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 6, inclusive, answered orally.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

7 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has plans to address the apparent anomaly whereby those in receipt of the non-contributory pension who save a portion of their pension subsequently exceed the means threshold; if he will state the number of persons this affects; if he plans to rectify this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23033/05]

In assessing means for social assistance purposes account is taken of any cash income the person may have, together with the value of capital and property, except the person's home. The source of any capital held by a pensioner can and does vary. It can include savings from income while formerly working, savings derived from the sale of property or other assets, savings from occupational or social welfare pensions, gifts, inheritances, accumulated interest or dividends or a combination of these. It would not be possible or practical to distinguish savings derived from a particular source.

Capital is assessed by reference to a formula laid down in legislation. The initial amount of capital is disregarded before means are assessed. From June 2005, this disregard is increased to €20,000 from approximately €12,700 which applied from October 2000. This means that from the beginning of this month, a pensioner with no other means can have capital of up to €28,000 and still receive a pension at the maximum rate. This figure is doubled in the case of a couple.

The enhanced disregard applies to all capital regardless of where it is held, be it in an SSIA, a credit union, with An Post or any other account with a bank or other financial institution or regardless of the initial source of the capital. The new arrangements for capital assessment which I have introduced are designed to ensure that social welfare means testing arrangements do not act as a disincentive to claimants to become savers or penalise those who have been regular savers in the past. I believe that this is a better approach to this issue than to attempt to distinguish different types of capital and apply different rules to them.

While most pensioners spend all or a sizeable portion of their pension each week in meeting their normal living expenses, some pensioners, however, may choose to save part of their pension. However, such savings which are identified must be treated in the same manner as savings from any other source.

Tax and Social Welfare Codes.

John Deasy

Ceist:

8 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has ever had any discussions with the Department of Finance regarding the granting of the family income supplement through the tax system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22892/05]

Family income supplement is designed to provide cash support for employees on low earnings with families. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might otherwise only be marginally better off than if he or she were claiming other social welfare payments.

Improvements to the family income supplement scheme, including the assessment of FIS on the basis of net rather than gross income and the progressive increases in the income limits, have made it easier for lower income households to qualify under the scheme. Payment of FIS through the tax system has been considered by a working group including the social partners, the remit of which was to examine the role which refundable tax credits could play in the tax and welfare system. While the report of the group has not been finalised, it is expected that it will recommend that FIS continue to be paid by my Department, with a modified system of delivery and sustained efforts to improve take up.

One of the issues underlying the establishment of the group was a perception 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 peaked at about 14,700 at the end of 1999 but 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 be feasible to introduce a system whereby FIS would be paid automatically to eligible persons through the tax and payroll systems and that there would be considerable complexities involved in such a scheme for employers and for the Revenue Commissioners.

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, 12,303 and 13,508, respectively. In the week ending 17 June 2005, there were 15,513 claimants. This represents an increase of 29% on the December 2002 figure of 12,043. 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.

The National Economic and Social Councilhas been commissioned to examine the effectiveness of replacing family income supplement and child dependant allowance with a second tier income support payment targeted specifically at addressing the issue of child poverty. It is expected that this report will be completed later this year.

Social Welfare Code.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

9 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if it is his Department’s policy to pursue unmarried mothers to bring the father of their children to court with the threat that, if they do not, they will lose their entitlement to the rent allowance. [23039/05]

It is a statutory condition of eligibility for one-parent family payment from my Department that applicants are required to make ongoing efforts to seek adequate maintenance from their former spouses or, in the case of unmarried applicants, the other parent of their child. Such maintenance is usually obtained by way of negotiation or by court order. In this regard, I am pleased to note that separated couples are increasingly using my Department's family mediation service which is being progressively extended countrywide.

Since 2001, one-parent family payment claimants are allowed to retain 50% of any maintenance received without reduction in their one-parent family payment, as a further incentive to seek support themselves. There are also disregards where such maintenance is paid in respect of rent or mortgage interest on the lone parent family home. Where social welfare support is being provided to a one-parent family, the other parent is liable under the legislation to contribute an appropriate amount regularly to the Department towards the cost of this payment.

In every case where a one-parent family payment is awarded, the maintenance recovery unit of my Department seeks to trace the liable relative involved to ascertain whether she or he is in a financial position to contribute towards the cost of one-parent family payment. This follow up activity normally takes place within two to three weeks of award of payment. All liable relatives assessed with maintenance liability are notified by the Department and issued with a determination order setting out the amount of contribution assessed. The amount assessed can be reviewed where there is new information about, or changes in, the financial or household circumstances of a liable relative. The Department requires regular payment of the contributions assessed in this way, usually weekly.

Rent supplement entitlement is a separate matter and does not have any bearing on my Department's work in the maintenance recovery process. The supplementary welfare allowance scheme provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to eligible people whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation needs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any alternative source.

Supplementary welfare allowance is subject to a means test. In this regard all income, whether in cash or in kind, must be taken into account in determining the amount of assistance payable in each particular case. It is also a condition of eligibility that applicants apply also for any statutory benefits or take appropriate action to seek other income, including maintenance payments, to which they may be entitled.

In assessing or reviewing entitlement to rent supplement, the Health Service Executive may, depending on the circumstances of a particular case, request a person to seek maintenance from the other parent of their child. In cases where maintenance is being paid, the Health Service Executive may request that additional maintenance be sought if they consider that it is reasonable to do so having regard to the other parent's income. If there is some extenuating reason the rent supplement recipient does not wish to comply with this request, it is open to them to discuss that situation with the community welfare officer.

It is not the practice within the community welfare service to threaten lone parents with loss of their rent supplement if they do not to bring the father of their children to court for maintenance. However, there are instances where withdrawal or rejection of a rent supplement claim occurs because the failure or refusal by the person concerned to comply with the executive's request is unreasonable in the particular circumstances of the case. Where parents are in a position to make provision for their children, it would be inappropriate for the State to facilitate them in evading their responsibilities in that regard.

It is standard practice in the community welfare service, in instances where a payment under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme is to be withdrawn, that applicants are notified in writing, giving notice of the intention to withdraw the payment and outlining the reason for the action. In all instances of refusal or withdrawal of rent supplement, the applicant has the right of appeal. In the first instance an appeal can be determined by an appeals officer in the relevant regional area of the executive. If the applicant is dissatisfied with the outcome of this initial appeal he or she can request that the case be forwarded to the social welfare appeals office for further independent adjudication.

Pension Provisions.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

10 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of the consultants his Department employed to conduct a marketing campaign to persuade more persons to take out PRSAs; when this campaign was launched and when it concluded or will conclude; the total cost of this campaign; the success of this campaign in terms of the number of new PRSAs opened and as a percentage increase; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22932/05]

In its report Securing Retirement Income, published in May 1998, the Pensions Board recommended that the Government should, as part of the overall pensions strategy, run a pension awareness campaign. The campaign was initially launched in 2003 to coincide with the implementation of the Pensions (Amendment) Act 2002 which encompassed many of the recommendations of Securing Retirement Income, including personal retirement savings accounts or PRSAs. The Pensions Board runs the campaign on behalf of my Department.

The focus of the campaign is to raise awareness about pensions issues with a view to improving overall pensions coverage. A secondary objective is to ensure that those with pensions coverage are making adequate contributions to ensure a satisfactory income in retirement. While PRSAs are an important part of the overall pensions strategy, the awareness campaign is not focused exclusively on these but rather on pensions provision in general, including occupational schemes and other types of personal pensions provision.

A total of €500,000 was allocated to the campaign each year since 2003 to fund Pensions Board administration costs, media delivery costs, production costs and management fees. The board also intensified some of its normal communication and information work to support the campaign. The board has engaged a number of consultants over the three years to assist with the planning and delivery of the campaign, including Financial Dynamics, Owens DDB and Q4 Public Relations Consultants.

The campaign involves an integrated advertising and public relations programme using TV, radio, newspapers, on-line facilities, posters and direct mail. Special promotions have also been built around occasions such as the Ploughing Championships. The main event for this year's campaign was held in May, when the Pensions Board ran a successful pensions action week in co-operation with pension providers. Further PR opportunities are being considered for the rest of the year.

Since their introduction in 2003, some 51,000 personal retirement savings accounts have been opened. Pensions coverage in general has shown a marginal improvement over the last couple of years to 52.4% of the working population while in the key target group, those aged 30 years and over, coverage has reached 59.1%. In terms of pensions awareness, the campaign has been successful in bringing the pensions message to the general public. Consumer awareness research audits show a positive increase in pensions and PRSA awareness from 60% at the end of 2003 to over 70% at the end of last year.

In terms of the future of the campaign, I have asked the Pensions Board to review our overall pensions strategy and I expect to receive a full report on the current position and the possible options for the future in September. Public awareness will be an important element of any new planned initiative. I am also conscious of the opportunities which the maturing of SSIAs next year offer in the context of kick starting pension provision for many people. I will look at a continuation of the campaign in that context.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

11 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons in receipt of the rent supplement who have children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22903/05]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

59 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons receiving the rent supplement for 18 months or more who have been passed on to a local authority for a housing assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22901/05]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

60 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who were in receipt of the rent supplement for 18 months or more who were passed on to the local authority for a housing assessment and who have had their housing needs met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22902/05]

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

68 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress which has been made on the long-term initiative for rent supplement tenants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22899/05]

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

71 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the arrangements being put in place to guarantee funding to local authorities which secure long leases on rental properties beyond the three-year transition programme of the RAS scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22934/05]

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

72 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who have been availing of the rent supplement for 18 months or more; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22900/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 11, 59, 60, 68, 71 and 72 together.

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. It provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly rent or mortgage interest supplement to assist eligible people who are unable to meet their immediate accommodation needs through their own resources. As of 24 June last, there were 58,015 households in receipt of assistance under the rent supplement scheme. Just over half of these, almost 30,000 tenants, have been on the scheme for 18 months or more.

The scheme involves payment in respect of the household in aggregate, without specific additions for adult or child dependants. For this reason, the computer systems used to record rent supplement claims and generate payments does not contain family composition data and, as a result, a detailed breakdown of cases where there are children involved is not readily available. However, my Department has carried out a sample survey of claims which indicates that almost 30,000 rent supplement households have children. There are more than 50,000 children living in households where rent supplement is in payment.

A significant number of people had come to rely on rent supplements on a long-term basis over recent years. The Government announced a new initiative in July 2004 aimed at meeting the long-term housing needs of these people. The new system gives local authorities responsibility for meeting long-term housing assistance needs, including the needs of those people on rent supplements for 18 months or longer. These needs will be met through a range of approaches, including the traditional range of social housing options, the voluntary housing sector and, in particular, a new public private partnership type rental accommodation scheme. A total of €19 million has been transferred from my Department's Vote to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Vote this year to help finance this initiative.

The amount to be transferred in 2006-08 will be considered in the light of the emerging experience of this year's implementation. The amount to be transferred in any one year will depend on the rate at which people move to the new housing arrangements. In overall terms the amount to be transferred will certainly exceed €120 million in aggregate when the new arrangements are fully operational. The funding of the rental accommodation scheme after the three year transition period will be a matter for my colleagues, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Finance.

The new arrangements are currently being implemented in seven local authorities. These are Dublin, Galway and Limerick City Councils and South Dublin County Council, which encompass the most extensive urban areas in the State, Drogheda Town Council, Donegal County Council and counties Offaly and Westmeath. The new arrangements will be initiated in all local authority areas by the end of 2005.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has appointed programme managers to assist the seven lead authorities with the implementation of the new arrangements. Thereafter, these managers will be available to support other authorities over the implementation period. Implementation groups in the seven areas have been established to ensure effective ongoing liaison and co-operation locally between housing authorities, Health Service Executive areas and other agencies.

The Department has indicated that the lead local authorities are on target to transfer the first eligible rent supplement recipients to the rental accommodation scheme within the next few weeks. The aim of the new system is to minimise ongoing dependence on rent supplement by progressing to a situation where suitable long-term accommodation is available for all who need it. The rent supplement scheme will continue to provide support to those who have short-term housing needs.

This will be achieved within a period of three years from commencement of the new arrangements in each local authority and in any event no later than September 2008. The scheme will involve structured arrangements to secure long-term availability of privately rented accommodation, particularly accommodation currently occupied by tenants in receipt of rent supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, and to encourage the supply of additional accommodation.

Overall, the new rental assistance arrangements represent a major step forward in supporting people with long-term housing needs. All of the relevant agencies are co-operating actively to make the system work successfully. The supplementary welfare allowance rent supplement scheme continues to be available to provide short-term income support for people who are unable to meet their immediate accommodation needs.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

12 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of the facilitator network; when this network was set up; the number of persons with a disability it has assisted each year since its establishment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22930/05]

The jobs facilitation programme was originally established with Government approval in July 1993. Currently, 46 facilitators are supported by ten regional co-ordinators and operate in 34 locations around the country. In April 2004, the jobs facilitation and family support programmes of my Department merged to form the social and family support services, SFSS. This was done to enable the resources at my Department's disposal be utilised in the most effective and efficient manner to assist the most marginalised citizens, including those with disabilities and their families. It was also intended to encourage economic activation amongst those most distanced from the labour market. Job facilitators and family service project officers were renamed facilitators at that time and now operate within a single streamlined network.

The numbers of persons with a disability assisted onto a progression path by the facilitation network since its introduction are not available. In general terms however, the majority of customers taking up the back to work or back to education options do so with the help and encouragement of their local facilitator. Some 7,000 people transferred from a disability payment to one of my Department's support options during the years 2001 to 2004, inclusive.

In addition to the measures I have already mentioned, my Department operates the special projects fund administered by facilitators, which provides enhanced supports to people, including the long-term ill and people with disabilities, who need additional help to progress to further training and employment. In 2004, 23 special projects catered for people with disabilities at a cost of over €500,000.

As well as the special projects fund, facilitators have access to a separate stream of funding under the national development plan. The aim of these projects is to encourage family members of customers with disabilities to participate in self development programmes or, in some instances, in "taster" educational programmes. It is hoped that the people involved will move on to more formalised training and educational programmes. In 2004, six projects catered for people with disabilities and their families at a cost of about €66,000.

Disability benefit and invalidity pension customers may, in certain circumstances, be allowed to work for therapeutic or rehabilitative reasons with a view to improving their prospects of returning to full-time work at a future date. People receiving disability allowance payments can earn up to €120 from this type of work before their income is assessed as means.

An increasing emphasis is being placed by facilitators on encouraging customers with disabilities to avail of the options available to them, for example, a project to support people with disabilities commenced earlier this year in the midlands. Its objective is to identify a more integrated employment support approach for people with disabilities. This project is being undertaken by my Department in association with the Health Service Executive and FÁS. My Department's facilitators played an integral part in the operation of the project. It is aimed, initially, at persons aged between 18 to 25 years of age in receipt of disability allowance.

The information gathered to date from this project is now under review to ascertain how the learning can best be used for the benefit of customers in the future.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

13 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the introduction of an all-Ireland free travel scheme; the latest discussions he has had on this issue; the reason for the delay in its implementation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23030/05]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

37 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress which his Department has made on the introduction for all senior citizens of an all-island free travel scheme. [23044/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 and 37 together.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to a scheme of all-Ireland free travel for pensioners resident in all parts of the island. The scheme would enable pensioners resident in Ireland to travel free of charge on all bus and rail services in Northern Ireland. Likewise, pensioners in Northern Ireland would travel free of charge on all bus and rail services in this State. I am actively examining all the issues and options related to introducing such a scheme.

In July 1995, my Department introduced the cross-Border free travel scheme. This scheme extended free travel entitlement so that free travel pass holders resident in Ireland could undertake a cross-Border journey from a point of departure in one jurisdiction to a destination in the other jurisdiction free of charge. The Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland does not operate a similar scheme for its customers.

My Department covers the full cost of cross-Border journeys made by its pass holders as well as the southern element of such journeys undertaken by Northern Ireland pass holders. Under its own concessionary fares scheme, the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland covers the cost of the Northern element of cross-Border bus and rail journeys made by Northern Ireland pass holders. Some 220,000 free cross-Border journeys are undertaken each year at a total cost of €2.9 million; my Department pays €2.5 million and the remaining €0.4 million is covered by the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland.

The introduction of an all-Ireland free travel scheme will further extend the existing arrangements so that all free travel pass holders resident on the island of Ireland may undertake travel free of charge in all parts of the island. It is difficult to estimate the cost of the all-Ireland free travel scheme as this will ultimately depend upon the extent to which pass holders avail of it.

Officials from my Department have regular meetings with their counterparts in the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland concerning the operation of the existing cross-Border free travel scheme. Issues relating to the introduction of the all-Ireland free travel scheme have also been raised at these meetings.

My officials recently met with representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of the Taoiseach on 17 June 2005 in advance of a meeting of the British-Irish Inter-governmental Conference on 27 June 2005 at which the all-Ireland free travel proposal was raised. I will meet with Mr. Shaun Woodward MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Northern Ireland Office, shortly during which I will discuss the introduction of a scheme.

There are a number of policy, operational, financial and technical issues to be discussed and agreed in connection with the new scheme, including the compatibility between the travel passes used in both jurisdictions, resourcing of the scheme and the options for joint funding. My Department will continue to progress these matters with officials from the Department for Regional Development for Northern Ireland, the Northern and Southern transport companies, the Railway Procurement Agency and other relevant parties.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

14 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has carried out any research into the particular barriers which older persons encounter when trying to access information; if not, the reason therefor; the barriers which were identified as a result of this research; the action his Department has taken to address these barriers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22929/05]

My Department has not undertaken any specific research along the lines suggested by the Deputy regarding the information needs of older citizens. However, Comhairle, the national information agency which operates under the aegis of my Department, has recently funded the voluntary organisation, Age Action Ireland, to carry out a research project entitled "Uptake of Social Welfare Benefits by Older People". A draft report on this research project has recently been received in my Department and the findings and recommendations outlined in the report will be discussed shortly with Age Action Ireland.

The provision of comprehensive information in a clear and simple manner is an essential element in the effective delivery of social welfare services. The underlying objective of my Department's information policy is to ensure that all citizens, including older persons, are made aware of their entitlements in a timely fashion and are kept informed of changes and improvements as they occur. We continually try to ensure that there are no barriers encountered by our older citizens when trying to access information on all our social welfare schemes and services. My Department has in the recent past held customer consultation sessions with our older customers to ascertain any problems they might have in obtaining information on their entitlements. All of the customer groups concerned indicated their satisfaction at the level of information available from the Department and our dissemination methods.

The Department takes a proactive approach in advertising new schemes, together with changes and improvements to existing schemes and services, by using an appropriate mix of national and provincial media, information leaflets, fact sheets, posters and direct mailshots. We have, in the past, issued direct information booklets to all our pensioners outlining all the supports and services available to them from the Department.

Staff of the Department participate at public events promoting social welfare entitlement take up. In addition, they give talks to many organisations, including those offering pre-retirement seminars and courses, and voluntary and community groups to provide presentations on social welfare entitlements. My Department produces a comprehensive range of information leaflets, including a leaflet entitled Checklist for Pensioners, and booklets covering each social welfare payment or scheme. These information leaflets are available in a wide range of outlets countrywide, including all social welfare local offices, citizen's information centres, post offices and in a wide range of other organisations such as local community centres.

The central information services unit in my Department operates a telephone information service for the public and there is an information officer in each of the social welfare local offices around the country. Information officers are available to explain all our supports and services to our older citizens and to help and assist them in completing forms and accessing their entitlements.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

15 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will identify the welfare traps that are associated with the one-parent family payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22888/05]

Michael Ring

Ceist:

27 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to change the one-parent family payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22887/05]

John Deasy

Ceist:

50 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the measures he intends to introduce to reverse the situation whereby certain welfare payments prevent the parents of children from living together; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22893/05]

John Perry

Ceist:

63 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will list and outline the current data on poverty amongst lone parents here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22928/05]

It is proposed to take Questions Nos. 15, 27, 50 and 63 together.

The one-parent family payment is designed to provide income support to parents with insufficient means who have to parent alone. This can arise as a result of being widowed, or following separation or divorce, or being unmarried. The scheme in its present form largely reflects the reality that applied up to relatively recently, whereby mothers were mainly the full-time carers, with the father being the sole breadwinner. The main aim of the scheme, therefore, has been to provide income support for mothers parenting alone to replace that which would otherwise be provided by the father in a two-parent family. The scheme provides lone parents with the same option that parents have in two-parent families, of rearing their children themselves.

This reality, however, has been substantially changing in recent years. It is now more common in two-parent families for both parents to work outside the home either on a full-time basis or with one-parent working full-time and the other working part-time. Two-income families are increasingly becoming the norm and international research shows that the risk of poverty for such families is on average less than 4%. One-parent family households are, accordingly, at greater risk of poverty and, if these households are jobless, the risk of poverty is further increased.

The findings of the recent EU survey on income and living conditions, EU SILC, bear out the findings of previous surveys, and of experience in other developed countries also, that poverty rates tend to be higher among larger families and one-parent families. This is mainly due both to the direct costs of rearing children, including child care costs, and the opportunity costs related to the reduced earning capacity of parents, arising from their care responsibilities. This applies particularly to lone parent families as the lone parent has to be the main breadwinner and carer at the same time.

The EU SILC figures show that 42.3% of households made up of one adult with children are at risk of poverty, which can be defined as the proportion of the population below an income threshold of 60% of median income. This compares with 22.7% of the population as a whole and 15.3% of two adults with one to three children households. The percentage of lone parent households in consistent poverty was 32.6% compared to 9.4% of total households and 6.5% of two adults and one to three children households.

The OECD, in a recent report on an international comparative study on reconciling work and family life, found that employment participation among lone parents in this country is among the lowest in the OECD. This is despite the huge employment growth and increasing female participation in the workforce in recent years and the income disregards afforded to lone parents who take up employment. In addition, of those in employment, a high proportion are in relatively low paying part-time employment. This may be due, in part at least, to the fact that availing of the income disregard under the one-parent family payment scheme enables a recipient top up their benefit from part-time employment without foregoing the security of having a regular weekly benefit. However, the report points out that this may be achieved at the price of foregoing better paid full-time employment, greater self sufficiency and a higher standard of living.

Entitlement to payments under the schemes is also contingent on not cohabiting with another adult either in marriage or outside marriage. This ensures that recipients under the schemes do not gain an advantage over those living together, either married or otherwise, and parenting the children on a joint basis. Reluctance to forgo the income security provided by the one-parent family payment may, however, act as a disincentive to a partnership and ultimately marriage for recipients.

A sub-group of the senior officials group on social inclusion is examining obstacles to employment for lone parent families, with particular emphasis on income supports, employment, education, child care and support programmes and information. This group is scheduled to report to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion by the end of July.

We must also look closely at income supports and at how we can adjust those supports to better address the social problems that can arise for those who receive these payments. In this regard, my Department has established a working group to review the income support arrangements for lone parents. Issues being addressed include the contingency basis of the one-parent family payment, cohabitation, individualisation, maintenance and secondary benefits. The findings of this group will feed into the work of the senior officials sub-group.

I am also giving consideration to the introduction of a second tier of child income supports, aimed specifically at families in greatest need. A study being carried out at present by the National Economic and Social Council is examining the possibility of amalgamating social welfare child dependant allowances with family income supplement payments. The objective is to provide an integrated channel for resources to low income families without creating disincentives to employment.

It is intended that the outcome of these reviews will contribute to concrete proposals designed to better support and encourage lone parents in achieving a better standard of living, employment and education opportunities, and a better future for themselves and their children. These will be the main criteria against which recommendations in the reports will be judged. I am committed to reforms that will improve the quality of life for lone parents and their children by offering them respect and support while avoiding poverty traps.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

16 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he does not accept that approximately 230,000 children live in relative poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22923/05]

John Perry

Ceist:

25 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will list and outline the current data on child poverty here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22927/05]

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

41 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the recommendations made in a statement on ending child poverty by the Combat Poverty Agency; and if he intends to examine all the recommendations as part of measures under consideration to tackle child poverty. [23035/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16, 25 and 41 together.

The reduction and eventual elimination of child poverty are at the core of the strategies to combat poverty and social exclusion, a priority shared internationally. The OECD, in a report to Ministers for Social Affairs in April 2005, pointed out that "children who grow up in disadvantaged households are more likely to do poorly at school, to struggle to find a job, and to be unemployed, sick or disabled when they become adults, precipitating an inter-generational cycle of disadvantage and deprivation.".

Detailed measures to give effect to the strategies to combat child poverty in Ireland are set out in the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion and in the national children's strategy. Ending Child Poverty is also one of ten special initiatives in Sustaining Progress. The latest available child poverty data is from the EU survey of income and living conditions, EU SILC, for 2003. The EU SILC indicated that 23.9% of children, equivalent to approximately 200,000, are "at risk of poverty", that is, living in households with less than 60% of median equivalised income for their household size. Of these, 120,000 approximately or 14.6% of children are living in households with income below the 60% threshold and experiencing deprivation in at least one of eight indicators considered essential for a decent standard of living in Ireland today.

The relatively high percentage rates of poverty are, paradoxically, in part due to the major increases in household incomes generally that have occurred due to our unprecedented economic growth and the resulting major expansion in employment. A recent EUROSTAT study, for example, calculated the monetary value of the 60% threshold in terms of purchasing power standards in 2003 for households with two adults and two children. This showed that the threshold in Ireland is now above the EU average in value and ranked eighth highest overall among the EU 25. This means that many households in Ireland with incomes below the 60% threshold, including those with children, may have a better standard of living than similar households classified as not at risk of poverty in other member states.

I mention this because a misleading impression is often given that the level of poverty in Ireland is among the highest even in the enlarged EU. This comes as a surprise to many, given the improvements that have been made with employment, increases in social welfare payments and in education, health, housing and other essential services. The real challenge, therefore, now is no longer in combating absolute poverty but in addressing the reality that many households, especially those with children, have not managed to secure an adequate share of the growing employment opportunities on offer and in the higher standards of living these provide.

The Combat Poverty Agency policy statement on ending child poverty, which I recently launched, deals with this reality. The statement identifies three specific areas for attention. These are the need for increased and targeted child income supports; measures to encourage lone parents back to education, training and work, and the delivery of additional child care places. These are fully in line in this regard with my priorities and those of the Government.

The most significant measure to support families with children in recent years has been the substantial real increases in child benefit payment rates. Between 1997 and 2005, the rate of child benefit rose from €38.09 per month for the first two children and €49.52 for each child thereafter to €141.60 per month for each of the first two children and to €177.30 per month for the third and each subsequent child. This equates to real increases in excess of 170%. Child benefit is paid to over 540,000 families in respect of approximately 1 million children, at an estimated cost of €1.916 billion in 2005. It delivers a standard rate of payment in respect of all children in a family regardless of income levels or employment status. Providing income support in this way thus creates no obstacles to employment and facilitates employment take up by providing significant support with child care costs.

Through the family income supplement scheme, my Department provides cash support by way of weekly payments to families at work on low pay. Recent improvements to the scheme, including the assessment of entitlements on the basis of net rather than gross income and progressive increases in the income limits, have made it easier for more lower income households to qualify under the scheme.

There is now full-time or part-time employment take up in a significant proportion of households with children. These mainly include recipients of the one-parent family payment or of payments in respect of disability and unemployment. In other households with bigger families, only one parent may be able to take up employment, which results in a lower family income. I believe that part of the solution to this may be the introduction of an integrated, second tier of child income support, aimed specifically at families on low income. This would supplement the support provided by child benefit in terms of creating no obstacles to employment and contributing towards the cost of child care in facilitating employment. It would also help to facilitate the option of part-time or full-time parental care for children.

In developing these policies full account will be taken of the Combat Poverty Agency study and of a forthcoming study under the Ending Child Poverty special initiative by the NESC on amalgamating social welfare child dependant allowances with the family income supplement. The present system of weekly payments and other supports for lone parents may be creating obstacles to employment and thus contributing to growing dependence on these payments and a greater long-term risk of poverty for recipients and their children. This level of dependence does not appear to occur in many other EU countries. I, therefore, fully accept the priority which the Combat Poverty Agency study gives to encouraging people on benefit, including lone parents, back to work. This has already been under active consideration for some time.

A sub-group of the senior officials group on social inclusion has been undertaking since last year a detailed examination of obstacles to employment for lone parents. A report will be submitted to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion before the end of July, consideration of which will receive top priority.

The provision of affordable and flexible child care is also a key factor in facilitating employment participation for families with children. My Department is participating in an interdepartmental working group on early child care and education, chaired by the National Children's Office. The work of this committee is at an advanced stage and the outcome will make an important contribution to finding the right mix of services and income support to facilitate employment take up and care for children.

We need to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of the policies being pursued on the development of our children and get the necessary evidence on what works and works well. This process is about to commence with a major national longitudinal study on children which is expected to commence later in 2005. It is being jointly funded by my Department and the Department of Health and Children, through the National Children's Office. The study will be the most significant of its kind to be undertaken here, particularly in terms of the cost, scope and length of study period. It is anticipated that 10,000 children from birth and 8,000 children aged nine will be recruited to participate in the study.

