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 16, inclusive, answered orally.

School Accommodation.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

17 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount being spent on prefabricated buildings in the education sector since 2000; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27575/05]

In the five years since 2000 my Department has spent €39.2 million on the rental of temporary school accommodation, mainly in primary schools. In addition, my Department spent €73.5 million over the same period, on the purchase of prefabricated buildings in the primary and post-primary sectors.

This expenditure was for the supply and installation of prefabricated buildings including associated site works and other costs, such as for compliance with planning permission conditions, professional fees, connections for water, electricity and sewage, represents less than 5% of the total expenditure on school buildings —€1.6 billion — over the five year period from 2000 to the end of 2004.

The demand for additional accommodation in schools has risen significantly in recent years mainly due to the rapid expansion in teacher numbers particularly in the area of special needs, the growth in the school-going population in rapidly developing areas and the demands to cater for diversity rough the recognition of new Gaelscoileanna and Educate Together schools.

The current focus within my Department is to empower schools to resolve their accommodation needs, wherever possible by way of permanent accommodation. To reduce the amount of temporary accommodation at primary level an initiative was launched in 2003. The purpose of this initiative is to allow primary schools to undertake a permanent solution to their classroom accommodation needs and to achieve the best value for money. The feedback from the 20 schools in that pilot initiative was very positive and the initiative was expanded to 44 primary schools in 2004 and more than 70 schools were invited to participate in this initiative in 2005.

As a result of this initiative the amount spent on the purchase of prefabricated buildings in 2004 was just half of what had been spent in 2003.

Applications for funding through this initiative, during 2006, are currently being received in my Department. The closing date for receipt of these applications is next Friday, 14 October.

Institutes of Technology.

John Perry

Ceist:

18 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science the cost of the management information system for the institutes of technology; the total cost of the consultancy involved in this project; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27534/05]

Damien English

Ceist:

95 Mr. English asked the Minister for Education and Science if the management information system for institutes of technology has been completed; the cost of the system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27535/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 95 together.

Installation of the management information system for the 14 institutes of technology and the Tipperary Rural and Business Development Institute has been completed.

The MIS system comprises four integrated elements — a student registration system, a financial system, a payroll-human resource system and a library system. The system tracks all student records including registration, courses, link modules and examination performance. The financial system provides for individual budget responsibility within the institutes and it produces annual accounts. The payroll-human resource system links with the student system to facilitate time-tabling. The library system tracks all movements of materials and also facilitates on-line access to journals and articles by students and staff.

The project involved some 59 installations of hardware and software across the institutions. By the end of 2004, 57 of the 59 installations had been completed and the remaining two were completed this year. The cost of the project was €44.8 million.

I understand the MIS has proved to be a critical and decisive element in the modernisation and transformation of the management and operation of the institutes of technology. It has produced major benefits for students.

The project was implemented by a consortium of the institutes with the lead role on the day to day management undertaken by the Dublin Institute of Technology. The detailed information on the consultancy elements of the cost is being compiled and I will forward the information to the Deputies.

Higher Education Grants.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

19 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science if she intends to centralise the administration of the third level college grant scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22310/05]

David Stanton

Ceist:

107 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to reform the system of administration of grants and supports for all third level courses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27685/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 107 together.

Third level student support is currently provided through three means-tested maintenance grant schemes. The higher education grants scheme operates on a statutory basis, while the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme and the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees operate on an administrative basis. The statutory framework for maintenance grants under the higher education grants scheme is set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992.

In accordance with the commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government I plan to introduce a single unified scheme of maintenance grants for students in higher education. This will provide for a more coherent administration system which will facilitate consistency of application and improved client accessibility. This is necessary if we are to ensure public confidence in the awards system and ensure the timely delivery of grants to those who need them most.

My Department has been engaged in ongoing consultations with the key stakeholders such as the Irish Vocational Educational Association, the County and City Managers' Association, various social partners and other relevant Departments, including the Department of Social and Family Affairs and the Revenue Commissioners, in order to map the most logical and effective arrangements for the future structure and administration of the student support schemes.

These discussions have substantially clarified the positions of the stakeholders in relation to the future administration possibilities for student support and their possible role.

I expect to be in a position shortly to determine the best strategy to give effect to the programme for Government commitment to the payment of the maintenance grants through a unified and flexible payment scheme.

Whatever new arrangements are eventually decided upon will be provided for, as I previously indicated, in new statutory arrangements through a Student Support Bill. This Bill, which will provide statutory underpinning for the schemes, will have as a key objective the promotion of equality of access. I also envisage that the Bill will provide for an independent appeals system. The timescale for the publication of this Bill is contingent on the range of issues which are the subject of the deliberations following the consultations to which I referred.

Question No. 20 answered with QuestionNo. 8.

Educational Services for People with Disabilities.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

21 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Education and Science the services available for students with disabilities in the institutes of technology; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27576/05]

At present, there is a range of support services for students with a disability in the institute of technology sector. These include learning support, including needs assessment and support for students with learning difficulties; assistive technology services and the provision of additional support staff such as sign-language interpreters or note takers. Students who have difficulty with public transport also receive special assistance. The supports and services are resourced through the annual allocation of funding for the institutes, and by a further €2.4 million allocated through the fund for students with disabilities which assists students with a disability with their studies across all institutes of technology.

Technology in Education.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

22 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science her proposals to assist third level institutions in making Ireland a centre of excellence in e-learning; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27310/05]

I am very committed to supporting the use of ICT in higher education, as a means to enhance teaching and learning, to widen and increase participation in higher education, and to allow the institutions to develop excellence and international reputation in this area.

The Deputy will be aware that ICT is becoming an increasingly important part of the process of teaching, learning and research at third level. Internationally, there have been significant advances in the use of ICT as a means to enhance academic programmes.

Since 2000, the HEA in its funding allocations to the universities and other HEA funded institutions has used a small portion of the block grant to fund a strategic initiative scheme for the HEA designated third level institutions. This scheme allows institutions to make competitive bids for projects contributing to areas of strategic or national interest. In this context, the HEA has provided up to €1 million per annum for the development of technology in education over the past four years. The basic purpose is to use technology to enhance teaching and learning within the institutions, and a variety of pilot schemes have been supported in that time. The HEA is particularly anxious to use this scheme to foster collaborative proposals between institutions. This is particularly important in the case of technology in education, where investment typically needs to be large to achieve results.

The programme has supported the development of integrated pedagogy and technology support centres such as the Centre for Learning Technology, TCD, the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, NUIM, and the Learning Technology Unit, UCC. More recently the HEA approved a collaborative proposal from all seven universities for the implementation of a national digital learning repository. The basic purpose of the project is to investigate and develop a framework to enable development and sharing of digital learning resources between Irish universities. In 2005, with support from the Department of Education and Science the initiative has been joined by DIT and the institutes of technology, making it fully sectoral in scope.

In September of this year, the CEO of the HEA signed a memorandum of co-operation with the director of the Joint Information Systems Committee of the UK which has responsibility for e-learning developments in the UK, which is designed to foster and enhance co-operation in this area going forward.

The HEA's e-learning strategy is based on meeting the greater diversity of student needs, increasing flexibility of provision, and enhancing the capacity for integrating study with work and leisure through work-based and home-based learning.

The HEA is aware of the sizeable e-learning industry in Ireland and the opportunities this presents. It is keen to develop co-operation with IDA Ireland and the industry to make Ireland a centre for excellence in e-learning.

The Deputy will also be aware that in April of this year I announced my commitment to a strategic innovation fund, which will be used to support and enable change in the higher education sector. I have asked the HEA to develop proposals in relation to the structuring of a call for proposals. However, I have already signalled that proposals which incorporate developments in e-learning, as a means to support teaching and learning, and access, will be welcome.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

23 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will consider adding further institutions to the list included under the remit of the Residential Institutions Redress Board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27674/05]

The Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002 provides a statutory scheme of financial redress for persons who, as children, were abused while in residential institutional care for which the State had a regulatory or supervisory responsibility.

The scheme applies in respect of institutions specified in the Schedule to the Act. Section 4 of the Act provides that the Minister for Education and Science may, by order, provide for the insertion in the Schedule of additional institutions in which children were placed and resident and in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function.

Since the enactment of the legislation, my Department has been contacted by individuals and-or solicitors in relation to various institutions not specified in the Schedule. Following consideration of the matter and consultation with relevant public bodies, I signed an order on 9 November 2004 which provided for the inclusion of 13 additional institutions in the Schedule. A further order was made on 1 July 2005 to include another three institutions.

The question of including additional institutions has now been fully considered by my Department in consultation with relevant Departments and it is not proposed to add any further institutions to the Schedule at this juncture.

School Vending Machines.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

24 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science if the contracts for the provision of new schools through public private partnership will ensure that school managements have control over the selling of food and drink products on the school campus; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27650/05]

John Deasy

Ceist:

64 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science if the provision of vending machines will be part of the latest round of public private partnership contracts for school buildings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27587/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24 and 64 together.

Vending machines may be placed in schools at the discretion of the board of management and are currently in most post-primary schools.

In the case of the existing five PPP schools while the operator is responsible for vending machines, the location, content and availability of vending machines were agreed through discussion between the operator and the school authorities concerned.

It is my intention that under my Department's new PPP programme any contract will provide that the school authorities will have the final say on the location, content and availability of vending machines.

Third Level Funding.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

25 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science her response to concerns expressed by third level institutions that they cannot compete on an international level due to shortages of funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27677/05]

In 2005 I have provided recurrent funding of €671 million to the university sector and €475 million to the institute of technology sector. This represents an increase of approximately €41 million or almost 6.5% on the 2004 provision to the university sector and more than €30 million or 7.5% in 2004 comparable funding for the institute of technology sector. The additional funding being provided in 2005 marks a return to the significant upward trend in recurrent funding for the sector.

The overall funding, capital and current, for the third level sector, which I secured in 2005, amounts to some €1.6 billion. In 1997 when this Government took office the amount of funding provided to the third level sector was approximately €850 million. The funding being provided in 2005 represents an increase of approximately €750 million or 88% on the 1997 provision.

The OECD review of Irish higher education highlighted the key role of the sector for our future social and economic development. This echoes the report of the Government enterprise strategy group, which states that Ireland's economic development, and the social dividends that flow from that, will depend to a large degree on knowledge and innovation. Supporting our higher education institutions in playing that central role is a major policy priority for the Government.

The Deputy will also note that in 2005 there has been an increase of approximately 36% on the 2004 provision in recurrent research funding. This is evidence of my personal, and indeed the Government's, commitment to research programmes, which play a vital role in developing world-class capabilities in research and innovation and give the higher education institutions the necessary resources to meet the challenges of the knowledge society in Ireland.

Education Welfare Service.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

26 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to allocate additional resources to the education welfare board to increase the number of education welfare officers throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27668/05]

The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

To discharge its responsibilities the board is developing a nationwide service that is accessible to schools, parents-guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, educational welfare officers, EWOs, are being appointed and deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare-focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the board's functions locally.

The service is developing on a continuing basis. The total authorised staffing complement of the board is 94 comprising 16 headquarters and support staff, five regional managers, 11 senior educational welfare officers and 62 educational welfare officers. Towns which have an educational welfare officer allocated to them include Dundalk, Drogheda, Navan, Athlone, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Bray, Clonmel, Tralee, Ennis, Sligo, Naas, Castlebar, Longford, Tuam, Tullamore, Letterkenny and Portlaoise. In addition, the board will follow up on urgent cases nationally where children are not currently receiving an education. Since September 2005 every county in Ireland is served by an educational welfare service.

In addition to the NEWB staff there are some 490 staff in education disadvantage programmes whose work involves a school attendance element. My Department is anxious to ensure that the maximum benefit is derived from these substantial personnel resources. Consequently work is ongoing to develop appropriate protocols for integrated working between the different services involved.

I will be keeping the issue of the NEWB's staffing under review in the light of the rollout of services, the scope for integrated working and any proposals that the board puts to me in relation to clearly identified priority needs.

Vocational Education Committees.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

27 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has received an application from Donegal VEC for funding towards the development of phase 3 of Gartan Outdoor Education Centre; and if a grant will be allocated to enable this phase to be completed. [27311/05]

An application and related correspondence has been received from County Donegal Vocational Education Committee requesting funding towards the development of phase 3 of Gartan Outdoor Education Centre.

The position in relation to the capital project which is currently under way at Gartan has been outlined by the vocational education committee and this is being considered by officials in the planning and building unit of my Department.

All applications for capital funding are prioritised on the basis of the prioritisation criteria which was revised in 2004 in consultation with the education partners and this proposal is part of this process with a view to inclusion as part of the School Building and Modernisation Programme 2005-2009.

Schools Evaluation.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

28 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Education and Science if her Department will be bringing forward proposals for the release of information on the operation of schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27560/05]

As the Deputy will be aware, I am determined to provide more information, for parents in particular, about our schools, in a way that ensures a fair and comprehensive picture of all the different activities in a school.

As I have said on many occasions, I am strongly opposed to the publication of crude league tables based solely on examination or test results. Such tables provide an unbalanced and grossly limited indication of a school's performance.

In contrast to school league tables, I believe that school inspection reports from whole school evaluations, WSE, and other inspections, when read in their entirety, can provide balanced and well-informed information on schools. The whole school evaluation process involves an examination of all the varied activities of a school — from the quality of teaching and learning to the availability of extra-curricular activities and the implementation of policies in areas such as bullying, and health and safety. The inspection process also includes consultation with the school's board, parents and staff members, and, at second level, with the school's students.

WSE reports can, therefore, provide valuable information on the educational and social opportunities provided by a school. The comments that they contain are also fully sensitive to the context in which the school operates in a way that is not possible with league tables.

Given the breadth of the contents of WSE reports, the publication of these and other school inspection reports could go a significant way to addressing the real needs of parents, students, teachers and others for better information on schools. The type of information provided in WSE reports will help parents who need accurate and balanced information. WSE reports also contain valuable information that will be of interest to schools who may wish to learn from the experience of others.

I am determined to progress this matter in a sensible and responsible way and to ensure that the views of all the education partners are considered before the publication process is finalised.

During the summer, I put in place a mechanism whereby this can take place. The inspectorate of my Department has held no less than 20 meetings with interested parties over the past month, and is currently preparing draft guidelines for the publication of inspection reports which will be circulated shortly to the education partners. Responses to the draft guidelines will then be sought and a final draft of the proposals will be submitted to me in December.

I intend that the publication of school inspection reports will commence from January 2006 for all inspections carried out from the start of the calendar year 2006.

While I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation process, I would like to say the discussions held to date have been very fruitful and constructive. I know that each of the partners realises the need to address the information deficit that exists at present in terms of ensuring full public access to balanced information on schools. This is especially important to those, who like myself, are opposed to the publication of league tables and want to find a better way.

I was very disappointed to hear the Deputy say over the summer that she is in favour of the publication of exam results by schools. While I appreciate that she also said she is not in favour of league tables, I believe it is naive to think that the publication of each school's examination results would not lead to exactly that.

I am confident the considered and responsible approach that we are taking to the publication of inspection reports will lead to much greater availability of information on schools without inadvertently pitting schools serving entirely different communities against each other in crude comparisons of academic performance alone.

Education Welfare Service.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

29 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will amend the Education Welfare Act 2000 in order that children under the age of six, if in full-time education, will be included under the terms of the legislation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27549/05]

The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance.

The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

Under the Act, parents are required to ensure that children aged between six and 16 attend school regularly. This legal obligation does not extend to children under six years of age. However, schools are required to record and monitor absences for all students regardless of age. In addition, schools must report concerns about the educational welfare of individual students, including those aged under six, to the educational welfare officer who will then work with the family, the school and other services where appropriate to improve attendance.

My Department has no proposals to amend the legislation in relation to children under six years of age.

Literacy Levels.

Damien English

Ceist:

30 Mr. English asked the Minister for Education and Science the percentage of young people leaving secondary school with literacy difficulties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27581/05]

There is no facility within the education system to measure the percentage of young people leaving post-primary schools with literacy difficulties. However, the results of PISA, the programme of international student assessment, provide detailed information on the standards of reading literacy among Irish 15-year-olds.

In the second cycle of PISA, which was carried out in 2003, Ireland ranked sixth in reading out of the 29 OECD countries for which results were analysed. Just three countries, Finland, Korea and Canada, had significantly higher scores than Ireland.

The percentage of Irish students in the 2003 survey whose performance in reading was at or below level 1, the lowest level of proficiency, was 11%. The corresponding OECD average was 19.1%. The results of the first cycle of PISA which took place in 2000 displayed similar differences in favour of Ireland. These outcomes provide strong evidence that, with regard to reading, there are proportionately fewer low achieving students in Ireland compared to the OECD.

Closer examination of the category of low achievement referred to above reveals that 2.7% of Irish students performed below level 1 compared with the OECD average of 6.7%. This indicates that the proportion of students with serious reading difficulties in Ireland is less than half that of the OECD average. The results of PISA 2000 provide similar evidence with regard to the prevalence of reading difficulties of this nature among Irish 15-year-olds.

Notwithstanding what I have outlined, young people with poor levels of literacy are a source of concern for my Department. To address their needs, learning support teacher services are available to all second level schools. Currently, there are 531 whole-time teacher equivalent posts for learning support. In addition, a total of 1,599 whole-time teacher posts are provided at second level to cater for students with special educational needs. All of these teachers prioritise the development of literacy skills. There are also a number of initiatives at post-primary level that have students with literacy difficulties as their target group. The junior certificate school programme focuses specifically on developing literacy skills and schools participating in the school completion programme are given considerable financial resources to provide targeted students with opportunities to improve their literacy skills in accordance with their identified needs.

DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, the new action plan for educational inclusion that I launched last May, includes the expansion of a number of measures designed to improve literacy levels among pupils in disadvantaged communities. These measures include increased funding for the school book grant scheme which is paid to schools based on the number of needy pupils enrolled. Also included is the extension of the demonstration library project under the junior certificate school programme, JCSP, on a phased basis to additional second level schools. This will support the implementation of whole school literacy strategies in the schools concerned.

The reduction of the numbers of students with literacy difficulties continues to be a key priority for my Department

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

31 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science her timescale for reducing class size at both primary and post-primary level to EU norms; when she will implement the undertaking in An Agreed Programme for Government that the average size of classes for children under nine years will be brought below the international best practice guideline of 20:1; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27659/05]

Significant improvements have been made in the pupil-teacher ratio and in average class size in recent years at primary level. The most recent figure available for average class size at primary level refers to the 2003-04 school year, when the average class size was 23.9, down from 26.6 in 1996-97. The pupil-teacher ratio at primary level, which includes all the teachers including resource teachers, has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 17.1:1 — projected — in 2004-05.

At post-primary level the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen from 16:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 13.6:1 in the 2003-04 school year.

More than 4,500 additional teachers have been employed in our primary schools since 1997. In allocating teaching posts regard has been had to the commitments of the Government to reduce class size, tackle educational disadvantage and to provide additional resources for pupils with special educational needs. The additional teaching posts created since 1997 have been deployed to address all of these priorities.

In relation to providing for children with special educational needs, there are now more than 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares to under 1,500 in 1998. One out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.

The Deputy will be aware of the new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, which I launched recently. This action plan will result in the reduction in class sizes of 24:1 at senior level and 20:1 at junior level in 150 primary schools serving communities with the highest concentrations of disadvantage.

In line with the commitment in the programme for Government, class sizes will be reduced still further. The deployment of additional posts will be decided within the context of the overall policy that priority will be given to pupils with special needs, those from disadvantaged areas and junior classes.

Educational Integration.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

32 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps being taken to integrate students of different nationalities into the education system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27545/05]

The Department has been active for several years in promoting anti-racism and interculturalism in schools. A range of actions are in place to promote anti-racism and support the participation of minority groups and Travellers in education. These include: information for schools on the integration of asylum seekers and Travellers; additional resources for schools to support the needs of students for whom English is not the mother tongue; resource packs for schools prepared by organisations such as the National Consultative Committee on Anti-Racism and Interculturalism; a video for second level schools highlighting excerpts from the "Mono" TV programme; materials and training for teachers through funding the work of Integrate Ireland Language Training and other bodies; and development by the NCCA of guidelines for primary and post-primary teachers on how the existing curriculum can be mediated and adapted to reflect the emergence of an expanding multicultural society. The primary guidelines have been issued to schools, and the post-primary guidelines are expected to be ready by the end of the year. Other actions include: supports provided by the Reception and Integration Agency to assist in the integration of refugees and asylum seekers into schools; and expanding provision for language and literacy tuition for adults for whom English is not the mother tongue through the VEC literacy services.

A total of 595 additional teachers at primary and second level are provided to support the needs of pupils for whom English is not the mother tongue, at an annual cost of circa €26.8 million. Almost 20,000 pupils from outside Ireland participate in schools at primary, second level and in PLC courses from over 148 countries around the world, almost 6,000 adult learners avail of tuition in English as a second language through the VEC adult literacy services, and 620 students take part in Back to Education initiative part-time programmes specifically targeted at disadvantaged minority groups.

The new curricula at primary and post-primary levels provide ample opportunity to extend students' awareness of the wider world and to learn about the lives and histories of people in other countries, and of their contributions to art and science. In particular, the social personal and health education programmes at primary and post-primary levels are designed to prepare students for participatory citizenship and to develop the skills of critical appraisal and decision-making based on human rights and social responsibilities. They also promote a respect for human dignity, tolerance for the values and beliefs of others, and a celebration of diversity.

School Transport.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

33 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if there will be a review of the rules governing access to school transport in the case of school amalgamation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27558/05]

Under my Department's school transport scheme the general rule is that where an amalgamation occurs, pupils residing in a closed school area may be deemed eligible for transport to the school of amalgamation only.

My immediate priority is the enhancement of safety on school transport services, after which other issues, such as that raised by the Deputy, may be considered for review.

Teaching Qualifications.

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

34 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Education and Science if she intends to bring the Irish language entry requirements for primary teaching courses into line with those for English and mathematics; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27570/05]

My Department specifies the minimum academic requirements for entry to primary teacher training courses provided in the colleges of education. As part of these requirements, all candidates, including school leavers, mature students and university graduates, must have a minimum of a grade C in higher level in Irish in the leaving certificate or an approved equivalent. This requirement embodies both the written and oral element of a student's proficiency in Irish.

My Department considers it to be the minimum standard in Irish necessary for students entering a teacher training course which will equip them to teach Irish to pupils at all levels in primary schools.

I have no plans to change the entry requirements to primary teacher training courses at present.

Third Level Institutions.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

35 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on the OECD report on third level education institutions here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27314/05]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

38 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of recommendations from the recent OECD report on higher education here that she intends to actively prioritise over the coming 12 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27585/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 38 together.

The OECD review of Irish higher education makes a series of far-reaching recommendations for reform and development of the sector against the backdrop of Ireland seeking to become a leading knowledge-based society. The Government has approved the broad reform agenda outlined by the OECD and also the bringing forward of legislative proposals to transfer responsibility for management of the institutes of technology to the Higher Education Authority.

This Bill is currently being drafted and effecting this transfer will be a key priority of my Department in the coming year. The bringing together of universities and institutes of technology under a common management structure will facilitate the development of a more strategic approach to higher education within a unified policy framework and the gradual devolution to the institutes of technology of greater academic and managerial autonomy.

In April of this year, I outlined a detailed response to the OECD recommendations. It is clear that many challenges lie ahead and that our higher education institutions require support in equipping themselves to meet the demands of the knowledge society. With this in mind, I announced my intention to create a strategic innovation fund to incentivise reform and modernisation in the sector. My Department and the Higher Education Authority are in discussions about the detailed criteria which should apply to the fund and I anticipate that a first call for proposals will be issued in 2006. I understand that proposals by the HEA for a new funding model for institutions under its remit are also at an advanced stage.

Progress has also been made on other issues raised in the OECD review, in particular the recommendation that research and development issues should be co-ordinated across Government. The valuable work being done by the Office of the Chief Science Adviser to the Government, along with the Cabinet Committee on Science Technology and Innovation, is facilitating the development of a united approach to policy development in this area and will ensure that national objectives can be pursued and achieved within a joined up strategy.

I have signalled my intention to develop comprehensive new legislation to give effect to those OECD recommendations that will involve legislative change. I have also made it quite clear that any proposals I bring forward will take account of the views of the many stakeholders in higher education.

Psychological Service.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

36 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of psychologists employed by the National Educational Psychological Service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27571/05]

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

89 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of psychologists employed by the National Educational Psychological Service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27661/05]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

104 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science the result of the recent recruitment competition conducted by the Public Appointments Service for educational psychologists; the way in which that was constrained by the limit on public sector numbers; the further way in which the current geographical imbalance in the location of educational psychologists was factored into the recruitment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27662/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36, 89 and 104 together.

The complement of psychologists in the NEPS has increased almost three-fold from 43 psychologists on establishment to 124 psychologists at present.

All schools that do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA, whereby the schools can commission assessments from a member of the panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the fees directly to the psychologists concerned. Details of this scheme, including the conditions that apply to it, are available on my Department's website.

The NEPS also provides assistance to all schools that suffer from critical incidents, regardless of whether they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them. Also, in relation to all post-primary schools, the NEPS processes applications for reasonable accommodations in certificate examinations.

On behalf of my Department, the Public Appointments Service recently completed a new recruitment competition for educational psychologists for the NEPS. Candidates were asked to indicate their preferences for regions so that appointments may be made on the basis of identified priority of need on a regional basis. In all, 41 psychologists have been placed on panels.

My Department has recently started the process of appointing eight psychologists from these panels. Four psychologists will be recruited for the mid-west region, covering counties Limerick, Clare and Tipperary, two psychologists will be recruited for the south western area of the eastern region, covering parts of Dublin West, Kildare and Wicklow and one each will be recruited for the north-west, covering Sligo, Donegal and Leitrim, and the south-east, covering Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and Carlow.

Any increase in the number of psychologists in the NEPS must take account of Government policy on public sector numbers.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

37 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science her Department’s estimate of the cost of payments of compensation by the Residential Institutions Redress Board to persons who suffered institutional abuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27664/05]

The Residential Institutions Redress Board is an independent body established under statute in December 2002 to provide financial redress to persons who, as children, were abused while resident in industrial schools, reformatories or other institutions that were subject to State regulation or inspection.

Based on the latest information from the redress board, it is estimated that the total cost of the redress scheme, including legal and administration costs, may be of the order of €800 million. I should emphasise that this is very much a tentative estimate and is subject to change in the light of the ongoing administration of the scheme. The final cost of the scheme will not be known until end 2007 or early 2008 when all applications have been processed by the board.

I would also like to point out that the cost of the redress scheme should be viewed in the context of the Government's concern to provide reasonable compensation towards the hurt and suffering experienced by victims of child abuse and the very substantial costs that would have been incurred in any event if no such scheme had been established and if cases had been processed in the normal manner through the courts.

Question No. 38 answered with QuestionNo. 35.

Garda Vetting Procedures.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

39 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Education and Science when all school teachers will be subject to vetting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27552/05]

Ensuring the protection, health and welfare of children is a key concern for the Government, parents and agencies that work with children and society generally and I assure the Deputy that the Government is determined to do all that it can to keep our children and vulnerable adults safe.

While the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has primary responsibility for Garda vetting, I am happy to outline the progress that is being made in the expansion of the service.

My colleague the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has announced a doubling of the number of staff employed in the unit to ensure that they can handle a greater volume of requests from employers. The unit will commence the augmentation of its existing vetting arrangements upon decentralisation targeted for mid-November this year.

The provision of additional staff resources will enable the Garda Síochána's vetting services to be extended to all persons working with children and vulnerable adults. This will include teachers, caretakers and others working with children.

In the education sector, vetting is currently available in respect of requests for clearance from my Department in relation to bus escorts and special needs assistants provided to children with special educational needs, and to staff working in children's detention schools.

It is worth pointing out that, irrespective of whatever additional arrangements may be introduced in this area in the future, criminal record checks, while being capable in appropriate circumstances of making a significant contribution to ensuring that unsuitable persons do not secure positions of trust, are not the sole answer to ensuring applicants' suitability for posts.

There will continue to be a particular onus of care on employers to maintain good employment practice both during the recruitment stage, for example, good interviewing practice and checking references, and in ensuring adequate supervision arrangements post-recruitment.

Youth Services.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

40 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason the Government has failed to deliver its own priority objectives in the national youth work development plan, including the appointment of an assessor for youth work, the capacity building of youth work organisations and the vocational educational committees, and the establishment of a development unit for youth work in view of the funding having been available from the start of 2005; the timeframe planned to address this deficit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27700/05]

The framework for youth work in Ireland is provided by the Youth Work Act 2001 and the National Youth Work Development Plan 2003-2007. I recognise the importance of these two policy documents in the development of the youth work sector and the programmes and services.

