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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 13 Dec 2005

Vol. 612 No. 2

Written Answers.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies received from the Department. [Unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 15 to 48, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 49 to 54, inclusive, answered orally.

Public-Private Partnerships.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

55 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the value of investment undertaken in 2004 and to date in 2005 under PPP, distinguishing those involving tolling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38850/05]

On the basis of the information available to me, the following is the position in regard to privately financed PPP projects being procured under the multi-annual capital envelope investment framework and by the NRA in the roads area. For the years in question, I am informed that the estimated level of capital construction investment in privately financed PPP projects, to be paid for by means of ongoing unitary payments from Departments' Votes, was €25.6 million in 2004 and is projected to be €25 million in 2005.

With regard to PPPs funded by user charges, the Department of Transport informs me that the NRA has advised that private investment in roads amounted to €160 million in 2004. The NRA also advised that the estimated total private investment to end 2005 is €137 million. In addition, there are a wide range of PPP projects being procured by local government, in the solid waste, water-wastewater and social housing sectors, which are not comprehended in these figures. Such projects can take a number of forms, including design, build and operate or design, build and finance, and involve land swaps, own resources, some Exchequer funding or a mix of these.

While deal flow has been established in the roads area and in the local government sector, progress was slower than anticipated in the area of PPPs funded by unitary payments from Departments' Votes. There are a variety of reasons for this but, principally, the need for specialised skills and capability to manage the process was identified as a key factor. Accordingly, the Government decided in July to establish a centre of expertise in the National Development Finance Agency to accelerate progress in developing PPP deal flow in the central Government area. These new arrangements will not apply to the roads and rails sectors where existing procurement arrangements in place will continue.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

56 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he has conducted an evaluation in conjunction with the Department of Health and Children of the tax relief for private hospital investment; and if it meets the public policy objectives in the health sphere. [38831/05]

Capital allowances are available in respect of capital expenditure incurred on the construction of certain qualifying private hospitals. Currently, the expenditure can be written off over seven years at the rate of 15% per annum over the first six years and 10% in year seven. Capital allowances for private hospitals is one of the many reliefs which underwent a detailed review by my Department in conjunction with the Revenue Commissioners with the help of external consultants. I announced in my budget speech that I propose to publish all the relevant reports reviewing these various tax reliefs in time for the Finance Bill.

The final report from the consultants has been received by my Department. With regard to the private hospital incentive, the consultants found while there has not been a high level of investment yet under this scheme, there are plans for a number of these facilities coming on line. The consultants stated that the incentive has the potential to contribute to the challenges facing the health sector. The consultants recommend the continuance of the scheme subject to some amendments, including an extension of the clawback period and a new option for investors to claim all relief in year one but at a restricted 50% rate. In line with the recommendations from the consultants, I have decided to maintain this allowance with some minor amendments which I will announce in the context of the Finance Bill.

At present, to qualify as a private hospital eligible for capital allowances, the hospital must, inter alia, provide five specialist services from a list of 14 potential services ranging from oncology to paediatric services. This list will be augmented to include psychiatric care services, as announced in the budget. In addition, the current scheme of capital allowances for private hospitals will be extended to provide for capital allowances for the construction or refurbishment of buildings used as private psychiatric hospitals. While the hospital will provide services to private patients, 20% of the bed capacity must be available for public patients and the hospital must provide a discount of at least 10% to the State in respect of the fees to be charged in respect of the treatment of these patients.

The new scheme is subject to clearance by the European Commission from an EU state aids perspective. Full details will be announced in the Finance Bill 2006.

Duty Free Sales.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

57 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the thresholds for personal purchases overseas are set at unrealistic levels and are unenforceable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38967/05]

The duty free allowances for purchases for personal consumption of goods by persons entering the State from outside the European Union are set down in EU legislation, Council Directive 69/169/EEC. Therefore, the same passenger allowances apply across all EU member states. These thresholds were last increased in March 1994.

For alcohol, tobacco and perfume the allowances are set at certain amounts of the goods in question, while for all other goods, there is a aggregate limit of €175 per adult. In the case of these duty free allowances it should be borne in mind that there are three tax or duty types involved, namely, customs, excise and VAT. From a fiscal viewpoint, the allowances on alcohols and tobacco products are the most sensitive and, therefore, tightly controlled.

The EU Commission is currently examining the issue of the allowance limits and is expected to issue a proposal early next year. As regards the current monetary limit on goods subject to customs duty and VAT on importation, it has not been increased since 1994 and comes under pressure faced with the rising value of goods. In these circumstances, I would not regard a reasonable upward adjustment in the current monetary allowance as unwelcome. However, in this regard we need also to have regard to the concerns of member states bordering non-EU countries.

The Revenue Commissioners maintain an enforcement presence at all the principal points of entry to the State for the purpose of checking compliance with the limits to these duty free allowances. Officers perform checks on both accompanied and unaccompanied luggage or baggage on a selective basis using intelligence and risk assessment methods. In performing such tasks, a balance must, of course, be struck between the need for enforcing controls and not imposing undue burdens on passengers arriving in this country. In the circumstances, the Revenue Commissioners do not consider the enforcement of the allowance limits unduly difficult or onerous.

Tax Code.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

58 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether it is inequitable that earnings from capital are effectively taxed at a lower rate than earnings from income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38907/05]

Since the introduction of capital gains tax in 1975, capital gains have been treated differently from income in the tax code. It should be stressed that, in many cases, capital gains arise infrequently, as the asset is normally held by the owner for several years prior to the transfer. If taxed like income, it would mean taxing a large part of the once-off capital gain in many cases at the top rate of42%, whereas if it had been received as income over the period in question, much of it might only have been taxed at the 20% rate per annum or even be exempt.

Income tax is charged at progressive rates and individuals are entitled to various reliefs and credits which reduce their effective rate of tax. As the Deputy will be aware, I announced increases in the employee tax credit and the personal tax credit in the recent budget. This ensures that almost 36% of workers will be outside the tax net while about 31% will only be liable at the standard rate of 20%. In addition, it must be noted that there is a low annual personal exemption threshold of €1,270 for capital gains tax as compared to the various relief and credit entitlements for income tax. Accordingly, having regard to the effect of the personal tax credits, the tax on income is, in the majority of cases, likely to be less than the tax on capital gains.

Capital gains tax is charged on a disposal of assets, for example, shares, land, buildings. The disposal can be by way of sale, gift or exchange. It does not apply on death. A lower rate of capital gains tax encourages owners to dispose of assets during their lifetime. This has definitely occurred since the rate was lowered from 40% to 20% for most disposals in the 1998 budget and for the remainder of disposals in the 2000 budget.

Since the rate of CGT has been reduced, the yield has increased enormously. The yield from capital gains tax rose from €106 million in 1996 to nearly €2 billion in 2005 and the estimated number of assessments issued by the Revenue Commissioners rose from 7,000 in 1996 to 32,000 in 2003.

Benchmarking Awards.

John Perry

Ceist:

59 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Finance the changes which are under consideration regarding the terms of reference, the membership and the matching programme delivery targets underpinning the next round of benchmarking. [38957/05]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

216 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the changes which are under consideration regarding the terms of reference, the membership and the matching programme delivery targets underpinning the next round of benchmarking. [39235/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 and 216 together.

The second public service pay agreement under Sustaining Progress provides that the public service benchmarking body will commence the next benchmarking review in the second half of 2005 to report in the second half of 2007. The Department of Finance and other public service employers have been in discussion with the public services committee of ICTU on the membership of the body and on the terms of reference since earlier this year. As provided for under Sustaining Progress, the parties consider that the body should seek to ensure the optimum level of transparency consistent with the efficient and effective operation of the process itself. Progress has been made and it is expected that the body will be established shortly. The terms of reference and the list of grades to be examined will, I expect, be broadly similar to the last exercise.

Since the body will not report until the second half of 2007, the question of the conditions attaching to any payment of any increases would only arise at the implementation stage. It does not arise at this stage since the purpose of the exercise is first to establish the appropriate rates of pay between comparable jobs in the public service and the private sector taking account of the differences, if any, between the sectors. However, I will seek to ensure that all pay increases will be tied to an ongoing programme of public service modernisation, the maintenance of stable industrial relations and absence of industrial action.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

60 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Finance the underlying assumptions which he has made regarding the impact on consumption and on saving of the maturing of SSIAs. [38845/05]

Domestic demand, including personal consumption, has been the main driver of economic growth in 2005. In preparing the budget 2006 forecasts, my Department assumed that personal consumption will continue to be a major driver of growth over the forecast period 2006-08, supported by strong earnings and employment growth and overall low interest rates. The maturing of the SSIA accounts is expected to provide some impetus to consumption, particularly in 2007, when the bulk of the proceeds become available.

While it is difficult to be certain of the impact of SSIA maturity, economic theory and the experience of other countries suggests that it is unlikely that a once-off factor of this nature will have an undue impact on overall consumption patterns. In 2006 growth in personal consumption is forecast to be 5.8%, accelerating to 6.8% in 2007. A slightly lower growth rate of 4.6% is expected in 2008 as the effect of the SSIA scheme unwinds.

Tax Code.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

61 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance the number and percentage of income earners who are paying tax at the higher rate and the standard rate for 2005; the anticipated figures for each category for 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38989/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the information requested by the Deputy is as follows. It is estimated that 666,400 income earners, representing 32.8% of all income earners, will pay tax at the higher rate in 2005 while 624,000 income earners, representing 30.75% of income earners, will pay at the standard rate. After budget 2006 it is estimated that in the 2006 tax year, 658,100 income earners, representing 31.9% of all income earners, will pay tax at the higher rate while 647,500 income earners representing 31.4% of income earners will pay at the standard rate. However, in the absence of the budget 2006 income tax changes, it is estimated that in the 2006 tax year 748,900 income earners, representing 36.3% of all income earners, would pay tax at the higher rate while 608,800 income earners, representing 29.5% of income earners, would pay at the standard rate.

The numbers of income earners are based on actual data for 2002 projected forward in accordance with macroeconomic data relating to actual and expected growth in income and employment. The percentages are expressed in terms of the numbers of all income earners on the income tax record, including those who are exempt. It should be noted that a married couple who has elected or has been deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

The changes made in budget 2006, in particular the widening of the standard rate bands by €2,600, representing an increase of just under9%, will ensure that more than 90,000 taxpayers will be removed from the higher rate of tax for 2006. This measure will also ensure that those earning on or below the estimated average industrial wage for 2006 will pay tax only at the standard rate.

The Government's tax policies since 1997 have ensured that Ireland now has the lowest tax wedge in the EU and one of the lowest in the entire OECD, as measured by that organisation using comparative data relating to those earning an average production wage. In addition, after tax income, adjusted for CPI inflation, for a person on the average industrial wage is now about 44% higher than it was in 1997. Approximately half of this increase is due to lower taxes.

Personal Debt.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

62 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Finance his views of recent reports showing a significant increase in the level of personal debt, with some reports suggesting that households here are likely to become the most indebted in Europe by 2007; if he has satisfied himself that this level of debt and borrowing can be sustained; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38998/05]

The role of Government regarding credit growth and associated indebtedness has a number of distinct dimensions. First, it is important to note that, as far as overall economic and financial stability is concerned, the relevant measure of credit encompasses both public and private sector credit and debt levels. The Minister for Finance has a key role in this regard in ensuring prudent management of the budget and overall sustainability in the public finances. In this context, Ireland's fiscal performance is among the best in the developed world, with Government indebtedness the second lowest in the euro area. Responsible budgetary policy has made a significant contribution to economic performance overall, to the maintenance of low unemployment and to the achievement of record employment levels.

Similarly, the growth of private sector credit and indebtedness needs to be assessed in an appropriate context. In evaluating the financial position of the private sector, it is too narrow an approach to consider the level of indebtedness in isolation from the asset side of the private sector's balance sheet. A high proportion of household indebtedness in Ireland relates to borrowing for house purchase which, in turn, creates an asset for the households. In the same way, borrowing by the business sector underpins high investment levels and the creation of business assets yielding future income.

Account must also be taken of private sector savings levels. The Government has been actively promoting saving by individuals in the recent past, notably through the SSIA scheme. In Ireland, comparatively high household savings rates by international standards support the sustainability of household debt overall.

As far as looking after the interests of the individual borrower and investor is concerned, the function of Government is to provide an appropriate legislative framework for regulation of the financial services sector — one that is both comprehensive and robust. I am satisfied that, on foot of the progress made over recent years, especially in establishing the financial regulator with a particular focus on the interests of the consumer, we have such a framework in place.

Within the implementation of the overall legislative framework, private sector credit growth and debt levels are, in the first instance, a matter for the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland. This follows from its role as part of the European system of central banks and its functions, as the financial regulator, in the prudential supervision of financial institutions and the protection of the consumers of those firms.

The financial regulator has already drawn attention to the need for consumers to choose the right type of loan for their needs. The financial regulator, with its statutory consumer mandate, has developed a number of specific initiatives to help consumers make informed choices in terms of the financial products they choose, the amount of risk they take on and the cost of financial products. These initiatives have been developed through the framework of the financial regulator's "It's Your Money" campaign and have involved publishing consumer guides on credit products, fact sheets and cost surveys on personal loans, all of which are intended to assist borrowers in making the most appropriate credit decisions given their circumstances.

Finally, the Central Bank's recently published financial stability report concludes that a range of fundamental factors such as growing employment and incomes, falling inflation and low interest rates have supported the pattern of mortgage growth and associated debt levels in the economy. The report, however, emphasises the importance of responsible behaviour by both borrowers and lenders to factor into their financial decision making the prospective impact of potential changes in the future economic environment. I share the Central Bank's assessment of the importance of maintaining financial and economic stability. In that regard, for my part, I intend to maintain a responsible approach to maintaining stability in our public finances, which will ensure that the strategic direction of our economy will focus on sustainable real improvements in public services, social provision and infrastructure.

Tax Code.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

63 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Finance the action he proposes to take to address the fact that the average house price in Dublin exceeds the €315,000 stamp duty threshold set in budget 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38842/05]

All owner occupiers are generally exempt from stamp duty on new houses where the property is 125 sq. m. or less. The 2005 budget introduced a stamp duty relieving measure for first time house purchasers who are owner occupiers of second-hand houses by increasing the stamp duty exemption threshold for such purchasers from €190,500 to €317,500 and by having reduced rates for house values up to €635,000. In addition, mortgage interest relief is available at source in respect of interest paid on moneys borrowed for the purchase, maintenance, repair or improvement of that taxpayer's main residence, including second-hand houses.

Any proposed amendments to the current stamp duty regime must be approached with caution as even minor amendments may significantly alter the dynamics of the housing market. Therefore, I do not have any plans to introduce changes in this regard at present. There have been record levels of housing construction over the last few years. This increased supply of houses will assist in bringing supply and demand into balance, thereby reducing the level of price increases.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

64 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance if his Department has received representations from the US authorities regarding the tax status of US companies operating in this jurisdiction; his views on descriptions of this country in sections of the US media as a tax haven; his response to these descriptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38985/05]

As I stated in my reply to Question No. 53 today, I have received no such representations. Furthermore Ireland cannot be regarded as a tax haven. We have a comprehensive taxation system covering income, capital and indirect taxes. In addition, Ireland has 44 tax treaties in place, a system of full exchange of information and proper regulation of activities to the highest standards.

I emphasise that companies locate here for a variety of reasons and, in this regard, Ireland offers many advantages to US investors such as access to the European Union, a well educated workforce, political stability and an enterprise friendly administration.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

65 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether hotels here would get a big increase in lucrative international conference business if VAT refunds available in other countries were allowed here; his further views on the fact that Irish and international companies are not allowed to reclaim VAT paid on hotel accommodation and restaurant bills at conferences held in the Republic but refunds are given to companies which hold their conferences in Northern Ireland; his plans to change the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38737/05]

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

227 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether Irish hotels will get a big increase in lucrative international conference business if VAT refunds available in other countries were allowed here; his further views on the fact that Irish and international companies are not allowed to reclaim VAT paid on hotel accommodation and restaurant bills at conferences held here but refunds are given to companies which hold their conferences in Northern Ireland; his plans to change the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39046/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 227 together.

The issue of allowing businesses to deduct VAT on conference related business expenses has been raised on a number of occasions in recent years. The Government's tourism action plan implementation group has recommended a change in the VAT rules to allow for the deductibility of VAT incurred by businesses on conference related expenditure, that is, hotel accommodation and meals. In this regard, its proposal distinguishes between routine business travel which is non-discretionary and location specific and a subset of business travel known as MICE — meetings, incentives, conferences and events — which is discretionary and is not location specific. The main argument put forward in favour of the proposal is that it would allow Irish hotels to compete more favourably with their European counterparts for conference related business.

We do not currently allow businesses to recover VAT incurred in respect of hotel accommodation and meals. There is a similar block on deductibility for business cars and petrol. These restrictions were put in place to limit revenue loss and tax avoidance. EU VAT law allows such restrictions.

While it would, in theory, be possible to remove or reduce these restrictions, it would not then be possible under EU law to reinstate them. In addition, any scheme designed to remove or reduce these restrictions would have significant cost implications for the Exchequer. The Revenue Commissioners have estimated that if full deductibility was allowed on accommodation and meals, it would cost €115 million in a full year. Furthermore, Article 17(6) of the sixth VAT directive limits the type of deductibility allowable to business expenses. This means there is no provision in EU law that would permit expenditure on entertainment to be allowable. Therefore, any scheme that would allow businesses to deduct VAT on accommodation and meals would have to take account of this fact.

The Revenue Commissioners also raised concerns regarding potential abuse, and it is clear the design of a scheme that would allow businesses to deduct VAT on such expenses, even in a limited form, is complex. However, officials from my Department, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism are examining this issue. Specifically, they are exploring if the focus of the proposal could be narrowed by certain administrative solutions to ensure that it is targeted and complies with EU law. I have asked for this examination to be completed as soon as possible.

Public Service Staff.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

66 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which the target of reducing public service employment has been achieved. [38966/05]

The target of reducing public service employment was announced in December 2002. To take an overview, the policy has succeeded in cutting back radically on the rapid rise in public service employment in the period 1997 to 2002. From 1997 to 2001 there had been an increase of almost 43,000, or 19%, in the number of public service employees. Since the introduction of the policy in December 2002, the increase has been of the order of 5,500 or less than 2%. This has taken place at a time of significant increases both in employment in the economy generally and in the population, with the corresponding increased demand for public services.

Numbers employed in the health and education sectors have increased by just under 9,000 over the 2002 baseline. Numbers employed in the other sectors — the Civil Service, defence, local authority and non-commercial State-sponsored sectors — have been reduced by 3,500. In fact, by the end of September 2005, the targets for these groups had been exceeded.

I fully accept that original targets in the health and education sectors have not been met. The Government has been prepared to increase numbers to meet priority needs in frontline and essential services. The employment of additional frontline staff has, for example, been approved for new health units and additional disability posts in the health sector, special needs teachers in the education system and to increase the number of gardaí. This is in line with the approach stated when the policy was launched.

Total employment in the public service by the end of 2005 will be close to 290,000. The Government will continue to control and regulate numbers in the public service within agreed ceilings. I am allowing limited increases in staff in some key non-administrative areas particularly in health, education and the Garda to improve the delivery of important frontline services to the public. The success of our earlier policy tells me that this is the correct strategy to follow.

The numbers involved are as follows: Civil Service — non-industrials and industrials — 37,700; non-commercial State-sponsored bodies — 9,600; local authorities — 33,300; Defence Forces — 11,400; Garda Síochána — 14,000; education — to be agreed bilaterally; health — to be agreed bilaterally.

Decentralisation Programme.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

67 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the total number of civil servants and other public servants who will have been decentralised from Dublin to other locations by the original deadline for the completion of the plan of December 2006; his plans to review the scale or scope of the proposal in view of the very poor response to the scheme to date in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39009/05]

I have no plans to change the scale or scope of the decentralisation programme. In line with the timeframes set out by the decentralisation implementation group in its June report, I expect that up to 1,000 people will have decentralised to 11 locations by end 2006 or early 2007.

The Government is very pleased with the numbers of people who have applied to the central applications facility, CAF. There are about 10,600 applications so far and new applications are being received each week. Since the closing of the priority application period on 7 September 2004, an average of more than 100 new applications have been received each month over the past 14 months. The CAF remains open and continues to accept further new applications.

Tax Code.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

68 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance if he has received any fresh analysis of the tax relief availed of by top earners as revealed by the Revenue Commissioners’ study of the 400 highest earners; and if he will indicate the findings. [38981/05]

The Revenue Commissioners' study, "Effective tax rates of the top 400 earners: Report for the tax year 2001", was published by my Department in March of this year. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a study of the effective tax rates of the top 400 earners in 2002 is being prepared. This will be published by my Department in the normal course.

Further analysis of the effect of tax relief claimed by top earners, who were included in the report for the tax year 2001 published in March of this year, was undertaken by the Revenue Commissioners, at the request of my Department, as part of the review of tax incentives conducted this year by my Department and the Revenue Commissioners. This further analysis was undertaken in connection with the general restriction of reliefs announced in budget 2006.

The proposed restriction will not apply to earners whose gross income, before the deduction of reliefs, is less than €250,000 and it will not affect those whose effective rate of tax, that is, whose tax liability as a percentage of their gross income, is greater than 20%. Accordingly, the analysis tracked the 2001 group of top earners into the tax year 2002 and identified earners in that group who had income in excess of €250,000 and effective rates of tax of less than 20% in 2002. The measure announced in the budget was then tested against this sample. The test confirmed that the proposed general restriction of reliefs would have the effect of increasing the effective tax rates of high earners to close to 20%. The results of this analysis will be published on my Department's website at www.finance.gov.ie in the next day or so.

As I mentioned in my Budget Statement last week, I also propose to publish all the relevant reports reviewing the various tax reliefs in time for the Finance Bill.

Tax Yield.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

69 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Finance the assumptions and methodology underpinning his estimate of the increase in revenue from capital taxes in 2006 (details supplied). [38846/05]

My Department's forecasts for revenues in 2006 from capital taxes are as follows: capital gains tax —€2,035 million; stamp duties —€2,685 million; capital acquisitions tax —€260 million. These amounts represent forecast increases of 3.6%, 2.1% and 4%, respectively, on the projected outturns for capital gains tax, stamp duties and capital acquisitions tax in 2005.

The forecasts assume a lower rate of growth in tax revenues from these sources next year than the significant increases experienced this year. The forecasts still assume, however, a reasonably buoyant property market next year, both residential and commercial. It should also be noted with regard to stamp duties that the forecast for 2006 takes account of the ending of the specific contribution from the financial sector which was introduced in budget 2003. This contribution has yielded approximately €103 million in each of the past three years.

The methodology for forecasting tax revenues, generally, is based on forecasts of the level and composition of economic activity, which is determined by many factors and is subject to both national and international shocks. Forecasting economic activity on which forecasts of tax revenues are largely based is not an exact science. Moreover, capital taxes are more difficult to forecast than other taxes because they can be influenced by broader factors and considerations than the general level of economic activity.

Tax Code.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

70 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance the revisions he may consider to the section 481 scheme for investment in film production here; the reasons these revisions may be required; if he will extend section 481 relief beyond the end of 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34889/05]

Amendments to tax provisions, such as the section 481 scheme for relief for investment in film production, are matters for the annual budget and Finance Bill and it is not my practice to comment on any possible future amendments to the tax code outside of that context. However, as evidenced by the announcements I made in budget 2006 last week, I intend to keep various incentive provisions of the tax code under review to ensure that tax incentive schemes are effective in achieving their objectives, in balance with the principles of efficiency and overall tax equity. This approach applies equally to the section 481 scheme.

In budget 2004, my predecessor announced an extension of the tax relief for film production for a further period of four years from 31 December 2004 to 31 December 2008, and an increase in the ceiling per film to €15 million from 2005.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

71 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Finance the position in regard to his contacts with the EU Commission regarding its preliminary opinion that the stallion tax exemption scheme would seem to constitute an aid that was not compatible with the Common Market; if he has received a final opinion from the Commission on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38993/05]

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

86 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance his position regarding the stallion tax exemption scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33782/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 86 together.

I refer the Deputies to my reply to a similar parliamentary question from Deputy Costello on 9 November last, which set out the background to this issue regarding the contacts that have been ongoing with the European Commission. As regards the future of the tax exemption for stallion fees, I announced in my Budget Statement of 7 December 2005 that this provision will be discontinued from 31 July 2008, the same end-date as for various property based tax incentive schemes. A new regime appropriate to the industry will be discussed with the European Commission.

Decentralisation Programme.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

72 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance the discussions that have taken place between his Department, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and FÁS regarding the proposed acquisition by FÁS of a new premises in Birr, County Offaly, as part of the Government’s decentralisation programme; the conditions that have been attached by his Department to the provision of finance to acquire the site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39006/05]

Questions relating to FÁS are a matter in the first instance for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Sanction was sought and given for the acquisition of a site and for the provision of funds to FÁS for this purpose on terms consistent with Government policy.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

73 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the anticipated costs, in terms of acquiring and equipping premises and other related costs, at the latest date for which figures are available of the original decentralisation programme announced in budget 2004 and the slimmed down version announced in December 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39010/05]

The Government continues to be committed to the full implementation of the decentralisation programme announced in budget 2004, involving some 10,300 civil and public service jobs in more than 56 locations across some 60 Departments or offices and agencies. My office is in the process of procuring appropriate properties in the designated locations for the Departments and agencies involved, with much progress having been made over the past year. Property acquisition negotiations are completed or are significantly advanced at 23 locations.

The prevailing property market conditions in each geographical area have a significant bearing on the cost of acquiring sites. As the acquisition process is still in progress, it is not possible at this stage to provide a precise estimate of the cost of the site acquisition programme. However, for working purposes only, an indicative figure of €75 million to €100 million, excluding VAT, is being used by the OPW.

The decentralisation implementation group, DIG, in its report of November 2004 announced the names of the Departments and organisations selected as "early movers" and set out a timetable for provision of accommodation. At the same time, the group published a report on the procurement and financial aspects of decentralisation. A further report, in June 2005, updates the timetable announced in November 2004, includes a timetable for the balance of organisations comprehended by the decentralisation programme and sets out commencement and completion dates for accommodation ranging from the final quarter of 2005 to the end of 2009. I am confident that this programme will be successfully implemented.

With regard to the public private partnership approach recommended by the DIG, my office has been developing a comprehensive risk-adjusted costing of project elements to measure the value-for-money of future PPP bids. Expressions of interest will be sought for the first of these major projects early in 2006.

Although property solutions will include leasing and fitting-out of existing buildings, it is anticipated that, in the majority of cases, the accommodation facilities will be provided by the construction of new office buildings and cost estimation can be approached on that basis. However, in advance of market testing of any procurement methodology, it is possible, at this time, only to assign the most general measurements of cost to such a large scale, diverse and complex programme.

It is estimated that approximately 210,000sq. m. of office space will be required to accommodate the total numbers included in the programme. Current OPW cost norms — April 2005 — in respect of offices would indicate an average build cost to fit-out standard in the range of €1,800 per square metre to €2,200 per sq. m. in suburban-rural locations. Such figures exclude VAT, professional fees, inflation and site specific considerations. In addition, the cost of equipping the accommodation to standard office equipment levels could be estimated at approximately €4,000 per person. This would exclude the cost of information and communication technology and specialised equipment requirements.

Such general measurements of cost do not include specialised facility and equipment requirements and other variables which would arise from the spread of possible procurement methodologies. In addition, general cost indicators of this type show a snapshot in time.

It is self evident that a firmer scale of costs for the decentralisation programme will only emerge on foot of cost proposals being received from the market. It will be some months yet before sufficient data can be extracted from a suitable range of tender competitions to provide a basis on which more robust estimates of the overall cost of the programme can be made. Nevertheless, it can be estimated that, generally speaking, the cost of providing accommodation in provincial, compared with central Dublin, locations should yield considerable cost savings to the State over time in terms of site costs, capital build costs and maintenance costs.

Public Service Contracts.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

74 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the Government can play a greater role in the promotion of small and medium enterprises through its public procurement policies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37861/05]

The Government recognises the important role of small or medium sized enterprises in the local and national economy and promotes their development to the greatest extent possible. I very much favour maximum participation of SMEs in the public procurement market.

The public procurement market must operate on an open and non-discriminatory basis and it can be an important source of business for SMEs. In the past, access to public contracts was perceived as a problem by many in this sector. Significant measures have been introduced to combat this. A national public procurement website, www.etenders.gov.ie, was developed by my Department in recent years where all significant public sector contracts are advertised. This central facility increases transparency and greatly increases access to public sector contracts for all suppliers.

The SME sector is actively targeted through a marketing campaign and suppliers receive free e-mail alerts to tender notices of interest to them. Figures show a steady increase in the number of registered suppliers competing for business — currently at 27,000, with a growth of 77% in the past year due to active targeting. I wish to build on this and see SMEs competing vigorously for public contracts in the future.

An e-business strategy implementation group led by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is currently considering ways in which the opportunities that electronic procurement offers SMEs can be identified and any obstacles to participation addressed.

Fiscal Policy.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

75 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance the general policy which he advocates regarding dividend payments by commercial State companies. [38830/05]

The question of dividend payment is a matter for the board of each company. I would expect the board would give due consideration to the views of the shareholder on the issue of dividends in the context of its deliberations on that matter. Expectations relating to dividend receipts vary from company to company depending on the company's financial position generally, its capital investment requirements and so forth.

Company

Dividend Payments Received by the Exchequer (€000)

Bord Gáis Éireann

10,093

Electricity Supply Board

73,543

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

76 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance the status of his proposals to reduce the fees payable at tribunals. [38973/05]

The Tribunals of Inquiry Bill 2005, which is being brought forward by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consolidate and reform the legislation relating to tribunals of inquiry, was published on 25 November last. This Bill will provide a statutory basis for the regulation of tribunal and third party legal fees payable by the State.

