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 9, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 10 to 93, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 94 to 101, inclusive, answered orally.

Infectious Diseases.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

102 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to prevent an outbreak of avian flu here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33783/05]

Mary Upton

Ceist:

105 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding measures taken or proposed to protect against the spread of avian flu here, having regard not just to the threat to the avian population but also the dangers to humans; if additional measures are planned arising from the discovery of the virus in an imported bird in Britain; if her Department is responsible for co-ordinating the response to the avian flu threat; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34163/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 105 together.

My Department has been taking the threat of an outbreak of avian influenza very seriously. As the House will know, outbreaks of the H5N1 virus have been confirmed in eastern and central Europe since July 2005 but no outbreaks have been confirmed within the EU, other than the birds which died in quarantine in England.

The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK published a report this morning on the deaths in quarantine which has concluded that the birds infected with the H5N1 virus were all from Taiwan. It has now been confirmed that 53 birds, all of the mesia species, of the 101 imported died. A further four were dead on arrival. The report also confirms that there is no evidence of transmission from the mesias to any other species of bird, including the Surinamese parrot which had previously been reported as having died from the virus. All the other birds in the quarantine facility were humanely destroyed.

It now appears, from the statement issued today by Defra in the UK, that tissue from the Surinamese parrot was pooled with tissue from a Taiwanese mesia and it had not previously been possible to say whether the virus isolated had originated from the parrot, the mesia or both, though it had always been assumed that the birds from Taiwan were the source of infection. Today's report does nothing to change the UK's avian flu-free status and does not, at this time, impact on our contingency arrangements.

It is important to emphasise that avian flu is principally a disease of birds which occasionally infects animals, notably pigs. The virus rarely infects humans. My Department is responsible for taking measures to minimise the risk of introducing the virus into Ireland and, in the event of an outbreak, to ensure its early detection and speedy eradication. The Department of Health and Children is responsible for the public health aspects of a human flu pandemic. The two Departments, each with their own principal areas of responsibility, have been and are continuing to work very closely together at various levels. The issues have recently been considered by the Government and are now standing items on the agenda of the Government task force on emergency planning, chaired by my colleague, the Minister for Defence.

The confirmed outbreaks of the H5N1 virus in eastern and central Europe since the summer suggest the involvement of migratory wildbirds as vectors of the disease. In view of their potential involvement, there are obvious limitations on the measures which can be taken to ensure that the country stays avian flu free. Based on the patterns of confirmed outbreaks in eastern and central Europe, the immediate risk of the virus being introduced to Ireland through migrating wildbirds is considered to be low.

Nonetheless, there is a risk of the disease being introduced and I have, therefore, introduced a series of measures aimed at minimising that risk and my Department has been consistently reassessing the risk of a disease outbreak. That risk assessment has and will continue to inform our measured approach. It is important that our approach is proportionate and important too that we continue to review our contingency arrangements, taking full account of the most up-to-date scientific and veterinary advice to us.

At EU level, the Commission's standing committee on the food chain and animal health, SCoFCAH, has taken a number of decisions, all of which have since been provided for in Irish law through a series of statutory instruments. These include, inter alia, safeguard measures which ban the importation of poultry and certain specified poultry products into the EU, in respect of all countries affected by H5N1 other than Croatia, where the virus was found only in wildbirds.

Specifically, my Department has put in a place an early warning system, now an EU requirement, with the assistance of the national parks and wildlife service, the National Association of Regional Game Councils and BirdWatch Ireland. My Department is also a full participant in the annual EU avian influenza survey, through which samples are taken for analysis for evidence of an avian flu virus. In addition, samples from poultry sent to the Department's laboratories by private veterinary practitioners are routinely tested for avian flu.

My Department has also introduced a statutory register of all poultry flockowners and of other owners of birds which will be of great assistance in the event of an outbreak. Full details of this register were published in the national newspapers last week and my Department has written to 140,000 of its clients advising them of the registration requirements and arrangements. Furthermore, and in accordance with one of the European Commission decisions, we have introduced a ban on any gathering of poultry for exhibitions, markets and cultural events, other than under licence. A licensing regime has now been put in place that, at this stage, provides only for the licensing of caged bird shows and pigeon shows. The ban will be reviewed by the SCoFCAH before the end of November, though it may well be extended for a further period of time.

I am satisfied that the measures taken to date, both at EU and national levels, represent an entirely appropriate response to the current level of risk of the introduction of avian flu to Ireland. We have been reviewing and updating our contingency arrangements and are maintaining a vigilant approach. We will continue with our risk assessment approach and will not hesitate to introduce such additional precautionary measures as we consider necessary to deal with any increased level of risk, including any new confirmed cases within the EU.

We will also continue to work closely with all of our EU partners, particularly the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland, with which we have a very close working relationship. We will, as a Department, also continue to work closely with our colleagues in the Department of Health and Children on the public health aspects, for which it has responsibility, and will continue to be active participants in that Department's influenza pandemic expert group.

Environmental Pollution.

John Gormley

Ceist:

103 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her response to the report by the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution of the toxic threat to humans of the 31,000 tons of chemicals sprayed on British farms each year and if a similar study is to be carried out here. [34229/05]

The report will be taken into account in the review of the regulatory system for plant protection products being undertaken with our EU partners and the Commission. The report reflects public concerns brought to the attention of the royal commission, recognises the lack of evidence of causality and recommends that risk assessment techniques and methodologies be reviewed and that additional monitoring and health surveillance be undertaken.

The arrangements currently in place here for the assessment of risks for workers, bystanders and consumers that may be exposed when crops are sprayed are based on current EU rules and take account of the most extreme exposures likely to occur. They require consideration of health effects on all sectors of the community, including vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly.

EU Directives.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

104 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the European Commission and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding a derogation under the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33799/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In October 2004, Ireland submitted proposals for a derogation from the general organic nitrogen limit of 170 kg per hectare per annum laid down in the nitrates directive. The proposal was designed to allow farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. My Department and Teagasc developed the derogation proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

The European Commission was not prepared to engage in formal discussions on the derogation proposals until Ireland's nitrates action programme was agreed. There have been preliminary discussions with the Commission, however, and Ireland's case for derogation is scheduled to receive its initial presentation to the EU nitrates committee shortly.

My Department and Teagasc will continue to work with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government toward achieving a successful outcome to our derogation application and I will press strongly to have the process concluded as early as possible in 2006.

Question No. 105 answered with QuestionNo. 102.

Departmental Properties.

John Curran

Ceist:

106 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the progress made by her Department towards the provision of Department land for social housing. [34111/05]

Under the affordable housing initiative my Department has identified six sites for consideration in Counties Cork, Dublin, Galway and Kildare. The sites in County Cork are located in Clonakilty and Model Farm Road in Cork city. The sites in County Dublin are located in Harcourt Terrace, Dublin city, and in the townland of Backstown near Lucan. The site in County Galway is located in Athenry. The site in County Kildare is located in the townland of Stacumny near Celbridge.

In regard to the site at Clonakilty, the county council is progressing the project as a matter of priority and has gone through the local consultation process in regard to developing a model rural village at Darrara, near Clonakilty. The Government recently noted the progress with the site at Harcourt Terrace, Dublin city. The site is the subject of a land swap whereby South Dublin County Council will receive completed housing units in lieu of the site. All of the other sites are at various stages of assessment by the local authorities.

Veterinary Services.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

107 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to provide a countrywide and weekend veterinary service for the issue of prescriptions for animal remedies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33788/05]

Veterinary practices are primarily commercial entities and their locations are driven by commercial realities. However, in so far as State involvement is concerned, I can point to a number of recent measures which will alleviate difficulties which may arise in certain parts of the country.

First, under the new Veterinary Practice Act, which will come into effect on 1 January next, there is a provision which for the first time will enable the Veterinary Council to recognise qualifications from applicants in third countries generally. This, taken with the recent enlargement of the EU, will make for improved availability of practitioners to meet shortfalls that may arise on the supply side. Second, the new animal remedies regulations, which I am about to sign into law, contain a number of measures which will enable veterinary practitioners and their farmer clients to avoid difficulties in this area. These include changes to the prescribing rules in terms of the need to clinically examine an animal and extended validity of prescriptions, the details of which I have already outlined in the House.

Also, the regulations include provision which, in a genuine emergency and subject to appropriate safeguards, will enable a pharmacist to supply a prescription medicine in advance of receiving a written prescription. I understand that Údarás na Gaeltachta provides funding to subsidise veterinary practices in remote areas in consultation with the local farming community.

Live Exports.

John Perry

Ceist:

108 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she will take to facilitate the live export of lambs to the UK and France; if she will address the current holding period restriction; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33785/05]

I am always prepared to facilitate trade in live sheep which is governed by EU rules governing intra-Community trade. Trade in sheep between member states of the European Union is subject to the provisions of Council Directive 91/68/EEC, as amended, as regards reinforced controls on the movement of sheep and goats.

The controls provide as a minimum requirement that breeding and fattening sheep must be certified as having been continuously resident on a holding for at least 30 days prior to export and that no sheep or goats had been introduced on to the holding in the 21 days prior to export. Slaughter sheep must also be certified as having been continuously resident on the holding of origin for at least 21 days prior to export and are also subject to a "standstill" period of 21 days prior to dispatch, during which no sheep or goats have been introduced on to the holding of origin.

These controls were introduced in the aftermath of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 and came into effect on 1 July 2004. I am aware that there were certain difficulties with the certification requirements, arising from the fact that the information in respect of which the official veterinarian must certify can only be truly known to the farmer. Accordingly, I had my Department raise this matter with the European Commission in an effort to arrive at a certification procedure that best meets the concerns of farmers and exporters while at the same time protecting animal health.

I am pleased that, in response to our approach, the European Commission has proposed to amend these certification requirements to allow the official veterinarian to issue certification based on written declaration by the farmer or on examination of the flock register and movement documents. The decision providing for these new arrangements was agreed to unanimously by the standing committee on animal health and the food chain on 11 November 2005. The arrangements will apply from 15 February 2006 and I am confident they will resolve most of the outstanding difficulties with the export of sheep to France and the United Kingdom.

Beef Imports.

Peter Power

Ceist:

109 Mr. P. Power asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has been in contact with the European Commission on the issue of veterinary equivalence in terms of beef production in Brazil. [34101/05]

I fully support the policy that animal products imported into the EU from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, EU member states.

In this context, I wrote last month to the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Mr. Markos Kyprianou, concerning the sanitary rules applying to the import of livestock products, especially beef, into the European Union. In the letter, I raised the matter of "equivalence" on the specific and important issues of animal traceability, controls on veterinary medicines, prohibited substances and residue monitoring programmes in these countries and in particular with regard to Brazilian beef in view of its increasing presence on the European market. I requested the Commission to consider the matter and invited it to put appropriate proposals before the EU standing committee on the food chain and animal health, SCoFCAH.

Irish farmers are required to ensure that their production systems and farm practices fully comply with a wide range of EU directives on important matters, including traceability, animal health and welfare and consumer protection. These all have significant in-built cost factors and, bearing in mind that our beef farmers are in competition on European and international markets with beef from low cost producers such as Brazil, I will continue to seek real equivalence in these areas, both in discussions within the EU and in the context of the WTO talks on market access.

Food Industry.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

110 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to develop the marketing potential of Bord Bia; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33798/05]

Exchequer funding of more than €20 million is provided annually to Bord Bia for the purposes of carrying out its statutory function of promoting and marketing the Irish food, horticulture and drink industries. This grant-in-aid is augmented by a statutory levy and voluntary contributions from the industry, in keeping with the requirements of the EU state aid rules. The annual operating budget of Bord Bia is, therefore, in excess of €29 million and the board makes optimum use of these funds to deliver an effective and strategic service to its clients. That food and drink exports exceeded €7 billion in 2004 speaks highly for the impact the board is making.

Effective marketing and promotion activities are essential as competition is becoming even more intense with greater trade liberalisation, competition from low cost countries and concentration at retail level. Allied to this, consumer requirements are changing with more emphasis being placed on health, convenience and well-being, all of which must be underpinned by value. Bord Bia is responding to these challenges with the development of a more strategic approach to identifying new and emerging markets and sectors.

An independent review of the activities, operations and structures of Bord Bia has been completed. Resulting from the review and extensive consultation, the board has drafted a strategic plan to guide its development over the next five years in the light of changing dynamics in the marketplace. The plan does not envisage a radical departure from Bord Bia's current role and remit but envisages a repositioning to enhance the organisation's capacity to deliver strategic market development, promotion and information services. Specifically, it commits Bord Bia to the development and delivery of a range of strategically focused market development programmes and services to build on and support current programmes and services. The strategic plan, which does have resourcing implications, is being examined by my Department.

This year an additional €800,000 was provided by way of Supplementary Estimate towards the Bord Bia, Irish Beef in Europe, campaign and new activities in markets in the Far East. The "Irish Beef in Europe" campaign is the second phase of the board's strategy to build sales of Irish beef in European supermarkets. The campaign has been running for two months and involves on-pack promotions in 8,000 European stores frequented by some 40 million shoppers per week. It is a concentrated and sophisticated marketing initiative and has by all accounts been very successful.

A great deal has already been achieved in implementing Bord Bia's strategy in recent years to increase market penetration in the high value EU marketplace. In 2001, Ireland exported 72,000 tonnes to continental Europe and only two retailers stocked Irish beef. Last year, exports had more than doubled to 174,000 tonnes and more than 30 retail groups are currently stocking Irish beef. This represents significant progress by Bord Bia and the industry in a short period and points to the type of progress which can be made in the new, more market oriented CAP environment.

Export Subsidies.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

111 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the abolition of export credit refunds by the EU; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33811/05]

The framework agreement for the next WTO round which was concluded in Geneva in August 2004 commits member countries, including the EU, to negotiate detailed rules, including an end date, for the parallel elimination of all forms of export subsidies and for the introduction of disciplines on export measures with equivalent effect. The framework agreement covers export refunds, export credits, the trade distorting practices of state trading enterprises and food aid practices which are not in conformity with disciplines to be introduced. The new WTO agreement should ensure equal competition on the world market for all exporters. Negotiations are ongoing within the WTO and further efforts towards an agreement will be made at the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December.

EU Sugar Regime.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

112 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the response she has received to the letter sent by her and ten other EU Agriculture Ministers to the Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, urging a more balanced approach to the reform of the EU sugar regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34167/05]

The joint ministerial letter in question was submitted to the Commission in advance of the formal discussion at last month's Council meeting, setting out the objections of the group to the proposals. A formal written response has not been received from the Commission to this letter. However, the sugar reform proposals will be considered again at next week's Council of Ministers, at which the UK Presidency is striving to reach political agreement. I remain resolute in pursuing my overall objective of achieving a more balanced agreement, which will take Irish interests into account.

Beef Imports.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

113 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she intends to introduce a total ban on Brazilian beef imports into the European Union based on health issues in view of the fact that there are many outbreaks of foot and mouth disease in the Brazilian herds; her views on whether a partial ban being imposed by the EU cannot be effectively implemented due to the lack of movement, control and traceability in the Brazilian livestock herd; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the United States, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Korea do not permit the importation of fresh Brazilian beef imports on health grounds; her further views on whether the health status of the EU livestock sector and the Irish livestock sector is being put at risk by continuing to import beef from a country where there is inadequate movement control and traceability and where there are a number of outbreaks of foot and mouth disease as well as a vaccination programme for foot and mouth disease; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33762/05]

I am aware that at least 40 countries, including 25 member states of the EU, have introduced partial or complete bans on the importation of meat from Brazil. In accordance with the principles of harmonisation of the internal market, the EU operates as a single entity with regard to international trade. The European Commission, therefore, introduces safeguard measures that have EU wide application limiting or banning the export of animal products from third countries where the conditions of an animal disease outbreak could seriously affect production and trade in animal products in the EU or where there is risk to human health.

In the application of such measures the Community will apply the regionalisation principle that can allow trade to continue from non-affected regions. This principle is fundamental to membership of the World Organisation of Animal Health, OIE, to which all members of the EU subscribe. In practice, this means that where there is a disease outbreak, restrictions on trade are applied to products from this affected region while trade can continue from other unaffected parts of this country or region. It will be recalled that this principle was applied to trade here during the FMD outbreak in 2001.

Following confirmation of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease on a farm in the Eldorado district of Mato Grosso do Sul in the southern part of Brazil, the European Commission immediately introduced proposals at the EU standing committee on the food chain and animal health, SCoFCAH, to suspend imports of de-boned and matured beef from the regions of Mato Grosso do Sul, Parana, and also Sao Paulo. Accordingly, beef produced in the affected regions from cattle slaughtered since 29 September 2005 may not be traded.

I fully support the policy that animal products imported into the EU from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, EU member states. In this context I wrote last month to the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Mr. Markos Kyprianou, concerning the sanitary rules applying to the import of livestock products, especially beef, into the European Union. In the letter, I raised the matter of "equivalence" on the specific and important issues of animal traceability, controls on veterinary medicines, prohibited substances and residue monitoring programmes in these countries and in particular with regard to Brazilian beef in view of its increasing presence on the European market. I requested the Commission to consider the matter and invited it to put appropriate proposals before SCoFCAH.

Irish farmers are required to ensure that their production systems and farm practices fully comply with a wide range of EU directives on important matters, including traceability, animal health and welfare and consumer protection. These all have significant in-built cost factors, and bearing in mind that our beef farmers are in competition on European and international markets with beef from low cost producers such as Brazil, I will continue to seek real equivalence in these areas, both in discussions within the EU and in the context of the WTO talks on market access.

Food Industry.

Donie Cassidy

Ceist:

114 Mr. Cassidy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her initiative to promote local and regional food economies. [34106/05]

The food industry must be developed at all levels in the new, more market oriented CAP framework. In this context, an initiative involving the holding of regional food fora to promote local and regional food economies was launched recently. The first regional food forum organised by my Department and Bord Bia with all other State agencies responsible for food industry development was held in Donegal recently.

The north-west forum —market focus for small food enterprises — focused on some of the issues confronting small food producers and key speakers shared experiences on regional food marketing and development with food enterprises from Counties Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim. State agencies and service providers were in attendance to offer advice and assistance to producers or enterprises interested in building small food businesses and a variety of food products from the north west was showcased, emphasising the importance of the food industry to the region's economy. I also launched the "North West Food and Drink Trade Directory", a comprehensive guide to small food businesses in the north west, as well as agencies at national and regional level. Access to timely and up-to-date industry information is important for small businesses and the guide is a valuable reference source for the food industry in the region.

This initiative aims to stimulate and expand interest in regional and local food production and to encourage the formation and growth of more small rural-based food enterprises on a regional basis. The speciality and artisan food sectors have developed a new momentum and research indicates that further opportunities exist for the right products. There is considerable scope to develop new opportunities in Ireland and the United Kingdom where the market is forecast to reach €7.5 billion over the next three years.

It is my intention to use this forum model in other areas to ensure a continued focus on the potential for local food production. By working closely with farmers, small food producers and local agencies we can successfully promote food enterprise and innovation to develop unique products reflecting the strengths of each region.

Agriculture Policy.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

115 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will expand on her recent comments at the National Ploughing Championships that farming is in severe decline and that an alternative strategy is needed; the steps she is taking to address the decline in farming; the effect this is having on rural Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30705/05]

I did not say, and do not believe, that farming is in severe decline. In 2004, farm incomes rose by 3.5%, farm investment increased by 10% and land prices went up by 13%. None of this suggests a sector in severe decline.

It is, however, important that we focus on the future and on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. This means we must constantly update and renew our strategies for the sector, particularly in a time of considerable change. In this regard, I welcome the very helpful report of the agri-vision 2015 committee and I will respond to the content and recommendations contained in that report. The agri-vision 2015 committee provided a comprehensive analysis of what is required to enable the agri-food sector maintain and improve its competitiveness over the next ten years and contribute to a healthy and vibrant rural economy and environment. It is in this context that the plan of action is currently being drafted by officials within my Department and will be launched in the new year.

Food Industry.

John Curran

Ceist:

116 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the work being undertaken under the food institutional research programme. [34112/05]

The food institutional research measure, FIRM, is a public good research programme in the food sector funded under the National Development Plan 2000-2006. Progress under the measure has been very satisfactory, with 123 projects awarded funding of €55.7 million following general calls in 2000 and 2004 and a targeted call in 2001. More than €36 million has been paid to date to the institutions involved. Awards are currently being finalised in respect of a further 17 projects, with indicative funding of €7.5 million, arising from a targeted call issued earlier this year under the food safety and beverages themes.

The main objectives of the FIRM programme are to provide a base of information and expertise in generic technologies that supports innovation and product development in the food industry, and assists in assuring consumer protection by ensuring that product development is underpinned by attention to food safety and quality issues. The research is carried out at suitable institutions that can demonstrate the necessary research capabilities, including universities, institutes of technology and Teagasc food centres.

The areas targeted under the programme include: development of technologies to build a more competitive, innovative, consumer focused and sustainable food production and marketing sector; development of the scientific knowledge to underpin effective food safety practices at all stages in the food chain; consumer foods technology; innovation in functional foods; cheese diversification; production of new food ingredients; nutrition; new technologies for added value meat products.

The FIRM programme has contributed to the formation of recognised centres of excellence in food research in Ireland. A number of research teams have been created at the various institutions and the capability and critical mass that has been developed, together with the associated knowledge base, represents a major resource for industry. In addition, the public good food research programmes have been instrumental in the development of a number of food products which contribute to the health and nutritional intake of the consumer. The outcomes of the research are disseminated widely for the benefit of the industry as a whole.

This programme has been valuable in assisting public good food research. It provides a platform for the food industry to engage in further research and product development, which is vital in an increasingly competitive and market oriented environment.

EU Directives.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

117 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with other Departments and State agencies with a view to meeting the EU biofuels directive requiring Ireland to replace the 2% of petrol and diesel with renewable fuels by end of 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34180/05]

The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has overall responsibility for energy policy and is primarily responsible for the promotion and development of renewable energy, including biofuels, with a view to meeting the requirements of the EU transport biofuels directive. The development of the biofuels industry is a cross-sectoral issue impinging on several policy areas, for example, environmental and fiscal policy as well as energy policy, and involving several Departments and agencies. My Department has been represented on a number of interdepartmental groups considering the issue and there has also been direct contact between my Department and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

I am conscious of the central role agriculture can play in supplying the necessary raw materials for the production of biofuels. Energy crops such as oilseed rape, wheat and sugar beet can be used for the manufacture of liquid transport biofuels, forestry by-products are a rich source of wood biomass and various farming by-products, such as meat and bonemeal and tallow, can be used for energy-heat generation and biodiesel manufacture respectively.

For the purposes of contributing to the development of policy on biofuels, my Department, in conjunction with COFORD and Teagasc, has examined the potential of energy crops, wood biomass and farming and food by-products. In general, the production of energy crops for biofuels will have to be demand led and production by farmers will only occur if the economic returns are greater than those offered by traditional crop enterprises. The production of liquid biofuels from energy crops is not economic at current oil price levels. However, the scheme announced by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for mineral oil tax relief on pilot biofuel projects has stimulated the production of oilseed rape for biofuel.

The exploitation of wood resources for energy purposes, mainly for heat or electricity generation, offers significant potential. There are also significant opportunities for using by-products of farming and food processing for bioenergy purposes. Approximately 140,000 tonnes of meat and bonemeal is produced annually and its use in place of fossil fuels could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 19%.

I am anxious to encourage further research to assist the development of the biofuels industry. Teagasc has already done some valuable work in this area and I also arranged for research projects on biofuels and other non-food uses of crops to be included in the latest call under my Department's research stimulus programme. The outcome of this call is not yet available but the nature of the projects to be funded will depend on the proposals received.

EU Sugar Regime.

David Stanton

Ceist:

118 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, further to the meeting of the Council of Ministers in October 2005, if she has succeeded in protecting the interests of Irish farmers and the Irish sugar beet industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34206/05]

I reiterated my firm opposition to the Commission's proposals when I addressed last month's meeting of the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg. I emphasised that the price cuts proposed are too severe, the reforms should be based on a longer lead-in time for the EBA and we should await the outcome of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong before seeking to agree a more equitable and balanced outcome.

I have also continued to remain in contact with like minded colleague Ministers from other member states who are opposed to the reform proposals. In this context, a joint ministerial letter from a group of 11 member states, including Ireland, was submitted to the Commission in advance of the formal discussion at last month's Council meeting, setting out the objections of the group to the proposals. I had previously met the Agriculture Commissioner on a number of occasions to voice my strong reservations. Meanwhile, there has been ongoing contact at official level with other member states and the Commission about the reform proposals.

Negotiations have become more intensive over recent weeks and the UK Presidency is striving to reach political agreement at next week's Council of Ministers. However, I will continue to be resolute in pursuing my overall objective of achieving a more balanced agreement, which will take Irish interests into account.

World Trade Negotiations.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

119 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the implications for Irish agriculture of the proposals recently made by EU Commissioners Mandelson and Fischer Boel in regard to the current round of world trade talks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34176/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

124 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the extent to which in the context of the World Trade Organisation and through the EU she is prepared to ensure the viability of the agricultural sector having particular regard to Ireland’s position as a food producing country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34257/05]

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

137 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views regarding Commissioner Peter Mandelson who clearly has exceeded the EU mandate on agriculture in the World Trade Organisation negotiations; the action she will take to endeavour to restrict the role of Commissioner Mandelson in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33760/05]

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

138 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to seek the retention of the highest possible subsidies for Irish farmers and to protect Irish agricultural products from foreign competition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34184/05]

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

152 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on the Government’s position on the policies to abolish CAP being pursued by Commissioner Mandelson. [34233/05]

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

173 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her priorities for the current round of world trade talks and the summit due in Hong Kong in December 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34177/05]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

184 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the EU Commission on the WTO talks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33780/05]

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

442 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will make a statement on the implications for EU and Irish agriculture of the Trade Commissioner’s proposals relating to the World Trade Organisation. [33990/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

467 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the extent to which she expects the EU to adopt a stance consistent with Ireland’s position as a food producing country in the context of the World Trade Organisation debate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34555/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

468 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if adequate steps are being taken at EU level to maintain and identify Ireland’s position as a food producing and food exporting economy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34556/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

469 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position in regard to preparation for the World Trade Organisation talks with particular reference to the European influence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34557/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 119, 124, 137, 138, 152, 173, 184, 442, 467, 468 and 469 together.

The Government is committed to achieving a balanced agreement between the various elements of the WTO negotiations. I expect that further progress will be made towards conducting a new agreement at the ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December. In so far as agriculture is concerned, the outcome of the negotiations will determine the levels of protection and support which the EU may provide for the duration of the next agreement. The negotiations represent, therefore, a serious challenge to the future of the Common Agriculture Policy, CAP.

My overriding objective is to ensure that the terms of the final agreement can be accommodated without the need for further reform of the CAP. More specifically, my priorities are to ensure that: the phasing out of all forms of export subsidies will be applied in parallel, as provided for under the WTO framework agreement which was concluded in August 2004, that the phasing out arrangements will be as flexible as possible and that the end date will extend as long as possible; Ireland's agricultural exports will remain competitive in the EU market through the continuation of adequate levels of tariff protection on imports from third countries; to secure the best combination of tariff cuts and the "sensitive product" status, to which lower tariff cuts will apply, for the products of particular interest to Ireland; the EU's system of direct payments which, following decoupling, qualify as non-trade distorting, will continue to be exempt from reductions under the new agreement — direct payments make a major contribution to farm incomes in Ireland and I will strongly resist any attempt to amend the qualifying criteria to undermine their status as non-trade distorting payments under a new agreement.

The Commission negotiates in the WTO on the basis of a mandate which was agreed by the Council of Ministers. The mandate is designed to defend the CAP as it has evolved under successive reforms, including Agenda 2000 and the mid-term review. At a meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18 October 2005, which I attended, the Council again endorsed the mandate and confirmed that it constitutes the limits for the EU's negotiating brief in the WTO.

The latest EU offer, which was submitted on 28 October, was made by the Commission on the basis that it is within the terms of the negotiating mandate. I continue to have some reservations in this regard. Technical briefing was provided by the Commission on 10 November to explain the position which it adopted and to provide clarification for member states. While the Commission has pointed out that the latest proposal is the EU's final offer on agriculture, extreme vigilance is required to protect the EU's and Ireland's interests in the negotiations.

I have been in regular contact with the Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development in recent months. I discussed the WTO agriculture negotiations and Irish concerns relating thereto at a bilateral meeting with the Commissioner on 23 June 2005. The Council of Agriculture Ministers, which reviews the situation on a regular basis, discussed the developments in the negotiations at its meetings on 18 July 2005, 19 September 2005 and 25 October 2005, all of which I attended with Ministers from other member states and the Commissioner.

I have pressed strongly for the inclusion of the WTO negotiations on the Council agenda as a substantive issue in the run up to Hong Kong. I also spoke, by telephone, with the Commissioner on a number of occasions. On each occasion, I outlined my concerns that the Commission should continue to adhere to the mandate on agriculture which was given to it by the Council and that it should not deviate from this as the negotiations proceed. I have also indicated my concerns at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 18 October 2005, and in bilateral discussions with other EU ministerial colleagues.

Earlier this month, I travelled to Geneva for a meeting with Pascal Lamy, the director general of the WTO, at which I took the opportunity of making it clear to him where Ireland's concerns lie with regard to agriculture and food.

I will continue to monitor developments in the negotiations very closely and will participate fully in discussions in the run up to the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong. I intend to be in Hong Kong for the conference in December. I will avail of every opportunity to pursue my objectives to achieve the best possible outcome for Irish agriculture.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

120 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding her consideration of the report of the interdepartmental committee that was asked to develop proposals for a national strategy and best practices to ensure the coexistence of genetically modified crops with conventional and organic farming; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34169/05]

In August 2003, an interdepartmental group comprising representatives of the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Teagasc and the EPA, was established to examine issues relating to the coexistence of authorised GM crops alongside non-GM crops and to develop proposals for a national strategy and best practices in Ireland. In drawing up this report the group considered submissions from many interested stakeholders. I have just recently received the completed report and its recommendations.

While the group engaged extensively with relevant stakeholders when preparing the reports, I consider it prudent to invite further observations on the report from all interested parties. For that reason I am in the process of placing the report on my Department's website and I will invite observations shortly. I will then take into account all observations received before putting in place coexistence arrangements for Ireland.

EU Directives.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

121 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will make a statement on her decision to defer introduction of EU Directive 2004/28, regarding the prescribing of veterinary medicines. [34178/05]

While transposition of Directive 2004/28 into national law is being finalised, article 67 of the directive provides that implementation of the requirement that all veterinary medicines for food producing animals must be subject to prescriptions may be deferred and national rules may continue to apply until a decision is taken at EU level on the criteria for exempting certain medicines from this new requirement or until 1 January 2007, at the latest. I have decided to avail of this provision and, in the interim, existing off-prescription medicines will remain off-prescription and the writing of prescriptions will be restricted to veterinarians.

However, I have made it clear that I intend to review the regulations and, in particular, the provisions relating to the categories of persons who will be permitted to prescribe veterinary medicines, in light of the outcome of the exemption criteria. Full consultations will be held with all stakeholders on the matter at that stage before final decisions are taken on this issue.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

122 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when she intends to introduce new grant rates provided to farmers under the CFP scheme in view of the increasing cost of steel and the demands which will be placed on farmers due to the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33763/05]

Jim Glennon

Ceist:

161 Mr. Glennon asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to introduce a new farm waste management scheme to assist farmers meet the requirements of the nitrates directive. [34104/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 122 and 161 together.