I am confident that through the measures already being taken and the initiatives being planned, which will soon come to fruition, we are making a major contribution to ensuring that vulnerable families and their children have a fair share of the life chances and quality of life, which our prosperity as a nation is already conferring on a majority.

Social Welfare Code.

David Stanton

Ceist:

17 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the situation whereby migrant workers from the accession states and other countries, who come here to take up employment, do not qualify for any State support if they have not been employed here for more than two years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18062/05]

From 1 May 2004, the requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and for child benefit. The basis for the restriction contained in the new rules is the applicant's habitual residence. The restriction is not based on citizenship, nationality, immigration status or any other factor.

The effect of the restriction is that a person whose habitual residence is elsewhere is not paid certain social welfare payments on arrival in Ireland. The question of what is a person's "habitual residence" is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims. Each case received for a determination on the habitual residence condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on the application of the guidelines to the individual's circumstances. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision of a deciding officer has the right to appeal to the social welfare appeals office.

Information held in my Department shows that the majority of migrant workers who came here took up employment and did not make social welfare claims. This is particularly true of those coming from the new member states of the EU. Migrant workers who become unemployed or ill will be entitled to claim unemployment benefit or disability benefit if they satisfy the social insurance contributions for such schemes. In the case of nationals of countries that require work permits, payment will only be made in respect of the unexpired part of their work permit.

It is possible for migrant workers who have been here for less than two years to satisfy the habitual residence condition for unemployment assistance purposes if it is deemed that their centre of interest is in the State. Again in work permit cases, payment of assistance would only be made in respect of the unexpired part of the work permit.

The operation of the habitual residence condition has been kept under review by officials of my Department since its introduction. The purpose of the review is to assess the impact of the condition on different categories of claimants, the organisational arrangements and the level of service provided to customers, and to identify opportunities for improvements in the administration of the scheme. The ongoing review enables my officials to identify emerging policy issues and to consider how these should be addressed.

Account is being taken of the views received from various groups and organisations who have an interest in the area. I expect to be in a position to draw conclusions from the review by the end of the year.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

18 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the discussions he has had to date concerning the logistics of allowing Irish senior citizens in Britain to have access to free travel when they return on visits to Ireland; if he is close to finalising details for such a proposal; the timeframe for its introduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23015/05]

The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over. It is also available to carers and to people with disabilities who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments. It applies to travel within the State and cross-Border journeys between here and Northern Ireland.

There have been a number of proposals for extending entitlement for free travel to people living outside Ireland, particularly the UK. During a recent visit to the UK I discussed the logistics of such a recognition scheme with bodies representing the Irish in Britain. With regard to making free travel available to Irish senior citizens living in Britain, consideration has to be given to the EU treaty's prohibition on discrimination on grounds of nationality. This could mean that, if the scheme were extended along the lines suggested, it may have to be extended to all pensioners who are EU nationals coming to Ireland for temporary stays.

However, while mindful of possible legal issues, I intend to continue to pursue the logistical elements of such a scheme, as I view it as important in the overall recognition of the contribution of Irish senior citizens over several decades to the growth and prosperity of this country.

Pension Provisions.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

19 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans for older persons as announced on 15 June 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22916/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

21 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the discussions he has had with the banks regarding his recently announced proposals to encourage pensioners to remortgage to supplement their income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23105/05]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

26 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will more fully explain his proposal to encourage the remortgaging of pensioner’s homes. [23045/05]

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

30 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the two recent reports from the National Council on Ageing and Older People, An Age Friendly Society and Planning for an Ageing Population; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23032/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

78 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will expand on his recent statement that older persons should be able to remortgage their property to the State in return for an annual income to supplement their pension; if he plans to table formal proposals on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23028/05]

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

87 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his new proposals to allow State pensioners to earn an income and keep their full pension; when he plans to introduce these proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23031/05]

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

89 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on media reports that he has plans to allow people to remortgage their property to the State in return for income to supplement their pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22918/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

387 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent of the discussions he has had with banking institutions about his recent proposals to encourage banks to acquire part of the equity of their homes, having particular regard to the fact that many such people have already had to assist their sons and daughters with the purchase, who are first time home buyers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24153/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 19, 21, 26, 30, 78, 87, 89 and 387 together.

I recently had the pleasure of launching two important documents from the National Council of Ageing and Older People —An Age Friendly Society: A Position Document and Planning for an Ageing Population: Strategic Considerations. The concept of a society for all ages, where all generations mingle and are valued equally, is most appealing and must be the goal that we as a nation aspire to as we explore the challenges of planning for an ageing population.

I fully agree with the national council that we need to identify the values and aspirations we wish to adopt in determining the place older people will have in our society. We also need to realise that older people are a valuable asset and resource to this country and should not be seen as a burden on the State. This is particularly important as we examine policy issues relating to the future financing of long-term care. These issues raise important questions for society.

My Department carried out a consultation process on the Mercer report on the future financing of long-term care in Ireland, which involved detailed consultation with a number of organisations. The feedback from that process has been compiled and has been fed into the long-term care working group. This working group is being chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach and comprises senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs.

The objective of the group is to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care, taking account of the Mercer report, the views of the consultation that was undertaken on that report and the review of the nursing home subvention scheme by Professor Eamon O'Shea. The group will report to the Tánaiste and to me during the summer.

A range of options are being considered to fund long-term care into the future. One of these options is an equity release type mechanism. I have spoken to my Canadian counterpart about his ideas for a scheme that allows homeowners to top up incomes by mortgaging a part of their property. The amount is recouped by the State, or agency acting for the State, when the home is eventually sold. This is referred to as a "reverse mortgage". Money raised in this way can, I understand, be taken as a lump sum or can be paid in instalments as a regular stream of income over time. There may be some benefits in exploring the introduction of such a system to assist people in supplementing their pension. In Canada the aspiration is that low income older people could raise their annual incomes consistently over time. It is an option that I will explore over the coming months.

With regard to pensions, I am examining the distinction between contributory and non-contributory pensions and the possibility of adjusting the means test to see to what extent we can provide incentives to older people to remain in employment. This is part of a broader examination of pensions issues which I am undertaking and which gives rise to complex issues and fundamental questions about the way our pensions system is organised. However, I hope to come to some conclusions in this area later this year.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

20 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the recent ESRI report on pensioners’ incomes. [18323/05]

The recent ESRI report on pensioners' incomes and replacement rates in 2000 estimated that the income of older couples was 51% of their pre-retirement income, with single pensioners achieving a rate of 43%.

Since first taking office, the needs of older people have been a priority for this Government. We have sought, through significant increases in pensions and changes to other schemes, to improve the position of older people. Since 1997, we have increased pensions by up to €80.26 per week or 81%. Over the same period the increase in the consumer price index was 30.7% while average earnings increased by 51%.

At the same time, we have eased qualifying conditions so that more people can now receive contributory pensions. Additional household schemes have also been made available to all those over 70 years of age regardless of their income or household composition. The programme for Government contains a commitment to increase the basic State pension to €200 by 2007 and further progress will be made in the 2006-07 period. The maximum rate of contributory old age pension now stands at €179.30.

Under the national pensions policy initiative, published by the Pensions Board in 1998, the board proposed a rate of 34% of gross average industrial earnings for contributory pensions based on average earnings for the previous year. On that basis the current rate of pension is equivalent to almost 32%. A statutory review of pensions coverage and related issues is required to be completed by September 2006. In February, I asked the Pensions Board to commence work on a comprehensive review of our overall pensions strategy. Work on the review is ongoing and will include an examination of the appropriateness of the original targets suggested in the national pensions policy initiative for social welfare pensions and the total income of pensioners, taking account of the ESRI report.

I am anxious to ensure that the report is completed in the shortest possible timescale so that I can review the situation and decide what further action is required in this area. I expect to receive the report of the Pensions Board in September.

Question No. 21 answered with QuestionNo. 19.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

22 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he does not accept relative income and consistent poverty as measures of poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22925/05]

Pat Breen

Ceist:

23 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress to date on the eradication of consistent poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22884/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

34 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will list and outline the current data on poverty here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22926/05]

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

52 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is concentrating his efforts on dealing with consistent poverty and not relative income poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22924/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 22, 23, 34 and 52 together.

The relative income poverty indicator measures the proportion of people below the threshold of 60% of median income. People with income below that threshold are considered by the EU to be "at risk of poverty". The consistent poverty indicator identifies those below the 60% median income threshold who are also experiencing deprivation in goods and services considered essential for a basic standard of living in Ireland. There are eight indicators of deprivation chosen on the basis of surveys of what Irish people consider essential for a basic standard of living.

Across EU member states a new EU survey on income and living conditions, EU SILC, is the principal source of data on these and other indicators. The survey is conducted in Ireland by the Central Statistics Office. It replaces the living in Ireland survey, LIIS, which was conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, until 2001. Ireland was among the first set of five countries to introduce EU SILC in 2003.

That survey reported that 22.7% of persons were at risk of poverty in 2003, which represents a slight increase on the 2001 figure of 21.9%. It is the case that when countries experience rapid economic growth, as occurred in Ireland in the 1990s, the incidence of relative poverty can increase as a result of the increase in incomes generally, for example, it rose in Ireland from 15.6% to 20.9% during a period of high economic growth between 1994 and 2000. However, if we use the "anchored poverty line approach" over the same time frame based on increases of the poverty threshold by the rate of increases in consumer prices only, the level of poverty actually falls by 55.9%.

The impact of general rises in income is also illustrated by a recent EUROSTAT study. This gives the monetary value of the 60% median threshold for a household with two adults and two children in 2003 in terms of purchasing power standards. It shows that the value for Ireland is above the EU average and eighth highest overall. This means that many households in Ireland with incomes below the 60% threshold have a better standard of living than similar households classified as not at risk of poverty in other member states.

The relative income approach, of course, only measures income. It does not take account of the high level of home ownership, especially among the elderly, and consequently of the value to households of owning their own home. It also does not reflect access to household allowances in kind such as electricity, fuel, telephone rental and TV licence.

The EU-SILC survey reported that 10.2% of households experienced consistent poverty in 2003, up from 5.2% in 2001 under the earlier LIIS survey. However, both the CSO and the ESRI have made it clear that methodological differences between the two surveys mean that the figures for 2001 and 2003 are not comparable and that it is, therefore, not possible to conclude from them how consistent poverty changed during this period.

There is no reason to believe that there has been a worsening in basic deprivation levels in recent years. Between 2001 and 2005, spending on social welfare has increased from €7.8 billion to €12.2 billion. During the same period the lowest social welfare rates have increased by 40% while the consumer price index has increased by just over 13%. As a result of budget 2005, welfare payments have increased by three times the expected rate of inflation.

Nevertheless, what is not in question from the survey results are the groups who are identified as being most at risk of poverty and deprivation. EU- SILC confirms the findings of earlier surveys in this regard. The most vulnerable groups are families with children, especially lone parents and larger families, those who are unemployed or with disabilities and the elderly, especially women living alone.

For those of working age the best route out of poverty is employment and this includes lone parents and those with disabilities, as well as the unemployed. This requires ensuring that social welfare payments are organised and administered in ways that are employment friendly. It also involves providing the necessary supports, such as education and training, employment services and affordable child care. The development of policies to meet these challenges is now a top priority with, for example, high level working groups examining how best to enable lone parents overcome the obstacles to employment they face and on how best to further develop the provision of affordable child care. Similar strategic and coordinated approaches are being developed for those with disabilities and the elderly.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

24 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he expects social welfare recipients to be able to receive their payments in credit union accounts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22931/05]

My objective is to ensure that a wide choice of payment options is available to customers and that service is continually improved by providing access to an increasing range of payment outlets and facilities. Currently, 520,000 of my Department's customers receive their payment direct to their accounts at banks, building societies and other financial institutions. In order for my Department to issue payments to an account, the financial institution must have access to the electronic clearing system. Credit unions do not have access to these facilities at present and, therefore, cannot receive direct payments from my Department.

I am aware that the Irish League of Credit Unions is currently working with Bank of Ireland to develop a solution which would give credit unions access to the electronic clearing system. Development work is at an advanced stage and my Department has been requested to assist with the testing of the solution by issuing trial payments. Development work is ongoing between the bank and the credit unions and my Department will continue to assist with the testing of the system as requested.

When regulatory approval is obtained and all parties are satisfied that payments can reach the nominated account securely and on time, and that the customer can easily access their payment on the due date, my Department will agree a commencement date for the service with the Irish League of Credit Unions.

As the development and the regulatory issues are outside the control of my Department it is not possible to set a timeframe by which payments to credit union accounts will take place. However, I am hopeful that most of the issues can be finalised by the end of the year and that social welfare customers will be able to receive their payments in credit union accounts thereafter.

Question No. 25 answered with QuestionNo. 16.
Question No. 26 answered with QuestionNo. 19.
Question No. 27 answered with QuestionNo. 15.

Social Welfare Code.

David Stanton

Ceist:

28 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he intends to introduce a second tier support payment for children in unemployed or low wage households; if so, the progress which has been made to date in regard to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22886/05]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

38 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress to date on his review of the second tier payment for children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22905/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 38 together.

My Department provides child income support in a number of ways. The principal support is child benefit, which is neutral vis-à-vis the employment status of the child’s parents and does not contribute to poverty traps. Over the period since 1997, the monthly rates of child benefit have increased by €103.51 at the lower rate and €127.78 at the higher rate, increases of 272% and 258% respectively. Child benefit rates now stand at €141.60 per month for each of the first two children and €177.30 per month for the third and each subsequent child.

Child dependant allowances are paid in addition to weekly social welfare payments. Since 1994, successive Governments have held the rate of child dependant allowances constant while concentrating resources for child income support on the child benefit scheme. It is important to recognise that over that period, the combined child benefit-child dependant allowance payment has increased by more than double the rate of inflation.

In addition, my Department provides cash support by way of weekly payments to families, including lone parent families, at work on low pay, through the family income supplement scheme. A number of improvements have been made to the scheme over the years, including the assessment of entitlement on the basis of net rather than gross income and progressive increases in the income thresholds, making it easier for lower income households to qualify for payment.

The National Economic and Social Council is examining the merging of child dependant allowances with the family income supplement scheme, as a way of addressing the issue of child poverty by channelling resources to low income families without creating disincentives to employment. I look forward to receiving the NESC report in the near future.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

29 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will provide details of the new benefits and supports for carers that he recently announced; when he will introduce a national strategy for carers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23023/05]

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

32 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he is considering changing the dual eligibility rule for persons in receipt of the carer’s allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22907/05]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

42 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has received a copy of the Carers Association national policy document Towards a Family Carers Strategy; his views on its main findings; if he will draw on this document when formulating a national strategy for carers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23024/05]

John Gormley

Ceist:

48 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of his plans to implement recommendations made by theCarers’ Association in the first national strategy for carers to formally acknowledge the role of persons who care for ill, disabled or elderly relatives at home. [23041/05]

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

56 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has plans to change the dual eligibility rule for persons in receipt of the carer’s allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22895/05]

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

69 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will give a commitment to develop, finance and put in place a national strategy for carers and thereby give full recognition to their role as an integral part of the health services; if he will provide adequate supports for the 150,000 family carers here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23020/05]

Damien English

Ceist:

77 Mr. English asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress to date on a policy or framework for the future funding of long-term care of the elderly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22896/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

84 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to extend payment to the wider group of carers in line with modern requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23106/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

388 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he expects to be in a position to extend the carer’s allowance to that wider group of people who are currently carers but not in receipt of a payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24154/05]

John Cregan

Ceist:

403 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will consider extending extra benefits to carers looking after the more stressful and needs related clients; if, in cases in which persons take up the carer’s allowance and forfeit other social welfare payments, he will consider granting such persons all or part of forfeited payments. [24174/05]

I propose to take Question Nos. 29, 32, 42, 48, 56, 69, 77, 84, 388 and 403 together.

The carer's allowance is a social assistance payment which provides income support to people who are providing certain elderly or incapacitated persons with full-time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit. The primary objective of the social welfare system is to provide income support and, as a general rule, only one weekly social welfare payment is payable to an individual. This ensures that resources are not used to make two income support payments to any one person.

According to census 2002, there are 48,500 people providing personal care for over four hours per day. Just over 24,200 of these are in receipt of either carer's allowance or carer's benefit. This means that 50% of the 48,500 carers, as estimated by the CSO to be caring for more than four hours per day, are in receipt of a specific carer's payment from my Department.

I have been conscious, however, that there are carers who, because they are not in need of income support and consequently do not qualify for a weekly payment from my Department, feel that their contribution is not being recognised. For that reason, in the last budget I made provision to extend the annual respite care grant to all carers who are providing medically certified full-time care to a person who needs such care. This is also subject to some employment related conditions. This means that the respite care grant is now available to all carers who are providing medically certified full-time care. Accordingly, carers who are receiving a social welfare payment or those who are qualified adults on another person's pension or those who are not currently receiving a weekly social welfare payment may now qualify for a respite care grant from my Department.

The amount of the grant increased from €835 to €1,000 in June 2005. Provision has also been made to pay a grant in respect of each care recipient, where previously the grant was only available for up to two people. This benefits those who provide care for three or more people. I expect that this measure will benefit over 9,000 carers who are not currently in receipt of carer's allowance or carer's benefit. Overall, some 33,000 full-time carers will receive the grant at a cost of €36 million this year. This will bring the total expenditure on supports for carers from my Department to over €250 million this year.

I recently had the pleasure of launching the Carers Association's Towards a Carer's Strategy. It is a focused document with clear objectives and actions. These objectives and actions cover a range of areas and Government Departments, including income support and health related issues. With regard to a policy framework for the future funding of long-term care for older people, the long-term care working group, which is chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach and comprises senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs, is continuing its work. The objective of this group is to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care, taking account of the Mercer report, the views of the consultation that was undertaken on that report and the review of the nursing home subvention scheme. The group will report to the Tánaiste and myself during the summer.

I will also continue to work with my colleagues in Government to develop the type of co-ordinated services which provide real support and practical assistance to people who devote their time to improving the quality of life for others.

Question No. 30 answered with QuestionNo. 19.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

31 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has plans to change the way in which the supplementary welfare allowance is administered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22911/05]

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

75 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress to date on the review of the supplementary welfare allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22910/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 75 together.

The supplementary welfare scheme is administered by the Health Service Executive on my behalf. The scheme is being reviewed as part of my Department's ongoing programme of expenditure reviews. The review is being carried out by a working group chaired by my Department and includes the Department of Finance and the Health Service Executive. The review involves a fundamental appraisal of the scheme. All aspects are being examined, with a primary focus on considering ways of improving its efficiency and effectiveness.

Due to the number and nature of the issues raised, the working group decided to progress the review in two phases. Phase I of the review was completed at the end of 2004. This is a preliminary phase, outlining the background to the scheme, its current format, the trends in recipient numbers and expenditure. It also addresses the objectives of the scheme and their relevance in the context of Government and departmental policy and strategies. In this first phase the working group carried out an extensive consultation process. This resulted in 145 submissions being received by the working group. Over 700 issues were raised in these submissions. The report of phase I of the review has been published and is also available on my Department's website.

Phase II of the review commenced in January 2005. This involves a full examination of the issues raised in the submissions received and conclusions by the group in phase 1. The group is due to complete its work by the end of 2005 and will make recommendations on the future of the scheme based on its conclusions.

The recent establishment of the Health Service Executive requires a fresh consideration of the role and structure of the community welfare service and of the most appropriate location for that service in the future. I will address, later this year, the most appropriate administrative arrangements for the scheme in the light of recent changes.

Question No. 32 answered with QuestionNo. 29.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

33 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will increase the weekly disregard of earnings as an incentive for persons with disabilities entering rehabilitative and therapeutic employment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22880/05]

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

80 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he intends to increase the income disregard for persons on disability allowance following the recent increase in the minimum wage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22920/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 and 80 together.

My Department aims, through the provision of a range of supports, to encourage and assist people with disabilities and long-term illnesses who are in receipt of social welfare payments to identify and take up available employment, training and other self development opportunities, where appropriate.

This is achieved through a number of measures which include: exemptions from the general "no work" conditions which apply to the contributory illness and disability payments — with the prior approval of the Department, a person may be exempted from these conditions so as to engage in employment or training of up to 20 hours per week which is considered to be rehabilitative or therapeutic in nature; earnings disregards in the case of means tested payments, disability allowance and blind pension, for those engaging in rehabilitative employment or self employment and rehabilitative training; participation in the back to work scheme, whereby people on long-term illness and disability payments can retain those payments on a sliding scale for three years where they take up full-time employment in the open labour market, four years where engaged in self employment; the jobs facilitator network, which assists people to return to work, training and education by advising them of the options available, encouraging them to take up these options and providing supports, where necessary; and exemptions from liability for employer and employee PRSI contributions, in certain instances.

The earnings disregard for those in receipt of means tested payments engaging in rehabilitative employment has been increased on a number of occasions since the transfer of the then disabled person's maintenance allowance, DPMA, from the health boards to my Department as disability allowance in 1996. At that time, the disregard was £35.20, equivalent of €44.69, increased to £36.30 or €46.09 from 4 June 1997 and to £50 or €63.49 from 3 June 1998. It was then increased to £75 or €95.23 from 5 April 2000 and also extended to self employment and to its current level of €120 from April 2002. Any further change to this disregard would have budgetary implications and would have to be considered in the context of overall available resources.

As part of the Government's expenditure review initiative, a working group established in my Department reviewed the range of existing illness and disability schemes and identified a number of areas where employment support could be strengthened within the social welfare system and across Government Departments generally. I will consider what improvements can be made in the light of this review and with a view to any necessary measures being considered in the context of the next budget.

Question No. 34 answered with QuestionNo. 22.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

35 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the measures which have been taken by his Department to rectify the issue of reimbursing pensioners who lose a week’s money when they sign up for direct debit payments. [23037/05]

My Department's policy is to ensure that a wide range of payment options are available to customers. Payment options that are currently available include post office payments by means of a personalised pension order, PPO, book, postdrafts or electronic interface transfer, EIT, using a swipe card, cheque payments to customers at their home address and direct payment to customers' bank accounts via electronic fund transfer, EFT. Customers may also switch between payment method where their circumstances warrant it.

When pension payments made by EFT first commenced, they were made four weeks in arrears. However, following a review of payment frequencies, pension payments by EFT moved to two weeks in arrears in April 2000. This situation was again reviewed in 2004 and it was further reduced to one week in arrears in November of that year.

The majority of customers who opt for the EFT facility do so at the start of their claim and are paid on a regular weekly basis once their claim is put into payment.

Under current arrangements, customers wishing to change from a post office book to EFT move to a different payment cycle and, as a result, do not receive payment for one week during the switch over. The further alignment of EFT payments with that of other payment methods, including the elimination payments being made one week in arrears, is being addressed and the necessary arrangements will be put in place as soon as possible.

I also recently announced a comprehensive review of my Department's payment systems. This review will take account of Government policy to facilitate the greater use of electronic payments systems in the economy in the interests of developing a world class payments environment in Ireland.

Social Welfare Code.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

36 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress to date on the introduction of a personal pension entitlement for pensioner spouses currently in receipt of the qualified adult allowance to be set at the level of the full non-contributory pension, as promised in the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22882/05]

In the programme for Government and in Sustaining Progress, the Government is committed to increasing the payment for qualified adults, age 66 years or over, to the same level as the personal rate of the old age non-contributory pension. The current estimated full year cost of this commitment is €44 million.

Considerable progress has already been made in this regard with the qualified adult allowance on the contributory payment now standing at €138.50 or 83% of the maximum rate of old age non-contributory pension, currently €166.00 per week. Overall increases in the qualified adult allowance on the old age contributory pension amount to €56.47 per week since April 2000. Further progress towards increasing rates in line with Government targets will be considered in a budgetary context.

Question No. 37 answered with QuestionNo. 13.
Question No. 38 answered with QuestionNo. 28.
Question No. 39 withdrawn.
Question No. 40 answered with QuestionNo. 6.
Question No. 41 answered with QuestionNo. 16.
Question No. 42 answered with QuestionNo. 29.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

43 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the efforts his Department is making at local authority level to reduce poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22913/05]

The national action plan on inclusion provides for an integrated approach across all relevant policy areas for combating poverty and social exclusion, in line with the process established under the EU open method of co-ordination. This requires action not only at national level but also at regional and local level.

The office for social inclusion in my Department is responsible for co-ordinating and driving the plan, working closely with all relevant Departments and with the social partners through the social inclusion consultative group. Direct responsibility for social inclusion at local authority level rests with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government who, I understand, recently provided detailed information on progress to the Deputy.

Over the past number of years my Department, through the office for social inclusion, has worked with that Department and the Combat Poverty Agency in supporting the development and implementation of a local government anti-poverty learning network. This network has contributed significantly to the promotion of a strong local anti-poverty focus within the reformed system of local government. It provides a forum in which local authorities can share experiences and best practice and consider how to make the maximum contribution to policies to tackle poverty and social exclusion.

Implementation of the national action plan on inclusion is regularly monitored and the outcomes achieved are evaluated. This process is part of the co-ordination undertaken by the office for social inclusion and involves Government Departments, the senior officials groups on social inclusion and the social partners. A report on the implementation of the 2003-2005 National Action Plan, for submission to the European Commission, is being finalised at present and will highlight, inter alia, the significant progress being made at local level to address poverty and social inclusion. This will include reference not only to services provided directly by local authorities but to all relevant State services administered at regional and local level.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

44 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has ever calculated the number of persons who are eligible for the family income supplement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22891/05]

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

67 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who are eligible for the family income supplement but are not availing of the scheme; the number of persons who avail of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22890/05]

David Stanton

Ceist:

375 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the number of working families on a low income which are entitled to the family income supplement but are not claiming it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23533/05]

I propose to take Questions No. 44, 67 and 375 together.

Family income supplement, FIS, was introduced in 1984 to provide income support for employees on low earnings with families and thereby preserve the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where they might otherwise only be marginally better off than if they were fully reliant on social welfare payments. Weekly payments of FIS are made to families, including one-parent families, with children under 18 years or between 18 and 22 years if in full-time education, where one or more parent is in full-time remunerative employment of not less than 19 hours per week or 38 hours per fortnight, where the employment is likely to last at least three months and where the income of the family is less than a prescribed weekly amount.

The number of FIS claims in payment at week ending 17 June 2005 is 15,513. This represents an increase of 29% since December 2002 when 12,043 claims were in payment. FIS income limits were increased by €39 per week in budget 2005. This represents a net increase of €23.40 per week for most recipients. Weekly FIS income limits have risen by €84 since 2002. This represents a net increase of €50.40. The guaranteed minimum weekly rate of payment for anyone who qualifies for FIS increased to €20 from January 2004.

It is difficult to estimate the number of families who fail to apply for their entitlements under the family income supplement scheme. However, research undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Institute in 1997, which was based on the results of the living in Ireland survey 1994, suggested that fewer than one in three of potentially eligible claimants were actually in receipt of the payment. Since those with a higher entitlement are more likely to avail of the scheme, the take up in expenditure terms was estimated to be somewhat higher at between 35% and 38% of potential expenditure. I understand that the ESRI is looking again at this issue given the availability of new data since that time.

My Department undertakes a number of proactive measures to ensure that people are aware of possible entitlement to family income supplement. In the past, this has included extensive advertising on local and national press and radio, in poster campaigns and targeted mailshots. Information on FIS is also provided on an ongoing basis in various ways, which include advising all newly awarded one-parent family payment recipients, advising all employers annually in PRSI mailshots and examining entitlement for all recipients of the back to work scheme.

The provision of information on FIS in this manner is not costed separately. More generally, information on all social welfare schemes, including FIS, is also available on the Department's website and from the Department's local offices.

National Minimum Wage.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

45 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the failure to increase the cut off wage level for PRSI payments means that many minimum wage earners have not benefited as much as they should have from the recent increase in the minimum wage; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that an employee earning €298.35 per week now finds that their pay exceeds the €287 minimum level for PRSI exemption; his views on whether this effectively cancels out the bonus they receive via the increase in the minimum wage; if he will address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23029/05]

David Stanton

Ceist:

374 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if, in view of the recent increase in the minimum wage, he intends to increase the cut off level for payment of PRSI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23532/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 374 together.

The National Minimum Wage Act 2000 provides that the minimum wage rate for an experienced adult employee from 1 May 2005 is €7.65 per hour. The national minimum wage continues to have a significant impact on the earnings of many thousands of low paid workers. This was the fourth increase in the national minimum wage and was agreed between the Government and the social partners under the mid-term review of Sustaining Progress.

The level of the PRSI contribution payable in any week is for the most part determined by the level of reckonable earnings in that week and by the appropriate PRSI rate. The rate at which the PRSI is due can vary significantly depending on the level of earnings. The system of PRSI contributions, which includes payment of the health levy where appropriate, operates using a range of tiered contribution rates which vary for employer and employees corresponding to weekly non-cumulative thresholds and a weekly non-cumulative PRSI allowance, subject to an annual cumulative ceiling on employee contributions.