Tax Yield.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

77 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Finance the amount paid to date in 2005 to the Revenue Commissioners in respect of settlements made in connection with their investigation into the use of life assurance policies for tax evasion; the progress made to date in 2005 in regard to the second phase of their investigation, which commenced on 23 May 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39013/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that to date payments totalling €381 million have been made in tax, interest and penalties by approximately 5,000 taxpayers who have come forward voluntarily.

The Revenue Commissioners are conducting their investigation into the use by taxpayers of life assurance investment products for the purposes of tax evasion in two stages. In the first stage of these inquiries, taxpayers who invested undisclosed and undeclared funds in life assurance products were given until 23 May 2005 to advise the Revenue Commissioners of this. This part of the disclosure stage has now been successfully completed and about 10,000 notices of intention to make a disclosure were received from taxpayers or their agents. Some of these notices were protective. Correspondence was received from others indicating that no liabilities arose.

The Revenue Commissioners formally commenced the second stage of their investigation into the use of life assurance products for tax evasion on 23 May 2005. New powers were provided in the Finance Act 2005 to authorise Revenue Commissioners officers to examine the records that relate to a class or classes of life assurance policies and policyholders in the course of conducting sampling exercises. The Revenue Commissioners have completed the preliminary work regarding the use of these new powers and authorised officers are actively engaged in the sampling process. The information gathered in this process and from the voluntary disclosures will be used to ground applications to the High Court for orders directing insurance companies to furnish details on policyholders and policies to Revenue. It is envisaged that the initial applications will be made in early 2006.

Departmental Reviews.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

78 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Finance the role the centre for management organisation development within his Department is playing in the review of the PPARS computer system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38990/05]

My Department accepted an invitation from the Health Service Executive to participate in the review of the PPARS computer system and, in this regard, assigned a senior ICT staff member. I understand the terms of reference of the review have been agreed and include, inter alia, establishing the current position relating to the development and implementation of PPARS, identifying the options which will meet the future strategic requirements of the HSE and determining the option which will best meet those requirements from a strategic and financial perspective.

I understand the review will be completed in the early part of 2006. I expect recommendations will arise from the review regarding the future of the system but I will not pre-empt the outcome of the review.

Fiscal Policy.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

79 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Finance his views regarding the pattern of economic growth and if it necessitates an adjustment in Government policy. [38977/05]

The main contributors to economic growth this year are personal consumption and investment, with a weaker performance by exports compared with previous years. The composition of economic growth will vary over time and from year to year. As an economy matures, the part played by consumption will tend to increase. The significant growth in investment is a positive development as it enhances the economy's capital stock, thereby providing a basis for future economic growth.

Export performance in any given year is affected by a range of factors. These include external developments such as growth in world demand and exchange rate movements as well as internal factors such as competitiveness and the level of inward investment. It can also be affected by supply side factors particular to individual industry sectors such as the ICT and chemicals sectors, both of which account for significant shares of manufacturing output in, and exports from, Ireland. To secure future export growth requires investment now in all forms of capital, physical capital and knowledge based capital. That is the strategy I am pursuing in my budget.

National Development Plan.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

80 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Finance the progress of the consultation process promised in advance of the introduction of a new national development plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38999/05]

As I indicated in my recent Budget Statement, an extensive consultation process on the National Development Plan 2007-2013 will commence shortly under the aegis of my Department. This will involve consultation with key stakeholders, including the social partners and regional interests.

Oileáin amach ón gCósta.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

81 D'fhiafraigh Mr. J. Higgins den Aire Airgeadais an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas iomlán ar gach gné den socrú idir an Stát, comhlacht príobháideach (sonraí tugtha) agus úinéirí talún maidir le riaradh an Bhlascaoid Mhóir i gCorca Dhuibhne. [37193/05]

Is iad an dá cháipéis a bhfuil riar an oileáin amach anseo bunaithe orthu tuairisc an fhóraim, Eanáir 2002, agus plean bainistíochta an Bhlascaoid Mhóir, a críochnaíodh i Meán Fómhair 2004, agus a dréachtaíodh de bhun mholtaí thuairisc an fhóraim. Iarradh ar pháirtithe uile a raibh baint acu leis ionchur a dhéanamh i bpróiseas an fhóraim agus is ar bhonn comhaontaithe a rinneadh a mholtaí maidir leis an mbealach chun cinn. Cuireann an plean bainistíochta, a dréachtaíodh i gcomhairle le húinéirí maoine ar an oileán, moltaí thuairisc an fhóraim i bhfeidhm agus leagann amach moltaí maidir le gach gné de thodhchaí an Oileán. Déanfaidh mé cóip den doiciméad seo a sheoladh chuig an Teachta.

Lorgaíodh comhairle Oifig an Phríomh-Aturnae Stáit maidir le cur i gcrích na moltaí seo, ceannach na talún agus teacht ar an oileán san áireamh. Tá cead ón Rialtais ann do mhaoiniú €8.5 milliún ina iomlán do chur i bhfeidhm na moltaí a léirítear sa phlean bainistíochta a chuimsíonn: ceannach talún agus maoine; soláthar céanna ar an oileán agus ar an míntír,ag Dún Chaoin, araon; caomhnú an chroícheantair chaoimhnithe; riarachán; comhairliú. Go dáta tá caiteachas ann de €711,000 ar an togra iomlán.

Tax Code.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

82 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether any other elements of our tax code could be subject to challenge under state aid rules. [38975/05]

As I pointed out in my reply to a similar parliamentary question from Deputy Timmins on 9 November 2005, Article 87(1) of the EC Treaty prohibits, in general terms, the granting of aid by the state which distorts competition by favouring certain undertakings or the production of certain goods, in so far as the aid is liable to affect trade between member states.

There are a number of components to this provision, all of which must be met before a particular type of support can be classified as a state aid. The principal components are that: the aid in question is granted by a member state, which includes regional or local authorities or other bodies acting on behalf of the state, or through state resources in any form whatsoever; the aid confers an advantage on the recipient; the aid is selective in its application, inasmuch as it is not afforded to other undertakings in the market in general; the aid is capable of distorting competition, usually by strengthening the competitive position of the beneficiary relative to other participants in the market, and is thus liable to have an effect on trade between member states. The EC Treaty also provides for circumstances in which state aids may be permissible in light of considerations of public policy.

The enforcement of the state aid rules across the member states is primarily a matter for the European Commission. It is not the practice of Ministers to comment on areas where, depending perhaps on interpretation of rules or changing practice or jurisprudence, the Commission might wish to take a view on the Irish tax code. As far as Ireland is concerned, all new proposed tax incentives are examined in light of the state aid rules and it has been the general practice in recent years to discuss such measures with the European Commission and to notify schemes as appropriate.

Tax Yield.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

83 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Finance the amount collected to date in 2005 by the Revenue Commissioners through special investigations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38997/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that figures for the yield since 1 January 2005 from various special investigations and initiatives by the Revenue Commissioners, updated to 30 November 2005, are set out in the following table.

Heading

Total yields

€m

Bogus non-resident accounts

44.0

Offshore assets

64.15

Single premium policies

381.0

Ansbacher

8.8

NIB/Clerical Medical

3.4

Tribunals

10.45

Total

511.8

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that further information on the yields from the various special investigations and initiatives can be found on the Revenue Commissioners website at www.revenue.ie.

Tax Code.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

84 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance the tax expenditures for which he cannot provide all information in each case regarding their purpose, their cost to the Exchequer in terms of tax foregone and the number and average income levels of people taking advantage of the relief; if he intends to remedy the fact that he cannot obtain or provide this information in respect of tax expenditures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38903/05]

A list of tax reliefs in respect of which costs are not currently quantifiable or are negligible or are not identifiable within total aggregates is attached to table IT 6 on pages 16 to 22 of the Statistical Report of the Revenue Commissioners for 2004, which is accessible on the Revenue Commissioners website at www.revenue.ie/pdf/sr04eng_it.pdf. Provisions were included in the Finance Act 2004 to get more information from tax returns on the cost of certain reliefs. This will provide better data in this area and enable fuller estimates of the tax foregone to be made over time.

Property based incentives on which information is being sought in tax forms include: urban renewal; town renewal; seaside resorts; rural renewal; multi-storey car parks; living over the shop; enterprise areas; park and ride; hotels; holiday cottages; nursing homes and convalescent homes; student accommodation; qualifying private hospitals, including qualifying sports injury clinics; buildings used for certain child care purposes; stud fees; woodland relief. Preliminary data at aggregate level derived from 2004 tax returns filed via the ROS system should become available from early 2006.

In my recent Budget Statement, I explained that the consultancy reviews of the various tax incentive schemes included a recommendation that recipients of such tax reliefs be required to supply full data to the Revenue Commissioners to assist in the costing and assessment of reliefs. I will follow this advice as far as appropriate.

Tax Collection.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

85 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Finance the amount repaid by the Revenue Commissioners to individual taxpayers in respect of overpayments of tax for each of the years 2000 to date in 2005; his plans for information campaigns to ensure that taxpayers are made fully aware of all their entitlements and are claiming all credits and allowances provided for; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39012/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the amounts repaid to PAYE taxpayers for the years 2002 to 2005 inclusive, as at 23 September 2005, are as follows: 2002 —€242 million; 2003 —€265 million; 2004 —€278 million; 2005 —€282 million to 23 September 2005. The figures for 2001 and prior cannot be produced in the time available but will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

I am also informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a wide range of initiatives are in place on an ongoing basis to inform PAYE taxpayers of their entitlements to tax credits-reliefs and so avoid overpayments of tax. The Revenue Commissioners inform me that the vast majority of PAYE workers receive their full entitlements every year. At the beginning of each year a tax credit certificate is issued to every PAYE taxpayer and this reflects the most up-to-date information that Revenue has regarding an individual's entitlements. Revenue completed the issue of 2.24 million such certificates for 2005 in mid-February and it is anticipated that a similar number will issue in February next to reflect the recent budget changes.

Each certificate is accompanied by a simple but comprehensive leaflet giving full details of the credits-reliefs to which a taxpayer may be entitled including: main personal tax credits available for the year in question with comparative figures for the preceding year; tax rates and tax bands for the year in question; exemption limits for single, widowed and married persons; how to claim an adjustment to the tax credit certificate.

Revenue uses media advertising on a regular and systematic basis to acquaint taxpayers with their entitlements and to encourage them to claim these. In the case of the PAYE community in particular there is extensive advertising of the budget provisions each year, including a Revenue free-phone service which operates for two days immediately following the budget. Again, when the tax credit certificates are being issued during January and February each year a newspaper and radio campaign is run to alert people to this.

Revenue's website provides easy to access customer service information on the full range of reliefs available to taxpayers, together with a range of claim forms for download and completion. The recent information summary of budget 2006 is now on the website. The website also has detailed information to direct customers to the appropriate contact point should they wish to phone, call, write, e-mail or fax.

In February 2005, Revenue launched a new self service option for PAYE taxpayers. This service allows PAYE employees to claim, using the Internet, text messaging or the lo-call 1890 phone number, age credits for those over 65, service charges and trade union subscriptions. It also allows them to request forms for claiming various reliefs.

Revenue also publishes a wide range of claim forms, leaflets and guides on all PAYE credits and reliefs. Some leaflets are available on the website in French, Dutch, Spanish and Polish. All the forms and information leaflets can be downloaded and printed from the Revenue website or ordered on-line. There is also a 24 hour telephone number available — 1890 30 67 06 — for requesting forms or leaflets.

Revenue has recently introduced a redesigned PAYE computer system and, in the early part of 2006, this will allow taxpayers to: access their Revenue records over the Internet to ascertain allowances-credits given and details of pay and tax; amend their tax credit details over the Internet, that is, claim an allowance-credit not on record or change the amount involved for an existing relief; request an on-line review of their liability or a balancing statement, based on the details available on the Revenue record, including where amended with regard to entitlements. This will give taxpayers greater control over their tax affairs and let them check whether they have claimed their full entitlements.

The launch of these services will be accompanied by a comprehensive marketing campaign to alert customers to the facilities available to encourage maximum take up of the tax reliefs to which taxpayers are entitled. A detailed booklet will be produced informing people how to use the wide range of self service options to make claims on a 24-7 basis.

Revenue already liaises with other State bodies and private institutions to facilitate the automated granting of credits-reliefs to PAYE taxpayers: for example, the tax relief at source, TRS, system ensures that all those entitled to mortgage and medical insurance reliefs get these reliefs at source and do not have to make a claim to Revenue.

Revenue is already very proactive in the manner in which it ensures that PAYE taxpayers are made aware of their entitlements and facilitated in claiming these. Revenue keeps the issue under constant review and takes whatever steps are necessary through public information campaigns to continue to inform taxpayers of their entitlements and to simplify as far as possible the arrangements for making these claims. I emphasise, however, that the primary responsibility for ensuring that Revenue has the most up to date information on a taxpayer's affairs lies with the taxpayer.

Question No. 86 answered with QuestionNo. 71.

Decentralisation Programme.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

87 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Finance the negotiations which have taken place regarding the placement of persons who do not opt to decentralise with their units or agencies; and the proposals the Government has made to unions. [38963/05]

Many people who have applied to decentralise have now moved into their new decentralised posts. Concurrently, individuals in decentralised posts who did not wish to decentralise transferred to the vacated posts scheduled to remain in Dublin. Such transfers, which have been taking place for some time now, are accomplished on a voluntary basis with the individuals concerned applying to transfer to the Dublin posts.

My Department has recently extended the arrangements for people remaining in Dublin. The Public Appointments Service has commenced the operation of a system that will match Dublin based posts with people wishing to remain in Dublin. Any decentralising organisation which anticipates that it will have staff wishing to remain in Dublin who cannot be placed within the organisation will engage with the Public Appointments Service in the placement of these individuals. Each individual affected or likely to be affected will be offered the opportunity to indicate preferences on Dublin based posts.

Regular discussions are continuing with the trade unions on the implementation of the entire decentralisation programme including the details of these arrangements for the staff remaining in Dublin.

Tax Collection.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

88 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Finance the number of court prosecutions initiated as a result of tax evasion in respect of each year since 1997; the number of cases in which convictions were secured; the number of cases in which prison sentences were imposed and the sentence in each case; if he is satisfied with the level of court cases taken having regard to the high level of evasion; if he will report on the work of the investigations and prosecutions division of the Revenue Commissioners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39015/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the following information is the up to date position on court prosecutions initiated for tax evasion. In 1997, there was one prosecution and one conviction. A fine of €635 was imposed with no custodial sentence. In 1998, there were six cases and eight convictions; fines totalling €42,854 were imposed. There were two custodial sentences, one of six months suspended and one of two years suspended. In 1999, there were two cases and one conviction. In one case a fine of €19,046 was imposed with no custodial sentence. In the other the defendant was acquitted.

In 2000, there were three cases and three convictions. Fines totalling €952 were imposed. There were two custodial sentences, one of two years, reduced to 18 months on appeal, and another of 12 months suspended. In 2001, there were four cases and four convictions. Fines totalling €14,284 were imposed. There were four custodial sentences, one of 12 months, two of six months suspended and another of three months. In 2002, there were three cases and three convictions. Fines totalling €5,540 were imposed and one custodial sentence of six months.

In 2003, there were six cases and seven convictions. Fines totalling €29,365 were imposed and one custodial sentence of two years suspended. In 2004, there was one case and one conviction. A fine of €5,000 was imposed and 180 hours community service was imposed in lieu of a three months custodial sentence. In 2005 to date, there have been eight cases finalised and ten convictions have resulted — a case can involve more than one person. There have been three custodial sentences, one of 16 months, which is currently under appeal, and two of three months each. In another two cases 240 hours and 120 hours of community service were imposed in lieu of custodial sentences of six months and three months respectively. In addition, fines totalling €199,287 were imposed. A further eight cases are before the courts.

The Revenue Commissioners have a clear policy of prosecuting cases of serious tax evasion. This function is tasked to their investigations and prosecutions division. Following the restructuring of Revenue in 2003, all investigation activity was consolidated in this division with a remit to co-ordinate all Revenue prosecution work and, in particular, to increase the number of criminal investigations for serious tax offences and ultimately to increase the number of prosecutions. The number of investigators was also increased for this purpose.

The most recent figures indicate that this approach is proving successful. There are currently 58 cases under investigation for potential prosecution, the Director of Public Prosecutions is considering a further ten cases and has given directions to prosecute in another four. Bench warrants have been issued in two cases for failure to attend court and eight cases are in the court process. Combined with the eight successful prosecutions to date in 2005, of which the conviction and sentence in one case are under appeal, it is the highest overall figure to date and vindicates the decision to concentrate Revenue's prosecution resources in one area.

Public Service Staff.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

89 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Finance if his Department’s approval was sought by the Health Service Executive for the terms and conditions of employment, including pension rights, of the recently resigned deputy chief executive of the Health Service Executive; if his approval was withheld; the reason for such withholding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38987/05]

Joan Burton

Ceist:

217 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance if his Department’s approval was sought by the Health Service Executive for the terms and conditions of employment, including pension rights, of the recently resigned deputy chief executive of the Health Service Executive; if his Department’s approval was withheld; the reason for such withholding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39251/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 89 and 217 together.

The terms of contracts of employment of staff of the Health Service Executive are primarily a matter between the executive and its staff. I will, accordingly, confine my reply to matters relating to my Department's exercise of its statutory role in approving terms and conditions of HSE staff.

The remuneration of the director was, in common with the other national directors in the HSE, settled by agreement with the Department of Health and Children and the interim Health Service Executive after an evaluation of the posts by independent consultants who measured the jobs and recommended appropriate public service comparative pay levels. The post of the director of the national hospitals office, along with the director of primary, continuing and community care, was set at a level higher than the other HSE directors' posts to reflect its importance. The rate is currently €165,716.

The Department of Health and Children sought my Department's approval for the payment of an allowance to the director of the national hospitals office in respect of his acting as deputy CEO of the Health Service Executive. The extra allowance sought by the Department of Health and Children would have amounted to approximately €45,000 per year. The request for an allowance of this size was turned down by my Department on the grounds that it was not clear why any allowance should be paid. It is normal for senior management in public service organisations to cover the role of the CEO in his or her absence. In addition, the director is eligible to take part in a performance related award scheme. If occasions of having to act as deputy CEO gave rise to exceptional burdens of work, this scheme provides an avenue to recognise this.

Superannuation arrangements were set for the post reflecting normal public service terms. Issues concerning these arrangements, including assurances that the person concerned claimed he had received, were brought to the attention of my Department by the Department of Health and Children last summer. While my Department expressed the view that further enhancements of the arrangements did not seem appropriate, it sought clarification as to the form of assurances that had been claimed. My Department received no such clarification in advance of the recent announcement of the resignation of the person concerned. There had been ongoing contact before that announcement between my Department and the Department of Health and Children about the person's eligibility for superannuation.

Tax Collection.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

90 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Finance the proportion of the almost €2.5 billion outstanding in uncollected taxes which the Revenue Commissioners expect to recover; if new measures are planned to assist in the collection of outstanding taxes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38995/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the total tax debt outstanding at 31 March 2005, as reported in Revenue's annual report and in the recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, was €1.2 billion, not €2.5 billion as quoted by the Deputy.

As with any tax system, there will always be people who pay late, people who try to avoid paying and people who cannot pay. In this context it is important to note that the debt of €1,217 million at 31 March 2005 is €146 million or 10.7% less than at 31 March 2004. The figure represents 2.5% of annual gross collection and is one of the lowest percentages of any tax administration internationally. Of this figure, €278 million of the total debt is under appeal, with a further €349 million under control or at enforcement. The remainder, €590 million, is under active collection.

It is the goal of Revenue, as stated in its Statement of Strategy 2005-2007, that all debt on record should be less than five years old or the subject of active enforcement or court proceedings. In this context, I am advised by Revenue that it would expect the current collectible tax debt and any additional debt that will arise for periods up to 31 December 2004, through assessments made by Revenue or submission of overdue returns by taxpayers, would ultimately be reduced over the next five years very substantially. That reduction will be achieved primarily by collection of the debt due.

Revenue has emphasised the changing element of the debt make-up and the difficulty that this creates in making an estimate of the likely reduction in the debt figure over a five year period. Revenue's strategies and methodologies adopted to achieve a reduction over a five year period will be subject to annual review and evaluation that is carried out within the context of the business planning process.

National Development Plan.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

91 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Finance the preparations which have taken place regarding a replacement for the national development plan; and the way in which the inputs will be cobbled into a coherent programme. [38848/05]

Preparatory work has commenced on the National Development Plan 2007-2013. A high level steering group chaired by my Department and comprising senior officials of relevant Departments has been established to oversee the drafting of the plan. To provide an independent assessment, the Economic and Social Research Institute has been engaged to carry out an ex ante evaluation of the investment priorities for the next NDP. An extensive consultation process with key stakeholders, including the social partners and regional interests, will shortly commence. The overall objective of the process is to ensure that the plan delivers an integrated and coherent investment strategy.

Tax Code.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

92 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the current VAT threshold is in need of change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37864/05]

This is an issue that has been raised on a number of occasions in recent years. When this issue arose on Committee Stage of the Finance Bill 2005, I undertook to examine it in the context of this year's budget and Finance Bill.

In my Budget Statement, I announced changes to the current VAT registration thresholds for small businesses. These thresholds are being increased from €25,500 to €27,500 in the case of services and from €51,000 to €55,000 in the case of goods. This represents an increase of almost 8% to the current thresholds and will remove 2,200 businesses from the VAT net. These increases will be introduced in the Finance Bill and will take effect from 1 May 2006. This initiative will cost €6 million in 2006 and €12 million a full year.

The effect of this increase will be to relieve small traders of the burden of compliance with the requirements of the VAT system. Increasing the thresholds would also free up Revenue resources to deal with larger cases. Following this increase, Ireland will have the third highest registration threshold for goods and the fifth highest threshold for services in the EU. Some member states have no registration threshold for goods or services and require all firms to register irrespective of their turnover.

Tax Collection.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

93 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Finance the number of random audits carried out by the Revenue Commissioners to date in 2005; the number expected to be undertaken by the end of 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38996/05]

I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the tax compliance testing programme was rolled out in November 2004 and is used as a random case selection tool in 2005 to test compliance on a number of fronts. It tests payment compliance, filing compliance and reporting compliance. Some 400 cases were allocated to the various regions and to large cases division. Most of these cases are well advanced and it is expected that the programme will be substantially completed by year end. A full analysis of the results will not be available until after the end of the year. A similar programme will be carried out in 2006.

I am satisfied that the Revenue Commissioners are pursuing a programme which is dealing in a very determined way with tax evasion by maximising the impact of their resources through focusing on risk. This is strengthened by their new taxpayer compliance testing programme, which ensures that all taxpayers are exposed to the possibility of a compliance check or Revenue audit. This approach is in line with international best practice.

Tax Yield.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

94 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance if he will make a statement on the Exchequer returns for the first 11 months of 2005. [39001/05]

I have already issued a press statement regarding the end of November Exchequer returns, which is available on my Department's website. The results for the first 11 months of the year indicate that the public finances remain in a sound position.

Tax Revenue, at €36,879 million, was just over €1.7 billion or 4.9% ahead of profile at end November. Year on year tax receipts were up 10.7% compared with the profiled increase of 5.4% for the year as a whole. The main excesses were on VAT, €504 million, stamp duties, €503 million, capital gains tax, €371 million, and excise, €177 million. Income tax, excluding the impact of one-off receipts from Revenue's special investigations, was broadly on target while corporation tax was €273 million below profile.

Overall Exchequer issues for net voted spending was €30,559 million at end November compared to €28,398 million for the same period last year, an increase of 7.6%. This was below the estimated, Revised Estimates Volume, increase of 11.3% net for the year as a whole. At end November, the Exchequer balance showed a surplus of €2,959 million. Taking account of anticipated developments in December and as indicated in my budget last week, an Exchequer deficit of €852 million is now expected for 2005 compared to a forecast deficit of €2,988 million at the start of the year. This is an improvement of over €2.1 billion for the Exchequer balance.

Tax Collection.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

95 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons, companies and trusts being investigated by the Revenue Commissioners arising from the Clerical Medical Insurance-NIB inquiry at the latest date for which figures are available; the number of cases where settlements have been agreed and the amount paid to date in 2005; the number of cases outstanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39016/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that arising from the Clerical Medical Insurance-NIB inquiry, 465 cases have been targeted for investigation. To date, 306 cases have been settled on payment of tax, interest and penalties amounting to a total of €53.65 million, of which €4.95 million was paid during 2005. A further 121 cases have been finalised with no additional liability arising. The remaining 38 cases are the subject of ongoing investigation, in respect of which €4.76 million has been paid on account.

In the course of 2003, three cases were prosecuted, with fines being imposed in two cases and a suspended sentence imposed in the other. The individuals concerned have also settled their tax affairs and paid the outstanding tax, together with interest and penalties. A further case is currently under investigation with a view to prosecution.

Aggregate results of the ongoing investigations have been published each year since 1998 in the annual reports of the Revenue Commissioners. Individual details of settlements have also been published where the provisions of section 1086 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 applied.

National Development Plan.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

96 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance if he is satisfied with the rate of implementation of the national development plan; if he expects the plan to be implemented in full by the end of 2006; the number of projects under the plan that have been completed to date in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39000/05]

I am broadly satisfied with the rate of both financial and physical implementation of the national development plan, NDP. The monitoring committee for the national development plan and the community support framework meets this week to consider progress on the NDP overall to end June 2005. It is estimated that approximately €39 billion or some 88% of the profiled expenditure for the period of the NDP from January 2000 to end June 2005 has been incurred at end June 2005. The Exchequer contribution to the NDP is expected to be close to the planned level of expenditure for the period to the end of 2005.

With respect to the operational programmes, the economic and social infrastructure OP is performing well with expenditure at 102% of profiled expenditure for the period January 2000 to end June 2005. Expenditure on the employment and human resources development OP has achieved 97% of profiled expenditure for the same period and is on course to meet its targets. Performance of the productive sector OP is behind target with 49% of the original profiled expenditure having been achieved. The key factors accounting for the low rate of expenditure relate to the lower take up of financial opportunities by the private sector and less than anticipated absorption capacity for research and development projects in the BMW region. Despite this, physical performance is close to target for the period for this programme.

The Border, midland and western and southern and eastern regional OPs are showing absorption rates of 61% and 68% of profiled expenditure for the period January 2000 to end June 2005, respectively. Good progress is evident under the local infrastructure and social inclusion and child care measures. Difficulties still exist in the tourism and agriculture sectors where implementation has been slower and demand for grant support has been less than anticipated. The PEACE and technical assistance OPs are on track to meet their targets by the end of the programming period.

With respect to the eventual outturn for the NDP, I expect the end 2006 position for the key economic and social infrastructure OP and employment and human resources development OP to be close to or above targets. Similarly, the position for the PEACE and technical assistance OPs will be close to their targets at the end of 2006. The regional programmes and the productive sector OP are unlikely to achieve their end 2006 targets.

Although Structural Funds are profiled for each operational programme for the years 2000 to 2006, expenditure under co-funded measures will continue until the end of 2008 in accordance with Structural Funds regulations. Account must be taken of expenditure in 2007 and 2008 in evaluating the final position of the NDP. Based on progress reported to date, Ireland will draw down its entitlements of Structural Funds for the programming period.

My Department does not maintain data on the completion status of individual projects under the NDP as this is a matter for individual Departments and agencies which are responsible for project funding and, where appropriate, project implementation.

Public Service Staff.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

97 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the recent concern expressed by the chief executive of the Equality Authority (details supplied) at what he described as the disturbing level of discrimination within the public service; the steps which are being taken to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38988/05]

I am aware of the statement made by the chief executive of the Equality Authority. Speaking at the launch of the publication "Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004 and Provision of Health Services"— a joint initiative of the Equality Authority, the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive — the chief executive praised the health sector for demonstrating leadership in the area of equality. He said there was a particular challenge for the wider public sector in the provision of services in accordance with the standards set out in the Equal Status Acts and pointed out that public service cases accounted for nearly 25% of the Equality Authority case files under these Acts during 2004.

The Deputy will be aware that the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004 prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods and services, accommodation, disposal of premises and education. Discrimination is prohibited on nine grounds: gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller community. In the Civil Service, customer service is a particular priority in accordance with good practice and legal requirements.

All Departments and offices have customer service policies which govern all contacts between the office and members of the public to ensure that good and efficient services are provided. These customer service policies are supported by policies for employees on diversity, gender equality and disability which, while they have an internal focus, help to make all staff aware of the importance of equality issues. Parallel policies are adopted in other parts of the public service. I assure the Deputy that all public sector organisations take seriously their responsibilities under the Equal Status Acts.

Decentralisation Programme.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

98 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance the timescale for decentralisation to Listowel, County Kerry; the number of applicants for relocation to Listowel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38791/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that 50 people are required to staff the office in Listowel. As at 1 December 2005, 41 people have accepted a formal offer to decentralise to Listowel. Offers are still being made and it is expected to have the required number of people secured before the actual move to Listowel, which is scheduled to take place at the end of 2006.

State Property.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

99 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the planned sale of State property announced by his Minister of State; the property sold to date in 2005 and the amount raised; the way in which the money raised has been used; the properties it is planned to sell during 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39014/05]

As part of the transforming of State assets programme, the following properties have been disposed of.

Disposed of in 2004.

Building

Method of Sale

Price

2 Church St., Dungarvan, County Waterford

Public auction

337,000.00

Lad Lane, Dublin 2

Public tender

22,500,000.00

Blacklion customs frontier post site, Cavan

Private treaty to Cavan County Council

21,586.23

72-76 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2

Public tender

52,300,000.00

Kilmacthomas G.S., County Waterford

Private treaty to Waterford County Council

100,000.00

14/16 Lord Edward Street, Dublin 8

Public tender

8,780,140.48

Thomastown GS, County Kilkenny

Public auction

450,000.00

Total

84,488,726.71

Disposed of in 2005.