The allocation for the youth work sector in 2005 represents an 18% increase in funding over 2004 and brings financial provision for the sector to €33.889 million in 2005. This is clear evidence of the Government's commitment to the youth work sector in Ireland.

The following is the up-to-date position in relation to the priorities identified for 2005. With regard to the Youth Work Act 2001, discussions are ongoing between my Department and the Department of Finance in relation to the additional posts being sought by VECs to fulfil their requirements under the Act. The appointment of an assessor of youth work is an important development for youth work. Sanction for this post has been received from the Department of Finance and my Department is currently in discussion with the Public Appointments Service regarding the recruitment process. Increased funding has been made available to youth organisations and youth projects funded under the youth service grant scheme and the special projects for youth scheme. These organisations and projects have been granted an 8% increase in their financial allocations. Ten new special projects for youth have also been sanctioned together with the upgrade of 20 current single-worker special projects to two worker projects. The 8% increase also applies to youth information centres. In addition, a review of the youth information provision nationally is currently being carried out by external consultants. With regard to child protection training for the sector, additional financial support has been made available in this regard to the National Youth Council of Ireland. The promised funding review of the youth work sector is being carried out by external consultants and is nearing completion.

In addition, I have also created a development fund for youth work organisations on a once-off basis to assist them in preparing themselves organisationally for the implementation of the Youth Work Act, 2001.

Disadvantaged Status.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

41 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science the recourse which is available to schools in disadvantaged areas that have had a reduction in resource teaching hours as a result of the implementation of the weighted system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27678/05]

As the Deputy is aware, the new general allocation system is intended to cater for children with high incidence special needs and those with learning support needs. The system was constructed so that allocations would be based on pupil numbers, taking into account the differing needs of the most disadvantaged schools and the evidence that boys have greater difficulties than girls in this regard.

Disadvantaged schools that satisfied the Department's criteria for additional staffing under the Giving Children an Even Break scheme — a scheme to help schools with high levels of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds — avail of a preferential pupil-teacher ratio of 80:1. Small schools — not eligible for additional staffing under the Giving Children an Even Break scheme — also avail of preferential pupil-teacher ratios under the general allocation compared to larger schools.

It has always been the case that schools that were in receipt of resource teacher support in respect of pupils with special educational needs would lose teacher support, either full posts or part-time hours, when the pupils that triggered the extra support left the school.

The Deputy may be aware that my Department has introduced a new action plan for educational inclusion — DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, which aims to ensure that the educational needs of children and young people, from pre-school to completion of upper second level education — three years to 18 years — from disadvantaged communities are prioritised and effectively addressed. The new plan is the outcome of the first full review of all programmes for tackling educational disadvantage that have been put in place over the past 20 years and it will involve an additional annual investment of some €40 million on full implementation. It will also involve the creation of about 300 additional posts across the education system generally.

A key element of this new action plan is the putting in place of a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage in our primary and second level schools, which will result in improved targeting of resources at those most in need. The identification and analysis processes are being managed by the Educational Research Centre on behalf of my Department.

As a result of the identification process, approximately 600 primary schools, comprising 300 urban-town and 300 rural, and 150 second level schools will be included in a new school support programme, SSP. The SSP will bring together, and build upon, a number of existing interventions for schools and school clusters-communities with a concentrated level of educational disadvantage.

My Department officials anticipate being in a position to notify participating schools in relation to the outcome of the ongoing identification process by the end of the year.

While this action plan is in place, it is not my Department's intention to review individual cases, however transitional arrangements are in place to ameliorate losses of teacher support in certain schools in the current year.

Multi-Denominational Schools.

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

42 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of multi-denominational schools here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27551/05]

The number of multi-denominational schools established here to date is 39. A list of multi-denominational and other denominational schools together with addresses and contact numbers is available on my Department's website www.education.ie.

Schools Building Projects.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

43 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of bundles of schools which will be offered to the market in 2006 as part of the recent schools public private partnership announcement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27586/05]

As I indicated in my statement of 29 September 2005, it is my intention that the first bundle of schools under my Department's PPP programme will be offered to the market in the first half of 2006 and regularly thereafter in the period 2006-09 to ensure a steady deal flow.

The precise make-up of the bundles in terms of the number of schools in each and the geographical spread will be determined by my Department in consultation with the centre of expertise that is being established within the NDFA.

School Curriculum.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

44 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science the action she will take to address the high rates of failure in maths and sciences in the leaving certificate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27660/05]

In 2005, in leaving certificate mathematics, some 12% or 4,413 students scored less than grade D at ordinary level, while at foundation level, 7.7% or 428 candidates scored less than grade D.

In physics, chemistry and biology at ordinary level, the proportions scoring less than grade D were 11.4%, 12% and 18.5%, respectively. While these results are broadly in line with previous years, they are a cause of concern especially as skills in maths and science are assuming increasing importance in our knowledge society.

A review of mathematics in post-primary education is under way. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, has published a discussion paper which highlights key concerns such as the low participation levels at higher level, the high proportions scoring less than grade D at ordinary level, reported difficulties among students in third level in grasping mathematical concepts, the dominance of didactic approaches in mathematics classrooms, over-emphasis on learning by rote, and excessive reliance on textbooks. The discussion paper features a debate on approaches to mathematics teaching and learning, including changing international trends regarding the focus on problem solving, modelling, real life contexts and "realistic mathematics education".

The discussion paper is being distributed to schools in order to get the feedback of the wider teaching cohort. The NCCA will also engage in wider consultations with national interests, including employers on this issue. In addition, research has been commissioned by the NCCA on international trends in mathematics in upper second level education. This is being undertaken by UCC in collaboration the National Science Foundation in Washington. I expect the NCCA's report on this comprehensive review of mathematics early 2006.

In regard to science, the revised syllabus in junior certificate science will be examined for the first time in 2006. The syllabus represents very significant changes particularly in relation to teaching methodology and assessment. It also reflects international trends towards a more investigative approach to science education. It places new emphasis on practical and project work, requiring 30 practical experiments and investigations to be presented for assessment, accounting for 35% of the total marks in the junior certificate examination. The reforms will make science more attractive, and build the foundations which will enhance performance and encourage students to continue the subject at senior cycle.

In response to the NCCA's proposals for senior cycle reform, I have asked the NCCA to engage in a review and reconfiguration of subjects generally within the leaving certificate. Mathematics and science subjects will be given particular priority in the rollout of this process, building on the work of the mathematics review, and ensuring appropriate continuity in the science subjects from junior cycle.

My Department is committed to prioritising actions to bring about improvements in the standards of student achievement in mathematics and science.

Higher Education Grants.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

45 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason the nominal interest earned in 2004 for special savings accounts and special savings investment accounts is being calculated for mature students when assessing eligibility for top-up grants when this method is not being applied by the Revenue Commissioners in assessing income for the previous tax year as it has not yet been earned; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that such a calculation affects a number of borderline cases that cannot access this income for purchasing educational materials or feeding their families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27706/05]

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

61 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the circumstances in which special savings accounts and special savings interest accounts’ interest in the previous tax year is calculated as income in assessing means for educational grants. [27707/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 61 together.

For the purposes of determining reckonable income for the student support schemes, all investments must be declared, including savings certificates, life assurance bonds and other financial instruments where the interest-profit is accumulated and paid out as a lump sum at the end of the investment period.

The amount of income to be included in respect of special savings incentive accounts, SSIAs, is the Government grant earned on the savings in the relevant tax year plus in the case of savings accounts, the gross interest earned in the relevant tax year, and, in the case of investment accounts, the investment profit earned in the relevant tax year. Investment losses sustained in the relevant tax year are deductible.

The treatment of the SSIAs in this regard is consistent with the treatment of similar financial products such as post office savings bonds.

School Transport.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

46 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the dispute involving the transport of children to a school (details supplied) in County Limerick has yet to be resolved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27697/05]

Under the terms of the post-primary school transport scheme, a pupil is eligible for transport if she or he resides 4.8 kilometres or more from her or his local post-primary education centre, that is, the centre serving the catchment area in which she or he lives. In addition, an eligible pupil may be allowed the concession of transport, known as catchment boundary transport, to a centre other than her or his local centre, provided there is room on the bus to that centre after all locally eligible pupils have been catered for.

Certain first-year pupils who reside within the Limerick city catchment area have applied for catchment boundary transport to Pallaskenry. Some have been facilitated to the extent that seats are available on the existing service and are being carried from the city catchment area to Pallaskenry.

The decision in relation to this post-primary centre was made following a full assessment of all relevant factors and there is no proposal to change it.

School Curriculum.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

47 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will review her Department’s entire approach to the teaching and examining of Irish in light of worrying reports on falling standards in both Gaeltacht and non-Gaeltacht areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27652/05]

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

430 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Education and Science the actions she intends to take resulting from a recent report on Gaeltacht schools and the Irish language; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22746/05]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

433 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has received a copy of the recent study by An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta that states that Gaeltacht schools are facing a crisis and unless they get more support few of them will be teaching through Irish in 20 years’ time; her plans to address the perilous state of Gaeltacht education; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22577/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 47, 430 and 433 together.

I have received a copy of the report mentioned by the Deputies.

Since the raising of standards of Irish is a priority for my Department, matters relating to the teaching and assessment of the subject are reviewed on an ongoing basis. A range of measures have already been taken to improve the quality of learning in Irish.

For primary schools, a revised curriculum in Irish was launched in 1999, placing a strong emphasis on oral Irish and was introduced fully in all schools in 2003. To support its introduction all teachers have received in-service training which was delivered by the Primary Curriculum Support Service, PCSP, over a four year period. Teachers in schools where Irish is the medium of instruction participated in two day-long seminars and those in all other schools attended three such seminars. A total of 3,500 seminars were delivered and approximately 21,000 teachers participated. To complement this work, Regional Curriculum Support Service advisers — cuiditheoirí— who are based in local education centres are available to visit schools and advise on all aspects of the Irish curriculum. In addition, all primary teachers have engaged in school-based planning days specifically for Irish. A range of resources has been developed for use in teaching the revised Irish curriculum and prominent among these are the Séideán Sí materials which are now available for infant and first classes.

Regarding the post-primary curriculum, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, is currently carrying out a rebalancing of the junior certificate Irish syllabi. This will involve reviewing the content of the courses along with the learning outcomes expected of students. The process which will be completed in November 2005 will identify any further aspects of these syllabi that are in need of reform. A revised literature course for leaving certificate Irish was introduced in September 2004 for first examination in 2006. This has been widely welcomed as it allows literature to be taught using modern communicative approaches that appeal to young people and it affords a high level of choice to students and teachers. For example, it includes film, for the first time, as an option for students. The revised course is accompanied by comprehensive guidelines for teachers and the development of further materials in digital format to complement these guidelines is well advanced.

The inspectorate of my Department is actively involved in focused evaluations of the teaching and learning of Irish. At primary level, inspections with special emphasis on Irish have been conducted in 40 schools. At post-primary level, 10% of schools have undergone an evaluation of the teaching and learning of Irish in the junior cycle. In addition, my Department has invited the Council of Europe to carry out an analysis of the language education in Ireland. This process is currently under way and Irish is one of the main areas for consideration. Reports on each of these activities will be available in 2006 and their findings will inform further interventions to improve standards of Irish in our schools.

Significant improvements are being made in regard to the provision of suitable high quality textbooks and teaching materials specifically for use in Gaeltacht and other all-Irish schools through the work of the An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta. In 2005 my Department allocated to An Chomhairle €725,000, of which an additional €300,000 was specifically for the provision of textbooks and resources. I have also recently met An Chomhairle to discuss further improvements that could be made to support schools in improving the teaching and learning of Irish and to promote high quality education through the medium of Irish.

In addition, Marino Institute of Education now provides courses at different levels and an enhanced range of supports for those studying for the Scrúdú le hAghaidh Cailíochta sa Ghaeilge.

School Meals.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

48 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will provide schools with guidelines on the types of foods available on school premises; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27567/05]

The Department of Health and Children has published food and nutrition guidelines for schools. In addition, many of the Health Service Executive areas have health promotion programmes in place to assist schools in this regard.

My Department supports the view that good nutrition is central to a child's educational development. Evidence from existing studies shows that there is a significant positive relationship between improved dietary status and school performance.

A knowledge of what constitutes a nutritionally balanced diet is acknowledged as being of importance for students. To support this, nutrition education is featured in the curriculum in both primary and post-primary schools.

As the Deputy will be aware, schools are privately owned, privately managed institutions which, although funded by the State, enjoy a large degree of autonomy. It is, therefore, primarily a matter for each school to decide on the types of food that are available on the school premises. I am not aware of any impediment that would prevent schools imposing a ban on eating certain foodstuffs, although any special dietary needs of students would have to be taken into account.

I know that many schools have developed healthy eating policies in co-operation with their parents association, and I would encourage others to do so.

School Transport.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

49 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of concessionary pupils being carried on school transport; the way in which this compares with each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27557/05]

Pat Breen

Ceist:

88 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children currently being carried by the school bus service; the way in which this compares with each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27556/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 88 together.

The number of children currently being carried on school transport is 128,300. The numbers carried in the last five years are as follows: in 2000, 131,200; in 2001, 132,700; in 2002, 130,720; in 2003, 130,100; and in 2004, 129,400.

The number of concessionary pupils currently being carried on school transport is 6,257. The numbers carried in each of the last five years are as follows: in 2000, 9,127; in 2001, 8,901; in 2002, 6,845; in 2003, 7,332; and in 2004, 7,100.

With regard to concessionary pupils, I should clarify that a pupil at primary level is eligible for school transport if she or he resides 3.2 kilometres or 2 miles or more from the nearest suitable primary school. At post-primary level, a pupil is eligible if she or he resides 4.8 kilometres or 3 miles or more from the post-primary centre in the catchment area in which she or he lives.

In the case of primary and post-primary pupils who are ineligible for school transport on the basis of the distance requirements, transport may be offered on a concessionary fare-paying basis. Such pupils are not guaranteed school transport for every year of their schooling. Rather, the granting of such concessionary transport is dependent on the availability of additional capacity on the buses used to transport eligible students. Any such additional capacity is calculated on a year-to-year basis.

Coláistí Samhraidh.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

50 D'fhiafraigh Mr. Boyle den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta cad é a polasaí i leith fhorbairt na gcoláistí samhraidh sa Ghaeltacht agus san iar-Ghaeltacht agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina leith. [22732/05]

Tá sé mar pholasaí ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta tacaíocht ar leith a thabhairt do choláistí samhraidh atá lonnaithe sa Ghaeltacht agus i scoileanna cónaithe lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht. Tugtar an tacaíocht seo do na coláistí samhraidh ar an ábhar go gcabhraíonn siad le scoláirí ag an mbunleibhéal, iarbhunleibhéal agus ag an tríú leibhéal. Cuireann na coláistí samhraidh lena gcumas ó thaobh foghlaim na Gaeilge, go háirithe an cumas tuisceana agus labhartha, dhá ghné atá go ríthábhachtach. Cuirtear an tacaíocht seo ar fáil sna bealaíéagsúla seo a leanas: íoctar deontas i bhfoirm táillí teagaisc agus é bunaithe ar an rollachán i gcás daltaí a mbíonn cónaí orthu sa Ghaeltacht nó ag cur fúthu i gcoláiste cónaithe i rith an chúrsa. Toisc gur cúrsaí cónaithe iad seo bíonn teagmháil ag na scoláirí leis an nGaeilge an lá go léir.

Bíonn an Roinn sásta faomhadh a thabhairt do bhunú coláiste Gaeilge nua má fheictear di go bhfuil éileamh ann dá leithéid agus nach mbíonn freastal cuíá dhéanamh ar an gceantar sin cheana féin. Tarlaíonn séó am go ham go lorgaítear aitheantas mar seo agus déantar gach éileamh a iniúchadh ag cur na gcritéir thuas san áireamh.

Déantar cigireacht ar roinnt de na coláistí samhraidh gach bliain agus solátharaítear tuairiscí ar a gcuid oibre. Cuirtear na tuairiscí ar fáil do choistí bainistíochta na gcoláistí mar thaca chun a n-éifeacht ó thaobh seirbhísí a sholáthar do na scoláirí a fheabhsú. Foillsíonn an Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta olltuairisc bhliantúil ar an gcigireacht a dhéantar sna coláistí samhraidh. Nótaítear inti príomh-mholtaí na gcigirí do na coláistí samhraidh faoin gcaoi leis an gcaighdeán is fearr a bhaint amach. Cuireann an Roinn an-bhéim ar an obair seo.

Leagtar síos coinníollacha mar threoir do chúrsaí riaracháin agus teagaisc de sna coláistí samhraidh. Déantar athbhreithniú ar na coinníollacha go rialta agus cinntíonn an chigireacht go gcloítear leis na coinníollacha. Is bealach fiúntach é seo chun an caighdeán teagaisc agus foghlama a neartú mar ba chóir.

Third Level Institutions.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

51 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to develop an outreach third level education centre in County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27610/05]

In the State as a whole there are more than 20 publicly-funded higher education institutions, of which seven are universities and 14 are institutes of technology. In its review of Irish higher education published in 2004, the OECD observed that Irish third level institutions were relatively small by international standards and that this posed particular challenges in terms of achieving critical mass for academic provision, infrastructure, research and support mechanisms.

It is not possible to have a third level institution in every county and to ensure that each of these could achieve this critical mass. In view of the current level of third level provision nationally, and within close proximity to Wicklow, there are no plans to develop an outreach third level education centre in Wicklow.

School Staffing.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

52 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the ratio of second level students to guidance councillors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27546/05]

My Department makes a specific ex-quota allocation of teaching posts in respect of guidance to schools in the second level system. This allocation is based on the pupil enrolment in September of the preceding school year. As a result of my decision to allocate an additional 100 posts to guidance from September 2005 an enhanced guidance allocation provision was put in place for 2005-06 school year. This enhanced provision means that in the case of schools in the free education/block grant schemes, the level of allocation ranges from eight hours per week for schools with enrolments below 200 pupils to 47 hours per week for schools with an enrolment of 1,000 pupils or more. In addition certain schools had previously been allocated hours in response to particular needs and-or as part of the guidance enhancement initiative, such schools have been permitted to retain this higher allocation for the 2005-06 school year.

In the case of schools outside the free education or block grant schemes, 11 hours per week are allocated in respect of schools in the 350 to 499 enrolment category and a full post is allocated in the case of schools with 500 or more pupils.

Education Welfare Service.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

53 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of education welfare officers now employed by the National Educational Welfare Board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27563/05]

Since its formal launch in December 2003, the aim of the National Educational Welfare Board has been to provide a service to the most disadvantaged areas and most at-risk groups. Five regional teams have been established with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford and staff have been deployed in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme. Thirteen towns with significant school-going populations, 12 of which are designated under the Government's RAPID programme, also now have an educational welfare officer allocated to them. Towns which have an educational welfare officer allocated to them include Dundalk, Drogheda, Navan. Athlone, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Bray, Clonmel, Tralee, Ennis, Sligo, Naas, Castlebar, Longford, Tuam, Tullamore, Letterkenny and Portlaoise.

In addition, the board will follow up on urgent cases nationally where children are not currently receiving an education.

The service is developing on a continuing basis. The total authorised staffing complement is currently 94, comprising 16 headquarter and support staff, five regional managers, 12 senior educational welfare officers, SEWOs, and 61 educational welfare officers, EWOs.

Since September 2005, every county in Ireland is served by an educational welfare service.

Question No. 54 answered with QuestionNo. 12.

Medical Education.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

55 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science if and when she will make a decision on a proposal to establish a postgraduate medical school in University College Dublin and on a similar proposal from the University of Limerick; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27671/05]

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

106 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will lift the cap on undergraduate places in medical schools available to students here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27670/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 and 106 together.

As the Deputy may be aware, a Working Group on Undergraduate Medical Education and Training recently completed a review of the organisation and delivery of medical training and education in Ireland. I am currently considering the broad range of recommendations made by the working group, in consultation with my colleague, the Tanáiste and Minister for Health and Children. We will be bringing proposals to Government in the near future on a wide-range of issues associated with the delivery of medical education in Ireland, including the so-called "cap" on undergraduate education.

The development of a graduate entry stream to medical education is also being considered in this context. The proposals from University College Dublin and the University of Limerick will be considered in the context of the overall response to the report of the working group.

School Services Staff.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

56 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if the number of hours per week worked by special needs assistants have been reduced for the current academic year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27667/05]

Special need assistants employed in primary and second level schools have recently signed new contracts of employment with the managerial authorities of their schools.

The new contract of employment was agreed following discussions between the representatives of the managerial authorities, union and my Department.

The terms of the contract are outlined in the contract of employment form contained in circular SNA 12/05 for primary schools or circular SNA 15/05 for second level schools. Paragraph 2.5 of the contract deals with the hours of work of a special need assistant.

I will arrange for a copy of the two circulars to be issued to the Deputy.

Bullying in Schools.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

57 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the action being taken against bullying at primary and secondary schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27544/05]

The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools in relation to anti-bullying behaviour is a central part of the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools. The SPHE curriculum provides for the development of personal and social skills including self-awareness, respect for others, self-esteem and communication skills, all of which are important elements in addressing the issue of bullying. In primary education, the issue of bullying is addressed in the SPHE curriculum in the strand "Myself and Others" from infant classes onwards. In second level education, the issue of bullying is addressed from first year onwards in the SPHE curriculum at junior cycle, in the module on "Belonging and Integrating".

My Department, in its guidelines on countering bullying behaviour in schools, has provided a national framework within which individual school management authorities may meet their responsibilities for implementing effective school-based policies to counter bullying. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of the school.

Each school is required to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, properly devised and implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.

The school development planning initiative plays an important role in supporting schools to raise awareness of the need for anti-bullying measures.

In addition, my Department funds a number of support services and pilot initiatives which provide direct assistance to schools in dealing with the issue of bullying.

Languages Programme.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

58 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will provide a separate budget for the teaching of English to non-nationals which is currently being provided under the vocational education committee’s adult education budgets in view of increasing demand in this sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27673/05]

My Department funds the provision of adult literacy, which is delivered, by the vocational education committees from the adult literacy and community education, ALCES, budget. This includes literacy to non-nationals.

The national development plan committed €93.5 million to the service in the period 2000 to 2006, with a target of reaching 113,000 clients over that period. This target will be met.

Funding for adult literacy has been increased incrementally in recent years from just under €1 million in 1997 to more than €22 million this year. Client numbers rose in the same period from 5,000 in 1997 to more than 33,000 in 2004.

The increase in funding has also enabled the introduction of special programmes targeted at groups with particular literacy needs. This includes non-nationals whose first language is not English. In 2004, 7,800 of the clients were non-national. The VECs have ensured that the level of tuition provided covers FETAC level 1 and 2 only. Asylum seekers are entitled to literacy and English language supports, other EU nationals and non-EU nationals can be offered literacy provision on the basis of need and available resources.

I have no plans to provide a separate funding line as I consider it more appropriate to allow VECs the discretion within their overall budgets to allocate available resources in the light of local demand.

Education Schemes.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

59 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will provide more support to schools to operate book rental schemes in view of the increasing cost of school books to parents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27651/05]

My Department has urged school authorities to put in place book rental schemes, at both primary and post-primary level, to the greatest extent possible. To that end the school book for needy pupils grant scheme may be used by school authorities for the support of book loan-rental schemes. The 2005 allocation for the school book grant for needy pupils scheme at post-primary level is €7.018 million which represents a 10.36% increase on the 2004 allocation of €6.359 million.

At primary level many schools operate book rental schemes and second-hand book exchanges. A total of €3,859,352 has been paid by my Department in respect of the school books grant scheme in primary schools for the 2005-06 school year. This figure includes €3,337,928 paid to schools operating loan-rental schemes.

At post-primary level, my Department also provides seed capital towards the costs of establishing book rental schemes in schools designated as disadvantaged and-or schools which participate in schemes designed to combat educational disadvantage. The intention is to provide some specific financial support for the introduction or expansion of book loan-rental schemes in individual schools on an annual basis, for a maximum of six years or five years in the case of five-year cycle schools. It is envisaged that schools which receive seed capital will be in a position to establish sustainable book loan-rental schemes which, after the initial special assistance, will operate on a self-financing basis where ongoing costs will be met by fee income, which can be subsidised in the case of needy pupils from the general book grant scheme allocation. Funding in respect of seed capital amounted to €221,240 in 2004.

DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, the new action plan for educational inclusion, which I launched last May, aims to ensure that the educational needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities are prioritised and effectively addressed.

The plan provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated school support programme, SSP, which will bring together and build upon, a number of existing interventions for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage. In the new action plan, additional funding will be made available under the school books for needy pupils grant scheme aimed primarily at supporting the establishment, development and ongoing operation of book loan-rental schemes.

Early Childhood Education.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

60 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Education and Science her response to the finding in the Forfás annual competitiveness report that Ireland ranks bottom of the table of 15 countries in participation of four year olds in education; her plans to expand the early start programme or to introduce other measures to provide for early childhood education; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27663/05]

Early education in Ireland covers the period from birth to six years. At present almost all five year olds and half of four year olds attend junior infant and senior infant classes in primary schools. Outside of junior classes in primary schools, my Department's main role in the area of early childhood education focuses on pre-school provision for children from disadvantaged areas, Traveller children and those with special needs. The bulk of pre-school places in the country are financed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which has provided unprecedented levels of funding for child care in recent years currently providing some 26,000 child care places.

The early start programme, referred to by the Deputy, is a pre-school intervention programme targeted at three to four year old children in areas of social disadvantage. With this programme, young children can experience an educational programme to enhance their overall development, help prevent school failure and help offset the effects of social disadvantage. The early start pre-school project was established in 40 primary schools in designated areas of urban disadvantage in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Drogheda and Dundalk.

Targeted early childhood education provision will be a key element of the new action plan for educational inclusion DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, which I launched in May of this year. The plan's objective is to concentrate early education actions on those children aged from three up to school enrolment, who will subsequently attend urban-town primary schools serving the most disadvantaged communities. On a phased basis, the 150 urban-town primary school communities serving communities with the highest concentrations of disadvantage will be provided with access to early education for children aged from three up to school enrolment, who will subsequently attend these primary schools. The action plan will be implemented on a phased basis over the next five years and will involve the creation of about 300 additional posts across the education system.

My Department's approach will be to work in partnership with other Departments and agencies to complement and add value to existing child care programmes in disadvantaged communities, with a view to ensuring that the overall care and education needs of the children concerned are met in an integrated manner.

Co-ordination between education and care is essential in the further development of early childhood services in the country.

The issue of co-ordination of services is being tackled through the high level working group being chaired by the National Children's Office. This group has been asked to provide the Government with a range of policy options which: make the link between education and care and the benefits to be gained by individual children as well as by communities and society in general; increase the supply of appropriate early childhood education and care settings by developing capacity in the system; include measures which make services more affordable; and ensure quality is a design feature in the child care system.

Question No. 61 answered with QuestionNo. 45.

Adult Education.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

62 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Education and Science if research has been carried out into effects of the vocational education committees raising of the threshold for senior citizens, for example the discounted cost of adult education courses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27704/05]

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

94 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the sharp rise in the cost of adult education courses following higher teaching costs being passed on by vocational educational committees; if her attention has further been drawn to the concern among senior citizens and the adult learning population in general; her plans to ensure that vocational educational committees are recompensed for these costs in order that some increases are reduced and no further increases take place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27703/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 94 together.

The funding provided by my Department for community education under the adult literacy and community education budget, amounts to nearly €9 million in 2005. This is separate to the back to education initiative, 10% of which is reserved for the non-formal community education field.

Community education is available to all. It refers to education and learning, generally outside the formal education sector, with the aims of enhancing learning, empowerment and contributing to civic society. It is firmly community-based, with local groups taking responsibility for, and playing a key role in organising courses, deciding on programme-content and recruiting tutors.

The grants provided by the Department to the VECs are, first, to enable disadvantaged adults to avail of community education at minimal or no cost and, second, for adult literacy classes for which there is no charge. Others who do not come within the disadvantaged category, or who attend leisure or hobby type courses, have to pay the economic fee.

It is a matter for VECs to finance their adult education programmes from within their approved budgets, and they have discretion in setting the fees charged to those clients who have the means to pay. The fees charged reflect the economic cost of the courses.

Schools Building Projects.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

63 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Education and Science if her Department has examined the causes of the overrun in the cost of the public private partnership schools already constructed; the lessons which have been learned; the changes which will be incorporated in the contracts and specifications for the schools recently announced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27672/05]

The first bundle of five post-primary PPP schools were delivered up to eight weeks ahead of schedule and within the price agreed. There was no cost overrun.

