384 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance if negotiations with Kildare County Council for the acquisition of a small portion of land to the front of the site for the new Garda station for Leixlip, County Kildare, have been concluded; if a revised sketch scheme has been submitted to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for approval; if approval has issued from this Department; when construction will commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1884/05]

Negotiations are ongoing with Kildare County Council for the acquisition of an additional plot of land for this development. The Office of Public Works wrote to the council again on 5 January 2005 seeking to finalise the matter and is awaiting the council's response. When these negotiations are completed satisfactorily, a revised sketch scheme will be issued to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for approval.

National Monuments.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

385 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance if the OPW has completed its review of options for increasing visitor numbers to Maynooth Castle; if the completion of the second phase of the restoration works to the castle formed part of the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1886/05]

Plans are being drawn up for a dedicated promotional campaign for Maynooth Castle, including advertising in the local press. With regard to possible future development at Maynooth Castle, the position remains as set out in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 185 of 17 November 2004.

Decentralisation Programme.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

386 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the details of all sites being examined by his Department in the Listowel area in respect of the decentralisation programme; and the criteria used to assess the suitability of each site. [1892/05]

The Office of Public Works has identified a number of potentially suitable property solutions, which includes both sites and buildings, for the decentralisation to Listowel. It is expected that the associated evaluation process, which is at an advanced stage, will be completed shortly.

The main evaluation criteria applicable to the assessment of all property solutions on the decentralisation programme are as follows: the proposed cost of the accommodation offered either by way of lease, outright purchase or on a deferred purchase basis; the proposed timescale within which the accommodation can be provided; the quality of the design and specification; the potential for future expansion exhibited by any proposed site or building; the proximity of the site or building to amenities and any available transportation mode; the practicality of any car parking proposal submitted in respect of the site or building; and the requirement that premises should comply where appropriate with all relevant sections of health and safety legislation, building regulations and planning legislation and should be fully accessible to persons with disabilities.

Communications Masts.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

387 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance if he will give a categorical assurance in writing to residents living in the vicinity of Ardee Road, Rathmines, Dublin 6 that the erection of telecommunications equipment on an OPW building by a company (details supplied) will not pose a health threat to the residents in the vicinity or the pupils of St. Mary’s College, Rathmines and if, in the event of any damage done to the health of such persons, he and the Office of Public Works will accept responsibility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1952/05]

The company referred to is a telecommunications consultancy company appointed by the Commissioners of Public Works in August 2003 to assess the suitability of the State property portfolio for use in the mobile telecommunications sector and to act in an advisory capacity to the commissioners in their dealings with mobile telecommunications operators. As part of this process, a licence to install equipment on Ardee House, Rathmines, has been granted to a mobile phone operator.

Under the terms of the licence, the operator is required to comply strictly with all relevant health and safety legislation, to operate within current standards and EU regulations and to adhere to the guidelines on exposure limits to emissions, issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, ICNIRP. This compliance with health and safety legislation and so on required under the licence agreement also applies to any future relevant legislation or regulations and ICNIRP guidelines.

Motor Fuels.

John Cregan

Ceist:

388 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Finance the situation regarding the price of diesel; if he will track the price vis-à-vis petrol at wholesale or retail level; the reason diesel has increased in price vis-à-vis petrol; if the increasing price of diesel is mainly due to production prices, refining or taxation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1987/05]

Fuel prices are driven by a number of factors, including the price of oil on international markets, exchange rates, production costs and refining costs. The rise in oil prices over recent periods reflected additional factors such as geopolitical uncertainty, supply disruptions and strong economic growth in "catch-up" countries such as China. Mineral oil taxes are also a factor influencing fuel prices. However, as the Deputy may be aware, I did not increase taxation on motor fuels in the recent budget.

In respect of the tracking of petrol pricesvis-à-vis diesel prices, the CSO’s national average price survey of these fuels for 2004 produced the results set out in the following table.

Unleaded Petrol

Auto Diesel

€ Litre

€ Litre

January 2004

0.894

0.826

February 2004

0.900

0.830

March 2004

0.897

0.825

April 2004

0.921

0.842

May 2004

0.984

0.864

June 2004

0.997

0.916

July 2004

0.975

0.905

August 2004

0.990

0.918

September 2004

0.985

0.935

October 2004

0.981

0.939

November 2004

1.009

0.987

December 2004

0.970

0.962

The data show the price of diesel increased by more than the price of petrol during 2004 with the differential between the two narrowing as the year came to an end. While a number of factors have been advanced to explain the recent price developments, it is clear they were not driven by tax increases.

Tax Code.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

389 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of stud farm companies and stud farm operators benefiting from the provision whereby tax exemption is given in respect of non-resident stallions (details supplied); the estimated cost of this tax relief from 1997 to date; and the basis on which this relief is given. [2070/05]

The stallion stud fees exemption was introduced in the Finance Act 1969 to encourage the development of the Irish bloodstock industry by creating an incentive for investment in Irish stallions and applied to stallions standing at stud in the State and abroad. Income arising to the owner or part-owner of a stallion from the sale of services or the right to services is exempt from tax. Losses may not be offset against other income.

Income from a stud farm is charged to tax in the same way as other profits from farming. The income charged to tax in full includes income from the keeping of mares and stallions at the farm. The only income exempt is the income arising from stallion fees. The legislation providing for this exemption was amended in the Finance Act 1985 so as to confine the tax exemption on stallion fees to income earned from stallions at stud in the State. Income arising to a part-owner of a foreign-based stallion continued to be exempted where the share has been acquired by a breeder for the purpose of acquiring new breeding lines for a bloodstock enterprise carried on in the State. The exempting measure is now contained in section 231 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997.

A Revenue Commissioners administrative ruling issued in November 1986, in response to a perceived downturn in the industry, confirmed that if a stallion ordinarily kept on land in the State was temporarily exported from the State for genuine commercial purposes and for a period which would not exceed two years, it would be accepted that the stallion would continue to be regarded as ordinarily kept on land in the State. This position was changed in September 1998. Since then, stallions which are sent abroad to cover mares, mainly to the southern hemisphere and commonly for a period of up to six months, are regarded as ordinarily kept on the land in the State but, except as otherwise provided for in the legislation, only those profits arising in the State are exempt.