These tiered PRSI contributions and allowances link the percentage of PRSI payable to the level of reckonable earnings in a given contribution week so as to ensure that the system is largely progressive up to the value of the annual ceiling. The tiered system also enhances employment incentives for low earning employees so as to ensure they do not bear a financial disadvantage from the payment of social insurance contributions.

From an employee point of view, a key PRSI threshold currently stands at €287 per week, which is the level above which the modified employee PRSI rate of 0.9% or standard employee PRSI rate of 4% is payable. At this threshold point, the employee rate becomes operable for all earnings, although contributors are then entitled to a PRSI free allowance of €26 or €127 per week, as appropriate, which reduces the "step-effect" of the threshold.

There are no provisions under social welfare law to exempt earnings paid at the minimum wage from liability for social insurance contributions. Any changes in the PRSI free allowances, thresholds and ceilings are considered in a budgetary context. It is worthwhile noting that workers in the circumstances that the Deputy sets out received an increase of over 6% on their previous earnings despite the application of PRSI. The Deputy can be assured that every effort is made to ensure that low paid workers and other vulnerable workers do not suffer undue hardship from the operation of the PRSI system.

Social Welfare Code.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

46 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the efforts his Department makes to encourage and assist persons with disabilities and long-term illnesses to identify and take up available employment, training and educational and other self development opportunities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22915/05]

My Department tries to assist and encourage long-term unemployed, people with disabilities and other long-term welfare recipients to return to work, training or further education through a range of measures administered by my Department's social and family support service. The back to work allowance scheme incentivises and encourages long-term unemployed people, lone parents and certain persons with disabilities to return to work by allowing them to retain part of their social welfare payment for a period when they take up employment or self employment.

My Department also administers the back to education allowance programme which is available to people who need to obtain educational qualifications before re-entering the labour market. It also operates a special projects fund, administered by facilitators based in social welfare local offices, which enables facilitators to provide enhanced supports to people who need additional help to progress to further training and employment. The groups who may need special help of this nature include the long-term ill and people with disabilities. In 2004, 23 special projects catered for people with disabilities at a cost of over €500,000.

The Department also operates small scale family services projects in certain areas, which are designed to focus supports towards specific target groups with complex needs, including people with disabilities. The provision of this additional support involves individual attention, customised information and enhanced access to services. It can increase the capacity of those in the most difficult circumstances, including people with disabilities, to improve their self esteem and personal situations through access to basic education, training and developmental opportunities.

It is hoped that by encouraging customers with disabilities to participate in self development programmes and, in some instances, "taster" educational programmes that they will move on to more formalised training and educational programmes. In 2004, six projects catered for people with disabilities and their families at a cost of €66,240.

The special projects and family services initiatives are based on the application of a partnership approach between my Department, the voluntary and community sector, the private sector and other local players in identifying and addressing local needs in terms of training and development for people dependent on social welfare payments, including people with disabilities.

Customers in receipt of certain illness related payments such as disability allowance, disability benefit and invalidity pension are not debarred from working while in receipt of these payments, subject to meeting certain criteria. Disability allowance is means tested and any income received would be assessed as means subject, however, to the current income disregard of €120 per week. Disability benefit and invalidity pension customers may, in certain circumstances, be allowed to undertake work for rehabilitative reasons with a view to improving their prospects of returning to full-time work at a future date.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

47 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way in which An Post is expected to improve its services if it is to retain social welfare payments, in view of the fact that his Department has held off on promoting an electronic transfer fund system at local post offices. [23038/05]

My Department issues approximately 1.1 million weekly payments, of which 58% are paid through An Post. Some 643,000 customers are paid electronically by my Department. Payments can be made by electronic fund transfer direct to a customer's account with a financial institution, including An Post, or by electronic information transfer to a post office where the customer can access the payment by means of a social welfare card.

At present, some 800,000 customers on long-term schemes are paid by means of a book of personalised payable orders which are encashable each week at a post office designated by the customer. My objective is to ensure that a wide choice of payment options is available to customers and that service is continually improved by providing access to an increasing range of payment services.

I have recently announced a review of my Department's payment methods with a view to identifying a payment solution which will meet the needs of customers in the future while at the same time complying with the Government's e-services agenda. This review, which is under way, will look at all the payment options used by my Department and will seek information on how best to deliver social welfare payments in the future. I expect the review will be completed by the end of the year.

The range and type of services which An Post provides to its customers is, in the first instance, a commercial matter for the company. I have no role or function in this regard. I am aware that An Post is mindful of the need to move to a more modern payment system. My expectation, however, is that An Post will respond to developments and product innovation in the money transmission market so that it can maintain its position as a leading player in this area of commercial activity.

In 1999, my Department's payment delivery arrangements with An Post were extended following a Government decision on the matter. This gave rise to a complaint being lodged with the European Commission in 2000. The complaint was subsequently referred to the European Court of Justice by the European Commission. An undertaking given to the European Commission precludes my Department from entering into any arrangement with An Post which would alter the terms of the current payment delivery service.

Pending a judgment on the complaint, the current arrangements which exist between my Department and An Post for the delivery of social welfare payments will continue.

Question No. 48 answered with QuestionNo. 29.

Social Welfare Code.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

49 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has carried out a recent evaluation of supplementary welfare allowance rent caps with a view to revising caps to reflect actual current market rates for quality accommodation. [23042/05]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive, provides for the payment of a rent supplement to assist eligible people who are unable to provide for their immediate accommodation needs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source.

Rent supplements are subject to a limit on the amount of rent that an applicant for rent supplement may incur. Setting maximum rent limits higher than are justified by the open market would have a distorting effect on the rental market, leading to a more general rise in rent levels and in landlord income. This in turn would worsen the affordability of rental accommodation unnecessarily, with particular negative impact for those tenants on lower incomes.

The limits currently in place came into force with effect from January 2004. Notwithstanding these limits, under existing arrangements the Health Service Executive may, in certain circumstances, breach the rent levels as an exceptional measure. This discretionary power is only used in special cases but it ensures that individuals with particular needs can be accommodated within the scheme.

My Department is in regular contact with the community welfare staff of the Health Service Executive regarding the various elements of the scheme. In the course of these ongoing contacts, the prescribed upper limits on rent levels supported under the rent supplement scheme have not emerged as having a detrimental impact on the ability of eligible tenants generally to secure suitable rented accommodation to meet their needs. In 2004, over 41,000 rent supplement claims were awarded and so far this year over 19,000 claims have been awarded.

My officials are reviewing the current levels of rent limits to determine what limits should apply from later this year. The review is taking account of prevailing rent levels in the private rental sector generally, based on indices from the Central Statistics Office, together with detailed input from the Health Service Executive on the market situation according to patterns of rent supplement applications within each of its operational areas. Data published by the CSO suggest that rent levels rose by 1.5% in the last six months. Rents fell by about 10% over the previous two and a half years.

The review has also included consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In addition, the Irish Council for Social Housing and a number of the voluntary agencies working in this area have made detailed submissions. This process will ensure that the new rent limits reflect realistic market conditions throughout the country and that they will continue to enable the different categories of eligible tenant households to secure and retain suitable rented accommodation to meet their respective needs. I intend to introduce new regulations on this shortly.

Question No. 50 answered with QuestionNo. 15.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

51 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has met with the Bankers Federation of Ireland to discuss the report Do the Poor Pay More? in view of its finding that the poor are being pushed towards moneylenders due to the fact that they are unable to open bank accounts; the outcome of any such meeting; the specific requests he made or intends to make to the federation to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23018/05]

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

54 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has met with the ESB to discuss the report, Do the Poor Pay More? (details supplied) in view of its recommendation that the ESB should be asked if it was evading regulation by charging 22.9% interest on hire purchase agreements; the outcome of any such meeting; the specific requests he made or intends to make to the ESB to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23019/05]

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

61 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his efforts to tackle the financial exclusion from access to financial services for persons on social welfare or on low incomes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22917/05]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

66 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has received a copy of the report, Do the Poor Pay More?; if his attention has been drawn to the report’s finding that the billing and payment policies of State bodies and utility companies are helping to push some of the country’s poorest into debt; the efforts he is making to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23016/05]

Dan Neville

Ceist:

81 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the efforts he is making to prevent the situation whereby many vulnerable persons are being forced to use the services of moneylenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22922/05]

David Stanton

Ceist:

373 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has made progress on the issue of providing low interest loans for persons on social welfare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23531/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51, 54, 61, 66, 81 and 373 together.

My Department has a number of services available to assist individuals and families, primarily those on low income, to manage their finances and to open up alternative credit options in their local credit union. My Department has overall responsibility for the money advice and budgeting service, MABS, which provides assistance to people experiencing difficulty in meeting repayments on borrowings. There are 52 independent companies nationwide operating the service.

The MABS programme provides money advice, including the publication of information on money management and debt counselling, to individuals and families who have problems with debt, particularly indebtedness to moneylenders, and who are on low incomes or are in receipt of social welfare payments. The service places an emphasis on practical budget based measures that help people to move permanently from dependence on moneylenders and to access alternative sources of low cost credit. In the year ending December 2004, MABS dealt with over 16,000 new clients and 13,600 are being dealt with on an on going basis.

I recently launched the OPEN report Do the Poor Pay More? which was funded by the money advice and budgeting service and the Combat Poverty Agency. The report shows that many lone parents do not have access to mainstream banking and are therefore more likely to be indebted to high interest lenders such as moneylenders and hire purchase companies. Having considered the various findings and recommendations in the report regarding the practices of the utility companies and the financial industry, I held a series of meetings with the Irish Bankers' Federation, IBF, ESB, Irish League ofCredit Unions, ILCU, and the financial services regulator.

The meeting with the IBF focused on the following four issues: access to mainstream banking facilities, including credit options where appropriate, for lone parents and others on social welfare or low incomes; responsible lending practices to lone parents and others on welfare or low incomes; operationalisation of guidance notes regarding customer identification at local branch level; continued co-operation with the MABS service in dealing with over indebtedness issues when appropriate.

With regard to these specific matters, the banks have agreed to communicate with all retail member banks to ensure that staff are reminded of account opening procedures and the attendant customer identification requirements, including the range of documentation which will satisfy these requirements. They will also be in contact with the financial services regulator, IFSRA, to discuss how they might help promote their publication, A guide to opening a Bank Account.

The meeting with the ESB centred around the rate of interest being charged on its hire purchase agreements by FinancElectric. The ESB explained that its scoring system is more flexible than that of financial institutions and as a result it needs to charge a higher rate of interest.FinancElectric charges interest at various rates and some of its finance products are interest free. I have asked the ESB, in the context of the sale of its retail business, to ensure that in any transfer that takes place, those on low incomes and social welfare payments who are experiencing difficulty in servicing existing loans are treated in a sympathetic fashion.

The credit union movement has played a significant role in facilitating the development of the MABS. When I met with the Irish League ofCredit Unions I was given every assurance that it would continue to play its part in assisting persons on welfare payments and low incomes to be financially included. It undertook to meet with the One Parent and Exchange Network and other interested groups to respond to issues highlighted in the OPEN research. A follow up meeting has since taken place between OPEN, MABS and the ILCU to investigate the possibility of introducing credit products to attract those who are currently borrowing from moneylenders.

I also met with the financial services regulator. He is currently undertaking research into issues surrounding access to financial services in conjunction with the Combat Poverty Agency. I look forward to getting this report, which is intended to be available later this year. The report will be of assistance in further developing appropriate policy responses to financial inclusion.

A good working relationship exists between MABS, the IBF, ILCU, utility companies and the financial regulator. Regular meetings take place regarding debt recovery practices between the service and these bodies and I have requested that my officials keep me briefed on developments.

Through its operation of the household budget scheme with An Post, my Department also assists people who receive certain social welfare payments with money management by enabling them to pay a regular amount towards various household bills by direct deduction from their payments. This scheme is used mainly to cover local authority rents and mortgages and utilities. There is provision under the supplementary allowance scheme, through its exceptional needs payments, whereby persons may qualify for once-off payments from the community welfare service to help prevent undue hardship at times of exceptional expenditure.

I believe financial inclusion is vital in the context of social inclusion overall and I will continue to monitor developments in this area.

Question No. 52 answered with QuestionNo. 22.

Social Welfare Benefits.

John Gormley

Ceist:

53 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will consider introducing index linked social welfare payments in view of recent and future increases in fuel costs. [23040/05]

The social welfare benchmarking and indexation group, established under the terms of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, reported in September 2001. While it did not prove possible to reach consensus on the desirability of establishing a formal benchmark for social welfare rates, the group did produce the following majority recommendation:

Recognising that the exact rate was a matter for Government, and having balanced the various factors set out in the terms of reference, the majority of the Group considered that the target of 27% of GAIE [Gross Average Industrial Earnings] (on a current-year basis) for the lowest social welfare payments was not an unreasonable policy objective.

With regard to child related payments, the group recommended that the appropriate equivalence level of basic child income support should be set at 33%-35% of the minimum adult social welfare payment rate. The report of the group fed into the national anti-poverty strategy published in 2002. This revised strategy contains a specific commitment to:

To achieve a rate of €150 per week in 2002 terms for the lowest rates of social welfare to be met by 2007 and the appropriate equivalence level of basic child income support (i.e. Child Benefit and Child Dependent Allowances combined) to be set at 33%-35% of the minimum adult personal rate.

This commitment was also reiterated in An Agreed Programme for Government and Sustaining Progress. In addition, An Agreed Pro-gramme for Government also contains a commitment to "increase the basic State Pension to at least €200 by 2007". The achievement of these commitments requires levels of increase well ahead of projected price inflation over the period. Considerable progress has already been made and I was happy to increase the lowest rates of welfare payments by over 10% in the last budget, an increase over four times ahead of projected inflation for the year. In addition, the level of child income support was maintained within the target equivalence levels provided for in the NAPS.

Over the period since 1997, the lowest social welfare rate has increased by 79% or a real increase ahead of price inflation of 37%. Over the same period, the rate of old age contributory pension has increased by 81% or a real increase of over 39%. I look forward to making further progress towards completing these ambitious commitments in the rates of welfare payments in the next two years.

Question No. 54 answered with QuestionNo. 51.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

55 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he intends to reduce the qualifying period for the back to education allowance to nine months; if so, when he will introduce this change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22906/05]

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

88 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has reconsidered reversing the qualifying period for the back to education allowance to nine months; when he expects this change to be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22889/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 and 88 together.

The back to education allowance is a second chance education opportunities programme designed to encourage and facilitate people on certain social welfare payments to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force. The scheme is intended to benefit people who had difficulty finding employment because of a lack of educational qualifications. In many cases, people who have not completed second level education are held back in their efforts to obtain employment because of this. The qualification period for people who wish to pursue second level education is six months and the numbers taking second level education with the support of BTEA are increasing.

The conditions for entitlement to the third level option of the back to education allowance were revised with effect from September 2004. From that date, the qualifying period was increased from six months to 15 months for new applicants intending to commence third level courses of study. I reduced the qualifying period for access to the third level option of the scheme to 12 months in last December's budget. I also increased the annual cost of education allowance, paid to people on BTEA, from €254 to €400. These changes will take effect from 1 September 2005.

I have undertaken to the Dáil and the social affairs committee that I will continue to keep the qualifying period for this scheme under regular review. I have requested my officials to further examine the current arrangements to ensure that the scheme supports those people who are most distant from the labour market and whose need is greatest. In particular, I have requested that they examine how the scheme might be accessed by people in need of further education who have been identified under the employment action plan operated by FÁS in conjunction with my Department. I expect to be in a position to finalise this matter in July.

Question No. 56 answered with QuestionNo. 29.

Social Welfare Policy.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

57 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has received a copy of the NESC report, The Developmental Welfare State; his views on its conclusion that addressing Ireland’s social problems has not been met with the same vigour as addressing economic issues over the past 20 years; his further views on whether many of Ireland’s social problems are worsening despite economic success; the efforts he is making to address this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23017/05]

The National Economic and Social Council was established to consider strategic issues relating to the efficient development of the economy, the achievement of social justice and the development of a strategic framework for the conduct of relations and negotiation of agreements between the Government and the social partners. The council is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach and contains representatives of trade unions, employers, farmers' organisations, NGOs, key Government Departments and independent experts. The Secretary General of my Department is a member of the council and the NESC in its acknowledgements paid particular tribute to the contribution of my Department to the drafting of the report.

The NESC's report, entitled The Developmental Welfare State, examines the evolution of the Irish welfare state, considers the serious social deficits that remain despite Ireland's economic progress and proposes a framework in which these deficits might be addressed, necessarily over an extended period. As with many NESC reports in the past, it addresses major issues of strategic importance as a contribution to debate on those issues. I envisage that the report will bring a similar level of debate to the social policy area as it has to economic development.

In the shorter term, the report will inform the forthcoming discussions that will feed into the NESC's next strategy statement which may in turn influence thinking on a successor social partnership agreement to Sustaining Progress. NESC identifies as a key challenge the need for Ireland to devise a system of social protection in its widest sense rather than focusing on social welfare payments. NESC suggests that the welfare system should be seen as consisting of three overlapping elements: tax and welfare transfers, the provision of services; initiatives, such as the national disability strategy, which are more activist in addressing social problems.

The report makes a number of observations about income supports and, in particular, addresses the need to support people in moving back to employment while providing adequate support for those who cannot. While many of the recommendations in this regard resonate with efforts to make the social welfare system more active since the early 1990s, the NESC model allows these efforts to be seen in a more integrated fashion and strengthens the arguments for intensifying them.

The term "activist measures" encompasses a range of initiatives, including active labour market programmes such as the back to work allowance, the "special projects" developed and supported by the Department's social and family support service, programmes to tackle educational disadvantage, such as the school completion, school meals and back to education programmes, and locally driven projects that seek to tackle various aspects of social exclusion.

I have no doubt that the NESC report will be influential in the coming years in the development of policy relating to social welfare and social development in general.

Social Welfare Code.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

58 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his Department has had any discussions with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the introduction of a special bin charge allowance for elderly persons; the progress which has been made to date; if he has proposals in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22885/05]

My Department has held discussions with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding aspects of the arrangements governing the collection and disposal of domestic waste. The matter is also being discussed through the social partnership process.

The discussions between the Departments have focused on establishing the facts about the level of charges for domestic waste management and the increasing role played by commercial operators in this area. It is clear from those discussions that this is a complex and evolving issue. The range of charges imposed varies considerably from area to area and from operator to operator. In addition, even where the total charges imposed by operators may be similar, the charging regimes vary quite considerably.

The setting of waste management charges and the introduction of waivers in respect of waste charges is, as stated by my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, a matter for the each local authority and a number have done so. The introduction of a national social welfare scheme to address the issue is not considered feasible given the wide range of charging regimes and cost levels that exist in respect of waste management throughout the State. Any system put in place to assist people who rely on private domestic waste collection would have to be sensitive to the different local arrangements.

Questions Nos. 59 and 60 answered with Question No. 11.
Question No. 61 answered with QuestionNo. 51.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

62 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position with regard to the habitual residency condition for social welfare payments; if the concerns raised by the European Commission regarding the HRC have been clarified; if he will provide assurances that the HRC does not inflict poverty on persons arriving to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23027/05]

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

82 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the review of the habitual residence condition will be finished; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22904/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 82 together.

The requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes and child benefit with effect from 1 May 2004. The basis for the restriction contained in the new rules is the applicant's habitual residence. The effect is that a person whose habitual residence is elsewhere is not paid certain social welfare payments on arrival in Ireland.

The question of what is a person's habitual residence is decided in accordance with European Court of Justice case law, which sets out the grounds for assessing individual claims. Each case received for a determination on the habitual residence condition is dealt with in its own right and a decision is based on application of the guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. Any applicant who disagrees with the decision of a deciding officer has the right to appeal to the social welfare appeals office.

The EU Commission wrote to the Government on 22 December 2004 setting out a legal analysis of the new condition and its application to workers and their families. The Commission raised a number of issues concerning its compliance with EU law. Officials of my Department are currently engaged in discussion with the EU Commission officials with a view to clarifying the operation of the condition and addressing any issues raised. It is expected that these discussions will be concluded to the satisfaction of both parties by the end of this year.

I am not aware that the habitual residence condition is causing hardship to persons arriving in Ireland. The habitual residence condition is being operated in a careful manner to ensure that Ireland's social welfare system is protected, while at the same time ensuring that people whose cases are appropriate to the system have access to it when they need it.

In addition, the operation of the habitual residence condition has been kept under review by officials of my Department since its introduction. A more systematic review of the operation of the condition is being carried out at present by my officials with a view to: assessing its impact on different categories of persons claiming social assistance-child benefit and supplementary welfare allowance payments; assessing the current organisational arrangements in the Department for administering the condition and the service provided to customers; identifying opportunities for improvements to the administration of the scheme, including those aspects involving other Departments; examining all aspects of the decision making process; and identifying emerging policy issues and considering how these should be addressed.

Account is being taken of the views received from various groups and organisations who have an interest in the area. I expect the review to be completed by the end of the year.

Question No. 63 answered with QuestionNo. 15.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

64 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the steps he has taken or proposals he has considered in making the social welfare system father friendly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22894/05]

People are only identifiable in the social welfare scheme as parents when they have child dependants. Traditionally, the father was the main and often the sole breadwinner, with the mother, as the main care giver, being regarded as dependent on the father. Implementation of the principle of equal treatment for men and women in recent decades has in fact involved making the social welfare system both more mother and father friendly.

The mother, as normally the primary care giver, now generally receives child benefit payments which before had been payable to the father as the main breadwinner. There are no longer differences in payments or in eligibility conditions for men and women under the social welfare system and the concept of dependency has largely been removed. Both men and women are equally eligible for benefits or pensions if they become a lone parent but the majority of lone parents, some 88.5%, are women.

Recognition of the mother as primary care giver has meant that where the parents are separated, the mother usually retains custody of the children and, if there is eligibility, full entitlement to the one-parent family payment. The scheme as it currently operates, therefore, may not sufficiently facilitate or promote joint parenting and to that extent may not be sufficiently father friendly.

This is one of the issues being examined in a review of obstacles to employment faced by lone parents being carried out by a senior officials steering group which is due to report to the Cabinet committee on social inclusion by the end of July. Greater involvement of both parents in the rearing of their children is in the interests of all concerned and any changes to the social welfare system and, in particular, the one-parent family payment that may be needed to achieve that will be fully considered.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

65 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of children awaiting assessment for the crèche supplement by a social worker or health sector personal social services professional in each county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22883/05]

Crèche supplements were introduced in some of the former health boards some years ago to provide individual assistance through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to parents wishing to use crèches. This arose, for example, where a parent would not be able to avail of necessary supports such as counselling services or addiction treatment programmes without assistance towards the cost of child-minding.

The fact that these supplements were in payment for extended periods in many cases indicated that they had become a long-term child care support rather than the short-term social welfare intervention which was originally intended. In effect, long-term child care needs were being provided through a short-term income support scheme.

It is more appropriate that community operated or "not-for-profit" child care facilities in disadvantaged areas would be supported in a more direct and sustainable manner than indirectly through the short-term supplementary welfare allowance scheme. This approach has been successfully adopted in certain Health Service Executive areas where former health boards provided significant grant aid directly to community child care-crèche facilities.

More generally, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has a significant financial support mechanism in place through its equal opportunities child care programme, particularly aimed at supporting parents who want to take up educational, training or employment opportunities. The Department of Education and Science also operates an Early Start pre-school programme aimed at children in the three to four year age range.

The facilities supported directly through these mechanisms are able to provide child care facilities at low or no cost to disadvantaged families, who do not then have to rely on supplementary welfare allowance on an ongoing basis. Notwithstanding this, new crèche supplements may be made available by the executive in specific instances where a public health nurse or health service social worker recommends that a child in difficult circumstances would benefit by attending a community crèche, or that the parent or parents of a child needs to avail of counselling services, addiction treatments or similar and that crèche services are required to facilitate this.

In each such instance the executive must be satisfied that all the relevant circumstances are taken into account, for example, the person's ability to pay for or provide the service from an alternative source, in determining if a supplement is warranted in each case recommended by the professional worker involved. My Department has no responsibility for the health service professionals who refer people to community welfare officers for consideration of a crèche supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. Accordingly, I do not have information on how many families or children are awaiting a professional assessment by public health nurses or health service social workers.

However, my Department's computer system shows that there are currently 538 crèche supplements in payment. Some 306 of these were awarded by community welfare officers following the issue of the guidelines by my Department to the Health Service Executive at the end of January last setting out the new provisions. According to computer records only 16 crèche supplement applicants are awaiting a decision at present.

I am satisfied that the community welfare service is in a position to deal with any referrals from public health nurses or social workers as the cases arise.

Question No. 66 answered with QuestionNo. 51.
Question No. 67 answered with QuestionNo. 44.
Question No. 68 answered with QuestionNo. 11.
Question No. 69 answered with QuestionNo. 29.
Question No. 70 answered with QuestionNo. 6.
Questions Nos. 71 and 72 answered with Question No. 11.

Pension Provisions.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

73 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that thousands of construction workers are affected by the failure of their employers to pay into the registered employment agreement covering all construction industry employees and that the number of complaints to the pensions ombudsman regarding abuses of this scheme have risen dramatically in 2005; the efforts he will make to ensure stricter enforcement of this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23026/05]

The construction federation operatives pension scheme is constituted as a registered employment agreement under the Industrial Relations Act 1946. The agreement was put in place in 1969 and it requires employers in the industry to provide specific pension benefits for their direct employees.

Responsibility for various aspects of the scheme is divided between a number of agencies, including the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Labour Court, the Construction Industry Monitoring Agency and the Pensions Board. The issues associated with this scheme are many and complex and anyone familiar with the scheme will accept that there are serious problems to be addressed. Employers are not registering for the scheme; where they are registered, in many cases, they are not paying contributions for all their employees and, in some cases, deductions are being made and are not being remitted to the scheme trustees. With regard to the latter, failure to remit deducted contributions is an offence under the Pensions Act and the Pensions Board investigates any cases brought to its attention.

My Department and the Pensions Board are aware of the problems with the scheme and, while many of the problems are not within its remit, the Pensions Board has facilitated an examination of the situation by Mercer Consultants. The brief for this exercise covers, among other things, identifying the areas of non-compliance and making recommendations on methods of addressing these problems which are likely to be successful in achieving the scheme's objective.

I understand that the Mercer report will be completed shortly and it will be examined in detail thereafter by all concerned with a view to implementation, as appropriate. SIPTU, in a recent meeting with me, put forward proposals on the compulsory deduction of contributions and these are being considered in the context of the review.

Only contractors who are fully compliant in respect of their pensions and benefits obligations should be awarded public sector contracts. In this regard, I have been in touch with my colleague, the Minister for Finance, to ask him to ensure that guidelines on public sector procurement relating to compliance with the construction industry scheme are observed by contracting authorities.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

74 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to review the means test for farmers applying for the old age non-contributory pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22881/05]

I understand that the Deputy is concerned in particular about the current arrangements applying in the case of old age pension where a landholder leases land or is otherwise in possession of land which is lying fallow or idle.

Where land is let on short-term lettings such as the 11-month system, the income from such lettings is calculated as cash income for the purpose of the means assessment for old age pension. Necessary expenses incurred by the owner, such as auctioneer fees, fencing or fertilising between lettings are deducted from the gross letting income.

Where land is lying fallow or idle, there are two options for the assessment of means. If the Department is satisfied that the pension claimant is depriving himself or herself of an income in order to qualify for a pension, or a pension at a higher rate than would otherwise be the case, the relevant assessment is the income which would be received if the land was let; where the Department is satisfied that this is not the case, the value of the land is obtained from the Valuation Office and is assessed as capital for means purposes.

While there are no immediate plans to change the present arrangements in this regard, I have in recent times indicated that I am examining the distinction that exists between contributory and non-contributory pensions as regards earning entitlements and means testing as part of overall reforms in the pensions area.

Question No. 75 answered with QuestionNo. 31.

Tax and Social Welfare Codes.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

76 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of personnel in the construction industry who are employed on the basis of the C45 system; his views on the fact that workers employed on this basis do not have entitlement to various benefits that persons who pay the normal A1 stamp contribution are entitled to; if this system of employment in the construction industry means that such persons so employed or their spouses are not entitled to optical or dental benefits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23025/05]

The C45 system is the term used commonly in referring to the collection of income tax by the Revenue Commissioners through the relevant contracts tax or RCT system. It applies when payments are made by a principal contractor to a sub-contractor in respect of "relevant operations" in the construction industry, the meat processing industry and certain areas in the forestry industry. Tax is deducted by a principal contractor on payment to a sub-contractor, unless the principal contractor has received a relevant payments card for a sub-contractor who is registered with the Revenue Commissioners and holds a C2 card accordingly.

Where tax is deducted, the principal contractor gives the sub-contractor a certificate — previously a form C45, now replaced by a form RCTDC — which the sub-contractor uses to claim credit for or repayment of the tax. Social insurance contributions continue to be collected through the self-assessment system. As this system operates as part of the tax collection system, data on the numbers working sectors under these arrangements are not available in my Department.