Building

Method of Sale

Price

Dungloe former SWO, County Donegal

Private treaty

300,000.00

Leighlinbridge GS, County Carlow — disposal of part of site

Public auction

165,000.00

Ashbourne GS — disposal of part of site

Public action

2,125,000.00

St. John’s Road site, Westgate

Public tender

44,916,551.79

Ballinskelligs old Garda station, County Kerry

Public auction

409,693.03

Kilronan CGS, Galway. Sale of site to Údarás

Private treaty

1,416.53

Galway — 16 Eyre Square

Private treaty

9,920.59

The former Veterinary College, Shelbourne Road, Dublin 4

Public tender

171,500,000.00

26-27 Eden Quay, Dublin 1

Public tender

4,205,000.00

Chantilly site, Rathmichael, County Dublin

CPO compensation

5,100,000.00

Lynch’s Lodge Hotel, Macroom, County Cork

Public tender

2,300,010.00

Total 2005

231,032,591.94

The proceeds of these sales are forwarded to the Department of Finance as extra Exchequer receipts to be offset against funding for decentralisation.

Properties identified for disposal in 2006 are as in the table.

Property for Sale

Method of Sale

Guide Price / Sale Price

Muff Garda Station, County Donegal

Public auction

195,000

Bridgend former customs and excise post, County Donegal

Public auction

350,000

Knocknagoshel Garda station house, County Kerry

Public auction

75,000

Gardiner St. former SWO, Dublin 1.

Private treaty

Property swap plus €2.5 million

CPO Ballyshannon SWO, County Donegal

CPO compensation

2,500

Identification of properties surplus to requirements is continuously evolving.

Decentralisation Programme.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

100 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Finance if an estimate has been undertaken of the number of civil or public servants, who do not wish to relocate, who will be surplus to requirements as a result of their jobs being transferred to other locations under the Government’s decentralisation programme; the jobs which will be provided for these personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39011/05]

Due to the nature of the programme it is not possible at this stage to estimate the number of civil and public servants who do not wish to leave Dublin, as individual circumstances are open to change and figures can fluctuate. The picture will become clearer over the coming period as staff continue to be assigned to decentralising organisations. In addition, the new applications to decentralise are continuing to be received at the rate of 100 per month.

Many people who have applied to decentralise have now moved into their new decentralised posts. Concurrently, individuals in decentralised posts who did not wish to decentralise transferred to the vacated posts scheduled to remain in Dublin. Such transfers, which have been taking place for some time now, are accomplished on a voluntary basis with the individuals concerned applying to transfer to the Dublin posts.

My Department has recently extended the arrangements for people remaining in Dublin. The Public Appointments Service has commenced the operation of a system which will match Dublin based posts with people wishing to remain in Dublin.

Departmental Reports.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

101 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance the way in which he will present to Dáil Éireann the detailed reports emerging from the present review of various aspects of the tax code. [38834/05]

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

109 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Finance if he intends to publish the report of the consultants commissioned to look at a range of tax breaks and shelters available to high earners; the amount paid to the consultants in terms of fees or remuneration arising from the consultancy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38994/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101 and 109 together.

In budget 2005, I announced a major review of tax reliefs to achieve a greater degree of equity in our tax system, and to evaluate whether the various tax incentive schemes continued to be justified in light of the benefits arising. This process involved both internal reviews conducted by the Department of Finance and the Office of the Revenue Commissioners and external reviews by two external consultancy firms.

As I indicated in my Budget Statement on 7 December 2005, I propose to publish all the relevant reports reviewing the various reliefs, including the consultancy studies, in time for the Finance Bill. A summary overview of the conclusions and recommendations arising from the consultancy studies is set out in the summary of budget measures in the budget 2006 documentation. A summary of the outcomes arising from the internal reviews is also provided in that context.

As regards the costs of the consultancy studies, the contracts stipulate that Indecon International Economic Consultants are to be paid the sum of €224,004, before VAT, in respect of the review of certain property based schemes, and that Goodbody Economic Consultants are to be paid the sum of €155,400, before VAT, in respect of the review of area based tax incentive renewal schemes.

Interest Rates.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

102 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance his Department’s assessment of the implications for the economy here of the recent 0.25% increase in interest rates announced by the European Central Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39003/05]

The Irish economy is projected to grow at around its long-term sustainable growth rate of 4.5% to 5% over the next three years, as per the economic forecasts published in the stability programme update last week. The recent interest rate rise is unlikely to have a determining impact on this outlook. Its effect on inflation, through an increase in mortgage repayments, is incorporated in the consumer price index, CPI, projection of 2.7% in 2006.

Tax Code.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

103 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Finance if he has evaluated the impact of the tax credit on incremental research; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38839/05]

A 20% tax credit applies to companies that incur incremental expenditure on research and development. The credit was introduced in 2004 and it is too early for a detailed evaluation. The Revenue Commissioners have made specific provisions for collection of data on costs through company tax returns; thus information will be available on the costs of the credit in due course.

Pension Provisions.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

104 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance the terms on which funds in the National Pensions Reserve Fund have been made available for public sector projects; and the reason they have not been taken up. [38838/05]

The National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission is independent of Government in the exercise of its functions. It controls and manages the fund with discretionary authority to determine and implement the fund's investment strategy. This investment strategy is based on a commercial investment mandate with the objective of securing the optimal return over the long term, subject to prudent risk management.

With regard to commercial investment in public sector projects, it is open to the fund to become involved in public private partnerships, PPPs. The annual report of the National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission for 2004 states that the commission has made an initial allocation of €200 million for investment in PPPs in Ireland and will increase this allocation should suitable opportunities arise. The report for 2004 also states that the commission will, in future, rather than join particular consortia in tendering for projects, make equity and-or debt finance available to the winning bidder, provided it is satisfied with the prospective rate of return.

The participation of the fund in any consortium, at any stage, is of course subject to the relevant EU and national public procurement rules.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

105 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance the discussions he has had with other Departments or State agencies concerned at the potential loss of expertise and corporate knowledge as a result of the Government’s decentralisation programme; the steps being taken to address these concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39007/05]

When the decentralisation programme was announced by my predecessor he appointed a decentralisation implementation group to drive the process forward. The group's terms of reference include the examination of how decentralisation might enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the public service.

The implementation group asked that all organisations participating in the programme should prepare detailed implementation plans, including risk mitigation plans. These plans were prepared and submitted to the group. In its July 2004 report, the group noted that the overall quality of the plans was good. In line with a recommendation in the group's November 2004 report, each of the Departments and organisations scheduled as "early movers" has prepared a revised implementation plan detailing the steps that need to be taken to complete the moves to the new locations successfully. These have been submitted to the group which has been examining them in detail. All other decentralising organisations are currently preparing revised implementation plans. The implementation group has recently met the Secretaries General of decentralising Departments to discuss the overall planning frameworks and review progress to date.

On a more general note, the Committee for Public Management Research, CPMR, has recently conducted a review of knowledge management in the Irish Civil Service. The purpose of the review was to raise awareness of knowledge management and its potential to support organisations in achieving their business objectives. It recognised that knowledge management had been given greater priority in response to ever increasing pressure to improve efficiency, together with a growing awareness of the importance of sharing knowledge across Government organisations to maintain a whole of Government perspective on policy making and service delivery.

It also recognised that the need for this has been given greater impetus by the decentralisation programme and the likelihood of significant changes in personnel in many Departments. The review identifies concrete steps and the cultural change required of Departments to use and share knowledge more effectively.

Computerisation Programme.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

106 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Finance if the promised peer review system for large ICT projects is in place; the way in which it will operate; the threshold of figure above which the peer review system will operate; if the centre for management organisation development within his Department will play a role in the peer review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38991/05]

The centre for management organisation and development in my Department operates a delegated sanctioning regime for ICT expenditure where Departments and offices are required to submit a broad value for money justification for each of their major ICT project proposals. This justification has to receive my Department's approval prior to any project commencement. The delegation arrangements also require Departments and offices to report on an annual basis their progress with projects in the previous year.

This delegated sanctioning arrangement is being supplemented by a peer review process for all significant ICT projects. This review process will provide an independent peer review of programmes or projects at key decision points by a team of experienced people external to the organisation. It will particularly focus on the preparation of good business cases, affordability, detailed planning, on strong governance arrangements and on ensuring that the scope of a proposed project is appropriate to the current ICT capacity of the sponsoring organisation. It will also take full account of recent Government decisions in this area. It is important to note that peer reviews will not override in any way the accountability arrangements in place within organisations.

The centre for management and organisation development, CMOD, in my Department has agreed the details for the peer review process and a list of projects for peer review with the ICT directors of those Departments and offices which have significant ICT projects either underway or in planning. The projects that have been selected are those where the development and roll out costs exceed €5 million or where the project is likely to stretch the resources of the sponsoring Department or office. Three of these projects have been chosen to pilot the agreed process and these pilots have begun.

Peer review teams will be selected by the sponsoring Department or office of each project subjected to the process. These selections are subject to agreement with CMOD. It is envisaged that such review teams will include people with relevant experience from both the public and private sector. CMOD will monitor the peer review process and its findings carefully. Particular attention will be paid to the adequacy of the peer review arrangements agreed with ICT managers and to developing further supports both to organisations sponsoring projects and to project reviewers.

Tax Code.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

107 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance the situation regarding the artists’ tax exemption scheme; if his attention has been drawn to the booklet, Testimonials on the Artists Tax Exemption Scheme, released by the Arts Council; if an assessment of the scheme has been carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34884/05]

The artists' tax exemption was one of the exemptions reviewed by my Department in consultation with the Revenue Commissioners as part of this year's overall review of tax reliefs and exemptions. Prior to budget 2006, I met the Arts Council to discuss the exemption with it. At that meeting, the Arts Council presented me with a copy of the testimonials, so my attention has been drawn to them.

As the Deputy will be aware from my Budget Statement last week, I have decided to make no change to the tax treatment of income exempt under the artists' tax exemption scheme where that income is less than €250,000 per year. I am a strong supporter of the arts here and I believe abolishing or restricting the exemption to artists in the lower income ranges would make it financially more difficult for such artists to continue in their field and could have a long-term impact on the development of the arts here. The statistics compiled by the Revenue Commissioners on the exemption in recent years highlight the fact that the vast majority of artists have been claiming the exemption on income of €50,000 or less.

However, there is a strong case, on grounds of equity, for restricting the amount of earnings that can fall to be exempted under the exemption scheme. Accordingly, I have decided that the new restriction of reliefs, which I announced in the budget, to come into effect from 1 January 2007, will apply to the artists' tax exemption where the artist's "exempt" income exceeds €250,000 in any year from 1 January 2007.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

108 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Finance the number of special savings investment scheme accounts opened at the latest date for which figures are available; the average amount of savings per investor per month; if, on the basis of such figures, his Department can give a definite figure for likely cost to the Exchequer of the specials savings investment scheme; when the first payments will become due; the amount expected to be paid out by the Exchequer in each of the first 12 months after the SSIAs mature; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39018/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that based on the analysis of the 2004 SSIA annual returns furnished by all qualifying savings managers, the total number of active accounts at 31 December 2004 was 1,094,294 and the average monthly subscription at that date was €175. This is the latest date for which figures are available.

As indicated in replies to previous questions, it is not possible to give a definitive answer as to the eventual cost of the scheme as it is subject to a number of variables, including where participants voluntarily withdraw from the scheme or vary their monthly contributions over the remaining period of the scheme. For this reason also, it is not possible to state the amount expected to be paid out by the Exchequer in each of the 12 months after the SSIAs begin to mature in May 2006.

The cost of the scheme in 2004 was €548 million. If the current average monthly subscription for the first 11 months of 2005 continues for a full year, the annual cost in 2005 would be approximately €596 million. The total gross cost over the period of the scheme is reduced by the exit tax to be returned when the accounts mature. The first SSIA accounts are due to mature at end May 2006.

Question No. 109 answered with QuestionNo. 101.

Departmental Expenditure.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

110 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Finance the way in which the Office of Public Works processes have been reformed in order that the type of waste outlined in a programme (details supplied) in May 2005 cannot recur; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38911/05]

The Office of Public Works is conscious of the requirement to provide value for money in all activities in the property acquisition and construction areas of its remit. The Office of Public Works has reviewed all of its property procedures in recent years and has introduced measures to ensure greater co-ordination where a number of State bodies, including the OPW, are involved in specific property transactions. Underlying these revisions is the requirement to achieve full value for money in the acquisition and refurbishment of leased properties, for example, since 2000 there is improved co-ordination between State agencies involved in the implementation of the strategy for providing accommodation for asylum seekers.

The management of construction projects undertaken by the Office of Public Works is governed by the office's project management plan. The Commissioners of Public Works are satisfied that the procedures and control mechanisms in place ensure that the risk of project overruns is minimised and, where they arise, that an assessment of the impact of the overrun is made. This is borne out by an examination of capital projects undertaken from the Vote of the Office of Public Works which showed that, for seven years up to 2003, the total value of close on 1,000 capital projects undertaken was approximately €985 million. In that period the over-run on some 11 listed projects costing in excess of €1 million each, and for which contractor's final accounts have been processed, amounted to 0.003% of the total expenditure.

In addition to its existing procedures, the Office of Public Works is a member of the Government contracts committee for construction which is currently involved with the Department of Finance in the development of an integrated ongoing programme to deliver value for money in both current and capital expenditures in line with Government policy in that regard. The proposals involve the introduction of fixed price lump sum contracts as the norm. This development will be fundamental to protecting taxpayers from cost over-runs.

The aim is to ensure that there is a fair risk sharing and that contractors take on those risks that they are able to manage and control. The optimum transfer of risk will ensure that taxpayers are protected from the financial consequences of unnecessary delays and, in turn, cost over-runs. This should apply to service or consultancy contracts as well as infrastructure projects.

Value for money concerns are also being dealt with by the introduction of ex ante evaluations, including economic cost-benefit appraisal, for all projects valued above €30 million. This approach will include identification and carefully quantified analysis of all the relevant project costs and benefits, including indirect costs, as well as the identification of any risks of cost escalation.

Pension Provisions.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

111 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Finance if the Government has, in 2005, made additional contributions to the statutory setting aside and investing of 1% of GNP annually to the National Pensions Reserve Fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38912/05]

Section 18(2) of the National Pensions Reserve Fund Act 2000, under which the National Pensions Reserve Fund was established, states: "that there shall be paid by the Minister into the Fund from the Central Fund or the growing produce thereof, in equal quarterly instalments, a sum equivalent to one per cent of Gross National Product". By the end of 2005 a total in excess of €1,320 million will have been paid from the Exchequer to the National Pensions Reserve Fund over the course of the year in quarterly tranches of €330,062,500. This is the equivalent of 1% of the projected GNP figure for 2005 of €132,025 million as published in Table 1, page D.5, of budget 2005.

While the National Pensions Reserve Fund Act 2000, section 18(5), provides for additional contributions to the fund, there were no such additional payments made by the Exchequer in 2005.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

112 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance if, in view of figures showing that fewer than one in nine civil servants wish to move with their current jobs under the Government’s decentralisation programme, he has plans to review or adjust the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38984/05]

I have no plans to change the scale or scope of the decentralisation programme. There have been about 10,600 applications for decentralisation so far. New applications are being received every week. Since the closing of the priority application period in September 2004, an average of 100 new applications have been received every month for the past 14 months. I have no reason to believe this rate of application will lessen as the CAF remains open and continues to accept further new applications.

Using the statistic that few civil servants are moving with their posts is not accurate. It assumes that nobody will move between Civil Service organisations. The fact is that a career in the Civil Service for most people will encompass service in several Departments and different posts within those Departments. Many Civil Service organisations have a formally agreed mobility policy whereby people move post every five years or so. Many civil servants have already transferred across Departments to decentralising posts in advance of the transfers out of Dublin over the coming years. To date, more than 900 of the 7,200 civil servants are in place, more than 30% of whom are middle management and higher level grades.

To give the Deputy an example of how well the transfer system within Civil Service organisations works, I remind her of the information given by the Revenue Commissioners to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service last year. The Revenue Commissioners set up decentralised offices with 900 staff in the mid-west in the early 1990s. At the time 10% to 12% of staff in the Collector General's office opted to relocate. If staff who were employed in other Revenue posts are included that figure increased to 25%. As a result, some 75% of decentralising staff were new to the Revenue organisation. The Revenue Commissioners looked on this as an opportunity to examine its internal efficiency. As a result of that exercise, significant improvements were made to processes, systems and work practices which were implemented in the course of the decentralisation.

As the Deputy knows the Collector General's office was decentralised without loss of efficiency or effectiveness and it has risen to all the business challenges which have emerged in the past decade. I expect that Revenue's experience can be replicated in the current decentralisation process.

Economic Competitiveness.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

113 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Finance his views on the contrasting trends reported by the Central Statistics Office regarding employment growth and output growth in the economy, which implies an unexplained collapse in productivity growth in the economy here. [38843/05]

The CSO's most recent employment figures, taken from the quarterly national household survey, showed that there were 1,989,800 people employed in the third quarter of 2005. This was an annual increase of 96,200 jobs, or 5%. The sectors making the greatest contribution to this increase were construction, up by 13.7%, and financial and other business services, which increased by 8.3%. Employment in the wholesale and retail trades also grew by 6.1%. On the other hand, employment in industry fell by more than 3.6% and there was a decrease of about 0.25% in agriculture.

The CSO's estimate of GDP, that is, the total output of goods and services in the economy, for the second quarter of this year showed an annual increase of 4.1%. Output of all sectors, other than agriculture, forestry and fishing, was up on the previous year. By comparing the growth in employment and GDP, it is possible to calculate a crude indicator of the trend in labour productivity, for example, employment in the first half of 2005 grew by 4.5% on an annual basis. Over the same period GDP increased by 3.1%, implying an apparent decline in aggregate labour productivity of about 1.3%. However, care should be taken in interpreting differences between trends in quarterly employment and in GDP because timing factors and statistical volatility can affect the results. It is too early to conclude definitively that aggregate productivity in 2005 has declined but there is evidence from recent years that while labour productivity levels continue to increase, the rate of growth is slower than previously.

A major factor influencing the slow down in the rate of increase in labour productivity is the change in the sectoral composition of the workforce. Productivity rates in Ireland have been exceptionally high compared with other countries because of the large numbers of foreign owned high tech industries that generate very high levels of output or value added. However, much of the strong growth in employment in recent years has been in other sectors of the economy with the result that the overall productivity levels have not grown as quickly as in the past and are moving closer to the international norm. With more persons employed in construction and in the retail and service sectors, average output per worker has not grown as quickly as in previous years, although the total numbers employed have increased at a record rate.

In summary, while employment growth in the first half of 2005 has exceeded the growth in output as measured by the GDP, it is too early to conclude that there has been as a result an unexplained collapse in labour productivity. The available information is still limited, and subject to revision in some cases, and part of the fall is explained by changes in the composition of employment. However, this is something that needs to be monitored as more information becomes available.

Tax Code.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

114 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance his plans to undertake a comprehensive review of tax residency rules on the basis of the report that is to be supplied to him by the Revenue Commissioners, should that report indicate that there is serious abuse of Ireland’s current tax residency rules; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38905/05]

Residency rules were last updated in the 1994 Finance Act by the then Government following a comprehensive review of the matter by the Revenue Commissioners and the Department. The resulting new rules set out in the 1994 Finance Act both simplified and clarified the area and were generally welcomed.

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 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. When the report is received from the Revenue Commissioners the matter will then be considered.

Tax Collection.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

115 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons, companies and trusts being investigated by the Revenue Commissioners arising from the Ansbacher accounts at the latest date for which details are available; the number of cases where settlements have been agreed and the amount paid to date in 2005; the number of cases outstanding; if additional action has been taken by the Revenue Commissioners arising from the report of the Ansbacher inspectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39017/05]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that their Ansbacher review team has been carrying out detailed investigations since October 1999. The investigation has essentially two elements. There are Ansbacher type arrangements and there are other cases involving offshore funds and deposits.

Revenue has advised that the review team has inquired into 289 cases to date and 183 of these cases have been finalised. The 289 cases, taking account of spouses and connected companies, consist of 300 names. The 289 cases are made up of 179 cases listed on the High Court inspectors' report and 110 similar cases discovered by Revenue or listed on the authorised officer's report. The investigation includes examining the tax position of disclosed entities and accumulating and assembling information on other connected entities. The number of connected entities in cases under investigation is now nearly 700.

Revenue is making extensive use of its legislative powers to seek books, records, documents and information in the cases being investigated. Where appropriate, prosecutions will be considered but these will depend on the level of evidence available. Revenue has made ten successful applications to the High Court for the production by financial institutions and third parties of books, records and other documentation, which are relevant to liabilities of Ansbacher account holders. Some 200,000 documents have been received under the terms of the High Court orders. Advanced investigative computer software is used in controlling and managing the documentation.

To date a total of €54.42 million has been received, consisting of settlements and payments on account, in respect of 105 cases. This is made up of:

Number of Cases

€ million

Cases involving Ansbacher or Ansbacher type arrangements

84

44.97

Other cases involving offshore funds or deposits

21

9.45

Total

105

54.42

The 183 cases which have been finalised consist of 74 cases which were settled on payments of €42.93 million, included in the amount above, 60 non-resident cases which are covered by the provisions of double taxation agreements, 36 cases where no additional liabilities arose and 13 which were covered by the 1993 amnesty provisions.

Revenue made an application under section 11 of the Companies Act 1990 for a copy of the High Court inspectors' report, which was made available to Revenue on 6 July 2002. The information in this report has been carefully considered as regards the tax liabilities of the persons concerned. In addition, Revenue made a further application to the High Court for access to the supporting papers to the High Court inspectors' report. The High Court order in the matter was granted in June 2004 and perfected in January 2005 and allows for access to documents relating to clients of Ansbacher named in the High Court inspectors' report and those persons and companies, including members of the board, found by the High Court inspectors to have failed to co-operate with their inquiry.

The order also allows for Revenue to make application and grounding affidavit for the obtaining of information and documents relating to any other individual or company. Access to documents is subject to the direction of the High Court. Revenue has applied, on foot of the order, for access to documentation in respect of certain cases named in the High Court inspectors' report. Some documentation has been supplied and further documentation is awaited.

Revenue has informed me that, although substantial progress has been made, the investigations are time consuming and complex and are likely to continue for some time to come.

Tax Code.

John Deasy

Ceist:

116 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Finance if he has exercised his powers to block the emergence of a common corporate tax base; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38964/05]

To date, the Commission has not made a formal proposal on the common consolidated corporate tax base. At the informal ECOFIN in September 2004, it was agreed the Commission should establish a technical working group to consider such matters. While we opposed such a move, we, like all other member states, are participating in the group without prejudice to our national position of opposition to the common consolidated corporate tax base. As there is no proposal currently being examined by Council, the issue of exercising a block does not arise.

Price Inflation.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

117 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Finance his views on the observations of the Office of Public Works regarding the sanction of increases in gas prices. [38833/05]

The Government Supplies Agency, as part of its procurement responsibilities, has placed contracts for several years for the supply of natural gas to a large number of State sites. As with all procurement, the agency seeks to achieve the most economically advantageous terms available for its end users. Prior to 2003 this involved negotiating a price for the supply of natural gas with the single supplier, Bord Gáis Éireann. Following deregulation there was scope for competition in the unit price of gas and the GSA initiated a process of competitive pricing for the unit cost, which is still in place.

With regard to transmission costs the Deputy will be aware that gas has to be transported from either Inch, County Cork, or Moffat in Scotland to each site in the country. This transmission or transportation mechanism is operated by Bord Gáis Éireann.

The Commission for Energy Regulation, on 29 July 2005, invited observations from the public and interested parties on its proposed decision regarding transmission or transportation tariffs for the 2005-06 gas year. The Government Supplies Agency, in response to that invitation, submitted its views to the commission on 25 August 2005. In doing so the agency was seeking to promote dialogue on the provision of gas supplies to its customers. I favour such an initiative.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

118 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he has initiatives to promote the greater use of e-banking. [38965/05]

Departments and offices already use electronic funds transfer extensively to make salary payments and it is intended that by end 2005 they should, to the greatest possible extent, use it for other payments, including payments to suppliers, and as far as possible payments made under their schemes and programmes. In addition, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is pursuing an e-business strategy through its agencies to encourage the business community at all levels to adopt modern technologies in their business processes and practices.

As regards promoting e-payments generally, however, the majority of payments are made in the private sector on a business-to-business, person-to-person, person-to-business or business-to-person basis. Clearly, the popularity of particular payment methods is primarily determined by the commercial offerings of financial institutions and the preferences of their customers. If there are commercial benefits to be gained from adoption of e-payment methods, then it would be primarily a matter for commercial operators to make those methods attractive to their customers and persuade them to use them. My Department has, however, made it clear that if financial institutions identify any legislative obstacle to the greater use of e-payments and make a proposal for its removal, the matter will be positively considered.

Public Service Contracts.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

119 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Finance if he has reviewed the concerns expressed by the construction industry in respect of new Government contract terms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38837/05]

The Government decided to reform construction procurement to achieve greater cost certainty, better value for money and more cost effective delivery of capital works projects. My Department, with the assistance of the Government Contracts Committee for Construction, GCCC, specialist legal drafters and external technical expertise, has drafted a suite of draft standard forms of contract and conditions of engagement for construction related services. These provide for the introduction of fixed price lump sum contracts tendered on a competitive basis with appropriate risk transfer to give effect to the Government decision.

Consultation with the construction industry and the relevant professional bodies on these draft documents has been taking place since July of this year. During these extensive discussions, the views, comments and concerns of the construction industry and the professional bodies have been outlined in considerable detail. This exchange of views and constructive engagement is very valuable. My Department and the GCCC have examined in detail the issues raised and concerns expressed during this consultation process and have responded, with my agreement, last month proposing appropriate changes to the draft contracts or clarification via guidance material to address many of the concerns raised.

The intention is to finalise work on the new contracts through further constructive consultation on both sides, which is under way. This process should help fine tune the new draft forms of contract in a way that seeks to further address industry concerns but does not compromise Government policy. We want to have the new contracts and related material available for use in early 2006 and my Department looks forward to continued engagement with the industry and professional bodies with a view to meeting this deadline.

State Property.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

120 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance the amount received for the recent sale of the State owned site at the former Veterinary College in Ballsbridge; the amount paid in respect of fees or other expenses arising from the sale; the way in which it is intended to apply the money from the sale; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38986/05]

The property described was sold by tender for €171,500,000 on 30 November 2005. The agent's fees were a fixed price of €19,000 plus VAT. Marketing costs are based on vouched receipts and are not yet to hand. Site preparation works, including the removal of asbestos materials, are estimated to be in the region of €500,000. The sale is scheduled to close in February 2006 and the proceeds will be treated as extra Exchequer receipts to be offset against funding provided for decentralisation.

Decentralisation Programme.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

121 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the costs incurred to date in 2005 or expected arising from the Government’s decentralisation programme, the number of properties purchased, leased, fitted out, developed or modified; the cost in connection therewith; the number of options; the cost implied or entered into; if it is intended to offer inducement or encouragements; the costs in respect of any or all Departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38945/05]

Under the decentralisation programme, property negotiations have been completed or significantly advanced in 23 locations. In the case of five locations — Athlone, the Curragh, Navan, Furbo and Sligo — OPW owned sites have been identified and will be used to accommodate decentralised offices.

In the case of another four locations — Carlow, Longford, Newcastle West and Killarney — sites have been acquired from the relevant local authorities. Privately owned sites have been purchased in Buncrana, Tipperary and Clonakilty. In the case of Tullamore the OPW has entered into an agreement to purchase an office block when it is completed in September 2006. Contracts for sale have been received in a further ten locations, including Donegal, Dungarvan, Knock, Portarlington, Portlaoise, Thurles, Carrick-on-Shannon, Trim, Thomastown and Cavan.

The total purchase cost for the 18 non-OPW owned sites is estimated at €35.7 million. Of this amount, approximately €13 million is in respect of sites acquired from local authorities and State agencies. The total amount spent to date in 2005 is €12.62 million. The Office of Public Works has taken short-term leases in Portlaoise, Newcastle West, Thurles and Tipperary to accommodate advance parties. The annual cost of these leases is approximately €649,216.

Decentralisation will be implemented through the transfer of staff on a voluntary basis. There will be no redundancies and, as on previous occasions, the payment of removal or relocation expenses will not arise. However, consultations will be held with the public service union on an ongoing basis in order to address the concerns of all staff affected by the programme.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

122 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance further to his proposals to decentralise sections of his Department to Tullamore and Kildare, the staff numbers proposed to be decentralised to each location; the number of existing staff within his Department who have indicated their willingness to move to the new locations with the current jobs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39004/05]

Staff are expected to decentralise to Tullamore next year but the date for moving to Kildare is yet to be finalised. However, we intend to be ready to move there in the first quarter of 2007. Regarding Tullamore, plans are well advanced with 96 people signed up to decentralise; 66 are already in place and a further 30 will take up duty over the coming months. Of the 96 signed up to decentralise, 19 are staff from my own Department, of which ten are moving in their current posts. There are nine staff in my Department who have opted to decentralise to Kildare, three of whom are moving in their current posts.

State Agencies.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

123 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Finance the targets he has set for the National Development Finance Agency; and the way in which it is performing against target. [38835/05]

The National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, was established under the National Development Finance Agency Act 2002. Section 3 of the Act sets out its functions in regard to advising State authorities on the optimum means of funding public investment projects in order to achieve value for money, including by means of public private partnership, PPP, arrangements. Under the Act it is a matter for the board to set any strategic objectives or targets to be met by the agency.