As the Deputy is aware, it has not been a requirement under various Governments since 1969 to identify the costs of this relief because there was no obligation on a taxpayer to make a return of exempt income or profits from the sale of services of mares by stallions. However, in the Finance Act 2003 this position was changed to ensure that income or profits, although exempt, are included in the annual return of income to the Revenue Commissioners. The new requirements apply in respect of chargeable periods commencing on or after 1 January 2004. The first of these returns for individuals under self-assessment rules will be required by 31 October 2005 in respect of the 2004 tax year.

The date of the return for companies will vary depending on the company's accounting period. Where a company has a calendar year accounting period, which is the case for many companies, the return will be required by 30 September 2005 in respect of the tax year 2004. In this context the information on costs is not yet available but I hope to be in a position after the tax returns have been received and analysed to give some information in this regard.

In budget 2005, I announced that I had directed my Department and the Revenue Commissioners to carry out a thorough evaluation of the effect of certain tax incentive reliefs and exemptions with a view to introducing measures in budget 2006 that balance the benefit of such reliefs and the extent to which such incentives and exemptions are used by high earners to reduce their tax bill. I also indicated that the review will incorporate an examination of data that is due to come to hand in late 2005 on certain exempt income including stallion fees.

Disabled Drivers.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

390 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether single upper limb amputees should be considered eligible applicants for the disabled drivers scheme; the number of such cases there is likely to be should eligibility be granted; his further views on whether a person with one hand can be as handicapped as a person with one foot; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2071/05]

The disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme is open to those with disabilities who meet the specified criteria and have obtained a primary medical certificate to that effect. The senior area medical officer attached to the relevant local health board is responsible for both the medical assessment and the issue of the medical certificate.

The medical criteria for the purposes of the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax concessions) Regulations 1994. Six different types of disablement are listed under the regulations and a qualifying person must satisfy one or more of them. The six types of disablement are as follows: persons who are wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs; persons who are wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs; persons without both hands or without both arms; persons without one or both legs; persons wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; and persons having the medical condition of dwarfism and who have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

An individual who qualifies under the medical criteria as set out above is issued with a primary medical certificate. Possession of a primary medical certificate qualifies the holder for remission or repayment of vehicle registration tax, VRT, a repayment of value added tax, VAT, on the purchase of the vehicle and a repayment of VAT on the cost of adaptation of the vehicle. Repayment of the excise duty on fuel used in the motor vehicle and exemption from annual road tax to local authorities are also allowed.

An interdepartmental review group was established to review the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. The group examined all aspects of the scheme, including the qualifying medical criteria. Its report was published on my Department's website in July 2004 and copies have been placed in the Oireachtas Library. As agreed by Government in June 2004, I will consider the report on an ongoing basis in the overall budgetary context, having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme.

Regarding an expansion of the criteria along the lines suggested in the question, it is not possible to estimate the numbers involved.

Betting Premises.

John Cregan

Ceist:

391 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Finance if he will report on the rules and regulations guiding the permitted opening times of betting shops and his views on the continuing concern from the public at the apparent very liberal licensing laws pertaining to the opening hours of betting shops; his plans to curtail the hours during which a betting shop may remain open; if there is any responsibility on a licence holder regarding the way in which they should handle a client who obviously is gambling excessively; if there is any formal assistance granted from a State agency to a licence holder who wishes to refer a client to a counselling service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2072/05]

The permitted opening times of registered betting premises were amended in the Finance Act 1998. The 1998 changes extended the opening hours of betting shops to cater for the growing trend towards evening race meetings and Sunday racing.

The legislation covering opening hours of betting shops sets out that registered premises cannot be open for business on Christmas Day, Good Friday or Easter Sunday; from 1 September to 31 March in any year, registered premises cannot be open before 7 a.m. or after 6.30 p.m.; and from 1 April to 31 August in any year, registered premises cannot be open before 7 a.m. or after 10 p.m.

I have no plans at this time to report on the rules and regulations guiding the permitted opening times of betting shops or to curtail their opening hours. There are no provisions in betting legislation in respect of issues associated with excessive gambling.

Departmental Appointments.

John Gormley

Ceist:

392 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Finance the public appointments made in his Department since the Cabinet reshuffle in September 2004. [2091/05]

Since my appointment as Minister for Finance, in accordance with the provisions of section 11(1) of the Public Service Management Act 1997, the Government has appointed one special adviser at my request. I have also appointed a personal secretary and personal assistant. These posts are held on a contract basis.

Tax Certificates.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

393 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the case of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if a P21 can be forwarded as a matter of urgency. [2104/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a PAYE balancing statement for the year 2003 issued on 21 January 2005, following a telephone call from the taxpayer on 18 January 2005.

Postal Services.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

394 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the plans to address the points put across by the CWU, now that the one-day strike of postal workers has taken place, in order to avoid the disruption which a further strike would cause; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34148/04]

As the Deputy may be aware, An Post has been in negotiations for several months with the main union in An Post, the Communications Workers Union, on the implementation of a change management programme for the company. The recovery plan presented by the board and management, and which assumed significant changes in work practices, some tariff increases and the payment of wage increases, sets out the way forward for the company.

An Post management and unions have been involved in a detailed negotiation process under the auspices of the LRC since March last year regarding the implementation of the recovery plan. In December 2004, CWU members rejected a proposal on collection and delivery arrangements, which provided for a 5.35% increase over three years, and the process is now being referred to the Labour Court for decision. The hearing in the Labour Court is due to commence in early February next.

An Post stated that unless certain changes were carried out to make An Post more competitive, it would not be in a position to pay the increases due under the Sustaining Progress agreement. In such circumstances, it is open to An Post unions to refer this to the LRC and ultimately the Labour Court where a binding ruling can be made. The rationale for the board's decision was that An Post made losses of €43 million in 2003 and any further payments would have an even more detrimental impact on the company's finances.

The way forward for An Post is the use of the industrial relations machinery of the State by both sides and while some progress has been made, I acknowledge that many more difficult issues remain to be agreed. I am convinced that agreement will only be reached by continuing with the process of negotiating a settlement acceptable to all. I have met both the board and management of An Post and the CWU to discuss the actions needed to secure the future of the company for the benefit of its customers, staff and the community at large. I have urged all parties to continue to resolve issues of disagreement in a spirit of partnership.