One of the fundamental elements of PPPs is the incorporation of life cycle planning in the design, construction and costing of the project. My Department has, as a result of its PPP experience, included this element of design in traditionally procured schools, with emphasis on the durability of design and materials. While it is anticipated that this will lead to an increase in the capital cost of school projects, it will lead to lower maintenance costs and greater longevity of schools in the future, thus providing value for money over a longer term.

Question No. 64 answered with QuestionNo. 24.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

65 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to bring pupil-teacher ratios at primary level into line with best practice in other European countries with particular reference to children from economically or socially deprived areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27684/05]

Significant improvements have been made in the pupil-teacher ratio and in average class size in recent years at primary level. The most recent figure available for average class size at primary level refers to the 2003-04 school year, when the average class size was 23.9, down from 26.6 in 1996-97. The pupil-teacher ratio at primary level, which includes all teachers including resource teachers, has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 17.1:1 — projected — in 2004-05 .

At post primary level the pupil-teacher ratio has fallen from 16:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 13.6:1 in the 2003-04 school year.

More than 4,500 additional teachers have been employed in our primary schools since 1997. In allocating teaching posts regard has been had to the commitments of the Government to reduce class size, tackle educational disadvantage and to provide additional resources for pupils with special educational needs. The additional teaching posts created since 1997 have been deployed to address all of these priorities.

In relation to providing for children with special educational needs, there are now over 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares to under 1,500 in 1998. One in five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs.

The Deputy will be aware of the new action plan for educational inclusion, DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, which I launched recently. This action plan will result in the reduction in class sizes of 24:1 at senior level and 20:1 at junior level in 150 primary schools serving communities with the highest concentrations of disadvantage.

In line with the commitment in the programme for Government, class sizes will be reduced still further. The deployment of additional posts will be decided within the context of the overall policy that priority will be given to pupils with special needs, those from disadvantaged areas and junior classes.

Schools Building Projects.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

66 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on the request to provide a modern school building to replace the eight or nine prefabs in a school (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27312/05]

The school to which the Deputy refers has applied for a new school building. My Department acknowledges that there is no scope for the development of the existing site. Therefore, among the options being considered is the possibility of securing a greenfield site in the area where the school is located to provide a new building. The property management section of the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department in relation to site acquisitions generally, will pursue this matter in tandem with other options being considered by my Department.

My Department recognises the need for a solution to the school's accommodation difficulties and it is committed to working with the school authorities to achieve a satisfactory solution as soon as possible.

Weight of Schoolbags.

David Stanton

Ceist:

67 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science if she is satisfied that the guidelines her Department have issued on the weight of schoolbags are being adhered to; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27686/05]

The report of a working group to examine potential problems caused by the weight of schoolbags, which was presented in July 1998, acknowledged that many of the solutions belong at local school level. One of the main recommendations of the report related to the need to heighten the awareness of the potential health hazards posed by excessively heavy schoolbags.

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

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

Where complaints are received by my Department in relation to this problem in particular schools, parents are asked to bring the matter to the attention of the school in question and direct the attention of the school authority to the need to address the problem by implementing those recommendations contained in the report best suited to the particular school's individual needs.

It is considered that the issue of the most recent circular on the weight of schoolbags will serve to once again raise awareness of the problem and lead to local solutions being implemented where necessary.

Psychological Service.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

68 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of primary and secondary schools which are covered by the National Educational Psychological Service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27572/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

450 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of psychologists employed by the National Educational Psychological Service; the number of primary and secondary schools here; the number of such schools covered by the NEPS service, tabulated according to county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27817/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 68 and 450 together.

The complement of NEPS psychologists has increased almost three-fold from 43 psychologists on establishment to the current number of 124.

Schools that do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA, whereby the school can have an assessment carried out by a member of a panel of private psychologists approved by the NEPS, and the NEPS will pay the psychologist the fees for this assessment directly. Details of this process, and the conditions that apply to the scheme, are available on my Department's website. The NEPS also provides assistance to all schools that suffer from critical incidents, regardless of whether they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them.

On behalf of my Department, the Public Appointments Service has recently conducted a recruitment competition for the appointment of educational psychologists to the NEPS, with recruitment being targeted in such a way as to increase the numbers of NEPS psychologists in priority areas. Any increase in the number of psychologists in the NEPS must take account of Government policy on public sector numbers.

The information sought about the NEPS coverage of schools is set out in the following table.

County

Primary with NEPS service

Total Primary

Percentage Primary with NEPS service

Post Primary with NEPS service

Total Post Primary

Percentage Post Primary with NEPS service

%

%

Carlow

17

43

40

11

11

100

Cavan

42

79

53

10

11

91

Clare

51

120

43

18

19

95

Cork

183

369

50

70

91

77

Donegal

51

176

29

13

26

50

Dublin

313

474

66

120

186

65

Galway

165

239

69

47

49

96

Kerry

90

144

63

15

27

56

Kildare

39

100

39

25

29

86

Kilkenny

16

80

20

15

16

94

Laois

39

69

57

11

11

100

Leitrim

19

41

46

9

9

100

Limerick

33

148

22

18

37

49

Longford

10

40

25

9

9

100

Louth

36

73

49

14

17

82

Mayo

122

182

67

28

29

97

Meath

61

107

57

17

18

94

Monaghan

47

65

72

9

13

69

Offaly

45

67

67

10

12

83

Roscommon

36

96

38

8

8

100

Sligo

24

67

36

10

15

67

Tipperary NR

18

74

24

2

15

13

Tipperary SR

20

90

22

7

16

44

Waterford

31

76

41

19

20

95

Westmeath

26

77

34

6

15

40

Wexford

36

105

34

20

20

100

Wicklow

53

85

62

22

22

100

1,623

3,286

49

563

751

75

Note

"Primary schools" includes special schools and high support units.

"PostPrimary schools with service" does not include 46 Dublin vocational schools (which have a service from VEC)

"Total PostPrimary schools" includes all postprimary schools (including those served by VEC)

Literacy Levels.

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

69 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Education and Science the percentage of children who leave primary school with literacy difficulties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27580/05]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

93 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children leaving primary school with literacy and numeracy difficulties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27568/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 69 and 93 together.

There is no facility within the education system to measure the percentage of young people leaving post-primary schools with literacy difficulties. However, the results of PISA, the programme of international student assessment, provide detailed information on the standards of reading literacy among Irish 15-year-olds.

In the second cycle of PISA, which was carried out in 2003, Ireland ranked sixth in reading out of the 29 OECD countries for which results were analysed. Only three countries, Finland, Korea and Canada, had significantly higher scores than Ireland.

The percentage of Irish students in the 2003 survey whose performance in reading was at or below level 1, the lowest level of proficiency, was 11%. The corresponding OECD average was 19.1%. The results of the first cycle of PISA which took place in 2000 displayed similar differences in favour of Ireland. These outcomes provide strong evidence that, with regard to reading, there are proportionately fewer low achieving students in Ireland compared to the OECD.

Closer examination of the category of low achievement referred to above reveals that 2.7% of Irish students performed below level 1 compared with the OECD average of 6.7%. This indicates that the proportion of students with serious reading difficulties in Ireland is less than half that of the OECD average. The results of PISA 2000 provide similar evidence with regard to the prevalence of reading difficulties of this nature among Irish 15-year-olds.

Notwithstanding what I have outlined, young people with poor levels of literacy are a source of concern for my Department. To address their needs, learning support teacher services are available to all second level schools. Currently, there are 531 whole-time teacher equivalent posts for learning support. In addition, a total of 1,599 whole-time teacher posts are provided at second level to cater for students with special educational needs. All of these teachers prioritise the development of literacy skills. There are also a number of initiatives at post-primary level that have students with literacy difficulties as their target group. The junior certificate school programme focuses specifically on developing literacy skills and schools participating in the school completion programme are given considerable financial resources to provide targeted students with opportunities to improve their literacy skills in accordance with their identified needs.

DEIS, delivering equality of opportunity in schools, the new action plan for educational inclusion that I launched last May, includes the expansion of a number of measures designed to improve literacy levels among pupils in disadvantaged communities. These measures include increased funding for the school book grant scheme which is paid to schools based on the number of needy pupils enrolled. Also included is the extension of the demonstration library project under the junior certificate school programme, JCSP, on a phased basis to additional second level schools. This will support the implementation of whole school literacy strategies in the schools concerned.

The reduction of the numbers of students with literacy difficulties continues to be a key priority for my Department

International Reports.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

70 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the fact that universities here did not feature in the upper regions of an international league table of universities recently created by Shanghai Jiva Tong University; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27309/05]

I am aware of the international league table of universities compiled by Shangai Jiva Tong University. I understand this table represents a measurement based on items such as the number of Nobel prize winners, cited researchers and size of institution.

While it is useful to benchmark the performance of Irish higher education institutions with international institutions, it is important to note the inherent difficulty in such exercises. The compilers of the Shangai index acknowledge that the quality of universities "cannot be precisely measured by mere numbers", and as such no ranking is absolutely objective.

However, the Shangai index serves to remind us of the very competitive and global environment in which our higher education institutions operate, and we must ensure that they are equipped to meet this challenge. The 2004 OECD review identified a range of proposals for reform, the broad thrust of which has been accepted by the Government. I am confident major policy initiatives I have already initiated as part of the response to the OECD report, such as the transfer of the institutes of technology to the Higher Education Authority and the creation of a strategic innovation fund to facilitate reform and modernisation in the sector, will greatly improve the capacity of our higher education institutions to compete with other institutions in this global environment.

Student Councils.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

71 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will introduce a system whereby students can give feedback on their school experiences at the end of each year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27562/05]

Section 27(2) of the Education Act 1998 provides that procedures established and maintained by schools under section 27(1), for the purposes of informing students of the activities of the school, shall facilitate the involvement of students in the operation of the school in association with their parents and teachers. The Education Act also provides that post-primary schools should encourage and facilitate the establishment of student councils. An effective school council can be a very good way for students to give feedback on their school experiences.

Student councils are established in the majority of post-primary schools. I believe very strongly that one cannot merely teach students about rights and responsibilities in the CSPE class, one must give them responsibilities in the place where they spend much of their day. I have stressed to teachers' groups the need to not only ensure that each school has a student council but that councils are given a meaningful role in school decision-making.

Question No. 72 answered with QuestionNo. 16.

School Curriculum.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

73 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of departmental sex education and related initiatives in place; the number of schools which implement these initiatives; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27547/05]

All recognised primary and post-primary schools are required to offer relationships and sexuality education, RSE. It is an integral part of the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum at primary level and junior cycle post-primary level.

In addition, all second level schools are required to have an agreed school policy and a suitable relationships and sexuality education programme in place for senior cycle pupils.

An integrated SPHE programme at senior cycle incorporating RSE is being developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Special Educational Needs.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

74 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Education and Science the average incidence of dyslexia among primary school-going children; the number receiving assistance at primary level for dyslexia; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27540/05]

Estimates of the incidence of dyslexia usually range from 1% to 4%, depending on the definition adopted.

Precise information on the number of primary school children with dyslexia is not currently available. I wish to advise the Deputy that the provision of resources to address the learning difficulties of children with low levels of achievement in reading has been given a very high priority by my Department. As the Deputy is aware, my Department announced the new general allocation system of resource teaching last May with a view to it being implemented in all primary schools with effect from the start of the current school year. The general allocation scheme is designed to ensure that each school has enough resource teaching hours to meet the needs of children with high incidence special needs, such as dyslexia and children with learning support needs.

My Department has recently issued a comprehensive circular, Sp Ed 02/05, to all primary schools regarding the organisation of teaching resources for pupils who need additional support in mainstream primary schools. The main purpose of this circular is to provide guidance for schools on the deployment and organisation of the teaching resources that were allocated under the general allocation model. Reference is also made in this circular to the deployment of additional teaching resources that are allocated to schools for the support of individual pupils with low incidence disabilities.

There are now more than 5,000 teachers in our primary schools working directly with children with special needs, including those requiring learning support. This compares to under 1,500 in 1998. One out of every five primary school teachers is now working specifically with children with special needs, including dyslexia.

Where the condition of a pupil with dyslexia is of a more serious nature, provision can be made in one of the four special schools or 23 special classes attached to ordinary primary schools and dedicated to the needs of children with dyslexia. All special schools and special classes for such children operate at a reduced pupil-teacher ratio of 9:1.

The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, which became operational on 1 January 2005, now processes applications for special educational needs, SEN, supports. The council has a key role in the development and delivery of services for persons with special educational needs. It will have a research and advisory role and will establish expert groups to consider specific areas of special needs provision. It will also establish a consultative forum to facilitate inputs from the education partners and other interested parties. The council has a local area presence through a network of over 70 special educational needs organisers, SENOs.

On the legislative front, the Oireachtas has approved the Education for Persons with Special Needs Act 2004. This act sets out the rights and entitlements of persons with special educational needs, including dyslexia, to an appropriate education service and provides the necessary framework for effective service delivery.

My Department also provides funding to schools for the purchase of specialised equipment such as computers to assist children with special educational needs, including children with dyslexia, with their education where such equipment is recommended by relevant professionals. Schools can apply to the local SENO directly for this support.

Training is available through the 21 teacher education centres nationally for teachers using ICT and assistive technologies to support pupils with special educational needs, including those with dyslexia.

In September 2003, my Department established the Special Education Support Service, SESS, to manage, co-ordinate and develop a range of supports in response to identified training needs. The SESS, which is hosted in Cork Education Centre, provides a nationwide service to teachers and special needs assistants. As part of its response to the growing demand from teachers for support and training, the SESS is currently developing teams of trainers to deliver training in four specific areas — autism, challenging behaviour, dyslexia and inclusion. This training will be delivered locally through the education centre network.

My Department is continuing to prioritise the development of the network of special educational provision for children with special educational needs, including children with dyslexia, and the steps taken in recent years and those currently in hand represent significant progress in the development of those services.

Third Level Fees.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

75 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will consider extending free third level fees to part-time students who have not had the opportunity to proceed to third level directly from post-primary school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27655/05]

I have no plans for extending the free tuition fees schemes to include part-time students.

Section 473A, Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for tax relief on tuition fees, at the standard rate in respect of approved courses at approved colleges of higher education including certain approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in EU and non-EU member states. The maximum level of qualifying fee for tax relief purposes in respect of the academic year 2005-06 is €5,000. Further details and application forms, IT 31 form, to claim tax relief on tuition fees are available from the Revenue Commissioners.

Garda Vetting Procedures.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

76 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Education and Science when the legislation to establish a register of persons considered unsafe to work with children will be published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27569/05]

Ensuring the protection, health and welfare of children is a key concern for the Government, parents, agencies that work with children and society generally and I can assure the Deputy that the Government is determined to do all that we can to keep our children and vulnerable adults safe.

My colleague, the Minister with responsibility for children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, announced a doubling of the number of staff employed in the unit to ensure that they can handle a greater volume of requests from employers. The unit will commence the augmentation of its existing vetting arrangements upon decentralisation targeted for mid-November this year.

The provision of additional staff resources will enable the Garda Síochána's vetting services to be extended to all persons working with children and vulnerable adults. This will include teachers, caretakers and others working with children.

In the education sector, vetting is currently available in respect of requests for clearance from my Department in relation to bus escorts and special needs assistants provided to children with special educational needs, and to staff working in children's detention schools.

It is worth pointing out that, irrespective of whatever additional arrangements may be introduced in this area in the future, criminal record checks, while being capable in appropriate circumstances of making a significant contribution to ensuring that unsuitable persons do not secure positions of trust, are not the sole answer to ensuring applicants' suitability for posts.

There will continue to be a particular onus of care on employers to maintain good employment practice both during the recruitment stage, for example, good interviewing practice and checking references, and in ensuring adequate supervision arrangements post-recruitment.

In relation to a register of persons unsafe to work with children, the Deputy will be aware that the working group on Garda vetting included in its report a recommendation that my Department and the Department of Health and Children could give consideration to the development of non-Garda, employment-related vetting registers to provide information on those previously dismissed, suspended, moved or made redundant from posts for harming children or vulnerable adults in the health and education sectors. An implementation group has been established by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to ensure the delivery of the working group's recommendations and discussions between my Department and the Department of Health and Children are ongoing in that context. Although considerable preparatory work examining the issues relating to a pre-employment consultancy service, similar to that in Northern Ireland, has been undertaken by my Department, these discussions remain at an early stage. In addition, my Department will be convening meetings with the education partners in order to explore all the issues involved.

The teaching council also has a role here. Once it is formally established, the council will provide the teaching profession, both primary and post-primary, with the means to regulate itself and its functions will include maintaining a register of teachers and, if necessary, removing the names of those shown to be unfit to teach, including those unfit to teach by reason of the fact that they pose a threat to children.

Schools Building Projects.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

77 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans for the site purchased for the development of a building for the gaelscoil in Wicklow town; her further plans to develop a school building; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27609/05]

The Department of Education and Science originally planned to provide an eight classroom school in Wicklow town for the gaelscoil in question. A site to accommodate this was subsequently purchased and the building project was allowed to progress into architectural planning. However, due to changing demographics, enrolments in the school increased to a level where it is now considered that a 16 classroom school is warranted. The existing site cannot be developed to cater for this need. The Department of Education and Science is, therefore, actively seeking an alternative site.

When this has been acquired, progress on the project will be considered in the school building and modernisation programme. In the meantime, high quality temporary accommodation has been made available to improve conditions at the school. A review of the overall educational needs at both primary and post-primary level in Wicklow town is being carried out and use of the existing site will be considered in this context.

Institutes of Technology.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

78 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to research carried out for the Association of Higher Education Access and Disability which found that there are insufficient support staff for students with disabilities who attend institutes of technology; if she will provide more resources for this sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27666/05]

I am aware of the research carried out for the Association of Higher Education Access and Disability. There is a range of support services for students with a disability in the institute of technology sector. These include dedicated access or disability personnel; learning support services, including needs assessment and support for students with learning difficulties; assistive technology services and the provision of additional support staff such as personal assistants, sign-language interpreters or note takers as required. These services are resourced through the annual allocation of funding for the institutes, and by a further €2.4 million allocated through the fund for students with disabilities.

Survey data submitted to the Department of Education and Science indicates that the participation rate for students with a disability in the institute of technology sector has grown from 1.5% to 2.7% over the last seven years and is now well ahead of the 1.8% target set for 2006 by the action group on access. I am aware from discussions with the directors of the institutes there is a sector-wide focus on specifically identifying, and addressing the needs of students with disabilities.

Computerisation Programme.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

79 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science if a new schools information technology programme has been put in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27543/05]

The major focus for the Department of Education and Science is the roll-out of broadband connectivity to all recognised schools. This project is being undertaken in partnership with industry, following the establishment of a three year €18 million joint Government — IBEC-TIF, Telecommunications and Internet Federation Fund to fund local connectivity at school level. The broadband connectivity is being provided via a schools national broadband network supported by HEAnet, which will provide managed Internet access, e-mail, security controls and content filtering. A broadband support service is being provided by the National Centre for Technology in Education to assist schools with advice and information relating to the roll-out and ongoing use of their broadband connectivity within the schools network.

The roll-out process is under way and is expected to be completed by March 2006. The overall costs of the schools broadband access programme, comprising the local connectivity at school level, the schools national broadband network and the support service, including the initial set-up and ongoing costs over the next three years are estimated at some €30 million. The provision of always-on high speed Internet access for recognised schools presents a major development in the ICT in schools initiative to integrate technology into teaching and learning in our schools and to ensure that the ICT skills of our young people are developed to their full potential.

The roll-out of broadband connectivity builds on the recent investment of some €20 million by the Department of Education and Science in providing grants to schools for the development of computer networking facilities. The development of internal networking facilities in schools is critical to supporting schools' full exploitation of the potential offered by broadband connectivity. There has been significant progress in the development of ICT infrastructure in schools, in enhancing teachers skills and pedagogical practice and in the development of curriculum and learning resources, since the introduction of the ICT in schools initiative in 1998. The National Centre for Technology in Education is undertaking a further census of ICT infrastructure and the Department of Education and Science's inspectorate is embarking on an evaluation of the impact of ICT in teaching and learning in schools. These developments will inform future policy directions for the ICT in schools initiative.

Proposed Legislation.

John Deasy

Ceist:

80 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science if amendments to the Protection of Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998 and the Sex Offenders Act 2001 will be forthcoming during the remainder of the term of this Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27583/05]

Ensuring the protection, health and welfare of children is a key concern for the Government, parentsand agencies that work with children and society generally. The Government is determined to do all that it can to keep our children and vulnerable adults safe. The Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, Deputy Brian Lenihan, has announced a doubling of the number of staff employed in the unit to ensure that they can handle a greater volume of requests from employers. The unit will commence the augmentation of its existing vetting arrangements upon decentralisation targeted for mid-November 2005. The provision of additional staff resources will enable the Garda Síochána's vetting services to be extended to all persons working with children and vulnerable adults. This will include teachers, caretakers and others working with children.

In the education sector, vetting is available in respect of requests for clearance from the Department of Education and Science for bus escorts and special needs assistants provided to children with special educational needs, and to staff working in children's detention schools. Irrespective of whatever additional arrangements may be introduced in this area in the future, criminal record checks, while being capable in appropriate circumstances of making a significant contribution to ensuring that unsuitable persons do not secure positions of trust, are not the sole answer to ensuring applicants' suitability for posts. There will continue to be a particular onus of care on employers to maintain good employment practice both during the recruitment stage, for example good interviewing practice, checking of references, and in ensuring adequate supervision arrangements post-recruitment.

The working group on Garda vetting has recommended the Protection of Persons Reporting Child Abuse Act 1998 be amended so as to offer protection for persons reporting the abuse of vulnerable adults, such as those with certain mental and physical disabilities, and not just the abuse of children. It was also recommended that the Sex Offenders Act 2001 should be amended to require a convicted sex offender to inform a prospective employer of his or her conviction when applying for a position involving unsupervised access to the physically disabled and not just children or the mentally impaired. These proposals are being considered within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Standardised Testing.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

81 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has finalised her proposal to introduce standardised testing of all seven and 11 year olds; the timescale for their introduction; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27665/05]

The introduction of standardised testing on a systematic basis has great potential to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools. I welcome the advice of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, that all pupils should take standardised tests in literacy and numeracy at the end of first class or the beginning of second class, and at the end of fourth class or the beginning of fifth class.

Important groundwork remains to be done before an implementation date can be set. I have asked the NCCA to continue its development work in the production of guidelines and exemplars for teachers for assessment, national reporting procedures, and a national policy on the transfer of information to post-primary schools.

The Department of Education and Science is exploring potential implementation models, in advance of entering into discussions with the education partners in the matter. My intention is that we will proceed carefully to ensure the recommendations proposed by the NCCA are implemented in a way has positive benefits for children, parents, teachers and the system as a whole. This is one of a range of developments which need to take place to enhance the role of assessment in the overall process of teaching and learning.

School Transport.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

82 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will set up a commission to review catchment boundaries for school transport in view of the huge demographic changes that have taken place since these boundaries were put in place in the 1960s; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27648/05]

Catchment boundaries have their origins in the establishment of free post-primary education in the late 1960s and were determined following consultation with local educational interests. For planning purposes the country was divided into geographic districts each with several primary schools feeding into a post-primary centre with one or more post-primary schools. The intention was and continues to be that these defined districts facilitate the orderly planning of school provision and accommodation needs. While I do not believe a general countrywide review of catchment boundaries is necessary, reviews of specific catchment boundaries may be carried out where appropriate. Several reviews have been carried out over the years where, for example, a new post-primary school is established in an area where previously there was none or, conversely, where a "sole provider" school closes due to declining enrolment.

The area development planning initiative, involving an extensive consultative process carried out by the Commission on School Accommodation, will also inform future revisions to catchment areas. An area development plan takes account of demographic changes and projects future enrolments for existing schools and new schools if required. Catchment boundary changes will be made where the implementation of the recommendations in an area development plan requires such adjustments. Catchment boundaries have provided and continue to provide a very useful tool in facilitating the orderly planning of school provision and accommodation needs and the operation of the national school transport service.

School Staffing.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

83 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of males entering primary level teaching for the most recent year for which statistics are available; the total number entering primary level teaching; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27574/05]

The most recent figures available in the Department of Education and Science refer to the 2004-05 school year, and indicate that, of the 1,357 teachers appointed for the first time as permanent or temporary qualified teachers at primary level, 144 were male. The relatively low levels of men in the primary teaching force, a feature common to all OECD countries, is an issue that is of concern to me. It is important to attract more men into teaching for a number of reasons, not least of which is the positive role models that teachers provide in children's lives and the desirability of having both male and female role models in our schools.

One way to address this issue is to undertake a promotional campaign to encourage more boys into teaching. Plans for this campaign are being considered in the Department of Education and Science.

Departmental Investigations.

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

84 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Education and Science the timescale of the recent report on the Marino Institute; if matters prior to 2002 were considered in drawing up this report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27536/05]

Following allegations of financial impropriety at Marino Institute of Education, I asked the accountancy firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to examine the use of moneys paid by the Department of Education and Science to the institute. The main findings of the review, published in early August, revealed there has been no misuse of the public moneys paid by the Department of Education and Science to the institute.

Although the Department of Education and Science did not have any concerns regarding the use of funding provided for the purpose of training teachers, it was, nevertheless, important in view of the level of public and media interest in this matter, to demonstrate clearly that public funding was properly applied for teacher training. I am happy the findings of the examination confirm this position. The review covered the beginning of the academic year 2001-02 to the date it was commissioned, 9 May 2005. This was the period that related to the unproven allegations of financial irregularity. I am assured by PricewaterhouseCoopers the years leading up to 2001-02, although not covered directly in the terms of reference for the review, were considered by them in compiling its report and informed the findings of the review.

The Department of Education and Science cannot and should not give open-ended terms of reference. The question of materiality and costs must also be considered when commissioning such reviews and setting terms of reference. These factors, together with the nature of the allegations being made about funding provided to the institute, informed the decision regarding the period to be covered in the review.

Schools Refurbishment.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

85 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to upgrade science facilities in second level schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27315/05]

Capital funding is being provided under the school building and modernisation programme 2005-2009 for the refurbishment of science laboratories undertaken as part of an overall refurbishment programme of second level schools, for the upgrading of science facilities exclusively or by provision of new facilities in the case of newly built or extended schools. Additionally, I have provided for class materials, basic general equipment and chemicals for practical work for the sciences.

The Department of Education and Science spent in excess of €13 million in 2004 to facilitate the introduction of a revised junior science syllabus. Schools received a basic grant of €3,500 per science laboratory to enable them to provide the new curriculum. Additional funding was made available to schools where other specified equipment was required. In addition, certain schools identified as needing new or refurbished science laboratories as a result of a 1998 national survey received funding. Funding is also available this year to schools that have yet to apply for the basic grant of €3,500 per science laboratory and for other specified equipment to enable them to provide the new curriculum. Schools have also received funding under the summer works scheme in 2004 and 2005 to refurbish science laboratories. Funding will be made available under the 2006 summer works scheme for science and technology upgrades.

In the application for funding, post-primary schools have been asked to specifically identify and provide details of any science and technology upgrade or refurbishment projects separate from any other projects being applied for so that consideration can be given to approving these projects for 2006. The closing date for receipt of applications is 14 October 2005.

Following the report of the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Science, the then Minister for Education and Science established a task force on the physical sciences to address the declining uptake of the physical sciences. The task force reported in March 2002. The report identified six action areas, including planning and resources; equity, teaching and learning; curriculum and assessment; promotion of science; transition and integration into third level. The Department of Education and Science continues to progress the recommendations of the task force as resources permit in collaboration and consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Forfás and industry.

Significant progress has been made in a range of areas pertaining to the Department of Education and Science. For example, a new science curriculum has been introduced at primary level supported by a resource grant in December 2004 of €1,000 per school plus €10 per pupil; a revised syllabi in junior certificate science and in leaving certificate physics, chemistry and biology have been introduced. Work on the revision of the two remaining leaving certificate subjects, agricultural science and physics and chemistry combined is well advanced. The introduction of the revised syllabi has been supported by comprehensive in-service programmes for teachers. A review of grading of subjects in the leaving certificate and initial reports on teacher training have been undertaken. A review of mathematics at post-primary level is being undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Investment in the programme of research in third level institutes is continuing apace to enhance and promote world class standards in research, innovation and development. Between this programme and the various grants to the research councils, and other sources, an estimated €101.5 million will be invested in third level institutions in 2005.

Under the discover science and engineering programme, operated under the aegis of Forfás with the collaboration of the education sector, was launched in October 2003 to bring together existing science awareness activities in a unified strategy. I made a provision of €750,000 towards the cost of the BA Festival of Science, one of the world's leading science events, hosted by Trinity College Dublin this year.

Student Support Schemes.