Under section 21 of the Act the NDFA provides an annual report not later than six months after the end of each financial year. The report includes the accounts of NDFA, which are presented to the Comptroller and Auditor General for audit. The report is laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. Currently, the report provides information on how the NDFA has performed its advisory functions in the year of account, including a list of projects on which it advised, and presents the annual accounts of the agency with the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General thereon.

Decentralisation Programme.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

124 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Finance if he is reassessing the so-called decentralisation process in view of recent figures regarding numbers of persons willing to relocate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38906/05]

I have no plans to change the scale or scope of the decentralisation programme, to which there has been a very good response rate. In line with the timeframes set out by the decentralisation implementation group in its June report, I expect that up to 1,000 people will have decentralised to 11 locations by the end of 2006 or early 2007.

As the Deputy will be aware, there have been approximately 10,600 applications so far and new applications are being received each week. Since the closing of the priority application period on 7 September 2004, an average of 100 new applications have been received each month. The CAF remains open and continues to accept applications.

Garda Stations.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

125 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance the timeframe for the provision of the new Garda station for Castleisland, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38790/05]

The Commissioners of Public Works have recently completed the acquisition of a site at Tralee Road, Castleisland, County Kerry for the erection of Garda area headquarters. On receipt of a brief of requirements from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, a sketch scheme will be prepared for the Department and Garda approval. This will be followed by a Part 9 planning approval process. It is anticipated that a contract for this project will be placed at the end of 2006.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

126 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Finance the information available from the central applications facility in respect of applications from civil servants and other public servants currently located in Dublin who wish to transfer to new locations outside of Dublin under the Government’s decentralisation programme; the way in which this compares with the Government target of 10,300; if agreement has now been reached with all public service unions regarding promotional opportunities for persons who chose to move and persons who opt to remain where they are; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39008/05]

The Government is very pleased with the numbers of people who have applied to decentralise. Approximately 10,600 applications have been received so far and new applications are being received each week. Of the total number of CAF applications received to date, 5,600 are from civil and public servants currently located in Dublin. Since the closing of the priority application period on 7 September 2004, an average of over 100 new applications have been received each month. We have no reason to believe that this rate of application will lessen as the CAF remains open and continues to accept further new applications.

Regarding promotional opportunities, discussions with the unions representing general service grades in the Civil Service are at an advanced stage, while discussions with the unions representing professional and technical personnel are also ongoing. The decentralisation implementation group in its June report reinforced the responsibility of management within the various State agencies to progress the implementation of Government policy in this regard. It went on to state that progress should be monitored by the responsible Department and requested that the next and deeper iteration of each agency's implementation plan be prepared. I understand that agencies are preparing these plans at present. My Department has also recently reached agreement with the unions representing general service civil servants on arrangements for those remaining in Dublin.

Public Service Contracts.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

127 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if the measures he has taken to date in 2005 are sufficient to eliminate the prospect of cost overruns in respect of public contracts or procurements; if all Departments are compliant with his requirements or directives in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38944/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

235 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance his proposals to eliminate future cost overruns and overspends in respect of public procurements or contracts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39212/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

247 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the number of State contracts or procurements in respect of which there are cost overruns in the past five years; the full extent of such overspends; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39224/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 127, 235 and 247 together.

The primary responsibility for the procurement, management and implementation of capital projects rests with individual Departments and public bodies under their aegis subject to compliance with general conditions of sanction and accountability. Accordingly, details in respect of individual projects or contracts are a matter for the relevant Minister. My Department has put in place an integrated set of actions to help address the issues of better management and implementation of capital programmes and projects to ensure a much closer alignment between the agreed tender price and the final outturn cost and minimise the potential for cost overruns. These include the five year rolling multiannual capital envelopes framework, guidelines for the appraisal and management of capital expenditure and a programme of reform of construction procurement.

Regarding construction procurement reform, the Government decided to introduce new arrangements to reduce the scale of and scope for cost overruns. The key objectives are greater cost certainty, better value for money and more cost effective delivery of capital works projects. My Department, with the assistance of the Government contracts committee for construction, GCCC, specialist legal drafters and external technical expertise, has drafted a suite of draft standard forms of contract and conditions of engagement for construction related services. These provide for the introduction of fixed price lump sum contracts tendered on a competitive basis with appropriate risk transfer.

An intensive consultation process has been taking place with the construction industry and the relevant professional bodies on these draft documents since July of this year. Amendments have been proposed to address industry concerns and the intention is to finalise the consultation process shortly. This should help fine tune the new draft forms of contract in a way that seeks to further address industry concerns but does not compromise Government policy.

We want to have the new contracts and related material available for use in early 2006 and my Department looks forward to continued engagement with the industry and professional bodies with a view to meeting this deadline. These initiatives should enhance the management of capital programmes and help to improve the cost effective delivery of construction projects over the medium to longer term.

Tax Code.

John Gormley

Ceist:

128 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Finance if his Department has consulted with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the subject of a site value tax; if the introduction of a site value tax with the abolition of commercial rates, as suggested by the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland has been considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38908/05]

As I indicated in my reply to a similar parliamentary question from Deputy Eamon Ryan on 23 November 2004, I understand that the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland have made this suggestion in the context of local government financing, which has been the subject of an independent review commissioned by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I understand this review is currently being finalised and is likely to be published shortly. At this stage, it would be premature of me to offer any comment on the possible recommendations or measures that may arise from the review process.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

129 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Finance if the Government has received communication from the Government of the United States of America regarding the practice and application of Irish corporation and other tax rules on US registered companies operating here. [37927/05]

Regarding the normal administration of taxes, the Ireland-US double taxation convention provides for exchange of information for the taxes covered by it. Information exchanged is treated as confidential and may only be disclosed to persons concerned with the administration of the taxes covered by the convention. This type of provision is included in most of the double taxation treaties that Ireland has concluded. In respect of the question raised, I understand from the Revenue Commissioners that there are currently no outstanding issues from the US Government. Furthermore, I can also confirm that neither I nor my Department has received communication from the US authorities in this regard.

Motor Fuels.

John Gormley

Ceist:

130 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Finance if his Department has commissioned or carried out studies on the impact of peak oil on the economy here; the way in which this impact might be averted or reduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38909/05]

I assume that the Deputy's question relates to the impact of peak oil prices on the economy. For the purposes of economic forecasting, my Department uses oil price assumptions prepared by the European Commission. As outlined in the stability programme update published on budget day, the assumptions underpinning the economic forecasts are that oil prices — Brent crude — will average $55 per barrel in 2005 and $61.4 per barrel in 2006.

My Department monitors trends in oil prices on an ongoing basis. In terms of the economic impact of oil prices, economic model simulations suggest that each sustained $10 per barrel increase in the price of oil reduces growth by between one quarter and one half percentage points in a full year in Ireland. However, it is important to bear in mind that these model results are based on historical averages. In addition, the results generally relate to the effect of oil price increases emanating from supply side shocks, whereas the recent increase in prices is generally regarded as reflecting stronger international demand.

As the Deputy will be aware, I announced a number of measures in budget 2006 to support the provision of alternative sources of energy. In particular, I have agreed with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources that Ireland should set an initial target of 2% of the fuel market to consist of biofuels by 2008 and that this should be achieved by targeted excise relief measures. Accordingly, I introduced a new expanded excise relief scheme for biofuels in the budget. The level of excise relief will be €20 million in 2006, €35 million in 2007 and €50 million in each of the following three years. This relief, when fully operational, is expected to support the use and production in Ireland of some 163 million litres of biofuels per year. This is some 20 times the current level of biofuels attracting excise relief. The environment will benefit in terms of a reduction in CO2 emissions from the initiative. Security of supply of fuels will be enhanced and jobs and outlets for agriculture production created. It is further estimated that it could ultimately give rise to hundreds of new full-time jobs in Ireland.

Fiscal Policy.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

131 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance if he will make a statement on the recently published estimates of receipts and expenditure for the year ending 31 December 2006. [39002/05]

The White Paper forecast of the Exchequer balance for 2005 shows a deficit of €850 million. This represents an improvement of €2.138 billion compared with the budget 2005 forecast deficit of €2.988 billion. This improvement is largely due to an excess of more than €1.8 billion in tax receipts. The forecast of the general Government balance, GGB, for 2005 shows a surplus of 0.3% of GDP, which represents an improvement of 1.1% of GDP compared to the deficit of -0.8% of GDP forecast in budget 2005. The bulk of this shift is explained by improvements in the net balances of the Exchequer, the social insurance fund and the local authorities, partially offset by the recording in 2005 of the full projected cost of the repayment of certain nursing home charges.

For 2006 the White Paper forecasts a pre-budget Exchequer deficit of €1.088 million and a pre-budget GGB surplus of 0.8% of GDP. This strong underlying fiscal position has allowed me to produce a progressive and socially inclusive budget without jeopardising the long-term sustainability of the public finances.

Interest Rates.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

132 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Finance if he has estimated the impact of a 1% rise in interest rates on personal repayments; and the extent to which this will fall disproportionately on recently formed families. [38844/05]

As the Deputy will be aware, there is a broad range of factors that determine the effect of changes in interest rates on individual loan repayments. These include, for example, the outstanding loan amount, whether the lending rate is fixed or variable, the length of time over which the increase takes place, the pass-through of interest rate changes to lending rates, the repayment term and the specific nature of the financial product involved. My Department, having consulted the Central Bank, has concluded that, as detailed information relating to all these factors is not available, an accurate estimate of the figure requested by the Deputy cannot be constructed. In reviewing the broad impact of any projected increases in interest rates on households and businesses, account must also be taken of private sector savings levels as any increase in interest rates will obviously have beneficial effects for savers.

In addition, in assessing the overall financial position of both businesses and consumers following interest rate changes, it is too narrow an approach to consider the level of indebtedness in isolation from the asset side of the private sector's balance sheet. A high proportion of household indebtedness in Ireland relates to borrowing for house purchases which, in turn, creates an asset for the households. In the same way, borrowing by the business sector underpins high investment levels and the creation of business assets yielding future income.

As far as the position of recently formed families is concerned, the Central Bank's recently published financial stability report concludes that fundamental factors such as increasing employment and incomes, low inflation and interest rates have underpinned the pattern of mortgage growth and associated debt levels in the economy. The maintenance of Ireland's strong economic performance and in particular strong income and employment growth provides a positive and supportive economic environment within which households can successfully manage their finances.

In the case of housing loans, mortgage providers are specifically obliged under the Consumer Credit Act 1995 to inform borrowers of the effect on the amount of their repayment instalments of a 1% increase in interest rates in the first year of their mortgages. A number of specific initiatives have been developed to help consumers make informed choices in terms of the financial products they choose, the amount of risk they take on and the cost of financial products. Mortgage lending practices are closely supervised by the Financial Regulator and the Central Bank, which require lenders to conduct appropriate stress testing of borrowers' ability to meet their obligations, not just in the current economically favourable circumstances but also in more challenging times.

It should also be noted that the maintenance of low inflation through the setting of an appropriate level of interest rates for the euro area by the European Central Bank benefits all consumers and preserves the real value of incomes and savings. It is also very important to bear in mind that interest rates remain at very low levels compared with any period of our recent economic history, even following an increase of the order referred to in the Deputy's question. A number of key initiatives announced in budget 2006 will make a significant contribution to improving the financial position of newly formed families.

Disabled Drivers.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

133 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Finance his plans to amend the criteria laid down for disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme; if, in view of the fact that this section of legislation has not been updated since 1994, he will review same; if not, the reason therefore; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38698/05]

The disability 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, namely, 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 or 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. The immediate term recommendations related to the circumstances in which one could appeal from a refusal of a primary medical certificate and the operation of the disabled driver medical board of appeal and have been implemented.

In respect of the long-term recommendations, including the qualifying disability criteria, I should say that 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.

The best way of addressing the transport needs of people with disabilities of whatever kind, and the effectiveness, suitability or otherwise of the disabled drivers scheme in that regard will be considered and progressed in consultation with the other Departments that have responsibility in this area. A car tax concession scheme can obviously only play a partial role in dealing with this serious issue, and examination of the scheme is taking place in that context.

European Council Meetings.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

134 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Finance if he will report on the ECOFIN meeting of 6 December 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38910/05]

I did not attend the ECOFIN meeting in Brussels on 6 December 2005 due to pressure to complete final preparations for the Irish national budget, which was announced on 7 December 2005. Ambassador Bobby McDonagh, the Permanent Representative for Ireland to the EU, attended ECOFIN in my absence. The main results of the Council were as follows, namely, the Council adopted conclusions on the challenges of globalisation and on national reform programmes, prepared by the member states under the Lisbon economic reform strategy, it agreed on a general approach, as part of the EU's strategy against terrorist financing, on the provision of information on the payer accompanying transfers of funds and also agreed to submit work on reduced VAT rates to the European Council on 15 and 16 December with a view to reaching an agreement. If no agreement is reached at the European Council, Austria, as the next Presidency, indicated that it would put the matter on the agenda for the January 2006 ECOFIN meeting.

The Council discussed future work on regulatory reform on the basis of a discussion paper prepared by the current United Kingdom and future Austrian and Finnish presidencies. The initiative is intended to enable improvements to the regulatory environment in Europe to bring productivity benefits to member states and provide a boost to growth and jobs. The Council heard a report from the chair of the code of conduct on business taxation group. This group has done important work over the last eight years as part of the commitment to eliminate harmful tax competition. The Council took note of the presentation by the Commission of a White Paper on EU financial services policy for the 2005-10 period. The White Paper draws on the results of a public consultation held by the Commission on the basis of a green paper it adopted in May. The Council took note of progress in other Council configurations on implementation of the EU's action plan on combating terrorism and of the plan's strategy on preventing terrorist financing.

The Council discussed measures taken to follow up a statement on oil prices issued at the informal ECOFIN meeting held in Manchester on 9 and 10 September and was briefed on a recent visit to Saudi Arabia by the president of the Council and the French finance minister and on discussions on energy related issues at the G7 finance ministers' meeting in London on 2 and 3 December. The discussion focused on prospects for prices in the medium and long term and on the appropriate policy response as regards both supply side measures — dialogue with oil producing countries, investments — and demand side measures, such as energy efficiency and reducing oil dependence, as well as the functioning and transparency of oil markets.

The Council adopted a decision approving the conclusion of an agreement on the participation of the ten new EU member states in the European Economic Area. The Council agreed to send a request for assent to the European Parliament concerning a draft decision on the conclusion by the EU of the energy community treaty. The objective of this treaty is to create an integrated market in natural gas and electricity in south-east Europe between the EU and the countries of the region. It will be evident from this list of items that the Council had a very productive meeting.

Tax Yield.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

135 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance the way in which his Department calculates the costs and benefits of tax expenditures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38904/05]

These calculations are based on such information as is available in the tax system at any given time and on estimates of the take-up of reliefs where such information is not readily to hand. The benefit of reliefs can be assessed in a number of ways based on such economic data as may be available or on data specifically gathered as part of a special examination, for example, by outside economic consultants. Provision has been made in the Finance Acts, and further provision will be made, to enhance the range and quality of this information as far as possible consistent with the efficient working of the tax system.

Industrial Relations.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

136 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the percentage union density here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38851/05]

Quarterly labour force estimates are compiled from the quarterly national household survey. As of the second quarter, March to May of 2004, there were 521,400 employees with union membership from a total of 1,507,100 employees, giving a union membership rate of 34.6%. In the second quarter of 2005 there were 1,594,200 employees of whom 544,500 or 34.2%, were members of a trade union.

Work Practices.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

137 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the average daily hours worked by workers in full-time employment here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38862/05]

Quarterly labour force estimates are compiled from the quarterly national household survey. The latest statistics available are for the period June to August 2005. The exact information as requested by the Deputy is not available as the hours worked per day is not asked of respondents. Data on usual hours worked per week are collected and the usual hours worked per week for those in full-time employment is outlined in the following table.

Persons at work full-time, ILO, classified by usual hours worked per week, QNHS Q3/2005, in thousands.

Usual hours per week

Male

Female

Total

1-9

0.5

0.6

1.2

10-19

2.3

4.6

6.9

20-29

11.9

36.5

48.4

30-34

16.6

42.3

58.9

35-39

402.3

320.9

723.1

40-44

273.5

108.2

381.7

45 & over

212.4

34.2

246.6

Variable hours1

151.6

28.7

180.3

Total

1,071.0

576.0

1,647.0

Average hours per week

42.7

37.9

40.9

1Includes ‘not stated'.

Reference period Q3/2005 is June to August 2005.

Source: quarterly national household survey, Central Statistics Office.

Employment Levels.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

138 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the number and percentage of overall workers in County Donegal who worked in the textile sector on 31 December 1994 and on 31 December 2004. [38926/05]

The relevant information from the census of industrial production is set out in the following table. The most recent results at county level are for 2003.

Number of persons engaged — Textile Industries and All Industries, County Donegal, September 1994 and 2003.

September 1994

September 2003

Number of persons

% of industrial employment

Number of persons

% of industrial employment

Manufacture of Textiles

4,696

49

1,553

24

(NACE 17-18)All Industries

9,621

100

6,358

100

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

139 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the percentage unemployment rate in County Donegal. [39088/05]

The exact information as requested by the Deputy is not available. Unemployment estimates are compiled at a regional level from the quarterly national household survey. The latest statistics show that there were 10,900 people classified as unemployed in the Border region in the June to August quarter of 2005. This equates to an unemployment rate of 5.1% for the Border region, which is composed of counties Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo. Sub-regional statistics of the kind requested by the Deputy are not available from the quarterly national household survey.

Cabinet Meetings.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

140 Mr. Timmins asked the Taoiseach if he will hold a Cabinet meeting in County Wicklow in 2006 in view of the fact that it will celebrate Wicklow 400 in 2006. [38900/05]

The Government holds Cabinet meetings outside Dublin from time to time. The holding of these meetings brings attention to bear on a location and affords Government an opportunity to develop closer links with local communities. The intention is to continue to arrange for meetings to be held in various regions of the State over time. While there are no specific further meetings planned at this stage, the prospect of holding a meeting in County Wicklow during 2006 will be kept under review.

Ministerial Staff.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

141 Mr. Gilmore asked the Taoiseach in respect of each Minister of State within his Department, the number of staff broken down by grade employed within their private and constituency offices; the number of staff who are permanent civil servants; the number who are political appointees; the annual cost of each office in terms of salary, overtime and expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39019/05]

The number of staff employed in the office of the Minister of State and Government Chief Whip and in the office of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with special responsibility for European affairs, their grades, salaries, overtime and expenses paid are detailed in the following tables. The salaries include the pay increase due on 1 December 2005 under the terms of the Sustaining Progress agreement.

Office of Minister for State and Government Chief Whip.

Grade

Current annual Salary (including allowances)

Annual Overtime (Estimate)

Annual Expenses (Estimate)Expenses Received (Dec 04-Nov 05)

Private Secretary, Higher Executive Officer

65,677

Executive Officer

41,141

13,136

Staff Officer

33,926

7,601

Clerical Officer

31,519

9,575

Staff Officer, Constituency Office

37,849

Special Adviser

79,389

4,397

Personal Assistant

42,402

6,474

Personal Secretary

41,901

Staff Officer (Acting)

35,206

Office of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs with special responsibility for European affairs.

Grade

Current annual Salary (including allowances)

Annual Overtime (Estimate)

Annual Expenses (Estimate)Expenses Received (Dec 04-Nov 05)

Private Secretary, Higher Executive Officer

66,925

3,591

Clerical Officer

25,588

516

Clerical Officer

28,606

Computerisation Programme.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

142 Mr. Durkan asked the Taoiseach if consideration will be given to compiling one access database to incorporate all Acts and statutory instruments appertaining to all Departments to give greater ease and access to this information via the web; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39133/05]

Since the mid-1990s the Office of the Attorney General has prepared and updated from time to time an electronic Irish Statute Book, which includes the full text of all Acts, statutory instruments and chronological tables published since 1992 on its website. The office has also from time to time published the Statute Book in CD-ROM format. Currently, the website gives the documentation up to the end of 2003 and the office is making arrangements to have this brought up to June 2005 in respect of Acts and statutory instruments and to end 2004 in respect of chronological tables. A new CD-ROM is also being prepared and it and the updated material on the website should be available in mid-February 2006.

One of the commitments set out in the Government's White Paper, Regulating Better, is to make regulations straightforward, clear and accessible. Accordingly, a working group was set up in July of this year to look at the issue of producing and making publicly available statutory instruments electronically in a quicker and more efficient way. The Office of the Attorney General is also now looking at the future strategy in respect of the Statute Book. In respect of pre-1922 legislation the office is preparing an electronic database which will list the Acts of a public and general nature which remain in force. It is intended to make this database accessible to the public.

Public-Private Partnerships.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

143 Mr. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the value of investment undertaken in 2004 and to date in 2005 under PPP, distinguishing those involving tolling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40156/05]

There was no investment undertaken in my Department under public-private partnership in 2004 or 2005.

Health Services.

Paddy McHugh

Ceist:

144 Mr. McHugh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a speech and language therapy facility will be made available for the benefit of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38669/05]

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.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

145 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the extent to which speech and language requirements have been assessed or determined in respect of each national school in County Wexford; the extent to which such requirements are being met; her plans to meet such requirements in the near future; the extent to which her proposals meet the needs of children or as set out by the school authorities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38860/05]

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.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

146 Mr. Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will ensure that speech and language therapy is available to those who need it at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 7 and that adequate therapists are employed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39298/05]

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

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

147 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon will be called for a cataract operation; the reason for the delay in calling this person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38654/05]

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

Health Services.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

148 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive has the facility to allocate moneys to home help organisations through national lottery allocations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38662/05]

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. The Deputy should note that groups and organisations with an involvement in the provision of services to specific client groups, such as older people, may also apply for a grant from national lottery discretionary funds available to the Department of Health and Children.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Ceist:

149 Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there has been engagement between the Health Service Executive and the Department of Defence, with a view to availing of facilities at the Curragh Military Hospital to relieve pressure on the accident and emergency department at Naas General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38663/05]

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.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

150 Mr. Noonan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the inadequate service for amputees in the Limerick area; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that persons have to wait considerable lengths of time to access the service provided at Croom Orthopaedic Hospital by medical staff from Cappagh Hospital, Dublin; her plans for the establishment of a permanent prosthetic service in the area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38664/05]

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

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

151 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an early appointment can be arranged for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38665/05]

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.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

152 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when an appointment can be arranged for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38666/05]

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

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

153 Mr. Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when an appointment can be arranged for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38667/05]

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

Health Services.

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

154 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 17. [38717/05]

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 these matters investigated and to have replies issued directly to the Deputy.

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

155 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a date can be given for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 to receive orthodontic treatment. [38734/05]

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.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

156 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if an appropriate full-time place will be provided for a person (details supplied) in need of long-term residential care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38760/05]

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.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

157 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the delay in providing a premises in County Tipperary (details supplied); if she will work with the Health Service Executive to provide funding for the long promised facility; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38761/05]

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.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

158 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her proposals to provide funding to develop and expand diabetic services at Waterford Regional Hospital (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38762/05]

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.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

159 Mr. Gilmore asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a person (details supplied) in County Dublin who has been waiting more than 17 weeks for a triple bypass operation at St. James’s Hospital is entitled to the National Treatment Purchase Fund scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38778/05]

As the Deputy's question relates to the operation of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, my Department has asked the chief executive of the fund to respond to the Deputy on the information requested.

Health Services.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

160 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of hours home help which was available in 2003, 2004 and to date in 2005 in County Cork. [38797/05]

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.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

161 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the old age pension for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; if this person is expected to pay the difference between subvention and the weekly cost of a nursing home for another person (details supplied) or have the State find a bed in a nursing home for this person. [38805/05]

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 Services.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

162 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, pursuant to Question No. 629 of 15 November 2005, the running costs associated with the CT scan for Ennis General Hospital as presented to the Health Service Executive; when same will be installed and operational; the type and specification of CT scan which will be installed; the envisaged amount of voluntary funding associated with the project; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38808/05]

I understand that the Health Service Executive issued a response to the Deputy on his previous parliamentary question dated 1 December 2005. My Department requested the parliamentary affairs division of the executive to arrange to have the questions raised by the Deputy investigated and a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

John Gormley

Ceist:

163 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the steps she is taking to decrease the waiting list for an occupational therapy assessment; if she will sanction the employment of more community occupational therapy posts within the health service and rescind the employment ceiling which has been in place since March 2003; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38813/05]

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. There is no embargo on recruitment to any area of the health services nor is there any plan to introduce one.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

164 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will work with the relevant Departments to support core funding of community employment project staff in the Irish Wheelchair Association resource and outreach centres in 62 locations nationally serving 3,000 persons weekly; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38814/05]

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 Correspondence.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

165 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the arrangements in place to ensure that timely responses are received from the Health Service Executive to issues raised with her by way of parliamentary questions; her views on whether it is acceptable that a response, which would normally under Dáil regulations have to be given by a Minister within four working days, has not yet been received from the Health Services Executive after two months, as exemplified by the lack of response received arising from Question No. 404 of 28 September 2005; and if arrangements will be made to have a proper accountable democratic system put in place regarding parliamentary questions tabled to her. [38822/05]

Prior to the establishment of the Health Service Executive, parliamentary questions concerning access to services by individuals or in specific geographic areas were referred to the chief executive officer of the relevant health board or Eastern Regional Health Authority for direct reply.

Pursuant to the Health Act 2004, the functions of the health boards and ERHA were transferred to the HSE. Under the Act, the HSE has responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to have delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. The establishment of the HSE brought into being a new unitary system for the delivery and management of health services at local, regional and national level. The move to the new structure presented an opportunity for an improved service for providing information to Oireachtas Members. Last April the HSE established a parliamentary affairs division which provides a central contact for all Oireachtas requests for information relating to matters within the statutory remit of the executive.

The key purpose in establishing the HSE's parliamentary affairs division is to provide a strong mechanism and specific resource to address the information needs of Oireachtas Members in connection with the discharge by the HSE of its statutory responsibilities under the 2004 Act. The establishment of the division provides, for the first time, a systematic approach to monitoring and improving the performance of the health service delivery system in replying to information requests from Oireachtas Members.

The HSE aims to operate within a timeframe of 20 working days from the date of asking a parliamentary question for the issue of a final reply to a Deputy. This reflects the arrangements which the former health boards and ERHA adopted prior to the HSE's establishment. It is a starting point and the HSE is committed to reducing this period as it develops its organisational and information capacity. The HSE endeavours to provide more immediate responses in instances where the information sought in the question is of a routine nature or is readily available.

I share the Deputy's concern about a timeframe of two months for the issue of a response in the case concerned. I refer to the HSE's commitment to responding within 20 working days and to reducing this response time progressively as underlining its approach to achieving the objective of timely provision of information to Oireachtas Members. I had inquiries made on foot of the Deputy's question and have been advised by the HSE that a reply setting out the position on the repair and replacement of hearing aids has issued to him.

Medicinal Products.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

166 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make coagucheck 1v strips available free of cost to medical and long-term illness card holders. [38856/05]

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

167 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether making coagucheck 1v strips available free of cost to medical and long-term illness card holders, who could then test their blood at home, would reduce the need for hospital visits to the advantage of the health service, and possibly save lives. [38857/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 166 and 167 together.

Treatment for patients on anti-coagulation therapy is normally provided in a hospital setting under the supervision of a specialist, or in certain general practitioner clinics with specialist agreement. I understand that a small number of patients may opt to self-test. This is a private matter between them and their doctors. I have no plans to make these testing strips available through the community drugs schemes.

Health Services.

John Perry

Ceist:

168 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene with the Health Service Executive western area on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo and ensure that a placement is made available for them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38866/05]

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 Correspondence.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

169 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, further to her reply to Parliamentary Question No. 290 of 26 October 2005, the reason the Health Service Executive has not finalised this matter and has not issued a reply. [38901/05]

My Department has again requested the Health Service Executive to arrange to have this matter examined and to have a detailed reply issued directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Health Service Staff.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

170 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of vacancies of public health doctors who are involved in child development testing; and the locations of these vacancies. [38915/05]

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.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

171 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of vacancies for public health nurses; and the locations of these vacancies. [38916/05]

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

Hospital Accommodation.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

172 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if a senior executive (details supplied) of the Health Service Executive ever expressed concerns regarding her proposals to use State lands for building private hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38946/05]

On 14 July last, I issued a policy direction to the Health Service Executive under section 10 of the Health Act 2004 aimed at freeing up additional beds for public patients in public hospitals by moving up to 1,000 existing private beds in public hospitals into newly developed private hospital facilities on public hospital sites. I discussed with the chairman and chief executive of the Health Service Executive the implementation of this policy and the details of the assessment framework I set out with it. I understand the board of the Health Service Executive also considered steps to implement the policy. The board, the chairman and the chief executive of the Health Service Executive are rightly concerned to implement this policy correctly and to deal with operational issues arising in the best interests of public patients, which is the aim of the policy itself.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

David Stanton

Ceist:

173 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who are waiting for an initial consultation with orthopaedic consultants to be placed on the public waiting list for hip replacement surgery; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38983/05]

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

I asked the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, to examine the needs of patients waiting longest on out-patient waiting lists. As a result, the NTPF set up a number of pilot projects throughout the country. The intention is that those waiting longest for a number of specialties will receive consultations at out-patient level in private hospitals. It is envisaged that approximately 4,000 to 5,000 patients will have out-patient appointments arranged for them. Monitoring and evaluation arrangements will be put in place by the NTPF to assess the outcome of the out-patient pilot projects. I understand that the pilot projects are under way and I expect to receive a report from the NTPF in due course.