Electronic Communications.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

395 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, in view of the increasing level of unsolicited faxes being received by persons and small companies, he has proposals to curtail and control this kind of nuisance advertising. [34159/04]

Regulation 13 of the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services) (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 2003, SI 535 of 2003, provides for prohibitions and restrictions on the sending of unsolicited faxes for direct marketing purposes to individuals and companies. Responsibility for the enforcement of the regulation rests with the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner. A person found guilty of an offence in regard to a breach of the aforementioned regulation shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000.

I propose to provide for greater penalties for breaches of the aforementioned regulation in the forthcoming Electronic Communications (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill with a view to strengthening the powers of the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner to control the situation.

Fisheries Protection.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

396 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the strategies to protect coastal fishing and salmon stocks over the next ten years. [34160/04]

I am aware of the immense importance of the coastal fisheries sector to fishing communities in Ireland. As a first step in bringing effective management and conservation measures to the coastal sector, a scheme for the licensing of traditional pot fishing boats was launched by the previous Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, in 2003. The implementation of the licensing scheme is now nearing completion and will facilitate the introduction of the necessary structures to support effective management of this sector.

Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, with the support of the Marine Institute and departmental officials, are working towards bringing forward proposals for a network of inshore fisheries local advisory committees, LACs. The LACs will set the objectives for inshore fisheries in their area and the development of local management plans to deliver these objectives. This will involve inshore fishermen in the decision-making process.

Nationally-based species advisory groups will also be established and will bring together expertise from BIM, the Marine Institute, third level colleges and fishermen to produce scientifically-based management advice to assist the LACs. In addition, the proposed European fisheries fund, to cover the years 2007 to 2013, places considerable emphasis on the sustainable development of coastal fishing areas, an objective that has my full support.

In regard to salmon, the overriding objective of the Government is to conserve the wild salmon resource in its own right and for the coastal and rural communities it helps to support. The economic goals for a sustainable commercial salmon fishery based on quality and value rather than volume and the development of salmon angling as an important tourism product are both fully compatible with this primary objective.

Since 2002, the Government has accepted the scientific advice that reductions in the overall fishing effort are required in order to sustain and rebuild wild salmon stocks nationally. As a result, the Department has implemented a strategy to ensure, through progressive reductions in catch, that the conservation limits specified by the standing scientific committee of the National Salmon Commission are being reached. This policy of promoting the application of quotas on commercial fishing and bag limits on angling has delivered significant catch reductions aimed at achieving the overall shared objective of restoration of salmon stocks.

It is the Government's belief that the current strategy of developing a sustainable commercial and recreational salmon fishery through aligning catches on the scientific advice holds out the strong prospect of a recovery of stocks and of a long-term sustainable fishery for both sectors.

Marine Safety.

John Perry

Ceist:

397 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans in view of the recommendation of the Marine Casualty Investigation Board that persons taking to boats on open water be more qualified in navigation, seamanship and survival than at present. [34180/04]

The recommendation referred to by the Deputy relates to a report on the tragic incident involving the capsizing of a 4.6 m angling boat at Fermoyle Beach, Brandon Bay, County Kerry on 23 September 2003, with the loss of one crew member's life. I convey my sympathies to the family of the victim on this tragic loss.

This incident was investigated by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board under the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000. The board published its report on 12 November 2004 following legal vetting and the application of natural justice procedures. A printed copy is available free of charge to anyone who requests a copy. The report will also be available shortly on the MCIB website,www.mcib.ie. The main purpose an investigation by the board is to establish the cause or causes of a marine casualty with a view to making recommendations to me for the avoidance of similar marine casualties. Investigations carried out by the MCIB do not attribute blame or fault.

Five recommendations have been made in the report for follow-up action to prevent a recurrence of similar casualties. A number of actions have already been taken by the Department with regard to highlighting the need for additional safety measures by users of recreational craft. A draft code of safe practice for recreational craft, which covers all the matters raised, was issued for public consultation last year. The maritime safety directorate of the Department is evaluating the comments received with the aim of publishing the code shortly. In addition, the Merchant Shipping (Pleasure Craft) (Lifejackets and Operation) (Safety) Regulations 2004 introduced in June 2004 make it obligatory that lifejackets be worn on vessels of less than 7 metres.

As part of my ongoing review of safety issues, I will consider any measures necessary to prevent a recurrence of similar casualties.

John Perry

Ceist:

398 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the effectiveness of the draft code of safety practices for recreational craft; the persons who are policing it; if the code has been distributed to all small craft owners; and if his Department has a register of all small owners. [34181/04]

The draft code of safe practice for recreational craft was issued for public consultation last year and the maritime safety directorate of the Department is evaluating the comments received with the aim of publishing and launching the code in the near future. At the time of publication, the code will be made available to the public through the Department's website and other sources.

The purpose of the draft code is to assist owners and operators of recreational craft by setting out in one document current legislative requirements relating to recreational craft, in addition to recommended best practice regarding the safe operation of such craft. It covers all types of sailing and motorboats and also craft such as jet skis, canoes and kayaks. The draft code is divided into two parts. Part A of the codeoutlines existing legislative requirements that apply to recreational craft. Part B provides guidance on best practice for the safe operation of recreational craft.

Policing is already carried out on the legislative requirements outlined in part A of the code, through a combination of the Garda, the Department's marine surveyors and members of the Coast Guard. Part B of the code will not be mandatory but all recreational craft users will be encouraged to follow the guidance on best practice contained in it. If, following publication, experience indicates that owners and operators are not following the guidance provided in part B then consideration will have to be given to introducing mandatory requirements.

There is currently no specific register of small vessel owners. However, the owners of such craft may voluntarily register under the Mercantile Marine Act 1955. In 2004 the maritime safety directorate undertook a public consultation process on a proposal to establish a small vessel register, SVR, on a voluntary, non-statutory basis. The aim of the proposed SVR would be to provide a simple registration system to enhance maritime safety, security and pollution prevention. As proposed, it is not intended to register "title" or provide proof of nationality of the vessel. The comments received on foot of the consultation process are being assessed with a view to taking the issue of a small vessel register forward.

Fisheries Protection.

John Perry

Ceist:

399 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason Clochmór Achill is not on the list of designated pelagic landing ports. [34183/04]

The EU introduced new arrangements for the control of certain pelagic fisheries — horse mackerel, mackerel and north west herring fisheries — in December 2003 which came into effect during 2004. The rules are set down in annex IV of Council Regulation 2287/2003 and were revised for 2005 in annex III, part C of Council Regulation 27/2005. These arrangements include the weighing in the presence of a controller of all quantities in excess of 10 tonnes landed of each of these species.