To assist farmers meet the additional requirements of the nitrates action programme, I have announced details of a proposed revised farm waste management scheme for which EU approval has been sought. I hope early approval of the scheme will be forthcoming so that it can be introduced next January.

Subject to the required EU approval, the scheme will: introduce a standard grant rate of 60%, with 70% being available for zone C counties, in place of the current grant rate of 40% — additional aid will be available for young farmers at rates of 10% in less favoured areas and 5% in other areas; extend the maximum income unit ceiling for farmers from 450 to 650 income units, with no upper limit being applied in the case of pig and poultry farmers; raise the maximum eligible investment from €75,000 to €120,000; remove any minimum income requirements from farming from the scheme so that all small farmers can participate in the scheme; extend the scheme to include horses, deer, goats, pigs and poultry, and mushroom compost; introduce a new 40% grant rate for specialised equipment with specific environmental advantages, subject to maximum eligible investment of €80,000 in the case of decanter centrifuge systems and dry feeding systems for pigs and €40,000 in the case of specialised slurry spreading tankers and related equipment; increase the maximum eligible investment for standard mobile equipment from €11,000 to €15,000 with the grant rate remaining at 20%.

I am satisfied that, if approved, the revised scheme will provide a very satisfactory platform for Irish farmers who need to carry out additional investment works to meet the requirements of the nitrates directive. I urge farmers to make the necessary arrangements to ensure that they are ready to avail of the scheme by the proposed implementation date.

Horticulture Sector.

John Carty

Ceist:

123 Mr. Carty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the level of investment taking place in the horticulture sector here. [34108/05]

The level of investment taking place in the horticulture sector is now at a very high level and indicates a high degree of confidence in the sector. One of the major catalysts for this investment are the grant aid schemes operated by my Department for the development of the sector. Over the past year the level of funding has been increased considerably.

Under the scheme of investment for the commercial horticulture sector more than €6 million grant aid will be paid out this year to 129 growers, involving investments of €20 million, bringing the total grant payable to date under the programme — NDP 2000-2006 — to €14 million. This scheme is primarily aimed at growers engaged in horticultural production or are planning to start new horticultural projects. The scheme has made an immense contribution to the growth and development of the horticulture sector across all areas — mushrooms, field vegetables, protected crops, nursery stock and soft fruit — through investments in specialised facilities and equipment aimed at efficiently producing high quality products for a very discerning and highly competitive market.

Grant aid is also available under my Department's capital investment scheme for the marketing and processing of agricultural products. Proposals are invited periodically and are evaluated on a competitive basis. In the period of the NDP to date, grant aid totalling €5.2 million has been awarded to 20 such projects in the horticulture sector. A call for horticulture proposals in 2005 has attracted applications for grant aid towards investments of more than €25 million for development of facilities and improvement of the marketing infrastructure. The applications are currently being evaluated.

In addition to the NDP schemes, financial assistance is available under the EU producer organisation scheme for fruit and vegetables towards the cost of implementation of approved operational programmes. A key requirement of this scheme is that members of producer organisations must undertake to market all of their production through the organisation. A total of €5.6 million was paid out this year to ten producer organisations in respect of operational programmes for 2004.

Question No. 124 answered with QuestionNo. 119.

Food Labelling.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

125 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the Government proposes to introduce legislation on mandatory origin labelling for beef in Irish restaurants, hotels, pubs and catering outlets; when she proposes that a scheme for compulsory country of origin labelling will operate and in practice; the person who will implement same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33759/05]

The Deputy will be aware that we already have comprehensive origin labelling for beef sold at retail level which is governed by EU regulations. These requirements also apply up to the point of delivery into hotels, restaurants and catering establishments and are enforced by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI.

I am currently in the process of extending the existing beef labelling laws to require information on the country of origin of beef to be provided to all consumers in Irish restaurants, hotels, pubs and catering outlets. I put specific proposals to Government at the end of June for a legislative framework to facilitate this, by way of an amendment to the 1947 Health Act. The necessary provisions will be included in amendments to the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005, which is currently before the Oireachtas. The appropriate regulations are being worked on concurrently and it is the intention to have these cleared at EU level as soon as possible. When the Act is amended and the regulations made, country of origin information will be available to consumers in respect of all beef served in restaurants, hotels, pubs and throughout the catering sector in Ireland on a mandatory basis. These requirements will also be enforced by the FSAI.

In the meantime, the main representative bodies, including the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the two vintners groups, following discussions with my Department, have all agreed to recommend to their members to provide this information to their customers on a voluntary basis in advance of the mandatory legal requirement. I expect this to be in place shortly.

Alternative Farm Enterprises.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

126 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to develop the biofuel industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33810/05]

The Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources has overall responsibility for energy policy and is primarily responsible for the promotion and development of renewable energy, including biofuels. The development of the biofuels industry is, of course, a cross-sectoral issue impinging on several policy areas, for example, environmental and fiscal policy as well as energy policy, and involving several Departments and agencies. My Department has been represented on a number of interdepartmental groups considering the issue and there has also been direct contact between my Department and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

I am conscious of the central role agriculture can play in supplying the necessary raw materials for the production of biofuels. Energy crops such as oilseed rape, wheat and sugar beet can be used for the manufacture of liquid transport biofuels, forestry by-products are a rich source of wood biomass and various farming by-products, such as meat and bone meal and tallow, can be used for energy/heat generation and biodiesel manufacture respectively.

For the purposes of contributing to the development of policy on biofuels, my Department, in conjunction with COFORD and Teagasc, has examined the potential of energy crops, wood biomass and farming and food by-products. In general, the production of energy crops for biofuels will have to be demand led and production by farmers will only occur if the economic returns are greater than those offered by traditional crop enterprises. The production of liquid biofuels from energy crops is not economic at current oil price levels. However, the scheme announced by the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for mineral oil tax relief on pilot biofuel projects has stimulated the production of oilseed rape for biofuel.

The exploitation of wood resources for energy purposes, mainly for heat or electricity generation, offers significant potential. There are also significant opportunities for using by-products of farming and food processing for bioenergy purposes. Approximately 140,000 tonnes of meat and bonemeal is produced annually and its use in place of fossil fuels could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 19%.

I am anxious to encourage further research to assist the development of the biofuels industry. Teagasc has already done some valuable work in this area and I also arranged for research projects on biofuels and other non-food uses of crops to be included in the latest call under my Department's research stimulus programme. The outcome of this call is not yet available but the nature of the projects to be funded will depend on the proposals received.

Women in Farming.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

127 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the decreasing number of women involved in farming; her plans to reverse this trend; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34183/05]

In leading the development of Irish agriculture my objectives include the retention of the maximum number of farm families and ensuring that farming is an attractive career option for young people generally, irrespective of gender. Policies pursued by my Department are geared towards achieving these objectives.

In so far as my Department's approach is concerned, the schemes and services administered by it are administered in a gender neutral fashion. Subject to the relevant eligibility criteria, it is open to women involved in farming and in rural life to avail of the full range of services operated by my Department and other agencies. In recognition of the importance of attracting young farmers into agriculture, the Government has put in place a range of incentives to attract people into farming — the installation aid scheme; new entrant/parent milk production partnerships; Teagasc advisory and education services and taxation measures.

The advisory committee's report on the role of women in agriculture, published in September 2000, contained 36 recommendations in total, covering a broad range of policy and operational areas. These areas were — statistical evaluation of women farmers; employment, training and information technology; representation; social inclusion, and personal finance/economic and legal issues. While recognising the contribution of women to agriculture, the advisory committee's central concerns related to broader issues affecting women in rural communities more generally. The advisory committee's report did not identify any specific barriers to entry into farming for women.

I would also make the observation that where women choose to work off-farm, it is because of the multiplicity of employment opportunities which our vibrant economy has made available, many of which may particularly suit the circumstances of such women. It is a good thing that the women of rural Ireland have such choice and opportunity in addition to the option of working in farming.

Food Industry.

John Perry

Ceist:

128 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to promote farmers markets; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33786/05]

I fully support the farmers markets concept and my Department, in co-operation with Bord Bia, the statutory food promotion agency, is actively engaged in developing the concept on a sustainable basis. Bord Bia provides a range of support services for farmers markets, including advice and mentoring assistance, and has also published a comprehensive information guide on the running and operation of these markets in co-operation with Invest Northern Ireland.

With more than 100 farmers markets now in operation, I recognise the important contribution they are making to local and regional economies through encouraging local produce, assisting start-ups of new businesses and creating local employment. The growth of these markets also reflects changing consumer preferences and demand for more locally produced foods. They offer a real opportunity to promote sustainable production of more locally produced speciality and high quality artisan type products that reflect the unique characteristics of a locality and region. They also give producers the opportunity to sell directly to consumers and from a consumer perspective provide a special shopping experience and greater choice.

Over the past three years, Bord Bia and the Office of Public Works have worked closely together on developing the "Food at Farmleigh" programme. This programme has proved very successful both from a consumer and a trader perspective, featuring more than 40 small food producers and attracting on average 6,000 visitors each Sunday. In 2006, it is intended to roll out the "Food at Farmleigh" model to other OPW heritage properties around the country, including Donegal, Laois, Wexford and Cork.

In addition, Bord Bia is co-operating with Dublin City Council on the Smithfield regeneration programme, with particular emphasis on the development of the fruit, vegetable and fish markets and surrounding areas.

Jimmy Devins

Ceist:

129 Dr. Devins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the progress of the prepared consumer food sector within the food industry here. [34110/05]

The prepared consumer foods sector, which is the fastest growing segment of our valuable food industry, plays a significant role in the Irish economy with output of €2.6 billion and exports of €1.3 billion. Some 16,000 people are directly employed in 180 companies in the sector, which now accounts for 12% of food exports.

The food development agencies work closely with companies to assist them to develop, commercialise and market products that satisfy consumer demand and preferences. The key drivers of demand in the sector are: changes in consumer eating habits; health focus; snacking products; cook times; food service and new eating occasions, for example, in-car dining. The sector also faces challenges, principally retail consolidation, a very competitive and cost focused international market and issues of scale. The food related measures in the national development plan are focused on enhancing the competitiveness and innovative capability of the industry and exploiting market opportunities. My Department is committed to supporting the food development agencies and the industry to achieve continued growth in value added products and exports.

Obesity Levels.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

130 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action which has been taken or is intended to be taken arising from the recommendations of the report of the task force on obesity in so far as they relate to her Department’s areas of responsibilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34172/05]

The Food Dude programme launched in October, and which will be run in 120 primary schools over three years, addresses one of the two recommendations to my Department in the report, namely, that "the Department of Agriculture and Food together with the Department of Health and Children should promote the implementation of evidence-based healthy eating interventions."

The programme, funded jointly by the EU Commission, my Department and WPI, a trade body, and managed by Bord Bia aims to increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables by primary school children in school and at home. It was developed by the University of Wales, Bangor, and is based on positive role models — the Food Dudes characters, repeated tasting and rewards. Studies show that it can deliver long lasting results across the primary age range, regardless of gender, school size, geographic and socioeconomic factors. It is designed to enable children enjoy healthy diets and to create a healthy eating culture within schools.

The other specific recommendation directed at my Department in the obesity task force report, is that "the Department of Agriculture and Food should review policies in partnership with other government departments to promote access to healthy food. Such policies should encompass positive discrimination in the provision of grants and funding to local industry in favour of healthy products." Positive discrimination in the provision of grants and funding to local industry in favour of healthy products, envisages a form of subsidisation that is not permissible under EU state aid rules and could be challenged on competition grounds.

The scientific study on children's diet, which was co-funded by my Department and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, was the first study to benchmark dietary intakes of a nationally representative sample of Irish children. The work was carried out by researchers in Trinity College, Dublin, and University College, Cork, who surveyed 600 children aged five to 12 years from primary schools throughout Ireland during 2003 and 2004 and collected information on diet, physical activity and body measurements on each child as well as lifestyle information for both the children and their parents. With regard to diet, the study identified that intake of fruit and vegetables was low and on average well below international recommendations. Fat and salt intakes were higher than recommended and food eaten outside the home accounted for less than 10% of total calorie consumption. Overweight and obesity in five to 12 year old schoolchildren was relatively high and increasing.

I consider it important that the data on diet and physical exercise collected in the study should be further analysed and cross referenced with other available information to assist in evidence based policy formulation and implementation and to provide the public and the food industry with useful information. My Department has had discussions with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the FIRM funding committee under the aegis of my Department on how this might best be done and I expect to have more detailed proposals very shortly. Obesity, particularly among the young, has been identified as a serious concern for society and it has to be tackled through long-term sustained commitment from relevant Departments, agencies and food industry stakeholders.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

131 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to evaluate the economic implications of the use of genetically modified organisms; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33793/05]

An interdepartmental working group was established within my Department in August 2003 to develop proposals for a national strategy and best practices to ensure the coexistence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming. I have just recently received the report of the group and I am in the process of examining it.

While part of the group's work programme included an appraisal of economic implications of coexistence, the wider economic issues should also be examined. Accordingly, I have asked Teagasc to explore the possibility of carrying out an evaluation of the implications for the agri-food industry from the possible use of GMOs in crop and livestock production. I have been informed that this evaluation is near finalisation.

Cross-Border Smuggling.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

132 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to ensure smuggling of cattle in the Border counties is eradicated in view of the recent discovery of calves wandering on a road near Ballybofey on 12 October 2005; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33761/05]

A number of measures are in place to deter illegal cross-Border traffic in cattle. In Ireland, cattle do not have any legitimacy unless they are tagged with official tags, registered on the central CMMS database and accompanied by official cattle identification documents — cattle passports. The processes of tag supply, passport issue and registration on the central database are subject to a series of validation checks designed to verify the origin, identity and status of each animal.

The main elements are as follows. Official tags contain security features to prevent tampering. Tags are issued to active herd owners only and the number of tags supplied to each keeper is controlled. A proof of delivery system is in place for tag issue to ensure that tags are not delivered to a person other than the registered keeper and are signed for on receipt. Each tag contains a check digit which is used for validation purposes. Tags are county and herd and animal specific. In so far as replacement tags are concerned, no replacement tag may be issued unless the animal has been recorded alive on the central database in the applicant herd.

A number of checks are also conducted on all applications for registration. Any discrepancies uncovered are followed up and must be resolved before the registration is accepted and a passport issued. Calf birth registrations are not accepted onto CMMS unless the herd number of the applicant is valid, has an active status and has been supplied with a herd identifier. In addition, registrations are not accepted unless the tag number applied on is valid, the dam is alive in the herd of birth at the time of birth, is over 18 months of age, has not had a calf in the previous 300 days and has matching breed details. Additional checks are carried out in respect of high twinning levels and late registrations.

In addition, there are systematic location and status checks of the tag numbers of animals presented at slaughter plants and live export points and in respect of private sales. They are designed to prevent the acceptance of any animal unless the tag number has a live status on the database and unless its current location on the database corresponds to the holding number of the applicant for slaughter/export/clearance to move from farm to farm.

These validations are augmented by a system of removal from the database of animals that disappear in suspicious circumstances to the extent that animals marked as "disappeared" no longer have a status according to the database and would also fail status and location checks already mentioned. The above mentioned validations have been introduced and strengthened on an incremental basis over the years since the initial development of the CMMS database.

In the case referred to in the question, six unidentified young male calves were found in a state of distress close to the Border on the date in question. In line with normal practice, these animals were destroyed because the identification and origin details could not be confirmed.

Live Exports.

Martin Brady

Ceist:

133 Mr. M. Brady asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the level of live exports of cattle to date in 2005 compared to the same period in 2004. [34114/05]

Live exports continue to be an important outlet for our cattle providing an essential element of competition with the beef trade. Live exports to date in 2005 stand at approximately 148,000 head against 99,000 for the same period last year. This represents an increase of almost 50%. Live exports in 2004 were, however, sluggish and our exports this year are more in line with our traditional export levels of 2003.

Beef Imports.

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

134 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the reports published by the EU Commission Food and Veterinary Office that the production standards in Brazil are totally inferior to those applied within the European Union; her further views on whether the Brazilian standards are totally inadequate on the important issues of traceability, movement and control of foot and mouth disease, residue testing and the control and use of veterinary medicines and environmental conditions; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that it is the stated policy of the EU Commission directorate on health and consumer affairs that the production standards on imports into the European Union must be equivalent to the standards applying within the Union; the reason the European Union accepts imports of beef from Brazil which do not meet the requirements set down by the EU control authority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33757/05]

The principle underlying the harmonised EU regulations on imports is that animal products imported from third countries must meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, member states. To be an approved third country, it must: be entered on to a listing of approved countries following a proposal by the Commission and agreed by the standing committee on the food chain and animal health, SCoFCAH, and updated on the basis of EU audits and guarantees given by the competent authority of the exporting country; have veterinary controls equivalent to those applicable in the EU, particularly in terms of legislation, hygiene conditions, animal health status, veterinary medicines controls, zoonoses controls and other food law; have in place a residues programme approved by the European Commission.

Animal products must be sourced from establishments that are approved and must bear an EU approved health mark. Exporting establishments must have: standards equivalent to the requirements for EU export establishments; effective control systems and supervision by the competent authorities; traceability/labelling in accordance with the systems approved by the FVO and accepted and notified to the EU member states.

The FVO carries out inspections to ensure that only establishments that meet hygiene and health standards equivalent to those operating within the EU are approved. Where the FVO considers that public health requirements are not being met, an establishment may be removed from the EU approved list. If outbreaks of animal diseases occur in a third country, approval to export to the EU is suspended for the infected regions of the country, or the whole country, as appropriate, until the disease risk has been eliminated.

The Deputy is referring to three reports of the Food and Veterinary Office of the EU of audits and inspections it carried out between 2001 and 2004 on production and export controls and on residue controls operated by the Brazilian competent authorities for beef destined for export to the European Community. These audits were undertaken in compliance with the provisions of EU legislation on food hygiene and on health conditions for the production and placing on the market of certain products of animal origin intended for human consumption and in accordance with the conditions under which Brazil has been approved by the EU to trade with it in certain animal products.

I fully support the policy that animal products imported into the EU from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, EU member states. In this context I wrote last month to the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Mr. Markos Kyprianou, concerning expressing my unease on the sanitary rules applying to the import of livestock products, especially beef, into the European Union. In the letter, I raised the matter of "equivalence" on the specific and important issues of animal traceability, controls on veterinary medicines, prohibited substances and residue monitoring programmes in these countries and in particular with regard to Brazilian beef in view of its increasing presence on the European market. I requested the Commission to consider the matter and invited it to put appropriate proposals before the EU standing committee on the food chain and animal health, SCoFCAH.

Irish farmers are required to ensure that their production systems and farm practices fully comply with a wide range of EU directives on important matters, including traceability, animal health and welfare and consumer protection. These all have significant in-built cost factors and bearing in mind that our beef farmers are in competition on European and international markets with beef from low cost producers such as Brazil, I will continue to seek real equivalence in these areas, both in discussions within the EU and in the context of the WTO talks on market access.

National Reserve Allocations.

Damien English

Ceist:

135 Mr. English asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the allocation of entitlements under the national reserve; when she intends to issue the entitlements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33776/05]

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

160 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the rules covering the allocation of the national reserve with the farming organisations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33774/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 135 and 160 together.

The position is that over the past year a number of meetings of the single payment advisory committee, comprising representatives of my Department, the farming organisations and Teagasc, were held to discuss the rules governing the allocation of entitlements from the national reserve. Two recent meetings of the committee assessed progress on processing the national reserve applications and discussed, in particular, what should constitute the "regional average value of entitlements".

Under the regulations governing the national reserve, allocations to farmers who are successful under certain categories must not have the effect of increasing their entitlements above the regional average value of entitlements. I am considering the various views expressed at the single payment advisory committee meetings and some further clarification may be required from the European Commission before taking a definitive decision on this matter.

Some 17,000 farmers submitted applications to the 2005 national reserve but when account is taken of the number of farmers who applied under two or more categories, about 23,000 files have to be processed. While good progress has been made in processing applications, more time is needed before deciding on the maximum value of entitlements to be made to successful applicants under certain categories. Crucially, some 20% of the applications received are still under query with the farmers concerned. I believe, therefore, that it is more prudent to concentrate for the time being on processing single payment scheme applications to the payment stage and to revert to allocating the national reserve early in 2006. With this in mind, processing of national reserve applications will continue over the coming weeks.

Afforestation Programme.

Paddy McHugh

Ceist:

136 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the value of the forestry sector to the economy here. [34103/05]

The forestry sector provides a high value input to the national economy and makes a significant contribution to the economic well being of rural communities. The forestry sector contributes €698 million annually to the economy. While it is difficult to provide economic values for the non-timber benefits of Irish forests, the 2004 Bacon review estimated an annual value in the region of €88.4 million for the recreation, carbon-storage and biodiversity benefits.

More than 14,000 private plantations have been established, the vast majority of these by farmers. In 2004, a total of €54.1 million in forestry premiums was paid out to forest owners. In addition to forest owners, it is estimated that total employment generated by the sector amounts to just over 16,000.

Questions Nos. 137 and 138 answered with Question No. 119.

Live Exports.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

139 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she intends to take to promote the export of live sheep; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33767/05]

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

162 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, further to Question No. 258 of 17 May 2005, the steps she will take to facilitate the export of live lambs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33787/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 139 and 162 together.

I am always prepared to facilitate trade in live sheep which is governed by EU rules governing intra-Community trade. Trade in sheep between member states of the European Union is subject to the provisions of Council Directive 91/68/EEC, as amended, as regards reinforced controls on the movement of sheep and goats.

These controls provide as a minimum requirement, that breeding and fattening sheep must be certified as having been continuously resident on a holding for at least 30 days prior to export and that no sheep or goats had been introduced on to the holding in the 21 days prior to export. Slaughter sheep must also be certified as having been continuously resident on the holding of origin for at least 21 days prior to export and are also subject to a "standstill" period of 21 days prior to dispatch during which no sheep or goats have been introduced on to the holding of origin.

These controls were introduced in the aftermath of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 and came into effect on 1 July 2004. I am very much aware that there were certain difficulties with these certification requirements arising from the fact that the information in respect of which the official veterinarian must certify can only be truly known to the farmer. Accordingly, I have had my Department raise the matter with the European Commission in an effort to arrive at a certification procedure that best meets the concerns of farmers and exporters, while, at the same time, protecting animal health.

I am pleased that, in response to our approach, the European Commission has proposed to amend these certification requirements to allow the official veterinarian to issue certification based on a written declaration by the farmer or on an examination of the flock register and movement documents. The decision providing for these new arrangements was agreed to unanimously by the standing committee on the food chain and animal health on 11 November 2005. This will apply from 15 February 2006 and I am confident the new arrangements will resolve most of the outstanding difficulties relating to exports of sheep to France and the United Kingdom.

EU Sugar Regime.

David Stanton

Ceist:

140 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, further to the reform of the EU sugar regime and Question No. 169 of 4 October 2005, the outcome of the Council of Ministers on 24 and 25 October 2005; her progress in ensuring a more balanced agreement which takes Irish interests into account; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34205/05]

I maintained my firm opposition to the Commission's proposals when I addressed last month's meeting of the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg. I emphasised that the price cuts proposed are too severe, the reforms should be based on a longer lead-in time for the EBA and we should await the outcome of the WTO meeting in Hong Kong before seeking to agree a more equitable and balanced outcome.

I have also continued to remain in contact with like minded colleague Ministers from other member states who are opposed to the reform proposals. In this context, a joint ministerial letter from a group of 11 member states, including Ireland, was submitted to the Commission in advance of the formal discussion at last month's Council meeting, setting out the objections of the group to the proposals. I had previously met the Agriculture Commissioner on a number of occasions to voice my strong reservations. Meanwhile, there has been ongoing contact at official level with other member states and the Commission about the reform proposals.

Negotiations have become more intensive over recent weeks and the UK Presidency is striving to reach political agreement at next week's Council of Ministers. However, I remain resolute in pursuing my overall objective of achieving a more balanced agreement, which will take Irish interests into account.

Dairy Sector.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

141 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the initiatives she proposes to take to safeguard what remains of the liquid milk dairy sector due to the fact that a decision has been taken to abolish the groceries order. [34227/05]

The biggest single competitive challenge to the liquid milk market here is the growing penetration of liquid milk imports from Northern Ireland through increased reliance on own brand sales by supermarkets and symbol groups. This type of trade is an integral part of commercial activity on the EU internal market. Increased productivity, improved scale and a more competitive configuration are the key to increasing output and improving the profitability of the dairy sector at farm and industry level. As regards the abolition of the groceries order, the Government has agreed to the introduction of amending legislation to strengthen certain provisions of the Competition Act which will be of benefit to the dairy sector.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

142 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had at EU level to protect dairy supports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33766/05]

Dan Neville

Ceist:

144 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she intends to take to protect the dairy industry here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33765/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 144 together.

The Irish dairy industry continues to contribute very substantially to the national economy, with an output value of some €2.3 billion and exports of €1.86 billion last year. This year exports are again performing very well despite adjustments to market management supports brought about by the implementation of the Luxembourg agreement on the reform of the CAP.

The Commission market management policy has been too aggressive and I have consistently and resolutely challenged the Commission at every opportunity, including raising the matter at the Council of Ministers. In enlisting the support of many other member states for my point of view, I believe that the Commission policy has moderated in recent times, now having closer regard to the market implications of its actions rather than its previous emphasis on budgetary policy.

While acknowledging that some adjustment in market management measures is warranted if the Luxembourg agreement is to be implemented in full, my concern has been to ensure that the transition is implemented in a more measured way. Sustained downward pressure on market supports would effectively reduce our international competitiveness and put pressure on our ability to fully exploit opportunities to export milk products to international markets. A longer period in which to make the necessary adjustment will instead provide a more solid platform on which to build new market opportunities while consolidating our position in existing markets.

The stability prevailing in producer prices over recent times is welcome and the direct payment, amounting to €120 million this year, rising to €180 million next year, as compensation for the reduction in institutional support prices should result in a higher return for dairy farmers this year. In the meantime, I will continue to exert every possible pressure on the EU Commission to ensure that in its management of the EU dairy regime, we achieve a satisfactory outcome for the Irish dairy industry in terms of enhanced industry competitiveness and stable farm incomes into the future.

Common Agricultural Policy.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

143 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the implications for farming here of the recent proposal from the President of the EU Commission, Mr. Jose Manuel Barroso, for a further reduction in EU farm payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34185/05]

David Stanton

Ceist:

428 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her success in ensuring that direct payments are not further reduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34933/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 143 and 428 together.

The proposal for the introduction of further modulation of direct payments is one of a series of proposals which was put forward by the Commission with a view to facilitating agreement on the next financial perspective for the period 2007- 2013. The negotiations broke down at the European Council in June and the UK Presidency is aiming to conclude an agreement next month. The effect of the Commission's proposal, if agreed, would be to reduce direct payments to farmers by 1% per annum, beginning in 2009, to provide additional funding for rural development. The Irish position in the negotiations, as decided by the Government, is that the decision of the European Council in October 2002 on the budgetary allocations to the Common Agricultural Policy in respect of direct payments and market supports should be fully respected and that adequate funding for rural development should be provided separately.

Question No. 144 answered with QuestionNo. 142.

Afforestation Programme.

Donie Cassidy

Ceist:

145 Mr. Cassidy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress in forestry planting in 2005. [34102/05]

Progress has been reasonably satisfactory this year to date and I expect planting levels to be about the same as last year, in the region of 10-11,000 hectares. Obviously I would have liked to have seen more planted but I accept that farmers have had to consider their options with the introduction of the new single payment regime, the nitrates situation and the revised REP scheme. I hope that as the new changed situation beds down, farmers will start to look in greater detail at the contribution that forestry can make to their long-term farm income.

I remind farmers that they can plant up to 50% of their land without affecting their single payment and draw down forestry premiums of up to €500 per hectare a year, for 20 years. I urge farmers to avail of this package now and remind them that if they are thinking about planting next year, they need to start planning properly now.

EU Directives.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

146 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33792/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. At the end of July, his Department formally submitted Ireland's national action programme under the directive to the European Commission. The next step is for the Minister to make regulations to give legal effect to the action programme.

My Department, supported by Teagasc, has been assisting the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in finalising these regulations. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government published the draft regulations on 7 October 2005 for public consultation. The consultation period closed on 4 November and I understand that some 70 submissions were received. The two Departments are assessing these submissions and when that is done the regulations will be finalised.

The final stage of the process, but an extremely important one, is for Ireland to secure a derogation from the general organic nitrogen limits in the directive so that farmers can operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. My Department and Teagasc developed the derogation proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Preliminary discussions have commenced with the Commission about the derogation application and I will press strongly to have these discussions concluded as early as possible in 2006.

To help farmers meet their obligations under the action programme, I am seeking approval from the European Commission for very significant improvements in the farm waste management scheme. These include increasing the grant rate for both animal housing and slurry storage from the current rate of 40% to 60%, with 70% being available in the four zone C counties; significantly higher investment ceilings; the extension of the scheme to sectors such as pigs and poultry; and the removal of any minimum income requirement from farming from the scheme.

Organic Farming.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

147 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will report on organic week and the lessons learned to improve on promotion of organic growing and marketing. [34235/05]

National Organic Week ran from 7 to 13 November. It was undertaken by Bord Bia on behalf of my Department. The objective was to raise consumer awareness of organic food, what it is, its benefits, where and how it is produced and where to buy it. A key message on organic food that the National Organic Week attempted to put across was that it involves an alternative method of food production which is environmentally friendly.

The main focus of National Organic Week was on a media campaign with national and localpress and radio advertising. This was supported by a public relations campaign and point-of-sale material. Window stickers, posters and recipe and information leaflets were distributed to retailers. The food service sector was encouraged, through the Féile Bia programme, to include organic food on menus. There was a special organic section on the Bord Bia website and consumers were directed there for general information and for listings of activities taking place during National Organic Week. My own Department's website has an extensive list of suppliers of organic food and consumers were directed to this site for information on product sourcing. The week and its highlights attracted a wide range of press, television and radio coverage.

It is too soon to try to assess in detail what the week achieved. An evaluation is now being carried out to assess consumer awareness and understanding of the campaign messages. The campaign will also be reviewed in December at the next meeting of the national steering group on the organic sector. I am confident, however, that it has been a valuable and productive effort and I pay tribute to Bord Bia in particular for the competence and commitment which it showed throughout the week.

Animal Health.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

148 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she intends to take to develop an all-Ireland animal health regime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33768/05]

There is already a long history of co-operation between the administrations North and South on animal health issues. The administrations have traditionally shared information at local and national levels on disease control and surveillance issues and have worked together to combat illegal movements of animals and animal products. The foot and mouth disease emergency of 2001 is a testament to the extent of co-operation and consultation that exists at official, ministerial and political levels. Likewise, both administrations are co-operating on measures relating to avian influenza.

The establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council offered an opportunity to build on existing co-operation arrangements and provided a framework for the development of an all-island animal health policy. The main objectives of the council are to foster co-operation and to devise a common, unified animal health strategy for the island as a whole. This involves the convergence of animal health policies and the development of joint strategies for dealing with animal diseases. The ultimate objectives are to establish a common import regime and equivalent internal arrangements with a view to achieving free movement of animals and animal products within the island.