This system of tax collection only operates where the principal contractor and the sub-contractor have signed a declaration agreeing that the contract is not a contract of employment, that is, that an employer-employee relationship does not exist. Whether a person is working as an employee or in a self-employed capacity is determined by reference to a range of objective criteria which arise from case law. These criteria are outlined in the information leaflet Employed or Self-Employed — a guide to Tax and Social Insurance, which is published jointly by the Revenue Commissioners and my Department, as well as in the guides on relevant contract tax published by the Revenue Commissioners. A worker who is unsure of his or her employment status, or a representative such as a trade union, may request a formal determination from Scope section in my Department of the nature of the contract.

Self-employed workers using the RCTDC, in common with other self-employed workers, are compulsorily insured under the Social Welfare Acts at PRSI class S. Subject to an adequate insurance record, they are eligible for the following payments: widow's or widower's contributory pension, orphan's contributory allowance, old age contributory pension, maternity benefit, adoptive benefit, bereavement grant.

Contributions paid by self-employed persons at PRSI class S are not reckonable for any short-term benefits including dental or optical benefits. To extend the range of benefits payable would mean an appreciable increase in the rate of contributions and would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

Question No. 77 answered with QuestionNo. 29.
Question No. 78 answered with QuestionNo. 19.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

79 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the six Departments required to produce outline sectoral plans within 12 months of the commencement of the Disability Bill 2004 should now be encouraged to produce these plans as a matter of urgency. [23043/05]

My Department, in common with the other Departments involved, has produced an outline sectoral plan. This plan was published in September 2004 at the launch of the national disability strategy which included the publication of the Disability Bill 2004 and the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004.

The objective of my Department's plan is to ensure that, as far as is practicable, the schemes and services provided to people with disabilities operate in a manner which facilitates their full participation in society and meets the mainstreaming principle of the equality agenda. The plan provides the framework for progressing and developing services to customers. It gives a brief description of the range of schemes and services available to people with disabilities and covers a wide range of issues including performance standards, supports for people returning to work or education, proactive consultative processes to seek the views of people with disabilities, physical access to departmental premises, specific measures for visually or hearing impaired customers. It also describes the role of Comhairle in meeting the needs of people with disabilities, including the new personal advocacy service to be provided under the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004. It was published in outline form in order to allow a period of consultation and discussion with relevant interested persons or groups before the plan is finalised and laid before the Dáil for approval.

The consultation process involves two major initiatives, the first of which has just been completed. It involved four regional briefings facilitated by the National Disability Authority and was designed to provide information on the contents of the plan and to seek informed feedback. The target audiences for the briefings were people with disabilities, carers, advocates, family members and friends, service providers and the general public. A report on the outputs from the four briefings is being compiled by the National Disability Authority.

The second initiative involves using the existing opportunities we have in place in my Department to get feedback and views from our customers with disabilities. We propose to seek feedback on our outline plan through the disability consultative forum which has been in operation since 1996. This forum comprises representatives of the principal disability organisations and service providers and meets on a quarterly basis. It acts as a channel to communicate the views of the relevant organisations to the Department and makes recommendations which can impact on policy formulation.

I am satisfied that, when finalised, the sectoral plan will provide a focus for the future development of services, provided by my Department, for people with disabilities and will include regular reporting on activities and improvements planned for the future. Production of sectoral plans is a matter for individual Departments. My colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, has overall responsibility regarding the Disability Bill.

Question No. 80 answered with QuestionNo. 33.
Question No. 81 answered with QuestionNo. 51.
Question No. 82 answered with QuestionNo. 62.
Question No. 83 answered with QuestionNo. 6.
Question No. 84 answered with QuestionNo. 29.
Question No. 85 answered with QuestionNo. 6.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

86 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he intends to act on the findings of the recent study, Disability and Social Inclusion in Ireland, which shows the extent of barriers to full participation in society for disabled persons. [23036/05]

David Stanton

Ceist:

371 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the details of the measures, programmes or supports his Department has in place to increase the participation rate of persons with disabilities in society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23529/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 86 and 371 together.

It is clear from the ESRI report, Disability and Social Inclusion in Ireland, that the barriers faced by people with disabilities and, indeed, other groups who are vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion, are multi-faceted and require a multi-agency response. The National Action Plan against Poverty and Social Exclusion 2003-2005 sets out the framework for the Government's response to these problems. The current plan sets out the range of policies and programmes, such as income and employment supports, health and education, which are being undertaken by relevant Departments aimed at reducing or eliminating poverty and social exclusion.

The national action plan specifically targets people with disabilities as one of a number of groups who are particularly vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion. The overall aim for people with disabilities is to increase their participation in work and society generally and to assist them and their families to lead full and independent lives. The plan details specific targets and actions which include rehabilitative training provision and skills development; increased participation in third level education; specific employment supports for people with disabilities and employers; access to health care; and care of people with disabilities.

The office for social inclusion, OSI, which is based in my Department, has overall responsibility for developing, co-ordinating and driving the national action plan. The OSI is currently completing a comprehensive review of progress against the targets contained in the current plan and a progress report will be submitted to the EU by the end of this month.

The Government remains committed to continuing efforts to alleviate poverty, especially for those who have not been in a position to benefit from the employment opportunities afforded by high economic growth. During the period 2001 to 2005, there were substantial real increases in social welfare rates, with the lowest rates increasing by 40% while the consumer price index increased by just over 13%. As a result of budget 2005, social welfare payments have increased by three times the expected rate of inflation. Government policy is to increase the level of social welfare over the period to 2007 and this commitment will be delivered. This will benefit all social welfare recipients, including those in receipt of disability payments.

Question No. 87 answered with QuestionNo. 19.
Question No. 88 answered with QuestionNo. 55.
Question No. 89 answered with QuestionNo. 19.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

90 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when he intends to introduce the advocacy service for persons with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22912/05]

The introduction of a personal advocacy service for people with disabilities is provided for in the Comhairle (Amendment) Bill 2004 which was published last September in conjunction with the Disability Bill 2004. The Bill aims to confer additional and enhanced functions on Comhairle, the national information agency, which will enable it to introduce a personal advocacy service for people with disabilities.

The new service will provide for the assignment of a personal advocate to assist, support and represent a person with a disability in applying for and obtaining social services and also in pursuing any right of review or appeal in connection with those services. As announced in this year's budget package, additional funding of €1 million has been provided to Comhairle to enable the groundwork to commence on the introduction of the new service. It is envisaged that the new personal advocacy service will be introduced in early 2008.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Damien English

Ceist:

91 Mr. English asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if and when he intends to introduce new regulations for the diet supplement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22909/05]

Diet supplements are provided through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. Any person receiving a social welfare or health service executive payment, who has been prescribed a special diet as a result of a specified medical condition and who is unable to provide for his or her food needs from within his or her own resources, may qualify for a diet supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.

Diet supplements are subject to a means test. Under the existing scheme, the amount of supplement payable in individual cases depends on which of two categories of diet — low cost or high cost — has been prescribed by the applicant's medical adviser and the household income.

To inform a re-appraisal of the scheme, my Department commissioned a study by an expert from the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute. The study examined the special diets prescribed in legislation for which assistance is available through the existing diet supplement scheme. The study also considered the appropriate level of assistance required to cater for any additional costs involved in providing for necessary special diets, relative to the cost of a normal healthy eating diet.

The findings of this research study have been assessed by my Department to determine how the diet supplement scheme should be developed. Development of a new scheme is complex, as the report points out that certain diet conditions covered under the existing scheme should be adjusted to reflect the latest medical and dietary thinking and the fact that more healthy food products are now widely available.

I intend to introduce regulations shortly to update the scheme as appropriate, taking account of the study findings. In finalising the revised scheme and regulations, I want to make sure that any new supplement coverage and payment rates put in place continue to enable people on low incomes to meet the identified extra cost of the recommended special diets need. In the meantime, diet supplements continue to be provided for existing recipients and new applicants as heretofore.

Medical Cards.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

92 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the renewal of medical cards for persons (details supplied) in County Limerick. [23538/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

93 Mr. Deenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if funding will be made available for the development of a sexual assault treatment unit in Kerry General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23704/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

94 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when work will commence on the 21-bed unit at Wexford General Hospital; the stage the work is at; the number of stages it must go through; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23583/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. This includes responsibility for considering existing or new capital proposals in the health capital programme. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Parliamentary Questions.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

95 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when this Deputy will receive a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 145 of 22 June 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23584/05]

As stated in my interim reply of 22 June 2005 the information requested is being compiled and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

The Deputy will be aware that the information requested refers to the period from June 1997 to date. The range of items mentioned and the amount of detail required will involve obtaining information from most of the units in the Department. The task of compiling and collating this information will of necessity involve a significant amount of staff time and resources. However, it is hoped that the information will be available for the Deputy by the second week in July.

Health Services.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

96 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there is a means by which the recommendations of a group (details supplied) can be progressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23585/05]

The north west alcohol forum is a multi-sectoral community initiative comprised of people in the north west with a special interest in alcohol abuse. It was established in response to the interim report of the strategic task force on alcohol 2002. The forum published a report in June 2004 entitled A Portrait of Our Drinking. This outlined local and national data in describing the impact of alcohol misuse on the region. The report contains a number of recommendations aimed at reducing alcohol related harm. I have reviewed the recommendations and have asked my officials to examine, in conjunction with the north west alcohol forum, ways in which the recommendations can be advanced.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

97 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the contacts she has with her counterparts in Northern Ireland to help advance, in a logical manner, the development of medical services on the island of Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23586/05]

There is a high degree of co-operation between the health administrations, North and South. For many years, regular meetings at ministerial, secretary general and official levels have afforded the opportunity to exchange information on issues of mutual interest and to discuss policy developments in our respective administrations.

With the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council, the health agenda became formalised when five areas were designated for health co-operation. As the Deputy will be aware, the areas are accident and emergency services, planning for major emergencies, cancer research, high technology equipment and health promotion. Although the council has not been meeting since the suspension of devolved government in Northern Ireland, North-South contacts continue in these areas and steady progress continues to be made.

So far as ministerial contact is concerned, I look forward to my first meeting with my counterpart, the Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Mr. Shaun Woodward, on 5 July, in Dublin, when we plan to discuss a number of areas of mutual interest. Mr. Woodward has expressed a particular interest in our tobacco control measures in the South and I intend to raise a number of cross-Border services issues with him where I feel that there are possibilities for cross-Border working.

At secretary general level, there has been a long tradition of meetings once or twice a year. The most recent of these was on 1 February this year. This practice has operated very successfully as both an initiating and a consolidating influence on health relations North and South in the broad sense.

Under an initiative emanating from the North-South Ministerial Council on obstacles to cross-Border mobility, officials of my Department and of its counterpart, the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, established a working group to examine ways and means of addressing perceived obstacles to mutual recognition of qualifications in the medical profession. The working group has sought input to its deliberations from both the professional and regulatory bodies and from major employers of health staff. The group is nearing the completion of its remit and I look forward to its conclusions.

Apart from the involvement of the two Departments, a most valuable asset is available to us for active cross-Border co-operation at the local level. This is Co-operation and Working Together, CAWT, which is representative of the health authorities, North and South, in the Border area. Its aim is to improve the health and social well being of the population in this area and it has long been appreciated for its work and achievements in this role.

This is a snapshot of cross-Border health relations at the present time. In accordance with a decision by the Government at the end of May, there will be a continued emphasis on North-South issues for the remainder of this year. Many Departments, including my own, have a number of key objectives of North-South co-operation to pursue in 2005 and I will ensure that the necessary momentum is maintained.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Damien English

Ceist:

98 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans for a capital investment scheme for Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23589/05]

Damien English

Ceist:

99 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the provisions which have been made for capital investment in a purpose built new accident and emergency unit at Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23590/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 98 and 99 together.

The Deputy's questions relate to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. This includes responsibility for considering existing or new capital proposals, with regard to the health capital programme. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to have replies issued directly to the Deputy.

Damien English

Ceist:

100 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to increase the number of beds at Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23591/05]

Damien English

Ceist:

101 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason 30 beds are lying idle in the male orthopaedic unit of Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan; the plans in place to open these beds for utilisation; the timeframe involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23592/05]

Damien English

Ceist:

102 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a CT scanner will be provided for Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan; the timeframe involved; the reason for the delay in supply of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23593/05]

Damien English

Ceist:

103 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a full-time accident and emergency consultant will be appointed to Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23594/05]

Damien English

Ceist:

104 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there are plans by the Government to provide additional consultants or surgeons to the medical, surgical or orthopaedic departments of Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23595/05]

Damien English

Ceist:

106 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when persons under the age of 16 years will be admitted to the accident and emergency unit at Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23597/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 100, 101, 102, 103, 104 and 106 together.

The Deputy's questions relate to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Damien English

Ceist:

105 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her Department’s strategic plan for the development of health care for the people of Meath and the north east; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23596/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 106 answered with QuestionNo. 100.

Damien English

Ceist:

107 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she will announce a strategic plan for the provision of maternity services for the residents of Meath who currently travel to Drogheda or Dublin for such services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23598/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

108 Mr. Aylward asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the national breast screening programme approved in 2003 for the south east region will be available in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23599/05]

The expansion of the current breast screening programme to counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford and the roll out to the remaining regions in the country is a major priority in the development of cancer services. The expansion of the programme to counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford will result in approximately 18,000 women in the target age group of 50 to 64 years being invited for breast screening. Screening commenced in Wexford in March 2004 and in Carlow in April this year. BreastCheck expects to commence screening in Kilkenny early in 2006.

Health Insurance.

Ned O'Keeffe

Ceist:

109 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the serious consequences for 250 jobs in County Cork if risk equalisation in the health insurance market is introduced; if a company (details supplied) does not remain here the way in which the remaining health insurance company will raise the additional funds it says it requires under risk equalisation. [23600/05]

John Perry

Ceist:

123 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason subscribers of a company (details supplied) should be unfairly and unjustly treated with regard to the proposed introduction of the system known as risk equalisation which she plans on putting into place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23789/05]

Pat Breen

Ceist:

125 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she proposes to introduce the system known as risk equalisation for customers of a company (details supplied); if so, the reason the money has to be paid to the VHI and the ESB; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23792/05]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

194 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether new entrants to the health insurance market have yet obtained sufficient market share to be able to carry the cost of contributions to the risk equalisation fund; and her further views on whether the extra cost will force up premiums for customers and risk damaging the emergence of long-term competition to the VHI. [24023/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 109, 123, 125 and 194 together.

The Deputies will be aware that I decided, on balance, recently not to trigger risk equalisation payments in the health insurance market at this point in time. I reaffirm, however, the Government's commitment to recourse to risk equalisation as an essential support to maintaining the common good principle of community rating in our voluntary health insurance market and its recognition that provision for the operation of risk equalisation is concomitant to the policy of a community rated health insurance market.

Risk equalisation is a process that aims to equitably neutralise differences in insurers' costs that arise due to variations in the health status of their members. Depending on the extent of the variation, risk equalisation may result in cash transfers from insurers with lower risk members to insurers with higher risk members. EU Council Directive 92/49/EEC, the third non-life insurance directive, allows for specific legal provisions to be adopted in the interests of the common good in the field of voluntary private health insurance, including measures relating to risk equalisation between insurers. When the regulatory framework was being developed, the EU internal market directorate general determined that Ireland was entitled to adopt such provisions to protect the common good, including community rating, open enrolment, lifetime cover and risk equalisation, subject to the principles of necessity and proportionality.

Both the principle and detail of providing for risk equalisation in the Irish voluntary health insurance market have been the subject of widespread consultation, analysis and extensive examination over a number of years. In addition to consultations carried out by my Department in the matter, the process has involved assessment of the issue by authoritative independent bodies, both nationally and internationally, and by EU Commission services.

Recourse to risk equalisation has been, and is, a feature of the market since enactment of the Health Insurance Act 1994. The original 1996 risk equalisation scheme was signed into law in March 1996. It was revoked in 1998 in the context of the preparation of a White Paper on private health insurance and in the clear understanding that it would be replaced. Following widespread public consultation the 2001 Health Insurance (Amendment) Act amended the risk equalisation provisions contained in the 1994 Act, principally, as follows: the enhancement of the role of the independent Health Insurance Authority and revision of the criteria by which risk equalisation would have been triggered — under the previous scheme an automatic triggering applied when the market equalisation percentage exceeded 2%.

In January 2003, the Irish authorities formally notified the EU Commission of the scheme now in place. The Commission notified the Irish authorities in May 2003 that it had decided not to raise objections to the scheme on state aid grounds. This decision is being appealed by BUPA to the Court of First Instance.

The provisions of the health insurance Acts provide that in considering whether risk equalisation transfers are warranted, the best overall interests of health insurance consumers include a reference to the need to maintain the application of community rating across the market for health insurance and to facilitate competition between undertakings. Any decision on the commencement of risk equalisation will not, therefore, be taken by reference to the specific insurance undertakings. The position regarding new entrants to the market is that they enjoy a three year exemption from risk equalisation payments. In addition, any liability in the fourth year is limited to 50% of that which would have been due in the normal course. It is not accepted that risk equalisation, if introduced, would be either unfair or unjust.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

110 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a decision has not been reached in regard to an application for nursing home subvention for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; when a decision will be made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23601/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

111 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funding being allocated in 2005 to tackle asthma and allergies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23602/05]

There is currently no specific funding allocated from within my Department regarding asthma and allergies. Treatment is funded through provision of therapies under the community drug schemes and by provision of treatment in general practice and in secondary care.

Services for People with Disabilities.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

112 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a shower seat will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if a decision will be expedited. [23604/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

113 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the details of the service available at Woodlawn to a person (details supplied); if the service is designed for autistic persons; the number of other autistic persons receiving the service there; the length of time the service has been available; if all the personnel involved are fully trained for this task; if the service is headed by a psychiatrist for a child with no psychiatric illness; the reason the service is not headed by a psychologist with the necessary training in behavioural psychology; the details of the educational component in the service provided; if, pending the development of the service in Woodlawn, interim funding will be provided to send this person to the internationally recognised facility in Bangor; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23605/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

114 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12. [23606/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

115 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to the Government’s announcements of increased capital investment in disability services in 2004, the number of new community placements which have been provided in the north east region generally and specifically in Counties Cavan and Monaghan; the number which will have been created by end of 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23607/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Staff.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

116 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of new staff who have been recruited to provide disability services in the north-east region generally and specifically in Counties Cavan and Monaghan; and their respective positions. [23608/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

117 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the extent of the ban on recruitment in the health and social services that come under her Department; the way in which this affects disability services generally in the north east area and in Counties Cavan and Monaghan. [23609/05]

There is currently no embargo on recruitment of staff in the health services. However, the management of the employment ceiling for the health sector is a matter for the Health Service Executive, which may prioritise certain areas in line with the service priorities set out in its service plan for 2005.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

118 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there is a ban on the creation of new community placements for disability services. [23610/05]

There is currently no embargo on recruitment of staff in the health services. However, the management of the employment ceiling for the health sector is a matter for the Health Service Executive, which may prioritise certain areas in line with the service priorities set out in its service plan for 2005.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

119 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will refute the claim that disability services have been advised that no additional services are to be provided in the north east region, irrespective of their urgency. [23611/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

120 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a medical card will be restored for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [23612/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Home Charges.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

121 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on her plans for refund of moneys under the national repayment scheme for overcharging of residents at public nursing institutions. [23613/05]

The Government has agreed the key elements of a scheme for the repayment of long stay charges. All those who were illegally charged for publicly funded long-term residential care and are alive and the estates of all those who were charged and died in the six years prior to 9 December 2004 will have the charges repaid in full. The scheme will not provide for repayments to the estates of those who died more than six years ago. The repayments will include both the actual charge paid and an amount to take account of inflation, using the CPI, since the time the person involved was charged.

Legislation will be brought before the Oireachtas in the autumn to underpin the scheme. One of the objectives of the legislation will be to put in place procedures which will protect vulnerable people from exploitation given that significant repayments in some cases will be paid to them. In the case of those who were charged and are still alive, the repayments will be exempt from tax and will not be taken into account in assessing means for health and social welfare benefits. The normal tax and means assessment arrangements will apply to those who benefit from repayments to estates.

An outside company with experience in handling mass claims will be engaged to design and manage the scheme within the parameters of the key principles approved by Government. The Health Services Executive is finalising an advertisement in the Official Journal to obtain expressions of interest from companies that would design and manage the repayments scheme. The company selected will work closely with the HSE to ensure that the co-operation is forthcoming on records held by the health agencies. It is anticipated that a company will be selected over the summer and will begin work in early autumn on the design of the scheme.

An oversight committee has been appointed by the Tánaiste to monitor the implementation of the repayment scheme. The committee will be chaired by Dr. Bernard Walsh, a geriatrician in St. James's Hospital, and its task will be to ensure that proper governance is applied by the HSE and the company to the scheme.

The scheme will be designed and managed with the aim of ensuring that those who are eligible for repayments receive them as soon as possible and with the minimum possible imposition in terms of bureaucracy. Priority will be given to those who are still alive. Many of those eligible for repayments have already been identified under the ex gratia payments process. The scheme will include a transparent and thorough appeals process. The legislation will include appropriate safeguards to prevent exploitation of those who receive repayments and are not in a position to manage their own financial affairs. The scheme will include a provision to allow those eligible for a repayment to waive their right to a repayment and have the money assigned to fund one-off service improvements in elderly, mental health and disability services.

It is estimated that about 20,000 people who are still alive and a further 40,000 to 50,000 estates will benefit. It is estimated that the scheme will cost approximately €1 billion. The decision to limit payments to the estates of those who died in the past six years reflects the reference in the Supreme Court judgment to the Statute of Limitations.

The national helpline set up by the Health Services Executive to allow people to register if they believe they are due a repayment will continue to operate but there is no need for anyone who has already registered using this facility to make contact with the HSE again to register for the scheme.

Any person who considers that he or she or a family member may be eligible for repayment may register their interest in advance with the Health Service Executive, by writing to the National Refund Scheme, HSE Midland Area, Arden Road, Tullamore, County Offaly; or e.mail to refundscheme@mailq.hse.ie; or by calling the helpline 1800 777737 during office hours.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

122 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the provision of an Alzheimer’s unit at St. Ita’s Hospital, Newcastle West, County Limerick. [23614/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 123 answered with QuestionNo. 109.

Medical Cards.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

124 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons in receipt of medical cards at the latest date for which figures are available by county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23791/05]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

136 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons with medical cards in June 2004; and the number in June 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23803/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 124 and 136 together.

The number of persons covered by a medical card at June 2005 by county is set out in the table.

County

No. of persons covered by a medical card

Dublin

274,452

Kildare

36,709

Wicklow

27,665

Laois

16,960

Longford

12,444

Offaly

19,440

Westmeath

21,314

Clare

30,901

Limerick

49,010

Tipperary North

19,065

Cavan

18,561

Louth

34,496

Meath

29,350

Monaghan

16,042

Donegal

67,578

Leitrim

11,135

Sligo

19,227

Carlow

15,295

Kilkenny

19,458

Tipperary South

28,448

Waterford

34,850

Wexford

39,203

Cork

131,500

Kerry

41,257

Galway

65,722

Mayo

47,105

Roscommon

19,820

Total

1,147,007

The total number of persons covered by a medical card in June 2004 was 1,154,411. In the 12 month period the reduction in medical card coverage was 0.6%. This is mainly attributable to increases in household incomes and the management of the medical card databases. In January, income guidelines and allowances for dependants were increased across the board by a minimum of 7.5%. Within the past week, fundamental reform of the income assessment process has been agreed and published.

Applications for medical cards and GP visit cards will be assessed on the disposable income of the applicant or spouse, and the reasonable expenses of child care, rent or mortgage and the costs of commuting to work will also be allowed. These significant improvements are aimed at ensuring that 1.378 million persons will be entitled to medical cards and GP visit cards by the end of 2005.

Question No. 125 answered with QuestionNo. 109.

Health Service Staff.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

126 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the post for a speech and language therapist will be replaced for a school (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23793/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

127 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the alarming statistics released by the Health Minister in the Northern Ireland Office on the number of persons under the age of 25 admitted to hospital in the Six Counties for alcohol related illness during 2003-2004 in circumstances in which a serious alcohol related illness was either the primary or secondary diagnosis, her Department has similar figures compiled over the past number of years; and if there has been an increase in admissions to Tallaght hospital regarding this abuse. [23794/05]

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

128 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the alarming statistics released by the Health Minister in the Northern Ireland Office on the number of persons under the age of 25 admitted to hospital in the Six Counties for alcohol related illness during 2003-2004 in circumstances in which a serious alcohol related illness was either the primary or secondary diagnosis, her Department has similar figures compiled over the past number of years; and if there has been an increase in admissions to Dublin hospitals due to this abuse. [23795/05]

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

129 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the concern regarding the amount of persons admitted to hospital in cases in which serious alcohol and drug abuse was either the primary or secondary diagnosis, there has been an increase in admissions to hospitals due to this abuse; and if she has plans to introduce a segregated system particularly for elderly patients in accident and emergency wards. [23796/05]

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

130 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the alarming statistics released by the Health Minister in the Northern Ireland Office on the number of persons under the age of 25 admitted to hospital in the Six Counties for alcohol related illness during 2003-2004 in circumstances in which a serious alcohol related illness was either the primary or secondary diagnosis, her Department has similar figures compiled over the past number of years; and if there has been an increase in admissions to our hospitals due to this abuse. [23797/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 127 to 130, inclusive, together.

Details of the number of admissions to Irish psychiatric units and psychiatric hospitals for alcoholic disorders are contained in the Activities of Irish Psychiatric Services from the Health Research Board. The most recent report is for 2003. The data show that 258 persons under the age of 25, representing 12% of all admissions, were admitted as a result of alcoholic disorders in 2003.

The hospital inpatient inquiry or HIPE system is the principal source of national data on discharges from acute hospitals in Ireland. The HIPE system records the clinical condition chiefly responsible for the patient's admission to hospital care. Excessive consumption of alcohol can be a strong contributory factor in a wide variety of medical and psychiatric conditions which themselves can be a reason for admission to hospital. It is not possible to identify in many cases whether excessive alcohol consumption may be the underlying cause of admission.

The results of the alcohol and injuries study commissioned by the health promotion unit of my Department are expected to be available in the coming months. The purpose of the study was to establish the extent of alcohol related problems in the accident and emergency departments of acute hospitals. The study is expected to provide further evidence of the incidence of alcohol abuse and resultant attendance at accident and emergency departments.

Following on a separate study by the HSE eastern region, measures have been identified to reduce and eliminate inappropriate presentations at accident and emergency departments by those with alcohol problems and provide more effective and responsive services to clients. These measures include establishing a targeted response to people with alcohol problems, both underlying and explicit, who present at accident and emergency departments. Currently, many accident and emergency departments do not have the capacity or processes to respond to the alcohol issues underlying many of the presentations. The HSE eastern region is setting up a pilot project in Dublin to put these measures in place to address the needs of patients and monitor their effectiveness.

Hospital Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

131 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a sexual assault medical unit will be established in the mid-west region of the HSE. [23798/05]

I have been concerned for some time about the adequacy of services for victims of alleged sexual crime. I have therefore established a multi-disciplinary group under the chairmanship of a senior official of my Department to examine the co-ordination and delivery of services to adult and teenage victims of alleged sexual crime, determine the model of optimum delivery of service, and present its findings to me and the national steering committee on violence against women. This group is representative of service providers, voluntary organisations, the Garda, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the HSE. I expect to have a report from the group shortly which will inform any decisions regarding the extension of existing sexual assault treatment services nationally.

Hospital Accommodation.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

132 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the timetable for delivery of the additional acute hospital beds promised under the 2001 health strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23799/05]

On foot of the commitment in the health strategy, funding has been provided to open an additional 900 inpatient beds and day places in acute hospitals. Health agencies have informed my Department that on 17 June 2005, 780 beds were in place. The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the remaining 120 beds or places will come on stream during 2005. In addition, extra beds will be provided in the new acute medical units which I announced as part of the accident and emergency services package on the publication of the Estimates for 2005.

Hospital Staff.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

133 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the timetable for delivery of the additional nursing staff positions required to implement the 2001 health strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23800/05]

Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You, published in November 2001, provided a blueprint to guide planning and activity in the health system over the next seven to ten years. A key objective of the strategy is the training and recruitment of health professionals for the development and expansion of health services.

Action 101 of the strategy stated that the extra number of required staff for the health service would be recruited and that specifically, 10,000 nurses would be trained during the lifetime of the strategy. This target will be met. The Government has invested significantly in the training of nurses. The four-year nursing undergraduate degree programme started in 2002. Capital funding of €240 million has been provided for 13 new schools of nursing in the universities and institutes of technology. Revenue funding of €90 million per annum will be required on an ongoing basis as the programme reaches full complement. Since 2002 there have been 1,640 student places available each year, an increase of 70% on the 1998 figure. By the end of 2005 there will be over 6,000 students at various stages of the nursing degree programme.