During the course of 2004, extensive consultations took place with industry representatives regarding the implementation of the annex. The five designated ports, Killybegs, Rathmullen, Dingle, Rossaveal and Castletownbere, were chosen on the basis of landing patterns for the species concerned and the resources available to comply with the requirements of the annex.

Although I would seek to give the maximum scope for landings into ports, it should be noted that the scope of the 2005 Council regulation in comparison with the 2004 regulation is wider. The EU regulation now provides that pelagic landings will have to be monitored at ports on the southern and eastern coasts in line with the EU rules for weighing all landings. In this context, the provision of the resources needed to meet our obligations under this regulation will be even more challenging.

Broadcasting Policy.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

400 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has been given responsibility for broadcasting policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34195/04]

Under SI 299 of 2002, Broadcasting (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions), and SI 307 of 2002, Marine and Natural Resources (Alteration of Name of Department and Title of Minister), the departmental administration and ministerial functions in regard to broadcasting transferred to my Department and me, as Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

Coastal Protection.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

401 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals to provide finance in 2005 to Waterford County Council for cliff regrading and stabilisation at Helvick Pier, County Waterford at an estimated cost of €500,000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34216/04]

Responsibility for coast protection rests with the property owner whether it be a local authority or a private individual. In July 2002, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources requested all coastal local authorities to submit proposals, in order of priority, for consideration in the context of the 2003 to 2006 national coast protection programmes.

Waterford County Council submitted a proposal for cliff regrading and stabilisation at Helvick at an estimated cost of €500,000 and at number three in its order of priority. I understand the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government provided funding of €842,000 to Waterford County Council in 2003 and 2004 in respect of cliff regrading and stabilisation at Helvick. In 2004 the County Council sought funding of €500,000 from this Department to complete those works. The allocation of funding for coast protection in 2005 is under consideration.

Telecommunications Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

402 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding his discussions with Eircom on continuing the 999 emergency telephone service, in particular the availability of this service to Samaritan clients. [34290/04]

Discussions are ongoing with Eircom and other telecommunications operators on the funding of the emergency call answering service. These discussions only relate to the funding of the service.

Regarding the connection of emergency calls to the Samaritans, Eircom has advised that it has no function in providing connections from its call centre and that, where requested, the phone number of the Samaritans will be provided to the caller.

Fisheries Protection.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

403 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals on drift net salmon fishing in order to conserve the stocks, in particular in regard to a buy-out of salmon fishing licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34291/04]

Since 2002, the Government has implemented a strategy to ensure, through progressive reductions in catch, that the conservation limits specified by the standing scientific committee of the National Salmon Commission are being reached. This policy of promoting the application of quotas on commercial fishing, including drift netting and bag limits on angling, has delivered significant catch reductions aimed at achieving the overall shared objective of restoration of salmon stocks.

The Government has consistently ruled out buy-out as an effective means of achieving the restoration of salmon stocks and instead promoted the application of quotas on commercial fishing and bag limits on angling to achieve catch reductions as the best instrument available to achieve this objective. Moreover, no convincing case has been advanced as to the public good that would be acquired by the State in the context of a publicly funded buy-out nor why stakeholders benefiting from increased numbers of salmon entering the rivers should not contribute in whole or in part towards achieving that increase.

As a result, I have no plans to introduce proposals to purchase commercial salmon fishing licences. As I have previously indicated to the House, I am prepared, however, to keep the matter under review and would be open to any relevant proposals whereby stakeholders benefiting from any reduction in commercial catch might fund any compensation that might arise.

Marine Safety.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

404 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on the concerns of fishermen in County Waterford regarding the code of practice for fishing vessels under 15 m (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34322/04]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

422 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, in regard to the prescription drugs list as per the code of practice for small fishing boats, he has satisfied himself regarding the medical safety and the securities issues regarding their use and storage on small fishing boats; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1601/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 404 and 422 together.

I have noted the Deputy's concerns and confirm that the requirements in the code of practice relating to sea survival courses are statutory requirements set out in the Fishing Vessel (Basic Safety Training) Regulations 2001, SI 587 of 2001. Under these regulations, all crew members of fishing vessels must undertake basic safety training before going to sea in the case of new entrants and in the case of serving crew members in accordance with a timeframe based on age.

The list of prescription drugs contained in the code of practice for fishing vessels of less than 15 m in length is taken from the European Communities (Minimum Safety and Health Requirements for Improved Medical Treatment on Board Vessels) Regulations 1997, SI 506 of 1997. Inadvertently, a table on antidotes was included in the sixth annex of the code. It is acknowledged that this is not an appropriate requirement for fishing vessels.

The majority of fishing vessels covered by the code of practice are only required to carry medical supplies similar to that carried on board a life raft and this list, as such, is not too onerous. The panel of surveyors approved to carry out the surveys on fishing vessels of less than 15 m has been informed of this and is fully aware that the requirement to carry antidotes will not be a prerequisite for compliance with the code. My Department is updating its website,www.DCMNR.ie, with this information.

Inland Fisheries.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

405 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals to reduce the number of fisheries boards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34323/04]

I have no proposals at present to reduce the number of fisheries boards. The Deputy may be aware that the report of the independent estimates review committee to the Minister for Finance indicated in respect of the fisheries boards that "there would seem to be scope for rationalising the existing structures of the central and regional fisheries boards" and questioned "whether the existing arrangements represent the most efficient means by which the functions in question can be discharged". The Deputy may also be aware that my predecessor appointed a consortium of expert consultants, led by Farrell Grant Sparks Consulting, to undertake a high-level review of the inland fisheries sector in Ireland.

The review will deliver a root-and-branch examination of the State's role and objectives in the inland fisheries sector. The consultants are required to evaluate the adequacy of the current model for the governance of the inland fisheries sector; to define the current relationship between the Government, the Department or Departments and the inland fisheries sector and suggest new more effective models; and to recommend a structure which will contribute to the optimum development of the inland fisheries resource in Ireland.

While I appreciate that previous indications were that I expected to receive this report before now, I am advised that the complex review is not yet complete. The process is coming to a close and the consultants expect to present their report to me shortly.

Telecommunications Services.