John Perry

Ceist:

86 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Education and Science if a network of regional access officers will be put in place, designed to encourage and support students with disabilities to continue in education and progress to third level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27582/05]

Several networks of access and disability personnel already exist in the third level sector, such as the access made accessible network of all third level access officers and the disability advisers working network of disability officers in the sector. The National Office for Equity of Access to Higher Education has highlighted in its action plan of December 2004 the need for enhanced systems of collaboration at all levels of the education system and between the education and community sector. An evaluation of access programmes in third level institutions being conducted by the office will include the making of recommendations about the development of systems of partnership and collaboration towards ensuring improved access and participation for under-represented groups of students, including students with a disability.

International Reports.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

87 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Education and Science her response to the finding of the OECD that spending on education here has been falling as a percentage of GDP and is well below the OECD average; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27653/05]

The recent OECD report examines changes in expenditure since the mid-1990s. It shows that public expenditure on education, here, has increased substantially between 1995 and 2002 at all levels even when allowing for inflation. For example the same OECD report shows that total spending increased by 56% here compared to 28% on average across the OECD. Between 1997 and 2005, the overall budget for education has more than doubled, from €3.2 billion in 1997, to €7.1 billion in 2005. At the same time, there was a dramatic and unprecedented increase in national output, especially as measured by GDP. As repatriated corporate profits of foreign multi-nationals accounts for a significant proportion of GDP, it is not a good measure of the amount of money available to the Government for investment in public services. However, public expenditure on education has increased substantially in absolute terms in recent years.

Question No. 88 answered with QuestionNo. 49.
Question No. 89 answered with QuestionNo. 36.
Question No. 90 answered with QuestionNo. 8.

School Management.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

91 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the burden of responsibility and time taken on by members of boards of management of schools, particularly their chairpersons and treasurers; if she will provide more training and support for those persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27647/05]

Boards of management are recognised under section 14 of the Education Act 1998. They also operate in accordance with the constitution of boards and rules of procedure, issued by the Department of Education and Science to assist boards in the effective governance of schools.

In 2002-03, the Department reviewed the process whereby it supported a range of in-service activities, including board of management training, for schools at primary and post-primary levels. Previously, limited financial support was provided to a range of course providers-organisers for elective programmes of in-service, to the extent that resources permitted and having regard to other commitments and priorities such as curricular reform and special needs. However, this approach was regarded as too fragmented.

To rationalise the process and to make better use of available resources, groups and bodies were advised to contact their local education centre whose role, among other things, is to provide local in-service and support and to provide advice and assistance to schools and their personnel in these matters.

The Department of Education and Science funds a national network of 21 full-time and nine part-time education centres to deliver in-service support for schools and their personnel. The education centres provide board of management training courses to schools within their catchment area, usually in conjunction with other bodies and groups. To ensure consistency of provision, the Department of Education and Science liaises with appropriate bodies at central level. The teacher education section of the Department of Education and Science established a new mechanism for providing support to such bodies in 2005 on a pilot basis. This mechanism enables school management bodies to apply for direct support in addition to the existing support provided by the education centre network. This will remain in place pending a review of the process. The teacher education section is prepared to consider proposals and to provide support to management bodies following consultation and consideration of submissions.

Science Education.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

92 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of recommendations of the task force on the physical sciences which remain to be implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27584/05]

There were some 39 recommendations in the report of the task force on the physical sciences, with costed proposals totalling €244 million extra, of which €66.3 million would be a recurring annual cost. Progress has been made on 25 of them. The Department of Education and Science continues to progress the recommendations of the task force on the physical sciences as resources permit in collaboration and consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Forfás and industry.

Significant progress has been made in a range of areas pertaining to the Department of Education and Science. For example a new science curriculum has been introduced at primary level supported by a resource grant in December 2004 of €1,000 per school plus €10 per pupil; a revised syllabi in junior certificate science and in leaving certificate physics, chemistry and biology have been introduced. Work on the revision of the two remaining leaving certificate subjects, agricultural science and physics and chemistry combined is well advanced. The introduction of the revised syllabi has been supported by comprehensive in-service programmes for teachers. A review of grading of subjects in the leaving certificate and initial reports on teacher training have been undertaken. A review of mathematics at post-primary level is being undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. Investment in the programme of research in third level institutes is continuing apace to enhance and promote world class standards in research, innovation and development. Between this programme and the various grants to the research councils, and other sources, an estimated €101.5 million will be invested in third level institutions in 2005.

Question No. 93 answered with QuestionNo. 69.
Question No. 94 answered with QuestionNo. 62.
Question No. 95 answered with QuestionNo. 18.

Research Funding.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

96 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will ensure that all colleges in the third level sector are assured that any private fundraising they engage in will not result in their direct funding from the Exchequer being cut; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27573/05]

I accept as a matter of principle that income generated by higher education institutions from external sources should not be subject to off-setting in the allocation of Exchequer funding. This is in a context where the OECD review of Irish higher education recommended institutions should be incentivised to seek external sources of funding. However, in determining the income which it is appropriate for institutions to retain, account must be taken of Exchequer expenditure which has facilitated the generation of such income.

Multi-Denominational Schools.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

97 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Education and Science if funding will be made available to Educate Together to allow them to continue building a network of multi-denominational schools throughout the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27550/05]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

406 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will allocate core funding to Educate Together to allow it to continue its essential work in developing and managing multi-denominational schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27390/05]

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

448 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will increase the core funding for Educate Together to reflect the growth in the work carried out by the organisation in developing and managing multi-denominational schools on behalf of the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27815/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 97, 406 and 448 together.

The level of funding that the Department of Education and Science provides to Educate Together as a school management body is on a par with that provided to Foras Patrúnachta na Gaelscoileanna, the Church of Ireland Board of Education, the Islamic Board of Education and the National Association of Boards of Management in Special Education. However, following discussions with Educate Together, the Department of Education and Science has provided additional funding to Educate Together in 2005 to meet the immediate issues of concern to that body. The matter of the future funding to be provided to the primary management bodies, including Educate Together, in 2006 will be considered as part of the normal Estimates process.

The Department of Education and Science has supported the establishment of many new Educate Together schools in recent years. Of the 24 new schools granted provisional recognition in the past three years, 12 of them are under Educate Together patronage, 11 of which are open. The Department of Education and Science has made several changes in recent years which have made the provision of accommodation for new schools much easier. One of these changes, strongly welcomed by Educate Together, was the abolition of the local contribution to the building costs for State-owned school buildings, which had cost up to €63,500 per school. Other innovations include the development of the design and build model to provide permanent accommodation much faster, such as in the case of the new Educate Together school in Griffeen Valley, Lucan, which was designed and built in under 13 months.

Bullying in Schools.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

98 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will introduce mainstream anti-bullying programmes into schools in view of the success of pilot programmes in certain areas and the growing concern at the prevalence of bullying in schools here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27676/05]

The social, personal and health education programme and the school development planning initiative are two important mainstream national programmes of support for schools. Both play a central role in assisting schools in a co-ordinated and cohesive manner to deal with the problem of bullying. In recent years, several pilot programmes have also addressed this issue. Pilot programmes are utilised as a means of informing possible new initiatives or how best existing provision may be improved upon. The function of pilot programmes is to test and evaluate different ideas and approaches to aid and enhance existing provision. Pilot programmes, when completed, are evaluated for programme content, effectiveness and appropriateness and the recommendations and findings are considered in developing existing programmes and structures which are designed to meet the needs of schools at local level.

The issue of bullying in schools and the Department of Education and Science has in place a multifaceted strategy to tackle the issue. The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools on anti-bullying behaviour is a central part of the social, personal and health education curriculum. It is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools. The social, personal and health education curriculum provides for the development of personal and social skills including self-awareness, respect for others, self-esteem and communication skills, all of which are important elements in addressing the issue of bullying.

In primary education, the issue of bullying is addressed in the social, personal and health education curriculum in the strand, Myself and Others, from infant classes onwards. In second level education, the issue of bullying is addressed from first year onwards in the social, personal and health education curriculum at junior cycle, in the module, Belonging and Integrating. The Department, in its guidelines on countering bullying behaviour in schools, has provided a national framework within which individual school management authorities may meet their responsibilities for implementing effective school-based policies to counter bullying. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of the school.

Each school is required to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, properly devised and implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools. The school development planning initiative plays an important role in supporting schools to raise awareness of the need for anti-bullying measures.

Schools Evaluation.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

99 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans on the publication of information on the performance of schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27646/05]

Recently I announced that reports arising from the inspection of schools and centres for education will be published. I have instructed the inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science to consult the education partners on how best this should be done. The ongoing consultation process began last month. I await the outcome of the consultations.

Irish Language.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

100 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of hours being spent on Irish language education at primary and secondary level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27561/05]

At primary level, the recommended minimum time, excluding discretionary curriculum time for Irish as a second language is 3.5 hours per week or 2.5 hours per week where a short day is provided for the infant classes. At second level, the syllabi for senior cycle are designed around a recommended instruction time of 180 hours and those for the junior cycle 240 to 270 hours over the three years of the junior cycle.

Garda Vetting Procedures.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

101 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science the categories of workers within the educational system that are vetted by the Garda for the risk of child abuse; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27669/05]

In the education sector, vetting is available in respect of prospective employees of children detention schools as well as special needs assistants and bus escorts to children with special needs. Upon the entry into force of the Teaching Council Act 2001, the council will have a regulatory function in respect of the teaching profession. It will be under a statutory obligation to establish and maintain a register of people entitled to teach and will have power to remove the names of those shown to be unfit to teach, including where it is considered that a person poses a threat to children.

School Staffing.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

102 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the action she will take in response to the report on attracting more men into primary teaching; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27649/05]

The report of the primary education committee contains several recommendations aimed at increasing the number of males entering primary teaching. The report is being considered by the relevant officials in the Department of Education and Science. The relatively low levels of men in the primary teaching force, a feature common to all OECD countries, is an issue that is of concern to me. It is important to attract more men into teaching for a number of reasons, not least of which is the positive role models that teachers provide in children's lives and the desirability of having both male and female role models in our schools.

The primary education committee was established to examine a range of issues on males entering primary teaching, and to make recommendations on short-term and long-term strategies to increase the numbers in this regard. The report draws on the professional insight of the key experts in this area as well as an examination of several relevant research studies. The report's findings will be of significant benefit in assisting the development of future policy in this important area. One key recommendation in the committee's report is that a co-ordinated promotion campaign, which would encourage boys as well as girls to enter primary teaching, should be undertaken. Officials in the Department of Education and Science will take action to determine how such a promotion campaign can be run to maximum effect. All other recommendations contained in the report are receiving consideration.

Institutes of Technology.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

103 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science the percentage of full-time students with a disability attending the institutes of technology; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27577/05]

A recent report by the Association of Higher Education Access and Disability, AHEAD, submitted to the Department of Education and Science indicates in the academic year 2004-05 students with a disability formed 2.7% — 1,366 — of full-time undergraduates in the sector. This figure compares with a participation rate of 1.5% for the institutes in the last AHEAD survey in 1998. It also exceeds the 2006 target for third level entrants with a disability, set by the action group on access 2001, which was 1.8%. This growth in participation reflects that improved systems of support, in particular through the fund for students with a disability, are encouraging and supporting students to access and participate in higher education in greater numbers than ever previously.

Question No. 104 answered with QuestionNo. 36.

Schools Evaluation.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

105 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Education and Science if all second level schools should produce an annual school report detailing their activities under a broad range of headings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27539/05]

There is no requirement for second level schools to produce such a report. However, the Education Act 1998 requires the board of management of a school to establish procedures for informing the parents of students in the school of matters relating to the operation and performance of the school. Such procedures may include the publication of a report on the operation and performance of the school in any school year. The methods by which such information is provided remains a matter for the board of management.

For example, it is common practice in many schools that an annual report is prepared for the final meeting of the board of management each year. This normally makes reference to how successfully policies were implemented during the year, highlights particular achievements and states priorities for the next school year. Some schools may send a synopsis of this report to parents. The practice of reporting in the above manner to boards of management is encouraged by some of the trustee bodies. Reports are normally sent to the trustee body. There is also a growing trend whereby principals give a report on the activities of the school in the previous school year, as well as indicating planned activities for the coming school year, to the annual general meeting of the parents' association at the beginning of a new school year. Many schools send a newsletter to parents at intervals during the year or at the end of the school year. Normally, information is included on planned and achieved school activities.

I am determined to provide more information, for parents in particular, about our schools, in a way that ensures a fair and comprehensive picture of all the different activities in a school. I am strongly opposed to the publication of crude league tables based solely on examination or test results. Such tables provide an unbalanced and grossly limited indication of a school's performance. In contrast to school league tables, school inspection reports from whole school evaluations and other inspections, when read in their entirety, can provide balanced and well-informed information on schools.

The whole school evaluation process involves an examination of all the varied activities of a school from the quality of teaching and learning to the availability of extra-curricular activities and the implementation of policies in areas such as bullying, and health and safety. The inspection process also includes consultation with the school's board, parents and staff members, and, at second level, with the school's students. Whole school evaluation reports can provide valuable information on the educational and social opportunities provided by a school. The comments that they contain are also fully sensitive to the context in which the school operates in a way which is not possible with league tables. Given the breadth of the contents of such reports, the publication of these and other school inspection reports could go a significant way to addressing the real needs of parents, students, teachers and others for better information on schools. The type of information provided in whole school evaluation reports will help parents who need accurate and balanced information. Whole school evaluation reports also contain valuable information that will be of interest to schools who may wish to learn from the experience of others.

I am determined to progress this matter in a sensible and responsible way and to ensure the views of all the education partners are considered before the publication process is finalised. During the summer, a mechanism was put in place whereby this can take place. The inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science has held 20 meetings with interested parties over the past month, and is preparing draft guidelines for the publication of inspection reports which will be circulated shortly to the education partners. Responses to the draft guidelines will then be sought and a final draft of the proposals will be submitted to me in December.

The publication of school inspection reports will commence from January 2006 for all inspections carried out from the start of the calendar year 2006. While I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation process, the discussions held to date have been fruitful and constructive. Each of the partners realises the need to address the information deficit that exists in ensuring full public access to balanced information on schools. This is especially important to those, who like myself, are opposed to the publication of league tables and want to find a better way. The considered and responsible approach to the publication of inspection reports will lead to much greater availability of information on schools without inadvertently pitting schools serving entirely different communities against each other in crude comparisons of academic performance alone. Whether intended or not, academic league tables would be a likely consequence of publishing exam results in an annual report for each school.

Question No. 106 answered with QuestionNo. 55.
Question No. 107 answered with QuestionNo. 19.

Industrial Earnings.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

108 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the average industrial wage for every fifth year since 1960; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27595/05]

Estimates of average gross earnings for industrial workers in the industrial sector are only available from 1985 onwards. The industrial sector includes manufacturing industries, mining and quarrying and electricity gas and water. Estimates of average gross earnings for industrial workers in the manufacturing sector are available from 1953. The industrial workers category includes operatives, maintenance workers, storekeepers, packers, cleaners, basic supervisory staff and apprentices. The average gross earnings and hours worked of industrial workers in manufacturing industries for each of every fifth year since 1960 and 2005 quarter 2, the latest data available, and the average earnings and hours worked of industrial workers in all industries for each of every fifth year since 1985 and 2005 quarter 2, the latest data available, are contained in the following table.

Year

Old Series Manufacturing Industries

Old Series All Industries

€ per week

€ per hour

hours per week

€ per week

€ per hour

hours per week

1960

9.52

0.22

44.9

1965

13.56

0.32

43.7

1970

22.13

0.52

42.5

1975

55.70

1.35

41.3

1980

122.16

2.96

41.3

1985

217.70

5.29

41.1

223.28

5.41

41.3

1990

278.21

6.74

41.2

285.90

6.89

41.5

1995

334.89

8.22

40.8

343.72

8.41

40.9

1996

343.34

8.43

40.7

353.85

8.66

40.8

Year

New Series Manufacturing Industries

New Series All Industries

€ per week

€ per hour

hours per week

€ per week

€ per hour

hours per week

1996

348.38

8.56

40.7

360.11

8.81

40.9

2000

423.24

10.40

40.7

436.20

10.66

40.9

2005 Q2*

553.07

13.83

40.0

577.31

14.33

40.3

An updated industrial earnings series was introduced in 2000 with retrospective annual data back to 1996. The data in the table show annual earnings according to the former series from 1960 up to and including 1996 and according to the new series for 1996 and 2000. Preliminary data for 2005 quarter 2 have also been included. A revised weighting system in the new series has given rise to minor differences between the updated and former series for the retrospective periods. In the former series, the weights for the lowest size category, ten to 49 persons engaged, also reflected the employment of units with fewer than ten persons engaged. The new series explicitly covers units with ten or more persons engaged.

General Register Office.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

109 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the number of marriages which were registered here for each of the past ten years. [27525/05]

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

110 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the number of births which were registered for each of the past ten years. [27526/05]

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

111 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the number of deaths which were registered for each of the past ten years. [27527/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 109 to 111, inclusive, together.

The following table summarises the numbers of marriages, births and deaths registered in the last ten years. The marriage figures are subject to revision.

Year

Marriages Registered

Births Registered

Deaths Registered

1995

15,604

48,530

31,494

1996

16,174

50,390

31,514

1997

15,631

52,311

31,605

1998

16,783

53,551

31,352

1999

18,526

53,354

31,683

2000

19,168

54,239

31,115

2001

19,246

57,882

29,812

2002

20,556

60,521

29,348

2003

20,302

61,517

28,823

2004

20,619

61,684

28,151

Employment Statistics.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

112 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the number of employees in full-time and part-time capacity in each of the past ten years. [27528/05]

Labour force indicators such as employment and unemployment are measured by the quarterly national household survey from 1998 onwards and prior to that were measured by the annual labour force survey. The latest figures available are from March to May 2005. The estimated number of persons in employment full-time and part-time from 1995 to 2005 is set out in the following table.

Estimated number of persons aged 15 and over in employment (ILO), 1995 to 2005

Year

Full-time

Part-time

Total

thousands

1995

1,127.8

153.9

1,281.7

1996

1,176.4

152.1

1,328.5

1997

1,210.0

169.9

1,379.9

1998

1,243.8

250.2

1,494.0

1999

1,322.2

266.9

1,589.1

2000

1,390.1

281.4

1,671.5

2001

1,435.4

286.5

1,721.9

2002

1,471.5

292.3

1,763.8

2003

1,488.2

305.2

1,793.4

2004

1,525.0

311.1

1,836.1

2005

1,597.5

331.7

1,929.2

Reference period 1995 to 1997: The annual Labour Force Survey (April each year).

Reference period 1998 to 2005: The second quarter (March to May) each year from the Quarterly National Household Survey.

Source: Central Statistics Office.

Inter-Country Adoptions.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

113 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a delegation from the Irish Adoption Board has travelled to Belarus to meet authorities there; and the position regarding adoptions from Belarus. [27440/05]

In October 2004, the Belorussian Government suspended all inter-country adoption from Belarus pending a full review of the adoption laws, procedures and practices that apply in inter-country adoption cases. A delegation from the adoption board met the Belorussian authorities on 8 September 2005, the primary purpose of which was to address the issue of the outstanding 18 cases which have been with the Belorussian authorities since before the closure. The Irish delegation also indicated it wanted to discuss future humanitarian co-operation on adoption. The Belorussian authorities expressed their satisfaction that a delegation had travelled to Belarus. This was the first such delegation to be received in Belarus since the closure. While the Belorussian adoption authorities declined to discuss individual cases, they indicated that if and when an agreement is reached and adoptions re-commence, priority would be given to applicants who have a named child.

The Belorussian authorities presented a draft protocol to the Irish delegation which has been translated and is with the Office of the Attorney General for its consideration. Negotiations on this protocol will commence as soon as possible. However, it is not possible to put a timeframe on these negotiations or to predict their outcome at this point in the process.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

114 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the commitments she has made in the completion of phase 2B of Mullingar General Hospital; the timeframe for these works; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27524/05]

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 new capital proposals or progressing those in the health capital programme. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children 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.

The Health Service Executive has made provision to progress this development within the health capital investment framework, 2005 to 2009. The project has been sanctioned up to tender stage, which includes completion of detailed design documentation. It was recently decided to fast-track the completion of the fit-out of the ward accommodation in the shelled-out area. This decision was taken to provide additional capacity more quickly than if the full project proceeded as a single construction contract. The design team is preparing detailed drawings with the intention of going to tender in March 2006. A prior indicative notice is to be lodged in the Official Journal of the European Union by mid-October. Staff on site are to be fully consulted as part of the detailed design process. Planning permission is to be sought by the beginning of November, and the target completion date for the fit-out of the shelled area is early 2007. On completion, the fit-out of the shelled accommodation is intended to provide an additional 43 beds, mainly medical and surgical beds.

The design work on the second stage of the project will continue in parallel with the fit-out and equipping of the shelled accommodation project. The second stage will include the provision of the following new facilities including a pathology department, an operating department, a medicine for the elderly-rehabilitation unit, an acute psychiatric unit, a child and adolescent psychiatric unit, an occupational therapy department, administrative accommodation, staff accommodation, education facilities, catering facilities and a new entrance concourse.

The completion of the second stage of the project is intended to provide a further 16 additional beds, mainly for day cases, as well as accommodating the transfer of 50 rehabilitation and acute psychiatric beds from facilities located outside the hospital. In all, there will be 109 additional beds on the hospital campus following the completion of the overall development. It has been estimated by the Health Service Executive that additional revenue funding of the order of €10 million, excluding inflation, will be required on an annual basis to run the shelled-out area when it is fully fitted-out. This estimate reflects a combination of the additional pay and non-pay costs required. Given the significant level of additional annual revenue costs associated with the project, I recently decided that an independent review of the estimate is necessary to ensure that the estimate and staff profile represent best value for money. This review is due to be completed prior to the finalisation of the tender documentation, and it is not anticipated that it will delay the project.

Health Services.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

115 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make emergency funding available to address the €400,000 shortfall in funding facing the Rape Crisis Centre. [27588/05]

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 of Health and Children 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.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

116 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will increase funding to frontline services dealing with violence against women as their core operational funding remained fixed at the 2003 level of €12 million. [27589/05]

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 of Health and Children 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.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

117 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the briefing note on funding to voluntary dedicated frontline service responses to violence against women, in which frontline services described their current level of funding as severely inadequate to meet the current needs of women and their children, she will sanction a funding increase of at least €7 million to meet the running costs of these services. [27590/05]

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 of Health and Children 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.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

118 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the need to increase funding for organisations involved in the issue of violence against women; her plans to increase the funding available for such groups in the budget for 2006; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27921/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

119 Mr. Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the funding issue for a refuge (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [27934/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy. The responsibility for the provision of refuges lies with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Tax Yield.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

120 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funds which are collected annually through the 50 cent additional tax imposed on a box of cigarettes; the way these funds are directed to health matters; if this fund is audited on a yearly basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27320/05]

In the budget for 2000, the Minister for Finance introduced an increase in the excise duty of just over 63 cent or 50p on a packet of 20 cigarettes, raising €167.605 million or £132 million for the Exchequer in a full year. The Appropriation Act 1999 stated that "such sum as may be determined by the Minister for Finance, not exceeding £132 million, shall be paid to the Minister for Health and Children...for services and purposes connected with the performance by the second-mentioned Minister of his or her functions, out of moneys collected by the Revenue Commissioners in respect of the duty of excise imposed by section 2 of the Finance (Excise Duty on Tobacco Products) Act, 1977".

The figure of €167.605 million contained in the Revised Estimates Volume 2005 in respect of certain excise duties on tobacco products is appropriated in aid of the Vote for the Department of Health and Children and allows gross total spending of €401.413 million for my Department. Thus, the net requirement of my Department from the Exchequer is reduced to €233.418 million. The collection of these excise duties is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners.

Hospital Hygiene.

John Perry

Ceist:

121 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason it is not possible to have on-the-spot cleanliness checks in the medicinal areas of hospitals in the same way that on-the-spot fines are carried out in kitchens, in view of the danger which unhygienic wards pose; the reason such measures are not in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27321/05]

The national hygiene audit, arranged by the Health Service Executive and the national hospitals office was completed on schedule at the end of August. This involved visits to each of the 54 acute hospitals in the country by a team of independent consultants. The purpose of the audit was to assess the standards of environmental hygiene and cleanliness in each hospital and to provide baseline information.

The final report from the audit is expected to be presented to the director of the national hospitals office this month. This will form the basis for the changes that are required in both work environments and work practices to meet the highest possible standards of cleanliness in hospital settings.

The Health Service Executive will also publish national infection control standards and national cleaning standards, a consistent and robust set of hygiene standards for hospitals. Where previously standards may have depended on the approach of a particular hospital or health board, the HSE can now ensure every hospital will share and meet the same high standards of cleanliness and infection control.

Health Services.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

122 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps a person (details supplied) in Dublin 10 must take to have their children reunited with them in Dublin. [27322/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

123 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps a person (details supplied) in Dublin 10 will take to have greater access to their children. [27323/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 122 and 123 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 has requested the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

124 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will release €400,000 necessary funds to advance a nursing home in Ballinrobe, County Mayo to the design and planning stage in view of the fact that development of such a project has been under discussion with her Department since 1971; her views on whether it is a priority case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27324/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

125 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of patients waiting for outpatients services at each hospital clinic in the Mid-Western Area; the length of time each patient has been waiting for an appointment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27336/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

126 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called to Beaumont Hospital for an operation to his back; and if this person will be operated on under the national treatment purchase fund. [27337/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

127 Dr. Twomey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of times her Department has met with the social services inspectorate since May 2005 in relation to the extension of the social services inspectorate remit to include residential homes for the elderly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27338/05]

Officials of my Department have met five times with the social services inspectorate since May 2005 in relation to the extension of the social service inspectorate's remit to include residential facilities for older persons. Officials from my Department, the social services inspectorate and the HSE also met officials from the Department of Health, Social Services and Personal Security in Northern Ireland yesterday to discuss with them their experiences with regard to the inspection of residential facilities for older persons.

Departmental Expenditure.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

128 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department has submitted to the Department of Finance a declaration that the levels of expenditure planned for the PPARS system for the rest of 2005 are necessary to deliver the project; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27339/05]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

129 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the nature and cost of the support services being provided to the PPARS project by Deloitte and Touche; if she has satisfied herself that the day rate charged by the firm is appropriate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27340/05]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

130 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has satisfied herself that the PPARS system will result in a reduction of the cost base in human resources with the Health Service Executive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27341/05]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

131 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the person who is the senior officer responsible for the PPARS system; her views on the composition of the national team; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27342/05]

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

152 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the person who is responsible and accountable for the overrun of €150 million on the payroll system in her Department. [27519/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 128 to 131, inclusive, and 152 together.

Prior to the establishment on 1 January 2005 of the Health Service Executive with its own Vote, health services were delivered by the individual health boards which were funded by grants from the Vote of my Department. The first contracts for the PPARS system were signed by five of the former boards and St. James's Hospital in 1998. The health boards executive was established in 2002 to facilitate joint working by health boards and took over the lead role for the project, but funding continued to be paid to the individual health boards.

By the end of 2004 the total amount of funding provided for the project by my Department amounted to some €110 million and the HSE indicated that a further €55 million or so would be required in 2005. The HSE decided on 6 October that any further development of the project should be put on hold and that an executive group will now establish the long-term value of PPARS in the context of the HSE's national unified structure.

The Comptroller and Auditor General's Office is carrying out a value for money examination of the project. This has been a matter of public record for some time. The examination will, I expect, address issues such as the development, governance and management of the project. My Department is, in that context, reviewing its own role in the project.

My Department and the Department of Finance had previously raised concerns about the costs of the project, specifically in relation to the consultancy and staffing costs. Last July, the Secretary General of my Department asked the HSE to undertake an urgent review of the project and is awaiting a formal report from the HSE following the meeting of its board last Thursday.

PPARS was funded each year from within the annual estimates, both current and capital. Successive Ministers would have been involved in agreeing the overall capital requirement for ICT, which would have also been examined by the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children and approved by the Dáil.

General Practitioners.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

132 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the continuing significant increase in general practitioner fees; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that some general practitioners in Dublin recently increased their fees from €40 to €50; her plans to impose limits on the amounts that general practitioners may charge for consultations or home visits in view of the financial strain that these fees may put on low income families who do not have a medical card; if her Department retains any statistics on the fees charged by general practitioners; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27383/05]

Consultation fees charged to private patients by general practitioners are a matter of private contract between the two parties, the doctor as the service provider and the patient as the user. I have no role in the setting of these fees. However, I will ask my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, to consider whether the Competition Authority or the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs may have any role in relation to the level of fees charged for GP services.

The recent agreement reached between the parties on the labour relations commission's recommendation of June 2005 will allow the Health Service Executive to proceed with the introduction of GP visit cards which will enable 200,000 people to have free access to general practitioner services under the general medical services scheme. Applications for assessments for eligibility to GP visit cards are being processed at present by the HSE.