The recruitment of additional staff for the expansion of existing services and the development of new services has been ongoing since the publication of the strategy. In December 2001 there were 31,426 whole time equivalent nurses employed in the public health service. By the end of December 2004 this figure had reached 34,313, an increase of 2,887 nurses in the first three years of the strategy. Further increases in the number of nurses employed will be considered in the context of new service developments.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

134 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the timetable for delivery of the additional acute hospital consultant positions required to implement the 2001 health strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23801/05]

The health strategy document Quality and Fairness: a Health System for You stated that there would be substantial increases in the number of consultant posts. The number and location of these posts would later be determined by taking account of the recommendations of the national task force on medical staffing. Its report was published in 2003 and recommended that in order to meet the hospital medical staffing requirements arising from the implementation of the European working time directive, approximately 3,100 consultants should be employed by 2009 and 3,600 by 2013.

To date, 513 additional consultant posts have been created since 2000. This represents a significant increase compared with the previous five years when an additional 224 posts were approved. The provision of additional consultant posts will be progressed within the context of the restructuring of the acute hospital services and the negotiation of a new contract for hospital consultants.

Medical Cards.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

135 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the promised 200,000 doctor only medical cards will be delivered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23802/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. The HSE has placed advertisements providing details of the application process in the national press and intends to place further advertisements in the regional press over the coming week.

Those people whom the HSE deem eligible for GP visit cards will be able to visit their general practitioner without charge, and receive general practitioner services under the general medical services scheme from the date of approval of the card. Eligibility to GP visit cards will be determined by the Health Service Executive following an assessment of the income of the applicant, and spouse, if any, after tax and PRSI have been deducted. Provision for the allowance of reasonable expenses in respect of child care, rent or mortgage and commuting to work expenses has also been included.

Question No. 136 answered with QuestionNo. 124.

Hospital Services.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

137 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress in the renegotiation of the common contract for consultants in order to deliver equity in hospital care for public patients; the contingency to deliver on this commitment if the process continues to be delayed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23804/05]

Preliminary talks were held in 2003 between management and the medical organisations to discuss the commencement of negotiations on a new contract for hospital consultants. Unfortunately, the opposition of these organisations to the extension of the clinical indemnity scheme to cover claims against consultants led to a decision by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, IHCA, not to participate in further negotiations pending a resolution of the issues involved. This resulted in the commencement of talks on a new contract having to be deferred.

I am pleased that the substantive difficulties which consultants had with the establishment of the clinical indemnity scheme have now been dealt with. The Government has also given a commitment to defend the interests of consultants left without assistance by the MDU. I am confident that the medical organisations will re-enter negotiations with the Health Service Executive on a new contract for hospital consultants at an early date.

Health Services.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

138 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the progress on the delivery of the primary care elements of the 2001 health strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23805/05]

The health strategy, entitled Quality and Fairness, acknowledged the central role of primary care in a modern health service. In recognition of this central focus on primary care services a separate strategy document, entitled Primary Care: A New Direction, was published in November 2001. The strategy sets out the Government's vision for integrated team based primary care services and provides a template for their development over a period of ten to 15 years.

Following the launch of the strategy a small task force was established in my Department to give an initial impetus to implementation. My Department continues to drive the implementation of the primary care strategy and to develop policy in this regard. The implementation process is overseen by the national primary care steering group, which is representative of the broad range of stakeholders, and considerable work has been undertaken by the former health boards to advance implementation.

There are three broad approaches required to enable the primary care strategy to be implemented. These are: revenue and capital investment by the State to deliver additional services in primary care; the substantial reorganisation of the resources already within the health services; and a structured role for the private sector in the development of facilities and possibly also the delivery of services.

An initial ten primary care teams have been developed, with funding to enable existing staff resources within the public system to be augmented with additional health professionals. These teams are intended to demonstrate the primary care model in action and also to enable practical experience to be gained of the process involved in developing a primary care team and providing an expanded range of services.

Work has already been undertaken by the former health boards to map out the proposed numbers, locations and configurations of future primary care teams and networks and the resource requirements associated with these. The Health Service Executive must complete this task to provide a firm basis for the future organisation of resources within the new unified health delivery system of the Health Service Executive, and incorporating the significant numbers of staff and contractors already involved in the delivery of primary care services.

The Government has supported the development of out of hours co-operatives to provide the benefits of reliable out of hours services to the public. Between 2000 and 2004, a total of €72.882 million was allocated to the former health boards for out of hours co-operatives nationally and, in 2005, €31.98 million has been included in the baseline funding to the Health Service Executive, which includes €6.5 million of additional funding.

In 2005, an additional €5 million in revenue funding has been provided to support the implementation of the strategy, bringing total ongoing additional revenue funding to €12 million per annum. To date, capital funding of €2.725 million and a further €1.8 million in respect of information and communications technology supports have been provided to facilitate the provision of appropriate facilities and ICT supports for the initial primary care teams.

Work is almost complete on a strategy and action plan on information and communications technology, ICT, for primary care. This will provide a basis for the development of ICT systems which support interdisciplinary primary care and which also facilitate the delivery of care in an integrated way across all sectors within the health service.

It is clear that the existing network of community health centres and general practice premises is not adequate to meet the needs of primary care teams. To ensure that appropriate facilities are developed on the required scale, resources other than those of the Exchequer will be required and, indeed, this is in line with the historic practice, whereby there has been a mix of public and private facilities provision with, for example, general practitioners in many cases funding their own practice premises. In this regard, the strategy emphasises the need to gain full benefit from existing buildings and to fully explore opportunities for private investment and public private partnerships in implementing the development programme.

Many primary care services are already delivered by private and non-State contractors. I am committed to developing policy which will stimulate private sector investment in developing facilities and services and also support much enhanced collaborative working between the public and private sectors. My Department is considering how this agenda can be advanced so as to harness the undoubted potential within the non-State sector and so enable and support the delivery of integrated primary care services in line with national policy.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

139 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the person who, according to the records of her Department, was the owner of a medical facility (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23806/05]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

140 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the former inspector of mental hospitals conducted an investigation into a complaint made by a person (details supplied); if so, the outcome of this investigation; if not, if any other investigation was conducted and the outcome of such investigation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23807/05]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

141 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department has received a request to meet a person (details supplied); if she requested that the Secretary General of the Department of Health and Children meet with a person when she was Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment; if such a meeting has taken place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23808/05]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

142 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action her Department has taken in respect of a complaint (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23809/05]

I intend to take Questions Nos. 139 to 142, inclusive, together.

The individual referred to by the Deputy first contacted the Department of Health and Children about her care and treatment in a private psychiatric hospital and about access to her medical records. On investigation it was found that the private hospital involved had closed in 1996 and the Department was informed that the medical records had been destroyed. The individual was so advised. The Deputy was informed of the identity of the former owner and administrator of the hospital by the Tanáiste in correspondence dated 31 May 2004.

The investigation of alleged professional misconduct of a medical practitioner is a matter for consideration by the Medical Council. Therefore, the individual's complaint about a medical practitioner was not a matter which could have been pursued by the former inspector of mental hospitals or the Department. The Medical Council is an autonomous statutory body established by the Medical Practitioners Act 1978. Furthermore, the Department of Health and Children has no function concerning records, or the amending of records, held by the Medical Council. The individual referred to by the Deputy has been so informed many times.

On foot of a request for a meeting with him, the then Secretary General wrote to the individual involved on 31 October 2003 and strongly recommended that she make contact with the then inspector of mental hospitals who was available to meet with her. This contact did not happen.

It is regretted that it has not been possible to resolve matters to the individual's satisfaction. However, I am satisfied that everything possible has been done to assist and that her complaints have been addressed in so far as possible by the Department. The Department now considers the matter closed and the individual has been so informed.

Parliamentary Questions.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

143 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will furnish a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 117 of 25 May 2005; the reason for the delay in responding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23810/05]

In response to the Deputy's Question of 25 May 2005, I advised that the Health Service Executive has the responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services, including responsibility for the provision of hospital services for people who have suffered strokes, and that my Department had requested the director of the executive's national hospitals' office to investigate the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy.

My Department has been in touch with the national hospitals' office and is advised that a detailed response issued to the Deputy on 28 June.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

144 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will furnish a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 149 of 31 May 2005; the reason for the delay in responding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23811/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has again requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

145 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will furnish a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 247 of 15 February 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23812/05]

I understand that the Health Service Executive has now provided the Deputy with the information required in respect of Galway Regional Hospital and Roscommon County Hospital. My Department has asked the Health Service Executive to provide the information requested in respect of Mayo General Hospital as a matter of urgency.

Medical Aids and Appliances.

John Cregan

Ceist:

146 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the situation regarding the provision of medical aids (details supplied); if they are provided free or otherwise; if it depends on whether the person is on amedical card or the €85 per month prescription-medication scheme; and if she will make a statement on the way in which help towards ESB charges is processed. [23814/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

John Cregan

Ceist:

147 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will examine the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11. [23815/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Aids and Appliances.

John Cregan

Ceist:

148 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make a statement on perceived delays with the processing of applications and the completion of same for hearing aids; and the estimate of the average length of time to supply hearing aids from the start of an application process. [23817/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Staff.

John Cregan

Ceist:

149 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of orthodontists now fully trained and practising in the sponsored training scheme; the length of time they are tied to working in the public service; the locations at which they are working and the progress which has been made on waiting lists; the cost of installation of new clinics; the reason it is not working efficiently; the action being taken to sort out industrial relations and-or personality issues; when treatment will be provided to persons (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23818/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Infectious Diseases.

John Cregan

Ceist:

150 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the situation in relation to medical screening of persons who arrive here from areas of infections; if tests or screening are voluntary or compulsory; the screening which is available; if it is part of any legislation or status granting procedure; the period within which it is offered or carried out, from arrival; the way in which procedures here compare with other EU jurisdictions; and the EU countries which have compulsory screening in total or part. [23819/05]

I assume the Deputy is referring to infectious diseases screening for asylum seekers. Since May 2000, screening in respect of specific infectious diseases has been offered to asylum seekers on a voluntary and confidential basis, free of charge, shortly after their arrival in this country. The purpose of screening is to detect and treat certain infectious diseases in the interests of the asylum seekers themselves and their families, as well as the community in general.

Initial screening usually takes place in Dublin where asylum seekers may reside following arrival in this country and continues when they are relocated to other HSE regions. Those who do not receive screening in Dublin are offered this service following relocation. The guidelines relating to infectious disease screening recommend screening is provided for the following diseases: TB, hepatitis B and, where appropriate, HIV, polio and varicella zoster or chicken pox.

In the time available, it has not been possible to establish the precise screening regimes in other EU jurisdictions. However, in so far as my Department is aware, our screening policy is broadly in line with that in other EU member states.

Health Sector Reports.

John Cregan

Ceist:

151 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reports, publications and other data available for students studying health sector procurement of pharmaceuticals; the way in which they can be obtained in each case. [23820/05]

This matter is not within the remit of my Department. There are a number of organisations which may be able to provide information on this topic, including the National Medicines Information Centre, the National Centre for Pharmaco-economics, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers in Ireland, the Irish Medicines Board and the European Medicines Evaluation Agency.

Health Services.

John Cregan

Ceist:

152 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the dental benefits available to a pensioner on an over-70 medical card; if all dental services are available free of charge; if the free service is for basic dentistry only; if she will outline same; if it is in order for a dentist to charge for services or to make top up charges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23821/05]

A range of dental services for adult medical card holders is available under the dental treatment services scheme, DTSS, from participating dentists holding contracts with the Health Service Executive, HSE. The treatments provided include examinations, prophylaxis, fillings, extractions, dentures and x-rays.

The scheme is administered by the HSE primary care reimbursement service on behalf of the HSE and it is monitored at a local level by principal dental surgeons with a regional responsibility for the DTSS. It is not in order for a dentist to charge medical card holders for services that are available under the DTSS.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

153 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the refunds due to the family of a person (details supplied). [23822/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

154 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the new guidelines for the issue of medical cards and doctor only cards; if she will define the concept of net income which will in future be used and the new system for dealing with expenses on mortgage and rent, travel to work costs and child care costs; and the allowance for children which will in future be made. [23823/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive, HSE, under the Health Act 2004. The HSE has placed advertisements providing details of the application process in the national press and intends to place further advertisements in the regional press over the coming week.

The determination of eligibility of applications for medical cards is statutorily vested in the HSE. In determining eligibility, the chief executive officer, or a delegated officer, will have regard to the financial circumstances and medical needs of the applicant and spouse, if any. Recent changes introduced by the HSE will mean that household income, after deductions in respect of PRSI and tax have been made, will be assessed when determining eligibility. Also provision will be made for reasonable expenses in respect of child care, rent or mortgage and commuting to work expenses.

Medical cards may be made available by the HSE where guidelines are exceeded in circumstances, for example, where there is particular need for medical services. A medical card may be issued to all or some members of a family. However, in all cases, the decision is a matter for the HSE. In assessing a person's eligibility, every aspect of an individual's financial means and medical expenses are carefully examined to ensure that no financial hardship is caused by the executive's refusal to grant a medical card in any particular case. Those people whom the HSE deems to be eligible for GP cards will be able to visit their general practitioner without charge and receive general practitioner services under the general medical services scheme.

It should be noted that the income guidelines used by the HSE for the purpose of assessment of medical card applications were increased from 1 January 2005 by 7.5%. The income guidelines to be used to assess applications for GP visit cards will be up to a further 25% higher than those for assessing full medical card eligibility.

Health Services.

John Cregan

Ceist:

155 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the situation regarding persons (details supplied); if any fast track system will be set up for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23824/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Waste Disposal.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

156 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the report on the management of waste by hospitals; if she plans to introduce a practice of good waste management and targets for waste management performance; if she intends to investigate the significant cost element which waste management represents for hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23825/05]

I welcome the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on waste management in hospitals. The principles outlined in my Department's 1994 health services waste policy and later segregation packaging and storage guidelines for health care risk waste, are consistent with the recommendations of the report.

While the cost of good waste management in the health services may be significant, the health services have a responsibility to ensure that waste management practices are upheld to a high standard in the interest of maintaining good health and safety standards and reducing the impact from waste generation on the environment. My Department will advise the Health Service Executive to ensure that, where deficiencies have been identified, the good practice recommendations in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report will be adopted and acted upon.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

157 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the costs of waste management in each hospital nationwide since 2000 to date, distinguishing between risk and non-risk waste. [23826/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. This includes responsibility for collating the information sought by the Deputy. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Investigation of Death.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

158 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will carry out an urgent investigation into the death of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23827/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. The executive has informed the Department that the HSE northern area has made arrangements to review all deaths both of residents at Leas Cross or on immediate transfer to acute hospitals. This will involve a review of the medical and-or nursing files in the first instance. This review is being undertaken independently by a professor in geriatric medicine.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

159 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason funding was not approved for capital projects (details supplied) at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23828/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. This includes responsibility for considering existing or new capital proposals for the health capital programme. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Damien English

Ceist:

160 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that district nurses in County Meath are being forced to cut home help hours for the elderly and needy due to constraints beyond their control; her views on same; if she will provide extra funding to alleviate this ever increasing problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23829/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Damien English

Ceist:

161 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Meath has had home help hours cut; if she will review the case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23830/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Damien English

Ceist:

162 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) has had home help hours cut; if she will review the case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23831/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

John Perry

Ceist:

163 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the circumstances outlined in correspondence (details supplied); if she will address the concerns raised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23832/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy

Nursing Home Charges.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

164 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if persons with an intellectual disability who availed of respite care and who were charged for this service are not eligible for a refund if they are in receipt of a medical card; if so, when this repayment will be made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23835/05]

The Government has agreed the key elements of a scheme for the repayment of long stay charges. All those who were illegally charged for publicly funded long-term residential care and are alive and the estates of all those who were charged and died in the six years prior to 9 December 2004 will have the charges repaid in full. The repayment will apply to all those who were illegally charged, including those in receipt of payments other than the non-contributory old age pension. The scheme will not provide for repayments to the estates of those who died more than six years ago. The repayments will include both the actual charge paid and an amount to take account of inflation, using the CPI, since the time the person involved was charged.

Legislation will be brought before the Oireachtas in the autumn to underpin the scheme. One of the objectives of the legislation will be to put in place procedures which will protect vulnerable people from exploitation given that significant repayments in some cases will be paid to them.

An outside company with experience in handling mass claims will be engaged to design and manage the scheme within the parameters of the key principles approved by Government. The Health Services Executive is finalising an advertisement in the Official Journal to obtain expressions of interest from companies that would design and manage the repayments scheme. The company selected will work closely with the HSE to ensure that co-operation is forthcoming on records held by the health agencies. It is anticipated that a company will be selected over the summer and will begin work in early autumn on the design of the scheme.

I have appointed an oversight committee to monitor the implementation of the repayment scheme. The committee will be chaired by Dr. Bernard Walsh, a geriatrician in St. James's Hospital, and its task will be to ensure that proper governance is applied by the HSE and the company to the scheme.

The scheme will be designed and managed with the aim of ensuring that those who are eligible for repayments receive them as soon as possible and with the minimum possible imposition in terms of bureaucracy. Priority will be given to those who are still alive. Many of those eligible for repayments have already been identified under the ex gratia payments process. The scheme will include a transparent and thorough appeals process.

The legislation will include appropriate safeguards to prevent exploitation of those who receive repayments and are not in a position to manage their own financial affairs. The scheme will include a provision to allow those eligible for a repayment to waive their right to a repayment and have the money assigned to fund one-off service improvements in elderly, mental health and disability services.

The national helpline set up by the Health Services Executive to allow people to register if they believe they are due a repayment will continue to operate but there is no need for anyone who has already registered using this facility to make contact with the HSE again to register for the scheme. Any person who considers that they or a family member may be eligible for repayment may register their interest in advance with the Health Service Executive, by writing to the National Refund Scheme, HSE Midland Area, Arden Road, Tullamore, County Offaly, or e-mail to refundscheme@mailq.hse.ie or by calling the helpline 1800 777737 during office hours.

Vaccination Programme.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

165 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of children who received an out of date polio vaccine in 1998 and who have now been re-vaccinated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23834/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Allowances.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

166 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the eligibility criteria for the domiciliary care allowance; if persons with diabetes are eligible; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23836/05]

The domiciliary care allowance or DCA was introduced in 1973 by way of circular 24/73 and is payable under section 61 of the Health Act 1970. The DCA is a monthly allowance administered by Health Service Executive areas and may be paid in respect of eligible children from birth to the age of 16 years who have a severe disability requiring continual or continuous care and attention which is substantially in excess of that normally required by a child of the same age. The condition must be likely to last for at least one year.

Eligibility is determined primarily by reference to the degree of additional care and attention required by the child rather than to the type of disability involved, subject to a means test. While no condition is debarred, conditions such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy are not normally considered unless there is a very high degree of additional care and attention required. It is a matter for the senior area medical officer or other designated medical officer in the relevant community care area to decide whether a child qualifies for DCA on medical grounds.

Since the allowance is intended as a recognition of the additional burden involved in caring for children with a severe disability in the child's home, it does not apply to children who are maintained full-time in residential homes, schools or other institutions. Eligible children in part-time residential care who go home at weekends or holidays may receive a pro rata payment, that is, a nightly rate based on the number of nights spent at home. The nightly rate is equal to the monthly rate multiplied by 12 and divided by 365.

However, the allowance is paid in full in cases where eligible children who live full-time at home are absent for a period or periods of not more than eight weeks in any 12 month period, that is, hospital admissions or respite.

Hospital Services.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

167 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE has appointed a third consultant radiation oncologist; if there are plans to provide an outreach service at the County Hospital, Roscommon; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23837/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Staff.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

168 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE has received approval from Comhairle na nOspideal to appoint a third physician to the County Hospital, Roscommon; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23838/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Experiments on Animals.

John Gormley

Ceist:

169 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will accept a ban on the use of all non-human primates and dogs and cats in animal experiments here, regardless if whether they are used in regulatory toxicology in Ireland; the institutions at which they are used; the number of animals of each species which are used every year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23839/05]

While it is not the practice in Ireland to license experiments involving the use of primates, there are no plans at present to introduce legislation in this regard. I have arranged to make the 1999 and 2002 statistics on the use of animals for experimental and other scientific purposes available to the Deputy; these include data on cats and dogs used in toxicological and other safety evaluations. The 2002 statistics are also available on my Department's website www.dohc.ie. These statistics are compiled in accordance with the requirements of the European Commission. Information on individual licence applications relating to experimental animals held at specific registered premises is provided in confidence and is treated as such by my Department.

The use of live animals in scientific research and other experimental activity is strictly controlled in accordance with the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 as amended by the European Communities (Amendment of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876) Regulations 2002. The Act, as amended, gives full effect to European Council Directive 86/609/EEC on the protection of experimental animals and ensures that Ireland is fully in line with European standards for the welfare of experimental animals. One of the objectives of the directive is to reduce the numbers of animals used for experiments by encouraging the development and the validation of alternative methods to replace animal methods. The Act provides, inter alia, that an experiment shall not be performed if another scientifically satisfactory method of obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably and practicably available.

The European Commission has established the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, ECVAM, to promote the scientific and regulatory acceptance of alternative methods which are of importance to the biosciences and which reduce, refine or replace the use of laboratory animals. Ireland supports the work of ECVAM and is represented on its scientific committee.

Services for People with Disabilities.

John Gormley

Ceist:

170 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the areas which the proposed special services inspectorate will deal with in the disability sector. [23841/05]

In accordance with the National Health Strategy, Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You it is intended to extend the remit of the social services inspectorate to include residential care for people with disabilities.

Experiments on Animals.

John Gormley

Ceist:

171 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the mouse LD50 test is still used by pharmaceutical companies which produce and test botulinum toxin here; if so, the reason this test has not been replaced by the non-animal method described in the European Pharmacopoeia; the number of animals of each species which are used in regulatory toxicology here each year; and the institutions at which they are used. [23840/05]

While three botulinum toxin medicinal products are authorised for marketing in Ireland, only one, botox, is produced and tested in Ireland. I am advised by the Irish Medicines Board that the only potency test currently available for defining the strength of botulinum toxin products is the LD50 test in mice; therefore, this test continues to be used. In regard to possible alternative tests, it is important to note that the development of any such test must, according to the European Pharmacopoeia, include validation, that is, experimental proof that any new test is equivalent to the LD50 test in terms of analytical performance. I am advised by the Irish Medicines Board that manufacturers are conducting development studies of this nature but the outcome of these studies, which by their nature take a considerable length of time to complete, cannot be predicted.

The use of live animals in scientific research and other experimental activity is strictly controlled in accordance with the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 as amended by the European Communities (Amendment of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876) Regulations 2002. The Act, as amended, gives full effect to European Council Directive 86/609/EEC on the protection of experimental animals and ensures that Ireland is fully in line with European standards for the welfare of experimental animals. One of the objectives of the directive is to reduce the numbers of animals used for experiments by encouraging the development and the validation of alternative methods to replace animal methods. The Act provides, inter alia, that an experiment shall not be performed if another scientifically satisfactory method of obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably and practicably available.

As part of the licence application process, applicants must indicate that the use of alternatives has been fully considered prior to applying for a licence. The experimental procedure for which a licence is being sought must be certified as being essential and that there is no alternative method reasonably and practicably available. This certification must be performed by two qualified persons of professorial standing, from a relevant scientific, medical or veterinary discipline.

I have arranged to make the 1999 and 2002 statistics on the use of animals for experimental and other scientific purposes available to the Deputy. These include data on the use of the LD50 test. The 2002 statistics are also available on the Department's website www.dohc.ie. These statistics are compiled in accordance with the requirements of the European Commission. Information on individual licence applications relating to experimental animals held at specific registered premises is provided in confidence and is treated as such by my Department.

Health Services.

John Gormley

Ceist:

172 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether centralising oncology services does not work (details supplied). [23842/05]

The Government is committed to making the full range of cancer services available and accessible to cancer patients throughout Ireland in line with best international standards. It is important to build teams of highly expert clinicians working together to deliver top quality cancer care to cancer patients. To this end, we will provide considerable investment in oncology services in the coming years.

The national cancer forum is currently finalising a new national cancer strategy. The strategy has been developed in consultation with the major stakeholders, professional and voluntary groups and the general public and will have regard to the multi-faceted aspects of cancer control. The strategy will set out the key priorities for the development of cancer services over the coming years and will make recommendations on a balanced organisation of cancer services nationally, with defined roles for hospitals in the delivery of cancer care. It is anticipated that this work will be completed in the autumn.

Health Service Staff.

John Gormley

Ceist:

173 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the serious situation which exists in Government funded institutions in the intellectual disability sector; if staff working in these institutions have Garda clearance, such as for those working with children; the way in which the safety of staff is being addressed, particularly in the case of an allegation of abuse, sexual or otherwise, being made against a member of staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23843/05]

Garda clearance arrangements currently apply in respect of candidates for paid employment in the health services where they would have access to children and vulnerable individuals. This includes services in respect of children and vulnerable adults provided by external agencies but funded by the Health Service Executive, HSE.

Under procedures agreed in 1994 and 1995, Garda clearance requests for agencies funded by the Health Service Executive are processed through the relevant HSE area. This procedure conforms with a recommendation of the working group on Garda vetting 2004 on which my Department was represented.

As the other matters raised by the Deputy relate to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have the matters investigated and have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Mary Wallace

Ceist:

174 Ms M. Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that children with cerebral palsy have extra medical costs and that it is important that such needs are covered by a medical card; the reason a person (details supplied) has such costs covered by a medical card from age two to 13 years and has had the card removed with no substantial change in family income or circumstances to warrant the case being treated differently from the previous 11 years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23845/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

175 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of parliamentary questions tabled by this Deputy to her since June 2004 which were referred to the chief executive of health boards or the health service executive and to which he has not yet received a reply; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23848/05]

Since June 2004, the Deputy has tabled 29 parliamentary questions concerned with matters which are properly the responsibility of the Health Service Executive, from I January 2005, and previously of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. It is the practice in my Department to forward such questions immediately to the agency concerned and to request that the matter be examined and a reply issued directly to the Deputy as speedily as possible.

The Health Service Executive recently established a parliamentary affairs division to act as a central contact for all Oireachtas requests relating to matters within its statutory remit. A key function of the division is to monitor, throughout the executive's national directorates and administrative areas, the timeliness of replies and to initiate any necessary follow up action relating to the issue of replies. In the time available, inquiries made by my Department indicate that replies have issued to the Deputy in most of the cases concerned and the remainder are currently being processed for the purpose of preparing replies. However, my Department has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to ascertain the precise position in regard to the replies to the Deputy's questions and to write to him in the matter.

Hospital Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

176 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans and proposals for funding for improvements at St. Columcille’s Hospital, Loughlinstown; when they were received by her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23849/05]

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

198 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the CAT scanner in Loughlinstown Hospital is not available after certain hours; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24069/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 176 and 198 together.

The Deputys' questions relate to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputies.

Departmental Expenditure.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

177 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the percentage of GDP spent on the health budget in total and less all social spending which is not included in health budgets in other EU countries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23850/05]

The latest information available from the OECD database is for 2002. Table A attached shows total public expenditure on health. Table B shows total public and private expenditure on health. The Deputy may also wish to note that since 2002 the real growth in publicly funded health spending in Ireland has been about 37%.

Table A: % of Gross Domestic Product. Public Expenditure on Health.

Countries

2002

Netherlands

n/a

Germany

8.6

Sweden

7.9

France

7.4

Denmark

7.3

Ireland (GNP)

6.8

Belgium

6.5

Portugal

6.5

Italy

6.4

United Kingdom

6.4

Finland

5.5

Ireland (GDP)

5.5

Austria

5.4

Spain

5.4

Luxembourg

5.3

Greece

5.0

Average % (GDP)

6.4

Table B: % of Gross Domestic Product. Total Expenditure on Health.

Countries

2002

Germany

10.9

France

9.7

Greece

9.5

Portugal

9.3

Sweden

9.2

Netherlands

9.1

Belgium

9.1

Ireland (GNP)

9.0

Denmark

8.8

Italy

8.5

United Kingdom

7.7

Austria

7.7

Spain

7.6

Ireland (GDP)

7.3

Finland

7.3

Luxembourg

6.2

Average % (GDP)

8.5

Health Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

178 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a parliamentary question about home help hours on a county basis for the past three years has still not been answered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23851/05]

As the issue raised by the Deputy in Parliamentary Question No. 83 of 12 May 2005 related to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, the Department wrote requesting that the national director for primary, community and continuing care at the Health Service Executive investigate the matter raised and reply direct to the Deputy. The parliamentary affairs division of the executive has informed the Department that it is still collating the data and that it will reply to the Deputy as soon as the information is to hand.

Hospital Services.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

179 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there is co-operation between the HSE north east region and Louth Hospital support group in respect of fundraising for the purchase of a CT scanner for the Louth County Hospital; the level of co-operation which is in place; and if there is no co-operation between these parties, the reason therefor. [23852/05]

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

180 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Louth Hospital support group purchases a CT scanner for the Louth County Hospital, if her Department will provide adequate personnel to operate and maintain the equipment. [23853/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 179 and 180 together.