Mary Wallace

Ceist:

406 Ms M. Wallace asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide information regarding the position on the August 2004 proposals to provide advanced broadband networks in 41 towns throughout Ireland, including Dunshaughlin and Ratoath in County Meath, under the broadband action plan; the position regarding the proposal for the remaining 50 locations throughout Ireland which were expected to issue in early 2005, including the County Meath locations of Dunboyne, Laytown and Bettystown; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1053/05]

Under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, an indicative €200 million of Government and ERDF funding is being invested, in association with the local and regional authorities, in the creation of high-speed open-access broadband networks and fibre trunks. These facilities will remain in State ownership while allowing the service providers open access at competitive costs.

The first phase of my Department's regional broadband programme, in which metropolitan area networks, MANs, are being built in 26 towns and cities, is nearing completion. In the second phase of the programme, MANs will be built in a further 92 towns of 1,500 population and over, in association with the local authorities.

Navan and Trim are among the first 35 towns to be approved under this second phase. These projects will begin construction this summer. Proposals for Dunshaughlin, Ratoath, Dunboyne, Clonee and Ashbourne were received in December 2004 and are being appraised. Laytown-Bettystown, Kells, Duleek and Athboy will be invited as part of the next call under this programme, due later this year.

For rural communities and smaller towns, my Department's group broadband scheme offers funding assistance for community groups to come together with the service providers and obtain broadband connectivity for their area using the most appropriate delivery system, such as satellite, wireless, digital subscriber line, DSL, or cable. Up to 55% funding is available towards capital costs under the scheme.

Full details of the regional broadband programme and group broadband scheme are on my Department's websites,www.dcmnr.gov.ie and www.gbs.gov.ie.

Marine Safety.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

407 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when improvements will be carried out to a radio station (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1184/05]

Consultants retained by this Department to conduct a study of the future development of the Irish Coastguard recommended that two control centres — as opposed to the existing three centres in Dublin, Malin Head and Valentia — should be operated. Following assessment of the recommendations, it was decided to close the marine rescue co-ordination centre in Dublin and retain two centres. The present position is that the Department is considering detailed proposals as to how the two remaining manned centres will operate and it expects to complete this process shortly.

New medium frequency-high frequency, MF-HF, radio and control systems as well as a new Navtex transmission and control system will be installed at Malin Head marine rescue and co-ordination centre, MRSC, during the year. These improvements are required independently of the reduction from three to two centres.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

408 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding a shell fish licence for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1185/05]

Under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003, the functions of sea-fishing boat licensing and registration were transferred from the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to the licensing authority for sea-fishing boats which operates on an independent basis subject to criteria set out in that Act. All applications for sea-fishing boat licences are considered by the licensing authority for sea-fishing boats. The head of the licensing authority is the registrar general of fishing boats, a senior official in the Department.

The licensing authority has informed me that it issued a letter of licence offer to the individual concerned in respect of his vessel on 20 December 2004. A non-operative licence to facilitate registration of the vessel will issue as soon as the conditions set out in the letter of offer have been complied with. Upon registration of the vessel, an operative sea-fishing boat licence will be issued by the licensing authority.

Mobile Telephony.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

409 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding the safety of mobile phones, especially for children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1224/05]

My Department maintains a watching scientific brief on health issues relating to electromagnetic energy, including those related to mobile phones. Concerns about the possible sensitivity of children to electromagnetic fields were first raised by a review of the available research related to biological and health effects of electromagnetic fields from mobile telephones. This was carried out by the independent expert group on mobile telephony in the United Kingdom in 2000.

The review did not find any definite adverse health effects due to mobile telephones, but did not conclude that there were none. The group felt that, because of children's developing skills and the likelihood that they would have longer lifetime exposure than adults, they would be more vulnerable than adults to any as yet unknown health effects. The group therefore recommended a precautionary approach on mobile telephone use by children.

In 2002, the health council of the Netherlands, after a separate evaluation of the health effects of mobile telephones, concluded that there was no reason to recommend that mobile telephone use by children should be limited. In 2003, the National Radiological Protection Board of the United Kingdom, NRPB, noted that little had been published on childhood exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields.

To examine the question of children's sensitivity to electromagnetic fields the World Health Organisation held an expert workshop in Istanbul, Turkey, in June 2004. The workshop concluded that carefully controlled cognitive performance tests on children with electromagnetic fields at the top of the range of those from current mobile telephones did not show any significant difference in performance between those exposed and those not.

I am satisfied that my Department is in possession of the most up-to-date information available on this subject, that at this time there is no demonstrated adverse health effect and therefore is no reason for me to act to limit the use of mobile phones by children. My Department will continue to monitor the scientific evidence and participate in the relevant international projects and committees. If it is deemed prudent in time to change the guidelines, we will not be slow to respond.

Telecommunications Services.

John Gormley

Ceist:

410 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason a company (details supplied) has been given a licence to operate here; his views on whether competition is needed in the areas in which it operates to ensure a better service for customers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1295/05]

The licensing or authorisation of operators in the telecommunications sector is the responsibility of the regulator for the sector, the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. ComReg has statutory independence in the exercise of its functions and the Minister has no function in the matter. NTL, which offers a telephony service, a cable television service and a broadband service was licensed by the former Office of the Director of Telecoms Communications, ODTR, now ComReg.

The EU regulatory framework implemented in 2003 does not provide for the regulation of retail broadcasting but contract law applies equally to telecommunications operators as to all other commercial operators and the enforcement of contractual obligations falls within the remit of the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs. I am considering proposals to extend ComReg's powers to regulate retail broadcasting services in the interest of consumer protection.

Pension Provisions.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

411 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he can take to ensure that An Post pensioners are awarded their due increases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1362/05]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

427 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if An Post or the trustees of its pension trust have made application to his Department to sanction payment of a pay increase due to pensioners; when this application was made; and when it is intended to make a decision on the matter. [1979/05]

John Cregan

Ceist:

429 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding An Post pensioners whose normal pension increases have not been awarded; if, notwithstanding industrial relations problems with workers, it is legally or morally defensible to withhold pensioners’ increases; if the pension fund is totally divorced from An Post current trading; if seconded civil servants in An Post are not immune from such treatment by the management of a semi-State company; and when An Post pensioners will receive their increase. [1997/05]

John Cregan

Ceist:

430 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding An Post pensioners whose normal pension increases have not been awarded; if, notwithstanding industrial relations problems with workers, it is legally or morally defensible to withhold pensioners’ increases; if the pension fund is totally divorced from An Post current trading; if seconded civil servants in An Post are not immune from such treatment by the management of a semi-State company; and when An Post pensioners will receive their increase. [1998/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 411, 427, 429 and 430 together.