Ministerial Staff.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

174 Mr. Gilmore asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children in respect of each Minister of State within her Department, the number of staff broken down by grade employed within their private and constituency office; the number of staff who are permanent civil servants; the number who are political appointees; the annual cost of each office in terms of salary, overtime and expenses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39020/05]

The following tables detail the numbers, grade and remuneration of staff employed in the constituency offices of the Ministers of State. All staff are civil servants except for personal assistants and personal secretaries.

Minister of State, Brian Lenihan TD — Private Office.

Grade

Number of Officers

Higher Executive Officer (Private Secretary)

1

Executive Officer

1

Clerical Officer

3

Minister of State, Brian Lenihan TD — Constituency Office.

Grade

Number of Officers

Personal Assistant

1

Personal Secretary

1

Clerical Officer

3

Minister of State, Tim O'Malley TD — Private Office.

Grade

Number of Officers

Higher Executive Officer (Private Secretary)

1

Executive Officer

1

Staff Officer

0.5

Clerical Officer

2.6

Minister of State, Tim O'Malley TD — Constituency Office.

Grade

Number of Officers

Personal Assistant

1

Personal Secretary

1

Executive Officer

1

Staff Officer

0.8

Clerical Officer

1

Minister of State, Seán Power TD — Private Office.

Grade

Number of Officers

Higher Executive Officer (Private Secretary)

1

Executive Officer

1

Clerical Officers

3.25

Minister of State, Seán Power TD — Constituency Office.

Grade

Number of Officers

Personal Secretary

1

Executive Officer

1

Clerical Officer

2

Annual Cost — Minister of State Brian Lenihan TD.

Private Office

Constituency Office

Salary excluding Employer PRSI and Pension Contributions

198,469

175,690

Overtime (Jan-Nov 2005)

751.06

1,951.16

Expenses (Jan-Nov 2005)

179.90

Annual Cost — Minister of State Tim O'Malley TD.

Private Office

Constituency Office

Salary excluding Employer PRSI and Pension Contributions

179,719

187,624

Overtime (Jan-Nov 2005)

1,101.61

1,418.15

Expenses (Jan-Nov 2005)

1,316.93

Annual Cost — Minister of State Seán Power TD.

Private Office

Constituency Office

Salary excluding Employer PRSI and Pension Contributions

185,868

137,658

Overtime (Jan-Nov 2005)

Expenses (Jan-Nov 2005)

Mental Health Services.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

175 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will initiate the review of the Mental Health Act 2001 as provided for in section 75 of the Act and as part of that review if an examination of alternatives to the proposed mental health tribunals will be arranged particularly in view of the inordinate delay in the establishment of such tribunals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39035/05]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

176 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the delay in setting up the tribunals which were intended to review all involuntary detentions in approved psychiatric centres, she is satisfied that adequate systems are in place to protect the interests of persons who are involuntarily detained in such centres; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39036/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 175 and 176 together.

I am concerned about the delay in the establishment of the mental health tribunals as provided for in Part 2 of the Mental Health Act 2001. In this regard, protracted negotiations have taken place with consultant representative bodies involving my Department, the HSE and the Mental Health Commission with no satisfactory outcome to date. The Mental Health Commission has again advertised for the position of consultant psychiatrists on the tribunal panels and that of consultant psychiatrists to act as independent medical examiners. December 19 has been set as the deadline for receipt of applications. My Department, together with the Mental Health Commission, is exploring a number of options on the operation of the mental health tribunals and a decision on how best to proceed will be taken following the December 19 deadline.

The Mental Treatment Act 1945, has a number of safeguards to protect the interests of persons who are involuntarily detained. Such safeguards include the right of appeal, as appropriate, to the Minister, the President of the High Court, the Registrar of Wards of Court, the HSE or the Inspector of Mental Hospitals and the right to complain. There are no plans at this time to initiate a review as provided for in section 75 of the Mental Health Act 2001.

Hospital Services.

Seamus Kirk

Ceist:

177 Mr. Kirk asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her Department and the Health Service Executive are planning to provide a CT scanner at the Louth County Hospital, Dundalk; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39053/05]

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.

My Department has been advised by the HSE in the north east that work is to commence immediately with arrangements to facilitate the installation of a new six slice CT scanner for Louth County Hospital. To facilitate the installation of the scanner, substantial electrical upgrading and some building works must be carried out. Funding for this project will be made available in 2006. It is envisaged by the executive that this work will be completed before the end of September 2006 and that the CT scanner will be operational in October 2006.

Health Services.

Seán Ardagh

Ceist:

178 Mr. Ardagh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the health matters of a person (details supplied). [39054/05]

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.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

179 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will take steps to have a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath admitted to St. James’s Hospital for a surgical procedure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39055/05]

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

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

180 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if plans from the Health Service Executive will be sought to extend services in Millbrook Lawns health centre in Tallaght particularly in the context of the long overdue redevelopment of the centre; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39056/05]

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.

Substance Misuse.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

181 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she proposes to deal effectively with the serious issue of alcohol abuse here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39057/05]

I am extremely aware of the negative effects of harmful drinking in society. These occur across a range of acute and chronic indicators including violence, public order offences, drink driving, under age drinking, unsafe sexual practice, lost productivity, accident and emergency department attendance, certain cancers and suicide.

The strategic task force on alcohol was established to recommend evidence-based measures to prevent and reduce alcohol related harm and published two reports with more than 100 recommendations. I am hopeful that with the full implementation of these measures we will begin to address the serious problems associated with harmful drinking.

A working group on alcohol was also recently established to help mobilise the stakeholders through social partnership to achieve a targeted and measurable reduction in alcohol misuse. The working group operates in the context of the special initiative on alcohol and drug misuse under Sustaining Progress.

The working group comprises the social partners, the relevant Departments, the Garda, the national drugs strategy team and the Health Service Executive. The working group seeks to agree a programme of actions which can deliver targeted results on under age drinking, binge drinking and drink driving. It is expected to produce a set of recommendations in late 2005.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

182 Mr. O’Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if she will make a statement regarding Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin; and the timeframe she is following in respect of making a decision regarding its future. [39058/05]

It is accepted that the current infrastructure at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children does not generally meet the standards required for a modern paediatric hospital. The available facilities do not satisfactorily accommodate the range and extent of current clinical and associated activity. In recognition of this, a project team was established to plan for the overall future development of Our Lady's Hospital, either on the existing hospital site or at an alternative greenfield location.

The project team undertook a detailed examination of the potential to redevelop the hospital on its present site. The project team concluded that the existing clinical services could be retained and developed on the present site but also set out the implications of such an approach in terms of time, cost and disruption to services. As a consequence it is likely that the new hospital will be located at an alternative site.

I have asked the Health Service Executive to arrange for a review to be undertaken of highly specialised paediatric services to ensure they are provided in the most efficient and effective manner. The outcome of this review will help to inform the decision on the range of services to be provided at the new Crumlin hospital. I expect this review to be completed as a matter of urgency.

It is proposed that a site option appraisal study will be carried out when the review has been completed. The focus of that study will be to evaluate the options for the relocation of the hospital, leading to the acquisition of an alternative site, if such is recommended by the process. The study will be subject to public tendering procedures.

Health Services.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

183 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there is no provision in the Laois and Offaly area for respite care for children with autism; the steps which will be taken to alleviate same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39072/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

184 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the frequency with which the Laois and Offaly autism team meets; the members of this team; their work programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39073/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

185 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the person who is responsible for the diagnosis of autism within the Health Service Executive Laois and Offaly area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39074/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

186 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason there is no psychological service for children with autism in Laois and Offaly; if this service will be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39075/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

187 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason there is no social worker for children with autism in Laois and Offaly; if this service will be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39076/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

188 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason there is no resource worker for children with autism in Laois and Offaly; if this service will be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39077/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

189 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason there is no behavioural support for children with autism in Laois and Offaly; if this service will be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39078/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

190 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there are insufficient occupational therapists for children with autism in Laois and Offaly; if she will address this deficit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39079/05]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

191 Ms Enright asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that there are insufficient speech and language therapists for children with autism in Laois and Offaly; if she will address this deficit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39080/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 183 to 191, inclusive, together.

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

Michael Ring

Ceist:

192 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive an appointment for their eyes and be provided with glasses. [39084/05]

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.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

193 Mr. Hayes asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the action she will take in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary who has been deemed ineligible for orthodontic treatment. [39090/05]

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.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

194 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if GMS doctors are obliged to carry out home visits; if, under the GMS scheme, a person cannot change his or her general practitioner only after six months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39092/05]

Under the General Medical Service, GMS, scheme contract, which participating general practitioners hold with the Health Service Executive, general practitioners are obliged to provide surgery and domiciliary visits, where appropriate, for their medical card patients, for 40 hours each week, at times and locations as agreed with their local area of the Health Service Executive. They must also make arrangements to enable contact to be made with them or a locum-deputy for emergencies outside of these hours. It should be noted that general practitioners make a clinical decision on whether a domiciliary visit is appropriate based on the symptoms of the patient, as presented to them at the time.

The GMS scheme provides for a choice of doctor for the patient. A person who no longer wishes to avail of the services of the general practitioner with whom he or she is registered may seek to be transferred to the list of another participating GMS general practitioner in his or her area. Requests for such transfers are made to the local area of the Health Service Executive by the medical card holder and are arranged as soon as possible. In some instances, for example, where patients themselves fail to secure their doctor of choice, they may be assigned to doctors by the HSE for short periods but such decisions are matters for the HSE to make bearing in mind the particular local issues involved.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

195 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if the proposed roll-out of BreastCheck to the south and west is going forward in accordance with the proposed timescale; if there has been a delay in submitting a planning application for the testing and operation centre for the southern region at the South Infirmary in Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39098/05]

The national BreastCheck screening programme commenced in 2000 and covers the eastern, midland, north-eastern and parts of the south-eastern regions of the country. Screening is being offered free of charge, every two years to approximately 160,000 women in those areas in the target age group 50 to 64 years of age.

The roll-out of the national breast screening programme to the remaining regions in the country is a major priority in the development of cancer services. A design team has been appointed to work up detailed plans for two new BreastCheck clinical units, one at the South Infirmary-Victoria Hospital, Cork and the other at University College Hospital, Galway. It is anticipated that, subject to obtaining satisfactory planning approval, the design process including the preparation of the tender documentation will be completed by mid 2006.

BreastCheck has advertised for lead consultant radiologists and radiographers for the two new clinical units. The recruitment of other key clinical posts will commence early in 2006. BreastCheck is confident that the target date of 2007 for commencement of the roll-out will be met. This will ensure that all women in the 50 to 64 age group in every county have access to breast screening and follow up treatment where appropriate.

Nursing Home Review.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

196 Mr. Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on whether the investigation into the deaths of patients at Leas Cross nursing home being undertaken at the request of the Health Service Executive should be widened to investigate the present medical condition of former residents, both public and private, of Leas Cross; if the investigation should encompass an examination of the advices taken by the Health Service Executive on the medical consequences of removing patients from Leas Cross to other residences; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39099/05]

The Health Service Executive has advised that it has appointed a professor of geriatric medicine to independently review the deaths of residents of Leas Cross nursing home. The review commenced on 1 September 2005 and involves 95 deaths. Any extension of the remit of this review would be more appropriate to the Health Service Executive. 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.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

197 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that a medical product B12 is no longer available on the market and that when it becomes available again, it will no longer be available on the GMS scheme; the reason for this change; and what she intends to do for patients directly affected. [39105/05]

The vitamin B12 product concerned was removed from the common list of reimbursable drugs and medicines when the manufacturer advised my Department that, owing to problems in the manufacturing process, it had become temporarily unavailable both in Ireland and the UK. As soon as the manufacturers inform my Department that the problems have been resolved the product will be restored to the common list.

In the meantime, I have had inquiries made in the matter and I understand that an alternative product is available in community pharmacies for people who have been prescribed the original product.

Health Services.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

198 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if lack of funding and the imposition of public sector staff cuts are the reason for the inadequate provision of services for the early services programme (details supplied) in County Kildare; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that cuts here led to a number of clinical posts being left vacant including that of an occupational therapist; if these restraints on recruitment will be removed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39115/05]

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.

Long-Term Illness Scheme.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

199 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that children born with chronic asthma are not entitled to a medical card, are not covered under long-term illness and cannot avail of private cover due to the fact that they were born with this condition which can be very costly, between general practitioner visits and medication; if she will consider including this under the long-term illness scheme. [39118/05]

Under the 1970 Health Act, the Health Service Executive may arrange for the supply without charge of drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to people with a specified condition for the treatment of that condition through the long-term illness scheme, LTI. The LTI does not cover general practitioner fees or hospital co-payments. The conditions are: mental handicap, mental illness — for people under 16 only — phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide and acute leukaemia. There are no plans to extend the list of eligible conditions.

The medical card, GMS, and drugs payment, DPS, schemes provide assistance towards the cost of approved drugs and medicines for people with significant ongoing medical expenses. People who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. People who do not hold a medical card and people with conditions not covered under the LTI, can use the drug payment scheme, DPS. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €85 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines.

In November 2004, the Government provided funding for an additional 30,000 medical cards and for 200,000 new general practitioner visit cards which allow holders to receive general practitioner services free of charge. In June this year, I simplified the means test for both medical and general practitioner visit cards. It is now based on an applicant's and spouse's income after income tax and PRSI and takes account of reasonable expenses incurred in respect of rent or mortgage payments, child care and travel to work. On 13 October 2005, I announced that the income guidelines for both medical and general practitioner visit cards would be increased by an additional 20%. This means the income guidelines are now 29% higher than this time last year.

Mental Health Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

200 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the reason for the non-publication of the report by the expert group on mental illness; and when same will be published. [39129/05]

The expert group on mental health policy is finalising its report. I expect to be in a position to publish the report early in 2006.

Hospital Services.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

201 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the status of the plans to develop an ambulance centre on the grounds of the Hospital of the Assumption, Thurles, County Tipperary, as a site has been earmarked and funds are awaiting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39140/05]

The Deputy's question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. This includes responsibility for progressing existing capital projects or initiating new capital proposals. 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 Agencies.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

202 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children her views on the concerns of an organisation (details supplied) regarding the fact that although the statutory mandate of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency is primarily to reduce abortion, it seems to have no targeted policy to achieve; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39145/05]

The purpose of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency is to bring strategic focus to the issue of crisis pregnancy and so to add further value to the work of existing service providers. The function of the agency is, through the development and implementation of this strategy, to effect a reduction in the number of crisis pregnancies and to ensure the provision of supports and services for women faced with crisis pregnancy, both during and after the pregnancy itself. The agency works toward the reduction in the number of women experiencing a crisis pregnancy in a number of ways, some of which include the following.

On education initiatives aimed at preventing crisis pregnancy, the agency, through the development of the You Can Talk To Me campaign, supports parents as the primary educators of young people on sex and relationships. The agency's Think Contraception campaign is directed at sexually active young adults to educate them on the risks associated with unprotected sex. The CPA has just produced a resource targeting older women on issues such as fertility, contraception and sexual health to again educate them on risks as many women in the older age group can experience crisis pregnancy.

The agency has, since its inception, strongly supported the development of crisis pregnancy counselling services nationally. The agency has increased counselling services by 50% enabling women all across the country to access free, non-judgmental counselling. Counselling plays a valuable role in diffusing the sense of crisis for the woman, allowing her to explore her choices; it is the belief of many counsellors that good crisis pregnancy counselling can help the woman, who might have opted for abortion, to explore other options. On funding, the agency has invested strongly in the development of services nationally such as adoption services, supported accommodation, youth health services, information services, etc.

It is the belief of the agency that the achievement of its strategic objectives over its ten-year remit will reduce the incidence of crisis pregnancy and thereby the number of women who choose abortion. There has been a reduction in the number of women giving Irish addresses at UK abortion clinics in the past three years as shown in the following table. The agency believes that its actions have in part contributed to this reduction. However, the agency believes that abortions figures should be mapped over five years to assess any emerging trends.

Year

Number of abortions

2001

6,673

2002

6,522 (down by 151)

2003

6,320 (down by 202)

2004

6,217 (down by 103)

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

203 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if extra speech therapy will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [39150/05]

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

Hospital Services.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

204 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the surgery service which will be available in Monaghan General Hospital after the 1 January 2006; her views on whether it is not acceptable to wind down Monaghan General Hospital when up to 30 patients are on trolleys in Cavan General Hospital and things are getting worse; if she has satisfied herself regarding this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39257/05]

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

205 Mr. Crawford asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children when the necessary staff and funding to open the new treatment room in Monaghan General Hospital will be supplied; if she has satisfied herself that capital spent on this building can be justified when it is being left unused; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39258/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 204 and 205 together.

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

Medical Statistics.

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

206 Mr. Aylward asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the estimated number of the population here known to have diabetes mellitus. [39301/05]

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

207 Mr. Aylward asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the estimated number of the population here known to have hypercholestoremia (details supplied). [39302/05]

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

208 Mr. Aylward asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the estimated number of the population here suffering from cerebrovascular disease. [39303/05]

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

209 Mr. Aylward asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the estimated number of the population here suffering from cardiovascular disease. [39304/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 206 to 209, inclusive, together.

As these are not notifiable diseases, comprehensive statistics are not available on the number of people with diabetes mellitus, hypercholesterolemia, cerebrovascular disease or cardiovascular disease in Ireland.

Information on hospital discharges is available for these conditions and summarised in the following table. The data supplied are taken from the hospital in-patient inquiry system which records information on each in-patient and day case discharge from all publicly funded acute hospitals. It should be noted that if patients are admitted more than once in a given year, each attendance is recorded separately in the hospital in-patient inquiry system.

Principal Diagnosis

ICD9 code

Number of discharges in 2004

Diabetes Mellitus

250

5,865

Hypercholesterolemia

272.0

95

Cerebrovascular Disease

430-438

10,411

Cardiovascular Disease

390-459

78,367

Source: hospital in-patient inquiry system.

Public-Private Partnerships.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

210 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the value of investment undertaken in 2004 and to date in 2005 under PPP, distinguishing those involving tolling; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [40145/05]

Apart from small amounts which were spent on preliminary planning, there has been no investment in the health service in 2004 or 2005 under PPP.

Disabled Drivers.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

211 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance the reason a person (details supplied) in County Wexford was refused the application for the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions regulations; the options which are available to this person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38661/05]

The disability 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; or have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs. It is wholly a matter for the relevant senior area medical officer within the HSE to determine whether or not a particular applicant qualifies for the primary medical certificate under the scheme. The medical officer is independent in this function. A refusal of the primary medical certificate is appealable to the disabled drivers medical board of appeal. The Department is responsible for two other schemes that provide assistance in certain circumstances for people with disabilities. They are the mobility allowance and the motorised transport grant.

Public Service Contracts.

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

212 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Finance if the licence granted to a company (details supplied) to install three telecommunications antennae on the Pension Services Office, College Road, Sligo, has been revoked; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38804/05]

The licence granted to the company mentioned to install telecommunications equipment on the Pensions Services Office, College Road, Sligo, has not been revoked.

Insurance Industry.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

213 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare is entitled under legislation to obtain insurance protection for his own private homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38816/05]

There is no statutory obligation on insurance companies to provide insurance to householders. Whether an insurance company accepts an insurance proposal in respect of a risk is a commercial decision and insurance companies vary in the business they are prepared to accept. Accordingly, people having difficulty obtaining insurance should shop around as some proposals for insurance may be accepted by one company but declined by others. The financial regulator has published a guide to home insurance entitled Independent Consumer Guide to Home Insurance. This is available from the regulator at www.financialregulator.ie, by telephoning his consumer helpline at 1890 77 77 77 or by calling to his information centre at 6-8 College Green, Dublin 2. In addition, the Irish Insurance Federation provides a free insurance information service for members of the public. The telephone No. is (01) 6761914, and the e-mail address is iis@iif.ie.

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

214 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Finance the estimated projected cost to insurance companies due to accidents and injuries in 2004. [39111/05]

The Insurance Statistical Reviews 2003 and 2004, which gives a breakdown of the business transacted, including claims, in each of those years under the various classes of life and non-life insurance, may be accessed on the financial regulator's website, www.financialregulator.ie, under publications. The 2004 review, published last September, indicates the cost of non-life claims incurred on total Irish risk insurance business in that year amounted to €2,256 million. A further €64 million was paid by the UK-based Lloyds syndicates in respect of non-life claims in Ireland. As regards life assurance, it is not possible to identify the cost of claims attributable to accidents within the total cost of €368 million in respect of claims on death.

Question No. 215 withdrawn.
Question No. 216 answered with QuestionNo. 59.
Question No. 217 answered with QuestionNo. 89.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

218 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the latest information available from the central applications facility in respect of applications from civil servants and other public servants currently located in Dublin who wish to transfer to new locations outside of Dublin under the Government’s decentralisation programme; the way in which this compares with the Government target of 10,300; if agreement has been reached with all public service unions regarding promotional opportunities for persons who chose to move and those who opt to remain where they are; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39252/05]

The Government is pleased with the numbers of people who have applied to decentralise. Approximately 10,600 applications have been received so far and new applications are being received each week. Of the total number of CAF applications received to date 5,600 are from civil and public servants located in Dublin. Since the closing of the priority application period on 7 September 2004, an average of more than 100 new applications have been received each month over the past 14 months. We have no reason to believe this rate of application will reduce as the CAF remains open and continues to accept further new applications.

With regard to promotional opportunities, discussions with the unions representing general service grades in the Civil Service are at an advanced stage, while discussions with the unions representing professional and technical personnel are also ongoing. The decentralisation implementation group, in its June report, reinforced the responsibility of management within the various state agencies to progress the implementation of Government policy in this regard. It went on to state progress should be monitored by the responsible Department and requested that the next and deeper iteration of each agency's implementation plan be prepared. I understand that agencies are preparing these plans at present. My Department has recently reached agreement with the unions representing general service civil servants on arrangements for those remaining in Dublin.

Tax Code.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

219 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Finance if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare can be furnished with a P21 statement for 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38719/05]

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a duplicate PAYE balancing statement for 2004 will issue to the taxpayer's spouse in the coming days. The person concerned is jointly assessed with her husband, with him being the assessable spouse. Balancing statements for the year 2004 previously issued to the assessable spouse on 22 April 2005 and again on 30 August 2005.

Disabled Drivers.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

220 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Finance if persons with mental disabilities are considered as qualifying applicants under the VRT exemption scheme; if not, if he will consider including such persons or their families under the exemption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38765/05]

The disability 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; or 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. The immediate term recommendations related to the circumstances in which one could appeal from a refusal of a primary medical certificate and the operation of the disabled driver medical board of appeal and have been implemented.

In respect of the long-term recommendations, including the qualifying disability 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. The issue of how best to address the special transport needs of people with disabilities of whatever kind is a difficult and complex one. That issue, which addresses the effectiveness, suitability or otherwise of the disabled drivers scheme in that regard, will be progressed in consultation with the other Departments which have responsibility in this area. A car tax concession scheme can only play a partial role in dealing with this serious issue.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

221 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Finance the reason a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary does not qualify for exemption under the VRT exemption for family members; if the decision will be reassessed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38766/05]

The disability 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; or have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

It is wholly a matter for the relevant senior area medical officer within the HSE to determine whether or not a particular applicant qualifies for the primary medical certificate under the scheme. The medical officer is independent in this function. A refusal to grant a primary medical certificate is appealable to the disabled drivers medical board of appeal. 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. The immediate term recommendations related to the circumstances in which one could appeal from a refusal of a primary medical certificate and the operation of the disabled driver medical board of appeal and have been implemented. In respect of the long-term recommendations, including the qualifying disability 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.

The best way of addressing the transport needs of people with disabilities, including the effectiveness, suitability or otherwise of the disabled drivers scheme in that regard, will be progressed in consultation with the other Departments which have responsibility in this area. A car tax concession scheme can obviously only play a partial role in dealing with this serious issue.

Tax Code.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

222 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance his proposals in regard to the concerns of a child care company (details supplied) in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38767/05]

The new scheme of child minding relief I announced in budget 2006 is designed in part to increase supply of child care and to bring informal resources into the more formal sector. Under the new scheme, where an individual minds up to three children in the minder's own home, no tax or PRSI will be payable on the child minding earnings received, provided the amount is less than €10,000 per annum. An individual will be obliged to return his or her child minding income in his or her annual tax return and also to notify his or her county child care committee that he or she is providing a child minding service. These committees provide support, information and small grants to the sector.

It is envisaged this new scheme may be attractive to stay-at-home parents or individuals who work part-time who wish to earn some income from looking after children of friends or neighbours. This new scheme should not be seen as a threat to the formal sector. It should be seen as increasing the range of choice available to parents. There are also measures in the budget that will assist quality commercial child care providers by helping with parents' ability to purchase such care. These measures are in addition to the very considerable reduction in the income tax burden on married two earners in the past five years.

The new national child care investment programme, which I announced in the budget, has the aim of providing 50,000 additional child care places by 2010. This will be over and above the 41,000 places provided under the existing equal opportunities child care programme places created since the start of the programme plus 15,000 further places which are due to come on-stream before it ends.

The new child care investment programme will have a capital funding stream with grant aid available to both private and community providers for the building or expansion of child care facilities and a current funding stream to assist with the staffing and other operating costs in those community facilities that cannot meet the costs from fee income alone and to underpin further development of the role of city and county child care committees. My Budget Statement provided that capital allowances for expenditure on the construction, refurbishment or extension of child care premises which meet the required standards as set out in the Child Care Act 1991 will also continue to be available. I hope the company concerned can take some comfort from the balanced set of measures and reliefs I announced in my budget.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

223 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Finance if the Revenue Commissioners will complete the tax affairs of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11, including the preparation of a tax credit certificate for the RAC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38785/05]

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the person's tax credits have been amended to reflect his contributions to his retirement annuity contract and that his employer has been advised accordingly.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

224 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the large number of complaints to the Office of the Ombudsman regarding the inaccessibility of the Revenue Commissioners for PAYE workers; the number of persons manning the phone line; the steps that are being taken to address this problem; and if the tax affairs of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 who has been trying to contact the Revenue Commissioners since September 2005 regarding tax affairs without reply will be regularised. [38829/05]

I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that based on their contacts with the Ombudsman's office a large numbers of complaints have not been made to that office regarding accessibility to Revenue by PAYE workers. Up to 14 November 2005 Revenue's lo-call number for the Dublin region — 1890 33 34 25 — was manned by approximately 38 operators between 9.15 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. During this time approximately 1,300 calls were handled daily. Since 15 November 2005 the Dublin 1890 service has been operating from 9.15 a.m. to 1 p.m. However, 70 operators are assigned during this time and are handling an average of 2,100 calls daily.

Throughout this year Revenue has been experiencing significant increases in business volume and the 1890 service has been recently restricted to these hours to enable PAYE staff to concentrate on working a substantial backlog of correspondence that had built up during October and November. I am informed that Revenue hopes shortly to return to normal hours of telephone service. There is no trace of any correspondence from the taxpayer in question. It has been established that two of the attempted contacts made by the taxpayer were between 20 and 25 October when the 1890 service had to be curtailed due to the launch of an upgraded and expanded PAYE computer system. Contact has been made with the taxpayer to explain the position and obtain the information required to process her claim. As soon as the information has been received her claim will be processed without delay.

Appointments to State Boards.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

225 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance if two additional board members have been appointed to strengthen the National Development Finance Agency’s new role in managing the procurement of PPP projects and bringing them through to completion; and if so the appointees names. [38914/05]

I have appointed two additional members to the board of the National Development Finance Agency. The appointments are on an interim non-statutory basis in the first instance, pending amendment of the National Development Finance Agency Act 2002. The additional board members are Mr. Fred Barry, the chief executive of the National Roads Authority, and Mr. Stewart Harrington, chartered surveyor, director of Killeen Properties. The other members of the board are Michael J. Somers — chairman — chief executive, National Treasury Management Agency; Anne Counihan — chief executive — head of legal and corporate affairs, National Treasury Management Agency; Ann Fitzgerald, secretary general, Irish Association of Investment Managers; Tony Jones, business consultant; and Peter McManamon, chairman, Ceva Inc.

Ministerial Staff.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

226 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Finance in respect of each Minister of State within his Department, the number of staff broken down by grade employed within their private and constituency office; the number of staff who are permanent civil servants; the number who are political appointees; the annual cost of each office in terms of salary, overtime and expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39021/05]

One personal assistant and one personal secretary are employed on constituency work by me. There are two executive level officers in my private office. One of the officers is an executive officer and the other is performing as an executive officer but is from OPW's technical stream, which is approximately an EO equivalent level. The executive officer is my private secretary and is in receipt of the allowance for that role. There is one staff officer serving in my private office who assists with constituency work. Two clerical officers are assigned to my private office. Two of the above staff were appointed in accordance with my recommendation and five are serving civil servants.

The annual-weekly salary details are as follows:

Staff

Pay Scale *

Salary (min)

Salary (max)

Personal Assistant

HEO standard Scale (pa)

43,316

54,986

Personal Secretary

Secretarial Assistants (pw)

386.87

746.41

Executive Officer A

EO Standard ScalePrivate Secretary Allowance

28,44118,962

46,905

Executive Officer B

Insp of Textile Scale

36,677

47,255

Staff Officer

Staff Officer (pa)

30,884

41,237

Clerical Officer A

CO Standard Scale

21,563

34,964

Clerical Officer B

CO Standard Scale

21,563

34,964

* Pay Scales as at 05/12/2005.

In addition to the above a pension contribution of 11% of basic salary is payable to an approved pension provider as part of the remuneration of the personal assistant. The travel and subsistence expenses paid to date in 2005 amount to €22,336 rounded to the nearest euro. Based on the above salaries and travel and subsistence expenses, the cost in 2005 of running my office is circa €294,791. The costs associated with the private office are circa €196,465 and those of the constituency are circa €98,326. The cost per annum of the staff officer as per the above information has been assigned to my constituency office.
Question No. 227 answered with QuestionNo. 65.