The Deputy's questions relate to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

181 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Longford will be admitted for a PET scan at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23854/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

182 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the lack of services available to a person (details supplied) in County Dublin will be addressed. [23855/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

183 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 will receive an appointment at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, for the fitting of a prosthetic leg. [23856/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Mental Health Services.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

184 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the work of the expert group on mental health policy to date; and if the anticipated target of 2005 for completing a new national policy framework for mental health services will be met. [23857/05]

The expert group on mental health policy was established in August 2003 to prepare a new national policy framework for the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document Planning for the Future. I am informed that the group has had a number of intensive meetings recently and is on target to complete its work and publish its report later this year.

Medical Cards.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

185 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is anticipated at any stage to change the current medical card assessment for persons with disabilities (details supplied). [23858/05]

The determination of eligibility of applicants for a medical card is statutorily vested in the Health Service Executive. Accordingly, the HSE is responsible for deciding on the frequency of reviews of eligibility of medical card holders. Reviews are necessary to ensure medical card databases are accurate, up to date and satisfy public accountability obligations.

A working group was set up by the former Health Board Executive Group, HeBe, to modernise schemes, including the medical card scheme. This group continues under the HSE and its aim is to make the schemes more easily accessible. The frequency of reviews is one of the topics being considered.

Health Services.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

186 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in establishing a neurology service in the south east (details supplied). [23859/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to reply directly to the Deputy.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

187 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has satisfied herself with the level of health care that is being provided to a person (details supplied) in County Dublin by the health service; if her attention has been drawn to a number of concerns regarding that care. [23862/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

188 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 96 of 16 December 2004, the steps she has taken to assist a school principal (details supplied) in their efforts to have a pupil receive speech and language therapy to ensure academic progress; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23863/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Childhood Obesity.

John Gormley

Ceist:

189 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if monosodium glutamate is in childhood vaccines; if it has affected obesity rates in children; the steps she proposes to reduce these rates; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23864/05]

The Irish Medicines Board, IMB, which has statutory responsibility for licensing all pharmaceutical products for use in Ireland, has provided the following information regarding monosodium glutamate.

Monosodium Glutamate is contained in the BCG vaccine SSI and amino acids — monosodium glutamate is an amino acid — are present in Priorix, MMR vaccine. Residues of monosodium glutamate may be present as part of the manufacturing process but a detailed review of the manufacturing file would be necessary to determine this. Nevertheless, I am advised that the amount of monosodium glutamate present in the vaccines, if detectable at all, would only be present in tiny amounts and the effect on obesity in children would be minimal.

More generally, the national task force on obesity presented its report, Obesity — the Policy Challenges, to the Taoiseach on 16 May 2005. The report contains 93 recommendations. These relate to actions across six broad sectors: high level Government; education; social and community; health; food commodities — production and supply; and the physical environment. The report highlights the need for "joined-up" policy, cross-collaboration between all key stakeholders and real practical engagement by both the public and the private sectors.

My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Seán Power, will shortly present the report to Cabinet.

John Gormley

Ceist:

190 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if monosodium glutamate is a dangerous and addictive substance; if it has affected obesity rates in children; the steps she has proposed for the reduction of intake of this substance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23865/05]

Monosodium glutamate, MSG, is a food additive whose main function is to enhance flavours. MSG is authorised for use in all member states of the European Union, including Ireland, under Directive No 95/2/EC on food additives other than colours and sweeteners, as amended, which has been transposed into Irish law by the European Communities (Food Additives other than Colours and Sweeteners) Regulations 2004, S.I. No. 58 of 2004.

MSG was authorised following a rigorous safety assessment by the EU scientific committee on food, SCF. It has also been evaluated by other national and international food safety organisations, including the Joint Food and Agriculture Organisation/World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Food Additives, JECFA, and by the US Food and Drug Administration. These organisations have not allocated MSG any acceptable daily intake, ADI. Normally, when a food additive is approved, an ADI is set but when, on the basis of the available scientific data, the total intake of the substance following consumption of a typical diet does not represent a hazard to health no ADI is specified. Against this background there is no basis for considering MSG to be dangerous or addictive and I have no proposals in regard to advising the public to reduce their MSG intake.

No evidence of a connection between MSG and obesity was brought to the attention of the national task force on obesity and therefore its report, Obesity — the Policy Challenges, which was launched on 16 May 2005, makes no reference to this issue.

Hospital Accommodation.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

191 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the current number of private hospitals and clinics; their location and bed capacity in each case; the number of private hospitals and clinics planned; their location and bed capacity in each case; the number of private hospitals and clinics; and the location and the bed capacity of those in existence in 1995 in each case. [23866/05]

My Department does not collect information regarding the operation of private hospitals and clinics. However, most private hospitals are affiliated to the Independent Hospitals Association of Ireland. My Department will contact the association and request it to let the Deputy have whatever relevant information is available to it.

Departmental Expenditure.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

192 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount of her Department’s budgetary allocation for 2004; the amount of this allocation which was returned to the Department of Finance at year’s end; the Vote head from which such returned allocations were derived; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23973/05]

The Department of Health and Children Vote for 2004, both current and capital, was €8,664.272 million. The total surplus surrendered for the year was €70.948 million. The amount of the surplus arising from the receipt of appropriations-in-aid, subhead K, in excess of the voted sum was €60.761 million. Under public financial procedures, any sums received over and above the amount voted by the Dáil for appropriations-in-aid must be surrendered at year end to the Exchequer.

Of the remaining surplus of €10.187 million, €1.84 million was due to savings on administrative budget subheads as follows: subhead A5 — office machinery and other office supplies, €0.85 million; and subhead A7 — consultancy services, €0.99 million. Under the terms of the administrative budget agreement, savings in one year may be carried forward to the following year with Department of Finance approval, which was obtained.

The residual surplus of €8.347 million arose on the following subheads of the Department's Vote, due to timing issues in respect of a number of minor headings, including the cost of the hepatitis C and HIV compensation tribunal and payments to the State Claims Agency for the clinical indemnity scheme.

€m

Subhead F1

Developmental, consultative, supervisory and advisory bodies

0.384

Subhead F2

The Food Safety Promotion Board

0.033

Subhead G3

Payment to a special account established under section 10 of the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Acts 1997 and 2002

3.844

Subhead G4

Payment to a special account established under section 10 of the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Acts 1997 and 2002

0.988

Subhead I

Payments to the State Claims Agency in respect of costs relating to clinical negligence

2.063

Subhead J4

Capital Services: Information Society — initiatives in the health sector, including the General Medical Services (Payments) Board

1.021

Subheads C, D, E, F3, G1, G2, H

0.014

Irish Language.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

193 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount her Department has spent to date in 2005 on the implementation of the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003; her estimate of the amount which her Department will spend on the implementation of the Official Languages Act 2003 for the full year in 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24007/05]

The information requested is being collated by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Question No. 194 answered with QuestionNo. 108.

Health Insurance.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

195 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has plans to privatise the VHI. [24024/05]

It is my intention to bring proposals to Government in September concerning the future commercial status of the VHI. This will not involve its privatisation and I have not made plans to so do.

Health Services.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

196 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the sources of funding which have been identified that will enable a group (details supplied) to continue its valuable service for clients in west Dublin. [24052/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Adoption Services.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

197 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons waiting to avail of Irish adoptions; the average waiting time from initiation to completion of the adoption process; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24068/05]

The Adoption Board, which is an autonomous body, collects the information requested. My Department has asked the CEO of the board to reply directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 198 answered with QuestionNo. 176.

Ambulance Service.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

199 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the cost of the provision of an ambulance base for each of the three proposed new bases in the west of Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24091/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Parliamentary Questions.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

200 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will furnish a full reply to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 62, 71, 72 of 21 April 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24103/05]

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

201 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will furnish a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 50 of 17 February 2005, the reason for the delay in responding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24104/05]

I propse to take Questions Nos. 200 and 201 together.

As responsibility for the matters raised in these parliamentary questions rests with the Health Service Executive, my Department had requested the Health Service Executive to investigate the matters raised and to respond directly to the Deputy. I understand from the executive that replies to Questions Nos. 62, 71 and 72 of 21 April 2005 have now issued. The HSE has advised me that, due to an administrative error, a response did not issue to Question No. 50 and that a response will now issue to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

202 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will furnish a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 122 of 10 February 2005; the reason for the delay in responding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24105/05]

As the issue raised by Deputy Allen in Parliamentary Question No. 122 of 10 February 2005 related to the management and delivery of health services in County Cork, the Department wrote requesting that the chief officer of the Health Service Executive southern area investigate the matter raised and reply direct to the Deputy. The HSE southern area has informed the Department that a reply was issued directly to the Deputy on 15 February 2005.

Hospital Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

203 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will publish the consultant’s report on the future development of acute hospital services at the Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda; when she will make a decision on the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24109/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

204 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the new health centre for Drogheda will be finished and open to the public; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24110/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

205 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to develop community health services in the towns of Drogheda, Dundalk and Ardee and elsewhere in the county of Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24111/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

206 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to develop acute hospital services in County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24112/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Mental Health Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

207 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to develop psychiatric services in the County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24113/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Homes.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

208 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, has always consulted in each case for each year since 2000 with the designated nursing home inspectorate before placing public patients in private nursing homes; if the HSE or regional health board was always fully satisfied that the selected nursing homes were not in breach, at the last prior inspection, of the Nursing Homes Care and Welfare Regulations 1993; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24114/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

209 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, has always consulted in each case for each year since 2000 with the designated nursing home inspectorate before placing public patients in private nursing homes; if the HSE or regional health board was always fully satisfied that the selected nursing homes were not in breach, at the last prior inspection, of the Nursing Homes Care and Welfare Regulations 1993; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24115/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

210 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, for the last registration period to date, every registered proprietor or the person in charge of each nursing home on a county by county basis has sent a notice in writing to the medical officer of health for the area in which the nursing home is situated of the date and time of death of a dependent person in a nursing home not later than 48 hours after it occurs and the certified cause of death as soon as possible thereafter, as required by the Nursing Homes Care and Welfare Regulations 1993; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24116/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

212 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE is aware of any case of a breach in the past of the nursing homes care and welfare regulation where a person who was named as the person in charge of one nursing home, who must be a full-time person, was also named as the person in charge of another nursing home at the same time; the period for which this situation continued without the health board’s knowledge; if so, the action the health board took as a result; the way in which a recurrence can be prevented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24118/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

213 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, has since the year 2000, found breaches of the nursing homes care and welfare regulation which requires every registered proprietor or the person in charge of a nursing home to make adequate arrangements for the recording, safekeeping, administering and disposal of drugs and medicines on a county basis; the action taken as a result in each case; if the same breaches were subsequently noted in further inspections in the same homes; the action taken in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24119/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

214 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, has since the year 2000, found breaches of the nursing homes care and welfare regulations which require every registered proprietor or the person in charge of a nursing home to ensure that the treatment and medication prescribed by the medical practitioner of a dependent person is correctly administered and recorded; if so the action taken; if the same breaches were subsequently noted in further inspections in the same homes; the action taken in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24120/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

226 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where accommodation and facilities were found to be a problem and breaches of the regulations had occurred; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home in subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24132/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

227 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where the register and records were not up to date and breaches of the regulations occurred; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home in subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24133/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

228 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where treatment of residents regulations were breached; the action then taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home in subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24134/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

230 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where nutrition was found to be a problem and breaches of the regulations occurred; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home in subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24136/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

231 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where fire precautions were found to be a problem and breaches of the regulations occurred; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home in subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24137/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

232 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where the welfare and well being of residents regulations were breached and found to be a problem; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home on subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24138/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

233 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where contracts of care regulations were breached; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home on subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24139/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

234 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where staffing levels were found to be a problem; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem in the same homes arose in subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24140/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

235 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where kitchen facilities were found to be a problem and breaches of the regulations occurred; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home in subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24141/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

236 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where hygiene was found to be a problem and breaches of the regulations occurred; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home in subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24142/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

237 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of nursing homes on a county by county basis since 2000 where sanitary facilities were found to be a problem and breaches of the regulations occurred; the action taken by the health board; if the same problem arose in the same home in subsequent inspections; the further action taken by the health board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24143/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 208 to 210, inclusive, 212 to 214, inclusive, 226 to 228, inclusive, and 230 to 237, inclusive, together.

The Deputy's questions relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

211 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of complaints about nursing home conditions made to chief executive officers of health boards for each year since 2000 on a county basis; the numbers of such complaints upheld and the nature of the direction issued to the registered proprietor of the nursing home concerned; if this direction was fully complied with in each case; if not, the action the health board took; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24117/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

216 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, has ever made a complaint about the treatment of a patient in a nursing home to the Garda; if so, the outcome; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24122/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 211 and 216 together.

The Deputy's questions relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Questions Nos. 212 to 214, inclusive, answered with Question No. 208.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

215 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards has, on a county basis since the year 2000, ever refused an application for a nursing home subvention on the basis that the applicant who is seeking the subvention was fully qualified in every respect but that the health board had insufficient funds to meet the cost of the subvention due to budgetary constraints; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24121/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 216 answered with QuestionNo. 211.

Nursing Homes.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

217 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, has on a yearly basis in the past five years ever taken prosecutions in the courts against nursing home proprietors and persons in charge for breaches of regulations; if she will list the breaches of the regulations in each case; the name of the persons who were successfully prosecuted; if the nursing home closed or if new proprietors or persons in charge were in place as a result; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24123/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

218 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, has ever carried out an HSE or health board internal inquiry into the running of nursing homes as a result of a death or a serious breach of the regulations; the outcome of such inquiry and the action taken. [24124/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

219 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, has ever set up an inquiry by a specialist or other person outside the nursing home inspectorate into the death of a resident or serious breach of the regulations in any nursing home; the outcome of such an inquiry; the recommendations of same and the actions taken as a result; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24125/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

225 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if all nursing homes here have complied with directions from coroners from 2001 to date which were to be implemented rigorously with regard to procedures to be followed in the event of the death of a resident of a nursing home, that bodies must not be removed for burial without first being certified dead by a doctor; and that in the circumstances the coroner should be notified if a patient dies and there is no documented record of a consultation with their GP during the four weeks prior to death, if a patient dies and there is any history of injury in the days prior to death, if the patient dies and the cause of death is not obvious; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24131/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 218, 219 and 225 together.

The Deputy's questions relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

220 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, is satisfied that sufficient incontinence wear has been and is available at all times in all nursing homes to all subvented patients as required under the nursing home regulations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24126/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

221 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the HSE, formerly known as the regional health boards, is satisfied that sufficient dressings for the treatment of pressure sores have been and are available at all times in all nursing homes to all subvented patients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24127/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 220 and 221 together.

The Deputy's questions relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

222 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of complaints about nursing homes her Department has received since the year 2000 on a county basis; the nature of such complaints and the action taken by her Department in each case. [24128/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

229 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of complaints about nursing homes received by her Department for each year since 2000; the action taken by her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24135/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 222 and 229 together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that it is not possible, within the timeframe allowed, to collate the information requested by the Deputy. The Department will forward the information requested to the Deputy as soon as it is collated.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

223 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the HSE decided, after inspection, not to recommend the transfer of Leas Cross residents to certain other nursing homes in the Dublin area; the breaches of regulations found at these further homes and to name these homes; if these homes are registered homes under the Health Acts and if they continue to be so registered; if there are public patients resident in these homes and if they will now be moved to other homes; if there are subvented patients, if they will now be advised to move and, if not, the reason therefor. [24129/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

224 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reasons the HSE decided that all public patients would be moved out of Leas Cross nursing home and all other residents advised to move out; the medical and other concerns of the inspection teams who went to Leas Cross; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24130/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 223 and 224 together.

The Deputy's questions relate to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, the Department has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 225 answered with QuestionNo. 218.
Questions Nos. 226 to 228, inclusive, answered with Question No. 208.
Question No. 229 answered with QuestionNo. 222.
Questions Nos. 230 to 237, inclusive, answered with Question No. 208.

Appointments to State Boards.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

238 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will provide a list of the vacancies on the boards of statutory or State bodies and other statutory appointments which currently exist and which must be made by her or the Government; the reason, in each case, for the vacancy; and when each vacancy will be filled. [24177/05]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

239 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will provide a list of boards of statutory or State bodies and statutory appointments to which vacancies are expected to fall due between now and 31 December 2005 for appointments to be made by her or the Government; and the mechanisms envisaged by which the appointees will be selected. [24191/05]

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

Information on membership vacancies in statutory bodies where appointments are made by the Minister for Health and Children is shown in Table 1. However, the Deputy will wish to be aware in the context of the table that in some instances the relevant legislation may provide for a maximum number of members rather than setting an exact numerical membership requirement. The information contained in the Table 1 takes into account the full membership potential of the body.

The term of office of the most recent board of the postgraduate medical and dental board, PGMDB, expired in March 2002. The Prospectus report recommended that the PGMDB should be abolished and that its functions should be taken on by other bodies in the restructured health service. The Department, in consultation with the Health Service Executive and the Medical Council, is considering how best the functions of the PGMDB and other functions relating to medical education and training should be provided for in the future by the HSE. In relation to dental education and training, consultation with the Dental Council will also be undertaken. The abolition of the body and the transfer of its functions will be effected by the new medical practitioners Bill, which is being drafted by the Parliamentary Counsel. The information requested by the Deputy in regard to expected vacancies is set out in Table 2.

The process by which a person is appointed to a state board or body reflects the conditions for the appointment laid down in the relevant statutory instrument or Act. Nominations under the aegis of my Department can arise in different ways. Some members are nominated by prescribed bodies, individual office holders or organisations and others are appointed by the Minister for Health and Children, having due regard to the nature of the work of the body and the consequent requirement for any appointee to hold the necessary skills and expertise required to discharge the functions of that particular body. The time required to appoint members therefore varies. It is my intention, however, to fill vacancies in a timely manner.

Table 1.

Name of Board

No. of Vacancies

Reason for Vacancy

An Bord Altranais

1

Resignation

Beaumont Hospital Board

1

Member deceased

Comhairle na Nimheanna

18

Term expired

Dental Council

1

Term expired

Food Safety Consultative Council

2

22 of 24 appointed

Health Research Board

2

Term expired

Hospital Trust Board

1

Term expired

Leopardstown Park Hospital Board

5

Term expired

National Haemophilia Council

1

10 of 11 appointed

National Social Work Qualifications Board

1

Resignation

Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council

2

Resignation

St. James’s Hospital

13

Term expired

Womens Health Council

15

Term expired

Table 2.

Name of Board

Vacancy Date

No. of Vacancies

Advisory Committee for Human Medicines (IMB)

31/12/2005

12

Advisory Committee for Veterinary Medicines (IMB)

31/12/2005

12

Beaumont Hospital Board

31/12/2005

6

Board of the Adelaide and Meath Hospitals

31/07/2005

24

Dental Council

12/11/2005

17

Food Safety Authority of Ireland

31/10/2005

2

Food Safety Consultative Council

31/12/2005

10

Irish Blood Transfusion Service

30/09/2005

1

30/11/2005

1

Irish Health Service Accreditation Board

01/09/2005

1

02/09/2005

10

Irish Medicines Board

31/12/2005

8

Tallaght Hospital Board

31/12/2005

8

Adoption Services.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

240 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position with regard to intercountry adoptions with Morocco; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24209/05]

The Adoption Board considered the Adoption Law of Morocco at its meeting on 3 July 2001. The board decided on that date that adoptions effected in Morocco are not recognised under Irish law.

Legislation is being prepared by Department of Health and Children to ratify the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption 1993. The heads of the Bill have gone to the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting and it is hoped the Bill will be published in early 2006. It will provide a framework within which Ireland, by establishing a system of co-operation with those countries who have ratified the 1993 Hague Convention or who operate within the spirit of the convention, may regulate the process of intercountry adoption. Morocco has not signed or ratified the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption 1993.

Health Services.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

241 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of times which the working group reviewing the current configuration and delivery of services to persons with cystic fibrosis here has met since its establishment; its terms of reference; when she expects its report; and if its recommendations will be provided for in time for the 2006 estimates. [24215/05]

Following the publication of the Pollock report, which reviewed the existing hospital services for person with cystic fibrosis, the Health Service Executive established a working group to examine cystic fibrosis services. The working group is multi-disciplinary in its composition and includes representation from the Cystic Fibrosis Association.

The terms of reference of the working group is to review the current configuration and delivery of services to cystic fibrosis patients in the Republic of Ireland, across hospitals and the community, and to make recommendations for reconfiguration, improvement and development. The working group will consider the report prepared by Dr. Pollock on behalf of the Cystic Fibrosis Association in Ireland and will encompass aspects of service alluded to but not covered in depth in that report, including cystic fibrosis services delivered in the community, the cystic fibrosis register, training and development of clinical staff, cost structures, and cross-border arrangements.

The group held its first meeting in early April and there have been three further meetings. I understand that it hopes to complete its work over the next few months. The work of the group will result in an agreed proposal for the development and reconfiguration of services for cystic fibrosis patients in Ireland.

The Health Service Executive will have the responsibility for implementing and funding any recommendations made by the group. My Department will, therefore, request the executive to reply directly to the Deputy in relation to her query regarding the timetable for the finalisation of the Group's recommendations in the context of the 2006 Estimates.

Communications Masts.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

242 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance the services that avail of the mast on the Garda station in Letterkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23754/05]

In addition to the Garda Síochána, a mobile phone operator has equipment installed on the mast in Letterkenny for the purposes of providing a GSM service.

Garda Stations.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

243 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the progress to date in providing a new Garda station for Ballymun, Dublin 9; when he expects construction to begin; when he expects the station to be completed; if arrangements have been finalised for the temporary relocation of the station to Stormanston House on Ballymun Road; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23916/05]

Negotiations between the Commissioners of Public Works and Ballymun Regeneration Limited in relation to acquisition of a site for a new Garda station and Government offices in Ballymun are progressing. A timetable for development of the site cannot be finalised until after the acquisition of the site. Discussions with Ballymun Regeneration Limited regarding the temporary relocation of Ballymun Garda station are at a preliminary stage.

Departmental Properties.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

244 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance if he has plans to remove the railings that separate the car park on the Kildare Street side of Leinster House from the National Museum and the National Library; if he will tender proposals for improving this civic space; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24066/05]

The provision of the railings that separate the car park on the Kildare Street side of Leinster House from the National Museum and the National Library, is security-related and is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission in the first instance. The commission has not requested OPW to review the matter.

The OPW recently presented sketch proposals to the Joint Committee on House Services to improve the space on the National Library side of the Kildare Street entrance following completion in early 2005 of the entrance pavilion on the National Museum side. The committee has approved the drawing-up of a detailed design in this regard.

Departmental Properties.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

245 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance if he plans to sell any building or property in County Wexford; if so, if he will provide the details of such a sale; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23578/05]

Identification of properties surplus to State requirements is continuously evolving and it is not possible to confirm what properties will be disposed of in County Wexford in the remainder of 2005. Premature release of disposal information and timescales would also affect the potential income form such disposals.

Parliamentary Questions.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

246 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance when this Deputy will receive a reply to Parliamentary Question No. 157 of 22 June 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23579/05]

The compilation of the information requested, in Parliamentary Question No.157 of 22 June 2005 is nearing completion in my Department. It is expected that the information will be forwarded directly to the Deputy next week.

Flood Relief.

Damien English

Ceist:

247 Mr. English asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works has plans to carry out flood alleviation works on the Swan river; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23580/05]

The Office of Public of Works has no responsibility for the maintenance of the Swan river and officials of Meath County Council have been advised accordingly. The Commissioners of Public Works have no plans to carry out flood alleviation works on the Swan river at this time.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.

John Cregan

Ceist:

248 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Finance the requirements which SSIA holders must satisfy prior to the cashing in of their investment accounts in the short term and at the end of the maximum investment period; when the first SSIAs will mature; if the holders will be written to; if they must initiate repayment; if they will be offered further investment terms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23581/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that on commencement of an SSIA account, the account holder had to certify that the following conditions would be satisfied for the duration of the scheme: the holder was over 18 years of age and resident in the State at commencement; the holder would operate only one SSIA; subscriptions to the account would only be made by the holder or his-her spouse and from his-her own resources; subscriptions to the account would not be funded by borrowing or the deferral of repayment, whether in respect of capital or interest, of amounts already borrowed; and subscriptions to the account in each of the first 12 months would be of an amount, not less than €12.50 and not more than €254, agreed between the holder and the qualifying savings manager, financial institution, at the commencement of the account. For the remainder of the scheme, the only statutory restriction is that the maximum subscription in any month must not exceed €254; funds held in an SSIA would not be used as security for a loan.

Prior to the maturity of the SSIA, the account holder must complete a declaration confirming that for the duration of the scheme, s/he held only one SSIA; he or she is the person who beneficially owns the qualifying funds held in the account; he or she was resident or ordinarily resident in the State since commencement of the account; the account was funded from resources available him-her, or spouse, without recourse to borrowing or by the deferral of repayment, whether in respect of capital or interest, of sums already borrowed; and he or she did not sign or pledge funds held in the account as security for a loan.

The first accounts are due to mature at the end of May 2006. Each financial institution will, at the appropriate time, circa 14 weeks prior to the maturity date, supply a maturity declaration to each SSIA holder for completion and return to the institution. The financial institution will mature the account at the appropriate time and pay over to Revenue the appropriate tax on the income earned by the account. The account holder can then either maintain and continue the account, without the benefit of the Exchequer top up, or withdraw funds as he or she wishes.

In regard to further investment terms, the specific goal of the SSIA scheme was to encourage people to save over a period of at least five years. Its effect has been to stimulate such savings over varying income ranges which is evident in the extensive take-up by many low income earners. The scheme has been a success in those terms. The scheme has a specific duration. Any proposals for tax-based incentives for the continuation of savings would be considered as part of the normal annual budgetary process taking account of public policy objectives and Exchequer cost implications. The use to which the monies arising on maturity of the SSIAs are put is ultimately a matter for the individual account holder.

Stamp Duty.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

249 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Finance if he will outline the change in policy by the Revenue Commissioners in relation to exemption from stamp duty for first-time buyers who are required to add the name of a parent to their mortgage; if he will reconsider this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23582/05]

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

250 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will re-examine any proposed decision by the Revenue Commissioners to charge the most vulnerable of the first-time house buyers that is those that require parental assistance on the mortgage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23680/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 249 and 250 together.

A stamp duty exemption for first-time buyers of second hand houses under €317,500 was brought in by budget 2005. Previously it had applied only to houses up to €190,500, so the very significant increase in the threshold made this exemption relevant to a much broader range of purchasers. Reduced rates of duty were also made available for purchases up to €635,000.

The relief from stamp duty is intended to benefit only genuine first-time buyers. It is essential that the stamp duty advantage intended for first-time buyers should not be diluted by allowing persons who are not first-time buyers circumvent the rules, by borrowing in tandem with another person who is a first-time buyer.

Revenue has always accepted that a person would not have been precluded from obtaining first-time buyer relief where a parent provides funds by means of an unconditional gift towards the purchase of a house or where a parent acts as financial guarantor in relation to purchase moneys which are borrowed by his or her son or daughter in connection with the purchase.

In a statement issued on Friday last, 24 June 2005, the Revenue Commissioners have offered reassurance to first-time buyers in relation to situations involving parents of first-time buyers acting as co-mortgagors. The Revenue Commissioners are now prepared to accept that a child, who is a first-time buyer, will not be precluded from claiming first-time buyer relief where a parent acts as a co-mortgagor in the following circumstances: the transfer of the house is taken in the name of the child; it is the intention of both the child and the parent that the parent is not to take a beneficial interest in the house; the parent has been joined into the mortgage solely at the request of the lending institution for the purpose of providing additional security for the moneys being advanced for the purchase; it is not intended that the parent will be contributing to the repayment of the mortgage in the normal course.

Where the four conditions set out above are satisfied, Revenue will treat the parent as effectively acting in the role of guarantor for the loan.

I am also advised that the Revenue Commissioners do not propose to seek a clawback of stamp duty where transfers have taken place before last Friday which comply with the conditions outlined above.