An post pensioners are paid from An Post pension fund which is founded by employer and employee contributions. The authority to implement pension increases was delegated to An Post, subject to certain conditions, as this activity was considered part of the day-to-day operations of the company. In practice, this allowed the company to implement pension increases following pay increases to employees. However, decisions outside the scope of the original delegated authority still require the consent of both the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Minister for Finance.

Following a proposal from the board of An Post to amend the existing pension increase terms of An Post, in this instance, my Department and the Department of Finance undertook a review of the situation. While I fully empathise with An Post pensioners for the position they find themselves in due to the failure of An Post management and unions to reach agreement on implementation of the recovery strategy, the wider overall policy issues raised by the proposal from An Post also need to be considered.

By way of background and as the Deputy may be aware, the existing terms of the An Post superannuation scheme provide for "pay parity", that is, that pensions are increased in line with the pay of serving staff. This is in accordance with public service defined benefit pension increase policy generally, "pay parity" being an integral and well established practice which is widely applied in public service defined benefit pension schemes.

Unfortunately, following examination of the issue and taking into consideration the implications of providing a precedent which could impact adversely on the cost of pensions in the wider public sector and the existing practice of pay parity, increases to pensioners of An Post, linked to increases under the Sustaining Progress agreement, are not possible at this time. While I understand the frustration of An Post pensioners with the situation, agreement in partnership with An Post unions to the restructuring plan aimed at securing the future of the company and indeed providing sustainable long-term employment for An Post workers is the way forward.

With this in mind, I have urged both the unions and the management of An Post to fully engage with the industrial relations mechanisms of the State to agree a way forward for the future of the company and all stakeholders.

Public Service Obligations.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

412 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the State will fund the public service obligations of An Post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1363/05]

The universal service obligation, which includes nationwide delivery requirements, is enshrined in EU and Irish law and therefore is a statutory requirement for An Post as the designated universal service provider. Furthermore, the European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations 2002 set out the area of the postal market solely reserved for An Post as the universal service provider. Therefore, it is not envisaged that public funding will be provided to An Post to meet its universal service obligations.

Post Office Network.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

413 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will address the needs of the Irish Postmasters Union and improve facilities throughout the country for the 1400 post offices. [1364/05]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

423 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals in regard to the Irish Postmasters Union proposal to ensure that the 1400 offices in the post office network continue to operate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1602/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 413 and 423 together.

The Government is committed to a viable and sustainable nationwide rural post office network providing a range of services to meet consumer needs. The Government has already made an equity injection of €12.7 million into the network in 2003 to facilitate modernisation measures. Furthermore, the Government has strongly supported An Post initiatives such as the channelling of new utility and banking services through the network.

I am exploring with An Post the bringing forward of further initiatives to continue underpinning our network of rural post offices. In this regard, the company is actively pursuing a number of options in both the public and private sectors. To date, An Post has introduced new service delivery models in order to improve access to post office services. There are 1,000 automated post offices, 475 non- automated post offices, 160 postal agencies and An Post has established 3,000 postpoint outlets in retail premises of which 600 can be used for bill payment.

The automated network accounts for more than 95% of An Post's counter business. This means that the 1,000 automated offices transact 95% of counter business while 475 non-automated offices undertake 5% of business. This figure clearly illustrates the level of business transacted by individual non-automated offices. The current level of automated coverage is considered by An Post to be extremely comprehensive by any objective standard and this level of coverage makes it difficult to justify on either customer-service or economic ground the extension of automation to all offices, regardless of their location or business volumes.

Automation of the post office network was completed in 1997. It is, therefore, only in very exceptional circumstances, such as an existing automated office closing and its equipment being transferred to a suitable neighbouring location which transacts significant volumes of welfare business, that offices are automated today.

A core objective for An Post continues to be the retention of access to post office services in as many locations as possible, in the manner which best meets consumer needs, whether services are provided via post offices, postal agencies or the postpoint network.

Telecommunications Services.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

414 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the plans there are for the provision of broadband services to County Kerry, particularly to the larger urban centres in the county. [1413/05]

Under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, an indicative €200 million of Government and ERDF funding is being invested, in association with the local and regional authorities, in the creation of high-speed open-access broadband networks and fibre trunks. These facilities will remain in State ownership while allowing the service providers open access at competitive costs.

The first phase of my Department's regional broadband programme, in which metropolitan area networks, MANs, are being built in 26 towns and cities is nearing completion. In the second phase of the programme, MANs will be built in a further 92 towns of with a population of 1,500 and over, in association with the local authorities. Of the first 35 towns to be approved under this second phase, six are located in Kerry. They are Castleisland, Dingle, Kenmare, Killarney, Listowel and Tralee. These projects will begin construction this summer.

For rural communities and smaller towns, my Department's group broadband scheme offers funding assistance for community groups to come together with the service providers and obtain broadband connectivity for their area using the most appropriate delivery system, such as satellite, wireless, digital subscriber line, DSL, or cable. Up to 55% funding is available towards capital costs under the scheme.

Full details of the regional broadband programme and group broadband scheme are on my Department's websites,www.dcmnr.gov.ie and www.gbs.gov.ie.

Mobile Telephony.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

415 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to encourage the placing of maximum radiation information on each mobile phone handset. [1414/05]

Mobile telephones are in widespread use on a global basis. The limits for non-ionising radiation are global limits established internationally by the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, ICNIRP. There is no evidence that exposure up to these limits is damaging. Accordingly, I do not propose at this stage to put maximum radiation information on each mobile handset. My Department will continue to liaise with the appropriate international bodies to monitor ongoing research and ensure the standards operating in Ireland comply with the ICNIRP guidelines.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

416 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if it is Government policy to support the view of the energy regulator on wind energy development; if he is aware that the largest wind energy company here has decided not to build any more wind farms; if he will allow a situation to develop whereby Ireland is the only country in Europe with no Government support for wind energy projects; the Government’s views on the regulator’s comments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1435/05]

I have put out to consultation the recently expressed view of the Commission for Energy Regulation, which is an independent body under paragraph 9 in the Schedule to the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. I am aware of reports that one company has decided to invest in other locations instead of this country for now. That is a commercial decision for the company.