Nine policy working groups have been established at official level under North-South arrangements to take forward various initiatives. The remit of these groups includes TB and brucellosis, TSEs — BSE and scrapie, veterinary medicines, other zoonoses and animal diseases, disease surveillance, animal welfare, import and export of live animals and animal products, animal identification, traceability and cross-Border aspects of fraud. These groups continue to report progress in exchange of information and in implementation of initiatives aimed at policy convergence and the development of a common unified strategy for the island as a whole.

The main achievements to date are the development of a co-ordinated and complementary approach towards import policies and portal controls at points of entry to the island, the development of similar approaches to combat the introduction of animal diseases, the convergence of policies in regard to animal identification and strengthening of co-ordination and co-operation on issues such as contingency planning.

In addition, there has been a significant deepening and strengthening of co-operation, information exchange and ongoing co-ordination between the two administrations on a variety of issues such as FMD, BSE, avian influenza and cross-Border fraud, while the farm animal welfare advisory council includes representation from DARD. On cross-Border fraud, the two administrations have worked together successfully in a number of joint enforcement actions and ongoing exchanges of expertise and information are taking place.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

149 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans to implement the recommendations of the report of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food on the early retirement scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33804/05]

The joint committee's examination of the early retirement scheme provided a welcome opportunity to air a wide range of issues and this in itself has been helpful in clarifying the position. I have provided a detailed response to the report.

Regrettably, there are a number of the committee's recommendations that I have not been able to accept. They are precluded by elements of the EU regulations under which the current scheme and its predecessor are operated. When the same issues were raised by retired farmers with the European Commission, the Commission concluded that my Department was operating the scheme correctly. However, the committee made other recommendations which I am still considering.

Proposed Legislation.

John Deasy

Ceist:

150 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when she intends to publish the Animal Health Bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33778/05]

Work on drafting the Animal Health Bill is proceeding in my Department. There is still a significant body of preparatory work to be completed and it is not possible at this stage to indicate a date for publication.

Animal Diseases.

Peter Power

Ceist:

151 Mr. P. Power asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the incidence of brucellosis in the cattle herd in 2005 compared to 2003 and 2004. [34105/05]

The incidence of brucellosis has been falling progressively since 1998: for example, the number of laboratory positives has fallen from 6,417 in 1998 to 664 in 2004. The total number of animals slaughtered under the eradication programme fell from 29,778 to 6,195 during the same period.

There has been a further improvement in the situation in 2005 compared with 2003 and 2004. In the period to the end of September, the number of blood positives in 2005 was 210 compared with 583 in 2004 and 744 in 2003. The number of animals slaughtered fell from 10,799 and 5,830 respectively during the same period in 2003 and 2004 to 1,685 in 2005.

The substantial improvement in the disease situation is due to a number of factors, including continued co-operation from all parties with the eradication regime, the tightening up on illegal cattle movements through the cattle movement monitoring system, the regulation of dealers, prosecutions for breaches and the imposition of penalties for failures to comply with animal disease and identification regulations.

I am confident that this progress can be maintained into the future with the continued operation of the existing measures and the ongoing co-operation of farmers and all involved in the livestock industry. It is, however, vital that we continue to recognise that brucellosis is a highly contagious disease and that we do not relax or relent in our efforts to eradicate it from our national herd. In view of this, we need to continue in the medium term with the existing comprehensive control and eradication measures, which have brought about positive results in recent years in terms of reduced incidence of the disease.

Question No. 152 answered with QuestionNo. 119.

Organic Farming.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

153 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the proportion of agricultural land currently used for the production of organic foodstuffs; the steps she is taking to increase land used for organic farming; the target for the production of organic foodstuffs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34182/05]

The percentage of agricultural land under organic production in Ireland currently stands at just under 0.7%. The original timescale for a target of 3% of the land area in organic production by 2006 has been extended to 2010, on the advice of the national steering group.

To attract additional numbers into the organic sector, my Department provides substantial financial support through REPS and the scheme of grant aid for the development of the organic sector. The organic supplementary measure in REPS 3 was redesigned to provide maximum flexibility for those entering the sector.

Organic farmers participating in REPS can avail of additional payments under the organic supplementary measure. On top of the basic REPS rate, an organic farmer gets an extra €181 per hectare up to 55 hectares during the two year conversion period and €91 per hectare once he or she has reached full organic status. Thus an organic farmer with 55 hectares can get an annual payment of €18,505 a year for the first two years and €13,555 each year for the rest of his or her time in the scheme. Organic farmers got €4 million in REPS payments in 2004. Since REPS began in 1994, it has delivered some €31 million to the sector.

My Department also operates the scheme of grant aid for the development of the organic sector, which supports investment both on-farm and off-farm. For on-farm investments, grant aid can be given for 40% of the cost up to a maximum grant of over €50,000. For off-farm investments, the maximum grant is over €500,000.

One of the recommendations in the organic development committee report was the establishment of demonstration farms. This initiative has been very successful to date, as these farms provide a useful means of disseminating information and data to existing and potential organic operators. Valuable financial and practical production data can also be collected, as the farms participate in the Teagasc national farm survey and the Teagasc monitor farm network.

Horticulture Sector.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

154 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the issues facing landscape gardeners; if she will liaise with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to facilitate the development of composting collection points and facilities in view of the growing importance of the amenity sector for horticulturists. [34237/05]

I am aware of the issues facing landscape gardeners relating to the disposal of waste material and the development of composting collection points.

Waste management planning is primarily a matter for local authorities, including ensuring that recycling and recovery facilities, identified as being necessary in regional waste management plans, are provided. The obligation on local authorities to provide for such facilities relates to household waste only. It is, therefore, the responsibility of those producing green waste, such as landscape gardeners, as a consequence of commercial activity to ensure that such waste is appropriately managed and to meet the associated costs. This is consistent with an appropriate application of the polluter pays principle.

I understand that local authorities are currently reviewing their waste management plans and that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government met landscapers' representatives earlier this summer and recommended that the landscape contractors liaise directly with the relevant local authorities in this regard.

That Department has consulted my Department on the preparation of the draft national strategy on biodegradable waste. The strategy, currently being finalised following a public consultation process, will set out a range of integrated measures designed, in accordance with the waste hierarchy, to facilitate the achievement of specified targets for the reduction of biodegradable municipal waste consigned to landfill.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

155 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she intends to introduce changes to the early farm retirement scheme or, as she indicated recently, to scrap the scheme entirely; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34238/05]

I have not taken a decision on the future of the early retirement scheme. The EU Council regulation covering the current scheme will expire in December 2006. The Council regulation on rural development for the period from 2007 to 2013 again includes provision for member states to operate early retirement measures. No decisions have yet been taken regarding the schemes to be operated in Ireland under this regulation.

The early retirement scheme was introduced as one of a number of instruments to improve the age structure of Irish farming and improve the viability of farm holdings. From that point of view, the first scheme from 1994 to 1999 was not unsuccessful. However, take up of the current scheme has fallen short of expectations and an expenditure review carried out in my Department in 2004 raised a number of questions about the effectiveness of the scheme in achieving its objectives.

Structural reform is still a priority both at home and at European level and we still need to provide opportunities for young farmers. In framing proposals for the next rural development round we need to consider how best to achieve those results in the light of the funding and the options that are available.

Environmental Pollution.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

156 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if, given the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding in its IPC licence audit report for a company’s (details supplied) limited operation at Aughinish Island, dated 18 August 2003, that in 2002 this company was unable to account for 76,000 tonnes of caustic soda and given the previous findings of her Department and other State agencies, that there was no evidence of environmental pollution causing ill effects in livestock, she will consider reviewing said findings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34164/05]

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

190 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the traumatic effects of animal disease problems on farmers, farm families and farm animals in Askeaton, County Limerick; her views regarding the Environmental Protection Agency, Health Service Executive or others and requested action in the interests of farms in the area. [34232/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 and 190 together.

From 1995 to 1998 the reported animal disease problems in the Askeaton area were the subject of a comprehensive multi-agency investigation under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. A number of interim reports detailing the progress of the investigations were published, while the final report of this investigation was published in August 2001. That report concluded that although a small number of farms experienced notable difficulties, there was no evidence of serious or unusual problems in the Askeaton area.

There is no objective evidence available to my Department to suggest that there has been any change in the general animal health situation in the area since the final report was published. On that basis I do not believe that there are grounds which would justify embarking on any further animal health investigation in the area. Where individual problems occur, as they do from time to time on farms throughout the country, the veterinary laboratory service of my Department is available to support local veterinary practitioners and their clients and this will remain the case. The Limerick regional veterinary office has been authorised to carry out tests free of charge for farmers in the Askeaton area where the farmer's private veterinary practitioner considers such tests warranted.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Health Service Executive are independent agencies which do not come under the aegis of my Department.

Veterinary Inspection Service.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

157 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, further to Question No. 124 of 4 October 2005, the steps she intends to take on the issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33812/05]

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

158 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, further to Question No. 162 of 23 June 2005, the steps she intends to take on the issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33813/05]

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

169 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food, in regard to her reply to Question No. 124 of 4 October 2005 in which she said that on-farm slaughter of animals in any number is an exception rather than the rule and occurs in only the most exceptional circumstances, the number of occasions in the past ten years, other than during the foot and mouth disease outbreak, where such slaughtering was allowed; the number and type of animals slaughtered in each case; the reason for the slaughter in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34170/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 157, 158 and 169 together.

I have outlined in detail to the House on a number of occasions the circumstances surrounding this unusual case. I wish to restate the key aspects. First, the actions by my Department at the time were designed to protect public health by ensuring that animals treated with a prohibited substance did not enter the food chain. Second, my Department obviously wanted to see the animals disposed of in a humane manner and offered to permit the animals to be brought to a slaughter plant. However, the person in charge of the animals chose the manner by which the animals were to be slaughtered and my Department made every effort to ensure that he did this in a way that the welfare of the animals was not compromised. In view of the fact that the matter is sub judice, I do not propose to comment any further on the case.

With the exception of mink, where slaughter normally occurs on-farm, the on-farm slaughter of animals in any number takes place only in exceptional circumstances, mainly for animal welfare reasons or to prevent the spread of disease. There have been very few cases in recent years where significant numbers of animals were slaughtered on-farm. While my Department does not maintain records at central level in a manner which would enable me to provide the details requested, the best information available to me is that ten flocks of poultry were slaughteredon-farm since 2001 for reasons related to salmonella infection.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

159 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the guarantees which can be given to farmers here that genetically modified oilseed rape animal feed due to be imported here will not germinate and cross contaminate other brassica crops, ending farm livelihoods which depend on genetically modified free production. [34228/05]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

430 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the guarantees she can give to Irish farmers that genetically modified oilseed rape animal feed due to be imported here will not germinate and cross contaminate other brassica crops, ending farm livelihood’s which depend on GM free production. [34475/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 159 and 430 together.

I presume the Deputy is referring to the genetically modified oilseed rape, known as GT73, which was authorised by the European Commission last August for importation and placing on the market within the EU for use in animal feed and industrial purposes. The authorisation of this product took place within an EU legislative framework that has been adopted by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers. This legislation is binding on all member states and is aimed at ensuring that the highest standards of food safety and environmental protection are in place within the EU. It should be noted that the product has been scientifically assessed by the European Food Safety Authority as being as safe as any conventional oilseed rape.

The issue of the accidental spillage of this product was addressed in the Commission decision which authorised the product when it specifically stated that the consent holder, Monsanto in this case, shall directly inform operators and users concerning the safety and general characteristics of the product and of the conditions as to monitoring, including the appropriate management measures to be taken in case of accidental grain spillage. The appropriate management measures, which include plans to eradicate volunteer oilseed rape plants, are set out in a separate Commission recommendation.

Question No. 160 answered with QuestionNo. 135.
Question No. 161 answered with QuestionNo. 122.
Question No. 162 answered with QuestionNo. 139.

Departmental Staff.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

163 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress made with regard to the redeployment of the estimated 400 staff previously employed in administering farm income support schemes; the number of such staff redeployed to date in 2005; the locations and the sectors of her Department to which they have been redeployed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34181/05]

The redeployment of staff is being actively managed within my Department to ensure that the service levels for our clients in existing schemes are maintained and that the preparations for the introduction of the single payment scheme are progressed satisfactorily. To this end, many staff who are being freed from the livestock and premium schemes have been transferred, on a temporary basis, to work on the new single payment scheme.

My Department has also been in contact with other Departments with networks of existing local offices, in particular the Revenue Commissioners, the Departments of Social and Family Affairs, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Courts Service and the Land Registry about the transfer of staff to other Departments. A total of 49 staff — one PO, one AP, seven HEOs, 11 EOs, four SOs and 25 COs — from local offices and Castlebar have already been redeployed. Further transfers are expected to take place in coming weeks.

Single Payment Scheme.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

164 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the EU Commission to index link the single farm payment; if she intends to make the payment in two instalments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33795/05]

The agreement on the mid-term review of Agenda 2000 provided a financial envelope to each member state. This envelope represented the average value of livestock and arable aid premia paid in the member state during the three year reference period 2000-2002, calculated at 2002 rates of payment. The outcome, which will reshape the Common Agricultural Policy and secure its future in making it more relevant to modern society, was a balanced one which addressed Ireland's principal objectives. Among these objectives was the preservation of the financial benefits achieved under the Agenda 2000 agreement and the establishment of a policy framework that will allow farmers and the agri-sector the flexibility to adapt to evolving consumer and market demands and international circumstances.

Index linking of the single payment scheme was not an element of the Commission's proposals. There was, however, a proposal to provide for a reduction of up to 13% in the single payment, known as degression, to meet future financing needs. I believe one of the major achievements in the negotiations was the removal of this proposal. The removal of this particular provision means a saving of some €420 million for Ireland over the lifetime of the agreement. The compromise agreed was to allow the Council to review, from 2007 onwards, the financial situation annually if budget deficits arise.

Payments under the 2005 single payment scheme are due to commence on 1 December. I have no plans to make advance payments.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

165 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to the discrepancy between the number of farmers here which, according to her reply to Question No. 122 of 4 October 2005, was 135,300 in 2003 and the figures given in reply to Question No. 145 of 4 October 2005 which said that 149,000 applications had been received for the new single payment scheme; the reason for this discrepancy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34171/05]

The single payment scheme has been implemented in Ireland for the first time in 2005. It replaces the livestock premia schemes and arable aid scheme in place until this year. I was determined to ensure that all potential applicants who farmed during the three year reference period of 2000-2002, or their successors, would be given every opportunity to apply under the single payment scheme. My Department mounted a major publicity campaign to ensure that those with entitlements were made fully aware of the need to submit single payments scheme applications.

The need to maximise applications under the scheme is particularly important since entitlements not activated by the deadline for the receipt of applications in 2005 — 16 May and up to 10 June 2005 in respect of late applications — are lost forever to the entitlement holder and revert to the national reserve. Entitlements that are activated can secure payment only if the applicant also declares eligible hectares which he/she is farming in the year of application.

The setting up of the single payment scheme involved the migration of data from source systems supporting arable aid and livestock premia schemes. Data for these systems were merged to calculate payment entitlements for every farmer in the country who received relevant payments during the reference period 2000-2002. This process resulted in 147,000 statements of provisional entitlements being issued to potential applicants. In addition, applications have been received from new applicants, dairy farmers whose only entitlement involved the dairy premium and from some people who do not have entitlements.

A number of entitlement holders for a variety of reasons, including persons who are not currently actively involved in farming, have only applied to activate their entitlements in respect of 2005 without claiming payment of aid and with the sole purpose of avoiding surrender of entitlements to the national reserve. Other applicants are activating their entitlements as required prior to transferring them to another person and are not applying to claim the single payment themselves. In these cases, as one would expect, there is a necessary element of double counting: for example, where a person who had established entitlements during the reference period had subsequently transferred his or her holding, both the transferor and transferee were obliged to submit application forms.

Submission of a single payment scheme application or possession of a single payment scheme entitlement does not automatically confer a payment right. In conformity with the relevant EU regulations, only active farmers, that is, those farming land in 2005 and with entitlements, are entitled to benefit from the payment under the 2005 single payment scheme.

Departmental Reports.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

166 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to implement the Crosby report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33773/05]

Taking account of the issues addressed in the Crosby report, I sought approval of the EU Commission under state aid rules to make additional payments to the flockowners concerned. I have now received approval from the Commission and my Department will shortly make the necessary arrangements for processing payments on foot of applications that may be received.

Farm Accidents.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

167 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps being taken to address the serious problems of death and injuries through farm accidents; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34174/05]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

189 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if her attention has been drawn to reports of increased deaths and injuries to farmers arising from more aggressive farm animals; if any particular steps are planned to counter this threat; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34175/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 167 and 189 together.

I am very concerned about the level of safety on our farms and I support wholeheartedly the work of the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, which is the State authority charged with overall responsibility for promotion of workplace health and safety. I look forward to the launch next Thursday, 17 November, of the code of practice for the agriculture sector, the first code of practice under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 for employers with three or fewer workers. The publication of this code will contribute greatly to farm safety generally.

My Department is also funding Teagasc to carry out a project into animal behaviour, in conjunction with the HSA and experts from member states of the European Union. The results of this project are expected to make a positive contribution to dealing with farm animal safety issues.

Single Payment Scheme.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

168 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the modulation fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33791/05]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

180 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for the modulation fund under the single farm payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33779/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 168 and 180 together.

For 2006, I decided last June, following extensive consultation, that the modulated funds should be used on a once-off payment under the disadvantaged areas scheme. Following contact with the European Commission, that decision has recently been confirmed. My decision reflects the importance of the disadvantaged areas scheme in ensuring continued agricultural land use in the less favoured areas. This in turn leads to economic and environmental benefits.

For the 2007-2013 period, the use of modulated funds will be considered in the context of the new rural development strategy and programme to be drawn up for that period.

Question No. 169 answered with QuestionNo. 157.

EU Sugar Regime.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

170 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the ownership of the Irish sugar quota; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33803/05]

Under the EU sugar regime, each member state has a quota for manufactured sugar. There is no quota for sugar beet. The EU regulations stipulate that the quota must be made available to the sugar manufacturing enterprises in the member state. Accordingly, in Ireland the entire sugar quota is processed by Irish Sugar Limited, which is the only sugar manufacturer in this country. Irish Sugar Limited places annual contracts with farmers to grow sugar beet sufficient to manufacture the sugar quota.

Ownership of the sugar quota had never been an issue in the past because the relevant EU regulations do not provide for the buying and selling of quota. Speculations about quota ownership only arose when the Commission, in July 2004, raised the possibility of cross-border quota mobility, in the context of their initial thinking on reform of the EU sugar regime. Several member states, including Ireland, voiced strong opposition to the idea of cross-border mobility and I am pleased to say that it does not form part of the Commission's legislative reform proposals which were published in June. In any event, the EU Commission has confirmed that the quota is not an asset owned by the member state or any other party but is simply a mechanism for regulating the market.

EU Directives.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

171 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the EU directives for which her Department has responsibility that are yet to be implemented, and the target date for implementation in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34173/05]

The 24 European directives to be implemented by my Department are set out in the following schedule. Four of these directives are overdue for transposition. Council Directive 2004/117/EC 22 December 2004 amending Directives 66/401/EEC, 66/402/EEC, 2002/54/EC, 2002/55/EC and 2002/57/EC as regards examinations carried out under official supervision and equivalence of seed produced in third countries was due to be transposed by 1 October 2005 and is in the final stages of implementation. Directive 2004/28/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 amending Directive 2001/82/EC on the Community code relating to veterinary medicinal products which was due to be transposed by 30 October 2005 will be finalised shortly. My Department is currently in the process of taking over responsibility for the remaining two directives from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment; Commission Directive 2004/1/EC of 6 January 2004 amending Directive 2002/72/EC as regards the suspension of the use of azodicarbonamide as blowing agent and Commission Directive 2004/19/EC of 1 March 2004 amending Directive 2002/72/EC relating to plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs. These directives were due to be transposed by 2 August and 1 September respectively and will be given priority by my Department. In all other cases, I intend to have the directives implemented by the due date.

Schedule: Directives to be implemented by Department of Agriculture and Food: 24

Title of Directive

Date by which Directive is to be implemented

Commission Directive 2004/1/EC of 6 January 2004 amending Directive 2002/72/EC as regards the suspension of the use of azodicarbonamide as blowing agent. (OJL 007, 13/01/2004, p45)

2 August 2005

Commission Directive 2004/19/EC of 1 March 2004 amending Directive 2002/72/EC relating to plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with foodstuffs. (OJL 379, 24/12/2004, p107)

1 September 2005

Council Directive 2004/117/EC of 22 December 2004 amending Directives 66/401/EEC, 66/402/EEC, 2002/54/EC, 2002/55/EC and 2002/57/EC as regards examinations carried out under official supervision and equivalence of seed produced in third countries. (OJ L14 18/01/05, p18)

1 October 2005

Directive 2004/28/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 31 March 2004 amending Directive 2001/82/EC on the Community code relating to veterinary medicinal products. (OJL 136, 30/04/04, p58)

30 October 2005

Council Directive 2004/68/EC of 26 April 2004 laying down animal health rules for the importation into and transit through the Community of certain live ungulate animals, amending Directives 90/426/EEC and 92/65/EEC and repealing Directive 72/462/EEC. (OJL 139, 30/04/04, p321)

20 November 2005

Commission Directive 2005/34/EC of 17 May 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include etoxazole and tepraloxydim as active substances. (OJL 125, 18/05/05, p5)

30 November 2005

Commission Directive 2005/58/EC of 21 September 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include bifenazate and milbemectin as active substances. (OJL 246, 22/9/05, p17)

1 December 2005

Commission Directive 2005/13/EC of 21 February 2005 amending Directive 2000/25/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the emission of gaseous and particulate pollutants by engines intended to power agricultural or forestry tractors, and amending Annex I to Directive 2003/37/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the type-approval of agricultural or forestry tractors. (OJL L55, 01/03/05, p35)

31 December 2005

Commission Directive 2005/67/EC of 18 October 2005 amending, for the purposes of their adaptation, Annexes I and II to Council Directive 86/298/EEC, Annexes I and II to Council Directive 87/402/EEC and Annexes I, II and III to Directive 2003/37/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, relating to the type-approval of agricultural or forestry tractors. (OJL 273 19/10/05, p17)

31 December 2005

Directive 2004/41/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 April 2004 repealing certain Directives concerning food hygiene and health conditions for the production and placing on the market of certain products of animal origin intended for human consumption and amending Council Directives 89/662/EEC and 92/118/EEC and Council Decision 95/408/EC. (OJL 195, 02/06/04, p12)

1 January 2006

Commission Directive 2005/46/EC of 8 July 2005 amending the Annexes to Council Directives 86/362/EEC, 86/363/EEC and 90/642/EEC as regards maximum residue levels for amitraz. (OJL 177 09/07/05, p35)

9 January 2006

Commission Directive 2005/6/EC of 26 January 2005 amending Directive 71/250/EEC as regards reporting and interpretation of analytical results required under Directive 2002/32/EC. (OJL 24, 27/01/05, p33)

16 February 2006

Commission Directive 2005/8/EC of 27 January 2005 amending Annex I to Directive 2002/32/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on undesirable substances in animal feed. (OJL27, 29/01/05, p44)

18 February 2006

Commission Directive 2005/7/EC of 27 January 2005 amending Directive 2002/70/EC establishing requirements for the determination of levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in feedingstuffs. (OJ L27, 29/01/05, p41)

18 February 2006

Commission Directive 2005/48/EC of 23 August 2005 amending Council Directives 86/362/EEC, 86/363/EEC and 90/642/EEC as regards maximum residue levels for certain pesticides in and on cereals and certain products of animal and plant origin. (OJ L219 24/08/05, p29)

24 February 2006

Commission Directive 2005/53/EC of 16 September 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include chlorothalonil, chlorotoluron, cypermethrin, daminozide and thiophanate-methyl as active substances. (OJL 241, 17/09/2005, p51)

1 March 2006

Commission Directive 2005/54/EC of 19 September 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include tribenuron as active substance. (OJL 244, 20/09/2005, p21)

1 March 2006

Commission Directive 2005/74/EC of 25 October 2005 amending Council Directive 90/642/EEC as regards the maximum residue levels of ethofumesate, lambda-cyhalothrin, methomyl, pymetrozine and thiabendazole fixed therein. (OJL 26/10/05, p9)

26 April 2006

Commission Directive 2005/57/EC of 21 September 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include MCPA and MCPB as active substances. (OJL 246, 22/9/05, p14)

1 May 2006

Commission Directive 2005/76/EC of 8 November 2005 amending Council Directives 90/642/EEC and 86/362/EEC as regards the maximum residue levels of kresoxim-methyl, cyromazine, bifenthrin, metalaxyl and azoxystrobin fixed therein. (OJL 293 9/11/05, p14)

9 May 2006

Commission Directive 2005/72/EC of 21 October 2005 amending Council Directive 91/414/EEC to include chlorpyrifos, chlorpyrifos-methyl, mancozeb, maneb, and metiram as active substances. (OJL 279, 22/10/05, p63)

1 July 2006

Commission Directive 2005/43/EC of 23 June 2005 amending the Annexes to Council Directive 68/193/EEC on the marketing of material for the vegetative propagation of the vine. (OJL 164, 24/06/05m p37)

31 July 2006

Council Directive 2005/24/EC of 14 March 2005 with regard to the use of ova and embryos and storage centres for semen from pure-bred breeding animals of the bovine species. (OJL 78, 24/03/05, p43)

23 March 2007

Commission Directive 2005/70/EC of 20 October 2005 amending Council Directives 76/895/EEC, 86/362/EEC, 86/363/EEC and 90/642/EEC as regards maximum residue levels for certain pesticides in and on cereals and certain products of animal and plant origin. (OJL 276, 21/10/05, p35)

21 April 2006

Grant Payments.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

172 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures she intends to take to address the problems experienced by farmers in the Shannon Callows, as a result of proposals which do not allow them to spilt their lands for grant aid purposes between REPS funding and funding allocated under the SAC and SPA designation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33797/05]

The designation of land under the EU birds and habitats directives is a function of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The question of compensation for farmers in the Shannon Callows area is a matter, in the first instance, for that Department, and I understand discussions on the matter with the farming bodies have been going on for some time and are still continuing.

As far as REPS is concerned, arrangements are already in place designed specifically to address the situation of farmers in the Shannon Callows. Farmers in this area who wish to join REPS, but believe that the REPS payments do not fully offset any income loss arising from the restrictions placed on their farming activities because of designation under the birds and habitats directives, may now also apply to the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for additional compensation. Before this arrangement was introduced in September 2004, such farmers had to choose between REPS and the compensation arrangements operated by NPWS but could not benefit from both.

This further concession was additional to the inclusion of a new supplementary measure in REPS when REPS 3 was introduced in June 2004. Designated areas are already eligible for payments under REPS measure A of €242 per hectare for the first 40 hectares and lesser amounts for areas over 40 hectares, and the new supplementary measure provides for an additional payment of €100 per hectare on particular sites in the Callows which are important corncrake habitats. Those sites are monitored by BirdWatch Ireland, and REPS farmers can qualify for the additional payment by subscribing to BirdWatch Ireland management prescriptions for them.

REPS is a highly successful agri-environment measure and is acknowledged as such by the European Commission. One of the features of REPS which the Commission have commended is the fact that the whole farm is subjected to the full range of basic undertakings. This model has served Irish farmers well since the introduction of REPS in 1994 and it is not my intention to depart from the whole farm approach to accommodate a situation which has already been addressed adequately.

Question No. 173 answered with QuestionNo. 119.

Environmental Policy.

John Gormley

Ceist:

174 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the action taken in relation to atrazine and related weedkillers following a ban introduced in France and the promise to take action once EU reviews on the matter were complete. [34230/05]

In accordance with EU rules, the registration of plant protection products containing atrazine for non-essential uses was withdrawn on 10 September 2005. The remaining essential uses, weed control in maize and in forestry, will be withdrawn by 30 June 2007. Similarly the registration of plant protection products containing simazine for non-essential uses was withdrawn on 10 September 2005. The remaining essential uses, weed control in potatoes, field beans, rhubarb, soft fruit, tree fruit, ornamentals and amenity use, will be withdrawn by 30 June 2007.

Essential uses are uses for which there are no registered alternatives and for which continued use does not result in unacceptable risk to man, animals or the environment. Such uses have been designated for atrazine and-or simazine in Belgium, Greece, Ireland, UK, Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.

EU Directives.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

175 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of Ireland’s application for a derogation to the nitrates directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33769/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In October 2004, Ireland submitted proposals for a derogation from the general organic nitrogen limit of 170 kg per hectare per annum laid down in the nitrates directive. The proposal was designed to allow farmers to operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. My Department and Teagasc developed the derogation proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The European Commission were not prepared to engage in formal discussions on the derogation proposals until Ireland's nitrates action programme was agreed. There have been preliminary discussions with the Commission, however, and Ireland's case for derogation is scheduled to receive its initial presentation to the EU nitrates committee shortly.

My Department and Teagasc will continue to work with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government toward achieving a successful outcome to our derogation application and I will press strongly to have the process concluded as early as possible in 2006.

Food Industry.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

176 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to reduce red tape within the food sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33781/05]

The regulation of food safety will be simplified under the new food hygiene legislation which comes into effect from 1 January 2006. This legislation consolidates and updates 17 EU regulations and directives which will be repealed next January. However, food safety is non-negotiable and our experience is that consumer confidence is essential for the development of the food industry. It requires in the first place best practice from all in the food chain and appropriate responsibility being accepted by producers and processors themselves. In addition, there must be objective, independent, and transparent systems for ensuring maintenance of high standards and prompt and pro-active measures taken where risks emerge.

The enforcement of legislation within the food sector is centralized in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, which comes under the aegis of the Department of Health and Children. These controls are carried out by way of service contract with a number of Departments and agencies as provided for under section 48 of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act 1998. These include my own Department, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Office of Director of Consumer Affairs, the 33 local authorities and the ten Health Service Executives.

My Department is responsible for certain food products and is committed to giving a quality service that is efficient, effectives, courteous and user friendly to all its customers and clients. In doing this there is an action plan which establishes standards and guidelines for the delivery of services, dealings with its customers and clients, including service delivery targets from the entire range of Department activities. The plan also invites feedback, from individual customers and staff alike, on our services so as to ensure that they meet the changing needs of our customers.

In this regard, my Department endeavours to ensure that any regulatory requirements are implemented in a fair and even manner, while also bearing in mind the need for appropriate controls in certain circumstances. My Department would be happy to examine any suggestions to eliminate unnecessary red tape if instances are brought to my attention.

EU Sugar Regime.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

177 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food further to the continued problems regarding the EU sugar regime, her plans to examine alternative uses for the beet farmers produce, especially in regard to the possible production of ethanol or other bio-fuels; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34168/05]

The Commissions proposals for reform of the sugar regime are currently the subject of intensive discussions in Brussels and will be the main item on the agenda of next week's Council of Agriculture Ministers meeting. My objections to the Commission's proposals are well known and I remain resolute in seeking to achieve a more balanced arrangement which will take Ireland's interests into account.

The production of ethanol from sugar beet is a possible alternative outlet for farmers but, as matters stand, Irish Sugar Limited has arrangements in place to process the full Irish sugar quota at its Mallow plant, which has been upgraded for that purpose. The question of an alternative use for sugar beet does not therefore arise at present.