Infectious Diseases.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

133 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the latest information she has regarding the incidence of tuberculosis in each county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27384/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 134 withdrawn.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

135 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an investigation will be carried out into the death of a person (details supplied) in County Louth from haemophilus influenza. [27413/05]

The Health Service Executive which has statutory responsibility for the management and delivery of the health and personal social services, has provided the following information regarding the death of the person in question in County Louth from haemophilus influenza.

The HSE North Eastern Area has been notified that a child from County Louth has recently died, whilst abroad, from haemophilus influenza group B — Hib — septicaemia. The child had presented and was reviewed at the accident and emergency department of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital a number of days prior to his death. As his death occurred outside the country, complete information is not yet available. However, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital has conducted an initial review. A full review will be undertaken with the participation of the family and when full information is obtained, a final report will be completed and the family will be fully apprised and involved.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

136 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called to Beaumont Hospital, Dublin. [27415/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Service Staff.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

137 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children with regard to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 20, the reason a decision letter from An Bord Altranais issued on 6 November 2003 setting out that they must undertake an adaptation period in midwifery before a period of adaptation in general nursing, in view of their preference not to practice midwifery; and the fact that this has made it difficult for them to get a hospital to agree to take them on. [27428/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

138 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 20 has been waiting since 26 April 2004 for a response to their appeal to a decision by An Bord Altranais not to grant them recognition for general nursing in view of the fact that they complied fully with criteria; the reason they have been waiting since August 2004 as they received no response to their first appeal; and the further reason they received no response to another appeal in September 2005. [27429/05]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

139 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 20 has not received a decision letter from An Bord Altranais. [27430/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 137 to 139, inclusive, together.

An Bord Altranais has statutory authority for the registration of nurses under the Nurses Act, 1985.

I am sure that the Deputy will appreciate that An Bord Altranais must process each application thoroughly to ensure that all those entered on the register of nurses are deemed professionally qualified and competent for such registration. The protection of the public underpins this process. I am satisfied that the board discharges its functions in a professional manner.

In 2004, over 3,500 newly registered qualifications were entered on the register. With regard to individual applications I am informed that decisions are normally issued to applicants within six weeks. However, errors or omissions in information supplied to the board can cause delays. It may be that reasons such as these have contributed to any delay in processing the application referred to by the Deputy.

Given the statutory functions of the board, it would not be appropriate for the Minister to intervene in individual applications for registration.

Health Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

140 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the length of time the audiology clinic was open in Drogheda; the number of staff employed and the cost per annum of running same; the number of persons treated by the clinic for each month; the arrangement in place to provide transport to those seeking same to attend in Dundalk; when the audiology clinic will be re-established in Drogheda and the expected cost of same. [27442/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Statistics.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

141 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the breakdown by county or region of the number of persons here being treated for B12 deficiency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27480/05]

As vitamin B12 deficiency is not a notifiable disease and the majority of persons with this condition are treated at GP level, information on the number of persons being treated is not available.

Hospital Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

142 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if waiting areas will be made more patient friendly where patients do not feel intimidated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27481/05]

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 HSE to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

143 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to introduce a screening programme for bowel cancer for 60-69 year olds; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27485/05]

A new national cancer strategy is currently being finalised by the national cancer forum, a multi-disciplinary group of experts in oncology. I expect the strategy to be completed by the end of the year. As part of this work, the forum has developed a framework for evidence-based decision making in relation to the introduction of population based screening programmes. I understand that the forum is using this framework to consider the case for colorectal cancer screening, including the age groups to which it might apply. The forum will make recommendations to me on that basis and I look forward to receiving them.

Health Service Staff.

John Perry

Ceist:

144 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will consider a submission (details supplied) on the Health and Social Care Professionals Bill and address the concerns raised; her plans to amend the Bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27490/05]

Jack Wall

Ceist:

157 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views regarding correspondence (details supplied); the action she will take to resolve the concerns expressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27744/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

173 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the submission from the Psychological Society of Ireland on the Health and Social Care Professionals Bill 2004. [27830/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 144, 157 and 173 together.

The Health and Social Care Professionals Bill 2004 provides for the establishment of a system of statutory registration for certain health and social care professionals, including psychologists, whether they are employed in the public service, the private health sector or are self employed. The qualifications required of registrants will be a matter for the relevant registration board under section 37 of the Bill and each board must approve qualifications as attesting to the standard of proficiency required for registration.

Section 91 of the Bill contains transitional arrangements for the registration of existing practitioners which will apply for a period of two years from the establishment of a register. These arrangements include the provision that practitioners who hold a stated qualification and who have been in practice at any time during a period of five years before the register was established shall be granted registration. A practitioner must also satisfy the registration board that he or she is a fit and proper person to engage in the practice of that profession.

The stated qualification for psychologists under the grandparenting provisions set out in the Bill is a recognised university degree or diploma obtained with first or second class honours in which psychology was taken as a major subject and honours obtained in that subject.

I should explain that this does not reflect the current qualifications required of persons recruited as psychologists within the public health service as, since 2002, psychologists recruited to the public health service have been required to hold a postgraduate qualification. The qualification set out in the Bill for psychologists is instead designed to take proper account of those practitioners previously recruited to the public health service and those who are practising elsewhere who may not hold a postgraduate qualification.

I have given very careful consideration to the proposals put forward by the Psychological Society of Ireland in regard to qualifications held by applicants applying for registration under section 91. These proposals involve discriminating between psychologists working in the public service and those working elsewhere for the purposes of the transitional arrangements for the registration of existing practitioners. The legal advice available to me is that this would be inadvisable.

I believe that the current provisions contained in the Bill for the grandparenting of practising psychologists are appropriate in the context of a transitional period and having regard to requirements in the public health service prior to 2002. I am also conscious that, in terms of the protection of the public, any registrant who does not meet the standard of proficiency and competence expected of registered professionals will be subject to the complaints, inquiries and disciplinary procedures set out in the Bill.

Medical Cards.

James Breen

Ceist:

145 Mr. J. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if medical cards will issue to all victims of the MRSA superbug; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27494/05]

Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means. Any person, regardless of nationality, who is accepted by the Health Service Executive as being ordinarily resident in Ireland is entitled to either full eligibility under category 1, namely medical card holders, or limited eligibility under category 2 for health services. The Health Service Executive normally regards a person as "ordinarily resident" in Ireland if he or she satisfies the executive that it is his or her intention to remain in Ireland for a minimum period of one year. Temporary visitors from another EU country are entitled to necessary treatment free of charge under the European health insurance card.

Persons in category 1 are are entitled to a full range of services including general practitioner services, prescribed drugs and medicines, all inpatient public hospital services in public wards including consultants services, all outpatient public hospital services including consultants services, dental, ophthalmic and aural services and appliances and a maternity and infant care service.

Persons in category 2, non-medical card holders, are entitled, subject to certain charges, to all inpatient public hospital services in public wards including consultants services and outpatient public hospital services including consultants services.

Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive of the Health Service Executive, with the exception of people over the age of seventy years who are automatically entitled to a medical card. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive are unable to provide general practitioner, medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.

Eligibility for medical cards in the case of persons who have contracted MRSA will continue to be assessed on the same basis as all other persons.

Nursing Homes.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

146 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there has been any fundamental change to the vetting process for nursing homes since the Leas Cross nursing incident; and if so, the details of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27495/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

147 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there is an average of four years waiting time for a routine appointment in Beaumont Hospital ENT Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27496/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

148 Mr. Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the policy initiatives taken by her for implementation by the Health Service Executive to ease the situation in accident and emergency departments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27506/05]

The measures identified in the ten point plan to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services take a wide ranging approach and are aimed at improving access to accident and emergency services, improving patient flows through accident and emergency departments, freeing up of acute beds and providing appropriate longer term care for patients outside of the acute hospital setting.

The Health Service Executive is working with hospitals in order to deliver these measures and to ensure that the investment produces sustainable solutions. There are also additional actions that are required which relate to processes and procedures affecting the throughput of patients in hospitals. These too will be addressed by the HSE.

My Department has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to reply directly to the Deputy in relation to the progress made to date in implementing these measures.

Departmental Property.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

149 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in regard to the removal of asbestos from Hawkins House during 2001, asbestos was detected in and removed from foyer area of the building; if staff working in the foyer area were notified of any such removal; the precautions which were taken to protect workers working in the foyer area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27516/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

150 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to concerns expressed by staff who worked in the foyer area of Hawkins House that they may have been exposed to asbestos during the removal of this substance from the building; if steps have been taken to determine if such workers may have been exposed to asbestos; the health or medical procedures which are available to persons who fear they may have been exposed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27517/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

151 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to concerns expressed by staff who worked in the foyer area of Hawkins House that they may have been exposed to asbestos during the removal of this substance from the building; if, in view of these concerns, she will ask the Health and Safety Authority to review the manner in which the asbestos was removed with a view to determining if any employees were put at risk; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27518/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 149 to 151, inclusive, together.

Hawkins House is owned by the Office of Public Works and they are responsible for maintenance and ancillary works required to be carried out on the building.

The OPW has confirmed that in June 1998 a preliminary survey of the boiler room in Hawkins House revealed small quantities of asbestos based thermal insulation. In February 1999, during the course of refurbishment works in the main foyer, further quantities of asbestos material were discovered on pipework embedded in the concrete floor. A more detailed survey of the building carried out in July 1999 uncovered isolated pockets of asbestos based materials in various forms such as ceiling tiles, duct linings and fire doors.

The asbestos material discovered on pipework embedded in the concrete floor during the refurbishment works in the main foyer was not removed. It has been left in situ and completely sealed within the floor area where it poses no threat.

The OPW advised that the isolated pockets of asbestos-based materials in various forms such as ceiling tiles, duct linings and fire doors should be left untouched. At present, left untouched, they pose no health risk.

Following a tender competition carried out by the OPW, the material in the boiler room in Hawkins House was removed in February 1999 in accordance with all of the Department of Environment and Local Government, local authority and Health and Safety Authority regulations. Prior to the work the successful contractor forwarded to the Health and Safety Authority a method statement setting out how the asbestos would be safely removed and issued a notification of commencement of asbestos work to the health and safety authority. The system of work set out in the method statement ensured that the occupants of the building were not exposed to any risk during the removal works.

This work was carried out in February 1999 and, at all times during the asbestos removal, my Department was kept advised of the potential risks involved if the material was not properly managed. Air tests were carried out by specialist consultants before, during and after works to provide assurances that there were no airborne fibres present and that, consequently, there was no danger to staff. Clearance certificates were issued at the time.

Question No. 152 answered with QuestionNo. 128.

Health Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

153 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the procedures that the Health Service Executive follows for informing parents and specialists as required of the results of routine eye tests taken in schools; her views on the fact that contrary to international best practice routine eye tests are not given to some children until they are ten years of age; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27523/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

154 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she will be in a position to provide the necessary funding for the next phase of the Naas Hospital development plan; if she will make the necessary provision within the context of the Estimates for her Department and budget 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27602/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Seamus Healy

Ceist:

155 Mr. Healy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the transport sub-committee established as a result of the report on radiotherapy services; if the report has been completed three years on; the recommendations of the report; when she will publish the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27638/05]

As I have previously indicated to the House, I consider that appropriate transport arrangements for patients requiring radiotherapy should be made available, where necessary, by the Health Service Executive. My Department raised this matter with the HSE last May to ensure that appropriate transport arrangements are put in place on a national basis for patients who are required to travel to obtain radiotherapy. Transport solutions are already a feature of the current provision of radiation oncology services.

Last July I announced the Government's plan for a national network of radiation oncology services to be put in place by 2011 and commencing in 2008. The network will consist of four large centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway and two integrated satellite centres at Waterford Regional Hospital and Limerick Regional Hospital. Appropriate transport arrangements will form part of the planning and implementation of this plan, given the significant increase in capacity involved.

The national radiation oncology coordinating group provides advice to my Department and the HSE on radiotherapy. In light of the above and the fact that under the Health Act 2004, the HSE has responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services, the NROCG does not intend to prepare a specific report on transport.

Sudden Death Syndrome.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

156 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the growing number of deaths from sudden death syndrome of young persons, she will make it a requirement that before these persons are allowed to participate in sport they should have an annual fitness certificate; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a simple ECG test could have saved the life of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 or at least create an awareness in schools and clubs of the symptoms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27743/05]

In September 2004 a national task force on sudden cardiac death was established in order to address the problem of sudden cardiac death in Ireland. The task force, chaired by Dr. Brian Maurer, will make recommendations on the prevention of sudden cardiac death and on the detection of those at high risk. The task force will also advise on equipment and training programmes to improve the outcome in those suffering from sudden cardiac collapse and on the establishment of appropriate surveillance systems.

I understand that the task force has been involved in widespread consultation and that a report is currently being finalised. The recommendations of the task force will inform future policy in this area.

Question No. 157 answered with QuestionNo. 144.

Hospital Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

158 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason all 50 beds at Maynooth Community Hospital are not available for patients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27745/05]

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 HSE to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

159 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason medical card holders in County Mayo have to wait up to five months for a basic eye test; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27746/05]

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.

Assisted Human Reproduction.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

160 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if funds provided by the Irish taxpayer are used as part of EU funding for projects involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells in other EU member states. [27747/05]

My colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, has lead responsibility for the EU Seventh Research Framework Programme under which the issue of funding for research of this kind may arise. The work of the commission on assisted human reproduction is directly related to this issue and I was pleased to receive its report last May. As I indicated at that time, the Government has decided to refer the report to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children; this will allow for further public and political consideration of the complex issues involved. After this process, the Government will make decisions on the regulation of assisted human reproduction in Ireland on the basis of both the commission's and the Oireachtas committee's reports.

Health Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

161 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the measures which are being taken to make capital investment available in the Health Service Executive northern area in order that appropriate community facilities will be provided for patients as recommended in the Mental Health Commission annual report 2004. [27772/05]

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.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

162 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 136, 137 and 138 of 29 June 2005 (details supplied) on Leas Cross Nursing Home, the reason no reply has issued from the Health Service Executive; the position regarding same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27773/05]

The questions referred to by the Deputy related 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 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. My Department has again been in touch with the HSE and has been informed that the questions referred to by the Deputy are receiving attention and that replies will issue to the Deputy shortly.

Hospital Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

163 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the measures which are being taken to develop a dedicated acute unit to cater for persons with intellectual disability and challenging behaviour in the HSE northern area as recommended in the Mental Health Commission annual report 2004. [27774/05]

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.

State Property.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

164 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the measures she is taking on the sale of land at St. Ita’s Hospital and St. Brendan’s Hospital. [27775/05]

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.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

165 Mr. Neville asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the measures she is taking on the urgent requirements for the development of an acute inpatient unit at Beaumont Hospital as outlined in the 2004 annual report of the Mental Health Commission. [27776/05]

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.

Violence Against Women.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

166 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to provide a women’s refuge in Carlow; the services funded by her Department in County Carlow relative to the needs of women who are suffering violence in the home; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27777/05]

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.

The responsibility for the provision of refuges lies with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Medical Cards.

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

167 Dr. Twomey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons availing of the over 70s medical card that was introduced in 2001; the number of persons aged over 70 who are on the traditional medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27786/05]

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 Deasy

Ceist:

168 Mr. Deasy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in obtaining an angiogram for a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and when the person can expect to be called for same. [27791/05]

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.

Violence Against Women.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

169 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position on the need for increased Government funding for frontline services for women who have suffered violence with particular reference to a refuge (details supplied) in County Wicklow; if, in view of the serious difficulties this is causing, funding will be allocated as a matter of urgency for this service in order that the necessary resources be put in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27799/05]

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.

The responsibility for the provision of refuges lies with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Health Services.

Niall Blaney

Ceist:

170 Mr. Blaney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of NowDoc services which are in operation throughout the country; the guidelines which are used for determining the location of NowDoc centres in a county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27800/05]

Niall Blaney

Ceist:

171 Mr. Blaney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if it is Health Service Executive policy that doctors on duty in a NowDoc centre remain in the centre for the duration of the duty unless called out to visit a patient; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27801/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 170 and 171 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 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.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

172 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of medical cards in place at 1 October 2005 on a county basis; when the 30,000 full medical cards will be allocated; when application forms and relevant details of application criteria will be available for the 200,000 doctor only medical cards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27814/05]

The latest information for the number of persons covered by a medical card on a county basis is September 2005. The information is set out in the following table:

County

No. of persons covered by a medical card

Dublin

275,824

Kildare

37,382

Wicklow

27,675

Laois

16,965

Longford

12,425

Offaly

19,540

Westmeath

21,328

Clare

31,189

Limerick

48,916

Tipperary NR

19,163

Cavan

18,567

Louth

34,463

Meath

29,180

Monaghan

15,922

Donegal

67,804

Leitrim

11,076

Sligo

19,287

Carlow

15,402

Kilkenny

19,452

Tipperary SR

28,452

Waterford

34,885

Wexford

39,237

Cork

131,360

Kerry

41,289

Galway

65,561

Mayo

46,939

Roscommon

19,748

Total

1,149,031

The income assessment guidelines used by the Health Service Executive, HSE, in considering applications for medical cards were increased by 7.5% with effect from 1 January 2005. Significant changes were also announced in the area of allowances to applicants in respect of dependants and reasonable expenses incurred in relation to mortgage, childcare and commuting to work. It was anticipated that these increases would result in a net additional 30,000 medical cards. To date, the net number of additional cards issued has not significantly exceeded the figure for the year end of 2004. My Department and the HSE are now reviewing the operation of the income assessment guidelines with a view to identifying what further changes may be required in order to enable the desired number of additional medical cards to be issued.

Now that agreement has been reached between the parties on all aspects of the Labour Relations Commission's recommendations of June 2005 the HSE is proceeding with the introduction of GP visit cards which will enable 200,000 people to have free access to general practitioner services under the general medical services scheme. Applications for assessments for eligibility to GP visit cards are being processed at present by the HSE.

Question No. 173 answered with QuestionNo. 144.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

174 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on new action plans to end the issue of patients on trolleys in hospitals. [27845/05]

The measures identified in the ten point plan to improve the delivery of accident and emergency services take a wide ranging approach and are aimed at improving access to accident and emergency services, improving patient flows through accident and emergency departments, freeing up of acute beds and providing appropriate longer term care for patients outside of the acute hospital setting.

The Health Service Executive is working with hospitals in order to deliver these measures and to ensure that the investment produces sustainable solutions. There are also additional actions that are required which relate to processes and procedures affecting the throughput of patients in hospitals. These too will be addressed by the HSE.

A particular focus has been placed on those patients in acute hospitals who have completed their acute phase of treatment and are ready for discharge to a more appropriate setting. The HSE is making sustained efforts to arrange for the discharge of these patients in order to have more acute beds available in hospitals for emergency patients. My Department has asked the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to reply directly to the Deputy on the progress being made in this regard.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

175 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on speech and occupational therapy services for children on the north side of Dublin and provide a detailed list of new services. [27846/05]

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.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

176 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if discussions will be held with the Health Service Executive regarding the need to accelerate the redevelopment of Millbrook Lawns Health Centre, Tallaght, Dublin 24; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27906/05]

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.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

177 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children is discussions will be held with the Health Service Executive regarding the clear need for a health centre in Fettercairn Estate, Tallaght; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27907/05]

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.

Telecommunications Masts.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

178 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an investigation will be carried out conveying the health concerns of the local community in respect of the masts erected in Whitestown Industrial Estate, Tallaght, Dublin 24; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27908/05]

My Department has made inquiries of the HSE on the issue raised by the Deputy and has been advised that the HSE is not aware of any risk to public health from mobile phone masts in the Whitestown industrial estate area. The consensus of scientific literature to date regarding possible adverse health effects from electromagnetic fields, or EMF, exposure from mobile phones and their base stations is that there is no evidence of a causal relationship between such exposure and ill health. The World Health Organisation, WHO, has assessed the many reviews carried out in this area and has indicated that exposures below the limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in its 1998 guidelines do not produce any known adverse health effects. These guidelines are based on a careful analysis of all peer-reviewed scientific literature including thermal and non-thermal effects.

In 1999 the European Community introduced recommendations on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields, based on the ICNIRP guidelines. Ireland complies with these recommendations. The Commission for Communication Regulations (ComReg) monitors compliance with regard to telecommunication masts. I am advised that monitoring has taken place at Whitestown industrial estate in Tallaght business park and that the results conclude that emissions are within ICNIRP guidelines. Research in this area is ongoing.

The WHO has identified a need for further research to better assess possible health risks and has established the international electromagnetic fields (EMF) project. My Department will continue to monitor developments in relation to this issue.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

179 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the budget for home help services in the south east and the amount allocated to County Kilkenny; if there is a manager dedicated to the scheme or if it is part of a number of schemes managed by the same officials; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27909/05]

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.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

180 Mr. Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the aims and objectives of the national hospitals office; if hospital networks have been determined; the networks in place in the Dublin area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27910/05]

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 Waiting Lists.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

181 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will receive an appointment for the community paediatrician; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27911/05]

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 case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

182 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will receive a hearing aid; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27929/05]

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.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

183 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals for St. Colmcille’s Hospital, Loughlinstown, County Dublin and Naas General Hospital County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27946/05]

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.

Cancer Screening Programme.

John Curran

Ceist:

184 Mr. Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of women who have benefited from BreastCheck in Clondalkin and Lucan during the period 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. [28000/05]

John Curran

Ceist:

185 Mr. Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of BreastCheck services made available to women in Clondalkin and Lucan over the period 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. [28001/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 184 and 185 together.

The information requested by the Deputy is not collated by my Department. My Department has requested the director of BreastCheck to examine the matters raised and to reply directly to the Deputy.

John Curran

Ceist:

186 Mr. Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to extend the service of cervical screening to medical card holders free of charge under the equal opportunities childcare programme. [28002/05]

Cervical smear testing is not currently provided by GPs or family planning clinics under the scheme for medical card holders. However, where cervical smears form part of recognised protocols for the ongoing treatment of individual patient illnesses, they should be provided free of charge to eligible women under the general medical services, GMS, scheme. Any necessary follow-up treatment is available to all women, including medical card holders, within the public hospital system.

I am committed to the national roll-out of a cervical screening programme in line with international best practice. Following the publication of the international expert's report on the feasibility and implications of a national roll-out, my Department undertook a consultative process with relevant professional and advocacy stakeholders. My Department will now discuss options for roll-out of the programme with the Health Service Executive. The arrangements for cervical screening within the context of the GMS are among the issues which will be considered in the discussions which have commenced on the GP contract for publicly provided services.

State Property.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

187 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the purchase of the Great Blasket Island which was announced in July 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27922/05]

The Office of Public Works, under the direction of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, who have the overall responsibility for the process, are conducting the negotiations with the island's landowners for the purchase of the properties on the Island.

Tax Code.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

188 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding a tax rebate application for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27344/05]

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the taxpayer has confirmed that he has not yet made any application for a tax rebate due to cessation of his employment on 23 September, 2005. A form P50 to facilitate such an application being made issued to the taxpayer on 4 October, 2005, and on receipt of the completed form, together with form P45, any repayment due will be processed.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

189 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will be furnished with a P21 statement for 2004. [27361/05]

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that form P21 balancing statement 2004 issued to the taxpayer on 7 October, 2005.

Tax Collection.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

190 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the exact VAT charges on ESB and gas bills; if consumers are paying VAT on other charges on the same bill; and if he will give a statement on the whole issue of VAT on ESB and gas bills. [27418/05]

The position is that the VAT rating of goods and services is subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. Under Article 28(2)(e) of the sixth VAT directive the supply of electricity and gas is subject to the reduced VAT rate which in Ireland is 13.5%. This article allows member states which at 1 January 1991 applied a reduced rate to supplies of goods and services other than those specified in Annex H of the sixth VAT directive to continue to apply a reduced rate to such supplies.

In the case of the supply of electricity a standing charge and a public service obligation, PSO, levy are also applied and both of these charges are subject to VAT at the 13.5% rate. For gas, a supply charge applies which is also subject to VAT at the 13.5% rate. I should explain that the PSO levy is based on the costs incurred by the ESB in meeting its obligations to produce, or buy electricity that is being generated from peat and other environmentally sustainable forms of energy. Up to March 2003, this levy was included in the standing charge on the bill but, since that date, the PSO levy has been shown separately on electricity bills. The method through which VAT must be calculated is set out under section 10 of the Value Added Tax Act 1972 (as amended). In this regard, VAT must be charged on the total consideration for the supply of goods or services, including all taxes, commissions, costs and charges but not including value-added tax chargeable in respect of the supply itself.

In respect of charges for other goods or services included on electricity or gas bills, a VAT rate appropriate to those additional goods or services will be included in the bill. For example, an electricity or gas bill might include a repayment on the purchase of a domestic appliance which would be liable to the standard VAT rate of 21%. However, this would not affect the rate of VAT applied to the supply of gas or electricity which is 13.5%.

Tax Code.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

191 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the reason, despite submitting an application, a person (details supplied) in County Kildare has not been provided with confirmation from the Revenue Commissioners that they were self-employed during a particular period; if it is standard practise for the Revenue Commissioners to provide such confirmations; and the application procedure for such confirmations. [27433/05]

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they have no record of having received a written application from the taxpayer requesting confirmation of self-employment. However following a telephone call from the agent acting on behalf of the tax payer on 3 October, 2005, a letter issued to the taxpayer on the same day giving the information requested. It is standard practice to provide such confirmation on receipt of a request by letter, fax, e-mail or telephone call from a taxpayer or the agent acting on behalf of the taxpayer.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joe Walsh

Ceist:

192 Mr. Walsh asked the Minister for Finance when work will commence on the provision of office accommodation for the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and Bord Iascaigh Mhara complex at Clonakilty, County Cork under the decentralisation programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27444/05]

A site has been acquired in Clonakilty. The accommodation brief for the building is currently being finalised with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and BIM. When the brief is agreed tenders for the design and construction of the building can be invited. Subject to successful completion of the tendering process, and a satisfactory planning application, work should commence on the construction of the building early next year.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

193 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance if persons applying for decentralised offices who changed their preference for undersubscribed locations remain within the priority category; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27486/05]

Applications for decentralisation are made through the Central Applications Facility, CAF, operated by the Public Appointments Service, PAS. In the case of undersubscribed locations, there is a facility which allows applicants who have selected such a location as their second or subsequent preference to change it to their first preference. Civil and public servants who change their applications will be ranked according to the rankings agreed for the operation of the CAF. Anyone who changes their application and does not receive an offer for the new location will have the application returned to its original first preference and retain full priority.

Public Service Salaries.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

194 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the average mid-ranking civil servants, that is, principal officer’s annual salary for every fifth year since 1960; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27596/05]

The requested payscales are in the following table. All rates are those applying on 1 January of each year and are shown in euro terms. The scales shown from 1960 to 1975 are "B Scales" which applied to married men. The intermediate points for the 1960 scale are not available.

Principal Officer Standard Scale Modified Rates

Year

1st point

2nd point

3rd point

4th point

5th point

6th point

7th point

1960

B

2,228.39

2,634.71

1965

B

3,269.58

3,377.50

3,485.43

3,593.36

3,731.29

3,809.21

3,866.35

1970

B

3,771.12

3,893.02

4,014.91

4,136.81

4,258.70

4,380.60

4,437.73

1975

B

6,688.98

6,888.33

7,087.68

7,287.03

7,486.38

7,690.80

1980

13,636.99

14,170.28

14,703.57

15,236.86

15,770.15

1985

23,154.94

24,147.88

25,139.54

26,136.29

27,126.68

1990

31,975.81

33,338.24

34,695.59

36,060.56

37,417.91

1995

43,383.14

45,233.15

47,073.00

48,925.55

50,767.94

LSI 1*

LSI 2

2000

50,281.63

52,412.25

54,532.71

56,667.14

58,466.36

60,330.34

62,194.31

2005

71,990.00

75,042.00

78,075.00

81,132.00

83,707.00

86,378.00

89,047.00

current rate

at 1 June 05

75,036.00

78,216.00

81,376.00

84,564.00

87,247.00

90,032.00

92,813.00

*LS1 = Long Service Increment.

Tax Yield.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

195 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the total tax receipts for residential properties in the years 1997 and 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27612/05]

It is assumed that the Deputy is referring to stamp duty and residential property tax, RPT. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the relevant information available is for the yield from RPT and the estimated yield from stamp duties on residential property transactions. Following is the information on a revenue net receipts basis for each of the years 1997 and 2004.

Stamp Duty

RPT

Year

€ million

Year

€ million

1997

194

1997

3.95

2004

752

2004

0.38

RPT was abolished with effect from 5 April 1997. However, any person who had a liability to RPT prior to its abolition in 1997 has an obligation to discharge that liability, including the payment of interest.