It is important to optimise the contribution of wind energy based electricity to the national supply on a basis that is fair to all parties, including consumers, and so that it can be integrated safely and easily into the national network. After all, in the medium to longer term, it is important that the State reduces its dependency on non-renewable fuels, the prices of which are subject to the vagaries of the global markets and geopolitical developments which can adversely affect both the price and availability of supplies. From a national economic perspective, not just an energy policy perspective, increasing the amount of renewable energy in the system could be helpful in reducing costly fuel imports and dealing with the levels of uncertainty in future planning of energy prices.

To that end, the renewable energy development group was established on 6 May of last year. The group is chaired by a representative of my Department and comprises relevant experts from the administrative, industrial and scientific sector, including the Commission for Energy Regulation, Sustainable Energy Ireland, ESB national grid and the Economic and Social Research Institute, among others. The renewable energy industry is represented in the group through participation of members nominated by an industry sub-group.

The group will advise on future options, policies, targets, programmes and support measures to develop the increased use of renewable energy in the electricity market to 2010 and beyond. The group has received a broad range of views in the course of its deliberations, including direct presentations from the main industry representative associations as well as the Commission for Energy Regulation. All these views will be considered in the group's report, which is due shortly, and will form the basis of my future policy decisions on the increased penetration of renewable energy technologies in the electricity market.

Industrial Relations.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

417 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on industrial relations at the ESB and his plans to ensure that the ESB’s key electricity network and generation infrastructure will continue in public ownership after market opening in February 2005. [1436/05]

I do not have primary responsibility within the Government for industrial relations issues. However, I am very much aware of the ongoing talks process established by the Labour Court in response to a request by the national implementation body under the Sustaining Progress agreement. These talks are aimed at resolving a number of industrial relations issues in the ESB.

It is public knowledge that the claim of the ESB group of unions includes an increase in the employees' current 5% shareholding in the company to 19.9%, an 18.5% salary pay increase and a resolution of the company's pension deficit. All of this is separate from and additional to increases under Sustaining Progress. Considerations of national competitiveness, the partnership approach to pay in the economy and even the long-term future of the ESB itself raise serious questions about the appropriateness of these claims. Government policy on employee shareholdings is clear and does not allow for a shareholding beyond 5% in the absence of a wider transaction affecting the company.

In regard to the future of the company, I will be engaging independent consultants to undertake a comprehensive and strategic review of the electricity sector, including institutional arrangements and market structures for the electricity sector in Ireland. I want this review to take place as soon as possible and it will include an examination of the ESB's vertically integrated utility structure and its dominance in the sector. It will also present a range of options for Government and the implications of each of these options for the economy and competitiveness of the electricity sector.

The Deputy is aware that I have previously confirmed my opposition to the privatisation of the transmission and distribution systems, which, in my view, are critical national assets that should remain in State ownership. I believe there is strong consensus about this. I have also previously stated my opposition to any privatisation that would result in the creation of a monopoly or near-monopoly in the power generation sector.

Notwithstanding this, I will be asking the consultants to consider all options in regard to the future shape of the company and on how to deal with the company's dominance in power generation. The issue of ESB's dominance is a critical one in terms of developing competition in the market and ensuring the electricity sector contributes fully to national competitiveness. Finding an effective solution to these issues is absolutely critical if we are to deliver good value for money to customers and ensure the security of energy supplies into the future.

Marine Safety.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

418 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the Government’s plans for the acquisition of an emergency towing vessel or ocean-going tug to protect mariners and coastal communities here. [1437/05]

The feasibility of deploying emergency towing vessels, ETVs, in Irish waters is under consideration in the Department. In 1998, the then Department of the Marine and Natural Resources commissioned a study to investigate the feasibility of deploying ETVs around the coast. Following an assessment of the study, which was published in 1999, it was decided that Ireland should have access to ETV capacity to protect the coast from the consequences of major oil pollution and vessel stranding; the Department would consult with the Departments of Finance, Defence and Environment and Local Government on cost effectiveness, location, financing, operational aspects, possible other uses and so on; and Ireland and the UK would consult on the possible sharing of an ETV to cover the east coast.

The Department set up an internal working group to manage the consultation process referred to above and to progress the matter generally. The very significant costs likely to be associated with the provision of ETV capability and complex operational requirements were recognised. The working group concluded that an ETV capacity should be provided to service the west coast via a public private partnership, PPP, process and that an ETV for the east coast should be provided to ensure an acceptable level of cover at minimum cost, including, if possible, on a joint PPP approach with the UK for the Irish Sea.

The Department is examining how these proposals can be pursued, having regard in particular to the very significant costs involved and the cost benefits associated with such a facility.

Electronic Communications Infrastructure.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

419 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the Government’s plans for analogue switch-off in the era of digital broadcasting; if a final date has been set; the likely impact of decisions in this regard in the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1438/05]

Digital broadcasting is now available in Ireland through a number of cable and satellite networks. The terrestrial broadcasting system is an analogue platform and it will be necessary to upgrade this platform to a digital terrestrial platform over time. I am examining proposals in this regard. Specific analogue switch-off dates will be considered in light of progress in upgrading to a national digital terrestrial platform. Ireland is party to international agreements with regard to spectrum usage, including agreements with the UK, which are revised on an ongoing basis.

Natural Gas Grid.

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

420 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason it took Bord Gáis one hour and ten minutes to respond to a gas explosion at a location (details supplied) on 2 November, 2003. [1439/05]

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

421 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will make a statement on the progress of the accelerated programme for cast iron mains promised in the aftermath of the gas explosion at a location (details supplied). [1440/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 420 and 421 together.

In the first instance, it is an operational matter for Bord Gáis Éireann, BGE, under the supervision of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, to arrange the safety of its natural gas network and this includes works to upgrade the network or to replace cast iron pipes. I am aware that gas safety is a high priority for BGE.

The report of the independent investigation of the Rathfarnham explosion of 2 November 2003 was published by the Commission for Energy Regulation on 25 November 2003. Regarding the response time, the report states that Bord Gáis's response to the publicly reported escape from No. 22 Glendoher Close was within the one-hour criterion, as set out in Bord Gáis's customer service escape procedure.

Among the recommendations in the report published by the CER, all of which were accepted by the commission was that BGE should put in place a parallel programme of cast iron mains replacement in areas where the ground was known to be liable to subsidence. BGE had been engaged in systematically replacing the older networks over the past 17 years. Two-thirds of the older networks have been replaced with modern polyethylene pipes. Prior to the incident it had been intended to replace the remainder of the system over a ten to 15 year period. During 2004, BGE developed a plan in conjunction with the CER to renew the final third of the system over the next five years. Some 112 km of cast iron main was replaced in 2004. Bord Gáis proposes to renew approximately 200 km of cast iron main during 2005 with all remaining cast iron pipes due for renewal by end of 2009.