Farm Retirement Scheme.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

178 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress she has made on the implementation of the report by the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food on the early retirement scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34179/05]

The joint committee's examination of the early retirement scheme provided a welcome opportunity to air a wide range of issues and this in itself has been helpful in clarifying the position. I have provided a detailed response to the report. Regrettably, there are a number of the committee's recommendations that I have not been able to accept. They are precluded by elements of the EU regulations under which the current scheme and its predecessor are operated.

When the same issues were raised by retired farmers with the European Commission, the Commission concluded that my Department was operating the scheme correctly. However, the committee made other recommendations which I am still considering.

Food Production.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

179 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps which have been taken to prevent the spread of animal disease and avian flu with obvious consequences for the food chain and public health, through imported foods or food products, the husbandry, production and traceability of which may not be subject to Irish and EU standards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34258/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

464 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if adequate steps have been taken to ensure that all poultry imports into Ireland comply with the highest international standards in terms of husbandry, production and traceability; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34552/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

465 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has satisfied herself that all food imports into Ireland have been subject to best practise in terms of hygiene and production; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34553/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

466 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has satisfied herself that all imports of meat and meat products into Ireland are compliant with husbandry production and traceability standards applicable here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34554/05]

I propose to answer Question Nos. 179, 464, 465 and 466 together.

Detailed EU legislation lays down the conditions that member states must apply to the production of and trade in food products of animal origin, including fish, as well as to imports of these products from third countries. Under harmonized legislation a series of health and supervisory requirements are applied in the member states to ensure that animal products are produced to standards that guarantee the safety of food and the protection of human and animal health. The application of these standards in the member states is monitored by the FVO (Food and Veterinary Office) of the EU. It is a requirement that animal products imported from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, member states. All such imports must come from third countries or areas of third countries approved for export to the EU.

To be an approved third country it must appear on a list drawn up and updated on the basis of EU audits and guarantees given by the competent authority of the exporting country; have veterinary controls equivalent to those applicable in the EU, particularly in terms of legislation, hygiene conditions, animal health status, veterinary medicines controls, zoonoses controls and other food law and have in place a residues programme approved by the European Commission. The animal products must be sourced from establishments that are approved and must bear a EU approved health mark. Exporting establishments must have standards equivalent to the requirements for EU export establishments; effective control systems and supervision by the competent authorities and traceability-labelling in accordance with the systems approved by the FVO and accepted and notified to the EU member states.

The FVO carries out inspections to ensure that only establishments that meet hygiene and health standards equivalent to those operating within the EU are approved. Where the FVO considers that public health requirements are not being met, an establishment may be removed from the EU approved list. If outbreaks of animal diseases occur in a third country approval to export to the EU is suspended for the infected regions of the country, or the whole country, as appropriate, until the disease risk has been eliminated. Importers of animal products must be registered with my Department. They are required to give advance notice of importation and, following import, are required to keep records of importation available for inspection by the Department for a period of three years. Imported animal products must be accompanied by the appropriate commercial documentation showing country and approval number of the establishment of production and health certification conforming to the models set down in EU legislation.

While there is free movement for trade within the EU all consignments from third countries must first be landed at a border inspection post, BIP, that has been approved by the FVO and undergo documentary, identity and physical checks. These latter checks are carried out at frequencies laid down in EU law. In Ireland, BIPs approved for the processing imports of animal products are located at Dublin Port and Shannon Airport. The FVO carries out monitoring and inspection of each member state's BIPs to ensure the conditions for import of animal products into Europe, provided under the harmonised legislation, are being correctly applied.

While responsibility for general controls in the area of marketing of fish and fish products lies with the Department of my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, under a special arrangement with that Department, and in accordance with authorisations issued by the Minister, officers of my Department with the co-operation of the sea fishery control officers, administer the BIP controls on third country imports.

Once it has been established that imported animal product has met all the required conditions it is released for free circulation within the community. Copies of the BIP clearance document and the health certificate must accompany the consignment to its destination. Imports failing to comply with these veterinary control checks may be detained for further examination. If non-compliance is established they are returned to the exporting country or destroyed. Where there are concerns with regard to the effectiveness of controls being operated in an approved third country, the Commission, in consultation with the Standing Committee on Animal Health and the Food Chain, may introduce specific controls by means of a safeguard measure to ensure the protection of human and animal health. Safeguard measures limiting or banning the export of animal products from EU countries or regions of countries may also be implemented where, for example, the conditions of an animal disease outbreak could seriously effect production and trade in animal products in the EU.

Since the outbreak of high pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 in Asia, the EU has introduced a number of safeguard decisions banning trade in live poultry, live birds other than poultry, fresh poultry meat and untreated feathers from those third countries where an outbreak has been confirmed — Cambodia, Croatia, China, including the territory of Hong Kong, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam. In the case of Croatia, where the outbreak is confined to wild birds, the ban on import relates to import of fresh wild bird meat. The safeguard decisions apply controls on imports from each of these countries in accordance with its EU approval status to export animals and animal products. The EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health has also extended control on the import of all captive live birds and the movement from third countries of live pet birds accompanying their owners into the Community. Poultry meat which has been cooked with a heat treatment of at least 70° may continue to be imported from a third country that has been approved to export this product to the EU.

I fully support the policy that animal products imported into the EU from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, EU member states. In this context, I wrote last month to the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, Mr Markos Kyprianou, concerning the sanitary rules applying to the import of livestock products, especially beef, into the European Union. In the letter, I raised the matter of "equivalence" on the specific and important issues of animal traceability, controls on veterinary medicines, prohibited substances and residue monitoring programmes in these countries and in particular with regard to Brazilian beef in view of its increasing presence on the European market. I requested the Commission to consider the matter and invited them to put forward appropriate proposals before the EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, SCoFCAH. Irish farmers are required to ensure that their production systems and farm practices fully comply with a wide range of EU directives on important matters including traceability, animal health and welfare and consumer protection. These all have significant in-built cost factors, and bearing in mind that our beef farmers are in competition on European and international markets with beef from low cost producers such as Brazil, I will continue to seek real equivalence in these areas, both in discussions within the EU and in the context of the WTO talks on market access.

In regard to fruit and vegetables, the main concern for human health relates to pesticide residues. Produce, regardless of origin, is sampled and analysed by the pesticide control services of my Department and reports on that service's monitoring controls are published annually and are available from the Government Publications Office, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2.

Question No. 180 answered with QuestionNo. 168.

EU Directives.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

181 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the status of the nitrate action plan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33770/05]

The implementation of the nitrates directive is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. At the end of July, his Department formally submitted Ireland's national action programme under the directive to the European Commission. The next step is for the Minister to make regulations to give legal effect to the action programme. My Department, supported by Teagasc, has been assisting the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in finalising these regulations. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government published the draft regulations on 7 October 2005 for public consultation. The consultation period closed on 4 November and I understand that some 70 submissions were received. The two Departments are now assessing these submissions, and when that is done the regulations will be finalised.

The final stage of the process, but an extremely important one, is for Ireland to secure a derogation from the general organic nitrogen limits in the directive so that farmers can operate, under appropriate conditions and controls, up to a level of 250 kg of organic nitrogen per hectare. My Department and Teagasc developed the derogation proposals in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Preliminary discussions have commenced with the Commission about the derogation application and I will be pressing strongly to have these discussions concluded as early as possible in 2006.

To help farmers meet their obligations under the action programme, I am seeking approval from the European Commission for very significant improvements in the farm waste management scheme. These include increasing the grant-rate for both animal housing and slurry storage from the current rate of 40% to 60%, with 70% being available in the four zone C counties, significantly higher investment ceilings, the extension of the scheme to sectors such as pigs and poultry and the removal of any minimum income requirement from farming from the scheme.

Food Industry.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

182 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of meetings of the Food Agency Co-Operation Council in 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33801/05]

The Food Agency Co-operation Council met on 20 occasions since its inception in 2000. The council did not meet in 2004 as a number of factors contributed to the difficulties in re-scheduling meetings that year. The food development agencies directly concerned with the food programme components of the National Development Plan 2000-2006 did, however, meet with my Department in 2004 and 2005 to assess progress on the plan in preparation for meetings of the monitoring committee for the programmes concerned.

My Department is examining the role and format of the Food Agency Co-Operation Council, and the manner in which the various food agencies can most effectively co-operate to develop the agri-food industry, in the light of the more market orientated CAP framework, the 2015 agri-vision report and the enterprise strategy report. A number of initiatives are planned at regional level which will see the various agencies engage and co-operate with my Department to develop the food industry. The first of these initiatives, the North West Food Forum — Market Focus for Small Food Enterprises — took place in Killybegs earlier this month. At the forum, significant time was allocated for the agencies to network with the industry's stakeholders and to showcase the services available to assist food company development in the region. Similar events focussed in other regions as well as other initiatives involving inter-agency co-operation to promote the development of the food industry at all levels are planned and will be rolled out in the coming months.

Biocidal Products Register.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

183 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress being made in establishing a biocidal products register. [34231/05]

The biocides register is now being finalised and will be published on the Department of Agriculture and Food website during the first quarter of 2006.

Question No. 184 answered with QuestionNo. 119.

EU Sugar Regime.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

185 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she has taken arising from the publication on 22 June 2005 of proposals from the European Commission for reform of the EU sugar regime; if, in view of her description of the proposals as unacceptable; the steps taken to date to have same modified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34166/05]

I have already made it clear that the Commission's proposals for reform of the EU sugar regime, which were published on 22 June, are unacceptable in their present form. The key elements of the proposals are a 39% price cut in the institutional price for sugar, a corresponding reduction in the minimum price for sugar beet and 60% compensation to farmers for the price cut. A voluntary restructuring scheme is proposed to encourage factory closures and the renunciation of quota.

While the need for reform of the EU sugar regime is acknowledged, the Commission's proposals are unbalanced, go beyond the principles of previous Common Agricultural Policy reforms and could lead to drastic consequences for the sugar beet industry in a number of member states, including Ireland. This is an unprecedented situation in terms of CAP reform proposals presented by the Commission for any sector.

I expressed my concerns about the proposals when I met Commissioner Fischer Boel on her visit to Ireland in June, and again at the Council of Agriculture Ministers in July. I emphasised that the price cuts proposed are too severe, the reforms should be based on a longer lead-in time for the Everything But Arms agreement and it would be preferable to await the outcome of the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong in December before seeking to conclude an agreement on sugar reform. I have also continued to remain in contact with like minded colleague ministers from other member states who are opposed to the reform proposals.

In this context, a joint ministerial letter from a group of 11 member states, including Ireland, was submitted to the Commission in advance of the formal discussion at last month's Council meeting, setting out the objections of the group to the proposals. I have met with the Agriculture Commissioner on a number of occasions to voice my strong reservations. Meanwhile, there has been ongoing contact at official level with other member states and the Commission in regard to the reform proposals.

I maintained my firm opposition to the Commission's proposals when I addressed last month's meeting of the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg. Negotiations have become more intensive over recent weeks and the UK Presidency is striving for political agreement at next week's Council of Ministers. However, I will continue to be resolute in pursuing my overall objective of achieving a more balanced agreement, which will take Irish interests into account.

Food Labelling.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

186 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if a more comprehensive labelling of imported and local farm produce including restaurant and processed produce will be introduced. [34234/05]

The main legislation covering the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs is European Council Directive 2000/13/EC. The responsibility for this legislation and food labelling in general rests with the Minister for Health and Children. Within my own area of responsibility, there are a number of pieces of legislation on the labelling of specific products ranging from beef, poultry and sugar to spirit drinks, coffee and fruit juices. All of the food labelling legislation is enforced through the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI.

In respect of beef, we already have in place a full identification, traceability and labelling system under comprehensive EU regulations. The labelling requirements under those regulations extend up to and including retail level and to the point of delivery into hotels, restaurants and catering establishments. These compulsory labelling regulations require all operators and organisations marketing beef within the Community to provide information on the label to enable the beef to be traced back to the animals from which it was derived and must include details on the slaughterhouse, de-boning hall and the country in which the animal was born and reared.

These requirements apply to all beef sold at retail level regardless of whether that beef was produced within the Community or in a third country. Where beef is imported into the Community from a third country and all the above details are not available, that beef must, at a minimum, be labelled as "Origin: non-EC" along with an indication of the third country in which slaughter took place. This information must accompany the beef at retail level, including up to the point of delivery into hotels, restaurants and catering establishments. These regulations are enforced by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

I am in the process of extending the existing beef labelling laws to require information on the "country of origin" of beef to be provided to all consumers in the restaurant and catering sectors. I put specific proposals to Government at the end of June for a legislative framework to facilitate this, by way of an amendment to the 1947 Health Act. The necessary provisions will be included in amendments to the Irish Medicines Board (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2005 which is before this session of the Oireachtas. The appropriate regulations are being worked on concurrently and it is the intention to have these cleared at EU level as soon as possible. When the Act is amended and the regulations made "country of origin" information will be available to consumers in respect of all beef served in restaurants, hotels and the whole catering sector in Ireland on a mandatory basis. In the meantime, the various representative bodies including the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the two vintners groups, following discussions with my Department, have all agreed to recommend to their members to provide this information to their customers on a voluntary basis in advance of the mandatory legal requirement. It is expected that the voluntary code will be in place in the near future.

Regarding the labelling of poultry meat, there are EU regulations which provide for the labelling of unprocessed poultry meat at retail level. The regulations require such poultry meat to be labelled with the information regarding class, price per kg, condition, registered number of slaughterhouse or cutting plant and, where imported from a third country, an indication of country of origin. There are no specific EU regulations governing the labelling of pigmeat or sheepmeat beyond the general food labelling regulations which do not require "country of origin" information.

The next step in meat labelling generally is to seek to extend the requirements on the provision of information on "country of origin" at retail level to cover poultry meat coming from other EU member states. The extension of labelling requirements to the pigmeat and sheepmeat sectors in relation to the country of origin is not a straightforward matter. The proposed amendment to the 1947 Health Act will include the enabling provisions to facilitate the making of national regulations along these lines. However, EU approval will also be required and there is no precedent so far for individual member states being allowed to extend meat labelling requirements internally beyond providing information which is already required in EU laws.

There has also been a lot of concern expressed about products imported into the Community and then processed in some way allowing it to be described as a product of that member state. This is known as "substantial transformation" in the context of European customs regulations. Accordingly, any changes in this regard would have to be made with the agreement of the other member states. In this context, the Commission is at present conducting a review of food labelling and my Department will continue to pursue this matter with the EU authorities. However, I intend to pursue further the question of labelling of other meats at EU level.

Beef Exports.

Jim Glennon

Ceist:

187 Mr. Glennon asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress of Irish beef exports to continental Europe in 2005 and her efforts to promote the trade. [34107/05]

The Irish beef industry is worth €1.4 billion in foreign earnings to the national economy annually. Ireland produced 560,000 tonnes of beef in 2004, exporting 495,000 tonnes with domestic consumption at 86,000 tonnes.

We are the number one exporter of beef into Europe where there is a widening gap between consumption and production resulting in an EU import requirement of an estimated 280,000 tonnes this year. Irish companies are major suppliers across Europe and have gained a top class portfolio of retail accounts there. In 2004, we exported 264,000 tonnes to the UK and 174,000 tonnes to continental EU countries which together represents almost 90% of our total beef exports. Based on performance to date in 2005 and current predictions for the remainder of the year, export volumes are expected to be down by 3% overall. However, it is anticipated that a greater proportion of these exports will go into the continental EU market.

Our aim is to consolidate our position in the EU market. Bord Bia is responsible for the promotion of our beef and I take every opportunity to support them in their efforts in this regard. At the beginning of September, I launched the board's "Irish Beef in Europe" autumn promotion campaign which is targeted at building sales of Irish beef in European supermarkets and establishing the "Irish Beef" brand firmly in the minds of consumers. This particular campaign involves on-pack promotions in 8,000 European stores which are frequented by some 40 million shoppers every week. This is certainly a major and sophisticated marketing initiative. I also participated in one of the on-site supermarket promotions in Italy last month. Initial feedback is already encouraging in terms of improved demand in response to the promotion. An increased presence in this high value market is seen as the key to the success of the beef industry in the long term.

Food Labelling.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

188 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she is taking to introduce a clear and transparent food labelling system here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33796/05]

My Department has given considerable attention to food labelling as I regard it of great importance that consumers are provided with full information on foodstuffs. Food labelling is a complex area where account has to be taken of EU legislation and the single market. In this context, a food labelling group was established in 2002 to the detailed issues involved. Since then, my Department has pursued assiduously the implementation of the recommendations of the food labelling group. Some 19 of the 21 recommendations, many of which were beyond the remit of my Department and some which were to be activated only after others had been completed, have been addressed. The remaining two recommendations, which relate to aspects of origin labelling, are also being addressed.

Arising from the implementation of the groups recommendations, the enforcement of all food labelling regulations has been centralised in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI. This not only streamlines the enforcement measures but it also provides a one-stop shop for any complaints on mislabelling of food. In addition, the responsibility for food labelling policy, with the exception of fish, has been assigned to the Department of Health and Children and my Department in accordance with another recommendation of the food labelling group. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children is responsible for general labelling regulations which require information on food labels to be given clearly, accurately and in a language understood by the consumer. My Department is responsible for more detailed legislation on the labelling of specific food products including beef and poultry meat.

I am in the process of extending the existing beef labelling laws to require information on the "country of origin" of beef to be provided to all consumers in the restaurant and catering sectors. The various representative bodies including the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the two vintners groups, following discussions with my Department, have all agreed to recommend to their members to provide this information to their customers on a voluntary basis in advance of the mandatory legal requirement. It is expected that the voluntary code will be in place in the near future.

Regarding the labelling of poultry meat, there are EU regulations which provide for the labelling of unprocessed poultry meat at retail level. The regulations require such poultry meat to be labelled with the information regarding class, price, condition, registered number of slaughterhouse or cutting plant and, where imported from a third country, an indication of country of origin. There are no specific EU regulations governing the labelling of pigmeat or sheepmeat beyond the general food labelling regulations which do not require "country of origin" information. However, I intend to pursue further the question of labelling of other meats at EU level. There has also been a lot of concern expressed about products imported into the Community and then processed in some way allowing it to be described as a product of that member state. This is known as "substantial transformation" in the context of European customs regulations. Accordingly, any changes in this regard would have to be made with the agreement of the other member states. My Department is continuing to pursue the matter in the context of a general review of food labelling being conducted by the European Commission.

Question No. 189 answered with QuestionNo. 167.
Question No. 190 answered with QuestionNo. 156.

Animal Diseases.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

191 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will make a statement on the outcomes of the avian influenza and human pandemic influenza executive meeting at the World Health Organisation headquarters in Geneva on 7-9 November 2005. [34165/05]

I welcome the outcome of the meeting held in Geneva last week to discuss the issues of avian influenza and human pandemic and, in particular, the identification of the components of a global action plan to control avian 'flu in animals and, at the same time, to limit the threat of a human 'flu pandemic. Last week's meeting brought together more than 600 delegates from more than 100 countries and it was very encouraging to see the commitment of those attending the meeting in acknowledging that there is an urgent need for financial and other resources for countries which have already been affected by avian influenza, as well as those which are most at risk.

I welcome the assessment of the assistant director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, Dr. Louise Fresco, that fighting the disease in animals is key to our success in limiting the threat of a human pandemic. My Department has been working at updating its contingency arrangements to minimise the likelihood of the virus being introduced into Ireland and ensuring that we have the necessary arrangements in place to quickly identify any outbreak and ensure its early and speedy eradication. The Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive are, likewise, updating their contingency arrangements to deal with the public health aspects of any human 'flu pandemic. The two Departments have been and are continuing to work closely together in relation to those issues of mutual concern.

I am satisfied that the measures introduced over recent months and EU and national levels represent a proportionate and measured response to the current level of risk. My Department has been consistently re-evaluating the level of risk taking account of the most up-to-date veterinary and scientific advice and information available to us, whether from our own experts or from various international organisations, including the European Union, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Organisation for Animal Health, OIE.

My Department is maintaining a vigilant approach, while conscious of the limitations imposed by the role of wild birds in transmitting the disease, as acknowledged by Dr. Fresco at last week's meeting. Nonetheless, we won't hesitate to introduce such additional measures as we consider appropriate to minimising the risk of introduction of the virus or to improving our capacity to ensure early detection and the speedy eradication of any outbreak.

EU Funding.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

192 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the European commission on the rural development budget; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33807/05]

The proposed EU rural development funding for 2007 to 2013 will form part of the overall EU budget or financial perspective for the same period. Decisions on the overall amount and its allocation will be taken in that context. The new rural development regulation No. 1698/2005 that was adopted in September confirms this situation.

The rural development regulation provides that the distribution of funding between member states will be on the basis of the convergence objective, past performance and particular situations and needs. In discussions at the Agricultural Council, I have emphasised that particular importance must be attached to the past performance criterion. This will allow due account to be taken of current successful programmes and the need to build on them.

Farmer Numbers.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

193 Mr. Timmins asked the Taoiseach the number of farmers in counties Wicklow and Carlow for the year 1997; the numbers in each county in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34438/05]

The exact information requested by the Deputy is not available. The farm structure survey provides regional estimates and the following table shows the figures for June 1997 and 2003, together with corresponding data from the full census of agriculture conducted in June 2000:

Number of farms in the mid-east and south-east regions — June 1997, 2000 and 2003.

Year

Mid-East (including Dublin)

South-East

1997

11,100

18,600

2000

10,500

17,000

2003

10,100

15,900

The latest figures at county level are from the June 2000 census of agriculture, when there were 1,900 farms in Carlow and 2,400 in Wicklow.

Note: The composition of the mid-east, including Dublin, and south-east regions is as follows:

(1)Mid-east comprises Dublin County Borough, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, South Dublin, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow.

(2)South-east comprises Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary SR, Wexford, Waterford County and Waterford County Borough.

Household Expenditure.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

194 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the average percentage of income which the bottom 20% of households spend on housing, food, fuel and electricity, medical expenses and child care. [34443/05]

The information requested by the Deputy is presented in the following table.

Table: Average weekly household expenditure for certain items as a percentage of household disposable income, 1999-2000, classified by household income quintiles.*

Item Description

1st. Quintile

2nd. Quintile

3rd. Quintile

4th. Quintile

5th. Quintile

State

%

%

%

%

%

%

Food

37.22

30.66

25.47

21.36

15.47

21.34

Housing

11.69

12.33

11.76

10.09

8.57

10.04

Fuel and Light

11.53

6.71

4.58

3.57

2.29

3.93

Medical expenses

2.00

2.49

2.29

2.07

1.66

1.97

Childcare

0.12

0.35

0.61

0.90

0.86

0.74

Total

62.56

52.54

44.71

37.99

28.85

38.03

*Source: Household Budget Survey 1999-2000 (Final Results).

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

195 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the average percentage of income which the bottom 20% of households save or invest. [34444/05]

The information requested by the Deputy is not available from any of the Central Statistics Office's household surveys.

Private Rented Accommodation.

John Curran

Ceist:

196 Mr. Curran asked the Taoiseach the number of private rental properties and landlords in the areas of south Dublin County Council in the figures available from the Central Statistics Office from the most recent period for which figures are available. [33819/05]

The most recent information available is in respect of the 2002 census and is contained in the following table.

Private dwellings in permanent housing units in South Dublin local electoral areas, 2002.

Local Electoral Area

Private rented unfurnished

Private rented furnished or part furnished

Total private rented

Clondalkin

171

627

798

Lucan

149

1,111

1,260

Tallaght-Central

99

568

667

Tallaght-South

183

589

772

Terenure-Rathfarnham

147

1,171

1,318

Total South Dublin

749

4,066

4,815

European Council Meetings.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

197 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the number of proposals that his Department is opposing at European Council at any state; the names of such proposals; the reason his Department is taking this position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33821/05]

The European Council does not, as a rule, act as a legislative body. As such, there is no ongoing agenda for the Council. The business for each European Council is fixed by the Presidency in consultation with the other member states. The key challenge for the next meeting of the European Council in December will be to reach political agreement on the European Union's financial perspectives for 2007-2013. I have set out our national position in these negotiations on a number of occasions, most recently in the statement I made to the Dáil on 21 June on the June European Council.

EU Directives.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

198 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that Ireland has achieved in his Department’s competency area; the reason his Department requested each exemption; if it is intended to give up any of these exemptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33836/05]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

199 Mr. Quinn asked the Taoiseach the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that his Department is seeking; the reason his Department is requesting each exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33851/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 198 and 199 together.

My Department did not seek, nor is it seeking, exemptions from EU directives or regulations which fall within the Department's competency area.

Ministerial Travel.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

200 Mr. Cuffe asked the Taoiseach the occasions that he has taken a mainline train, commuter train or Luas in the course of his duties since assuming office. [34059/05]

Since becoming Taoiseach, I have had the opportunity to travel by both mainline train and Luas. Unfortunately, my schedule is such that it generally prevents me from using such transport regularly. However, these options are kept under review by my office.

National Spatial Strategy.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

201 Mr. Cuffe asked the Taoiseach the significant changes which have been implemented by his Department to date in 2005 in delivering the national spatial strategy; and the costs, benefits and savings that have accrued. [34074/05]

My Department's role with regard to the national spatial strategy mainly relates to strategic, high-level co-ordination rather than implementation of individual policies or spending programmes. The national spatial strategy is overseen by the Cabinet committee on housing, infrastructure and PPPs, which I chair. The Cabinet committee is supported by a cross-departmental team, which is chaired by my Department.

My Department also works closely with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in the implementation of the national spatial strategy, both through bilateral contacts and through the inter-departmental committee on the national spatial strategy. We also liaise with other offices and agencies, notably the Central Statistics Office and the National Economic and Social Development Office, in the context of monitoring and implementation of the national spatial strategy.

The importance of the national spatial strategy is reflected in the relevant departmental business plans and in the work programme of the Cabinet committee.

Departmental Staff.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

202 Mr. Carey asked the Taoiseach the percentage of persons, with disabilities employed in his Department and in each body under his aegis; the guidelines issued by which this data is to be recorded in the public service; the nature of the disabilities; the levels of employment; the percentage of the total numbers of persons with disabilities in each sector who are holders of third level qualifications; the precise definition of disability which is used in the public service to meet the three per cent quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34139/05]

The percentage of persons with disabilities employed in my Department is3.64%. Of the bodies under the aegis of my Department, the Central Statistics Office figure is 4.39%, the Office of the Chief State Solicitor figure is 3.36% and the Law Reform Commission figure is 4.54%.

In regard to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Office of the Attorney General where the figures are 2.3% and 0.41%, respectively, a significant proportion of staff are recruited as barristers or solicitors and consequently statistics for these offices would be influenced by the proportion of persons with disabilities in those professions. Both these offices are committed to the provision of equal opportunities of employment and to the Department of Finance guidelines regarding the employment of persons with disabilities.

The NESDO has no staff with disabilities. However, NESDO's policy and that of its constituent bodies is to give equality of employment opportunity and this is reflected in its recruitment advertisements and promotion competition notices. In regard to the guidelines by which data relating to the employment of persons with disabilities is recorded, I refer the Deputy to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which is responsible for them.

Given the relatively small size of my Department, it would be inappropriate to disclose the nature of the disabilities, the grades of employment or the qualifications of disabled staff as this could possibly make these individuals identifiable. This also applies to the bodies under the aegis of my Department. The definition of a person with a disability for the purposes of the 3% target is the positive action definition set out in the Code of Practice for the Civil Service, 1994. In this context, the term "people with disabilities" means people with a physical, sensory or psychological impairment which may "have a tangible impact on their functional capability to do a particular job; or have an impact on their ability to function in a particular physical environment; or lead to a discrimination in obtaining or keeping employment of a kind for which they would otherwise be suited."

Family Units.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

203 Mr. Timmins asked the Taoiseach the percentage of parents who are lone parents. [34439/05]

The most recent information comes from the 2002 census which indicates that lone parent with children type family units make up 22.2% of the total number of family units with children.

Land Acquisitions.

Paddy McHugh

Ceist:

204 Mr. McHugh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has initiated plans to sell off six acres of land in Tuam, County Galway (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33703/05]

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. In accordance with the Government decision to release State lands in the health sector for affordable housing under Sustaining Progress in 2004, the Health Service Executive western area identified a number of sites for consideration for inclusion in this initiative, which included a portion of the lands owned by the executive in Tuam. The executive is engaged in a process of reviewing the lands identified as well as all other lands in its portfolio to establish health service needs. This process is ongoing and meanwhile no final decisions have been made in regard to the lands involved.

During a visit to Galway last week, the Tánaiste was apprised of the executive's development plans for the Tuam area, including a community hospital, an ambulance base, a primary care centre, mental health services and administrative facilities. These plans will be advanced in accordance with its service plan and capital programme.

It is not, nor was it ever intended, that the affordable housing initiative would have a negative impact on planned developments in the health sector. The Health Service Executive will strive at all times to strike a balance, in relation to individual proposals, to satisfy, in the most realistic way possible, both its own objectives and those of the AHI.

Civil Marriage.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

205 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has made provision for conducting a civil marriage ceremony in places other than a registry office; when the public will be able to avail of this opportunity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34116/05]

An tArd-Chláraitheoir, Registrar General, is the person with statutory responsibility for the administration of the civil registration system in Ireland. I have made inquiries with an tArd-Chláraitheoir and the position is as follows. The Civil Registration Act 2004 provides for the commencement of various provisions of the Act on a gradual basis. Preparatory work for the commencement of Parts 1, 2, 3, 5 and 8 of the Act, which relate to the administration of the service and the registration of births, stillbirths and deaths, is at a very advanced stage.

The new provisions for marriage are set out in Part 6 of the 2004 Act and include universal procedures for notification, solemnisation and registration of marriages, as well as a choice of venue for civil marriage ceremonies. Before these provisions can be commenced, a substantial body of work needs to be completed, including drafting and publication of regulations, guidelines and detailed procedures, establishment of a register of solemnisers in consultation with religious bodies, establishment of a register of approved venues for civil marriages and the further development of the computer system to facilitate the administration of the new marriage provisions introduced in the Act.

An tArd-Chláraitheoir is unable to give a specific date for the implementation of the new marriage procedures but it is unlikely to be before the autumn of 2006. It is intended to give as much public notice as possible and a comprehensive public information campaign will be undertaken at the appropriate time.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

206 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the funding which will be provided for 2006 for development of independent living services for persons with disabilities and for measures which promote this, including personal assistance services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34268/05]

The development of independent living services for persons with disabilities, including personal assistance services, is being examined in the context of the Estimates process for 2006.

Special Educational Needs.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

207 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the way in which parents of children with a moderate, severe or profound mental handicap and-or autism in Laois and Offaly can access pre-school services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34324/05]

The direct provision of pre-school services which are educational in focus is not part of the remit of the health services. The HSE, through the former health boards, has, however, over the years and within the resources available to it, grant-aided some special needs specific pre-school services, in addition to assisting individual children with disabilities to attend mainstream pre-school services. While primary responsibility for the support of children with special educational needs aged between nought and five approximately rests with the health services under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, the National Council for Special Education Services has a role in providing appropriate educational support services for this group. This is reflected in the fact that additional funding has been specifically committed, through the Department of Education and Science, to assist the council to enhance access to these services over the period 2006 to 2009 as part of the national disability strategy. Discussions are at an exploratory stage between my Department and the Department of Education and Science in relation to the progression of this matter.