Tax Code.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

196 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the total tax relief granted for waste charges for the years 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2004; the number of applicants there were for these years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27613/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent year for which complete relevant information is available in relation to local authority service charges is for the income tax year 2002. The following is the information requested for income tax years 1997/1998 and 2002.

Year

Estimated cost of tax forgone €m

Numbers availing of tax relief

1997/1998

2.5

78,500

2002

5.2

124,900

Flood Relief.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

197 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the situation regarding the application from Arklow Town Council, County Wicklow for funding for flood relief works; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27615/05]

A meeting will be arranged in the near future between OPW and Arklow Town Council to discuss the preliminary report commissioned by the local authority. The need to have this report updated will also be discussed in light of the additional information and data identified by OPW as a requirement for such a study since the original report was commissioned.

Tax Code.

Seamus Healy

Ceist:

198 Mr. Healy asked the Minister for Finance if he will include an amendment in legislation to allow appropriate tax incentives to apply to any proposed park and ride facilities to be provided by South Tipperary County Council on the same basis as the scheme applies in other locations throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27641/05]

As I am sure the Deputy is aware, I announced in my budget 2005 statement that I had directed my Department, together with the Revenue Commissioners, to undertake a detailed review of various property tax reliefs and exemptions. These reliefs include the tax incentives for park and ride facilities. Therefore, it would not be appropriate to consider the introduction of an extension to the terms of this relief at this stage.

Flood Relief.

Seamus Healy

Ceist:

199 Mr. Healy asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the Clonmel flood alleviation scheme; the outcome of the public consultation process; the timescale for the scheme; if the scheme will be fast-tracked as it is outstanding for a considerable number of years with consequent hardship to homeowners and the business community due to severe flooding. [27643/05]

Proposals for alleviating the risk of flooding in Clonmel were placed on public display during the month of May this year. The exhibition was well attended and a large number of observations were received. These observations have now been considered by the Office of Public Works and the steering committee on the Clonmel project, which includes officials from Clonmel Borough Council and South Tipperary County Council, and responses are currently being prepared. Discussions are also ongoing with some landowners to resolve specific issues on the schemes.

Tenders have been received for the site investigation contract and are currently being examined, with the intention to proceed with the investigation work upon conclusion of the vetting process. A brief has also been prepared in relation to the supply of demountable flood defences and it is hoped to advertise for this shortly. The site investigation must be complete before the detailed design of the schemes can be undertaken. These investigations along with the detailed design, which will be followed by the procurement process for a works contractor mean that works could commence in the autumn of 2006. The OPW will carefully monitor the programme in order to commence works at the earliest possible date.

House Purchases.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

200 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Finance the number of first-time buyers who purchased houses in 2004. [27750/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that data on the number of first-time buyers is only available in part through stamp duty receipts. However, as not all first-time buyers are liable to stamp duty and where stamp duty receipts refer to more than one category of buyer, reliable statistics regarding the number of first-time buyers cannot be determined.

No stamp duty applies in the case of new residential property for owner occupiers including first time buyers, which does not exceed 125 sq. m. in floor area. In this respect no information is available as regards such purchasers. In addition, as stamp duty rates for property transactions exceeding €381,000 (up to 1 December 2004) and exceeding €635,000 (on or after 2 December 2004) were the same for all residential purchasers, it is not possible to distinguish first time buyer transactions in excess of these values. However, where first-time buyers paid stamp duty at a lower rate than other buyers, this category of buyers is separately identifiable as first-time buyers and as such a record of their number exists. In this respect, the number of transactions relating to first time buyers paying stamp duty at these particular rates in 2004 was 7,632.

The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, in its annual housing statistics bulletin, estimates that 34% of all new houses purchased in 2004 were bought by first-time buyers.

Flood Relief.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

201 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance if compensation has been awarded to property owners affected by the River Nore flood relief scheme; the number of property owners that have made a claim; the amount awarded to date; the final cost of the claims; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27765/05]

Work on the River Nore, Kilkenny City, drainage scheme was carried out by the Office of Public Works under the provisions of the Arterial Drainage Acts 1945 and 1995. These Acts also make provision for the assessment and payment of compensation in respect of works carried out under the scheme. Where it is felt that loss or damage has been suffered as a result of the works, it is open to the party concerned to submit a claim for compensation upon completion of the scheme. It should be noted that any benefit incurred to a property as a result of the scheme works will be offset against any losses sustained. To date, the Office of Public Works has received seven compensation claims. While all claims have not yet been settled the amount awarded to date, inclusive of costs, is €259,979.02.

Budget Submissions.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

202 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if all children and adults with disabilities will be given the maximum support in budget 2006. [27847/05]

As Deputies are aware it is a longstanding practice of the Minister for Finance not to comment in advance of the budget on possible budget decisions.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

203 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if all children living in poverty will be given the maximum support in budget 2006. [27848/05]

As Deputies are aware it is a long-standing practice of the Minister for Finance not to comment in advance of the budget on possible budget decisions.

Drainage Schemes.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

204 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Finance if he will ascertain from the Office of Public Works if a water course (details supplied) in County Mayo will be cleaned by them; and if the Office of Public Works is not responsible for this water course then who has responsibility for the cleaning and piping of this drain which floods the adjoining lands considering that they are not owned by the landowner. [27853/05]

The drain in question does not form any part of any drainage scheme for which the Commissioners of Public Works have a maintenance responsibility under the Arterial Drainage Act 1945. I understand responsibility for the cleaning of the drain rests with the landowner.

Flood Relief.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

205 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance the person carrying out the repairs to houses (details supplied) which were affected by the River Nore flood relief scheme; if residents affected by the scheme will be contacted by the contractors or the Office of Public Works officials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27903/05]

I am advised by my officials in the Office of Public Works that arrangements are currently being put in place for the carrying out of repairs to the houses at Johns Quays which were affected by the flood relief scheme. An official from the OPW will be in contact with the owners of the properties affected over the next month in order to progress this matter.

Drainage Schemes.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

206 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Finance the provisions which will be made to safeguard premises (details supplied) in County Tipperary in the context of the proposed drainage scheme for the River Suir in Clonmel, County Tipperary. [28039/05]

The Office of Public Works' consulting engineers, E. G. Pettit & Company, have established that the ground floor level of the building in question is above the predicted 100 year flood level by 1.75 m and therefore should not be susceptible to flooding from this extreme event. However, it is accepted that the basement level of the building in question is 0.6 m below the same flood level. There is an embankment between the river and the building in question and it is our intention, with the owner's permission, to carry out investigations as part of the site investigation contract to discover the permeability of this embankment. Should works be required to make this embankment impermeable then it will be examined at detailed design stage. I have arranged for the consulting engineer to contact the owner of the hotel to discuss the matter.

Fisheries Protection.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

207 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the approximate cost to the Exchequer of the quota and tagging system; the scientific advice available to him as to the maximum commercial fishing quota consistent with conservation needs; the commercial fishing quotas appointed; the commercial catch; the benefit to wild salmon stocks derived from the operation of the scheme over the period for each of the years 2002 to 2005 in relation to wild salmon. [27316/05]

The wild salmon and sea trout tagging scheme, which was introduced for the first time in 2002, provides a mechanism to limit the total allowable commercial catch, TAC, of wild salmon. Details of the catch and TAC are as follows:

Wild Salmon and sea trout Catch 2001-2005

Year

Commercial

Drift

Draft

Other

Total

TAC

Angling

Total Catch

2001

197,172

30,861

5,368

233,401

26,074

259,475

2002

179,177

23,032

4,690

206,899

219,619

29,408

236,307

2003

141,222

21,100

4,552

166,874

182,000

20,888

187,762

2004

120,303

19,443

3,860

143,606

161,951

26,202

169,808

2005

139,900

Data on the recorded catch by commercial salmon fishermen in 2005 will not be formally available until later this month and early next year in the case of the angling catch, when full analysis of exploitation during the season has been completed by the central and regional fisheries boards. The scheme has seen the TAC from 219,619 fish in 2002 to 139,900 fish for the 2005 season. This represents a cut of over 36% over a four year period.

The tagging scheme is operated by the central and regional fisheries boards and is designed, among other things, to deliver accurate statistics on the commercial and recreational wild salmon and sea trout fisheries, fishing activity and sales and disposals. I am advised by the fisheries boards that the scheme has made it easier to identify illegally caught salmon, restrict sales outlets for such fish and to provide traceability into the distribution chain. Importantly, it has provided an opportunity to enhance the sale value of wild fish in that it offers on-line traceability to purchasers of salmon and acts as a quality symbol to enhance the reputation and value of wild caught salmon.

I am advised by the central fisheries board, which co-ordinates the tagging scheme nationally, that the average cost of the scheme over the four year period from 2002 to 2005 is approximately €870,000 per annum and that this funding has been provided out of the annual Exchequer allocation to the fisheries boards.

As marine Minister, I rely on the advice of the national salmon commission and the management of the central and regional fisheries boards when deciding the total allowable commercial catch of salmon each year. In national terms, the latest scientific advice made available to me by the standing scientific committee of the national salmon commission is that while there remains an abundance of salmon returning to Irish rivers, the maximum harvest by all fishing methods should not exceed 122,541 fish in 2005. The scientific advice does not distinguish how this catch should be distributed between the various types of fishing engines.

In setting the total allowable commercial catch for 2005 at 139,900 salmon, I recognise that there have been strong concerns expressed over the divergence in the advice from the national salmon commission and that of its standing scientific committee. However, the basis of the scientific advice changed this year and the immediate adoption of the new advice would have meant an additional cut of over 30% on the actual TAC in 2005. This would have placed an unreasonable burden on the coastal fishing communities that depend on the salmon resource for their livelihoods. I have asked the new national salmon commission to advise me on the measures needed to ensure that we align the exploitation of salmon on the scientific advice by 2007.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

208 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his policy on the taking of fish by illegal means from rivers throughout the country; if the appropriate levels of staff are in place in each district to enforce this policy; if the staff are fully trained and resourced; if they have the support of management; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27401/05]

The Deputy will be aware that there is a considerable body of legislation, both primary and secondary, relating to the illegal capture of fish from rivers. This legislation is in place to conserve and protect our inland fisheries. Primary responsibility for enforcement of this legislation rests with the central and regional fisheries boards. Each year the Department provides over €20 million from the Exchequer to the fisheries boards, which employ some 385 staff to carry out their statutory functions. I am satisfied that illegal fishing will not be condoned in any region. Management fully supports staff in the enforcement of this legislation and ensure that staff are trained on an ongoing basis and are fully competent in carrying out their duties.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

209 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of reports submitted by fishery officers in the south east on specific instances of poaching at sea and in the rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir; the number of such reports taken to the courts in each year from 2000 to date; the number of court cases taken in each district country-wide relative to the same offence since 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27402/05]

Under the fisheries acts, responsibility for enforcement of inland fisheries legislation rests primarily with the central and regional fisheries boards. In this regard, the Southern Regional Fisheries Board, which is responsible for the Barrow, Nore and Suir rivers, has provided the following information detailing the incidences relating to poaching dealt with by that board in the period from 2000 to date:

Waterford District

Year

Reports

Prosecutions

On the Spot Fines

2000

9

8

2001

8

7

2002

16

15

2003

4

4

2004

6

5

9

2005

6

Pending

2

Lismore District

Year

Reports

Prosecutions

On the Spot Fines

2000

4

4

2001

2

2

4

2002

3

3

4

2003

2

2

2004

3

2

7

2005

7

I am advised by the Central Fisheries Board, which has responsibility for co-ordinating the fisheries boards' protection effort, that it has not been possible within the time available to provide specific details of court cases taken in each fishery district countrywide relative to the same offence since 2000. I have asked the chief executive officer of that board to ensure that this information is collated and forwarded directly to the Deputy within the next two weeks.

Port Development.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

210 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has received proposals for the sale of 32 acres by the Dublin Port Company for the development of a national conference centre; his views on this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27504/05]

On 18 May, the Department received a letter from Dublin Port Company requesting ministerial approval for its proposal to enter into an arrangement with a consortium as detailed in draft heads of terms attached to the letter. The company states that, in essence, the proposal provides that, in the event that the consortium is successful in its bid for the development of the national conference centre and appropriate planning and other consents issue in respect of the national conference centre, Dublin Port Company will make available a site in order to facilitate the development of the national conference centre together with further and complementary commercial development.

The Department had a number of consultations with the Department of Finance regarding the application of the code of practice and the legislative provisions relevant to the particular case presented to it by Dublin Port Company. In this context, the two Departments agreed that it was necessary to seek the advice of the Attorney General on the matter, in particular regarding the process applicable to the proposal by Dublin Port Company to make available to the Anna Livia Consortium a site in order to facilitate the development of the national conference centre together with further and complementary commercial development. Some advice was received from the Attorney General on 29 July 2005 in this regard and further advice is awaited. A reply to the Dublin Port Company letter of 18 May will issue when all the necessary advice is to hand and fully considered.

Mobile Telephony.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

211 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on the need for ready to go phones to be sold only on the presentation of a utility bill and proof of identity to ensure issues of traceability of these phones is attained and therefore security in their use in all circumstances will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27514/05]

As Minister with responsibility for communications policy, I have a keen interest in the appropriate protection of users of mobile phones, particularly vulnerable users, including minors. My officials are currently exploring proposals with the industry designed to provide for the safe and responsible use of mobile phones and I hope to be in a position to reach a conclusion on these matters soon. The Deputy no doubt appreciates that I have no function in security matters generally.

Coastal Protection.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

212 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals to increase the level of grant assistance to local authorities with low commercial rate bases for coastal protection works for 75% to 100% when there are extensive problems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27608/05]

The position as outlined in reply to Parliamentary Question No. 549 remains unchanged.

Port Development.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

213 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to develop the ports at Wicklow Town and Arklow, County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27620/05]

Wicklow Port Company operates under the Harbours Acts 1996 and 2000. Under the Acts, the primary function of the company is the management, control, operation and development of its harbour ensuring that its revenue is sufficient to meet its expenditure. The ports policy statement, published in January 2005, sets out Government policy on plans for the development of ports and harbours. It is available to view on the Department's website.

The ports policy statement aims to better equip the port sector and its stakeholders to meet national and regional capacity and service needs through: better transport policy coordination; clearer and more focused commercial mandates for the ports and their boards; reform of the structure of port boards; encouragement of private sector investment and involvement; sanction for the use of non-core assets to fund new port development but not to mask inefficiencies; encouragement of healthy competitive conditions within and between ports; better consultation and dispute resolution between port companies and users through appropriate information sharing and arbitration mechanisms; and encouragement of mergers where a business case exists.

Ireland, as an island, is dependent on sea-borne trade and the economic significance and importance of our ports to the prosperity of the country is self evident. Given our small, open economy, Ireland's international competitiveness is central to overall economic performance.

The Government expects that the port companies, as commercial entities, should be capable of funding their operations and infrastructure requirements without relying on Exchequer support. The port companies are, therefore, encouraged to seek financial assistance from other avenues such as private sector investment within ports.

On Arklow harbour, as indicated in the ports policy statement, it is proposed that the regional harbours still operating under the Harbours Act 1946 will be transferred to local authority or port company control. Under this policy, consideration is being given to a proposal to transfer Arklow harbour to Wicklow County Council.

Officials from the Departments of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, are at present considering the modalities for the transfer of the regional harbours to local authority ownership. The relevant local authorities have been requested to undertake an overall assessment and report on their potential for transfer.

Pending the above transfers, the Department spent a total of €1.25 million in 2004 on essential works at regional harbours, to protect the public and the fabric of these harbours, €450,000 of which was provided to Arklow harbour. In 2005, a similar programme of essential works is being undertaken at Arklow harbour at a cost of €1.6 million. I have just approved a further €170,000 for additional minor works at the harbour.

Telecommunications Services.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

214 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if broadband services will be provided to rural areas due to the demand from householders and rural businesses; or if eligibility will be based on demand from particular areas by way of signed petitions. [27642/05]

The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by ComReg, the commission for communications regulation.

I take it the Deputy is referring to the county and group broadband scheme, GBS. My Department is currently administering the second call for the county and group broadband scheme. This scheme is designed to promote investment in broadband access infrastructure in rural communities with populations of 1,500 or less by contributing grant aid of up to 55% of the infrastructure costs. The county and group broadband scheme is co-funded by the e-commerce and communications measures of the border, midlands and western and the southern and eastern regional operational programmes of the national development plan.

Under the second call of the GBS, a total of 119 projects have been approved to date. So far, this represents an investment of €12.4 million in 445 communities covering a population of 355,000. In total, grant aid of almost €5 million has been approved to date.

While signed petitions were not a requirement for eligibility under the scheme, my Department did indicate that evidence of the level of demand for broadband services in the local community may be required. It was a matter for the applicants to demonstrate demand in whatever way they deemed appropriate and some did rely on petitions as evidence of interest.

I should also add that my Department, in partnership with local authorities, is constructing open access high speed networks in up to 120 large towns with populations over 1,500 persons.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

215 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, in view of the fact that the number of businesses in the Kilmacanogue, Bray and Wicklow areas have increased and will continue to do so but are being hindered by not having a broadband connection; his views on when this will be provided; when the upgrading of the exchange in Bray will be completed to expedite the provision of this necessary service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27753/05]

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

216 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in relation to broadband for Kilmacanogue, County Wicklow; if it will be rolled out as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27787/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 215 and 216 together.

The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, the independent regulator. The upgrading of the Eircom exchange in Bray is a matter for the company concerned.

It has been clear for some time that the sector has failed to invest at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband, so my Department's regional broadband programme is addressing the infrastructure deficit by building high speed open access broadband networks, in association with the local and regional authorities, in the major towns and cities. These metropolitan area networks, MANs, will allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs.

Some 19 MANs are now completed, and a further seven are nearing completion. The second phase of the programme involves the building of MANs in a further 93 towns with a population of 1,500 and above that do not have a satisfactory broadband offering from the sector. Design and procurement has already commenced in four towns in Wicklow under phase two, namely Kilcoole, Enniskerry, Newtownmountkennedy and Blessington.

For rural communities and smaller towns, such as Kilmacanogue and the hinterlands of larger towns, my Department offers funding under the county and group broadband scheme to enable these communities to become self-sufficient in broadband, in association with the service providers. To date there are four schemes approved for Wicklow County — Rathdrum, North East Wicklow, Carnew and Laragh. Full details of the scheme, including application procedures, are on the website www.gbs.gov.ie.

My Department's website www.broadband.gov.ie lists all service providers offering broadband services in all towns in Wicklow, and gives contact details for each company, together with prices for the various service levels on offer.

Foreshore Licences.

Joe Walsh

Ceist:

217 Mr. Walsh asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if a decision will be made on an application (details supplied) for a foreshore licence in County Cork. [27805/05]

The Department received an application from Clonakilty Town Council for a foreshore lease for the construction of a tidal barrage at Clonakilty. Following a technical examination of the application by the Department, the town council was asked to consider revising the operating conditions applying to the barrage, with a view to ensuring its optimal effectiveness. Proposed revised conditions were received from the local authority in March 2005 and the Department is now satisfied with the proposals.

The Department has requested clarification from Clonakilty Town Council on the relationship between the revised operating conditions and the terms of the permission for the project granted by An Bord Pleanála, and will be in a position to finalise consideration of the application when a response has been received.

Port Development.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

218 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding the proposed 52 acre in-fill of Dublin bay; and if a strategy will be devised to develop ports along the east coast in order to relieve congestion in Dublin port and to ensure that Dublin bay is protected from this proposed in-fill. [27843/05]

As I indicated in my reply to Questions Nos. 559, 560, 561 and 562 of 28 September 2005, certain issues arose concerning Dublin Port Company's title to the area in which it is proposed to carry out the reclamation. These matters have been the subject of detailed correspondence between the State's legal services and the company's legal advisors, and it is anticipated that they will be brought to a conclusion in the near future.

The application itself will be examined further, in accordance with the appropriate provisions of the Foreshore Acts, when these legal matters are concluded. The foreshore process will include a period of public consultation, providing an opportunity for interested persons or bodies to make submissions or observations on the proposal.

The proposed development will also require planning permission, and Dublin Port Company has been advised that it is more appropriate that the necessary consent under the planning process be obtained before the foreshore application is dealt with.

The Government's ports policy statement, which I launched in January 2005, addressed among other things, the issue of future seaport capacity requirements. When launching the ports policy statement, I indicated that one of the key challenges ahead was the timely provision of adequate in-time port capacity.

As an initial step, the Department sought information from the commercial ports which handle unit load cargo, including Dublin port, on key projects identified by them as essential to deal with anticipated capacity deficiencies to 2014 and beyond. In its response to this request, Dublin Port Company provided information to the Department concerning its proposal for the reclamation of 21 hectares of foreshore in Dublin bay.

As indicated in the ports policy statement, it is intended to prioritise a range of projects catering for unitised traffic at our commercial ports from an overall economic national and regional perspective, as opposed to the perceived requirements of individual ports. To that end, the Department recently appointed Fisher Associates, consultants, to advise on refining the criteria to be used for project evaluation; drawing up a uniform template for submission of detailed project proposals; assessing the scope for efficiencies within existing areas of ports handling unitised trade; and evaluating the projects submitted with a view to the Department's recommendations to Government.

As an initial step in their assignment, I understand that Fisher Associates will shortly consult with ports, including Dublin and other key stakeholders on the criteria to be used for project evaluation.

Telecommunications Services.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

219 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will investigate the masts in Whitestown industrial estate, Tallaght, Dublin 24, which are the source of huge concerns for the local community; the action open to them in relation to this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27901/05]

The Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, has in the past audited emissions of non-ionising radiation from communications sites including masts. I will ask my officials to liaise with ComReg to arrange an audit of the site in question over the next month or so.

With regard to the action open to the local community, the physical siting of telecommunication masts is a matter for the relevant local authorities under the aegis of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I am advised that there is currently no scientific or medical evidence that emissions below the level of the internationally recognised guidelines from mobile telephone masts are injurious to health. Ireland has adopted European Union Council Recommendation of 12 July 1999 on "the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields, 0 Hz to 300 GHz", 1999/519/EC, and the guidelines established by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, ICNIRP, and participates in the work of the International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety, which sets standards in this area. All licensed telecommunications operators in Ireland are required by the terms of their licences to observe the ICNIRP guidelines for limiting exposure of the public to electromagnetic emissions from their facilities.

Postal Services.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

220 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding his contracts with the workers representatives in respect of issues raised with them regarding An Post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27902/05]

I believe that An Post plays a key role, both in delivery of mails and as a quality service provider through its nationwide network of post office outlets. However, there is universal agreement that change is required if the postal services of An Post are to adapt to the modern business environment and to continue to offer a top class nationwide delivery service to the customer into the future.

With this in mind, the board and management of An Post have presented a recovery plan, incorporating details of proposed new collection and delivery arrangements, which I believe is vital to the re-establishment of the company on a more secure financial footing. The plan has assumed significant changes in work practices, tariff increases and the payment of wage increases. It sets out the way forward for the company. Adoption of restructuring that delivers real change is the only way that An Post can re-establish itself on a firm financial footing.

In order to progress the change agenda, I have met twice with representatives of the main union in An Post, the Communications Workers Union, CWU, and met also with representatives of the Irish Postmasters Union, IPU, on a total of three occasions. I have listened with interest to the views of all parties concerned in relation to the future of the network and I have emphasised to all parties the importance of an early start to the company's modernisation and that management and staff sides must engage directly in order to resolve longstanding and deep-seated problems besetting the company.

Energy Resources.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

221 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the new initiatives he will promote and encourage energy efficiency in view of the recently announced and substantial increase gas prices; the long-term measures which are in place for such promotion and encouragement of energy efficiency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27924/05]

Sustainable Energy Ireland, SEI, which was established as a statutory agency in May 2002, implements a wide variety of programmes on energy efficiency and renewable energy on behalf of my Department. In addition to providing advice and supporting networks of efficiency minded organisations and companies, it funds pilot and exemplary projects that deploy energy efficient technologies and are based on renewables.

Regular reviews are conducted on all SEI's funding programmes. Factors entering any such consideration include the establishment of consumer product standards, supplier capability and installation quality assurance systems appropriate to consumer markets. This is in addition to the core requirements of energy and CO2 saving impact, market impact potential, administrative efficiency and ultimately, value for money for the taxpayer.

Energy price increases are a strong stimulus to us to look at how much and how we use fuels. There are three main ways to reduce our energy demand: eliminating waste, cutting back on demand and using fuels more efficiently. Every stage of every process, whether industrial, commercial or domestic, will yield efficiencies when examined and all these savings will aggregate to form a substantial total. Even while preserving our economic growth, energy efficiency will allow us to reduce our energy demand meaning a saving on fuel import bills, a contribution to our Kyoto commitment on greenhouse gases and a payback to the Exchequer and to individuals.

I am keen to see a wider take up of energy efficient technology in buildings, industry and transport. While many of the measures involved are self-financing, with payback periods of as little as two or three years, I am looking at what incentives might be needed to improve the rate of take-up and use. For example, increasing the energy efficiency of our building stock reduces our energy imports, reduces our CO2 emissions and saves money for the individual household and for the Exchequer.

Electricity Generation.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

222 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the ESRI’s recommendation that the ESB sell three or four of its power stations over the next five years in order to promote competition in the energy sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25016/05]

I am aware of the ESRI recommendations. However, due to the significant impact any changes to the electricity sector can have on consumers and to the economic well-being of the country, it is important that any decisions regarding future structure are taken on the basis of robust, independent analysis and advice. As previously confirmed to the House, I have appointed Deloitte & Touche to carry out a detailed independent review of the electricity sector in Ireland. This is to include a detailed examination of ESB's vertically integrated utility structure and its dominance in the sector, particularly in the area of power generation.

The review is currently underway and I am expecting the final report by the end of this year. As part of this report, the consultants will be required to make specific recommendations as to the most appropriate institutional arrangements and company structures, including ownership models, for the ESB and, to the extent appropriate, for the electricity sector in general. If the recommendations are leading towards any change in the structure of ESB, I would expect them to be supported by a detailed business case for any proposals.

Human Rights Issues.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

223 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in the investigation of the death of a person (details supplied) in Saudi Arabia in August 2004; the requests the Government has made to the Saudi Arabian authorities for an investigation in relation to this matter, the progress that has been made with such request; and his views on whether the reasonable request, made formally, by persons in January 2005 for information deserves a better and fuller response than that which they have received to date. [27385/05]

Regarding the tragic and shocking killing of the person in question, the Government extended its condolences to the family at the time and pledged to assist them as far as possible in dealing with this traumatic and distressing experience. Since the killing, my Department has sought to assist his widow and family in as understanding and sensitive a way as possible. This assistance has related to involvement with repatriation of the remains, transfer of funds and belongings to his widow, replacement of a lost death certificate and provision of interim documents in this regard, procurement of the official forensic and police reports and translations of the killing, provision of information regarding the belief of the security forces that the perpetrator of the killing was himself shot in a gun battle with the authorities in late December 2004. Concerning the official investigation, several formal and informal requests have been made to the Saudi authorities in this regard and I am hopeful that this aspect can be taken further shortly.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

224 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the disappearance of a person (details supplied) in Belarus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27450/05]

I regret that there have been no positive developments in this matter. The situation remains as set out in my reply of 5 May 2005 to the Deputy.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

225 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the deaths of persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27451/05]

The information available to my Department regarding the status of the investigation into the deaths of the two former members of the Burundian Parliament, Mr. Sylvestre Mfayokurera and Mr. Innocent Ndikumana, remains as stated in my reply to the Deputy of 5 May 2005.

A related but wider concern is to seek to end the culture of impunity which has persisted for too long in Burundi. The establishment of a national truth and reconciliation commission and the strengthening of the Burundian judicial system proposed by Secretary General Annan should contribute significantly to ending the culture of impunity as well as hopefully giving renewed impetus into the investigation of the many unsolved murders, including those of Mr. Mfayokurera and Mr. Ndikumana, committed in Burundi during its recent conflict.

On 20 June 2005 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1606, which authorises the UN Secretary General to enter into consultations with the Burundian Government and parties on his proposals for establishment of a national truth and reconciliation commission, as provided for in the 2000 Arusha peace accords, as well as setting up a special chamber within the Burundian judicial system to try those suspected of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since Burundian independence in 1962. Talks on establishing both these mechanisms are likely to commence shortly, following the installation on 26 August of the new democratically elected Burundian Government, led by President Nkurunziza.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

226 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the status of the investigation into the attempts on the life of a person (details supplied) of Burundi; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27452/05]

The information available to my Department regarding the status of the investigation into the attempted assassination of Mr. Ndihokubwayo remains as stated in my reply to the Deputy of 5 May 2005.