Tax Code.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

251 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the amounts received in respect of relevant contracts tax for each year from 1997 to date; the amounts outstanding in respect of relevant contracts tax for each year from 1997 to date; the number of contractors; his estimate of the amounts outstanding to date; and the number of outstanding amounts in excess of €500,000 in band €100,000 upward. [23741/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the amounts of relevant contracts tax, RCT, received in respect of each year from 1997 to date, 28 June 2005, are as follows:

RCT

Gross

Repayments

NET

1997

195,067,568.87

112,531,660.63

82,535,908.24

1998

222,700,214.81

120,833,741.65

101,866,473.16

1999

248,549,625.45

216,127,731.69

32,421,893.76

2000

339,284,824.75

272,467,544.87

66,817,279.88

2001

422,193,597.87

340,128,304.25

82,065,293.62

2002

394,286,052.35

351,203,196.17

43,082,856.18

2003

476,874,365.84

423,688,168.85

53,186,196.99

2004

611,590,909.18

562,308,663.24

49,282,245.94

2005 to date

360,272,110.34

323,302,871.45

36,969,238.89

Total

3,270,819,269.46

2,722,591,882.80

548,227,386.66

There are four categories of contractors on Revenue's records. The number of live registrations in each category is as follows: principal contractors including principals that are also uncertified subcontractors — 15,998; certified subcontractors, i.e. have a C2 certificate — 22,056; principal contractors that are also certified subcontractors — 19,488; and uncertified subcontractors, i.e. do not have a C2 certificate — 58,862. The total number of live registrations is 116,404.

A major programme of work has been undertaken by Revenue in recent years to upgrade the RCT computer systems to the standard available for other business taxes. RCT is now fully integrated into Revenue's integrated taxation systems and has recently been integrated into its case management system, which allows individual case management of cases with RCT tax debts. Using this case management system, Revenue caseworkers are now deploying the full range of collection and compliance activities against individuals and companies that are non-compliant or have arrears of RCT, as part of a whole case management approach.

The final stage of the computer development programme for RCT is the development of management information systems and reports. These are expected to be available early next year. Until then Revenue is unable to provide authoritive data on overall amounts outstanding for each year.

Decentralisation Programme.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

252 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Finance the progress made to date in relation to the decentralisation of Government Departments and associated agencies to Drogheda, County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23767/05]

Three Ministers have responsibility for offices decentralising to Drogheda. These are the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Social and Family Affairs. The Ministers for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Environment, Heritage and Local Government will answer in respect of their own areas of responsibility. I will answer on behalf of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs. The headquarters of the Department of Social and Family Affairs, REACH and Comhairle are to relocate to Drogheda, County Louth.

I understand from the Department of Social and Family Affairs that 213 staff of the Department have applied through the Central Applications Facility, CAF, to relocate to Drogheda. However, no formal offers have yet been made.

Comhairle will transfer a total of 47.5 posts to Drogheda. Some 14 of Comhairle's staff applied through the CAF to relocate with Comhairle. Comhairle has not as yet made formal offers to any of these staff. REACH will transfer to Drogheda with 11 posts. No assignments have been made yet.

With reference to accommodation, agreement in principle has been reached on a site on local authority owned lands and detailed negotiations are progressing in tandem with site investigations.

Tax Code.

John Cregan

Ceist:

253 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons over 70 who pay tax; the total and average amount paid; the highest figure paid; if a total exemption for all persons over 70 is recommended; if a gradual increase in the exemption limit is more advisable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23768/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the relevant information available is in respect of income earners on tax records aged 65 years and over. On the basis of income tax returns received for 2002, the latest year for which the relevant data has been compiled, the available information is as follows: total numbers with a tax liability — 56,000; total amount of tax —€403 million; average amount of tax —€7,196, based on income earners aged 65 or over with a tax liability, €2,702, based on all income earners aged 65 or over.

Because of the Revenue Commissioners obligation to observe confidentiality in relation to the taxation affairs of individual taxpayers and small groups of taxpayers, the highest figure for tax paid cannot be divulged due to the small numbers of income earners with significantly high tax payments. It should be noted that a married couple who has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

The Government's policy on taxation and the elderly is set out in An Agreed Programme for Government which refers to "delivering further real improvements to pensioners and people on low incomes". This has been the guiding principle underlying the tax treatment of elderly persons, including those aged over 70, in recent budgets.

The age exemption limits, under which those aged 65 or over are exempt from income tax up to specified limits, have been increased in every budget since 1997. In the last four budgets alone, the limits have increased by almost 53% which is well ahead of inflation. After budget 2005, they stand at €16,500 per annum in the case of a single or widowed person and €33,000 per annum in the case of a married couple where one spouse is or both spouses are aged 65 or over.

Within available resources, the focus has been on assisting elderly persons on low incomes through annual increases in the age exemption limits. Such an approach is considered preferable to one where elderly income earners who reach a particular age threshold would be completely exempted from income tax regardless of their income. However, I point out to the Deputy that in the 2002 tax year the majority of income earners aged 65 or over on Revenue's records had no liability for tax.

Stamp Duty.

John Cregan

Ceist:

254 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider changes to stamp duty due to the perceived view that it is a tax on freedom of movement, is a disincentive against trading up and an unfair tax in settled and established areas; if he will consider alternations to allow the tax rate on that bracket only rather than on full sale value; if he will consider a further increase in threshold; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23769/05]

Stamp duty is a duty on the transfer of title to property. It is paid largely by the better off. It has been in existence since the 1960s and has not hindered persons moving, trading up or settling down. Accordingly, I do not propose to change the stamp duty code along the lines suggested by the Deputy.

Tax Collection.

John Cregan

Ceist:

255 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Finance if he will make a statement on the perceived delays with correspondence and queries in the Dublin PAYE offices; if delays can be quantified; the reason for the delays; if a timetable for working off arrears will be given. [23770/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the peak period for receiving PAYE correspondence extends from January to June each year.

The volume of contacts from PAYE taxpayers in the Dublin region, in the period January 2005 through June 2005 was as follows:

PAYE tax returns and correspondence

320,832

PAYE phone calls answered

404,831

Callers to public offices

161,125

Total

886,788

This represents an increase of 17.35% in contacts over 2004.

All available resources during this period were concentrated primarily in dealing with the substantial increase in PAYE 1890 phone calls and callers to our public offices. The volume of unworked post reached its peak in mid April 2005.

The reasons for the delays included a significant increase in economic activity in the Dublin region resulting in a sizable increase in thecasebase, for example approximately 20,000 new PAYE registrations in the first six months of 2005; the 17.35% overall increase in contacts from PAYE taxpayers in the same period; the reduction in the time period for repayment claims from ten years to four years resulted in a significant increase in the number of claims and in the complexity of those claims; many claims were for a ten-year period; and greater awareness by taxpayers of their entitlements to tax credits and reliefs as a consequence of an intensive advertising campaign by Revenue and other media coverage.

Revenue inform me that through determined efforts by Dublin management and staff, the April backlog has now been substantially reduced and it is planned to have dealt with all the pre-July correspondence by 31 July. Management and staff have been working in full co-operation to clear the arrears. There have been no industrial relation problems during this period and staff shortages have not been an issue. Staff have in fact been working extremely long hours in a determined effort to clear the arrears and overtime has been made available where necessary.

Tax Code.

John Cregan

Ceist:

256 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Finance if he will examine the case of a person (details supplied).

I appreciate the concerns of the case in question. However, if there is no income tax liability then it is not possible to reclaim tax on medical expenses incurred.

Credit Unions.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

257 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the annual budget and resources allocated to the Registrar of Credit Unions since its establishment. [23772/05]

With the enactment of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Act 2003 responsibility for the statutory supervision of credit unions passed from the Registrar of Friendly Societies, under the aegis of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to the Registrar of Credit Unions within the Financial Regulator.

In accordance with section 33N of that Act, a statement of income and expenditure for the financial regulator, including the information sought by the Deputy, must be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The following information relating to the annual budget and resources of the Registrar of Credit Unions was included in the statements provided in February 2004 and April 2005 respectively:

2004

2005

€000

€000

Budget

1,400

1,200

Staff

Staff

Resources

21

21

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

258 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many credit unions representatives and volunteers believe that the Registrar of Credit Unions is seeking changes beyond his legislative remit and that both credit unions and the registrar are seeking a review of current legislation in this area; the timeframe for such a review; and if he will report on any discussions regarding such a legislative review. [23773/05]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

259 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that individual credit union officials should now compete for board positions by way of proposals of intent and that credit committees should also have expertise appropriate to the type of loans approved; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that these positions are voluntary and it is therefore unrealistic to expect specific expertise; and if he intends to pay for the education of the volunteers in these specialist areas. [23774/05]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

260 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he has satisfied himself that the regulatory burdens imposed on credit unions may be excessive for some of the movement; his views on the merit of introducing some transitional arrangements to recognise the different ethos of credit unions from other financial institutions. [23775/05]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

274 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the reason the Registrar of Credit Unions organised a meeting with information technology suppliers regarding future needs of credit unions without consulting with credit unions on their future requirements. [24212/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 258 to 260, inclusive, and 274 together.

Credit unions are regulated by the Registrar of Credit Unions within the financial regulator. They are regulated primarily in accordance with the Credit Union Act 1997.

The decision to maintain a distinct regulatory structure for credit unions within the financial regulator was a deliberate one, designed to reflect their particular volunteer and community-based ethos. This ethos was already reflected in the Credit Union Act.

The Credit Union Act lays down, not only prudential and consumer protection rules, but also the separate and distinct legal structure from which credit unions benefit. This includes the rules governing the conditions for registration as a credit union and the procedure for the appointment of boards of directors, supervisory committees, credit committees, credit control committees and membership committees.

Oversight of the system laid down in the Act is the responsibility of the Registrar of Credit Unions, who occupies a statutory post within the financial regulator. The core function of the registrar is to take such action as appears necessary, within the terms of the legislation, to protect the savings of credit union members. In discharge of his duties, the registrar is free to issue to credit unions such guidelines as he considers desirable. The regulator also issues such guidelines to other sectors. Their general purpose is to provide advice and information regarding best practice to financial institutions. They are intended to support the continued development of an effective and efficient regulatory system that underpins the maintenance of financial stability and the protection of the consumer.

The manner in which the registrar carries out his supervisory duties under the Credit Union Act, including any guidance notes that he chooses to issue or meetings he chooses to arrange, are solely matters for the registrar, subject to any directions or guidelines that the regulatory authority may issue to him. It is a matter for credit unions themselves to address any training requirements that might arise for officers and staff of credit unions.

I am aware of views being expressed about the possible need for changes to the Credit Union Act to reflect the changing role of credit unions in present-day Irish society. Such views have been expressed by credit union representative bodies as well as by the registrar. I am also conscious of the demands that the credit union regulatory system can impose on volunteers and the need to ensure that the regulatory burden is proportionate to the objective of protecting the savings of credit union members. I am aware that the registrar has been consulting widely with a view to encouraging the maximum consensus on changes to the regulatory system. I have also asked the credit union advisory committee to advise me on the need for such change.

Tax Code.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

261 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Finance if his Department has plans to make the home carer’s tax credit available to those who have left the workforce to provide care and attention to seriously ill relatives and who are in receipt of carer’s benefit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23776/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

263 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Finance if his Department has plans to make the home carer’s tax credit available to carers who have left the workforce to provide care and attention to seriously ill relatives in cases in which a carer’s income exceeds €6,500 in the year in which the home carer’s tax is claimable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23779/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 261 and 263 together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that home carer tax credit is available in the case of a married couple who are jointly assessed to income tax where one spouse is a home carer. A "home carer" is a person who cares for one or more dependant persons.

A dependant person for the purposes of the tax credit must be either a child for whom social welfare child benefit is payable, a person aged 65 years or over or a person who is permanently incapacitated by reason of physical or mental infirmity. In addition, the dependant must reside either with the carer, on the same property as the carer or next door in a neighbouring residence to the carer or within 2 km of the carer.

The home carer tax credit currently amounts to €770 per annum. Where the home carer has some small income in his or her own right, the tax credit may still be due. The tax credit is due in full where the home carer's annual income does not exceed €5,080 and where it exceeds that amount, the tax credit is reduced by half the excess, effectively a reduction of €1 in the tax credit for every €2 of income, so that where the annual income exceeds €6,620 no tax credit is due. For example, if the income of the carer spouse is €5,850, a reduced tax credit of €385 applies. The income disregard was introduced to allow the home carer have a small income in his-her own right while retaining the tax credit. Also, the taper ensures that the credit is not lost all at once when income exceeds the amount of the disregard.

While the carer's allowance and carer's benefit payable by the Department of Social and Family Affairs are regarded as income for taxation purposes, no account is taken of these payments in determining the home carer's entitlement to the home carer tax credit.

In the case of a person who has left the workforce to care for seriously ill relatives and is in receipt of annual income in excess of €6,620, excluding the carer's allowance or carer's benefit from the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the home carer tax credit is not due. Any changes to the home carer tax credit would be a matter for consideration in the context of the annual budget and Finance Bill.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

262 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Finance when a person (details supplied) will receive a tax refund; and the amount of same. [23777/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that according to their records, a claim for repayment of income tax has not been received. This claim should be made on a form P50 which will issue to the taxpayer today. Any queries regarding same can be directed to the person's local tax office at Sullivan's Quay, Cork which can be contacted at Revenue's Lo-call number 1890-444425.

Question No. 263 answered with QuestionNo. 261.

Fiscal Policy.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

264 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Finance if, in relation to the capital allowance for hotels, a person had planning permission since December 2004 but due to difficulties with same, building has not commenced will still qualify for the capital allowance; the length of time the capital allowance is valid for; and if there will be an extension of the capital allowance for 2005. [23781/05]

The Finance Act 2003 extended the write-off period for capital allowances for hotels from seven to 25 years. It provided that capital expenditure incurred on or after 4 December 2002 on the construction or refurbishment of a hotel is to be written off at the rate of 4% per annum over 25 years. However, certain transitional provisions ensured that where a full and valid planning application was received by a planning authority before 31 December 2004 in respect of hotel projects, capital expenditure incurred on such projects on or before 31 July 2006 could continue to be written off over a seven year period at the rate of 15% per annum for the first six years and 10% in year seven. Thus, in cases where these transitional planning requirements have been met, capital expenditure incurred on the construction or refurbishment of a hotel can be written off over seven years where the expenditure in question represents work actually carried out on or before 31 July 2006. Expenditure incurred in respect of any work carried out after that date can be written off at 4% per annum over 25 years.

I directed my Department, together with the Revenue Commissioners, and in conjunction with external consultants to undertake a detailed review in 2005 of various property incentive reliefs, including this relief in respect of hotels. I also stated in budget 2005 that the termination dates for these schemes as laid down previously in Finance Act 2004 remain unchanged. In this regard I am not considering making any changes to the scheme until this review has been completed.

Mobile Telephony.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

265 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance if VAT charged here to mobile telephone calls made and completed or initiated in another State is illegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23833/05]

The position is that the charging of VAT on mobile telephone calls made and completed or initiated in another state is covered by section 5(5) of the Value Added Tax Act 1972, as amended, which transposes Article 9(1) of the sixth Council directive. This provides that VAT is charged in the place of establishment of the supplier.

Therefore, Irish suppliers of mobile phone services are liable to account for VAT on services provided to business and private customers, established or resident in the State, for their usage of those services anywhere in the world. Accordingly, the charging of VAT on mobile telephone calls made and completed or initiated in another state is not illegal.

Fiscal Policy.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

266 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the amount of his Department’s budgetary allocation for 2004; the amount of this allocation which was returned to the Department of Finance at year’s end; the vote head from which such returned allocations were derived; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23974/05]

The 2004 gross allocation to my Department's Vote was €127.753 million. The net allocation, having deducted estimated appropriations-in-aid of €0.412 million, was €127.342 million. The provisional outturn figures for 2004 were €91.579 million gross and €90.548 million net. The provisional surplus for surrender to the Exchequer was €36.794 million.

The 2004 provisional surplus was derived from the subheads set out in the following table and a note has been appended: (a) Where the saving is significant, i.e. where it exceeds €10,000 and represents 25% or more of an administrative subhead allocation, or where it exceeds €10,000 and represents 5% or more of a programme subhead allocation — this is in line with the presentation of such information in the appropriation accounts; (b) Where part of the savings on a subhead were vired to meet additional expenditure on another subhead and as such were not available for surrender to the Exchequer.

Administrative Subheads — Provisional Savings

Description

Variation (Saving) from Estimate €000

Note

A.1

Salaries, Wages and Allowances

1,070

A.2

Travel and Subsistence

166

A.3.

Incidental Expenses

1,644

Savings arose primarily in respect of an administrative contingency provision which was not required in 2004.

A.4

Postal and Telecommunications Services

148

A.5

Office Machinery and Other Office Supplies

626

A.6

Office Premises Expenses

90

A.7

Consultancy Services

270

The saving is due to reduced and delayed spending on a number of consultancies.

A.8.

Centre for Management And Organisation Development

213

A number of projects, including a HRMS pension interface, were not proceeded with in 2004.

€1.049 million of the above savings were used to offset excess expenditure on subhead A.9 (European Presidency).

Programme Subheads — Provisional Savings

Description

Variation (Saving) from Estimate €000

Note

B.

Consultancy Services

2,523

Spending under this subhead can vary significantly from year to year due to legal and financial issues. The subhead also contained a programme contingency provision which was not required in 2004.

E.

Ordnance Survey Ireland (Grant-In-Aid)

10,331

Ordnance Survey Ireland did not require the level of grant-in-aid provided for in the estimate as they had a significant cash surplus accumulated from the previous year.

F

Gaeleagras Na Seirbhíse Poiblí

12

G.

Civil Service Arbitration and Appeals Procedures

24

There were fewer sittings of the boards in 2004 than anticipated.

H.1

Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Service

1

H.2

Public Service Benchmarking Body

1

Token provision

H.3

Committee for Performance Awards

10

The estimate included a provision for consultancy expenditure which, in the event, was not required in 2004.

I.

Contribution to the Common Fund for Commodities

182

Ireland’s expenditure in respect of its contribution to the UN Common Fund for Commodities was less than originally anticipated.

J.1.

Structural Funds Technical Assistance and other Costs

621

Savings arose as a result of staffing changes, leading to reduced activities and lower programme costs in 2004. €1 million was vired to meet a supplementary estimate for N.2 (Northern Ireland Interreg).

J.2.

Technical Assistance costs of Regional Assemblies

1

Some €0.5 million was vired to meet a supplementary estimate for N.2 (Northern Ireland Interreg) and a token balance was surrendered to the Exchequer.

K.

Committees and Commissions

120

This is a demand-led scheme. There was no expenditure under this subhead in 2004 as no situations arose which required investigation by commissions or committees.

M.

Change Management Fund

907

This shortfall reflects the extent to which Departments and offices did not claim reimbursement of expenditure incurred in relation to projects approved for support by the Fund.

N.2

Northern Ireland Interreg

100

Savings of €8.8 million were vired into this subhead, of which €100,000 was unspent at year-end.

N.3

Special EU Programmes Body

179

The saving arose due to lower staff costs in 2004.

O.

Ireland-Wales and Transnational Interreg

200

Expenditure did not reach anticipated levels due, inter-alia, to certain contributions to multi-annual transnational programmes not being called for in 2004.

P.

Information Society

2,098

A number of projects which were expected to draw down considerable funding in 2004 did not commence or proceeded more slowly than was anticipated.

Q.

Civil Service Childcare Initiative

1,252

Delays in the identification and purchase of sites for crèches in a number of locations led to the reduced outturn in 2004. Some €1 million was vired to meet a supplementary estimate for N.2 (Northern Ireland Interreg.) and the balance was surrendered to the Exchequer.

R.

Procurement Management Reform

755

The slower than anticipated roll-out of this programme led to the savings identified.

S.

Decentralisation Fund

13,701

The estimate of €20 million was to meet any up-front investment required under the Government’s decentralisation programme. However, it was subsequently decided to meet the capital costs that arose (site acquisition deposits) from Vote 10 Office of Public Works. €6.299 million was vired to meet a supplementary estimate for N.2 (Northern Ireland Interreg) and the balance was surrendered to the Exchequer.

T.

Appropriations-In-Aid

619

Tax Code.

John Cregan

Ceist:

267 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Finance when the tax age allowance was first introduced; the rate of same when introduced; when it was last increased; the level to which it was increased; and if he will consider an increase in the allowance in budget 2006. [23987/05]

The age tax credit, then the age tax allowance, was introduced by the Finance Act 1974. This provided an additional income tax personal allowance for the 1974-75 tax year and subsequent years. On its introduction, the age allowance was, in the case of a married person, £50 or €63 and for a single or widowed person, £25 or €32. The age tax credit was last changed in budget 2002 when, in the context of the changeover to the euro, its value was increased slightly to €205 per annum for a single person aged 65 or over and to €410 per annum for a married couple where one spouse is or both spouses are aged 65 or over.

The question of a further increases in the value of the age tax credit will be a matter to be considered in the context of future budgets. However, I would point out to the Deputy that the approach adopted in recent years with regard to tax policy and the elderly has been to assist such persons primarily through increases in the age exemption limits under which those aged 65 or over are exempt from income tax up to specified limits.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

268 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance his proposals to remove the 21% VAT rate which applies to a medication used to treat bees (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24005/05]

The VAT rating of goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. The position is that the VAT rating of medicine of a kind used for animal oral consumption is generally subject to the zero rate of VAT. However, under EU law, the supply of non-oral animal medicine does not qualify for the zero rate. The veterinary medicine in question, Bayvarol, is not taken orally and its supply is, therefore, subject to VAT at the rate of 21%.

Under the EU sixth VAT directive, I am precluded from adding to the range of supplies subject to the zero rate of VAT.

Irish Language.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

269 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance the amount his Department has spent to date in 2005 on the implementation of the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003; his estimate of the amount which his Department will spend on the implementation of the Official Languages Act 2003 for the full year in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24008/05]

My Department has not allocated a specific overall provision in its 2005 Estimates towards the cost of implementing the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003.

The main area of expenditure on the Irish language in my Department is through Gaeleagras na Seirbhíse Poiblí. Gaeleagras was established in the Department in 1971 with the general aim of promoting the Irish language throughout the Civil Service. Gaeleagras continues to make a significant contribution to the promotion and development of the use of Irish in the Civil Service including supporting the implementation of the Official Languages Act 2003. In anticipation of an increased level of activity in 2005, the allocation for Gaeleagras this year is €369,000, an increase of €131,000 over the 2004 outturn. Up to June, 2005, Gaeleagras have spent €74,000 ofthis allocation. It is anticipated that the full allocation will be spent during the remainder of 2005.

Outside Gaeleagras, work relating to implementing the Official Languages Act 2003 is spread across the Department and is undertaken in conjunction with officials' existing duties. It is, therefore, not possible to provide an overall cost for the implementation of the Act in the Department in 2005. However, the additional costs incurred by the Department associated with using external translation and printing services etc. arising from the Act is €6,342 to-date in 2005 and is estimated at around €40,000 for the full year in 2005.

Tax Code.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

270 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance the reason the Government opposed the French proposal for a tax on aviation fuel at a meeting of Finance Ministers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24072/05]

At recent meetings of EU Finance Ministers, there has been discussions about exploring the possibility of introducing a tax on aviation fuel or a levy, compulsory or optional, on airline tickets for the purposes of raising revenue for development aid. Opinions differed on the wisdom of such an approach. Following these discussions, the European Commission was asked to submit an analysis of all the issues involved in a compulsory or optional levy on the purchase of airlinestickets.

However, some member states, including Ireland, expressed concerns about the impact on competitiveness which would arise from the imposition of a compulsory tax. This is of particular concern to a country like Ireland on the periphery of Europe where transport costs are particularly significant.

Tax Collection.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

271 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the extent of the practice of discretionary waivers at the Revenue Commissioners in respect of interest in the 1980s; if the practice was widespread; the number of cases that received such waivers; if he can state who in the Revenue Commissioners had the authority to allow such waivers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24148/05]

Levying of interest charges is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners and the application or waiving of an interest charge in any instance is dealt with by Revenue under its powers of care and management. The exercise of these powers is carried on by and under the authority of the commissioners. I am informed by Revenue that payment of interest is considerably more problematic than payment of tax. Even in the present climate, where meeting tax obligations is increasingly seen as the correct thing to do, payment of interest is still strongly resisted with many taxpayers putting forward arguments for mitigation of the interest charge.

It is clear that in the 1980s tax collection was radically different from what it is today. There was a significant and widespread problem of non-payment of tax at the time. Revenue's computer systems automatically calculated and issued an interest demand in respect of every late payment. However, this was entirely a process driven programme with no direct personal contact with the taxpayer and no differentiation between cases with genuine difficulties and those who were deliberately delaying payment.

The bulk of the collection effort had to be directed towards the recovery of the tax itself. I have been advised by Revenue that it was not in a position to follow through on the interest charges and inevitably, the approach to interest was unsuccessful. In the circumstances, I am advised by Revenue that "discretionary waivers" in regard to interest did not generally arise. The reality was that, while interest charges were raised, widespread non-payment was the de facto situation with taxpayers systematically taking advantage of the fact that Revenue was not in a position to pursue payment. In the relatively limited number of cases where a taxpayer would have responded to the interest demand from Revenue by way of a request for waiver, such a request would have been considered on its merits and would in the normal course have been decided by the relevant officials in the Collector-General’s office handling the case.

Revenue policy and practice today in relation to interest collection are clear and very effective. This is borne out by the fact that in 2004 debt was a mere 2.4% of collection for that year compared to 68% in 1988. This has been achieved through a combination of measures, including vastly improved collection performance and write-off of uncollectible debt.

Appointments to State Boards.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

272 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide a list of the vacancies on the boards of statutory or State bodies and other statutory appointments which currently exist and which must be made by him or the Government; the reason, in each case, for the vacancy; and when each vacancy will be filled. [24178/05]

One vacancy exists on each of the national treasury management agency advisory committee and the national pensions reserve fund commission, due, respectively, to the retirement and to the expiry of the term of office of members. There are three vacancies on the disabled drivers medical board of appeal arising from the recent expansion of the board. Arrangements are in train for the filling of these vacancies.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

273 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide a list of boards of statutory or State bodies and statutory appointments to which vacancies are expected to fall due between now and 31 December 2005 for appointments to be made by him or the Government; and the mechanisms envisaged by which the appointees will be selected. [24192/05]

Three vacancies will arise on the board of An Post National Lottery Company in November 2005. These vacancies will be filled in accordance with section 14 of the National Lottery Act 1986.

In considering persons for appointment to boards under the aegis of my Department, I have regard to a range of factors, including the guidelines set out in the Cabinet handbook regarding eligibility, transparency and gender balance.

Question No. 274 answered with QuestionNo. 258.

Benchmarking Awards.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

275 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department will take steps to make payment due under parallel benchmarking to persons in general operative grades employed by the Central Fisheries Board and regional fisheries board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23780/05]

Payment of the second phase of benchmarking and general round increases is due to be paid to the general operatives and foreman grades of the central and regional fisheries boards subject to the approval of their modernisation action plan. The performance verification group has recently approved the plan and the Department has instructed the Central Fisheries Board to apply the pay increases as soon as possible.

Ethics in Public Office.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

276 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department has issued ethical guidelines to public representatives in keeping with the Kimberly process and to assist them in ensuring that they do not inadvertently invest in conflict diamonds. [23898/05]

The Deputy will be aware that my Department has not issued ethical guidelines to public representatives in keeping with the Kimberly process.

Post Office Network.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

277 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on requests (details supplied) made by the Irish Postmasters Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23525/05]

The Government and the board of An Post are committed to the objective of securing a viable and sustainable rural post office network as set out in the programme for Government. The overarching objective continues to be the retention of 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. I would like to outline my commitment and that of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, to the post office network. This has been demonstrated in meetings with interested parties, including my meetings and those of the Minister for Social and Family Affairs with the IPU.

I reiterate my view and that of my colleague, Deputy Brennan that we want to see An Post delivering social welfare payments to the maximum number of people. Quality customer services, however, mean that people must be allowed to choose their preferred method of payment. An Post has commenced work on a new business model for the post office network that will involve a substantial upgrade of information technology systems to offer electronic funds transfer functionality to social welfare recipients and a wider suite of financial and other services to new and existing customers. Pending progress on the system upgrades, I have agreed with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs that, for the moment, all payment options will receive equal standing on social welfare forms and that the Department of Social and Family Affairs will not actively push EFT for social welfare clients.

On the issue of upgrading post offices, the automation of the network was completed in 1997 and it has only been in very exceptional circumstances, such as an existing automated office closing and its equipment being transferred to a suitable neighbouring location that transacts significant volumes of welfare business, that further offices were automated since then. However, I am convinced that An Post's long-term strategy must satisfactorily address electronic technology in a comprehensive fashion. In the interim, a pilot project will see ten small post offices computerised. In a separate initiative, the company, in conjunction with the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, is working on an initiative to automate nine island post offices. As many strands of the upgrade strategy are being advanced, I have informed the IPU that a meeting at this stage would not add much to the process but I have undertaken to keep it informed on this issue.

Parliamentary Questions.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

278 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when this Deputy will receive a reply to Question No. 159 of 22 June 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23684/05]

As indicated in my reply to Question No. 159 of 22 June 2005, my Department is compiling the relevant material and I will write to the Deputy in this regard as soon as possible.

Fishing Industry Development.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

279 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the report commissioned by his Department on the decommissioning requirements of the scallop fishing fleet will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23685/05]

I understand that the report of the review that I announced on 10 June 2005 will be presented to me next week. I intend to have the report published as soon as possible thereafter.