The provision of health services in Laois and Offaly is 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 have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

208 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the way in which parents of children with a moderate, severe or profound mental handicap and-or autism in Laois-Offaly can access multidisciplinary child psychiatry team assessments and therapeutic interventions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34334/05]

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.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

209 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has satisfied herself that there is no risk of contamination from the importation of genetically modified foods or food products; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34580/05]

In response to consumer concerns, the European Union's new regulatory framework for genetically modified organisms, GMOs, entered into force in 2004. Ireland, in common with other member states and as required by EU rules, applies EU legislation on GM foods, produced within the EU or imported. Under EU rules, only authorised GM foods, or foods containing ingredients thereof, can be placed on the market. The safety of GM products is independently assessed by the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, on a case by case basis and GM food is required to be clearly labelled, thus ensuring greater consumer confidence and choice.

In the production of food, feed and seed, it is almost impossible to achieve products that are 100% GM free. Minute traces of GMOs can arise in conventional food and feed during cultivation, harvest, transport and processing. Accordingly, to ensure legal certainty, thresholds have been established above which conventional foods must be labelled as consisting of or containing or being produced from a GMO. The labelling requirement is not for food safety reasons, rather it is a consumer choice measure and does not apply to foods with GM content in a proportion no higher than 0.9% of the food ingredients considered individually or food consisting of a single ingredient, provided that this presence is adventitious or technically unavoidable; previously, the level had been 1%. The new threshold applies to all GMOs authorised under the current regulations and also applies to those authorised under the novel foods regulation.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, is the competent authority in Ireland for the enforcement of EU legislation regarding genetically modified foods. The FSAI carries out checks of the marketplace for compliance with the GM legislation.

European Council Meetings.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

210 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of proposals that her Department is opposing at European Council at any state; the names of such proposals; the reason her Department is taking this position; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33822/05]

My Department is not opposing any proposals at European Council.

EU Directives.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

211 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that Ireland has achieved in her Department’s competency area; the reason her Department requested each exemption; if it is intended to give up any of these exemptions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33837/05]

My Department has not sought any exemptions from EU directives or regulations.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

212 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that her Department is seeking; the reason her Department is requesting each exemption; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33852/05]

My Department is not seeking any exemptions from EU directives or regulations.

Site Acquisitions.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

213 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive western region has plans to sell off a major portion of the land it owns surrounding a former hospital (details supplied) in County Galway; if the future plans and development of a community hospital for Tuam is doomed to failure if such a sale takes place; the reason the Government purchased this property in the first place if it was not intended to develop the site for a community hospital as promised prior to the 2002 general election. [33877/05]

The Deputy's question relates to property in the ownership of the Health Service Executive. The Deputy will be aware of the Government's strong commitment, in accordance with the national agreement Sustaining Progress, to deliver 10,000 affordable housing units through the ambitious affordable housing initiative, AHI. It is envisaged that housing provided under the AHI would be aimed at those who, in the past, would have expected to purchase a house from their own resources but who find that they are unable to do so in the current housing market.

In accordance with the Government decision to release state lands in the health sector for affordable housing under Sustaining Progress, in 2004, the Health Service Executive, western area, identified a number of sites for consideration for inclusion in this initiative, which I am advised included a portion of the lands owned by the executive in Tuam. The executive is engaged in a process of reviewing the lands identified as well as all other lands in its portfolio to establish health service needs. This process is ongoing and meanwhile no final decisions have been made in regard to the lands involved.

During a visit to Galway last week, I was apprised of the executive's development plans for the Tuam area, including a community hospital, an ambulance base, a primary care centre, mental health services and administrative facilities. These plans will be advanced in accordance with its service plan and capital programme.

I wish to stress that it is not, nor was it ever, intended that the affordable housing initiative would have a negative impact on planned developments in the health sector. The Health Service Executive will strive at all times to strike a balance, in relation to individual proposals, to satisfy, in the most realistic way possible, both its own objectives and those of the AHI.

Human Rights Issues.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

214 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason the Government is going to the Supreme Court to refuse recognition for transsexuals in view of the European Court of Human Rights findings that the UK was in breach of the Human Rights Convention in its failure to provide legal recognition for transsexual persons; the further reason transsexuals are not entitled to have their birth certificates amended to show their new gender status; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33878/05]

The Deputy may be aware that the Supreme Court, on 8 November 2005, referred the case in question back to the High Court to have that court consider the issues raised in the case, having regard to the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003 which has come into effect in Ireland since the High Court's determination of the matter in July 2002. In the circumstances, I do not propose to comment further until such time as the courts have completed their deliberations and issued findings on this issue.

Health Service Staff.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

215 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of health inspectors who have been appointed to the Health Service Executive western area for each of the past five years; the number employed as health inspectors for each of the past five years; the salary grades or range in relation to health inspectors employed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33879/05]

I assume that the Deputy is referring to environmental health officers. Information on the numbers of environmental health officers employed in the former Western Health Board and in the Health Service Executive western area for each of the past five years and at end-June 2005 is set out in the table — wholetime equivalents. Salary scales as at 1 June 2005 are also shown.

The Deputy has also asked about the numbers of environmental health officers appointed for each of the last five years. This relates to the management of human resources and is a matter for the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. The Department has therefore 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.

Environmental Health Officer's employed in the Western Health Board/Health Service Executive — Western Region end-2000/end-June 2005.

end-2000

end-2001

end-2002

end-2003

end-2004

end-June 2005

Salary at 1 June 2005 (including long service increment)

Environmental Health Officer

39

50.2

50.9

44.5

48.3

47.14

€37,299-€53,580

Environmental Health Officer, Principal

4

2

2

3

3

1.79

€43,290-€59,897

Environmental Health Officer, Senior

12

13

12

10.7

12.7

13.62

€57,921-€71,229

Total

55

65.2

64.8

58.1

64

62.55

Source: Health Service Personnel Census.

Nursing Homes Charges.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

216 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the family of a person who was resident in a public bed in a nursing home from 1975 to 1988 is entitled to a refund; and if not the reason therefor. [33880/05]

The Government has agreed the key elements of a scheme for the repayment of long-stay charges for publicly funded residential care. All those fully eligible persons who were charged and are alive and the estates of all those who were charged and died in the six years prior to 9 December 2004 will have the charges repaid in full. The scheme will not allow for repayments to the estates of those who died more than six years prior to that date. The decision to limit repayments to the estates of those who died in the past six years reflects the reference in the Supreme Court judgement to the statute of limitations. The repayments will include both the actual charge paid and an amount to take account of inflation, using the consumer price index, since the time the person involved was charged.

It is expected that the scheme will cost approximately €1 billion and at this stage it is envisaged that applications for the scheme can be received up to 31 December 2007. Figures provided by the Health Service Executive show an estimated 60,000 people are likely to be due a repayment, approximately 20,000 of these are living and 40,000 relate to estates of deceased patients.

It is my intention to have legislation brought before the Oireachtas in the next parliamentary session and to have repayments commencing shortly after the Bill is approved and signed into law. In the case of those who were charged and are still alive, the repayments will be exempt from tax and will not be taken into account in assessing means for health and social welfare benefits. The normal tax and means assessment arrangements will apply to those who benefit from repayments to estates. The legislation will include appropriate safeguards to prevent exploitation of those who receive repayments and are not in a position to manage their own financial affairs. The scheme will include a provision to allow those eligible for a repayment to waive their right to a repayment and have the money assigned to fund service improvements in elderly, mental health and disability services.

A national oversight committee has been appointed and has already begun its work. It will provide an independent input into the design of the scheme and will monitor the operation of the scheme in order to ensure that it is being implemented quickly and in the most equitable and effective way possible.

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

The Health Service Executive has informed the Department that an outside company with experience in handling mass claims will be in a position to sign a contract and commence work within the next few weeks to provide an independent input into the design and administration of the scheme. The national helpline set up by the HSE to allow people to register if they believe they are due a repayment will continue to operate but there is no need for anyone who has already registered using this facility to make contact with the HSE again to register for the scheme.

Any person who considers that they or a family member may be eligible for repayment may register their interest in advance with the Health Service Executive by writing to the national refund scheme, HSE midland area, Arden Road, Tullamore, County Offaly; or e-mail refundscheme@mailq.hse.ie, or by calling the helpline 1800 777737 during office hours.

Health Services.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

217 Mr. Sargent asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the case being put by parents and friends at a school (details supplied) which is seeking the appointment of speech and occupational therapists which are needed in the school; and her willingness to accede to this request. [33888/05]

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.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

218 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position of an application for eye and ear treatment for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33910/05]

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

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

219 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason subvention was refused in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Louth; if the case will be reviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33911/05]

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.

Hospital Staff.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

220 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a start date will be given to a physiotherapist at a hospital (details supplied); when funding will be made available by the Health Service Executive for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33915/05]

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.

National Lottery Funding.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

221 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the grant programmes available from her Department and from agencies under her responsibility; and the deadlines of each programme. [33916/05]

In addition to funding a number of statutory bodies, the Department administers a national lottery funded grant scheme. This scheme provides funding, on a once-off basis, to voluntary organisations with an involvement in the provision of health services to specific client groups, national groups providing information and support regarding disability and illness, and groups with a specific interest.

There is a set protocol in place in the Department for dealing with applications and requests for grants from discretionary national lottery funds. An application form is made available to any individual, group or agency which requests a grant. When the completed application form is received in the Department, it is registered in the finance unit and forwarded to the relevant services division for its assessment, evaluation and recommendation. All applications are then considered in the context of the recommendation and the overall level of funds available to me. Application forms are accepted from voluntary organisations throughout the year while funding remains available. However, organisations are advised that applications made late in the year may be held for consideration in the context of the following year's national lottery allocation.

The health promotion unit of the Department operates a grant system whereby community and voluntary organisations, with charitable status, are provided with moneys for health promotion initiatives. All initiatives must be once off ventures and must make provision for an evaluation. Initiatives should include health information and education elements and-or assist in raising awareness on a particular health related matter. Where necessary, organisations should have the approval of the local health office-agency or relevant division within the Department. Completed grant application forms are considered quarterly, in line with the unit's business plan.

The Department has also requested the parliamentary affairs division of the Health Service Executive to arrange to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy about such grants as may be available from the executive.

Waste Disposal.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

222 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the guidelines which have been drawn up by the Department for the disposal of clinical waste materials by persons with MRSA being cared for in their own homes. [33920/05]

Clinical or health care risk waste generated in hospitals is disposed of under strict conditions in disinfection treatment plants licensed by the Environmental Protection Agency. Guidelines dealing with the safe segregation, packaging and storage of health care risk waste have been circulated to hospitals and health agencies by my Department for a number of years. The latest edition of the guidelines was circulated in April 2004.

The guidelines were drawn up in consultation with personnel in the health services, the Health and Safety Authority and a committee representative of the Infection Control Nurses Association — Irish regional group, and the Irish Society of Clinical Microbiologists. Comprehensive recommendations for the handling and packaging of all forms of infectious waste in the hospital environment are included in the guidelines.

No specific guidelines have been drawn up by my Department on the management of clinical waste materials from patients with MRSA treated in their own homes. However, my Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the Health Service Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

EU Directives.

M. J. Nolan

Ceist:

223 Mr. Nolan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she has satisfied herself with the process the Health Service Executive is using to assess applicants for pre-qualification for tendering; if the most up-to-date financial information is being sought from companies intending to tender; her views on their capacity to adequately and fairly assess all proposals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33928/05]

The Health Service Executive is governed by public law and as such is obliged to comply with the requirements of public procurement law. Public procurement law requires adherence to the appropriate European Union procurement directives. In addition, the national public procurement policy unit of the Department of Finance issues national procurement policy and guidance material, which is available on the website www.etenders.gov.ie.

While relevant information is freely available on this website, the Department also routinely brings any new developments to the attention of the Health Service Executive. As the Health Service Executive is responsible for the issues raised by the Deputy, the Department is requesting the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

John Ellis

Ceist:

224 Mr. Ellis asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department will arrange for the north western Health Service Executive to provide orthodontic treatment for a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [33930/05]

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

John Ellis

Ceist:

225 Mr. Ellis asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department will arrange for the north western Health Service Executive to provide orthodontic treatment for a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [33931/05]

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.

Community Pharmacy Contracts.

John Perry

Ceist:

226 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if health centres are open to Government funding; if same are awarded GMS contracts; if there are restrictions put on the health centres in receipt of such contracts for the opening of pharmacies in such health centres; her views on whether pharmacies operating within health centres will lead to less competition and less opportunities for smaller pharmacies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33946/05]

The Deputy's question refers to facilities which would support the delivery of primary care services on a multidisciplinary basis. The provision of modern, well equipped, accessible premises will be central to the effective functioning of primary care teams and networks. It is therefore necessary to facilitate and encourage the development, where appropriate, of modern, well equipped, user-friendly buildings in which the broad range of primary care services, including general practice, can be delivered.

To ensure that appropriate facilities are developed on the required scale, resources other than those of the Exchequer will be required and this is line with the historic practice, whereby there has been a mix of public and private facilities provision, with, for example, general practitioners in many cases funding their own practice premises. In this regard, the primary care strategy emphasises the need to gain full benefit from existing buildings and to fully explore opportunities for private investment and public-private partnerships in implementing the development programme. The Government is committed to developing policy in such a way as to encourage innovative approaches to the provision of primary care facilities and services in line with the objectives of the primary care strategy.

The Health Service Executive is responsible for the selection and recruitment of general practitioners to provide services under the general medical services scheme. Such contracts are awarded to individual general practitioners meeting the necessary requirements under the contract. The GMS contract requires the GP to provide a waiting room and a surgery to meet the needs of the practice. The contract also provides that participating GPs may be offered facilities to practise in health centres or other HSE accommodation.

The Health (Community Pharmacy Contractor Agreement) Regulations 1996, which were revoked by my predecessor in January 2002 following advice from the Office of the Attorney General, set out the criteria and procedures for granting community pharmacy contracts in the HSE areas. The effect of the revocation for the awarding of new community pharmacy contracts is that there are no restrictions on granting new community pharmacy contracts in terms of location, population or viability of existing pharmacies. The revocation did not affect the operation of the community pharmacy scheme and existing contracts at that time remained in place. The opening or establishment of all new pharmacies continues to be governed by the Pharmacy Acts, subject to restrictions imposed by non-pharmacy legislation such as the Planning Acts.

The Government has accepted the recommendation of the pharmacy review group that there be no beneficial interest between prescribing and dispensing. Currently, a community pharmacy contract may not be awarded to a pharmacy in which a GP practising in the area has a beneficial interest.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

227 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the severe difficulties for children with disabilities and their families arising from the threatened withdrawal of a range of services provided by the Lucan Disability Action Group; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the LDAG views that it must reduce services due to the expected 25% reduction from 2006 in funding under the FÁS social economy enterprise scheme; if, in view of the vital services that LDAG provides and that hardship that would be caused by their withdrawal, her views on alternative sources of funding; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33947/05]

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.

Health Services.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

228 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposal to bring the inadequate chiropody service for public diabetic patients both inpatients and outpatients at Waterford Regional Hospital up to an acceptable level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33948/05]

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 have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

229 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a medical card will be issued to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [33953/05]

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.

Child Abuse.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

230 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if efforts will be made to deal professionally with child sexual abuse in lay, clerical and care staff; if plans will be made for child sex offenders in the future, who when determined, will adopt and become more sophisticated to be detected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33962/05]

This Department, in conjunction with the Health Service Executive, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Education and Science, is committed to dealing with child sexual abuse by lay, clerical and care staff in a professional and appropriate manner.

The Government's duty is to ensure that proper child protection practices are in place and in operation and to that effect I have recently announced that a national review of compliance with the Children First guidelines by State bodies and non-governmental organisations will be driven by the National Children's Office, in partnership with all relevant Departments. The Children First guidelines were published in 1999 and in light of recent events, it is essential that the Government can stand over its own procedures in protecting children.

The Health Service Executive has statutory responsibility to take such steps as it considers requisite to identify children who are not receiving adequate care and attention and to regard the welfare of the child as the first and paramount consideration. I have requested the HSE to launch a nationwide publicity and awareness campaign on child sexual abuse. The National Children's Office will assist the HSE in ensuring that the campaign effectively targets and is relevant to children and young people.

I have written to the bishop's conference seeking confirmation both collectively and individually that the recommendations of the Ferns Report will be implemented. I have also asked them to confirm that the framework guidelines are in place in all dioceses. I have requested the HSE to make contact with the individual bishops in the Catholic Church as a matter of urgency to monitor child protection practices and ensure compliance with the recommendations of the Ferns Report.

Furthermore, the Department of Health and Children, in conjunction with the Attorney General's Office, will undertake an in-depth study of the HSE's powers in third party child sexual abuse and this will be followed by legislative proposals as required. I reaffirm that the Government is fully committed to taking all necessary action to protect children.

Alcohol Treatment Programmes.

John Perry

Ceist:

231 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the directive which has been issued to the Health Service Executive regarding the treatment for alcohol addiction problems in view of the fact that if persons are referred for treatment by the general practitioner they are not allowed entry to a hospital facility; the steps she will take to have a facility set up in counties Sligo and Leitrim; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33967/05]

Current national policy on the treatment of alcohol abuse, as set out in Planning for the Future, stipulates that the emphasis in the management of alcohol related problems should be on community-based interventions. The Health Service Executive already provides and will continue to develop a range of comprehensive community-based support services appropriate to the needs of persons affected and afflicted by alcohol abuse. These services include family support and community, medical and social services in the management of the problem.

The main therapeutic tools in the treatment of alcohol addiction are psychotherapy, counselling, family and marital therapy, either individually or in group settings. Therapy may take place in residential or day settings. As alcohol related problems occur, in many instances in local and family settings, the community-based response can be direct and early, thereby reducing the associated levels of physical, psychological and social problems.

The provision of services in Sligo and Leitrim 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.

Health Services.

John Perry

Ceist:

232 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene with the western area Health Service Executive and have maximum subvention awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [33970/05]

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.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

233 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [34027/05]

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.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

234 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will increase the number of speech and language therapy posts for Beechpark Services to meet the needs of the approximately 500 children requiring SLT intervention, in view of the fact that there are only 5.5 posts for the entire service. [34030/05]

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.

Ministerial Transport.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

235 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the occasions that she has taken a mainline train, commuter train or Luas in the course of her duties since assuming office. [34060/05]

The Deputy will wish to note that, while I have not taken a mainline train, commuter train or Luas in an official capacity, I have done so in a private capacity on a number of occasions.

National Spatial Strategy.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

236 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the significant changes which have been implemented by her Department to date in 2005 in delivering the national spatial strategy; and the costs, benefits and savings that have accrued. [34075/05]

Health policies and programmes, including the health capital programme, support the objectives of the national spatial strategy, especially that of balanced regional development. The Department participates in the interdepartmental committee on implementation of the strategy.

The objectives of the spatial strategy, which is underpinned in the health sector for example by the national development plan and the multi-annual capital investment framework, are being achieved this year through the delivery of new and upgraded health infrastructure throughout the country. In this context, the Health Service Executive which was established on 1 January 2005 now has responsibility for the delivery of health and personal social services. One of the primary responsibilities of the executive is to deliver services, both capital and non-capital, to ensure maximum benefits accrue to staff, clients or all those otherwise availing of health services.

Infectious Diseases.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

237 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of cases regarding death from the MRSA superbug which have been referred to the Coroner’s Court in the past ten years. [34089/05]

The principal legislation that established the role and responsibilities of coroners in Ireland is the Coroners Act 1962 and I have no function in the operation of the Coroner's Court.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

238 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if risk assessments have been carried out by acute hospitals regarding the MRSA superbug; if the names of the hospitals involved will be published; and the main findings of same. [34090/05]

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 a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

239 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that people who have diabetes are at a greater risk of contracting the MRSA superbug; the procedures which are in place to inform people with diabetes of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34091/05]

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 have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Equipment.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

240 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the only machine in the country, based in Beaumont Hospital, which determines where the language centre is located in the brain, will be fixed; the number of persons are waiting to be tested on this machine; the amount it will cost to carry out the repair work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34095/05]

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.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

241 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 further tests. [34096/05]

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

Medical Cards.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

242 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive has intervened in the general practitioner visit card dispute in the west; the position regarding same; if discussions have taken place; when the community welfare officer will accept and process general practitioner visit cards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34097/05]

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.

Departmental Staff.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

243 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the percentage of persons, with disabilities employed in her Department and in each body under her aegis; the guidelines issued by which this data is to be recorded in the public service; the nature of the disabilities; the levels of employment; the percentage of the total numbers of persons with disabilities in each sector who are holders of third level qualifications; the precise definition of disability which is used in the public service to meet the 3% quota; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34140/05]

The guidelines issued for monitoring the employment of people with disabilities by public bodies are set out in the Code of Practice for the Civil Service 1994. Information on the nature of their disabilities, grade or any specific qualifications they might hold is not currently collected. Numbers are only collected to provide statistics on the employment of people with disabilities in the public service.

The policy for the 3% target for the employment of people with disabilities in the Civil Service is the responsibility of the Minister for Finance. The percentage of persons with disabilities employed in the Department is 2.7%. The Department undertakes an annual survey of the number and percentage of persons with disabilities employed in each body under the aegis of the Department. The latest figures available are for end 2004 and are set out in the table. The returns of the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the North Eastern Health Board were incomplete.

Public Sector Body

Total Number with Disabilities

Percentage

An Bord Altranais

1

2

Adoption Board

Department staff

Board for the Employment of the Blind

28

78

Board of Mgmt. for the Office of Tobacco Control

0

0

Bord na Radharcmhastóirí

0

0

Comhairle na Nimheanna

No staff employed

Crisis Pregnancy Agency

0

0

Dental Council

0

0

Drug Treatment Centre Board

5

4.54

Dublin Dental Hospital Board

8

3.75

Food Safety Authority of Ireland

0

0

GMS Payments Board (HSE PCRS)

10

7

Health Boards Executive

1

3

Health Insurance Authority

0

0

Health Research Board

1

2.41

Health Services Employers Agency

0

0

Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal

0

0

Hospital Trust Board

No staff employed

Irish Blood Transfusion Service

19

3.1

Irish Health Services Accreditation Board

0

0

Irish Medicines Board

6

3.6

Medical Council

0

0

Mental Health Commission

0

0

National Breast Screening Board

0

0

National Cancer Registry Board

0

0

National Council on Ageing & Older People

0.3

2

National Haemophilia Council

No staff employed

National Social Work Qualifications Board

0

0

National Treatment Purchase Fund

0

0

Nat. Co. for the Prof. Dev. of Nursing and Midwifery

0

0

Office for Health Management

0

0

Post Graduate Medical & Dental Board

0

0

Pre-hospital Emergency Care Council

0

0

Social Services Inspectorate

Department staff

Special Residential Services Board

0

0

Voluntary Health Insurance Board

40

4.48

Womens Health Council

0

0

HSE South Eastern Area

327

3.11

HSE Midland Area

80

1.5

HSE North Western Area

282

3.1

HSE North Eastern Area

HSE Mid Western Area

125

1.5

HSE Southern Area

404

3.9

HSE Western Area

110

1.17

HSE Eastern Regional Area (Northern Area only)

88

1.6

North-South Co-operation.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

244 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will report on the work of the North-South unit in her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34208/05]

A designated North-South co-ordination unit within the international unit has been operating in my Department since 2001. Its primary role is to co-ordinate the Department's responsibilities arising from the Good Friday Agreement generally and to act as the focal point for the North-South health agenda in particular.

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

The Department continues to build on the relationships formed and the projects initiated with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and with other contacts in Northern Ireland. Primary among these contacts is CAWT — co-operation and working together. The two health Departments are fortunate to have available to them the services of CAWT as a major instrument in North-South joint co-operation activities.

As the Deputy will be aware, CAWT is an informal grouping representative of the health authorities North and South in the Border area. Its aim is to improve the health and social well being of the population in this area. CAWT has been commissioned by both health Departments to carry out project work in the context of the North-South Ministerial Council agenda and is also acting as the delivery agent for the health and well-being measure of the EU INTERREG IIIA programme. In the latter capacity, CAWT has been successful in having 30 projects approved for funding which will account for approximately €10 million over the life of the programme. In line with Government policy, my Department continues to seek new initiatives and new opportunities for North-South co-operative ventures and will continue to pursue these and to act on them as opportunities arise.

Community Employment Schemes.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

245 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if he will ensure that core funding is secured for community employment project staff who are working in the disability sector and who have made a major contribution to the development of same over a number of years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34223/05]

The mainstreaming of community employment schemes providing services for people with disabilities will be considered by the Department in the context of the Estimates process for 2006.

Health Services.

James Breen

Ceist:

246 Mr. J. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Clare who was assessed for a personal assistant in 2000 for 20 hours a week is still waiting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34250/05]

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.

Medical Cards.

John Cregan

Ceist:

247 Mr. Cregan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the holder of a medical card can have his or her card re-issued on an annual basis without furnishing all documentation to the Health Service Executive (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34264/05]

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.

Hospital Accommodation.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

248 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the status of work being funded by her Department at a hospital (details supplied) in County Kilkenny for the provision of long-stay beds for the elderly; if the first phase of the project has been completed; if the next phase has been approved for funding; the cost of this phase and expected date of completion; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34282/05]

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.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Paddy McHugh

Ceist:

249 Mr. McHugh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of women waiting to have mammograms carried out at University College Hospital, Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34283/05]

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 have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

250 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of adults and children who suffer from cystic fibrosis in the south east; the level of service available in the south east at present; her plans to expand the service; if a special cystic fibrosis unit is needed in the region; if a cystic fibrosis team made up of a suitably qualified nurse, consultant, dietician, physio and social worker will be put in place; if this is classified as a priority for the region by the Health Service Executive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34285/05]

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

Health Service Staff.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

251 Mr. Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of psychologists working in the health services in south Tipperary; and her plans to improve current provision in this area. [34293/05]

Employment information is collected by the Department every quarter on the basis of grade and employing agency rather than on a county basis. As the Deputy's question relates to human resource management issues within the Health Service Executive, which is a matter for the Executive under the Health Act 2004, 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.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

252 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason a reply has not issued from the Health Service Executive to date in 2005 in response to a parliamentary question placed several weeks ago; and when a reply will be forthcoming. [34306/05]

The Deputy's earlier question 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. The Department requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy. The executive has informed the Department that it has written directly to the Deputy on the matter.

Infectious Diseases.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Ceist:

253 Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the incidence of Lyme disease here; if a public awareness campaign will be mounted with regard to the disease; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34307/05]

Lyme disease, also known as Lyme borelliosis, is an infection caused by a spiral shaped bacterium borrelia burgdorferi that is transmitted to humans by bites from ticks infected with the bacteria. The infection is generally mild affecting only the skin, but can sometimes be more severe. Lyme disease has been reported from North America, Europe, Australia, China and Japan. Ticks feed by biting and attaching to the skin and sucking blood, normally from animals such as sheep and deer. Infected ticks are most likely to be encountered in heath land and lightly forested areas of North America and northern Europe. Ramblers, campers and those who work in such areas especially if they come into contact with large animals are at greatest risk of being bitten by ticks and of going on to develop disease. Cases of Lyme disease appear in Ireland every year.

Many infected people have no symptoms at all. The commonest noticeable evidence of infection is a rash called erythema migrans that is seen in about three quarters of infected people. This red, raised skin rash develops between three days and a month after a tick bite and spreads outwards from the initial bite site. This rash can last up to a month and be several inches in diameter. People can also complain of ’flu-like symptoms such as headache, sore throat, neck stiffness, fever, muscle aches and general fatigue. Occasionally, there may be more serious symptoms involving the nervous system, joints, the heart or other tissues.

Lyme disease is not a notifiable infectious disease in Ireland. This means that there is no legal requirement on doctors to report cases to their local director of public health. In Ireland, researchers have tried to determine levels of Lyme borreliosis; it has been estimated that there were about 30 human cases per year in the mid-1990s. Data, however, from the National Virus Reference Laboratory, which is responsible for undertaking testing for B. burgdorferi, have confirmed that there were only 11 positive cases in 2003; these numbers have been steady at that level for the last couple of years. There were, however, more than 1,000 requests for testing for B. burgdorferi in 2003.

Over the last several years, the NVRL confirms that virtually all positive cases were associated with travel in the US. It is felt that there is some unknown degree of under-reporting and under-diagnosis of this condition. In Britain, about 300 laboratory-confirmed cases are reported to the Health Protection Agency annually; however, estimates suggest that the true figure could be between 1,000 and 2,000 cases annually. In the US, there are about 15,000 to 20,000 cases each year.

More than 100,000 cases have been reported in the US, with highest rates in New England; more than 17,000 cases were reported during 2000 alone. In Europe, similarly high rates are seen in Germany, but forested regions of Austria, Sweden and Slovenia frequently report cases as well. In England, Lyme borreliosis is considered to be endemic in the New Forest area of Hampshire.

In Britain, it has been estimated that there may be as many as 1,000 human cases each year however, in 1993, only 44 infections were voluntarily reported by laboratories in England and Wales while four were reported for Scotland. Since then, about 50 cases are reported each year in England and Wales; the true incidence, while unknown, is increasing. Over the last three years, Scotland has been detecting considerably more cases: 28 in 2001, 85 in 2002 and, provisionally, 71 in 2003.

Lyme disease can affect anyone but is commonest among ramblers, hill-walkers, hikers, campers and others whose leisure activities or work takes place in heath land or light woodland areas or brings them in contact with certain animals, for example, deer. Summer and autumn is the period when most cases occur.

Common antibiotics such as doxycycline, amoxicillin or erythromycin are effective at clearing the rash and helping to prevent the development of complications. Currently, there is no vaccine available against human Lyme disease in Ireland. A US human vaccine was withdrawn in 2002. Research into vaccine development is taking place in Europe and the US.

It would therefore appear on initial review that despite confirmed Irish cases of Lyme borelliosis having been principally associated with travel to North America, there is the potential for individuals to be exposed to biting ticks in Ireland. It would seem sensible for this reason to recommend that simple, straightforward information should be made available that will assist those who may potentially be exposed whether as a result of occupational or leisure activities to take necessary precautions.

As a response to this in 2004, the vector-borne sub-committee of the scientific sub-committee of the Health Protection Surveillance Centre's scientific advisory sub-committee was established. One of its terms of reference was to identify and determine the burden of certain significant vector-borne diseases in Ireland and to make recommendations in relation to the provision of advice and guidance. One of the diseases to be considered in the work of the vector-borne sub-committee was Lyme disease.

As part of the initial risk assessment the available information on Lyme disease was collated and reviewed. As in common with many other countries, estimation of true levels of this condition is rather difficult. In Ireland a number of cases appear every year and a proportion of these are likely to have been acquired in Ireland. This condition is not among the scheduled list of notifiable diseases laid out in the Infectious Diseases (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations, SI 707 of 2003, and therefore data on Lyme disease are not subject to systematic collection as is the case for notifiable diseases.

A fact sheet on Lyme disease has been made available on the HPSC's website to provide members of the general public and media with advice on minimising the risk of Lyme disease. In addition, part of the work of the vector-borne sub-committee in the new year will be the development of clinical guidance on the management of Lyme disease and raising awareness of this condition among clinicians.

Medical Qualifications.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

254 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the qualifications of medical doctors who received their credentials from a university (details supplied) are recognised here as sufficient to practise medicine here; if these qualifications are not recognised as such, the framework in which such persons may become qualified to practise medicine here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34407/05]

The Medical Council is the independent authority charged with primary responsibility for the registration and regulation of medical practitioners in the State. The function of the Medical Council is to protect the public through implementing appropriate controls on the medical profession. Doctors practising medicine in Ireland should be registered with the Medical Council.