A related but wider concern is to seek to end the culture of impunity which has persisted for too long in Burundi. The establishment of a national truth and reconciliation commission and the strengthening of the Burundian judicial system proposed by Secretary General Annan should contribute significantly to ending the culture of impunity as well as hopefully helping to shed light on the many crimes, including those against Mr. Ndihokubwayo, for which those responsible have not yet been brought to justice.

On 20 June 2005 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1606, which authorises the UN Secretary General to enter into consultations with the Burundian Government and parties on his proposals for establishment of a national truth and reconciliation commission, as provided for in the 2000 Arusha peace accords, as well as setting up a special chamber within the Burundian judicial system to try those suspected of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed since Burundian independence in 1962. Talks on establishing both these mechanisms are likely to commence shortly, following the installation on 26 August of the new democratically-elected Burundian Government, led by President Nkurunziza.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

227 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the status of the investigation into the dismissing from the parliament of Cambodia of persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27453/05]

There have been no developments since my reply to Question No. 210 on 10 May 2005 to the Deputy on this matter. I can assure the Deputy that we, together with our partners in the EU, will continue to monitor closely the political situation in Cambodia, including the position of parliamentarians.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

228 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the status of the investigation into the assassinations of persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27454/05]

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

229 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the status of the investigation into the death threats against a person in Colombia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27455/05]

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

230 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the status of the investigation into the kidnapping of a person in Colombia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27456/05]

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

244 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of persons (details supplied) who have been kidnapped for a number of years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27470/05]

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

245 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of a person (details supplied) who has been under threat of assassination; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27471/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 228 to 230, inclusive, 244 and 245 together.

In my responses of 5 and 10 May 2005 to written questions from the Deputy regarding these cases, I referred to the importance for the Colombian peace process of a comprehensive legal framework for the process of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the illegal armed groups, based on the principles of truth, justice and reparation. These issues are addressed in the recently passed Columbian peace and justice law. That law provides an overall legal framework for demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration of illegal armed groups into society. The law, which was adopted through a lengthy democratic political process, strikes a difficult balance between peace and justice.

The General Affairs and External Relations Council of the European Union adopted conclusions on Colombia at its meeting on Monday 3 October 2005. Ireland was actively involved in the negotiation of these conclusions, which principally address the justice and peace law. The overall assessment of the Council was that, if implemented effectively and in a transparent manner, the law will have a positive effect on peace building in Colombia.

The conclusions address the need for a negotiated peace settlement and call for illegal armed groups to demobilise. They also call on all parties to the conflict to respect human rights and international humanitarian law and commend the work of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia. The conclusions also confirm the readiness of the EU and its member states to assist the Colombian Government and civil society in providing support for communities affected by the internal conflict, victims groups, local reconciliation activities and the reinsertion and demobilisation of child soldiers.

I recently announced Ireland's commitment to contribute €390,000 over a three year period to the Organization of American States, OAS, peace and verification mission in Colombia. The mission's mandate is to provide comprehensive support to the Colombian peace process with a focus both on the demobilization process and on the strengthening of institutions concerned with the rule of law. Promoting and defending human rights and justice are guiding principles of the mission. Ireland will work closely with its colleagues in this mission, including in ensuring that human rights standards are maintained during the process.

Ireland was actively involved in negotiating the recent chairperson's statement on the situation of human rights in Colombia which was adopted on 22 April 2005 at the 61st session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. The statement appeals to the government of Colombia increasingly to address the issue of impunity and to take action to improve the capacity and effectiveness of the judicial system and to take action where evidence of collusion with paramilitary forces is found.

My Department will continue to monitor the situation in Colombia, and particularly the implementation of the justice and peace law, through our embassy in Mexico City, as well as in cooperation with our EU partners with resident embassies in Colombia.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

231 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the cases of the holding incommunicado detention of 11 parliamentarians from Eritrea since September 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27457/05]

Regrettably, there has been no progress towards the release of these 11 Eritrean parliamentarians since I replied to the Deputy's Question No. 220 on 10 May 2005. Ireland is greatly concerned by the negative human rights situation in Eritrea and the authorities' unwillingness to respond to concerns expressed by the European Union and the international community. Although Eritrea has ratified relevant international agreements for the protection of human rights, the fact that the 1997 constitution has not been implemented denies Eritreans a framework within which their rights are acknowledged, including the right to appeal to an independent judiciary. The European Union remains engaged in political dialogue with the Eritrean Government, within the framework of the Cotonou Agreement. However, due to that Government's preoccupation with the continuing stalemate in the Ethiopia-Eritrea peace process and its consequent unwillingness to address other sensitive issues, little progress has been made.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

232 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the cases of 15 former members of the Turkish Grand National Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27458/05]

I refer to my reply to the Deputy's question of 10 May. Of the 15, the most prominent cases have been those of Ms Leyla Zana and three other members of her Democracy Party, DEP, Mr Hatip Dicle, Mr Orhan Dogan and Mr. Selim Sadak. The second retrial of their case, which opened in December 2004, is continuing. A hearing took place in Ankara on Friday 7 October and the next hearing is scheduled to take place in December. The trial is expected to last approximately six months. Together with our EU partners, our Embassy in Ankara is continuing to monitor developments in the case. Of the 11 other former parliamentarians, the situation as outlined in the response to the Deputy's question in May has not changed.

As the Deputy will be aware, on Monday 3 October the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, approved a framework for negotiations with Turkey which enabled accession talks to open as envisaged by the European Council last December. The shared objective of the EU Turkey negotiations is accession. It will be an open-ended process, the outcome of which will not be guaranteed in advance.

In recent years since the election of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tagyip Erdogan, Turkey has made very significant progress in the adoption of wide-ranging political reforms. Throughout the accession negotiations, the European Union will expect Turkey to sustain the process of reform which it has already begun and to work towards further improvements including in respect of the principles of liberty, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and to consolidate and broaden legislation and implementation measures in relation to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, women's rights, trade union rights and minority rights.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

233 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27459/05]

An earlier reply to the Deputy's question of 10 May also refers to this matter. Further to the information supplied in May, I understand that a hearing on the case of Ms Merve Safa Kavakci is scheduled to take place at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on Thursday 13 October.

As the Deputy will be aware, on Monday 3 October the General Affairs and External Relations Council, GAERC, approved a framework for negotiations with Turkey which enabled accession negotiations to open as envisaged by the European Council last December. The shared objective of the EU-Turkey negotiations is accession. It will be an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed in advance.

In recent years since the election of the Government of Prime Minister Erdogan, Turkey has made very significant progress in the adoption of wide-ranging political reforms. Throughout the accession negotiations, the European Union will expect Turkey to sustain the process of reform which it has already begun and to work towards further improvements including in respect of the principles of liberty, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Parallel to the accession negotiations, the EU will also engage with Turkey in an intensive political and civil society dialogue. In our contacts with the Turkish Government, we will continue to emphasise the central importance of full implementation of all aspects of Turkey's reform legislation.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

234 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to 33 Zimbabwean parliamentarians; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27460/05]

Mr. Roy Bennett, the former Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, member of the Zimbabwean Parliament, was released from prison on 28 June 2005, having served eight months of the 12-month sentence imposed on him for pushing the Zimbabwean Justice Minister during a parliamentary debate in May 2004. In a statement which I issued at the time, I very much welcomed Mr. Bennett's release, while noting that his description of the ill-treatment and beatings to which he and other inmates were subjected in prison, had only served to highlight once again the need for democratic reforms and improved respect for human rights in Zimbabwe.

Regrettably, opposition politicians and supporters and members of civil society, including the other 32 parliamentarians referred to in the Deputy's questions, continue to be subjected to ongoing harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrest and imprisonment by the Zimbabwean authorities.

The human rights situation in Zimbabwe has, if anything, deteriorated even further in recent weeks, following the approval by the Zimbabwean Parliament of a series of constitutional changes which will allow the government, inter alia, to impose travel bans on those suspected of undermining the national interest. Ireland and our EU partners will continue to take the lead internationally, including at the current UN General Assembly session, in highlighting the serious human rights situation in Zimbabwe and pressing for an end to attacks on basic human freedoms by the Zimbabwean authorities.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

235 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the ongoing cases of assassinations, deaths in custody and parliamentarians in detention or imprisoned in Myanmar; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27461/05]

There have been no developments since my reply to Question No. 207 on 10 May 2005 on the particular cases that the Deputy raises. Insofar as the general human rights situation in Burma-Myanmar is concerned, I refer the Deputy to my reply to Questions Nos. 37, 44, 66 and 104 on 6 October 2005.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

236 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27462/05]

The situation remains as set out in my reply of 10 May 2005 to a question from the Deputy on this case. The Government shares the concerns which have been expressed about the conduct of the case and the conditions under which the person is being held. We are continuing to monitor the case.

In bilateral contacts with Israel, and together with its partners in the EU, the Government has regularly conveyed its concerns about the human rights implications of Israeli security policies, and the importance of full compliance with international humanitarian law.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

237 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of the disappearance of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27463/05]

My Department does not have any new or additional information regarding the disappearance of Dr. Hitimana, other than that contained in my reply to the Deputy's Question No. 210 of 10 May 2005.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

238 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27464/05]

The position remains as set out in my reply of 10 May 2005 to a question from the Deputy on these cases, which involve the imprisonment of two former members of the People's Council of the Syrian Arab Republic. The EU has conveyed its concerns to the Syrian authorities, and continues to monitor the cases through the Presidency's and member states' missions in Damascus.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

239 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the murder of a person (details supplied) in January 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27465/05]

There have been no developments since my reply to Question No. 212 on 10 May 2005 to the Deputy on this matter. I can assure the Deputy that we, together with our partners in the EU, will continue to monitor closely the political situation in Indonesia. Human rights issues are regularly raised in discussions with the Indonesian authorities. In this regard, the EU troika of heads of mission in Jakarta raised concerns on respect for human rights when they démarched the Indonesian Foreign Ministry on 10 June last.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

240 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27466/05]

Mr Anwar, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, was recently awarded approximately €1 million in damages by the Malaysian High Court against the author of a book entitled "50 Reasons Why Anwar Cannot Be PM". The book, which contained graphic sexual allegations as well as allegations of corruption, was published in 1998 and was used against Mr. Anwar in his dismissal from office in 1998 and subsequent sentencing and imprisonment. In August, Mr. Anwar also sought and won a public apology from a former police chief for the abuse he received while in custody.

There have been no other significant developments since my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 213 on 10 May last on this matter from the Deputy. I have instructed our embassy in Kuala Lumpur to continue to monitor closely any developments with regard to Mr. Anwar, who, while acquitted and released in September 2004, is prevented from holding political office until April 2008.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

241 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of the murder of a person (details supplied) in Mongolia in 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27467/05]

There have been no developments since my reply to Question No. 214 on 10 May 2005 to the Deputy on this matter. I assure the Deputy that we, together with our partners in the EU, will continue to monitor closely this particular case and more generally the political and human rights situation in Mongolia.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

242 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of the torture of a person (details supplied) in January 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27468/05]

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

243 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of the holding in solitary confinement of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27469/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 242 and 243 together.

There have been some developments in these cases since my reply to Questions Nos. 215 and 216 from the Deputy on 10 May 2005. I understand that Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People's Party and husband of exiled former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, has recently been in the United States receiving treatment for a heart condition. In early September, his re-arrest was ordered by an anti-corruption court in Pakistan for failure to attend trial hearings. Lawyers for Mr. Zardari have said that they informed the court that he was unable to attend due to his illness.

I am advised also that Mr. Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, leader of the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy Party, who is serving a 23-year prison sentence for charges relating to defamation of the Pakistan authorities, applied for bail in July. I understand the Supreme Court decided not to take up the bail application due to a shortage of time and adjourned the case for an indefinite period.

Ireland and our EU partners continue to discuss human rights and democratisation issues with the Pakistan authorities on a regular basis. On 30 June last, the EU Troika of Heads of mission in Islamabad carried out the regular half-yearly human rights démarche with the Secretary of the Pakistani Ministry of Law, Justice and Human Rights. Concerns about human rights were conveyed and the case of Mr. Zardari was raised. We will continue to monitor closely the two cases the Deputy has raised in the period ahead.

Questions Nos. 244 and 245 answered with Question No. 228.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

246 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the case of the murders of persons (details supplied) in January 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27472/05]

As I have previously informed the Deputy in reply to a written parliamentary question on 10 May 2005, I am aware that the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, at its meeting from 3 to 9 April 2005 in Manila adopted a resolution regarding the murders of Jaime Ricaurte Hurtado González and Pablo Vicente Tapia Farinango. I share the view of the IPU that due process is essential in such cases.

In a statement on recent political developments in Ecuador issued on 21 April 2005, the Luxembourg Presidency, on behalf of the European Union, called for every effort to be made to strengthen the democratic process and State institutions in that country. My Department will continue to monitor the situation in Ecuador in co-operation with our EU partners with resident embassies in Quito. However, I am unaware of any further developments in the case cited by the Deputy since my previous answer of 10 May 2005.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

247 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the murder investigation of a person of Honduras in 1988; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27473/05]

As I have previously informed the Deputy in reply to a written parliamentary question on 10 May 2005, I am aware that the Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, at its meeting from 3 to 9 April 2005 in Manila adopted a resolution regarding ongoing court proceedings in the case of the murder of Mr. Miguel Angel Pavón Salazar in Honduras. I share the view of the IPU that due process is essential in such cases and I assure the Deputy that my Department will continue to monitor the situation in Honduras in co-operation with our EU partners with resident embassies in Tegucigalpa. I am not aware of any further developments in relation to this matter.

Official Travel.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

248 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he intends to visit Mr. Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela in the next 12 months; and if he will consider the proposal to invite him here. [27844/05]

There are no plans for ministerial or State visits between Venezuela and Ireland at this time. Our programme of visits, both outward and inward, is kept under review on an ongoing basis.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

249 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views regarding independent policing in Northern Ireland; the contacts and discussions he has had in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27939/05]

The Patten report recommended the establishment of a human rights-orientated, community police force in Northern Ireland. The force was to be democratically accountable and reflective of the community it served. In his latest report, the oversight commissioner, who monitors the implementation of the Patten reforms, stated that 65% of the recommendations had been fully implemented and that overall progress was very satisfactory. The main obstacles to full implementation of the vision of Patten were a lack of full support from the community and the ongoing street disturbances associated with the marching season.

I have had meetings with many of the key stakeholders in policing in Northern Ireland, including the Chief Constable, the Police Ombudsman, members of the policing board and district policing partnerships. I concur with the Oversight Commissioner for Policing, Al Hutchinson, in his assessment that a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland is well under way. I have also consistently underlined the need for all parties to give their support to the new policing arrangements.

In the context of local policing, the British Government has also stated that it is considering introducing community support officers in Northern Ireland. These officers would carry out patrols and exercise certain limited functions in dealing with anti-social behaviour but would not have the powers of a fully-fledged police officer. The British authorities have stated that recruits would be subject to the same vetting as regular police officers. In line with its commitment to the full implementation of the Patten report, the Government will be in continuing discussion with the British Government on this and other aspects of policing.

Foreign Relations.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

250 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his relationship with Ukraine and his contacts with the Government; the position regarding the Ukraine’s interest in joining the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27940/05]

A new chapter opened in bilateral relations between Ireland and Ukraine after the momentous democratic change which culminated in the inauguration of Viktor Yushchenko as President last January. I am pleased to say that contacts at political level have been stepped up very considerably. The Minister of State, Deputy Lenihan, represented Ireland at the inauguration of President Yushcenko. In April, the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, had a meeting at Shannon with President Yushchenko and Foreign Minister Tarasiuk. In July, I had the pleasure of being the first Irish Foreign Minister to make an official visit to Ukraine. My visit included substantive discussion of bilateral relations, as well as EU-Ukraine relations and regional issues of mutual interest, with President Yushchenko, Parliamentary Speaker Lytvyn and Foreign Minister Tarasiuk. The Ceann Comhairle and six members of the Oireachtas visited Kiev last week at the invitation of the Speaker and had an equally full programme of meetings. I have accepted Foreign Minister Tarasiuk's proposal that he make a return official visit to Ireland later this month to sustain the momentum and move the developing relationship forward.

Ukraine faces huge challenges in consolidating democratic accountability and pushing forward with political and economic reform. To the extent possible, I want Ireland to encourage and support Ukraine politically and practically in this process. The European Union and many member states are similarly engaged. There is, for example, strong interest on the Ukrainian side in being able to learn from Ireland's experience of economic transformation. I was pleased to be able to announce in Kiev that Ireland is ready to assist Ukraine in the area of administrative capacity building, in the amount of one million euro over a three-year period.

The European Council decided last December that EU-Ukraine relations would be intensified through the European neighbourhood policy. The three year joint action plan signed on 22 February is the instrument through which the EU is supporting political and economic reform in Ukraine. The EU-Ukraine Summit in Kiev on 1 December will take stock of progress in implementation of the action plan. Under the Treaty on European Union, Ukraine as a European country is eligible to apply for membership of the EU provided it complies with the relevant criteria. I articulated this position when in Kiev in July. I signalled that if, in the future, Ukraine sought to exercise its right to apply for membership, Ireland would in principal be generally supportive. I noted at the same time that there was a mood among the people of the Union to hasten slowly as regards enlargement beyond those already in prospect. Fundamentally, it would be a matter for the people of Ukraine, their Parliament and leaders to ensure that the necessary reforms were put in place to meet the criteria for membership. The Union's absorption capacity would also be a significant factor, as is set out in the Copenhagen criteria.

State Airports.

James Breen

Ceist:

251 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he supports the view of Tourism Ireland in relation to changing the bilateral status of Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27493/05]

My colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, is responsible for aviation policy. From a tourism perspective, I have made my views on this issue known on many occasions. I support the renegotiation of the Ireland-US Bilateral Air Agreement as a means of enhancing the benefits to Ireland from additional air services and enhanced visitor flows to both Shannon and Dublin. However, I am also conscious of the need to provide for an orderly phasing out of the Shannon stop requirements, thereby enabling the new airport authority in Shannon to build up its overall business and develop a medium to long-term strategy to optimise the significant potential for expansion on the transatlantic route.

This was the clear recommendation arising from the tourism policy review group report — New Horizons for Irish Tourism — and the tourism action plan implementation group has re-iterated the urgent need to resolve this issue. In that context, the views expressed by Tourism Ireland's Chief Executive at a recent hearing of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Arts, Sport and Tourism were completely in accordance with my own. Ireland needs to ensure it is ideally positioned to capitalise on US tourism business and Shannon Airport is, and will remain, a key player in bringing this business to Ireland and the west, in particular.

Sports Capital Programme.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

252 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism when he will advertise the next round of the sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27623/05]

The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis. Applications for funding under the 2005 programme were invited through advertisements in the press on 5 and 6 December last and I announced provisional grant allocations under the programme of €54.385 million in July last. I intend to invite applications to the 2006 programme later this year.

Community Games.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

253 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his plans to meet the community games organisation, to discuss its needs with regard to the annual national finals held for many years in Mosney holiday centre; his views on the need for a permanent home for the annual games; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27624/05]

I have not been approached, in recent times, by the community games organisation for a meeting. As the Deputy is aware, following a series of meetings last year with representatives of the National Community Games to discuss issues relating to the hosting of the annual community games finals in Mosney, I approved funding of €100,000 towards the renovation of the accommodation at the Mosney holiday centre specifically to ensure that the facilities there were of a comfortable standard for use by the community games participants. In the context of those discussions the Reception and Integration Agency, RIA, confirmed its continuing willingness to facilitate the availability of Mosney to host the community games.

The community games representatives have expressed their satisfaction with the range and quality of the facilities and services available at Mosney and their suitability for future national events. They also acknowledged that there is no other venue in Ireland with the scale and variety of facilities required for their national events as currently structured and also that any question of providing a special, dedicated venue on the scale required, which would be used only a few times a year, would be completely unrealistic.

I am pleased that the RIA has confirmed that for as long as the agency continues to use Mosney, the community games can avail of the facilities there. A new contract for the use of the centre was signed between Mosney Irish Holidays Limited and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 18 November 2004.

Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

254 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has met the Olympic Council of Ireland and the relevant sporting bodies to discuss plans for the Beijing Olympics 2008; his views on the need to properly prepare the Irish team in that regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27625/05]

I have discussed preparations for the Beijing Olympics with both the president of the Olympic Council of Ireland and the chairman of the Sports Council and am at one with them on the need to ensure that our preparations for Beijing take cognisance of the issues highlighted in the Athens review. Accordingly, I welcome the fact that the Irish Sports Council has put together an operational plan, which identifies key performance indicators, timescales and costings and the roles of the various agencies in supporting Ireland's Olympic and Paralympic preparations for Beijing. The plan encompasses elements such as the introduction of targeted sport performance plans including prioritising junior, development and elite athletes; a review of the international carding scheme; proposals for the development of an Irish institute of sport; maintaining and enhancing the role of the Olympic and Paralympic performance committees to ensure optimum co-operation in the preparation and performance of the Irish team for the Beijing Olympic games, and the strengthening of the Olympic Council of Ireland's administrative capacities.

The Olympic performance committee and the Paralympic performance committees have met on a number of occasions in 2005. The meetings have focused on strengthening cooperation between the key agencies and on athlete preparation, particularly in regard to pre-games training camps, acclimatisation and full medical and science support.

Sports Funding.

Seamus Healy

Ceist:

255 Mr. Healy asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the position regarding funding the outstanding capital debt of a centre (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [27637/05]

I am aware of the issues arising at the Tipperary Excel Centre, but am unfortunately not now in a position to provide the funds requested by the project.

Departmental Records.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

256 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the challenges there are at present and the challenges it is foreseen will develop in the future where the preservation of electronically stored records is concerned; the way in which he will address these challenges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27923/05]

My Department has a policy on records management covering procedures relating to the creation, maintenance and eventual disposition of records. The policy, inter alia, includes the legal requirements relating to the preservation of records in accordance with the National Archives and freedom of information legislation and sets out procedures concerning the preservation of electronic records, including e-mail, computer generated reports and documents prepared on personal productivity software, for example, word processing software.

The immediate issue for my Department is the implementation of the Government's decentralisation programme which poses significant challenges in regard to the preservation and maintenance of the integrity of all my Department's records, not least those in electronic format. This is a key issue which is being addressed in the context of the risk analysis carried out in regard to the Department's implementation of the decentralisation programme.

In the wider context, much of the business of Government is now transacted electronically and departmental records are increasingly being created and maintained electronically. Other records that were created on paper are being digitised as part of large-scale projects linked to the delivery of e-Government. The digital versions of the latter records also have to be maintained electronically. The preservation of these records presents a number of challenges.

As the Deputy is aware, the National Archives which is part of my Department has statutory responsibility for departmental records, that is, the records of all Departments, the courts and the bodies listed in the Schedule to the National Archives Act 1986. It oversees the ongoing implementation of the provisions of the Act, and the regulations and guidelines made under the Act, with regard to the preservation or disposal of such records and their transfer to the National Archives.

In accordance with the National Archives Act 1986, the long-term preservation of electronic records is the responsibility of the National Archives while in the short term each Department and public body has responsibility for the preservation of its own electronic records. As yet there is no proven long-term storage medium for the preservation of records in digital form. To guard against loss of records due to the physical deterioration of the media on which they are stored, regular and continuing migration of such records to new storage media is required. Records created in proprietary software systems will have to be carried forward through later versions of these proprietary formats or, if practicable, exported to non-proprietary formats for permanent preservation. One of the challenges will be to maintain functionality of systems over time in these circumstances. Migration of records to new systems and formats will have to be undertaken in ways that will ensure their authenticity, reliability and evidential value over time.

As a first step in addressing these and other electronic record issues, in June 2003, I appointed to the staff of the National Archives a professionally qualified archivist with specific and exclusive responsibility for electronic records. Since then some progress has been made in the development of an electronic records unit within the National Archives, the development of strategies for the long-term preservation of electronic records covered by the National Archives Act and in drafting guidelines for the management of electronic records so as to ensure their survival as archives. Unfortunately that programme of work has been interrupted due to the recent resignation of the archivist. My Department is actively engaged with the Public Appointments Service to have this specialist vacancy filled. Further initiatives to increase the necessary skill base in the National Archives are also being actively pursued to ensure that in due course all Departments-offices will be provided with best practice guidelines for the maintenance of electronic records.

Industrial Development.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

257 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reason the IDA has not met persons (details supplied) in County Mayo to view a vacant property. [27317/05]

IDA Ireland is an autonomous statutory agency set up under the Industrial Development Acts 1986-2003. The agency operates in accordance with the provisions of the Acts and under the aegis of my Department.

The management of IDA Ireland's industrial property portfolio is a day-to-day operational matter for the agency as part of the statutory responsibility assigned to it by the Oireachtas and not a matter in which I have any function. I understand that ongoing discussions are taking place between IDA's property executives and the parties mentioned by the Deputy.

Metrology Service.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

258 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding the legal status of the national metrology laboratory; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27367/05]

The National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, has legislative responsibility for all metrology in the State. The Metrology Act 1996 provided for the establishment of a legal metrology service within Forbairt and for its functions to be exercised through the director of legal metrology. Section 21 of that Act deals exclusively with national metrology functions and defines the legal basis and locus of responsibility for functions related to all metrology in the State. Subsequently, responsibility for metrology was transferred from Forbairt to the NSAI by virtue of the Industrial Development (Enterprise Ireland) Act 1998. Section 51 of this Act also gave specific responsibility to NSAI "to promote the use and application of metrology in the State".

The metrology laboratory, located on the Enterprise Ireland campus in Glasnevin, is not a legal entity in itself. The laboratory carries out functions on behalf of the National Standards Authority of Ireland through its staff which are Forfás staff seconded to Enterprise Ireland. The cost of this is borne by NSAI.

Job Losses.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

259 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of IDA supported jobs which were lost in County Kerry in each of the years from 2000 to 2004 inclusive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27368/05]

IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the marketing of Ireland, including its regions and areas, to overseas investors for foreign direct investment, FDI. IDA Ireland has informed me that it is actively seeking to win new projects for Kerry in more advanced, higher value activities, in both manufacturing and services. In addition to its ongoing marketing of the county to potential new investors, it is also actively seeking to facilitate a progression in the sophistication and breadth of its existing clients' Irish operations. This means not only increasing value added in client manufacturing operations, but also adding corporate level innovation such as research and development and service, logistics and supply chain management functions alongside manufacturing.

The objective is to create more rounded and strategically important operations within the overall corporation which are better embedded and more suited to the competitive characteristics of the Irish economy in the medium to long term. I am pleased that IDA Ireland is making some progress in this regard with two expansion projects announced in April 2004 for Killarney and a third for Kenmare announced in November 2004. At the end of 2004, the latest year for which figures are available, there were 2,022 people in permanent employment in 21 IDA supported companies in County Kerry. This compares with a figure of 2,640 in employment in 23 IDA supported companies in 2000, resulting in a net decrease of some 23.4%.

The following table shows the number of jobs lost in IDA supported companies in Kerry in each of the years from 2000 to 2004

Year

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

Jobs lost

88

57

670

321

284

Economic Competitiveness.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

260 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, further to Questions Nos. 665 and 666 of 28 September 2005, the GDP per capita for the south-east region expressed as a percentage of the EU 15 average according to the most recent data available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27386/05]

The collation and provision of statistical information of the nature referred to is an operational matter for the Central Statistics Office, which comes within the remit of my colleague, Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Kitt.

In answering a question from the Deputy relating to economic performance, I mentioned that gross domestic product per capita in the south-east region, according to 2002 data, was 114% of the EU 25 average. This was based on a calculation provided by IDA Ireland. According to calculations provided by the Central Statistics Office, based on published EUROSTAT figures, the equivalent figure for the south-east, NUTS III, region for the EU 15 for 2002 was 104.5%.

Regional Development.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

261 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the presence of a university in the south-east region will not further greatly assist IDA Ireland in attracting investment from overseas companies to the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27388/05]

IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment to Ireland, including its regions and areas. As part of its FDI promotion and regional development role, IDA has an ongoing and successful relationship with the third level education sector in the south east. I understand from IDA that the absence of a university in the south east has not emerged as a limiting factor in promoting FDI to potential new and or existing clients. I understand the focus of IDA client companies and potential investors has been on the range and quality of courses and graduate output of the existing institutions. They are concerned principally with capability and not the legislative status of the relevant institution.

The key issue for foreign investors, therefore, is that educational institutions in the south east execute their remit to the highest possible standard. There are three areas that IDA considers very important and which the organisation discusses with all third level institutions, including those in the south east. These include the quality and relevance of course offerings in terms of enterprise development, engagement between the local institution and industry, both regionally and nationally, and research capability, identifying, marketing and developing the institution's capabilities.