Electricity Generation.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

280 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department has made a study of the most suitable areas for wave or tidal generated electricity in this country; if so, the areas which were most suitable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23686/05]

The technologies to harness wave and tidal energies to produce electricity are at an early stage of research globally. An extensive research and development programme must be successful before this significant potential resource can be efficiently harnessed and the most suitable sites identified. Ireland participates in the International Energy Agency's research and development implementing agreement on ocean energy to monitor and benefit from worldwide expertise. In addition, at the national level, Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, and the Marine Institute have jointly commenced a research and development programme to identify the potential of wave and tidal energy in Ireland and also to assist industry to investigate prototype devices.

Research projects under way include Tidal and Marine Current Energy Resource in Ireland, a study on the potential economic benefits from the development of ocean energy in Ireland and a study to establish the total, feasible, practical Irish offshore wave energy resource. Other research supported by SEI and the Marine Institute in recent years include Marine Institute — Development and Evaluation Protocol for Ireland in 2004, the Hydam Technology Limited design study support to finalise the mathematical model of the MWP in 2004, University College Dublin's tidal energy feasibility study in 2004, the ESBI's Inshore Atlantic Wave Regime: County Clare in 2003, Ocean Energy's B2D2 wave energy pilot plant in 2003 and Wavebob Limited's The Wavebob in 2004. It is anticipated that reports of these studies will be published in due course. I will continue to monitor progress to ensure that as the technologies develop, we are well placed to harness the significant wave and tidal resources.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

281 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department has made a study of the most suitable areas for wind generated electricity in this country; if so, the areas which were most suitable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23687/05]

The most suitable locations for wind farms are those sites that can secure planning permission or a foreshore lease and licence in the case of offshore projects, have suitable wind speeds and can access the electricity network. Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, has published a digital map of our onshore and offshore wind resource. The wind atlas is available on DVD-ROM from the Renewable Energy Information Office, Bandon, County Cork and a lower resolution version is accessible on the SEI website at www.sei.ie. These resources allow any interested party to identify suitable wind energy resources at heights of 50, 75 and 100 metres at any location.

In addition, the draft wind farm planning guidelines published by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2004 propose that areas suitable for the development of wind farms should be identified within each county development plan and will be published in final form shortly. As county development plans identify suitable sites, these can be cross-referenced to the wind resource map. It will then be possible to target infrastructure upgrades on the electricity networks at identified locations to maximise the contribution of wind energy to the electricity mix at least additional cost to consumers.

Search and Rescue Service.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

282 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when urgent structural and physical works will be carried out on a building (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23688/05]

There are no urgent structural and physical works required at the Marine Rescue Centre at Malin Head, County Donegal. However, as part of the future development of the marine emergency co-ordination services of the Irish Coast Guard, proposals to develop the Malin Head station further are being considered at this time and this process will be completed as quickly as possible.

Natural Gas Grid.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

283 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide details of where the public can view the documents submitted in compliance with the consent issued under EU Directive 85/337EEC as amended, in respect of the development of the Corrib Gas pipeline. [23689/05]

Under Directive 85/337 and 97/11, assessment of the effects of certain public and private projects on the environment, the developers of the Corrib gas field project submitted to my predecessor an environmental impact statement, EIS, together with their application for consent to construct a pipeline. In accordance with the requirements of EU and national legislation, the documentation was put on public display by the developers for a period of one month for the making of objections and representations on the application.

The environmental aspects of the development were examined fully by the marine licence vetting committee, MLVC, which is an independent body composed of professional experts across the disciplines relevant to the project. In addressing the EIS, the MLVC brought its own expertise to bear and fully examined any views of interested parties and those expressed by persons who, during the public consultation process, submitted observations. Following the consultation process and the MLVC deliberations, it submitted to my predecessor its considered views and recommendations.

In line with the commitment given at a seminar held in Geesala on 25 July 2001 and in the interests of transparency, the MLVC report on which my predecessor's decisions on the various applications were based was published. The Department and the environmental monitoring group, EMG, which was set up as a condition attaching to the various approvals, are monitoring the documentation submitted by the developers in compliance with the conditions attached to the pipeline consent. The EMG is composed of professional experts from the Department and other bodies across the disciplines relevant to the environmental conditions attached to the various approvals as well as departmental officials and members of Mayo County Council, Shell E & P Ireland Limited and representatives from various local Mayo residents groups. This group meets on a monthly basis and has the responsibility, inter alia, of exchanging information on the Corrib gas field project in respect of environmental management and monitoring. There is no prohibition on any individual member or representative group on the EMG providing this information publicly. I am aware that the resident groups' members hold regular meetings in their communities and this would be an appropriate opportunity for disseminating this information.

Fisheries Protection.

John Perry

Ceist:

284 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources further to the recent confirmation from a laboratory in France of the discovery of bonania ostria in live oysters in Lough Foyle, the action he will take to allay the fears of the fishermen in Lough Swilly to prevent this outbreak spreading to Lough Swilly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23691/05]

In line with the requirements of EU regulations, measures are in place that provide for the control of movements of oysters and other shellfish from bays around the coast. Immediately on the Department's receipt of notification from its scientific advisers, the Marine Institute, of a possible positive test for bonamia in Lough Foyle, applications made to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to move oysters and other shellfish originating in Lough Foyle for growing in areas free of bonamia would be refused as a precautionary measure. The ban on such movements is still in force and will remain so. Officials of this Department are working closely with their counterparts in Northern Ireland, the Marine Institute and the Loughs Agency to arrange for sound practical measures to be put in place for shellfish operators to follow in Lough Foyle. In addition, the Marine Institute will work with this Department, the Northern Ireland authorities, the Loughs Agency and operators in Lough Foyle to carry out an epidemiological study, as required by EU regulations, into the possible causes of the outbreak.

Fishing Industry Development.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

285 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on decommissioning and compensation for coastal communities reliant on fishing; and if he will report on any progress in respect of the grave difficulties endured by the scallop fishing fleets of the south east. [23750/05]

On 10 June, I announced a review of the overall need for decommissioning. This review is ongoing and involves an assessment of the need and extent of the decommissioning requirement for the various demersal and shellfish fleets, including scallops. This review will be completed shortly and will give an important overall perspective. It will examine the various issues, including eligibility for decommissioning aid where strict EU rules apply. I cannot pre-empt the outcome of this review. It is a planned and structured approach and I look forward to receiving the report within the next week or so, following which I will urgently examine it.

Postal Services.

John Cregan

Ceist:

286 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on ongoing staff negotiations at An Post; the reason matters are being allowed to drift on; if he is directly involved; if they are being left to management; the details of increases in payment to the board and the chair; and the reason for same. [23751/05]

I have no statutory function in regard to industrial relations issues within An Post. It is an operational issue for the board and management of the company. The full resources of the State's industrial relations machinery continue to be made available to management and unions to assist in resolving industrial relations issues at An Post. I have urged both sides to make full use of that machinery and I understand that the process is still ongoing. The difficulties within An Post are long-standing and deep-seated and, therefore, obtaining agreement to a recovery strategy by all stakeholders has been difficult.

In regard to the non-payment of Sustaining Progress increases, in which An Post has invoked the "inability to pay" clause, the unions have referred this matter to the Labour Relations Commission, LRC, and the Labour Court. Following a hearing in the Labour Court in March 2005, the LRC appointed assessors to examine whether the company was correct to invoke the "inability to pay" clause. The assessors' report was presented to both parties in the LRC in early June. The key recommendation was for an increase of 5% backdated to 1 January 2005. An Post unions have not accepted this recommendation and the issue will now be referred to the Labour Court. An Post intends to implement the assessors' recommendation and will pay employees a 5% increase at the end of June 2005 backdated to 1 January 2005.

The Government decides the remuneration scale for the chairpersons of State bodies. Essentially, the remuneration package is dependent on the size of the body. Given its size and the importance of the services it provides, An Post is a category one State body and the fee level for the chairperson is €19,046 per annum. However, a higher fee level than the norm can be approved by the Minister for Finance for individual chairpersons. This tends to arise when a State body is facing particular challenges and the commitment required of the chairperson would be greater than the norm. The board of An Post would have no role in deciding the remuneration package for the chairperson.

The appointment of the current chairperson of An Post was made in February 2003 subject to payment of the normal fee for category one chairpersons. However, the chairperson sought an increased rate of remuneration in June 2003 arising from the significant time commitment that the chairperson considered was necessary. The fee sought was based on a rate per day that, when aggregated, amounted to an annual package of approximately €50,000. By this time, it was clear that An Post was facing significant challenges both on the financial and industrial relations fronts and, as a result, the chairperson of An Post considered that a greater time commitment than the norm was required.

The key role of the board was reiterated when my predecessor, Deputy Dermot Ahern, met the board in October 2003 and reminded its members of their crucial oversight obligations in regard to the recovery strategy for An Post. To reflect the importance of the role of the chairperson in overseeing the recovery strategy, it was decided by the Minister for Finance that the chairperson could be offered a remuneration package of €50,000 per annum which she has accepted. Members of the board at An Post are paid €12,635 per annum in line with Department of Finance guidelines.

Industrial Relations.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

287 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to a company (details supplied) which has announced recently that it plans to outsource its remaining three vessels that operate on the Irish Sea with low cost foreign labour and to fund this job replacement policy with a similar arrangement; the steps he proposes to take to prevent this policy being implemented; and his proposals to ensure that commitments guaranteed by both the Government and this company in respect of future employment of the workforce are met in full. [23752/05]

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources does not have a role in industrial relations matters. An agreed joint statement was issued from Irish Ferries and SIPTU on 16 June 2005, stating that the parties have agreed to appoint assessors to conduct a comprehensive review of operations encompassing the Irish Sea and continental corridors. The parties have requested the assessors to develop to set of recommendations designed to meet the requirements of the business for their consideration within a six week timeframe. According to the joint statement, it was also agreed that there would be no action in any form nor would there be any further media statements for the duration of the assessment process.

Water Pollution.

John Perry

Ceist:

288 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the measures his Department and the fisheries board intend to take following the Environmental Protection Agency report on water quality (details supplied). [23755/05]

Primary responsibility for protecting water quality rests with the relevant local authorities and proposals to deal with environmental threats in this area are a matter for these bodies to decide in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Under the Fisheries Acts, the central and regional fisheries boards that have primary responsibility for the protection, conservation and management of inland fisheries stocks and operate under the aegis of this Department are co-operating closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and its agencies in rolling out the water framework agenda. I am assured by the fisheries boards that for their part they will make every effort to ensure that under this agenda, sufficient priority and focus will be placed on addressing water quality and the impact on fisheries identified in the EPA reports.

Grant Payments.

John Perry

Ceist:

289 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if grant assistance will be provided to assist in the development of a marina at Fahan in County Donegal (details supplied); and the grants available to private developers of marinas in the State. [23756/05]

An application was submitted under the port infrastructure and marine safety measure, INTERREG IIIA Ireland-Northern Ireland programme for the development of a marina and onshore facilities at Fahan, Lough Swilly, County Donegal. The project is the subject of correspondence between the promoter's solicitors and the Chief State Solicitor in respect of compliance with the terms and conditions of the foreshore lease relating to the development. In the circumstances and pending the resolution of these fundamental issues, consideration of an application by the company for funding under the INTERREG programme cannot be progressed. Other than the INTERREG programme, since the suspension of the marine tourism grant scheme in December 2002, no funds have been available from the Department to support the development of marinas in the State.

Fishing Vessel Licences.

John Perry

Ceist:

290 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if a ship (details supplied) is having its name changed; if the shortfall in tonnage for said vessel will be made up; the history of said vessel; and if it will be used in the future for fishing purposes. [23757/05]

I understand that an application was made to my Department on 23 May 2005 for a name change for the vessel concerned. The ministerial consent required under section 67 of the Mercantile Marine Act 1955 in respect of the name change was conveyed to the vessel owners' solicitors on 26 May 2005. I understand that the name change for the vessel has not been effected yet pending completion of certain registration procedures by the vessel owners with the Registrar of Shipping at Sligo Port.

The Licensing Authority for Sea-fishing Boats, to which responsibility for the licensing of sea-fishing boats transferred under the Fisheries (Amendment) Act 2003, has informed me that there is no outstanding shortfall in replacement capacity in respect of the current vessel. Full replacement capacity was provided prior to licensing of the newly built vessel on 10 April 2001. Replacement tonnage was provided on the basis of gross registered tonnes in accordance with licensing policy in place at that time.

The licensing authority understands that the owners of the current vessel propose to introduce a new replacement vessel later this year and to register it under the present name on the vessel. It also understands that they propose to remove the current vessel from the register and expects that the capacity of the vessel will be used towards the licensing of the replacement vessel. Any shortfall in replacement capacity would need to be provided before the replacement vessel could be licensed and registered by the licensing authority. The licensing authority is not at this stage aware of the proposed future use of the current vessel following its deregistration. In the meantime it proposes to renew the sea-fishing boat licence for the vessel with effect from 1 July 2005.

Departmental Properties.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

291 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his Department’s interest in retaining a property (details supplied) in County Donegal; his Departments plans for this building and when it will be used; and if his Department will provide an explanation to the person in question regarding its intentions in this matter. [23759/05]

The Irish Coast Guard of the Department proposes to retain the property in question for the storage of emergency response and counter pollution equipment.

Fisheries Protection.

John Perry

Ceist:

292 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on the recent study by the Royal Irish Academy, Biology and the Environment: Threatened Irish Freshwater Fishes; and if he plans to draft a future programme to protect valuable native Irish species (details supplied). [23761/05]

On 15 June 2005, I was pleased to launch on behalf of the Royal Irish Academy and the Irish Char Conservation Group its publication on Threatened Irish Freshwater Fishes. This publication makes a very valuable contribution to our knowledge of some of Ireland's rare native species which are an important and unique aspect of our natural heritage. The publication brings together important information as to what these rare fish species are, their distribution and status as well as recommendations for their future conservation.

Under the Fisheries Acts, primary responsibility for the protection and conservation of freshwater fish stocks rests with the central and regional fisheries boards. I understand that measures to protect the species referred to in the Royal Irish Academy's publication are being taken by the fisheries boards in the context of the European Union's water framework directive. In this regard, I am advised by the Central Fisheries Board that the status of smelt, shads and lamprey populations is currently being investigated by it and the regional fisheries boards as part of the national fisheries research programme and in specific locations on behalf of the national parks and wildlife service and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

I am sure that the knowledge shared through the publication referred to by the Deputy will assist the fisheries boards meaningfully in their task of conserving and protecting these species. The central and regional fisheries boards are co-operating closely with other Departments and agencies in rolling out the water framework agenda. I am assured by the fisheries boards that for their part they will make every effort to ensure that, under this agenda, sufficient priority and focus will be placed on addressing the pressures on these particular species.

Inland Fisheries.

John Perry

Ceist:

293 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the measures he will take to help snap fishermen on the River Suir; and if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the outflow pipe (details supplied) was installed into the river by Tipperary County Council without any foreshore licensing. [23762/05]

I met representatives of snap net fishermen who operate on the River Suir inCarrick-on-Suir on 3 June. I have noted the issues and concerns that were raised at the meeting and will have the points that were put to me considered carefully in conjunction with the report on the matter that has been prepared by the Department's engineering division. The engineering division's report states that the effect on fishing of the waster water treatment plant outfall can only be described as localised and minor. The fishermen have also been invited to furnish to the Department copies of the fishing records for the section of the river that they say has been affected by the outfall. The formal granting of a licence under the Foreshore Acts in respect of the outfall is being finalised.

Research Funding.

John Perry

Ceist:

294 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the Government is financially supporting the marine research programmes on which Norway and Ireland are due to co-operate; the length of time co-operation is due to last between the two countries on this project; if the Government is financially supporting this co-operation, the length of time funding will last; and if funding will be increased if necessary for the programme. [23764/05]

The agreement for collaboration between the Marine Institute in Ireland and the Institute of Marine Research in Norway was set out in a memorandum of understanding signed on 15 June 2005. The programmes of research undertaken by the Marine Institute are funded through the annual grant made to it through the Department's Vote. The areas of collaboration include seabed, habitat and oceanographic surveys, fish farming and fish health, joint use of major equipment, exchange of personnel, collaboration on the ship time and best practice for the operation of research vessels. The collaboration will consist of creative exchange and facilities on approved national programmes at little additional cost to either partner.

Under the programme on fisheries acoustics, the annual blue whiting acoustic survey measures the size of the blue whiting stock as it aggregates to spawn off the west of Ireland. The RV Celtic Explorer, Ireland, and RV Geosars, Norway, work closely together and exchange personnel. The total cost of this project is €402,138, which is funded 50% by the Marine Institute and 50% by the EU. The survey fulfils Ireland’s obligations under the EU data collection regulation, EU Council Regulation 1543/2000. The memorandum of understanding is in force for a four-year period and it is not anticipated that any funding additional to that approved annually for the Marine Institute’s overall research programmes will be required. The collaboration is designed to be mutually beneficial and to enhance the quality of the research work undertaken, and it is anticipated that it will deliver considerable additional value for money.

Inland Fisheries.

John Perry

Ceist:

295 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the Fisheries Board has sourced the reason behind the recent fish kill of 600 trout and young salmon on the campus grounds of the University of Limerick; and the measures being put in place to prevent a similar reoccurrence. [23765/05]

Under the Fisheries Acts, primary responsibility for the protection, conservation and management of inland fisheries stocks is a matter for the relevant regional fisheries board, in this case the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board. I am advised by the chief executive officer of that board that a fish kill occurred on a mill stream off the main River Shannon at the University of Limerick on 11 June 2005. I understand that in the course of its investigation, the board observed a total of 544 dead fish in the millrace. While trout were the predominant species killed, other species killed included salmon parr, sea lamprey, dace, stoneloach and minnow.

The fisheries board advises me that it has now identified the suspected source of the pollution and is compiling the evidence necessary to consider initiating a prosecution in the matter. I understand that the board has already been in contact with the suspected offender and requested that certain works be undertaken to prevent a recurrence of the incident. In the wider context, the regional fisheries board is strongly urging people on or near rivers to recheck their pollution control systems to ensure that they are sufficient for the task required.

Water Quality.

John Perry

Ceist:

296 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the source behind these chemicals entering fish in the Liffey; the way in which his Department and the Fisheries Board are working to stop these chemicals interfering with fish. [23766/05]

Primary responsibility for protecting water quality rests with the relevant local authorities and proposals to deal with environmental threats in this area are a matter for these bodies to decide in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Under the Fisheries Acts, the central and regional fisheries boards have primary responsibility for the protection, conservation and management of inland fisheries stocks and operate under the aegis of this Department. They co-operate closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and its agencies.

In this regard, I understand that the Eastern Regional Fisheries Board provided assistance to the Environmental Protection Agency in its recent investigations carried out on water quality and its impact on fisheries in the River Liffey. I understand that the fisheries board agrees with the conclusion of the EPA that further investigations are required to identify and quantify the substances causing the oestrogenic effects. It is the board's view that such an analytical programme, due to its complexity, should be confined to locations where biological or oestrogenic effects are indicated. I am assured by the board's chief executive officer that it will continue to liaise with the EPA and give whatever assistance it can to further these investigations.

Departmental Expenditure.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

297 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the amount of his Department’s budgetary allocation for 2004; the amount of this allocation which was returned to the Department of Finance at year’s end; the Vote head from which such returned allocations were derived; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23975/05]

A total of €1.48 million of the Communications, Marine and Natural Resources 2004 Estimate provision was surrendered to the Exchequer. A table shows the budgets and outturns at a subhead level in 2004 for expenditure together with total estimated and actual receipts. The surrender to the Exchequer in any one year is a function of both expenditure and receipts in that year. It is not possible, therefore, to associate the surrender with specific subheads, although the table below does set out details of variations from planned expenditure at subhead level that contributed to overall gross savings.

In general, savings under the annual Vote provisions arise within capital expenditure programmes. Prior to the introduction of the multi-annual capital investment framework in 2004, Departments were allocated within the annual Estimates process a capital budget for the current year. No provision was made for the carry over of any capital savings to future years. This process did not facilitate best practice multi-annual project planning or guarantee the position in respect of future allocations for capital projects.

The multi-annual capital investment framework, announced by the Minister for Finance in the December 2003 budget, provides for multi-annual capital envelopes of five years and year-to-year carry overs and addresses these difficulties by enabling Departments and their agencies to plan and manage more efficiently and effectively their capital investment programmes. Savings arising in one year can now be carried forward to fund future requirements as part of a multi-annual capital investment plan. A total of €10 million of overall 2004 savings were, accordingly, carried over to 2005. The framework will also ensure that both a proper balance is maintained between different areas of investment and that value for money is obtained from capital investment.

Subhead

Estimate

Outturn

Carryover to 2005

Total Appropriated (2+3)

Variation (4-1)

(€000s)

(€000s)

(€000s)

(€000s)

(€000s)

1

2

3

4

5

A1-A9

Administration

49,419

55,493

55,493

6,074

B1

Irish Coast Guard

25,984

23,633

500

24,133

-1,851

B2

Maritime Safety & Marine Regulation

4,893

4,677

4,677

-216

C1

Seaports & Shipping

2,039

1,408

1,408

-631

C2

Development & Upgrading of Harbours for Fishery Purposes

21,243

14,272

1,270

15,542

-5,701

C3

Coast Protection & Management

780

2,117

2,117

1,337

C4

Marine & Natural Resources Tourism Programme

2,851

11

11

-2,840

C5

Foreshore Development

849

82

82

-767

D1

Marine Institute (Grant-in-Aid)

18,956

18,952

500

19,452

496

D2

Salmon Research Agency

259

259

259

D3

National Seabed Survey

4,300

4,514

500

5,014

714

E1

Bord Iascaigh Mhara

28,475

28,475

28,475

E2

Fisheries Conservation & Management

2,300

1,558

350

1,908

-392

E3

Fish Processing

1,500

1,045

1,045

-455

E4

Aquaculture Development

4,930

4,462

445

4,907

-23

E5

Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board

263

252

252

-11

F

Inland Fisheries

23,018

21,880

1,665

23,545

527

G1

Petroleum Services

2,579

2,579

2,579

G2

Energy Conservation (Grant-in-Aid)

13,741

13,741

13,741

G3

Farm Electrification Grant Scheme

150

65

65

-85

H1

Regional Broadband & Technology Demonstration Programme

32,500

26,450

4,770

31,220

-1,280

H2

Multimedia Development

1,270

1,271

1,271

1

I1

Grant to RTE for Broadcasting Licence Fees (Grant-in-Aid)

167,294

160,569

160,569

-6,725

I2

Payment to An Post for Collection of Broadcasting Licence Fees

12,229

12,189

12,189

-40

I3

Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (Grant-in-Aid)

6,345

4,991

4,991

-1,354

I4

RTE — Deontas i leith Theilifis na Gaeilge (Deontas-i-gCabhair)

24,161

24,161

24,161

I5

Broadcasting Fund

8,804

8,451

8,451

-353

J

Change Management Fund

300

192

192

-108

K

Other Services

4,496

3,331

3,331

-1,165

Total

465,928

441,080

10,000

451,080

-14,848

Receipts

208,346

194,977

194,977

13,369

Net Outturn-Surrender

257,582

246,103

10,000

256,103

-1,479

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

298 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the amount his Department has spent to date in 2005 on the implementation of the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003; his estimate of the amount which his Department will spend on the implementation of the Official Languages Act 2003 for the full year in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24009/05]

My Department provisionally estimates that €13,300 has been spent to date in 2005 on the implementation of the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003. My Department is not in a position to provide an estimate of expenditure for the full year. Expenditure will continue to be monitored closely.

Natural Gas Grid.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

299 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if there are plans to introduce regulations regarding the qualifications of gas installers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24044/05]

Natural gas and, in particular, the safe use of this important resource is a key priority. I have undertaken to strengthen existing legislation with the aim of enhancing public safety and reducing the number of gas related accidents taking place annually. To this end, I have obtained Government approval to prioritise the drafting of natural gas safety legislation that will be included in the energy (miscellaneous provisions) Bill.

The legislation being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel provides, inter alia, that the promotion and regulation of safety in the downstream natural gas sector, including gas installers, shall become a function of the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER. Stemming from this, it is proposed the CER will establish and implement a natural gas safety regulatory framework and report to me on its functioning.

In parallel with this process, my Department has carried out a public consultation process in conjunction with the CER in respect of natural gas safety, both as a clear signal to the market of my intention to see regulation strengthened in this area and also to allow the sector to provide positive inputs on the new safety regime proposed. The legislation also provides for a scheme of regulation specifically aimed at gas installers. Such a scheme will ensure that all future work on natural gas fittings conforms to the appropriate safety standards. It will also make it unlawful for any person who is not a certified natural gas installer to work on a natural gas fitting.

Regional Fisheries Boards.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

300 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will intervene in and review the unjust fishing permit system on the River Suck; if he will meet with a delegation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24100/05]

As I have already informed the House several times, under the Fisheries Acts 1959 to 2001 the regional fisheries boards are empowered to apply a permit charge for angling on fisheries under their control and management. However, the application of such a permit charge is an operational matter solely for the relevant board to decide, in this instance the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, and is not an issue over which I as Minister of State have any function.

I am advised by the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board that it has had a permit charge for trout angling for many years on fisheries that it controls and manages in the region. I understand that the fisheries board, in reviewing its management and the fees charged for its fisheries in 2002, decided to extend the permit charges to cover coarse angling on the board controlled fisheries on the basis that it was unfair to charge one angler to fish for one species while another angler fishing for a different species on the same water was not charged.

The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board assures me that the permit income is reinvested in the conservation and day-to-day management and development of these fisheries. In this regard, the board is actively promoting the region's fisheries abroad in partnership with tourist bodies and others relevant interested parties. However, the board advises me that while the Suck Valley Development Co-Operative Limited was invited to participate in this approach, it has so far declined to take part. As this is an operational matter for the board to determine, it would be inappropriate for me to intervene.

Departmental Appointments.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

301 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide a list of the vacancies on the boards of statutory or State bodies and other statutory appointments which currently exist and which must be made by him or the Government; the reason, in each case, for the vacancy; and when each vacancy will be filled. [24179/05]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

302 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide a list of boards of statutory or State bodies and statutory appointments to which vacancies are expected to fall due between now and 31 December 2005 for appointments to be made by him or the Government; and the mechanisms envisaged by which the appointees will be selected. [24193/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 301 and 302 together.

The information requested by the Deputy is provided in a table. Vacancies will be filled as soon as practicable.

Current vacancies and reason why occurring

Method of appointment

Vacancies occurring to end of 2005 and reason why occurring

Method of appointment

Communications

Broadcasting Complaints Commission

No current vacancies

Nine vacancies on 5 September 2005. Term of all board members expires

Appointed by Government. Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act 1976, section 4(8)

Digital Hub

Three current vacancies. 11 current members but board has potential for 14

Ministerial nominations. Digital Hub Development Agency Act 2003, paragraphs 15(10) and (11)

No vacancies to end of 2005

Electronic Communications Appeals Panel

One current vacancy. Resignation of member

Ministerial nominations. European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services)(Framework) Regulations 2003. S.I. 307/2003, sections 6 and 7

Three vacancies on 21 September 2005. Term of members expires

Ministerial nominations. European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services)(Framework) Regulations 2003. S.I. 307/2003, sections 6 and 7

RTE

Two vacancies, one pending election of a staff representative.

Appointed by Government. Broadcasting Authority Act 1960 — Section 6

No further vacancies to end of 2005

Energy

Bord Gáis

Two current vacancies. Expiry of terms

Ministerial nomination. Gas Act 1976 — first Schedule, para 7

One vacancy on 2 October 2005. Expiry of term

Ministerial nomination. Gas Act 1976 — first Schedule, para 7

Bord na Móna

Two current vacancies. Expiry of terms

Ministerial nomination, with consent of Minister for Finance. Turf Development Act 1998, section 18(2)

One vacancy on 31 December 2005

Ministerial nomination, with consent of Minister for Finance. Turf Development Act 1998, section 18(2)

EirGrid

One current vacancy. Resignation of member

Ministerial nomination with consent of Minister for Finance. S.I. No. 445/2000: European Communities (Internal Market in Electricity) Regulations, 2000, Section 53(9)

No further vacancies to end of 2005

ESB

One current vacancy. Deceased

Appointed by Government. Electricity (Supply) Act 1927 — Section 5(1)

One vacancy on 5 September 2005. Expiry of term

Appointed by Government. Electricity (Supply) Act 1927 — Section 5(1)

Sustainable Energy Ireland

Three current vacancies. Expiry of term

Ministerial nomination. Sustainable Energy Act 2002, sections 10(13) & (15)

No further vacancies to end of 2005

Natural Resources

Bord Iascaigh Mhara

One current vacancy. Expiry of term

Ministerial nomination. Sea Fisheries (Amendment) Act 1952 Schedule, para 2(7)

No further vacancies to end of 2005

Loughs Agency

No current vacancies

Six vacancies 12 December 2005. Expiry of term

Cross-Border Body. North-South Ministerial Council appointments. British-Irish Agreement Act 1999, Anne