Tax Code.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

228 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Finance if the Revenue Commissioners will be compelled to accept payments of VAT, PAYE and PRSI on account leading up to the statutory payment date for these taxes on condition that the taxpayer complies fully with the tax return dates in question as is currently the requirement. [39047/05]

I do not propose to introduce measures along the lines suggested by the Deputy. The Revenue Commissioners have a very clear focus on ensuring and facilitating timely payment compliance. I am advised by Revenue that notwithstanding this focus it is unusual for taxpayers to seek a facility for payment of tax in advance of when it is due. The facility exists for taxpayers to make payment by cheque accompanied by a pre-encoded payslip provided by Revenue. These payslips facilitate timely and accurate processing of the payment when received by Revenue. A range of other facilities to enable taxpayers meet their payment obligations on a timely basis are also provided by Revenue. For example, Revenue's on-line service, ROS, is internationally recognised as providing an excellent e-business facility for taxpayers. Payment by the direct debit system is also available. In that latter regard, seasonal businesses can vary the amount they pay each month to reflect their cash flow. It is also open to a taxpayer paying by direct debit to front-load the payments under the direct debt system if he or she so wishes. Specific requirements that a taxpayer may have as regards advance payment or payment on account for VAT or PAYE can be directed to the Collector General's locall number 1890 203070.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

229 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance the tax reliefs which are available to Irish students wishing to study in the US for a masters degree; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39095/05]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that, as regards educational courses in countries which are not members of the European Union, income tax relief on tuition fees is available only in respect of approved postgraduate courses, that is, only where the participant already has a primary degree or equivalent qualification. An approved postgraduate course is one that is carried out in an approved college; is of at least one academic year but not more than four academic years in duration; and leads to a postgraduate award based on either a thesis or an examination. An approved college is one that is maintained or assisted by recurrent grants from public funds of that country or is a duly accredited institution of higher education in the country in which it is situated. The current maximum relief per course per academic year in respect of third level fees is €5,000 at the standard rate of tax. Tuition fees paid by an individual on his or her own behalf or on behalf of a spouse, child or person for whom the individual is the legal guardian qualify for tax relief. Relief may be claimed at the end of the tax year or, for PAYE taxpayers, the relief may be claimed via the PAYE system during the tax year when the fees have been paid. Tax relief is not available in respect of administration or examination fees or in respect of any part of tuition fees that are met directly or indirectly by grants, scholarships, by an employer or otherwise. The explanatory leaflet, IT31, in respect of tax relief on tuition fees is available on the Revenue website at www.revenue.ie. The application form for claiming the relief is contained in the explanatory leaflet. I am further informed by the Revenue Commissioners that if the Deputy has a particular case in mind, they will examine such case on receipt of relevant details and give a view of the tax relief that may be available in that case.

National Household Survey.

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

230 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Finance the projected cost of working days lost to the Exchequer in 2004. [39114/05]

The most recent data available from the CSO, collected as part of the quarterly national household survey, regarding working days lost as a result of injury or illness relates to the first quarter of 2004. The data for Q1 2004 shows that the total number of days lost was 1,374,813. This compares with 1,286,100 in Q1 2003 and 1,441,000 in Q1 2002. A breakdown of these figures across illness and injuries is in the following table. It is not possible to calculate the cost to the Exchequer of working days lost. This would depend on a number of factors, including whether persons concerned were paid in respect of days lost or were in receipt of sick pay under the terms of their employment contract; the level of pay of persons concerned; and whether persons concerned were in receipt of disability benefit in respect of days lost. This level of detail is not available regarding the following CSO data.

Persons in employment who suffered injury or illness by total number of days lost.

000s

Q2 1998

Q1 2002

Q1 2003*

Q1 2004*

In employment

1,494.5

1,745.5

1,772.0

1,835.9

Injury

Total persons suffering injury

43.1

51.8

43.1

54.4

Rate per hundred

1.7

1.5

1.2

3.0

Days lost

769.2

857.3

610.4

782.9

Illness

Total persons suffering illness

26.1

33.0

38.1

46.3

Rate per hundred

0.8

0.9

1.0

2.5

Days lost

397.3

583.7

675.7

591.9

Total incidence

69.2

84.8

81.2

100.7

Total days lost

1,166.6

1,441.0

1,286.1

1,374.8

*Figures relate to most recent injury only.

Note: Data may be subject to sampling or other survey errors, which are greater in respect of smaller values or estimates of change.

Public Service Contracts.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

231 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works will widen a bridge (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39127/05]

The Commissioners of Public Works are arranging for an engineer to carry out an inspection of the bridge in question following which a decision will be taken as to what works, if any, need to be carried out.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

232 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the situation regarding the efforts to locate a site in Newbridge, County Kildare for the proposed headquarters of the Department of Defence; the size of site which is required; if there is an estimated cost for the site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39143/05]

The Office of Public Works has assessed a total of 12 sites in Newbridge as potential sites for the Department of Defence. Seven were submitted in response to the advertisement seeking suitable sites or buildings and a further five have been assessed as they came on the market.

A local authority owned site, comprising c.4.3 acres, had been identified as a likely solution and it is currently being assessed. When all aspects, including access and security have been fully evaluated, a final decision will be made regarding the acquisition of the site.

It would be inappropriate to give an estimate of the purchase price of the site at this stage of the acquisition process.

The Commissioners of Public Works are continuing to liaise closely with Kildare County Council and the Department of Defence on all issues associated with the site and the client's requirements.

Disabled Drivers.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

233 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Finance the tax concessions which exist for a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39153/05]

I presume the Deputy is referring to the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) scheme that provides relief from VAT and VRT on the purchase of a car adapted for the transport of a person with certain disabilities, as well as relief from excise on the fuel used in the car up to a certain limit.

The disability 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: a) be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs; b) 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; c) be without both hands or without both arms; d) be without one or both legs; e) be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; f) 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. The immediate term recommendations related to the circumstances in which one could appeal from a refusal of a primary medical certificate and the operation of the disabled driver medical board of appeal and have been implemented.

In respect of the long-term recommendations, including the qualifying disability criteria, I should say that 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.

The best way of addressing the transport needs of people with disabilities including the effectiveness, suitability or otherwise of the disabled drivers scheme in that regard will be progressed in consultation with the other Departments who have responsibility in this area. A car tax concession scheme can obviously only play a partial role in dealing with this serious issue.

Decentralisation Programme.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

234 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the number of premises or sites acquired or disposed of in connection with the Government’s decentralisation policy; the cost of such activities to date in 2005, including reports or consultancies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39211/05]

Overall, the programme of site identification and acquisition is progressing satisfactorily. To date, property acquisition negotiations have been completed or significantly advanced in 23 locations.

In the case of five locations, Athlone, the Curragh, Navan, Furbo and Sligo, sites owned by the OPW have been identified and will be used to accommodate decentralised offices.

In the case of another four locations, Carlow, Longford, Newcastle West and Killarney, sites have been acquired from the relevant local authorities. Privately owned sites have been purchased in Buncrana, Tipperary and Clonakilty. In the case of Tullamore, the OPW has entered into an agreement to purchase an office block which is currently under construction.

Contracts for sale have been received in a further ten locations including Donegal, Dungarvan, Knock, Portarlington, Portlaoise, Thurles, Carrick-on-Shannon, Trim, Cavan and Thomastown. The estimated total purchase cost for the 18 non-OPW owned sites and the building in Tullamore is €35.7 million, excluding VAT.

As a consequence of the decision of decentralise 10,300 civil servants it has been possible to dispose of a number of valuable properties in Dublin. To date, under the transforming of State assets programme, the following properties have been disposed of:

Property disposed

Sale price

€ million

Lad Lane, Dublin 2

22.5

72-76 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2

52.3

14-16 Lord Edward Street, Dublin 8

8.78

St. John’s Road, Westgate

44.9

26-27 Eden Quay, Dublin 1

4.205

The former Vet. College, Shelbourne Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin

171.5

The receipts for the above disposals amount to just over €300 million.

As the programme advances, office space will become vacant in Dublin and this will give rise to the need for a rationalisation and reorganisation of the Dublin property portfolio. Ultimately, this will involve the disposal of surplus space. However, no firm decisions have been taken at this stage as to which particular office buildings will be disposed of post-decentralisation.

Question No. 235 answered with QuestionNo. 127.

Financial Services Regulation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

236 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if he has satisfied himself that adequate legislative protection exists to ensure the stability of the banking and financial services having particular regard to the ever growing potential problem of hackers ability to infiltrate and compromise regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39213/05]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the management of operational risks associated with computer systems used by financial institutions.

Financial institutions must cope with a range of operational risks relating to failure in systems due to accidental or deliberate causes, both natural and man-made. Appropriate contingency planning in respect of those risks is a matter for the institutions themselves in the first instance. I am sure the Deputy would not wish to see the State create a moral hazard by suggesting that primary responsibility for such matters should rest elsewhere.

The Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland works in close co-operation with the Financial Regulator to ensure that financial stability is maintained. I am not aware that either the CBFSAI or the Financial Regulator believes that the work in this area requires any additional legislative powers to be effective.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

237 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if sufficient protection exists to ensure the integrity of the banking system with particular reference to the updating of legislation to prevent illegal activity such as money-laundering; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39214/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

252 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if there have been incidences where money launderers, racketeers or drug barons have been able to utilise the banking or financial services to facilitate their operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39229/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

253 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the procedures which exist to prevent the use of the financial services and the banking system by money launderers or racketeers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39230/05]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 237, 252 and 253 together.

Irish legislation on money laundering is set out in the Criminal Justice Act 1994, as amended. Primary responsibility for legislation in this area rests with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This legislation and relevant regulations made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform implemented the EU money laundering directives of 1991 and 2001 in Ireland. A third money laundering directive has recently been adopted within the EU. This directive and other international anti-money laundering instruments are currently being examined to assess what legislation is required to give effect to them in Ireland.

The procedures for the prevention of money laundering in the financial system are set out in the Criminal Justice Act 1994. These primarily involve the requirement on financial institutions, and other designated bodies, to identify their customers, to have adequate anti-money laundering procedures in place, including staff training, to keep records and to report suspicions of a money laundering offence to the Garda Síochána and to the Revenue Commissioners. The Financial Regulator requires all institutions which it supervises to comply with the anti-money laundering legislation and relevant sectoral guidance notes, and to have in place the necessary procedures and controls to ensure such compliance. The adequacy of such systems is reviewed by the Financial Regulator in the course of its ongoing supervision of institutions and requirements for improvement are advised to institutions as necessary. The Financial Regulator is independent in the exercise of its powers.

Furthermore, in accordance with its legal obligation under section 57(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1994, the Financial Regulator is obliged to make reports to the Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners where, in the course of its supervision, it suspects that an institution has breached the relevant money laundering provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1994.

The Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners regularly receive reports from financial institutions and other designated bodies where they suspect that a money laundering offence is being or has been committed. All such reports are investigated and progressed as appropriate by the relevant authorities.

Price Inflation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

238 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which he has evaluated the inflation caused by goods or services not included in the CPI such as housing costs; the extent to which the CPI would be affected if such items were included; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39215/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

239 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the action he proposes to take to curb inflation not reflected in the CPI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39216/05]

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

The director general of the Central Statistics Office, CSO, has sole responsibility for and is independent in deciding the statistical methodology and professional standards to be used in compiling the consumer price index, CPI.

The CPI is designed to measure the change in the average level of the prices paid by consumers for goods and services. It measures in index form the monthly changes in the cost of purchasing a representative basket of consumer goods and services.

Maintaining a moderate rate of inflation remains a key priority of economic policy because of its importance in restoring competitiveness. I made no changes to indirect taxes in the budget and this will help to keep a competitive inflation environment in 2006.

National Debt.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

240 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the full extent of the national debt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39217/05]

I am informed by the National Treasury Management Agency that the national debt at end-November 2005 amounted to €34.7 billion. This reflects the surplus of €2.96 billion on the budget shown in the Exchequer returns for end-November. The projected end-year outturn for 2005 as published in budget 2006 is for a deficit of €852 million for the year.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

241 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent of borrowing arising from budget 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39218/05]

It is estimated that in 2006 there will be a deficit on the Exchequer account, an Exchequer borrowing requirement, of €2,927 million. This is the figure for the Exchequer balance shown in the summary table for the 2006 post-budget estimate in budget 2006.

Price Inflation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

242 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the action he has taken to address inflation driven by high house prices which is causing difficulties for the business sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39219/05]

I am not clear as to what difficulties the Deputy is referring in his question. As regards inflation, the director general of the Central Statistics Office has sole responsibility for and is independent in deciding the statistical methodology and professional standards to be used in compiling the consumer price index, CPI. The CPI is designed to measure the change in the average level of the prices paid by consumers for goods and services. It measures in index form the monthly changes in the cost of purchasing a representative basket of consumer goods and services.

Maintaining a moderate rate of inflation remains a key priority of economic policy because of its importance in restoring competitiveness. I made no changes to indirect taxes in the budget and this will help to keep a competitive inflation environment in 2006.

Disabled Drivers.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

243 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the progress to date in 2005 with regard to implementation of the recommendations of the interdepartmental group which has reviewed the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concession) 1994 Regulations; when he expects to implement new proposals in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39220/05]

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. The immediate term recommendations related to the circumstances in which one could appeal from a refusal of a primary medical certificate and the operation of the disabled driver medical board of appeal and have been implemented.

In respect of the long-term recommendations, including the qualifying disability 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.

The best way of addressing the transport needs of people with disabilities of whatever kind, and the effectiveness, suitability or otherwise of the disabled drivers scheme in that regard will be considered and progressed in consultation with the other Departments which have responsibility in this area. A car tax concession scheme can obviously only play a partial role in dealing with this serious issue, and the scheme is being examined in that context.

Decentralisation Programme.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

244 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the number of civil or public servants relocated to date in 2005 on foot of the Government’s decentralisation plan announced two years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39221/05]

The decentralisation implementation group has set out a phased approach to the implementation of the programme with the first early movers due to relocate during 2006. A small number of organisations have initiated advance moves to their new locations during 2005. To date 150 people have decentralised to five provincial locations as follows: Department of Agriculture and Food to Portlaoise; Garda Síochána office to Thurles; Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to Tipperary town; Department of Social and Family Affairs to Sligo; Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to Na Forbacha in Galway.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

245 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which he has used consultants, valuers or assessors previously used by the Government in the context of the decentralisation programme; the costs involved to date in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39222/05]

In the context of the decentralisation programme, one firm of consultants was used in 2005. Fitzpatrick Associates prepared a report entitled Securing Maximum Positive Benefit for Local Communities from the Public Service Decentralisation Programme. The total cost was €49,489. In 2004, Deloitte & Touche conducted a financial assessment of decentralisation costs and savings in 2004. The total cost was €48,400.

Regarding property it has not been possible, in the time available, to compile the information in the format sought by the Deputy. I am having the information compiled and will arrange for it to be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

246 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the date by which he expects the Government’s decentralisation programme to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39223/05]

I refer the Deputy to the decentralisation implementation group's June 2005 report. It contains details of the indicative construction completion dates for most of the decentralisation projects. Based on this report, the major part of the programme is due to be completed by end 2009. In line with the decentralisation implementation group's approach, the phasing of the programme will continue to be based on the readiness of the property, staffing and business elements for each organisation involved in the programme.

The position is different in respect of the State agencies. In its June report, the decentralisation implementation group took the view that it would not seek to dictate every step in the process to the management of the State agencies. Although the group proposed seven State agencies for early mover status it did not include specific timeframes in recognition of this approach and also of the fact that it is the responsibility of the board and senior management of each agency to implement Government policy.

The group stated in its report that the practical management of the programme is the role of management of the agencies, that each agency included in the programme should have a successful relocation as a high level strategic objective and should prepare the next and deeper iteration of its implementation plan.

Due to the heterogeneous nature of the State agencies there are various complexities which arise in specific agencies and these problems can be addressed in conjunction with the parent Department. In the meantime, the OPW is continuing to seek property solutions in respect of any agency that requires it.

I am satisfied that good progress continues to be made on this ambitious programme and I look forward to seeing the fruits of this as the programme is rolled out over the next number of years.

Question No. 247 answered with QuestionNo. 127.

Flood Relief.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

248 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the progress to date in 2005 in regard to the drainage works at Allenwood, County Kildare; if the works have been completed as planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39225/05]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

250 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the position in regard to discussions his Department has had with Kildare County Council in regard to the matter of alleviation of flooding at Mill Lane and Captains Hill, Leixlip, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39227/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 248 and 250 together.

The position on drainage-flood relief works at Allenwood and Leixlip, County Kildare, is as outlined in my reply to Question No. 210 of 29 November 2005.

Garda Stations.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

249 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance when the long drawn-out saga of the provision of the new Garda station proposed for Leixlip in 1996 will end; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39226/05]

Agreement has been reached between the OPW and the Garda authorities on the changes to the sketch scheme for the proposed Leixlip Garda station. Revised part 9 planning documents are being prepared and it is expected that the public consultation process will commence in the week beginning 19 December 2005.

Question No. 250 answered with QuestionNo. 248.

National Monuments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

251 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the full extent of the protection or restoration works at Connolly’s Folly, Maynooth, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39228/05]

A contract to upgrade the grounds surrounding the obelisk is practically complete and the provision of CCTV to deter vandalism is also proposed, subject to planning requirements.

The Office of Public Works has also initiated an examination of proposals for structural works to Connolly's Folly and a feasibility study on the provision of public access to the first floor level.

Questions Nos. 252 and 253 answered with Question No. 237.

Disabled Drivers.

David Stanton

Ceist:

254 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Finance further to the disabled drivers and disabled passengers scheme operated by the Revenue Commissioners which allows persons with disabilities to claim remission or repayment of VRT and VAT and also repayment of excise duty and fuel, when the limits and thresholds in relation to the amount repayable were last raised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39232/05]

The Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 provide for the scheme. Since those regulations there have been no changes to the limits of tax repayable for drivers, family members of disabled passengers, and organisations providing services to disabled. The limits are as set out below:

Driver: A maximum repayment of VRT and VAT of €9,525; repayment of excise duty on fuel used in vehicle for transport of person with disability, up to a maximum of 2,728 litres per year; the engine size must be no greater than 2,000 cubic centimetres.

Family members-disabled passenger: A maximum repayment of VRT and VAT of €15,875; repayment of excise duty on fuel used in vehicle for transport of person with disability, up to a maximum of 2,728 litres per year; the engine size must be no greater than 4,000 cubic centimetres, and the car must be adapted to a cost of at least 10% of cost of the vehicle exclusive of VRT.

Qualifying organisations: Maximum repayment of VRT and VAT not to exceed €15,875; engine size to be no greater than 4,000 cubic centimetres; repayment of excise duty on fuel used in vehicle for transport of person with disability, up to a maximum of 4,092 litres per year; cost of adaption to vehicle must amount to at least 10% of cost of the vehicle exclusive of VRT.

Where a vehicle has been specially constructed or adapted for the transport of five or more disabled persons and the seating capacity for non-disabled passengers is not greater than twice the capacity for disabled passengers, there is no limit to amount of VRT and VAT repayable or engine size.

However, the requirement that the vehicle be adapted to a cost of 10% of the cost of the vehicle exclusive of VRT, was reduced from 20% in 1996, Finance Act 1996, section 78, and from 30% to 20% in 1991, Finance Act 1991, section 121. The reductions in the threshold for cost of adaptation effectively increased the number of vehicles that could qualify under the scheme.

Special Savings Incentive Scheme.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

255 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many widowed persons are experiencing distress where the value of the deceased’s SSIA exceeds €10,000 and therefore draws them into probate; if he will request that this threshold be increased by the Irish Central Bank to prevent such a situation arising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39300/05]

I am not aware of widespread occurrences of the problem raised by the Deputy. A statutory exemption allowing for the paying out of funds from a deceased person's account, other than a joint account, without probate or prior nomination of the beneficiary is available only to one type of financial services provider. Any such payment is at the discretion of the institutions concerned who must also report payments, other than those to the executor of the estate, to the President of the High Court. The amount which may be paid out is subject to a limit set by the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland. I would not favour increasing this limit to facilitate the paying out of SSIA funds as it could both confer an unintended advantage on a particular type of financial institution while being inequitable vis-à-vis the heirs of holders of SSIAs and other savings products with all other financial service providers.

It needs to be borne in mind that there are specific provisions in general law regarding the administration of an estate of a deceased person, and these must be followed before the assets of the estate can be distributed. The funds in the SSIA account constitute an asset of the estate of the deceased person. The net assets of the estate will be distributed to the beneficiaries by the executors or administrators following grant of probate or of letters of administration.

The SSIA scheme commenced on 1 May 2001 and is administered by qualifying savings managers in accordance with legislation and guidelines issued by the Revenue Commissioners. In general terms the amount of funds available on the death of an SSIA holder are set out in SSIA rules.

The actual maturing of an SSIA on the death of an individual is an automatic process and is administered by the qualifying savings manager concerned. The tax liability which falls due in the event of death is arrived at by deducting, from the aggregate market value of the assets in the account, the aggregate amount of all subscriptions and tax credits made to the SSIA, in so far as that amount has not previously been treated as withdrawn from the SSIA on a partial withdrawal. A rate of 23% is applied to the resulting figure to give the tax due. Once tax has been deducted the SSIA maturity process is complete and the remaining funds become part of the estate of the deceased.

In the case of an SSIA that was a deposit account from which no withdrawals had been made up until date of death, tax at 23% would only apply to the interest earned.

Telecommunications Services.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

256 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when broadband Internet access will be available in Keel, Castlemaine, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38690/05]

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

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

Twenty MANs are now completed, and a further six are nearing completion. The second phase of the programme involves the building of MANs in a further 93 towns with a population of 1,500 and above that do not have a satisfactory broadband offering from the sector. Design and procurement has already commenced in the following six towns in Kerry under phase 2, namely, Tralee, Listowel, Killarney, Dingle, Kenmare and Castleisland.

For rural communities and smaller towns, such as Keel, Castlemaine and the hinterlands of larger towns, my Department offers funding under the county and group broadband scheme to enable these communities to become self-sufficient in broadband, in association with the service providers. To date there are three schemes approved for County Kerry — Tarbert, north Kerry, and Sliabh Luachra. Full details of the scheme, including application procedures, are on the website www.gbs.gov.ie.

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

Harbours and Piers.

John Perry

Ceist:

257 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if a general operator is to be employed at Killybegs Harbour; the number of persons on the shortlist; when a final decision will be taken on the position; his views on whether this situation needs to be remedied; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38721/05]

It is not intended to make any appointment to the position of general operative at Killybegs fishery harbour centre. A recent review of staffing requirements has not indicated any additional requirement in that regard. Following a competitive process in late 2004 seven candidates were short-listed and placed on a panel for the filling of any subsequent general operative vacancies that might arise at the fishery harbour centre. All such candidates were advised by letter dated 10 November 2004, that the panel would remain in place until 12 October 2005. The panel in question has now expired and has been discontinued.

Departmental Investigations.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

258 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will make public the results of an investigation into a 2003 deal between a factory (details supplied) in County Limerick and the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board, under which the factory in question did not have to notify the Shannon Regional Fisheries Board of breaches of its pollution control licence unless it was exceeded by 10%. [38928/05]

It is the responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, which is the primary agency dealing with control and enforcement in this area, to ensure that a company fully complies with its licence and operates its plant in a manner that does not damage the water environment.

I am advised that in 1998 Aughinish Alumina Limited was issued with a integrated pollution control licence by the EPA. A condition of that licence, as it relates to discharges to waters, is that Shannon Regional Fisheries Board was to be notified of all emissions that did not comply with the requirements set out in the licence.

When this matter was brought to my attention recently, I asked for a report from Shannon Regional Fisheries Board in the matter. I subsequently learned from the board that the officer with responsibility for monitoring water pollution, who was aware that the EPA was monitoring and had mechanisms in place to deal with minor breaches of the IPC licence, agreed with Aughinish Alumina Limited that the company would only notify him of an emission where it exceeded the conditions of the licence by10%. This arrangement was undertaken without the consent of Shannon Regional Fisheries Board and is not normal procedure and, I am assured by the board, has not taken place in any other case.

I am advised that following an EPA audit of the IPC licence in 2003 the agreement came to light and the EPA instructed the company to implement the conditions of the licence in full, which has been the case since 2003.

The Shannon Regional Fisheries Board was unaware of this informal agreement and does not condone it. Action has been taken, the board assures me, since this matter came to light to ensure that a recurrence cannot take place.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

259 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which consumers here have benefited from deregulation in the area of telecommunications, with particular reference to the quality and cost of mobile phone services and the degree to which broadband has become available here in comparison to services in other European countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38951/05]

The roll-out of mobile phone and broadband services is a matter for commercial service providers who operate in a fully liberalised market.

Responsibility for the regulation of the sector, including regulatory issues surrounding the quality and cost of mobile phone services and regulatory issues surrounding the delivery of broadband, rests with the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the requirements of the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and regulations made under the EU regulatory framework for electronic communications.

Ministerial Staff.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

260 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in respect of each Minister of State within his Department, the number of staff broken down by grade employed within their private and constituency office; the number of staff who are permanent civil servants; the number who are political appointees; the annual cost of each office in terms of salary, overtime and expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39022/05]

There are six staff employed in the private office of the Minister of State at my Department. The details are as follows: one higher executive officer and three clerical officers, all of whom are permanent civil servants; and two civilian drivers, who are appointed directly by the Minister of State.

The annual salary cost of the Minister of State's private office is €206,109. In the year to date, no overtime costs have been incurred and expenses amounted to €38,594.

There are three people employed in the constituency office of the Minister of State at my Department. The details are as follows: one personal assistant and one personal secretary, who are political appointees; and one clerical officer, who is a permanent civil servant.

The annual salary cost of the Minister of State's constituency office is €113,438. In the year to date, overtime costs amounted to €19,379 and expenses amounted to €15,156.

EU Funding.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

261 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the Border counties’ eligibility for INTERREG funding following the review of the Inland Fisheries Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39037/05]

The areas eligible for funding under the Ireland-Northern Ireland INTERREG IIIA programme are specified in the Structural Funds regulatory framework governing the implementation of community initiative programmes approved by the European Commission. The planned restructuring of the inland fisheries sector will in no way impair the eligible Border regions from competing for or participating in appropriate cross-Border projects or initiatives.

Departmental Contracts.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

262 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the amount the Advantica report cost his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39043/05]

I announced the selection of Advantica consultants on 25 August, following a tender competition, to carry out the independent safety review of the onshore, upstream section of the Corrib gas pipeline.

Advantica presented a draft of this independent safety review to the local community on 8 December in Belmullet and a discussion was held, chaired by the mediator, Mr. Peter Cassells. The technical advisory group within my Department is taking submissions on this draft, and these will be forwarded to Advantica for the preparation of a final draft. As Advantica has yet to submit a final report and we cannot rule out the possibility of further work being required, a precise figure for a final cost is not available. However, the contracted amount for work done is approximately €70,000.

This draft report is extremely thorough and comprehensive and delivers a clear series of recommendations. Advantica is to be congratulated on its work in this regard.

Economic Competitiveness.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

263 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if and when he intends publishing the Deloitte & Touche consultancy report on competition in the electricity market. [39086/05]

As the Deputy is aware, my Department is preparing an energy policy paper. I will consider publishing the Deloitte & Touche report in the context of that paper.

Public-Private Partnerships.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

264 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the value of investment undertaken in 2004 and to date in 2005 under PPP, distinguishing those involving tolling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40146/05]

No public private partnership arrangements have been in place from 2004 to date, in so far as the programmes within the aegis of my Department are concerned.

Human Rights Issues.

John Gormley

Ceist:

265 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action he intends to take to establish an effective and authoritative human rights council in accordance with the decision taken by the members of the United Nations at the 2005 world summit; the further action he intends to take to ensure the early implementation of the decision at that world summit to double the resources of the High Commissioner for Human Rights from the UN regular budget over the next five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38809/05]

Ireland welcomed the decisions at the UN world summit in New York to establish a human rights council and to double the resources of the High Commissioner for Human Rights from the UN regular budget over the next five years. During my recent visit to New York, I conveyed directly to Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, and Jan Eliasson, President of the General Assembly, Ireland's continued support for the full implementation of these decisions.

Negotiations on the composition, remit and work practices of the human rights council are currently under way in New York under the chairmanship of the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Jan Eliasson. Ireland is actively contributing to the co-ordinated EU input to these negotiations. In our discussions with EU partners, we have stressed that it is paramount that the human rights council should be a standing body with the ability to address serious and urgent human rights situations. It is also essential that the participation in the human rights council by NGOs and civil society allows them at least the same degree of access as they currently enjoy at the Commission on Human Rights.

In addition, it is crucial that the negotiated outcome should provide for a smooth transition between the Commission on Human Rights and the human rights council. This would apply in particular to issues such as the carry-over of mandates of special procedures from the Commission to the human rights council. The establishment of a robust human rights council should lead to a stronger and more effective United Nations and to an enhanced focus on human rights issues.

Ireland also welcomed the UN summit decision to double the resources of the High Commissioner for Human Rights from the UN regular budget over the next five years and stressed that this commitment must be reflected in the decisions of the UN General Assembly. Ireland has long been a firm supporter of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the work of her office and has recognised the importance of providing adequate resources to the office to ensure that it can carry out its important work. Ireland is the seventh largest voluntary contributor to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR, in absolute terms and the largest contributor when our contribution is expressed as a percentage of gross national income.

At present, revised estimates for the years 2006 to 2007, including a proposal for an increase of $24 million in the regular budget of the OHCHR, are due to be presented formally to the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly for consideration later this week. This represents an increase of 40% in regular budget funding over two years which would bring the regular budget funding of the office to $91 million and is welcome progress towards achieving the 100% increase over five years agreed at the UN summit. Ireland and its EU partners will actively support the proposals of the Secretary General on these estimates in respect of the OHCHR in the fifth committee negotiations.