The Medical Council has informed me that degrees awarded by the university in question are acceptable for the purpose of temporary registration. In addition to the primary degree, applicants for temporary registration must have completed internship training of at least one year in hospital based specialties, hold full registration with an overseas registration authority and be in good standing with that authority. All applicants for temporary registration must also pass an English language test. Applicants must also pass temporary registration assessment scheme or satisfy the requirements for exemption from TRAS. The TRAS is structured to assess the candidate's knowledge and clinical judgement in medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, general practice and psychiatry. The assessment is also designed to ensure that a candidate has good communication skills and the ability to make accurate clinical judgments.

Tobacco Control Measures.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

255 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if Ireland ratified the FCTC by the deadline date of 8 November 2005; if not, the reason therefor; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34408/05]

Ireland's instrument of ratification for the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, FCTC, was deposited in the United Nations headquarters in New York on 7 November 2005. The FCTC is the first binding international treaty that provides an agreed global approach to tobacco control to protect public health and to reduce deaths from tobacco related illness. The convention, which has been signed by 168 countries and ratified by 110, including Ireland, provides the framework for the introduction of further measures to respond effectively to the health threat of tobacco. At the time when it was being negotiated, Ireland was a strong advocate of an effective convention and has consistently advocated a strong line on tobacco control both nationally and internationally.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Barry Andrews

Ceist:

256 Mr. Andrews asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding pensioners obtaining medical certificates to show fitness to drive costing in some cases €50; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34409/05]

Under the terms of the general medical services scheme contract, participating general practitioners undertake to provide a range of treatments and general practitioner services for the patients on their GMS panel. Their GMS contract obliges them to provide the first and last certificates to explain work absence for their patients. All other requested certificates in respect of requirements for driving licences or life or assurance policies may incur charges.

Ministerial Visits.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

257 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her plans to visit the Cavan-Monaghan hospital group; if she will visit at the earliest possible date and meet the relevant groups to plan a positive way forward so that she can see at first hand the facilities available, especially the theatre in Monaghan General Hospital that is being seriously under-utilised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34410/05]

The Deputy will note that I have made several visits to hospitals around the country following my appointment as Minister for Health and Children. It is my intention to continue to visit hospital facilities around the country, including the Cavan-Monaghan hospital group, as my schedule allows.

Health Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

258 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when she expects the consultants’ report on the future development of acute hospital services at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital to be published; when a decision will be made on implementing the recommendations of the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34411/05]

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

John McGuinness

Ceist:

259 Mr. McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an increased subvention will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if a review of the case will be expedited and the subvention increased. [34450/05]

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.

Services for People with Disabilities.

David Stanton

Ceist:

260 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 165 of 9 November 2005, the way in which the funding, with special reference to the extra funding her Department received for people with disabilities, as published in the Estimates in November 2004 and, subsequently, on budget day 2004, has been used or will be used; the way in which this funding has been disbursed; the mechanisms in place to ensure the funding is spent correctly; if she has satisfied herself that auditing procedures are in place and are adequate in each case. [34459/05]

Additional funding amounting to €70 million in revenue and €60 million in capital was made available to services for people with disabilities, including those with mental illness, in 2005 as part of the national disability strategy. This funding has been used to provide the following services: services for people with intellectual disability and those with autism. An additional sum of €40 million is being allocated to services to persons with intellectual disabilities and those with autism in 2005 to provide 204 new and 96 enhanced residential places; 71 new and 58 enhanced respite places; 409 new day places; enhancement of specialist support services for people with major challenging behaviour and expansion of assessment, diagnosis, early intervention and health related support services —€4.5 million; and a sum of €2.5 million to meet costs associated with moving individuals to more appropriate placements.

With regard to services for people with physical or sensory disability, an additional sum of €15 million has been allocated to provide approximately 56 new places for people with significant disabilities who are in inappropriate settings; approximately 100,000 extra hours of home support and personal assistance in line with the current philosophy of independent living for people with disabilities; additional funding of €3 million for aids and appliances; approximately 90 extra rehabilitative training places; and additional funding to voluntary organisations.

With regard to mental health services an additional sum of €15 million has been allocated to enhanced facilities at the Central Mental Hospital; further develop child and adolescent treatment services; expand community based adult mental health teams; provide additional community residential places; open new mental health facilities; and support voluntary organisations. In accordance with the provisions of the Health Act 2004, details concerning the precise services put in place are a matter for the Health Service Executive. Detailed protocols governing the implementation of, and reporting on, the Multiannual Revenue and Capital Investment Programme for Services for People with Disabilities 2005-2009 have been agreed between my Department and the HSE. These, together with other monitoring mechanisms used by the HSE, will provide the facility to monitor and audit progress in this area over the coming years.

Departmental Funding.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

261 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an application for a sum of €6,624 from the endometriosis support group submitted in June 2005 has been considered; if this group will be helped (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34558/05]

The health promotion unit of my Department operates a grant system whereby community and voluntary organisations with charitable status are provided with moneys for health promotion initiatives. All initiatives must be once-off ventures and must make provision for an evaluation. Initiatives should include health information and education elements and-or assist in raising awareness on a particular health related matter. Where necessary, organisations should have the approval of the local health office-agency or relevant division within my Department. Completed grant application forms are considered quarterly, in line with the unit's business plan.

With regard to the endometriosis support group, the unit has, in the past, provided funding for health promotion activities including the production of information leaflets. The latest request for funding was received on 24 February 2005. In line with the procedures for the provision of grant aid the group were then provided with a grant application form. I am advised that this application form has not, as yet, been returned to the Department of Health and Children.

Departmental Expenditure.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

262 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the amount spent by her Department on the treatment of patients with MRSA; the breakdown of the figures for the relevant years and the number of patients involved. [34565/05]

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

Health Services.

John Gormley

Ceist:

263 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there is an age limit of 65 years for BreastCheck; the reason an age limit was set; her views on changing same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34576/05]

BreastCheck, the national breast screening programme is available to women in the 50 to 64 age group in the eastern, midland, north eastern and parts of the south eastern regions. More than 60% of women diagnosed with breast cancer in this country are under 65 years of age. The current priority of BreastCheck is to progress the roll out of the screening programme to women in the 50 to 64 age group in the remaining regions of the country. Following the national roll-out and when the programme is sufficiently developed and quality assured, consideration will be given to extending the upper age limit. Any woman, irrespective of her age or residence, who has immediate concerns or symptoms, should contact her general practitioner who, where appropriate, will refer her to the symptomatic services in her area.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

264 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason it takes 18 months to assess a child for speech therapy at a health centre (details supplied) in County Kildare; the waiting times at other centres in County Kildare; her views on whether young children referred to the service at two years of age should have to wait 18 months for an assessment in view of the critical nature of early childhood development; the way in which she intends to end this waiting list; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34583/05]

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.

Departmental Properties.

John Gormley

Ceist:

265 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Finance his plans for Broc House; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33988/05]

Broc House is being transferred to the affordable housing partnership. The legal process is ongoing and should be completed by the end of December 2005.

Tax Code.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

266 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Finance if he will support the removal of VAT on investments in renewable energy projects, in order to make it a more attractive proposition for farmers to convert to domestic biofuel boilers, and to install solar panels. [34398/05]

The VAT treatment of goods and services is governed by EU law with which Irish VAT law must comply. While we can retain the zero rating provisions which were in existence on 1 January 1991, we cannot introduce new ones. Therefore, it is not possible to apply a zero rate to the supply of alternative energy systems. In addition, while a reduced rate can be applied to certain goods and services, there is no mechanism which would allow for the reduced rating of such systems. The sale of alternative energy products is therefore chargeable at the standard VAT rate of 21%.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

267 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether community-based alternative energy projects in rural areas would benefit by the extension of the business expansion scheme to cover such projects; and if he would support such a move. [34399/05]

The business expansion scheme covers qualifying renewable energy projects. If the Deputy has a project in mind, he should contact the business incentives section in the Office of the Revenue Commissioners. That section administers the scheme on a day-to-day basis and will be able to advise on whether the project qualifies.

Garda Stations.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

268 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the provision of the Garda divisional headquarters for Wexford-Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34466/05]

The Commissioners of Public Works are reviewing the acquisition of a site identified for a new divisional headquarters Garda station at Wexford.

EU Directives.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

269 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance the number of proposals his Department is opposing at European Council at any stage; the names of such proposals; the reason his Department is taking this position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33823/05]

European Council business within the remit of my Department is carried out mainly through the Council of Economics and Finance Ministers, ECOFIN, at which proposals relating to a wide range of economic issues are debated and agreed. The normal practice is that before being tabled for discussion at ECOFIN, issues are extensively considered and negotiated at Council working groups of member state officials. In general, my Department has been able to ensure proposals coming to ECOFIN are acceptable. An exception is the Commission proposal for a Council and Parliament directive on passenger car related taxes — Council document 11067/05 of 05/07/2005, Commission draft Directive COM(2005) 261. Ireland is generally opposed to this proposal on the grounds that Ireland regards vehicle registration tax, VRT, as a national tax that falls within the national competence. The first Council working group meeting to discuss this proposal took place on 19 October 2005.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

270 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance the exemptions from EU directives or regulations Ireland has achieved in his Department’s competency area; the reason his Department requested each exemption; if it is intended to give up any of these exemptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33838/05]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

271 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance the exemptions from EU directives or regulations his Department is seeking; the reason his Department is requesting each exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33853/05]

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

My Department has not in the past sought or achieved exemptions from EU directives or regulations nor is it seeking any.

Tax Code.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

272 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the various expenses incurred by students with regard to An Scrúdú le hAghaidh Cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge (details supplied); if such expenses are allowable for tax purposes as an education course; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33897/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that section 473A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides tax relief, at the standard rate of tax, for tuition fees paid in respect of approved courses at approved colleges of higher education including certain approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in EU member states and postgraduate courses in non-EU countries. Tax relief is not available on tuition fees paid in respect of the educational course, An Scrúdú le hAghaidh Cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge, as it does not qualify as an approved course and it is not undertaken in an approved college. The approval of colleges and courses is, in the first instance, a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Hanafin.

Budget Submissions.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

273 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance his proposals in budget 2006 to provide the €50 million required to implement the recommendations of the McIver report (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34008/05]

I will present budget 2006 to the Dáil on 7 December 2005. As is normal, I will not comment on the contents of the budget in advance of that date.

Garda Stations.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

274 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Finance the plans by the Office of Public Works to refurbish and renovate Clontarf Garda station; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34038/05]

A feasibility report with outline costs was forwarded to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on 20 September 2005. The Commissioners of Public Works await the observations and recommendations of the Department.

Departmental Properties.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

275 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the annual cost of the lease on the NEPS office in Mullingar, County Westmeath; the conditions of this lease; the total square footage of the property which is being used by Department staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34041/05]

The Commissioners of Public Works have leased 908.60 square metres of office accommodation at Friar's Mill Road, Mullingar, County Westmeath, for the Department of Education and Science at an annual cost of €186,309. This cost is inclusive of 21 car parking spaces. The national educational and psychological services occupy 264.13 square metres of this space at an apportioned rent of €54,160 per annum. The remaining space is occupied by departmental staff. The conditions of the lease are those of a standard 20 year lease, with a rent review occurring every five years and a break option at ten and 15 years into the lease.

Ministerial Travel.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

276 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance the occasions that he has taken a mainline train, commuter train or Luas in the course of his duties since assuming office. [34061/05]

I have not travelled by mainline train, commuter train or Luas for the purpose of official business since assuming office as Minister for Finance. These modes of transport have been used for private purposes.

National Spatial Strategy.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

277 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance the significant changes which have been implemented by his Department to date in 2005 in delivering the national spatial strategy; and the costs, benefits and savings that have accrued. [34076/05]

My Department does not directly fund projects or programmes of significance related to the implementation of the national spatial strategy. However, the achievement of balanced and sustainable regional development, a central objective of the NSS, is nonetheless a priority for my Department and my Department is represented on the interdepartmental committee on implementation of the national spatial strategy under the aegis of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Investment in infrastructure is an important element in the implementation of the NSS. My Department has consistently accorded considerable priority to such investment, particularly through the national development plan. The NDP is supporting the NSS, both by enhancing the economic and social infrastructure in the Gateways identified in the NSS and by improving transport links between them. The Government's decentralisation policy has selected locations which take account of the national spatial strategy, the existence of good transport links and the location of existing decentralised offices. The aim is to establish viable clusters of offices within a region and to contribute to balanced regional development. The Government announced last August its decision to prepare a successor NDP for the period 2007 to 2013 when the current NDP runs out at the end of 2006. Delivering on the NSS, especially the development of the gateways, will be a priority objective of the next NDP.

Departmental Staff.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

278 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Finance the percentage of persons with disabilities employed in his Department and in each body under his aegis; the guidelines issued by which this data is to be recorded in the public service; the nature of the disabilities; the levels of employment; the percentage of the total numbers of persons with disabilities in each sector who are holders of third level qualifications; the precise definition of disability used in the public service to meet the 3% quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34141/05]

Having regard to the passage of time since the setting of the 3% target and the issue of the code of practice for the employment of people with disabilities in 1994, my Department commissioned independent research in relation to the operation of the 3% employment target within the Civil Service. A survey carried out as part of the research, Employment and Career Progression of People with a Disability in the Irish Civil Service, IPA 2002, which relied on civil servants to self-declare a disability, shows that 7% of Civil Service staff have a disability compared with the 2.8% reported in the annual survey.

Following the consultants' recommendations, the Government approved proposals to improve the operation of the policy, including the development of a new code of practice for the Civil Service and a more effective approach to monitoring staff with a disability. For this new approach to work successfully, it will be necessary to consider the use of a survey based on voluntary self-disclosure both for new staff on appointment and for existing staff. As this gives rise to a number of complex issues about confidentiality and the use of information, specific guidelines on these matters will be developed as part of the new code of practice for the Civil Service.

My Department formerly published on an annual basis, data on the employment of people with disabilities across the civil service. In line with the Government decision mentioned above, new monitoring arrangements will be introduced as part of the new code of practice and data on the 3% target is no longer collected. With regard to my Department, based on existing monitoring arrangements, the percentage of staff with a disability stands at 3.016%. The guidelines for collection of data do not provide for disclosure of information on the nature of disabilities, grade, or qualifications of individuals. The definition of "a person with a disability" set out in the existing code of practice for the employment of people with disabilities in the Civil Service, is "people with disabilities" means people with a physical, sensory or psychological impairment which may "have a tangible impact on their functional capability to do a particular job; or have an impact on their ability to function in a particular physical environment; or lead to a discrimination in obtaining or keeping employment of a kind for which they would otherwise be suited".

Departmental Properties.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

279 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the situation relating to cars accessing the gate at Knockmaroon in the Phoenix Park beside Mount Sackville school; the opening hours of the gate, both winter and summer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34155/05]

Park gates are opened each morning in a fixed sequence beginning at 7 a.m. Knockmaroon gate is the final gate in this sequence and it is opened at approximately 7.15 a.m., although this can vary depending on day-to-day circumstances. This arrangement is being reviewed.

Garda Stations.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

280 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance, further to his response to Questions Nos. 335 and 501 of 8 November 2005 from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, if arrangements will be made for the commencement of the public consultation process for the new Garda station at Leixlip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34161/05]

Changes have been requested by the Garda authorities to the sketch scheme for the proposed Leixlip Garda station. Discussions are taking place between OPW and the Garda authorities on these changes. On agreement, the Part 9 planning process will proceed. This should take approximately six weeks after final agreement on all design issues.

Departmental Properties.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

281 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance, further to Question No. 321 of 8 November 2005, when he expects to hand over control of the property in question to Dublin City Council; the number of housing units which are in the property; if the housing units are ready for immediate occupation; and if Dublin City Council has indicated when these units will be occupied. [34190/05]

Further to Question No. 321 of 8 November 2005, the property in question is being transferred to the affordable housing partnership. The legal process is ongoing and should be completed by the end of December 2005. It will be a matter for the affordable housing partnership to determine the future of the property.

Archaeological Sites.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

282 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance his plans for the conservation and opening to the public of Rattoo Round Tower, Ballyduff, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34308/05]

Other than normal routine maintenance, no conservation work is required to Rattoo Round Tower at this point. There are no plans to provide for public access to the tower but I understand that OPW representatives will be meeting shortly with community representatives and the Kerry county archaeologist to discuss the matter.

Budget Submissions.

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

283 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Finance the position in the forthcoming budget 2006 of the reintroduction of roll-over tax relief on capital gains tax for farmers who have to sell their lands to facilitate the programme for regional roads; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34309/05]

As the Deputy will appreciate, it is not the practice to comment in the lead up to the annual budget and Finance Bill on the intention or otherwise to make changes in taxation.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

284 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance if his Department has received a submission from the Teachers Union of Ireland requesting a specific budgetary allocation in budget 2006 to facilitate the implementation recommendations of the McIver report in the PLC sector; his views on the submission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34381/05]

I have received a submission from the Teachers Union of Ireland requesting that €50 million funding be provided for implementing the McIver Report. I will consider this submission with the many other submissions I receive, in the context of the forthcoming budget. I will present budget 2006 to the Dáil on 7 December 2005. As is normal, I will not comment on the contents of the budget in advance of that date.

Tax Code.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

285 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the cost to the State of tax relief on private pensions in each of the past five years. [34382/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the relevant available information relates to the cost of tax relief on pension contributions by employers, employees and self employed and the exemption from tax of income and gains in the pension funds. The information is provided for the five income tax years 1998-99 to 2002, the latest year for which it is available. The estimates in relation to occupational pensions are particularly tentative as this information is not captured in such a way as to make it possible to supply actual costings.

The following information is available:

Tax relief relating to pension contributions.

Estimated Cost.

Tax Relief

1998/99

1999/00

2000/01

2001

2002

Contributions by employers and employees and exemption of income and gains in the pension funds *

€1.8bn

€2.2bn

€2.4bn

€1.8bn

€2.5bn

‘Retirement Annuity Contracts’ available to the self-employed and to employees not in occupational pension schemes.

€116m

€181m

€205m

€185m

€251m

*These are extremely tentative estimates.

It should be noted that as PAYE taxpayers were charged to tax on their earnings in the period from 6 April to 31 December 2001 and self-employed taxpayers were assessed to tax for that short year on 74% of the profits earned in a 12-month accounting period, the cost figures will not be directly comparable with those of earlier or later years.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

286 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the cost to the State of tax relief on private health insurance in each of the past five years. [34383/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the cost to the Exchequer of tax relief allowed for medical insurance in each of the past five years is as follows:

Tax Year

Cost

€million

2000-01

86.4

2001

168.0

2002

161.7

2003

190.6

2004

218.2

Arising from the changeover to tax relief at source in 2001, the figure for 2001 includes the cost associated with bringing forward relief for current year contributions in addition to the cost of the relief granted for contributions paid in the previous year. The 2001 income tax year was a short transitional tax year running from 6 April to 31 December 2001 which preceded the first full calendar tax year 1 January 2002 to 31 December 2002. For these reasons the cost figure attributed to 2001 year will not be directly comparable with those of earlier or later years.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

287 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Finance his views on introducing a system of tax relief for people who make modifications to their homes to accommodate their own or the needs of another resident resulting from disability and who do not qualify for the disabled persons grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34384/05]

This is essentially a budgetary issue. It has been the practice of successive Ministers for Finance not to comment on tax changes in the run up to the annual budget and I do not propose to depart from that approach.

Departmental Staff.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

288 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if and when it is intended to implement the recommendations of the report commissioned by the equality unit of the Department of Finance which examined the issue of career progression for people with disability in the Civil Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34385/05]

Research into the employment and career progression of civil servants with disabilities was commissioned as part of a review of the Government's 3% employment target for people with a disability.

Following the consultants' report which, in particular, showed that 7% of existing staff have disabilities, the Government approved a number of proposals to improve the operation of the policy which included: the development of a new code of practice to assist people with disabilities in working in the service; new monitoring arrangements to ensure proper career progression and the continued provision of significant employment opportunities for people with disabilities within the Civil Service.

The Government also approved the appointment of a full-time disability advisory officer to build up a body of expertise which can be drawn on by Departments and individuals.

A number of steps have been taken to implement the Government decision. Departments have been fully informed about the Government decision on the new policy approach. The executive summary of the research can be found on the Department of Finance website www.finance.gov.ie. In addition, in July 2004, Circular 18/04: Career Progression of People with a Disability in the Irish Civil Service was issued to all staff in the Civil Service. The circular sets out the main conclusions and recommendations of the research report and highlights the key areas where actions will be taken to implement the recommendations.

A document entitled 20 Actions for 2004 was issued to Departments setting out a number of practical steps in the light of the report's recommendations, which could be taken in the short term to support staff with a disability. These suggestions were drawn up by the equality unit, Department of Finance, with input from individual staff with disabilities, and agreed with the staff side at the disability sub-committee of general council.

A disability liaison officers, DLOs, network was set up on a formal basis in spring 2005 and has been meeting regularly. The objective of the network is to allow DLOs to share knowledge and best practice in relation to the employment of people with disabilities, and to ensure that DLOs are kept up to date on legal requirements under employment legislation. The research report identified the DLOs as vital to the implementation of a refocused disability policy, through their role of support and information provision to staff with disabilities and to supervisors to whom someone with a disability is being assigned.

A competition for the post of disability advisory officer, DAO, was held and the successful candidate took up her post on 17 October 2005. The principal duties of the DAO will include preparing a new code of practice and developing a more effective approach to recording data and monitoring employment trends among civil servants with disabilities. Discussions on recruitment of people with disabilities into the Civil Service have taken place with the Public Appointments Service with a view to running appropriate competitions at an early date.

Work is well advanced on the development of a new code of practice. The advice and guidance of the National Disability Authority is being obtained in relation to the development of the new code of practice, in particular, on the new approaches to recruitment of people with disabilities and to the provision of appropriate support to people when they are in employment in the service.

Discussions are continuing between the equality unit in my Department and the Civil Service staff unions on the further implementation of the Government decision. In my view, the new approach is a very significant step forward in the development of policy in this area.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

289 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the number of first-time purchasers of new houses valued under €317,500 and under 125 square metres in size that have had to pay stamp duty due to the fact that the builder has not or cannot produce a floor area compliance certificate; his views on whether first-time buyers in those circumstances have a liability to stamp duty in such circumstances, even though purchasers of new properties in excess of 125 square metres have no liability to stamp duty, provided the purchase is not greater than €508,000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34386/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that, in circumstances where stamp duty is paid on purchases of new houses costing less than €317,500, the available statistics cannot reliably distinguish those transactions where builders have failed to provide a floor area compliance certificate, in the case of first-time purchasers, and other circumstances, such as purchases by investors. Neither can the available statistics distinguish between purchases of new houses and second-hand houses where stamp duty is paid on purchases of less than €317,500. Accordingly the information requested by the Deputy is not available.

The purpose of the new floor area compliance certificate issued by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is to certify that not only is the floor area of the new house 125 square metres or less but also that the house complies, or will comply, with required building standards. The stamp duty exemption for owner-occupiers of such houses is conditional on the existence of a floor area compliance certificate at the time of transfer thereby ensuring that purchasers of small new houses are fully protected in relation to the building standards of such houses.

Tax Yield.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

290 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the amount raised by way of corporation tax in each of the past five years. [34387/05]

Exchequer receipts from corporation tax in each of the past five years amounted to:

€million

2000

3,887

2001

4,156

2002

4,803

2003

5,161

2004

5,332

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

291 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the percentage of the overall tax take that was raised by way of corporation tax. [34388/05]

Exchequer receipts from corporation tax as a percentage of total Exchequer tax receipts in each of the past five years were:

%

2000

14.4

2001

14.9

2002

16.4

2003

16.1

2004

15.0

This data reflects, among other things, the effect of transitional arrangements for bringing forward the payment of corporation tax to a current year basis over five years since 2002. That effect can be expected to decline as the full transition is completed.

Tax Code.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

292 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the average income of those who availed of income tax allowances and reliefs in each of the past five years. [34389/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the relevant available information relates to the gross income earned by all income earners on the Revenue Commissioners' income tax records who availed of the personal income tax allowance or tax credit as a minimum. The information is provided for the income tax years 1998-99 to 2002, the latest year for which the necessary detailed data are available.

The figures for average gross incomes are set out as follows.

Tax Year

Average gross income

1998/99

21,520

1999/00

22,968

2000/01

25,655

2001

20,919

2002

29,093

The calculation of averages above has been rounded to the nearest euro. Further details of this information can be obtained from table IDS 1 of the annually published statistics reports of the Revenue Commissioners.

The 2001 income tax year was a short transitional tax year running from 6 April to 31 December 2001 which preceded the first full calendar tax year 1 January 2002 to 31 December 2002. For this reason the average income figure attributed to 2001 year will not be directly comparable with those of earlier or later years.

It should be noted that gross income is income which is prior to deductions for capital allowances, interest paid, losses, allowable expenses, retirement annuities; is after deduction of superannuation contributions by employees but not by the self-employed; includes income of individuals whose total income falls below the exemption limits; does not include certain other income which is not income for tax purposes or is exempt from tax such as profits or gains from stallion fees, profits from commercial forestry and certain income from patent royalties, certain investment income arising from personal injuries, child benefit, maternity benefit and unemployment assistance paid by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs, certain earnings of writers, composers and artists, bonus or interest paid under instalment savings schemes operated by An Post, interest on certain Government securities, certain foreign pensions which are exempt from tax in the foreign paying country, portion of certain lump sums received by employees on cessation of their employment, statutory redundancy payments and certain military pensions; and does not include or not fully include other income sources such as interest income that does not need to be declared or is not recorded, but from which tax has been deducted, unemployment benefit and disability benefit, non-recording of non-taxable amounts and of amounts taxed by restriction of repayments or indirectly through employers in the PAYE system, and the incomes of certain self-employed persons, including some farmers, as well as some individuals in receipt of pensions, who are not processed annually on tax records because their incomes are below the income tax thresholds.

A married couple who has elected or has deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

Disabled Drivers.

Seamus Healy

Ceist:

293 Mr. Healy asked the Minister for Finance if the medical criteria for Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 will be amended to allow easier qualification; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34390/05]

The medical criteria for eligibility for the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. A person must be severely and permanently disabled and satisfy one of the following conditions: be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs; be wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs; be without both hands or without both arms; be without one or both legs; be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

A special interdepartmental review group reviewed the operation of the disabled drivers scheme. The terms of reference of the group were to examine the operation of the existing scheme, including the difficulties experienced by the various groups and individuals involved with it, and to consider the feasibility of alternative schemes, with a view to assisting the Minister for Finance in determining the future direction of the scheme.

The group's report, published on my Department's website in July 2004, sets out in detail the genesis and development of the scheme. It examines the current benefits, the qualifying medical criteria, the Exchequer costs, relationship with other schemes and similar schemes in other countries. The report also makes a number of recommendations, both immediate and long term, encompassing the operation of the appeals process and options for the future development of the scheme.

Following from the report's immediate recommendations concerning the appeals process, amendments to the regulations governing the scheme have been made by my predecessor, and subsequently by me, in April and again in September to improve the operation of the appeals process. These amendments included providing for an expansion of the panel of medical practitioners serving on the medical board of appeal from three to 15, which will substantially reduce the waiting time for appellants.

In respect of the long-term recommendations, including the qualifying medical criteria, given the scale and scope of the scheme, further changes can only be made after careful consideration. For this reason, the Government decided in June 2004 that the Minister for Finance would consider the recommendations contained in the report of the interdepartmental review group in the context of the annual budgetary process having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

294 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the percentage of savings in SSIAs which have been made by the bottom 20% of households and by the top 20% of households. [34445/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the information requested by the Deputy is not available as SSIA statistics are maintained on an individual account holder basis rather than by household. However, based on an analysis previously published by the Revenue Commissioners, the percentage breakdown of SSIA account holders by income categories is outlined in the following table.

Percentage of SSIA account holders by income category — 2004.

Less than €20,000

Greater than €20,000 & less than €50,000

Greater than €50,000

28%

49%

23%

Tax Code.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

295 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the average percentage of profits paid as tax in 2004 by the top 20 performing companies on the Dublin Stock Exchange. [34452/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the specific information requested by the Deputy is not readily available and could not be obtained without conducting a protracted examination of the records which they hold.

As the Deputy may be aware many of the twenty highest capitalised companies quoted on the Dublin Stock Exchange are holding companies with a multiplicity of trading or investment subsidiaries. These holding companies file consolidated accounts incorporating annual results which reflect worldwide profits and worldwide corporate taxes paid. The subsidiaries are individually liable to Irish corporation tax on their profits where they are resident in Ireland or carry on business there through a branch or permanent establishment. Some of the subsidiaries will, of course, be resident abroad or have branches abroad and will have paid corporate profits taxes in other countries.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

296 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the number of investigations which have been carried out by Revenue as the veracity of declarations by persons claiming to be non-resident for tax purpose regarding the number of days spent here in a given tax year; and the number of cases where it is been found that false declarations have been made. [34453/05]

As the Deputy may be aware, I have asked the Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners to monitor the application of the current non-resident rules, through examination of cases handled in the Revenue Commissioners large cases division, and to provide me with a report once this examination is complete. The chairman has confirmed to me that this work is underway and that he will report to me as soon as possible.

In the meantime, I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that enquiries relating to residence can feature in many audits and investigations, including those by large cases division who are at present examining claims to non-residence by people of Irish domicile both as part of their normal risk base audit programme and for the purpose of monitoring application of the non-residence rules. Inquiries in these cases are ongoing and I am informed that the results will feed into the report to me in due course.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

297 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the percentage at which the average industrial earning persons here begin to pay the top rate of income tax. [34463/05]

It is estimated that, for a single person, roughly 4% of the average industrial wage will be subject to the higher rate of income tax in 2005 having regard to the current value of the standard rate band for such a person, €29,400.

In the case of a married one-earner or married two-earner couple on the same wage, none of the couple's income will be subject to the higher rate of tax. The current standard rate band for a married one-earner couple is €38,400. For a married two-earner couple, it is up to €58,800 of which €38,400 is transferable.

Flood Relief.

John Gormley

Ceist:

298 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Finance, further to Question No. 367, the amount of money available for the catchment flood risk management plan for the river Dodder; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34575/05]

The estimated cost in 2006 of preparing the catchment management plan for the River Dodder is €500,000. The Office of Public Works has agreed to provide this funding to Dublin City Council, which is the contracting authority for the study. The study is expected to incur similar costs in 2007.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

299 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if a grant or other financial assistance is available to single residences for the installation of solar panels; his plans to introduce such a grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34022/05]

There is no grant or financial assistance available to single residences for the installation of solar panels. I am reviewing all options for innovative approaches to propagating best practice in cost effective energy provision and use but am not in a position to make any commitments today.

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 and any increase in funding required for these programmes would have budgetary implications and could only be considered in the light of the overall budgetary requirements of SEI and the level of funding available to my Department.

Under SEI's house of tomorrow research, development and demonstration programme, financial support is directed at encouraging developers of housing, both new-build and refurbishment, to incorporate design and technology features, which deliver significantly superior energy and C02 performance. By targeting developers of schemes of houses, from the private or social housing sectors, the aim has been to establish over a number of years, a nationwide network of accessible examples of more sustainable energy design and technology practices. With the accompaniment of other promotional measures by SEI, this is intended to encourage a sufficient degree of market replication, without subsidy, to elevate energy performance standards across the wider housing stock. This targeted approach is also designed to be an administratively efficient method for deployment of public monies.