Question No. 422 answered with QuestionNo. 404.
Question No. 423 answered with QuestionNo. 413.

Television Licence Fee.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

424 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 will be afforded the maximum support with regard to their television licence problem; and if he will work with the Department of Social and Family Affairs on this issue. [1603/05]

From the details in the question it is not clear to what the Deputy is referring. If the Deputy provides further details to my office I will be happy to have the matter investigated.

Departmental Bodies.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

425 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the State, semi-State, State-sponsored and statutory bodies under the aegis of his Department which are not subject to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1997; the reason a body is not subject to the requirements of the Act; and if he envisages proposals to bring any such body within the scope of the Act in the foreseeable future. [1706/05]

The State, semi-State, State-sponsored and statutory bodies under the aegis of my Department, which are not subject to the Freedom of Information, FOI, Acts are: An Post; Broadcasting Complaints Commission; ESB; Eirgrid; Bord Gáis Éireann; Bord na Móna; National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA; National Salmon Commission; Irish Maritime Development Office; Foyle Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission; port companies; harbour authorities; Commissioners of Irish Lights; Marine Casualty Investigation Board; Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board, ALAB; and Mining Board.

Proposals for extending FOI are being developed at present in the Department of Finance in the context of plans to extend FOI to other appropriate bodies by the end of 2005. The question of extending FOI to the bodies mentioned, where appropriate, is being considered in this context.

The Foyle Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission is a North-South Implementation Body established under the British Irish Agreement Act 1999 which states that "the Irish and Northern Ireland Ministers with responsibility for freedom of information will as soon as practicable draw up a code of practice on access to information for approval by NSMC." Preparation of the code of practice is at an advanced stage and it is expected to be implemented during 2005. In addition, the body's sponsoring Department is covered by FOI legislation and any information held by that Department which is common to both the Department and the body is subject to FOI.

Alternative Energy Projects.

John Perry

Ceist:

426 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if an allocation of funding will be granted to a company (details supplied) for the provision of eco-friendly heating and a hot water supply system; when a decision will be made; the amount of funding that will be granted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1836/05]

My Department has no funding or scheme, which would be relevant to this matter. Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, which was established as a statutory agency in May 2002, implements initiatives on renewable energy and energy efficiency on behalf of my Department. I received an application for a grant from Banada Development Agency Limited last Thursday, 20 January 2005, which has been forwarded to SEI to consider whether it fits within any of its programmes. Its response will be notified to the applicant in due course.

Question No. 427 answered with QuestionNo. 411.

Pension Provisions.

John Cregan

Ceist:

428 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the situation in relation to public service pensions; the way in which a person with five years service in the Department of Posts and Telegraphs/Telecom, and on a pension for it, can have this pension supplemented for two years Army service between 1942 and 1944; and the way in which an application should be submitted and processed. [1990/05]

My Department has responsibility with regard to public service pensions for former employees of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs who retired prior to 1 January 1984, (the vesting day of An Post and Telecom Éireann — now Eircom. If a person retired prior to 1 January 1984, an application should be made to my Department, together with any relevant details of previous service, for consideration of pension reckonability. If a person retired after 1 January 1984 as an employee of Telecom Éireann or Eircom application should be made to Eircom's superannuation section, 53 Merrion Square, Dublin 2.

Questions Nos. 429 and 430 answered with Question No. 411.

Ministerial Appointments.

John Gormley

Ceist:

431 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the public appointments made in his Department since the Cabinet reshuffle in September 2004. [2092/05]

The following staff appointed by me during my tenure as Minister for Education and Science have been re-appointed by me in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources: press adviser; personal assistant; and personal secretary. In addition, the special adviser appointed by me during my tenure as Minister for Education and Science has been reassigned to me at the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources with effect from 30 September 2004.

The following staff appointed by the Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Gallagher, during his tenure as Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, have been re-appointed by him in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources: personal assistant; personal secretary; and two civilian drivers.

The information requested by the Deputy on appointments made to the boards of State-sponsored bodies is set out in the following tables.

Appointments to the boards of State-sponsored Bodies under the aegis of the Department of Communications, Marine & Natural Resources made since 29 September 2004

An Post

Board Member (Elected Employees)

Appointment Date

Expiry Date

Mr. Jerry Condon

01.11.2004

31.10.2008

Mr. Patrick Compton

01.11.2004

31.10.2008

Mr. Patrick Davoren

01.11.2004

31.10.2008

Mr. Thomas Devlin

01.11.2004

31.10.2008

Mr. Terry Keller

01.11.2004

31.10.2008

Aquaculture Licence Appeals Board

Board Member

Date of Appointment

Expiry Date

Mr. Sean Murphy*

01.01.05

31.12.07

Mr. Lorcan Ó Cinnéide*

01.01.05

31.12.07

Mr. Mario J. Minehane*

01.01.05

31.12.07

Ms Mary McMahon

01.01.05

31.12.06

Ms Karin Dubsky

01.01.05

31.12.06

Mr. Damian McDonald

01.01.05

31.12.06

* re-appointed
Bord Iascaigh Mhara

Board Member

Date of Appointment

Expiry Date

Ms Rose McHugh

29.09.04

23.04.07

Commission for Energy Regulation (CER)

Board Member

Date of Appointment

Expiry Date

Mr. Tom Reeves (Chairman)

14.10.2004

Mr. Michael Tutty

14.10.2004

Ms Regina Finn

Commencing on Feb 1st 2005

Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg)

Board Member

Date of Appointment

Expiry Date

Mr. Mike Byrne

01.12.2004

30.11.08

The Digital Hub

Board Member

Date of Appointment

Expiry Date

Mr. Joe Murphy

29.09.04

29.09.07

Drogheda Port Company

Board Member

Date of Appointment

Expiry Date

Mr. Cormac Bohan

29.09.04

28.09.09

Mr. Paddy Traynor (Chairman)

20.12.04

19.12.09

New Ross Port Company

Board Member

Date of Appointment

Expiry Date

Cllr. Larry O’Brien

26.11.04

25.11.09

Marine Institute

Board Member

Appointment Date

Expiry Date