Departmental Funding.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

266 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the moneys paid in respect of a programme (details supplied) in each of the past ten years; if annual reports have been furnished in respect of the programme; if he is satisfied in relation to these reports; if buildings are owned by his Department where the programme is centred; if not, the person who is the landlord; the extent of such buildings or other assets; and if he will make a statement on the matter [38812/05]

My Department supports organisations in the voluntary sector that are engaged in the delivery of advice and support services to vulnerable Irish people living abroad. Most of my Department's expenditure is disbursed in grants from the DION fund, through which we support services of benefit to our community in Britain who may be at risk of social exclusion.

Since 2001, DION grants have been made to support the salaries of the staff of the Safe Home Programme Limited, a registered charity which rents its premises from Mulranny Day Centre Housing Limited, a voluntary housing body. My Department's grants have been towards salary costs only and we own no buildings in the complex where the offices of the Safe Home Programme Limited are located.

The details of grants extended by my Department to the Safe Home Programme Limited are as follows: in 2003, a total of €82,530; in 2004, a total of €157,000; and in 2005, a total of €184,743. I understand that DION grants of €63,487 and €82,500 were paid to the Safe Home Programme Limited in 2001 and 2002 respectively, when the DION fund was managed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I can confirm that regular reports have been received concerning the annual activities of the Safe Home Programme Limited during the time that they have received DION funding.

Grants from my Department to the Safe Home Programme Limited fund the salaries and related costs of its four posts, namely, a programme director — co-ordinator, an administrator and two development workers. In this way, my Department supports the Safe Home Programme Limited in its work in the provision of information and advice to older Irish emigrants, many of whom are resident in Britain, who are considering a return to Ireland. The Safe Home Programme Limited also liaises with individual voluntary housing bodies and local authorities throughout Ireland on accommodation for elderly emigrants returning to Ireland.

International Agreements.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

267 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs further to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, his views on whether all states are following this convention when travelling through Irish airspace; if he is satisfied that no extraordinary rendition flights transporting prisoners for torture or imprisonment have passed through Irish or Irish controlled airspace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38947/05]

The 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation deals with civil aircraft and hence its implementation in Ireland falls primarily within the area of responsibility of the Minister for Transport. The convention provides that state aircraft, which it defines as those used in military, customs and police services, are not covered by the convention and that such aircraft may not overfly or land in a State "without authorization by special agreement or otherwise, and in accordance with the terms thereof." In accordance with the requirements of the convention, such aircraft must have authorisation to land in or overfly the State.

The convention also provides that each contracting state may not use civil aviation for any purpose inconsistent with the aims of the convention, among which is the development of international civil aviation in a safe and orderly manner. I am unaware that any contracting state is acting otherwise than in accordance with the convention.

Moreover, I have no knowledge, nor do I have any reason to believe, that flights such as the Deputy describes have passed through Irish or Irish controlled airspace. We have not permitted, and we cannot and will not permit, any flight engaged in so-called "extraordinary rendition" to pass through an Irish airport or through Irish or Irish-controlled airspace.

Ministerial Staff.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

268 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs in respect of each Minister of State within his Department, the number of staff broken down by grade employed within their private and constituency office; the number of staff who are permanent civil servants; the number who are political appointees; the annual cost of each office in terms of salary, overtime and expenses. [39023/05]

The following tables set out the grades, numbers and remuneration of the personnel in the private and constituency offices of the two Ministers of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

This table pertains to the private office of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan:

Grade or position

Number

Remuneration

Private secretary

1

Executive officer scale €28,441 to €45,125

Executive officer

1

Executive officer scale €27,017 to €42,872

Clerical officer

3 (2 of whom work-share)

Clerical officer scale €21,563 to €34,964

Total

5

This table pertains to the constituency office of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan:

Grade or position

Number

Remuneration

Personal secretary (non-established)

1

€41,151

Personal assistant (non-established)

1

Higher executive officer scale €41,151 to €52,235

Clerical officer

2

Clerical officer scale €21,563 to €34,964

Clerical officer

1

Clerical officer scale €20,483 to €33,219

Total

5

This table pertains to the private office of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy:

Grade or position

Number

Remuneration

Special adviser (non-established)

1

Principal officer scale €76,162 to €94,205

Private secretary

1

Higher executive officer scale €41,151 to €52,235

Clerical officer

1

Clerical officer (higher) scale €21,438 to €33,938

Clerical officer

1

Clerical officer scale €21,563 to €34,964

Clerical officer

1

Clerical officer scale €20,483 to €33,219

Total

5

This table pertains to the constituency office of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Treacy:

Grade or position

Number

Remuneration

Personal secretary (non-established)

1

Secretarial assistant scale €20,489 to €39,532, plus a 10% attraction allowance.

Executive officer

1

Executive officer scale €27,017 to €42,872

Clerical officer

1

Clerical officer scale €21,563 to €34,964

Clerical officer

2

Clerical officer scale €20,483 to €33,219

Total

5

The employment contracts of the non-established officers referred to in the tables are coterminous with the appointments of the Ministers of State. Overtime, travel and subsistence expenses are paid in accordance with normal Civil Service regulations.

Ireland-China Relations.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

269 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his endeavours to continue the improvement of relations with China; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39052/05]

The Government places considerable importance on the development of our relations with China. Since the launch of the Asia strategy in 1999, following the success of the first official visit by the Taoiseach to China in 1998, our links and exchanges with China have developed greatly. Educational, cultural and interpersonal links have all grown. Chinese students have been welcomed to Ireland to further their studies. Trade has increased significantly and the regular high level visits in both directions clearly demonstrate the strengthening of relations.

President McAleese undertook a State visit to China in October 2003 and met, among others, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Ireland in May 2004. The Taoiseach held a bilateral meeting with Premier Wen in the margins of the ASEM V Summit in Vietnam in October 2004 and in November 2004, the Chinese Vice-Premier Huang Ju visited Ireland.

At the invitation of Premier Wen, the Taoiseach, accompanied by four Ministers, paid an official visit to China from 18 January to 22 January 2005. The purpose of the visit was to discuss and promote the further development of political, economic, social and cultural relations with China. There have also been regular exchanges of ministerial, parliamentary and official visits between Ireland and China. The Deputy himself participated in a very useful visit to China in September by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. All these exchanges enable us to broaden and deepen our relations with China and develop a mutual understanding on many issues.

The Embassy in Beijing and the State agencies continue to focus actively on the promotion of Ireland in China and the development of closer relations across a range of areas. In addition to the goal of doubling our level of overall trade by 2010 set by the Taoiseach and the Chinese Premier in January, among the key areas for taking forward co-operation with China are education, agriculture and tourism.

There are, of course, also issues that remain of concern to Ireland. Dialogue on human rights occurs at every opportunity and progress in this dialogue is an important part of our developing relationship. The Government's approach is to seek to encourage the Chinese authorities to continue improving the human rights situation in China and we believe that this approach is the most likely to yield tangible long-term progress on respect for human rights. The Government will continue to work to strengthen our bilateral relations with China in every way possible. I hope to be in a position to visit China next year. President McAleese has invited President Hu Jintao to Ireland at a time to be agreed and this would, of course, represent a further important milestone in the development of Ireland's relations with China.

Official Engagements.

John Gormley

Ceist:

270 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent trip to the United States; his discussions with Senator Edward Kennedy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39319/05]

I travelled to the United States from 29 November 2005, returning on the morning of 2 December 2005, during which visit I attended meetings in New York and Washington, DC. On 30 November, at the United Nations in New York, I met the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, and the President of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Jan Eliasson of Sweden. I reviewed with them progress in the implementation of key elements of the outcome of the UN world summit of last September, including the peacebuilding commission, the human rights council and management reform at the UN. I told them that Ireland would remain fully engaged in the process of implementation and assured them of the Government's support for their efforts in this regard. The UN Secretary General reiterated his support for the role that EU battlegroups can play in UN-authorised peacekeeping.

Afterwards I attended a lunch at the United Nations to mark the 50th anniversary of Ireland's membership of the UN, which falls this month. The lunch was organised by the Irish Studies Department of New York University, Glucksman House, and was attended by the UN Secretary General and senior UN officials as well as invited guests drawn largely from the Irish-American community.

On 1 December 2005 I had meetings with Senator Edward Kennedy and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington DC. I also had the opportunity to speak with the US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, Dr. Mitchell Reiss, and to brief him on current developments.

I was delighted to meet Senator Kennedy, who has been a generous and committed friend to Ireland throughout his many years in office. I took the opportunity to thank the Senator for his unstinting support for the peace process and underlined the continued importance of close US engagement in Northern Ireland. We discussed recent developments and I stressed the Government's determination to take concrete steps towards the restoration of devolved Government at the earliest opportunity next year.

The Senator and I also discussed the welfare of undocumented Irish people in the US. We reviewed the overall prospects for US legislative reform and I expressed our deep appreciation for his exceptional efforts on this issue in Congress. I also briefed the Senator on the Shannon issue.

In my meeting with Secretary Rice later that day, we discussed a number of bilateral and foreign policy issues. The bilateral discussions concerned developments in Northern Ireland, US immigration law reform and the question of extradition between the US and Ireland. The foreign policy issues discussed were the Middle East peace process, Iraq, Afghanistan and UN reform, as well as rendition allegations and related issues.

Departmental Estimates.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

271 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the 2006 Estimates for his Department. [39315/05]

The 2006 Estimate for the Department of Foreign Affairs consists of two Votes, that is, €186.6 million for Vote 28, Foreign Affairs, and €600 million for Vote 29, International Co-operation or overseas development assistance.

The allocation provided for Vote 29 represents an increase of €129 million or 27% on the 2005 level and is the highest increase in the 31 year history of the aid programme. Taken together with the contributions of other Departments, total overseas development assistance is expected to reach a record €675 million in 2006. Based on current anticipated growth rates, this will bring the aid budget next year to 0.47% of GNP. To put it another way, we will spend €160 for every man, woman and child in the country in 2006 to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

With regard to Vote 28, I am particularly pleased by the 45% increase in funding for emigrant services. The allocation for 2006 will now reach €12 million and will enable my Department to help fulfil its commitment to assist the poor and vulnerable amongst Irish citizens living abroad, particularly those living in Britain. It will also go towards funding Irish immigration centres across the United States and will help ease the plight of some of the many undocumented Irish citizens living in stressful circumstances there.

Additional funding for the promotion of trade and cultural activities will improve our capacity to promote the country from a business perspective and to further enhance awareness and appreciation of Ireland and Irish culture overseas. I also welcome the extra allocation to support our commitment to the United Nations, by way of increased financial contributions and the significant increase in the grant aid to the European movement in Ireland to help raise public awareness of the European Union and to stimulate debate on EU matters.

I am satisfied that the 2006 Estimates allocation will assist the Government in meeting its international objectives, will facilitate my Department in meeting its high level goals and objectives and will satisfactorily fund its operations at headquarters and in the 75 missions abroad, where our officials are engaged in promoting the country's interests and in protecting the well-being and safety of Irish citizens.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

272 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will provide a progress report on the redevelopment of the Monaghan town swimming pool; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38694/05]

As I indicated to the Deputy in my reply to Question No. 397 of 8 November 2005, I approved the tender and grant aid of €3.8 million for the Monaghan pool project in January 2005. I understand that construction work is continuing and is due to be completed in mid-2006. The grant is being drawn down on a phased basis and to date €1.5 million has been paid by my Department to Monaghan County Council.

Irish Genealogical Project.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

273 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress which has been made in view of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on the Irish Genealogical Project and his request to the board of IGL of June 2005 to produce a sustainable business plan as soon as possible; if the plan has been completed, where a copy can be obtained; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38732/05]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

274 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism his views on the fact that the report from the Comptroller and Auditor General on the Irish Genealogical Project indicates that the main stakeholders in the project are of the view that at the current rate of progress, the inputting of church records on to the databases in the genealogical centres around the country could take another 20 years; his further views on whether this is an unacceptable long period of time to complete this project; the steps he will take to speed up this process; the progress which has been made by the Irish Family History Foundation and the IGL arising from their meeting of September 2005 in dealing with this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38733/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 273 and 274 together.

I have, of course, noted the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General in respect of the Irish Genealogy Project. I have requested Irish Genealogy Limited to prepare a 2006 business plan identifying a future course of action to progress the project. I can confirm that Irish Genealogy Limited has produced this 2006 business plan, which may be obtained from Mr. Eamon Rossi, chief executive officer, Irish Genealogy Limited, Shelbourne House, Shelbourne Road, Dublin 4.

I agree fully that the completion of this project over a further 20 years is unacceptable. My officials are examining the business plan with a view to determining the future of the project and are in consultation with both FÁS and Fáilte Ireland in that regard. As major stakeholders, Irish Genealogy Limited and the Irish Family History Foundation are engaged in discussions with a view to arriving at a consolidated approach to the completion of the project in a realistic timeframe.

The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General expressed some concern in respect of value for money and the anticipated timeframe for the completion of the project. It must be borne in mind that the bulk of the expenditure relates to the engagement of FÁS trainees under the community employment programme to input the data, and that many of the trainees have gone on to secure permanent employment.

Ministerial Staff.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

275 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism in respect of each Minister of State within his Department, the number of staff broken down by grade employed within their private and constituency office; the number of staff who are permanent civil servants; the number who are political appointees; the annual cost of each office in terms of salary, overtime and expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39024/05]

As the Deputy is aware, there is no Minister of State at my Department.

Public-Private Partnerships.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

276 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the value of investment undertaken in 2004 and to date in 2005 under PPP, distinguishing those involving tolling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40147/05]

To date there has been no investment undertaken by my Department under PPP. The National Conference Centre, which is a PPP project, is still in the procurement process stage.

Industrial Relations.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

277 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a local labour clause will be enforced in construction contracts where workers feel they are being displaced by workers who will work for lower wages and in less regulated conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38763/05]

The wages and employment conditions of workers employed in the construction industry are governed by the Registered Employment Agreement (Construction Industry Wages and Conditions of Employment) Variation Order, which is enforced by the labour inspectorate of the Department. The enforcement of the provisions of a registered employment agreement may also be effected under the Industrial Relations Acts. A trade union, an association of employers or an individual employer may complain to the Labour Court that a particular employer is not complying with a registered employment agreement. If, after investigating a complaint, the court is satisfied that the employer is in breach of a registered employment agreement it may by order direct compliance with the agreement. Failure to comply with such an order is an offence punishable by a fine.

There are no provisions relating to a local labour clause contained in registered employment agreements and there are currently no plans for any relevant changes to the Industrial Relations Act to make such provision. Registered employment agreements, such as that applying in the construction sector, are the result of negotiation and agreement between the parties concerned. Accordingly, it is a matter for the parties concerned to consider whether any variation in the provisions of their agreement is warranted. Such agreements attract legal enforcement status, and national applicability, as a consequence of registration with the Labour Court in accordance with the Industrial Relations Acts. It is only once the agreement has such legal status that the labour inspectorate has a role to enforce relevant employment rights terms in the agreement. It is incumbent on those parties undertaking such agreements to ensure that the terms and conditions set out are realistic to the point that non-compliance can be easily and verifiably established so as to underpin enforcement in a practical fashion.

Job Losses.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

278 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his proposals to address the plight of the former workforce of a company (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38764/05]

The factual position in respect of the former workers of the company mentioned is that 154 of them had been made redundant long before the new rates of redundancy came into effect as and from 25 May 2003. As I understand it, they received substantially more than the then statutory rate in settlement with the company. Thirteen workers, who were made redundant by the liquidator of the company since May 2003, have been paid the new enhanced statutory rates from the social insurance fund by the Department. However, these amounts were less than the settlements received by the 154 workers who were made redundant before the company went into liquidation and received ex gratia payments.

The Comerama facility was purchased by IJM Timber Engineering Limited, the Monaghan-based timber frame housing company, in March 2004. This project is expected to create 50 jobs over the next 12 months and has the potential to create significant additional employment thereafter. Of those made redundant, 150 attended for interviews with FÁS. Subsequently, 136 people were called for training and 98 of these attended. Most of this training took place between February and June 2003. Some further training was provided for a total of 35 individuals. Training was completed in 2003 and, at that time, FÁS records indicated that 50% of the workforce who had engaged with FÁS on training programmes had progressed to employment.

There have been numerous representations made on this matter both by union representatives and public representatives, and a large number of parliamentary questions have been tabled in respect of the Comerama workers over the past three years. The position remains unchanged. There are no legal provisions for making additional payments from the public purse either to the 154 workers or those made redundant by the liquidator.

Wage Levels.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

279 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his Department’s policy to reduce wage differentials between the highest paid and the lowest paid workers here. [38852/05]

The Government has improved the position of the low paid through successive national partnership agreements, with increases in the national minimum wage and in the annual budgetary changes to taxation. Wage levels and increases for other groups are agreed within the context of social partnership.

Community Employment Schemes.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

280 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will revoke the decision to cap the number of years a person can remain on a community employment scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38920/05]

The main purpose of the community employment programme operated by FÁS is to provide work experience and training for the long-term unemployed and disadvantaged groups and thereby enable participants to advance successfully to employment in the open labour market. Following a review of FÁS employment schemes, that is, community employment, job initiative and social economy programmes, on 10 November 2004, I announced that the three year cap for participants on community employment was raised to six years for those aged over 55 in order to ensure the maintenance of essential community services particularly in rural areas, where it had been found that difficulties existed in finding replacement participants. I have no plans at present to make any further changes of this type to the community employment scheme.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

281 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reason for introducing a limit of three years for participation on the community employment scheme and six years for persons over 55 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38921/05]

The main purpose of the community employment programme operated by FÁS is to provide work experience and training for the long-term unemployed and disadvantaged groups and thereby enable participants to advance successfully to employment in the open labour market. Initially when the community employment programme was introduced in 1994, participation could extend from one year to a maximum of three years. However in practice, participation sometimes exceeded this limit.

As part of the restructuring of community employment approved in 1999, future participation on the programme by an individual was capped at three years, effective from April 2000. This change was introduced to discourage repeated participation and to encourage unemployed persons to avail of either training or education options, or both, where possible, which are shown to have more successful progression outcomes for individuals. The three year cap was amended in August 2001 to allow particularly disadvantaged persons to remain on the programme for a further period. In general, approximately 20% of participants including persons less than 55 years of age benefited from an additional year on the programme under the flexibility guidelines introduced in August 2001.

Following a review of FÁS employment schemes, that is, community employment, job initiative and social economy programmes, on 10 November 2004 I announced that the three year cap for participants on community employment was raised to six years for those aged over 55 in order to ensure the maintenance of essential community services particularly in rural areas, where it had been found that difficulties existed in finding replacement participants.

These employment schemes have made a major contribution towards the provision of a network of valuable community services throughout the country. Equally, they offer participants the opportunity of work experience in a wide range of disciplines, which equips them in time to progress to full-time employment in the open labour market.

Ministerial Staff.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

282 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in respect of each Minister of State within his Department, the number of staff broken down by grade employed within their private and constituency office; the number of staff who are permanent civil servants; the number who are political appointees; the annual cost of each office in terms of salary, overtime and expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39025/05]

The breakdown of the staffing complement of those currently employed in the two Ministers of State offices at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is outlined in the following table.

Office of the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Deputy Killeen.

Office

Staff

Departmental Office

1 Higher Executive Officer1 Executive Officer2 Clerical Officers

Constituency Office

1 Personal Assistant1 Personal Secretary1 Clerical Officer

Office of the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Deputy Michael Ahern.

Office

Staff

Departmental Office

1 Higher Executive Officer1 Executive Officer2 Clerical Officers

Constituency Office

1 Personal Assistant1 Personal Secretary1 Clerical Officer

Each Minister of State also employs two civilian drivers. The drivers work alternate weeks on a week on and week off basis. The current salary for a civilian driver is €30,782 per annum. There are five permanent civil servants and four political appointees, which includes the civilian drivers, in each Minister of State's office. The estimated salary costs, overtime and expenses for each of the Minister of State's offices for 2005 are set out in the following table. It should be noted that the salary costs are inclusive of overtime payments and the civilian driver salaries. The expenses refer to travel and subsistence costs and mobile phone expenses.

Salaries

Overtime Payments

Expenses

Office of the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with special responsibility for Labour Affairs, Deputy Killeen

Departmental Office

139,564.43

None

8,451.79

Constituency Office

167,593.66

None

22,030.24

Office of the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with special responsibility for Trade and Commerce, Deputy Michael Ahern

Departmental Office

146,355.28

None

14,258.66

Constituency Office

172,769.11

186.37

24,223.58

Job Creation.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

283 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, in view of the decline of the clothing and textile sector in Donegal his Department or the State agencies have or had a strategy to attract or promote the development of a particular sector to create alternative employment for the workers affected by job losses in the textile and clothing sector. [39087/05]

Over the past five years, IDA Ireland has actively encouraged new investment in Donegal in knowledge-based industries. This is part of a focussed strategy to replace the traditional clothing and textile industries that have been declining in the north west in recent years.

As Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, my objective is to ensure that Donegal remains a globally competitive, profitable and secure location for business in general. I believe we can best help enterprises in Donegal by continuing to implement policies that are pro-business and by implementing the right balance of enterprise supports at the right time. When provided with the best supporting and competitive environment, business and industry will develop to capitalise on investment and growth opportunities. Developing a competitive economy, resilient to the toughest competitive pressures, is the optimal approach to sustainable employment growth in County Donegal. Indeed, there have been significant job announcements for County Donegal this year, with more than 600 new jobs to come in companies supported by the development agencies.

Retraining of workers previously employed in traditional sectors such as clothing and textiles is an important element in the strategy to address the relatively difficult employment situation in Donegal. FÁS will continue to play an active and positive role in providing support to workers who have lost their jobs and require retraining to take up jobs in different sectors. Services offered by FÁS to workers losing their jobs and requiring retraining include the following elements. There will be liaison with senior management in the company affected, with regard to how the process will be conducted. Information sessions for all affected workers will be provided if required. The aim of these sessions is to outline the range of support and services available from FÁS and other public bodies. FÁS Employment Services staff conduct full registration interviews with all workers. These interviews help assess suitable career progression options for each redundant worker and identify their training and development needs. FÁS prepares a skills analysis report detailing a composite of the skills of the workforce. This is available to the development organisations such as the IDA and Enterprise Ireland on request.

A skills and training aspiration list is also compiled to inform FÁS of the required retraining and upskilling needs of the redundant workers. This training is delivered by various means including existing scheduled training programmes delivered by our three training centres within the region at Letterkenny, Gweedore and Sligo, or in the case of a specialist training requirement, at any FÁS centre throughout the country. Contracted training and community based training can also be availed of. In the past, FÁS increased dramatically its range of contracted training courses to meet the retraining needs of redundant workers.

Special training needs not catered for by the existing FÁS suite of programmes can be facilitated through its customised training fund, evening or weekend courses as well as e-learning options. The provision of information, career guidance and advice is an ongoing element of the service to redundant workers. Redundant workers are given initial and ongoing information and support to keep them in touch with the labour market. They are advised of the FÁS Jobs Ireland database, which allows job seekers to register their CVs and source jobs via the Internet. They are also informed of the FÁS call centre, which provides a job matching facility for job seekers and they are provided with information on the cross-Border and Eures websites.

Redundant workers who do not succeed through the above interventions will be referred to FÁS once again via the national employment action plan strategy, on reaching the six month unemployment threshold. They will then be assigned a FÁS officer and become a caseload client. They will be interacted with on a regular basis to assist their re-entry to the workforce. While most workers being made redundant would have availed of at least some of the services above, approximately 1,000 workers in Donegal availed of full retraining over the last ten years.

The Deputy will be aware that there have been significant job announcements in Donegal recently, with over 210 new jobs announced by Zeus Industrial Products, Letterkenny and PowerBoard, Burnfoot. These projects are being supported by the Industrial Development Agency and Enterprise Ireland, respectively. This was in addition to 423 jobs I announced earlier this year for the north-west region. I can assure the Deputy that the State development agencies under my auspices, namely the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, FÁS and the Donegal County Enterprise Board, are fully committed to supporting and promoting job creation and job retention in Donegal. In addition to recent job announcements, this commitment is also demonstrated by ongoing development and support by the agencies for a number of business parks and enterprise centres in Donegal. These include the completion of the IDA Letterkenny business park, the provision of a 25,000 sq. ft. advance office building at Windyhall, the completion of site development work at Ballyshannon for a new facility and also a development at Buncrana, where the IDA is working with a local developer to provide new manufacturing and office buildings. In addition to providing support for nine community enterprise centres in Donegal, Enterprise Ireland has also provided substantial support for the expansion of the Letterkenny Institute of Technology's business development centre and the development of a marine biotechnology centre.

However, I also recognise that there have been significant job losses in Donegal in recent years as it makes the transition from traditional to knowledge-based employment sectors. This is why I have visited Donegal twice since becoming Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I have met many groups and companies on these visits to discuss both the county's difficulties and positive developments. My colleagues in Government also recognise the particular difficulties in Donegal and we will be working together to increase the attractiveness of the county as a location for enterprises.

Accidents at Work

Liam Aylward

Ceist:

284 Mr. Aylward asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of days lost to industry in 2004 due to injuries and accidents at work; and the estimated cost of loss of these working days to industry in 2004. [39112/05]

I understand from the Central Statistics Office that the only 2004 figures available from it on the number of days lost due to injuries and accidents at work relate to the period December 2003 to February 2004. Table 1 sets out the most recent available information for the relevant period in each of the years 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004. In the first quarter of 2004, 1,374,813 workdays were lost due to work-related injuries and illnesses. Table 2 below contains information obtained from the Department of Social and Family Affairs on occupational injury benefit claims for 2004. I do not have figures on the estimated cost to industry of the loss of these working days in 2004.

Table 1: Persons in employment who suffered injury or illness by total number of days lost** 000s

Q2 1998

Q1 2002

Q1 2003*

Q1 2004*

In employment

Injury

1,494.5

1,745.5

1,772.0

1,835.9

Total persons suffering injury

43.1

51.8

43.1

54.4

Rate per hundred

1.7

1.5

1.2

3.0

Days lost

769,200

857,300

610,400

782,909

Illness

Total persons suffering illness

26.1

33.0

38.1

46.3

Rate per hundred

0.8

0.9

1.0

2.5

Days lost

397,300

583,700

675,700

591,904

Total incidence

69.2

84.8

81.2

100.7

Total days lost

1,166,500

1,441,000

1,286,100

1,374,813

*Figures relate to most recent injury only.

**Days lost data should be interpreted with care as respondents may have included potential days lost.

Table 2: Workplace accidents for 2004.

Number of OIB*** claims accepted

Number of Employees

Rate per 100,000 employees

2004

11,705

1,835,900

638

***Occupational injury benefit claims under the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Company Closures.

John Perry

Ceist:

285 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to the closure of a company (details supplied) the financial supports this company has received from the State; if another company purchased this company for the book value; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this company has planning for a state of the art plant on 20 acres in Manorhamilton, County Leitrim and is currently renting a premises; if a directive was issued to put on hold the building on the site; the negotiations and consultations he has had in relation to this company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39135/05]

John Perry

Ceist:

286 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the ministerial orders he has given in relation to the closure of a company (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the fact that another company (details supplied) is trying to minimise the redundancy payments to the employees; if maximum redundancy will be paid to the employees; the contractual arrangement which was observed when the sale was concluded from another company; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39136/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 285 and 286 together.

The company in question has received a total of €2.6 million in grant aid since 1983. There is no outstanding grant liability. The company, which was forecasting to grow its business and introduce some research and development activities to its plant, was in discussions with IDA Ireland on supports available for future research and development investments. In August 2005, the company was acquired. The contractual arrangement for the purchase of the company was a matter concluded privately between the purchasers and the owners of the company. However, I understand from IDA Ireland that the purchase price was $54 million. The new owner operates a second manufacturing facility in Manorhamilton, following the acquisition of a mirror actuator business in 2001. At that time, it was proposed to expand this operation. Land was purchased for this expansion and planning permission was received for a new facility. At present, a building which is privately owned, is being leased in Manorhamilton. Plans to invest in the facility and grow the operation in Manorhamilton are continuing in conjunction with IDA Ireland.

I have been notified under section 12 of the Protection of Employment Act 1977, that 120 employees of the company concerned are being made redundant at the Sligo plant. While the company cannot be specific about dates, it expects to relocate its business from Ireland during the spring of 2006 with the redundancies resulting from the relocation to conclude by year end 2006. I understand that it is the company's intention to enter into consultations with its employee council in accordance with the Protection of Employment Act 1977. Following the expiry of the consultation process, the company proposes fulfilling all contractual and statutory notice requirements. It is also planning to provide redundancy terms over and above statutory requirements to all employees who are made redundant. All calculations will be based on years of service with the company.

Job Initiative.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

287 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the funding strands within his Department and agencies within his remit, which provide funding to the Ballymun jobs centre; the amount of this funding in each year from 2000 to date in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39147/05]

Details of the funding and its sources received by Ballymun jobs centre in the period 2000 to 2005 are contained in the following table.

Local employment service funding.

Year

Amount

2000

278,293

2001

435,050

2002

1,018,240

2003

816,634

2004

870,694

2005

756,238 (ytd)

Total funding

4,175,149

Job initiative programme funding at the jobs club.

Year

Amount

17/12/98-17/11/00

371,446

20/11/00-16/11/01

702,479

19/11/01-15/11/02

1,102,569

18/11/02-18/06/04

1,592,579

21/06/04-17/06/05

653,794

20/06/05-to date

354,290

Total funding

4,777,157

Equal community initiative funding.

Employment community initiative.

Fountain project — Youthstart strand.

Date

Amount

19/12/2000

11,956.00

04/12/2001

11,955.00

Total

23,911.00

Fountain project — thematic — Youthstart strand.