To date the programme has committed just under €12 million funding to 55 projects comprising a total 2,650 housing units, all featuring an integrated approach to energy supply and use that achieves performance of at least 20% better than current building regulations and in the majority of projects, 40% better. The range of sustainable energy technologies employed within these demonstration projects includes the following: Condensing boilers, 1,708 homes; Solar water heating, 531 homes; Heat recovery ventilation, 381 homes; Geothermal heating systems, 176 homes; Wood pellet boilers, 308 homes.

At the moment, individual consumers can also seek expert advice from SEI's Renewable Energy Information office, REIO. REIO provides consumers with advice on the optimum renewable energy systems to suit individual requirements and provides information on low or no cost energy efficient measures.

EU Directives.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

300 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of proposals that his Department is opposing at European Council at any state; the names of such proposals; the reason his Department is taking this position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33824/05]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

301 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that Ireland has achieved in his Department’s competency area; the reason his Department requested each exemption; if it is intended to give up any of these exemptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33839/05]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

302 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that his Department is seeking; the reason his Department is requesting each exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33854/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 300 to 302, inclusive together.

My Department is not opposing any proposals at European Council, has not achieved any exemptions from EU directives or regulations in its competency area and is not seeking any exemptions from EU directives or regulations in its competency area.

Harbours and Piers.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

303 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in relation to the new pier at Bantry in west Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33881/05]

A proposed new pier project has been under consideration by Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners for some years. On 16 September 2004, the Minister of State at the time, Deputy Browne, wrote to the chairman of the harbour commissioners and requested that the project be reviewed in terms of its viability, the financial implications for the project due to escalating cost estimates and the risks to the project posed by the dominant position of the terminal operator.

The commissioners were invited to submit for consideration a fully detailed updated proposal for the project, including a comprehensive business plan with financial projections. No updated proposal has been received by the Department.

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. The Department is engaged in an ongoing process with the relevant parties, and will shortly be having further discussions with Bantry Bay Harbour Commissioners.

Ministerial Meetings.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

304 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will meet a group (detail supplied); when such a meeting will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33914/05]

I have received a request for a meeting and I am considering that request.

Search and Rescue Service.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

305 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, further to Question No. 246 of 29 June 2004 in which it was stated by way of a response that the Irish Coastguard and Office of Public Works were together giving top priority to the project for a Doolin search and rescue centre under the station house building programme, the progress which has been made regarding the project; if a site has been acquired; if not, when it is envisaged that a site will be acquired; the envisaged timetable for the building of a station house from the time of the site purchase; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33925/05]

James Breen

Ceist:

314 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason for the delay in providing the Doolin coastguard and rescue service with proper facilities following the announcement by his Department and the Office of Public Works eight years ago that a new station would be erected at this location; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34160/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 305 and 314 together.

I am very conscious of the need for a new station house for the coastal unit at Doolin, County Clare and I would like to see it provided as quickly as possible. The Irish Coast Guard, IRCG, of the Department and the Office of Public Works have been doing everything they can to acquire a suitable site in the area, but despite intensive local discussions and negotiations it has not been possible to reach agreement for a site to date.

Real progress was made in negotiations in 2004 and it had been expected that a deal would be agreed, but due to circumstances beyond the control of IRCG and the Office of Public Works the negotiations were not successful. Despite this setback however, efforts were intensified again this year and discussions with a landowner are now at a very advanced stage. In view of the need for strict confidentiality in the managing of such negotiations it would not be judicious to elaborate upon the discussions at this time in the House. As soon as an agreement is reached my Department will move to complete the development as quickly as possible.

I would like to compliment the Doolin coastal unit for the excellent search and rescue work they have undertaken over many years, some of it in very difficult circumstances. While it is regrettable that attempts to acquire a site have not met with success to date, the provision of a new station house for the Doolin team remains a top priority for me.

Drift Net Licences.

Fiona O'Malley

Ceist:

306 Ms F. O’Malley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide a breakdown on a county basis of the number of drift net licences which have been issued in 2005. [33987/05]

Under the Control of Fishing for Salmon Order 2005 responsibility for the issue of annual commercial salmon fishing licences rests with the regional fisheries boards. The Central Fisheries Board produces an annual catch statistics report which provides comprehensive details and analysis, including a breakdown of the number of drift net licences issued by the regional boards, on the latest salmon fishing season. I am advised by the Central Fisheries Board that the catch statistics report for the 2005 salmon fishing season is currently being compiled. I have asked the chief executive officer to ensure that a copy of this report is sent to the Deputy as soon as it is available.

Grant Payments.

John Perry

Ceist:

307 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when fishermen will receive their first payment under the decommissioning scheme of the whitefish fleet; the number of stages in which payments will be made; when fishermen will receive these payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34044/05]

Under the vessel decommissioning scheme to permanently withdraw capacity from the demersal and shell fish sectors of the Irish fishing fleet, grant payments will be made in two stages. Some 50% of the total grant payable in respect of a vessel will be paid when the sea fishing boat licence is surrendered and the fishing vessel is removed from the fishing vessel register. The remaining 50% of the grant will be paid when the vessel has been scrapped. In accordance with specified conditions, it is anticipated that the first tranche of payments to successful applicants who have elected to decommission their vessels in the first round under the scheme will commence in December 2005.

Ministerial Travel.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

308 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the occasions that he has taken a mainline train, commuter train or Luas in the course of his duties since assuming office. [34062/05]

I travelled to Belfast on official business by train on 5 July 2005. I also travelled to an official engagement in Sandyford on Luas on 6 December 2004.

National Spatial Strategy.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

309 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the significant changes which have been implemented by his Department to date in 2005 in delivering the national spatial strategy; and the costs, benefits and savings that have accrued. [34077/05]

In the communications area, under phase 1 of the €64 million metropolitan area network, MANs, programme, open access fibre optic networks were installed in five national spatial strategy, NSS, hubs, Ballina, Cavan, Kilkenny, Monaghan and Wexford. In this phase, fibre optic networks were also received by nine NSS gateway towns, Athlone, Dundalk, Galway, Letterkenny, Limerick, Mullingar, Sligo, Tullamore and Waterford. Each of these projects was delivered on time and under budget.

Regarding the marine sector, the Government's ports policy statement, launched in January 2005, aims to better equip the port sector and its stakeholders to meet national and regional capacity and service needs. It sets out a framework to ensure that capacity needs are identified, planned and progressed in a coordinated manner. As an initial step in this process, the Department consulted with the commercial ports handling unitised trade to determine their view of port capacity and how they intended to deal with the projected capacity requirement. In addition, my Department recently appointed consultants to advise on evaluating the projects submitted by the commercial ports with a view to contributing to my recommendations to Government.

It is intended that one of the criteria to be used for project evaluation in this regard will address the issue of consistency of the project proposals with the objectives of the national spatial strategy. In addition, my Department has established a steering committee to facilitate and oversee the work of the consultants; a key member of this committee is an official from the national spatial strategy division in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

From an energy perspective, the Deputy may wish to note that Bord Gáis Éireann has no direct mandate with regard to the NSS. However, a reasonable overlap between the Bord Gáis supply area and the NSS exists. Of the new gateways specified in the NSS, Dundalk has had a natural gas supply for many years. Athlone and Tullamore were connected to the network in 2004 and Mullingar was connected to the network this year. The existing gateway, Galway city, was also supplied with gas this year. Of the new NSS hubs, Ennis, Kilkenny and Mallow are connected to the natural gas network. Kingscourt and Virginia in County Cavan and Carrickmacross in Monaghan also have a natural gas supply. A comprehensive assessment has not yet been undertaken of the costs benefits and savings which will directly accrue from the various sectoral projects in terms of delivering the national spatial strategy.

Commission for Energy Regulation.

Fiona O'Malley

Ceist:

310 Ms F. O’Malley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the scope that exists to review the workings of the Commission for Energy Regulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34100/05]

The Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, was initially established and granted regulatory powers over the electricity market under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. The enactment of the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002 expanded the CERs jurisdiction to include regulation of the natural gas market. Certainty and independence are critical elements of sectoral regulation. While I intend to propose legislation allowing me to give policy directions of a general nature, as is already the case with other sectoral regulators, I have no other proposals to review the operations of the CER at present.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

311 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the feasibility of wind generated electricity is being given serious consideration by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34134/05]

The production of electricity from renewable energy sources, of which wind is the dominant technology, is a key priority of this Government. The consumption of electricity from these sources was approximately 5.1% of total electricity consumed last year. I am finalising a new programme to support the construction of at least a further 400 MW of new renewable energy powered electricity generating plant by 2010. This capacity, together with other capacity constructed since 2004, will more than double the consumption level to at least 13.2% by 2010.

The detailed draft terms and conditions of the new feed-in support programme were put out to public consultation on my Department's website, www.dcmnr.gov.ie. Interested parties had until 12 October 2005 to raise any queries or to furnish any observations on the proposals. Approximately thirty responses were received. Following consideration of the matters raised in these responses the new programme, to be known as the renewable energy feed in tariff, REFIT, is now awaiting legal clearance. The finalised document will be published as soon as possible after legal clearance is received. The question of what further targets can be set and in what timeframe is one that requires further analysis and technical input, largely but not exclusively on grid and associated economic issues.

Post Office Network.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

312 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on the future configuration and role of An Post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34136/05]

The future configuration and role of An Post is, in the first instance, a matter for the board and management of An Post. The Government and the board of An Post are committed to the objective of securing a viable and sustainable nationwide post office network as set out in the programme for Government. Notwithstanding the commercial remit of An Post, there is clear Government recognition of the social benefits of maintaining the nationwide post office network. Accordingly, An Post development strategies for the network continue to take full account of these social benefits.

I believe An Post will continue to play a key national role, both in delivery of mail and as a quality service provider through its nationwide network of post office outlets. The market for traditional postal and post office services is changing globally and meeting customer needs has become more important than ever. In order to remain competitive, An Post must make the best possible use of its long established and trusted brand name and deploy its resources in a manner which continues to serve existing customers' needs and attracts additional customers for a range of new services.

It is agreed 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. With this in mind, the board and management of An Post have presented a recovery plan outlining the steps, including comprehensive restructuring and cost savings, which I believe are vital to the re-establishment of the company on a more secure financial footing.

I have continuously emphasised the need for all stakeholders in the company to work together in a partnership approach and to utilise the industrial relations mechanisms of the State where necessary, in order to agree and implement the recovery strategy to bring about the cost savings and productivity growth required to return the company to financial stability and prepare for the challenges ahead.

Departmental Staff.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

313 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the percentage of persons with disabilities employed in his Department and in each body under his aegis; the guidelines issued by which this data is to be recorded in the public service; the nature of the disabilities; the levels of employment; the percentage of the total numbers of persons with disabilities in each sector who are holders of third level qualifications; the precise definition of disability which is used in the public service to meet the 3% quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34142/05]

Data show that 4.3% of staff in my Department have disabilities. According to the latest data provided by bodies under the aegis of my Department, which relates to the end of 2004, 2.79% of the total workforce employed in the bodies which reported have disabilities. The policy on the 3% target for the employment of people with disabilities in the Civil Service is the responsibility of the Minister for Finance. The guidelines used to date by my Department for the employment of people with disabilities and related monitoring are set out in the Code of Practice for the Civil Service 1994.

My Department works with the Departments of Finance, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and other Departments, the bodies under its aegis and the National Disability Authority in the implementation of the provisions of the Disability Act 2005, including those relating to the recruitment and employment of people with disabilities in the public service. The persons with disabilities in my Department are distributed across various grade levels. Specific information on the educational qualifications of those staff with disabilities is not held separately by the Department or the bodies under my Department's aegis.

Question No. 314 answered with QuestionNo. 305.

North-South Co-operation.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

315 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the work of the North-South unit in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34209/05]

The North-South unit of my Department has responsibility for the co-ordination of and reporting on ongoing work to strengthen North-South co-operation across the sectoral policy areas of telecommunications, energy, broadcasting, fisheries, maritime transport and maritime safety. The unit represents the Department at the Interdepartmental North-South groups chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

My Department's wide-ranging North-South co-operation programme includes joint oversight of the Loughs Agency, one of the North-South bodies established under the British Irish Agreement Act 1999; the development of regulatory co-operation between the regulators, ComReg and Ofcom, in the communications area; co-operation in marine search and rescue between the Irish Coastguard and the Northern Ireland Maritime and Coastguard Agency; the creation within the all-island energy market development framework of an all-island wholesale electricity market by 2007; the progressing of North-South energy infrastructural projects; and the development of an all-island sustainable and renewable energy strategy.

Inland Fisheries.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

316 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, further to Question No. 431 of 18 October 2005, when a reply is likely to be issued by the Southern Regional Fisheries Board to the queries raised in the parliamentary question; the policy of his Department on the issues raised; his views on whether all aspects of policy relative to the area outlined are being fulfilled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34281/05]

As I pointed out to the Deputy in my reply to Question No. 431 of 18 October 2005, under the Fisheries Acts responsibility for enforcement of inland fisheries legislation rests primarily with the central and regional fisheries boards. The matters raised by the Deputy in his previous question are therefore an operational matter for the Southern Regional Fisheries Board to address. I am advised by the chief executive officer of that board that the information sought by the Deputy is being compiled as a matter of priority and will be forwarded to the Deputy by the end of this week.

Departmental Programmes.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

317 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the cost to date, including all fees and capital works, of the development of the metropolitan area networks throughout the country; the number of lines that are connected to the networks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34315/05]

Total expenditure by my Department on the metropolitan area networks to 31 October 2005 is €76.4 million. This includes capital works and associated costs of the programme. Under phase 1 of the MANs programme, e-net has taken charge of all 19 metropolitan area networks. This handover phase has been ongoing during the past year with different networks coming on stream at different stages. It is e-net's responsibility to manage, maintain and operate the networks. Activity has now begun on the networks with several customer contracts being signed by e-net, including arrangements for backhaul. The details of these contracts are commercially sensitive and are a matter for e-net.

Fisheries Protection.

John Perry

Ceist:

318 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the action he will take to stop the dangerous practice of foreign vessels discarding nets into Irish waters following the Deepnet report, which was produced by BIM and other institutes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34316/05]

The practice whereby fishing gear is discarded and left on the seabed and which can thus lead to the occurrence of so-called "ghost-fishing" is in my view a completely unacceptable practice and is a cause for serious concern. This issue is of an international nature and requires an international response in the context of the Common Fisheries Policy. Following the receipt of the Deepnet report earlier this year, I made urgent representations to the Commission expressing concern at the reports findings and seeking the introduction of appropriate measures to combat this problem. I understand that the Commission is reflecting on the issue and I will continue to pursue it urgently at EU level.

John Perry

Ceist:

319 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the plans he has to introduce measures to protect the valuable Irish fishery resources following the introduction of new fishing regulations to safeguard the Mediterranean Sea fishery resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34317/05]

The Commission introduced a proposal on management measures for the sustainable exploitation of fishery resources in the Mediterranean Sea in October 2003. However, despite intensive negotiations, most recently at Agriculture and Fisheries Council in September 2005, a regulation has not yet been agreed.

The Common Fisheries Policy is in fact much less developed in the Mediterranean than in other European waters, in particular the waters around Ireland's coast. This is because of various factors specific to Mediterranean waters: the fact that exclusive economic zones have not been generally declared in the Mediterranean due to the lack of an extended continental shelf and the relatively narrow and enclosed nature of the sea overall, which is shared with a large number of non-EU countries; the small size of the vast majority of fishing vessels; and the shortage of co-ordinated scientific advice. The Commission has moved to address this situation through the adoption of an action plan and the aforementioned proposal, but progress has been slow.

The protection of Irish fishery resources is pursued through the Common Fisheries Policy. This framework provides for the conservation and rational exploitation of fisheries resources through a range of instruments such as total allowable catches, TACs, recovery plans, technical conservation measures and the western waters effort regime. Ireland continues to be at the forefront in promoting effective measures in this context.

Fishing Industry Development.

John Perry

Ceist:

320 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the night time and weekend landing ban at Killbegs Harbour will be lifted in view of the fact that the restrictions are having an adverse effect on the local economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34318/05]

As I previously advised the House, new EU control requirements on pelagic fisheries introduced in 2004 and which continued for 2005 created onerous obligations for member states to ensure that all landings of pelagic fish over 10 tonnes were weighed in the ports in the presence of controllers. During extensive discussions with the industry on the implementation of the new EU procedures, the Department acceded to industry requests to allow landings at a variety of ports. In order to implement this decision with the available resources it was necessary to restrict the landing times in the designated pelagic ports.

An amendment to these provisions was adopted by Council in July 2005. This amendment allows for weighing in factories. These provisions continue to place a heavy burden on the Department's control staff. While I accept that it is desirable to provide 24-hour cover for major ports where possible, this has to be balanced with the State's legal obligations to ensure adequate control presence both in factories and at ports when they are open.

In this respect, I sought to augment the Department's resources in order to strengthen control. These additional resources will also allow for longer opening times at the key ports. I have received sanction from the Department of Finance for the necessary additional resources and advertisements have recently been placed inviting applications for these posts. I hope to announce the opening of a number of key ports on a 24-hour basis as soon as the recruitment process has been completed.

International Agreements.

John Perry

Ceist:

321 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the negotiations that have taken place at EU level for an EU coastguard to be formed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34319/05]

The Department has responsibility for marine emergency preparedness and response, maritime safety and ship and port security. A high level of co-operation already exists between EU member states in these areas. In addition, in recognition of the desire of member states and the Commission to strengthen links and create synergies between enforcement authorities, such as national coastguard services, the preamble to the draft directive of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union on ship-source pollution and on the introduction of sanctions for infringements, which is under consideration at the moment, includes a specific provision on examining the feasibility of a European coastguard dedicated to pollution prevention and response.

The draft directive calls for the Commission to undertake a feasibility study on the establishment of a European coastguard dedicated to pollution prevention and response, making clear the costs and benefits. To this end, a survey of how coastguard functions are organised across the member states of the EU has commenced and Ireland is participating fully in this study.

Water Pollution.

John Perry

Ceist:

322 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the processes that are in place to stop water pollution in Irish rivers and lakes and the new measures that will be introduced soon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34320/05]

Primary responsibility for water quality rests with my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The processes that are in place and the introduction of new measures to stop water pollution in Irish rivers and lakes are matters for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and the relevant local authorities which come under its aegis, to decide.

Heritage Projects.

John Perry

Ceist:

323 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the plans that are in place to help preserve our valuable maritime heritage; if new plans are due to come on stream in the coming months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34321/05]

While I have powers under section 46 of the Merchant Shipping (Investigation of Marine Casualties) Act 2000 to make funding available for the purposes of marine or natural resource based tourism or heritage projects, I have no specific proposals at present for the provision of such funding. Primary responsibility for nature conservation and heritage matters rests with my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The management of the State's responsibilities in this area, as required under national, European and international law, is therefore a matter for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Energy Resources.

Barry Andrews

Ceist:

324 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the percentage of energy used here sourced from oil, natural gas, peat, hydro peat, hydro energy, wind energy, solar energy and other sources. [34379/05]

According to provisional figures for 2004 supplied by the energy policy statistical support unit of Sustainable Energy Ireland, which may be subject to minor change when finalised, the proportion of primary energy consumption in Ireland in 2004 for each different fuel type was as follows:

%

Coal

12.9

Peat

3.8

Oil

55.8

Natural Gas

24.3

Hydro

0.4

Wind

0.4

Biomass

1.2

Landfill gas and other biogas

0.2

Solar

0.0019

Geothermal

0.0003

Electricity Imports

0.9

International Agreements.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

325 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of proposals that his Department opposes at European Council at any state; the names of such proposals; the reason his Department is taking this position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33825/05]

Ireland does not oppose any specific proposals in the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which prepares the agenda for European Councils. The future financial perspectives of the Union and the Union's approach to the WTO negotiations are particularly sensitive. They are under on-going discussion at the Council and give rise to the expression of strong positions. It is not expected, however, that there will be a new specific proposal on the table on the financial perspectives issue until close to the next European Council on 15 and 16 December.

EU Legislation.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

326 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that Ireland achieved in his Department’s competency area; the reason his Department requested each exemption; if it is intended to give up any of these exemptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33840/05]

My Department does not as a rule directly implement EU legislation. Therefore exemptions from EU directives or regulations do not arise.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

327 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that his Department is seeking; the reason his Department is requesting each exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33855/05]

My Department does not as a rule directly implement EU legislation and therefore the question of seeking exemptions from EU directives or regulations in my Department's area of responsibility does not arise.

First World War.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

328 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding his efforts on the pardons issue for the Shot at Dawn Campaign; and the progress made with the British Government. [33960/05]

My officials met with the British Ministry of Defence in London on 6 February 2004 to discuss the 26 Irish born soldiers who were executed by the British army during the First World War for alleged breaches of military law. At that meeting it was agreed that the British side would forward the courts martial case files for the Irish men in question, and that in response we would formally set out our position in writing.

Following a thorough evaluation of the case files, which we received in April 2004, and the consideration of extensive supplementary information provided by a number of sources, my officials prepared a comprehensive report on this matter, which the embassy in London submitted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on my behalf on 27 October 2004.

None of these men were charged with what would be viewed as the most serious of military crimes, such as treacherously deserting to the enemy or mutiny. In fact, contemporary public and parliamentary dissatisfaction with the number and manner of military executions during the First World War was such that the death penalty was repealed for the military offences under which each execution took place only ten years after the war had ended. In addition, evidence suggests a disparity in the treatment of lower ranks in comparison to officers, statistical evidence that highlights a harsher disciplinary regime faced by men from Ireland in comparison to men from other countries, and numerous references to the need for an example to be made when sentencing was being considered.

The report concludes that the cumulative effect of the issues raised therein casts serious doubt on the safety of these courts martial convictions and subsequent executions. We have therefore asked that the British Government consider our report with a view to re-establishing the good name of these Irishmen. The Government is in ongoing contact with the British Government with the objective of securing a response which we hope will help resolve the matter and bring some comfort to the families of the men involved.

Human Rights Issues.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

329 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if an interstate challenge will be filed under the European Convention on Human Rights against any EU states found to be holding detainees incommunicado on behalf of the US, following the precedent of Ireland v. the UK. [33964/05]

In the event that concrete evidence of any EU state holding detainees incommunicado on behalf of the USA was ever to emerge, the Government would consider what action to take in light of the facts of the case. I have no knowledge of any plans other High Contracting Parties to the European Convention on Human Rights may have in this regard.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

330 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will confirm that no detainees are being held incommunicado on behalf of the US anywhere in Irish jurisdiction. [33965/05]

Ministerial Travel.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

331 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the occasions that he has taken a mainline train, commuter train or Luas in the course of his duties since assuming office. [34063/05]

Since assuming office as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I have not travelled, in the course of my duties, by mainline or commuter train, or by Luas.

Departmental Programmes.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

332 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the significant changes which have been implemented by his Department to date in 2005 in delivering the national spatial strategy; and the costs, benefits and savings that have accrued. [34078/05]

As none of the proposals in the national spatial strategy fall within the policy remit of the Department of Foreign Affairs, there have been no significant changes implemented by the Department as a result of the delivery of the strategy. Thus no costs, benefits or savings for my Department have directly accrued.

The Deputy may wish to note that, in the context of advancing co-operation on an all island basis, the meeting of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference of 19 October 2005, which I co-chaired with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, formally acknowledged the significant potential for mutual benefit on strategic issues such as infrastructure development and spatial planning.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

333 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, given his reply of 2 November 2005, and specifically his commitment to monitor progress in implementing commitments from the British and Irish Governments arising from the joint declaration relating to community relations as ultimately expressed in the shared future initiative, his views on whether there is a conflict between this commitment and the unilateral decisions taken on sensitive subjects relating to Northern Ireland, such as the Easter parade at the GPO and speaking rights for Northern MPs in Dáil Éireann without prior consultation with political parties in the South or public and civic figures in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34098/05]

Paragraphs 27 to 29 of the joint declaration summarise the initiatives which are to be taken by the British Government to enable communities, both loyalist and nationalist, to become committed stakeholders in a peaceful and prosperous society. The British Government was specifically mandated in paragraph 27 of the joint declaration to review good community relations and to bring forward a strategic and integrated good relations policy. The Shared Future document arises from this mandate. As previously stated, the recommendations contained in the document relate to actions to be taken by Departments, agencies and public authorities in Northern Ireland. It is important to note that neither the commitments in the joint declaration on community relations nor the recommendations in the Shared Future document are directed at this Government.

The Government believes that the Easter rising should be commemorated in an appropriate manner. There is no conflict between this position and having respect for the history and identity of people in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. The objective should be to respect everyone's history and identity in a sensitive and open way and to recognise all aspects of our shared history as an integral part of the process of building a shared future.

The Government has not made any proposal for speaking rights for Northern MPs in Dáil Éireann. The Taoiseach's recent proposals for Oireachtas participation were based on the report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution and involve participation through the committee system. That report was the subject of wide public debate and consultation. The current proposals are the subject of ongoing discussion. Some parties in Northern Ireland support the proposal, while others have expressed opposition.

Departmental Staff.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

334 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the percentage of persons with disabilities employed in his Department and in each body under his aegis; the guidelines issued by which this data is to be recorded in the public service; the nature of the disabilities; the levels of employment; the percentage of the total numbers of persons with disabilities in each sector who are holders of third level qualifications; the precise definition of disability which is used in the public service to meet the 3% quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34143/05]

The policy with regard to the 3% target for the employment of people with disabilities in the Civil Service is the responsibility of the Department of Finance.

My Department has committed itself in its human resources strategy to full participation in the Government's programme of positive action aimed at enhancing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The guidelines for monitoring the employment of people with disabilities by Government Departments and offices are set out in the Code of Practice for the Civil Service, 1994. The definition of a person with a disability for the purposes of the 3% employment target is set out in the code. In this context, the phrase "people with disabilities" means people with a physical, sensory or psychological impairment which may "have a tangible impact on their functional capability to do a particular job; or have an impact on their ability to function in a particular physical environment; or lead to a discrimination in obtaining or keeping employment of a kind for which they would otherwise be suited".

Comprehensive information about the precise nature of the disabilities of the staff concerned or their academic qualifications is not currently maintained by the Department. Overall, based strictly on existing monitoring arrangements, the percentage of staff with a disability in my Department currently stands at 3.45%. In order to protect the confidentiality of the monitoring process in this very sensitive area, it would not be appropriate to list, on a grade by grade basis, the number of officers listed as having disabilities.

More generally, the Deputy may be aware of the results of independent research carried out on the operation of the 3% employment target within the Civil Service. The research identified problems with the existing system of recording and monitoring staff with a disability. In this regard, a survey carried out as part of the research, which relied on civil servants to self-declare a disability, shows that 7% of Civil Service staff have a disability compared with 2.8%, as reported in the annual survey.

Following the consultants' recommendations arising from their research, the Government approved proposals to improve the operation of the policy, including the development of a new code of practice for the Civil Service and a more effective approach to monitoring staff with a disability. We are informed that, for this new approach to work successfully, it will be necessary to consider the use of a survey based on voluntary self-disclosure.

There are no public bodies under the aegis of my Department.

EU Directives.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

335 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if a list of the implemented, unimplemented and overdue EU directives and regulations and a list of the warnings received from the EU regarding directives and regulations that are overdue for implementation will be published before the end of 2005 and published at least every six months in future (details supplied). [34191/05]

The provision of information with regard to the implementation of EU directives is a matter for each concerned Government Department. This also applies to reasoned opinions and letters of formal notice. My Department, which has an overall co-ordinating role in relation to EU matters, does not as a rule implement any European Union legislation and is not currently implementing any such legislation.

I draw the Deputy's attention to the fact that the interdepartmental co-ordinating committee on European Union affairs is currently preparing new guidelines on the transposition of EU directives into national law. These guidelines, which are designed to standardise the procedures for transposing EU directives into national law, will deal with public information and transparency, among other issues. It is intended to complete this exercise before the end of the year.

North-South Co-operation.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

336 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the work of the North-South unit in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34210/05]

The Government's objective is the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of the institutions, including the North-South Ministerial Council. A particular priority is to develop North-South co-operation to the mutual benefit of the people in both parts of the island. The North-South section in my Department works closely with all Departments to advance this objective. It also works closely with the North-South Ministerial Council secretariat in Armagh, including in support of the on-going work of the North-South bodies established under the Agreement.

The North-South section also plays a co-ordinating role in Government activity on North-South issues, regularly chairing meetings of the North-South interdepartmental co-ordinators. The section also takes the lead in encouraging and advancing co-operation at official level through regular meetings of the North-South centre group which brings together senior representatives of the two civil services.

Earlier this year, the Taoiseach and I sought to give an enhanced impetus to North-South co-operation in a memorandum to Government setting out Government policy in this area. All relevant Departments, in conjunction with my Department, undertook a comprehensive review of the scope for co-operation in their areas of responsibility. Key North-South objectives and projects were identified. My Department, in accordance with its overall co-ordination role, and the Department of the Taoiseach, are working closely to assist Departments in advancing these objectives via the established North-South channels and in close contact with the British Government. In addition, I have reviewed the potential for progress in these areas in a series of meetings with the private sector, including the IBEC, CBI joint business council and the North-South round table group, as well as setting out our thinking in a number of public speeches to interested groups.

The development of North-South co-operation has a high priority in our consultations with the British Government. For instance, we regularly review the scope for progress in meetings of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference. At the most recent BIIGC on 19 October, the two Governments noted the advances being made in a number of key projects, including the restoration of the Ulster Canal, inadvertent mobile roaming charges, the creation of an all-island energy market and the extension of the all-island free travel scheme. It is planned to conduct a further strategic review of the potential in this area at the next meeting of the BIIGC in January.

Illegal Immigrants.

James Breen

Ceist:

337 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if progress has been made in obtaining an amnesty for illegal Irish living in the USA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34265/05]

The Deputy will be aware from recent debates and responses to questions in the House, that the welfare of the undocumented Irish in the US is a matter of the highest priority for the Government. In all our contacts with United States political leaders, including when the Taoiseach and I met with President Bush earlier in the year, we emphasise the importance of addressing the situation in a positive and sympathetic way. However, I would like once again to make clear, and I believe all Members of the Oireachtas who have visited the US on this issue have received the same message, that the issue of an amnesty is simply not on the agenda in the US Congress, or with the administration.

The position at present is that the legislative debate in Washington D.C. is entering a critical phase with various proposals under consideration, including the Bill jointly sponsored by Senators McCain and Kennedy. If this Bill were adopted in its present form, it would provide a path to permanent residency and, thereby, enable the undocumented to participate in the life of their adopted country free from fear and uncertainty. The Government strongly supports this Bill and I have instructed the embassy and consulates to intensify their lobbying in support of it.

Diplomatic Representations.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

338 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has or intends to make representations to the South African Government in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 10; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34423/05]

My Department, through the Irish Embassy in Pretoria, became aware of the arrest of the person mentioned by the Deputy in April 2002 in South Africa on charges of fraud, corruption and contravention of the Aliens Act. I understand that the three counts arose from his alleged illegal residence in South Africa.

The embassy provided consular assistance to him and his family, including raising with the prison authorities issues in respect of his health and his conditions in detention. The embassy also liaised with his attorney on various issues, including his deportation.