For example, the Waterford Institute of Technology has been very receptive to the IDA's message and has recently introduced a new manufacturing course that reflects the needs of Genzyme, an IDA biopharma client in the south east. The institute has also worked extremely hard to develop its research capabilities. An excellent example of this is the telecoms software and systems research group that now has more than 70 researchers. Waterford Institute of Technology has been very helpful in granting the IDA and its supported companies access to department heads to discuss existing and potentially new projects. The number and location of universities in the State is a matter, in the first instance, for my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science.

Community Employment Schemes.

Seamus Healy

Ceist:

262 Mr. Healy asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will abolish the three-year lifetime capping of community employment scheme participants introduced. [27636/05]

On foot of a review of FÁS employment schemes, which included detailed consultations with the social partners, I decided that with effect from 10 November 2004, the three-year cap would be removed for CE participants aged 55 or over. This category of participants is now eligible to participate on CE for a maximum of six years. The extension of the participation period from three to six years for over 55s should ensure that there will be sufficient clients to fill the available places. I have no plans to make any further changes to CE participation periods. The continuation of ring fencing and prioritisation for the essential services of child care, health related services and drugs task force clients, and the extended participation on CE by older workers, will help to secure the continuity of community services generally.

EU Funding.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

263 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if funds provided by the Irish taxpayer are used as part of EU funding for projects involving the derivation and use of human embryonic stem cells in other member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27748/05]

Ireland's contribution to the EU budget is disbursed on a wide range of EU funded activities. Community resources are collected and distributed under the legal framework of the EU treaties. National funds are not specifically linked with the funding of individual EU projects.

Departmental Investigations.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

264 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the level of inspections his officials are undertaking to ensure foreign workers employed by contractors or other businesses are awarded the proper negotiated pay rates for the job; the number of inspections; the number of non-compliance cases; the actions taken in respect of these cases over the past six months and the way in which this compares with the same period in 2004. [27783/05]

No distinction is made in employment rights legislation between Irish and migrant workers. For the avoidance of doubt, section 20 of the Protection of Employee's (Part-Time) Work Act 2001 provides that all employee protection legislation on the Statute Book in Ireland applies to workers posted to work in Ireland in line with Directive 96/71/EC of the European Parliament and Council of 16 December 1996. This directive relates to the posting of workers in the framework of the provision of services and applies also to a person, irrespective of his or her nationality or place of residence, who has entered into a contract of employment that provides for his or her being employed in the State or who works in the State under a contract of employment. Thus, all employee legislation applies to migrant workers.

The number of workplace inspections-visits undertaken by the labour inspectorate in the period April to September 2005 was 2,126. Breaches were detected in 306 of those cases. The number of workplace inspections-visits undertaken during the same period in 2004 was 1,947. Breaches were detected in 315 cases. The primary function of the labour inspectorate is to seek compliance and rectification of any breaches identified, including payment of arrears due to employees. An important measure, therefore, of the effectiveness of the inspectorate is to examine the arrears of pay collected on behalf of employees. During the past six months the recoveries were €247,770, while the recoveries for the period April to September 2004 amounted to €374,380. Earlier this year several key staff members, including three inspectors, were dedicated almost exclusively to one major investigation. As a consequence of that work, and inputs from the Labour Relations Commission and Labour Court, significant adjustments in pay were secured for a number of non-national employees.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

265 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will review the income limits for the back-to-school allowance to include persons living on only payments from his department (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27319/05]

The current upper income limit for eligibility for a back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, BSCFA, for a couple with one child is €368.10 per week. The household income limits under the scheme are indexed each year in line with the contributory old age pension rate in the case of couples, or widow/er contributory pension in the case of lone parent applicants. Applicants are eligible for BSCFA if their household income is not more that €50 above the relevant reference pension rates. The western area of the Health Service Executive, which administers the scheme on my behalf, has advised that it disallowed an application for a BSCFA by the person concerned as her household income was above the limit for eligibility. This household income is derived from a carer's allowance in payment to the person concerned and a disability allowance payable to her husband, amounting to €387.40 in total. The person concerned appealed this decision but the original decision was upheld by the executive's appeals office. I am keeping the qualifying conditions for the BSCFA under review and the particular issue raised by the Deputy will be considered in that context. Further change in the BSCFA eligibility conditions, apart for the normal indexation, would have to be considered in the context of the budget.

Tax Code.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

266 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of exemptions from PRSI issued in respect of 2005 to date; the companies and the number of exemptions in respect of each company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27375/05]

The regulatory basis for the PRSI exemption scheme is contained in Article 97 of SI 312 of 1996. The legislation provides for an exemption from PRSI contributions for up to 52 weeks to be granted to foreign-based employers on behalf of employees not ordinarily resident in the State but who are temporarily employed here. The purpose of the legislation is to avoid a situation whereby workers who are sent by their employer to work here temporarily would be subject to social insurance in two countries at the same time. Similar arrangements apply under EU legislation to workers moving with the EU-EEA and to workers covered by bilateral social security agreements. From 1 January 2005 to 30 September 2005, PRSI exemptions were issued to 351 workers in respect of 24 companies under the scheme. The detailed information requested by the Deputy is being compiled and will be forwarded to him as soon as possible.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

267 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if persons participating in community employment schemes, including the back to education scheme, are allowed to continue to receive the rent allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27813/05]

People on employment support schemes such as community employment may qualify for rent supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. Their claims are normally assessed under the standard scheme rules concerning residency, means, housing need and other relevant factors. Under these rules, rent supplements are calculated to ensure that an eligible person, after the payment of rent, has an income equal to the rate of supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to his or her family circumstances, less a minimum contribution of €13 which each recipient is required to pay from his or her own resources. Where a person has an income in excess of the supplementary welfare allowance rate of payment, up to €60 per week of this additional income can be disregarded for means assessment purposes to help ensure a person is better off as a result of taking up such an opportunity. A person who is in receipt of rent supplement and who is considering taking up an offer of a community employment place may continue to receive rent supplement, subject to the standard means test outlined or under special retention arrangements.

These special arrangements, which have been in place for a number of years, allow people to retain a portion of their rent supplement where they take up work through approved employment support schemes such as community employment, subject to a weekly household income limit of €317.43. A participant in community employment has the option of being assessed under standard rules or using the retention arrangement outlined and will be entitled to receive payment under the more favourable option in his or her situation.

People in full-time education are excluded normally from receipt of rent supplement under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. However, people participating in approved courses under the back-to-education allowance scheme receive a standard weekly rate of payment equivalent to the maximum rate of their previous social welfare payment and may retain any secondary benefits, such as rent supplements, which had been in payment prior to the commencement of their education course. This is subject to the same weekly household income limit of €317.43, which may be relevant if the person pursuing the full-time education course has part-time employment. These special provisions are in place to encourage and facilitate people to improve their skills and qualifications and, therefore, their prospects of returning to the active work force.

Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

268 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will support all measures dealing with child poverty. [27849/05]

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 most significant measure to support families with children in recent years has been the substantial 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 increases in excess of 170%. Child benefit is paid to more than 540,000 families in respect of approximately 1 million children, at an estimated cost of €1.9 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. In a significant proportion of households with children there is no full-time or part-time employment. These households mainly include recipients of the one parent family payment or of payments in respect of disability and unemployment. In other households with larger families, only one parent may be able to take up employment, which results in a lower family income. A study is being carried out by the NESC into the possibility of amalgamating child dependent allowances and family income supplement into a second tier of child income support aimed at families on low incomes.

A sub-group of the senior officials group on social inclusion has undertaken a detailed examination of obstacles to employment for lone parents. As part of this work, my Department is nearing the completion of a review of income supports and I hope to bring this review to completion in the near future. 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 also 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. My Department and the Department of Health and Children, through the national children's office, are jointly funding this study. 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, we can make a major contribution to ensuring vulnerable families and their children have a fair share of life chances and quality of life.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

269 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when an application for the old age pension will be processed for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28469/05]

Jack Wall

Ceist:

293 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding an application for the old age pension for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28005/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 269 and 293 together.

The person concerned was recently awarded an old age non-contributory pension at the maximum personal rate of €166 per week with effect from 15 July 2005. A pension book payable from 30 September 2005 will issue to his local post office shortly for collection by him. A cheque in respect of arrears of pension due to him for the period from 15 July 2005 to 29 September 2005 will issue to him as soon as possible.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

270 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons not in receipt of the carer’s allowance or the carer’s benefit who were successful and unsuccessful in qualifying for the respite care grant in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27327/05]

The budget for 2005 provided, inter alia, for the extension of eligibility for the respite care grant to people providing full-time care and attention who are not in receipt of carer’s benefit or carer’s allowance. Those in receipt of the latter payments receive the grant automatically without having to make a separate application. A total of 5,804 applications were received up to Wednesday, 5 October 2005. The grant has been awarded to 5,180 applicants while 582 applications were unsuccessful. A total of 42 claims are being decided.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

271 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the case of a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath who returned home to care for her mother, should not be turned down on her application for the carer’s allowance on the grounds of non-compliance with the habitual residency clause. [27328/05]

From 1 May 2004 the requirement to be habitually resident in Ireland was introduced as a qualifying condition for certain social assistance schemes, including carer's allowance and 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 application of the guidelines to the particular individual circumstances of each case. An applicant who disagrees with the decision of a deciding officer has the right to appeal to the social welfare appeals office.

My Department has kept the operation of the habitual residence condition under review since its introduction. This is to assess the impact of the condition on different categories of claimants, the organisational arrangements and the service provided to customers, to identify opportunities for improvements in the administration of the scheme and identify emerging policy issues and 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 draw conclusions by the end of the year.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

272 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, further to Question No. 746 of 28 September 2005, his views on whether the negative policy of the community welfare service of the Health Service Executive acting on its behalf is likely to place an extra burden on the Exchequer; if as is proposed, a single person who qualifies for one-parent family allowance and rent support in his or her own right is denied rent supplement if he or she returns to education to improve his or her employment opportunities and, ultimately, becomes independent of welfare support; if his attention has been drawn to the negative message this decision gives to young persons; if he proposes to take action in this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27331/05]

The Health Service Executive, which administers the supplementary welfare scheme on my behalf, is applying the rules relating to rent supplement correctly in this case. Under section 172(1) of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993, people in full-time education are not eligible normally to receive assistance, including rent supplements, under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme. However, there is a special provision for retention of rent supplement by one-parent family payment and other qualifying social welfare scheme recipients in the specific situation where they resume full-time education after a defined period with the assistance of the back-to-education allowance scheme. People participating in approved courses under this special facility receive a standard weekly rate of payment equivalent to the maximum rate of their relevant social welfare payment and may retain any secondary benefits, such as rent supplements, which may have been in payment prior to participating in the scheme. To qualify for participation in the scheme, people in receipt of one-parent family payment must be aged 21 years or over and in receipt of that payment for six months if accessing the second level option or for 12 months for the third level option. Lone parents and persons in receipt of an unemployment payment aged between 18 and 20 years may also access the scheme if they have been out of formal education for at least two years and in receipt of the relevant social welfare payment for the required period. This programme is designed specifically to give people on unemployment or one-parent family payments for extended periods a second chance to educate themselves to improve their skills and qualifications and to enhance their prospects of returning to the active workforce.

The scheme is not appropriate to the generality of students who, as in the case of the person concerned, complete their second level education and continue to third level studies in the normal way. The person concerned has not been out of the education system for two years or more and, therefore, does not qualify for participation in the back-to-education allowance scheme operated by my Department. As a result she is not eligible for rent supplement while she undertakes her third level course. The relevant State support mechanism in such cases is annual third level maintenance grants scheme to assist people from lower income households towards their living costs while undertaking college courses.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

273 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, further to Questions Nos. 750 and 757 of 28 September 2005, when the review of a person’s entitlement to rent support will be concluded (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27332/05]

The Health Service Executive has advised that, following a review of her entitlements, the person concerned has been awarded a rent supplement of €16.20 for the month of July 2005 increasing to €65.20 per month from 1 August 2005. The person concerned has been informed of this decision and payment of her monthly rent supplement, together with any outstanding arrears, will be issued to her shortly by the executive.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

274 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will consider increasing the threshold of the back to school allowance; his views on whether it is necessary to increase this payment as the back to school expenses are constantly on the increase (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27380/05]

The back to school clothing and footwear allowance, BSCFA, which is administered on my behalf by the Health Service Executive, provides a one-off payment to eligible families to assist with the extra costs when their children start school each autumn. An allowance of €80 is payable in respect of qualified children aged between two and 11 years or €150 in respect of qualified children aged from 12 to 22 years. Applications may be made between the beginning of June and the end of September each year. A person may qualify for payment of a BSCFA if he or she is in receipt of a social welfare or health board payment, is participating in an approved employment scheme or attending a recognised education or training course and has household income at or below certain specified levels.

Income limits for eligibility under the scheme have been increased regularly, along with general rate increases. These increases in underlying social welfare rates and in the corresponding household income limits for BSCFA purposes have considerably exceeded the rate of price change in clothing and footwear in recent times and have also helped to bring additional people on low incomes into eligibility under the scheme. An additional increase in the income limits or increases in the payment rates have budgetary implications and can only be considered in this context.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

275 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny qualifies for benefit under the back-to-education scheme; and if he will review the case and issue a decision. [27403/05]

The back-to-education allowance is a second chance education opportunities scheme 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 workforce. I reduced the qualifying period for access to the third level option of the scheme to 12 months — 312 days — in the last budget. I also increased the annual cost of education allowance, paid to people on BTEA, from €254 to €400. These changes came into effect from 1 September 2005.

Following an undertaking to the Dáil and the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, I have further reduced the qualifying period for access to the third level option to nine months — 234 days. This condition will apply to persons who are participating in the national employment action plan, NEAP, process and where a FÁS employment services officer recommends pursuance of a third level course as essential to the enhancement of the individuals employment prospects. This new condition also came into effect from 1 September 2005.

The person concerned does not meet the qualifying period requirement and does not, therefore, satisfy the eligibility criteria for participation in the scheme, as only 166 days of paid unemployment were accumulated to the time the course of study started. This is well short of the required 312 days in this person's case.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

276 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is not in receipt of the free electricity allowance. [27416/05]

The person concerned has been awarded an electricity allowance with effect from 1 April 2005 and a telephone allowance from 30 March 2005. The relevant service providers have been notified to apply the allowances to the customer's accounts. A free lifetime television licence has also been awarded with effect from the expiry date of the customer's current television licence.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

277 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason the fuel allowance is being withdrawn from eligible persons living in local authority senior citizens complexes with subsidised heating in view of the fact that these tenants pay €303.68 per annum to the local authority for heating; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27448/05]

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders in receipt of long-term social welfare or health service executive payments towards their additional heating needs during the winter season. Fuel allowances are not payable in cases where a person has access to his or her own fuel supply or is benefiting from a subsidised heating service such as that provided by Dublin City Council at a number of its housing complexes. This has been the policy since the inception of the scheme.

In the particular case raised by the Deputy, total heating needs are met at a cost to the tenant of less than €6 per week over the full year. In the course of a routine review of fuel allowance payments, the Department recently ceased fuel allowance entitlement which had been paid in error in a number of cases where recipients were in local authority accommodation with subsidised heating. The allowances were withdrawn in these cases. A change to the existing arrangements in respect of the fuel allowance for this group would have quite significant cost implications and would have to be considered in the context of the budget and in the light of the resources available to me for improvements in social welfare generally.

John Perry

Ceist:

278 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to increase the amount of €88.88 which can be earned by a dependant of an old age contributory pensioner (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27489/05]

For the purposes of most other social welfare payments, entitlement to an increase for a qualified adult is based on the income of the spouse or partner. A qualified adult increase at the maximum rate is payable where the spouse-partner's income is €88.88 per week or less and tapered reduced rates are payable where income is less than €220 per week. The lower threshold was last increased in the budget for 2000 while the upper threshold has been increased in each successive budget since then from €135 in 2000 to €220 in the budget for 2005. A change in the current arrangements relating to entitlement to qualified adult allowances would have to be considered in a budgetary context and in the light of available resources.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

279 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason an application for the back-to-education allowance by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 was refused; if the exceptional and compassionate circumstances of this case will be examined as provided for in the scheme; the reason the allowance will not be awarded if the person already holds a qualification at an equivalent or higher level; if this decision will be reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27497/05]

The back-to-education allowance is a second chance education opportunities scheme 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 workforce. Since the scheme was introduced, its primary focus has been people who most need additional training or qualifications to gain a foothold in the labour market. People with a primary degree are already in possession of a third level qualification and their academic qualifications impact positively on their employment prospects. Furthermore, the scheme was never intended to be an alternative form of funding for people entering the third level education system.

The person concerned applied for participation in the back-to-education allowance scheme to pursue a three-year bachelor of science degree in occupational therapy at Trinity College Dublin. She already holds a primary degree, BA, obtained in 1966. The application was refused on the grounds that the person concerned has achieved a level of academic attainment which should impact positively on her employment prospects.

Decentralisation Programme.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

280 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress which has been made regarding decentralisation to County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27498/05]

Under the Government decentralisation programme announced as part of the budget for 2004, my Department is to relocate 230 posts to Donegal and 120 posts to Buncrana. The decentralisation implementation group, DIG, report to the Minister for Finance on 19 November 2004 recommended those locations and organisations to be included in the first phase of moves, and to be regarded as potential early movers. In the case of my Department, Sligo and Drogheda were included in the first phase and Carrick-on-Shannon was recommended as a location to be considered as an early mover. The DIG progress report to the Minister for Finance on 30 June 2005 outlined the indicative construction start and completion dates for all locations and organisations not included in the first phase of the programme. According to the report, the indicative construction start date for Donegal is the end of 2007 and the construction completion date is mid-2009. The corresponding dates for Buncrana are the end of 2007 and early 2009.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

281 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason an application for the back to education allowance was refused to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 in 2004-05 and 2005-06; the reason the allowance will not be awarded if the person is not commencing the first year of a course of study; if he will review this case again with a view to reversing this decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27503/05]

The back-to-education allowance is a second-chance education opportunities scheme 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 workforce. The scheme is not intended for students who have already commenced full-time education or for the short-term unemployed. To qualify for participation in the scheme an applicant pursuing a third level course must be, inter alia, in receipt of a relevant social payment for 12 months or nine months, if participating in the national employment action plan process.

Since the scheme was introduced, it has been a condition that the eligibility criteria must be satisfied immediately prior to the commencement of the first year of the course and the course being pursued must be in its first year. The person concerned commenced her course in September 2004. She did not satisfy the qualifying conditions for participation in the scheme at that time as she had been unemployed for only two months. In any event, as she is in the second year of the course, it would not be possible to commence payment of the back-to-education allowance.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

282 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo is not receiving the free telephone rental allowance. [27529/05]

The person concerned has been awarded an electricity allowance with effect from 2 September 2005 and a telephone allowance from 6 September 2005. The relevant service providers have been notified to apply the allowances to the customer's account. A free lifetime television licence has also been awarded with effect from the expiry date of the customer's current television licence.

Social Welfare Fraud.

David Stanton

Ceist:

283 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the efforts he has made to combat welfare fraud; if his attention has been drawn to the extent of the problem and its cost to the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27713/05]

David Stanton

Ceist:

285 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the efforts he has made or will make to combat welfare fraud; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27715/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 283 and 285 together.

The prevention of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system is an integral part of the day-to-day work of my Department. A key objective of my Department's control strategy is to ensure that we pay the right person the right amount of money at the right time. A four-pronged approach has been adopted by the Department to meet this objective, namely prevention of fraud and error at the initial claim stage, early detection through effective review of claims in payment, measures to deter fraud and the pursuit and recovery of overpayments. Systematic risk analysis is a key element of the control strategy. This entails the identification, by scheme managers, of areas of high risk of fraud and abuse in the schemes for which they are responsible and putting in place appropriate measures to address them in a systematic way. The purpose of this approach is to ensure review activity is targeted in the most effective manner.

During 2004 and 2005 my Department undertook a number of specific control initiatives in its regions throughout the country, the outcomes of which are being evaluated with a view to expanding successful initiatives to other areas. These initiatives will feed into the process of refocusing control activity to those areas and types of cases which present the highest risk of fraud and error. My Department also includes surveys of the levels of fraud and error as part of its control strategy to identify the types of claims, which should be prioritised for review purposes. As an integral part of its control strategy, my Department is committed to undertaking at least two surveys annually to establish the levels of fraud and error arising. Controls are also exercised at the initial claim stage and at subsequent stages during the claim life cycle. Claims are reviewed on a regular and targeted basis. More than 600 staff members at local, regional and national level are engaged on a full or part-time basis on work related to the control of fraud and abuse of the social welfare system.

During 2004 306,000 reviews of entitlement were carried out by staff in my Department. The records of 6,600 employers were inspected to ensure compliance with the Department's regulations and in particular to prevent and detect abuses of the system. In 2005, to the end of August, more than 211,000 claim reviews have been undertaken and 3,600 employers inspected. In 2004, as a result of control activity, my Department realised total savings of €386 million in combating fraud and abuse. In 2005, to the end of August, savings of more than €265 million have also been realised. The total amount of overpayments set up as a result of detected fraud or suspected fraud during 2004 was €18.63 million. In 2005, to the end of August, overpayments totalling €12.26 million were set up as a result of detected or suspected fraud.

The prosecution of offenders is a key element in my Department's overall control approach. My Department's policy is to consider all cases of fraud for prosecution. During 2004, 503 cases were referred to the State solicitor's office to initiate prosecution proceedings. A total of 284 cases were finalised in court, of which ten defendants were served with prison sentences, 26 received suspended sentences, 159 were fined and 44 received the benefit of the Probation Act. The remaining penalties included cases which received community service or were bound to the peace. In 2005 to the end of August, 287 cases have been submitted for initiation of court proceedings. I am committed to ensuring social welfare payments are available to those who are entitled to them. I am also determined to ensure abuse of the system is prevented and is dealt with effectively when detected. In this regard the control programme of my Department is carefully monitored and the various measures are continually refined to ensure they remain effective.

David Stanton

Ceist:

284 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his views on the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General that approximately 10,000 bogus social security numbers exist; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27714/05]

David Stanton

Ceist:

287 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the way in which he will correct the faults of the computerised PPS number checking system as outlined in the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27717/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 284 and 287 together.

The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General refers to 10,000 invalid PPS numbers rather than bogus numbers. Ongoing work to improve the integrity of the data on the Department's central records system database initially uncovered these invalid numbers. These PPS numbers were mainly old numbers on the database and were incorrectly technically formatted. These have since been corrected.

My Department is acutely aware of the importance of the PPS number and of the data on its central records system. Since taking over responsibility in 2000 for the issue of PPS numbers, my Department has put in place a range of measures to strengthen the registration process through improved procedures and controls including face-to-face interviews at local and branch offices. Further improvements in identity fraud controls will be developed having regard to developments in the area of identity management policies generally. The specific issues raised in the report are being addressed and will be considered by the Committee of Public Accounts in the context of its examination of the report.

Question No. 285 answered with QuestionNo. 283.

Computerisation Programme.

David Stanton

Ceist:

286 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the new computer system used for recording overpayments and repayments will be put in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27716/05]

The current computer system to record overpayments and overpayment recoveries has been in place since the mid-1980s. It is a stand-alone system which requires a high degree of manual input. There is a major project in place to replace the current computer system with a new overpayments and debt management system. It is intended that this new computer system will better support my Department's statutory recording and reporting function for overpayments and overpayment recoveries as well as provide a comprehensive debt management function. The requirements of the new overpayments and debt management computer system have been specified and the new system is due to go live during 2006.

Question No. 287 answered with QuestionNo. 284.

Social Welfare Benefits.

David Stanton

Ceist:

288 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who commenced third level education under the back-to-education allowance for each academic year since the year 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27718/05]

David Stanton

Ceist:

289 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who were in receipt of the back-to-education allowance for each academic year since the year 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27719/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 288 and 289 together.

The back-to-education allowance is a second-chance education opportunities scheme 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 workforce. The number of persons participating in the back-to-education allowance scheme since 2000 are as follows:

Academic year

Second Level Option

Third Level Option

Total

2000/2001

762

4,843

5,605

2001/2002

883

4,431

5,314

2002/2003

1,505

4,968

6,473

2003/2004

2,190

5,458

7,648

2004/2005

3,028

4,280

7,308

The numbers who left the live register to commence a third level course of study with the assistance of the scheme between 2000 and 2004 are as follows:

Academic year

Third Level Option

2000/2001

1,136

2001/2002

1,096

2002/2003

1,581

2003/2004

1,515

These totals represent about 70% of commencements. Statistics on those who commenced after coming from other payments in that period are not available. A total of 1,206 commenced a third level course of study with the assistance of the back-to-education allowance scheme in the 2004 to 2005 academic year. This total includes 858 who left the live register and 348 who came from other schemes, such as one-parent family payment. Statistics for the 2005 to 2006 academic year are being collated.

Interdepartmental Committees.

David Stanton

Ceist:

290 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the high level group has reported on its examination of the recommendations from the Mercer report on the future financing of long-term care and the O’Shea report on nursing home subventions and the conclusions of same; if not, when the report will issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27720/05]

The long-term care working group, which 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, is to report to the Tánaiste and to me at the end of this month.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

291 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he has reviewed the adequacy of the present fuel scheme in view of the substantial increase in the price of gas and electricity; when the value of the fuel scheme was last increased; the value of the allowance if it had been indexed in line with energy prices over the intervening period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27803/05]

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders on long-term social welfare payments with meeting the cost of their additional heating needs during the winter season. Fuel allowances are paid for 29 weeks from the end of September to mid-April and are not intended to meet the full cost of heating. Some 274,000 customers, 151,000 with basic fuel allowance and 123,000 with smokeless fuel supplement, benefit under the scheme at a cost of €85.4 million in 2005.

Under the scheme, a fuel allowance of €9 per week is paid to eligible households during this 29 week winter heating period, with an additional €3.90 per week payable in the designated urban smokeless fuel zones. These rates were increased to these levels in January 2002. The position is being kept under review.

According to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, the overall consumer price index has increased by 11.8% from the start of 2002 to August 2005. The price of solid fuels has increased by 15.2% in this period. An increase in the fuel allowance rates to match solid fuel price inflation since 2002 would bring its rate to about €10.40 or €14.90 in smokeless fuel areas. It is estimated that such an increase would cost of the order of €13 million extra in a full year.

While not increasing the value of fuel allowances which are payable for only part of the year, Government policy has been to increase primary payment rates by amounts well in excess of inflation. This is a more costly approach than increasing fuel allowances but it delivers a better outcome for pensioners and others by substantially increasing their real income over the whole year.

Pensioners and other eligible groups have received cumulative increases of between 33.6% and 37.3% in their primary social welfare payment rates since 2002. These higher rates of primary payments are payable over 52 weeks of the year and have improved the income situation of welfare recipients considerably in real terms relative to solid fuel cost increases and to price inflation generally. For example, a single person on a contributory old age pension has received an increase of €32 per week over the last three budgets when fuel allowances were held constant. This is approximately double the amount required to compensate for all the inflation, including fuel price inflation.

In addition to fuel allowance, more than 300,000 pensioners and their households qualify for electricity or gas allowances through the household benefits package, payable towards their heating, light and cooking costs throughout the year at an overall cost of €108.8 million in 2005. There is also a facility available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to assist people in certain circumstances who have special heating needs.

Pension Provisions.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

292 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will consider increasing the income limit for old age pensioners in order that they will qualify for the free fuel allowance; if not, whether he will examine the amount of €50.60 and increase this amount; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27810/05]

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or health service executive payments towards their additional heating needs during the winter season. About 274,000 households receive a fuel allowance, at an expected cost of €85.4 million this year. In addition to fuel allowance, more than 300,000 pensioners and other households qualify for electricity or gas allowances through the household benefits package payable towards their heating, light and cooking costs throughout the year at an overall cost of €108.8 million in 2005. There is also a facility available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to assist people in certain circumstances who have special heating needs.

Pensioners and other social welfare groups have received significant increases in their welfare payment rates this year and in recent years. This has improved their income situation considerably in real terms relative to solid fuel cost increases and to price inflation generally. These higher rates of primary payments are payable over 52 weeks of the year.

People on a qualifying non-contributory pension or other social welfare payment are normally eligible for a fuel allowance without further means test, subject to the other conditions for entitlement. Other applicant households may have a combined income of up to €51 above the current maximum weekly contributory old age pension rate and still qualify for a fuel allowance. Based on this formula, the current upper limit income for fuel allowance eligibility is €230.80 for a single applicant or €349.80 for a couple, with further additions if there are any qualified dependent children or if the applicant is over 80 years of age.

This fuel allowance income limit increases each winter season in line with the reference rate of old age contributory pension. On this basis, there have been significant real increases in the income limits for fuel allowance applicants in recent years. This situation will continue in future winter heating seasons, in line with prevailing pension rates. The question of any additional increase in the income limit would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

Question No. 293 answered with QuestionNo. 269.

Social Welfare Benefits.