Date

Amount

18/04/2000

17,141.00

18/12/2000

5,714.00

04/12/2001

5,714.00

Total

28,569.00

Adapt community initiative.

Date

Amount

9/03/2001

24,890.000

04/12/2001

24,890.00

Total

49,780.00

EQUAL community initiative (Round 2).

Equal youth.

Date

Amount

15/12/2004

8,000.00

13/05/2005

24,000.00

28/07/2005

62,968.00

Total

94,968.00

Public-Private Partnerships.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

288 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the value of investment undertaken in 2004 and to date in 2005 under PPP, distinguishing those involving tolling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40148/05]

This subject matter does not fall under my Department remit and is more appropriate for my colleague the Minister for Finance. My Department has not entered into any PPP contracts.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

289 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number availing of, and the levels of funding for the farm assist scheme for counties Cavan and Monaghan respectively from 2002 to date in 2005 on a yearly basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38678/05]

The details requested by the Deputy of the numbers availing of the farm assist scheme have been compiled from data that is maintained on a local office catchment area basis and these figures do not correspond exactly with county boundaries. The figures are as follows:

2002

2003

2004

3/12/2005

Cavan

307

312

307

286

Monaghan

404

408

417

400

The cost of funding the farm assist scheme is not available in a county by county format as requested by the Deputy. The total expenditure on the scheme for the years involved is as follows.

2002

2003

2004

2005

€ millions

€ millions

€ millions

€ millions

58.571

62.806

66.343

68.0

The amount paid to each farmer depends on a number of factors, for example, family size, whether the spouse or partner is working and any means assessed from all sources. The farm assist scheme is a practical response by my Department to the situation of low-income farmers and it represents a long-term safety net for them. It benefits farm families with children and also provides increased payments to farming couples without children and to single farmers on low income.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

290 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number in receipt of fuel allowance on a yearly basis between 2000 and to date in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38679/05]

A fuel allowance of €9 per week is payable to eligible households during a 29 week winter heating period from the end of September to mid-April each year. An additional €3.90 per week is payable in the designated urban smokeless fuel zones. The scheme is expected to cost €85.4 million in 2005. The numbers qualifying for the fuel allowance scheme from 2000 to 2005 are set out in the following table.

Numbers receiving a standard fuel allowance, smokeless fuel supplement 2000 to 2005.

Year

Standard Fuel Allowance

Smokeless supplement

Nos.

Nos.

2000

270,000

109,000

2001

265,000

108,000

2002

259,000

115,000

2003

270,000

118,000

2004

272,000

121,000

2005

274,000

123,000

Budget 2006 provided for an increase in the rate of fuel allowance of €5 from €9 to €14. Some 274,000 customers, 151,000 with basic fuel allowance and 123,000 with smokeless supplement, will benefit in 2006 at an estimated cost of €125.1 million.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

291 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to address the problem of fuel poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38680/05]

The term "fuel poverty" has been described as the inability to afford adequate warmth in a home, or the inability to achieve adequate warmth because of the energy inefficiency of the home. The primary contributory factor is the energy efficiency of the private and public housing stock. Problems relate mainly to older housing with poor insulation and draught-proofing or inefficient heating systems. All new housing, including social housing, is being built to modern energy efficiency standards. In addition, local housing authorities are undertaking an ongoing programme to upgrade the older social housing stock and provide better living conditions generally for tenants, including draught insulation and energy efficiency. The role of the social welfare system in relation to this issue is primarily to provide income support. The main focus of Government policy is to increase primary weekly social welfare rates significantly in real terms, to enable pensioners and other vulnerable groups to meet their heating and other basic living costs more adequately throughout the year. In this regard, the budget provides for an increase of €14 per week in the old age contributory pension rate, an increase of €16 per week in the old age non-contributory pension rate and a general increase in other social welfare rates of €17 per week.

In recognition of higher home heating costs recently, the fuel allowance rate has also been increased by €5 a week in this budget, with effect from January 2006. This will bring the rate of fuel allowance to €14 for the basic payment and €17.90 for recipients in designated urban smokeless fuel zones. This increase will cost €39.7 million in a full year and bring the total cost of the fuel allowance scheme to €125.1 million in 2006, benefiting some 275,000 recipients. Electricity and gas allowances are paid under the social welfare household benefits package throughout the year to over 320,000 pensioner, disabled and carer households towards their heating, light and cooking costs, at an overall scheme cost of €108.8 million. In addition, a special heating needs supplement is available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to assist people in certain circumstances with specific heating needs due to infirmity or particular medical condition.

In order to address the causes of fuel poverty, my Department is co-operating with the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Sustainable Energy Ireland and the Combat Poverty Agency in an action research project to improve heating systems and insulation in selected older private dwellings and to monitor the outcomes in terms of improved cost-efficiency and household comfort and health levels. This project is due to begin shortly and should be informative in formulating future policy on this issue, as well as being of direct benefit to the pilot households involved. In the budget, I have set aside €2 million funding to extend this action research.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

292 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will extend free travel to older Irish emigrants, at the very least to Irish pensioners living in the UK, when they return here on their holidays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38685/05]

The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years, or over. It is also available to carers and to people with disabilities who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments. It applies to travel within the State and cross-Border journeys between here and Northern Ireland. There have been a number of requests and inquiries about the extension of entitlement to free travel to Irish born people living outside Ireland, particularly in the UK. This issue has now been examined in considerable detail. The legal advice available to me is that such a proposal would be contrary to the EC treaty, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality. While taking this advice on board, I intend to continue to examine any options that remain available. Significant improvements have been made to the free schemes, including the free travel scheme, in recent budgets both in terms of the qualifying conditions and the coverage of the schemes. I will continue to review the operation of these schemes with a view to identifying the scope for further improvements as resources permit.

Social Welfare Code.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

293 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when the oral hearing will be heard in regard to the rent allowance appeal of a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38687/05]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes rent supplement, is administered on my behalf by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive. Neither I nor my Department has any function in decisions on individual claims. In determining entitlement to rent supplement, the executive must be satisfied that the applicant has a genuine accommodation need, that the property being rented is suitable to those needs and that a bona fide tenancy exists between the applicant and his or her landlord. In considering whether or not a particular property is suitable to the needs of the applicant, account is taken of the composition of the household, particularly the relationship, age and gender of the people in question.

The southern area of the Health Service Executive has advised that the person concerned was refused rent supplement on the grounds that the accommodation in question was in excess of her needs. While the person concerned was advised of the decision and of her right of appeal, the executive has advised that no appeal has been received to date from her.

Pension Provisions.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

294 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when a person (details supplied) in County Galway will be approved and awarded the old age non-contributory pension. [38759/05]

In August 2005, the person concerned applied for an old age contributory pension. One of the conditions for receipt of this pension is that the claimant must have started paying insurance contributions in Ireland before reaching 56 years. Following an examination of his entitlement, his application was disallowed as he did not begin paying Irish contributions until he was aged 61 years. His entitlement to an EU pro rata contributory pension based upon a mixture of his Irish and UK contributions is currently being examined and he will be notified of the outcome in due course.

My Department is also investigating the circumstances of the person concerned to see if he will qualify for an old age non-contributory pension. The file on his case is currently with a social welfare inspector who will interview him shortly. As soon as the social welfare inspector's report is available, a deciding officer will determine the claimant's entitlement and will notify him of the outcome without delay.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

295 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs his proposals to bring the social insurance contributions conditions for retirement pension in line with the social insurance contribution conditions for old age contributory pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38782/05]

The old age contributory and retirement pensions are payable at ages 66 and 65 respectively. The contribution conditions for the schemes also differ in that a minimum yearly average of 24 contributions is required to qualify for a retirement pension whereas an average of ten contributions will qualify a person for an old age contributory pension. There are concerns across the EU about the sustainability of social protection systems in the future. As the population ages, the ratio of workers to dependants will change dramatically. In our case, the old age dependency ratio will change from 16% to 55% by 2056. A solution to the funding difficulties facing social security and pensions systems is to increase the numbers at work. This means increased employment amongst all sectors of society including older people. Aligning the contribution conditions for the two contributory pension schemes would, in effect, lower the social welfare pension age for many people. I do not consider that this would be an appropriate course of action in the context of the demographic changes including increased longevity and, accordingly, I have no plans to change the schemes as suggested.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

296 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person applying for unemployment assistance, who lives with his or her parents, must have parents’ income taken into account in determining eligibility; if he will introduce individualisation in cases like this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38872/05]

For unemployment assistance purposes, the assessment of means for non-householders resident in the parental home has always taken into account the yearly value of any benefit and privilege enjoyed by him or her by virtue of residing with a parent or step-parent. In practice, this is taken to mean the value of free board and lodging to a claimant and such value is ascribed having regard to the level of parental income. In 1986, the commission on social welfare examined the then operation of the benefit and privilege arrangements. The commission recommended the abolition of the concept of benefit and privilege for those aged 25 years and over. In reaching this conclusion, the commission stated:

The reason for this cut-off point (25) is that by that age young adults would normally have become financially independent of the parental home. The minority, however, unable to obtain employment by that age or those who become unemployed at a later age should also be entitled to financial independence and it can be argued that such persons should, therefore, be entitled to a payment in their own right, irrespective of parental means. Payment at the full basic rate is appropriate in such cases.

In the past three budgets, the assessment of benefit and privilege for unemployment assistance purposes was progressively abolished for persons in excess of certain ages. In this year's budget, announced last week, I was pleased to abolish the assessment of benefit and privilege in all cases where the unemployment assistance claimant is aged 25 or over, thereby bringing the commission's recommendation into full effect. This measure comes into effect in February next and will cost approximately €0.63 million in a full year. In the case of unemployment assistance claimants aged under 25, the maximum assessment is restricted to 17% of parental income. A minimum of €40 is payable where the claimant qualifies for any amount of unemployment assistance.

Social Insurance.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

297 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the surplus in the social insurance fund. [39068/05]

The social insurance fund surplus at the end of September 2005 was €2,199 million; this is the latest confirmed figure available.

Pension Provisions.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

298 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will not consider the payment of all pensions for which contributions have been made; and if he will as an alternative, consider the return of the contributions plus interest made for one of those pensions. [39069/05]

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

299 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason that where a spouse has contributed to an old age pension and the other spouse has contributed to the widow’s pension, a widow cannot receive payment under both categories; and the reason both contributions are deducted if no benefit is payable. [39070/05]

I propose to take Question Nos. 298 and 299 together.

The social welfare system is based on income replacement with entitlement related to defined contingencies such as sickness, unemployment, old age and widowhood. Social welfare legislation provides that, with few exceptions, only one social welfare payment is payable at the one time. This approach is common to most social security systems across the world and is intended to ensure that resources are applied to the best advantage in meeting the income needs of people who experience the contingencies covered. There are three main principles which underlie the operation of the PRSI system. As already indicated, only one income support payment may be paid at the same time. The contributory principle requires that those qualifying for benefits demonstrate an ongoing and adequate attachment to the social insurance system. Finally, the principle of solidarity means that contributions paid by insured persons are not actuarially linked to benefits at the individual level, but can be redistributed to support other contributors. Persons may find that they cannot benefit from the full range of contingencies applicable to their particular circumstances. However, for the reasons outlined above this does not justify a refund of contributions made over the years.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

300 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that women in particular, who worked all their lives in the home and who never got the opportunity to pay RSI contributions find themselves without any type of pension entitlements other than if they can claim eligibility from the means tested old age non-contributory pension, which will be governed in the first instance by the income of a husband or spouse; if such persons should and must be entitled to pension rights on their own merits consistent with the their contribution to the economy here over a lifetime; his views on the expanded role for the homemakers benefit scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39130/05]

The social welfare pension rights of those who take time out of the workforce for caring duties are protected by the homemakers scheme which was introduced from 1994. The scheme allows up to 20 years spent caring for children or incapacitated adults to be disregarded when a person's social insurance record is being averaged for pension purposes. However, the scheme will not of itself qualify a person for a pension. The standard qualifying conditions, which require a person to enter insurance ten years before pension age, pay a minimum of 260 contributions at the correct rate and achieve a yearly average of at least ten contributions on their record from the time they enter insurance until they reach pension age, must also be satisfied.

As the Deputy is aware, the social welfare system comprises two types of pension; contributory pensions based on social insurance contributions and non-contributory pensions, payment of which are subject to a means test. Within that basic structure, the Government is anxious to ensure that as many people as possible can qualify for pensions in their own right.

A number of measures have been introduced over the years which make it easier for people to qualify for contributory pensions. These include the reduction in the yearly average number of contributions required for pension purposes from 20 to ten and the introduction of special half rate pensions based on pre-53 insurance contributions. Pro rata pensions are also available to allow people with mixed rate insurance records to receive a payment. This set of measures is of particular benefit to women who may have less than complete social insurance records due to working in the home.

There are, of course, those who will not benefit from the homemakers scheme and who cannot qualify for a pension in their own right. In this regard, the Government is committed to increasing the payment for qualified adults aged 66 or over to the same level as the personal rate of the old age non-contributory pension and to facilitate the direct payment of the allowance to spouses and partners.

Budget 2006 increased the qualified adult rates for age 66 or over by €10.80 per week for contributory pensioners and by €10.60 per week for non-contributory pensioners. Also, since 2002, new pension claimants can now opt to have the qualified adult allowance paid directly to their spouse or partner. The administrative and legislative implications of enhancing these provisions are under active consideration by my Department and I intend to progress the matter in the coming year.

As regards the non-contributory pension, in budget 2006 I made changes to the income disregards allowed under the means test. The basic income disregard was increased by €12.40 per week to €20 and I also introduced an earnings disregard of €100 per week. These allowances are doubled in the case of couples and will allow more people to qualify for social welfare pensions.

I will continue to look for ways, within the current social welfare structure, in which the needs of older people who are at present outside the social welfare pensions system may be addressed.

Social Welfare Benefits.

John Deasy

Ceist:

301 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if he will increase the income limits for recipients of the deserted wife’s benefit who applied for this payment after the introduction of an earnings limit on or after 31 August 1992; the gross annual earnings allowable for receipt of the maximum rate; if this limit has been increased in line with inflation since its inception; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39261/05]

Deserted wife's benefit is a payment made to a woman deserted by her husband. Entitlement to payment is based on social insurance contributions paid by the wife or her husband. An earnings limit was introduced for deserted wife's benefit in 1992. The limit, which applied only to new claims after August 1992, was set at €12,697.38 a year, gross earnings. Where earnings are in excess of €12,697.38 a year, there may be entitlement to a reduced rate of payment of deserted wife's benefit, provided gross earnings do not exceed €17,776.33 a year.

Following the introduction of the one parent family payment in 1997, the deserted wife's benefit scheme was discontinued with effect from 2 January in that year. The scheme for deserted wives under social insurance has been retained to the extent that existing entitlements already acquired in August 1992, when the earnings limit was introduced for new claimants, and in 1997, when the one parent family payment scheme was introduced have been preserved.

I have, in the budget, increased the upper earnings limit for the one parent family payment to €19,500 a year, gross earnings. Recipients of deserted wife's benefit with dependent children may transfer to the one parent family payment if it is beneficial for them to do so.

Road Traffic Offences.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

302 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport his Department’s positions vis-à-vis the use of tinted glass in motor vehicles. [38688/05]

It is a requirement for the registration and entry-into-service of new cars in the European Union that they have EU whole vehicle type approval, EU-WVTA. In order to receive EU-WVTA, a car must meet the technical specifications for a range of items, including the glazing and the field of vision of drivers, which are set down in a series of separate directives. It is not open to a member state to prohibit the sale or entry-into-service of a car which has EU-WVTA.

Under the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) Regulations 1963, which specify vehicle in-service standards, a vehicle must be constructed so that the driver can at all times have such a view of the road and of other traffic on the road as is necessary to enable the vehicle to be driven safely. It is a requirement under these regulations for a windscreen to be fully transparent so as not to distort the driver's view. Enforcement of the regulations is a matter for the Garda Síochána.

Concerns have been expressed about modifications to the glazing and exhaust systems of motor vehicles which result in excessively "blacked-out" windows and noisy exhausts and it has been suggested that such modifications could be made reasons for failure of the NCT. I would like to clarify matters in that regard. Before proceeding to review existing NCT arrangements, it would be necessary to develop national technical standards for glazing opacity in relation to motor vehicles and then, taking into account the results of regulatory impact assessments, to amend the Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles Regulations and the NCT Regulations taking account of these standards. It would also be necessary to submit the draft amending regulations to the European Commission for consideration and for referral to other member states in accordance with the Technical Standards and Regulations Directive 98/34/EC before they could come into force. A timeframe in the order of 12 months would be required to complete such a course of action.

Given the complexity of the issues relating to the modification of vehicles, I intend to have the matters of excessively "blacked-out" windows, noisy exhausts and some other issues examined by an expert group. In that regard, one of the recommendations contained in the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on the mid-term review of the NCT is the establishment of a technical standards forum to consider and make recommendations in relation to vehicle technical matters associated with the NCT. It is my intention to implement that recommendation and, in that context, the matters of excessively "blacked-out" windows will be referred to the technical standards forum for consideration upon its establishment. Until such time as I receive the views of the forum on these matters, it would be premature to introduce changes to the existing statutory requirements.

Driving Tests.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

303 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport the details of the proposal that the Department of Agriculture and Food staff would act as driver testers; the number of staff involved; the person who will provide the training to these staff to enable them to act as driver testers; the time period envisaged for this proposal, in terms of start and completion dates; the number of learner drivers they will be requested to test during this time period; the action he intends to pursue if there is insufficient take-up by the Department of Agriculture and Food officials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38699/05]

All surplus Department of Agriculture and Food staff applying for temporary redeployment as driver testers will be subject to a competitive selection process followed by a six week training period. This training will be provided by dedicated training officers within the driver testing service. On appointment and subject to meeting the necessary standard, successful candidates will be appointed as driver testers and are expected to be operational by April 2006. Their period of redeployment will cease at the end of July 2007. The redeployed staff will operate within the normal working schedule of the driver testing service.

In order to clear the required 40,000 tests by July 2007 a minimum of 25 redeployed staff is required. In the event of insufficient numbers of staff from the Department of Agriculture and Food being available or suitable, I will take further measures to address the backlog.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

304 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Transport the number of tests carried out at a test centre each month since January 2004; the reason for reduction in tests in recent months; if a tester will be deployed to the centre on a regular basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38739/05]

I understand that the Deputy is referring to Tipperary town driving test centre. The number of tests carried out at test centres is not maintained on a month-by-month basis. The number of tests conducted in the centre concerned since January 2004 is set out in the following table.

Year

Tests conducted in Tipperary Driving Test Centre

2004

1,124

2005 (1/1/05 — 2/12/05)

733

The number of tests carried out in 2005 compared to 2004 was reduced due to training courses arranged for driver testers during the year.

Public Transport.

John Perry

Ceist:

305 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Transport when a decision will be made on the application submitted to his Department 18 months ago in relation to the operation of new routes in Sligo, extension of the existing Sligo town routes, and a commuter service to Collooney; the negotiations that have taken place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38744/05]

The provision of public bus services on specific routes is a commercial and operational matter for bus operators. It is open to any private operator who may be interested in operating a bus service to apply to my Department for an annual passenger licence under the Road Transport Act 1932. Similarly, it is a matter for the State bus companies to notify my Department of any proposals to operate new bus services or to alter any existing services.

The Department has not received a request for a town service or for a commuter service between Sligo town and Collooney as mentioned by the Deputy. However, there are four licence applications from private operators and two notifications from Bus Éireann under consideration in my Department for bus services, which cater for travel between Sligo town and the towns in the surrounding counties. One licence application and one Bus Éireann notification concern proposed new services. The others concern amendments to existing services. These applications and notifications are currently being processed.

Rail Network.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

306 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Transport if, in view of the interconnector along with the provision of the DART on the Maynooth and Kildare lines which will be prepared for electrification by 2010 which will provide the greatest public transport capacity improvement in the Transport 21 plan; the reason same has been scheduled to be completed last in 2015. [38770/05]

The interconnector is intended to be the final phase of a programme to extend and reconfigure the DART and suburban services and to provide higher capacities, frequencies and integration of services to meet forecast demand levels in the Dublin inner-suburban area and to develop an integrated transport system for the capital.

The phased programme involves implementation initially of projects to meet short to medium-term demand levels, including the city-centre resignalling project, the quadrupling of a critical section of the Kildare line between Cherry Orchard and Hazelhatch, the opening of a new station in the docklands, and the opening of the first phase of the Navan rail link as far as Pace, near Dunboyne. While these projects are underway, detailed technical, planning and design studies, as well as the Railway Order and procurement processes will be completed for the interconnector. Construction will start in time to achieve completion of the tunnel, the underground stations and the electrification programme by 2015, thus providing the additional capacity required on the suburban rail network for longer term needs. It is considered this phased approach to implementing Transport 21 is adequate to address changing demand levels. It also addresses the management of the construction programme by, for example, phasing tunnelling work in the city centre, with tunnelling work on metro north preceding the interconnector. Finally it makes sense from the perspective of the effective management of the overall capital envelope.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

307 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Transport if, in view of the Government’s statement that Transport 21 must deliver value for money, the way in which same is consistent with the waste of public money in digging Stephen’s Green up twice in a three year period first for the metro north station and then for the interconnector station and purchasing additional Arrow rolling stock for the Kildare and Maynooth lines by 2010 and to replace these with DART rolling stock in 2015. [38771/05]

I said at the launch of Transport 21 that I was convinced that we need a new approach to transport in the greater Dublin area, delivered through a single authority with the power to ensure joined-up thinking and delivery across all transport modes. The St. Stephen's Green interchange facility is a good example of where such joined-up thinking is an absolute necessity. I have appointed a team chaired by Professor Margaret O'Mahony to finalise the remit, structures and human resource requirements of the proposed authority and I look forward to receiving the report of the establishment team in the new year.

Under Transport 21 the metro north line between St. Stephen's Green and Swords will be completed by 2012 while the interconnector between Heuston station and the docklands will be completed three years later in 2015. These lines will connect with Luas at St. Stephen's Green. Clearly construction of the new underground station for both metro and the commuter rail services at St. Stephen's Green will need to be effectively managed in order to ensure the maximum efficiencies are realised and that disruption is minimised. In this regard it is envisaged that there will be a single interchange station at this location.

With regard to rail rolling stock, Iarnród Éireann is currently finalising a rolling stock strategy to meet current and future needs. The company is currently acquiring diesel railcars to meet the ever-increasing demand for services on suburban routes. When the interconnector between Heuston station and the docklands is completed a number of suburban lines will be electrified and DART-style carriages will be acquired to operate on these routes. At that time, the diesel railcar fleet will be used on new routes, will enhance existing outer suburban services and will replace life-expired rolling stock. I expect to receive the rolling stock strategy from Iarnród Éireann in the near future.

Road Safety.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

308 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport the percentage of drivers involved in traffic accidents in which death or serious injury occur, who possess full driving licences provisional driving licences or no driving licence. [38775/05]

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

309 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to research which suggests that up to 50% of fatal car accidents here involve cars from four particular manufacturers; if his Department has similar statistics assessing the death rate by manufacturer and by model; and the way in which he intends to disseminate this information to the public in order that they can use it when making purchasing decisions. [38803/05]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 308 and 309 together.

I am not aware of the research that the Deputy is referring to. Statistics relating to road accidents, based on information provided by the Garda Síochána, are published by the National Roads Authority, NRA, in its annual road accident facts reports. The most recent report, entitled Road Collision Facts, relates to 2003 and is available on the NRA website. Reports relating to previous years are available in the Oireachtas Library.

The reports do not provide a breakdown of the licence status of drivers involved in traffic collisions in which death or serious injury occur nor do they contain details of the makes or models of vehicles involved in road traffic collisions. They include an analysis of factors contributing to collisions in 2003, where such factors were listed by members of An Garda Síochána on collision report forms. This analysis indicates that driver error accounted for some 86% of all contributory factors identified while the figure for vehicle factors was only 0.3%.

Public Transport.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

310 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport when a decision will be made on the two applications for bus operating licences submitted by South Dublin County Council. [38855/05]

The Road Transport Act 1932 provides the legislative basis for entry to the public transport market by private bus operators. In accordance with this legislation, private bus operators apply to my Department for passenger licences to provide bus services on specific routes within the State. In accordance with long standing practice, details of all applications received in my Department remain confidential until a decision is made. In this particular case, the local authority concerned is not in a position to provide the necessary facilities to support the services they envisage. Once these facilities are in place, my Department will be able to give a decision on the matter.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

311 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport the details of the funding and conditions of the initiatives proposed under Transport 21 to foster the growth of sustainable transport. [38874/05]

Transport 21 will provide funding for a number of pilot sustainable transport initiatives to facilitate the mainstreaming of sustainability criteria into transport investment decision-making and to make cleaner, more environmentally-friendly vehicles available. I intend that these pilot projects will test biofuel and hybrid-electric technologies, and eco-driving techniques in public transport, the haulage industry and taxis. Details regarding the level of funding for, and the conditions applying to, pilot projects will be announced at a later stage following the completion of consultations with interested parties.

The inclusion of these projects is but one of the sustainable aspects of Transport 21. The investment framework also provides for a major rebalancing of investment in favour of public transport, which will see public transport capacity almost double over the period of this investment programme thereby facilitating modal shift to public transport.

Air Services.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

312 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if he will provide figures on the amount and value of air freight arriving into and out of Ireland’s State airports each year since 1995; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38878/05]

I am informed by the Dublin Airport Authority that the volume of air freight arriving into and out of the three State airports is as follows. The company does not compile data on the value of this freight.

Freight

Cork

Shannon

Dublin

1995

3,717

34,026

86,401

1996

4,214

35,463

107,004

1997

8,095

39,497

122,619

1998

12,818

44,037

134,650

1999

11,047

45,974

145,391

2000

10,894

53,398

150,023

2001

11,743

50,181

140,126

2002

12,852

48,094

116,739

2003

13,720

47,473

133,871

2004

12,549

47,934

138,857

These figures are in metric tonnes, including mail, and refer to air freight in and out of the cargo terminals.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

313 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if he will provide data on the number of persons directly and indirectly employed in the aviation industry here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38879/05]

As the Deputy will be aware, there is a wide variety of people involved in different aspects of the aviation industry in Ireland, both directly and indirectly, and my Department would not have data on the numbers involved. The collection of national statistics is a matter for the Central Statistics Office, which is the official agency for that purpose. However, as regards the three State airports, I am informed by the airport authorities for Dublin, Shannon and Cork that their estimate of the numbers employed, both by themselves and by other employers, including airlines operating from the airports, is in the region of 15,500, 1,500 and 3,200 respectively.

Regional Airports.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

314 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Transport further to Parliamentary Question No. 293 of 29 November 2005 if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the manager of Waterford Regional Airport successfully appealed a notification of a decision by Waterford County Council to grant planning permission to a person (details supplied) for a proposed bungalow on family lands within a designated development cluster on the basis that the said site was located close to Waterford Airport and within a red zone that is a massive 3,000 metres in length and that the manager indicated in his letter of objection that, in accordance with established aviation practice, it is highly desirable to keep an area as shown on an attached drawing free of new developments; if his Department was aware of or approved this massive red zone that was designated prior to the establishment of the Irish Aviation Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38939/05]

Issues relating to planning are for the relevant planning authorities and not within the remit of my Department.

My Department has not issued recommendations relating to red zones at regional airports. The question of red zones at regional airports is a matter for the owners and operators of the airports in conjunction with the relevant planning authorities.

State Airports.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

315 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Transport further to Parliamentary Question No. 453 of 15 June 2004 if the Snow report, prepared in February 1996 on behalf of the Irish Aviation Authority and entitled Air Navigation Services — Planning Review, confirms at paragraph 3.4.2 thereof that the then Team Aer Lingus and now FLS hangar was developed within the red zone during a period when his Department had full responsibility for air safety matters at Dublin Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38940/05]

The Irish Aviation Authority, which is responsible for the regulation of aviation safety, was established in February 1994. The air navigation services office of the Department, whose functions were transferred to the Irish Aviation Authority, had responsibility for air safety matters when the hangar was built.

The Snow report noted that the hangar was essential to the business of the airport and integral and necessary to the activity of civil air transport and does not infringe on the protected surfaces in the red zone. I should also point out for the record that the hangar is now the property of SR Technics.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

316 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Transport further to Parliamentary Question No. 264 of 28 October 2004 relating to the airport development plan of March 1968 for Dublin Airport inclusive of developmental restrictions associated with both proposed runways and runway extensions, if a similar plan was prepared in or around the same time for Cork Airport; if such a plan outlined similar restrictions on the existing Cork runways in addition to catering for proposed extensions; the details of such restrictions; if such a plan was conveyed by his Department to Cork County Council; if that council subsequently designated red zones in its county development plan based on the departmental plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38941/05]

I understand that in the mid-1970s, a scheme showing restrictions that were considered necessary for the purposes of air safety was forwarded to Cork County Council. I am advised by the Dublin Airport Authority that the scheme took account, inter alia, of a possible future extension of runway 17/35 at Cork Airport. The subsequent incorporation of any or all of that information into the county development plan of the time was of course a matter for Cork County Council.

Ministerial Staff.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

317 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Transport in respect of each Minister of State within his Department, the number of staff broken down by grade employed within their private and constituency office; the number of staff who are permanent civil servants; the number who are political appointees; the annual cost of each office in terms of salary, overtime and expenses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39027/05]

There is no Minister of State in the Department of Transport at present.

National Car Test.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

318 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Transport the number of vehicles that failed the national car test at Letterkenny test centre during 2002, 2003, 2004 and to date in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39065/05]

Data on test results is not compiled by my Department. The data in respect of 2002, 2003 and 2004 is available in the Irish Bulletin of Vehicle and Driver Statistics, which is published annually by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The data for 2005 will be published in due course.

Decentralisation Programme.