On 9 July 2002, the sentence imposed on the person concerned was overturned on appeal and a suspended sentence was imposed. The embassy arranged for the issue of an emergency travel document to facilitate his return to Ireland on 15 July 2002.

Subsequent to the person's release and return to Ireland, the embassy has raised his case on several occasions with the South African authorities, including his request for a Presidential pardon. In August 2003, the South African authorities informed the embassy that a response would be forthcoming on the case and, subsequent to this, the person concerned was contacted directly by them.

The embassy remains willing to raise this case again though, I should add, it is believed that the South African authorities consider the case to be closed.

Sport and Recreational Development.

Marian Harkin

Ceist:

339 Ms Harkin asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the regional sports measure under the regional OP programme has been activated; if funding has been drawn down; and if not, when he proposes to fund this measure in view of the fact that this current regional OP programme will finish at the end of 2006. [33938/05]

The sports and recreational facilities sub-measure falls under the local infrastructure priority of the regional operational programmes of the National Development Plan 2000-2006. It was planned that funding would be provided under the sub-measure by this Department to local authorities and voluntary and community organisations to assist towards the provision or upgrading of multi-purpose sport and recreational facilities. The commencement of the sub-measure was delayed until the completion of the Government's national spatial strategy in order to target support in accordance with the implementation of that strategy. The intention was that once the regional gateways were identified under the national spatial strategy, proposals would be invited from local authorities whose administrative areas contain such designated regions and grant aid would be allocated to suitable developments.

In the meantime, very significant funding has been provided through this Department's sports capital programme. Since 1997, €386 million has been invested by the State in 4,900 projects comprising national, regional and local sports facilities. Any of the facilities envisaged for funding through the OP sub-measure have now been supported under the sport capital programme.

Substantial funding for sports facilities will be sought by my Department in the context of the 2006-10 sport capital envelope with the intention of continuing our ambitious programme of the delivery of modern, well equipped and well managed facilities throughout the country, whether under the existing sport capital programme or the sports and recreational facilities sub-measure of the regional operational programmes.

European Council Meetings.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

340 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of proposals that his Department is opposing at European Council at any stage; the names of such proposals; the reason his Department is taking this position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33826/05]

My Department is not currently opposing any proposals at European Council.

EU Directives.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

341 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that Ireland has achieved in his Department’s competency area; the reason his Department requested each exemption; if it is intended to give up any of these exemptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33841/05]

My Department has not sought or achieved exemption from any EU directives or regulations since its establishment in June 2002.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

342 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the exemptions from EU Directives or Regulations that his Department is seeking; the reason his Department is requesting each exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33856/05]

My Department has not sought any exemptions from any EU directives or regulations since its establishment in June 2002.

Grant Payments.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

343 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the grant programmes available from his Department and from agencies under his responsibility; and the deadlines of each programme. [33921/05]

My Department's arts and culture capital enhancement support scheme, ACCESS, provides capital funding for arts and culture projects throughout the country. All the funds under this scheme are fully allocated at present. My Department is currently examining a successor to ACCESS and I hope to make a decision in that regard in due course.

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.

Deadlines for the programme are not fixed but, for example, the 2005 programme applications for funding were invited through advertisements in the national press on 5 and 6 December 2004 and the deadline for receipt of applications was Friday 4 February 2005. I announced provisional grant allocations of €54.385 million under the 2005 programme last July.

I intend to invite applications to the 2006 programme shortly and the deadline for receipt of applications will be advertised at that time.

The local authority swimming pool programme, which is also administered by my Department, provides grant aid towards the capital costs of a new pool or the refurbishment of an existing pool. The programme provides for a maximum grant level of 80% of eligible costs, or 90% in the case of disadvantaged areas, subject to a maximum of €3.8 million. The current round of the pool programme was closed to applications on 31 July 2000 and the priority within the programme is to support the 55 projects that applied for funding prior to the closing date.

The Arts Council, the Irish Sports Council and Fáilte Ireland provide a range of grant programmes, details of which are available of their websites, at www.artscouncil.ie, www.irishsportscouncil.ie, and www.failteireland.ie, respectively.

Ministerial Travel.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

344 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the occasions that he has taken a mainline train, commuter train or Luas in the course of his duties since assuming office. [34064/05]

The wide range of functions associated with my ministerial office and the fact that my constituency is some distance from Dáil Éireann and my departmental headquarters in Dublin, requires me to operate within very tight time pressures. In the course of my duties I have numerous official engagements that require my punctual attendance in varied locations around the country, many of which are not on the rail network. Consequently, I have not used mainline trains, commuter trains or Luas in the course of my ministerial duties.

Departmental Programmes.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

345 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the significant changes which have been implemented by his Department to date in 2005 in delivering the national spatial strategy; and the costs, benefits and savings that have accrued. [34079/05]

The national spatial strategy is a 20 year strategy designed to enable every place in the country to reach its potential, no matter what its size or location. It recognises that not all regions of the country have the same role and seeks to organise and co-ordinate the different roles in a complementary way. The strategy is supported by regional planning guidelines, integrated planning frameworks, county and city development plans and strategies, all of which are aimed at extending the impact of the national spatial strategy at regional and local levels.

My Department is represented on the interdepartmental steering group, chaired by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, that oversees the implementation of the national spatial strategy. That group meets at regular intervals and reports annually, on overall progress, to the Cabinet committee on housing infrastructure and public private partnerships, in support of its objective of seeking to ensure that the national spatial strategy features centrally in the wider infrastructure delivery process.

The national spatial strategy does not require the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism to implement any significant changes and therefore the question of evaluating costs and benefits does not arise.

The September 2003 report of the tourism policy review group, New Horizons for Irish Tourism: An Agenda for Action, recognised that tourism development policy incorporates the need for a more integrated approach to tourism planning and investment. Tourism development policy is very much in line with the aims and objectives of the national spatial strategy launched in November 2002 as it identified and categorised the country's tourism zones and outlined the critical issues to be addressed for the 2000 to 2006 period, that is, regional spread, seasonality, infrastructural bottlenecks, sustainability, congestion, customer service and quality management. The tourism product development measure, funded through the regional operational programmes, is administered by Fáilte Ireland.

Looking to the future, the tourism policy review group agreed that tourism represents one of the strongest means by which balanced regional development can be achieved and suggested that a fundamental objective of tourism policy must be to facilitate each tourist region in achieving its full potential for tourism development in a way that maintains and enhances the sustainability of its tourism base. It pointed out that this would mean different rates of tourism growth in different areas of the country and set a target of doubling the number of overseas visitors staying at least one night in the BMW region by 2012.

The provision of funding the sport and recreational facilities sub-measure of the regional operational programmes is being considered in the context of the 2006 budget discussions. The prioritisation of locations to be funded under such a sub-measure would be undertaken in the context of the national spatial strategy.

I am hopeful, in the context of the new national development plan, of putting in place a successor to the current ACCESS scheme, which dates from 2001, for developing arts and cultural infrastructure. While the parameters of the new scheme have yet to be finalised, it is expected that it would focus on the enhancement and maintenance requirements of the current stock of facilities, while not entirely excluding new facilities. The national spatial strategy is one of the policy documents that will feed into the framework of any new scheme.

Departmental Staff.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

346 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the percentage of persons with disabilities employed in his Department and in each body under his aegis; the guidelines issued by which this data is to be recorded in the public service; the nature of the disabilities; the levels of employment; the percentage of the total numbers of persons with disabilities in each sector who are holders of third level qualifications; the precise definition of disability which is used in the public service to meet the 3% quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34144/05]

The policy with regard to the 3% target for the employment of people with disabilities in the Civil Service is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Finance. As at 30 June 2005, 4% of the staff employed in my Department were classified as having a disability.

The definition of a person with a disability for the purposes of the 3% target is the positive action definition set out in the Code of Practice for the Civil Service, 1994. In this context, the phrase "people with disabilities" means people with a physical, sensory or psychological impairment which may "have a tangible impact on their functional capability to do a particular job; or have an impact on their ability to function in a particular physical environment; or lead to a discrimination in obtaining or keeping employment of a kind for which they would otherwise be suited".

Monitoring data is not collected with reference to the nature of disabilities, persons' grades or qualifications. Only numbers are collected to provide statistics on the employment of people with disabilities in the public service.

The State bodies under the aegis of my Department are aware of the requirement with regard to the 3% target for the employment of people with disabilities but as staff recruitment is a day-to-day matter for each body I do not have details of the level of such employment in each case.

The Disability Act 2005 provides a new statutory framework for the implementation and compliance monitoring of the 3% employment target in the public service. I understand that implementation of the various provisions of the Act in this regard is currently being addressed.

North-South Co-operation.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

347 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will report on the work of the North-South unit in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34211/05]

Since its establishment, the North-South unit in my Department has been actively pursuing opportunities to facilitate, strengthen and enhance North-South co-operation across the three sectors under my remit as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism. The unit also monitors progress on specific initiatives or priority actions in relation to North-South co-operation in the sectors in question. In considering any such initiatives, the overriding principle has been that they should offer clear and tangible benefits, North and South.

Tourism was identified in the Good Friday Agreement as an area of co-operation. With the establishment of Tourism Ireland as a North-South body responsible for marketing the island of Ireland overseas, we now have a shining example of the tangible of North-South co-operation.

North-South co-operation on tourism exists on a less formal basis in areas such as education and training, product marketing and publicity, tourism statistics and research, e-business and e-marketing and accommodation standards. A number of initiatives are being developed and pursued by the tourism agencies across these areas to deepen the level of co-operation that already exists.

With regard to sport, the two sports councils on the island enjoy a strong working relationship. An all-island planning group, composed of members and staff of both councils, meets two or three times a year and serves as a forum for information exchange and so on. The chief executives of the two councils meet formally on average about three times a year. There are ongoing engagements regarding operational matters at executive level, for example, on drug testing. I was delighted to participate at a major sports conference in Kildare at the end of October which was organised jointly by the two sports councils and further underscored the strength of their relationship.

On the arts front, the Arts Council and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland have developed a very close working relationship over many years. The councils meet annually and their staff maintain ongoing contacts in regular meetings, especially regarding strategic projects and the development of common policy approaches. As a sign of their commitment to working collaboratively, the councils recently established a North-South sub-committee to progress matters of common interest in a strategic manner. The sub-committee is responsible for specifying joint objectives and providing a platform for information exchange with regard to those organisations that are jointly-funded by both councils. The councils have successfully collaborated on a number of projects including the recent FOUR NOW exhibition, a joint-exhibition from the visual arts collections of the two councils at the Glucksman Gallery, Cork.

I have been actively engaged on the North-South agenda and will continue to make the case at political level for closer co-operation. In that context, I have met my tourism and arts and sports counterparts in Northern Ireland, Ms Angela Smith MP and Mr. David Hanson MP, to discuss potential new areas for cooperation. Today, I will be attending the world travel market in London, the premier international tourism showcase, along with my colleague, Ms Angela Smith, as part of a major Tourism Ireland promotion at that event.

European Council Meetings.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

348 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of proposals that his Department is opposing at European Council at any state; the names of such proposals; the reason his Department is taking this position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33827/05]

I assume that the Deputy is referring to the various council formations rather than the European Council, for which the Department of the Taoiseach has primary responsibility.

The council formations for which my Department has particular responsibilities are the Competitiveness Council and the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council. My Department also has responsibilities to GAERC with regard to trade issues.

My Department always seeks to play a constructive role with regard to EU proposals and is anxious to ensure that Ireland's interests are safeguarded while also being mindful of our responsibilities to the Union as a whole. Among the significant proposals currently being progressed at EU level, which come within the remit of the Competitiveness Council, are the 7th Framework Programme for RTD, REACH, Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme and the Services Directive. Current proposals relevant to ESPHCA include a Community Programme for Employment and Social Solidarity, PROGRESS and the Organisation of Working Time Directive.

These proposals are at various stages of negotiation and Ireland's position is being represented in the appropriate groups. Ireland is not opposed to any one of these proposals. However, in the normal process of negotiation on these instruments we may seek amendments or identify provisions which could be improved on or take positions on amendments sought by other member states or the Commission.

EU Directives.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

349 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that Ireland has achieved in his Department’s competency area; the reason his Department requested each exemption; if it is intended to give up any of these exemptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33842/05]

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

350 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the exemptions from EU directives or regulations that his Department is seeking; the reason his Department is requesting each exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33857/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 349 and 350 together.

My Department has not received or sought exemptions for Ireland from generally applicable EU directives or regulations. In the normal course of negotiating legal instruments, my Department contributes to negotiations on the basis of securing the best outcome for Ireland and frequently makes proposals or suggestions to amend proposed instruments that, in our view, would make better law. Under the European Union (Scrutiny) Act, all measures proposed by the EU are laid before each House of the Oireachtas, together with a statement outlining the content, purpose and likely implications for Ireland of the proposed measure. If the Deputy has concerns about any particular measure I would be pleased to provide a briefing to him on the state of negotiations.

Ministerial Travel.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

351 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the occasions that he has taken a mainline train, commuter train or Luas in the course of his duties since assuming office. [34065/05]

As I am provided with an official car and driver for use in the course of my duties, the matter has not arisen.

Departmental Programmes.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

352 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the significant changes which have been implemented by his Department to date in 2005 in delivering the national spatial strategy; and the costs, benefits and savings that have accrued. [34080/05]

The national spatial strategy is a framework designed to re-orientate the balance of development across the country and in this regard it is not possible to quantify costs, benefits or savings that have accrued to date other than to look at the spread of investment and job creation in the regions. Redirecting the established force of development and investment preferences is not a straightforward issue, nor one that can be achieved simply by Government edict and completed in a short timeframe. Successful development of the gateway and hub locations is crucial to providing each region with the locations of scale that will possess the population, skills base, business services, infrastructure and existing enterprise base necessary to attract and win new or additional investments against a background of strong competition from other locations, both nationally and internationally.

In recognition of the critical importance of the gateways as key drivers to stimulating regional growth, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Forfás are undertaking a joint study on gateway development. The key objective of the study is to provide a significant step forward in the implementation of the national spatial strategy. The report, to be finalised by end 2005, will seek to identify investment priorities that are critical to unlocking the potential of the gateway and its hinterland and also identify what needs to be done differently, at both national and local levels, to accelerate gateway development.

Operational responsibility for job creation and investment on a regional basis is a matter for the industrial development agencies. The national spatial strategy provides a framework for IDA Ireland, working in partnership with a range of organizations at local level, which will ensure that key locations have the appropriate facilities to attract new investments. The creation of magnets of attraction will facilitate the successful marketing of individual regions for new overseas investments or expansions to existing operations. These companies bring high wage jobs to individual areas and also have knock-on benefits in other sectors, thus creating further investment and employment opportunities for local people in the immediate and surrounding areas.

Furthermore, IDA Ireland is designing its itineraries around regional locations, providing reduced or zero grant assistance for investments in Dublin and leveraging the higher grant rate permitted in regions outside Dublin, where possible, to encourage more foreign direct investment to areas which are traditionally more difficult to market. In 2004 some 41% of all new greenfield jobs were located in the BMW region compared to approximately 25% in 1999.

Enterprise Ireland's policy objectives for balanced regional development are reflected in the structure of its financial offer to clients, which reflects preferential bias for companies located outside of the Dublin and mid-eastern region. Over the past five years new job gains associated with Enterprise Ireland clients has shown strong growth in the regions. In 2004, 68% of employment gains were in client companies located in all regions outside of Dublin, compared with 54% in 2000. This growth is partly attributable to significant investment in supporting new high potential start-up companies and facilitating the development of Irish companies through investments in research and development, productivity improvements and management and staff training.

I am confident that the strategies and policies being pursued by the development agencies, together with the ongoing commitment of the Government to regional development will bear fruit in terms of additional sustainable investment and jobs across the regions.

Employment Support Services.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

353 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if transition arrangements including training aimed at former family carers whose caring role has ended will be introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34099/05]

All FÁS training and employment programmes are open to former family carers. Some programmes are delivered on a part-time basis and may support former carers in their transition from caring responsibilities to participation on training and employment programmes.

Since 5 October, 2000 persons who were formerly in receipt of a carer's allowance and whose caring responsibilities have ceased, have been eligible to participate on the community employment programme if they have transferred their social welfare payment and are currently in receipt of either unemployment assistance, unemployment benefit or one parent family payment, and have a combined period on the foregoing social welfare payments of 12 months or more.

Experienced carers may, through their local FÁS employment services offices, access training programmes for heath care assistants which will enable them to have their skills updated and certified. The care assistant traineeship programme provides formal training and Health Service Executive approved qualifications. Successful participants will be awarded the FETAC national skills certificate: care assistant, care for the older person.

Departmental Staff.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

354 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the percentage of persons with disabilities employed in his Department and in each body under his aegis; the guidelines issued by which this data is to be recorded in the public service; the nature of the disabilities; the levels of employment; the percentage of the total numbers of persons with disabilities in each sector who are holders of third level qualifications; the precise definition of disability which is used in the public service to meet the 3% quota; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34145/05]

All Departments are required to meet a 3% minimum target for the employment of people with disabilities. The policy with regard to the 3% target for the employment of people with disabilities in the Civil Service is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Finance.

My Department currently exceeds the minimum requirement, with 4.27% disabled people currently employed. In addition, all the agencies under the aegis of my Department are fully aware of their obligations and the majority have reached the 3% target.

With regard to information on the nature of the disabilities, grade or specific qualifications held, this data is not collected for the purposes of the 3% target. In any case, given that this data would contain personal information, it would not be appropriate to release it.

However, I understand that independent research carried out on the operation of the 3% target in the Civil Service found that the most common disabilities are physical and sensory and one third of people acquired their disability since joining the service. The research also found that people with disabilities are employed at all levels of Departments, though there are proportionately more people with a disability at the lower grades.

With regard to educational qualifications, the research found that people joining the service with a disability tend to have slightly lower qualifications than other people, but are more likely to work to improve their qualifications. In this regard, I understand from the research that the proportion of civil servants with a disability studying for a third level qualification is almost twice the proportion of civil servants in similar studies without a disability.

The guidelines followed for monitoring the employment of people with disabilities by public bodies are set out in the Code of Practice for the Civil Service, 1994. The code defines a person with a disability for the purposes of the 3% target. In this regard, the phrase "people with disabilities" means people with a physical, sensory or psychological impairment which may "have a tangible impact on their functional capability to do a particular job; or have an impact on their ability to function in a particular physical environment; or lead to a discrimination in obtaining or keeping employment of a kind for which they would otherwise be suited".

Employment Rights.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

355 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the funding which is available for the publication of literature to inform those coming here from abroad to work of their rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34157/05]

The employment rights information unit, which is one of three business units that comprise the employment rights compliance section of the Department is responsible for the dissemination of information on the wide range of employment rights issues that are the remit of the Department. The other two units are the labour inspectorate and the administrative group that processes prosecution and enforcement cases.

The employment rights information unit has produced a range of materials, for example, information leaflets and booklets that provide a condensed and simplified version of the large corpus of employment rights legislation that is currently on the Statute Book. With particular regard for the needs of non-national employees, the Department has translated key employment tights information into nine languages and made this available in leaflet form and on the Department's website. The nine countries concerned are, The Czech Republic, China (Mandarin), Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Russia.

The material is available directly from the Department. However, with regard to non-national employees, the bulk of the material has been distributed through Comhairle, the citizens information network, the Garda immigration service and embassies.

In round figures, the employment rights information unit printed 130,000 booklets in 2004 and, to date in 2005 has placed orders for 98,000. The figures for leaflets are 71,000 in 2004 and a further 10,000 in 2005, arising from changes in the national minimum wage. The employment rights information unit handled in excess of 125,000 telephone calls in 2004 and, up to the end of October 2005, the number of calls handled was over 97,000.

As the Department operates a policy wherein the protections and entitlements set out in employment legislation are applicable to all employees engaged in the Irish economy, irrespective of nationality, there is no differentiation in the informational material produced to inform any worker or employer of their respective obligations, rights and entitlements. Accordingly, it is not possible to specifically identify the detail of expenditure being sought.

The Deputy may be interested to know that the Department is actively engaged in discussions with the social partners on a range of employment rights compliance issues and among the key topics is the dissemination of information on employment rights. The Department has tentative plans to invest significant resources in this area and intends engaging with a number of key stakeholders in this regard. The Department has already met with parties who have a distinct focus on the interests of migrant workers in Ireland.

EU Directives.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

356 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a regulatory impact analysis is required for the implementation of Directive 2003/105/EC in view of the recent Government decision that regulatory impact analysis should be introduced across all Departments and offices. [34192/05]

Proposed draft regulations entitled European Communities (Control of Major Accident Hazards Involving Dangerous Substances) Regulations 2005, to transpose Directive 2003/105/EC, are with the Attorney General's office for legal settlement. The new regulations will transpose, for the first time, Directive 2003/105/EC on the control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances which amends Directive 96/82/EC.

The regulations will revoke and replace the European Communities (Control of Major Accident Hazards Involving Dangerous Substances) Regulations 2000 (S.I. No. 476 of 2000), and the European Communities (Control of Major Accident Hazards Involving Dangerous Substances)(Amendment) Regulations 2003 (S.I. No. 402 of 2003).

It is mandatory to transpose all EU directives into national law. The issue is not negotiable and therefore a regulatory impact analysis cannot be completed after the fact. The work leading up to the adoption of an EU directive involves a very long consultation and negotiation period. The rationale for the proposed directive is set out, there is consultation at EU and national levels and the final product reflects the views of member states, including the parliaments of the member states, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. For the future, regulatory impact assessments will be conducted on all significant draft EU directives before they are agreed.

North-South Co-operation.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

357 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will report on the work of the North-South unit in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34212/05]

The Good Friday Agreement set out a new vision for the island of Ireland and led to the establishment of the North-South Ministerial Council and the North-South implementation bodies. My Department is a co-sponsor of one of the North-South implementation bodies, InterTrade Ireland, the all-island trade and business development body. The North-South unit of my Department was established to provide policy and administrative support for ministerial participation in the North-South Ministerial Council, to co-ordinate the work of the Department on North-South policy issues and to oversee the Department's interactions with InterTrade Ireland and the Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

North-South economic co-operation and the continuing development of the island economy is a priority for my Department. The primary means through which this is achieved is by the implementation of the annual business plans of InterTrade Ireland which set out a comprehensive range of projects and activities to promote the continued development of the island economy in the areas of trade and business development. InterTrade Ireland's mission for the period 2005-07 is to enhance the global competitiveness of the all-island economy to the mutual benefit of Ireland and Northern Ireland through measures such as the creation of knowledge-intensive all-island trade and business development networks and the implementation of all-island trade and business development programmes.

My Department is committed to working with business organisations such as the IBEC-CBI Joint Business Council to advance North-South co-operation. My Department, together with other Departments, is co-operating with the Joint Business Council on the Council's two-year action plan to enhance the competitiveness of businesses on the island of Ireland. My Department is also playing a pivotal role in advancing the US-Ireland research and development partnership, set up to facilitate high level, world class collaborations between centres of excellence in Ireland, north and south and the United States in the broad areas of information and communications technology and biotechnology. As a result of the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly in October 2002, the North-South Ministerial Council cannot meet. As a consequence, the British-Irish agreements have been amended. The amendments provide that the British and Irish Governments take joint decisions, when appropriate, on matters relating to InterTrade Ireland and the other North-South implementation bodies. The North-South policy unit is responsible for my Department's oversight of these interim procedures. To date, 14 joint ministerial decisions relating to InterTrade Ireland have been made in accordance with these interim decision making procedures.

Funding for Disability.

David Stanton

Ceist:

358 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Question No. 165 of 9 November 2005, the way in which the funding, with special reference to the extra funding, which his Department received for people with disabilities as published in the expenditure estimates in November 2004 and subsequently on budget day 2004 has been used or will be used; the way in which this funding has been disbursed; the mechanisms in place to ensure that the funding is spent correctly; if he has satisfied himself that auditing procedures are in place and are adequate in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34462/05]

Funding under the 2005 expenditure Estimates is being provided by my Department to FÁS to increase the labour market participation of disabled workers. FÁS provides an extensive range of schemes and grants specifically to promote the employment of people with disabilities in the private sector. In 2005, FÁS has allocated the following amounts to these dedicated schemes and grants: €44.144 million for specialist training provision. Because some disabled people who avail of FÁS training may require additional training duration, enhanced programme content, reduced trainer or trainee ratios and/or staff specifically qualified in training disabled people, FÁS contracts with approximately 20 specialist agencies to provide this enhanced vocational training; €10 million for the wage subsidy scheme. This scheme commenced in September 2005 and subsumed the budget allocated to the employment support scheme and pilot employment programme. This amount includes a special increased allocation of €5million provided under the 2005 Estimates. The scheme provides financial incentives to employers, outside the public sector, to employ disabled people who work more than 20 hours per week. The subsidies are structured under three separate strands and employers can benefit under one or all, simultaneously. Unlike other schemes, the potential exists for supports being provided to both the employee and the employer; €7.968 million for the supported employment programme. This programme is an open labour market initiative that works toward the placement and support of disabled people who need the initial support of a job coach to obtain and maintain employment. The programme is carried out by sponsor organisations on behalf of FÁS. These sponsors employ the job coaches who provide a range of supports tailored to the individual needs of the jobseeker with a disability; €2 million for additional employment related supports. This includes the work equipment and adaptation grant, the personal reader grant, the job interview interpreter grant, the employee retention grant scheme. It also provides for a subsidy for employers who wish to provide disability awareness training in their workplaces.

The allocations detailed above are dedicated exclusively to programmes for disabled people and cannot be subsumed by other programmes within FÁS. Funding provision outlined does not include the cost of training disabled people in FÁS mainline centres, on contracted training or disabled people participating on employment programmes such as community employment or social economy.

Expenditure and activity against this budget are monitored throughout the year to ensure that monies are spent effectively, efficiently and correctly in line with the purpose for which they are voted. FÁS accounts are subject to annual audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Economic Competitiveness.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

359 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Question No. 259 of 9 November 2005, the way in which he can have confidence that a monopoly has not developed in the newspaper market, for which he does not have precise market share details; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34464/05]

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

360 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Question No. 259 of 9 November 2005 the way in which he can claim that there is a vibrant competition, particularly in the Sunday newspaper market when it is estimated that a group (details supplied) own approximately 87% of Sunday newspapers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34570/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 359 and 360 together.

As I previously stated, I am aware of the strength of Independent group in the Irish newspaper market. Indeed, the leading position of Independent group is not a new phenomenon as its titles have dominated the market for many years. However, the strength of Independent does not mean that there is no competition in the market. Nor does it follow that Independent's leading position contravenes competition law. The holding of a dominant position is not, in itself, a breach of the Competition Act. A breach of the Act only arises where such a dominant position is abused within the meaning of section 5 of the Act.

The Competition Authority is an independent body responsible for the enforcement of competition law in the State. Any alleged breach of the Competition Act, including any alleged abuse of dominance as prohibited by section 5 of the Act, should be reported to the authority for investigation. As regards the Sunday newspaper market, it is self-evident that Independent group's portfolio of titles, which span both the broadsheet and tabloid sectors, continue to lead this market. However, as I have already mentioned, I believe that this is a very competitive market with a multiplicity of titles providing wide consumer choice. Further, the publishers of many of these titles, particularly the UK titles, are themselves significant international operators. For example, News International, whose titles compete with Independent titles in both the broadsheet and tabloid sectors, is a major worldwide media player.

Social Insurance.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

361 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his plans to recognise the role of farm spouses by permitting spouses and partners to make PRSI contributions in order to qualify themselves for the range of self-employed social insurance benefits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34120/05]

Current social welfare legislation excludes spouses from PRSI liability as both employed and self-employed contributors. This exclusion recognises the practical difficulties in establishing the nature of a genuine employment relationship in circumstances such as when a person employed under a contract of service, that is as an employee, by his or her spouse is classed as an "excepted" contributor under social welfare law. As a result, farming spouses can only pay PRSI if they are involved in one of three scenarios.

First, spouses who are actively engaged in a commercial partnership, as opposed to simply being the joint owners of a property, are treated as individual self-employed contributors and are thus liable to social insurance contributions. These contributions made under PRSI class S enable them to build up an insurance record in their own right and to receive accruing benefits. A partnership is commonly understood to be an association of two or more persons for the purpose of gain or of sharing in the work and profits of an enterprise. Liability for PRSI contributions is not contingent on the ownership of property but rather on the nature of the business arrangements between the couple. Co-ownership of property does not in itself create a partnership.

Second, where a family business in incorporated as a limited company, spouses involved in the business can establish a social insurance record as either employees or as self-employed contributors, depending on whether a contract of service exists.

Third, it is known that persons engaged in farming are increasingly taking up off-farm employment. This enables farming spouses who might otherwise not be insured to develop a social insurance record on the basis of their off-farm earnings. Also, farming spouses who were previously employed are able to maintain their social insurance coverage in the long term by contributing to the voluntary PRSI contribution scheme.

The legislation that exempts spouses who assist in family enterprises such as farming from liability to social insurance has been the subject of review on a number of occasions. In 2002, an interdepartmental group chaired by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development concluded that the formation of business partnerships offers an immediate route of access to social insurance cover as it is based on existing legislation. Such arrangements would not impose any significant additional administration costs on farm business. For example, couples who are liable for income tax under joint or separate assessment will continue to make one income tax return each year, the only change being that the income of the farm enterprise will be apportioned in accordance with the partnership arrangements.

A social partnership group that included representatives from various local and national farming organisations recently considered how the social insurance framework in Ireland should develop to become more inclusive. The report of the group, published in June of this year, acknowledged the significance of the partnership option and recommended that more information on the tax and social welfare implications of families working in either a partnership or limited company be made available. This recommendation is presently being progressed.

The matter will be kept under review.

School Meals.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

362 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the proportion of schools in Laois-Offaly that provide food to their pupils and the way in which this compares nationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34327/05]

The school meals programme operated by my Department gives funding toward provision of food services for disadvantaged school children through two schemes. The first is the statutory urban school meals scheme, currently operated by 36 local authorities, which provides food services to primary schools. The Department jointly funds the food costs with these local authorities, who also manage and fund the administration of the scheme.

The second is the school meals local projects scheme. Under this scheme my Department provides funding to participating schools and voluntary community groups in both urban and rural areas for specific school meals projects. This has recently been expanded to include pre-schools that are community based and which operate on a not-for-profit basis. Some 386 primary schools have benefited under the urban school meals scheme for the calendar year 2005, of which two are in Laois and five in Offaly. In the academic year 2004-05 some 572 primary and secondary schools received funding from the school meals local project scheme, of which four were from Laois and two were from Offaly.

In general, the school meals service is very beneficial both in terms of child nutrition and as part of a range of positive actions by schools to encourage regular pupil attendance and improved academic attainment. I encourage schools, particularly those in designated disadvantaged areas, to apply to my Department to participate in this programme.

Social Insurance.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

363 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the amount of revenue which would be raised if the PRSI cut-off ceiling was removed based on 2004 figures. [34442/05]

The current employee PRSI ceiling stands at €44,180 per annum. The abolition of this ceiling would yield an estimated €238.2 million in additional revenue. This estimate is based on a sample of cases from 2003 updated for changes in earnings and the number of contributors. The employee PRSI ceiling is reviewed annually in accordance with the legislative stipulations of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 1993. The legislation effectively enables the Minister to set a cut-off ceiling based on changes in earnings.

EU Legislation.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

364 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of proposals that his Department is opposing at European Council at any stage; the names of such proposals; the reason his Department is taking this position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33828/05]